Seeking 'lines of flight' in Bangladesh theatre
When narration of the nation is the norm
‘In a world in which the national state is the overwhelming norm' (Anderson 1983: 123), 'the very idea of “nation” is now nestled firmly in virtually all print-languages, and nation-ness is virtually inseparable from political consciousness' (Chatterjee 1995: 166). The notion has been rendered transparent at the level of conscious awareness – so much so that it operates most insidiously not in 'a flag which is being consciously waved with fervent passion [but in] the flag hanging unnoticed on the public building' (Billig 1995: 8). Because of this insidious transparency and conceptual ambiguity that envelops the term 'nation,' one often forgets that 'as an ideology and discourse, nationalism became prevalent in North America and Western Europe in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and shortly thereafter in Latin America' (Hutchinson and Smith 1994: 5). South Asians became familiar to the notion of nationalism only in the first half of the 19th century (Smith 1986: 146).
This essay negotiates the terrain of Bangladesh theatre by means of the problematic notion of the nation. It proceeds in three stages. The first maps the theoretical contours of the 'nation;' the second scrutinizes two examples of the 'arborescent' narrations of nation that follows Deleuzoguattarian schema of the tree: the Swadeshi Jatra in colonial India and the 'Bishad Shindhu' based on the Karbala legend in contemporary Bangladesh; and the third examines three 'lines of flight' in contemporary Bangladesh as attempts to destabilize the 'arborescent' narrations. The essay concludes by arguing that the theatre practitioners in Bangladesh must devise ways and means to generate infinite lines of flight to deterritorialize exclusionary discourse of nationalism, and represent identity more of a process of 'becoming' rather than 'being.'
The Notion of the Nation
Joseph Stalin (1913), speaking in his totalitarian voice, would like us to believe that '[a] nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.'However, it may be judicious to replace 'a nation is …' with 'a nation is assumed to be ….' because although the notion of a 'nation' may crystallize around one or more foci such as ethnicity, race, language, territory, religion and culture, it is nevertheless haunted by 'a particular ambivalence' (Bhabha 1990: 1), 'conceptual indeterminacy and wavering between vocabularies' (ibid: 2). The ambivalence and indeterminacy 'emerges from a growing awareness that, despite the certainty with which historians speak of the “origins” of nation as a sign of the “modernity” of society, the cultural temporality of the nation inscribes a much more transitional social reality' (ibid: 1). As Anderson (1983: 7) observes, the nation is 'an imagined political community that is imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.' '[C]ultural differences like language, religion, even skin colour, are not primary and definitional characteristics, but are social identifiers which are the result, the product, of struggles in the first place' (McCrone 1998: 28).
The nation is written, as Bhabha (1994: 147) suggests, by 'the tension signifying the people as an a priori historical presence, a pedagogical object; and the people constructed in the performance of narrative, its enunciatory “present” marked in the repetition and pulsation of the national sign.' Consequently, the writing of the nation needs to be qualified on two grounds. Firstly, patching together cultural shreds that 'are often arbitrary historical inventions' (Gellner 1983: 65). Secondly, the writing is an on-going process and hence 'nationalism' is a fluid construction – always in formation, always in flux, un-finished, reforming and re-formulating. Hence, as Baucom (1992: 152) observes in his reading of Nation and Narration, 'the nation is most apparent and most invented [in] the space of the boundary: the origin and the end, both entry and terminus, of narration and nation.'
