Traversing Diverse Terrains: Interview with Abhishek Majumdar

by Asha Kuthari Chaudhuri*

Abhishek Majumdar. Photo: MD Pallavi

Abhishek Majumdar’s theatre carries the weight of multiple languages, regions, philosophies, forms, themes and colors that immediately call to mind the sheer diversity of the Indian theatrical landscape. And beyond. That his work is sometimes deeply embedded in the Indian ethos and at others, involved in global discourses is merely the mark of what it means to be a living playwright and theatre maker who is deeply committed to consistently pushing the boundaries of the theatre both inwards and outwards. He confronts perplexing political and environmental issues, ruffling feathers across the spectrum and throwing up important new ways of understanding our world. When the pandemic closed down the theatres, he joined a food, oxygen and healthcare distribution network while also writing for the digital stage to highlight those very issues.

Abhishek Majumdar is the recipient of the Charles Wallace Fellowship, the Inlaks scholarship among numerous other awards, and trained at LISPA (UK). He is an Associate Professor and Program Head in the Theatre Program at NYU, Abu Dhabi while also creating work, teaching and acting as dramaturg for young writers in India. But like most theatre people, he travels and produces work around the world, collaborating and cutting across liminal spaces to make work and meaning – meaningful work

To trace the arc of a theatre maker’s journey: when did theatre begin to interest you, and when did you start writing and doing theatre? Growing up in Delhi, you have this innate ease of transitioning between at least four languages.

I grew up in JNU[1] where Habib Tanvir would come to rehearse; there was Bengali theatre during Durga Puja,[2] and my cousins’ theatre group called Dhoomketu. I really enjoyed the rehearsals. In college, during the hot summers, the cheapest way to enjoy some free AC was either Bahawalpur House (National School of Drama) or Shakuntalam Cinema. I became very fond of Hindi theatre. There was this absolute rule in our house that we speak in Bangla, but outside we’d speak in Hindi, and Urdu, and with some difficulty, English. Writing came much later. I started writing short stories when I entered college.

After graduating with pure science, you got a degree in Business Administration and then became a techie working for a software company in Bangalore. So, from watching plays and rehearsals, to music, to software, to acting, and then to writing and directing.  And it is so very difficult to subsist on theatre in India.

I was finding it very hard to decide if I wanted a PhD in Statistics at Kellog, or to take up this fellowship at Cambridge University in Environmental Economics. But by the time I was done with college, I knew I’d be doing something with the theatre. I found it too exciting to do anything else – meanwhile I had to make a living.

After Management school, I took the first job in Bangalore[3] that came my way, because I had to meet my sister who was returning from the US. Ranga Shankara,[4] that was so vital to my career, opened the same year (2004). My first day at office was also the first day of Mahesh Dattani’s theatre workshop that I enrolled for. I wanted to write, but didn’t have the money to do both the acting and writing courses, so very generously, Mahesh gave me a scholarship, provided I came in with a draft – good, bad or ugly. That’s how I started writing. When I received the Charles Wallace Fellowship, and then the Inlaks, I gave up my job, and went to train in the UK.

Between these two years, I had the privilege to sit in with Veenapani Chawla at Adishakti. They were trying to figure out their own method, rehearsing for their retrospective. Then I was among their first batch of trainees in 2007-8, seeing the process of training, rehearsal and the making of the work. At the time, I was also training in the Lecoq School (LISPA) which had a physical vocabulary – people kept saying, “don’t think!” – which was very worrying for me; why would we not think? But in Adishakti, it came together: I could think, and I could be physical. Maybe at LISPA, it was a pedagogical thing so that the students who came from conservatories didn’t go back to text analysis. But to me it didn’t mean anything. The coexistence of physical and intellectual practice is something that I learnt and validated with Veenapani and then with Heisnam Kanhailal, who called me to Agartala where he was doing his exposition, demonstrating intense physical practice that involved both cerebral thinking and politics.

