Exodus: Emotional retracing of an Indian journey from Africa to UK
A unique theatrical creation inspired by real-life experiences of individuals who emigrated from India to Africa in the 20th century and eventually settled in the UK is set to captivate audiences in London next weekend.
‘Exodus: Asia, Africa, Europe’, produced by Lata Desai and team, is based on oral history interviews and delves into the personal testimonies of those who undertook this remarkable journey. ‘Exodus’ looks at the experiences of Indian migrants in Uganda who were expelled by Idi Amin in 1972 and came to live in England. The profound play revolves around the moving journey of the mother-daughter Jiji and Reema, reflecting on their dhow (pictured above) journey from India to Africa, through to their lives in the UK.
Jiji, a former headmistress, mourns her lost husband while fighting for workers’ rights in the UK as a seamstress. Reema immerses herself in reggae, punk and anti-racist politics, embracing a vibrant counter-culture. Meanwhile, her frenemy, Aanya, becomes a supporter of the right-wing politics under Margaret Thatcher, which changes Britain forever.
From dhows to aeroplanes, saris to bellbottoms, and K.L. Saigal to The Clash, each character embarks on a new life in tumultuous 1970s Britain.
The play has been scripted by the award-winning writer Raminder Kaur, known for her immersive narrative skills.
“I was inspired by people’s true life journeys across the oceans - their regrets, tears, joys and aspirations. This spirit defined the lives of many migrants from all across the world - here in this play just focusing on a tiny part through the lives of a family who travelled in the 1930s in dhows from India to East Africa and then their descendants in the 1970s in planes from Uganda to the UK as they had no other place they could call home at the time,” Kaur said.
“Despite what ideologues say, migrants are a treasure house of talents and energies. They are the lifeblood of any country and not parasites. The only parasites are those in power deflecting people’s attention from actual problems and social divisions to artificial enemies in the form of the migrant or refugee,” the writer added.
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The script for ‘Exodus’ was a finalist in the esteemed Bold Playwright competition in 2023. This R&D Play, funded by the Arts Council, England, aims to develop more based on the initial feedback it gets and tour around the country later.
Director Mukul Ahmed of Ghetto Tigers, a well-known name among South Asian theatre lovers in the UK, brings this powerful story to life on stage, ensuring a thought-provoking and emotionally charged experience for the audience.
Lata Desai, co-curator of the play and the driving force behind the collection of oral histories under the heritage project ‘Gujarati Yatra: Journey of a People’, highlights the power of personal stories in fostering connection and understanding.
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“I found that people’s personal stories were very powerful, and I was looking for a way to retell them. Sometimes people connect better with live plays than with reading about the stories in a book. And these compelling stories will die if we don’t keep them alive.
“Thousands of people have made these journeys through oceans, land, and air and have faced many hardships. Yet their stories are full of courage and resilience, and they have contributed immensely to the fabric of countries where they have travelled to in so many ways,” Desai explained.
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The curtain will rise on ‘Exodus: Asia, Africa, Europe’ on June 18 at the Rich Mix theatre in London and bear witness to a remarkable tale which promises to be emotionally charged and visually stunning, with skilful use of puppets and dolls, blending realism with elements of fantasy.