A review of Arun Sarma’s Play – Aahaar


Half immersed in darkness, four men sit and wait in North Brook Bank, Sukreshwar ghat. They have stolen a dead body of a woman from a morgue. A woman clad in white advances forward, narrates. She is Nari, the eternal woman.  Soon Nari is seen metamorphosing into four women– an old mother, Anima, Nilima and Hira. That’s how Kopil Bora & Company’s magnum opus begins.

As we notice the long stretch of cloth, pale white, melting into the backdrop of the stage, we know that Aahaar would be invested with new resonances by the director, Abinash Sarma. The final scene, too, is crystallised in an eye-catching sight— the cloth lengthens. It elongates. The cloth suspended from a ring at backdrop mutates into anything that hints at death—probably, a pyre or a shroud. This actualizes the sense of finality inherent in a graveyard. The symbolic overtones are not hard to miss. The play is a whiff of fresh air. Although there is an effort at keeping the dialogues intact, you find a new addition here and there on the part of the director, maybe in terms of the performance text, if not the script. The director casts it into a new shape. A drunk Nabin (played by the veteran, Kopil Bora) jerking his legs, repeating certain slovenly bodily movements, stays with you. Also stays with you the piercing shriek of the fallen woman, the prostitute, Hira, who breaks down, rather hysterically, after her confrontation with her only son after years. He is now a bubbly young chap who is half way through his research in Gauhati University. He is in the process of collecting data on narratives of women in ghettos. Thus the mother and son meet, much to the surprise of the wayward father, Nabin, whose prime thrust is to keep Hira’s identity under cover. Also stays with you the beloved, dainty and spirited. She rotates the umbrella, clasps her mouth with her hand and laughs. In her we find the green promises of love. Also we come across a mother who cooks a hearty khichri for her rebel son. The son, a member if an underground outfit, usually visits her unannounced. She is seen gently blowing away the candle at the bleating of a police siren. She lingers in your mind for a while. Then,  we have a dutiful housewife who slowly desiccates into a colourless, bland woman. She stays with you too.

Zerifa Wahid dons the mantle of Nari, the eternal woman, and subsequently becomes a wife, a mother, a beloved, and a prostitute. The intention is to showcase social stereotypes with strong undercurrents. Nari conjures up ghosts of the past, shadowy, and equally disturbing. Poignantly etched in a graveyard, the setting of the first and last scene of the play captures an immediacy—the onset of death and decay, and also a brazen and uneventful existence of the four male protagonists, Nabin (Kopil Bora), Kamal (Suruj Kalita), Dhiren (Partha Hazarika), and Nalini (Ronjul Boruah). The note is similar to that of an absurd play. Aahaar is all about the “play” of alternate narratives. It probes the fact, how the subjectivity of each character is dependent on the priority of narrating and the act to manage the strategies, forms and language of persuasiveness about what they narrate. The narratives of Nabin, Dhiren, Kamal and Nalini are not only seemingly random and chaotic but they are also attempts at persuading the reader to believe in the truth of the so-called realities of their minds. However, these narrations are not value-neutral. These are not error-free mirrors of the past. Quite interestingly these narratives orient the “other”, Nari, who continually joins and rejoins, interrupts and re-interrupts the four male narratives. The four men are posed as a woman’s construct. Their subjectivities are constituted as a part of Nari’s overarching female gaze.

Each protagonist in the play Aahaar performs a social role in a satirical and parodic vein. Nalini, Kamal, Dhiren and Nabin look at things from different perspectives. Nalini is a practical and stoic businessman; Nabin drowns himself in alcohol and drugs in order to escape reality; Kamal resides in the imaginary world of poetry and literature; and Dhiren’s vision of a revolution that would change the world induces him to pick up weapons. Nari is the only female character who connects the four male characters and interweaves their diverse pursuits. Each of them is moving round and round in an endless circle of loss and pain, again beginning from the start in the circumference where they end. In the circle of life, the aimless points of beginning and ending collapse. Nabin, Kamal, Dhiren, and Nalini are propelled by an innate urge to search, find, discover and understand. As Nari puts it, all of them are addicted to an earthy passion; for Nalini it is the world of glitz and glamour, for Kamal it’s the world of literature, for Dhiren it is society and revolution, and intoxicating substances for Nabin.

Nari is dead, yet living. She is formless and is present everywhere. At the same time she cannot escape moulds, guises and disguises; status and positions; and roles and forms. She finds herself evolving as four women. It is quite paradoxical that the dead woman whom the four men stole from the city morgue is no one other than Nari, the same woman who is scrutinizing every move made by them, narrating what they are doing and trying to accommodate their different needs by recasting herself anew.

The play caters to the senses, especially the olfactory and visual. At one point, the sensualist paradigm completely replaces the intellectualist one. There is a reference to those which the body seeks to expel, like vomit, mucus, urine and others. In the play, the abominable stink of the corpse is coupled with the stench of vomit and sweat. These are troubled markers between the unclean and the clean, or the inside and the outside of the body. The play Aahaar can be said to re-inscribe the personal, sexual, literary and social “waste” at different levels of expression. All the four men are regarded as the “waste” expelled from social systems and processes.

Nari enters as an important figure in the narratives of their lives. In one way, Nari’s single narrative multiples into four complex entwined narratives, signified by the four women. These narratives are not linear, but cyclical. Each narrative is pervaded by the mysterious figure of the female or the quintessential woman.

This production of Kopil Bora & Company digs at a modern world of delusions characterised by forgetting, fragmented memory and shocking encounters. It makes us look inward, catch a glimpse of what lies unheard and unseen in us and it wins here.

(Dr Namrata Pathak teaches at NEHU, Tura campus)