Review of the Londonee at the Season of Bangla Drama

I took the opportunity to see Londonee at the Brady Centre as the Season of Bangla Drama drew to a close last Saturday. For what the RichMix holds in polished pretentiousness, the Brady Centre makes up in graft and homeliness. Increasingly, I think the two venues are entangled in my head, which must mean that somone in RichMix is making good decisions.

The play was performed by Kukul and Ghetto Tigers and directed by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti and was on at the Rich Mix in a not too dissimilar format in May earlier this year. I was told some good things about it from someone I usually trust on these things, but underlyingly I went to see Rez Kabir, of that lungi-clad anti-Morrissey rant down Brick Lane fame. I might also have been curious as to how they played with the transnational identity invoked by the word Londonee.

The story follows a rather deviant angel's intervention in the life of a troubled young man from east London and his sister. The angel Manush is conceived in a strange christo-hindic-pythonesque frame, plagued by the bureaocracy of the Council of Angels, and saved by being performed Rez doing the baul/vagrant thing with it. You would get me turning up to any play with him whirling around in a lungi and punjabi being loud.

See Manush used to be human and was taken ahead of his time, and he was a Bangladeshi Freedom fighter to boot, a commonality with our troubled young man's errant father who never fully recovered from the horrors of war and ran off when his mother died. Our young man, who is also called Rez is musical and like every bengali badboy must have behavioural issues. He looks after his younger sister, a conciencious kabadi player. Cue East London vs Southall contrivances and good music.

The play tells us how far we have come from the mid 90s Goodness Gracious I Bent It Like Beckham era, when Asian Cultural Product all felt like this (not you Nitin Sawnhey xx). Wanting for political symbolism, like Colours of Hope, as well as the otherwordly reach of Bonbibi, I was trapped in a time machine with good acting. This was until I understood that the writer, of more western Indian ancestry, drew from her experience touring desh in the mid 90s with a theatre troupe. there was an interesting section of writing towards the end that lifted it for me, when Manush talks along the lines of "the man without history is nowhere, but the man who knows and has made peace with his history and acts as if it isnt there is a giant".

Check it.

I am not a theatre person, I once met a theatre person. The result was that I would look into it more in my 30s. Watching these three plays in such a community incubator is the start of that iA. I am gutted to have missed the Tagore production in the season, which is meant to have been pretty deep and well performed. It is online so I'll post it here when I get hold of the link

Beyond the cartoon characters, there is a moment in the play when both Rez's confront eachother, the younger human calls the angel out on his liberation war hero identity, using his post liberation scenario as evidence of the former's economy with the truth.

This would have been an interesting tension to complicate with dirty multidirectional truth of violence. What would happen if we stuck a freedom fighter benefit seeker in there, or a razakar fighter who acted with justice and humanity?

Now I would like to take this opportunity to share with you this picture of the wall in the lobby outside.


[New Word] Statestical

The dominant form of nonsensemaking in our age, where numbers are harvested for government and corporate benefit as part of patriarchal epistemicidal neoliberal capitalism


The Coming of the COP: International Climate Negotiations come to Qatar

It will render millions of homes, jobs and dreams obsolete, exacerbate existing political sores and bring us many more. Asia and Africa will be royally screwed.  Towns and cities will migrate, consultants will make money, communities will be pauperised, NGOs will make money.

For 12 days from this coming Monday, the United Nation's annual Climate Change Conference, the Conference of the Parties (or COP) will unfold in Qatar.  Science will be bandied around. Awards will be brandied around. And we the sons, daughters and khalifas of this brown soil might harp on about the actual intellectual and ecological values of our sacred tradition.

The countries of the world will congregate for the 18th time, polluting  and endangered, scientifically creative and consumptive, politically and public relations invested. They will be joined by corporate NGOs, businesses and the other usual suspects.

