The Edge: Ranan-Transport Collaboration - India Phase

There is something about the edge: the edge of the land and water, of habitation and wilderness, of safety and danger. Here possibilities abound that don’t exist in the security of the interior. Mythically it is the lone explorer that searches out the edge. But in life it is entire populations who learn to live at it, on it, with it.
~ Sunand Prasad, Architect

Ranan and Transport Theatre, UK have been working on a collaborative performance project - The Edge - since February 2011, focussing on human stories emerging from the issues of climate change and migration. Amlan Chaudhuri and Vikram Iyengar visited the UK to work with them in August-September 2011, and Douglas Rintoul (Artistic Director, Transport), Vicky Long (Artistic Collaborator) and Emma Cameron (Producer, Transport) will be in Calcutta in December 2011 to work with Ranan members. 

Bijoya Dashami on the Ichhamati

more photos by Antara Das Gupt
The Ichhamati river forms a part of the extensive border between India and Bangladesh. Our first field trip comprised a trip to Hasnabad-Taki on 6 October 2011 – Bijoya Dashami, the last day of the Durga Puja celebrations and the day the idols of Durga and her family are immersed across rivers in Bengal.

Bijoya Dashami is the one day in the year when border patrolling and control by the BSF (Border Security Force) from India and BDR (Bangladesh Rifles) from Bangladesh is relaxed. The river becomes crammed full of boats of all shapes and sizes – some to immerse idols, but most full of revellers from both countries. A day of celebration when this very questionable border blurs.

We had booked a small country boat that could accommodate up to 15 people from Hasnabad Ghat. This proved to be immensely sensible since, when we got to Taki by boat, all one could see along the banks of both countries was a sea of people. There was no way we could have descended to the ghat, let alone got on a boat without a veritable stampede. Hasnabad is on the Katahal river, a small tributary which opens into the Ichhamati as it takes a wide curve between the two countries. Moving upstream along the Ichhamati, India is on the left, Bangladesh on the right.

At about 3pm Hasnabad ghat too wore a festive look. The narrow street was full of people dressed in their best, vendors of all sorts selling paper trumpets, balloons, snacks and Heaven knows what else. The narrow Katakhal was jam-packed with boats flying the Indian tricolour. Bigger launches jostled with smaller country boats as people clambered on for the trip. Our boat was the smallest kind – a country boat built from slats of wood fitted with a noisy motor and manned by two boatmen – or rather one and half, since the one who sat in the prow and occasionally bailed out the water that seeped in was just a boy. A boy with incredible balance, I must add, since he ran nimbly along the narrow edge of the boat to and from the prow all along the journey without once seeming to notice the brown waters inches from his feet.

the view from Hasnabad Ghat - video
The docile Katakhal opened into the expansive Ichhamati as it curved around the Bangladeshi bank. At this point, this finger of Bangladesh strangely has India on both sides of it as the river curves back on itself. Far up stream we could see that the monochromatic waters of the river were suddenly a riot of colours. There – between Taki in India and Sripur in Bangladesh – the river was crowded with boats from both countries crisscrossing between the banks. The banks too were lined with thousands of people. We saw for the first time boats flying the Bangladesh flag – but apart from that, how on earth could we tell each other apart! Zipping through this veritable chaos was the occasional BSF or BDR motorboat and the large stately blue and red launches that connect Bangladesh’s many riverside locations.

A festive atmosphere is nothing new for India, and definitely not for Bengal. But to encounter this in the middle of a river was a different experience altogether. Vessels from the two countries are not allowed to land on the opposite banks, but apart from this it seems an explosion of emotion for both sides. A few smaller idols had descended into boats and were travelling up and down both the banks surveying and being surveyed by people on both sides.  Bangladeshis and Indians shouted and waved at each other from their respective boats throwing flowers and sweets for the other party to catch, traditional dhaak beats merged with the latest film music, and boatmen skilfully avoided each other by a hair’s breath with ease that would make any stuntman envious. Everyone has cell phones – but how does one deal with international roaming in such a situation and on such a border? My phone actually received no signal when we were towards the Indian bank, but had full reception when we were on the Bangladeshi side!

On the Indian side, we spotted people perched atop broken embankments – a reminder that this whimsical river is not always so kind and has the capacity to wreck havoc. As we coasted to the Bangladeshi side, we saw a large pandal set up with music blaring and some local heavyweight trying ineffectually to make announcements about the deep connection between the two countries. And among the mass of people thronging the bank, two families of Durga idols waited patiently for their turn in the immersion rituals. On the Indian bank too larger idols had begun to arrive, and the mother figures gazed at each other from two countries that came together annually on this once day. Perhaps it is only a mother that can bring together sundered siblings, if even for the shortest span of time. It was one of the most emotional and unforgettable experiences to be on that river among those thousands of people: complete strangers, and yet momentarily united in the aura of something larger than our individual selves, something larger that both of our countries, something intrinsically human and not a little divine.

