`Unsuni,' Mallika Sarabhai's play, forces viewers to confront the reality most people would rather pretend not to see.
Ensconced in the cocooned comfort of our homes, life is all hunky-dory. `Think again,' that's what `Unsuni' (Unheard) tells you. Less than 10 minutes into the play by Mallika Sarabhai, you are forced to come out of your hedonistic world. Combining physicality of the theatre and the energy of the musical, she brings home painful truths. The play has drawn the real-life stories of five people who feature in the book `Unheard Voices' by bureaucrat-author turned activist Harsh Mander. The five monologues touch on the lives of the people who had the tenacity to fight the odds and take life on their own terms. Based on `A Home on the Streets,' the first monologue, the protagonist tells us he ran away from home when he overheard his parents' comment that he was a `mistake.' Ever since he has lived with other street children. Things start looking up when he is helped by a Jesuit priest to live in the world. Jagtu Gond is not unfamiliar to us. Caught in the vicious grip of the moneylender Babulal, the family struggles to retain their land while the indebtedness increases. Jagtu dies but his son continues to struggle to regain the land.
Harsh realityThe scavenger Narayanamma's life is a blot on us. `O municipality!' is how she is addressed. That is the call to clean the place. When she describes the overpowering stench that has become part of her person, she also tells you why she has to chew pan or smoke! Every story detailed in the monologue is one more dig at the `collective and selective amnesia' practised by us when it comes to the 600 million poor in the country, says the author of `Unheard Voices.' The amnesia and apathy was evident in the tale of Malika, the Muslim woman, a victim of the riots in Bhagalpur. Neighbours became strangers, perpetrators of crime and the sluggish judiciary delayed judgement in a case where this woman was the sole survivor in a family of 16. `The Secret Wounds of Jatin' dwells on the pain of parents, both of whom are lepers, trying to bring up their son in normal circumstances. `Unsuni,' according to Mallika, is meant to rouse the conscience of the vast majority and garner the energies of the youth to involve themselves in helping with their skill sets and resources to improve the lot of lives lived on the periphery.