Qatar is an interesting place for a COP for a few reasons. On Al Jazeera's doorstep coverage of it is potentially different in kind from other such meetings, which are dominated by the industrialised polluting nations and their post-industrial guilt laden, but more or less eurocentric environmental NGOs. Though post-Wadah Khanfar Al Jazeera very much follows a pro secular editorial policy overseen by the Qatari royal family, their coverage is likely ( I hope) to deepen and wider participation in the climate conversation.

This small fossil fuel rich state in the Middle East is increasingly investing in science, foreign policy adventures and losing its status as the highest per capita carbon emitter. Pretty much every major western university has representation there. Post-Syria crisis they appear to be buying out Iran's political stake in Gaza, and the Qatar Investment Authority seems to be allocating finance towards renewables manufacture and appliance.

From a Londonistani point of view, there are a lot of Pakistani technocrats working working in Qatar, happy to live with the racial/class ordering and deculturation, so long as the money's good, life is safe and the Islamic frostings are there. Football fans, a community to which I do not belong, might also see this international event through their 2022 World Cup goggles.

Substance-wise, I do not think it likely that neoliberal imperialist, invader, polluter nations will chose to lose their competitive edge and pledge the binding deep cuts needed to mitigate hideous climate weirdness. The UK government have demonstrated that they cant even be bothered to maintain Labours Climate charade, Obomber's solution probably involves selling futures options on drones that will kill climate refugees (thereby mitigating any impacts of climate change on the good american people).

There maybe quite a few co-options of vulnerable countries through Adaptation Hush Money, that is funds from a polluter to an endangered government in exchange for other services rendered and the right to pollute further. Who knows? the devils really are in all the details.

The summit is easy to follow online if your are so inclined.

For fellow decolonial futurists and friends of the politics of life (not death) I recommend keeping an eye on the Bolivian and Equadorian delegations who stress the Nature Rights approach and Pablo Solon the ex Bolivian negotiator now at Focus on the Global South. Also be mindful of the sheer skull duggery of climate commodification and the G77 group of developing countries.


Review of Colours of Hope, another part of the Season of Bangla Drama

Last Friday was my second opportunity to taste some of Tower Hamlets Art's Season of Bangla Theatre. Behind Colours of Hope was an outfit called The Rokeyya Project, which I remember hearing from several years ago at a Brick Lane Circle conference.

The description of the play drew me for two reasons, I saw a documentary of Sylvia Pankhurst called Everything is Possible recently and love the struggle of Begum Rokeyya Sakhawat Hussain, the Bengali Muslim writer and educationalist of a hundred yesteryears, author of the inimitable Sultana's Dream, a mind-altering work of short ladycentric su-fi .

What the play does is run two parallel female struggles together. We hear of the story of Asha in British occupied Kolkata struggling to attend Begum Rokeyya's school, and a young domestic worker in pre war England making contact with a suffragette moved by Emily Pankhurst.

Asha's scenario it marked by resistance to a husband-centred life trajectory at odds with a formal education  beyond reading and writing her name. Bored with endless marriage talk form her elder sister alterity comes in the shape of a newspaper advert for students for a new school for Muslim girls in her city. The Sakhawat Memorial High School for girls was established in Kolkata by Begum Rokeyya with funds left by her deceased husband who supported her own foray into education. Much of Rokeyya's life from this point is marked by institutional struggle, and the educated women of South Asia who know thier chops generally tend to revere her. There is even a class of Bengali Muslim lady that builds cultural capital through their connections to her, her school and her family. That us Londoni's are just beginning to wake up and smell the appropriated coffee while we dance around in our NGOs is a crying shame.

Lady gender justice intervenes in Freya's world as she hears of the death of  Emily Davidson under the King George V's horse during the 1913 Epsom Derby. "Votes for women" before being trampled underfoot, much to the annoyance of the powered classes. Yet the tribute was enormous with six thousand women followed the coffin of this great Shadeeda-e-Millat.