The sun had begun to dip and the scene for the special immersion that Icchamati is known for was set, though the crowds of revellers are cleared from the river before this is allowed to begin in earnest. The idols are taken out to the middle of the river seated on a makeshift bamboo platform supported by two boats. Once in the deep waters, the two boats move away from each puling the raft of bamboos apart. The Goddess descends into the river vertically.

more photos by Antara Das Gupta
As darkness came on, fireworks began manned from an official barge towards the Indian side. Our boatman became anxious: not everything is as joyful and tension-free as it seemed. Apparently, as night falls over the river, the bigger boats purposely push past the small country ones – the kind we were on – in a dangerous game that under cover of darkness can go completely unnoticed by the patrol boats. We managed to avoid several such encouters by the skin of our teeth and dexterity of our boatman. There is complete absence of river traffic discipline of any sort, no one knows what dark shape will loom out from which direction, and by and large none of the boats have any lights. Every year there are accidents. Indeed, the day after the papers carried a report about an Indian boat that was capsized by a Bangladeshi boat. One person was lost in the waters, and his body was found washed up downstream somewhere in Bangladesh only a few days later. Doubly unfortunate is the predominant sense that the bigger Bangladeshi boats target the smaller Indian boats on purpose. People on the Bangladeshi side probably harbour just the opposite feeling.

A border once drawn is not something one can easily wipe away, even though the land and water bear no actual trace of it. When very young, I had once asked my mother why we just didn’t join the partitioned countries back together again. She replied with what I feel is a strong and most unfortunate metaphor. One can join together a piece of broken glass but the cracks will always be visible.

The Sundarbans trip: Bali, Pakhiraloy and Burirdabri (10 to 12 December 2011)

- Vikram Iyengar

fog on the road to Gadkhali
breakfast en route
We set off at 6.30am for Gadkhali via Basanti – three cars meeting at Science City before two Sumos veered off left. Thick fog you could cut with a knife enveloped us, barely letting us see the road before us and only occasionally revealing the surroundings – ponds dotted with pink and white lotuses, houses which moved from concrete into mud constructions, and sudden busy wholesale markets of vegetables and fish. Breakfasted on the local petai paratha at Basanti and finally arrived into Gadkhali at about 10.30am – about an hour late thanks to the fog. We were to spend the day on Bali island visiting schools and villagers with Shri Sukumar Paira, headmaster of Bijoynagar Adarsha Bidya Mandir, who has made Bali his home for the last 33 years. His work has gone far beyond education, involving students, their parents and the larger community in areas and issues of conservation awareness and action, sustainable and alternative livelihoods which are eco-friendly, disaster relief work and much more. The school itself is an example of a holistic education including arts, sports (local games too), work education and nature education as part of the curriculum. From being an island with no schools at all in 1970, Bali now has about 24 schools spanning primary and secondary levels and a respect for education among both parents and children – both boys and girls. Shri Paira did not start the school: he was asked to come in for some time (three months between his BA and MA) by the gentleman who envisioned the school. Those 3 months have now become 33 years.
Shri Sukumar Paira
the Secondary School
the Primary School
Our time at Bali was divided between the primary school in an Adivasi area and the main secondary school – Bijoynagar Adarsha Bidyamandir. At the first stop we met some villagers from the community including a 98-year old farmer, some children who were studying there while their parents worked elsewhere, and the teacher in charge. Conversations ranged from the current condition of agriculture in Bali especially post the Aila cyclone of May 2009 to education and aspirations and much more. The second experience included a long conversation with Shri Sukumar Paira himself touching on a host of experiences and observations, meetings with some students talking about the school Nature Club and their aspirations for the future, conversations with some farmers, and a visit to the newly inaugurated Girls’ Hostel. We then left for out two-night stay at Aponjon, Pakhiralay.

It is impossible to detail out the varied and rich nature of the experiences in a blog piece – and indeed, it would do no justice. Bare facts are one thing, a human experience and engagement is quite another. This evening – 24 hours later – the ten of us sat around and talked about any one thing that we took away from the two days we have spent here – today being a day-long launch trip into the astonishing Sundarbans forests to and from the Burirdabri watchtower which is on the border river of Raimangal, looking across the wide swathe of water at the Khulna district of Bangladesh .

A heavily paraphrased illustration of what and how ten very different individuals remembered and were affected over both these days is perhaps a better evocation of this incredible experience.

(Ranan repertory member, actress and production person, freelance work with children in various schools through music and drama)
“In a conversation I was having with Jo on the launch today, we both thought we would love to visit and stay in one of the villages we were passing – only she was thinking for a week and I was thinking for 24 hours. What am I scared of? Perhaps scared is not the word. I’m not bothered about amenities or the lack of them. But what would I be doing for a week? The complete lack of knowledge about that. I’ve spent time in rural areas with school, but there is a whole gaggle of girls there! What is the experience of just me and the village – that’s both scary and exciting.”

(Producer with Transport Theatre, Stage Manager)
“What really struck me was the huge community that I encountered as I got off the boat at Bali. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t that. They were all with us when the boat came in, all with us in the beautiful schoolroom, and all with us when we left again. They were together with us the whole time. I felt very supported even though I couldn’t communicate with them directly. I was struck by the generosity of the sharing.”

