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Salim Ghouse’s dramatic monologue, Troubadour, explores human nature through the Sufi poet’s writings

s a child, Salim Ghouse remembers asking mullahs and priests whether they had seen God and why they asked him to ‘love everyone’ when no one else did. “I never got any answers and I am thankful for that, because then the search for it starts. Troubadour was the culmination of all that searching,” begins the actor and theatre veteran. A one-man act, Troubadour uses the stories and poems of 13th century Sufi mystic, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, to celebrate love. “Rumi had stepped outside the orthodox fold of religion and embraced all of mankind. I’ve taken three stories which, though written over 800 years ago, are still very contemporary and I’ve interwoven poems, mirroring different states of the mind (joy, sorrow, and the like), to ask the primal question, ‘Who am I?’” says the founder of Mumbai-based theatre group, The Phoenix Players, who is bringing down his 70-minute performance to Chennai next weekend.
Story hour
Though it might be Troubadour’s debut in the city, its journey began 11 years ago when it premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. “I remember how they’d asked who this crazy man was, who was ‘performing’ Rumi. Till then, people had only recited his poems. But once they saw it, they said ‘my god, it works’,” Ghouse smiles, explaining why he brought in the concept of troubadours. “It’s a tribute to our tarabdars (storytellers). Storytelling is the world’s most ancient art, where they sang, recited and acted. I’ve also used ‘troubadour’ as a tongue-in-cheek term—the dictionary describes them as 16th century poets from Provence who sang of romance and chivalry. That’s so shallow, when the original was a God-intoxicated minstrel who sang about man’s relationship with the entire universe,” he states.
From pain to love
The play doesn’t have an even structure, he says. It comprises different people’s translations of Rumi—from Gudri Shah, a modern Sufi master, to American writers Coleman Barks and Jonathan Star. “Putting them all together was a challenge, but I followed my instinct. As the performer, I am ‘Everyman’ on stage—everything I say is on behalf of the audience, reflecting their own questions,” says Ghouse, who uses no sets or props, except for a small stick. “I will also occasionally banter with them, inject a little humour, because a stage performance is boring for me if the audience and I are far away,” he says, adding that he hadn’t brought down the play earlier because he wasn’t sure if people would accept a non-proscenium set up. “I’ve called Troubadour a celebration of love because, to realise love, you must go though humiliation and pain. I’ve structured it like that and it has worked for 75 shows, so I must be doing something right,” he signs off.

September 12-13, 4 pm and 7 pm, at Alliance Francaise. Rs 250. Details: in.bookyshow.com

—Surya Praphulla Kumar

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