On the first day of the Jonge Harten, I have a conversation with Abhishek Thapar, who will present his performance My Home at the Intersection on 16th and 17th November. He has just finished his tour in Australia and meets me immediately after arriving in Groningen. Regardless of the cold and rainy night outside, we have a warm and open talk. Not only about the inspiration and the unique elements of his work, but Abhishek also gives his sincere advice for an international like me living in a new place now.
Abhishek tells me that he wanted to create a performance about his homeland and family for almost 16 years since the time he first started making theatre. The idea of doing this piece of work came when he saw theatre for the first time: he was about 10 or 11 years old. The performance is about a very particular, but blur memory. Abhishek’s desire is to go back and to understand this specific time, which was in the early 80s to mid-90s. My Home at the Intersection is about these 15 years in the center of Punjab where he comes from. During that time, he and his family had to leave their house and went away from their hometown.
Reconnecting with his family
“I was a kid at that time, so I actually never knew what was happening outside and inside. I have the desire to understand and somehow complete the story in my head. But then, also to rebuild the house which we had left.” For Abhishek, it’s also a way to connect back to his family. As a theatre maker, performer, puppeteer, and artist, he has lived in many different countries and has been away from his family for so long. Creating My Home at the Intersection is a sort of opportunity to get involved with his family and make art together. Abhishek: “That’s the most beautiful thing I could ever do.”
He tries to get closer to this memory and his family, as well. Part of the performance takes place with his family in Punjab, he filmed the performance and shows it in the theatre. The more Abhishek re-enacts the performance in different places, the more he moves towards his family and also to the history. He adds that My home at the Intersection reflects that Punjab was at the intersection of all those conflicts. It’s not only about his home but all the homes in Punjab. Abhishek digs into the big history through his family history. He tries to let people understand identity, violence, politics, fear.
Abhishek tells me that ‘home’ isn’t a physical space, it’s actually an area that has a lot to do with people or friends. It has a close relationship with his work. Because of moving so much, he has less desire of staying fixed in one place. It seems that there’s no “home” for him: “So, I’d say I live in homes, in many houses. But I have never defined the home, it’s just one of the homes.”
Abhishek has performed My Home at the Intersection in many other countries, including India. I ask him if there were different responses to his performance in different countries. He reveals an interesting fact to me: Abhishek has actually prepared three different scripts. The one he played in India will be different from the one he plays here. The historical background is complicated. There’s a distance from this history to the Dutch audience. On the other hand, returning back to one’s home always resonates with the audience wherever you go: everyone has a notion of home.
A 27 year old Lemon Pickle
But how exactly will Abhiskek lead us into his own memory during his performance? There will be an exceptional element— “flavor.”Abhishek shares a Lemon Pickle with the audience: “It’s a very special lemon pickle. It’s 27 years old. Somehow by sharing this lemon pickle with the audience is also a way to bring them to my home. Of course, I don’t want to do this to 200 people. I want to look each of them them in the eye before I welcome them inside.”.
Abhishek tells me My home at the Intersection is not a play, but a very intimate performance. He doesn’t perform this for 200 people, but only to like 40 people. There will be a very personal relationship with the audience. Abhishek rather plays in a space like a black box than a big theatre:“I want to keep it only very intimately.“
“If the world is not that difficult, there’s no need for theatre to exist.”
I ask him about difficulties in trying to relate a political situation or religious issues to his work. Abhisek says that there were always difficulties. There were difficulties in trying to represent, of trying to find your ways with the censorship. But these problems motivate him to do his work. The difficulties drove him to turn problems upside down, to try to find answers, and even find further problems in detail. “If the world is not that difficult, there’s no need for theatre to exist.”
A piece of advice for an international student
The center of Abhishek’s work is re-investigating who he is, what defines him, and where he comes from. At the end of the interview, I asked the question which I kept for myself. As an international student here, I sometimes feel confused when I was try to integrate in this whole new environment. So I asked Abhishek: What the most important thing to keep in mind for a person integrating into a new environment.
Abhishek tells me that it is to understand. To understand what space you are in and also not to confine yourself to the rules of that space. Remember to listen carefully and do self-listening as well. To understand the framework of the world and negotiate within this world. Find out what things you want to give in, and do the things you really want to do.
Choose your battles