25 March 2011

Book Review: The Life's Too Short Literary Review 01

The Life's Too Short Literary Review 01
edited by Faiza S. Khan & Aysha Raja 
Hachette 124 pp; Rs. 395
Sandwiches and tuitions

This Pakistani anthology presents lives concurrently private, steamy and violent.

"THE LATEST edition of the prestigious Granta magazine encourages readers to look to Pakistan for more than violence, religious extremism and abject desolation. It chooses to do this with a collection dominated by pieces about violence, religious extremism and abject desolation.” Thus began Faiza S Khan’s superbly caustic review of Granta 112: Pakistan, published in November 2010. Khan, with collaborator Aysha Raja, has since brought out her answer to Granta: The Life’s Too Short Literary Review 01. Published in Pakistan by Raja and Khan’s Siren Publications, the volume available from Hachette India (in “slightly altered form”, it says mysteriously) contains 14 contributions. The juiciest is Mohammad Hanif’s translation of an excerpt from Challawa, a serialised Urdu fiction featuring a lesbian detective called Sabiha Bano. Though barely four-and-a-half pages, it makes clear why Bano’s exploits were so popular in 1970s Pakistan (and frankly, why Jaipur Literature Festival organiser Namita Gokhale baulked at Khan reading it aloud at a festival gathering that included schoolchildren). Here is Bano eyeing the possibilities on a bus: “…the daughter — about 12 or 13 — was still too young for purdah. I looked at her small breasts and could feel the taste of guavas on my tongue, a taste I hate. I prefer oranges, fresh, round oranges.”

The rest of the volume, sadly, contains nothing half as steamy as Challawa. But there are many fine stories by talented new writers. Sadaf Halai’s marvellously understated 'Lucky People' deftly evokes a milieu of hunter beef sandwiches and maths tuitions and its distance from the world of spinach quiche. A much grimmer urban world emerges from Sarwat Azeem’s tale of a doll’s wedding. Childhood and the loss of innocence are also the subject of Aziz A Sheikh’s consummate 'The Six- Fingered Man', set in a strife-torn but still magical Kashmir. Despite the editors’ understandable (and nearly successful) effort to avoid self-conscious takes on the ‘big issues’, violence hovers often in the background. In 'To Live', a couple on a romantic assignation is shaken up by a bomb blast, while in Madiha Sattar’s 'Ruth and Richard' (perhaps my favourite), an ageing Pakistan columnist watches another blast unfold on a Manhattan television screen. Even so, it can only be described as deeply ironic that a long New York Times piece about Khan’s discovery of Challawa and its publication in this book is filed not under Books, or even Travel, but in NYT’s ‘At War’ blog.

TWO SUGGESTIONS: Ahmad Rafay Alam’s 'The Last Moghul of Shalimar' is a superb piece of writing, spare yet atmospheric, which makes one wish there was more non-fiction here. And could the next volume contain more translations?

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 12, Dated 26 Mar 2011

18 March 2011

Konkan: Gold Coast

A quiet haven on the Maharashtra coast.

The first time I went to Tarkarli, it was June. The auto we hired from Kudal station took us through miles of shrubland, the red earth soaked from the last downpour, gleaming wetly in the sun as it waited for the next one. I spent three days there, on the Konkan coast of Maharashtra: quiet days, mostly waiting for the rain to start again. The downpours were unlike anything I had seen before, great sheets of water that seemed to merge sky with sea. But what I remembered most vividly from that time was the red soil all along the road, magically transformed into near-white sand along the water’s edge.

This time, it is December. The earth is still red, but there is no rain. The sun is mild, the sky a cloudless blue. The auto ride from Kudal is still rather lovely, but nothing feels as elemental. I am ready to be underwhelmed.

Then the road begins to wind its way slowly out of the plateau, past mango trees covered with new yellow-green leaves, down to the coast. Now there are coconut palms. And banana trees. The houses of Tarkarli began to appear. Many of the houses are still tiled in the traditional way, but their old-style red roofs sit atop the most funkily painted walls. It isn’t quite rainbow town (I never see a true blue, or a proper green) but there are oranges and yellows and reds and pinks and purples, in the most remarkable combinations. Banana-yellow walls with a fuchsia door, a red house with a purple well, a white temple with orange eaves and green trellises. Why don’t I remember these colours from the last time around? Had the monsoon lashed the colours into submission before I got there? Or was I so preoccupied with red earth and pouring rain that I never noticed all the brilliant ways in which people had added to that palette?

