• My Home at the Intersection

by Abhishek Thapar

“Past a surpassing disaster, the memorial and memory are (…) affected with some discredit and disgrace through the ever present possibility that one day one would have the impression that the memorial is a fake and that the memory is a false memory.” – Jalal Toufic

“Not only our memories, but the things we have forgotten are ‘housed.’” – Gaston Bachelard

In 1947, during the division of British India and subsequent partition of the Punjab State into West and East Punjab, over 14.5 million people were involuntarily displaced in one of the largest mass migrations recorded in history. The traumatic experiences of extreme violence and enormous sacrifices have overshadowed life in the region of Punjab ever since and resulted in on-going ethno-religious conflicts potentiated by the devastating economic consequences of colonialist intervention and global capitalism.

A few decades later, East Punjab was again caught up in a violence created by the state and Sikh militants demanding autonomy - a separate nation called Khalistan. It reached its peak in 1984 when the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar, followed by the rise of militancy and the Police Raj – better known as ‘the black days’ of Punjab.

How do we move on with a heritage of violent conflict and collective trauma and what is to be done about the ensuing dilemmas of memory?

Abhishek Thapar, born in India in the 1980s, went on a search for the truth(s) of the past when he decided to travel to the town Moga in East Punjab. Together with his mother, father and sister, he re-visited his childhood home: a house that had disappeared, a place they all thought they had forgotten and which yet persisted, preserved in a jar of haunting images, between the conflicting priorities of official histories and the personal memories of three generations. In a final pursuit of closure, the family returned to the house in Moga – and moved back in. Together they created a work of art...

My home at the Intersection complicates reductive perceptions of Punjab’s recent history, producing an imagination that goes beyond dichotomies of perpetrators and victimhood, outside and inside, terrorism and resistance.  In the intimate setting of his performance, Abhishek Thapar unfolds moments from a personal journey into a contorted past in dialogue with documents from an attempt of a ritual of - ‘going back, to make sure that you have forgotten about the past.’

The global geopolitical landscape – rife with war and forced displacement – presents art with the challenge of creating forms to deal with traumas of loss (the loss of one’s home, citizenship, nationality, language, etc.). Can art produce experiences that help achieve closure for those affected by disaster? Abhishek Thapar’s performance offers an existential proposition in response to the notion of closure in trauma narratives.

Artist statement:

My home at the Intersection is a work, which I have been growing towards since I first started making theatre but never gained the courage to actualize – until recently. Over the course of one year, I have been working with the contested historical narratives about Punjab, a state in the northwest of India and home to my family. In December 2016, I visited my family in India to learn more about Punjab in the time of my childhood, when I was growing up with mythical images of ‘terrorists’ and ‘freedom fighters’, and what happened to the place that used to be our home then. I invited my family to (re-)construct an imagination of the house my father had once built, and to bring our memories home.

Written and Performed by Abhishek Thapar
Dramaturgical support: Maria Rößler, Divya Nadkarni
Advisor: Floris van Delft, Jeroen Fabius
Cinematographer: Sahib Gill
Film Editing: Jeanette Groenendaal, Rinku Kalsy
Music: Kabeer Kathpalia
Costumes: Loise Braganza
Primary research: Abhishek Thapar, Swati Simha
In the video Venu Thapar, Dr. Shveta Grover, Ashok Thapar