Published: 13/10/2015 18:02 - Updated: 13/10/2015 18:07

Annie's family story bridges two continents

Annie George
Annie George

ANNIE George will not just be bringing her own words to the stage at Eden Court.

The Edinburgh actress will also be introducing Scottish audiences to the words of her grandfather, Paduthottu Mathen (P.M.) John, a teacher from Kerala in southern India who died in 1945 before she was born and two years before India achieved independence from Britain.

"I knew my grandfather had been a poet and author, but the arts isn’t an area that isn’t very strong on the agenda with Asian families," she explained.

"We kind of grow up wanting to provide for the family and following an artistic bent isn’t always financially rewarding, so it wasn’t something that was talked about."

Despite this, George has worked in theatre in Scotland for last 25 years, so wondered if there was something in her DNA that led her to follow her grandfather’s more artistic leanings.

The cultural programme around last year’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games provided her with an opportunity to look further into that family history.

"They were looking for things that had to doe with sport or were connected to the Commonwealth and obviously India is part of the Commonwealth," she pointed out.

"It’s quite difficult to get work by Asian or Indian artists on such a platform and they were really excited about that."

Sadly, very little of her grandfather’s work survive following a fire at the family home.

Part of a Christian community that dates back to the time of the apostle Thomas, John was a teacher with a passion for poetry. He edited an anthology of the leading poets of the day in Sahrudayopaharam, an anthology of Malayalam poetry, which included one poem by himself.

The anthology became a school text book and George’s mother, John’s daughter-in-law, remembers reading it herself as a school pupil.

John himself later left teaching to study theology at university 2500 miles away from the rest of the family in the north of India, returning only for a couple of months each year. While he was studying, he became ill and, following a misdiagnosis of malaria, died at the age of 40.

Most of George’s knowledge of him came from her grandmother, who died in 2002 at the age of 90, and in her one-woman play The Bridge, George uses the voice of her grandmother, her parents and her grandfather to tell a story that spans two continents.

George was born in Kerala and moved to Britain at the age of four, but her daughters are more Scottish than Indian, she says, so the play will bring to life a part of their family history and connections they knew little of before.

"It was important to me that they know about this story," George added.

"I’ve collected all this information and I can give it to my cousins and they can give it to their children, so there is that whole element of genealogy. A lot of people came out of the shows saying that it reminded them of Who Do You Think You Are?, the BBC programme, and everyone is really fascinated by that."

The play also tells the story of George’s own parents, who were a love match rather than the more typical arranged marriage, and of their decision to move to Britain.

"Working on this play has been a really powerful experience for me. As you get older I think things like that matter more to you," she said.

"Telling my grandfather’s story is a form of immortality. He died 70 years ago this year, yet in a way he is still alive because I have brought his words back."

The Bridge, written and performed by Annie George, is at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, at 7.30pm on Thursday 15th October.

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