Following Werner Sollors (1995: 288), it is possible to see 'national identity' as 'typically based on contrast,' antithesis, negativity and similar disassociate characteristics. Hence, the fundamental formula is often assumed to be X ¹ Y. But perhaps it is more important to see it as an ideological discourse 'that joins a people and differentiates it, in the subconscious conviction of its members, from all other people in a most vital way' (Connor 1994: 36). Because nations are imagined communities, it is necessary to nurture and make the imagined bond tangible as a 'lived' idea of the members of the community, created and acquired through an ongoing articulation process of the past and the present. The articulation of the past – re-presenting the past or making present of the past – generates a belief in the community members in 'the possession in common of a rich legacy of remembrances (Renan 1994: 17),' because memory is 'the most essential element in any kind of human identity' (Smith 1999: 208). At the same time, '[b]eing obliged to forget becomes the basis for remembering the nation, peopling it anew, imagining the possibility of other contending and liberating forms of cultural identification' (Bhabha 1994: 161). On the other hand, the articulation of the present – re-presenting the present or making the present 'alive' and tangible as a 'lived' idea – generates 'the actual consent, the desire to live together, the will to continue to value the heritage which all [believe to] hold in common' (Renan 1994: 17). It is here, in this will to value a commonly held heritage that the 'nation' slips in uninterrogated through the back door.
Arborescent Narrations of Nations
Mukunda Das, inspired by the Swadeshi Movement (1905-1908) in colonial Bengal, 'invented' Swadeshi Jatra in 1905 to narrate the Bengali nation. It broke away from the tradition of Jatra in early 20th century Bengal and created performances based on materials drawn directly from contemporary times and on themes such as colonial exploitation, patriotism, anti-colonial struggle, oppression of feudal and caste systems. However, its mode of performance was a hybrid product that arose out of a complex interaction of Kolkata's colonialist theatre and indigenous theatre.
'Matri-puja' (lit. 'Mother-worship'), the play with which Mukunda Das's Shwadeshi Jatra opened its maiden venture in the season of 1905-06, was highly successful in mobilizing popular resistance against colonial rule in Bengal. Indeed, so successful was he in infusing anti-colonial fervour among his spectators that in 1906-07 (the second season of his performance), the British government had expelled him 36 times from the area where the performance was scheduled. Failing to contain him with these expulsions, the police arrested him in December 1908, and he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment (Sarkar, 1987: 40-41).
The Bengali nation narrated in 'Matri-puja' was imagined as children of Motherland (Bengal) green with crops and vegetation. In this imagining, the Motherland was identical with Shyama or Kali (Sarkar 1987: 66), the patron deity of power and destruction of evil forces. In a famous song of the play 'Bhay ki marone rakhite shantane,' the Mother is described dancing incensed with martial passion in the company of her retinue of 'bhuta' (spirit), 'pichasha' (ghoul) and 'yogini' (attendant), trampling the demons (here the colonizers) under her feet. Another song of the play referred to the colonizers as 'white mice' which ravished Bengal's plentiful harvest (ibid, 41). Thus, the play joined many Bengalis in a most vital way and made the imagined bond of Bengaliness tangible as a 'lived' idea. It articulated a dehistoricized Bengal imagined to have existed since a timeless past. The 'present' that Mukunda Das sought to articulate and make 'alive' and tangible as a 'lived' idea for his spectators, was defined by the colonial experience of exploitation, articulated symbolically as the Mother in rags.
Because the ideology of Shwadeshi Movement 'was derived from Hindu religious scriptures, like the ”Bhagabata Gita” and their message were conveyed through Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya's “Anandamath” and Aurobindo's “Bhavani Mandir”' (Chakrabarty 1992: 187), and because 'Hindu revivalism of the last quarter of the nineteenth century' was the driving force behind the movement (Chaudhuri 1951: 226), it was inevitable that the movement as well as Swadeshi Jatra would alienate the Muslims. However, there was a conscious attempt in Swadeshi Jatra not to erase the memory the Muslims who did not share this vision and exclude them from the narration of the Bengali nation. Indeed, in the song 'Bhay ki marone rakhite shantane,' Mukunda Das sang, 'clad your armour all children Hindus [and] Muslims ('shajo re shantan Hindu Mussalman', Sarkar 1987: 96). Nevertheless, it was a gesture meant to be and viewed as benevolent and magnanimous by a culturally dominant community that saw itself as the rightful heirs of the land and the Muslims as the invaders. Thus, Shwadeshi Jatra narrated the Bengali nation generated the Deleuzoguattarian arborescent schema with Hindu identity as the trunk and the Muslims as one of its branches.
