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Dolls, drama and dreams

Music, fashion, theatre, painting, academics. Mauraya Sharma has mastered it all. Meet the 14-year-old child prodigy as he forays into the world of public performance this weekend

Mauraya Sharma was all of six when he began his creative journey; designing and creating clothes for his dolls. A journey that took him to the London School of Fashion last summer for a course in designing and draping.

Inquisitive by nature, the 14-year-old teenager has a unique take on everything, which he expresses creatively through poetry, painting, poster-making, dress designing, piano, dancing and dramatics. Phew!

A student of Pathways World School, Mauraya has won the Best Delegate award at Model UN Human Rights Commissions and his team was amongst the two finalists at the Mission Discovery programme held by NASA. And now he is conceptualising, co-directing, performing as well as co-designing a theatre piece, ‘The Two-Headed Lore’. Depicting his quest to find his own identity, the play brings together folklore, fairytales and myths along with the performers’ experience of gender binaries and all that exists in between.

Ahead of the play to be staged this weekend, Mauraya shares his opinion, experience, dreams and much more.

What is The Two-Headed Lore all about?

The Two-Headed Lore is inspired from coming together of binaries — the day co-existing with the night, the masculine with the feminine. The play is about five folklores and myths, narrated by eight actors, as stories arising from a restless night. And dissolving into each one’s personal narratives giving an unexpected twist, a fresh perspective on the age-old endings. Through time immemorial, humans have told stories of fantastic birds and beasts, of lasting promises, of witches and wizards, of boons and curses of adventurous travel, wars and everyday life. It is through these stories that we reflect and collectively evolve. It is a physical devised performance which has a group ensemble with individual narratives. We did not begin with any written script. I only had a thought, an idea, few questions that led me to introspection. We explored various gestures and symbolic movements categorised into masculine and feminine conformities. Eventually, bringing in five different stories from the world of myths and fables and interweaving with our personal experiences in the present times.

Tell us about your experiences that drove you to conceptualise this play.

I think what really struck me was, how society shapes boys and girls, especially in India. I wanted to do something different and be who I am, not bound by what I am expected to do. At a very young age, I used to play with dolls and dress them up. Besides, I was never really interested in sports, and people would constantly comment upon these two aspects of my personality. It was when I first watched the play Shikhandi and Yakshagana (Indian folk ballet based on stories from Indian mythologies) that I was intrigued to explore the world of Indian mythology and folklores. It was during this journey I discovered that on one hand the Indian mythology is steeped in gender conformities and on the other hand, it transcends it. This unique connection between the fables, myths and lores is what intrigued me thoroughly and led me into exploring it further.

What is your take on gender binaries?

I have always been inherently observant of my environment and people around. Certain incidents led me to question why people respond the way they do. One particular incident that really moved me was when a close family relative did not allow their daughter to pursue her education conditioned by their fear for her safety while supporting her brother to pursue higher studies. Several more incidents led me to question the conditioning — the notions that shape the so-called identity of gender, the fluidity in between, the transition. The exploration is rooted in the belief that duality only exists in the mind, the binary does not actually exist. It’s all one.

What are the folk tales that are to be performed?

The play actually constitutes of five folk tales and one speech. These stories include Rapunzel, the warrior princess, Chitrangada’s story from the Mahabharata — how she fell in love with Arjuna but was rejected for not being “woman-enough”. And when she did transform into the “acceptable feminine version” of herself, she couldn’t relate to herself anymore, provoking the question that is a when is a woman ‘woman enough’?
Another story is inspired from a famous poem where a young boy buys a night gown and discovers a different side of his sexuality. One story talks about Penelope’s perspective of the odyssey, with the roles reversed, where Penelope travels the world instead of waiting for her husband for decades; her story is shared by her maids, the sole witnesses of her life.
The final story is about the famous character Ahilya who was deceived by Indra into sleeping with him, and was cursed by her husband to be a stone for eternity until touched by Lord Rama’s foot.
There is also an interesting speech that talks about how a boy is expected to behave in a particular manner to be identified as ‘man enough’ and actions/emotions he needs to suppress/hide from the rest of the world else his masculinity be questioned.

 

You are only 14, yet so multi-talented: poetry, painting, dance, piano, design. How do you manage to handle all of this together?

It is a passion for me to indulge and express myself through art and music and it comes from within. For example, I was just sitting while some music was playing in the background when a thought came in from the music that helped me design one of my paintings. So, I do not need to ‘handle’ them all together, for me they are all connected and one leads to another sometimes as inspiration other times as an expression.

 

What inspires you to express yourself so creatively?

It is really difficult for me to put my finger on one particular thing that inspires me. I am inspired by music, visuals, art, environment, movies, poems, theatre, books, paintings… At any point of time, it can be anything that touches me from inside, and stirs up an emotion or feeling or thought.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone asks you to describe yourself?
Extremely passionate about creativity and my love for exploring artistic expressions. I am an animal lover.

What is that one change that you wish to see in the society?

I want to see a change that leads to society being more ‘accepting’ and less judgmental. I believe in a tomorrow where fluidity exists.

How did it feel to be a part of the finalist team in Mission Discovery Program by NASA? How was the experience?

Very interesting! It was a great learning experience. We had to design an experiment which the NASA astronauts would actually conduct at the international space station. More than 10 teams from the Indian sub-continent had participated. A lot of research went into it, in understanding and creating the experiment. Even working in a team was a fantastic experience in itself! There grew an intimate sort of a relationship amongst all the team members in the discovery programme.

Besides the multiple works that you are already engaged in, what else do you do for fun?

My biggest stress reliever is sketching and playing with fabric. I love to stitch, embroider and design dresses. I also enjoy watching movies and reading. Another activity that I thoroughly enjoyed recently was visiting Dang district to interact and document the tribal community that makes jewellery from bamboo for a living. I am working on completing a documentary film that shares about their journey, and challenges in the process of earning their living in Gujarat.

Why did you choose to learn piano?

Music helps me to amalgamate my imaginary and the real world and it accelerates the creative process in me. I started learning piano at a very young age. If truth be told, as a child I did try and run away from the rigour of classes a couple of times. However, once I started listening to piano music, I wanted to actually learn to play. Today, I have cleared 4th grade Trinity exams in piano. Music never stops inspiring me.

What do you see yourself doing after 10 years?

Well, currently I don’t know. I wish to explore several mediums before making any final plans. However, I have always been very fascinated by fashion designing and stories. So, one thing that I am exploring the possibility for currently is directing fashion films. It will combine two of my biggest passions — stories and fashion (design).

The play will be staged at Monkey Business, Gurgaon on July 7 and 8 at 7:30 pm.