From Norway to Bengal

Doll hse

 

We were attracted to the latest theatrical production at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith (West London) because it was a play set in Calcuttta (Kolkata) in the late 1870s. It was not any old play set in Victorian Bengal, but a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s the Dolls House (first performed 1879), which was originally set in a Norwegian town in the 19th century.

What we saw at the Lyric was a new version of Ibsen’s play created by the playwright Tanika Gupta. In Ibsen’s play the main protagonists are Nora Helmer, her husband Torwald Helmer, Dr Rank, Nora’s school friend Kristine Linde, and one of  the employees in Torwald’s bank, a desperate widowed father, Nils Krogstad. In Gupta’s play Torwald becomes Tom Helmer, an Englishman, who has married Niru,  a Bengali beauty, and has become a senior official in the British administration of India. Dr Rank remains Dr Rank, but is also an Englishman. Kristine becomes Krishna Lahiri, an impoverished widow and schoolfriend of Niru. Nils Krogstad is transformed into Mr Kaushik Das, a widowed Bengali father of four children and a lowly employee in Tom’s office.

In its new guise, Gupta’s Dolls House sticks to the spirit and main ideas in Ibsen’s plot but causes it to be played out in the steamy tropical climate of Calcutta. Gupta explores the relationship between the representative of British imperialism and his very sweet Indian wife. The arrival of Krishna and then Mr Das on the scene soon unsettles the happy home life that the Helmers had been enjoying. Without giving the story away, Mr Das, whom Tom does not like, holds a secret that could bring about Tom’s downfall if revealed. Tom is blisfully ignorant of the threat that Das poses, but the opposite is the case for Niru, whose great anxiety Das stimulates.

Although I had some reservations about the new version of the play, I enjoyed it and the often excellent performances of the actors. What fascinated me was how successfully Ibsen’s play had been ‘relocated’ from the gloom of Norway to the colourfulness of Bengal without losing the feeling that it was a play inspired by Ibsen. By translating the play from one cultural milieu to another, Gupta has preserved and enhanced Ibsen’s messages about the role of women and social class. She has added another fascinating ingredient: the portrayal of British racism towards Indians in pre-independence India. I feel that many of the Anglo-Saxon members of the audience might have been blissfully unaware of their ancestors’ unpalatable attitude to Indians they ruled. They would have left the theatre better informed about this blot on Britain’s history.

 

The play is on at the Lyric until 5th October 2019.

See: https://lyric.co.uk/shows/a-dolls-house/

 

Image adapted from lovetheatre.com

Memory of a great man

AMB 4

 

Almost wherever you go in India, you are bound to see the statue of a man wearing spectacles with round lens frames and a suit. He is always carrying a large book under his left arm. These statues depict Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who was born in Mhow (now Dr Ambedkar Nagar in Madhya Pradesh) in 1891, son of an Indian army officer. He died in New Delhi in 1956. This remarkable man was a jurist, economist, politician and social reformer. He was a founding father of the Republic of India and helped formulate the Indian Constitution. He is best known for his work on promoting the rights of the ‘dalits’ (‘untouchables’) and reducing discrimination against them.

Ambedkar was awarded a doctorate by Columbia University (USA) in 1927, and another by the London School of Economics (‘LSE’) in 1922. He was called to the London Bar in 1922 as a member of Gray’s Inn. Later, he was awarded further degrees by Columbia University and Osmania University (in Hyderabad, India).

Between 1920 and 1922 while he was studying at the LSE and for the Bar, Ambedkar lived in a house at 10 King Henrys Road near Chalk Farm in north-west London. In 2015, the house was bought by the Government of Maharashtra and was then converted into a memorial to Ambedkar. It is open to the public. Visitors can learn about Ambedkar from the well-captioned photographs on the wall of the rooms that they can wander through. The upper floor contains a re-construction of Ambedkar’s bedroom including a four-poster bed, some of the great man’s books, and an old pair of spectacles, which might have belonged to him. Other rooms contain shelves of books and various memorials to Ambedkar. There is also a commemorative plaque to India’s present Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who inaugurated the memorial house in November 2015. The garden contains a typical statue of the type I have described above.

Sadly, this monument to such a great man is under threat. Some local residents have been complaining that it is annoying to have a museum amidst their overpriced bourgeois residences (see: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-49411985 ). Camden Council, in whose borough the Ambedkar house is located, are to decide on its fate at a hearing to be held in September 2019. I hope that the (racist???) objecting residents of King Henry’s Road will not be permitted to help to erase the memory of a truly great man’s stay in London.

 

FOR A FEW PHOTOS OF THE AMBEDKAR MEMORIAL HOUSE, CLICK HERE:

http://www.ipernity.com/doc/adam/album/1244852