Kitchen katha

Print edition : April 18, 2014

NEELAM MANSINGH CHOW-DHRY is a theatre director and academic. Roysten Abel’s play The Kitchen brought back memories of her sensory treat Kitchen Katha, performed in the 1990s. The play, which had an elaborate kitchen on stage, told the story of women for whom the kitchen was a sanctuary; it was a place where they could unburden themselves and garner energy.

Recalling the play, Neelam Mansingh says:

“My play Kitchen Katha spoke of the olfactory, which had never been explored in theatre before. My father grew up in a gurdwara in Rawalpindi. Post-Partition, when my grandparents moved to Chandigarh, they lived in a gurdwara in Amritsar. Whenever I visited them, I was witness to a lot of eating, sharing, cooking and doing things together. The kitchen of a gurdwara is central to several activities. This picturesque way of life in the gurdwara and its kitchen was lying in the archives of my memory.

“The Punjabi poet Surjit Patar, with whom I have done a lot of work, wanted me to do a play on food. As I started thinking about it, a narrative evolved. It is something that takes place between women working in the kitchen as they share stories of Partition, life, their relationships and several other things that are part of their inner life. Food here is a medium for expressing their emotions and escaping miseries. For Chand Kaur, the simple act of peeling an onion, for instance, is the perfect subterfuge for some quiet tears. A spirit of community comes from the food, and it nurtures the soul and space. Food has always fascinated me visually, so I also wanted to capture the transformation of food in the play, apart from other things.”

Deepa Ganesh

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