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An unusual ballad of war and peace

Kanthi Tripathi is no stranger to the pen. She has written short stories and plays, and hers is a familiar by-line on articles about international trade. But as Stage Buzz prepares to translate one of her plays into a stage production for the fi rst time, the seasoned bureaucrat is bracing for a debut, says ANJANA RAJAN... .

`Kurukshetra ... " in rehearsal.

SURYAKANTHI TRIPATHI, currently Director-General of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, is an engineer by profession, has moved around the world as an officer in the Indian Foreign Service, and seen her articles on international trade - not to mention her short stories - appear regularly in national publications. She has also written a few plays. But lurking just behind the confidant elegance, warmth and efficiency of the DG's persona is an excited, possibly nervous playwright who is about to see one of her plays produced on the professional stage for the first time. The smile is accompanied by a distinct self-conscious giggle, and an admission that fingers are crossed for the success of the production.

The play, "Kurukshetra... and After" is set in the desolate aftermath of the Mahabharata war. Just as the epic can be interpreted at several levels - as a metaphor for the perennial struggle between delusion and enlightenment, and also as a strikingly accurate portrait of human politics - the play too carries these twin concepts. Based on the logic that among women, there is only one side, the losers, and that leaders of people need to rise above their personal weaknesses and petty desires if they are not to unfairly drag the populace into mayhem, "Kurukshetra... " is an exploration of the philosophy of duty and courage, failure and weakness, and the strength to unflinchingly search for the truth.

For director Manohar Khushalani, who is known for his long involvement in theatre dealing with issues such as drug abuse, Sati, dowry and bride burning, this has nevertheless been "one of the most difficult scripts I have ever directed". Having acted in a large number of proscenium as well as street theatre productions, this is his seventh directorial venture. His challenge this time has been to translate a highly poetic script and its ideas - discursive and theoretical but not action based - into a stage performance. The style of presentation he classes as fusion. He steered clear of a period presentation though it is set in the context of the Mahabharata, because it was necessary to highlight the perennial relevance of the ideas. Music for the production has been composed by Indraneel Hariharan.

On why she chose this vehicle to convey her ideas as opposed to a novel or short story, the playwright says, "I like speech because it is direct. Description sort of nails you down. I am fascinated by speech."

Kanthi Tripathi... enter the playwright. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

The various visual interpretations one can give the words - perhaps what Khushalani has been struggling with - attract her to the medium. But the director is not complaining and is happy to have found a new playwright. Her writing in English is of added significance. Khushalani who has also directed in Hindustani, points out that though there are a number of Indian writers in English, there are very few playwrights. With the rest of his group, including actresses Rashmi Vaidyalingam, Charu Malhotra, Ruchita Puri, Nidhi Sharma and Shreya Sharma, and the lone male actor Parvesh Haryani, he hopes their newly formed organisation Stage Buzz will get off to an auspicious start with this venture, to be presented this coming Wednesday and Thursday at New Delhi's Shri Ram Centre auditorium.

A play about war, about wretchedness, no winners, revenge, accusation, guilt - auspicious? Yes, it can be, because the playwright - whose pen name is Kanthi Tripathi - explains that in the final analysis it comes to a positive conclusion and affirms the belief that there is innate courage in every individual, and that it is possible to rise above personal loss and grief by immersing oneself in the service of others.

"It sounds very moralistic," she laughs apologetically.

But who can deny society needs a reminder dose of morality? Otherwise we won't be able to change the significance of the words of the Kurukshetra chorus, "History was then, and is ever, The red swelling of a river."

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