The Iraq War in the Indian-Immigrant Context Seen Through a Play

By Nina Ahuja, Pittsburgh, PA

Editor’s Note:  Nina Ahuja, is a physician at UPMC in Pittsburgh. She grew up in Fox Chapel, and went to George Washington University before earning her medical degree from George Washington University.

RON is a play about the patriotism and loyalty of an Indian immigrant family and their US-born son who feels compelled to serve his country by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The play is set in the backdrop of the current American war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ron (Ronobir Mitra), the only son of an Indian immigrant family, is a member of the US National Guard, deployed in Iraq. Although Ron’s parents were not happy with his decision to join the army, they respect his sense of duty to his country and allow him to serve.

The play shows how the family of Ron, his parents Animesh and Shanti Mitra go on with their life in the US while Ron is in the battlefield. His absence and concern over his well-being are issues his parents, extended family, and close friend Bidisha share and express in the play.

RON, created by Natya Bharati in Washington DC, was staged at the S.V. Temple on October 23, 2010 under the auspices of the Triveni International Club.

The storyline of the play begins on the morning of a baby shower for Bidisha, Ron’s childhood friend. Ron’s parents host the baby shower on his behalf. As the guests arrive, the hope and excitement of a new life is shared among all of Ron’s family members and friends and they all hold hope that Ron will call during the baby shower.

During the baby shower, the evening takes an unexpected turn when Surojit Biswas, a writer and journalist from Calcutta challenges Animesh and other guests about their loyalty and beliefs, and their fundamental moral values. The party rapidly changes from one filled with hope and excitement to a deep revelation of each individual’s inner wars and the internal battles that each has been fighting. The baby shower takes the final twist when news from Iraq reaches conveying Ron’s death.

The play nicely portrays the inner war that each individual faces for physical and emotional survival by focusing on the larger issue of the political climate and the journey of the son of an Indian immigrant family into war. The central message emanating from RON is that though the wars we fight are not always just and fair, we still fight them anyway.

The battles of identity, belonging, duty, personal loss, and happiness, are all explored through the characters at the baby shower. Surojit Biswas, played by Paul Singh, was fabulous at probing his fellow friends to address these issues and reveal their inner struggles as he drank himself into a verbal outpouring revealing his emotional struggle. Animesh and Shanti Mitra (played by Manoj Tiwari and Meera Narasimhan) did an exceptional job as Ron’s parents. Their portrayal of the conflict parents feel between what they think is right for their children versus allowing their children to pursue their own interest was realistic, and one that many parents in the audience identified with. The glimpses of Ron, played by Gopi Ganji, were both poignant and challenging.

The younger generation who came to the program came away feeling quite in awe of their ability to identify with the messages of patriotism, free will, and love of family portrayed in this play. Many in the audience who were mostly immigrant parents could also identify with the portrayals of the inner battles they have all been through.

After their three-hour performance, Natya Bharati’s artists stayed to answer questions from the audience and personally interact with them before their trip back to DC that very same night.

Dr. Juginder and Dolly Luthra of the Triveni International Club, with help from all the board members of Triveni hosted and emceed the program.  Amit Grover, the Triveni Club Secretary, sold extra tickets to the show at the door.

RON is written by playwright, Sudipta Bhawmik and directed by Suma Muralidhar. Bhawmik is a well-known actor, director and playwright in the DC area.

Suma Muralidhar, a veteran actor in DC area, made her directorial debut with RON. Mamta Kukreti was in charge of the production with help from Rakesh Tandon, Suma Muralidhar, Guneet Kaur, Neeru Tandon, Siddhesh Pai-Raikar, Madhuri Subramaniam, Hari Easwaran, Yatin and Chetna Gola.

For all the efforts that went to bring the program to Pittsburgh, the turnout could have been better. The auditorium was only half full

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