Silence – not necessarily golden

This past Saturday, at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, I watched ‘Celebrated Silence’ – a play that dealt with the subject of groping, the trauma it unleashes on the person who is subjected to it and the complicit silence of society regarding this issue.

The story was conceived by Anisha Singh, a friend of mine, who was also one of the lead actors in the performance. The script was written by Prabir Das, who was the other lead actor. Music was provided by Amita Prakash and the play was directed by Daryl Harris.

Celebrated Silence’ depicts the journey of a woman named Anisha, who is on the verge of committing suicide, tormented by the instances of groping she has endured in her lifetime. We see a dark gloomy set on stage – stark in its bareness, save for the many nooses hanging – ominous and portent – a harbinger of pain, despair and inner turmoil. We see Anisha, in white clothes, contemplating putting the noose around her neck. We see Amita, dressed in all black, remaining still and lifeless, wheelchair bound. Seemingly playing the alter ego of Anisha, she remains mute except for intermittently bursting out into songs of despair, betrayal, loss and agony. What follows next are recurring encounters with the various men that violate or invalidate Anisha at various stages of her life.

The roles of the men in the play are all enacted by Prabir Das, who seems to adroitly change personas, much like the costumes that he changes. His bearing and demeanor, his voice and mannerisms undergo mesmerizing transformations. In addition to highlighting the acting prowess of this fine artist, this concept of having the same actor play these different roles also seems to drive home a metaphorical condemnation of a manhood that finds itself subjugated to the whims of its ‘organ’ and not functioning as an independent thinking humane being – as if the beast of manhood was the same, just manifested itself with different identities.

I was deeply touched by the powerful and emotional singing done by Amita Prakash. Set to the accompaniment of piano, the songs worked to universalize the journey of one girl/ woman and situate it in a broader historical context. She was apt as the torn, troubled yet strong and willful alter ego to Anisha.

Anisha Singh emphatically displayed the gamut of emotions in her role, ranging from the confusion and helplessness of a young girl to the anger and disappointment of a wife, the pleading innocence of a daughter and finally the frustration of trying to understand the mentality of her perpetrators.

Overall, it was an impressive performance by the cast of three members who carried the entire play on their shoulders. The mood was sombre, dark and intense with moments of sharp tension and conflict. The play succeeded in evoking empathy for Anisha’s journey and a sense of disgust at the violations committed by the various men. The audience which comprised of both men and women were provoked multiple times to break the silence surrounding this issue.We recognized by the end of the play that Anisha had reached the critical point of being able to dissociate her psyche and inner self from the acts of groping that had violated her.

In this process, we see the beginning of her recovery of self-agency and as an audience we are left wanting to see more of her journey forward. Maybe the depiction on stage of additional concrete steps taken by her towards overcoming this trauma could serve to further inspire and empower the audience whilst providing material for a second act or a sequel to the play.

In all, I commend All Shades Theater for bringing awareness to this important issue.

Things I learned from a weeklong stay in Paris

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About Life:

  • It is an altogether different experience of a city when you explore it with the mindset of a temporary resident rather than that of a visitor. We appreciated the homely environment of living in a rented apartment in the city, cooking meals, walking down two flights of steps and out the door- no ornate hotel lobbies to cross, no fuss.

    View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

    L’Étoile- the Star at Arc de Triomphe, the center of the city- a short walk from the apartment

  • Our actual material needs are limited- I felt happy and closer as a family in that tiny apartment.
  • Most locals are appreciative of your efforts to learn to speak their language and engage with them. Bonjour (Good day), Je né parle pas bien français (I don’t speak French very well) and Merci beaucoup (Thank you very much) never failed to break the ice.
  • People will step up to protect you- case in point being the lady at the information counter in a Metro station who told off the man who was forcibly ‘helping’ us buy tickets from the automated machine. “He is a bad boy, don’t talk to him”, she said endearingly, in broken English.
  • Being mindful and respectful of time- we found out the hard way when, hoping to pack in more sightseeing, we reached a museum only to find out that they strictly close off entry 45 minutes before closing time. Also, whether it is a high-end designer store that promptly closes at 6 PM or the neighborhood grocery shop that will not let you in before the opening time of 8:30 AM, or the cabbie that left after we were a few minutes late coming down from our apartment- one has to set time limits for oneself and for others- I guess it is one of the ways to ensure that meaningful life exists within and outside of work.
  • Something that strikes a chord universally is a tribute to the soldiers.

