“Over thirteen thousand people died in a decade long war. Half of that number (and counting) died in a thirty second quake. I dont want to sound all existential, would be politically incorrect and superficial to do so at the moment. But really, life is so so uncertain. We can all do ourselves a favor and try to live in the present, do what we love, be with people we want to and try, in the minutest way even, to live life of purpose and some service to others. Because, really whats the point otherwise.”
Coming to Bangalore for the first time
“When I first came to Bangalore I had little idea about who I was going to be or what I was going to do with my life, but one thing I was certain about was that I was going back home. . I maintained that so strongly, and though I have changed over the years, the need to go back and do something for my country has not. My nationality is one of the most important components of my identity. It helped shape my purpose in life. Be it theatre or therapy, that need to serve and reach out to people who speak my own language has always been important to me. I don’t know who taught me this or when I acquired it, but it has always been about ‘I’ll go back and do this/create this.’ This conviction grew stronger over the years that I was here obtaining my education,” muses Akanchha Karki.
Akanchha came to Bangalore five years ago from Nepal for her under graduation and loved the city so much that she stayed on for her masters. In between earning degrees in theatre and psychology, she trained and performed on stage widely. She is in town for the graduation ceremony for her master’s degree. Yet what would have been a happy and exciting time for the twenty four year old is now one doused with heartbreak and tragedy, given the recent slew of devastating earthquakes in Nepal.Bangalore has given Akanchha much- an education, friends for life and perhaps an everlasting sense of community. So it is perhaps with a bittersweet sense of purpose that one of her final chapters in India is to urge the people of her adopted home city to help with rebuilding life back home in Nepal. She, along with a few close friends, zeroed in on the unusual decision of performing an evening of playback theatre, hoping that it will persuade generous patrons to come and experience a new side of their personality and, in the process, part with a few bucks in aid of the greatest tragedy of recent times.
Why playback theatre
On what is playback theatre, Akanchha explains, “Playback theatre is a spontaneous, improvisational interactive form of theatre that takes audience member’s stories and experiences and plays it back to them on the spot. It can be something as small as ‘I bought a fish today’ to something big like loss of loved one. It can be stupid, funny, general and intense and can take any shape and tone. We do this form at small gatherings and often for charity and it is a great outlet for people to express their feelings and share it in a forum and has often found to be therapeutic for some. This form imbibes hope, and since we are raising money in order to gather hope of some sort, we thought it would be the perfect thing to do. So it will be like a normal playback performance, but the proceedings from it will go to helping build Nepal.”
She continues, “In Playback, there are no boundaries and we all are reduced to the basic essence of humanity. You need to be sensitive and empathetic, because you are responsible of carrying out another person’s story. You need to do justice to that.”
Playback theatre has not receive its due credit in the world stage, but for Akanchha and her friends there was no other medium but this when they thought of doing a fundraiser for Nepal. She says, “During such a time, one would like to do what they know best to help. Theatre is a really powerful tool to ignite change, get people to think, share stories and make people express.
But it’s not the right time yet to be able to do that in Nepal. Proper physical stability hasn’t reached yet and it wouldn’t make sense to try to do theatre when people are living under tarps and are not sure about what they are going to eat today. That way we felt crippled as theatre people back in Nepal, because first we had an idea about doing Playback theatre in different spaces just to have people share and vent their emotions. Later we realised (me and my fellow theatre cohort Gunjan Dixit) that in order to do that we’d have to train a team, sensitise them, and have them rehearse which would take months. Then it so happened that we decided to come to Bangalore and got this idea of spreading our hands to our Playback community here who un-hesitantly and generously agreed to take on the show to help us fundraise for Nepal and, more importantly, to raise awareness and dialogue about what is happening in Nepal currently post the disaster.”