(Ranan repertory and core group member and Administrator, actress and dancer, works in Insurance Sales)
“My day-job involves selling insurance for a company. Gosaba is one of the branch offices under me, and when I went to Bali with my agent, I was also interested in how I could develop business here.
In the classroom at the Secondary School when we spoke to the children about their aspirations, many of them said that they wanted to stay on in the Sundarbans in what they did in the future. An observation made by Sukumar Paira at that point has been haunting me. He said that they are not yet aware of the realities and practicalities of living in the Sundarbans. Once they are faced with that, they may well leave for good.
And my professional self was asking, how can I even think of developing business somewhere as poverty ridden as this in a country where the idea of life insurance hardly exists in rural areas.”

(Dancer, Ranan repertory member, learning to be an actress)
“I went with Romoni – one of the girls I met at the Primary School – to her house nearby. She was affected with polio when she was 8 and is now about 19 years old. She does intricate zari embroidery on saris and gets just about Rs. 200 for each sari even though it can sell at Rs. 5000 or Rs. 6000 in Calcutta shops and up to Rs. 20000 in a branded boutique. That too, she gets paid much after she has done the work. Her mother works harvesting paddy on others’ lands and get paid Rs. 100 per month per family she works for. Her father does not work.
And yet she spoke to me frankly, sang me two songs and pressed me to stay for lunch. As I was leaving both she and her father asked if I could do anything to help them. That was when I felt most helpless – it was a pathetic moment for me.”

(Ranan repertory and core group member, Production Coordinator and Movement Trainer, Actor)
“Yesterday evening after we arrived at Aponjon, I got a call from Sukumar babu asking if everything was ok. He has already helped us so much in organising the day at Bali, there was no need for him to call me after we had left. That touched me a lot.”

(Artistic Director of Transport)
“The classroom in the Secondary School at Bali with the students talking about their dreams and aspirations. The optimism in the midst of so much adversity, even from children who haven’t seen their parents for nine months – parents who work away from home. The people’s stories and careers / jobs that came out of that exchange. What would be the level of optimism and aspirations I a deprived school in Kent? And they were so well-behaved!”

(Ranan repertory and core group member, actress, architect)
“We always think of roots as life-giving, but here I felt they were life-taking. No one decided to be born here, it just happened. And then they are caught. Like when the roots of the mangroves go down, it’s as if the soil starts clutching onto it so they can’t break away. Where would I be today if I had been born here?”

(Artistic Collaborator on The Edge project, actress, producer)
“I see the mangrove tree roots as the place where earth and water meet. Intermeshing, interlocking, connecting – a community working together. Each tree is a symbol of that strength.”

(Captain and sailor)
The drive here, having never been in India before! And the sense of community and family, and their connectivity to their life support system / natural environment. How the community rooted in a place responds together. We speak from an urban perspective – what does a ‘better life’ actually mean?”

(Artistic Director, repertory and core group member of Ranan, dancer, choreographer, theatre director)
“What struck me most on the launch trip into the forests and at the watchtower was the quality of silence, and the quality of listening it demands from you. The quality of stillness. It has a grace and a majesty, a dignity that commands respect. Do we actually take it in at all?”


Sundarbans Moon Journal       -  December 2011
- Dana Roy

(timings are approximates since I was looking at more fascinating things than my watch)

10th December
5ish in the evening: Travelling from Bali Island in a launch we see the red moon before the approaching lunar eclipse. There in that half light on the river I wonder for a second if that red full moon is the disk of the sun. Slow logic tells me it isn’t, the sun had already set leaving long red fingers of twilight across the sky and the low hanging red moon
Song in head: Jersey Thursday
night brought on it’s purple cloak of velvet to the sky, and the gulls were wheeling spinning…”
5:30 pm : Later at Aponjon Hotel it looks slightly less red but very much like a disk of cheese with a warm coloured orange light cast on it. It is slightly higher in the sky. It seems to have developed a five o’clock shadow in one corner of its chin, but it’s so slow that we doubt if the eclipse has actually begun. Funny thing, I can’t actually see many stars, just the evening star right above us.
6pm: It definitely is the eclipse. There is a chunk of the moon missing from the sky. We watch the eclipse, watch the earth’s slow progress across the sky. I think of this silent unstoppable coordinated dance between three giant moving bodies. A dance only fathomable to us by the shadow the earth casts on the moon, by the shadow we cast on the moon. A brief but measurable sense of our cosmic journey. I feel awe.
7 pm: Now it resembles a clove of garlic.
Song in head: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…” clearly awe has left us and we are being a little silly.
What is this obsession with the moon and food? - Cheese, garlic, pizza
8:10 pm: It looks like a thumbnail clipping – at least that is not food.
8:20 pm: If I looked at the sky now for the first time that night without knowing anything about celestial occurrences, I would have instantly thought something had ripped a bright little slit through an inky black blanket that covered the sky. No stars are visible. There is just a rip, a sliver of Heaven glowing through an otherwise impenetrable black. You can easily see how omens and predictions could come about. In the city watching an eclipse, such a thought seems silly, but out in the Sundarbans there is no escaping the leap in your heart when you look up and see something undoubtedly wrong with the sky.
8:30pm: The total eclipse. The part of the moon that had been disappearing into shadow suddenly can be made out, lit only by the corona as the earth completely eclipses the sun from the moon’s point of view. Curiously, the moon does not disappear from the sky like you are led to expect. It gets swallowed by the shadow and when that shadow is fully cast, the moon looks like a very pale imitation of itself. It still is faintly red and oddly, stops looking like a two dimensional disk and looks more spherical, more three dimensional, with a faint shading around the edges that show a depth distinct to a sphere.
9:20 pm After dinner, we looked up to see the moon had emerged quite a bit, cleaner and whiter than I ever remember seeing it before, like it just underwent some ritualistic purification. Certainly it was startling after having grown used to it’s redness all evening. I’m reminded of the Chinese dragon that is said to swallow the moon, or was that a serpent. No, perhaps the serpent is Indian and the dragon is Chinese

