Professor Mao Shichang first directed Rabindranath Tagore’s Chitrangada in English in 2007 at Lanzhou University in the Gansu province of northwest China. He had no idea about the tougher project that was coming up – to again direct the popular play about a warrior princess’ journey of discovering love, but this time -- and for the first time in China -- in Chinese.
It took several months of planning. When he finally staged Chitrangada in Chinese in late March with 60 performers from eight university departments and at a budget of 400000 Yuan (more than Rs 33 lakh), it became a tribute that Mao had never imagined he would give to Tagore.
An English adaptation of the play was staged in Beijing when the Indian poet came to China in 1924. But Mao’s effort is the first one in Chinese.
“My association with Tagore began from my childhood when I read his poems which refreshed and warmed my thirsty soul like spring wind,” Mao said in a disarmingly eloquent email, adding: “So, to study Tagore in India became my dream which came true when I entered Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in September 2002 for a PHD.” His thesis in JNU focused on Tagore’s women characters in perspective of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Born in a poor farmer’s family, Mao’s childhood was hardly as smooth as lyrical poetry.
“My parents were illiterate. I almost died of the man-made Great Starvation during 1959-1962. After graduation from high school, I laboured in fields for some years as an ‘educated youth’,” he said.
Throughout his college and university days, Tagore’s writings were an escape into a world where his “soul and spirit were refreshed.”
“I got the idea about staging Chitrangada when I was studying in JNU because performance of Tagore’s drama is an audio-visual way is to make more Chinese to know Tagore and even know Indian culture. I wanted to combine Indian culture with some Chinese cultural elements,’’ Mao said. It wasn’t easy task: students’ schedules had to be well-coordinated and the budget was high; the Indian Embassy in Beijing and Lanzhou University stepped in with the finance.
It was worth the effort because Tagore is loved by the “Chinese like Hieun Tsang in India. More and more Chinese are reading Tag ore and are being inspired. Many contemporary poets and students are influenced by the Indian poet.”
Next, Mao and his group have drawn up a plan to tour China and performances are to be staged in all big cities including Beijing and Shanghai.