Foreword to the play Behzti, by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
20th December, 2004
by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
Playwright and actress
Truth is everything in Sikhism, the truth of action, the truth of an individual, God's truth. The heritage of the Sikh people is one of courage and victory over adversity. Our leaders were brave revolutionaries with the finest minds, warriors who propagated values of egalitarianism and selflessness.
But sometimes I feel imprisoned by the mythology of the Sikh diaspora. We are apparently a living, breathing success story, breeding affluence through hard work and aspiration. There is certainly much to be proud of and our achievements and struggles have been extraordinary. They are a testament to our remarkable community - energetic, focussed and able. But where there are winners there must be losers. And loss.
I find myself drawn to that which is beneath the surface of triumph. All that is anonymous and quiet, raging, despairing, human, inhumane, absurd and comical. To this and to those who are not beacons of multiculturalism, who live with fear and without hope and who thrive through their own versions of anti-social behaviour. I believe it is necessary for any community to keep evaluating its progress, to connect with its pain and to its past. And thus to cultivate a sense of humility and empathy; something much needed in our angry, dog eat dog times.
Clearly the fallibility of human nature means that the simple Sikh principles of equality, compassion and modesty are sometimes discarded in favour of outward appearance, wealth and the quest for power. I feel that distortion in practice must be confronted and our great ideals must be restored. Moreover, only by challenging fixed ideas of correct and incorrect behaviour can institutionalised hypocrisy be broken down.
Often, those who err from the norm are condemned and marginalized, regardless of right or wrong, so that the community will survive. However, such survival is only for the fittest, and the weak are sometimes seen as unfortunates whose kismet is bad. Much store is set by ritual rooted in religion - though people's preoccupation with the external and not the internal often renders these rituals meaningless.
My play reflects these concerns. I believe that drama should be provocative and relevant. I wrote BEHZTI because I passionately oppose injustice and hypocrisy. And because writing drama allows me to create characters, stories, a world in which I, as an artist, can play and entertain and generate debate.
The writers who I admire are courageous. They present their truths and dare to take risks whilst living with their fears. They tell us life is ferocious and terrifying, that we are imperfect and only when we embrace our imperfections honestly, can we have hope.
In order for a story to be truly universal I think it is important to start with what is specific. Though the play is set in a Gurdwara, its themes are not confined to Sikhism, and it is my intention that a person of any faith, or indeed of no faith, could relate to its subject matter.
Over the years there have been many robust dramas about world religions. Sikhism is a relatively new entrant to this arena and I am aware of the sensitivity around such discussion.
The human spirit endures through the magic of storytelling. So let me tell you a story.
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti