Written by a Bengali living in England and about Bengalis living in England, NIGHT’S SUNLIGHT explores the complexities involved in the formation and expression of group identity. Originally written in Bengali by the poet Ketaki Kushari Dyson, the play has now been translated by her into English (under the sponsorship of the British Centre for Literary Translation) so as to bring such issues to a wider audience.

 

"What an extraordinary play!
Quite unlike any play that I’ve seen in any language"
(Dr William Radice, SOAS, London University)

As a short December afternoon deepens into evening a group of close friends – a visiting professor from Calcutta, a teacher of Bengali, a mother and daughter and her boyfriend – talk about everything under the sun. They engage in intense, passionate and poetic conversation on diverse issues ranging from gender and the environment to language, politics, identity, diaspora and the cosmos, issues which are of fundamental concern in today’s society. Praised for its brilliant dialogic quality, this play astonishes with its verbal virtuosity. Originally a poet, (and partially because Bengali, the play’s original language is more metaphorical) the author Ketaki Kushari Dyson reawakens the poetry inherent in everyday activities, weaving the play together with poetic images. In the play’s opening section the treatment of sick herb plants is discussed, and such images recur throughout; the world is seen to "need a few passionate gardeners …who know how to cultivate human soil and draw harvests of gold out of it."

The play is dazzlingly verbal, and the characters engage with ease and energy yet there always remains something unsaid, something that can’t be said, a gap that can’t be bridged. The play haunts because this silence at the heart of the play, symbolically embodied by the hysterectomy that Deya has just undergone, (she returns from hospital mid-way through the play) is not resolved or eradicated. Human interaction (with language as its primary tool) is presented as a civilising and redemptive force, yet language is also seen as ultimately incapable of such redemption, incapable of encompassing all experience. The characters, whilst engaging in sparkling dialogue, also attempt to push at the boundaries of verbal communication. Role-plays are enacted in an attempt to enlarge experience and identity; a suttee is recreated and a lost Indian city is searched for under the ocean. And in the final moments of the play in which Deya and Obhi are separated by a chasm of silence, music is used as an alternative method of communication.

Such difficulties of communication are a universal phenomenon but are also specific to the experience of Bengalis living in England. Although located in a very specific socio-cultural matrix, the themes of the play are insistently universal. The play is concerned to explore the language difficulties faced by these people and exposes the way in which language encodes power structures; yet such power structures are seen not only to affect racial relationships but other relationships such as gender. The formation and expression of identity is an important theme within the play and, like the focus on language, is initially articulated in response to the specific Bengali Diasporic identity, yet it is also a universal theme; the condition of never quite belonging is all pervasive, identity must always be negotiated and multiple roles are always played. The author has translated her play into English so as to bring such different experience to a wider audience and to create awareness of the problems encountered by ethnic communities, but also to emphasise that these problems are encountered by everyone. This first English language production of Night’s Sunlight attempts to reach out to Asian and European audiences alike.

Ketaki Kushari Dyson is a name well know to the Bengali community of Britain. An award-winning Bengali writer, she is read wherever Bengali is spoken. She has continued to write in Bengali though she has been part of the Asian diaspora for almost four decades. She writes in several literary genres, including poetry, fiction, drama and translation, and research-based scholarly works. She is a bilingual poet, with six full collections in Bengali and three in English. A noted translator, who translates between her two languages, in both directions, she has translated Anglo-Saxon poetry into Bengali and Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry into English (Bloodaxe Books, 1991, Poetry Society Recommended Translation), and is currently translating the poetry of Buddhadeva Bose, a major 20th century Bengali poet.

Cordelia Chisholm
Producer, Night’s Sunlight