Today I went to see “Buttter and Mashed Banana”, a critically acclaimed satire play about freedom of speech and clashing ideologies in Indian politics. From 1998-2004 India was led by a right-of-center Hindu Nationalist Party called the BJP, which subsequently lost to Congress, the India’s founding political party that embraces secularism. “Secularism in India broadly means equal treatment of all religious denominations and provision for special protection to and welfare schemes for minorities, including tribals, dalits and other minority groups. The BJP, on the other hand, promotes Hindu nationalism, which sees India as a Hindu nation – not a theocracy, but a nation-state in the European sense of the word. However, Indian politics has seen some changes in recent years, as a result of which most parties are beginning to move towards the political center. From a two-party system, the country has moved to an era of coalitions – although the two main parties, the Congress and the BJP, continue to lead the two major coalitions, the UPA and the NDA respectively.” (Arora, 2008)
The play begins with the narrator telling the story of his birth, – conceived out of wedlock by parents who end up together when they learn they will have a child. Before his birth, his parents find out about their conflicting ideologies: His mother a left-wing, Chairman-Mao-loving feminist and his father a right-wing, conservative Hindu nationalist. So, despite these differences they come together to have the child, but they differ fundamentally on how the child should be raised. What I found interesting about this play was that there was this remarkable optimism when the child enters into a story. This optimism about children and youth made me think about the organizations whose projects we have just returned from visiting – The Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM)
According to the organization’s history: In 1984, a group of young medical students led by R.Balasubramaniam at the Mysore Medical College (in Karnataka State, India) began to become disillusioned by the sort of medicine that was being practiced around them. Modern medicine was not reaching the poor and the marginalized in rural areas and was not incorporating the values they were raised with. They started SVYM, with the high ideals and positive thinking that only youth could have. SVYM has grown to be a strong secular force for change in the tribal areas south of Mysore. From a small medical practice in Heggadadevanakote Taluk, the home of the displaced and dispossessed forest-based tribes to a 80 bed hospital in Saragur, this organization has now grown to become a force for educational, health and rural development in Southern India.
We will write more about SVYM and their model of social change in later blog posts. But for now, this was my first exposure to modern Indian theatre and I have to admit I was mightily impressed because it forced me to reflect on the power of youth, but also the current ideological wars in Indian politics.