Kailasam Keechaka ; A love story

Kannada literature has a great heritage of genius authors, who were not just fantastic writers, but amazing interpreters of mythology from multiple perspectives. We have Kuvempu interpreting characters from the Ramayana in his own unique perspective. SL Bhairappa retold Mahabharata in a completely non-mythological way, like a historical novel. There are many more examples, but those are for some other time.
Kailasam, has a penchant for interpreting great mythological characters in his own unique way; Karna in “The Brahmin’s Curse,” Ekalavya in “Fulfilment” and “The Purpose,” Bharata and Shatrughna in “The Burden”. Keechaka was an idea in Kailasam’s mind which he had narrated to a few of his friends, before his untimely death. G.P Rajaratnam wrote the play based on Kailasam’s concept. The play has been adapted for stage and directed by Ramanath of Rangayana, as part of the Sanchari Theatre’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

Taking the story of the ‘incognito episode’ from Mahabharata’s ‘viraaTa parva’, Kailasam’s Keechaka is a glorious man, instead of the lustful, cruel monster from the original. A hero in every sense of the word. He is the elder brother of Sudheshna, Queen of Matsya kingdom, wife of King Virata. He is an ace with the mace and a wrestler par excellence, a student of Balarama. He fancied his chances at the swayamvara of Draupadi and truly believes that Draupadi liked him too and IF the swayamvara had been conducted true to the word’s meaning, Draupadi would have garlanded him, instead of a winner of the archery contest. Broken hearted, he remains unmarried. In his bid to forget Draupadi, he goes on conquests of kingdoms and brings victory, glory and wealth to King Virata. He is a just man, not lustful and considers a man’s lustful gaze at a woman not his own, such a crime as to be worthy of punishment with death. The exchange between Keechaka and Sudeshna about how Draupadi lacked a choice or an opportunity to exercise her option to choose from the suitors establishes how Keechaka and his sister are feminists, wanting every woman to choose what is best for them. Sudeshna wants Keechaka to marry and settle down, tries to get him to fall in love with her new hand maiden, Sairandhri, who is actually Draupadi incognito, during the one year ‘agnaatavaasa.’ Keechaka resists, but cannot help feeling that he is familiar with that face. He sees ‘brihannaLa’ and says “If only brihannaLe had a bow, he could have been just like paartha. With the same feminine grace when walking, but invincible in archery”
He enjoys the food prepared by ‘valala’ and wants to compliment him. Once he sees Valala’s build and stance, he cannot help but think of his classmate ‘Bheema.’ He hears about granthika’s amazing equestrian skills and cannot help, but think of Nakula. Keechaka is perturbed because of these memories being evoked by common servants of the royal household. He holds no malice towards the Pandavas for taking away the one true love of his life. He wishes only the best for them, because, in their well being is the well being of his one true love, Draupadi.
He decides he has to take care of Sairandhri and tells her that he will find a suitable groom for her. Here is a character who could have married Sairandhri, as desired by his sister. But, instead, he turns protective of her and tells her not to be afraid of him or anything in his kingdom. Sairandhri tells him that she is already married to five Gods. After an argument about it, Keechaka persuades Sairandhri that the issue of her marriage, to a sixth earthly human for her protection, must be decided according to dharma by the courtier, Kanka (who is yudhisTira in disguise). Kanka rules that Keechaka’s thought has merit and it would be right for Sairandhri to marry a human for protection, as her divine husbands have not been able to stop such a terrible fate befall her.
That night, Keechaka espies Sairandhri in the royal garden, a place for lovers to meet clandestinely. For one moment, his resolve to find her a suitable groom is replaced with a desire to marry her himself. After all, who can be more suitable than him (Me thinks, unwittingly, his one moment of hubris and desire, at a woman who is not his own, seals his fate. In accordance with his own belief a man’s lustful gaze at a woman not his own, such a crime as to be worthy of punishment with death.) Then, he sees Valala with her and all his protective instincts are aroused. He questions them as to why they are meeting, when Sairandhri claims her husbands are Gods and Valala is only a mere mortal and a cook. Their answers, bound as they are by the oaths of secrecy to maintain their disguise, does not satisfy him. He accuses them of trying to make him break his word to Sairandhri of finding a suitable groom. A fight ensues and eventually as Valala binds him in a deathgrip, Keechaka realises who Valala and Sairandhri are. Unfortunately, it is too late. Keechaka bids farewell to his sister and king, binding them to secrecy till the end of the term of agnaatavaasa and the promise to help Pandavas in the war looming ahead. As Bheema recognises Keechaka’s greatness, and regrets, Keechaka is only too happy to die in the hands of Bheema, his equal in wrestling. Also, whose arms held his one true love Draupadi.

