Saturday Features

Death on an instalment plan

  • Jiundo Akash shows how society deprives a transgender person the right to a dignified life
- Sandesh Ghimire
While great strides are being taken in terms of political representation of the LGBT community, the play shows that the change in mindset of society-at-large is still at a very rudimentary level

Mar 3, 2018-A slow but certain uneasiness creeps up on you, minutes after the play, Jiundo Akash, begins. On stage is Anil Subba, acting at once as Gaurav in front of the gossipmongers of society, and as Garima in front of her mirror: The audience of the play.

Within us, we reflect the chaos that Garima feels because her femininity is denied to her. The hour-long play feels as if you are thrown in the middle of a tempest, without being warned. Anil Subba’s solo performance begins as an eccentric and disquieting act as if ice is melting in your empty stomach.

In the opening sequence—where Garima begins to share her life story but then suddenly breaks into an intense bacchanalia, an almost drunken like spiritual expression—seems to be a peak that lacked a gradual built up.

Her movements convey the terror felt while expressing a dark thought, a hidden desire of a kind that one might be ashamed to share with even the closest of friends.  Yet, it seems that the midnight in Garima’s life suddenly ends to make way for sudden brightness, as she is suddenly jovial and in a triumphant mood...this constant oscillation, as the play tells us, is the life of the transgender person who is forced to inhabit two identities, one forced and another natural. 

In the play—told in flashbacks with a meta-narration supplied by the protagonist—we see a young boy, five or six years old, displaying traits of what is considered suitable only for girls.

At school he is teased by his teacher and classmates, and at home, his mother protects him from society claiming that his “unnatural” behaviour will wear off as he grows up. But when it doesn’t, and Gaurav acknowledges Garima as her true self, she assumes a dual life.

She falls in love with a man, with whom she hopes to have a future, but he abandons her for a ‘proper’ woman, who would make a socially acceptable bride. Time moves ahead, but Garima is forced to keep her true identity hidden.

If somebody encounters Gaurav, but comes to see the Garima within, they tend to exploit her sexually, verbally, emotionally. The anxiety and frustration of Garima is poignantly shown when she is literally trapped in a closet.

Eventually, she finds a nurturing transgender community in Kathmandu that helps her build her own identity. But despite that, even when Garima comes out to her family, they, citing societal pressure, goad her into marrying a woman.  

In the play, as well as in reality, there is a tight-knit transgender community that protects each other and helps each other grow, but beyond the boundaries of the LGBT community, people like Garima are likely to be ostracised, and harassed or exploited, leading to a gradual death of their individuality. 

While great strides are being taken in terms of political representation of the LGBT community, the play shows that the change in mindset of society-at-large is still very rudimentary; yet, as the title suggests, the play ends in a hopeful note.

In the final scene, Garima releases a white dove, a universal symbol of love and peace. It might be a while before it is publicly, as well as privately, acknowledged that Nepali society can only become a cohesive whole when every member of the Nepali state is treated as an equally important part. Nonetheless, the attention given by theatre artists on transgender issues catalyses the prospect of change. 

The depiction of transgender issues is not the only good quality about Jiundo Akash. At a time when there is a dearth of good Nepali stories for theatrical productions, Jiundo Akash, with its minimal set and a great actor, has managed to achieve a unique depth in the treatment of its subject matter.

Anil Subba truly shines in his enactment of Gaurav, Garima, along with all the characters of the play.  To captivate an audience for over an hour takes an actor of special talent, and Subba was convincing in all the roles he portrayed. But without a good script and proper staging, his performance would have fallen flat.

Chandra Prakash Pandey, the writer of the play, has managed to depict reality without including the mundane, and repetitive aspects of everyday life. And RK Mehta Roshan, the director, has to be commended for finding novel ways for Subba to switch characters without long breaks. 

The smooth transitioning between the different scenes makes space for the audience, who perhaps have lived without interacting with a transgender person in real life, to realise that the initially perceived eccentricism of Garima is a constructed notion of a society that believes in the strict dichotomy of gender.

Why has society forced norms and values that succumb the vitality of an individual?   In the end, the audience realises that Garima is just like us, another human, who is fighting and waiting to be considered as one. 

The staging of Jiundo Akash will conclude after two shows on Saturday. 

Ghimire tweets at @nepalichimney 

Published: 03-03-2018 08:59

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