A Brimful of Asha: A staged anatomy of arranged marriage

Published: January 15, 2014
Theatre

A Brimful of Asha: PuSh Festival and Arts Club present this heartwarming, hilarious true story of a mothers love and a sons devotion put to the test when Asha tries to arrange Ravis marriage. Submitted/Cylla von Tiedemann

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Most families keep their arguments behind closed doors — but Ravi Jain shares his with an audience full of strangers.

The now 34-year-old Toronto-based director can still vividly recall the many years he spent fending off his parents’ seemingly endless efforts to arrange his marriage.

“There (was) a bunch of different girls that they (kept) pushing on me,” Jain recalled, explaining that with an arranged marriage the potential couple meets, followed by a meeting of the families, then within a couple of hours, a decision must be made. “I freaked out.

“How can I decide in two hours?”

As he talked to friends about his comical (for outsiders) grief of how it all “went horribly wrong,” he got the idea to make a one-man-show out of it.

He jokingly told his mother: “I’m going to make a show and tell the world what a terrible mom you are.”

To which she responded: “If the audience saw my side of the story, they would see that you’re a terrible son and they’d agree with me.”

And so A Brimful of Asha was born, starring Jain as himself and his mother, Asha Jain (who is “just a normal mom” with no acting experience), playing herself as well.

The show began in Toronto in 2012 and is currently touring Canada, making its stop in Vancouver Jan. 16 to Feb. 8 at the Revue Stage, presented by the ArtsClub and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.

“The show is really the two of us telling the story from both of our perspectives and arguing about why things happened the way they did,” said Jain. “We’re just telling the story — it’s no flash and pizzazz.

“It’s as if you came over to our house, you walk in, we welcome you and give you a samosa and we sit around the table and make fun of each other and tell stories and just laugh.”

According to Jain, the story begins in his early 20s, before he went to grad school, when he found out — to his horror — that his parents tried to arrange for him to marry a close girlfriend.

“I’m going to coffee with my friend and she says, ‘I don’t know if you know this, but your parents are trying to get us married,’ ” recalled Jain. “They called her parents to try to set us up and I was mortified.

“I was so embarrassed, because I felt like such a loser … my parents asking to get married — are you high? Are you nuts? This is so insane.”

He only found himself in similar and more uncomfortable situations for years to come. After grad school, he was off for a trip to India and about a week before he left, his parents “conveniently” booked a flight to tag along.

His parents, an arranged marriage themselves of 40 happy years, “orchestrated” a number of meetings with a young girl and her family while in India.

“This is actually nuts. I don’t know this person,” Jain recalled telling his parents as he refused to follow through with the marriage.

But his lack of interest and refusal only resulted in numerous arguments and more parades of girls, not only while they were in India, but even back home in Toronto.

“It was always something that was going on,” he said.

A Brimful of Asha, Jain’s most personal and cultural performance yet, is his exploration of why immigrant parents “are so obsessed with having their kids married.”

And while for some it may seem an unbelievable tale, it’s relatable for many immigrant families.

“Both of us are stuck between these two cultures and I think a lot of people will get that now, especially in Canada because there are so many people from everywhere else,” Jain said.

“I had two worlds — I had my Indian friends and my school friends . . . so you had these two different lives. On holidays and traditions you’d dress in Indian clothes for those things and then you change for your normal life.

“So you’re always stuck in these weird places.”

Fortunately Jain was able to translate his childhood issues into more than just the comic relief that is A Brimful of Asha — while touring the performance, he managed to snag he and his mother’s much sought-after wife, but “one of my own choosing.”

lcahute@vancouverdesi.com

twitter.com/larissacahute

INFOBOX
On stage
A Brimful of Asha
Where: Revue Stage, 1601 Johnson St.
When: Thursday to Feb. 8
Tickets: $25-$35 at artsclub.com

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