Theatre

Is there a future for co-existence?

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Rihla, directed by Neel Chaudhuri, deliberates our immediate insecurities and imagine what hope itself could look like

In a world where the very idea of democracy is in acute crisis, a search for a new country is only the beginning of a much longer and more complex journey. Aagaaz Theatre's Riḥla, directed by Neel Chaudhuri and born out of l Want a Country by Andreas Flourakis written in 2012 after the Greek financial crisis, is a many-layered exploration into the possibilities of our collective futures. The play was performed at the Ranga Shankara Theatre Festival recently.

While the arts enable us to interrogate pasts, critique presents and imagine futures, in the current context of deep polarisations of politics and socio-economic conditions across the world, together with the ecological degradation of the planet - it is hard to think of any hopeful future. And yet Aagaaz Theatre - a group of young adults who live in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti in New Delhi - those that are often at the receiving end of the consequences of our collective greed and follies - come on stage to deliberate our immediate insecurities and imagine what hope itself could look like.

Through a series of deeply immersive scenarios, nine actors between the ages of 16 to 21 years become at once travellers, migrants, refugees and would-be-settlers of worlds they are yet to reach. The deliberate slowness creates a contra-time, a visual poetry that connects their articulated desires, half dreams and half fantasies of the new country they aspire for. The use of simple properties like ladders and luggage that transform into boats and bodies of dead country, constantly creates and breaks meanings. The improbable dreams of their lives collide with lived experiences of their realities through different voices. These are voices that are often ignored, silenced or even erased by dominant narratives. They are voices of the citizens of tomorrow as well as those whose agencies are still in struggle. This makes for a tentativeness in the play that allows it to be playful and significant at the same time.

I have often fantasized about a revolution by children, water and trees – those that are most innocent of the crimes against the planet, yet those whose futures are the most affected by the very atrocities. I have wondered what would happen if the children of the world decide to take matters in their own hands. Listening to Greta Thunberg gave me a sense of what the beginning of that revolution might look like. Watching Rihla was to witness a similar voyage exploring ‘tomorrow’. These are children, who in their own words, ‘relentlessly question what is, to probe what could and should be’.

The imagery of water that runs through the play as sea and rain places the life of the play at the edge of time - before the beginning or after the end - and the audience remains vacillating, unable to decide but captivated nevertheless. The sound design of the play is exceptionally brilliant too, creating its own world. One could experience the production differently with one’s eyes closed.

Soon after watching the play I asked – why was there no conflict strong enough to break their solidarities? Why didn’t they kill each other? I realised the stupidity of the query soon enough. They are not yet adults for whom ideas of the nation are so congealed in legacy that any deviations from it cause rage with fatal consequences. They are the young imagining a new country – for them it is still joyful play – allowing for narratives to diverge and differ and still be accepted. I was also reminded of a dear friend from Kashmir who had once asked ‘If Kashmir wants to be a new nation, what kind of country will it be? Will it just copy the blueprint of its oppressor, India?’

What remains the most significant aspect of this play for me is the manner in which the various arguments of this new country are able to give voice to diverse ideas of what 'ideal well being' constitutes for different people. Could they be enabled to create a future of coexistence? Could they begin to form new kinds of solidarities? Could they not just reframe the rules by which we play, but demand a different playing field that can be more just and equitable? Riḥla asks, and enables its audience to join in the quest. Ultimately, like any critical piece of art, Rihla pushes the very boundaries of what it frames – a country for tomorrow.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 10:59:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/is-there-a-future-for-co-existence/article30106934.ece

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