Celebrating Asia’s first master storyteller through monologues

Tagore’s short story, ‘The River Stairs’, brought to life by Himanshu Bhatt in the performance at Penang House of Music.

TWO short stories by Rabindranath Tagore – Asia’s first Nobel laureate – were brought to life in monologues at the Penang House of Music in Komtar, George Town.

Actor Himanshu Bhatt and director Jayaram Menon’s take on The River Stairs and The Babus of Nayanjore had the audience spellbound.

The first story took one’s imagination to the banks of the holy Ganges, where a mysterious, lovelorn encounter took place.

The other segment was a poignant tale about the last heir of a once-great Bengal clan, too engrossed with past glories.

The production was staged over two weekends recently and drew good crowds at each session.

Speaking to the audience in a Q&A at the end of one of the shows, Himanshu said he had long wanted to do Asian theatre.

An alumnus of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he was educated in the Western traditions of drama and has been involved in around 40 plays over the past three decades.

But having explored Tagore’s literary works, many of which were translated into English, he felt they were stories that had to be told.

“I was touched by The River Stairs upon several readings and decided it’s one I must do. The Babus of Nayanjore was contrasting, but resounded with powerful themes.

“I want to challenge myself and the audience by doing plays that are not populist but have great depth,” said Himanshu, who is also an experienced journalist, author and heritage activist.

Jayaram felt the two chosen stories gave audiences an introduction to Tagore’s tremendous body of works.

The prolific composer has to his credit over 3,000 songs, plays, short stories and poems.

The storytelling aspect adds a new dimension to his stories, the director observed, adding that the shows also celebrated the anniversary of Tagore’s visit to Penang.

Unbeknownst to many today, the Nobel laureate spent four days on the island in August 1927.

Among other engagements, he laid the foundation stone for the Hu Yew Seah school building in Madras Lane.

The show was presented by the Penang House of Music and Cape Poetics, an independent literature, theatre and fine arts company which Himanshu founded.

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