Einstein: A Stage Portrait

You must be wondering what Einstein has to do with the theme of our blog, Aranya Parva. The “Man of the Century”, Einstein, also wondered why he had to do anything with the ‘Bomb’! The stage was set, and we watched Albert Einstein in his study.

Saturday are always hectic in Bangalore, because of Rana’s theory (of relativity) – some of the IT folks who use office transport – bless them – own cars and need to use them. So they get the cars out on Saturday and strangle the Bangalore roads. Despite that, Saturdays can be great, like the one that just went by. We reached St. Joseph’s College auditorium, said a quick hello to our good friend, Poornima Kannan, who was ushering in the audience for the play Einstein: A stage portrait. Bangalore Little Theatre and Azim Premji University, in association with St. Joseph’s College, have brought this play to Bangalore.IMG_20151205_193124728

The only thing missing was a glass of whiskey in our hands, because the whole experience felt like Einstein was sitting across the table, narrating the story of his life to us, in person. At the end of the play, it was hard to decide whom to appreciate better, the playwright or the artist. Williard Simms has woven the story of the Einstein in an intimate and riveting way, transporting us to a different world. The

Image credit: Ashwini Visuals/BLT

Image credit: Ashwini Visuals/BLT

playwright has drawn details from Einstein’s letters to his son and daughter-in-law, and has presented every relevant detail in the manner of an intimate conversation. From the days when Einstein chased butterflies (Poornima would have definitely loved this part of his life story), to the days when he wrote to Roosevelt, Simms gives us the many facets of Einstein’s character that we would hardly know about. The scientist was charming, witty, funny, sensitive, and maybe sometimes selfish, arrogant, and most important of all, humane.

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Image credit: Ashwini Visuals/BLT

When a playwright does such a fantastic job of characterization, an artist can only hope to do justice to the role. Tom Schuch does that, giving his everything to it, including his age. Delivering 46 pages of script is no mean feat, and to do that flawlessly with a slight hint of German accent takes not just dedication, but passion for one’s profession. Being a drama artist of All India Radio, and having had a brief stint with theatre/TV, I understand what goes behind portraying a role. All I can do is tell the artist, take a bow, for we stepped out of the auditorium with a feeling of having met the scientist himself. The reviews are spot on – that he is an actor’s actor and that this play is a “drama-logue” par excellence. Watch the trailer here. If you think the hair and make-up look awesome, listen to Tom laughing – I just loved it 😀

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Image credit: Ashwini Visuals/BLT

One of Einstein’s quotes says, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”. This brings the connection to our blog. Watch the play to understand and appreciate the man’s connections with what was happening around him and his train of thoughts. When he talks relativity again and again, you can’t help but think of the various projects that are being done at such a rapid pace, with little thought on their impacts. Remember, Einstein also said this: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space … Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

albertviolin_AFP_BIGThere are different shows scheduled for specific audiences across Bangalore. If you know it is scheduled in your organization, be there half an hour early 😉 Wherever in the world you are, if you hear about this play by Spoli Productions International in your locality,  don’t miss it! There is an additional bonus at the end of the play – a question and answer session with the actor and the playwright. Ask away and enjoy 🙂

 

Sugandhi

 

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Sarus

The_Killing_of_Krouncha_Heron

By Balasaheb Pratinidhi (Chitra Ramayana) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The death of a bird led to the birth of Valmiki’s Ramayana. Sage Valmiki headed out to take a dip in the river Tamasa. He decided to take a stroll before his bath, soaking in nature’s beauty. A little distance away were two birds, a male and female, completely engrossed in one other. Even as the sage watched, a hunter’s arrow killed the male. Overcome with grief (shoka), Valmiki uttered these words, which, even to his surprise, came out as a shloka – a verse perfect in rhyme and rhythm – and was the first ever Sanskrit verse.