11th December
7:45 am: The moon appears again this morning, high-ish in the sky. We are on the river, on a launch wending our way through thick morning fog. I am watching through a window below deck. In the milky whiteness, my mind plays tricks on me again, I think the white disk is the sun struggling to shine through a thick white curtain. Then the boat turns and the real sun reveals itself, perfectly spherical with a soft incandescent glow that you see through the haze that surrounds it. There is no chance of mistaking it for the moon.
Song in head: CSNY’s Cathedral.  Not for the lyric as a whole but for the tune/ movement of music and I suppose random bits of lyric that my unconscious throws at me that seem to fit. The song just mirrors in a different context the emotional responses of the present moment.
After dinner: Rhea and I talk about stories of the Lady in the Moon. The moon looks exactly like it should on the Chinese Full Moon festival. I tell her the Chinese story of the princess of the Heavens trapped on the moon by her father for falling in love with a shepherd on earth, and how the cranes take pity on them one night in the year (the day of the Moon Harvest Festival) and form a walkway across the sky between the earth and the moon with their wings so the lovers can meet for one night.
The Bengalis and Chinese both have a Lady that lives on the Moon, the Romans and Greeks have Diana and Selene of the Moon. It is only the west that seems to talk about the Man in the Moon, some guy whose hair was made of spaghetti according to a kid’s nursery rhyme that flits across my mind. The song is unapologetically thrown out of my head.

12th December
After dinner: We walk along the embankment at night, having switched off our torch. The moon is full, bright and brilliant and lights up the whole landscape. Doug suddenly sings 3 notes of “Moonshadow” pointing out our shadows cast by the moon. Have I ever seen my own moonshadow before? The rest of the song plays in my head as we walk back to Help Tourism. I’ve always loved the song but confronted with my own moonshadow it doesn’t seem to make any sense, even just the music of it doesn’t work in the moment. Must find out what was meant when it was written.

- Amlan Chaudhuri

Be(n)dhechhe Eman-o ghar
ShuNyer upar po(n)jtaa ka're ....
Dhanya dhanya ba'li tare!
[ What  a house He has built in thin air!
But how firmly founded!
Bravo, bravo to him!]

Lalon Shah phokir.

O re, noukaar upar Ganga Bojhaai ..............................................
[It's a scary game to watch:
A boat loaded with a river, sails on dry land.
The river's name is the Water of Life.
You can find it in the microcosm.
In a wink of an eye it overflows its banks,
In a wink it dries up, too!]

the title song from Ritwik Ghatak's " The River Called Titas"


Shut up and Listen

Dana Roy

Everywhere you go in the Sundarbans you meet loud tourists shouting at the top of their voices to each other “Eikhaney kichu nei, there is nothing here’. Looking out of the enclosed walkway meant for tourists at the mangroves and the mud they are convinced there is nothing out there worth any attention. Thankfully they leave quickly. The trick that this place teaches you over and over again is to stop filling the space with you and then, ah, and then the Sundarbans offers a feast for the senses.

Take a walk at night with a torch and all you can see are the two steps in front of you lit by torch light. But switch the torch off and suddenly, amazingly you can see clearly right till the horizon lit by the brilliance of the full moon.

Talk, night or day, and all you can hear is yourself and the person next to you. But stop talking and the sound of the waves leap up at you louder than anything before. Listen, and it is not just the waves; you are immediately struck by the depth, density and intensity of sound that you were not even aware of a second ago, such pitches, tones, clicks and rhythms. The deep underlying steady hum of the insects, above that the lower tones of the waves, each wavelet finishing with a gentle high tabla tap, persistent and rhythmic. Over that the plopping of the mudskippers and the staccato clicking of the crabs at your feet. Then both a high pitched and low pitched wind that rustles through the leaves. Above that the myriad calls of birds each with their own musical time, unpredictable like improvised jazz but still the perfect counterpoint to the steadiness below it. And somehow, caught in the center of it all, the peace, that only a rest could bring in the middle of a musical score. Caught in the center of all those tones is silence.

