The Hare and the Tortoise

Program Notes

The Hare & the Tortoise _ 01

Adishakti’s The Hare and the Tortoise is a dramatic meditation on the ethical possibilities inherent in the notion of contemporaneity. All too often our lives are over-determined either by the past or by the future, by the strictures of tradition, on the one hand, and of progress, on the other. In this battle between the condition of nostalgia and the desire for achievement, the present is forgotten or, worse, left unthought and unconsidered. Yet it may be the case that it is only in the recurring stillness of the present, of the moment, of what is now, that we can encounter ourselves as we truly are, untrammeled by the burdens of the past or the distorting pressures of the future. So too, it may well only be in the stark integrity of the present time—–when we are not concerned about falling behind or getting ahead—–that our relationships with others achieve a new equity and companionability. Thus, being contemporary, of the time, is linked to the notion of being coeval, of the same time, or, thence, of being together in the same time, or, of keeping time together, and so on. So too, being of the present carries within itself a kin set of etymological resonances, in this case, of being present to both oneself and to others.

The Hare and the Tortoise develops its case for the importance of being contemporary through two devices. First, it explores the complex ways in which we occupy time by staging a dramatic colloquium between participants in notable inter-civilisational race-fables. The Hare and the Tortoise are the archetypal competitors who represent different ways of understanding temporality. Their race becomes the cover story for a theme, which includes other competing pairs such as Ganapati and Kartik, Ekalavya and Arjuna, Arjuna and Hamlet. Second, to help these fabulistic discussants the better to focus their arguments the play invites them all to comment upon the crisis experienced by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet; that dramatic protagonist for whom time was always so painfully out of joint.

This play was inspired by an essay written by Nolini Kanta Gupta called ‘Hamlet: A Crises of The Evolving Soul’ which touches on the similarities and difference between Arjuna and Hamlet. The production attributes the difference to different ways of knowing. Formely the production rejects a linear narrative structure. It conveys significance through a synaesthesis of different arts- the word, the gesture, the image, the sound- each of which communicate soveriegnly in their unique way.
__Veenapani Chawla

Stills from the production:

Sources and References

Hamlet: This best-known of Shakespeare’s play’s, written sometime between 1599 and 1601, famously recounts Prince Hamlet’s struggle following a commandment from his father’s ghost to avenge his murder. The alleged murderer, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, has since married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, and set himself up as the new king of Denmark. Hamlet’s baffling delay in killing Claudius in face of his father’s command has been read, variously, as the playwright’s attempt to bring new interest to the outdated revenge convention in Jacobean drama, or as the hero’s psycho-sexual paralysis provoked by his mother’s remarriage. Hamlet’s procrastination is also available to reading as a refusal to be possessed by the claims of the past and, thereto, as a disinterest in repossessing the future as the rightful heir to the throne of Denmark.

Zeno’s Paradox: Zeno’s paradoxes, commonly attributed to Zeno of Elea, are illustrations of the thinker Parminides’s doctrine that all motion is illusory. In the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, Achilles is in a footrace with the tortoise. Achilles allows the tortoise a head start of 100 feet. If we suppose that each racer starts running at some constant speed (one very fast and one very slow), then after some finite time Achilles will have run 100 feet, bringing him to the tortoise’s starting point. During this time, the tortoise has run a much shorter distance, for example 10 feet. It will then take Achilles some further period of time to run that distance, in which period the tortoise will advance farther; and then another period of time to reach this third point, while the tortoise moves ahead. Thus, whenever Achilles reaches somewhere the tortoise has been, he still has farther to go. Therefore, because there are an infinite number of points Achilles must reach where the tortoise has already been, he can never overtake the tortoise. The dichotomy paradox poses a set of related problems, one of which proposes that in any given race (or attempt at motion) there is no first distance to run, for any possible or finite first distance could be divided in half, and hence would not be first after all. Hence, the trip cannot even begin. The paradoxical conclusion then would be that travel over any finite distance can neither be completed nor begun. In similar vein, the arrow paradox states that for motion to be occurring, an object must change the position which it occupies. Zeno gives an example of an arrow in flight. He states that in any one instant of time, for the arrow to be moving it must either move to where it is, or it must move to where it is not. It cannot move to where it is not, because this is a single instant, and it cannot move to where it is because it is already there. In other words, in any instant of time there is no motion occurring, because an instant is a snapshot. Therefore, if it cannot move in a single instant it cannot move in any instant, making motion itself impossible.

