The Ones that Grow the Hardiest, by Meenakshi Rishi

Did you know that a banyan tree begins its journey as a small seed germinating first in the space and crannies of another host tree? What an apt metaphor for our lives!  Not so long ago, the Indian American community was an immigrant epiphyte quietly sprouting in the crevices of our adopted homeland. Strong banyan trees now stand in place of those tiny seeds and it is not an exaggeration to state that the Indian American diaspora has truly taken root in the US.

Alpa Dave and Madhura Nirkhe in The Palm Reader
Photo: Joe Iano
But, is the mere putting down of roots, a necessary and sufficient condition for our growth and development What kind of growth are we even talking about? Should growth be measured by indicators of stability such acquiring material possessions or earning laurels and accolades? Is growth is measured by our Ivy League degrees, hefty pay packets, and huge bank balances?   If not these then what else should one strive for?  Perhaps nature again offers up some parallels to help with this introspection. We know that trees that grow in challenging natural settings and battle the elements are the ones that grow the hardiest.  Is this also true for the lives of us immigrants?  Can we as a community genuinely grow and develop in an environment of acquiescence that does not challenge us to question our beliefs, customs, values, and norms? Tulika Kumar adroitly handles the complexity of such issues and more in her thought-provoking trilogy, “The Banyan Tree”.
In The Palm Reader a chance encounter transforms the lives of two women who realize the power of agency over acceptance of the status quo.  An admission of truth brazenly pits father against son and threatens to unravel the veneer of a family’s suburban respectability in The Banerjees Are Coming.  In United States V. Nani Ji, we encounter a wily Indian family trying to game the system, only to realize that the “system” is riddled with social injustice and has already been hollowed out by other bigger players.

Abhijeet Rane and Abhi Sheth in The Banerjees are Coming
Photo: Joe Iano
Of course, we are left with more questions than answers at the end of the show.  But, that is exactly what a good play should make us do.  I highly recommend Pratidhwani’s well directed and first ever commissioned play project. The actors, stalwarts as well as newcomers, are all well cast and assay their roles wonderfully. The transitions between the three stories and set changes are managed efficiently.  All in all, a good live theatre experience.

Finally, having been part of the initial reading of this trilogy several years ago and seen the play evolve, I can safely say —Tulika, you've come a long way girl!  May you continue to enthrall us with your vignettes of the Indian American experience in the future.