Infinite Souls

Picture yourself in a boat on a river...

with tangerine trees

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

The girl with kaleidoscope eyes

I saw a rosy okapi upon the stream
I ate some okra-hominy in a sunbeam
I saw a silly zebra eating broccoli Cuba Libre
& an inky octopus inside the sea
in a little yellow bus came down to me
as I was sittin on the morning eating Corn
- from "I saw the Sunflower Monkeys of the Moon" by Allen Ginsberg


She sweeps with many-colored brooms,
And leaves the shreds behind;
Oh, housewife in the evening west,
Come back, and dust the pond!

You dropped a purple ravelling in,
You dropped an amber thread;
And now you've littered all the East
With duds of emerald!

And still she plies her spotted brooms,
And still the aprons fly,
Till brooms fade softly into stars -
And then I come away.
- Emily Dickinson

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green, towering over your head

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes

Now she's gone


Of Ramayana, Theatre Lab etc

20th July 2010
Thus I came to the end of C.Rajagopalachari’s translation of the Ramayana this morning and I wish I were back at the beginning. In his preface to the third edition he writes about the stories contained in the Ramayana “They are the records of the mind and spirit of our forefathers who cared for the good, ever so much more than for the pleasant and who saw more of the mystery of life than we can do in our interminable pursuit for petty and illusory achievements in the material plane.”

…for the good ever so much more than for the pleasant.

I gave my copy to Marcelo Diaz, the director of Schnawwl’s Ramayana and wrote inside – So your journey to India has begun. I didn’t add that either way, love it or hate it, oh boy, yours will not be an aloof experience. And you’ll wonder how it got beneath your skin and why it lodged yourself in your heart.

28th July 2010
I’m back in Bangalore now. This morning I was at a workshop by Tuida – a Korean theatre company. www.tuida.com/tuida_e/shadow_intro.htm
The intention of the workshop was to separate the Body and the Spirit. So you can look upon your own body as an object, of sorts. And make it do things and view the same dispassionately. They read us two lines of a Korean poem. Roughly paraphrased:

Mountain birds flying so sorrowfully,
while women’s hair falls likes tears in the temple courtyard.

They asked us to create a physical/movement response to this, either in the form of a direct image or something abstract. Take about 1 minute to create this and be aware of your movements. The next step was to translate, verbatim, the movement into one arm. Try this exercise, you might like it! But remember the challenge is not to create a new version, but to merely translate, with verisimilitude, full-body movements to a single arm. It’s a lesson in reductionism. And you might discover something new, like an emotional elbow or vulnerable fingertips.

Another interesting exercise for actors offered by Tuida. Take an object, any object – a key, a ball, a belt, a shoe – and make it come alive. But not by acting or developing a situation around it, but by simply examining the innate nature of the object and moving it. That’s it. One actor, Amjad Prawej, so nailed the exercise. He used a belt. The belt had a green and black check design and two metal prongs on the buckle. Visualizing the prongs as antennae, he created a crazy, suspicious snake or centipede that appeared over the edge of a bench, disappeared and then appeared again. Another actor, Vinod Ravindran, used a phone charger to hilarious effect. And so on.


Being in a lab situation is, for me, one of the most fulfilling experiences of being an actor. I grab every chance I get to be in someone else’s class or lab, so I can renew experiences, feel wonder, take chances and fail. There’s no end to the journey and the fun to be had….I’d never give this up. About failure I learned a lot from watching a fantastic Basque actor called Unai Lopez de Armentia of The New International Encounter (NIE Company). He is, as water, utterly transparent. And turns failure into high comedy. What do I mean? OK, get this. There’s a group of actors in lab. Certain directions are offered. Most actors work at perfecting the action or drawing laughs or winning or getting to the end first. Unai goes for bust, no kidding around, but then…he might fail at it. And in that crystalline moment is the genesis of comedy.


OK, let me just grab the bull by the horns.
An observation about Indian actors: We don’t necessarily hear/interpret directions accurately and therefore, in lab, often end up playing to the gallery. We're energetic and clever, so we get laughs. But only rarely is the movement felt or organic. It, largely, falls back on 5000 years of tradition and manages to fool most people most of the time. But to me it feels hollow. I would love to do a movement clinic for our actors and just empower their existing form and offer them new vocabularies and physical choices.


And by that yardstick! Ha! How utterly privileged I am to be part of this mad Indian fabric or continuum or whatever you’d call it. This landmass that has fostered ideas, such as those in the Ramayana, for 5000 years. I’ve all along treated the Ramayana so lightly, as a bunch of stories that everyone knows by osmosis, tales my grandmothers told us children while feeding us dinner. But in my little garret in Germany, the Ramayana came alive for me every night. And I felt so deeply the pain of Dasharatha, the selflessness of Rama and Bharatha, the grandeur of sacrifice and love. And I now better understand Valmiki. And am not in such a quandary about his reaction to Sita, post Lanka.


A life with all this in it.
Tonight feels like some kind of wonderful.


Blogging from Germany: The Unique Hotness of German Men

Saturday evening was the annual Schnawwl Theatre barbeque at Credi and Anne’s garden. I sat there looking around me – children playing, a barbeque fired up, girls in little summer frocks, sails hung overhead to cut the sun, picnic tables, beer, Sekt and all these gorgeous German men. (This was also the day of the Germany-Uruguay game.)