During your training phase and after, did theatre mean “writing” or “acting’”or “direction”?

I was writing, but started out as an actor. By the time I finished drama school I didn’t want to be an actor. I didn’t enjoy it. It was too social a job. I had my fellowships in London, but when I came back to India I needed to earn money, and I was making a living primarily as a stage actor. Suddenly I was in plays that I was writing, plays in which I was acting, and plays which I was directing – at any point of time, I had one each. And they started to eat into each other in terms of dates.

Where do you think is modern theatre in India headed? The west is familiar with maybe the Rasa theory or Sanskrit dramas like Mricchakatikam,[5] but they know mostly nothing about modern work. Does this matter?

The Western world obviously knows almost nothing about it; but there’s no one thing called Indian Theatre. It’s so wide and varied. They would know very broad stroke things like Kathakali, or whatever Barba or Peter Brook took and made popular. But that is a non-issue.

The west ultimately has capital, but not necessarily cultural capital. It would be great to have that kind of funding in our theatre, the safeguards for actors, the technicians. But every culture also makes theatre in its own context. If you’re making work in London you’d have an agent in an industry where you have wages and unions to support you. Definitely theatre needs a lot more infrastructure than we have in India; in a largely amateur circuit you have to create your work piecemeal. You can do forty great plays in India – but you won’t be known in Tokyo. But if you make ten good pieces in London you will be known around the world. That is the difference. Other than that, I don’t think there’s any reason to think of this.

Desdemona Roopakam (2021). Photo: Virginia Rodrigues and Mythili P

What does it mean to “do” theatre in India in terms of the baggage of its theatrical past? You’ve trained abroad; created work in India, and now you teach theatre at NYU (Abu Dhabi). In this kind of a context, and in the face of your shifting locations, how do you place yourself – where would you place yourself in the big canvas?

Between my two years of theatre training in the UK, then at Adishakti, and then meeting Kanhailalji and Ima Sabitri,[6] I realized that there is something here which is my theatre. I still don’t know what it is: I don’t have the tradition of Kutiyattam,[7] or Kathakali,[8] or Chhau.[9] But there is a mix of things that I can call my own. Seeing the work of Sunil Shanbag, this feeling crystallised further; I felt that this is the kind of theatre that I could own. It was political, it was theatrical, not necessarily naturalistic, and not relying on one major form all the time. And it was in a language that I really liked… modern working Hindi, and not the old stuff. It opened up possibilities. I think some subjects through Hindi, some in Bengali, or in Kannada or Tamil. Others, outside of all these, I figure out in English. Like the Tibet play; the Kashmir plays.

As a practitioner, I’m not really trying to figure out my place in the world – I simply make work – in different places in the world. I’m comforted by the thought that there is a place, as long as I keep making work. I am not particularly known as an “Indian” or a “Bengali” playwright or a “modern”; I work with opera, or a Portuguese solo, or with a Malayalam piece. I’m just trying to make the rehearsal work.

Playwright on the Stage. Photo: Mumal Tanwar

Tell us about your early work, as and when it happened. What were the things that shaped your course? You run through a gamut of subjects and themes, often politically charged. 

My first play was in Bangla, an adaptation of the novella by Sunil Gangopadhyay, Pratidwandi. I remember the first light coming on very, very clearly; it gave me the feeling that this is right, and I’m supposed to do this. I had enormous beginner’s luck: the play really worked, with its formal experiments and great performances. I was unable to replicate that with my next play or the next and the next. But the success of the first play made a lot of difference, and I was able to make my next. And from then on, I started thinking of myself as a dramatist.

The next pieces, Niharika and Lucknow 76 were very different kinds of plays. But Niharika –about a mother and daughter – was a directorial disaster. I tried to write like Mahesh Dattani, my mentor, and also Rituparno Ghosh. I failed. It was too steeped in a kind of realism I didn’t really fit into. And it wasn’t my voice; it was Mahesh’s.  Back from the UK, I did Lucknow 76, devising and writing at the same time: one method was not necessarily my thing. The part of the play that was set in 1876 had been researched at the British Library and was written, and the part set in 1970 was largely devised.

