Saturday, June 21, 2008

Week Five: Jaipur

Our fifth and final week in India was for discussion and reflection about the entire Arts Exchange program. It was bittersweet, philosophical and concise.

After a one-night stopover in Delhi (Reena saw her family finally!) we got on a bus and took a 7-hour trip to Jaipur. It was such a long ride and the bus was jam-packed with both people and mosquitos, Reena’s mother sweetened the experience with some tasty desert she’d sent along with her daughter.

On Subhash’s recommendation we stayed at the Anuraag Villa Hotel in the Bani Park section of Jaipur. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who is going to Jaipur. The rooms were cool and clean and the ceilings tall, painted with the same floral design as the Taj Mahal. It was a beautiful place and perfect for our closing evaluation retreat.

For our meetings, we sat out in the backyard to eat and talk about what we had learned.

For example, Joanna asked, what can we do to insure that this program continues? If it continues, what will it look like? What worked and what could we make even better?

We envisioned taking our “model” program on a tour of the three countries – to Afghanistan, to the US, and back to India. We wrote down the nuts and bolts of our workshop approach, including descriptions of 38 favorite exercises out of the many theater games we shared with each other. We also considered what sort of performance we would like to create next time and how a new show would be possible if we wrote it before the Exchange began, and how could it best reflect current affairs in each country rather than addressing a generic problem.

The sessions yielded 26 pages of notes and a deeper understanding of what it is the three companies have created together.

Aside from these intensely focused discussions, we spent time enjoying each other’s company knowing the end was near. This included tooling around Jaipur and taking one final outstanding trip together to see the Taj Mahal. Yep. It is beautiful.

It was a great surprise in the last days to meet a new extraordinary friend: Rajesh Chauhan, an associate of Ali and Shafiq at the BBC. He was quite simply the Idealest Host Ever. He helped us get our equipment to the airport, getting Ali’s flight back home, and sat and talked with us just cause he is a true believer in hospitality and making visitors welcome. The most touching thing he did was that once he heard about our Lucknow mission to go dancing, he devised a grand plan to take us out before we returned to New York.

Part one of the plan was to treat us to an amazing dinner – our last in India.
Part two was to visit a disco on the way to the airport so we could part ways dancing! Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out and we ended up having to drop Ali, Jamil, and Rajesh off at the disco and speed directly on to the airport. But the gesture was unforgettable. On the way there, Ali and I sang through the one of our favorite songs once more. It translated, “Where ever I went, you were with me, my love.”

As we left I smiled knowing that sentiment will remain true for all of us on this Arts Exchange. Wherever we go, we will be in each other’s hearts.

We have succeeded in all aspects of what the Arts Exchange set out to do – we have built intense international bonds, exchanged a wealth of artistic practices, proven that theatre crosses boundaries of language and culture with grace and ease, and used our craft to bring laughter and self-expression to thousands of people across India. And we helped to stimulate the minds and imaginations of some of India’s most impoverished populations!

As a very unlikely three-country team, I think we inspired people most through our easy rapport and mutual enjoyment of each other… despite differences in language, religion, world-view, gender, and nationality. Our work together for a greater good – making the world a little happier – allowed us to breathe as one, and be a true team.

Our deepest thanks to all our creative team members in this venture:
Afghans: Jamil Royesh, Shafiq Hakimi, Ahmad Ali Fakri, Zia Murad;
US: Joanna Sherman, Michael McGuigan, Jenny Romaine, Sarah Peters, Meghan Frank;
Indians: Subhash Rawat, Lokesh Jain, Reena Mishra, Shashanta and Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay.
And to our very own State Department (via the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) to believe that theatre is a valuable means to cross-cultural understanding.