So what makes the German Man so unique that one might even crown him the Thinking Woman’s Crumpet?

I can only say, think Shweinsteiger. Now Villa is dandy, Kaka is ok and Christiano is well, Christiano. Also, he wears flowers in his hair, which is all very princess-y and sexually ambivalent, but I like the unequivocal loyalty of Schweinsteiger. What did he say post the Uruguay game? I want to go home to Munich and drink a groß cappuccino in my favourite café. Not, I’ll be watching Formula One with my super model girl friend. This is a man you can believe. He’s not one to be carried away by molecular gastronomy and out of season carnations. OK, he might be a tad dull, but on other fronts, Shweinsteiger has got it goin’ on.

But for now, we stick with the Men of Schnawwl, jah? The other day I was waiting for Jule at the café bar. It’s blisteringly hot and seriously, it felt like a street fight would break out or at the very least, Billy the Kid would ride into town. I order my Litchi Bionade and shoot the breeze with the café folk. It’s sooooooo hot! I whine. Hot & Melancholy Young Man in Black with tattoos and nose piercing behind the bar says – Must be the same as in India. Noooooo, says I, I’ve never been anywhere in India quite so hot, here I’m sweating all the time. Us too, says Hot Young Man. Noooo, I gush, you all look so chilled. Guess what he says, dear readers?

“Ah, but we sweat on the inside.”

HUGE PAUSE (as this writer reconsiders citizenship)

How irreproachably cool is that?!!!!

Also, they all look so fantastically good because of the general aura of world-weariness that they carry. It is hard, but we shall do it, their arms seem to declare. Slap the wurst on the grill, crack that beer, haul away that trolley full of par cans! Eins, zwei, drei, vier…

Like my friend and cultural commentator extraordinaire, Sophia Stepf told me – Into the abyss and out again! (Then, maybe into the abyss again, but we shall see) And on top of all that – oh, the poetry in their eyes so reminiscent of Schiller (himself sehr dishy) and Uhlandstraße (in Berlin, I must specify, having only just learned that there is an  Uhlandstraße in every German city) and Element of Crime! High Kulture meets the Street.

Thus on the hotness index (never mind the World Cup), no one can beat German men. I therefore toast the men of the Alte Feuer Wache!


Blogging from Germany: It's Sunday evening at 9 o'clock and the sun hasn't set

Cafe Cafga im Jungbusch

...that's supposed to be to the tune of that sad, sad Beatles tune - "She's Leaving home." 

"Wednesday morning at five o'clock 
as the day begins
Silently closing her bedroom door
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more
She goes downstairs to the kitchen
clutching her handkerchief
Quietly turning the back door key
Stepping outside she is free"

Anyway, it is Sunday evening and I've spent the day in complete isolation. First I cycled around Mannheim, then stopped for falafel and a beer at a place near the Hauptbahnhoff. Then, just to be perverse for I wasn't at all hungy, I went to Fontinella's for a Zitrone Gelato. And now, here I am in Cafe Cafga - alone and writing. First I order Rot Wein and then Chilli Schockolade souffle, just to postpone going back to my flat.

This is when I feel really Indian. I'm so used to company, it's a whole new feeling to be alone. It's different is all I can say. I liked the melancholy of it, the anonymity, when I was 22 and in America. The streets seemed so much more romantic because we were alone, no family, no grand infra structure. But now at 44, it feels different. Not sad, really...but contemplative. 

The good thing is that your mind is not racing about like a lunatic, but somehow more still and observant. I've had time to read C.Rajagopalachari's translation of the Ramayana. He quotes from the three big narrators - Valmiki, Kumba and Tulasidas. I am consumed by the emotions of it - duty, sacrifice, undying love. How wonderful and sublime! Every now and then, his own faith makes an appearance and it is so innocent and careful that I can get into it. And feel how much grander life is with these big ideas somewhere visible, even if only peripherally. How much grander than if we were to strive for merely material stuff. Give me dreams, give me poetry any day.

I think everyday, of Farid-ud-Din Attar and Conference of the Birds. 

The Sun of my Perfection is a Glass
Wherein from Seeing into Being pass
All who, reflecting as reflected see
Themselves in Me, and Me in Them: not Me,
But all of Me that a contracted Eye
Is comprehensive of Infinity:
Nor yet Themselves: no Selves, but of The All
Fractions, from which they split and whither fall
As Water lifted from the Deep, again
Falls back in individual Drops of Rain
Then melts into the Universal Main.
All you have been, and seen, and done, and thought,
Not You but I, have seen and been and wrought:
I was the Sin that from Myself rebell'd:
I the Remorse that tow'rd Myself compell'd:
I was the Tajidar who led the Track:
I was the little Briar that pull'd you back:
Sin and ContritionRetribution owed,
And cancell'dPilgrim, Pilgrimage, and Road,
Was but Myself toward Myself: and Your
Arrival but Myself at my own Door:
Who in your Fraction of Myself behold
Myself within the Mirror Myself hold
To see Myself in, and each part of Me
That sees himself, though drown'd, shall ever see.
Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide
Return and back into your Sun subside.

