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Janus − A Center for Visual and Performing Arts presented their latest play ‘East Side Stories’ on June 30th and July 1st 2018. Janus formed by theatre practitioners and visual artists, with a vision to bring together the fine arts and performing arts under one roof. Janus, the White Cube and the Black Box, aims to work individually and symbiotically, to bridge the gap between the arts, in order to facilitate and encourage inter-disciplinary work and showcase new, contemporary and innovative work.

‘East Side Stories’, a one-of-a-kind play with expository storyline adapted from short stories by Dibyendu Palit, Selina Hossain and Manik Bandopadyay comprises of three short plays enacted by Sanchayita Bhattacharjee and directed by Mahmud Alam. The plays brilliantly throw light on the traumatic experience of people during the partition of India.

In the first play ‘Her House,’ Ayesha who was born in Calcutta, but had moved to Dhaka when East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, returns after three years on the invitation of a Friendship Committee. While staying back in Calcutta in order to finish her studies while her family had moved to Dhaka in 1970, Ayesha had formed a strong bond with Amit. She later moved to Dhaka on her father’s death, but kept in touch with Amit and his family through letters. As Ayesha lands in Calcutta, she is caught up in a whirlwind of memories and a strong desire to reconnect with the city of her birth.

The protagonist, Ayesha is seen reflecting on an important statement by her father that impels the audience to think as well. She mentions that her father had said that there were necessarily two partitions − one political and the other mental. The question of one’s true soil is explored when Ayesha ponders upon Amit’s last letter where he had written about “that particular soil in which we take root.” The question whether the country of one’s birth was also one’s motherland always awakened a sense of rootlessness in the people experiencing partition. Te story unfolds to further emphasize the sense of alienation and crisis of identity caused due to partition.

The second play Prateek or Symbol, is about a pregnant woman Pushpita who is seen crossing the Mahananda river with her husband Ali Ahmad in a boat to East Pakistan, when she is on the verge of labor. She struggles throughout the journey and keeps wondering if they had to flee just because her husband belonged to a different religion. As she reaches the new land, her water breaks and she delivers a baby boy. She is scared and wonders if other sons born on that soil would one day turn against each other, just like it had happened during the partition. As a symbol of peace she names her son Prateek Ahmed, a symbol of the unity between the two religions, a new hope created by a Hindu mother and a Muslim father.

In this play too, the protagonist traverses a difficult path to uncover the question of one’s true motherland and the feeling of being a refugee forever. She is unnerved by the thought that she has to live on a foreign land for the rest of her life. It shows how the Bengali people, whether Hindu or Muslim, identified with each other on the basis of their shared language, food habits, memories and culture.

The third and final play ‘The Final Solution’ is more of a thriller when it ends, but also revolves around a very important issue of the exploitation of women for supposedly being the weaker gender, susceptible to emotions. Mallika’s family of four, with an ailing husband, crying infant and widowed sister-in-law, dispossessed of all their possessions, take shelter at a railway platform in Calcutta. They have placed their faith in Pramatha and Ramlochan of the ‘Help and Welfare Society’ after they offered shelter to her and money for food and milk for her baby. As the story unfolds, one sees how women in need and at the mercy of others are exploited when Ramlochan tricks Mallika into the profession of prostitution and tries to rape her. Something snaps inside Mallika and she kills Ramlochan and takes his money and believes that she had found a way to earn a living, a way out − the final solution.

This play brilliantly stages the issues of gender violence and exploitation that are relevant even today. It is also enriched by certain inputs by the director where he uses the famous scene of Lady Macbeth washing her hands after killing Duncan to demonstrate how Mallika washes her hands after the murder. Mallika’s way out, to kill whoever wanted to take advantage of her, is also the director’s exploration of the Freudian psyche. There is a dichotomy shown in the character of God, further grazing the line of a Marxist critique. It exposes the helpless condition of the refugees and the socio-political state after partition where there were no jobs for men.

All the three plays have been directed in an ingenious manner, with simplistic use of the stage, minimal props, effective sound and light. The script is very rich in content and successfully throws light on the emotions of mankind. Sanchayita Bhattacharjee has outdone herself in enacting these three plays, captivating the audience with her brilliant use of expression and voice modulation.

East Side Stories revolve around the much debated topic of India being partitioned on the basis of religion and how it affected thousands who had to get uprooted. Such uprooting brings to question the basic compulsion of survival when earning enough for daily survival takes precedence over morals. The team of East Side Stories has reminded us, yet again, that violent uprooting, religious riots and conflicts between man only causes further suffering and nothing else.