Life over a cup of 'Chai'

Bereft of a traditional stage-setup or highly mechanised sound effects and lighting, ‘Notes n Chai’ was a completely indulgent performance.

Mumbai-based Jyoti Dogra, a solo performer sashayed inside Max Mueller Bhawan’s hall in a long black robe and walked out as swiftly after the performance, without making any formal introductions in the beginning or the end.

But what happened in between these two compelled the audience to get up for a standing ovation for this brilliantly conceived and executed act. In the true sense, it was a Jerzy Grotowski style of theatre: an act that plays upon the excellence of the performer, giving secondary importance to everything else.

With the support of India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), Jyoti Dogra devised this “collection of thoughtful and entertaining snippets of everyday conversations, interwoven with abstract sound explorations that attempt to relocate our relationship with the mundane.” Engulfed in changing tones of sepia, she takes her position on stage and chants variations of the word chai to smoothly move on from one portrayal to another, seamlessly.

Assimilating the snippets with throaty sounds, Jyoti keeps chanting and produces sounds that are inspired by the Tibetan chanting techniques, Western harmonics and extended vocal techniques.

From the morning scene set in Jogeshwari, Mumbai, where the protagonist sips her morning chai, describing it as one of the most rejuvenating hour of her day, her flapping hands fade in and out of a many regular stories set around a cup of tea. Enjoying her own time in the morning to sulking over “why hasn’t he mailed me?”; an old Punjabi woman reminiscing her days in Lahore to the higher middle-class city lass talking about yoga lessons and her imported Malaysian tea and the old man offering directions to a foreigner to the government clerk repeating his usual memorised notes, Jyoti puts you in the world of these characters with her multi-faceted performance.

At every juncture, you relate to the character in the story as you find him or her around you, day in and day out. The experience is so immersive that it takes you back to the days in Lahore; it makes you melancholic for the woman hiding her tears in her office avoiding questions over her married life; and it definitely entices you to have a long drawn conversation over a cup of tea after watching this cathartic performance. And while you do it, the protagonist’s words keep ringing in your ears, “Aapko jaisi chai peeni ho waisi hi pini chahiye, nahin to nahin.” (Drink only the type of tea you like, otherwise just don’t) as she sips in her tea with six spoons of sugar. 

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