Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ladies Compartment... A Wondrous World of Women


"It’s a common notion that when women gather, they only speak about jewels and saris but that's not true. Nowadays our discussions are based on topics related to current affairs also. The compartment has become more like a learning centre and maybe we would have missed something great in our lives if we hadn’t started travelling in that compartment — a wondrous world of women..."

Our life is like a rail journey. Every station brings in new experiences, new places and new turns. So many people enter our lives and many leave. But the train keeps moving and the journey continues…
The play Ladies Compartment is a similar story but in its literal sense and was staged at Maharani's Arts & Commerce College on March 9 as part of International Women's Day celebration.
Members of the Ladies Compartment
The play is a story of nine women who meet daily in the ladies compartment of the 8.20 am passenger train from Mysore. The story unfolds with one of the friends recollecting the suicide of a fellow passenger she had witnessed the previous day. It depicts the daily struggle of these ladies who need to maintain a balance at home and in the office. Their fight for seat in the overcrowded compartment, yet their adjusting nature, daily conversations, hardships faced by them, have been very well narrated.
Though none of the nine ladies are trained theatre artistes, they have all come together to spread a common message — the problems faced by women. The nine passengers include Dr. Sujata Akki, Lecturer at Govt. PU College, Besagarahalli, Maddur; Rukmini, Principal, DTI, Ramnagar; C.B. Padma, Headmistress National Children's School, Mandya; C.S. Poornima, Lecturer, Pandavapura Girls College; C.Y. Gunasheela, Lecturer, Manipal Institution of Fashion Design, Mandya; Umme Halima, Guest Lecturer, Govt. ITI, Mandya; Maheshwari, Lecturer, PES College, Mandya; Asha Swarnalatha, Lecturer, Mandya and Varsha Rani, FDA, Mandya. 
Says Poornima, who has also worked with GPIER and Janamana theatre troupes in the past, "Earlier we had made a club called the 'Dahipuri Club' in the ladies compartment. Every Friday each of us would get one ingredient and prepare dishes in the train and share will all the passengers in the compartment. Later we felt we wanted to do something more and that is when we thought of staging a play. Dr. Sujata joined the journey in July after her transfer. Since we got to know she writes plays we asked her to write one in which we all could act. This is our way of fighting against exploitation of women. Some of the members faced difficulty in convincing their family members for this. But finally we have staged the play successfully at two places."
C.S. Poornima (left) and Dr. Sujata Akki
The writer and director of the play Dr. Sujata Akki is a native of Bellary. She started writing plays while studying in PU and had also created a group called 'Sister Nivedita Sangha' and would make high school students stage plays. She specialises in folk based plays and has been awarded Ph.D for her study on female theatre artistes of Bellary. One of her plays Madevi, has won three awards. When asked about how this journey began, Dr. Sujata said: "I used to work in Bangalore rural before getting transferred in July. From then I started travelling in the 8.30 passenger train. Many of the other members have been travelling for almost 14 years. However, this drama took birth on Feb. 16. The other members asked me to write a drama to be staged for Women's Day and the next day the script was ready. It is mainly based on our discussions, views and our daily experiences. We have included scenes like a husband beating his wife for money and the power of Sthree Shakthi Sanghas. Each one of us has a hidden artise but don't get the right opportunity. Hence we created this opportunity for ourselves."
Excellent effort by the members
When asked about the response they got for the play staged at Mandya on Women's Day (Mar.8) Dr. Sujata said, "Since the incidences of female feticide are large in Mandya we wanted to stage it there first. I got an invitation to speak during a Women's Day function and I proposed to stage this play. The women folk could connect with the theme of the play and hence we got a very good response."
"At first we wanted to stage the play on the Railway Platform for which we did not get permission. Next we decided to turn it into a street play. But later we got this stage to perform. Every day we would meet right after work for practice and later go home. Times are there when we would practice the songs even while travelling in train," added Poornima.
Expressing the hardships faced by them at the station, Rukmini said "There is only one compartment for ladies wherein almost two busloads of people are cramped together. Even after continued requests for adding one or two more compartments, the authorities have not responded. Also in some of the trains, boys enter our compartment and start troubling the girls."
A scene from the play
Another member Padma said, "It's a common notion that when women gather, they only speak about jewels and saris. But that is not entirely true. Nowadays our discussions are based on topics related to current affairs. The compartment has become more like a learning centre and maybe we would have missed something great in our lives if we hadn't started travelling in that compartment. It is a wondrous world of women."
These ladies are planning to create an association in the name of 'Ladies Compartment' and conduct summer camps for women and young girls in staging such dramas. Let us hope their journey continues and reaches more and more stations to spread their message.

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated March 13, 2011)

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