Ajuntha Anwari lives in a big old house in Telok Kurau. Stepping beyond the gates to her garden, the lively self-described “60-something year old lady” greets her guests with a wide grin, as she beckons them to take a seat in her living room, as part of her performance at Open Homes @ Silver Arts. There are a few people she knows dearly in the audience who’ve come to support her, from playwright Haresh Sharma to actress and personality Nikki Muller.
The first thing that hits you is the smell – a heady mix of herbs and spices that hangs lightly in the air, revealing her passion and lifelong fascination with traditional medicine and harnessing nature’s gifts from all around her. The second is the countless paraphernalia lovingly arranged around the room, from statues of gods to ceramic pots, saris as curtains to a framed photo of her mother, and everything here feels tinged with her personal touch, making her home a source of comfort and power as she takes up her position and begins to tell the story that’s been ‘just under her skin’ for years.
Born to an Eurasian mother and an Indian father of Pakistani descent, Ajuntha feels completely in her element as she begins to tell her tale, a story that only gets bigger and more epic as she goes on, crossing both generations and continents. Beginning with her childhood growing up in the area rich in Peranakan/Eurasian culture, Ajuntha vividly brings to life memories one could practically reach out and touch. She recalls afternoons spent at the old Red House Cafe as a KC schoolgirl when Marine Parade was still a coastline, or goes back even further to her five year old self, eyes wide with glee as she indulges in consuming a rainbow kueh lapis layer by layer and even engaging in friendly eating competitions with her siblings.
Midway through her anecdotes, Ajuntha pauses to show us her basket of fresh herbs and spices, demonstrating how she prepares herbal tea made from only the freshest of ingredients either from her garden or the wet market, adept at crushing up betel leaves and turmeric, pounding nutmeg and crunching up lemongrass before tossing it all into a large, beautiful teapot, which she then infuses with water just below boiling point. (Of course, we got to try it too.) She even shows us a a pot of murky black jamu, traditional medicine from Indonesia her mother used to cook up, and swears by its ability to make her feel better, no matter what (be forewarned, it’s really bitter.)
This is also the point where I AM reaches the crux of the entire performance, and Ajuntha branches off from her own memories to the story of her mother. Living through World War II and the Japanese Occupation, life was never easy for her mother, and to make matters worse, had gone through not one but two relationships that went sour. Describing her as a dreamer, Ajuntha lived for years in a bitter rage, wondering why her mother left their family, understanding yet not accepting it. A couple of tears were shed by the audience as we watched Ajuntha tremble at the memory of those years, recalling visiting her mother in Australia in a new, happy relationship, as she talked to her about everything except her unresolved emotions.
But time heals all wounds, and Ajuntha eventually realized sixty-odd years later, that her mother did what she had to do in order to be happy, and had already done her best to be there for her children in the ways that she could. Now a mother herself, Ajuntha has come full circle in many ways, including having moved into her current home just ten years ago, returning to the place she grew up and finding solace and happiness in her family and her home. From old wounds spring new beginnings, and Ajuntha ends off her performance in her garden, introducing us to Martha G – a frangipani tree that was grown from a branch from the tree at her previous house. Having achieved full bloom and having now grown into a strong, towering tree, we were ultimately touched and moved by this poignant ending to one of the most deeply affecting, powerful Open Homes we’ve had the chance to attend.
Performance attended 15/9/17
I AM continues to play tomorrow, 16 September at 2pm & 4pm at Ajuntha’s home in Joo Chiat.
Tickets to Open Homes @ Silver Arts available via APACTix, Singpost Outlets or the hotline at (+65) 3158 8588. The exact reporting time and venue will be communicated via phone to ticket holders two weeks before the show. For further enquiries, please contact Open Homes at 9716 8747.