Readings in the Shed’s latest chapter brings refugee stories to the fore
“I saw dead people with no heads, no hands, no legs. I was so shocked, I couldn’t stop crying. To calm me down, my grandfather told me they were mean but I still prayed for them because even if they are considered mean, they were still dead human beings.” These were the words of a seven-year-old Alia, a refugee from Syria. Her monologue is among the stories of the refugees that will be read tonight at the Reading In The Shed.
Titled ‘Being and Belonging’, the twelfth chapter of the reading platform sheds light on refugees through a series of stories. “All the pieces except one are non-fiction. The fiction story talks about the problems that people face when they are asked to move. They have to adapt to several things and language is one of them. Other pieces are real-life stories, including monologues, and one among them is a newspaper clipping of an article published in the Wall Street Journal. It focuses on Europeans who joined ISIS and what happens with their family. The news piece particularly highlights the story of a Swedish girl who joined ISIS and moved to Iran and how her father tries to get her back,” tells Himali Kothari, Creative Editor of Readings in the Shed.
The initiative founded in April last year is run by Curator Nikhil Katara and Himali Kothari. With an aim to celebrate the joy of reading a good text and getting immersed in the stories, they have organised 11 chapters so far, all focusing on different subjects. “The first chapter was a play from Chili - Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman. The second chapter included Neither Night Nor Day that features 13 stories by women writers from Pakistan,” informs Himali and immediately adds that not everything needs to be serious. “On Valentine’s Day, we read love letters written by famous people like Albert Einstein and Virginia Woolf to their lovers to see a side other than the persona that we know,” avers 40-year-old Himali.
But, how do you pick themes and stories? “It’s a reading initiative where our focus is on the text and we want that to be of good quality. And, we mostly read published work. So, Nikhil and I figure out our theme. For instance, we are reading refugee stories because it’s World Refugee Day on June 20. We collaborated with British Company Director’s Cut and we gave their writer’s a hook which was Indian independence day as perceived in Britain or by Britishers. Once, our theme is decided, we both do extensive research and finalise our stories. They should be something that is going to resonate with our audience and also something that is going to make a good transition from being read to being read. Then, we edit these stories while trying to stay as close to the original text as possible,” explains Himali. However, it doesn’t end here. Afterwards, they bring professional theatre artists on board and do rehearsals. “We made a conscious effort to work with professional theatre artist to make it a performative experience. It can’t be a living room experience. There is a minimal amount of set design, there will be projections behind the actors which will be in sync with the reading, there will be sound, etc,” she adds.
Interestingly, everything is done by Himali and Nikhil, both of whom have day jobs to keep. While Himali is into writing as a full-time profession and teaches creative writing at Xavier’s Institute of Communication, Nikhil is a theatre artist whose production ‘The Unveiling’ opened at Kala Ghoda Art Festival. Both of them met at an informal reading group. “We have a casual reading group that meets every Sunday and read. It could be a play, a short story, a novella, anything. Nikhil started this group about 7-8 years ago and the idea to take it to a bigger platform stemmed from that,” concludes Himali.
Being & Belonging in collaboration with Goethe-Institut will be held at Max Mueller Bhavan Library, Kala Ghoda tonight (June 15, Saturday) at 6 pm. Entry is free.