I’m still contemplating my oddly selective memory when we reach Devbagh, the next village along the coast after Tarkarli. Devbagh is where we’re staying this time round. The road has somehow managed to run alongside the coast while keeping the beach firmly out of sight, so that when we draw up in front of Siddhivinayak Beach Resort, the sea is like a surprise present. The Khobrekars live in the old house, closer to the road, and they’ve built a series of rooms for guests closer to the beach. In the large open area are several palm trees and a big thatched umbrella.

I’m just slightly anxious because our mobile phones have refused to work on the way here and the last time I called was three weeks ago. But everyone seems to know who we are. Yes, yes, our train reached on time. Yes, we’re from Delhi. Yes, we’d like our rooms. While our rooms are readied, we settle down in the shade of the thatched umbrella-roof. The benches are rough-hewn slabs of cool black granite, balanced on stumps of local reddish stone. The tables are covered with red plastic tablecloths. It is New Year’s Eve, and the Maharashtrian family there looks curiously at us. But there is white sand between my toes. There is a cat. There is cold Kingfisher. And there, with not even a palm tree standing between me and it, is the sea.

It is no time to be underwhelmed.

Fishermen buying ice to store their evening catch

For lunch, we eat the first of the vast meals that are to characterise this holiday. Each thali consists of rice and fish and chapattis and a vegetable — and sol kadi, a digestive drink that’s served in small steel katoris but should ideally be drunk by the gallon. There are four of us, so we’ve asked for two bangda (mackerel) thalis and two surmai (seer fish) thalis. Surmai is not available, so they suggest something called sawandara instead. It’s the local fish, we’re told, the fish that’s caught in Devbagh village. What we’re not told is that it is the tastiest fish in the world.

Suffice it to say, we eat a lot. We take naps. Then we do nothing at all, unless you count watching the sun go down. The evening brings a few more revellers, mostly families. We watch the men drink lots of beer while the women don’t. There are a few young men, too—a college gang on holiday. The resort guys decide they must please the crowds and put on ‘Sheila ki Jawani’. Thankfully, they soon run out of Hindi film songs, and start to play raunchy Marathi lavani hits: the only one I recognise is ‘Apsara Aali Re’ from the film Natrang. The songs are filmi, but the mood is real. The boys have brought fireworks. We sip our wine and watch the display. It’s a happy new year.

* * *

The next day we take a bus to Malvan, the nearest town (and the place which gives its name to the gorgeous food we’ve been eating). From Malvan jetty, we catch a boat to Sindhudurg — literally, the Sea Fort. It’s a massive stone fortress on an island called Kurte. There are crowds of tourists, including hordes of schoolchildren who spontaneously seem to break into chants of "Shivaji maharaj ki jai". I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, since this is Maharashtra and the fort was built by Shivaji.

Our boat contains a group centred around a curly-haired man in sunglasses and white kurta-pajama, who I decide is a local politician. We are ferried through somewhat choppy sea, only to be told to get off far from an entrance. We descend into knee-high water and clamber stoically across a tricky stretch of rocks, gazing up at the impregnable stone walls above us, feeling like medieval invaders (or Crystal Maze participants, depending on your authenticity quotient). Stragglers (i.e. those who display reluctance to leap into seaweedy water) are exhorted to be more manly by Sunglasses. Thankfully, no battles ensue.

The inside of the fort is remarkably bare. There are trees, some houses, a temple to Shivaji. There seems to be nothing to do except climb up to the highest point like dutiful tourists. The view is spectacular. The land spread out below: dull brown, barren and bone-dry and, all around it, as far as the eye can see, an expanse of blues. And as I look out at the massive stone walls that we were so recently on the outside of, I suddenly recognise the space for what it is: territory. I’m reluctant to go but Sunglasses will be in a hurry. Sure enough, there he is, watching the children yell "Jai Maharashtra" as he waits to hustle us back to shore.

It is almost lunchtime. We head straight to Chaitanya, a restaurant I remember fondly. It’s packed. I’m just thinking about how much more Malvan locals are eating out these days when I realise it’s New Year’s Day. We eat a thali each, as we should, and add two new items to our Malvani repertoire—mutton and ‘mori mutton’, which turns out to be shark meat. (I prefer the mutton.) We wander around the town, admiring wooden houses and roadside churches, and window grills with Queen Elizabeth’s head in the pattern. We drink kokam soda. Then we catch an auto back to Devbagh.

