Mumbai 2. The show goes well. The14thTale struck again as a testament to the universality of relationships, of fear, anger, mischief... The coming of age story came of age again in the theatre and the audience laughed in all the right places - I say this because in a country where English is not the first language, it is the most obvious maker that the story is being understood; And when on stage, naked with your emotions, alone beneath the spotlights and the audience is sat in the dark a distance from the stage, you need to know the story is being followed. They laughed in the right places and I heard enough to carry on. Enough of me. After the show, I step out and dusk has come over the city of Mumbai. I rush to the larger theatre to see Akala and his Hip-Hop Shakespeare company and they tick every box in the book; they are entertaining, passionate, powerful.
The next day, I check out of the hotel early at 10.30 to deliver my first poetry and performance workshop with AVID, an education initiative. There are about 15 people packed into the air conditioned room and everything goes as planned. The bits of wisdom I share were siphoned off workshops from Jacob Sam-La Rose, Roger Robinson, Malika Booker and Apples & Snakes - the poetry in education organisation who trained me years ago. There is nothing like a Spoken Word, Performance Poetry or regular Poetry reading events in India. Or if there is, it is so small that none of the participants in the workshop are aware of it. I dish out my email address and answer questions on how one might be started. Sabina, from the workshop, turns her ready smile into a frown as she laments its absence, says that there was once a rich oral tradition, and now there is nothing...
I imagine it is to do with language in India. They seem to be as numerous as they are in Nigeria, if not more. There are roughly 250 there, but I reckon in this country of a billion people it is double that, and English complicates the problem: it is the official and commercial language and Hindi is the National language, though in Southern India, you can be lynched for speaking it. I am to leave for Pune, one of the satellite cities of Mumbai and as I say my goodbyes to the organisers of the festival here, we begin to discuss language and how it affects name. Quasar, who saw The14thTale in Edinburgh 3 years ago and brought me here, Q says that the renaming of cities was carried out by a nationalist and right wing party. Bombay was the name imposed by the English, Mumbai was its original. This party wants India for the Hindus, no Muslims welcome, no other faith. Arzanne, who stage managed my play, says that for this reason, she will always call it Bombay, fuck the right winged ones. But it works both ways: do you call it Bombay because you are proud of your Indianhood and Multiculturality? Or Call it Mumbai because you are proud of your Indianhood, and given the legacy of English rule, its Multiculturalilty?
Some of the people I meet call it both depending on who they speak with, or which language they speak. When speaking Hindi, they call it Mumbai. When speaking English, Bombay. Theoretically speaking, language is largely completely and utterly useless. It is so rudimentary and unpolished a form of communication that sometimes to me, to write poetry which relies on specificity, is a pointless task. If I say the word 'love' for instance, it is based on my past relationships, my emotions and memories associated with the word. If I dated a sumo wrestler, Love is a big strong squishy thing. If a listener dates a ballerina, it is a flippant, fairy-esq creature. We come at the word with different perceptions. To write then is to HOPE, and nothing else, to HOPE that the reader gives the same meaning to my words. When I say Bombay or Mumbai, I mean Lagos, Nigeria, I mean hope, I mean the struggle of identify, I mean a battle of languages, I mean... I guess then, poetry?