Recording of Opera SYUKI NYIMA performed by KTOA for SHOTON 2015
It rains in the middle of the performance. The whole setup, the KTOA troupe with 30 odd members, the audience spanning all of Tibet and the rest of the world ( well almost, given the presence of around 10 plus International Broadcast / Narrowcast Crew present On Location at TIPA ) and the Recording Crew of DIIR change gears on that Terra Incognita to keep the Bridge up and in place.
The reason for choosing KTOA and Gangjong Doeghar might help upon a slight elaboration. We changed the name TIBET ROAD, to avoid any probable misleads. Our main intention is that the exilic Tibetan Community, for its unique historic place and spirit assumes the place of a Storyteller at a winter night’s gathering in some obscure no-man’s land flanking the cold desert. Tibet has always done that… taught the world, as Nomads of Eternity how to keep the Rivers and Grasslands which quench the endless thirst of the world. It has kept its commercially ‘Priceless’ and Ethnologically Invaluable landscapes by turning the Vertical wheel into one for Prayer, by learning from Kashmir and Nepal the fine craft of Metallurgy and coding the history of the world in the form of icons and deities, giving them a space through a new language, nuanced and potentially universal in their ontologism.
Kalimpong Tibetan Association is an Opera troupe, by Social Law and Convention it is a non-profit group which does Opera as Cultural preservation and not on a professional basis. It is a group that has several Tibetan elders (Performers, Singers, Painters, Dressmaker, Maskmaker et al) some of whose ancestors and they in their childhood have performed at Norbulingka before 1959. Other members are second and third generation Tibetan and part-Tibetan members, who keep the tradition alive and extend its reach by forming the Gangjong Doeghar Performance team (our other partner) as well as participating in the traditional SHOTON / Opera Festival that happens every year by turn at Dharamsala and one of the Tibetan settlements spread across the country. With KTOA under the leadership of Opera master Paljor Tsewang the project is a Trans- Himalayan affair to begin with. Now, while working with KTOA and Gangjong on the Lalit kala project, we have tried to create a more heterogenous Cross-Himalayan team by incorporating painters, artistes et al from other North eastern states as well as Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and so on. This really helped to break the stiff preoccupations about Cultural Identity etc across the sociological spectrum of the collaborators, giving the Programme a unique spirit of Universality.
Darjeeling, KALIMPONG ( THE SITE OF ZERO POINT ) or Gangtok are / have been Prominent Business Centers coming up in recent Breaking News again and again, for all the good bad and ugly reasons. I remember telling someone long back…
Cosmopolitan interests are hardly operational. Rather multi-national and imaginary mainland / global mimicries of History and Eternities, as I’ve come to observe them, are playing havoc with Cosmopolitics. There is no Vision / even Glimpse of Cosmo-logical / political grids at present. The Internet and the Mobile Tech are often consolations and apologies for the missing pictures. In fact, more now, the Silk Route, stripped of its true worth and impact, is the only thing which even functions as a common vocabulary of the pan-Asian essence that is an ethno-ecological precondition for co-habitation in the changing Indian Subcontinent. A very shallow definition of Urbanity has created baseless Elitism fueled by the English language and aforementioned mimicries, lapped up by incessant bands of invading visitors who decide the fates and lives of the co- inhabitants and rock them at will. Gorkhaland, Tibet, Asia … we’re facing the music at various Scales. Browse through any Regular Hill Journal / daily and the Picture of Cosmopolitan-ism begins to fade under ethnic screams for survival. In terms of democracy that’d mean fuel, water, food, shelter, livelihood, growth… Survival. Only a formal acceptance of the unfortunate loss of historic existences and creating shared practices could give back the Cosmopolitan empathy which these centers are not strangers to, at least arguably more than the mono-colonized territories of Indian Mainland fed by Sea Trade. So the Silk Route today has become another Chimera of Trade that we might have to chase to the end of our limited historic understanding. But a competitive Trade will not yield anything more than Short term Profits.
In the background of this, our Interdependent Cinema is a form of Growing In / Reclaiming the sense and destinies of the SILK ROUTE not just in the fluctuating pseudo-classical Homo Erotic Espirit / Trope but its larger purposes and implications in the Pan-Asian situation of this side of the Himalayas. In the Screenplay of the film ZERO POINT / TIBET ROAD the fictive collective SILK ROUTE OPERA is just that. Our ethnic heterogeneous team (to share an inside joke) conceived and designed fragments of Operatic Acts attributed to Anthology of Flows (Streaming Oceans, like the Internet itself) from which streams and tributaries feed and inundate the fragile Silk Route Opera troupe coming to realize its real challenges through Ethnofiction plotbursts dynamising the Story. The struggle to render an old Tibetan Opera story in a new form takes us closer to metahistoric junctures / Dramas ( let’s recall that the role played by Dramatic Performances such as the Banner Festival of Indra have been the stated context for seminal texts like The Natyasastra itself) and therefore Historically significant Sanskrit-ik dramatic compositions Abhijnana Sakuntalam / अभिज्ञान शाकुन्तलम् (कालिदास) are re-adapted in the Tibetan Renaissance of ZERO POINT / TIBET ROAD, thanks to Mahasiddha Thangtong Gyalpo lineage, quite organically going by any human logic. The why’s, how’s and whereabouts of Thangtong’s Ache Lhamo Opera guide and inspire us to attempt new community practices and carnivals, often echoing and evoking spirits that sustain travelers on the Silk Route.