There can be no doubt in such an intricate orchestra of sound that the Sundarbans are full of life. Listening to all that life it is incredible to believe anyone could think “eikhaney kichu nei”. All anyone needs to do is shut up and listen.


BURIRDABRI: Sunday, 11 December 2011

- Vikram Iyengar

I am sitting in the prow of a small launch in the Sundarbans. It is 2.30pm and we have just about ten minutes ago turned into a wide river – which I think is the Jhilla – from the Burirdabri Khal. The waters are falling. The tide is receding revealing more and more of the land they submerge, more and more of the contours of the narrow creeks they flood, more and more of the network of mangrove roots that hold up the trees in a tangled and interconnected mesh of precarious support. The waters are calmer now, with gentle ripples – the strongest being the waves our launch kicks back as it glides sedately forward. The surface reflects floating impressions of what lines the banks – a myriad shades of green and brown that will defy the colour palette of the most inventive painter. And as one moves away from the bank in this vast expanse of water that is only one of the many rivers that we have experienced since yesterday, it reflects the blue-grey milkiness of the sky – a depth below reflecting a depth above. To my left the sun has begun its journey into the earth, and the waters there shine silver as they catch the light, play with it, throw it up momently in little celebratory crests of gold and subside once again, seemingly at peace.  Yes, the tide is receding, but as the sun warms my left shoulder I remember this morning when it was engaged in conflict with the thick fog that swirled up from the rising waters, only managing to imbue the mists with a greyness of intangibility. The air was damp, the stiff breeze had a chilly bite to it, and the sun only appeared as a suffocated pale disc, looking more like the moon than its powerful self. But in moments when the fog let down its guard and a bundle of rays managed to get through, the waters shone like burnished gold, delighted in the promise of a warmth to come. It was all magical then, it is all magical now.

As I sit here enveloped in this world all around me – the river stretching out before my eyes, a dense green bank to my right, a long, low shadow of a bank far to my left broken unevenly by the silhouettes of treetops, and the blue cloudless sky above turning into a blinding white where the sun is – I feel alone, but not lonely. I feel a oneness. I feel I belong, I feel an acceptance by this place which moves and humbles me. And more than anything I feel my smallness, but do not feel slighted by that. I feel the generosity of this landscape but can only imagine its power. I feel grateful, I feel Grace, I feel peace, I feel Majesty. I feel everyone I love and have loved and lost around me, I feel them with and within me in this place, space and moment. Amazingly, I do not feel their absence. It’s as if this – where I am and what is being given to me with quiet, sombre dignity – is a burden too beautiful and precious for me to bear on my own. They are in this landscape, in this suspended moment that extends into eternity – helping me experience it, helping me articulate it, helping me remember it, and remember them.

I am in the midst of a gift truly offered, truly given – a pureness that knows no motive other than making the planet I call my home a more beautiful, a more awe-inspiring place. People look and pray for miracles all the time. Here is one, and we don’t see it. 


First days...

-Lav Kanoi

On Friday 16th December, we’d had our first formal session with Douglas, Vicky, Emma et al. of Transport Theatre UK.

The Friday session did not start the ‘workshop’ proper; some of us who unhappily did not go to the Sundarbans were brought up to speed.  We were also introduced to Transport Theatre’s and Douglas’ work.  Each of the three productions that Douglas spoke of were topical and quite specific – ranging from shifting identities and dislocation in 20th c. Europe, to the US war on Iraq and affected minority issues; although these narratives approached a more encompassing human experience from what I could gather from the all too small previews (and verbal descriptions) of the productions. This feeling may have been, of course, an effect of the way the stories were told and presented to us; and we were reminded that theatre is essentially storytelling, perhaps essential storytelling. 

Vikram took over to describe the latest leg of this project’s journey and began with the recent visit to the Sundarbans. Dr. Sugata Hazra of the JU School of Oceanographic Studies who answered some specific and difficult questions on the nature of climate change, as well as Sarmistha Dutta Gupta of Ebong Alap who has worked greatly with the people of the Sundarbans, together contributed much to the discussion and the exchange of knowledge. We spoke at length of the living conditions in the Sundarbans; about the degree of uncertainty that these villagers have to live with; the place of education in their immediate lives; and, among other things, how some have dared, with great success, to challenge the river and keep the earth under their feet. 

Today, 18th December, Sunday, we worked for about eight hours beginning with the fruits of an exercise that was done in a repertory session a month ago. This exercise had involved an individual’s response to an impulse-word: home (ghar), making & breaking (bhanga-gora) flow(srot) river (nadi), edge (kinara), etc. There were some very thought-provoking even metaphysical speculations on the human condition.
Next we read a passage, a sentence really, from Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide. It was a tedious exercise, but very enjoyable. The exercise involved speaking every word, and finding a gesture to use with each word. Then we were made to speak the whole sentence, with the gestures, slowly and deliberately. In the final stage, we discarded the gesture and spoke the text flowingly. The difference in performance was tangible.