Sanchari Theatre’s production was rich, with well designed sets and costumes, apt for a stylised play. The lighting, by Vinay Chandra had its impact. Music compositions by Gajanana Nayak was suitable. Live singing was excellent and percussions by Karthik was good.
This play is about a glorious character. Everything else pales to insignificance, including, other great characters like Bheema, Draupadi and Sudeshna.
Nisha, as Sairandhri / Draupadi, Girish as Valala / Bheema and Mangala as Sudeshna were excellent. The acting honours definitely beloged to Ganapati Gowda as Keechaka.

Definitely a must watch play. To enjoy a gorgeous production, and perhaps, shed a tear for Keechaka’s love for a woman who could never have been his.

If …

If I can dream, only two places I want to settle down post retirement would be either a small place on the west coast with an ability to view sunset everyday or on a hill overlooking Western Ghats (with lots of books ofcourse!) . Only reason I like west coast compared to east is I like watching sunset and not sunrise! Even then, sea is sea and nothing like watching the waves. Especially in the evenings wherein each wave will be competing with other to touch an inch more of the ground.

Strangely I first saw a beach only in my 15th year on earth and easily love at first sight! Now that I get to take my kid to beach and just watching her there is an experience by itself.
Anyway just back from a nice vacation in Phuket and having stayed right next to beautiful beach, I can only think of deep blue sea 🙂

Moment I wrote the first sentence above on dream, I was thinking of the famous ‘If you can dream’ line of If poem and wanted to read it again. As I was going through the wiki, could not help but read its history. Interesting !

“If” and Deepavali reminds me of one other thing which I cant help to remember every single Deepavali last 24 years. Our neighbhor then were big into crackers. That year they had got some special rocket kind of thing directly from Sivakasi. Just 2 of them as it was pretty costly. No one was sure what exactly to expect as it is supposed to fly anyway but cost was almost as much as our whole cracket budget. All of us were curious and were waiting for night to arrive and them to start their celebration.

Now times have changed – I see crackers being lit on all 3 days of deepavali in Karnataka. Society has become more multi cultural, have money but no interest to buy crackers and an absolute dislike to anything which makes more sound than Flower pot.  Back then only the first (Naraka Chaturdasi) and last day (Bali PaaDyami) were for lighting crackers and middle day being Lakshmi Puja was a big No (How can you light money was the usual answer!)

It was night at last and we all started off bursting small crackets at first while keeping an eye of them to bring the special rockets. It rained and rained and rained. Disappointment all around but still hope left for 3rd day. Damn! exactly same scene all over again. When even clouds are so unwelcome during Deepavali and it was so heavily rainly. As was the habit in our family then, I went to bed around 8:30 pm hoping rain wont stop lest they will burst the rocket and I will miss the fun! Next day I happily learnt it had rained whole night and rocket could not be opened! I had to wait for one more year but more important I had not missed that year.

Dad got promotion and we got a bigger quarters and moved out in March next year and neighbours’ also moved out colony all together and I keep thinking everytime’If only it had not rained!’

Silly mind, Silly rocket, Silly thinking but it all seemed so big then!

Going Solo International Theatre Festival : 2 plays reviewed

Teamwork Arts, in collaboration with British Council, has brought three outstanding plays from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to their 2nd Edition of ‘Going Solo International Theatre Festival’. Two plays, ‘If These Spasms Could Speak’ and ‘Shylock’ are reviewed here.

