Aug 1, 2009

The Land Weaver -- a poignant play on farmer suicides




Two scenes from the play The Land Weaver, directed by Gagandeep, National School of Drama, New Delhi

A few weeks back a young girl from the National School of Drama came to meet me. Gagandeep, a 3rd year student at the NSD, seemed to be very concerned about the spate of farmer suicides and wanted to understand the reasons behind the farm tragedy. She had of course done a lot of research, and I found she had the grip over the reasons behind the terrible crisis that afflicts Indian agriculture. She told me that as part of the student's diploma production, she was planning to stage a play on the agrarian crisis.

Yesterday, I had gone to see the play, titled: The Land Weaver. I must say that I was moved by the way Gagandeep, who has conceptualised and directed the play, had captured the essence of the crisis. Opening to a packed house, and moving from an outside location where we find a farmer perched on a tree not wanting to come down because he has no money. When a lady asks her as to why he is not coming down, he first wants to know whether she has come from a bank or from a foreign company.

I think the underlying message was very well spelled out at the very beginning.

The scene then moves into the auditorium, where we first encounter a farmer's body hanging. The body is lowered and then begins the second part of the play that takes us through several stages of agricultural development, and also brings out clearly and loudly a whole gamut of issues that plague farming. As Gagandeep says in the brochure that was circulated: "the play is not mourning on their (farmers) death but a realization of truth; a piercing truth which we all should face to be a responsible citizen of this country."

Sitting through the entire presentation, it looked as if I was revisiting the famer suicides issues through a maze of some of the most critical dimensions that the farmers are faced with. The presentation was also in such a manner that more than one aspect was at a time being addressed or focused on. This simultaneous approach provided the audience a unique prism to view the crisis as it is unfolding. The focus was on hybrid seeds, chemical pesticides, delayed monsoon rains, increasing indebtedness, exploitation by money-lenders and banks, sexual exploitation of the farm widows, and of course increasing rural to urban migration. I must say that I was impressed by the way Gagandeep had actually grasped the critical areas of the agrarian crisis, and presented these in a gripping and easy flowing manner.

Monsanto came in for a lot of flak. I found it very amusing the way Monsanto executives, dressed in black tie and suits, presented the annual production figures and profits (like they do in AGMs). The claims that Monsanto makes normally for the 'success' of Bt cotton seeds, and its forthcoming Golden Rice varieties, were all presented. And finally the audience was told, and that was amusing too, to 'collect' a sample of the Golden Rice seeds as they leave the hall. It was also in a way provoking to hear the sutradhar of the play tell us that farmers are so unimaginative -- they only know two ways to kill themselves: drink pesticides or hang themselves from a tree. Food for thought, I think.

The media bias against farmer suicides in particular and the agrarian crisis in general also came in for a lot of drubbing, and rightly so. Over 500 journalists covering the Lakme Fashion Week, while only 4-5 turn up when cotton farmers commit suicide in the nighbourhood, did depict the realities under which the media operates and manipulates the real issues confronting the nation. And finally, we see how the land weaver is happily entrenched in his new home in the urban centres. Working as a taxi driver, he is happy that he left the village and migrated. He can now look forward to realising his dreams, and he wants his son to be better educated and certainly not be a farmer. And his wife adds in broken English, not a driver too.

As we walk out of the hall, the underlying message as to why is the annadata hungry, continues to haunt.

I am not a theatre critic. And nor I am a great theatre buff. I hardly get time to watch a theatre presentation. But watching this play, I realise that I could have done greater justice if I knew the art of reviewing a play. Nevertheless, I think the play needs to go places, and needs to be seen by a wider audience. I suggest the President, Pratibha Patil, should invite NSD to stage this play in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. It is high time the high and mighty in this country understand the ground realities that are leading farmers to the gallows, and turning this country into a Hunger Republic. What better way than watching a stellar performance by a young group of stage artists, and coming to grip with the tragedy that remains covered like a kafan over a dead body.

The Land Weaver is written by Kuldeep Kunal and directed by Gagandeep, and acted brilliantly by: Ashiesh Nijhawan, Anamika, Tina Bhatia, Boloram Das, Md. Shahidur Rehman, Savitha B. Tushar Pandey, Vikram Kochar, Dushyant, Palash Protim Mac, Manash Protim Neog, Tauqueer Alam Khan, Durgesh Kumar, Abhishek and John.  

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