In Nirad Chaudhuri's words, 'the Muslims stood outside as an external proletariat, and if the Muslims wanted to come into its world they could come only after giving up their Islamic values and traditions' (1951: 231). Surprisingly, Bankim Chattopadhaya is more 'sympathetic' because he included the Muslims in his construction of the Bengali nation. According to him:
At the bottom of Bengali society are the Bengali non-Aryan, mixed Aryans and Bengali Muslims, the top is almost exclusively Aryan. It is for this reason that, looked [at] from the outside, the Bengali jati seems pure Aryan jati and the history of Bengal is written as the history of Aryan jati (Bankim Chattopadhyaya, 1965: 363, cited in Chatterjee 1994: 213)
Nearly a century after 'Matri-puja' was performed in Mukunda Dasa's Swadeshi Jatra, the Bengali nation was narrated again in 'Bishad Shindhu' – a two-part play on the Karbala legend that I directed in Dhaka in 1992. It reversed Nirad Chaudhuri's insistence that the Muslims stand outside as an external proletariat and Bankim Chattopadhaya's 'sympathetic' inclusion of the Muslims at the bottom of the society by asserting the 'Muslim' identity as the 'trunk' in Deleuzoguattarian arborescent model of the 'tree.' This was possible because by 1992, the identity of the Muslim population of Bengal had passed through three major reversals. Firstly, in 1947, they were imagined as 'Pakistanis' when the nation was narrated with Islam as the homogenizing tool of identity; then in 1971, they were imagined as 'Bengalis' by rejecting religion as the norm of majoritarian demarcation of identity and instead, with Bengali language as the homogenizing tool of identity, supported by secularized principles of the state policy; and through a series of moves from 1977 to 1987, as 'Bangladeshis,' by re-mobilizing Islam as the norm of majoritarian demarcation of identity and de-secularising the fundamental principles of state policy. Today, when 89.7 percent of the population of Bangladesh is professedly Muslim by faith (BANBEIS 2006), 'religion serves as the ideological instrument by which the state legitamizes its dominion through social and political institutions' (Verter 2003: 153), and Islam remains a norm of majoritarian demarcation of identity.
In such a given context, it is relevant to ask the following question: if an articulation of a past, as in colonial Bengal and India, could generate a belief that a people possessed in common a rich legacy of remembrances of Ramachandra, Krishna or Kali, and if this in turn successfully narrated a nation, why should not the Prophet, Imam Hassan and Imam Hussein also generate a similar belief among the majority of the people in Bangladesh and why should the theatre practitioners of the country erase, evade, side step or overlook Islam in narrating the nation? As I argued elsewhere (Ahmed 2001), there is nothing in the Qur'an against performance except impersonation of Allah and the Prophet. As for the Hadith, the attitude of the Prophet can, at best, be called dispassionate but not against performance. At the same time, producing plays by drawing on root-paradigms from Islamic cultures does not necessarily imply that one propagates Islamist Jihad. Negating both of these supposed binaries, I choose Meer Musharraf Hosain's historical novel in three parts named 'Bishad Shindhu' (published between 1885 and 1891), in narrating the Bangladeshi nation in 1992.
