When Words Don’t Matter

Puneeta Roy

Puneeta Roy is a media professional working in Film & Television for over 30 years. Her interest in theatre led her to conducting workshops with young people using theatre as a tool for self-exploration and transformation. A deep interest in healing drew her towards Expressive Arts Therapy, as a toolkit ideal for exploring creative self-expression.As Founder Trustee of The Yuva Ekta Foundation, her vision of Equity & Social Justice translated into the creation of several platforms, through which under-privileged young people share experiences with their more fortunate peers, and learn from each other. She sees tremendous potential in young people as agents of positive social change. The Yuva Ekta Foundation has performed original plays in Glasgow during the Tin Forest International Youth Festival (2014) and the Home Away Festival (2017), at the invitation of the National Theatre of Scotland. Puneeta dreams of setting up a Global Youth Citizenship Network that would span countries across the planet.

doi: 10.18278/aia.2.2.41

It is 2013, and we are in the Assembly Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, watching Yael Farber’s play NIRBHAYA, based on the gruesome gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey in a moving bus on a cold December night , New Delhi 2012 – an incident shook the world by its sheer brutality, compelling both women and men pour out onto the streets demanding justice, urging everyone to break their silence.

Responding to Jyoti’s brutalization from her home in Johannesburg, Yael crafted an experience that opened up the larger issues of violation and exploitation of women in every aspect.  Intertwined with the main plot is the story of five survivors who step forward to share personal stories of their debasement. Two of them are non-actors, walking onto stage for their first theatrical sharing.

As the canvas of their stories stretch from the metropolis of India to its lesser known towns, all the way to Vancouver, Canada, they pierce the hearts of every audience member.

I am bunched up in my seat feeling the knot in my stomach get tighter as I watch Sneha Jawale, a dowry atrocity survivor, relive the horror of a vicious attack in 1997. Her husband had doused her with kerosene oil and tried to burn her to death, in her own kitchen! Sneha survived the attack but her face and body were badly disfigured. Her agony was compounded by waking up one morning to find her son stealthily snatched away in the dark of the night.

I exhale slowly and look around the darkened auditorium. There is not a dry eye to be seen. The play is a cathartic release for much unreleased trauma, and a huge sense of empathy builds up for the “other”. Some audience members are sobbing unashamedly, many have tears streaming down their face as every single person experiences the violation, fear, anger, and helplessness. By the time the curtains are down, the audience has melded into one collective core of humanity. The performance has transcended barriers of country and language as the actors pierced issues of sexuality, consent, respect, and simple choices.

I have been attending the Edinburgh Fringe festival since 2000 and have never ceased to marvel at the pulsating hub of energy the city becomes in August. It is a fascinating canvas that gets embellished into a rich tapestry with the vibrant colors and hues of different countries – from aboriginal Maori dancers from New Zealand, ethereal South African Gospel singers, rhythmic drummers from Korea, theatre companies like Derevo, Theatre Slava, Aurora Nova who specialize in bringing physical theatre, contemporary circus and new theatrical formats to enchant thousands of spectators from different nationalities and ages.

This is the power of the arts and of theatre—to transcend boundaries of country and community. We represent different cultures, different sensibilities and different nuances of issues concern us as global citizens.

Our structures, formats, forms of expression may be fiercely nationalistic but they essentially depict basic human conflict and human relationships.

This is what struck me as I watched Robert Softely’s candid and thought provoking take on the challenges faced by differently abled people in “If these Spasms could Speak” at the Fringe Festival in 2013. Robert is a Scottish-based artist and Artistic Director of Birds of Paradise Theatre, working with disabled and non-disabled professional artists. The play was a hard hitting comment on the challenges Robert had personally faced as a differently abled person. Yet it was universal.

At its very core the play spoke about humanism and compassion—the defining arc that connects us all together. That gives us a sense of purpose to being alive.