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Kultar's Mime: Stories of Sikh children who survived the 1984 Delhi massacre Paperback – April 18, 2016
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One of the most tragic aspects of the injustices and atrocities of 1984 is the lack of awareness of the massacre within the current generation and its total absence from Indian history textbooks. This is where Kultar’s Mime has played a phenomenal role. Through the medium of art and theatre, it has powerfully displayed the pain and suffering of the victims of the carnage. The efforts of the bright, young and talented creative team are heartening and renew the hope that the future generations will never forget 1984. I had the good fortune of watching the play in Delhi and the sensitivity with which it was presented and the overwhelming response of the members of the public moved me to tears. I express my deepest gratitude to the makers and the actors of Kultar’s Mime for bringing the story of the children of the carnage of 1984 to a global platform, for the world to see and to remember.
HS Phoolka, Senior Advocate, Delhi High Court, Human Rights activist and author
Kultar’s Mime is a powerful drama, vividly evoking the experience of violence that beset Sikhs in Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The voices of violation connect these events to murderous pogroms the world over.
Dr. Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University & Director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard
Beyond the trauma and the anger and the grief and the helplessness there is the nagging question of how we can do this to one another. The genocidal action against the Sikhs in 1984, much like that in 2002 against the Muslims in Gujarat, leaves a gaping hole in our identity as a nation. When I saw Kultar's Mime in Chennai it forced me to look again into this hole. And darkness and hopelessness stared back at me. I had thought I would find some artistic closure on 1984 at a personal level with Kaya Taran, my film about 1984, but it continues to elude my grasp. Kultar's Mime doesn't so much lay blame as lay our values of humanity bare. Its gentleness in the face of mindless cruelty is engaging without being enraging in a wistfully compelling manner.
Sashi Kumar, Journalist, founder of Asianet and the Asian College of Journalism; award winning director of the film Kaya Taran
One is used to seeing violence portrayed in theatrical performances – for example in a Shakespearean Play – but the horror of observation in such cases very often is limited by the time which has passed since the events being portrayed took place - which now are ‘Ancient History’. Kultar’s Mime is free of such masking by the passage of time … it cannot be set aside or dismissed as fiction. It is all too real. It is all too recent. To be witness to such cruelty - and to be reminded of its repetition in different places and at different times - made me ask myself if one should simply despair. If perhaps our ability to do evil puts humankind beyond redemption? I wonder how many other poems and plays should be being written just now - in order to record and remember those other many cruelties being suffered today by innocents throughout the world. Why then portray such horror if it leads to despair? I have tried to answer my own question thus. We simply cannot let evil win. No matter how hard it is - we must find hope that may allow good to prevail. Was it necessary and appropriate to portray the horrors of the massacre in 1984? Yes it was - because only by acknowledging how low we can fall have we a chance to repent and reform.
Baillie Norman MacLeod, Glasgow City Councilor
Having tracked Delhi 1984 through the prism of law, I am struck by the sheer authenticity of Kultar’s Mime even as it takes creative liberties to drive home the enormity of the crime and its human implications. That it was all imagined far away in the US by a young woman, who had been inspired in turn by a poem by her own father, and expressed through actors who are not of Indian origin, makes this artistic achievement all the more remarkable.
Manoj Mitta, Writer, Journalist & Senior editor, The Times of India and The Indian Express.
Kultar's Mime is a compelling work that examines the trauma- more so than the events- surrounding the tragic 1984 anti-Sikh riots. It does so through the eyes of the most vulnerable of mankind, that of children. The stark and economic nature of the production only underscores the violence and loss experienced by these characters, who tell their stories through a juxtaposition of poetic verse, body movement, and self-narrative. Even in its contemporality, Sarbpreet Singh's use of poetry for telling the story, the actors' emphatic gestures and postures, and the igniting of an intense emotional response in its audiences, all link "Kultar's Mime" with the great dramaturgical traditions of classical India.