After my first year at LISPA, I was back home and became friends with this wonderful woman. She and her mother would go to work, and I would sit in their house, writing Harlesden High Street in English. I used verse, and set it in a room full of second and third generation Pakistanis in London. Somehow it connects with the immigrant experience and it works; even now there is a production in Chicago University. I recall that writing it, I was not in a paying job and somebody suggested that I enter it for this Hindu award that comprised ₹70,000. I won! It took care of my credit card bill, and I could buy an electric kettle and a mattress.

You’ve done plays for children and from the perspective of children; one-woman monologues that interweave history with memory; documenting and commenting on our time.

I did a lot of children’s plays when I was working in the school called Head Start. A version of Charandas Chor; and Land of ups and Downs that was devised with children. Another play I really enjoyed doing was Waterlines, based on “Tetwal ka Kutta” by Sadat Hasan Manto. We interviewed children with their best friends, people on both sides of the India/Pakistan border who were friends when they were children.

I wrote An Arrangement of Shoes on the lives of Indian Muslims from 1947 to modern times while I was travelling on a bus, from Madrid to Prague, over two and a half days. It’s a monologue, with a big Nirmal Verma[10] hangover. I wrote it at that speed because I wanted to finish it at Prague. I slept that night. The next morning, I took my notebook and sat down in front of Kafka’s house to finish the play. It felt so good!

The Kashmir plays are perhaps among your most sensitive plays, but have ruffled many feathers. Tell us something about their genesis – Rizwaan, The Djinns of Eidgah and Gasha (that you directed).

I always wanted to write about Kashmir. Many people told me to stay back in England, but I came back from drama school to write about these places, these people. Rizwaan developed in FTII, and it was a way of relooking at what I wanted to do with devising and writing at the same time, to see if that works because the world then was sort of divided.

I went several times to Kashmir; enjoyed doing Rizwaan based on Aga Shahid Ali’s poetry, then did The Djinns of Eidgah with The Royal Court Theatre and Rage Theatre in India. I directed Irawati Karnik’s Gasha that looked at the Kashmiri Pandits. This was an important strategy – the first Kashmir play I wrote, I directed; the second one I wrote, but did not direct, and the third one I directed but did not write.

Gasha. Photo courtesy: Abhishek Majumdar
The Djinns of Eidgah. Photo: Mumal Tanwar

In Kaumudi, you deal with multiple narratives on the figure of Eklavya,[11] who happens to be one of the most important figures to emerge from the margins of the Mahabharata. How did that evolve? Does it converse with diverse voices in Indian theatre?

In college, a teacher had told me about this Malayalam book called Vyasa and Vighneswara[12] by Anand where there is a fascinating conversation with Eklavya’s ghost on education. I wondered, what if they spoke about other things? Later, in Adishakti, Karan Makhija narrated a similar Eklavya story, and so did Veenapani Chawla – it completed the circle of Eklavya stories, spread across ten years. And I had completed ten years in theatre. It was uncanny. I had met a lot of great theatre makers like Heisnam Kanhailal, Veenapani Chawla, Arundhati Nag, Anmol Vellani and had valuable conversations with them. So Kaumudi was, in a way, a tribute to the people I learned so much from; it is hard to map, but there’s a big imprint.

Kaumudi. Photo courtesy: Abhishek Majumdar

I began to question the theatre – what is this thing? What do we learn from it? And that led to Kaumudi. It is ultimately about the challenge between the personal and the artistic life of an artist. Artists have been great actors, but not great fathers; incredible visionaries who haven’t quite formed a deep relationship with their children. We are in the business of emotions and relationships, but does that make us any superior? On the contrary, we overthink. Theatre is a kind of metaphor for life: we are not good at everything; nobody is – but we try. We have different degrees of success with different relationships: one can be a great partner and a terrible son; a wonderful daughter, but a terrible wife. An epic like the Mahabharata gives us such a great license to be muddled and confused and incomplete. Because everything in the Mahabharata is like that. There’s no character who comes out perfect, no ideological views.

