In the past, plays have experimented with the subversion of the beginning-middle-end linearity—with flashbacks, reversed chronology and parallel narratives on independent timescales. With its wholly non-linear structure, So Many Socks, written by Annie Zaidi and inspired by the poems of Tenzin Tsundue, goes farther. Since it has no chronology, it takes its structure from the way we see dreams or piece together our memories. Its structure seems to represent the state of the contemporary Tibetan psyche, shuffled and jumbled and disordered like a photo album, and which now lies in an unsightly heap.
The play, performed at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai last week, deals with the living and psychological conditions of Tashi, a young Tibetan activist, his mother and his grandmother. It accurately envelops their lack of belonging in India, their struggle to grasp and conserve their lost culture, their sense of disconnectedness to their homeland and their longing for it.
These factors affect their relationships with each other. At one level, Tashi’s mother, Ama, resents his grandmother Momo for not teaching her the Tibetan language. Momo wanted her to be ‘Indian’, and so discouraged Ama from participating in pro-freedom protests. Ama wants to belong, somewhere, but she cannot feel at home in India. She says, “Everything is here, [Momo] said. But what is Here?”
Even as Momo forced the Hindi language upon Ama, she gave Ama no sense of her own culture, history or mythology. Ama had to acquire this from other Tibetans.
But the birth of Tashi, the second generation born away from Tibet, ‘radicalised’ Momo again. The cultural heritage which she had denied her own daughter was transmitted to her grandson. And Tashi metamorphoses into a pro-freedom activist.
In fact, So Many Socks is the story of Momo’s awakening to the call of struggle. Momo attends a peace march and is fired upon by Indian soldiers. She is shot in the head and falls into a coma. Her jumbled state of mind is reflected in the play’s structure (or non-structure, if you please). “We were trying to create something as fragile as a dream and a memory,” says director Quasar Thakore Padamsee.
That said, some theatre-goers may be irked by the way the play brings on its characters. The characters are alive and well after being shot in the head—since they go instantly into a flashback. Others haven’t met each other, though the previous scene showed them falling in love. Surreal, yes.
In showcasing the Tibetan condition in India, So Many Socks does succeed. Its unique structure is pregnant with dramatic possibilities that other playwrights could use to explore the complex Indian psyche. One should not judge it harshly just because it has the natural rough edges and weirdness of an extreme experiment.