Blogging from Germany: Leben im Jungbusch

For the last 2-½ weeks I’ve been living in a flat in Jungbusch. I cycle out on Bockstraße and head, either over Jungbuschbrücke, or else, past Blau, Mama Mia Pizzeria and over Luisenring, towards Neckarstadt.  There I either stop at Schnawwl Theatre or park my bike and take a tram to Neckarau for rehearsals. I shop for packets of corbasi (soup with lentils and mint) at the Turkish market opposite my building and for smoked salmon, bread and Riesling at the supermarket by the bridge.

I’m finally starting to feel less like a rank stranger because yesterday as I struggled, as usual, to drag myself and my yellow bike in through the huge, heavy courtyard doors, a neighbor showed me how to hold my handle bar with my left hand and manipulate door key with my right and make my way in without spilling the contents of my basket and falling down. I bet you don’t buy eggs – says Simone. Nope, just kirschen and braun champignons. If there are two things that have been really tough here in Germany, the one is entering that doorway and the second is then making my way up five flights of stairs after a long rehearsal. Phew…

The other day I was shopping at Parade Platz with Anne Richter. We went to a book store to get her mother a birthday gift and I saw this book, Metten im Jungbusch by Nora Noë, about three generations living in Jungbusch. It popped out at me, clearly because of Jungbusch. Anne promptly got it for her mother, who apparently, has really enjoyed reading it.

The first evening I was here, I was so curious about this colourful neighbourhood which translates to Young Jungle - old brownstone buildings, broken glass, painted murals, swirls of waves and fish and animals, streets so alive with men drinking beer and women in head scarves yelling at children playing football - at 11 pm. I bought a pizza margerita from the local pizzeria and settled into my room that night. Subsequently, people would go – You’re in Jungbusch?! The exclamation was always a mixture of wow-cool-scary.

Slowly I learned its history. Formerly the red light area it was taken over by artists and the sub culture by the ‘70’s and is now also home to a largely low-income immigrant population. Italian, Turkish, some African. When I look out from my balcony, I see the church steeple and into people’s windows and am so reminded of the set in Reza Abdoh’s extraordinary production, Bogeyman. Through one window, I see an old man, shirtless, painting large oils. Through another I see two young girls drink wine and smoke. Through another, a baby’s bassinet placed on a dining table. Downstairs, in the courtyard three young men, one on crutches, rev a big bike for hours, seeming to simply enjoy the sound of its power. Between two windows separated by about a 100 feet, a clothesline runs and every day I notice, the color of the washing changes. Today it is pinks and reds; yesterday was greys and blacks.

Jungbusch is home to the interestingly named Pop Akademi so I see many young people carrying instruments and walking past the canal, clearly intent on studying pop. Wow. I thought pop was the birthright of the young and we don’t need no education, right?! Times have indeed changed. Yesterday I noticed a poster for a festival of “Kunst on Kanal.” Art on the Canal. This morning, I’m sitting in Café Cafga where I have wifi and coffee and there’s nice music playing! Maybe I should just spend the day here instead of cycling to Parade Platz for gelato at Fontinella’s.

On Saturday, I got in touch with the very lovely and intelligent Bernd Mand, who is a drama critic I met at Schön Aussicht in Stuttgart, and suggested we get a beer at Blau. He wrote back – “At the infamous Blau? Great!” We did just that and also caught two performances at Zeitraumexit on Hafenstraße. This was part of a festival of performance art – Frisch Eingetroffen - and reminded so much of LA in the mid ‘80’s. Conceptual and largely in the artist’s head, the audience being more prop than anything. The first performance was Frau Monster. The opening image was strong – a man in a platinum wig, mascara and glitter platforms, a monster in a magenta “monster” suit and a 15 hanging blow-dryers, all on. If they had stayed with this, I might have liked it. But instead, they began “performing” and there was a narrative – the man was out hunting monsters and had caught one, the monster was in fact a woman studying monsters – and there were two videos that did nothing for the piece. The first of hands cutting chives and the second of Chinese New Year “monster” puppets in a parking lot. So, the hot air from the blow dryers was the most hot air I could take.

The second performance on the other hand, a one-on-one choreography called Takt/il, I loved. For it was performed, by appointment, on the skin and person of the 2-member audience. You left bags outside, had sticker plaster gently placed on your eyes and were led into a space. From then on a tactile choreography of breath and touch was performed on you. At first the feeling was of small animals breathing on you, skittering all over you, gently tugging at your hair. Not at all unpleasant. At one point, there was a small punch. Then you were placed on the ground and both performers played a rhythmic pattern on you. To music. This was the only thing I would have avoided – I found the electronica disturbing and anti-organic. I understand they wanted to foreground the rhythm – fingers moving with the speed and intensity of the music. But I wished it could have been achieved differently. Finally you were left with the electronica and sans touch and oh boy, you longed for that impersonal, rodent-like touch.

Earlier, I met Pietr and Emiliano outside Cafga and they asked us to come listen to them playing at a music festival that was taking place there in the courtyard of the school of Oriental Music. They introduce me to a Bharatnatyam dancer from Jungbusch called Shany who says she will jam with the musicians tonight. When we got back, it was soooo packed we couldn’t get past the pink gauze curtains and tables selling Turkish Ayran. But it felt good to be walking in Jungbusch, talking with Bernd about theatre and his curator’s love of things and history, saying hallo to people I knew and knowing that all around, world over, were the same thoughts. Where is the love? How shall I make her stay? Look after the children.

