Travel with the Pioneer

A new book provides a front-row view of theatre group Yatrik’s journey of half a century

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published: June 6, 2018 12:26:40 am
Yatrik, theatre group, theatre group tour, Indian Express talk A scene from Metamorphoses

The stars of Indian theatre stud the roster of theatre group Yatrik. Founded by a group of youngsters as they returned to Delhi by train after a theatre tour, the group became an incubator for young talents and a magnet for veterans. Ebrahim Alkazi, Alyque Padamsee, Barry John, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Bhaskar Ghose are among those who have been a part of Yatrik. When Diwan Singh Bajeli arrived in Delhi as a 21-year-old, the group was marching through texts of master playwrights. Around 2014, when Yatrik turned 50, Bajeli, a theatre critic, took up the task of documenting its routes and milestones. The book, Yatrik: A Journey Into Theatrical Art (Niyogi Books; Rs 695), is replete with photographs, reviews and anecdotes of members and is among the few works that capture the life of a theatre group in India. Excerpts from an interview with Bajeli:

How did you decide to write the book on Yatrik?

Joy Michael, one of the founding members of Yatrik, was a scholar and educationist, who also had a rare organisational capacity. It is very difficult to keep a group intact as there is a question of egos. But, she did it. She also decided that before she left the world, she should see that there was a record of what Yatrik had done. That’s how the idea of the book came about. She died in March, before the book was published, but she saw the manuscript and was happy.

Your previous books are about Mohan Upreti and Bhanu Bharti. What were the challenges of writing about a group instead of a person?

One of the drawbacks of Indian theatre is that there is hardly any record. Even directors don’t have brochures, so it is difficult to get information about productions that were happening after Independence and the Partition. Many members of Yatrik were not easy to get in touch with. With others, I had to rely a lot on memory, sometimes I had to sit with some of them for hours. It took me a year and a half to finish the book. The text is based on verbal interviews, reviews and my memory of the plays I saw.

Why is there no mention of rifts, such as with Barry John, who claims he was thrown out?

My idea was to give a broad picture, with a focus on the founding members and the younger ones who have joined recently. The issue is how an amateur group has had a long journey that still continues. The life of an average group is five to 10 years, as personal groupings form and defections occur. The book is more of an archival work on the people and plays of Yatrik.

How did you become interested in theatre?

I was in a trade union and then shifted to writing. I was not interested in theatre but some leading personalities, such as Mohan Upreti and BM Shah were from Uttarakand, like me. Because we come from the same region, we had interactions which led me to theatre, art and culture. I started writing stories. Some of my short stories are published, some are unpublished.

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