Fifty years after partition

15th August 1997 at 01:00
A Tainted Dawn. Gateway Theatre. Edinburgh

The programme cover for this production shows a group of vultures silhouetted against the rising sun, a fitting symbol to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the partition of India which led to great bloodshed and the tragic implications of which history is still working out.

The ultimate irony was that partition came with independence as the subcontinent's Muslim minority feared Hindu domination and wanted their own Pakistan. The population shift caused by partition affected more than 10 million people. Thus, "the tainted dawn".

Written by Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith, the play, partly improvised, was inspired by short stories by such writers as Mohan Rakesh and Bhisha Sahni.

It covers the days leading up to independence and its aftermath. The play follows the stories of different individuals from a group of secularised, privileged Indian students to the fate of a young boy lost in the migrations.

The well-to-do students are confident of a new, secular India, where all can live in peace but are soon disabused of the idea by the realities of religious conflict. The young boy lost to his Hindu parents is brought up a good Muslim by his adoptive parents. Seven years after partition the real father comes to reclaim him, only to find that having a young Muslim in a Hindu household can cause severe complications.

Perhaps the most telling scene (reminiscent of the graveyard scene in Hamlet) is that of the body carriers lamenting the disappearance of the vultures needed to pick at the bodies quickly to ensure the men are well tipped by the bereaved families. Only, the vultures have deserted the burial places and flown to feast in the cities where there is no shortage of bodies.

This play is a lesson in history, and although not the most exciting drama to have graced the Festival, it tells its stories well. Produced by Tamasha Theatre Company, the UK's major Asian theatre company, in association with Birmingham Repertory, it faces the problems of partition in an even-handed manner and is even quite humorous at times.

The cast are uniformly good but some of the staging is rather staid (though the lighting and soundtrack are both excellent) and the scene changes are often laborious and cumbersome. There is an elegiac tone to the production: that what was lost in partition will never be regained. And yet there is also a note of hope. In its own 50th year, the Festival should be congratulated for commemorating this momentous event.

Until August 18

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