A play reading of 'Dear Dirty' captures the fears and eccentricities of people mired in conflict

Swar Thounaojam's “Dear Dirty” is a play deeply rooted in present day Manipur, attempting to unfold the fears and eccentricities of a people mired in conflict. The premise chosen by the young playwright is an interesting one. Thounaojam describes the play as a freewheeling spin on clarifications and letters to editors. She attempts to de-contextualise the play, even with the premise, so as to allow a director to employ his or her own sensibilities in it. “I wanted to see what this dislocation of context would do,” she says.

As part of the spoken word line-up organised by Toto Funds the Arts, at the Crossword Bookstore, “Dear Dirty” was read by actors Vijay Nair, Spatica Ramanujam, Shashank Purushotham, Sunil Bannur and Sheila Govindaraj.

Nair, a writer and director, played the “old man” in the dramatised reading. As the central character of the play, whose letter forms the basis for the narrative, the old man seemed like someone each person may have known at some point. Thounaojam says that the idea for the play was triggered at a book reading — also where the play begins — where two noted writers and historians were confronted by an elderly person during the Q&A session.

The play twists many of her childhood experiences in Imphal to be used as devices in telling the story, and then creating a narrative of oppression.

However, Thounaojam's work is very different from much of the writing coming out of the North East. “I want to create an idiom for myself,” she says. According to her, many plays about the North East do not allow for critique as theatre productions. She says, “If you critique it, you're often looked upon as insensitive.”

So for her, creating the space for critique, in both content and form are essential in the process of writing a play, where she can imagine “violence, oppression and victimhood on its own terms.”

Having seen both State and non-State actors in the political stage of her State perpetrate violence, she thinks the articulation of conflict should not just be to elicit empathy or sympathy, or build a case for either group.

The interesting title of the play, she says, comes from the intention of corrupting a salutation written at the beginning of a letter. “Corruption is also a huge part of the daily Manipuri life,” she says. The title also comes from a song, says Thounaojam.