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Last week, I experienced a story enacted through a play directed by Rajiv Krishnan, inside an experimental theatre despite the humid, summer heat that merrily was cooking, baking, toasting and skinning, all who enthusiastically watched this incredible play, entitled, How To Skin A Giraffe?

THE PREAMBLE:

The name of the play intrigues me. It sparks off my overly sensitive, animal activist, artist-friend, sending instantaneous shivers, and shudders down her delicate spine. It is the hottest time of the year in our coastal town of Morattandi in Tamil Nadu. Nature’s ingenious way of cooling a human body is by allowing the constant release of streams of sweat, down our backs, through the minutest hair follicles, in the slightest, hidden crevice of our mysterious body, while simultaneously releasing an unforgettable odour amidst the dense crowd gathered to see this play. I feel at ease having equipped myself with a hand fan, and choose to drape with an exaggerated, theatrical flamboyance to distract myself from the rising heat. Inspired by a light, translucent, soft, checkered, cotton sari, I am bejewelled in silver. The silver sucks off this body heat, and so I generously pierce or slip, this cooling metal in my ears, wrists, nose, finger, toes, ankles, waist and neck too. I feel rooted by its weight and chill, around the serpentine curves and swells of this body. Refreshed after eating a chilled bowl of fruit at home, we drive to our neighbourhood’s quaint, and rustic theatre. The crowd is buzzing with excitement. Candescent bulbs inside rustic lamps, flicker occasionally due to the unsteady voltage. Some of them are covered with coloured cellophane paper, adding drama, and glitter to the festive evening. After, a few sweet exchanges with enthusiastic friends, the theatre bells begin to toll. The third bell tolls to open the side gates of the main theatre. Every body rushes in. An ocean of varied footwear take their respectful place in the pebbled pathways, the stone steps, and upon the red earth that frames this theatre. I choose to seat myself on the topmost bench in the center. I am pleasantly surprised to sense an unexpected breeze, offer a little wind onto my calves and feet. Peeping under my seat, I find a fan camouflaged behind my bench. It allows me to tune inward to the tingling sensation that often simmers and bubbles inside me, before an artistic experience.

THE PLAY:

Costume design: Silken garments in red, purple, blue and green hues. One golden underwear. Silken frills. Threaded mop, as a tail.

Props: Spiralling bamboo branches, aluminium frames screwed together with nuts and bolts, a few possibly welded. Wooden planks, thick rope, and two tennis balls. Paper mâché masks.

Music: A vintage car horn, String and Percussion instruments. A pair of live musicians. Collective human voices crescendoing to melodious harmonies.

Light design: Sharp shafts, and soft halos of golden, pink, light. Black outs and shadows.

Actors and the Act: Human bodies move with ease, imagination, playfulness, clarity and strong will, painting pictures through empty space, creating a rich plethora of multiple-dimensions. They create infinity, studded with twinkling stars, fragrant orchards, and dreamy meadows with swaying, tender, green grasses. We enter a dream with luminous, spirited souls, who romance amidst fragile, enticing, giant, soap bubbles. We inhale an aroma of sizzling meat, awakening a ravenous appetite. Tasting words and visuals in every verbal bite. We listen to puns, sarcasms, wit, wisdom, and the musicality of language, literature in native tongues and dialects. Strong, expressive voices weave seamlessly over an occasional, poignant yet playful bark of a pet dog. The authority, the dictator, the power, the control, the classroom, the class teacher, the police, the law, the minister, the Royal family, the maid, the friend, all keep alive, the fire of mass hypnosis. The mechanised prawn factory, the puppets and the masks, open a window into the complexity and subtlety of human mind. A select few, awaken to an emptiness, and a rebellion, and others awaken to subservience, and a mute trust. We see suspended in the thick, sultry air, swinging cocoons, gestating with gluttony, thirst, aimlessness, freedom, bondage, hierarchy, lineage, the burdening blood-line, the obedience, the defiance, and the celebration. These, ultimately metamorphose into a turbulent ocean of colourful, unique butterflies. In the winds of this turbulent fragility, a poet-philosopher is born. Ironically, in time, he chooses death over life. But the attempted suicide is in vain. The strife for departure only brings him back to the beginning, leaving me wondering, if anyone ever left, or moved, or metamorphosed into a butterfly, or a giraffe, or anything other than who they have always been?

Resonance of the play: Thumb prints and patterns may vary, but do we keep returning to the same archetypes?

What did we skin?

Who did we skin?

What is being skinned?

Is there anyone to be skinned?

Is there anything to be skinned?

What is skin?

And Why A Giraffe?

To which my husband remarks, “It is the tallest living quadruped animal. The prawn is a large free swimming crustacean. We are processing the prawn, and in the process, skinning the giraffe. When you look at something closely enough, striking patterns emerge, between the skin of giraffe and prawn, between the fool, the philosopher Prince, the thoughtful King, the shrewd business woman, her dreamy daughter, her maid, and all the other characters – all just prawns, skinning and processing each other, in the clutches of inescapable destiny.”

