play right

An Indian play struck a special connection with its young audience. Just look at these Post-It notes

After a successful run of several years, ‘Kyun Kyun Ladki’, based on a Mahasweta Devi book, is retiring.

An actor lies down on the almost bare stage of Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre and wriggles like a fish. Another actor mimicks the gurgling of a river with fluid body movements, as Moyna, the protagonist, skips across the make-believe waterway. In the audience, a child gasps, mesmerised by the drama of a forest unfolding in front of her. This was six years ago at the opening of Gillo’s Kyun Kyun Ladki, a children’s play based on Mahasweta Devi’s book, The Why Why Girl.

At a time when children’s theatre was rife with loud comedy and slapstick scenes, Kyun Kyun Ladki was a play that stood out for its quiet, graceful reflection of a child’s innate curiosity. Mahasweta Devi’s story, published by Tulika Books, is about a tribal girl who is full of questions. As a note from the theatre company Gillo explains, “It is the story of Moyna and at the same time the story of so many children, all who always ask the question ‘Why?’ Performed through dance and movement, the play shows glimpses of their lives and of their minds.”

Now with the play nearing 50 shows, director Shaili Sathyu is preparing to retire it after a few more runs. “We initially planned the play for five shows, really because of the way [the] play was developed,” said Sathyu, over a phone call. “The actors had no idea of the entire play – they knew bits of it, and didn’t know how it came together...”

For the production, the cast and crew quizzed children and parents about the questions that kids often ask. “We took on the key questions,” said Sathyu, adding that they searched for different contexts for the same questions asked in the original story. “Why is the colour of the sky blue? Why do I have to work? Can fish talk? Any child in the world would have some of those universal questions in their mind.” But the play isn’t just about questions. It’s about the motivations and context that propel a child to reach a question, and then what happens in the ensuing conversation. Often these questions are dismissed by adults as annoying or awkward. But Kyun Kyun Ladki celebrates the questions and a child’s curiosity.

One reason Sathyu plans to retire the play is because the original cast is no longer part of the show (except for actor John Soans, who returns especially for the next run). Gillo’s adaptation of Mahasweta Devi’s story was a collective creation by the cast and crew that took four months in the making. “Every actor’s reflections added to the characters in the play,” said Sathyu. “One could say the ownership completely lies with the actors. This brings in a sense of conviction in what they are portraying and has to a large extent been the core of the play.” Sathyu added that a certain soul of the play gets lost if the actors don’t have ownership of it. “We want to leave this play with good memories, create work together with a new collective.”

In a 2011 review in the now-defunct Time Out Mumbai, this reporter wrote, “What’s fascinating is the lack of sets on the stage – the actors seamlessly transform from playing children to adults to animals and even a door, a pump and gurgling river.” The actors worked with Bharatnatyam dancer Hamsa Moily intensively to recreate scenes through movement, which became a spectacle on stage. Another goosebump-inducing moment is when the teacher in the play sings Safdar Hashmi’s poem “Kitaben”. The clear voice rings out across the hall, holding everyone from the children to the grown-ups spellbound. It is moments like these that make Kyun Kyun Ladki memorable.

Sathyu explained that their attempt has been to give space to a child’s voice through the play, and not what adults think what a child’s voice should be. Which is why, not all the narratives in the play have neat endings. “The parallel narratives are more like thought bubbles,” Sathyu said. “As you read stories, you get other thoughts, the mind goes into different thoughts, they evoke smell, memory. We were going into these thought bubbles. And it’s not important to find a closure on that.”

Before each show, Sathyu takes to the stage and welcomes the audience and advices the grown-ups against explaining the play to the children they are accompanying. “Children understand more than you realise,” she points out. And the audience – the children – seem to love it, going by the feedback the play has generated.

Sathyu said the play was well received by many friends in theatre who otherwise don’t like to watch plays for children. “We tried by not spoon-feeding children, and with the aim of respecting a child’s capacity to process a performance and make sense on their own,” she said. “We succeeded to some extent.”

After each show, Gillo keeps post-its and sketch pens for children to write their thoughts on. “I loved why Why Why girl the best,” writes Arushi; “I liked the book part. It was funny,” writes Yuvansh. Sathyu recalls a show in Pune in either 2011 or 2012, where a six-year-old came out with her mother and asked in Marathi, “Aai, tula kadle natak (Did you understand the play)? Should I explain it to you?”

“It’s these small reactions from children that are worth more than a thousand lukewarm responses from others,” said Sathyu. “This is what motivates us to continue planting more questions in children’s minds.”

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.