Monday, November 25, 2013

Starring soul of Gir

Starring soul of Gir
The Times of India

In the common imagery evoked by Gir — which is reiterated by the publicity blitzkrieg of the state tourism department —Asiatic lions hold the pride of place. However, the land is much more than the home of the animal kingdom's revered royalty; it is the site where life forms thrive in a unique symbiotic relationship. In Gir, humans do not have dominion over animals, people are a part of the system.

That is the central theme of celebrated Gujarati author Dhruv Bhatt's book " Akoopar" released in 2010. The book chronicles the journey of an unnamed hero to Gir in search of the 'Earth' element for a series of paintings; and his encounters with local residents, their belief systems and, of course, lions. At the beginning of the book, the hero is unsure why he has come to Gir for the project. But by the end, the visit becomes a life-changing experience for him.

The genesis

Aditi Desai, the director of the critically acclaimed play on Kasturba, has adapted this tale for stage. It debuted on Saturday. Desai said that she came across the book during a vaachikam (reading) session at Sahitya Parishad and it was an instantaneous decision to tell the tale on stage.

"It was not easy to depict the forest of Gir, nes of the Maldharis, and wildlife," said Desai. "The book encompasses a large geographical and chronological canvas. We thus roped in Dhruvbhai for the tough task of creating a script and decided on 16 key plot points to include in the play." Desai was keen to ensure that no integral elements were missed. "Much effort went into props, some of which we procured from neses where we lived as a team during research," she said.

Man v/s Wild

All involved with the play were impressed the most by the ethos of compassion in Gir that has been highlighted by the book. "During our visits to Gir, we met a number of Maldharis who had lost their cows to lions or leopards but none had hatred for the animals," said Desai. "What makes Gir unique is its value system that sees the forest as a living being and an all-nourishing entity." Local people believe that lions don't attack humans wantonly. Even in the book, there are instances of characters saying that lions have become used to humans and we won't be harmed if we know our boundaries and respect them. "Perhaps that is the reason why lions have thrived in Gir for centuries," said Desai.

The book as well as the play also mention the maxim 'wherever there is a lion, there is Gir.' As debate simmers about the relocation of lions to Madhya Pradesh, the play throws light on what lions mean to Maldharis. The book recounts the story of a railway station manager from south India who, after a stay at Kaasiya Nes station, constructed a concrete water tank for leopards and other animals right outside the station.

Brave women of Gir

While the book and the play offer the hero's perspective, Bhatt's work pays tribute to the local culture which holds that men and woman are equal. The play has a number of strong woman characters including Sansai, who in a way epitomizes the soul of Gir, and Aai Maa who depicts local tales through her own paintings and artwork. It is their care and canny sensitivity to conservation that makes Gir a winning ecosystem.

"We used the clothes worn by Ahir and Charan women for the play and have also tried to imbibe the local dialect," said Desai. "We were surprised to know that a number of people were eager to take their kids to the play just to show them a glimpse of what Gir is all about. Kudos to the author for telling the tales so authentically. When we went there with the names of characters, we learnt that they were real people - be it the brave Dhanu or compassionate Mustufa."

Message of conservation

Desai said that the producers wanted to create awareness about conservation though the play and would also hold an exhibition of paintings and photographs on Gir outside the play venue.

Marriage of hills!

In a colourful tale, Aai Maa tells the hero about Rava Aata - the forefather of one of the central characters, Sansai - who despite being blind goes to Junagadh from his nes in Gir after getting to know about the plans of the viceroy to hunt lions. Worried about the survival of the few remaining lions, Rava Aata puts forth strong arguments and tells the viceroy that he would not only kill lions but also Gir along with them. When the viceroy heeds the pleas, the more than happy diwan of the state asks Rava Aata to name anything he wants. Rava Aata asks him to do kanyadaan of a hill in the forest to his 'son,' another hill, so that he can invite all his relatives to the wedding and experience the joy as he never married. The play features the scene of thiswedding of Ghantla and Ghantli hills, in the form of bells.

Meaning of "Akoopar"

Bhatt mentions in his book that "Akoopar" was the name of a tortoise, the oldest living being mentioned in Van Parva's story of king Indradhyumna in Mahabharat. The tortoise helps the king by providing testimony of his good deeds to the gods due to which he secures his place in the heaven. In the story's context, the writer takes the motif of a tortoise as one of the mythical beings which along with Shesh Naag, the Great Celestial Serpent, holds the earth on its back. The story has a connection with the tale of Rava Aata who goes to the durbar of Junagadh nawab and convinces the viceroy to abandon his plans to hunt lions in Gir.

No comments:

Previous Posts