Blogging from Germany: Alles Für das Feuer

There is something to be said for watching a play while not understanding the spoken language of it. You experience the overall design in a heightened way. That is, given that you’re not disengaged or bored by the performances.  Watching Alles Für das Feuer, inspired by Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, I was captivated by the costumes and the hanging, parallel white paper-like cutouts of the set. I think it’s a huge challenge to tackle period material and myth with a contemporary eye. How to take tragedy and make it look yes, hip and simultaneously mythic? Wagner, in composing Tristan und Isolde, was influenced deeply by Schopenhauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation). This is not easy material, dilemmas about desire and free will and inner peace, require a special approach and treatment to make them accessible and real to contemporary audiences.

I asked Credi (aka Christian Thurm who is in charge of the technical department and the chief designer at Schnawwl) about the paper hangings. They look ethereal and so difficult to suspend. He said they were in fact a thin polystyrene fabric that is used to protect young saplings on streets. They give the appearance of rice paper. They suspend 16 of these but the effect is that of many more. They are hung with a magnet and plumb-line like device that makes it simple to raise and lower. The over all effect is that of an ice cathedral, ancient and vast. As I write I am sitting in the Schnawwl foyer and a group of 16 year olds have entered the theatre to watch it – what will they make of it, I wonder? Will they feel it’s luminous spirit? Will they resonate with the costume ideas?

Manga – comics – paper – transience.

Eva Roos is the head costume designer and Manga comics were her inspiration for this production. When I first saw Isolde (played by Jule Kracht) on stage, what came to mind was the Milla Jovovich character in Luc Besson’s Fifth Element. Raw, brave and radical, in a red spiky wig and an ivory mini. Her sister Brangäne, (played by Simone Oswald) wore a pale blue silk mini dress with horizontal pin tucks and a long silver blonde wig. Both wore chunky black boots, in typical Manga fashion. The men were even more interesting in layers of metallic grey and chain armour fabric that contributed to a real feeling of heroism while staying strangely modern. I remember the use of that chain armour fabric in the Matrix series. It has a way of looking ancient - summoning memories of duels, warriors, weaponry - and yet remaining very cool.

I am so curious about what she’ll come up with for the Ramayana. Most productions of Indian myths either succumb to the high culture burden or resort to a filmi rendition of quasi-Indian costumes. Even in Peter Brook’s Mahabharatha, all I remember are solemn robes in beige, brown and ivory. Gandhari wore maroon and a blindfold. The costumes worked to increase pompousness but eliminated irreverence or lightness, which is as much part of the great Indian myths as philosophy or wonder. For the most part, the universalizing intention of the production eased out any creases of difference and didn’t leave space for quirk or idiosyncrasy. But note, that in a traditional Mudiyettu performance or in Yakshgana or in Harikatha, there is always place for bawdy humour and tom-foolery.


Blogging from Germany: The Best Day Ever

Sunday was my best day ever in Mannheim. Art-schmart, give me a good swim in a cool, cool lake on a hot Mannheim afternoon and…well, my boat just floats. Sorry, if I sound a little loaded.  It’s ‘cause I finally managed to open the bottle of Riesling that has been chilling in my fridge for three days and defying opening. First, I had no corkscrew.  Then, there was no corkscrew to be bought in my local market in Jungbusch. Then Anne Richter gave me a pen knife-corkscrew thingy and I couldn’t open said bottle. And now! Finally, it’s done and there has been a small drizzle in Mannheim making the air delicate and lovely and my bottle has been opened, so…. you get the drift.

But back to Silver Lake… I was invited by Anne Richter to spend Sunday at her home by the lake. She gives me precise directions and instructions and I follow them like a good German not an overwrought Indian artist. I walk to Parade Platz and ask a nice lady for the train to Hauptbahnhoff and she tells me, in German and Sign, that I could just as easily walk there, baby. You read me right, she called me baby! Woohooooo! I love affection from strangers.

So I reach the station get my ticket, stand on the right platform, and watch the right German clock for precise German timing. In between I have a small interlude – I try to call Anne to tell her I am on the 12:12, but my phone is out of money since said Indian artist has spent it all telling her daughter about rabbits on the Neckar riverbank. So there I am with no working phone. A German girl in brown clothes and cigarette in hand takes pity on me and sends Anne an sms and swiftly moves away before I ask her for any more favours.

Then. The train doesn’t arrive! I scuttle down the platform only to see two bogies and ask a man who is boarding whether this is the train to Bobenheim (where Anne Richter will pick me up). No, he says, try the next train. And the train and him are gone! And it’s 12:15 and nowhere in sight is my train. What do I do…. I go to an official, who says – You just missed the train! It’s gone! That was it!

Wow….now what?

I go down to the help desk where a sweet man says – It’s a good thing you didn’t get that one, it doesn’t go to Bobenheim and the only announcement about train change is in German. And, you can use the same ticket to board the next train at 12:44. Oh good, I think and but myself a gelato. Yogurt with berries.

