by LAUREN CODLING

A THEATRE director has revived a decade-old play, relating to Partition, to mark the
70th anniversary of India’s independence this year.

Child of the Divide, which premiered in 2006, is about children who are displaced in a new, fractured world after the British left the subcontinent and created two independent countries, Pakistan and India.

The play’s main character, Pali, finds himself separated from his Hindu family and brought up to be a Muslim.

When his real father returns to claim him, Pali must decide who he really is; a follower of the Hindu faith he was born into, or the Muslim boy he has since become.

Writer Sudha Bhuchar chose to mark the launch of her theatre company, Bhuchar Boulevard, with a revival of the show.

Sudha Bhuchar

She told Eastern Eye it is a story about how children navigate their way in their new world.

“It’s about [how they] find love, friendship and a sense of family and how fragile things are, but how the wisdom of kids can often pierce through the fear and prejudices of adults,” Bhuchar, 55, said.

She spoke of her “huge excitement” for the play’s revival and how important it is to honour the 70th anniversary of the event that divided families across Pakistan and India.

“People [in the UK] have been very interested to look back and see the experiences of their communities and what they went through,” Bhuchar said.

Child of the Divide speaks to global concerns today, she says.

“We are seeing the huge worldwide displacement of children yet again from very fractured areas [and] children have not created that chaos but [they are subject to] the fallout as it were, the damage,” she said.

Bhuchar hopes the play will resonate with people in schools and in the education system and prompt them to think about Partition, an event she thinks is not discussed “in the sense that Britain’s colonial history isn’t taught in schools.”

Last year, the play was shown at St Mary’s Church, Hitchin, as part of the Wimbledon Book Festival and was viewed by pupils from schools in Hitchin and Luton.

“We did a lot of after show discussions and work in the classroom and that was evaluated by the Runnymede Trust, so there is a hefty report endorsing how a play like Child of the Divide can promote the teaching of a difficult subject like this. So we have all that kind of work behind us and a very thick resource of education pack, lessons and teachers’ support,” Bhuchar said.

Bhuchar herself has two children, Samar and Sinan. She states that they inspired aspects of the play and some of the remarks they made as children are used as dialogue in the show.

Her son Samar was nine years old when the play was first released and it was shown at his primary school.

“[The pupils] weren’t educated at all about the Partition and have learned from my play and wanting to find out more. Samar’s school friends did some follow up work after seeing the play and I still have some of their letters,” Bhuchar said.

“As they are mixed faith; my children are curious about their Indo/Pakistani heritage and the play was partly written for them and their contemporaries,” she added.

The show, which was inspired by the short story Pali by Indian author Bhisham Sahni, was hailed by Time Out as the number one show for children and families in 2006 and was critically acclaimed for being a “wonderful and mature” production that “uses the story of one child to explore the tragedy of thousands”.

Bhuchar said she hopes the audiences are drawn into the world of these children, as well as having more of an understanding of their own lives.

“It’s not just the history lesson,” she said, “it’s also about who we are. The complexity of
who we are – maybe, in terms of having very much more compassion [within] interfaith dialogue and not using religion as a divisive force. Mostly, what I hope is that people are touched and they’ll go home and their hearts will have been touched by what they’ve seen.”

Child of the Divide

Child of the Divide will premiere at the Polka Theatre, London on September 29 and will tour nationwide until mid-November.

See here for more: https://polkatheatre.com/event/child-of-the-divide

Feature image © Katherine Leedale