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Ghungroo Explores and Celebrates Identity in its 35th Year

Ghungroo performers smile and point at the audience.
Ghungroo performers smile and point at the audience. By Ben Y. Cammarata
By Claire S. Elliott, Contributing Writer

Colors, lights, song, dance: Ghungroo has them all. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the student-led production, titled “Facets” this year, had four showings between Thursday March 2 and Saturday March 5. Every performance was sold out.

Within Ghungroo, there were eight genres of dance and 38 different scenes. Moreover, each song, poem, dance, or skit was exciting and distinct in its own way. As a result, Ghungroo was able to cohesively illustrate the richness and complexities of South Asian cultures.

Director Shraddha Joshi ’24 reflects on how Ghungroo has evolved to express such diversity over its history.

“35 years ago, Ghungroo was a place to sort of put South Asia on the map and get it out there to people who didn't know anything about the culture or anything about the community. But now, 35 years on, I think those dynamics have changed a lot and we have a lot of South Asians on campus. We have people from a range of different identities,” Joshi said. “It's really become a matter of thinking about how we can try to uplift and give a platform to people beyond the identities that are most hegemonic.”

Ghungroo is a show that allows those of South Asian identities to express and share their experiences and customs. Ishan Tiwari ’24, an international student from Nepal, took the opportunity to be involved.

To Tiwari, Ghungroo means “being able to highlight your culture, showcase your talent, or anything that you like to people know about. For Nepal, not many people know about it, and not many people know that it's in South Asia as well.”

Tiwari performed in both the Nepali music and dance acts, which explored three unique styles of dance: Tamang, Sakela, and Tappa. Along with the distinctive forms, the Nepali dance showcased three types of clothing emblematic of their respective cultural communities.

Ghungroo has also been an opportunity for Tiwari to learn more about other cultural backgrounds.

“So I met many people from different backgrounds, from different countries, and different regions of the U.S. I don't think I would have met them otherwise, you know. I became friends with them,” Tiwari shared.

Although Ghungroo is a celebration of South Asian cultures, it is not exclusive to South Asian identities.

Abiba Imam Dyuti ’24 said, “You'll see people from all sorts of races and ethnicities coming and performing on the Ghungroo stage. And that, I think, allows us to appreciate our culture in a different way, allows them to view our culture in a different way because participating in our cultural activities is very different from watching it.”

Whether participating in the production or not, the show is truly immersive for both viewer and performer. In Dyuti’s spoken word act in Bengali, she was able to express all of the sentiments in the poem “Ami Sei Meye,” or “I Am That Girl” by Bengali poet Subho Dasgupta.

Dyuti spoke in powerful fluctuations, gestures, and expressions, invoking frustration, rage, and ultimately self-celebration. Even though most of the audience is unfamiliar with Bengali, her vivid and inflaming oratory skills painted all that the poem has to say.

To be able to share this outside of her home in Bangladesh brought Dyuti and her listeners great pleasure.

“I never thought my South Asian heritage was something I would be able to proudly show to non-South Asian people. There were things I used to be embarrassed to show non-Desi people, but coming here and realizing how much people love watching our performing arts has made me realize that I don’t need to keep it hidden, and it makes me really happy,” Dyuti said.

Other complexities of identity arise from the history of these regions. Punjab, India, for instance, contains immense cultural richness and diversity, but its past is haunted by colonialism and religious persecution. Sahaj Singh ’23 navigated these topics in his spoken word piece “Sukkaab: Stories from the Land of Five Rivers” at Ghungroo.

“When it came to my own self introduction of identity, I feel like I've always felt quite close to the place that I am from. But the place I come from is riddled with inconsistencies and questions that have made it difficult to see it as something that's stable,” Sahaj said.

All these additions to Ghungroo add social potency to the cultural celebration.

“There's so much to celebrate and there's so much beauty. There's all these colors, melodies, costumes, but I think often in that we choose to potentially distance ourselves from some of the more difficult dynamics” Joshi said. “I think that part of what we really envisioned for this year's theme, which is ‘Facets,’ is grappling with that and sitting with that uncomfortableness.”

Ultimately, that is exactly what Ghungroo accomplished. With its cohesive fusion of riveting dances, stirring songs, and poignant poems, the production was a festival of culture and identity.

Dyuti summarizes the show perfectly: “It’s just so much fun.”

Corrections: April 2, 2023

A previous version of this article misspelled the names of Shraddha Joshi ’24 and Abiba Imam Dyuti ’24.

A previous version of this article stated the incorrect class year for Abiba Imam Dyuti ’24.

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