Valentine's Day: Catch a spoken-word performance stringing together famous love letters

05 February,2023 10:16 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Heena Khandelwal

A spoken-word performance on Valentine’s Day will give us a peek into the romance of the rich and famous, one letter at a time

Former US president George Bush joins his wife Barbara at a tribute event on August 18, 1988. According to letters accessed by Nikhil Katara, the duo shared a love story that was no less than a rom-com. Pic/Getty Images

Perhaps the simplest thing that has always held and still holds much significance in a relationship are written words. Carrying carefully spelled-out feelings, these notes of love keep the communication raw and honest, in a manner very few things do.

Celebrating these missives of love between interesting persons across history is Readings in the Shed*s annual event, Letters of Love. Now in its fifth year, the edition will see letters exchanged between noted personalities across the field of science, literature, politics and performing arts. So you can hear words of passion by Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, former United States* president George HW Bush, American marine biologist Rachel Carson, artist Georgia O*Keeffe, and Marilyn Monroe to the loves of their lives. Director Nikhil Katara stitches these together through a conversation with Cupid.

Worli-based Katara says these notes uncover surprising personal facets of these public figures. "Nabokov had the strangest nicknames for his wife Véra, all related to animals such as sparrowling or mousey," he says. "She was depressed, and perhaps this was his way to lift her mood." The letters between George and Barbara Bush reveal their love story was no less than a rom-com.

The stories are neither restricted to heterosexual couples, nor do they show a rose-tinted view of love. "It shows all facets, including the baggage," says Katara, "Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor exchanged letters while they were divorcing each other. Marine biologist Rachel Carson was potentially in a same-sex relationship with author Dorothy Freeman. O*Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz exchanged over 25,000 letters in 30 years."

Reshma Shetty and Amey Mehta (right) will read out letters exchanged between noted personalities like novelist Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Véra, marine biologist Rachel Carson and author Dorothy Freeman, actress Marilyn Monroe and Pulitzer-winning author Arthur Miller

Katara who co-founded Reading in the Shed with Himali Kothari in 2018, says their fondness for the medium took them to Asiatic Library, where they chanced upon the literary treasure. Both still spend a large part of the year researching their protagonists and stitching the narrative together.

The letters are read and performed by artistes Amey Mehta, Reshma Shetty and Syan Sarkar. "Reshma performs dual characters in a same-sex story," says Katara. "Amey, who voices the men in heterosexual stories, is also a choreographer and adds elements of movement. Syan brings live soundscaping to these performances." They intentionally perform these at the Tata Theatre Garden, and not in an auditorium. "Imagery for the personalities is projected on the tall wall in the backdrop."

Himali Kothari and Nikhil Katara

Truth be told, this writer was disappointed that a single Indian name didn*t make the list lovers. Katara said they had included many in the past editions, including letters between Rabindranath Tagore and Argentinian writer and intellectual Victoria Ocampo. Some of the previous performances are available on their eponymous YouTube channel. Perfect for binge viewing up to Valentine*s Day.

WHAT: Letters of Love
WHEN: February 14, 7 PM
WHERE: Tata Theatre Garden

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