One day I was on my way to Bangsar. Traffic was heavy and while in the taxi I was worried Uncle (taxi driver) would start talking to me in Tamil. Because even though I am Indian, I cannot speak Tamil. I must be in luck because Uncle started conversing in Tamil and because I was afraid to hurt his feelings I answered, "Uncle, sorry but I cannot understand Tamil. Can you speak English?" he paused for a moment.
Then uncle replied, "You children these days," and uncle started giving me a lecture about our history and days when our ancestors came to work in Tanah Melayu as rubber tappers. Barely a minute into the conversation, Uncle told me to get down and walk because traffic was not moving. He added, "Next time, go to Brickfields, this will teach you more about your own culture and heritage." According to Uncle, Brickfields is filled with people of my "own kind". After this incident, Mahesh thought twice before getting into a cab especially when it an Indian driver. (Parah, 2012)
Brought to you by the Instant Cafe Theatre Company, Parah is a play performed in Bahasa (with English subtitles), inspired by Yasmin Ahmad's final film, 'Talentime' and Abdullah Hussain's novel, 'Interlok'.
"This play is about ancestry and the pain of feeling cast out by history." (Kukathas, Director of Parah)
Parah (meaning severe)
tells the story of 4 individuals, all in their final year of secondary school. Melur, Hafiz, Kahoe and Mahesh are best friends who spend their afternoons at Melur's house hanging out and studying. Looking very much like the poster child for a typical "1 Malaysia" campaign, Parah revolves around a literature novel entitled Interlok that is used by the Form 5 students in school. It begins when Melur discovers that a page from the novel is torn out. She questions her friends to find the culprit.
Kahoe: "Takkan nak guna lap ***** di rumah kau, Melur" -- the play centers around the issue of race and identity, it puts a big question mark in our heads, bringing back collective histories.
As they dwell deeper and question why someone would tear a page from the novel, they become curious as to what the content of the torn out page in Interlok is.
It was Shaz's and my third play together and not having been such a huge fan of plays, I did not expect much out of Parah. Severe much?
But to my surprise, the four of us (with Vince and Soo Yin) headed to KLPac after hearing many good reviews and truth be told, I was extremely amazed by the excellent plot and dialogues. It takes more than talent and effort to put together a play with barely any background music or over exaggerated props.
The intensity of a show lasted the entire play (for a good 2.5 hours) and what surprised me further is the fact that a non Malaysian (writer of Parah, Alfian Sa'at is a Singaporean) had to put together a story as such that realistically represents our complex histories as well as racial concerns within the country.
To me, Parah is a brilliant piece that showcases the struggles of urban working class citizens and questions the stereotypes and concerns of people of different backgrounds. Based on a true story (and the novel Interlok taught in schools), I hope this story is used more than just in theatres. It is more than just a story, it is an experience that needs to be shared and heard.