Marks and Sparks in Performance during the Pandemic

Marks an innovative and interactive performance by Abheesh Sasidharan and team is a unique theatrical and performance-based artistic enterprise. It is played before the people from 2021 October 4 to 8. This collective aesthetic venture is performed in collaboration with School of Drama of Calicut University at Aranattukara campus near Thrissur. It is an artistic homage to the legendary British architect who became an Indian, Mr Laurie Baker (1917-2007) who is the master architect of the still versatile and diverse structures there standing in the Aranattukara campus. Architecture, theatre, nature, performance and the people become one in an intertwined aesthetic and truly polyphonic experience.

Marks by Aheesh Sasidharan at School of Drama Trisur 2021. Photo: Ajay Sekher

The whole theatre fraternity and community at the School of Drama are involved in the elaborate moving performance. Techno-art and conservationist politics merge with human rights issues and the critique of the hierarchical society in the context of intersectionality and graded inequality. A scathing critique of power and totalitarianism is the deeply impinged impetus of the cultural event. Animalization and demonization of the human, othering and dehumanization and the biopower and resistance potential of the subjugated form a key contemporary theme that is theatrically explored and multi-vocally enacted from the beginning to the end in deeply intricate and multi-sensory ways. The various little episodes are linked through the narrative/s of motion and change. Truly multi-cultural or polyphonic vision and multi-sensory experiences make it an engaging artistic creation or combined and involved making or production of social democracy and justice at large.

From the performance Marks at School of Drama, a homage to Laurie Baker too

 The concern for humanity, life at large and ecology are thrust areas of this key artistic intervention. The very survival and sustenance of life during the contagion and the the current conjecture involving totalitarian and monopoly formations both in Kerala and India and the world at large become the real setting and context of this ethical and political act of art. A new performance idiom and language of collaborative and participatory action are also evolved through exploring the non-visual and auditory stimuli. Touch, smell, and temperature differences and sensations are also utilized dexterously in the production. Eye masking and sense of taste are subtly embedded into the performance choreography and syncretic text. The whole world becomes players and performance makers in this unison.

Animalization and othering as dramatized in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan at SoD Trisur

Marks leaves deep and engaging imprints of life and art onto the body and mind of the engaged moving audience as they are guided through the dark interiors and starlit exteriors and the drizzling thickets and the wet hedges skirting the old bare-brick architectural ensemble in an island like landscape amidst vast Kol wetlands and paddy fields of Thrissur suburbia. The natural vegetation, huge and meandering mango trees and other wild plants that literally engulf the campus in an ethereal way in the light showers and magical lightning as the gentle rain or rainbow from heaven become the organic arena and real-life props of the performance. The twittering of the birds and their soft landing and cajoling near our ears, shoulders, and neck are mesmerizing and scintillating. The elephant encounter in the blinded play within the play is unforgettable. The smell of the wild tuskers in the humid air becomes part of our senses and reflexes.

Surviving the pandemic through agriculture and culture as depicted in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan

Solar and dynamo-like renewable energy sources are used for lighting and minimal illuminations that sparks critical and creative thoughts, affects and emotions in the audience in intricate ways. It is a watershed in the history of performance in Kerala as its true predecessor Madness done by Abheesh on the short fiction of C Ayyappan earlier in Kochi in 2019 within a moving Ambassador motor car at Tripunitura.

Intimate and multi-sensory peformance in Marks by Abheesh Sasidharan at SoD Trisur 2021.

The improvisational and contextually evolving theatrical language used in tandem with the performers who are students and academic exponents of theatre and performance make it unique and historic once again. This collective and collaborative artwork involves and actively engages the audience in creating the music of life and a true polyphony of community and collective survival in the time of the pandemic. Let it be a new beginning for theatre and performance in Kerala after the colossal wreck of the cultural space during the pandemic.

Dr Ajay S Sekher  

5 October 2021.

ajaysekher@gmail.com +91 9895797798

Serpent Eagles of Chokra Mudi

Chokra Mudi as seen from Rajakumari
Chokra Mudi as seen from Rajakumari
I got a unique chance to climb up Chokra Mudi near the Lockhart gap in Munnar last Wednesday (25 Nov. 2009). Chokra Mudi or Choka Mudi as local tribal people call it is the second highest peak, south of the Palghat pass after Anamudi (Dodabeta is the second highest peak in the whole South India after Anamudi, but it is in the Nilgiris north of the pass).

It is a pivotal natural structure having great geological and cultural significance in the history of ancient tribes like Mannans and Muduvans in the Anamalais and Cardamom Hills. Its south slopes in Muttukad hosts megalithic dolmens and rock-cut caves. Its western lower reaches still retain place names like Mannan Kandam now known as Adimaly. It is visible from Adimali, Vellathooval, Ponmudi, Rajakad, Rajakumari and Bison Valley. This magnificent rock peak towers well above 2400 Mts. above sea level.

The Mighty Hights: Chokra Mudi Peak
The Mighty Hights: Chokra Mudi Peak

My friends Kannan, Rajesh, Vinod and Unni from Rajakumari were not much interested in birding but were really enthused in rock-climbing and hiking. The craggy and steep terrain was a real challenge for them who were mostly raised in the high ranges. I followed far behind them and could manage to see a few birds as well.P1070200

Plenty of House Swifts and Dusky Crag Martins were seen in agile fast motion overhead. A few Alpine Swifts were also seen. In a grass patch a pair of Pipits were found, but did not get any shots and there fore could not identify them. A few Stone Chats were also seen around. Grey wagtails are abundant in the lower areas of the mighty peak constantly drenched by tiny springs and cataracts. In the foundation we can see unique flora mixed up with the grassland and rocky terrain.

P1070222After an hour of climbing we reached the half way mark and began to rest. Unfortunately this unique natural and geographical heritage of the Western Ghats is illegally colonized by a dominant religious group and some religious marks and icons adorn the rocks and the peak! We can see the whole northern Idukki district from here. From Bodimettu to Adimali is visible. This immense rock projection offers a panoramic view of Bison Valley, Rajakkad, Pallivasal, Rajakumari, Santhanpara and Muttukad areas down below. As we were enjoying this breathtaking sight I heard a distant “Klee – klee – klee…” from far above! It was repeated in short intervals.

Crested Serpent Eagle Spreading Wings over Chokra Mudi
Crested Serpent Eagle Spreading Wings over Chokra Mudi
Yes, it was a Crested Serpent Eagle above Choka Mudi! It was soaring well above the pinnacle. To add to our amazement we saw another one near the first bird. They were hovering above in tandem! The circling motion of the Eagle couple was a moving sight at that location, that even attracted my friends who were not so keen on birds. As we watched curiously the huge birds of prey slowly moved towards the shola grasslands adjoining the Muttukad plantations.

After one more hour of hard and painstaking ascend we finally reached the summit. It was fortunately cleared of mist. Normally we see the pinnacle always covered with heavy fog and clouds. This time we saw clouds sailing well below us! It was a magical experience, though tiring. And without wasting time we began our down hill task which was more risky and dangerous. We managed to get down to the National Highway 49 near the gap-road as the dusk was engulfing the whole landscape. the sight of the Serpent Eagles in elevated flight and their repeated calls and responses are still simply unforgettable.

Down-hill Task
Down-hill Task