The Colonel and I…
“I would like to conduct a theatre workshop for soldiers”, I told him, with the expectation of some cynicism; perhaps even some amusement. After all, given the fraught relationship that continues to exist in Kashmir between civilians and soldiers of the Indian armed forces, could theatre really have a place to gesture toward a different kind of relationship between the two groups? With “Indian Dogs Go Back” painted on many a wall, with stone-pelting being a common occurrence between civilians and the armed forces, the Colonel – I imagined – had more reason to be skeptical that convinced about my offer to use theatre with his soldiers, to see where it might intervene in the civil-military relationship in Kashmir.
Instead of skepticism though, instead of cynicism or amusement, I was met with incredible hope. Although the nomenclature of his areas of focus—Information Warfare, Perception Management, Psych Operations—give me some cause for pause, the Colonel explained in detail how he believed that artistic initiatives with soldiers in Kashmir was absolutely essential. Speaking passionately and eloquently about the loneliness that armed forces face in a ‘hostile’ context, he described the doubt and confusion that many of his men felt at doing what they were doing. Who were they representing? What cause were they serving? Why were they even in Kashmir?
The Colonel went on tell me that he thought theatre would be a wonderful avenue through which his men might articulate and contend with their doubts; perhaps even resolve them. “We need theatre”, he said – taking my gesture of (self-proclaimed) activism and making it his own.