This exercise intended to make sure that we operate in the present. Generally, when we speak, we do not have a full exact idea of what we are going to say, or how we will say it. This is not the case with memorised text, of course. And it is unnecessary to emphasise how important the illusion of immediacy is to theatrical practice. Douglas also insisted that whenever we speak, we speak to bring about a change – in the auditor, in our selves, in the environment, whatever, some change. I wouldn’t agree with him in a general way, but within the space of performance it is an acceptable thesis. In so far as one may agree with this, the language of theatre is poetry: intense, rich, and powerful. Needless to say, of course, but one doesn’t speak only with words.

The next step was a listening session. We did not hear music, but audio-recordings of people held in detention centres in the UK. Those who seek refuge or asylum in the UK are held in these detention centres while their applications for asylum are reviewed. This isn’t the place to comment on the (in)justice of such an arrangement, but these refugees do come from frightening circumstances, and have tales that make us shiver. We went pale after we heard what these refugees were seeking refuge from. The point to this was to make us appreciate how the narration of experienced trauma is more often than not dispassionate and impersonal – at least on the surface. Actors, however, tend to over-dramatise emotion, something that we were warned against. 
Taking a cue from this, Vikram asked those who had gone to the Sundarbans to recall a story, an incident, or a moment that had touched heart, something that one may have taken away from the visit to the delta.

The next bit involved physical activity. We played three games that promoted one’s awareness of others, of the space; one had to be alert. The first game was called Go!. Here a person in the centre of a human circle throws a ball at any one person on the circumference , and continues this until another player cries ‘Go!’ and replaces this person at the centre. The entire team of players has to make sure that the rhythm of the throwing is unbroken and unchanged. The game gets progressively snappier as the person in the centre is almost immediately replaced over and over again, but all in rhythm!

The second game was very complex, sort of like music. Everyone stands in a circle; the first stage involved throwing the ball generously to somebody else on the ring. The ball must go to every single person on the ring without ever going to the same person twice in the same cycle. Once a pattern of throws-ats  was set, the second stage was introduced. The ball was temporarily out of the picture as people were asked to call out the name of any one person on the ring, who would call out another person’s name and so on until every person’s name was called out (but only once in a cycle). This name-calling followed a different path. The third part to the game involved a person walking across the circle and tapping another person who would then walk across and tap a third person, and so on until every person in the ring is tapped (but only once in a cycle). The game became really interesting when all these three parts were to be done simultaneously, keeping to rhythm as far as possible. Slowly the tempo of the game was increased. This game had similar purposes to the last one.

The last game was sort of like reverse-musical chairs. I will not give another description of how the game was played – if someone is interested, we can get together a group to play it; there’s no better way to know it. Suffice to say that this too involved alertness, awareness, quickness, and intelligence!

Finally, the last exercise today was led by Vikram: it was a movement exercise, with music for impulse and support; it involved group consciousness and collaboration as a chosen action was repeated ad infinitum but with variation depending on impulses from a co-actor’s actions. I know this is a little unclear – but it is late, and I am tired.

We have ten more days of promising work ahead of us. You will have more reports to read!



by Ruchira Das
floating down the Chituri forest
We were going down the river on the boat, when suddenly from the forest nearby we heard something which sounded like the cacaphony of birds - when they come back to their nests in the evening - but this was broad daylight ! - could it be monkeys chattering then? but there wasn't even one to be seen!

Later we realised it's only the echo of the boat's motor from the forest- that marvel of nature had taken that mechanical drone and turned it into a natural sound of its own!


Doug - Day 1

- by Shataf Figar

Today was the first day of the much awaited 2 week long workshop with Douglas. The day started with some text reading. We picked up a text from The Hungry Tide. Took the first line from it and worked on it with a new technique. "in our legends it is said that a goddess's descent from the heavens would have split the earth had the lord not tamed her torrents by tying it to his ash smeared locks". We looked at each word in isolation and then built an action for each word. Once this was done we spent time individually working on identifying the action to the word one by one. Then we got into a circle and read the text out with their respective actions one at a time. We then gave the lines more fluidity by going all the way. The objective was to let each come alive and live in the present moment. Not assuming what the next words coming up were. We were told not to attach our feeling but to look at it the way the author of the text wrote it. The muscular movement in the brain, face and gestures were to be recorded and then collectively put together for the final reading. The connectedness with each word was also very important. THEN WE ASKED THE QUESTION WHY? WHY DO I WANT TO SAY THIs?

The next exercise was a focus and connectedness game. Using the name, ball and touch. The smoothness of the game was focused upon. Being connected to everyone on stage and a smooth progression was highlighted. We formed a circle and created a pattern of flow with names. Once this pattern was created we passed the ball around to form another link. We played with these two in togetherness. Once this pattern was successfully taking shape we were asked to form another pattern or link by touching people on their shoulder and taking their place while the other person went and touched another person. Finally we put all these three different pattern together and tried to achieve smoothness while performing this exercise. What we speak, what we do and how we react.

