Direction : Quasar Thakore Padamsee
Writer : Annie Zaidi
Cast : Abhishek Saha, Bhavna Pani, Padma Damodaran, Saattvic, Shivam Sharma, Shruti Mishra, Siddhant Karnick, Suhaas Ahuja and Vinati Makijany


Devina Dutt


The bright coloured socks, shawls and cardigans sold in Indian cities in temporary market places by refugees, mainly from Tibet, signal the beginning of winter. For most of us this is the only time that the refugee can hope to be noticed by us. This becomes the dominant visual motif of a new play, SO MANY SOCKS by city based theatre group Q Theatre Productions. Inspired by Tibetan activist, Tenzin Tsundue's collection of poems titled 'Kora', the play has been written by Annie Zaidi and has been directed by Quasar Thakore Padamsee. The play is performed in a circle marked out by mounds of woollens. A feeling of incompleteness, of being suspended, is underscored with other familiar as well as lesser known symbols of this culture.SO MANY SOCKS

These symbols have suggested to us even before the play can begin that words might not be enough to narrate the long drawn out tragedy of a people who have lost their homeland and now live trapped in fear and hope. It is the perfect cue to begin a performance rich in stylisation and non realistic language to narrate the story of a grandmother with a memory of the migration, and of her daughter and grandson living as refugees in a present day Delhi colony.

The play opens with the grandmother who has been shot at during an agitation on the streets. As she lies in a hospital it is clear that her daughter and grandson Tashi (Abhishek Saha) experience their refugee status differently. Tashi's mother seems to carry a sharper sense of injustice while her son appears to have assimilated well into the mainstream, living with his group of friends in a shared apartment. When his grandmother is shot he is pulled back to acknowledging his refugee status.

All this comes to us as fractured narratives with minimal dialogues and scrambled timelines. In between there are brief interludes of dance movements but most appear to only mime the action of the play at that point. Tashi's friends and a few other cameos such as the doctor tending his grandmother, a couple recently arrived from Tibet, Tashi's mother's love affair with a non-Tibetan, typically set up to fail and a group of Punjabi tourists in Ladakh, serve to provide the external dimension to the main protagonists. They are instrumental mainly in establishing that Tashi and his family are the distant others to the bigger, more visible world.

But this is a reading that we accomplish as part of a prosaic process of decoding and putting together what the director has intended to do with the play rather than what we feel and understand as inhabitants of the world of its characters. For, with each passing scene, the initial promise for a more unusual, hyper emotional telling begins to fade. The characters do after all occupy the vast spaces of an epic destiny even as they go about the business of everyday living. They are a reflection of a universal as well as a specific tragedy. However, the increasingly scrappy and slight characterisations, the stilted dialogues, the absence of ideation, deny us the means needed to feel involved with their lives.Being unable to feel or express emotion in certain situations is an entirely valid experience but the artistic challenge in that case would be to take us to the heart of that particular paralysis too.

With SOCKS, we keep waiting to inhabit the experience and the inner spaces of its characters but we cannot. The shards of narrative that come to us suggest a lack of nerve on the part of its creators to make that journey into the darkness that its protagonists live with.

The abjuring of the political in favour of the emotional and the personal is also a false divide while doing a play dealing with refugees from Tibet. The two are not always separate entities especially for a people who cannot afford to see the two in such clinically separated terms. It brings to the fore the drawbacks of well meaning, mid-range enthusiasm and signals to us that the makers of this production are wary of taking a position, an indication of the privileges of the witness whose reportage or storytelling is conducted from a safe distance that is both physical and metaphorical.

Sometimes there is a faint sense of irony and the initial promise of the play seems set to revive. This is reflected in the nascent irony of the scenes where Tashi's friends, as confident and unaware of the underbelly of India as the privileged young can be, light candles and offer glib hope to set up a vigil for his grandmother. The scene where Tashi's mother turns on the old woman for not teaching her the Tibetan language while teaching it to her grandson, is another wonderful exchange which could have deepened and extended the emotional centre of the play and taken us into its politics simultaneously.

Unfortunately, in believing that nothing can be said and nothing can be felt by those not living out this particular tragedy, and consequently remaining focused on this notion of going beyond words, the play allows itself to be robbed of coherence and meaning. In addition, discarding any facet of political consciousness seems problematic in a play about Tibetan people.

When it is interpreted at its most basic level as a means of connecting the external with the emotional landscapes of our times, an awareness of the politics of the Tibet question could have given this play more body. For one it might have brought in other material into the circle of its experience. China and India represent after all two distinct civilisational approaches, histories and cultures. On the other hand, the growing fatigue with good causes in India, its self image of a host country famed for its understanding, is beginning to wear thin. This too might have inflected the imagining of the characters and the world they live in, adding some more shades and textures to them.

Devina Dutt is a Mumbai based arts writer who writes regularly for The Hindu.

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