When TOI advertised their theatre festival playing at an auditorium near me, I was really depressed. My husband and I don’t do plays anymore. The kids are not old enough to be left alone and plays don’t do night shows. So we watch movies and like them. But my husband was feeling kind and offered to watch the kids so my mother and I made a night of it. Landing up at the venue we stood in line confidently expecting to find tickets. Bookmyshow said there were many and it was after all a one woman act. With vague memories of Chandler watching “Why don’t you love me?” I was not really expecting much of a crowd. The law of ‘What the’ dictates that the show in such a scenario run sold out and that was indeed the case! Just as we were turning back wondering if we should console ourselves by visiting the mall, a bunch of college kids who looked like they had been forced to buy tickets if they wanted to pass or something asked us if we wanted to buy. The transaction was quickly completed and we were in!
At this point I should mention that my usual conversational tone – as above – is wildly inappropriate for what follows. Hopefully it will fall in line as I continue. That would be natural, right? Because the play was like being airdropped in a capsule in the middle of somewhere in Iraq. And then picked up and dropped off somewhere else. Different time, different place, different woman. Same actor although that stopped mattering after a point. It was so harrowing and so relentless – the play. The history.
We have all heard about what’s been happening in Iraq. We could hardly have escaped it. But we don’t know the people. We don’t know their names. So none of it is real. They are a different species of human who have got used to the war having been in it for so long. But what do you do when they stand up in front of you and talk and talk and talk? A child who identifies bombs and missiles as confidently as my child of similar age identifies snakes or dinosaurs. And with the same pride. A woman who leads you through the leftover of a bombed out shelter saying ‘Let me show you the ceiling – or maybe not. It is too much. You will not be able to see.’ The doctor who has come out of a delivery room bringing one more deformed child into the world. ‘One more’, she says.’ Too many this month. Two heads, no head, four arms, no arms – too many this month.’ Chemical weapons?
An imprisoned activist who speaks of menstruating women hung upside down and babies thrown to hungry cats. Or a painter talking about her painting secretly being about a woman who was fed to dogs. Enough!!! You want to shout!
Another talks on the phone in her limited English and says the few words she knows “I love you”, over and over again. Sounding at first like the beloved aunt any of us may have spoken to but then slipping off, reciting a litany of names and we don’t know who they are. Or whether they are alive. Any of them. And as her voice breaks and she starts to cry you realize with a shock that you’re crying too!
I do realize as I write this that none of this will mean anything to you. These stories, the people. They can’t! They’d be just another news article. Maybe we can’t feel anything till we feel like it might happen to us. Till someone stands up front and tells us. And that’s probably why none of the reviews I read after spoke about how disturbing (for want of a better word) the whole experience was. Anything you say sounds trite and meaningless so best to stick to the brilliant acting, and it was brilliant, the history, the real stories and move on.
I can’t do that. I can’t stop thinking ‘what a doomed country!’ Last I read about Baghdad and Basra was in Agatha Christie’s hugely entertaining and romantic “They came to Baghdad”. And now this tormented country with no hope, no respite, no redemption. And then there is Syria. I cannot cope with hearing about all this – how do those people cope? I was wrong. They must be a different species. It’s the only way we can deal with knowing this story.