30 yrs after Sikh riots, play paints its horrors in music, poetry

It opened at Harvard University on September 27, followed by shows in Boston, New Jersey, New York, Ottawa, Brampton and Toronto.

Written by Dipanita Nath | New Delhi | Published: October 28, 2014 11:56 am

Thirty years after the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, a theatre production from New York will replay its horrors through the stories of four young victims. Kultar’s Mime, an “immersive theatre experience” in which acting is supplemented with poetry, painting and music, will be staged at Akshara Theatre on Baba Kharak Singh Marg on October 30 and 31 and St Mark’s Girls’ School in Meerabagh on November 1. It opened at Harvard University on September 27, followed by shows in Boston, New Jersey, New York, Ottawa, Brampton and Toronto.

Sarbpreet Singh, who will co-direct the play with J Mehr Kaur, says, “The characters are drawn partly from true stories documented in news reports and academic papers. As you can imagine, the details are quite horrific, given the nature of the events they depict. It is not light entertainment and the audience response has been very intense.” The take-off point of the play is another massacre that had taken place 81 years before – of the Jewish population in the city of Kishinev, the capital of the Russian province of Bessarabia, on April 6, 1903.

The plot revolves around a group of Jewish artists in New York City who are commemorating the Kishinev pogrom through an art exhibition and poetry reading. As they begin work on it, the artists come across other instances of killing and bloodshed that have largely been forgotten by the world. Their search leads them to the organised violence against the Sikh population in 1984 in Delhi and they decide to highlight it in their exhibition.

Sarbpreet’s poem on the riots, also titled Kultar’s Mime, is juxtaposed with that of Haim Nahman Bialik on the Jewish massacres, In The City Of Slaughter. “The imagery used and the sentiments expressed in both poems are startlingly similar. Incorporating the Kishinev pogrom made the point that, in the end, all innocent victims are the same, regardless of their faith or the color of their skin,” says Sarbpreet.

The hour-and-a-half-long play features actors from Boston who underwent “extensive dramaturgical work to help them understand the context of the story they tell,” says Sarbpreet, who was an undergraduate student at BITS Pilani at the time of the riots and followed the details in the media. Singh is now based in Boston where he also has a career in technology.

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