Meer's epic 'narrates the story of the martyrdom of the Prophet's grandsons Hasan and Hussein as a result of the rivalry between them and Yezid, the son of Muawiya, over the succession to the Caliphate.' (Awwal 2003: 228). It lays claim to no 'authentic history' (and, it is acknowledged, no history is 'authentic'). It is immensely popular all Bangladesh, although an overwhelming majority of the Muslims are Sunnis, because it articulates a past – makes present of the past – by generating a belief among the Muslims that they possess a rich legacy of remembrances. It also erases differences between the Sunnis and the Shi'as by obliging them to forget their theological distinctions by remembering Hasan and Hussein through a narrative of love and bereavement. At the same time, it also obliges them to forget their memory of 'Hindu' Bengal narrated in 'Matri-puja' where the nation is imagined as children of Motherland seen identical as Shyama or Kali. On the other hand, it articulates a present, makes the present 'alive' and tangible as a 'lived' idea by generating consent among the Sunnis and the Shi'as and a desire to live together as a nation by generating the will to value the commonly held memory of love and bereavement for Hasan and Hussein. It articulates the imagined bond of a Muslim nation as a tangible and 'lived' idea.
As Guhathakurta observed in 1994, the performance of Bishad Shindhu 'represent[ed] contemporary theatre in Bangladesh in every sense of the word' because of its thematic and presentation value (1994: 289). This was possible partly because it drew on 'traditional' Islamic theatre of Bangladesh, which has grown over the past eight hundred years. Even today, there exist over twenty forms of Islamic theatre in Bangladesh that are based on (1) the chain of historical events that culminated in the battle of Karbala, (2) the legends associated with the Prophet and legendary heroes and (3) eulogized accounts of life and deeds of various pirs. (For details, see Ahmed 2001.)
The best of these performances have not been shells and corpses of tradition and mummified fragments of negation and outworn contrivances but have accessed Fanon's 'fundamental substance' of tradition (1968: 224). I have seen performers who did not seek to evade Islam, but confronted the ideological instrument of religion. They had the courage to employ their performances as acts of 'plural reflexivity' (Turner 1982: 75) and 'active agencies of change, representing the eye by which culture sees itself and the drawing board on which creative actors sketch out what they believe to be more apt or interesting 'designs for living' ' (Turner 1987: 24).
The performance of 'Bishad Shindhu' did not blindly imitate the 'designs for living' as sketched out in 'traditional' Islamic performances of Bangladesh. Instead, its mode of articulation was 'reinvented' by injecting into the 'tradition' selective borrowings from 'Western' performance idiom and principles of design. This resulted in a hybrid performance design, conceived in an indoor performance space that combined a proscenium stage with a half-curtain and a deep thrust stage in front of it. The performers unhesitatingly acknowledged the presence of the spectators seated on three sides of the thrust stage and indeed their performance behaviour was 'spectator-oriented.' The set was minimal and non-illusionist. Costumes exploited colour more than period. Character impersonation alternated with narration, choral songs, live music, dance and acrobatics to generate a production style that was more theatrical and 'traditional' than realistic and European.
The performance of 'Bishad Shindhu' retained most of the articulations of the past and the present as made in Meer's epic. At the same time, it undercut Islamist assumptions of an imagined bond of a Muslim nation that evokes uninterrogated allegiance for legendary heroes equipped with pristine character by structuring the narrative of the performance around the theme of quest for wisdom as the quintessence of human endeavor. Repeatedly, the performance sought to create a sense of alienation and clip sentimentality and open up ground for questioning the nature of events. The familiar was effectively subverted to generate a variant reading as heroes were dethroned and villains did not remain mere villains such that there was hardly any difference between the two.
Instead of laying claim to a homogenized Islam that was imagined to have existed since a hoary past, 'Bishad Shindhu' appealed to a provisional, historically contingent and non-essentialist humanism that respects human suffering, and rebels against generation of human misery in the name of legitimation of belief. 'Its challenge of religious blindness encompasse[d] a questioning of all the notions that are embedded within our [i e, Bangladesh] culture, and reproduced unquestioningly by all' (Guhathakurta 1994: 289). It revived the forgotten memory of Hindu India and its Sanskrit, Vedic and Aryan culture and sought to understand the legendary characters of Karbala 'in the light of characters from Mahabharata and vice versa' (Guhathakurta 1994: 290).
