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Sukracharjya Rabha dreams of a people’s theatre in char!
Till this time, I was lucky enough not to write an obituary; perhaps, I have not been inspired and influenced by any living person to such an extent that his or her departure would put an end to this luxury. But Sukrachariya Rabha is different, he is unique and here I am writing my tribute!
I had a very short but an extraordinary meeting with Sukra da in March this year. After several rounds of telephonic discussions, Rahul bhindeo (Rahul Dev Nath, a noted filmamer from Goalapra, I address him as bhideo – husband of elder sister) confirmed that he would be visiting our “Parag Kumar Das Char Library’ in Barpeta district of Assam along with two distinguished personalities one of them is Sukracharjya Rabha. It was almost unbelievable for me, I asked him twice and his confirmation gave me goose bum!
I heard and read a lot about his theatre involving the rural community. I became a fan of his initiative to bring back the theatre from sophisticated urban sphere to the nature. We are living in a time, when the political class conveniently ignores the destruction of nature and silently approves further destruction in the name of development. One the other hand, the artists’ community run towards urban area, chasing their dream to make them reality through the recognition and fame provided by the urban elites. But as I have mentioned in the very beginning that Sukra da was different, he was unique. While living in the age of market driven creativity, he rejected the conventional way of art and life. In an interview with Ratna Bharali Talukdar, he said “theatre became not a part of my life, but my entire life. I was stubborn in insisting that we must take theatre out of the sophisticated auditorium or stage, and take it to our own people. Forests are always an integral part of the life of the tribes in Assam, and the idea of celebrating drama in the midst of a forest environment took roots in my mind.”
When I met him for the first and unfortunately for the last time on 11th March, it didn’t take much time to read his simple but eclectic outlook towards marginalized and hard-working rural communities. He was traveling from Guwahati via Nalbari (to pick up Pankaj Govind Medhi, well known columnist and author from Nalbari). I told Rahul bhindeo that I would be waiting either at Barpeta town or at Howly so that they don’t have to face any trouble to reach, around 40 kilometres in southern side from national highway at Sorbhog. But they advised me to go to Mazidbhita char directly and they would reach by their own. I waited for them near the Janata Baazar, close to char.
They came by a white car, Sukra da was seating in the front seat. It didn’t take a moment to recognize him. During winter to spring, the stream of river Beki which flows through the northern part of the char gets dried up. They decided to drive the car through the sandy river bed. I was riding my scooter while the car followed me. The river bed was so sandy that sometimes, because of blown-up dust, I couldn’t see the car on rear view mirror of my scooter. After travelling about one and half kilometre we reached the campus of Jhai Foundation where the ‘Parag Kumar Das Char Library’ is situated.
After getting off the car, Sukra da panned his eyes across the char. I could see in eyes, he was impressed by the greenery of the char surrounded by river Beki, a tributary of mighty Brahmaputra. But his focus was not on the greenery only also on those people who toiled under the sun to turn the flood-ravaged char into greenery once again. The first reaction he gave ‘how beautiful place and such hardworking people!’
Within a very short time, we spoke on various issues including flood, erosion, language, nationalism and of course about theatre. He told me “Abdul, theatre doesn’t need anything extraordinary, it’s not something different. The entire universe it part of it. You saw those people working in the paddy field? They are the best actors. Theatre is way of life”. I could hardly grasp his philosophical teaching but his lively and compassionate chain of words brought a beautiful motion picture into my imagination.
In his unique annual theatre festival “Under the Sal Tree” (Theatre in Nature), he conceptualized theatre in such a way that the life of an ordinary man or woman can be reflected amidst of nature and the wider sections of audience can relate with. ‘Under the Sal Tree’ as a festival, celebrating nature through theatre without using artificial lights and sounds not only got acceptance among the local tribal people but also attracted huge attention across the globe.
I sought his suggestions and guidance to form a theatre group in the char. I thought he would be busy and for him it might not be much productive to come to char once again to teach us basic things about theatre. So, I requested him to send some actors from his group to train us. Surprisingly, Sukra da told me “Don’t worry, Abdul, I will come back and we will work together. Next time when I come, I will come for few days, preferably during flood”. We exchanged telephone numbers for future communications. But who knew that the ‘future’ would turn into ‘history’ so quickly!
Sukra da wanted to have a walk around the char. He along with Rahul bhindeo, Pankaj da and my colleagues Kazi and Zahedul visited the farmers in their field, talked to them about crops, experience of flood, erosion, displacement, and politics among others. They went to individual households of char dwellers to understand their lives more closely. While coming back, Sukra da saw few plastic packets nearby our campus. The person who was so nice to me didn’t hesitate to warn to me to be respectful towards the nature and asked me clean the plastic packets as soon as possible. His honesty and conviction to the cause he believes, earned respect from core of my heart.
While having lunch in an open space, another round of discussion took place. This time Pankaj da took lead and started finding out how we could bridge the growing gaps between the communities. Sukra da showed the ways and means how we could work together among the marginalized groups including char dwellers to minimize this gap. I remember, along with the proposal of starting a theatre group, one of their suggestions to me was to develop a handbook on char-chapori dweller and invite members from other communities and train them on culture, tradition, food habit as well as dialects to make them familiar with the people living in char-chapori areas of Assam.
Sukra da has been one of the few individuals who have given me such radical and original ideas to bring the conflict-torn-estranged-communities of Assam together. In his short visit, Sukra da has given me so much of tasks and made me feel how much challenges has he headed on. But didn’t allow me to think for moment that he would leave me alone to complete all those challenging tasks and he would leave for heavenly abode.