Asha's scenario chafes badly today.  Her education is seen as instrumental to a marriage trajectory, women who do not fit such a model are made to feel less of a commodity and aged out of a marriage market. As a last resort she hopes for an understanding husband as her family exploit the temporary closure of her school on grounds of 'safety'. Sound familiar?

The Asha storyline sometimes borders on unbelievable, even considering that the past is a different country. We are narrated a bone shaking account of a respectable Indian Muslim lady tripping up onto a railway track and being run over by a train. The headjar is that when men went to pull her up but it is said that her maid refused aid saying that 'she must remain pure'. It sounds a bit daily maily for me but I would like to chase it up.

There is a wonderful piece of dialogue lifted from Sultana's Dream that makes it into the script in the form of a classroom scene about the flipped gender positions in Rokeyya's Ladyland.
'It is not likely that they would surrender their free and open air life of their own accord and confine themselves within the four walls of the zenana! They must have been overpowered.'
'Yes, they have been!'
'By whom? By some lady-warriors, I suppose?'
'No, not by arms.'
'Yes, it cannot be so. Men's arms are stronger than women's. Then?'
'By brain.'
'Even their brains are bigger and heavier than women's. Are they not?'
'Yes, but what of that? An elephant also has got a bigger and heavier brain than a man has. Yet man can enchain elephants and employ them, according to their own wishes.'
'Well said, but tell me please, how it all actually happened. I am dying to know it!'
'Women's brains are somewhat quicker than men's. Ten years ago, when the military officers called our scientific discoveries "a sentimental nightmare," some of the young ladies wanted to say something in reply to those remarks. But both the Lady Principals restrained them and said, they should reply not by word, but by deed, if ever they got the opportunity. And they had not long to wait for that opportunity.'
'How marvelous!' I heartily clapped my hands. 'And now the proud gentlemen are dreaming sentimental dreams themselves.'

Another treat was Dillemmas of our Daughter's Dance Off where broom was pitted against book and khathak ranged against capoiera. Must have been fun to make up.

Every group is on a journey through the materials and makes decisions about where the audience is likely to be with the issues handles.  A few things jarred with me as the play tried to draw itself to a close and connect to the oppressive present, and I am challenged here to express why.

Our actresses narrate the events of our character's lives, giving us a picture of the the worldviews being voiced here. As we follow Emily Pankhurst, not the more interesting anti-war, anti-imperialist and socialist Sylvia, we learn that it was through their Loyal Service To The Nation in the waste of life that was the First War of European Folly, that women earned the right to vote and then the equal right to vote.

Asha's story closes off with an all too brief life sketch of Rokeyya, her Battle to keep the school going, establishment of an Islamic Women's Association and an underpinning of Quranic teachings. I say too brief unfairly because I am so thirsty to learn more about her. This was a valuable way to present such an Epistemic reference point, to a community so often run down and accused of passiveness in the face of patriarchy. (sorry)

The howler for me was in the subsequent heroines of the present day roll call and the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) in that list. I asked the crew whether the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar might see her in the same way and I'm quite sure that they didn't even know who the Rohingya were. 

Our actress picked an interesting ASSK quote that I guess must have caught up with her as she does her best to avoid addressing the most racist and inhumane face of Myanmarese society that cries out for states(wo)manship today.
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
On a positive note, and there were many, the expansive musical score worked well and we were treated to a QnA featuring Shaheen Westcomb, one of the first female architects of Bangladesh, whose mother was a direct student of Rokeyya. It was at this point that i was made aware that I had missed all of the shadow puppetry going on on the left of the stage.

I liked the play, it got the juices flowing and annoyed me.  It drew a diverse crowd. Last week's Bonbibi made me more breathless, but the source material of Colours of Hope marked this evening's proceedings out. It was an insightful interweaving of two legendary struggles for gender justice that left us itching to know more.

To conclude, Sultana's Dream (1905) is a must read.