Then we played GO, which was all about keeping the rhythm in place. One person in the center with the ball starts passing it to other people creating a rhythm. Once this process is on any other member could say Go to the person in the center and he would have to move away letting the person who said go to take centre stage while continuing the rhythm. The idea was to maintain the rhythm on stage and not disrupt it. Any wrong move or any change in rhythm will disrupt the others presence on stage.

Next was the chair exercise: 8 chairs and 7 people. The person who was walking had to be stopped from sitting on that one empty chair. All connected to the right movements and staying connected with the actors on stage.

Finally the day ended with some movement exercise with focus on breathing and connection of the breath to the movement. Lessen it and build it up. It was to first to be able to connect to the music and then allow the breath to connect to the music. And make the movement small and large. This was a challenge for me as I had taken the wrong start by sitting on the floor. It was the most exhaustive exercise and it left us sweating and warmed us up on the cold winter evening.

Finally the day ended with some movement exercise with focus on breathing and connection of the breath to the movement. Lessen it and build it up. It was to first to be able to connect to the music and then allow the breath to connect to the music. And make the movement small and large. This was a challenge for me as I had taken the wrong start by sitting on the floor. It was the most exhaustive exercise and it left us sweating and warmed us up on the cold winter evening.


Some thoughts...


Sundarbans - where truly nothing is waiting yet it awaits

- what exists there and what exists no more, only a sense captured,
through my lenses
- a being there, settling..unsettling, seized and held within, through my senses

(a bit of Sundarbans - where truly nothing is waiting yet it awaits.
- and a poem by Pablo Neruda)

You will remember that leaping stream
where sweet aromas rose and trembled,
and sometimes a bird, wearing water
and slowness, its winter feathers.

You will remember those gifts from the earth:
indelible scents, gold clay,
weeds in the thicket and crazy roots,
magical thorns like swords.

You'll remember the bouquet you picked,
shadows and silent water,
bouquet like a foam-covered stone.

That time was like never, and like always.
So we go there, where nothing is waiting;
we find everything waiting there.



- Dana Roy

Re-reading the post Shut up and Listen, it strikes me that I have not at all been able to capture how one’s senses seem to reach out into the world. Just as your eyes find the horizon when you are out in the open, just as the moonlight lights up all of that great distance into the beyond, just as you look into the horizon and somehow you are present there at the far end of where your eyes take you, so too you discover a horizon of sound.

Photo: Shataf Figar
Let me try and explain better. If you stop, shut your eyes and listen in a place like the Sundarbans, your ears first take in the sounds closest to you, waves, fiddler crabs, mudskippers then your sense of hearing seems to expand till you hear things maybe five feet away, a bird perhaps, or a frog, then it expands further to take in more that surrounds you, adding to the symphony. You ears steadily seem to take you further and further away from the place you are standing. There is no measurable way to know how far you have heard, and sounds do get fainter and fainter till you can just about make out that that is as far as you can hear. How far your horizon of sound is, will never truly be known, not in the terms with which you can measure a horizon of sight. It is also a horizon that you will never experience in a piece of music no matter how complex, because it does not exist, the instruments are finite and there is nothing beyond.

How far can your ears take you?  I am reminded of a discussion during our workshops about what it feels like to be underwater, and the quality of sound under water. I remember floating in the sea just off Pattaya, listening under water. The sounds are alien, unidentifiable because of the lack of language to express them, yet they are distinct even through the quality that water gives them. Sound travels further in water.  How far does it take you? How far away in the ocean is what you hear? One thinks of the great whales that communicate to each other over enormous distances. The connectivity and connectedness of it. I wonder about the bamboo game. And the connectedness of it. How each actor is connected to every other actor in the space, through nothing but bamboo sticks held between them by the tip of one finger on each hand.
When you remember the kinds of listening you experience in the natural places of the world you know that the world is connected. It is the same quality of listening that is required of you in the bamboo game. It is as if the Earth has been playing that game for millions of years and has become so good at it, so adept that the patterns are organic and complex. Actually it is the other way around, we attempt in the bamboo game to replicate the organic quality of the living Earth.

Photo: Shataf Figar
And I wonder what happens if an outside impulse is introduced. So if the world is so connected what happens if humanity provides a push from the outside. How does the world adjust? What happens when there are more external pushes. How long does it take to break the connectedness? How long before a bamboo falls?

Photo: Shataf Figar
Or is it that the Earth adjusts. Millions of years of connection, each organism connected to another, each wave connected with another, cannot just be broken, but the ripples of an outside impulse are seen coursing through the connections. How do we plug in again to this constant communication, how do we shut up and listen? How do we connect, spiritually, personally, collectively, consciously? And it will need a disciplined consciousness, because currently we are shouting so loudly that there is not a chance of listening.

In the bamboo game when you are listening and connected, it is not hard to know what you have to do. It is not a revolutionary change that you bring about in others, or yourself, it’s but a slight shift of gears, not even that. It is subtler than that. It is a listening, through your ears, neck, back, a listening through your body. How do we do find that quality of listening in our relationship with the Earth? What new horizon will be opened up to us then?



