When I arrived at Paramatta’s Riverside Theatre for the reading of the three plays in development in the Drama-Sutra Playwriting Project a few weeks ago, the first thing I noticed was the poster on the wall promoting the ‘Anh Do, The Happiest Refugee LIVE’ show. I’m sure you know the image – there’s Anh Do’s ebullient smile, fabulous set of teeth, and in the background, the boat – ah, the boat, symbolising the perilous migrant journey and the moral fortitude needed to survive it. I have no boat in my migrant story, which is to say, I have no triumph over adversity, no grandiose narratives. I’ve always felt my migrant story not quite worthy next to Anh Do’s.
Which is a problem in our society, because all our stories should matter. All our stories belong to all Australians. All our stories should have equal value. That’s why these three plays by South Asian diaspora playwrights Sonal Moore, Kevin Bathman and Roanna Gonsalves are so precious, and resonated with me. I suspect the fact that I was born in India has some bearing. What’s important is that all three stories are different, and represent migrant stories we rarely hear about. All three stories have no boat.
Indian family stories of migration and cultural conflicts in Chindian marriages are not common, but some themes are. What I recognised in the three plays still in production by Nautanki Theatre are the feelings of dislocation and isolation, and the desires to create a home and sense of place in a foreign land through small things like food, shared sense of humour, exaggerated sense of morality. I love the characters that Roanna creates, she’s such a good writer, who imbues all her characters with a deep vein of humanity. And Kevin’s verbatim theatre is an ambitious project that has the potential to also be a great audio play. His ongoing research and documentation of Chindian lives in Australia is an important contribution not only to Asian Australian studies, but to complicating and expanding the contours of our multiculturalism.
Sonal’s work resonated with me the most, because it’s rare to hear about a family who has been transported to Australia as expats and decide to stay. The story mirrors my passage to Australia – my father came here as a company representative and we just decided to stay. When I told my mother about Sonal’s story, she instantly understood how Sonal’s mother must’ve felt, coming to Australia with no cook. My mother had the opposite problem – she arrived in New Delhi at the tender age of 22, and had to deal with a household full of staff. I’ve always loved her stories about battling with the cook.
It was a privilege for me to experience these plays in their draft form. Can’t wait to see all of them on stage in the near future.