If These Spasms Could Speak

Robert Softley Gale, is the co-creator of National Theatre of Scotland’s critically acclaimed ‘Girl X’ and artistic director of acclaimed theatre company “Birds of Paradise”. Robert Softley has created this stunning solo show ‘If These Spasms Could Speak’, a collection of vignettes woven from interviews of disabled people, where they talk freely about their bodies and how they perceive themselves. This is about how disabled people negotiate their lives with their bodies. From a cerebral palsy patient, to a wheelchair bound woman, who talks about her ‘awesome tits’ to someone suffering from muscular dystrophy, wanting to enjoy sex. From the moment Robert Softley Gale crawls on to the stage, to the moment he leaves it, it is an engaging, humorous and a very lively interactive performance. He gets people to involve themselves in the play, in more ways than one.

To those who totally, deliberately ignore or stare at people with disabled bodies, trying to lead a ‘normal life’, like working out in a gym or even going out on the roads on their own, but do not acknowledge, shrouding disabled people in a sort of invisibility cloak, Robert’s message is ‘We know you want to look, to stare even. It’s OK. You’re allowed.‘ Dealing with how disabled people feel about their own bodies and how they manage their lives with disablity ; from feeding themselves to having sex. From the mundane issues of parenting with disability to the challenges of ordering spaghetti on a first date, having to negotiate steep climbs just to reach the loo after being heavily drunk during a music concert, just wanting to cuddle up with the loved one while battling spasms. Robert Softley Gale, celebrates the lives of disabled people with an unique insight. His advice to you, when you see a disabled wo/man trying to negotiate their lives with their bodies on their own, is not to offer them an unsolicited hand, but to shout : ‘Step it up a gear, you fat bastard.

This play is created and superbly performed by Robert Softley Gale and Directed by Sam Rowe.

A Case For Shylock

Gareth Armstrong’s phenomenally successful solo show, ‘Shylock’ (more than 600 times across the globe) was directed by Guy Masterson. Now, Masterson himself is performing this superbly crafted, fascinating and very witty analysis of the only important Jewish character in all of Shakespeare’s works (the only other Jewish character, Tubal, Shylock’s trusted friend, his best friend, in fact, his only friend, has only eight (8) lines )

Investigating the Jewish situation from Biblical times, it analyses the Jewish experiences in Europe for about five hundred years earlier to Christopher Marlowe (who wrote the ‘Jew of Malta’) and Shakespeare’s time. Strongly presenting his case, that Shakespeare couldn’t have met even a single Jew in his life (at least not officially,) the playwright, Armstrong shows how a minority is ignored, caricatured and persecuted.

Analysing the major characters in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Antonio, Bassanio, Jessica, Lorenzo, Portia and the Duke, Tubal, argues the case for Shylock, trying to put in perspective the character of Shylock. Was he a villain or a victim?

The narrative has some extremely clever digressions from Biblical times to current day, includes short, but important discussions on history of Shakeaspearean theatre (Richard Burbage’s cheating technique to hold his breath for long dialogues, the advantages of owning a theatre) and on censorship in Shakespeare’s times. Masterson gives a masterclass performance and does justice to the many characters he takes over, especially the lying, deceiving, cruel Portia (well, she impersonates a man, claims to be a judge, uses a forged introductory letter and then imposes such cruel conditions on Shylock, before leaving him to the mercies of the Duke.) A must watch for everyone interested in performing arts.

Written by Gareth Armstrong. Performed by Guy Masterson.