Eklavya and Arjuna: Characters from the Mahabharata, Ekalavya and Arjuna both study archery from the famed guru Dronacharya. A prince of the low-caste Nishadha tribe, Ekalavya is eventually rejected by Drona. Yet, continuing to teach himself in the presence of a clay-image of his teacher, he soon surpasses the skill of Arjuna, Drona’s favorite and most distinguished disciple; being able to shoot seven arrows simulataneously to reach their target instantly. Provoked to unjust rivalry Arjuna inveigles Drona to intercede, and upon the latter’s command Eklavya severs his right thumb as gurudakshina. In one reading Eklavya’s complex knowledge of temporality allows the loss of his thumb to become the very condition of possibility for an extension in capacity.

Ganapati and Kartik: Sons both, of the gods Siva and Parvati, they are challenged by their mother to race around the world. Whoever wins will be allowed to marry. While Kartik literally flies around the world on his relatively swift vehicle the peackock, Ganapati circles his world, his parents, on his slow mouse and wins the race. In one reading Ganapati becomes the world to know it.

Alice and the Red Queen: The Red Queen’s Race is an episode in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass where Alice remains in the same spot whilst running furiously. Confused by her predicament Alice gently protests that running in her country usually results in getting somewhere else. Taking this as proof of cultural slowness the Red Queen extols the intricate laws of motion at work in her own country where, in her words, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Fugue: Deriving from the Latin fugere (‘to flee’) or fugare, (‘to chase’), the musical fugue is a contrapuntal composition that consists in the successive iteration in notes or voices of a theme or subject. The final entry of the subject is also the point when the music returns to its inaugural key, closing and beginning in the same instant.  In a contemporary version of it the fugue could combine this traditional structure with the voices represented as”blocks”. These blocks could be segments of compositions of various styles and periods (including a fugue the way Bach could write them) chasing one another and introducing a new parameter in the fugue: the compression and expansion of time due to abrupt changes of tempo.


Scene1 : Hamlet’s crises

Scene 2 : Ganapati sings about his race

Scene 3 : Eklavya is playing badminton. S/he loses an arm but suffers no loss in capacity.

Scene 4 : The Hare and the Tortoise race again—with the same outcome as before.

Scene 5 : Arjuna loses to Eklavya, but inherits his legacy.

Scene 6 : The musicians and Zeno, debate about the race through the language of the fugue.

Scene 7 : Hamlet’s crises

Scene 8 : Hamlet and Arjuna meet to compare notes. Hamlet seeks Arjuna’s advice.

Scene 9 : Hamlet plots meticulously and then wants to opt out. The Angel of History pushes him forward.

Scene 10 : Hamlet,  Alice and the Red Queen.

Scene 11 : Regarding those knowledge seekers who are Hares.


Cast and Credits :

Performers :

Hamlet: Vinay Kumar

Eklavya & Arjuna: Nimmy Raphel

The Hare: Arvind Rane

The Tortoise: Arjun Shankar

Ganapati: Suresh Kaliyath


Musicians :

Saxophone, Clarinet: Pascal Sieger

Percussion: Suresh Kaliyath

Guitar: Arjun Shankar:

Bass Guitar: Arvind Rane

Music Composer  : Pascal Sieger


Sets  : Arjun Shankar, Vinay Kumar

Costumes  : Uma, Upasana,Auroville

Puppets : L Rajappa, Nimmy Raphel

Light Designer : Vinay Kumar

Light Operation : Anoop Davis

Playwright & Director: Veenapani Chawla


The India Foundation for the Arts supported this production through its New Performance Grant

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