In the inclusive encounter that 'Bishad Shindhu' thus succeeded in becoming, it imagined a Bangladeshi nation by conscious patching together of cultural shreds borrowed from Sanskrit-Vedic sources on a complex embroidered patch-work of Islamic culture. It sought to be neither unified nor unitary in relation to Islam, nor simply as 'other' in relation to Hinduism, and sought to pose the problem of outside/inside in 'a process of hybridity, incorporating new 'people' in relation to the body politic, generating other sites of meaning […]' (Bhabha 1990: 4). In terms of the crisis of majoritarian demarcation of national identity that has haunted Bangladesh for the past forty years of its existence, 'Bishad Shindhu' sought a third space of enunciation that lies in the unoccupied middle ground in the axis of dichotomous positions held by religious or linguistic normative standards.
Seeking 'Lines of Flight' to a Thousand Plateaus
Both the narrations of nations discussed above follow the model of 'the tree' and generate the arborescent schema of identity, which suggests hierarchical structures, extreme stratification, and linear thinking that insist on totalizing principles, binarism and dualism. Both Swadeshi Jatra and 'Bishad Shindhu' accept the 'other' in a conditional inclusion as a branch of the majoritarian tree. Both share a common ground in that they refuse to cognize that the nation is written, as Bhabha (1994: 147) suggests, by 'the tension signifying the people as an a priori historical presence, […] and the people constructed in the performance of [...] its enunciatory “present” […].' From this domain of Bengali theatre engrossed in an obsessive fixity with narrating the nation, three 'lines of flight' were traced in the 1980s and 1990s.
The first line of flight was generated by dissatisfaction with Dhaka city's petite bourgeois spectators inextricably entangled with the bourgeoisie, who could enjoy an evening with Brecht only because they were thoroughly domesticated. From this terrain that absorbed and muted revolutionary intent, members of Aranyak decided to reject their role as 'traditional intellectuals' (Gramsci 1971: 6), and joined the subaltern classes in rural areas as 'ideologues in action', to engender a theatre by, for and of the people. For about eight years since its launch in 1984, Mukta Natak did appear to live up to its promise as it developed into a rousing popular movement at the grassroots level. However, soon after the fall of the Wall, the movement proved to be an impossible dream for petit bourgeoisie theatre practitioners. Consequently, they physically re-territorialized themselves in Dhaka city. If you wish to encounter the ghost of Mukta Natak or perhaps, more aptly, the phoenix of its spirit - you would need to go to Chatmohar, where the work of a 'floating island' of subaltern theatre practioners named Shamonnay Theatre makes it possible to envisage the notion of 'community' as 'a relational idea' that simultaneously encompasses 'both similarity and difference' (Cohen 1985: 12). (For further details, see Ahmed 2011: 5-27.)
In the late 1980s, the second line of flight inspired by feminism turned to enquire into the notions of hegemonic masculinity, gender, and sexuality. This deterritorializing event took place in 1989, when a Group Theatre ensemble named Theatre produced 'Kokilara', a monodrama in three parts written and directed by a male (Abdullah al Mamun) but performed by one of the most popular and versatile female performers in Bangladesh Ferdousi Majumdar. The play shows how a univocal and domineering ideology of gender, articulated through the institutions of marriage and divorce in the social field of Bangladesh, attempts to control and silence all women irrespective of classes. However, 'Kokilara' is trapped in biological essentialism, in that it equates gender with sex. It also reduces characters to typified representations of Bangladeshis and thus enhances the symbolic construction of the nation. (For details, see Ahmed 2009.)
Although the feminism-inspired deterritorialization by 'Kokilara' soon began to spawn quite a few rhizomes in the domain of Bengali theatre such as 'Binodini' (Dhaka Theatre, 2005) and 'Khana' (Subachan, 2008) these were not free from the monolithic discourse of Bengali nationalism. Consequently, feminist theatre in Bangladesh never actually deterritorilized the domain of Bengali theatre from the symbolic construction the nation as homogenized political community.
