When theatre adds life to living

When theatre adds life to living

When theatre adds life to living

For the past ten years, life might not have changed much from the thatch-roofed house Rayanti Rabha lives in, but theatre keeps her alive and thriving, finds out Abdul Gani.

Life has not been easy for 29-year-old actor-theatre activist Rayanti Rabha. But the fortitude with which she has faced the innumerable hurdles that came her way to emerge as one of Assam’s significant young thespians is a saga that cannot but warm the heart.

Growing up in the remote hamlet of Rampur in the conflict prone Goalpara district, Rayanti has gone on to be awarded the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puruskar by the Sangeet Natak Akademi for her acting talents in December 2012.

Hailing from a poor family meant that every member had to work as a wage labourer.
“I, too, was expected to help bring in some income by working, but my parents had other plans for me. They allowed me to have an education. When I was drawn into theatre, they never stopped me, they never let me feel the pressure of their circumstances,” recalls Rayanti.

It was in 1999, after she had cleared her Class X examinations, that the talented youngster began her acting career, influenced by Shukracharya Rabha, a theatre activist, who is part of Assam’s drama movement today. But this meant going out late into the night and staying away from home for days on end.

While her parents continued to encourage her, the neighbours were less kind. They would constantly make jibes about how, as a girl, she had the responsibility to keep the household going rather than going out for rehearsals and acting on public stages.

Elaborates Rayanti, “People would say, girls should stay indoors and help their mothers in the kitchen. I remember how they would raise their eye brows when I went for rehearsals late in the evenings. But I was determined to follow my passion in theatre.”

In 2004, Rayanti married Puruxottom Rabha, a playwright, whom she had met in 2000 during a play. Marriage should have brought some contentment and peace, but that was not to be. Seven months later, Puruxottom died after suffering from jaundice.

“I went through the worst days of my life after losing my husband. It was very difficult even to step out of the house, leave alone attend a social event. Everybody thought that I was the reason for my husband’s death,” she reveals.

Considered a symbol of ‘ill-luck’ in her husband’s family, she finally decided to go back to her parents’ home.

She may have gone down the slippery slope of depression in such circumstances if it were not for her old passion – theatre.

As Rayanti puts it, “Thankfully, it was drama and acting that gave me the energy to revive my life once again and stay buoyant and involved.”

She got the opportunity to perform at many prestigious venues across the country.
And then slowly, the tide turned. With every performance, her reputation grew, and with fame people began to treat her with respect.

Says Sudarshan Rabha, actor and director of Manchalengka drama group with which Rayanti is currently attached, “We are happy at this outcome and feel very proud of her.

I knew she had it in her to succeed on the stage, but it was her determination and confidence that helped her continue, despite many personal reversals. She has become a role model for several young women – not just in her village but across Assam.”
Inspiring the youth is certainly what Rayanti aims to do.

“Today, besides my acting, I want to ensure that no young woman faces the kind of problems I had to cope with. This has become another major cause in my life.”

In fact, the Manchalengka drama group, which largely stages folk plays, makes it a point to carry social messages to its audiences. In addition, it reaches out to rural youngsters who are passionate about acting. Like Rayanti, all of them belong to very poor families; like her, it is the love for acting that keeps them going.

As one young member of the troupe put it, “I really don’t know what the future holds. My family has a small plot of land and we are planning to grow rubber plants on it, but we are very poor and sometimes the situation gets very dire. But still, I cannot think of leaving acting!”

As for Rayanti, she has not changed very much. She continues to live with her parents in the same thatched roofed house that she grew up in. The family still struggles to make ends meet. But the young theatre actress is seized with her new mission: To create a society free from gender discrimination.

“It’s not a battle; it’s a war that lies ahead. But I am ready to face it just as I have done in all the struggles I had to wage for these last 10 years. Hopefully, I will emerge victorious,” she says.

As she speaks, her mother, Purnima Rabha, looks on proudly.

“We are happy for our daughter. I hope she can achieve her dreams in the days to come. We have no other ambition besides this,” the older woman murmurs softly.