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    Commemorative flame to France’s Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe

About the Arts:

  • You think of music differently when you unexpectedly encounter a small group playing classical music in a Metro station. Compliment that with the magic of hearing the harp being played by a gentleman outside the Sacré-Coeur or the delight of procuring last-minute tickets to a program by the Orchestre de Paris.
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    Metro station near Opéra de la Bastille

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    Sacré-Coeur

  • Seeing the diverse historical movements in art displayed in the museums, notably the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée National d’Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou and realizing what the immense influence of the arts is in our lives- what it means exactly to break tradition and forge new paths in life.
  • Seeing Monet’s Water Lilies exhibited at the Musée de l’Orangerie– and marveling at how the obsession with a single subject can mould one’s life.
  • Appreciating the rich architecture of the buildings and the beautiful stained glass windows reliving the glory of the days past.
    Sainte-Chapelle

    Sainte-Chapelle

    Château de Versailles

    Château de Versailles

  • This quote by Rabindranath Tagore exhibited at the Centre Pompidou.

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    Centre Georges Pompidou

About Food:

  • Good quality ingredients, a slowing down of the pace of life and enjoying meals as a social event make for satiety and contentment.
  • Some great conversations can be had with fellow diners whilst sitting adjacent in restaurants. You realize how much commonality the human experience has in spite of all the cultural differences.
  • Artisanal dark chocolate is a heavenly thing.

    The Notre-Dame Cathedral replicated in chocolate

    The Notre-Dame Cathedral replicated in chocolate at La Maison du Chocolat

  • Our general perception about personal space and time is overrated, especially in the context of sitting out on a sunny Sunday afternoon at a curbside table in a crowded café overlooking the Eiffel Tower.IMG_20141019_134111

Finally,the magic is in the details:

  • Some things defy explanation but are joyful for that very reason- for example, what is the box doing up in that tree?

    Jardin des Tuileries

    Jardin des Tuileries

  • Good thoughtful dressing matters, case in point being the well dressed cab drivers and the regular person who was so well put-together : minimalistic, classic and stylish (I especially loved the abundance of scarves- my favorite accessory).
  • Cute ballet flats don’t cut the deal when traipsing on cobblestone streets for hours- good walking shoes are a must.
  • Love makes the world crazy and ritualistic – all the locks here bespoke that.IMG_20141020_192758In all, we had a delightful glimpse of life in Paris.
    Until the next trip, Au revoir !

A fair barter

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This post evolved in part from the sad news of Robin Williams’s passing and the tremendous outpouring on social media, of grief and admiration for the man.

His life ended – apparently of his own choosing and now that he is gone, the world mourns the loss of his talent. We, the audience, grieve because we realize that someone who embodied great value and quality is around no more. We lament for those gifts of the future that would have come our way, unasked for, had he lived on. And we weep in acknowledgment of that unknown angst that might have led him to choose not to stay. Some of us might even identify with the darkness that surrounds suicide, having experienced that deep, dark hollow ourselves or with loved ones.

Who really knows for sure what the private struggles were, that Mr Williams faced and how he grappled with them? There is some mention in the press regarding depression and addiction, amidst other issues, and how dealing with this had been a long winded battle for him.

Something that has been weighing on my mind ever since I learned of this tragedy is the realization that in addition to our physiological and psychological wellbeing, it is our social fabric that helps keep us functioning optimally as human beings. Maybe it is to some extent the fine balance between social and emotional give -and- take that helps maintain a sense of harmony in life.

In view of Mr Williams’s battles with depression and other issues , aside from medical help, what could have been that bridge that might have brought him back from the edge of the suffering that enveloped him? What kind of support and in which sphere of his life-personal, social, professional or as a public figure – would have provided some hope, some reason for enduring? What was it that he, who seemed to give so freely, needed most to keep his will and spirit buoyant? It is unfortunately too late now to know the definitive answer to that.

Whilst this actor’s life and work played out on a very public stage, there are so many such ‘givers’ in our everyday lives that do their work and live their lives with meaning , dignity and compassion in a way that touches something inside of us.
We may admire and appreciate the wonders that they put forth, but more often than not we are really only celebrating how OUR lives are enriched by these gems – the love from a parent, child or significant other ; the unflinching support and understanding from a friend; the time, effort and commitment from those that we employ; the wonderful services and products we purchase – that we forget what we TAKE from those that give.
Are we paying back in kind? Not just in monetary terms or tokenism but are we acknowledging and commiserating with the spirit in them that celebrates and honors life, life’s work and probably, the best in us?
How are we offering our kinship and humanity?
What are we giving back?
Is it commensurate with what we have received?
Is it timely?
Is it a fair barter?

That is a question that we as audience, lovers, friends, family, co- workers and consumers need to ask of ourselves.


*Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk  CC BY-NC-2.0