The next morning we have arranged to go see the dolphins. Even though we’ve been shown pictures of a wounded dolphin that washed up on Devbagh beach just days ago, I am not hopeful.

The last time I was here, the sea was too choppy to go out to the spot where dolphins apparently gather, where the Karli river meets the sea. Since then I have been to the Sundarbans, clutching my copy of Amitav Ghosh’s Hungry Tide and (bookish tourist that I am) hoping to see dolphins almost more than tigers. But to no avail. Still, we wake at six and scramble out to discover that the boatman has forgotten about the plan. He has to be woken, as do the others apparently coming with us. We crossly refuse placatory offers of tea. When we set out, it is nearly seven.

But no grumpiness can hold out against a dawn sky and a grey sea slowly turning translucent blue. When we reach the river’s mouth, there are already two boats biding their time. We wait and watch. Then there’s a flutter of activity—someone has spotted something. It’s like the classic moment when the guide whips out his walkie-talkie and all the jeeps congregate next to the nala near which someone has just reported the sharp barking call of the chital.

Except we’re at sea and there’s nothing to mark the terrain. But there is also nothing to distract us. So that when the first gleaming silver snout appears, there’s a collective gasp. Then there’s another snout, then a fin, then a tail. There seems to be a pair of them, diving in and out in a kind of playful dance for several minutes before they vanish below the waves. For a minute there is silence. Then someone spies another, in the opposite direction. The boats jump to attention, revving up their motors to move as close as possible. There are more dolphins now and we watch in delight as they somersault. But they know we’re there and gradually they move away from us, swimming further out to sea.

* * *

We return to Devbagh via what is known as Tsunami Island, a sandbank created during the tsunami in 2004. Boats are parked there, and we wander around barefoot in knee-deep water, happy to discover a stall selling tea and—to our joy—fluffy homemade dosas and the wonderful Maharashtrian sweet called modak: plump parcels of rice flour filled with coconut and jaggery. It’s a thoroughly charming breakfast in a thoroughly charming place, but once we’ve boated and walked our way back to Siddhivinayak, we’re not unwilling to eat another one kept ready for us. It’s poha, light and lemony, with a sprinkling of grated coconut and the super-fine bhujiya that I am told goes by the super-fine name of nylon sev.

But it’s not just double breakfast day. It’s double marine-life expedition day, too. After a quick swim, we head to Malvan again—to snorkel. Two of our party are not-quite-swimmers—they can stay afloat but don’t know if they like the idea of going underwater. It’s only after our exceptional instructor explains that snorkelling doesn’t involve going underwater at all that they look a little more convinced. By this time we’re behind Sindhudurg—that rocky stretch of sea from yesterday turns out to be a coral bed too—and once we see the people already snorkelling, with float tubes around their waists and only their faces in the water, there’s no more tentativeness.

The coral reef is magical. None of us have ever seen one before and the multi-hued world that suddenly opens up before our eyes is indescribable. Jewel-like fish dart about in the shadows, their swiftness in stark contrast to the slow-motion quality of everything else underwater: the tendrils of various plants, the vast cabbage-like corals and us, slowly circling the area, our flippered feet trying their best to follow instructions not to splash.

A couple floats in the waters near the Sindhudurg fort

The afternoon meal feels much-deserved and we eat pretty much every kind of seafood on the menu. Then we wander through the backstreets, looking for a way back to the jetty that goes along the sea. There isn’t one, but we do find a rock garden, and a sunset point, and a cricket club on the beach. Eventually we reach the jetty and find the municipal fish market. We get back to Siddhivinayak, where we seem to be the only people for dinner. We eat and talk of various things. But, from time to time, one of us looks up and catches a dreamy look in the other’s eye and we both know it’s the coral we’re thinking of. Nearly two months later, the sea still haunts my dreams.

The nearest railway station to Tarkarli is Kudal, approximately 45km away. The most convenient train from Mumbai is the overnight Konkan Kanya Express (`910 on 2A). Autos are easily available from Kudal to Tarkarli (`400). From Delhi, the Trivandrum Raj-dhani (`2,495) takes 24 hours to Sawantwadi Road, a station 54km from Tarkarli. If you choose to fly, the nearest airport is Dabolim in Goa, from where Tarkarli is 100km (a two-and-a-half hour drive). There are flights to Dabolim from all major Indian cities (from `3,000 one way ex-Delhi; `1,800 ex-Mumbai; `2,300 ex- Bengaluru; `4,000 ex-Kolkata). Maharashtra State Transport buses (msrtc.gov.in) ply from Mumbai (`375) and Pune (`415) to Malvan.

