This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the popular 1984 themed play, Kultar’s Mime.
Having taught classes and led presentations on 1984 for years, I understand how polarizing the subject can be, so I was curious about this play that has earned the praise and accolades of so many, regardless of where they sit on the spectrum of views on 1984.
As the performance began, I’ll admit…it was difficult for me to connect. Not sure if it was my ignorance on the pogrom of Kishinev, the story the play drew parallels with, or if it was the non-South Asian actors portraying life in Delhi that was hard for me to process. But it only took a few more minutes as the familiar events of November 1984 began to unfold that I was immediately drawn in.
I was moved by the play.
Perhaps it was because certain scenes hit home, as family members of mine fell victim to the mobs in the terrorizing ways depicted or maybe it was the portrayal of fear and pain suffered by the children that would tug at the heartstrings of any parent. At one point, I looked around the room and I could see community members who experienced the pogroms in Delhi firsthand with their eyes glued to the stage as though they were watching their past unfold before them. And even some of the stoic leaders in our communities had to turn away at times when the scenes became too much.
Towards the end of the play I no longer saw the actors as Americans…they were the children of Tilak Vihar. And for that moment, 1984 was race-less, religion-less and even place-less.
It is what happens when corrupt governments feel threatened
When a small minority resists
When laws are suspended
When evil lurks in men
And when the people look away
The fact is that ‘1984’ did not end in those early days of November. It happened many times over in India and all around the world. In fact, it is happening today…in Africa, the Middle East and all around us.
Sometimes I wonder if I am part of that small resistance…or if I am the one looking away.
I have debated with many over the years on whether we should focus our efforts on educating the world about 1984 or whether we need to educate the Sikh community first. And outside of a handful of solid efforts, I’d say we’ve fared poorly with both. So I am intrigued by how much this play resonated with non-Sikhs and the interfaith community. With the aspirations of the directors, Kultar’s Mime will be published so dozens of theater groups could perform this play across hundreds of theaters (big and small) all throughout the world in different languages, educating those about the events of 1984 without a Sikh on stage or in the audience. Pretty amazing.
In the talk-back session after the performance, there was discussion about how the new regime in India may deliver justice to the victims of 1984 and bring change, so such events never happen again.
I’m not so optimistic.
Personally I don’t expect justice to start from the halls of India’s Parliament. For there to be justice, it must start with truth. The truth must be exposed to the world. And my hope lies in the pen, the mic, the stage, and the paintbrush to be the instruments of truth.
I believe in the arts breathing life into the movement. And I hope Kultar’s Mime reminds us of how powerful the medium is and inspires a new breed of artists that expose truth to the world, wherever injustice lies.
So if you’re wondering what role you can play, just flip through the pages of your own personal journal. Let’s not forget this weekend’s performance was inspired by a poem the poet tucked away for 25 years only to be turned into a play written by his 18-year-old daughter. Two years later, it would sell out 25 shows across 3 continents. This weekend, Kultar’s silent scream was heard loud and clear…but there are many more stories to tell. Now it’s our turn.