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Play at historic prison marks Gandhi Jayanti in South Africa

By Fakir Hassen, IANS

Johannesburg : Mahatma Gandhi’s message of peace and his struggle against inequality came alive on his 138th birth anniversary with puppets, masks and actors telling his tale in the backdrop of the prison where he was imprisoned during his days in South Africa.

An enthralling performance by the Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust led by master puppeteer Dadi Pudumjee and the launch of a children’s book on the life and times of the Mahatma marked Gandhi Jayanti in South Africa Tuesday.

The play “Images of Truth” was performed at Constitutional Hill, once the Old Fort Jail where Gandhi and later Nelson Mandela were imprisoned during their fight for freedom in South Africa.

Invited guests included former prisoners such as Prema Naidoo, now a councillor of the same city where he was among the second generation of South African Indians tortured for their firm belief in the Gandhian principles of non-violence and freedom for all human beings.

Naidoo reminisced about his old cell in the sprawling complex, which in an apt tribute to Gandhi and Mandela now houses the Constitutional Court, the supreme arbiter of human rights in the country.

Pudumjee held the audience spellbound as he deftly manipulated a puppet version of Gandhi and directed his team using puppets, masks and actors to portray the universal message of Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle against apartheid, communal violence and war.

Speakers reminded the younger generation that Gandhi’s ideals and principles were born in South Africa.

“In fact, for the past year, starting with the opening of a permanent exhibition on the Mahatma right here at Constitutional Hill that was opened by the Prime Minister (of India Manmohan Singh) we have seen various events to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the Satyagraha movement,” said Consul-General Navdeep Suri.

“Tonight has been a fitting tribute to both the role that South Africa played in the life of Mahatma Gandhi and also to the shared histories of our two countries.”

Suri was commenting on the fact that as part of the two-month long Shared Histories Festival of Indian arts, culture, crafts and cuisine presented here, “Images of Truth” staged the last of a dozen performances across South Africa on Gandhi Jayanti.

The book “Picture Gandhi” by writer of children’s books Sandhya Rao was also officially launched at the function. The book tells the story of Gandhi in a fun way for children without sounding like a history textbook.