Last weekend, my parents came to town to visit me. Aside from their flights being delayed for 3+ hours each way (“bad weather”), they had a good time, I think. Mom and Dad have been to Washington, DC so many times that the touristy stuff doesn’t interest them anymore… I now have to be creative when planning activities for them. Otherwise, we’re just sitting at the house staring at each other… Luckily, two events coincided with their stay this time: Ramayana and Anna Hazare. We had a very Indian weekend together.
I found out that the Ramayana was being performed (as a play) quite by accident… through Facebook, of course. Knowing that my parents would love this kind of thing, I quickly bought tickets for the three of us.
The Ramayana is one the most revered religious texts in Hinduism; it depicts the life of Rama, one of our Gods. Throughout the text, it demonstrates the importance and duties of relationships, portraying the ideal father/mother/brother/wife/friend, etc. through its characters. (If you’re interested in the story itself, click the Ramayana link above.) I was interested in seeing how a 2,000 page book (maybe more) could be condensed into 2 1/2 hours… it would be like if you saw a play based on the entire New Testament. Hmmmm…. So I told me parents in advance to expect nothing… it could be very bad or very good. But definitely not religious.
Surprisingly, the Constellation Theater Company’s rendering of Ramayana, the play was very, very good! The play was quite entertaining (even to people that do not know the story), and the music was genius! A one man band performed for 2 1/2 hours providing music and sound effects for the performance. Honestly, he needs to be nominated for some award. But, of course, as an Indian person who has been immersed in the Ramayana since I was a kid, I had to really quickly get past a fews personal prejudices in the beginning:
- Not one member of the cast (I believe) was Indian. Sita (Rama’s wife, and the epidomy of womanly beauty and virtue ), in fact, was a blue eyed, blonde woman. There is nothing wrong with that; it was just unexpected because I always pictured Sita as Indian. Rama, himself, was a tall black man in dreads painted blue… which actually worked extremely well! His stature and voice carried over everyone else’s… and I think that’s important when you’re depicting a God;
- No one could pronounce Lakshmana’s (Rama’s brother’s) name correctly (and his name was said a lot); and
- And, oy! At times it became a musical. Why did the cast have to start rapping at one point? Rama, in particular, did not need to sing, period.
But on the whole, the direction stuck true to the story and themes, and even my Dad, who religiously studies the Ramayana every day, was impressed. My parents were so happy afterwards that they donated money to the theater company afterwards.
After the play, I decided to introduce my folks to a traditional Washington, DC rite of passage: attend a protest. At the Indian Embassy, Indian folks gathered to protest the endemic political and bureaucratic corruption in India… which starts at the top. And ends at the top.
In 2010, India was ranked 87th out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. To get anything done in India, from filing a birth certificate to getting a driver’s license – bribes must be paid. You can even get into the best colleges with horrible grades if you just pay off a school administrator. It’s rough – bribery and corruption is an (almost) accepted way of life there. India also has the sad distinction of topping the list of black money countries with almost $1.4 trillion tucked away in Swiss Banks. If the rich actually started to report their income truthfully, the richest people in the world would be based in India… Bill Gates would have nothing on them. And for many of them, they have gained their wealth illegally on the backs of others.
One man, Anna Hazare, has gone on an indefinite fast (yes, he’s been starving himself for seven days now), to protest government and bureaucratic corruption. If you open any Indian newspaper today, he has galvanized the population… people in India are angry, and are protesting in large numbers every day. In Washington, DC, people gather outside of the Indian Embassy to support Hazare. We decided to join them.
For a protest, it was well organized and staged, if not large. We started with chants (both in Hindi and English)… the women were placed in front of the cameras with the men behind them. Signs were passed around; petitions were signed. Tourists in their double decker buses took pictures of us. I was somehow goaded to get in the center of the main shot. So I was forced to chant along with the others. Never mind that I don’t know Hindi very well. We stuck around for 30 minutes, got bored, and decided to eat dinner. But we accomplished our mission.
So for a weekend trip, my parents stuffed in quite a bit of excitement. Let’s see how Indian I can be the next time around…