Parents know the importance of reading to their young children, but what if there are few stories that reflect the child’s multicultural heritage?
Prajwala Dixit found a creative solution for her Indian-Canadian daughter.
“I went about retelling stories that my grandmothers have told me — that I’ve read — but in a sort of Newfoundland context.”
Dixit told her daughter the stories of Panchatantra, which were written by Pandit Vishnu Sharma in the 3rd century B.C. and have been passed down for millennia in India, but she localized some parts of the tales.
In Dixit’s adaptations, monkeys and lions became orcas and chipmunks.
“That’s how ‘The Tales of Dwipa’ were born — in the hope that my daughter gets a global, pluralistic understanding of the realm she is in, and that she’s able to belong to both her worlds — Indian and Canadian.”
Not long after Dixit wrote the stories in 2018, they morphed into plays with the guidance of Ruth Lawrence as producer, and with insight from playwright Robert Chafe.
Beginning on Saturday, Dixit’s modernized, diversified tales will be onstage at Bowring Park, Kenny’s Pond Park and Bannerman Park.
Dixit said she hopes that through the magic of theatre, she can “bring the world to children’s feet.”
In the tales, a young girl named Mima and her two best friends — a Labrador retriever and a Newfoundland dog — explore an island, learning life lessons along the way.
There are four tales which will be told over the course of four Saturdays from July 13 to Aug. 3.
The interactive plays encourage the audience to learn new words in Kannada, Hindi and Sanskrit. In fact, dwipa is the Sanskrit word for island.
Dixit said the stories will help young audiences to see that people are more similar than different.
“For the next generation, diversity should be as easy as breathing — it should just be,” she said.
Not only are the tales diverse in content, they also boast a diverse cast and crew.
On Thursday, they were rehearsing at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre.
Long stretches of blue fabric became a river, and people on all fours became dogs.
Santiago Guzmán plays the Labrador retriever, and also directs the play.
Guzmán moved to Newfoundland from Mexico four years ago to study fine arts at Memorial University’s Grenfell campus.
He is passionate about telling stories from a multicultural perspective.
“I’m becoming an adopted Newfoundlander, right? So, my life and the stories that I tell, or that I create, are also Newfoundland stories because this is the experience that I’ve had and it’s because I am here.”
“The Tales of Dwipa” also touch on modern issues, such as the refugee crisis, which is explored in the first of the tales, “The Tale of Three Fishes,” in which the fish have to flee their homes.
“They end up in a new home and a new pond where the food is new, the water is new, the environment’s new, and they have to navigate that,” said Dixit.
There is a different tale each week, exploring a range of themes, including friendship, trust and hope.
The free, family-friendly plays will be performed every Saturday until Aug. 3 at Bowring Park at 11 a.m., Kenny’s Pond Park at 1 p.m., and Bannerman Park at 3 p.m.