TOR Workshop- Hamari Pehchaan: Hamari Bhoomika

The following is an account of a transformation seen evolving in real time and space, during a 10-day Theatre of Relevance workshop held in PG Govt. College for Girls, Sector 42, Chandigarh, from 12th to 21st November,’11. The facilitator was Mr. Manjul Bhardwaj, founder of Experimental Theatre Foundation and the Theatre of Relevance philosophy.
Day 1: Sixty girls sit in a hall, their bags held like shields in front of their chests, waiting expectantly. Most of them are fiddling with their mobile phones, while some are chatting with each other, and some are looking frankly bored. Why are they here? Because: a) Ma’am said so,   b) ‘acting ka shauq hai, sunaha yeh director Mumbai se hai’, c) My friend was coming d) it’s something to do with personality development, e) we’ll get a certificate of participation f) last year, the girls had attended this Manjul Bhardwaj’s Theatre of Relevance workshop and kept raving about the fun they had and how confident they had become.
Manjul Bhardwaj, the facilitator and founder of Theatre of Relevance arrives. The core theme of the 10-day, 2 hours- per- day workshop is “Hamari Pehchaan, Hamari Bhumika”.
He groups them according to the expectations they have of the workshop—a) communicators,  b) actors  c) the status quos , d) change makers. The last group is the smallest.
He sets to work.
Day 2: A girl who has never in her eighteen years of existence, ever addressed an audience, stands up in front of fifty  curious listeners, and in a voice quivering with emotion, with tears streaming down her cheeks, reads out a poem she has written.
Manjul asks, “ Kya sab ke saamne rona kayarta ki nishani hai ya bahaduri ki?"( Is crying a sign of cowardice or bravery?”) The girls reply immediately, unthinkingly, ‘Kayarta’, and then, within a few seconds, one demurs loudly, ‘ Nahin, bahaduri ki’. Manjul exclaims, ‘’Yes! Kyon?”(Why?) The dynamics change, a discussion ensues. It is another change of perception being triggered off.
The girl is now asked to walk round the hall, looking at her audience, reading out her poem loudly to them. Her steps change from faltering to smooth, her voice becomes steady and audible. Her face is suffused with a glow as she hears the applause ringing in her ears.
Fifty –odd girls, running in circles, announce their existence to the world. “My name is_____ , my name is my pride”, they exult. The breeze wafts their cry to the skies, to the trees.
Fifty –odd girls step out onto the busy street, which till now has been male territory, where boys on motor-bikes stalk and terrorise them into becoming cowering victims of their lustful gazes and crude remarks.  Today, the girls lay claim to that space. “ Yeh jageh meri hai, yeh jageh hamari hai” , they assert in rhythmic chant and mime. People step out on to balconies to watch. Some of them clap. Guys wheel past to and fro, first with gusto, then with curiosity; two or three stop to ask what’s happening, gape in astonishment and slink away sheepishly.
Day 3: Today, there are ten who raise their hands to read out their MILLY’s—most important lesson learnt yesterday. There are confessions – of anxiety, of pain, of self-doubt; there is a dawning awareness of the fact that they exist, they are; there is praise for their Manjul Sir. There is sharing—of thoughts, ideas; and there are questions.
“ I know I am a drop in the ocean..but, I shall make every drop count… I shall make every drop count”, says Manjul, and the group repeats it, feels it, echoes it with every fibre of their being.
He makes them chant,, “Dariya ki kasam, Maujon ki kasam, yeh saarazamana badlega… tu chup rehkar joh sehti rahi, toh kya yeh zamaana badla hai? …tu bolegi, moonh kholegi tab he toh zamaana badlega…” ( Did the world change when you suffered in silence? The world will change when you speak, when you open your mouth and voice your thoughts…)
…. And they love it!
The ‘status quo’ group has dissolved; the ‘change makers’ are growing in number….
Day 4: One girl voices her suppressed resentment: ‘I have two brothers, one elder, one younger, who keep dictating to me what I must do and not do. two drawn swords hanging on either side”.
Another says, ’My cousin’s wedding is approaching. Everyone sings songs, the same traditional wedding songs. I told my mother that I too will sing a song this time. I will sing ‘ darya ki kasam…’
Manjul tells them, “We make ourselves lose, because we lose interest in ourselves….. hold your energy, the energy in you that is physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual…hold it, maintain it!”
“ Hum hain!” (We are! ) The hall echoes with their repeated calling back of their selves to a state of awareness, of pulsating energy.
One says, ‘I want to show the world that we can also do something, that we can achieve..” They all clap and reiterate the sentiment.
Manjul initiates them into another song,” Mil kar banaya hai humne, ek naya jahan hai”( together we have created a whole new world)
Day 5: The girls are in theatre mode now, enacting vignettes from their lives… lives fraught with repression and stifled desires. A daughter is denied permission to go to her friend’s house after dark, whereas her brother can roam freely. … another says there is hardly time to study, for she has to help in all the housework, while her brother lifts nary a finger…
Issues of girls’ vulnerability and   consequent security concerns open a Pandora ’s Box of questions. A gender debate and sensitization ensues.
Day 6: The hall is rocking with energy, the air waves resonating with expanding ripples of “Hum hain!”  One after another, the girls step up to read out their writings, their expressions of selfhood. They say that they are now experiencing happiness, experiencing what it means to be really alive. They feel the change within them, and are ready to embrace change, to take on the world.
“Mil kar banaya hai humney, ek naya jahan hai”…
Small performances – movement, rhythm, dance, begin to take shape on the stage.
A play, ‘Anamika’ evolves, scripted by one of the girls. Yes, they want to perform … in front of the whole college, in front of Principal Ma’am and their teachers!
Days 7, 8, 9: The script of ‘Anamika’ is fine-tuned; roles are assigned, voice training is intensified and ‘blocking’ of actions begins. The girls are exhausted, but not worn –out, by the repeated rehearsals; they want to get it all just right.
As the day of the performance draws near, there is pressure, yes, but no anxiety, no fear, only excitement. Their confidence is brimful.
The attachment and bonding with their Manjul Sir is intense. He means the world to them, for he has given them the gift of truly living, and of recognising their worth as human beings. Day 9 is bitter-sweet, for it forebodes an ending, though new vistas glimmer on the horizon.
Day 10: The air is palpable with exhilaration. The entire college has turned out to watch the performance of ‘Hamari Pehchaan, Hamari Bhumika’. Girls crowd the balcony or sit clustered together; many stand on tip-toes to look over others’ heads. The Principal, teachers, guests and Manjul Sir in the front row. The girls of the Theatre of Relevance are conducting the entire 40- minute show.
The crowd erupts into cheers every few minutes. The performances are rocking! The teachers  watch in stunned amazement—are these magnificent creatures, standing erect and confident, speaking clearly and looking straight in others eyes, the same timid little rabbits that used to huddle in the back benches?  Many eyes are moist, especially when ‘Anamika’, the nameless, asserts her own identity as a human being, a woman, an equal partner with man.
From self to society—the change begins from within. The Theatre of Relevance workshop catalyses the self into awareness and action. For PG-GCG 42, as its Principal said, that is what education is all about.
‘Mil kar banaya hai humne, ek naya jahan hai’…

Dr. Iqbal Judge


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