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This Side, That Side

In Search of Dariya Sagar might be about the Sindhi community’s Partition trauma, but with its questions of identity, communal baggage, fear and shame, it could well be the story of the human condition today. Edited excerpts from the story.

Images from the play In Search of Dariya Sagar, staged at the Hindu Theatre Festival, Chennai. Image Courtesy of The Blind and the Elephant.

Images from the play In Search of Dariya Sagar, staged at the Hindu Theatre Festival, Chennai. Image Courtesy of The Blind and the Elephant.

At one point in the play In Search of Dariya Sagar, Jatin (Dheer Hira), a third-generation Sindhi deeply ashamed of his communal identity, conceals himself behind his grandmother’s travel trunk, presenting a clear visual metaphor of the cultural baggage that obscures his search for identity. If this is not a triumph of design, then I don’t know what is. In fact, throughout In Search..., the design champions the cause of the play, carrying the text effectively and making it a story of the human condition situated within the Sindhi community’s Partition trauma.

Images from the play In Search of Dariya Sagar, staged at the Hindu Theatre Festival, Chennai. Image Courtesy of The Blind and the Elephant.

Images from the play In Search of Dariya Sagar, staged at the Hindu Theatre Festival, Chennai. Image Courtesy of The Blind and the Elephant.

In the beginning, we see Jatin, a young thirty-something who has left his comfortable family home and business to make a living as a wily tour guide in South Mumbai, alone at a restaurant, a perfect tableau of isolation that is in stark contrast to the busy scene at the Gateway of India that follows. We move right into a close-up of the crowded tourist spot, as Jatin and the British tourist start their guided tour, the other actors transform into peddlers and noise makers at the Gateway of India, they weave around the two characters, purposefully occupying the whole stage and thus effectively creating a crowd out of just half a dozen actors. Jatin’s restlessness and malaise are amplified by the resolve and grace we see in his friend Tina (Niharika Lyra Dutt), who is also Sindhi, whose relationship with her family is far from perfect as she is hiding her Muslim boyfriend from them. It is when Jatin inexplicably sees a vision of the ship bringing Sindhi refugees to the then Bombay port that we enter the inner machinations of his crisis. The first thing he does after experiencing the vision is to reach out to Tina and then he is impatient to tell his grandmother. Now the past, or at least how it is remembered, delves into the questioning of identity slowly (sometimes too slowly), and his own estrangements and that of the community at large. In these memories, Tina and Jatin as children discover the grandmother’s proverbial travel trunk of memories. In innocent play, they both wear her costumes and dance in glee (to the Sindhi music only we can hear), oblivious of the cultural baggage the clothes and jewellery represent. Nani, (Sukhita Aiyar), the grandmother, is more understanding of Jatin’s awkwardness, while his parents are exasperated by his lack of focus. When Jatin and Tina rediscover the travel trunk again as adults, they also learn about Nani’s hidden past, her Muslim boyfriend who was murdered because of the man she went on to marry and build a life from scratch as immigrants. As shocking as this discovery is, it seems to give a sense of closure through the intimate revelation of the brutal, desperate times and the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding lives thereafter.

Images from the play In Search of Dariya Sagar, staged at the Hindu Theatre Festival, Chennai. Image Courtesy of The Blind and the Elephant.

Images from the play In Search of Dariya Sagar, staged at the Hindu Theatre Festival, Chennai. Image Courtesy of The Blind and the Elephant.

Seema Massot has been navigating the waters of cultural management between France and India since 2009 and is now writing about experiencing art.

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