Kids Corner


Art & Pain:
‘Kultar’s Mime’ Hits The Road Again





The following reflection is from the author, a former cast member of ‘Kultar’s Mime’. She was part of 36 performances of the play which was enacted before full houses on stages around the world.


It all started with an audition.

I was asked to read a monologue from the script while the director watched from across a conference room table.

The monologue was a painful reflection from a young Sikh woman who was gang-raped in New Delhi, India in 1984 during the anti-Sikh pogroms in November. As I read it aloud I knew the part was mine. The audition, as well as the first rehearsals and many of the early performances brought real tears from my eyes and often it felt impossible to separate acting from reality when I performed that monologue.

My character, Rano, tells about a sexual assault significantly more violent than the assault in my personal history, but her feelings of terror, violation, pain and loathing were so familiar that getting lost in the character felt like getting lost in my own head.

A Q&A session followed each performance and when the troupe performed in India many survivors from the events of 1984 who had come to watch the show shared their stories, often for the first time.

One young man told us after the Q&A that his father had never spoken once about what he had witnessed until the day he saw the show and in front of the entire audience reflected on his experience.

One woman described the memory of watching her brother burned alive. A man burst into tears telling me about seeing his father hanged. Often people walked out mid-performance in grief. However, no matter how many people shared their stories not once did a woman tell me that I was acting out what had happened to her. Sexual assault is private and embarrassing for its victims, and the more sexually repressed the culture, the more the fault is pinned to the victims themselves.

I understood that the women who locked teary eyes with me from the audience, looked away or walked out, and then told me after the show that I had done a good job would never be able to stand and say that this story didn’t happen to a distant, ambiguous character; it happened to them and they buried the pain of it under years of keeping it to themselves.

I hated making them relive that pain, knowing that when they left the theatre they would just have to bury it one more time. I felt that I was contributing to a problem more than helping to solve it.

It became my mission to make others understand. I wanted them to see the pain of this, to talk about it – to acknowledge that it actually happened. I had moments of triumph: a man said during one Q&A that he hadn’t cried about this since 1984 until he “watched the girl getting raped.”

A few times the audience brought the performance to a halt to applaud my monologue, and a photographer once stopped me after the show to say that I “made [him] understand so much.”

But not until one of the very last performances did a woman talk to me. She came to the dressing room after the show. I was alone with the other girls in the cast and she asked to come inside for a moment.

“I have to tell you,” she said, “I experienced something very similar to what you showed and when you spoke, it was like the entire room melted away and there was only you and me.”

I couldn’t speak; instead, I threw my arms around her and she returned the embrace. When we broke away she wiped tears off her cheeks, and then reached out and wiped them from mine. Everything about the moment felt symbolic and beautiful.

What happened to me had a purpose because the pain it caused fueled a piece of art that empowered this woman to speak. Pain and art have a symbiotic relationship: pain creates the need for art and art creates the outlet for pain. Theatre relies on the symbiosis of audience and performer; it creates a need for community and human connection. This woman and I were very different people, but we became important to one another because emotion is universal.

Kids came to some performances, which at first made me feel like an irresponsible babysitter taking her temporary wards to see an R rated movie, but the kids always surprised me with thought-provoking questions and heart-felt responses to what the show made them think.

The story we told was important because it wasn’t just an after-school program delivered from a T.V. screen. We brought it to them in person. We interacted with them. We listened to them and in turn they listened to us. High school and university students who were too young to remember the events themselves volunteered at many of the theatres to help with light, sound, and organizing shows because they knew that every small piece contributed to the production as a whole and their generosity and enthusiasm was part of something with a greater magnitude than themselves.

*   *   *   *   *

In October 2015, 10,000 global Interfaith Leaders and activists will converge upon Salt Lake City (Utah, USA) for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Under the leadership of The Dalai Lama, several other Nobel Laureates and global leaders like Vandana Shiva and Eboo Patel, religious leaders will talk about social justice, climate change, violence and genocide prevention.

‘Kultar’s Mime’ has been invited to perform at the Parliament on October 16.

The play tells the story of two massacres: the 1903 massacre of Jews in Kishinev, and the massacre of Sikhs in India’s capital in November 1984. The play has been performed 36 times all over the world already, including in Delhi on the 30 year anniversary of the massacre, the British Parliament, many well-known universities such as Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Rutgers, BU, etc., and theatre venues in cities like New York City, Toronto, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore.

'Kultar’s Mime' is being presented worldwide by The Sikh Research Institute. All performances have been free and have been funded through the generous support of the community.

‘Kultar’s Mime’ needs your help to get to the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Tax deductible contributions can be made by CLICKING here.

August 26, 2015

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‘Kultar’s Mime’ Hits The Road Again"

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