Dakghar in Santiniketan
By Bobo Khuraijam
I regard Dakghar as the preamble of Visva-Bharati in Shantiniketan – Tagore’s idea of a universal institution which would inspire and guide pupils towards the vision of man-in-life. – Heisnam Kanhailal.
I remember when Oja’s health was failing, he took solace in music. His foster grandson-actor, Tyson of Kalakshetra Manipur, would put the music player on when evening falls. Carefully, Tyson would turn on the volume. Not too loud, not too soft. Oja would listen to a select few. He listened to Java theatre musical compositions, sung in chorus with minimal instruments.
“I have never seen the Ramayana so beautifully played in theatre. A Hindu epic played by Indonesian Muslims in their indegenised version”, Oja would often mention. Ima and Oja had once visited Java on a fellowship programme in 2002. They came back with fond memories and many stories. The Java theatre musical ensemble was one of the stories that Oja shared with delight. He also listened to a few Baul songs. He liked flute instrumental too.
Among all, Rabindra Sangeet had a special place in Oja’s heart. He listened to them more often. My friend Sankhajit, who worked with me as an editor has a good collection of Rabindra Sangeet. It took a thump drive to accommodate his collection. On my return to Imphal from Kolkata after the post production of ‘Ima Sabitri’, I happily gave the songs to Tyson to be played in the evenings for Oja. In between the songs, I took liberty to ask Oja if he understands the lyrics. “Not all but a good part of it”, he told. He had a long cherished dream to stage Dakghar at Santiniketan. Oja passed away in 2016. His dream had remained unfulfilled.
But not today. Kalakshetra Manipur successfully staged Dakghar at Santiniketan as part of the Kala Bhavana Centenary (1919–2019) celebrations on March 24 evening, as a tribute performance to the Bard. On the same day, early in the morning, we converged at Chatal in the Kala Bhavana premise. Led by Ima Sabitri, we paid floral tribute to the portrait of Tagore and Oja, under the lush China Bot tree. Faculty members of the Kala Bhavana also joined in. As evening arrived, we saw audience slowly pouring in well ahead of the 7 pm schedule. As I was at the wings to audio record the play, I could not guess the size of the crowd. It was only when the light was put on during the curtain call that we saw a good number of audiences sitting on the gangway of the auditorium. Along with the clapping, we heard the audience saying in unison, “sadhu – sadhu - sadhu”. It is the Santiniketan tradition of expressing appreciation when they are pleased, we were told.
The following day Ima had an intimate interaction with students at Chatal under the same tree. As Ima could not communicate in the languages the students speak, Rojio of Kalakshetra Manipur was seated next to her as a facilitator. As the interaction progresses, Ima gradually swayed her way into the heart and mind of the students. Though she was speaking in Meiteilon, a language the students hardly knew, she had established connection with them beyond any spoken language. Yet again, we heard, “sadhu - sadhu – sadhu” from the students.
A few weeks back, Robin, a member of Kalakshetra Manipur had been in touch with Kala Bhavana, his alma mater. Sanchayan who teaches in the same department had come to Kalakshetra Manipur to extend invitation for the performance. We were all excited. On March 23 morning at Imphal airport, when we were about to leave, Ima said, “I informed Oja about our performance tomorrow. I told him that we are finally going to present Dakghar at Santiniketan.” I knew this was one of her regular conversations with Oja’s portrait, which is caringly placed on the wall of their Langol Laimanai home.
It was in 2006 that Kalakshetra Manipur had an ensemble with artist from diverse cultural background – Assamese, Bodo, Bengali and Rabha. This group of artists under the tutelage of Oja prepared to stage Dakghar. A citizen group in Kolkata organised a festival on Tagore’s play. Theatre stalwarts like Habib Tanvir, K.N. Panikkar and Suman Mukhopadhyay were assigned to stage Tagore’s play as part of the festival. Oja decided to do Dakghar. The play was premiered at Rabindra Sadan, Kolkata on August 3, 2006.
Since then Dakghar has travelled different parts of the country. Kalakshetra Manipur had already performed Dakghar thirty time before coming to Santiniketan. In a 2013 interview with Dipendu of Assam university, Oja said, “I came across the ideas (explored by Tagore) only when I began to explore Dakghar. And I found fascinating when I found how similar these ideas were to my approach in theatre … That’s why I said it was ‘coincidental’ that I, unknowingly, took up Dakghar.” [Revisiting Tagore And Celebrating Freedom, Theatre of the Earth, Seagull Books 2016].
Oja was not physically present during Kalakshetra Manipur’s maiden visit to Santiniketan. Oja said, “My theatre works towards experiencing communion – a sensitive and interactive process of the inner encounter between performers and spectators on sensory and spiritual levels.” We witnessed that communion in our recent trip to Santiniketan.
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