Remembering the age of Empires | Indian comedian Anuvab Pal on his first trip to Edinburgh

Remembering the age of Empires

Indian comedian Anuvab Pal on his first trip to Edinburgh

This is my first time in Edinburgh. And my first time in Scotland. Until now, my only association with Scotland was being taught Macbeth for my Indian school exams some 25 years ago. I’m learning that Scotland is not like that anymore. People can stay over in people’s houses without getting murdered. 

I’m enjoying the cobbled stones. When I walk down the streets of old towns, I try to imagine what they must have been like during their heyday. And thank myself that I’m on these cobbled stones on my way to getting an espresso in 2018 and not to watch a beheading or perform for some Lord who could order my beheading if he wasn’t impressed by the jokes. 

Also, I’m fat, that’s what my wife tells me, and every weighing scale, so going up and down undulated terrain, will help. Perhaps old Scottish Kings knew this and preferred it to a personal Zumba trainer. 

I’ve always been a big fan of history, so I had this image in my head that small parts of London might look like something from Blackadder and Monty Python. First time I visited London was 1985 and the first thing I saw, getting out a train station in Paddington was a shop called, Ramesh’s Curry. Now, what bewildered me was (and I’d forgotten about my medieval history interest by now), there was a Ramesh’s Curry in Calcutta as well, my home, where I’d flown from.  So I wasn’t sure where I’d come. Globalisation can play cruel tricks on an Indian child of eight.  Later I found out the two shops were not related, nor were the two Rameshes

I’m doing m show, The Empire, at the Pleasance Courtyard. Again, who gets to perform in a courtyard unless it’s 1760 and you are a peacock and part of a peacock ensemble performing in a peacock dance for an Indian Mughal Emperor early some Sunday evening. OK, that may be too specific. 

I’m a comedian based in Mumbai. The British have been gone a long time and Empire now to Indians means very little. To those that watch American TV, it means a show about a rap mogul. To everyone else, a bunch of dying statues at important city junctions, random roads named after British aristocracy and courts using big words criminals can’t understand. 

In Britain, when I first performed d the Empire shows at Soho Theatre May, I found Empire meant some nostalgic lovely historic thing - like Downton Abbey set in New Delhi. And most audiences couldn’t name the statues of famous British people that dot Trafalgar Square and Whitehall who basically ran the Empire and built India. So yes, safe to say forgotten here also. 

Yet, I’m still banging on about it. I have no idea why. Maybe to understand why my dad wears a cravat or why my school made us commit The Lord’s Prayer to memory. Or why there are seven statues of Queen Victoria within two miles of my home or why my uncle, a Punjabi man, was noted for his performance of Algernon in an Oscar Wilde classic at his local cricket club. Or even why we had a local cricket club and why on Earth were they doing classic plays from another country and commending Punjabi men for their portrayal of British posh people. Maybe I want to understand when cultures mix and then un-mix (not sure if that’s a word), what lives on? 

The relationship between our two cultures is complex, long, marital almost. And like all marriages, rarely understood and impossible to untangle. No one can explain why a hat belonging to Tipu Sultan, a provincial Indian king, sits inside Edinburgh castle or why indeed my friend Gus, who is born and raised in Wiltshire, cannot eat anything but chicken tikka masala most nights. 

Maybe it is to explore all this, or maybe it is to understand why I know the meaning of the word ‘whereforesoever" and why it was taught to us in an Indian school. 

Anyway, when you talk to Indian audiences today about Empire, they want a quick answer. Was it good or bad and what can we get out of it by the end of the hour? When you’ve got 600 million people under 30, the millennial route to justice is apropos. To British audiences, leaving India suddenly one night after 250 years together, felt like the world’s first Brexit. 

I don’t know how it’ll go by the end of the month, but I was reading that in British India, a performer was once given 15 seconds to perform before a local British general. He was shit and was immediately imprisoned. Maybe my only lesson for history is to not be that performer in 2018. Or that audiences are more forgiving. 

Anuvab Pal: Empire is on at the Pleasance Courtyard at 19:00

Published: 9 Aug 2018

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