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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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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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.