On masks and migration

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  • Published 20140204
  • ISBN: 9781922182241
  • Extent: 300 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

WINTER, A SMALL grocery shop in suburban New Zealand: the opening stage direction of Jacob Rajan’s enduringly popular solo piece Krishnan’s Dairy, first performed at Bats in Wellington in 1997. A short song describes how Gobi and Zina Krishnan came to New Zealand from India and set up their quintessential Kiwi dairy. Rajan as Gobi appears behind the counter. His face is in half-mask, he puts on a scarf, starts to sing ‘I Say a Little Prayer for You’, forgets the words, hums, mimes opening and closing the dairy door, puts out buckets of cut flowers, stares at the moon. Soon – deftly switching between masks – Rajan will also be Zina, the emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal (in whose memory he built the Taj Mahal), and, at the end of the play years after Gobi is shot by a burglar, Apu, Gobi’s and Zina’s grown-up son.

Theatrically, the use of masks links Krishnan’s Dairy to classical Greek tragedy, Commedia dell’arte, Japanese Noh drama, also religious ritual and observance in many parts of the world. Equally, the masks point up the front, the persona, that immigrants often, perhaps always, feel required to adopt on coming to a new country, to New Zealand, for instance. Gobi’s mask also suggests the stereotypical image that locals sometimes project onto new arrivals: Indians are highly strung, English are snooty, Germans are efficiency-mad, Asians drive badly…

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About the author

Harry Ricketts

Harry Ricketts teaches English literature and creative non-fiction at Victoria University of Wellington and co-edits the review quarterly New Zealand Books. He has published...

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