Kids Corner


All In The Family:
Three Perspectives on "Kultar's Mime"





A school teacher, her 14-year old daughter, as well as her husband (who is not Sikh) attended the Toronto performance of the play, “Kultar’s Mime”, on Monday, October 20, 2014.

We asked each of them to write, separately and independently, a review.  




by Banno Kaur Bajaj

We have suffered various oppression,
But mostly, we are left to our own devices,
And we are content if we are left alone

[T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral]

I was horrified when I realized that we hadn’t had a conversation about 1984 in our household.

My fourteen year old daughter, born and brought up in Canada, was blissfully unaware of a painful part of her own mother’s story. Overcome with guilt and remorse over the weekend, I gave her a quick ‘Readers-Digest’ version of the pogrom and the circumstances that had led to it.

I didn’t really dwell on either, making a conscious decision to let the play do most of the telling. Having heard good things about the play from a friend who had gone to watch the Sunday performance in Brampton, I went in ready to be taken in by the magic of the verse, to ride the cadences of the language and to be moved by the powerful imagery. I went in expecting to witness the power of words when strung together by a master craftsman; expecting to experience catharsis.

And I did.

At every level ‘Kultar’s Mime’ exceeded my expectations.

I had however, neglected to pay attention to the title of the work which takes the performance out of the ethereal realm of poetry and highlights the physicality of the rendition. To call a work written in verse, about a story of human suffering and courage which spans over years and across continents, a mime seems ironic; and yet, it isn’t.

The miming doesn’t either defile or compromise the sanctity of the subject; it contributes to it. It makes the story more real, more meaningful, and more unforgettable. It helps transcend the limitations imposed by language, making the work more universal and more pervasive.

In fact, it brings to the fore the central theme of the play.

The voiceless Kultar embodies the agony of so many who lost their lives or of their loved ones. His inability to articulate the horror he experienced brings center-stage the silence that surrounds the issue in India and abroad … and in households such as mine.

It is central to the issue the play raises. His silence screams in our faces.

Nothing had prepared me for the surge of guilty emotion I would feel when I witnessed the pain of the deaf and mute Kultar miming the retell of his father’s tragedy, and I experienced what the poet Haim Nahman Bialik’s poem in the beginning states:

Stand on the fresh-turned soil.
Such silence will take hold of thee, thy heart will fail
With pain and shame, yet I
Will let no tear fall from shine eye.

I cannot praise the choreography enough.

The brilliance and economy of the movements is only surpassed by the ingenuity of the visual metaphors. Using Rano’s dupatta to replace her body during the rape was an act of genius on so many levels. The dupatta which has traditionally
stood as a symbol of honor/selfhood effectively replaces Rano’s body when she is raped by the maddened mob. Without mitigating the intensity and the horror of the violation the use of the metaphor spares the sensibility of the audience.

I must applaud the movement designer, Poornima Kirby, for being able to create a visual experience that was not only able to meet the high standards demanded by the subject of the poem and Sarbpreet Singh’s verse but also enhanced the experience of the poem. Without elaborate sets, props, costumes or lighting and using just the five players, she recreates the history of an entire people.

The fact that the actors are non-Sikh and ‘white’ neither enhanced nor diminished their work for me. It just was what it was. The performances are brilliant, effortless, and natural. All five actors show ability and skill much beyond their years. Through the performance each actor goes back and forth between roles, playing the parts not only of the victims but also the perpetrators.

No costume change is needed, no props are used and yet when the blind and lame Angad who had gouged out his own eyes out of shame of being a silent witness of his mother’s rape crosses the stage to morph into “The Son,” the main perpetrator of the violence, there is no disbelief in your mind. You don’t question him for a moment.

The production is immensely portable, making it perfect for purposes of this new age bard, travelling internationally telling the story of four ‘common’ children who couldn’t find the voice to ask for justice.

See, see, the slaughtered calves, so smitten and so laid;
Is there a price for their death? How shall that price be paid

In our home, ‘Kultar’s Mime’ not only generated the very discussion that Sarbpreet Singh and J Mehr Kaur were trying to generate through their rendition of the four stories, but more importantly, they have caused me to explore my own feelings and silence on the issue.

*   *   *   *   *

My parents always whispered about what was going on in Punjab.