The local bus from Devbagh to Malvan (`9) is fairly regular during the daytime. Autos from Malvan to Tarkarli or Devbagh will charge `125–150. The ferry from Malvan to Sindhudurg costs `33.

The MTDC Resort, Tarkarli (from `1,800; 02365-252390, maharash tratourism.gov.in) cannot be beaten for location. Each ‘Konkani hut’ (all non-AC) has an almost unobstructed view of the beach. There are dozens of homestays and ‘resorts’ in Tarkarli. Most involve a few extra rooms added on to an existing house, with food supplied by the family kitchen. Rooms are basic and usually non-AC. Try the well-regarded Ghar Mithbavkaranche (from `1,400; 02365-252941, gharmith bavkaranche.co.nr). In the adjacent village of Devbagh too, more and more families have opened up their homes to tourists. Among the more organised are Swami Samarth (`800; 9404170104, swamisamarthbeachresort.com). We stayed at the well-managed Siddhivinayak Beach Resort (`700 non-AC and `1,200 AC; 02365-248407, 9404448687), run by the marvellously hospitable Khobrekar brothers. Rooms are basic, but clean (some have AC). Whatever else you do, do not leave without having eaten ghavan (a soft pancake made from ground soaked unfermented rice, close to Karnataka’s neer dosa) here.

If you like seafood, Malvan is heaven—on a budget. Malvani cuisine centres around rice and fish, but chapattis are served with every thali, and in a restaurant, you can usually take your pick of prawn, crab, shark, chicken or mutton. Bangda (mackerel), surmai (kingfish) and pomfret (the most expensive) are all of high quality, and local varieties like sawandara are well worth trying too. The famous Malvani fish curry looks more fiery than it actually is, because the masala—a combination of whole dry red chillies, coriander, peppercorns, fennel, cumin, asafoetida, cloves, cinnamon and star anise—is tempered with the sweetness of coconut and the sourness of kokam. The best part of the thali, though, is sol kadi, which combines coconut milk with kokam to magical effect. Do not be put off by the pinkness of it; that’s the natural colour of kokam. The most well-known eatery in Malvan is the conveniently located Chaitanya (Dr Ballav Marg, Bharad Naka; 11am–10.30pm; 02365-242172), a five-minute walk from the bus stand. The bangda thali (`75), bangda fry (`25) and the mutton thali (`120) here are particularly good. Atithi Bamboo (Maghi Ganesh Chowk, Rosary Church Shejari; noon–3pm and 8–11pm; 9423304327) is further away, but worth the trek. The charming Yeshashri Coldrinks (a few minutes down the road from Chaitanya; 02365-252637) is a great place to shelter from the afternoon sun and offers a variety of lassis, flavoured sodas, amrakhand, shrikhand and homemade ice cream in such innovative flavours as ale-limbu-mirchi (ginger-lemon-chilli). I recommend the mango lassi: a rich, divine mixture of tartness and sweetness (and this is in winter, when it’s made not with fresh mangoes but with the mango extract popularly available in these alphonso-growing regions).

The beaches of Tarkarli and Devbagh are stunningly beautiful. You may want to do nothing but swim, sunbathe and walk along the seashore. But if you’re interested, there is no dearth of activities—although these are largely weather-dependent. A boat-ride (`800 per boat) can be arranged from Devbagh to view dolphins, which tend to congregate at the point where the Karli river meets the sea. The seventeenth-century Sindhudurg fort, built by Shivaji on an island just off the coast of Malvan, is worth visiting. Ferries from Malvan Jetty depart every half an hour (`37 per person). (Not all boats can take you all the way up to the entrance, so if you’re reluctant to clamber across the final rocky stretch before the fort, inquire before getting on.) Snorkelling services are advertised in various places in Malvan—just make sure to insist on a trained instructor. `400 per person will include the cost of the boat-ride from Malvan Jetty, the snorkelling equipment and the services of the instructor. During the monsoon months—May to September—the sea is too rough to go swimming or for boats to go out to Sindhudurg fort. On a previous visit, we found a boatman who took us to Bhogwe (`800 for an hour there, more if you stay longer), which turned out to be a rather lovely neighbouring village, with mango and jackfruit trees and a small, gorgeous stretch of beach. The town of Malvan is worth exploring. The further away you go from the jetty and the bus stand, the quieter it gets. There is a rather charming Sunset Point and Rock Garden, both looking out over the sea. The Municipal Fish Market is most active in the mornings and evenings, when the fresh catch comes in. There are plenty of shops selling jewellery (real and imitation—my friend acquired a fetching nose ring). You can also shop for cashew nuts, kokam juice, Malvani masalas, papads, and sweet and sour concoctions made from mango, jackfruit, tamarind and other local fruit.

