INDIA, Week Four (August 17-22): Sacred Heart College, Kochi

August 24, 2015

INDIA, Week Four (August 17-22): Sacred Heart College, Kochi

Roughly 70% of the earths surface is covered in water. 96.5% of that is salt water (undrinkable). Of the 2.6% that is drink-able (mostly stored in underground aquifers, glaciers and polar ice-caps) 02% is in rivers, lakes and streams and – depending on where you live – 90% of that .02 percent is polluted or contaminated. 750 million people around the world lack clean drinking water – roughly one in every nine people. 

In India, over half of the rivers are polluted, an estimated 75% of the surface water is polluted and water pollution accounts for over 500 deaths every day.  

The water crisis is our number one global risk based on impact to society according to the World Economic Forum ( Most major world leaders, scientists and scholars believe that World War III will be fought drinking water – a basic human need.

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One of our collaborators, Beth, and the workshop participants at Sacred Heart College











[NOTE: For more information about the Water Cyphers project, the collaborators or Folded Paper Dance and Theater, please see below.]


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The Poster from Sacred Heart College.  CLICK HERE to listen to “Let It Flow” – from Water Cyphers.

This week we traveled back to Kochi to conduct workshops at collaborator Sen’s alma mater, Sacred Heart College.  Again, we worked with the students to gather and share water stories, help them create several movement and music pieces and integrate some individuals into our piece, River to River.

On Friday night, August 21, the students performed their water creations and we performed River to River (with the students).  On Saturday, August 22, the students did a public sharing of a separate piece called Water Cyphers which included a game they created with our director, Kanta. We performed our second piece called The River is a Line and between the two performances, Sacred Heart College conducted a round table discussion with several local water experts.

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The students perform one of their water stories at Sacred Heart College

The morning of the Saturday performance, Kanta asked me and the student musicians if we could create or improvise some music during Water Cyphers.  One of the students, Aravint, had a song he composed and gave us permission to work as a group and adapt it for the show.  We called it “Let it Flow” and it is very catchy and unifying – a lot like a campfire song. If you click here or the “Water in Kerala” Poster, you can listen to it!

TELLING YOUR WATER STORY: The Kerala Folklore Museum

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A large wooden dragon sculpture (unlabeled)

On Wednesdays, the American collaborators had the opportunity to explore the Kerala Folklore Museum whose mission is “to promote and preserve the culture & heritage of South India.” The museum houses thousands of masks, elaborate tanjore glass paintings, ornate musical instruments, statues, carvings, pottery, even beautifully crafted hand-tools for making the art itself. The museum is also home to a 17th C. wooden theater that hosts a variety of traditional and ritual folk performances like Theyyam, Kathakali, Ottanthullal and Mohiniyattam Kanjadalam.  

The following is my own personal reflection on that experience.

As I walk through the museum, I am inspired by the handiwork of thousands of artists and artisans and- as with any museum – I become easily overwhelmed. There is so much to absorb and I can’t help but contemplate my impact as an artist or the impact of our water project here in Kerala.

What is my place in all of this? What far-reaching effects might this project create? Is it merely a drop in the proverbial bucket?
I am drawn to the depiction of a flower on one of the enormous hand-carved doorways displayed in the Main Hall. I find the intricate, delicate craftsmanship calming and reassuring. It catches my attention and won’t let go. I even walk away and am compelled to return to it.

Why? After all, the carving is not its own piece. It’s a decoration. A small part of a larger piece of artwork. Right? Am I ignoring the big picture?

I look closer.

File Aug 21, 2 55 36 PMI notice the simplicity of the flower – concentric circles radiating outward from a single source. The circles flow for a brief moment and then end at the border carved around them.  I can feel my eyebrow furrow.  Suddenly this carving I found so calming is challenging me.

Is this sense of borders, of barriers, true for me?  For the project?  Is our drop in the bucket limited by the bucket itself?

Then I think of the students we are working with on this project. Like the artists and artisans whose work is displayed in the Kerala Folklore Museum, I am inspired and provoked by the students and community members with whom we collaborated. The students at Amritapuri and Sacred Heart are not studying performance necessarily–they are studying biotechnology, mechanical engineering and medicine.  Their lives have the potential to change the world in so many ways.  So, when we share our water stories with each other, we release multiple drops of water.  And not in a bucket, but in an ocean where the circles are allowed to repeat endlessly, intermingle and stimulate change in all directions.

The principal of Sacred Heart College, Fr. Dr. J. Prasant Palakkappillil challenged the students by asking: Dance, theater, music and the arts help you to have a creative mind.  What will you do with your creative mind?  How will your creative mind find solutions to our water problem?

One of the main goals of this project is to form bridges between our subject – water – and everything that relies on it.  By listening to and telling water stories we create awareness and through awareness we can find the most far-reaching, equitable solutions. So, when you ask the question: “What is your water story?”, it starts a ripple effect that only ends when the question stops being asked.  It makes us aware of where our water comes from, our reliance on it, and our future relationship with it.

What is YOUR water story?  

Why don’t you ask someone this week?


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Sreekesh stands in front of a mural featuring the great Indian leaders, Nehru, and Naidu.

This week I asked Sacred Heart student Sreekesh Kumar to tell his water story.  Sreekesh was fundamental in helping making this workshop a success and according to his teachers “showed great dedication and was actively involved from beginning to end.”

“I want to tell you about the origin of Ganga (the Ganges).  According to Hindu Mythology, Ganga is the daughter of Himavat (Himalaya) and her sister is Parvati, the wife of Shiva.  Ganga had a great affection for Shiva, but could do nothing about it because Shiva was married to her sister Parvati.