To cut a long story short, I arrive in Bobenheim at 1:04 and…. no Anne Richter! Now, this is seriously unexpected. I bob about wondering what next. The station is like Lillyput land with no phone, just a station-manager who is doing his laundry. I ask in my special way (Ich bin eine henne) if there is a phone I can use. He tells me, in his special way, that there is nothing here. Nothing. Then, in afterthought he says – Walk 200 meters that way and you will find a phone. In utter despair I begin walking and then, praise the Lord! Anne Richter!!!!!

I pad around her lovely house and garden, feeling so happy, as she picks raspberries and tells me the sticky stuff underfoot is the summer sap from the trees. Then we cycle through the woods and pretty mangroves and backwaters with swans till we reach the lake. I can only gasp at the beauty of it.

From the moment we were in it, it was the most perfect sort of bliss. Warm and cools patches of water to swim through, aquamarine, clear. I could have spent all my days there. It was the stuff of childhood dreams – campfire, water, Huckleberry Finn.

I felt so delighted for all the children there. For Anne and Michael’s girls – Selma, Norma and Elise, who will always know this feeling and hold it close to them.

Blogging from Germany: Alle Freund Fliegen Hoch

It’s a special field, creating costumes for theatre. In India, I’ve always felt it to be an under-explored one, especially with contemporary theatre. I’m not referring to folk or traditional Indian theatre that has had 5000 years to get its act together. With contemporary theatre we err in two ways: 1. For want of funds we “put together” costumes. More often than not, they are borrowed & assembled. In itself this is not a bad thing, but often the costumes lack overall coherence and a sense of history, irony and imagination. 2. Costumes for theatre are often confused with fashion and ends up looking more pretty and less theatrical.

Amba Sanyal in Delhi is one of our rare costume design experts. She has studied both art and fabric and to attend one of her workshops is to feel her passion for cloth and weave and dye. She comes from a family of artists and theatre practitioners. Her parents were instrumental in starting Andretta, an artist’s retreat in northern Himachal Pradesh. But her best qualifications by far are her understanding of irony, ability to have a good laugh and her enjoyment of a nice whisky. She is now part of the Ranga Shankara team that is working with Schnawwl and is now working with Eva Roos, the costume designer from Schnawwl. I imagine the two are currently pottering around Chandni Chowk in Delhi, with a Benarsi mask-maker, conjuring up 32 character masks for the new Ramayana production.

Which brings me to Alle Freund Flieghen Hoch or All Friends Fly Up. It’s a 50 minutes play for 3-6 year olds and Eva did the costumes for this. It is a story about a Fish, a Pig and a Bird who become friends. They try to do what the other does - the Pig fly, the Fish Walk, the Bird swim - and they completely fail at it but continue being friends. They talk about their parents who have come from elsewhere and the children, who are often from immigrant families, get the story perfectly well.

The costumes and make up are just so right and fabulous that they epitomize what good theatre costume is all about. Their inspiration is Circus and they draw upon that specific performance tradition to articulate animal characters rather than aim for cuteness or imitation. The texture of fabric used for each character is different. Smooth, shimmery spandex for Fish, soft, worsted felt for Pig, ruffles and feathers for Bird.

Before the appearance of each animal, they represent themselves with an element that is theirs. A squirt of water for Fish, mud being kicked about for Pig and feathers falling from the sky for Bird. The references to the parents are beautifully done. Fish (who inhabits a water-filled bath tub on stage) uses two differently sized flip flops to show his parents, Bird (who hangs like a trapeze-acrobat) uses the end of her boa which has two hand puppets on it, Pig (who digs her way out of a sty) uses objects of memory – high heels and a scarf – from her hand bag. The make up is Circus inspired – cheeks, lips, nose, eyes. Ring around the nose for Pig, rings around the eyes for Fish and a beaky mouth for Bird.

Here is a costume list:

Pig – Old-rose pink skirt suit. The skirt is made from a worsted fabric that looks half felt and half fur. The jacket is a dull pink lace. Pink stockings. A darker pink faux-fur scarf, a pink hand bag and black hoof-like high heels. Her hair pulled into a single off-centre pony tail.

Fish – Black spandex shorts and cream-gold spandex singlet. Two tattoos, one an anchor and one that said Mum in a heart. Hair slick.

Bird – Sky Blue crushed cotton short frock over layers and layers of white can-can and underskirts. White feather boa. Beige-pink tights with ridges on them. Dark grey ankle high Converse keds. Hair braided into two knots on either side of her head.

Blogging from Germany: Men and Navis

Three times I’ve been in a car in Mannheim with men with Navis. They’re a formidable combination. Men in Black, but with navigation tools instead of stun guns. We all get in and then the man will say “Ach so, where do you need to go? I’ve got my Navi, so no problem.” Then they lean over, fondly pick up trusted Navi and wait for it to initialize. Then we start. With Srini he was talking about music with Pallavi. Deekshitar, Thyagaraja, a particular singer from Calcutta….Amba and I listened on diligently. Then slowly the conversation slows down to a brief word now and then, interspersed, largely, with sounds of puzzlement. But…Hmmmm….how….

This is the first stage. Then next stage is disbelief. How can Navi be wrong? They initialize again. “It must be something I did wrong” is the mood du jour. Claus, darling that he is, blames himself “I’m so shit at directions.” I am reassuring “I have all the time in the world and this way I get to see different parts of Mannheim.” Then he pulls out maps. When these don’t match Navi’s story, he knows he’s been had. So he stops the car and asks for directions. Then we park and walk. On the way, we ask a sweeper for directions. He tells us that he has lived on this street for 40 years, and has never heard of the place we ask for. Ach so. Navi, you’ve been a naughty girl.

