Doors to the Storytelling Court open at 8pm and people start walking in. A live, human audience—not just the figments of my imagination I’ve addressed during our practice runs! This is exciting.
John gives a brief introduction, the lights dim, the projections and the music come on. Annie and I walk to the front and wait for the images and music to fade. We each speak our part. I introduce each narrative section, making the link to the longer accounts from which these have been extracted as well as the fabric of history and culture within which these conversion stories are embedded.
Annie’s reading brings each ‘convert’-writer to life. These are no longer forgotten converts whose writings are obscure and irrelevant in the present. Each account has a distinct voice, becomes an individual speaking to us of how they grappled with questions of faith and belief, the excitement or pain of finding unexpected answers, and how their families respond to their decisions. The pieces of music that Niroshini weaves around Annie’s reading beautifully sets the emotional tone for each narrative. I can see the audience is captivated by the inherent drama of these lives.
The final applause is warm and enthusiastic. John invites all to stay with us for wine, canapés and discussion. And, everyone does, which is great! It is clear people are very interested in engaging with these stories and their implications, both historically and at present. After I give a brief introductory comment on the themes of the project, linking autobiography, religious conversion and language use, we open the floor to questions. There are comments and questions from the audience on different aspects of the narratives and we discuss motivations for conversion, the role of missionaries, conversions between other religions in South Asia, and the contemporary situation in South Asia. To be honest, most questions in some form or other return to the issue of motivation: why did these individuals really convert?…a question that is still very relevant today in contemporary South Asian political life.
It is the different layers of conflict that seems to have captured the imagination of the audience: the inner, psychological conflict competing with social conflicts and economic considerations. Thanks to Annie for selecting and juxtaposing the passages in such a way that these several conflicts play off of one another, making this a complex history to grapple with. Her sensitive rendering of the several voices was moving and yet provoked us all to ask critical questions of these life choices.
If you attended this event or are interested in other related events, please return to this website for more information on the project and other planned events in Edinburgh and London.