Kaumudi. Photo courtesy: Abhishek Majumdar

How does your own politics affect your writing, especially in plays like Muktidham that explore the current dispensation in India?

I did not want to write anything about the right wing. One of the great disservices that this dispensation has done is that everybody is obsessively engaged with it. It had to happen because of how radically different the position is from what there was earlier. Whether one likes it or hates it, there is this difference. But then suddenly the newspapers were carrying pictures of places in JNU where I grew up, branding them anti-national. Likewise, with historians like Harbans Mukhia or Romila Thapar who could have gone anywhere in the world but the project of building India was ingrained in these early universities, and they made a conscious choice to stay. That’s when I felt that I had to write.

I have a principle that if I’m writing a political play, I start from the perspective of the person I disagree with. So we defend the right. But what is “right” about the right? I began reading up radical Hinduism. One of the great propositions of the right is that Hindus are under threat (a very dodgy thing to say with this huge population). Was there ever a time in our history when Hindus were under threat? Actually there was. Under the Buddhists. With large scale conversions, the Hindus became a minority in Bengal under the Pala Dynasty.

That took me to this setting of a Buddhist Kingdom inside a matha[13] which offered differing notions of Hinduism, offering choices between violence and non-violence, Vedic and Advaitic.[14] These are philosophical debates from different schools of Hinduism. Given the intellectual past of Hinduism, it is bizarre to say that Hindus are anti-intellectuals. We don’t have a genuine right-wing that can have a policy based on an intellectual difference. The past must help us to move forward. And there are so many kinds of inequalities, so many kinds of challenges, so many languages, such diversity of places, stories and contexts. Every village in India has a story about the Ramayan but the geographic location of things is a bit murky. So that’s what I started out with in Muktidham.

Discussions in Rehearsal. Photo: Mumal Tanwar

Sometime in 2015 I watched fifteen short plays from different parts of the world as part of the Climate Change Theatre Action in downtown New York. Some of them were yours: Arrow, 399 and The Ocean. Later you wrote Dweepa, a full length play for environmental action. Is your activism different from the west?

Dweepa was written in Bangla and performed in Kannada, with the English version as the bridge. It is set in Bengal, essentially looking at environmentalism from a non-western perspective – not that of continuous crisis – but with the fundamental premise that our relationship with the environment is in this predicament because we think of nature as something to be used. Exactly how human relationships are, now.

Pah-la is set in a specific geography, amongst specific people and ruminates upon the future of non-violence. While it was inevitably banned in China, Pah-la was also reviewed negatively for the representation of Tibetans. So then there is the question of who speaks for whom.

Pah-la. Photo: With permission from Tibet Theatre and TIPA

I travelled extensively in China and Tibet to research Tibetan Buddhism, and Pah-la opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 2019, then had the Tibetan Production in 2022.

That bad review almost killed the Tibetan production before it took off. It was written by five people of who three had auditioned at the Royal Court for the play, and were not selected. They had a problem with Tibetan representation, that Tibetans are not in the play. I’ve read a lot of good and bad reviews and I don’t have a problem with that, but this? They had read the script and auditioned for the same play! The Royal Court Theatre thought they were being very progressive by casting East Asian actors. Tibetan residents in India were happy that their story was told in London; but this group of Tibetans in the UK who are aware of the politics of identity, objected to Vietnamese or Indonesians playing Tibetans, labelling them all Chinese. Then the Royal Court Theatre had to issue a statement asking people not to make racist comments!