2014. The Project started on an impromptu note, thanks to the Will and Drive of Astad Deboo, whose support and spirit lit the first lights for our fumbling steps.
We made a short visit to Sikkim and Kalimpong to chalk out the possibilities of a collaboration among Filmmakers, Performance artists, Musicians and Tibetan Opera Performers to create an ensemble pledge of Peace, transcending and dissolving borders and fences of Geo-Political Insulation. Throughout the journey we pondered on the pains and rigour, the near impending defeat that looked us in the face given our humble resources and romantic abundance. On our first meeting at the Circuit House, which Astad had organised for our stay, KTOA Master Paljore and Gangjong Secretary, the reticent Samdup Tsering proposed the impossible … an Indo Tibetan Opera Film. We fell quiet, the joy of that imagination tinged a melancholy monsoon evening descending on Kalimpong.
At Sonam Tsering Lepcha’s Museum another surprise awaited us. Turns out that both Astad and Sonam had shared the dais once together when both were awarded Padmasree on the same year. It was only the next time that they’re meeting thanks to our journey. Meanwhile, Sonam Tsering’s Museum has been able to set up an Audio Recording Studio for the Preservation and Continuation of Lepcha Traditional Music… Lopon / Historian Sonam’s longest cherished dream for his people.
We meet the Tibetan Carnival briefly at Kunphenling Tibetan Refugee Settlement. It is Saka Dawa / Buddha Purnima. We share breakfast with Pema, our Boarding Lodge owner and her family. Pema’s mother earned her living making the first motorable mountain roads along with countless thousands of Tibetan Refugees like herself post 1959, employed by the Border Roads Organisation. For us, ZERO POINT starts right there. Coming back, at Aritar an otherwise appetizing lunch at the roadside Nepali eatery is scarred with the news of a bomb blast at Buddha Gaya, Bihar, upsetting the ongoing Buddha Purnima festivals, causing chaos and panic among the gathering that, like us, never suspect it as a breaking point of a simmering / growing Ethnic Conflict and violent human displacement in far but not so away Rakhine, Burma.
MOVING WITH ASTAD DEBOO. SIKKIM, 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msWwkBtXae0
Our deepest appreciation for Travel and Research support from Astad Deboo Foundation
An Academician friend of mine once seriously wondered … When you are talking about relating to Post-Colonial exiles I have a feeling your are trying to approach too many ethnic groups with different histories and reasons for exile. Do you think it is possible to do justice to that within the time and economic constraint?
He was referring to the essential / only actual financial support that was being saught by us as a major Producer who had seen true merit in the project backed out after we explained that we wanted Interdependent Cinema to be taken as it intended to be… a rigorous affair that needed one to discern between the Independent Mode which we had little to do with / take from , as a group with, as mentioned by my friend … too many different ethnicities, histories and reasons for our Departure (not Exile) from Egotic Phantasmagoria of Mainstream Cinema practices in the country etc. that cared two hoots for it’s slaves and martyrs in the end.
I’ve recalled below the answer given to him without changing anything. My apologies for mentioning myself too many times. Fact is that I had to apply individually for the Project to come through.
The simple answer is No. Perhaps not even with an entire Library of Written Words, Galaxies of Images or a plethora of Performances. But perhaps it’s possible to relate/connect/interweave the broken strands of fact and relevance to some good use in the context of an Asian shared destiny, that of the post-colonial exile. Wondering about the ‘common’ and the recurrent in Asian and particularly ‘Indian contemporary’ state of fetish and schizophrenia, appropriations and emerging scopes I’m coming to realize again and again the warning that Fanon issued in Wretched of the Earth, that of the danger of post colonial resistances dilapidating into platitudes and ironic gestures, in the simple case of misunderstanding the larger picture. The answer to the violence of a occidental sense of development is not a violent backlash that leaves everyone blind, as is the case in the area I’m working today. But the attempts to restore that disturbed cultural ecosystem are bound to be informed and well reflected upon; often at the cost of a narrative integrity. Dystaxia has been a Lens for me, Listener’s Tale Trilogy also stems from that. In that welcome brokenness of the seamless Jargonism, One sometimes finds one’s own space. Looking for a balance, I hope that the deviant Hybrid Opera, as well as its struggles articulated on that register ( In the Zero Point Film Screenplay) and what they bring to the film as Fulcrum, enough can be Suggested, since there is a Core which regenerates with every gathering of Folks ( The Carnivals and Homecomings ).
That’s why the Project is not just a Fiction Narrative but also has components such as a Ethno-Music Documentary, a Collaborated Music album, a Graphic novel, beginning with the installation that we’ve done to sow and expand the scope itself to collaborate in other domains.
29th December 1912. From Long Back Right Now / PAST FORWARD