Published in Outlook Traveller magazine, March 2011. (Photos courtesy Outlook Traveller)

12 March 2011


A still from Akvarious Productions' The Interview

It’s garnered immense goodwill over the years among the theatre fraternity. But what has the Mahindra Theatre Festival actually achieved? TRISHA GUPTA finds out

AMONG THE PLAYS showcased at the sixth Mahindra Theatre Festival, just held in Delhi, was a production in English called Dancing on Glass. Written and directed by Ram Ganesh Kamatham, Dancing... is a scathing take on the IT world in Bengaluru. It also contains what the festival website describes as “some explicit language”. A few months ago, Kamatham’s play caught the eye of The Guardian’s theatre blog. Having excitedly described its expletive-laden dialogue as “drawing gasps” from Delhi’s Habitat Centre audience, the blog went on to heap praises on Kamatham for placing a “darker and angrier vision of India on stage” than is done “in the West and by its own film industry”.

Much might be said for the play’s brutal energy and unabashed language. But The Guardian blogger hangs his appreciation on the idea that in “a cultural climate dominated by escapist Bollywood narratives [and] song-and-dance routine[s]... realism can be every bit as shocking as the swearing.” The lazy, catch-all Bollywood bashing apart, this is precisely the sort of polemical argument that often gets made about theatre in India — sometimes, sadly, by theatrewalas themselves. But it is a tiresome and inaccurate stance, one that only does disservice to the thing it wants to promote — because while realist, outspoken, angry, unmusical plays are part of the contemporary Indian theatre scene, there are as many that are fantastical or myth-inspired, tender, thoughtful or riotously musical. The brilliance of Indian theatre — if such a thing can be assumed — lies in its capaciousness.

It is this capacious spirit that the Mahindra Theatre Festival, instituted in 2006 in conjunction with the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META), seeks to embody. Plays staged have ranged from marvellous amalgams of literature, dance and music like Sangit Giribala (2008), Chetan Datar’s Marathi production based on Tagore’s short story Manabhanjan, to the affecting mime play Mirel Masingkha from Manipur, which won awards for Best Original Script and Best Sound Design in 2010. Plays that apply can be non-verbal and can include physical theatre, puppetry, multimedia and dance. Sanjoy Roy of Teamwork Films, whose team has been organising META since its inception, remembers an entry from Odisha last year that was taken from village to village by bicycle. While it didn’t make the final shortlist, the instance reveals an organisational vision inclusive and egalitarian enough to pit a practically unknown production from Kerala against a Girish Karnad play. After the inaugural year, when competing plays were first divided into “established” and “emerging” theatre, META has also done away with the seniority-based hierarchy that leads to competitions being limited to playwrights or directors under a certain age — like Mumbai’s Thespo. “The sifting process tries to showcase the best theatre and largely it succeeds,” says Mahesh Elkunchwar, Marathi playwright and META jury member for 2011.

META’s “sifting process” is also unusual. Unlike most theatre festivals, including the National School of Drama’s (NSD) Bharat Rang Mahotsav in Delhi, the Prithvi Festival in Mumbai, or the Ranga Shankara Festival in Bengaluru, it is not based on invitations. “We started in 2006 by asking our selectors to send their recommendations, but since then, it’s been a democratic process, where any group can apply,” says Roy. Ten productions are shortlisted from hundreds of DVD recordings by a committee of theatre experts to perform at the festival in Delhi, where they are viewed by the public and by a special jury. Plays compete for honours in 13 categories, from Stage Design to Best Ensemble.

