Free speech, a fundamental human right? Yes, of course, you’d say.
Free speech, a fundamental human right? Yes, of course, you’d say. A universally granted human right? Absolutely not, even in the 21st century. Confronting 5,000 years of reading, writing, and the politics of censorship, Lekha’s Journey is a fictional interactive experience tied to the four-part documentary series, Empire of the Word, which aired in November-December 2009 on TVO, a publicly funded, educational media organization in Ontario, Canada.
In Lekha’s Journey, author I.P. Burroughs’ writings sparked international controversy and violent rioting that forced the mysterious writer into hiding 20 years ago. Aspiring Canadian writer Lekha Sharma forged an online friendship with the fugitive author, who is about to release a translation of the Bhava Sutra manuscript. The Bhava Sutra is believed to be a politically dangerous (anti-patriarchal) tract, written by a woman in Dehradun, India, in the 5th century BCE. The last people who tried to study the Bhava Sutra died or disappeared in unusual circumstances.
I.P. Burroughs convinced Lekha to meet her in Egypt, but the Bhava Sutra manuscript was stolen from the modern Library of Alexandria before the two could meet. Instead, I.P. Burroughs has laid a puzzle trail for Lekha, as she looks for missing pieces of the manuscript around the world. As she travels, Lekha is being followed, but she cannot allow the hidden message of the Bhava Sutra to be suppressed. Beautifully filmed on location in Canada, Egypt, Italy, Turkey, Germany, India, and England, Lehka is plucky and approachable as the protagonist, albeit a little naive. I.P. Burroughs’ supporters Lekha meets along her travels can be entertaining and sometimes cryptic as they help guide Lekha’s journey.
Most of the eight chapters include puzzles, smartly written into the plot of Lekha’s Journey. One chapter even includes a choose-your-own-adventure style interactive video experience. Other stand-alone word games are available on the website, but the narrative puzzles add an engaging dimension to the overall experience. Other parts of the website, like the Story of the Word (a book about the history of writing, free expression, and women’s rights) and the map of Lekha’s Journey, add to the interactive learning element of the website, and sometimes contain clues. The puzzles are geared to a young adult audience, but are still at times challenging.
Although featuring Lekha’s Journey, the Empire of the Word website also includes interviews with dissident writers and scholars, discussing the politics of censorship and dissent, the rights of women, and the power of words. Creating this fictional online experience to support an otherwise traditional documentary will hopefully bring attention to these very real issues in history and current affairs.