ENO: Satyagraha

We were fortunate to have been offered tickets to the dress rehearsal of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha at the English National Opera. Named after the movement for non-violent protest and self determination usually associated with Gandhi. The Opera talks about his time in South Africa and his formation of the movement based on Ubuntu philosophy, ending with a foreshadowing of Mandela who would take the helm in providing freedom in his country.

The grand performance was a sight to behold and it was nice to see figures who would have been hated by many in the same city a few decades ago taking center stage. What I enjoyed the most about the performance was the grand puppets that seemed to construct themselves throughout the performance. There were parts of the performance that were in Sanskrit which was interesting to hear, being the north Indian equivalent of what Latin is for many Europeans.

This performance however reminded me little of how Indians view the independence movement. For one, Gandhi’s reputation is far more grey in the country these days than how he is seen by outsiders. The far right in power at the moment accuses him of being a British sympathizer and the progressive left accuses him of upholding upper caste Hindu values and reducing the strength of the Dalit movements that formed early in the creation of the country. The opera seems to be bolstering both ideas, with its relating Gandhi’s search for fortitude to passages from the Bhagavad Gita that talk of Dharma, the basis for the Hindu caste structure, and on the other end showing him being protected and led to safety by the British superintendent’s wife.

The fact of the matter is near mythical figures such as Gandhi or Mandela are hard to touch without at least a few people raising eyebrows and Philip Glass’ composition was more than worth experiencing.

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