Pah-la. Photo: With permission from Tibet Theatre and TIPA

There is the debate about notions of representation: black-facing, yellow-facing. When it manifests itself in India, say, when Mary Kom is played by Priyanka Chopra and Manipuris have issues with that, how does one resolve the continuous tug of identity and the politics of representation in Indian theatre?

In my view, Mary Kom is played by Priyanka Chopra purely for commercial reasons, and they didn’t pretend otherwise. The problem was that they kept claiming credit for telling the untold story of Mary Kom because she is from the northeast[15]. But if one claims it as a political act – then they should cast the best actor from the region.

We are increasingly talking about this in the theatre. Identity works differently in India than the way race works in the West, because race is not a continuous item here. If you are black American, you are a black American and there is nothing white about being black. But in India, if I am from a particular class I’m also from a particular language, and I’m also from a particular religion. I could be Muslim and a certain caste who speaks a certain kind of Deccani. And all these are intersecting and contiguous identities. So it is important to understand the politics of a theatre group. Does the theatre have space for women? For Dalit theatre makers? For people who are economically marginalized? All of these are structural things that the theatre is grappling with in India: meanwhile theatre itself is a very difficult proposition here.

Baatin was commissioned by National Theatre, London; it is about Quranic exegesis. Isn’t that a sensitive, dangerous space to forage in?

Baatin, in my view, is my best work. But I do not think I will see it produced in my lifetime. I spent many years on this, interviewing people in Cairo, at Al-Azhar, in all kinds of Quranic schools. And it is about the two days between the prophet’s death and burial, and the fact that there was no physical Quran at the time, so it all boils down to the grammar. How one reads the Quran is utterly dependent on whether you think that the Prophet paused, or you think it was a period. It alters the meaning of what he is saying, depending on a punctuation mark. The play is still a couple of drafts away from completion, but when the National Theatre read it, they had a big debate about whether they should stage it or not. The dramaturgs felt they should; but the artistic directors said no. I wonder: which Muslims will be angry? But who wants to take that chance? It was to be produced in Ireland last year, subject to a meeting between the Imam of Dublin and myself and his acquiescence. That is still to happen. A Pakistani director in France, a scholar with a Masters’ in Islamic Studies wants to do it in Arabic in Tunis. But perhaps I should write Baatin as a novel.

That sounds even more perilous, especially after what happened to Rushdie. And again, you are not Muslim – can you presume to speak for them? You have another work called Linea Historica / The Prophet. How far can an artist push this sort of thing?

Baatin brings in many Muslim voices, obviously, but yes, that’s a very tricky thing. People sometimes read it and say very good things. Ironically, I can write a poorly researched play on Hinduism, and it will pass although I’m an atheist, but because my parents were Hindus.

The Prophet examines the idea of the birth of a prophet in the enemy territory, looking at colonisation through comparative Judeo-Christian theology. It was a site-specific piece, done with visual artists in collaboration with Sofia Medici and Laura Kalauz for the Festival Internacionale de Dramaturgia in Buenos Aires. They had this old colonial building, and they sent pictures of half the house to me, and the other half to Maya Zbib from Zoukak in Lebanon and didn’t tell us the other person is on it. We had to write a performance text.

You critique communist history in a piece called Dialectical Materialism Aur Anya Vilupt Jaanwar, a Hindi satire that received the Naya/Nové prize and was translated to Czech for a rehearsed reading in Prague; on the other hand, Homeland is about the rise of Hindutva.[16]

The first play is in the form of vignettes and traces the evolution of communism back from a house in 1970s in Calcutta to the garden of Eden where Adam Smith and Karl Marx are aiming to name their books. Homeland was commissioned by Royal Court Theatre; it is still under development. On similar lines, some of Bibhuti Rachnavali is set in the late 19th century at Rama Krishna’s matha, about the spiritual development of an ordinary man (Ramakrishna’s cook) from an atheist who is sucked into spirituality. It looks at the root philosophical principles of specific schools of Hindu philosophy through comic monologues set in Calcutta and in the Himalayas.