They didn’t really discuss much of politics openly. I think they hoped that their silence would protect us from the growing unrest and violence. And yet, whenever we (my brother, sister and I) would hear snatches of conversation they had with my grandparents (both my paternal and maternal grandparents lived in Punjab) we would know that things were going terribly wrong and that there was
reason to worry.

Whatever I remember of the attack on Harmandar Sahib is from the version narrated by Salma Sultan on Doordarshan’s news which my father, an ex-Indian-army man would faithfully put on at 9:00 pm.

And again, while I was old enough to understand that I was experiencing a complex range of emotions as the devastating images of destruction of a place that I was told was more sacred than any other flitted through the screen, I was too young for what I felt to have any validity.

I was ten years old, and at school in Delhi when Indira Gandhi was shot. I remember I was happy that I was going to get a couple of days off, my friends and I were banking on it. That evening, like always, we were at DSOI (Defense Services Officers Institute) with my father. While we swam, he played bridge with his friends.

I remember being summoned by a waiter to the bridge room where my father was standing, surrounded by his friends. Street killings had broken out in Delhi. Sikhs were being targeted, they informed us. We weren’t safe there, they said. I remember witnessing fear for the first time in my father’s eyes as he looked at my younger brother.

I don’t really remember how we reached home. I know that we were escorted by some of the same people who had initially broken the news to us.

For the next couple of weeks my father hid in the basement. My mother wouldn’t let him emerge even for his meals. None of us were allowed to leave the house, my little brother could never leave her sight.

Our front gate was locked and the Syrian tenants who lived in our annexe along with the household help were on constant alert.

GHPS (Guru Har Krishan Public School) in Vasant Vihar was lit and went up in flames and so were a couple of gas stations in our neighborhood. We could see the fire and smoke from our home.

We lost property. A lot of it.

However property, unlike life, is replaceable.

Since our house was located in a colony inhabited primarily by diplomats and older people, no one visited our house. My brother and father were safe.




by Gitika Kaur Bajaj, 14

Unlike others around me, I was completely oblivious that a huge massacre had occurred only 30 years ago claiming the lives of thousands of innocent people.

I was surprised when my mom mentioned it so matter-of-factedly on Saturday during breakfast. I had spent a lot of time reading and writing about the Jewish Hollocaust in Grade 8. To come to know that something similar had happened to my own people not even 30 years ago and that my own mother lived through it made me feel very ignorant and disconnected.

I was upset that the members of my family hadn’t ever bothered to sit down and discuss the violence targeting the Sikh community in 1984.

With the little knowledge I had I am afraid I did not catch the various nuances of ‘Kultar’s Mime.’

The play started with a reading of a poem, ‘In The City of Slaughter,’ by the Hebrew poet, Haim Bialik. The poem was beautiful and the actors helped me understand it better. It described both the pogrom that was organized to target the Jews in 1903 in the city of Kishinev but also what was to occur only 81 years later in New Delhi, the capital of India.

What really struck me was that the same events keep on repeating throughout human history. The time and place seems to be the only things that change.

The human cost in each genocide remains the same whether in Russia, Germany, Rwanda or Delhi.

I had expected from reading some initial reviews of the play that this play would intertwine both events in History. I had expected it to be as Russian as it was Indian.

However, leaving the reading of ‘In The City of Slaughter,’ I felt the rest of the play was focussed on 1984. I believe that if the play had integrated the Jewish pogrom more fully it would appeal to an even wider audience. Drawing parallels between the people who are not only divided by time but also physical spaces, religion and belief systems, would make us see that all human beings experience pain and loss similarly.

I think the play would have benefited if the story of Kishinev had been brought full circle.

Knowing little about the massacre in 1984, I couldn’t understand all of the causes that led up to the massacre of the Sikhs during the performance.

However, when I came back and discussed the play and my response with my parents I had a much fuller understanding of how the events unfolded politically.

On the other hand, I loved how easy it was to empathize with the four persecuted children. I think the poet did a very good job making each character different, real and interesting. Each of their stories was so powerfully delivered by the actors. It was also easy to make a connect with the children because I asked myself, what if I was in their shoes?

During the play I took time to reflect upon, and was ashamed of being so unaware of something that affected my family and my community.

I left the venue with so many questions because I came in without much knowledge. It was something that really changed my perspective on Sikhism and made me want to learn more about 1984.

