By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Anjulie Ganti was young, she enjoyed performing the Bharatanatyam, a well-respected Indian form of dancing. She retained her love of Asian culture and this month, is directing a play.
She was born in San Jose and grew up in Seattle. Though she has spent a lot of time performing onstage, she has never been formally trained in directing live theater. As a young girl, she certainly didn’t see herself directing the South Asian equivalent of a popular, but controversial, American stage play exploring the depths of female sexuality.
“Yoni Ki Baat,” translated as talks of the vagina, is the South Asian version of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” an episodic play made up of a number of monologues read by women. The theme of the piece is that the vagina is a symbol of female empowerment and individuality.
“Yoni Ki Baat” is the centerpiece for this year’s Aaina Festival, which is put on by the Northwest’s Tasveer and Chaya organizations. The festival features films, academic presentations, and forums devoted to issues surrounding South Asian women.
The three performances of “Yoni” mark the only live theater in this year’s schedule.
“In college, in the late ’90s, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ was discussed at length among my friends and peers,” Ganti said. “I realized their importance, but also of the cultural specificity the monologues represented.
What was even more eye-opening for me was that the specificity didn’t matter. But I did wonder what a stage would look like if a South Asian were up there, or a Latina, an African, an African American woman.”
The “Yoni” version started out as a project from a San Francisco Bay area group called South Asian Sisters.
Eve Ensler had a hand in adapting “Yoni,” but Ganti marvels at how South Asian women approached the project with fresh stories reflecting their own experiences.
Those distinctive experiences drew Ganti to the “Yoni” project. “The nature of the violence many women face is specific to our communities,” she said. “But the universality of violence that women face reaches to an audience beyond ours. Issues of sexuality, parental discipline, honor, tradition gender, and queerness connect widely with women in general, but the power of South Asian women specifically talking to each other cannot be measured. Each time, it is just as ground breaking.”
But perhaps this year is a little more ground-breaking than the rest.
“This year is special because it is the first time that all of the scripts and submissions are local. They are also specific to South Asian women living in Seattle,” said Ganti. We will cover issues as tough as infanticide, to issues around dating people from other ethnic communities.”
When asked about the richest rewards in directing “Yoni Ki Baat,” Ganti emphasizes the community and family.
“Directing this has been transformative for me. [I] have a 3-year-old daughter, and I want her community to love and support her and her peers for who they are. We are all just surviving, and we need the community to be there, to help us flourish and live as our whole selves. I grew up here. Seattle is my home. And there is nothing that brings me more joy than to support my community in a way that brings hope and peace.” ♦
The fifth annual Aaina festival will be held April 9–11 at the University of Washington Ethnic Cultural Center and Theatre, 3940 Brooklyn Avenue N.E. in Seattle. For details, prices, and show times, visit www.tasveer.org or www.chayaseattle.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.