With Friederich, there was the added charm of the temperature, 32°C at 11pm, and streams of sweat pouring down us. Friederich doesn’t have his glasses and can’t see very well at night. The more Navi leads us astray, the more we bray in sheer hysteria till even I know we were near Universtat klinikum and nowhere near Jungbusch.

With women they just shut Navi off, give it to the baby to suck on and trust their instinct. But men are so earnest with technology, so sweet. They evince a certain belief that, if used correctly, precisely, technology has the potential of solving the problems of all our samsaras. Women, they fear, are too emotionally strung out to truly be good with technology anyway. What could they possibly know about life and death, leave alone directions.

That’s why I love ‘em. Men, that is.


Blogging from Germany: Schaffensdrang

Ah, evening of charm and delight! I’m a bit of a train wreck this morning but so much the better for being so. What’s coffee for anyway? It all began with Andrea and me sitting in the café bar and chatting about actors and stuff. It was hot outside, 34°C in the shade even at 6pm, and the world through my dewy bottle of litchi Bionade could well have been a movie. There’s the girl with the pit-bull and the chrysanthamum tattoo. There’s Bogart across the street, tipping his hat low against the sun. There’s the shadow of the killer. Then Andrea said this word – Schaffensdrang – the burning urge, necessity, imperative, to create. That’s it. It’s possible you get it or maybe not. No matter. Enough that it’s 5.30 am now and I am awake just to put that down. Schaffensdrang.

We went to Andrea’s favourite Italian restaurant for dinner. The garden was full so we sat inside and ordered antipasti and fish and a flacon of cool Italian white. We drank to the Ramayana, to great scripts, to music, to trying, to failing. But always in pursuit of the great Kunst God. Which is much the same as the pursuit of craft or sex or love. Or bliss.

My bedside reading is Richard Schechner’s The Future of Ritual. He’s got a big bone to pick, has Schechner. And though I sometimes lose my way through his crazy extrapolations on events (53 pages on the Ramlila in Varnasi) and obsessions with spatial details (45 pages mapping the Waehma rituals on the Yaqui reservation) I dig what he says fundamentally. That real performance (as against what Peter Brook calls Theater of the Dead) is by definition dynamic and responsive to societal changes and resists scholarly pigeon holing. Also, interesting is his deep analysis of the long time Occidental fascination for and therefore support and perpetuation of what are considered “traditional” eastern arts. The development of a “normative expectation” usually by an establishment of some sort - colonial powers, royal patronage, government, foreign funders - of what constitutes the pure and the subsequent rejection of anything “modern”, experimental. The acceptance of form regardless of context. Schechner writes using the example of the Indonesian Wayang Kulit but he could be speaking about Carnatic music, Bharatnatyam or almost anything in India.

Over Prosecco and Zuppa Inglese, Andrea speaks about how the European arts tradition is based on constant rule breaking. About medieval German music. About how opera has evolved to fill large houses, the instruments changing, the pianoforte disappearing, the very technique of singing growing larger. And how there is now a revival of opera for small spaces, listened to in lamp light so the senses are more aware and able to respond to the softest singing, the warm, personal, acoustic notes of instruments that are strung with gut not metal and so on.

And then it’s late and suddenly we’re singing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and thinking that here we have found Sita – she’s Lucy in the Sky for sure.

Multikulti. Super.

Blogging from Germany: Bangalore Girl Blues

This internet thing is just not happening for me in Germany. And for a Bangalore girl, that’s sooo not ok. I feel disconnected and hopeless. So here I am, early too, sitting outside Café Alte Feuer Wache, connected to the net, or so it says. Communication Breakdown was playing on my IPod and now we’re on to Honky Tonk Woman (from where to where, and it’s yes, all Freudian) and I still haven’t figured why I can’t connect. I have network, I have a password… Kansas, this ain’t, Toto.

I don’t see why grown-ups crib; I love the internet, I love Facebook, I love blogging, I love my IPod, I love Youtube so I conclude that I must be fully establishment or else a 44 year old teenager with zero critical sense. It’s the unformed virtuality of it that’s the thing of all things, innit? Oh, we’re not idiots, we know someone’s keeping a tab, that Facebook has made gazillions off of us and that Youtube is super un-agreggated. But we don’t care, see? And what other space allows so many freaks and weirdos to gather in one hub and turn on, drop out and find support for the same. It’s almost as good as rock ‘n’ roll (but not quite).


Finally, after several hours of belly-aching I realize that some of my settings must have changed since I can’t even access the net inside the café and no password request pops up. Ohhhhhh, how I miss my technophile way, way better half. 


Blogging from Germany: Theatre of Generosity

Yesterday after rehearsal, Simone invited me to her house for dinner. Aren’t you tired, I asked, because all the actors have been groaning with aching thighs and knees and I am the Wicked Witch: Cause of It All. It’s three now, we have dinner at six, so it’s fine, she smiled.

