What exactly happens when a tribunal is trusted with the responsibility of choosing just three artefacts that best represent the culture of their country? Well, it results in a series of discussions that leave the people involved absolutely puzzled and make them question everything that they thought they knew about the term ‘culture’!

META 2022 started off with a riveting performance as the cast of ‘For The Record’ took to the stage and recreated dramatic conversations and intense deliberations that took place between a group of people tasked with selecting three national treasures, tangible or intangible, that truly embody the essence of Indian culture.

The story was about a tribunal that was set up in 1971, after India was invited to be a part of the United Nations Art Bank. This group, consisting of 2 government officials and 5 experts, had to decide what the three things were going to be that uniquely deserved to be celebrated and showcased the spirit of India. But as the performance went on, there were more questions than answers: What is it that we mean when we say ‘culture’? What phase of Indian history should these artefacts be chosen from? Who gets to decide when history begins and who decides when it ends?

For The Record is an enchanting play, touching upon significant themes: the politics of museumisation, the impact of colonialism, repatriation, memory and nostalgia. The stage presence of the cast was so powerful that even when there were long silences and pauses, the audience members were at the edge of their seats – thinking and rethinking, learning and unlearning.

During the highly interactive theatrical treat, not only were the audience members served a hot samosa but we were also invited to play a game that would get us closer (or not) to finalising the three objects! With groovy music playing in the background and in the fashion of an old TV game show with a live audience, we had to make some tough choices. What represents our culture? Is it Carnatic Music? Is it the Bodhi Tree? Is it the Taj Mahal? Or is it samosa and namak? But after all of it had been done, we still did not reach an answer.

The tribunal meetings, held over 7 days between 7 people, left each member confused and without any conclusion. But it is precisely in this inconclusiveness that our answer lies. For The Record reveals the deeply multilayered nature of the past and how it is truly our interpretations that define it. It brings to limelight the complications of assigning definitions to terms like ‘culture’ and ‘historically significant’. We carry a tendency to bestow importance upon historical memories that speak to us, that we believe are relevant and that we relate to. To quote directly from the script, the play truly made us realise that the enemy of culture is not dissent, it is nostalgia!

Leave a reply