“Manjit, once this guest house completes, I want to start the residential academic course in theatre with any state university; the ultimate aim is to have one full-fledged Badungduppa Art and Theatre university. Kene hobo?”
“Bhale ase? I am calling to give update on land buying thing for our Art & Theatre village. Bharat Da has also agreed to sell his land. I am talking to a local micro finance for immediate money. Hopefully, we will lay the foundation pillar when you come next”
“In this year’s Sal Tree festival, I will focus on high quality. I will select all the plays only after careful investigation and collective feedback. The nature aspect must come up prominently. Majority teams will be from outside India. You travel with them from Delhi itself; I will book the tickets”
“Manjit, let’s do a career counseling workshop for the 10th and 12th students of Agia. I will arrange everything, you bring the Xomidhan experts. Come with some time in hand, will take lunch together and then talk”
“I and Rahul Da will visit Delhi next month and stay at your place. I have to talk with Sangeet Natak Academy and Cultural ministry regarding pending funds. Also, we will have one small meet-up to take feedback how to take theatre movement forward. Apuni arrange koribo lagibo”
Dream, hope, vision, efficiency, optimism – it is very hard to find one person who constantly talks about these words in a remote village of Assam. As I entered adulthood, I had the good fortune of finding one in my neighborhood. Sukracharjya Rabha, a remarkable genius of Indian theatre, a student activist turned theatre director, recipient of Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar from the president of India, founder-director of Badungduppa Kala Kendra and curator of Under the Sal Tree International theatre festival. He was an artist, change maker, philosopher, visionary, social worker, play-writer, teacher and many more. Unfortunately on 8 June, he left us for heavenly abode at a very early age. For several minutes, I kept telling myself ‘this is false news, this has to be false news’. Time can’t be so cruel. We have so many dreams to accomplish. Death – why have you become so cheap and readily available? Can’t you see a whole society was dependent on one young person? Do you have an issue on prioritization?
I am finding it difficult to express my emotion; it has created such a void within myself. Personally, he was my neighbour, school senior, pride of my native village/district/state, partner in exploring new things, philosopher bondhu and a co-dreamer. One Last Question wouldn’t have been possible without Sukra Da. In fact, through that movie I came in close contact with him. In my volunteering days post Oxford, I got the opportunity to involve myself with the ‘Under the Sal Tree festival’ and his visions for the community and Indian theatre.
For those who don’t know Sukra Da well, he was born on 10 April 1977 at Rampur village in the district of Goalpara, Assam. He learnt the first steps of theatre direction and design in Guwahati. He further trained under Padmashri awardee H. Kanhailal and H. Sabitri at Kalakshetra Imphal, Manipur for two years. Upon returning to Assam, he founded Badungduppa Kala Kendra, a rural base theatre centre at his village in 1998. He has directed more than 25 plays in Rabha, Bodo, Nepali & Assamese languages. Some of his plays are Rupalim, Madaiah Muchi, To’ Poidam, Labhita, Hati Aru Fandi, Dangai, Dumukchi and Rather Rashi. His plays have been performed widely in national and international theatre festivals. Off late, Sukra Da was trying to promote the cultural heritage of Rabha community as well as other ethnic groups of North East India through theatre. He was member of Sankardeva Kala Kendra and was recipient of many national and international honours including “Aditya Bikram Birla Kala Kiran Puruskar” from Sangit Kala Kendra, Mumbai for his outstanding performance in the field of theatre.
Going beyond this high profile identity, Sukra Da maintained a very humble lifestyle in our village. One can spot him sitting at a corner shop of Agia market, reciting a poetry and humming a Bhupendra sangeet. The other day you will spot him fishing in a nearby pond wearing a gamocha. One can always find ‘sadha’ in his pocket, which he always hidden from seniors and juniors. On dress, the iconic black half jacket and the blue jeans dominated most occasions.
But Sukra Da’s dreams were never simple. He was focused on institution building and thereby leaving a permanent legacy. He spent lot of time with the PhD scholars who chose his methodology as subject of research. “Academia is the most important stakeholder”, he often said. For inaugurating 2017 version of Sal Tree festival, he invited the Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University. He was hopeful that the coming generation would be able to understand the actual form of theatre that needs to be communicated loud. For JNU Delhi, IIT Guwahati, Gauhati University etc, Sukra Da often took classes on contemporary art and theatre.
Sukra Da frequently lectured on theatre – how fun component is integrated in certain characters, why Macbeth’s adopted version must reflect Assamese sentiment, how choice of language is just a metaphor, how body expression is far superior than choice of words, why open theatre is not restrictive compared to proscenium and mobile theatre- endless debate and discussion. Every day he invested minimum two hours on inventing and experimenting on theatre in natural setting. For theatre enthusiasts around the world, Badungduppa was like a pilgrimage centre. Thanks to him, I got introduced to a different world which none of friends from technology and policy background are aware. Sukra Da also ensured I apply my new found knowledge in moderating a play critic analysis session during last year festival.
The single thing that has been bothering me for the last two days – how to take forward the unfinished dreams of Sukra Da? Recently he bought several acres of land to build an ambitious ‘Art and Theatre village’ in the vicinity of Rampur. In my last visit to Assam, I and he sat together for hours on the proposed land, drew the rough architectural map and deliberated on probable financing options. He was very excited thinking how this theatre village will give employments to the elderly people who are expert in craft work which is slowly vanishing away from our daily lives. A sustainable business model without compromising the real essence of theatre, was something Sukra Da was always passionate about.
Sukra Da- whatever you have done for all of us in your short lifespan is huge. You are an inspiration for the generations to come. You have shown how determination and hard-work blended with humility can take someone so far. We will try to take forward your legacy. Stay well wherever you are, and keep blessing us.