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Delhi has never been easy for Nicky Chandam. A young Manipuri girl when she first reached Delhi, Chandam has been called a “chinki”, pelted stones at by colony kids for looking different, and didn’t feel included at work either. “I think the only reason people accepted me here was because I picked up Hindustani and Urdu,” says Chandam, 31.
It is this love for her language, and her need to get Delhi to understand Northeastern culture that made Chandam come up with Wari, a storytelling project, in Delhi this June. “Wari means story in Manipuri, and the aim is to bring folk tales from across the country and interpret them in Hindustani and Urdu,” says Chandam.
At antiSOCIAL in Hauz Khas Village two weeks ago, four storytellers spent an evening doing just this. Meerut-based poet Azhar Iqbal recited Bewakoofon Ki Saltanat, his Urdu interpretation of one of AK Ramanujam’s short stories. Theatre actor Abhinav Sabyasachi brought to the fore Kashmiri poet and mystic Lal Ded, intertwined with stories of Habba Khatoon, and other Kashmiri folk tales. and Anuja Jaiman presented a dramatic Manipuri tale, Houdong Lamboiba – The Monk Cat, leaving the audience in splits. The fourth storyteller, Nitin Sukhija narrated three tales spanning centuries and mythical eras, two of those tales written by himself.
“When I came to Delhi from Imphal, I tasted freedom for the first time. There were no bandhs here, people actually worked. But I still felt suffocated because I was only hanging out with Manipuri people. I needed to get to know other people, says Chandam, who started Octave Foundation, with a project aimed at making Northeastern communities mingle with other communities. While that didn’t work, she began Wari to get the stories out. “Apart from folk tales, we want to bring post-modern literature to the stage too. Each chapter should be different from the other. One chapter may also be about issues such AFSPA or the Kashmir issue,” says Jaiman, the co-founder of Wari.
With performances at India Habitat Centre, Attic in Connaught Place, and OddBird Theatre, Wari chapters are increasingly gaining popularity. They perform next at the Kumaon Literature Festival on October 12.