Haider : Review

How does one watch a movie dispassionately, when it has managed to generate so much heat, such passionate debates on its ‘slant’, the propaganda against the Indian Army? One doesn’t. You watch carefully for that slight tic of the face to indicate disgust when someone is praising the army. One word, one symbol out of place to show disrespect when they are doing their job. This is a work of fiction using a very real backdrop. It is extremely hard to stay neutral and keep things in perspective while watching a work of art, unravel a complicated story set in a highly volatile region in incendiary times. I beg your indulgence if you find this more a defence of the movie than a review.
First up, let me dispel the notion that this movie is anti-India, anti Indian Army. The political message, if one seeks such a thing in a commercial movie or a work of art, is : it is against violence, vengeance and the idea that ‘retribution is justice’, whether committed by the terrorists or the army. In my view, the movie balances between criticism of the machinations, deviousness and the zealotry of the terrorists and the machinations and deviousness under the assumption of righteousness of the Army. In this movie, both the terrorists and the Army does whatever it takes to pursue and achieve their respective goals. ‘Azadi’ for the terrorists, and elimination of ‘our enemies’ and a ‘peaceful valley’ for the Army. How can we fault them for that? In fact, during the interview with Brigadier Murthy (Ashish Vidyarthi) an interviewer mentions eight thousand Kashmiris missing after being picked up by Army, the Brigadier responds with ‘do you not consider the three lakh Kashmiri pundits who fled and are now living in refugee camps as missing?) He also says, Indian army trains its officers to ‘interrogate’ and not ‘torture’. There is nothing offensive to the Indian army, not even the scene which shows some terrorists being tortured by them. If anyone believes that any army, facing a nameless, faceless enemy, will not torture its enemies, to protect its own people and resources, then they are living in a fool’s paradise. None of the events in the movie is ‘triggered’ by army action, including the disappearance of Haider’s father! Unfortunately, I cannot say anything more without revealing plot points and spoiling them.
The story, as is well publicized, is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. If you have read the play, all the better, you will enjoy the craft involved in transmuting the characters and lines from a Shakespearean milieu to that of Jammu and Kashmir, at the height of Pakistani sponsored terrorism. If you have not, it does not matter, you can still enjoy every aspect of it without losing anything ( other than, of course, the joy of discovering how the Ghost of King Hamlet is woven in this story or who is Claudius or which lines are supposed to be the Indian version of the soliloquy etc. etc. )
Haider (Shahid Kapoor) returns to the Valley to find his home gutted in more ways than one. His father, Dr. Hilal Meer (Narendra Jha) is reported missing after being picked up by the Army for protecting a terrorist. When he arrives at his grandfather’s place, he sees his mother, Gazala (Tabu), happily romancing her brother-in-law Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). Haider, with the help of his fiancee Arshia (Shradhdha Kapoor) sets out to find his missing father. However, as the futile search goes on, Haider gets sucked deeper into conspiracies beyond his imagination. He also has to grapple with his conflicting thoughts and emotions about his mother and his fiancee. Khurram’s political ambition is realised when he gets elected to the J&K assembly. Soon after that, Dr. Hilal’s death is confirmed and his grave discovered. Gazala and Khurram marry. Haider cannot decide if he is sad that his father is dead or sadder that his mother is being touched by Khurram. The director beautifully and sensitively explores the Oedipal nature of Haider’s relationship with his mother. The pace of the story picks up after Gazala’s wedding to Khurram and reaches a surprising, but thunderous and very satisfying climax.
The movie is far from being perfect. But it is an ambitious attempt. The cast is superb, Shahid is a revelation doing justice to the role. Shradhdha Kapoor, Narendra Jha are competent. Tabu, Kay Kay Menon and Irrfan Khan are brilliant. The cinematography and the locales are stunning, music fascinating. Basharrat Peer, the other screenplay writer has obviously added a lot of value in terms of local dialect, insights on people and the problems faced by them. But the movie belongs to Vishal Bharadwaj for an amazing adaptation, screenplay, dialogues, music and direction. Is this his best yet? Indeed. For the sheer audacity of setting the story right where it belongs and telling it like it should be told. This story could not have been set anywhere else, except, maybe Assam. If you are a cinephile, forget your outrage at home, go watch Haider in a theatre near you.

Wandering Thoughts

Not so long ago (Well, that depends on state of mind) when there used to be a notion of native village and a period of time called Summer Holidays, I used to look forward for those bus journeys. Once a day at a specific time, one (and only one ) red bus (a.k.a Government Bus) used to roll in to the town bus stand. Me being very thin could get into the bus and keep a 3 seater for my mom and sister (Dad ofcourse could not take summer holidays from his factory work!).

A three hour journey passing through numerous villages obviously meant sister dozing off on my mothers lap and I am being asked to take window seat to give some leg room for my mom.
I am not sure now but atleast in those days (25 years back to be exact!) ,concept of express bus was known only to town or city folks. Any bus which passed through series of villages was ofcourse a Shuttle bus (unless it was very long distance or inter-state). Drivers driving through rural areas knew when to stop (in other words knew what will happen if they don’t). Where to stop did not matter.

