“Why, what, when, where, how”. These words can most often be heard from two sets of people – journalists and children. While reporters use these words as a professional tool, for children asking questions is a way of exploring the world around them. Moyna, the protagonist of Mahasweta Devi’s book The Why-Why Girl, is an inquisitive tribal girl brimming with questions like “Why do I have to walk miles to the river for water?” and “Why shouldn’t I study too?” This summer, Moyna’s story will be adapted for the stage in a children’s play called Kyun Kyun Ladki.
Director Shaili Sathyu said that the play is an attempt to capture the basic human curiosity about the world. “A child’s capacity to question should be celebrated,” she said. “In fact, it’s a trait that’s becoming more and more undesired by parents who don’t want to engage in answering questions.” Sathyu pointed out that a lot of parents often stifle a child’s questions. “But if you don’t question, how do you evolve”, asked Sathyu, adding that she hoped parents watching the play would realise that they can enjoy this aspect of their child’s growth.
While the book’s story is firmly set in tribal land – the author had based the story on her work with tribal groups in Jharkhand and West Bengal – Sathyu has kept her play’s setting deliberately vague. “We are not harping about poverty,” said Sathyu. “Through Moyna, I am telling the story of all children.”
For the last few weeks, the actors have been training under Bharatnatyam dancer Hamsa Moily and learning how to blend mime with rhythm. Their actions will be set to music, which will be belted out by a live band on stage. “There will be flute, violin, percussion and vocal,” said Mithila Lad, the music composer, adding that they chose these instruments so that they could introduce kids to music beyond electronic sounds.
Sathyu’s group, Gillo Gilheri, has previously produced Suar Chala Space Ko, a nonsensical, delightful play that fused together science fiction, mime and shadow play. This time around, the audience can again expect mime, poetry and music but what they won’t get is a linear narrative. Apart from Moyna, the rest of the actors transform from playing children to adults to animals and even objects like a door frame. Sathyu, who is an education consultant at Akshara High School in Kandivali, said her work has made her realise that a child’s thought process is very nonlinear. “It’s beautiful how children think,” she said. “I wanted to challenge myself to capture that process.” While Sathyu is uncertain about the audience’s response to a nonlinear narrative, the one thing she is sure about is that the play will make children ask “What is the story?” Sathyu said, “To that, we’d be happy to ask back, ‘What did you see?’”
By Bijal Vachharajani on May 12 2011 6.30pm Photo: Parikshit Rao