Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by quoting the protagonists of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen:
Helmer: I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora - bear sorrow and want for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honour for the one he loves.
Nora: It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done.
Helmer: Oh, you think and talk like a heedless child.
Quotes like this make it easy to understand how confronting Henrik Ibsen can still be today. Also how adaptable his themes, characters and ideas are to different cultures. This particular part of the play from 1879 is set towards the end, when the atmosphere at home has seized to resemble a doll’s house.
In 2006, the centennial of Henrik Ibsen’s death has been commemorated all over the world - on stage and in academia, in words and in pictures. And India has been involved too. In fact, the first event of Ibsen Year 2006 was a seminar that was held in Pune in January. Additionally, the annual Ibsen Festival in Oslo this year staged a fascinating Indian version of A Doll’s House.
The seminar Nora’s Sisters deals with Henrik Ibsen’s work and what his ideas have meant for women’s and men’s lives. We know that Ibsen’s works were controversial and provocative in his own time, and that his ideas on equality between men and women were not always well received by contemporary audiences in Norway or other countries. And his work can still create debate on these issues even today.
In A Doll’s House Nora battles with herself about fundamental moral questions such as the freedom of the individual versus obligations imposed by society. Moral questions transcend gender and apply to all of us. The questions Nora poses on stage are asked every day in the real world - by both men and women. At this seminar, you will be discussing Ibsen in the context of India’s long and varied history and multicultural society. I am sure it will be a fascinating debate.
The arts unite people across borders and across generations. Times and places may change, but human nature remains essentially the same. And Ibsen’s plays are like that: they capture the immortality of the human soul.
I’ll let Helmer and Nora have the last word:
Helmer: Before all else, you are a wife and a mother.
Nora: I don’t believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being just as you are - or, at all events, that I must try and become one.
I wish you a fruitful and constructive seminar.