“It is said that the People were praying for Ganga to bring her waters to Earth and so Shiva ordered her to oblige them. Ganga felt that this was insulting and decided to rush from Heaven to Earth in a torrent and wash away the people with a great flood. In his benevolence, Shiva decided to spare the people and break her fall.

“Shiva placed his head in her way and calmly trapped her in his hair which fell to earth in the form of rivers and streams.  The touch of Shiva further sanctified Ganga’s waters. These streams remain on earth as a link heaven and the underworld. The streams remain on Earth to help purify the souls of the people.

“This is why we go to the Ganga. Because she purifies us and helps us and our ancestors find the way to Heaven. But now the river is sick and we are asked not to go there because it will make us sick. If we want things to change and save Ganga, we need to be that change.”

Thank you, Sreekesh!

Hindu scriptures say that when the Ganga finally dries up, it will end the Era of Darkness (the current era) and begin the Era of Truth.


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Rag, Sen and Jebin (far right) perform a scene in The River is a Line

Jebin JB is a freelance theater director and actor currently working on his Phd at Calicut University. He helped create the film sequences for our performance and created a short play for the piece The River is a Line. Jebin’s creative focus is on the environment and social justice issues.

“There are many water stories that I have in my life, but one that sticks out regards the Mullaperiyar Damn. Built in 1895, the damn was made from rubble and lime stone and designed to last only 50 years. It’s purpose was to redirect water from the state of Kerala to the state of Tamil Nadu. Because of an age-old agreement between two states and the Indian government, the responsibility for maintenance and reconstruction has been fraught with controversy and red tape.

“The damn is now 115 years old (65 years older than recommended) and in disrepair. It would not survive an earthquake of more than 6.0 magnitude. There are holes in the damn that are leaking water. There is breakage to the overall infrastructure and the maintenance on the damn has been shoddy. It’s like trying to hold water in a glass with a piece of bread.

Mullaperiyar Damn

“Everyone who lives around the damn lives in fear of the damn collapsing. In fact, most of Kerala worries about the health of the damn. If the damn breaks, 70% of Kerala will be under water – that’s 3.5 million people!

“Last year, I had an opportunity to perform a site-specific street theater piece for the people who live in the communities around the damn. Hundreds of people from the area attended the event. I was surprised that no one talked politics or pointed fingers. Instead, everyone I spoke with shared their personal story of how life would be forever changed should the damn break.

“I couldn’t sleep for weeks after hearing those stories.  Natural disaster could come at any moment.  What happened during Hurricane Katrina could easily happen here.” 


File Aug 23, 10 47 54 AMBetween the performances on Saturday Sacred Heart College hosted a round-table discussion that included Principal Fr. Dr. J. Prasant Palakkappillil, Botanist Dr. Joy P. Joseph, Indian High-court Lawyer Dr. Vincent Panikulangara and our director, Dr. Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren.

It was a very thought-provoking round-table with so much information to consider, I couldn’t record it fast enough. Here are some highlights.

It’s not my water.  It’s not your water.  It’s OUR water. There are no boundaries where water is concerned.

We need to thinks about water cautiously, not casually.

Of all of the forty-four rivers in Kerala, there is not ONE you can bathe in.  This all changed in my lifetime.  In ONE lifetime.

We need to stop thinking of humans as a supreme creation.  We need to become geo-centric.

It’s important to tell stories from where we THINK we came and build a connection between that and where we are now.  

Transformation needs to happen at a micro-level.  We need to take responsibility for how we treat water.  There really is no macro-solution.  

It is not either/or.  It is not us/them.  It’s India AND U.S.  Its you AND me.

The question shouldn’t be WHERE do we put the waste, but why do we create it in the first place.


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The team eating biryani at Sen’s house. Delicious.

For our “cast party” and company debrief, we were welcomed into the home of our collaborator Sen.  His family spent a great deal of time preparing a traditional (and exceptionally delicious) biryani for us.

According to Indian chef Pratibha Karan, biryani is of South Indian origin, derived from pilaf varieties brought to India by the Muslim traders and rulers. She speculates that the pulao was an army dish in medieval India: the armies, unable to cook elaborate meals, would prepare a one-pot dish where they cooked rice with whichever meat was available. Over time, the dish became biryani due to different methods of cooking with the distinction between “pulao” and “biryani” slowly becoming arbitrary.

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Homemade biryani at Sen’s house

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Mango, papaya, pomegranate

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South Indian Tali

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Masala cookies


Water Cyphers: Art, Performance, Science and is a pilot for an international arts training, outreach and mini-festival program focused on sharing water stories through theater, music and dance. Along with community members and artists from Kochi and Kollam, our international team gathers stories, creates dances and writes music that illuminates these critical concerns.  Public performances at Amrita University on August 12 at 4:30pm, August 14 at 3:30pm at Siddhartha Central School in Kollam in and at Sacred Heart College in Kochi on Aug 24 at 6:30pm and 25 at 7:30pm.

The project director is Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, Folded Paper Dance and Theatre (Seattle/Hong Kong) along with project partners Sen Jansen TF (Sacred Heart College of Thevara/Sensations Event Management/Kochi,) Rag Saseendrababu (Sruthi School of Dance and Music, Kollam) and Jebin JB (School of Drama, Thrissur).

Water Cyphers focuses on generating new methods for exploring the intersections of performance and science through participatory cultural heritage experiences, such as storytelling, dance, theatre, musical theatre, and mixed performance modes. This work will increase our understanding of water stories as crucial markers of a community’s cultural traditions, history, sense of place, and relationship to the environment.

United States artists include Beth Graczyk (Seattle/NY), Morgen Chang (Minneapolis, MN) and Aaron Gabriel (Minneapolis, MN)


  1. Thank you Aaron. Your insight and comments really bring home what you are doing. And I learn some things too!
    Missing you, Lois


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