OF COURSE, not having a ‘quota system’ that ensures equitable regional representation means that states and cities with a thriving theatre scene send in more entries and are likely to get more plays in. Over the past six years, Kerala, Assam and Manipur have all been regularly represented, as have Meghalaya, Delhi, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The most consistently successful state, though, is Maharashtra, with plays from Mumbai and Pune often dominating the festival. The 2011 selection was particularly skewed, with five productions from Mumbai and two from Pune. “With seven plays from Maharashtra, people were joking the festival this year should be held in Mumbai,” laughs Mumbai-based director Akarsh Khurana, whose dark satire The Interview is one of the seven. “But really, Mumbai audiences have had a chance to see them, so it’s great that it’s in Delhi.”

Maharashtra’s dominance at the META awards is perhaps not surprising. Apart from having successful commercial theatre in Marathi and Gujarati (and in Hindi and English, if in lesser numbers), Maharashtra regularly holds districtand state-level theatre competitions with state-sponsored awards. Though some other state governments like West Bengal and Manipur do give away theatre awards, as do corporations and smaller bodies devoted to the arts in some states, recognition and financial support for theatre in India is less than negligible. “Normally theatrepeople live in penury,” says Elkunchwar matterof- factly. In the contemporary Indian scenario, where non-commercial theatre survives largely as a labour of love, the power of the financial reward cannot be underestimated. Though the sums are by no means large if you place them in the context of the contemporary cost of living in urban India — Best Production gets Rs. 1 lakh, Best Original Playwright, Rs. 75,000, and the 11 other awards Rs. 35,000 each — the money is a bounty for most Indian practitioners. “META is the only thing that has given the experimental theatrewala some money,” says a grateful Manav Kaul, whose remarkable plays have won awards almost every year.

FOR LESSER-KNOWN groups, it is the prestige of competing at the national level that makes META a lifealtering experience. The excitement of performing to a full house at Delhi’s Kamani or Shri Ram Center auditorium is palpable, especially in those who do not work in urban metropolitan contexts — even if, like Bidyawati Phukan, director of last year’s award-winning Guti Phulor Gamosa, their performances regularly gather crowds of thousands. Phukan, whose group UTSA lives and works out of Namaithang, a village near Assam’s border with Arunachal, remembers the META experience warmly. “It was wonderful to meet other groups, and people like Boman Irani and MS Sathyu. And the awards inspired our group to work harder.” For Dr Yumnam Sadananda Singh of Manipur’s Kanglei Mime Theatre Company, META brought rare exposure. “We were invited to the NSD festival in January. It was packed. Many couldn’t get tickets. Now we are doing shows in Kolkata and Kerala.”

In great measure, the immense tide of goodwill generated by META and the Mahindra festival over the past six years is an index of how starved theatre, like the arts in India in general, is for both funding and recognition. “Any form of support for theatre can only be lauded,” says Neelam Mansingh Chowdhury, who runs the critically-acclaimed Chandigarh- based theatre group The Company and is a META jury member for 2011. Theatrepeople seem almost resigned to the fact that there is little space for critical (or any) coverage of theatre in a media culture so dominated by popular cinema. “There seems even less coverage than 10 years ago,” muses Mansingh. “But the play in the context of the festival gets covered at least.” “Theatre may or may not draw large audiences, may not have any visible returns in terms of a spotlight on the sponsors,” concurs Anuradha Kapur, director of NSD and co-jury member. But while most theatrepeople are deeply grateful for the existence of a META, it is far from filling the enormous and urgent need that exists. “There is absolutely no reason to be apologetic in demanding State support,” says Kapur. “The world’s best, most cutting-edge theatre, German or British, subsists on State funding.” Sanjoy Roy points out that the arts in India function despite — not because of — government policies. “It is not handing out money for charity, but an investment in the wealth of the nation, in creativity. And creative arts like theatre also provide a platform for the discontented voice: we see it in plays from the Northeast every year.” Clearly there is a great deal more that needs to be done, and no shortage of ideas about directions from which change can come. And almost every theatreperson you ask has tens of them — taking theatre festivals to smaller towns, instituting permanent repertory companies that might afford a viable livelihood to theatre practitioners, building affordable theatres in every Indian city. What makes META special is that it has had the gumption to go beyond the small-scale ambitions with which theatre in this country is taught to be content. Perhaps what is needed is to think even bigger. Arundhati Nag, 2011 jury member and founder of Bengaluru’s remarkable theatre hub, Ranga Shankara, is not being facetious when she says corporates have a duty to patronise theatre: “Earlier, you had kings, now you have corporations. Why should there be an IPL only in cricket? Why not in theatre?”

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 11, Dated 19 Mar 2011