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Street stage for class on conflict

Calcutta, Nov. 4: Somewhere in a village in the Himalayan foothills, Netai and Moblu are brewing rice beer, handia. The peace of the evening and the excitement of the brew are jolted by the sudden appearance of an elephant, lured by the heady smell of the liquor.

This is how begins a street play to be staged by a city-based theatre group, which goes by the name of its website, banglanatak.com. With its portrayal of the man-animal conflict, the group will try to instil awareness, especially among the people of north Bengal where faceoffs between humans and elephants are frequent.

Atha Gajakatha, the 20-minute play, has been approved by the state wildlife wing for performance in several places in north Bengal from November 11, which has been declared Elephant Day by the government.

“We had decided to give more attention to conservation and so we approached the theatre group to produce an attractive play that would address the problems faced by the north Bengal villagers and tea garden workers because of elephants,” said deputy chief wildlife warden V.K. Yadav.

“We were asked to address the usual problems that villagers face when elephants come close to human habitation and to find solutions,” said group member Ranjan Sen. Accordingly, a team went to several villages in the Dooars and spoke at length to the people about the problems they face. “After studying the ground reality, we got together to evolve a script through workshops,” Sen said.

The play will dwell on how to avoid brewing liquor close to the elephant tracks, ways to avoid injuring the animals which makes them more aggressive and why huts on the elephant corridors are dangerous.

“We have also focused on superstitions like considering elephants holy and trying to touch them. Many villagers get trampled that way. We will try to explain that the herds come to the fields to eat paddy as the forests are shrinking because of deforestation.

“The play will be interactive and the audience will join in from time to time as real life characters,” said Sen.

Siliguri-based theatre group Uttal will provide the six actors of the play.

The performances will be held at 10 places, including Lataguri, Chalsa, Malbazar and Alipurduar — some of the worst-affected areas in north Bengal.

About 300 elephants roam the lower reaches of the Himalayas and its foothills. Five persons were killed by the elephants in north Bengal this year.

The theatre group from the city has also evolved another play, Bon Sunder, which will be performed by a group from Hooghly, Spandan, in the Sunderbans. This play will focus on tigers straying into villages and poaching activities in the mangrove forest.

Yadav said this year’s Wildlife Week will focus on interactions with village bodies and local forest protection committees. “We are trying to sustain this dialogue with the people who are affected through the year,” he said.

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