“Animal Song”, comprising three short stories by Deepak Dhamija, was recently presented in New Delhi.

Different directors follow different devices to stage short stories. Devendra Raj Ankur, who is known as the pioneer of kahani ka rangmanch, prefers to stage stories in their original form on a bare stage with minimal use of properties, while some directors dramatise the story, creating the character of a narrator to comment on the action and carry forward the storyline. Shoelace productions’ staging of “Animal Song”, featuring three short stories at Kamani auditorium recently, adopted a new device with a view to invest these stories with depth and bring to the fore their multilayered reality. The songs sung in praise of animals are used to illustrate that animals are more human than humans, who often indulge in inhumanity.

The stories are written and directed by Deepak Dhamija, an MBA, who works during daytime and in the evening does theatre regularly. For him theatre is a passion and commitment and not a source of earning livelihood. In “Animal Song” the characters reveal their past which contains dark patches of gloom, but their tone is affectionate with a tinge of irony. They confront a moral crisis and take it in their stride. The evocation of a world which is no more has some human warmth.

The stories are enacted almost on a bare stage with minimal props and set suggestive enough to create the illusion of the ambience in which the action has been set.

The evening opens with “Kutte”. Through a solo performer, the world of man and dogs is recreated. The solo performer, a widow, reminisces in her old age about her husband and his cruelty, lacing her account with street dogs. These barking dogs have an element of empathy. There is a sad melody evoked by the rendition of a Punjabi song representing dogs’ protest to God questioning his wisdom in creating man. The song “Bande Bana Ke Tu Das ki Labha” is rendered by Harpreet in a mellow voice. In the role of a widow Vanaya Joshi, film and TV actress, creates a lovable portrait. Despite the bitter experience of her character in her domestic life she narrates her past in a style that is at once poignant and warm.

This was followed by the enactment of “Majh” which moves round two brothers. The elder brother is alone in his modest house. A victim of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he has lost his family and his younger brother has joined the ranks of the militants in protest. Recently the elder brother has lost his buffalo too. While lamenting his loss he hears a loud knock at the door. The terrified elder brother opens the door only to see his long lost younger brother, angry and demanding food in a strident voice. The elder brother asks him where he has been all these years. Unconcerned with the younger brother joining the militant movement, the elder brother keeps on talking about his buffalo. The younger brother leaves the house in a huff, the refrain of the demise of the buffalo continuing. The production is suffused with the melody of songs that focuses on the relationship between man and animals. In one of the songs Krishna reminds the cows about the dusk, signalling the time to go home. The cows reply that they are not bound to obey him because he is a human, expressing the hope that one day they will have their own God in the form of an animal. Vipin Hero sings beautifully, accompanied by Zakir Khan on the sitar. Maheep Singh as the elder brother and Nitin Sukheja as the younger brother give credible performances.

The concluding piece of the evening was “Donkey”, featuring Kuljeet Singh, a perceptive director and theatre activist working with the campus theatre movement in Delhi University. “Donkey” is the heartrending account of a passionately committed freedom fighter based in Punjab province which now forms part of Pakistan. The narrator is one of the friends of the freedom fighter and was associated with him at one stage. Claiming to be the true follower of Gandhi and Nehru, he refuses to marry till the country becomes free. Independence does come but at a huge cost. The country is divided into two nation states — India and Pakistan, engulfing the subcontinent in the worst kind of communal conflagration. The freedom fighter’s town is now a part of Pakistan. As Hindus of the area migrate to India, the freedom fighter refuses to leave his town, unmindful of the imminent danger to his life.

To this simple and straightforward story is added the story of a donkey, the symbol of simplicity, honesty and sincerity told through songs. There are sequences of two school boys who are friends and often fight over the superiority of their religion. Enters the character of a mad man who considers the planet of Jupiter an ideal place where there is no fight over religion and where perfect harmony prevails. Music harmonises these diverse narrative imageries to focus on the suffering of humanity divided in the name of religion, caste and nationality.

As lead narrator, Kuljeet Singh acts in an effortless manner, vividly evocating the world of freedom fighters and the zeal with which they dedicated themselves to the cause of national liberation. Nihal as a mad man, Jagdish as a Hindu boy and Om as the Muslim boy give commendable performances. The song in praise of the donkey is rendered delicately by Vipin and Harpreet.