The third deterritorializing line of flight came in 1990 with Desh Natak's production of Masum Reza's 'Birsa Kabyo', which showed how the Austro-Asiatic ethnic community of the Mundas, under the leadership of Birsa Munda, waged the Ulugan (lit 'Great Tumult') against the British colonizers and the Bengali feudal lords in 1899-1900, to exert their right to community ownership of the forestland. The play revived the memory of the struggle of the Mundas, and reconstructed the symbolic boundary of the nation as a community by asserting that the existence of the Munda and 44 more distinct ethnic communities living in Bangladesh (Kamal 2007: xxiii-xxxi) cannot be erased from the narration of the nation of the Bengalis who constitute an overwhelming numeral majority of 98 percent of the population (BANBEIS 2006).
The line of flight sought by 'Birsa Kabya', produced quite a few the rhizomes - 'Rarang' (Aranyak, 2004), 'Birsa Munda' (Dhaka Theatre Mancha, 2004) and 'Mangula' (Palakar, 2005). This was joined by another line of flight launched in 1993 when the Joom Esthetic Council from Rangamati performed Mahedra Banobash, a play in Chakma language written by Mrittika Chakma. Since then, Bangladesh theatre has witnessed quite a few performances by numerous ethnic communities in Bangladesh, who have performed in Manipuri, Sadri, Santali, Oraon, Garo, Munda and other languages. Although most of these performances have been the work of Bengali-speaking directors, five plays by the Manipuri Theatre from Bhanugach in Srimangal (ie, 'Shri Krishna Kirtan', 'Dhwajo Mestarir Maran', 'Bhanubil', 'Ingal Adhar Pala' and 'Kahe Birangana') stand out because these have been created entirely by the Manipuris themselves. In consequence of the line of flight generating out of ethnotheatre, theatre in Bangladesh today has redirected the narration of nation from the nationalist 'roots' of identity derived from the majoratarian norm to postnational 'routes' of a pluralist process of becoming.
'Routes' to Postnational Identities
The rise of nationalism in Bangladesh theatre is not an isolated case but can indeed be seen as symptomatic of theatre in many parts of the world today. Consider, for example, the Festivals of India that the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) proudly presents in the nodal points of global power relations, most currently, in Beijing and Paris, as an expression of its 'resolve to continue to symbolize India's great cultural and educational efflorescence' (ICCR 2010). The hidden agenda in ICCR's resolve is profoundly nationalist, as also is in the case of Singapore, which, as Bharucha demonstrates, 'is attempting to promote itself as the hub of all cultural and intellectual activity in New Asia' by aspiring to be the 'global city of the arts' (Bharucha, 2004: 6). Similarly, nationalist agenda is traceable in the aspiration of the Ghana National Theatre, established by the Ghana government in 1990, to help forge the nation's cultural identity (Donkor 2003). In the United States, as Mason observes, the stage is a site of struggle, 'a platform where players and audience may enact conceptions of identity and community, where “America” becomes both the subject and the consequence of artistic, cultural, and social negotiation' (Mason 1999: 4). Consequently, he acknowledges, '[t]o the extent that the stage deals in representation, […] it brings the national narrative to life' (ibid.).
Whenever theatre fails to interrogate the arbitrary invention of the nation and take into cognizance the fluidity of its construct, it is fatally entrapped by majoritatian norms and arborescent systems that underpin nationalist discourse. At that level, it inevitably congeals life and 'designs for living' by seeking to categorize human perception into well-ordered and singular meanings and majoritarian axiomatics. Consequently, theatre practitioners find themselves defending a constant principle or an abstract standard or a categorical schema propounded by majoritarian rhetorics be those religious or cultural. The point is not so much that such practices are ethically unacceptable, but that the task of managing the excluded and the deviant minorities into an abstract standard to be compatible with and amenable to the controlling interests is never accomplished.
For the contingent and changing concrete world always exceeds the ideal categories of thought within which we attempt to express and contain it. And the same is true of people. We are always both more and less than the categories which name and divide us (Finn 1992: 113).
