The long way homeAs a young woman, the titular Jayamaya of the play Jayamaya Aafu Matrai Lekhapani Aaipugi (currently on at Mandala Theatre) writes the names of her family and relatives on paper chits and secretly drops them into her treasured little khutruke.
As a young woman, the titular Jayamaya of the play Jayamaya Aafu Matrai Lekhapani Aaipugi (currently on at Mandala Theatre) writes the names of her family and relatives on paper chits and secretly drops them into her treasured little khutruke. Her family, who are of Nepali descent, is currently residing in Burma and there have been rumours afoot that the Japanese army is soon going to raid the village. Soon, the rumour becomes a reality, as they hear actual bombings and air raids. The villagers pack their bags and belongings and flee to their ancestral village of Lekhapani, in Assam, India. Thus begins the journey of Jayamaya Aafu Matrai Lekhapani Aaipugi.
The journey begins and, as the title makes it obvious, it will be only Jayamaya (played by Sunisha Bajgaain) who completes it. The mystery lies in the journey.
Directed by the veteran actor/director Sunil Pokharel, the play is a tragicomedy, based on the story of the same name by author Indra Bahadur Rai. Being a Sunil Pokharel production means that the fun is not in what happens, because one knows the conclusion even before they enter the theatre; the catch lies in how that preordained conclusion comes to transpire.
The play starts off with a light moment, with a poignantly evocative Deusi song, sung by a troupe of villagers. The act takes place in Subedar’s house (played by Sulakshan Bharati, the Subedar, a former laahure, made evident by his military uniform which he still holds dear). A few days later, as the Japanese troops begin to raid the village, the villagers decide to flee. And along the arduous journey, the refugees have a hard time; some die of hunger, some of tiredness and some get swept away by a river.
Besides succumbing to melodrama towards the end, especially the wail at the loss of his wife (played by Sirjana Adhikari), Bharati’s performance, carried out with a stately eloquence, is perhaps the centerpiece of the play. Among all other members of the society, the Bidhuwa (played by Usha Kiran) is the mouthpiece of the superstitions prevalent at the then society; and Pandit (played by Sujan Karki) of the hypocrisy. There’s one instance, though, relating to this Pandit that, in my reading, was forcibly injected into the interplay, without having much to do with the narrative. The refugees are on the voyage and it is night time. While all other villagers are fast asleep, the pandit wakes up, sneaks into Baaghbir’s (played by Aarjesh Regmi) camp, and drinks from the alcohol in the jar. While it sends a surge of laughter through the audience, it has nothing significant to contribute to the narrative, and is more of a crowd-pleaser.
The play features actors who are trainees at director Pokharel’s project, Gyan: Discover Yourself with Sunil Pokharel, and they deliver a performance that easily surpasses one’s expectations, despite their relative inexperience with theatre.
There’s also another actor at play here: the music. Even when there’s nothing interesting happening on stage, the poignant live music, performed by the duo of Utsav Kumar Budhathoki and Bishworaj Kafle, helps to keep the audience’s focus on stage.
The sets, designed by Anup Baral, that helps one to imagine the arduous journey the villagers have to travel is also one of the merits of the play; the walls, painted mostly in abstract, also feature the portraits of wildlife and is rugged, probably to depict the rough hills.
In Jayamaya, director Pokharel creates a play rife with societal absurdities, portrayed mainly by the characters of Pandit and the Bidhuwa. Like life, Jayamaya has its moments of gaiety and tragedy. Which strikes all the more harder, when, in a final cathartic sequence, Jayamaya, after arriving at Lekhapani, with all her family and villagers dead, drops her treasured khutruke, which produces a resounding thud and sends a hush through the shocked audience.
A great adaptation, Jayamaya, despite its relatively young cast, clearly punches above its weight. And although based on wartime Burma, it should be relevant in today’s war-torn world, especially because its strengths are in the interpretation of human emotions rather than a rigid plotline.