She met me at the Café Alte Feur Wache along with Magic Miro, her white-blonde two year old (Blau fish-Rot Frisbee, Miro) and we walked across to her apartment. High ceilings, wooden floors, and straight into Miro’s room where a tall window, a shelf of children’s books, a coloured child’s piano and a blue tent with stars on it drew me in like a magnet. I was happy to sit there with Miro listening to him play and talk. Happy spaces tend to do that. You want to enter the game too, and play, break bread together and have conversations. Dark spaces undoubtedly, have their own enchantment, but the desires there are more solitary, the pursuits more individualistic.

We sat at a table in the kitchen drinking red wine and Till, Simone’s partner and fantastic father of Miro, brought out a glass for Miro as well and poured him some “kinder wine” and we all raised glasses and talked through the evening, about stuff – a musician from Mali who was playing on the stereo, the fact that the internet has spawned a certain form of subversion allowing all sorts of sub genres to spring up mocking the hegemony of the Big Record Companies. Miro was so much a part of the table, intently turning the pages of the Ganesha comic I gave him.

Then there is Evi who leaves to Delhi on Saturday and is a little scared and says - What should I wear, how should I be? Just FYI, dear Reader, I said - Wear what you like and be who you are. I used to be very “when in Rome” as a younger person, but I don’t feel like that anymore. When I go to Schnawwl in the morning, Evi who must be 6 feet tall, is blond, gorgeous, individualistic and a single mother of a 13 year old, says “Come to me” and draws me in with such heart warming kisses that I know the day will be good. She is in charge of the costumes department and presides over a kingdom of wigs, hats, shoes, sunglasses, can-cans, boas, dungarees, polka dot dresses, make-up and cardigans. She tides me over a tough day with coffee and sweetness.

And Jan, who is one of the technicians. Yesterday I took my German bike up to his department to have the seat adjusted for a 5’4” shorty. The technicians at Schnawwl have to be the busiest people there. They run 2-3 different performances a day and are constantly changing sets, building sets, maintaining lights & sound, building rehearsal dummy sets, checking fire-proofing, working with designers. I often see them moving massive trolleys from Schnawwl to the rehearsal space at Neckarau. And into this scenario, enter Kirtana with bike needs. Jan patiently took the seat down, re-adjusted the basket asked me to check the height. Re-did it twice. Then he suggested kindly that I might perhaps one day like to cycle along the Rheine from Jungbusch to Neckarau instead of leaving my bike at Schnawwl and taking a train.

For I have been cycling around the city! Me and my map. In this way I found my way to the National Theatre last night and went up to the Werkhouse to watch the Germany-Spain game. Oh!….the feelings in that super-crowded room. But two images will stay with me. Julia’s T-shirt that said Summer of Loew in front and Frau Shweinsteiger behind. And Shweinsteiger on the field, post match. Bent over on his knees, head on the earth. Like a child, like a worshipper.

Maike rode back with me, showing me a shortcut from the National to Jungbusch, that took us through back streets of mourning Germans, bewildered, sad, pissed off. And then like electricity, some young Spanish kids charging about in lovely, wild celebration. Then African drums and a singer, people dancing, eating ice cream, folding up their flags and hopefully optimistic for FIFA 2014.


Blogging from Germany: The Ramayana and Me

…have not been acquainted in a long while. So this is such a lovely chance to get in there and remember one grandmother’s puja/reading room with the evening lighting of the lamp and all us cousins sitting together and chanting Suklam Bharadaram Vishnu Shashivarnam. The other grandmother’s puja room had a giant picture of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, standing, so pale and tall and the kneeling Hanuman (not furry or primate-like at all).

I trot off to Blossom on Church Street to buy as many copies of The Ramayana as I can lay my hands on. The one I want the most, my friend Arshia Sattar’s translation, is unavailable. Dammit. No use buying the Kumba Ramayana since this project is pure Valmiki. A.K.Ramanujam’s Many Ramayanas is also missing. So I return home with C.Rajagopalchari’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan version, the Natak Kala Conference collection of papers on the Ramayana in Performance and last but not the least, the Amar Chitra Katha comic - Story of Rama. I nearly buy the Chandamama comic Ramayana, but at Rs 500 a pop (for a comic version that is not exactly Neil Gaiman’s Sandman) I ditch it.

We begin talking about the Ramayana at home and Konarak critiques his mother’s play, Sita, because he says that Rama must be seen differently, not as merely anti-feminist, but as representing a far more subtle and important argument. Oh dear…. my work’s cut out for me. I’ve wrangled with the moral dilemmas of Savitri, Shakuntala, even Shoorpanaka and now I’m handed Sita. How will I make this work? And why so many esses? And oooh, can’t I just play the Acid Queen for a change?

A shameful but important detail – in the name of research, just before leaving to Germany, I went to see Mani Ratnam’s Raavan with my family (oh, it’s only shameful because I did the research fib-thingy, when I really just wanted to sit on plush Gold class seats and scoff popcorn) and it was absurdly bad. The only redeeming factor was that Aishwarya Rai looked truly ethereal in some frames. Sans that, the film’s a dud. Poor Abhishek – buk-buk-ing away in some sad attempt at portraying the torment of having ten heads, all thinking wild thoughts simultaneously. Or else the director said to him “Think Hamlet”. But the fact that Sita is attracted to Ravana (albeit once her husband is proven more Rakshasa than God) is a good if not new approach and I’m sure the aforementioned Bajrang Dalis only let this pass because the film sank like the proverbial stone at the box office.  No moolah, no threat.

