Old tales, New dimensions

In 1918, Sabuj Patra, a Bengali magazine first published the short story Totaakaahini written by Rabindranath Tagore. Also called Tota Kahini, The Parrot's Tale or The Parrot's Training the story, which took a hard look at the mechanical aspect of the Indian educational system that just churned out literate people, is finding newer ways of adaptations in the modern age. In the form of children's play, a novel and even an experimental dance sequence the 94-year-old story is finding new dimensions and showcasing how relevant Tagore's works and thoughts are in the modern times.

Debaroti Chakraborty and Debashish Sen Sharma have been working with children's theatre and storytelling for over a decade now and have come out with a modern-day children's theatrical adaptation of the same story. Titled Ek Je Chilo Paakhi (Once there was a parrot), the Bengali play was first shown on November 4 at Jadhavpur University and primarily has children essaying various roles. While Sen Sharma has directed the play, Chakraborty has designed the costumes and choreographed Ek Je Chilo Paakhi.

"Like the original story, the play opens with the parrot, who is very dull and is ordered to undergo a rigorous educational training. However, the modern-day twist is in the fact that there are side characters who come up and talk about how they have gone against the mainstream thinking that is forced onto children," says Sen Sharma.

The side characters, he says, include the likes of education prodigy Pramathanath Bishi, who always broke rules at Shantiniketan but was supported by Tagore himself, boxer Mary Kom and also Pakistani education activist Malala Yousufzai. "We have used these three characters because they had the guts to take on insurmountable challenges," he adds.

Tagore's original story has a king foolishly instructing all the scholars in his court to educate a parrot, who is supposed to be stupid. In the process of learning, the parrot is chained and his freedom is taken away and the story tragically ends with the bird dying. The dance group Nrityasudha is adapting the play as an experimental dance performance called Tota Kahani to be performed by 29 dancers. Sharmila Mazumdar, dance teacher, who is supporting the endeavour, says, "Unlike the original story, this dance doesn't have an unhappy ending. The parrot survives and gives a positive message about the effects of systematic mechanical learning." Tota Kahani will be showcased on December 16 at the Symbiosis Auditorium, Viman Nagar.

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