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- Border tales from Calcutta to cornell, over skype

Team Root Map at the Chaepani rehearsal pad in Naktala.

I could never meet a friend because the river that separated us was also an international border. I was only five years old when my mom and me almost smuggled ourselves across the border. A friend of mine had migrated, thinking the grass would be greener on the other side. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I felt as if it was a carnival of sorts at the border when I crossed it for the first time. It was almost like an iron wall stopping us from reaching out to our loved ones. On family occasions, many of our relatives couldn’t attend the ceremonies because they didn’t have the right documents to cross the border. At the airport security check, they always used to take my mother away to a separate counter while I was left with my little sister in another queue. Why? Because my mom had a different citizenship than ours. They don’t care if you are family, they will act like robots and subject you to endless queries and put you into different queues just because of the different nationalities of the family members….

This paragraph is not the account of a single person. In fact, almost every single sentence above has come from a different individual from a different cultural background, with different experiences, a different mother tongue... English, Bengali, Portugese, French, Spanish, Dutch, Yiddish, Pidgin.... Yet, the common thread running through all is their relationship with borders.
These stories will come together in the theatre performance Root Map, to be staged as part of Tell Tales presented by Chaepani, at Gyan Manch on the evening of January 27. 
t2 dropped in at the rehearsals to find out what had brought the team together from across borders... 

The plan:Root Map is an outcome of an adda at a south Calcutta coffee shop. The idea of a collaborative theatrical piece based on border studies came to the trio of Debra A. Castillo, a professor of comparative literature at Cornell University, and Jadavpur University research scholar Debaroti Chakraborty, and filmmaker and theatre director Debasish Sen Sharma. “Border studies is an area of research for me. Hence, this crazy idea and we said, let’s do it!” said Debra. 

The execution:The project took shape over Skype. “We began by sharing our own stories of migration and immigration and memories. And then each one took someone else’s story and interpreted it in a specific theatrical way. We presented those to each other via Skype,” said Debaroti. For the final leg of prep, the team from Cornell University has come down to Calcutta, rehearsing the multi-lingual dialogues. 

Why this title?

“With Root Map, we are tyring to map our positions in respect to our relationship with borders... for some of us, it’s the Indo-Bangladesh border, for some it’s Mexico-US... for some it’s just a memory that stayed. It’s a pun on the word ‘route’ — of the journey we make in terms of these borders,” said Debasish. 

The team:Apart from the core 3D team (Debra, Debasish and Debaroti), Root Map features Carolina Osorio Gill, Rosalie Purvis, Elaigwu Ameh, Alejandra CW Rodriguez — a group of academics from Cornell. The music has been designed by Gorky Mukherjee and Chayan Chakraborty. 

(L-R) Debasish Sen Sharma, Debra Castillo and Debaroti Chakraborty — the trio behind Root Map, a cultural exchange between some Calcutta-based performers and Cornell University academics. 

What: Tell Tales, an evening of sharing stories, presented by Chaepani 
Where: Gyan Manch
When: January 27, 6.30pm onwards
What to expect: Two theatre performances — Root Map and Andhar Nagori Chaupat Raja — by local and international artistes. 
Root Map: It’s a collaboration between academics and theatre/film/dance professionals in Calcutta with Cornell University (US) students and teachers to create a play that speaks to marginalised identities and border realities in both countries. 
Andhar Nagori Chaupat Raja: Directed by Bharatanatyam exponent Vandana Alase Hazra and theatre actor Amlan Chaudhuri, Andhar Nagori Chaupat Raja is a political satire written by Bharatendu Harishchandra in 1881. Expect a musical satire revolving around the kingdom of a whimsical king who orders to change day into night and night into day, and where everything sells for one rupee.
Tickets: Priced at Rs 100, available at the venue from January 26.


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