मां निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः।
यत्क्रौंचमिथुनादेकम् अवधीः काममोहितम्॥

mā niṣāda pratiṣṭhāṁ tvamagamaḥ śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
yat krauñcamithunādekam avadhīḥ kāmamohitam

http://ozcranes.net/images/valmiki.jpg

Source: ozcranes.net

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A Pelican and Other Birds Near a Pool, known as ‘The Floating Feather

The verse roughly translates to, “Oh hunter, may you repent for life and suffer, find no rest or fame, for you have killed one of the unsuspecting, devoted and loving krauñcha couple.” Of the several interpretations, one says the hunter is the demon Ravana, who separated the loving couple, Sita and Rama.

My Sanskrit teacher in school, Mrs. Sulabha V Hubli, explained ma nishada in great detail with its many meanings and interpretations, imprinting the epic scene on my memory. A few months ago, I had attended Shyamal’s talk, where he discussed Melchior de Hondecoeter’s 1680 artwork, Het drijvend veertje, one of the most accurate representations of the Sarus Crane. The Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) at the center of the frame got me thinking about this verse again.

Was it the Sarus that Valmiki referred to? In different literature, the  krauñcha has been described as a dove, flamingo, swan, snipe, curlew or even a Demoiselle Crane. The wiki for Demoiselle Crane has a reference to krauñcha and Valmiki. However, more recent studies have established the identity of Valmiki’s krauñcha pair as Sarus Cranes.

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Sarus Cranes in a grassland, Keoladeo National Park

As the story goes, the female lamented with a pitch and tonal quality so deep in emotion, that compassion welled up within Valmiki. Julia Leslie’s paper, A bird bereaved, does an exhaustive study of the verse, considering thirty two separate species, and eliminating all but one, the Sarus Crane.

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Sarus Cranes in Keoladeo National Park

Literature says the name Sarus came from the Sanskrit word sarasa, pertaining to lake, water. Sarasa explains the habitat of the crane – wetlands, grasslands, marshes and [un]cultivated fields. Another study talks about the word relating to any crane or waterfowl, but it also translates to crying or calling out.  In Tamil, the word sarasa is closely related to dance – which relates to the “dancing” movements of these birds, not only during the breeding season. They are famous for their fascinating display, with perfect poise and calling in unison. They jump, bow and circle around, stand in front of each other, swinging their necks. One may jump and descend flapping its wings. Oh, how I wish I could see this someday 🙂

We did see this graceful pair foraging in the fields at Lesser Rann of Kutch. How time flew, we never realized, for they were a treat to watch. That they decided to call, was an icing on the cake.

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http://indiapicks.com/Indianart/Images_MP/Mughal_Cranes.jpg

Source: Gallery of Indian miniature paintings, National Museum, New Delhi

While Valmiki’s Ramayana gave a poetic introduction to the tallest flying birds, Emperor Jehangir pioneered in noting its behavioral ecology and natural history, in early 17th century. Again, one of his notes also refers to a crane’s pining, its mournful notes, after its mate was predated. Although all cranes bond for life, it is the Sarus that is a symbol of marital fidelity. The Emperor was so interested in these cranes that he had also gold-ringed a few of them on their noses and legs!

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An etymology of krauñcha says that it is the one that gives out calls. This bird with its grey plumage is described as the one with the red head (raktamoordha). In fact, Valmiki’s description of  tamra sirsa (coppery head) aided in identifying the krauñcha in his story.

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There are references to instances where bereaved Sarus Cranes have pined away to death. You may call this poignant episode and the female lamenting as anthropomorphic. Maybe it is, maybe it is not. All I can say is,  most of mankind has transformed into a more vicious form of the hunter of Valmiki’s story. To make our lives better – be it in the form of more money, better infrastructure, real estate, agriculture – we destroy  homes of not only the Sarus Crane, but of many other wild citizens. We kill them without giving a second thought. The Sarus Crane will continue to lament. There are people who narrate those stories. But will the audience read, listen and care?

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Sugandhi

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