You can read it on the way to work on your smartphone
You can read it to your child before bedtime
You can read it to your father after dinner
You can read it to your primary school class
You can read it in your degree.
You can read it over the phone to your dearest.


Bonbibi, part the 10th Season of Bangla Drama

The Season of Bangla Drama is a cultural infrastructures who's existance; makes me glad, matures with time and generally leads matters of pluricultural delight. It's like a more resource intensive Brick Lane Circle's Bengal History Week, a period of intense reflective, and by definition, creative collaboration.

This year is the tenth such season, courtesy of Tower Hamlets Arts, the Brady Centre and participating theatre groups. You can see whats coming up, and what you've missed already on the brochure here.

Tonight (Friday) I had the chance to see a performance of Culturepot Global's Bonbibi at the RichMix complex on Bethnal Green Road. Bonbibi is an elastic folk tale that does tremendous work, particularly the morality of relations between creation. Think Jungle Book (which probably drew from this and similar cultural resources), collided with a Qur'anic truth or two (pieces of the the life of Nabi Ibrahim and clearly a strong dose of Hazrat Khidr), Avatar and Moulin Rouge.

Ok, but why not?

Ably narrated and sung through by Lokkhi Terra's versatile Sohini Alam, a packed venue was treated to a family orientated 55 minutes of shadow puppetry, expressive dance and moody folk-rock groove. Was this to be the kind of thing Ali Shariati was talking about when he spoke of the Extraction and Refinement of Cultural Resources?

Hmmm, nearly.

The storyline probably deserves a look in at this point, and we'll start with Bonbibi, the lady of the forest, who was found and brought up by the animals of the forest in The Land Of The Eighteen Tides, by which we understand Sundarbans forest of the Bengal Delta. This liminal space between ocean and land gives way to all sorts of balance-talk and works to decenter the human. In fact the animated earth becomes almost second nature. Its sad how modern life sciences have proceeded to make things so dead. Enchantingly live descriptions abound, one particularly beautiful line talks of sundar trees in eternal conversation with the sky.

Bonbibi is a background character who frames the storylet however, in fact all the actors seem to play the role of visual props to wrap movement, narrative and songlines around.  This is probably just as well because as soon as voice duties were shared we got corkers like Bumbibi (heehee) and probably the least-menacing-tiger-growl-of-all-time-bro-pull-it-out-for-next-time-maybe-its-your-strat? Still its refreshing to see white people as puppets on a string for a change even if they are officially actors.

Back to the plot and the stage we follow for the most part the lives of two siblings, a brother and sister, orphaned by the swallowing action of the sea, who play and live in the forest. They forage quite harmlessly on the riches of the forest, namely fruit, wood, honey and fish. Up until the point when the brother gets a quite greedy and upsets the balance.

How much is too much? Too much is how much

Cue the shalwar kameezed mangrove forest, the generation of a fierce reactionary force and the funkiest prop of the night, Dukhin Rai, the Brahminical* tiger, who proceeds to eat the brother. (and I think, poos him out)

Dukhin Rai, Manush Khai.

*Brahminical because he started off as a Brahmin but became a tiger-demon in anger at humankind's exploitation of his brother creation. Problem was that his vengeance doesn't stop with human flesh and he soon becomes a tyrant in of himself, arrogantly proclaiming sovereignty of the forest. Sound like anyone you know?

As is par for the course, a little Islamic magic is inserted into the storyline at this point. Allah summons Bonbibi, the purest of the land, to Makkah in order to get the blessings of Bibi Fatima, mix soil of the two regions (very Shah Jalal) and have a showdown with Dukhin Rai. Read these symbols however you like, I need some time.


Seven days it lasts, until Bonbibi clinches it 'by staring back at him with her wisdom, asking him what his root problem is, accepting it and setting forest sharia that would make the Earth Rights Movement dance'.

Humans will only enter the forest with empty hands and clean hearts

I enjoyed it most for singing voice that would make accountancy magical and the recruitment of the the Al Qaiger metaphor. Its a pity that they aren't playing more dates as many would benefit.