But here in my garret in the funky Jungbusch, the Ramayana has started meaning so many things to me. Last night reading late by lamplight, I was so moved by Vishvamitra. Call it what you will, ego, ambition, madness…to toss away the fruits of such severe tapas, to scorn the titles of Rishi, Maha Rishi and to embark on a fresh 1000 years of brutal austerities in order to gain the title of Brahma Rishi, what a grand thing! I’m never going to complain about cleaning the dog’s mess again. Prudence, the constantly shitting Basset Hound puppy, shall stay and be honoured as a catalyst of spiritual growth, a harbinger of greatness ahead.

At rehearsal, Simone, the actor playing Sita, asks me what I think about the Agni Pariksha. I (masterfully, dear Reader) return the question to her. I hate it, she says, but how do I deal with the text? Hmmm… (I haven’t found the subtle argument, but I’m still looking.)

I shift the conversation to Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She’s an Amazon princess who Theseus “does injury” and drags back to Thebes. When the play opens they are preparing for their nuptials. Into this coziness walks Aegeus complaining about his daughter Hermia and her love for Lysander. Theseus just goes with Aegeus every step of the way. Now watch Hippolyta in this scene. Has the Amazon warrior princess been defeated and subdued? I don’t think so, for she says not a word. But her silence is loaded. She is separated from the action of the scene by this very silence.

I think the potential of subversion by an actor, of text and action, is massive. The text can say one thing, but the politics of an actor’s body can say the opposite and these polarities are exciting to witness. So with Sita too, she agrees to the Agni Pariksha, but with what spirit does she walks through it? Do her feet move swiftly or does she drag them? Are her arms free by her side or clasped in anjali? And finally…

Where do her eyes set?

Blogging from Germany: First Days

Here I am, in a tiny garret on Böckstaße, a totally immigrant-Turkish-Italian neighbourhood in Mannheim. A regular neighbourhood-neighbourhood like from the movies. West Side Story with people on the streets, men in shirtsleeves, eating, drinking, chatting with girls in glitter jeans and white tanks. My garret overlooks a courtyard, old roofs, gables, pink and red eraniums, stray jeans hanging out to dry much like in Bombay. Oh, and I’m listening to Abida Parveen in some sort of lateral preparation rite for a day of theatre workshop ahead.
The last time I was in Germany for Schone Aussicht and I watched plays till I was dizzy from it - stupidly I didn’t blog thinking this is something apart. Maybe it was laziness and too much Sekt. But this time – I know for sure this is all part of the Infinite Souls experience, so blog I will!

Here’s what I’m planning for the day, I’m writing it down as much to remind me as anything: A hour’s solid warm up to get European bodies ready for the sheer differentness - bent knees, lower centre of gravity, stretched inner thighs, wrist action, distilled fingers – of Indian movement traditions.

And then on to the Ramayana.

Given the state of the Ramayana in India these days, courtesy the maladroit machinations of self proclaimed Rams, Raavans and Bajrang Dalis, I am delighted to allow another Ramayana to emerge from these actors (German, Swiss, Russian & Spanish) and feel no need to “inform” them in any way except the physical. I asked earlier which Ramayana they would use and if they were adhering to any one and Anne Richter, the dramaturg, said they would be true to the Valmiki Ramayana but were leaving out the Uttarakanda. Gut.

So we will explore ways to move in masks, to transform from the prosaic to the divine, to turn one’s gaze inward, to walk, to fight, to make love. We will use walks and the ashtavadivus from Kalaripayattu, asamyutha and samyutha mudras from Bharatnatyam, Meyerhold’s Shoot the Bow etude, Navarasa exercises while eliminating the face, the four abhinayas and so on. Oh, and I’m also planning on teaching them the konokol from Steve Smith’s Vital Information! For me, he’s a great example to show the actors – a rock drummer from Journey who studies an Indian technique really closely and then makes it his own. This is the challenge; to abstain from imitative or faux-Indian practice, and instead to learn a skill, a technique with depth and clarity and then…create with it. This is the idea behind my theatre practice and pedagogical method.

My actors will begin by sweeping and cleaning the space in simple functional movements. Then two actors with lit carpura and agarbati will walk briskly around the space and put them down. Two other actors will simultaneously dip three fingers each in ground rice paste and drag these fingers down either side of the space. That’s it. Then we begin.

This morning I have all the actors (except Maike) the choreograher, Luches Huddlestone, as well as Anne Richter and Monika, a theatre pedagogue. We are working in the rehearsal space in Neckarau.


And now for breakfast. I’ve got cold pizza in the fridge, but I’m not going to do it! I’ll pick up something on the way. So off for a bath and then walk past the “best lasagne in Mannheim” family-owned pizzaria, past the little Turkish supermarkets, over the bridge, on to Damstraße and to Schnawwl. Tomorrow I’ll get my bike and phone organized and if I just figure how to hook into this Sweex network that pops up on my laptop and doesn’t seem to be HotSpot type pay for service, I’ll be super cool!

I pick up a coffee and a pumpkin seed roll (Eins stüt bitte) and go for it.