Mime and memories

Poetry, music and paintings come together in the play, Kultar’s Mime that tells young survivor tales by drawing similarities between the 1984 Delhi riots and the 1903 Kishinev pogrom

After being staged more than 28 times internationally and across India since 2014, the English play, Kultar’s Mime: Stories of 1984, is now set to debut in Mumbai, this weekend. The play narrates a story of four young victims of the 1984 Delhi massacre.

Kultars Mime
A performance of Kultar's Mime: Stories of 1984

Originally a poem written by Boston-based playwright Sarbpreet Singh, Kultar’s Mime has been adapted for stage by his daughter J Mehr Kaur. Presented by The Sikh Research Institute, the play will be staged in the city in collaboration with Ashima Theatre Group.

“The idea behind bringing Kultar’s Mime to the city was to let Mumbaikars join hands in condemning violence of any kind, on any race, religion, and community,” feels Mayank Singh, founder, Ashima Theatre Group.

What’s it about?
Written in 1990, the poem comprising 48 fourteen-line stanzas is inspired by reports, articles and academic papers that provided detailed, factual information about the Delhi pogrom of 1984 that ensued on the Sikh population post Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. “One of the papers documented the story of a young boy named Avtar. This child, being deaf and mute, had no way of articulating the pain he felt at his father’s lynching, apart from miming his father’s death. The story of Avtar was fictionalised as the story of Kultar in the poem,” says Sarbpreet Singh.

Parallel track
Besides her father’s poem, Kaur has also blended the young Hebrew poet, Haim Nahman Bialik’s poem, In The City Of Slaughter, in the play. This poem is in response to the 1903 Kishinev pogrom that targeted the Jewish population in the city of Kishinev, the capital of the Russian province of Bessarabia.

“Both poems tell the stories of violent massacres in which rumour, innuendo and libel were used to stoke hatred against a minority community. Filled with graphic imagery that depicts unimaginable suffering, in both the poems, the poet acts almost as a ‘tour guide’, drawing the reader into the shattered lives of survivors and showing them the suffering of the innocents. Struck by the similarity between the two poems, we decided to incorporate the story of Kishinev into the play,” says Kaur.

Painting imagery
In a bid to make the play an immersive experience, paintings and music are also an integral part of the performance. “The dialogue comes directly from the poetry; the paintings provide the context while music is used to set the mood,” adds Kaur, who studied theatre at Smith College in Northampton, US.

Evanleigh Davis, a fellow student at the college, was commissioned for the paintings. Meanwhile, Raga Tilang, one of the ragas employed in the Sikh scripture — the Guru Granth Sahib, suffuses the play and is used to set the mood.

On: March 14 and 15, 7 pm
At: Little Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Call: 22824567

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