Desdemona Roopakam that is now playing in India and travelling to various cities was conceived and created during the pandemic. We know that you were on the ground during this time, helping with food and other things. Theatres were closed or going digital. Tell us about the experience.

Desdemona Roopakam. Photo: Virginia Rodrigues and Mythili P

We did what we could. Some recorded pieces. But when Ranga Shankara wanted to reopen, Arundhati Nag asked me to make something. We had very little money, and we had to make the whole thing with social distance. So Desdemona Rupakam has two performers, Bindu Malini and Pallavi and they never touch. The props were bought with the restriction that there will be only two visits to the market. If you watch the play with this knowledge, you will see it differently than the rest of the audience. I’m really interested in the story of missing women in the epics and in Shakespeare, and this piece is made with a team full of women, except for me and Nikhil, the sound designer. All the women spoke about what it meant to be a woman in the middle of the pandemic. We had left our homes for a theatre to open, and if we were taking this risk in the middle of the pandemic, it had to be something worth saying. We began with that, and then it was imagined like a chamber opera. I started working with Pallavi and Bindu on classical music and gradually brought in folk forms to tell stories: Hari Katha, Burra Katha, Yakshagana.[17] Othello is a frame, but the play focuses on women, and why some them are missing.

Desdemona Roopakam.  Photo: Virginia Rodrigues and Mythili P

People tend to carry specific kinds of themes through their career. Is there a theme that you’ve carried with you always and which will emerge in all the work you do?

A journalist pointed out to me that none of my plays have a character who has both parents.  That is true, because I’m not used to having both there. I lost my father when I was five and then my mother when I was fifteen. So I have no reference point of what men do, no memory of my father. My first reference of a ‘man’ is me. As a parent, I have no idea what fathers do at home. So I had never written a father until Kaumudi, but that was an ode to the Mahabharata. I suppose that kind of thing is so personal. Having a sibling, for instance. I’m extremely close to my sister who almost raised me, so I’ve written a lot of plays where there are siblings, but never a play which is about siblings or about loss of parents. And that’s just deeply ingrained in my plays.

What about your failures? Things you think you’ve not really been able to get at which you wanted to?

Failure is an inherent part of every single project. In terms of content, one makes a huge set of choices of what will be included in the play and what will be left out. In Muktidham there is one scene which has a major problem, I have tried to change it twice over a run of two years, but nothing works. It’s a conundrum in the play, probably something structural.

Another play, Thook, about the food crisis, was built with the community with people who work with vegetable vendors and economists like Jayati Ghosh, who were involved in its making. It was built into a vignette structure which was working fine, but it became so design heavy in production we were unable to do many runs. It was a creative failure for the director.

  Abhishek Majumdar, Work Reel

What do you think of ‘experimental’ theatre in India? Is the laboratory kind of process where one is devising a piece, taking an idea, and using the body, in terms of physical theatre to arrive at some kind of fruition happening? Or is it just reclamation of the ‘theatre of roots’?

To me, “experimental” means that you begin with a hypothesis, and you have a set of steps, and there will be some new discovery in the process – political, social, environmental, or formal. It is this “discovery” and the process that constitutes for me the notion of experimental theatre. A lot of new work is emerging this in India, but we tend to borrow our sense of what “experimental” means from other parts of the world. When something is not intrinsic to the theatre, and is public art, it tends to be formulaic and ceases to be experimental. Even devised theatre can be very formulaic.

A lot of urban theatres like Jana Natya Manch, which is a street theatre company, are actually experimental. If you read Safdar Hashmi’s plays, you can see someone who is continuously changing the form, approaching the subject through a different way of telling. Hashmi was unfortunately killed and is branded both a ‘political’ theatre activist and a martyr. But most importantly, he is a great experimenter of form, in terms of context. Obviously, he is not doing Castellucci’s scenography, but he’s there. I had this opportunity to stay in Hashmi’s room when I directed a piece for them, it was full of books and the range of his reading went from Meyerhold to Meisner to the Natyashastra, the Gita, the Koran and the Bible to Utpal Dutt – he was reading everything. This made his theatre new, and yet communicated with the person who worked at the factory, or the fields. Girish Karnad and even Vijay Tendulkar were truly experimental, like Sunil Shanbag and Neelam Man Singh are.

