Inheritance of Gloss

Sohaila Kapur’s new play Glittering Decades traces the history of Delhi’s middle class

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published: August 20, 2013 3:52 am

From where does Delhi’s middle class get its love for flashy cocktail parties,social status,and the need to be seen at the right places? “The British,” answers Sohaila Kapur,a theatre person and diehard Delhiite. “Ironically,these are the qualities that Indians used to disdain in the British,” says the filmmaker. The subject has made its way into Kapur’s new docu-play,titled Glittering Decades,based on Indo-Australian writer Nayantara Pothen’s book Glittering Decades: New Delhi In Love & War.

The play,also written by Pothen,deals with Delhi between 1931 and 1952. On stage,four characters belonging to the Indian Civil Service (ICS) write letters to an Englishwoman in London,describing incidents and experiences in India. One letter mentions the setting up of the Dominion columns in Delhi — four pillars that still stand at Rashtrapati Bhavan and once symbolised the Crown’s firm resolve to stay on in India. Subsequent letters reveal the freedom struggle,the shortage of food and luxuries during World War II and a thriving black market in these,the Quit India movement,the declaration of Independence and its aftermath. It is largely through words that the play recreates the eras,and action and music are kept to a minimum. “This is not an entertaining play; instead it is revisiting a part of history,” says Kapur,whose previous works have included the spiritual Rumi as well as the rumbuctious

Mahim Junction.

“By 1952,when the play ends,India is a newly free country but the ICS — which had once ruled India — is becoming politicised,and a group of young industrialists is emerging who are willing to elbow their way to the top of the line,” says Kapur. The 90-minute play will premier in the Capital in September.

The story of Delhi is inextricably linked with that of Delhi’s Gymkhana Club where,Kapur says,one must still turn up in proper attire and shoes and observe strict etiquette. One of the characters of the play writes about new signboards at the club announcing that “gentlemen with long hair must wear caps in the swimming pool”. “The whites-only Gymkhana Club was a symbol of British power,and many political decisions were taken during a foxtrot and grand dinners. The entry of ‘long-haired gentlemen’ or the Punjabis who thronged Delhi after Partition reveals a shifting power structure,” says Kapur. Almost as an afterthought,she mentions a dialogue in the play about Delhi always having an outsider. “First,Indians were the outsiders and,after the British left,it was the refugees from Pakistan. Ultimately,outsiders become a part of the city,” she says.

The play will be staged at the India Habitat Centre on September 7 and 8,the Delhi Gymkhana Club on September 12,and at Epicentre,Gurgaon on

September 14

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