The day the first earthquake struck
Akanchha remembers clearly where she was when the first of the earthquakes struck. “I was at home (Nepal) when it first hit. I had just locked my house and was saying goodbye to a friend who was flying back to Bangalore the next day. We were climbing steps, and suddenly I could hear this screeching sound of what seemed like metal and there were huge jolts and movements. It took us about 5 seconds to realise what it actually was. The ground shook, spun, jolted and threw us to the other end of the court. I am usually a lost person and the three of us, my two friends and I, kept holding on to each other desperately, unable to move. There is a huge shutter which is an exit to the house and that came down on itself. For a second I felt this was it and we would all perish.
We were in the middle of two huge houses and the quake was so bad, I am surprised it didn’t fall on us. We somehow made it to the road when the trembling stopped. When we got there, the whole neighbourhood was on the streets crying, screaming, stunned. Phone lines were disrupted, and my hands trembled as I tried to dial the numbers of ones I loved. I am lucky that I didn’t lose anyone or anything to the quake, and it would be superficial to make this about how the earthquake affected me because compared to what people are really going through, it’s nothing. Over 8000 people died and those are only the recorded numbers. Houses are swept, entire villages are flattened.
Monuments of cultural and national heritage have been turned into rubbles. It kind of strips you off your national identity, because some of these things were what made one ‘Nepali’ and we were all so proud of that fact. I visited a couple of hospitals to assess and work with rescued children, and that’s where you see the actual reality. The cracks on the walls of my house are nothing compared to the lives, houses, limbs and hope that these kids have lost. It’s heart-breaking because they can’t even share what they feel or be able to understand what happened. There is no therapy or right treatment here. Sometimes it was just about sitting next to a child and watching him draw, sometimes just holding them, or making them laugh.
The earthquake memes and jokes
I have been in Bangalore for a day and I feel that the ground underneath me is shaking, I am grateful about the fact that I can sleep in the second floor without having to worry that there will be a jolt at night and I might need to run. This kind of uncertainty kills, and most likely dampens hope. I don’t know if it’s some sort of coping mechanism, but people have become so immune to the aftershocks that there are now earthquake meme and jokes, which is so sad but funny in the same way,” she reflects.
It was overwhelming and faith affirming for Akanchha to see how much people around the world rallied around Nepal and bandied together to help. She stresses that every bit helps and every drop counts. ButfFor the stricken Nepalis, no amount of help is too much. Akanchha and her friends went about organizing this fundraiser on a shoestring budget where her main resources were, ‘Generosity, hospitality and enthusiasm of the people of Bangalore.’ “I’ve thanked them personally, they know who they are,” she says quietly.
Don’t buy a ticket, but come
‘Playback for Nepal,’ is open to all. You don’t need to purchase a ticket for entry. Commenting on this unusual policy Akanchha explains, “I didn’t want it to be a compulsory event. Charity of any sort shouldn’t be made mandatory. People should donate because they want to, not because they ‘have’ to. And also it is more about the thought. Some people have more to give and some have less or none. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to or that they shouldn’t enjoy a good show of Playback theatre. The ticket is made open, so that people don’t feel compelled to pay a price for coming, and it’s completely alright if someone doesn’t want to donate, we will hope they had a good time at the show.”
Her version of a ‘good time’ is that people feel fulfilled in some way from having attended an intense session of playback theatre. “We hope that members in the audience are able to have fun, learn of each other’s experiences and be a little more close and in touch with their feelings,” she relays.
We will rise
As Akanchha puts the finishing touches on ‘Playback for Nepal’ and contemplates the mountain of responsibility that the youth of her generation have before them in restoring their country to its former glory, she shares a snippet or two of her learnings from this wrenching experience: “Nepali people are very resilient and strong. I keep saying ‘Nepali people’ a lot, I know. I’m sure there are people who are like ‘Our people are also like that or this’. But really, the kind of strength to deal with natural disaster as this, is remarkable. People who’ve given their hearts and soul to relief work, youth who’ve risked to go to villages to help build it back, in spite of the pertaining aftershocks, is commendable. Living in fear and uncertainty, but so quick to bounce back and try to live life in utmost normalcy. This kind of optimism is what is needed, and the world could use more of that.”