Commissioned Writing by
on Gitanjali Kolanad's
Gandhari for Contemporaneity 2.0
The following piece was commissioned as part of Contemporaneity 2.0 by Anandam Dancetheatre for the production of “Gandhari,” choreographed by Gitanjali Kolanad for Brandy Leary, accompanied by Parmela Attariwala on viola. Engaging the artists in a conversation around their creative process allowed me to witness the production unfold through various modes of awareness and perspective. I re-worked parts of our conversation through epistolary, in a letter addressed to the character of Gandhari, to explore shared inquiries around womanhood and the conception of bodies as a source of knowledge, while also considering how silence can be reached into, mapped and deciphered through movement and sound.
*The italicized parts of the letter are integrated from the conversation I had with choreographer, Gitanjali Kolanad, dancer, Brandy Leary and violinist/musician, Parmela Attariwala.
How do I quiet the clamor of womanhood and the body it claims in the process of fighting to exist? My body belongs to cities and shorelines scattered like constellations on maps that are engulfed in flame. As scorch marks appear on borders, the grief lodged in my body diffuses and becomes energy I am likely to transmit towards flight. Everything will disappear soon. I want to run. I am always running. What does it mean to hold multiple selves that are reaching for pulse and breath at once? Different forms of expression (and existence) require a new generation within which to survive. Dance needs bodies. Epics and myths need storytellers. Bodies have stories and trajectories that are inherently, and intimately, their own. I want to know how the stories of women’s bodies get told in the wars of men.
Gandhari, do you think it is possible to reimagine an ending? In the Hindu epic, Mahabharata, you are represented as a woman of virtue and integrity, but I am overwhelmed by the patriarchy of your situation. In one telling of the epic, you are married to a king without knowing he is blind. You make the conscious decision to blind yourself as a way of upholding the role of a dutiful wife. What if the myth is collapsed? What if you chose to be blind as an act of defiance? There is power in acts of asceticism. What if you are a woman existing in a context that you did not set, who loses everything but the internal power you chose to create? What if blinding yourself was about a different way of reacting to your environment? When people are blind, they are not losing anything. They are gaining something else. They are replacing sight with something else. I did not know one could use their body against patriarchy in this way. I have found that dance has the ability to map narratives through the body and challenge traditional ways of knowing. I’m not working from a place of knowing. The power of the dancing body is that it can reimagine the story in many iterations. The dancing body can centre the self-inflicted erasure of sight as an act of protest.
In the mixed martial art form, kallaripayyatu, one is making the body all eyes. I think this means there is more than one way towards a movement. A movement can remind you there is a body at stake. The intent of a sound, the spiralling of a note, can help movement along. A body can map space. A body can mark space. A body can mourn space. We have to trust that bodies are their own form of knowledge. Gandhari, I did not know I had a body until it was shaken into an intrusion. Bodies have their own knowledge of what has been taken. The hollow space left in the aftermath sprawls across a body, waiting to be grieved and acknowledged. There is a beautiful, simple magic in trusting the body and the energy that is mapped through its grieving. Movement can serve as a voice for the body and embody the urgency of a feeling. Unworded sound is my direct way of accessing emotion. Gandhari, when you were on the battlefield, blindfolded, gathering lifeless pieces of your sons, what guided you? Your body can unfold space. Space is mapped out through the measurement of the body. Were you listening to space as you reached and reached and reached? The body remembers. The hundred sons you lost were once part of your own body. How do we know pieces of bodies? How do we gather the parts? How do we put the parts to rest? What does it mean to be a living body gathering the dead? You can track death in a coldness that starts in the extremities. The story of what and whom survives is often told by women and their bodies.
Mapping my own womanhood and sense of self has been a process of acknowledging and grieving a body through a series of departures that have resulted in a fractured sense of self and an unwanted familiarity with dislocation. Bodies have stories. Mine remembers the ritual of burial and the tremor of nighttime. Mine remembers wanting to hit back. To rewrite the ending, or one part of the whole, is not to rewrite the story, it is to reimagine the way a story is told. Coming from training in repertoire that holds aesthetics and meaning-making is important, and so is using them as choreographic questions. In Tkaronto, where trees stand in water, ancient myths are transformed and retold through an engagement with Indian aesthetics in contemporary dance. These myths take into consideration what it means to uphold the value of ever-changing bodies and their ability to both tell stories and carry them into a contemporary moment. When another year passes through me, I mark it with a revelation of skin that I am often too ashamed to show, towards the sky. And the sky says, “I have body, too. The dawn is the gap in my teeth, the sun is the arc of my spine, the birds are my bruised knees.” The clamor of womanhood guides us. The body is everywhere, Gandhari. We must tend to our bodies and remember that movement and space is mapped through our body’s reaching. And reaching, in every capacity and often with limitation, means to believe that arriving in another realm, with reimagined notions of the body’s’ utility and power, remains possible.
Maheen Hyder is a Pakistani poet and clinical social worker. She has worked for Medecins Sans Frontieres and United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) as a crisis intervention worker in refugee camps, conflict zones and trauma hospitals located in Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan.
She is currently working on a script for a theatre project that questions the morality of trauma in drone technology by bringing to the forefront the narratives of victims and perpetrators in relation to drone strikes in northern Pakistan.