How can we claim ownership over our Northeastern identity?
India holds a unique position in the world in terms of ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity and the Northeastern periphery of the country holds a special place in this great mosaic of culture. With its unique oral traditions, folklores, folk traditions and varied Art forms, the Northeast can easily stake claim to be one of the most mystical destinations of the world. However, are we really proud of our rich traditions, culture and Art forms? As people from the Northeast, can we legitimately claim ownership over this identity? How can we claim any ownership when we don’t even know ourselves well?
Meet Rabijita Gogoi, a young Assamese theatre worker who is trying to re-acquaint the people of the Northeast with the region through her theatrical group Jirsong Theatre. With a penchant for experimentation and perfection, Rabijita is increasingly making her presence felt as the next big thing in the theatrical world. A graduate in political science, Rabijita specialized in theatre, design and theatre techniques from the National School of Drama, Delhi.
Having studied the Japanese performing Arts and theatre techniques in Tokyo under a Japan Foundation Project in 1997, Rabijita had participated in the Asia meets Asia Theatre Festival at Tokyo in 2005 as one of the Asian artistes of improvised performance. The artists still believes in humility, evident as she says, “In theatre, the influx of cultures and ideas gives birth to a lot of experimentations and discoveries.” Rabijita has also carried out literary translations, designed theatrical productions and has attended several national and international conferences.
For Rabijita however, experimentation is all there is to theatre. “Theatre is a form of expression, just like poetry, painting and sculpture. In theatre, one can cross boundaries and it becomes possible to lend a different perspective and flavour to similar issues which differ only in its cultural settings.” And is this very temperament of experimentation that has bound together Jirsong theatre.
Jirsong Theatre was formed by a few theatre lovers in 1995 in the small town of Diphu of Karbi Anglong district of Assam. Over the past ten years, the group has been dedicatedly involved in developing interests and concepts of theatre amongst the ethnic minority groups, especially the Karbis of Asom, and thus, has performed plays in Asomiya, Hindi and Karbi (the traditional language of the Karbi ethnic community of Asom). As part of this approach, they have been staging Karbi plays like ‘Rongharpi Rongbe’ and ‘Thong Nokbe’ since 1995.
Although theatrical performances are the main functional area, Jirsong theatre is also concerned with other related areas of performing Arts, like research and documentation of rare Art forms, study on Art and culture, paintings, sculptures, technical and training programmes for theatre, etc. In this regard, a serious attempt has been made to document and portray the latest happenings in the theatrical world of the State in their website http://www.jirsongtheatre.com. The group has also published a book of selected plays, Nikhar Ragini Aru Annanya Natak. The book was released on the tenth anniversary celebrations of Jirsong theatre
Some of the major theatrical productions of Jirsong Theatre are Debi Peether Tez (script, design and direction by Rabijita Gogoi, based on a novel by Jnanpith Award winner Dr Mamoni Roisom Goswami); Karbi play Rongpharpi Rongpe (scripted by Basanta Das in 2001); Mrytyur Dath Cha (Dark Shadow of Death) — a play based on JM Synge’s ‘The Riders to the Sea’, Rabijita’s own plays, Toru Debi, Mrs Choudhury, Ma, Jammua, Gabharu and Gaatha – the 1st text in 2003, Jatra Subha Houk in 2004, Neuta Nirman in 2005, Rajai Hukum Diche in 2006, etc.
As of now, Jirsong theatre — under the able leadership of Rabijita Gogoi — is fully committed to inspire another generation of men and women to showcase the region’s assets on one hand, and bring its youths to be thinking people, soft people, and above all follow their conscience in bringing about a socially just society.