Water Bodies


While India was locked down during the devastating second wave of COVID19, I received an invitation from Simon Coates (who I had first met during Egin in July 2019), to be part ‘Newid Popeth / Everything Change’ – an ambitious programme of interdisciplinary discussions, think-ins, online screenings and live performance events taking place in June 2021 in Wales, Bangladesh and online centred around creativity and the climate crisis. He asked me to participate in the panel on ‘Change Water’, and also create a 5-minute artist provocation to kick it off. The result is ‘Water Bodies’ – a dance-film in collaboration with filmmaker Kunal Chakraborty.

Simon gave me an open-ended brief, with just the impulse of Water. I began to think of water and bodies, water in bodies, water with bodies… bodies of water. The percentage of water in our bodies, the physicalities of solidity and fluidity, and our relationships with rivers in India – at once ritualistic and respectful, as well as callous and contemptuous. And through it all – like a dark phantom – the hard-hitting poem by Parul Khakhar that paints the grim and grisly picture of the ravaging second wave of COVID19 pandemic in India, where bodies of victims were discovered floating down the Ganges.
We made the film during lockdown restrictions. I created the choreography at home, sharing videos with Kunal. It was shot in one 6-hour shoot in the Ranan Workspace, making use of material and lamps we had access to in the space, with Amlan Chaudhuri crafting creative and hands-on scenography.

શબવાહિની ગંગા
પારુલ ખખ્ખર

એક અવાજે મડદા બોલ્યાં ‘સબ કુછ ચંગા-ચંગા’
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારા મસાણ ખૂટયા, ખૂટયા લક્કડભારા,
રાજ, અમારા ડાઘૂ ખૂટયા, ખૂટયા રોવણહારા,
ઘરેઘરે જઈ જમડાંટોળી કરતી નાચ કઢંગા
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારી ધગધગ ધૂણતી ચીમની પોરો માંગે,
રાજ, અમારી ચૂડલી ફૂટે, ધડધડ છાતી ભાંગે
બળતું જોઈ ફીડલ વગાડે ‘વાહ રે બિલ્લા-રંગા’!
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારા દિવ્ય વસ્ત્ર ને દિવ્ય તમારી જ્યોતિ
રાજ, તમોને અસલી રૂપે આખી નગરી જોતી
હોય મરદ તે આવી બોલો ‘રાજા મેરા નંગા’
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.

Shavavahini Ganga
Parul Khakhar

The corpses spoke in one voice : “All is well, sab kuchh changa-changa”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga
Lord, your crematoriums are too few; fewer the wood for pyres
Lord, our pall-bearers are too few, fewer yet the mourners
Lord, in every home Yama performs the dance macabre
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga
Lord, your smoke belching chimneys now seek respite
Lord, our bangles are shattered, shattered are our hearts
The fiddle plays while the towns are ablaze, “Wah, Billa-Ranga”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga
Lord, your clothes are divine, divine is your radiance
Lord, the town entire sees you in your true form
If there be a real man here, come forward and say
“The emperor has no clothes”
Lord, in your ideal realm the hearse is now the Ganga.

শববাহিনী গঙ্গা
পারুল খখর

দাও সকলে জয়ধ্বনি, ওড়াও রে তেরঙ্গা!
মহারাজের রামরাজ্যে শববাহিনী গঙ্গা।
উপচে উঠে শ্মশান-মশান, ফুরিয়ে দিয়ে কাঠ,
শূন্য ক’রে উঠোন, মড়ায় ভরেছে সব মাঠ,
নাচছে উদোম মৃত্যুদূতী, বাজছে মরণডঙ্কা!
রাজা, তোমার রামরাজ্যে শববাহিনী গঙ্গা।
চিতার আগুন গিলছে হাজার, ভাঙছে হাজার ঘর,
হাজার ভেলায় যায় ভেসে যায় হাজার লখিন্দর –
পাড় থেকে তাও রাজা হাঁকে “নেই কোনো আশঙ্কা!”
রাজা রে, তোর রামরাজ্যে শববাহিনী গঙ্গা।
রাজার সাজের ভড়ং, কথার বাহার দেখে লোকের
ভাবিস আজও তাক্ লেগেছে, ঘোর লেগেছে চোখে?
আজকে দেশে উঠছে আওয়াজ, ‘রাজা রে, তুই নাঙ্গা!’
ল্যাংটো রাজার রামরাজ্যে শববাহিনী গঙ্গা।

Produced by Taliesin Arts Centre and The Cultural Institute of Swansea University in collaboration with the Dhaka Lit Fest, ‘Everything Change’ took its title from Margaret Atwood’s statement:
“I think calling it climate change is rather limiting, I’d rather call it the everything change”

The series between 11 to 21 June 2021, focused on the role of creativity and adaptive thinking across a spectrum of sectors in overcoming the challenges of the climate and ecological crises to create a better future. The programme consisted of a series of online discussions and think-ins organised around seven crucial societal areas of change, inspired by Wales’s world-leading Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (2015):
Changing Money
Changing Food
Changing Water
Changing Energy
Changing Story
Changing Law
Changing Change

All the sessions are now available to view here.

Concept, Choreography, Performance:
Videography and Editing:
Production, Lighting & Filming Assistance:
Original Gujarati poem Shavavahini Ganga:
Recited by-
(from the translation by Manash Sarkar & Saradvat Manna)
(from the translation by Rita & Abhijeet Kothari)
Ganga Stotram by Adi Shankaracharya
Composed & Performed by:
Additional text spoken by:

Vikram Iyengar
Kunal Chakraborty
Amlan Chaudhuri
Parul Khakhar

Bhamini S. Oza
Daminee Basu

Tanmay Dhanania

Rajeswary Ganguly Banerjee
Vikram Iyengar

[all images on this page are by Kunal Chakraborty]

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