We are always more and less than a woman, a man, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Bangladeshi, a Pakistani, an Indian, a Taliban, a Bengali, a Bihari, a Chakma, a proletarian, a capitalist, …more or less than 'anything that can be said about us' (Finn 1992: 113-114). We are always more or less because we inhabit 'the space between experience and expression' (Finn 1992: 112) always submerged in a process of becoming, always on a line of fluctuation, always separated by a gap from this or that axiom constituting the category of a nation. 'Our lives leave remainders (they say more than they mean) just as our categories leave residues (they mean more than they say)' (Finn 1992: 114). Hence, we are forever too late or too early in arriving at the normative identity of the nation, always seeking but failing to be because the ideal, the principle or the schema is never actuated although the controlling interest of prevailing political power attempts forever to manage us, contain us with it, and 'organizes and obscures; organizes to obscure' that we are inevitably 'fated' to fail in actuating the normative identity (Finn 1992: 115).
Today, if the 'nation' remains a site of fervent passion (as in Tibet, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Chechnya, Palestine, Bosnia, Nigeria, Sudan to name a few), it will become clear that it has not been rendered obsolete or 'superseded by those new realities of internationalism, multi-nationalism, or even “late capitalism”, once we acknowledge that the rhetoric of these global terms is most often underwritten in that grim prose of power that each nation can wield within its own sphere of influence' (Bhabha 1990: 1). Hence, instead of performing for reterritorialized communities marked by inflexible boundaries, let the history of Bangladesh theatre be a lesson worth remembering, as Heidegger (1978: 332) urges us to, that '[a] boundary is not that at which something stops but, […] the boundary is that from which something begins its essential unfolding.' Learning from such examples set by Shamonnay Theatre and Manipuri Theatre, and being enlivened by the current deterritorialization by the ethnotheatre, theatre practitioners in Bangladesh should make it possible for the growth of numerous domains in English, Urdu, Manipuri, Marma, Chakma, Santal and more. Theatre, in such a milieu of numerous domains, should serve, borrowing from Heidegger, as bridges that bring streams, and banks and land 'into each other's neighbourhood' (ibid: 330). These should lead to negotiation and interrogations of a postnational identity that challenges all form of monolithic national identities but at the same time resists globalization of multinational corporations and international financial markets.
Going further, it may as well be suggested that today, the theatre in Bangladesh and indeed, all human habitations should produce rhizomes 'that continually evoke and erase [...] totalizing boundaries – both actual and conceptual – disturb those ideological manoeuvres through which “imagined communities” are given essentialist identities' (Bhabha 1994: 149). They may ceaselessly negotiate the treacherous terrain in which plurality and diversity are rendered invisible and subsumed into a homogeneous monoculture of dominant discourses. They may find it more meaningful to devise ways and means in which any identity national, ethnic, racial, sexual, class-based, or otherwise - is more of a 'process of becoming rather than being' (Hall 1996: 4), 'as a concern with 'routes' rather than “roots”' (McCrone 1998: 34), and seek by trials and errors, to channelize their re-presenting identity to highlighting difference and hybridity, unsettling norms and limits, by means of infinite lines of flight leading to deterritorializations.
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- The essay submitted by the author carried diacritical marks, which have been dropped by the editor so as to conform the text to the norms set by Depart. The revised transliteration follows Bengali pronunciation.
- From the mid-19th century to the late 1960s, the theatre scene in Dhaka city was indeed vibrant with theatre in Urdu as well as English languages.
SYED JAMIL AHMED is a proactive theatre personality and scholar, and professor at the Department of Theatre, University of Dhaka. He is the author of 'In Praise of Niranjan: Islam, Theatre and Bangladesh', 'Reading Against the Orientalist Grain: Performance and Politics', and a number of vernacular publications on theatre and performances of the region. He is also member of the editorial board of Depart