Bangladesh 2012-3 Spectators of Suicide

As the current Bangladesh 'Parliament' period draws to a close, I am going to pay a different kind of attention to political matters there.

The 'secular liberal' Moronarchy of Prime Minister Hasina is generating an unprecedented field of oppression, with shambolic kangaroo 1971 War Crimes courts seemingly complicit in the kidnapping of defence witness Shukkho Ranjan Bali (who was originally listed as a prosecution witness), opposition media figures like Mir Quasem Ali of Diganta Media locked up, and smaller opposition figures beaten black and blue on the streets of Dhaka (then blamed for vandalism).

It's difficult to argue about political epistemicide and the unjustness of these trials with blind Awami Leaguers and those who hold the liberation mythology sacrosact, but as this misled and misleading group is 'of us', and holds both local power and the international megaphone, it is an inescapable challenge.

The problem is that power can throw any old BS as you and it counts, irrespective of the merit of ones claims. Power can erase human records and the means of knowing otherwise. Such political epistemicide is as clear as the eye can see. Kidnap the witness. Lock up the media man.

We are poorer for it, but in this darkness I believe that there are opportunities for political creativity and long-term deep societal action. I pray that those with the wherewithal will make something out of them.

After all, they have a while. Political pundits suggest that the Awami League will win the next election, this would mean an unprecedented level of continuity unseen in desh since the less-ballot-based dictatorship of President Ershad. Given the limpness and batteredness of the current oppositions and the general uselessness of the Armed Forcesm I am inclined to agree.

What a shame that the ingrates who arrested a Turkish MP for distributing Qurbani meat to the desperate Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, and who have managed to actually give the World Bank and Grameen Bank the moral high ground, will pay no price for their foolishness.

Ah, the hidden hand of the political market!

If you are interested, the ReclaimBangladesh resource is intended as yeast to raise the level of our thinking and political being.


Post-Hajj Note 1

Returned from Hajj with the feeling that pillars-based islah is a useful groove to inhabit. These institutions and rituals which move us and make us offer real scope for practical action.

Wudhu Area Studies and Fasting not Feasting fit into this line of thinking. Hajj is a different scale altogether, in terms of the prophetic time travel involved, the structures of injustice it demonstrates and the fervour with which our beloved ummah just goes for it.

The social and spiritual justice of Hajj is not about the Makkah Clock Tower, unless you wish to officially stone the bugger by including it in the jamarat. The English language papers of the Arab world are full of technocratic analyses, people thinking through different tinkerings, blaming hajis for the litter and my favourite, 'clamping down on illegal hajjis'.

Yet it is us, and our tafsirs that make the hajj what it is.

Books, knowledge and the epistemic taste shape hajj. I love the South Asian attention to fiqhi detail, Shafiq Morton's Notebooks from Makkah and Medina for elucidating the unspoken, and the way that Darussalam volume (Davids) weighed a blooming tonne without actually doing much. Even that bin Baaz book came in useful.

This soul-dried trinity of ibn Saud (political sovereignty) - Salaphication (religious sovereignty) - Bin Laden (construction sovereignty) have produced a particularly lived space for hajis, families, groups and nations to dwell in. The built environment, religious policing, infrastructure and bureaucracy condition a characteristic experience, which you feel differently according to whether you are: female, Iranian, poor, non-Arabic speaking and unfamiliar with the latest bizarre policies of the Hajj ministry.

We Hajj despite these authorities. But, what if we could retire them?
Who would we select/trust to administer Hajj? Would getting the Turks to do it be a backwards move?

What could Hajj become? and just how hard would the Ummah rock the Three Days of Tashriq?

Perhaps what might work better is a facilitative core to ensure the dignity of the hajis, multi-scalar collaboration and a less restricting religious field would quickly ensue. Like Tawaf.

Allahumma Accept our Hajj, transform us and our rendering of it.