Indian group working to establish heritage museum

 
 
Updated 9/17/2015 8:06 PM
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  • Actress Minita Gandhi of Chicago will perform her one-woman play "Muthaland" at 6 p.m. Sunday in Meiley-Swallow Theatre at North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth St. The show serves as a fundraiser for the Indo-American Heritage Museum.

    Actress Minita Gandhi of Chicago will perform her one-woman play "Muthaland" at 6 p.m. Sunday in Meiley-Swallow Theatre at North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth St. The show serves as a fundraiser for the Indo-American Heritage Museum. Courtesy of Minita Gandhi

A group of Indian Americans trying to establish a heritage museum in the Chicago area has chosen Naperville as the site for its next fundraising event, a one-woman play about spirituality, sexuality and identity.

Chicago actress Minita Gandhi will perform her play "Muthaland" at 6 p.m. Sunday in Meiley-Swallow Theatre at North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth St. as a fundraiser for the Indo-American Heritage Museum.

A few years ago, the museum lost the small room in Chicago where it used to display artifacts when the organization with which it was sharing space needed to expand, said board member Raja Nadimpalli of Highland Park. Now, leaders are looking for a new location to showcase old photos, cultural statues and other items that explain how and why Indian populations ended up in this area and what they've contributed since arriving.

"Anyone can read about Indian Americans in Google," Nadimpalli said. "What we try to give them is our unique perspective, what we faced and how have we struggled to establish ourselves and what are we doing."

Nadimpalli said the Indo-American Heritage Museum hopes to find a space of at least 1,500 square feet to re-establish itself by the end of the year. Organizers mainly are looking at Chicago locations on the North side along Devon Avenue near California Avenue, where many Indian businesses and residents are established. But they're open to considering suburbs such as Naperville, which also has a concentration of Indian residents.

Sunday's play is one effort to connect with suburban residents of Indian descent, inform them about plans to establish a museum and seek their support, Nadimpalli said, adding that "most Indians aren't aware of this idea."

The performance of "Muthaland" also is a way to introduce Naperville-area Indians and other residents to a play that Nadimpalli says addresses the intense cultural silence around issues of sexual abuse, but does so in an engaging way.

"It starts in a very light vein and halfway through takes a serious turn," Nadimpalli said.

Gandhi, 36, described her first solo play the same way, calling it a "dark comedy." The play is autobiographical, based on the story of Gandhi's trip to India for her brother's arranged wedding.

"We were going on a fairy-tale trip to India and a number of wonderful things happened," Gandhi said.

She saw relatives who stayed in India when her immediate family moved to San Francisco when she was 10 months old. She met a prophet, "ran into someone who was the love of my life" and went on a spiritual retreat. But that was where things went wrong.

Gandhi says the person in charge of the retreat assaulted her, leaving her "really lucky to be alive."

The experience made it difficult for Gandhi to write the play she envisioned about the "magic of India."

"Originally when I wrote the play, I wasn't going to write about the assault at all," she said. "But I realized I wasn't giving voice to something that I thought really needed to be given voice in the world. That's why the play takes the turn that it does. I just felt like I needed to speak out about it."

Gandhi will conduct a question-and-answer session after the 90-minute play and she said she's interested to connect with a Naperville audience and hear what viewers think of her story.

"The climax of the play surrounds the culture of silence that surrounds sexual assault," she said. "I don't think that is necessarily an Indian problem. I think that's a problem everywhere."

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