Homecoming: A tribute to Tagore
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
e-mail: padmajayaraj@gmail.com
Photos: Manoj Puranattukara

September 28, 2010

India celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel Laureate, and the 50th anniversary of 'Geethanjali' that won him the prize. Of the many titans that built modern India, Tagore was the one person who has known the soul of India, palpable in nature and among the folk. Primarily a mystic, Tagore stood for the weak marginalized by the mainstream. Humanism was his philosophy. Tagore's interest in drama started in his youth. He translated, scripted, directed, and acted. Poetic dramas where music and dance played major roles were his gifts. Many of his short-stories became plays and films later.

The Children's Theatre wing of Rangachethana chose to pay their tribute to Tagore by staging 'Homecoming' based on one of his stories. Rangachethana is a theatre group in Thrissur, Kerala, launched by Prof G Sankara Pillai, the father of modern Malayalam theatre. Since its inception (1980), it has churned out 86 children's plays, apart from its other activities. A centre of grassroot activity in theatre, it keeps its foot firm in social commitments. Here is a school where learning is different. This has remained a centre for discovering talent in theatre, and inculcating freedom, discipline and the joy of learning. Rubbishing the urban-rural divide, here children of all sections meet and participate in artistic endeavors with a sense of sharing.

KV Ganesh, the artistic director of Rangachethana, has taken his groups to many a stage: regional, national, and international. He has catered to the needs of children from marginalized segments. Children from the outskirts of Thrissur have been gathering here for two workshops a year. This is the second time that Ganesh takes his group to Delhi for a drama festival. 'Homecoming', selected at state level, will be staged in NSD, Delhi, on October 4, 2010.

Veettilekku, a Malayalam drama based on Tagore's story 'Homecoming,' illustrates how his themes are eternal yet, modern. The play is a sensitive portrayal of a village boy in urban setting. Nurtured by rural ethos amidst birds, animals and humans in a natural terrain, Pathik rises to be the ringleader among village urchins. But sibling rivalry has pushed him to the wrong place. It was during a sulking mood that his uncle from Kolkata comes to visit the family of his sister. To help his sister, he offers to take Pathik to the city. Pathik is overjoyed, excited by the prospects of travel and by the curiosity to explore unknown horizons. He gifts his treasure (a kite, a fishing rod and marbles) to his younger brother. He bids farewell to the goats and looks forward to life in another place. A journey by train is another treat for him. However, in the next scene when the cityscape emerges, life for him is differently cast. Coming from a culture of inclusiveness, the boy encounters alienation. Unable to cope with the callous change, unable to endure the pain of being an outsider, he pines for home. Unable to wait anymore he runs away. Before his mother could save him, he collapses…

The play opens with dawn, soft red streaks lighting the day; wake-up calls stirring life. Slowly, the soft-reddish light melts into golden sunlight. River emerges symbolically as a dancing girl with paper boats in her hands. Nostalgia sets in. And the spirit of Tagore, the poet surges with echoes from his poems. Soon river recedes into the background and a group of naughty children play a wild game. The topography suits the rural atmosphere of water-logged Kerala and Bengal.

The play is a clever amalgamation of the Malayali and Bengali cultures. Costume is used to encode the cultural signs. Stage props create the rural and the urban landscapes. And beyond such superficial differences, the drama comes alive on a human plane. Love emanates from love of land, of nature, of birds and animals. Seasons bloom and fade, as dancing girls carrying props of trees and flowers come and go. Their swaying movements recreate the joy of a nostalgic childhood. Personifications become characters; they merge and melt in the plot.

The rural scenes with its river and trees, where birds, animals, and humans sharing space is juxtaposed with the urban home that drives away a wandering mongrel. The feeling of being an outsider, the root cause of human tragedy, comes into focus. Repetition is a device used to highlight contradictions. By repetition, the picture becomes etched as a symbol. Stage props are effectively used to complement the theme. And masked figures stand for faceless crowds, memories and fantasies.

The train journey is yet another memorable scene where the effective use of props with proper lighting and sound gives the picture of a busy central station. The surprises of a child experiencing a rail journey are beautifully pictured. The technique of juxtaposition serves to put the slow, dancing movements of rural life, side by side with the fast moving world of machines. The monotonous indoor games children play here contrasts with the wild game on the river bank, pushing someone's boat into waters just for fun. The loveless space curbs the exuberance of human spirit. The boy from the village pines for home; runs away from an inhuman abode. He starts his homeward journey alone. …it is his soul that reaches home. The play is a metaphor of today's urban childhood set against its tragic loss. Poetically, the play is a search to know "what is home and where is home." Enacted by a group of children under 12, the play is a realistic representation of an ideal dream.

The summer camps for children here is a period of fun-filled learning experience for days on end. Children from different sections meet as friends. They share all aspects of theatre that go into the making of a play. They understand sharing and team work as values; that the pursuit of excellence can be a goal; that cooperation is positive and competition does not really help. "Even if none of them take theatre as their profession, passion for arts will remain dormant in them. And these days will remain an oasis of positive values that shape their adulthood," said a theatre buff. The activities here address the innate artist in a child. As grassroot experiences in life, here is something that makes "the Child, the father of the Man."

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to www.narthaki.com