Gems from the Ocean

20160128_192701I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just discovered August Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright known as the American Shakespeare. But what a way to discover him and his searing explorations of what it means to be black in America: through the stunning, gut-wrenching interpretation of his play Gem of the Ocean, currently playing at the Marin Theatre Company. Go see it, Bay Area peeps; you must.

Wilson is best known for his ten play cycle on the lives of African Americans in the 20th century, one for every decade. Gem of the Ocean is the first of the cycle, written second to last in 2003 (Wilson died in 2005). And for us, there were multiple performances on theatre night: the play itself, and then the responses of the predominantly white audience (AFAICT, we were one of two families of colour attending) that stayed for a Q&A session with cast and crew after.

Amongst the conversations with no clue: ‘I don’t understand where the spirituality of the original went…’ So Wilson uses seemingly Christian symbolism underwritten by Yoruba spirituality, which hybridised form dramaturg Omi Osun Joni L. Jones pops up so powerfully in her interpretation. In other words, it’s nothing but political and spiritual, just perhaps not your politics and your spirituality, Mr. White Theatre-goer.

The interpretation also breaks with the familiar idiom of ‘naturalistic’ theatre, which is how August Wilson is often played. Instead, it offers rhythm, beat, syncopation: jazz of word and gesture. Be prepared for its power, and for its getting under your skin. I found myself squirming in my seat, hardly able to sit still (such a no-no for a polite theatre-goer!).

But the best of the evening was the well-meaning road to hell: ‘I wish young black children could watch this play’… Yes, they should. I hope they do, and the theatre is doing its best to make it happen, with multiple matinee shows. But even more so, elite white people should watch this play. And not deflect the responsibility of thinking about it. Understand, as August Wilson says in the play, what black folks, people of colour, need for full citizenship in this country: “You gonna have to fight to get that. And time you get it, you be surprised how heavy it is.” (And yes, it echoes all that my Dalit and Adivasi friends are feeling right now too).

So t20160128_192717hank you, Daniel Alexander Jones, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, and the incredible cast and crew of the Gem of the Ocean. I can’t imagine Wilson being interpreted in any other way.


One small hour for us, one giant hour for Earth?

514305778_a01971664b_m.jpgAshwin and I observed Earth Hour last night. We shut off our lights for an hour, from 8pm to 9pm. Begun in Sydney in 2007, as a programme of the World Wildlife Fund, this year the event spread to other parts of the world, including San Francisco, where lights were turned off on the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of an impact in Berkeley (which is otherwise a city highly conscious of climate change as it is of everything else). On 31st March 2007, 2.2 million people and 2100 Sydney businesses turned off their lights for one hour, and according to the information on the website, if the greenhouse reduction achieved in the Sydney CBD during Earth Hour was sustained for a year, it would be equivalent to taking 48,616 cars off the road for a year.

I realise that there will always be a sense of so little, so late, so symbolic when participating in events such as these (I mean, we did the same thing with candlelight vigils against the war in Iraq and where did that get us?), but decreasing energy consumption has tangible results. And I do believe that symbolism is an intrinsic part of the process of material change. Now if only the American Presidential candidates would give us something tangible on withdrawing from Iraq…

Image by jeromeinsf, courtesy Flickr.

Welcome to Berkeley

popomartshow_sm.jpgSO. We live down the road from a Lutheran church, with a Finnish woman pastor, and services in English, Finnish and Japanese. Our block has a high end electronics store jostling with sushi, pizza, a Thai convenience store, and a deli run by a Yemenese guy who likes Indians. The way to our hearth lies between a bead store and a second hand audio equipment place (you can see why Ashwin chose to be here). But most importantly of all, we live right above Sacred Rose Tattoo, which is currently running a brilliant comics exhibition. Now you know where we live, and yes, welcome to Bezerkly. 🙂

Bartheevi, Bengaluru…

Well, we did it. Unbelievably, amazingly so. We moved. Right now, I’m sitting in our ‘cozy’ (Bay area euphemism for tiny) apartment somewhere in Bezerkly, Caaalifornia. We moved from the city that was home for so many years, home both real and imagined, home both bliss and bane. Bengaluru.

We moved for so many reasons, all practical, well-thought out, but it doesn’t help the goodbyes. Bangalore was getting really rough on my asthma (wait, the increasing pollution was actually one of the *causes* for my asthma), and the craziness of the chaos, the traffic, the change in lifestyles, in attitudes, in the Bangalore spirit, was moving beyond we-can-manage-this-because-we-love-the-city to we-might-love-it-but-we-can’t-cope-anymore. Even our time with the Koramangala Initiative (a citizen’s forum in Koramangala) made us feel that without sustained political will, well-intentioned citizens’ efforts can feel frustrating rather than empowering.

Also, it’s been ten years of working for both Ashwin and me, and we felt the need to reflect on those ten years, and to challenge ourselves in different ways for the next ten. So Ashwin chose to go back to university (‘school’ as they call it here in the usofa), and I chose to finish that darn, never-ending doctoral thesis of mine.

All good reasons. Still hard to say goodbye. So I’m going to resort to what I know to be true: misquoting Bob Dylan always works. Goodbye’s too sad a word, babe, so I’ll just say fare thee well.

Besides, as the Governor of our newly inhabited state (Arnold Shivajinagar) is fond of saying, I Will Be Back. And he’s just following namma Bharatiya samskruti, where you never say ‘I’m leaving’, you always wave tata and say, ‘Bartheevi’, ‘Aashbo’, ‘Varen’, ‘Aathe hai’. We’ll be back. Bartheevi, Bengaluru.