Walking to the Sun

Arpana’s “Walking to the sun”, written by Vivek Narayan and directed by Sunil Shanbag, is an exploration, through two interconnected texts, of what life and death mean for young children in captivity facing their end.

Rabindranath Tagore’s orphan Amal in “Dak Ghar” is terminally ill with “all the organs of his little body at loggerheads with each other” and may not leave his house for fear of the autumn winds. The Jewish orphans in 1942 Warsaw are fine in health, but not fine by religion and race for the Nazis. Confined to a ghetto, they will soon be exterminated. Played side by side, these two stories reveal amazing interconnections that bind them across continents and cultures.

Tagore’s 1912 play was translated into English, French and German, and received rave reviews all over Europe. Andre Gide read a French version on radio and Dr Janusz Korczak, Polish paediatrician and famous writer, translated it into Polish. He remembered it years later in the Warsaw ghetto where he was looking after the orphans. It struck him that a performance of the play by the children might help them face the inevitable end when it came. Soon after the performance, they were taken by train to Treblinka to be gassed. 

We might say then, that the “Dak Ghar” performed in “Walking to the sun” is Shanbag’s recreation of that performance of nearly 70 years ago. The quirky costumes and acting style of the friends Amal makes sitting at his window, reflect this transposition across time and space.

That half of the stage where the performance happens is brightly lit. Here Amal lies beneath a soft multicoloured quilt with his uncle Madhav and a shloka-spouting vaid in occasional attendance. The other half, where the orphans live, is empty except for a grey bench and Dr Korczak, who narrates their story. The lighting is cold blue and the space is demarcated by grey barbed wire stretched between grey poles. The two spaces are subtly connected through the grey pole to which Amal’s window is attached. The stage set (Nayantara Kotian and Vivek Jadhav) and lighting (Hidayat Sami, Shanbag) thus reflect the themes of captivity and hope that underpin the play.

One more thing connects the lives of the children on two sides of the stage. Their imaginations are given space to fly by story-tellers who love the children for who they are and what they desire. Amal’s story-teller is his uncle’s friend Thakurda dressed up as a wandering fakir (Sudhir Pandey, sensitive under mock bluster). The Jewish children’s story-teller is Dr Korczak (Satyajit Sharma, quietly intense with superb articulation). 

Fortunately, the play’s complex web of ideas in no way diminishes its emotional impact which comes chiefly from two sources—Manasi Rachh’s performance as Amal and the sound track. Manasi’s petite stature, flute-like voice, spontaneous laughter and mobile face embody Amal’s pure innocence with rare truthfulness. The scene of his death is arguably the most moving one has seen in a long time. The music responds every bit of the way, scripting a track that runs parallel to the words.

Published On : 10-04-2015