Stories about growing up Indian

Poet Pooja Nansi juxtaposes epic stories against her frustrations growing up as an Indian here in You Are Here.
Poet Pooja Nansi juxtaposes epic stories against her frustrations growing up as an Indian here in You Are Here.PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

When poet Pooja Nansi's greatgrandfather was 12, he went for a walk and did not return for three years, during which he lived in the Himalayas with yogis.

Stories like these inspired her to start writing poems about her ancestors, who had their own epic histories.

These are the roots of her newest work, You Are Here, which will be staged at the Esplanade Recital Studio this weekend.

"Some of these stories sounded so cinematic and epic," says Nansi. "The show came from a place of wanting to pay tribute to my family and my culture."

But juxtaposed against these stories are the 34-year-old's frustrations about growing up Indian in Singapore. For example, she sometimes gets questions such as "do you speak Hindu?"

  • BOOK IT / YOU ARE HERE

  • WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 3 and 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $30 from Sistic

"You think about all these amazing people in my lineage and that expansiveness of their histories versus that kind of pigeonholing or shoeboxing."

You Are Here is an hour-long, onewoman show combining poetry, storytelling and music. Joel Tan, who is better known as a playwright, is directing the show.

The title refers to the directional marker that is often found on maps, as well as an indication of arrival for migrants. Nansi, who was born in India, came to Singapore when she was one year old.

The published writer and part-time creative writing lecturer at Nanyang Technological University was awarded a Young Artist Award last month by the National Arts Council.

She originally performed You Are Here in November last year during What I Love About You Is Your Attitude Problem, an overnight series of text-based performances that was part of the Singapore Writers Festival.

It was restaged in April for the Esplanade's RAW platform, which is dedicated to work-in-progress projects.

This new version has been restructured, with some stories removed and new material added. It also features more theatrical components, such as multimedia and sound. The creative team behind the show includes celebrated names such as lighting designer Lim Woan Wen and set designer Wong Chee Wai.

Kalaa Utsavam, says Nansi, is the right place for the show.

"At the heart of it, it's a story about being brown in Singapore and about how I grew up in Singapore not seeing stories about people like me on TV and in books.

"And there's a lot of conversation now about new Indian immigrants versus Singaporean Indians and ideas of assimilation. It's a pertinent platform for the show to be on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline 'Stories about growing up Indian'. Print Edition | Subscribe