But we seem to have a complex – our sense of the experimental comes from the four festivals in the world, or the Goethe Institute. German experimental artists will tell you that “we don’t believe in the proscenium,” but then they have a proscenium stage every 100 metres! We have just begun that kind of theatre after years of making plays outside on Janmashtami and Durga Puja, in pandals![18] Now that I have it and am using sixty lights, this person from Germany tells me that pandal theatre is the real theatre because it is experimental, and I am breaking down the walls of the theatre. So experimental work has to be understood in terms of context.

Experimentation for me is directly proportional to process and risk. An experiment will have risk. There is a possibility that it will fail. And sometimes I think that is lost in the quest for experimentation as something that is visible in terms of bringing scenography forward, or bringing video projection forward, or in any of these things. Decentralizing the text is definitely one of the most legitimate experiments yet. But that happens only when the text is central in the first place, which is not true for theatre makers like Badal Sircar and Kanhailal.

Last year, you made a film called Water Station – what did the transition from the theatre to film mean to you?

Actually, Water Station is a play by Ota Shogo that I was drawn to ever since I saw Shankar’s production of it. I love the compelling story it tells about refugees and migration and does so silently. I was to direct the play for NYU Abu Dhabi in 2020. But the pandemic pushed it back. So I made it with students, colleagues and other professionals as a film in 2021. We shot it both in the studio and in the deserts of UAE – it is a black and white film with no words. The film was released in 2022 and currently it is playing at various festivals around the world.

Water Station. 2022. Film. Photo: Tegan Mcduffee

What would you consider to be the ideal social/political conditions in which to create works of art?

When people are oppressed, when really terrible things are happening, theatre grows in that society. But there is a lot of romanticizing about this. It is not necessary that art should grow under severe, distressing circumstance. There is also great art which requires thought, imagination, power. The atomic bomb was created under World War conditions but relativity didn’t come up in those conditions. Deeper thought needs peace, inclusive thinking, hope. So we can start to imagine again. A theatre which is not there to compulsively do all these political things. And a place where children have freedom?


[1] Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

[2] A religious festival dedicated to the Hindu goddess Durga.

[3] Also referred to as Bengaluru.

[4] A theatre space in Bengaluru, run by Mrs Arundhati Nag.

[5] Sanskrit play by Sudraka (7th century CE).

[6] Ima Sabitri and Heisnam Kanhailal started their own space, Kalakshetra Manipur, in northeast India.

[7] Probably the oldest living performance tradition in the world.

[8] Theatre/Dance form from Kerala.

[9] Theatre/Dance form from Odisha.

[10] Indian novelist who spent a great deal of time in Prague.

[11] Character from the epic Mahabharata.

[12] Anand. Katha: 2000.

[13] Monasteries.

[14] From the Vedanta school of thought that embraces non-dualism.

[15] Northeast India.

[16] The dominant form of Hindu Nationalism in India.

[17] All of these are folk forms of performative story-telling.

[18] Makeshift marquee spaces for rituals, veneration and performance. 

*Asha Kuthari Chaudhuri is Professor and former Chair of the Department of English and Director of the Centre for Performing Arts and Culture, Gauhati University (Assam, India). A Fulbright Fellow (2015–16), she is currently writing a history of specific aspects of Indian theatre. She is also a member of the core committee of NÃT: Theatre Archives of Assam that will cover local theatre history from 1648 to the present. She leads a translation project of the collected works of Arun Sarma, the noted Assamese dramatist.

Copyright © 2023 Asha Kuthari Chaudhuri
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