Roundabout | Things to leave behind and those to take along to 2022

The end of the old and the ringing in of the new is always time for renewal as art shows the way for voicing or painting the human predicament
One such message has been brought to by an artiste of the city, Kumar Varma, whose plays one grew up seeing from our college days when we learned to go to auditoriums in Chandigarh to watch the drama of life as audience. (Harsimar Pal Singh/HT)
One such message has been brought to by an artiste of the city, Kumar Varma, whose plays one grew up seeing from our college days when we learned to go to auditoriums in Chandigarh to watch the drama of life as audience. (Harsimar Pal Singh/HT)
Published on Jan 02, 2022 02:20 AM IST
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ByNirupama Dutt

How does one send off a year and welcome another in times such as these? Of course, there is no way of doing it but with hope. One such message has been brought to by an artiste of the city, Kumar Varma, whose plays one grew up seeing from our college days when we learned to go to auditoriums in Chandigarh to watch the drama of life as audience.

Posting a picture of German actor, Helene Weigel, the famous matriarch of Bertolt Brecht’s plays in a scene from Mother Courage, online, which was the lifeline in secluded times, he quotes the playwright:

‘The New Year’s come.

The watchmen shout.

The thaw sets in. The dead remain.

Wherever life has not died out

It staggers to its feet again’

(Bertolt Brecht in ‘Mother Courage And Her Children’)

No, Varma is not running an online theatre class all the way from Thrisur in Kerala, his home state, where he is settled after teaching a lifetime in the department of Indian theatre at the Panjab University. It is his way of wishing people, crushed by calamities, both natural and man-made, a happy and peaceful entry into the New Year. Who can tell this better than Mother Courage! This play by Brecht, although set in the 17th Century of the 30-year war, was directly aimed at decrying fascism. The courage of the mother notwithstanding, she sells her wares to soldiers and loses her three children to death. Even as she grieves she has no choice but to move on with her cart. Such is the way of an artiste playing with contradictions and yet suggest a path where all is not lost.

‘Words are not mere words’

It was city poet Kumar Vikal who had said, words are not mere words, there are people behind them, people in clothes of varied hues. In The Blind Matriarch, Namita Gokhale’s novel that came out in 2021, Ritika and Satish, who live in a joint family, became a pointer to the two years of pandemic, ranging from the political to the personal. Written in the breezy style, which was also seen in her debut novel Paro, she was able to bring alive the crisis of the trying times: “Ritika’s smile drooped as she made her way to the kitchen. Their maid, Irina, who lived in the slum cluster nearby usually stayed on to do the dishes, but there was a no-show today. “Kaf and Fiver,” she had reported in the WhatsApp message. Ritika had correctly decrypted her message. “Cough and fever”. Irina was twelfth-pass and proficient in Hindi; it was her ambition to be fluent in English as well”.

The Blind Matriarch, thus, becomes a symbol of a system that refused to open its eyes. Commenting on it poet and critic K Satchidanandan says: “A multi-layered narrative woven around an extended family into an allegory of our existence as a nation with its vulnerabilities, its hierarchies… and special modes of surviving crises”.

However, it is the title of her earlier novel, Things To Leave Behind, that demonstrates the struggle and sorrow of what often seems the hapless masquerade, besides the burden of sheer existence with the economy in doldrums. One treasures the spirit of the many in rising above the situation.

We take with us the sacrifices of many front-liners, the generosity of others who shared the little they had, the health workers who met their end saving others, the activists who bravely performed last rights of those who had no one, those who tried somehow to bring food to stranded labourers, children with glasses on their noses taking online classes as they think of lost playgrounds and friends… as symbols of faith not lost. And lest we forget, thoughts turn back to the determined girl cycling hundreds of miles to take her ailing labourer father to safety and those too who perished on the way and or farmers who died protesting in the cold climes for their rights and those who lived to see things change.

The return of a love poem

As the second year of the decade is born one shares a few lines of a poem Even Bricks Need Love by Nabina Das, who edited a beautiful and exhaustive volume of Witness: The Red River Book of Poetry Of Dissent through the pandemic but stopped writing poetry nearly completely, except a short sequence and then pined for recovery since this year began:

One whole year of lovelessness

One dream I had last night is of you

A curtain flying in the wind, it’s a sea side

I taste salt from your roots and you too slake

Your thirst with the aroma I shed from my crevices

We talk food we didn’t eat and love over heat

From our mouths. Outside, the city still waits like a hunter’s trap

nirudutt@gmail.com

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