I am also very interested in knowing if the people responsible for the bloodshed in Delhi will get punished.


by Glen D'Rozario

Kultar’s Mime’ is a powerfully delivered play that left me with an eerie feeling of helplessness.

In October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh guards. What transpired soon after for thousands of innocent Sikh families was horrific. Life, limb, dignity and property was gruesomely snatched by orchestrated mobs.

Like many pogroms, the incident is slowly being forgotten.

The play talks specifics. It gives us detailed accounts of the harrowing stories of four Sikh children who experienced the carnage. It draws parallels with the Kishinev pogrom of April 1903 and is delivered on a minimalistic set.

The lack of props and effects is amply made up for by the calibre of acting, which is par excellence. You do get transported to the scene of the massacres. You can ‘see’ the hangman’s noose and it is your father dangling from the Banyan tree. It is your hand that’s burning. It is your eyes that have been gouged. It is you who have been ripped of every stitch of clothing and are being violated, again and again ... and again (I think there were 15 agains).

Their delivery of the script pulled at my heartstrings and I was tearing up.

Incorporating a Q&A session after the play is important. It gives an opportunity for the audience to recover and for the ensemble to divulge more by answering questions from the viewers. This content of the Q&A section will always be different for each show.

Not all questions will be gems but it will be awesome if the best ones were documented and shared.

The play now moves to India where it'll be staged in New Delhi and Punjab.


October 24, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Kiran Kaur (Jaipur, Rajasthan, India), October 24, 2014, 11:11 AM.

What a brilliant idea, to have all the members of a family share their reaction to a play seen by them together! Enjoyed each of the reviews. Now, I'll have to catch the play when it arrives in India ... you've left me no choice!

2: Amar Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 24, 2014, 11:42 AM.

I saw the play. Brilliant. As are these reviews. Thanks.

3: Jagmohan Singh Bhathal (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 24, 2014, 1:46 PM.

Brilliant idea for a family review. Amazing reviews by Banno, Gitika and Glen. Each review is different from the other, yet holds its own substance. I saw the play with my family on the same day and we would not be able to cover any more than what's already given. Go catch it if you can, this is a MUST see play.

4: GC Singh (USA), October 24, 2014, 11:40 PM.

For all those who want more info on the Indian Government sponsored genocide of tens of thousands of innocent Sikhs, please go through a large collection of articles tagged under "1984" on this very website.

5: Harinder Singh 1469 (New Delhi, India), October 25, 2014, 12:30 AM.

Coming to New Delhi soon! Can't miss it. Big thanks to for publicizing it. Yes, such events must go global. Hats off to the KM team -- writers, directors, actors, producers, stage staff ...

6: Aekus Singh Bhathal (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 25, 2014, 1:04 PM.

Thoughtful and intriguing reviews with great depth. They are clear, considerate, and contain the utmost reflectivity.

7: Ishnan Kaur (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), October 25, 2014, 2:43 PM.

Wow! So personal, yet so articulate, eloquent, and meaningful. Just like the play itself. Through the insights, creativity, and the courage of the artists, 'Kultar's Mime' brings alive a story of indescribable pain and inexpressible horror. It is the story of the ultimate witness, the living survivor. Sarbpreet Singh, through imagery and the power of verse, has ensured that no viewer will ever forget.

8: Jassi & Aman (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 26, 2014, 2:49 PM.

Great reviews from the members of a family. We can see how a Mother, a Daughter and a Father relate to this event. I am sure there are many families like theirs and ours who have gone though this experience. This play was very strongly represented. Watching the play, we again went through the same feelings that we had experienced many years ago.

9: Mohkam Singh (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), October 27, 2014, 7:07 PM.

You have shown us the importance of engaging with the world around us, if we are to be able to tell our stories to the world ... and be heard. I think that in this particular instance, at least, it was a stroke of genius to use non-Sikh actors to convey the story. I hope Sikh actors will take the lead from this play and find innovative ways of communicating with the world at large, not just within our community, and figure out how to effectively introduce this chapter of history into public consciousness.

10: Vidya Bhaktavatsalam (Boston, Massachusetts, USA), November 05, 2014, 2:07 PM.

Lovely reviews! Gitika, I especially loved how you were able to zero in on the universality of the pain and the human cost of genocide, whether -- as you say -- it happens in Delhi or Rwanda or anywhere else in the world. I'm really looking forward to reading many more of your reviews and critiques!

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Three Perspectives on "Kultar's Mime""

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