Mother Tongues From Farther Lands – why this is important
By Rafia Hussain, volunteer in the marketing department at Oldham Coliseum Theatre.
Mother Tongues from Farther Lands is a new piece of spoken word devised theatre created using first-hand accounts of South Asian women. Made for the annual Alchemy festival, commissioned by Southbank Centre, it’s been produced by Dawinder Basal and written by Sajeela Kershi.
This play intrigues me as a South Asian bilingual woman as I never see myself represented on stage, yet alone celebrated. I’m looking forward to seeing a show that shows people from my heritage as multi-faceted, three-dimensional individuals.
Though I don’t know the contents of the play, this topic of ‘mother tongue’ is one I have a complex relationship with. Personally I speak English better than my mother tongue, which is a consequence of being too ashamed to speak my mother tongue in public as a child. People who speak English well are perceived to be automatically more intelligent than those who do not, a belief I internalised growing up. This has led to me having a language barrier with my own mother as she articulates herself much better in my mother tongue and I articulate myself much better in English. She thinks and dreams in Pahari, whilst I think and dream in English. I worry that when I have children of my own, they’ll lose connections to their heritage because I’m so much more fluent in English.
Sajeela Kershi is a South Asian woman who champions women and someone I look up to for her work. Having seen her comedy, I’m looking forward to seeing a play written by her. Mother Tongues from Fartherlands has been the product of a journey through a series of regional workshops – here in Oldham, as well as in London, in Doncaster, in the Black Country – with South Asian women. The project connected the performers Shobna Gulati, Shobu Kappor, Sajeela Kershi and the broadcaster Shyama Perera, with non-performers to discover and share their stories. The Oldham group actually helped decide on the title for the show.
I found this topic challenging to write about, and it’s not something I ever talk openly about so I’m grateful that there’s a play to open this dialogue about what it means to be a South Asian woman, our voices have been marginalised for far too long.
“Here’s to strong women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them” – Sajeela Kershi
Come and see Mother Tongues from Farther Lands at Oldham Coliseum Thursday 11 May at 7.30pm.