In “Notes on Chai”, Jyoti Dogra evocatively used body movements as a language.
On a bare rectangular floor she creates images through her body postures and sounds produced by intricate manipulation of the voice. The imageries thus projected instantly draw the attention of the audience. It is a fantastic theatrical experience to watch the expressive power of human body to bring alive slices of life from a world familiar to us. This is the art of Jyoti Dogra who presented “Notes on Chai” at Goethe Institut Max Muller Bhavan, New Delhi recently. The mark of her artistry is that she does not need decor to create an ambience for her theatrical presentation nor any musical instruments and chorus. As a solo performer, she does use dialogue in three languages — Hindi, English and Punjabi — but the emphasis is on the projection of variety of body postures, intricate and pregnant with deeper meaning about human existence. These days such experimental pieces are rarely seen on the Delhi stage. She seems to have a gift to establish a lively rapport with the audience.
Mumbai-based Jyoti introduces her character in an informal tone. Her character is a married woman. In the morning she sits on her balcony, enjoying a cup of hot tea. She loves to see the movements of the people on the street. She is a working woman and she tells us that she got this job at the Life Insurance Corporation through the good office of the friend of her husband. She seems to have been leading a happy conjugal life. Then her image of a young woman is metamorphosed into an old woman who once lived in Lahore. The reference to tea continues like a refrain.
At one point, her character reflects on life and says she always keeps herself busy so that she does not indulge in brooding. Keeping herself engaged in work keeps at bay the weird thoughts that assail people with no work. Then she is obsessed with the thought of going far away but she is not certain what could be her destination and then in the device of the stream of consciousness she admits that it is not easy to leave her place, her husband and they have also bought a house and moreover she loves to sip her morning tea while sitting on the balcony.
The refrain about tea continues: tea needs various ingredients like milk and sugar. She is also particular about the person suffering from diabetes who should not take sugar in their tea. Another image emerges, that of an old Punjabi woman who says with a sense of pride that she goes to England where her daughter lives. The narrative once again talks about tea break in office. Another old woman replaces the image of the earlier woman. This woman is very fond of basking in the sun during winter. The image of the woman keeps on changing. One woman prefers to remain silent but her problem is that by nature she is talkative. Once again, the young woman appears talking about morning tea. She recalls that as a young woman she was shy and she continues to remain so but has no hesitation to drink at the behest of her husband and now she drinks neat. She is conscious to remain physically smart and regularly gyms at her home.
Jyoti’s unique artistry is reflected in her exploration of sound and voice who has drawn elements “from Tibetan chanting techniques, western harmonies and extended vocal techniques create different sonic textures.” She seems to have been inspired in the style of her presentation by Polish theatre director Grotowski’s concept of the “poor theatre”. Her complicated body poses have elements of yogic asanas which she conceptualises in an effortless manner. She uses mime, pauses, rendering of monologues and interior monologue to create a variety of moods. She steps out from one character, entering into another in a dexterous manner. In her concluding sequence, she reflects in an intricate and subtle manner on the illusory nature of human happiness.