Black lives in Indian literature of the Bandung era
IN 1963, the Indian People’s Theater Association staged a play. Like most of the ideologically left-wing theater troupe, this one too was about freedom. Since its inception twenty years earlier during the struggle for Indian freedom, the IPTA had featured stories of revolution unfolding in a young India struggling against, or nearly liberated from, British rule. But this new piece stood out in a crucial way. Located far from home, it was not India at all. This was the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s, in which the Kenyan Army for Land and Freedom led an armed revolt against colonial rule. This struggle was met with fierce repression from the British, who set up prison camps where around 150,000 Kenyan prisoners were subjected to extreme physical torture and sexual abuse. And, although the Mau Mau campaign was ultimately suppressed, it played an important role in helping Kenya gain independence in 1963.
Performed the same year that Kenya was liberated, the IPTA play on the Mau Mau rebellion was originally written in English by Kenyan-Indian actor Zul Vellani, who called it The flaming spear / no other way. The script was then translated into Hindi by Vishwamitter Adil and performed in Bombay by IPTA as Africa Jawan Pareshan—African Youth in Need. But sadly, we know very little about what happens in the story. The English and Hindi scripts seem to be lost, and when I contacted people who had seen the play over fifty years ago, they could not accurately recall its plot.
Basically the play revolves around a family that belongs to the Kikuyu clan, the largest ethnic group in Kenya, which has also spearheaded the Mau Mau campaign. The main conflict in the story emerges from the political differences between family members over the type of path Kenya should take to freedom. But while it’s difficult to know more about who exactly the characters were or how the scenes unfolded, there is a small but revealing archive. These are a handful of photographs of the play’s Hindi staging. I discovered the images with the help of my aunt who, like my grandparents, was herself a member of IPTA.