Rehearsals for Growth in India

RfG Newsletter, Volume 4, Number 2, Winter/Spring 1995

by Dan Wiener

On January 5th Gloria and I flew into Bombay, India’s most cosmopolitan city teeming with 12 million people, traffic jams (and auto exhaust pollution) every bit as bad as New York’s, a climate like Miami’s, and scenic bay views of the Arabian Sea. We had been sponsored by the U.S. Information Service to present theater performances of Gloria’s one-woman show and day-long workshops on RfG to mental health professionals in the Indian state of Maharasthra. After being picked up by Miriam Caravella, U.S.I.S. Deputy Director of and hostess of our week-long tour, we began a round of rehearsals, performances, workshops, dinners, and press interviews. Throughout the next week she and her husband Wayne provided us with lavish hospitality and thoughtful personal attention.

Our first RfG workshop in Bombay was co-sponsored by U.S.I.S. and the newly-formed Network for Well-Being. 24 psychiatrists, psychologists, medical social workers and counsellors attended, along with six Network members. We found them intrigued and willing to attempt our characteristic work/play, despite some cultural differences. In Indian society, people are considerably more conscious of religious, ethnic, caste, gender, and educational differences than are Americans; regional differences are far more pronounced than in the United States, so our experience was with Maharastrians and might not generalize to Goans or Punjabis. Moreover, educated Indians all employ domestic servants, with the result that our “Status” exercises evoked familiar experiences about everyday life.

After three days in Bombay we drove four hours inland to Pune (pronounced “Poona”), a city of 4 million, where our workshop was co-sponsored by the Maharasthra Institute of Mental Health. We had met M.I.M.H.’s director, Dr. Mohan Agashe, in Bombay two days earlier; the 23 professional workshop participants were mostly employees of the Institute’s psychiatric hospital, although quite a number of them also taught, were active in the media, or did corporate training. Dr. Agashe is well-known in India for his work as a movie actor and for introducing GRIPS, a German form of Drama Therapy applied to psychoeducation with children, into India (his book on this work will be published soon).

Compared with our experiences of American therapists, we found the Indian participants a bit cautious in beginning to play, although most of them warmed up as we continued. It was difficult for some participants to commit to playing a role, i.e., not being oneself. In the exercise No, You Didn’t for example, a few players became upset at having their statements contradicted. In Indian culture, it is unusual to encounter such verbal confrontation; people preserve face by aquiescing, as a rule. Many of them were excited to share their personal discoveries about each of the exercises, so we had to limit the comments in order to get to further exercises. With a few notable exceptions, the men displayed greater imaginativeness and moved their bodies more freely than the women; we learned that Indian boys are allowed to be mischievous, while girls are not given such lattitude. In Bombay, some women complained about having physical contact with men in some of the exercises (schoolgirls often get pinched and fondled by men), yet in playing Tug-Of-War the women were quite playful while the men appeared uncomfortable and competitive. Other cultural differences emerged in the meaning given to offers in the game Presents; In India, giving with open hands is a Low-Status offering that the receiver may refuse; giving with the hand turned down and fingers together, however, is a High-Status command to take (associated with giving to beggars).

By the end of each workshop, the participants had become excited and happy, wanting still more than time had permitted. We left with a glow of warm feelings and the intention to return in future to continue this work.