Dr. Cecelia Levin, Art Historian
Central to the impact of Kultar’s Mime is its simultaneous ability to universalize and particularize the atrocities that humans commit on one another. While many people are familiar with horrors faced by the Jewish community in Europe, the Delhi Pogroms are far less well known outside of the Sikh community. The understanding of organized state violence against Jewish minority communities in Europe develops a familiar context for the audience that helps them to understand the place of 1984 in the history of India and, for that matter, the world. Hence, the process of discovery, horror and empathy that the actors move through as they progress from the familiar to the unfamiliar is mirrored by the audience. Through the play the distant becomes immanent, the unknown becomes known, that which seems foreign becomes personal and real to the audience. Drama, poetry, visual art and music have a profound ability to draw us in, to hold our attention, to engage us in an emotional response, and to leave us asking for more. The power of Kultar’s Mime is to move an audience that often knows little of the events of Delhi and India in 1984, to a place of empathy, compassion, knowledge and action.
Dr. Richard Mann, Associate Professor, College of the Humanities, Carleton University
The power and importance of this work is difficult to capture in words, both because it evokes historical atrocities in some sense unspeakable, and because it offers a glimpse of the ineffable healing power of art and faith. In an age when we are besieged on all sides by words and images of violence and injustice fueled by politics and fear, Kultar's Mime offers sorely needed hope. This hope arises from the artistic act of "remembering" in two senses of the word: recalling the past in service to the future, and drawing together members of the human family torn apart by violence. Kultar's Mime is art as witness - witness to deeds we must never forget and witness to a world of justice and peace, a world coming into being.
Alexander Levering Kern, Executive Director, Northeastern University Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service
Kultar’s Mime is unusual in that the play employs a framing device of an earlier historical event as a way to explore a more recent one. The production also centrally incorporates visual images of the 1984 massacre of the Sikh community prompted by the assassination of Indira Gandhi. But they are not literal or documentary, they are highly emotive and expressionistic, and in that way can communicate the various stories in a powerful, non-verbal manner. The play is also unusual because is written in free verse. This heightened language has a particular impact; its rhythms present the events in a somewhat ritualistic way and intensify the emotional experience of the audience.
Professor Katherine Mendeloff, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Kultar’s Mime provides a moving reflection on the pain and horror of the 1984 Pogroms against Sikhs, but does so from the perspective of Jewish art students who reflect upon how best to commemorate the pogrom against Jews in Kishinev 1903. This twist is a brilliant innovation that ties the genocidal violence of 1984 to a broader context of the genocides of others.
The artifice of this play in tying actual testimony accounts within a story of a poem--‐turned--‐play is well on the way of finding a poetic and political mode to narrate the horrors of 1984. Within the broader context beyond the Sikh and Jew, this play, through the voiceless mime of the deaf and mute Kultar/Avatar, a synonym of the Jew deadened into the ‘Muslim’, as well as the dehumanized colonized peoples by European powers, expresses the genocidal story of yet another terrorist nation--‐state, let loose on a minority for political gain through the means of mobilizing majority nationalistic sentiment. And we must never forget it takes great courage to stand up and bear witness to the crimes that Power commits. Though the testimonial voice may not speak truth as directly as the victims might desire, the political process of seeking justice is impossible without that voice.
Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal, Sikh Studies Chair, Hofstra University
About the Author
Sarbpreet Singh is a poet, playwright, and commentator with a career in technology. He writes a column for sikhchic.com, and his commentary has appeared elsewhere, including NPR’s Morning Edition, the Boston Herald, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Providence Journal. He is the founder and director of the Gurmat Sangeet Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of traditional Sikh music. He also serves on the boards of several nonprofits focused on service and social justice and has been recognized for his interfaith work.
J. Mehr Kaur, the creator of the play Kultar’s Mime, is pursuing a BA in theatre with an emphasis in directing at Smith College. Recent projects include Orlando and Seven: A Documentary Play, as part of Hillary Clinton’s 2014 Women in Public Service Institute. She attended the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, where she directed a thirty-eight member ensemble in a multimedia musical inspired by the #blacklivesmatter movement.
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