Playwright Swar Thounaojam shares her thoughts on her play ‘Bogey Systems’

As children, we have all heard of the ‘bogeyman’ in some form or the other. To some of us, he was the monster that lurked under our bed, ready to devour us if we didn’t sleep on time. To others he was the zombie who would turn you into one yourself if you didn’t eat your food. Every culture has its own version of this eerie creature, an ally to parents and a fearful foe to children who are scared into compliance.

Manipuri playwright Swar Thounaojam play ‘Bogey Systems’, staged at the NIFT auditorium, Madhapur starts with a young mother who, having trouble looking after a seven-month-old baby, begins to tell her bogeyman tales and how she will use these stories to control the child’s movements. She decides what bogeyman she will use at what age and why. One morning she finds that the child has died and while her culture requires her to bury the child she wishes to put her baby in a boat and let it sail away. The rest of the story is how the mother goes about doing this.

“I grew up listening to these gruesome tales and they have stayed with me. The actor I am working with, Anu is Kannadiga and while they didn’t have the iconic bogeymen that I grew up with they did have other versions of it. I have used those in the play in the form of lullabies and ditties. It is set in a fictional community that lives in an area which is bound by the sea on one side and the mountains on the other, removed from the rest of civilization. I thought it will be interesting to have a community that lives by the sea but does not ever go near it and then have this young woman who loves the sea come into their midst,” explains Swar.

Swar has attempted to draw a parallel between the bogeyman and present day stories that are used to control the behaviour of children. “This is especially true for urban children,” she says, “ The streets have become a war zone and there are so many ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. I’m very interested in how we’ve become more paranoid when it comes to our kids. The play hence segues from these bogeymen stories to real paranoia.”

Apart from being an accomplished playwright, Swar has also written articles and essays on race and gender issues. Do these subjects find a way into her plays? “ I have tried to bring across some issues on race in a collection of short plays that I did. The play was titled ‘Nepal’. But I focus on that mostly when I write non-fiction, not in my theatre explorations because you need to be very careful while dealing with the subject and doing agitprop theatre just doesn’t work with my temperament.”

Apart from being a playwright, Swar has also written about women in public spaces and having been a victim of such harrassment herself, she has been vocal about the issue in articles appearing in The Hindu and Bangalore based ‘Talk’. “I have been speaking to a lot of women and they face so much aggression for such tiny things. It’s pure hatred, in some cases,” she explains. “But after the Delhi incident lot of debate has started on the subject, even on a personal level.” While she believes that the public consciousness is not the same regarding these issues, she fears that we may slip back to a state of numb comfort.

After the incident where Swar was harassed on a main road in Bangalore, she was told by many, including some fellow women writers that she should have been aware of the street culture and her place in it.” They told me I needed to fight with gloves on and asked me why I went to the police despite knowing it was a patriarchal system. It’s not just the men, the problem is that a section of our society believes it is indecent for you, as a woman, to counter something in a certain manner. I’ve come to realise that it’s a very class-related notion and I hate that.”

And how does one overcome these notions? “By interacting and having conversations with other women. Being exposed to different people with kinds of body language makes us question the way we respond to things.” she explains.

Swar Thounaojam was invited to stage ‘Bogey Systems’ in the city as part of the ‘Women’s March’ initiative of Goethe-Zentrum, Hyderabad and University of Hyderabad.

Keywords: Swar Thounaojam