Kultar’s Mime – Unique Play Intertwines Sikh and Jewish History

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In November, a unique presentation of an interfaith play weaving together stories of Sikh and Jewish history will come to Detroit.

The story starts with a pogrom in the city of Kishinev, the capital of the Russian province of Bessarabia erupted in violence. A horrific pogrom was organized on April 6, 1903, targeting the Jewish population of Kishinev. After three days of violence, 49 Jews were dead, 500 were wounded, 1300 homes and businesses were destroyed and 2000 families were left homeless.

The young Hebrew poet, Haim Nahman Bialik went to Kishinev to talk to survivors and report on the pogrom. Bialik wrote one of his most famous poems, ‘In The City Of Slaughter’ in response to the Kishinev pogrom, using searing, powerful imagery to describe the horror that descended upon the Jewish residents of the city.

Eighty one years later, Delhi, the capital of the largest democracy in the world, India, was witness to a horror of even greater proportions. On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards. In retaliation, an orgy of murder, rape and arson was unleashed upon the Sikh residents of Delhi in which more than 3000 lost their lives.

The poem, ‘Kultar’s Mime’, written by a young Sikh poet, drew upon eyewitness accounts of the Delhi pogrom to describe the sufferings of the Sikhs of Delhi, through the eyes of a group of young survivors.

There are uncanny similarities between the Kishinev and Delhi pogroms. Both targeted minority communities with violence following libel, innuendo and propaganda, designed to stoke fear and hatred.

Kultar’s Mime, the play, synthesizes the sufferings of innocent victims of organized violence, separated by thousands of miles, numerous years and insurmountable differences of religion, language and culture. Drawing upon the raw imagery of both poems, it tells a story of human suffering and courage, reminding us that in the end all innocent victims are the same, regardless of which God they worship and what tongues they speak.

The play is set in New York City. A collective of young Jewish artists, influenced by Bialik’s ‘In The City of Slaughter’ decides to commemorate the Kishinev Pogrom by organizing an art exhibition in which they intend to display paintings about the pogrom accompanied by a reading of the poem. As they get together and revisit Bialik’s poem, it occurs to them that it would be very powerful to honor the suffering of the innocent victims of Kishinev by shining the spotlight on other similar instances of organized violence that the world has largely forgotten. They decide to focus on the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 in Delhi and make it the subject of their exhibition, using words from the poem to augment the impact of the paintings they have created about the Delhi pogrom.

IFLC President Raman Singh saw the play in Los Angeles and said “I thought it was very moving.  I have seen many 1984 documentaries, movies, stories, over the years.  This was very different because the actors were Caucasian, speaking English, but were able to convey the horror of those days.”

The Sikh Research Institute has partnered with Sarbpreet Singh and J.Mehr Kaur, the playwrights to produce Kultar’s Mime. After premiering at Harvard University in September 2014, Kultar’s Mime has been staged in Boston, New York City, New Jersey, Ottawa, Brampton, Toronto, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Leeds, Birmingham, LA, Westminster, Wolver Hampton, The Bay Area, Seattle, Portland, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Bangalore. The play had elicited an emotional response from audiences everywhere and has received very strong reviews.

“This took that imagination to another level,” says Singh. “So I thought it was an amazing artistic rendering of the events.”

Kultar’s Mime will be presented on November 7, at 5:30 p.m. at General Lectures Auditorium at Wayne State. Tickets are free.