“Dancing Bells of Rekha” Brought them to Tears
Dr Tara Singh
The pull to beautiful Jamaica, West Indies has almost been irresistible. On my last visit a week ago to the land that gave birth to Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte, Norman Manley, Alexander Bustamante, Don Quarry, Alf Valentine, Lawrence Rowe, Michael Holding, Usain Bolt, among others, I was stunned by yet another amazing beauty.
It was not the compelling attraction of the once prosperous but wicked city of Port Royal whose exploits of the buccaneers, Admiral Lord Nelson, British soldiers, and others, were abruptly ended by an earthquake in 1692 that devastated (sunk) a huge chunk of the city. Neither was it the stupendous Dunns River waterfalls at Ocho Rios that meander through the undulating hilly rocks into the vast interminable expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Nor was it the majesty of the blue waters of Montego Bay, which has the reputation of being the world’s greatest beach.
Rather my gravitas to Jamaica was to join with Jamaicans to watch another marvel called the “Dancing Bells of Rekha.” This was the production of the Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation. The actors and actresses were drawn from New York and from Jamaica. The play was written by Ramesh Deochand and co-directed by Ramesh, Parbatty Deochand and Ervin Appadu, each of whom had central roles in the play.
The story revolves around the Indian immigration experience. It unfolded on the stage at the Phoenix Theater, Haining Road, Kingston 5, Jamaica on Saturday November 25, 2017, and it was about an immigrant laborer named Ramsingh (played by Ervin Appadu) a former Rampur village street cleaner who was deceived into accepting an offer for a better paying job at another village in Uttar Pradesh.
While performing his daily chores at Rampur, Ramsingh was mesmerized by the enchanting dance sequences of a beautiful young lady named Rekha (played by Parbatty Deochand) who literally blew him off his feet. Yes, it was love at first sight.
Ramsingh approached Rekha and wasted no time in utilizing his verbal facility to express his deep interest and then love for Rekha, who was skeptical at first of Ramsingh’s entreaties, having taken into consideration their different caste background. But Ramsingh’s persistence eventually wore down the caste impediment with the power of love. Rekha fell in love with Ramsingh.
However their short romance would soon come to an end when Ramsingh was duped by an “arkati” (recruiter of immigrants) to accept a better job in another village. Wanting to elevate himself and cast poverty aside, Ramsingh accepted the offer only to learn that his destination was Calcutta instead. Despite protests, there was no turning back. Ramsingh and others were huddled, after a long journey, into a boat, called the Blundell, that was destined for Jamaica. He and his Jahagi brothers and sisters were deceptively recruited as immigrant laborers to work on the sugar plantation at Pln Old Harbor. Jamaica.
Ramsingh was badly upset with the brutal treatment meted out to indentured laborers. He would always voice his indignation as well as protested at such evils. On one occasion his anger became uncontrolable when one his jahagi brothers was beaten by the overseer, and he (Ramsingh) physically attempted to assault the overseer for which he was instead physically beaten.
The immigrant laborers were praying for their 5 years of indentureship to end so that they could return to India. That day in 1851 arrived. All of Ramsingh’s jahagi brothers and sisters were granted permission to return to India, except Ramsingh. Despite protests, that decision stood. With a broken heart, Ramsingh gave the ghungaroo that Rekha had given him (Ramsingh) as a symbol of love, to his jahagi brothers and asked them to pass it onto Rekha upon their return to India.
This they did, and also confided in Rekha, on the plight of Ramsingh. Rekha was stunned by the crippling news on Ramsingh, and having been over-powered with emotions, she ran away and could not be traced ever since. Ramsingh befriended one of the Jahagi sisters, who refused her return trip to India, and established a common law union with Ramsingh that bore 4 children. Ramsingh could not marry another woman other than Rekha; and this helped to explain why he entered into a common law relationship.
The Ghungaroo was passed onto one of the great grandchildren (played by Shanta Biersay) of Ramsingh. She was given that on one condition: that was, she had to continue with the art of dancing. And she lived up to that expectation having performed an exquisite dance filled with finesse that captivated the hearts of the audience. It was a fitting end to an exciting and memorable play. The narration was done by Barbara Persaud, President of Prema.
Preceding the play was a 15-minute session of magic. Sammy, the professional magician, mesmerized the audience comprising various ethnicities with his spell binding magic, the like of which was never seen before in Jamaica. The Host organization, Prema Mandir, has requested an encore performance for magic.
When “Dancing Bells of Rekha” was performed elsewhere with adaptations, members of the audience would cry or have tears flowing down their cheeks. The Jamaica show was no different. A young lady from Montego Bay came up to me after the show and said: “Uncle Tara, I never expected the show to be so great. Tears came down my face and I wanted to shout encore!” Judge M Dukheran noted “it was great, really moving.” Owen Badaloo observed, “This play exceeded my expectation; I never thought that it would have been so good.” These sentiments reflect the overall feelings of the audience.
Telling a story through a speech or a lecture or reading a history book could not evoke the audience’s emotions to such a magnitude as a dramatic presentation (largely depicting the human emotions side) on the stage. There is where they watch a lifetime of struggles and challenges being played out in 2 hours with breath taking scenes and soul-searching songs reflecting the conditions and the varying moods of the times.
“Dancing Bells of Rekha” was performed as part of Jamaicans’ contribution to the 100th anniversary of the abolition of the recruitment of labor under the indentureship system (1838-1917). A brief introduction of the history behind the play “Dancing Bells of Rekha” was given by prominent business executive and a director and patron of the Prema Mandir, Ravi Rambarran. Congratulations to the actors and actresses as well as the organizers. I am very happy to have initiated and set this project in motion.