- by Shataf Figar

Photo: Emma Cameron
The workshop with Douglas so far has helped me refine my performance as an actor. Each day I wish for the clock to travel to 4pm as fast as possible so that we can start our workshop. I am like a little kid waiting with my bags packed to enter a space that focuses on the word refinement. Refinement of the skills that we possess.

The last week focused a lot on coordination, movements, space, energy, relationship with the other performers on stage, being aware of each other, what you say, what you do and how you move.  And of course the 2 day trip to Nimpith and Kaikhali in the Sundarbans. It was all about Exploration. Exploring the space internally and externally.

Some of the exercises that have really been helpful and have stayed with me are the Bamboo exercise, 3rd force exercises, Impulse exercise, Chorus exercise and the rhythm and movement exercises.

Photo: Emma Cameron
The Bamboo exercise helped me in creating patterns and movements with my body that I had never imagined I could. Responding to each other’s energy in the right measure so that the stick could balance and at the same time being aware of what everybody is doing. Giving and receiving the exact amount of energy. Leading and being led. We started this exercise in groups of 4 and then broke it down to pairs. Once in pairs after a few minutes the bamboo stick was removed and we had to imagine the stick still there and maintain the fluidity of movements. Then the distance between the pair was divided into half. The focus was on receiving and giving of energy, fluidity of movements and creating interesting structures. Vikram's   addition of the text of "All you who sleep tonight" made the movement much more interesting and gave us a lot to play with.

Photo: Emma Cameron
The impulse exercise displayed some really fluid movements. The idea was of how movements would happen when the body is suspended in water  or the sea. A lifeless body. Anubha was brilliant at this exercise and her moves were telling a story by itself. A wonderful sight that shall remain with me. Connecting with each and every part of the body and letting it flow by the forces of the current.

Photo: Emma Cameron
The chorus exercise created some fun and entertainment for the audience. In a group we had to follow what the leader did. And every time we turned sides the leader would change. Some really interesting sightings were made by our audience. It also showed how easy is it to break away from the performance of a group. When this happens it is clearly visible that there is a disconnect between performers on stage. We were asked to perform on simple topics like life in the Sundarbans, life in Kolkata and life in Bollywood. This has been recorded by Vikram and I am waiting to see what fools we made of ourselves.

Can't wait for this week to begin. Waiting for it to be 4pm so that my packed bag and I can enter the space that I loved the most.


That is what learning is

Debosmita Roychowdhury

“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life but in a NEW WAY” …….

Yes, definitely this workshop had been a great learning experience for me. The 2 week long workshop with Transport team made me think about the vastness about theatre, dance….. Actually about the ART...rather I should say the inter connection between different fields of ARTs.
We‘ve done some exercises which were about concentration, awareness, group work etc.  All of those were too good but I personally like “chorus”, “impulse” and “force”.
We were given different subjects to research on and the researches revealed many unknown facts.

Really a lot of thanks to  Douglas and his team for giving us such a great opportunity to work with TRANSPORT.


Questions from within

Debashree Bhattacharya 

I attended four sessions of the workshop with the intention to observe and learn, and use my experience in my career as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. Little did I realise that it would go much deeper and shake me from the roots of my being.

I learnt quite a few things after observing and performing the ‘Bamboo exercise’, ‘the Chorus’ and ‘Drowning piece’, that Douglas had made us do during the workshop. All these exercises provided me with reference points for the future.

Pic: Emma Cameron
Bamboo Exercise
energy flow, energy transformation, patterns, designs, exploring levels, awareness, connection, concentration

togetherness, connection, alertness, presence of mind, focus, awareness

Drowning Piece
stillness, surrender, peaceful, flow, balance

The above exercises were really a learning experience for me.

Kaikhali – on the banks of the river Matla, 21 December, 9.30pm

the Matla river at Kaikhali (Pic: Shataf Figar)
A star-studded sky. Pitch Dark. Sounds of lapping water. SILENCE. It was an eerie, uncanny silence. Felt both peaceful and uneasy at the same time. Can’t explain why. In this context, I would like to mention about the Chorus piece that was created on 29 December. I was unable to hold back my tears that day. Moments from the lives of the people of Sundarbans, each wrapped up in a situation – their sorrows, their joys, their SIMPLICITY, their immense wealth and dire poverty, their innocence and experiences, their regrets and their celebration – all found expression through chorus. And never in my life have I ever thought that ’12 beats’ could become so monotonous as well as eerie and uneasy. Suddenly I was hit by many questions from within.

What’s my role as an artist? My responsibility? Am I committed only to my dance form, a tradition hundreds of years old? What’s the larger picture of which my dance is only a small part?
What’s the truth? About my art? About myself? Where do I search to find myself?
(If I am sounding like a philosopher, I am sorry, but it came straight from my heart.)

Pic: Shataf Figar
In the monotony of 12 beats, Anubha had screamed ‘Bachao’. Save me. Us? From whom? From myself?  Who is the protector and who the survivor? Where do I place myself?

‘Bachao’ still echoes in my ears and my heart.