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A play takes a close look at older women enduring lonliness

An all-women play, The Eagle Rises, explores loneliness in ageing women. Manjira Mazumdar describes the background to the making of the play and says that loneliness blues is a serious issue that needs support from the community

Scenes from The Eagle Rises. Photos: Rajesh Gupta

There are several myths surround the eagle. These are not proved as there are different kinds of eagles, but one popular myth is of the eagle regenerating after a span of thirty years or so by hitting its beak against a rock. With age, the bird is unable to use its beak (claws, feathers, too) to the optimum, so it tries to regenerate by this painful process of hitting its beak against a rock or some other hard surface – the bark of a tree, for example.

This was the theme that the women’s wing of FICCI (FICCI’s Ladies Organisation or FLO) recently used in a play, directed by Ramanjit Kaur, an award winning theatre and film actor based in Kolkata. The 45-minute play, The Eagle Rises, with poetic dialogues, props and music by percussionist Bickram Ghosh looks at women who suffer from loneliness once children have flown the nest or for other reasons.

Loneliness and alienation are common due to break-up of the joint family, and for certain women who have been only homemakers, it is extremely acute. What we must bear in mind is that husband and wife are two separate individualsin a marriage. Loneliness is something women perhaps feel more, being primary caregivers to the family. Not expected to display any weakness on this front, bottling up of emotions is certainly not good for their physical health as well. 

Keeping the issue in mind and as traditional societies are yet to come to terms with societal changes, Shweta Saraf, president, FLO, approached Ramanjit to craft a play involving an all-women cast. With dialogues and music, a group of fifteen women actors and six women in production, and the theme of reinventing and regeneration, the play was enacted in April with emotion and passion.  

Loneliness and depression are often symbiotic. They cut across class, gender and age. Popping pills is easy but literature and the arts help in dealing with life’s uncertainties. Reading great works of literature reminds us that we are not alone. And it is up to us to choose how to cope. For many, taking up a hobby or joining a club or travel can work wonders as part of a regeneration process.

Otherwise, like the eagle, an ageing woman is left with two choices. She can choose to die inside and stop responding to the joys of life, or make a new life for herself with new interests. The eagle either dies or gets a new life. By growing a new beak, it can fend off starvation and new feathers help it to fly once more. For a woman, the symbol of ageing is almost akin to the loss of a beak. The Eagle Rises projected that we need not die a hundred deaths before we actually die. We can continue to live with joy and optimism. We can cultivate hobbies, travel, seek adventure and connect with people.

The production was scripted by the director, Baishali Chatterjee Dutt and Arthur Cardozo. Having trained under Neelam Mansingh Chowdhury, Ramanjit founded the All-Women Theatre Group and has won awards such as the Laadli National Media Award for Gender Sensitisation, Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Ustad Bismillah Khna’s Purashkar Award and Charles Wallace Award.

She explains in an interview, “A theme like this was also like a therapy for most of these ladies who came forward without any background in theatre. I asked them to get personal and delve right within to explore their thoughts… In one instance I asked them to write a letter to themselves, beginning with – how are you feeling today?This acted as the catalyst and soon they relaxed; their body movements matched their graceful theatre moves and actions and things began to move in an organic manner. ” 

(The writer is a lecturer in print journalism and lives in Kolkata.)

April – June 2022