Thomas Bernhard in New Delhi


Jaspreet Singh in the NYT [h/t: Meghant Sudan]:

Thomas Bernhard, the great Austrian author, created several curious characters in his short play “The German Lunch Table.” An ordinary extended family sits down for a meal around a “natural oak” table, but somewhere down the line they find Nazis in the soup. Nazis in the soup. Nazi soup. The mother complains: When I open packages of noodles in the kitchen, I find Nazis inside the packages and they always enter the soup.

When I first read the play, I wondered if it could be adapted for Indian stage, especially in the context of the Sikh pogrom in November 1984 in the days following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

My first response, and I have not been able to revise it, was that the Bernhard play would fail to work in India because the perpetrators and the organizers of the pogrom were never punished. Some of the accused rose to become ministers in the Congress government; some became members of the Indian Parliament. In the Indian context, it is the victims and survivors who have a real and pressing need to hide inside packets of noodles. From time to time, their impoverished bodies and ghostly voices do manage to enter the soups served on powerful lunch tables in the Indian capital. At times, the dead themselves enter the curries of those who shield the guilty or suppress or silence a tragic history.

In Delhi, every year busloads of tourists visit the memorials established by the Indian government for the late Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, and her son Rajiv Gandhi. These “memorials” are “forgetorials”; they do not inform the visitors of the chillingly sinister justification provided by Mr. Gandhi for the Sikh pogrom: “The ground does shake when a big tree falls.”