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November, 9th, 2014

This evening, I saw for the first time, a dance recital by Janaki Rangarajan. It was as if an Apsara, a heavenly damsel had descended upon earth from Lord Indra’s court.

This is a dancer whose body proportions seem in alignment with the codes of Shilpa-Shastra. When she sits into her Aramandi, our eyes enter the perfect geometry of a circle within a square. A rooted dancer, with toned muscled limbs, vitality upon her skin, lucidity in her eyes, sensuousness brimming yet contained inside subtlety and exuberance.

There was a handful of audience in the recital hall, and yet her entire being spoke with a fire that illumined the large vacuum with scintillating luminosity. Her resonance had a sparkle of an otherworldly sort. A heavenly danseuse, once chiseled onto an ancient temple frieze, she momentarily steps out to share her vitality, her breath, her bosom, her vulva and her angular sensuality with us mortals. She is a fireball rolling inside a geometric form of a square, a circle, and a symmetry that enters the Bindu, the central singular point, with an inwardness that pleases all present in Lord Indra’s court alone!

In stillness and silence, her feet lock together, big toe upon big toe, held inside a kaya-madhya-sutra, the central, invisible, ethereal, silvery thread. Her skin, luminous like milk, and fragrant like Lavender. She is poetry incarnate.

Her physical body is a puppet of her inner mindscape. It moves, breathes, hisses, and pulsates in a state of trance, of wild abandon and oblivion. She invites you to enter woman to woman, man to woman, into an erotic world of fever and desire, and yet simultaneously mirrors to us, the potential of our human birth!

Not a hair out of place, her eyes bold and stressing a portal into the other world. Her beckoning lips, lined with the scarlet red blood of life. Her earrings, bejeweled chandeliers embedded with sparkling stones, birthing rainbows in every twirl and swirl.

Her eyes lined with the black soot of a bat cave. Her long hair, well groomed like the silken tail of a black stallion, with three diamond flower motifs speckled, equidistantly like the constellation of the Orion’s belt, upon a dark night sky.

Her body wrapped in fine ebony black and crimson silk. The central fan adorning her vulva is a palette of earthy browns, reds and ochers. The red alta accentuates her sinuous feet and fingers. Her long nails painted electric reddish-pink like the metallic shell of a beetle from the Amazonian rain forest.

A carved emblem of a temple altar with a bejeweled Goddess at its center, hung loosely just beneath her round bosom. It was held back by just a little stitch upon her silken blouse. A delicate necklace like the even grains of a golden hued corncob, frames her long neck. Diamonds glitter upon both her nostrils, and one hung from the center of her nose divide, drawing us in towards her red lips. Sensuous and enticing, she stood upon a dimly lit stage. The music unspun its magic, while we waited with bated breath. And then she danced …

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No saying where the dancer ends and the world begins.
With multiple arms, herself, the mother Goddess,
With flaming fingers, creating an entire world,
Assigning roles to each, in her cosmic plan,
Of parent, teacher, sister, friend, disciple, and devotee,
Herself, the maiden, and the bird in the gilded cage,
Now with a monkey’s tail, and now without,
Herself, the river flowing to temple bells and sacred chants,
The centre, in a world, where children do their thing,
She’s a Mother, spinning an ocean of tranquility,
From a Deity, famous for keeping a grand secret.

To be alone in this world is her calling, to be with all.
She’s space, in just one corner, of this Universe,
Where it’s safe to be, to let go, of all that’s insane.
It’s by her will that she’s seen, revealed and retained,
In this seamless space, even by her will, forgotten,
By those, prepared to receive, her boundless grace.
Their only intelligence, is knowing where to look.
There’s not one who watches who isn’t, to himself, lost.
It happens now and then, that all trees merge,
In just one, that’s pure consciousness, the essence,
Both in utter stillness, and, in sublime movement.

There’s a thrill before she strikes the gong,
Flowing on to a deathless resonance, passed on,
From one living cell to another, for ageless infinity.
There are those who would hang out the Ganga to dry,
For all the venom that has been poured into her.
But her’s is a will that replenishes all that’s truly grand,
In the fullness of a rhythm, unheard, upon the empty stage.
She’s sweet compassion, even in the killing, of all that’s dark.
She rescues her dance, from the edge of oblivion,
And from the lovers of the extinguished flame.
No saying where the dancer ends and the world begins.

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Imagine bathing in a river, flowing broad, deceptively slow and calm, moving a world, in its dizzying depths, meeting with dignity and becoming the vastness it meets, at its point of confluence with the Ocean, that’s how it was to witness her dance, this woman, whom everyone knows as *Vyjayanthimala!

* “Garland of Vishnu”

Flesh dissolved. Breath suspended.
Becoming one with what was seen.
A trance too sacred to be broken.
A oneness with something so divine
That neither thought, nor, applause dare intrude.
A reluctant return from the one to the many,
When the one who worked this oneness,
Steps back, letting go the shored up seconds
And the many know once more, that time exists!

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Photo Courtesy: Vipul Sangoi