Still, there always used to be a patch where there were no villages for 20-25 minutes. Depending on the position of the sun, you could always see the shadow of the bus either in front of you or next to you or following you (Basic science stupid!).

Half the bus dozing, half of other half busy reading local news paper, conductor reconciling the tickets, driver chatting with someone sitting on engine next to him or cursing the shepherd if any animals jumped into the road, few animatedly discussing politics.

Following the wavering path of the shadow is something I cherished (may be cause of lack of alternatives). It goes up when there is stone bolder next to road or goes down if there is small pit. It goes off for some time if cloud covers the Sun but comes to its original act as if nothing had happened. Whatever, it stayed for me to watch if I wanted to turn my head towards it. Something of a soothing thought I can now relate to when I watch my kid sleep on a hot afternoon (just like now).

DSS ,for me, is like that shadow (in whatever form or shape or version). Has been an integral part of life from quite sometime though for last few (Is 7 few?!!) years I was completely off. Life on auto pilot. I remember in one of those numerous B’lore DSS meetings, I had asked Cheti once ‘Howz Life’. Like now for me, he had a 3-4 year old kid then. He had answered ‘Auto Pilot’.

An occasional call/message to Suresh (thrice probably!) or accidental meetings (twice may be!) with Captain or very recent reconnect (and lost again!) with LL or anon reading of Anita’s blogs. That was all it was until dear Ardra mailed me all of a sudden about DSS 2.0 and I got my login now! Since ,for good or bad, I have a very good memory I dont need to get reminded of all the good people (their writings is/was just icing on cake!) I had met and the journey from Sulekha to DSS.

You can’t be welcomed back to your home (virtual or real ,is again, just a state of mind!)


Footfalls of silenceHi DSS’ers!
Good to be back among the scrawlers. Hope to see the rest of them and new members too.

As a beginning, let me share a bit of old news. There was this online venture of compiling and publishing duet poems as an anthology . The idea was: two poets write on the same theme and merge their lines. The lines could be written together or separately. My cousin invited me to join with her and together we sent our duet submission which was selected and got published in the Anthology early this year. We selected the theme of ‘absence’ and then worked on it.

This was the poem:

Footfalls of silence

I tread carefully
lest I trample on the
leaves of your memory,
the murmurs of your presence
still whispering in my ears,
the silence of your absence
resounding in my heart,
your voice in my memory
fading away in timbre,
your call still tugging at my soul.

Lingering with the flies
of fleeting reminiscences
I stall my lonely steps
for your long-awaited footfalls
to catch up with mine,
I pause at every turn
of an unspoken thought
hoping you will intercept
to meet me at this bend or the next
on this road to infinity.

(One stanza is mine and the other is hers. Can you guess which stanza is mine?)



The cover pageThe cover page


Hello Ji

I was overjoyed when I saw the post from Achyut on FB announcing the (re)launch of DSS. I don’t quite remember how long it has been since DSS was initially launched but I do quite remember the enthusiasm with which we started and continued for a long time. I won’t go into details of how friendships were made, shout box almost died everyday of overload etc etc. The main objective of the site was to provide a platform for everyone to take a jab at writing.

I remember I used to write almost once a week and sometimes more than that. Boy was that prolific or what.! These days, I consider myself on the right writing track if I can write a decent sized piece in a month. I am hoping this relaunch will inspire me to write. I love writing. I love reading back my writings (though sometimes they make me cringe!)…there are some moments I vividly remember from DSS of yore.

SSM and Arvind vying with each to be the first to comment on the blogs.

Those jaw dropping prolific blogs from Vivek spanning poetry to prose to kavitas and what not. As if that was not enough, they were so so good…don’t quite know how he did it…still don’t!

Arvind’s blog on buying a diamond engagement ring for Minal.

Void’s blog that had about 3 or 4 special characters in it.

Tocsin and his comment on the Hyderabadi Biryani blog I wrote saying that there is no such thing as vegetable biryani!

I am not sure if it was tocsin or void who lamented on one of those lovey dovey anniversary blogs that everyone in DSS family seemed to be happily hooked!

Cheti being almost always the first to comment on my blogs.

Minal’s hilarious blogs on mythology.

There’s many many more…how about yours?