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The largely Indian audience was rocking with laughter, as Kanjooswamy, “a diehard skinflint”, ranted about how his children, the government and the world were out to rob him of his hard-earned wealth.

Rob and I exchanged little half smiles as the jokes about local Indian culture, the Singapore establishment and inter-racial marriage flew around us.

This is what it’s like to be an immigrant, I thought. You just don’t get the jokes – or at least not yet.

The play was The Kanjoos, which means “the miser”, and was an Indian take on the Moliere play The Miser, performed by HuM Theatre at the Singapore Repertory Theatre last Saturday night.

Subin Subaiah was perfect as the conniving and crafty kanjoos, as was Daisy Irani, as Jayalolita, “Singapore’s premiere matchmaker”.

With their over-the-top antics and slapstick comedy, it was easy to see what was going on. It was just those little moments when they delivered a subtle one-liner and the audience erupted while Rob and I sat mutely, that made me realise that while shopping is culturally transferable, humour is not.

Ironically, as Daisy Irani and producer, Sakina Dhilawala, said in the program notes, HuM is keen to explore integration issues through its plays.

The Kanjoos could quite easily have been a play enacted by homogenous cast but we deliberately decided otherwise. That is because we wanted to re-inforce the socially appealing idea of inter-racial romance and to emphasise that prejudice is often not religious or racial but economic in nature,” they wrote.

HuM’s two previous productions also explored the integration challenges facing society.

However, I’m not sure that any of these plays included the integration challenges facing expats.

This was no fault of The Kanjoos, which was perfectly pitched and delivered with some Indian spice, giving contemporary and local relevance to the age-old moral that greed is not good.

I don’t expect local culture to accommodate visitors like us, who historically have imposed our culture on Singapore and the rest of the world with blatant disregard for local sensibilities.

It just makes me more aware of what it must be like for immigrants generally, and perhaps more understanding of the City of Whittlesea’s request back in 2004 that a local theatre company my daughter was involved with drop its production of The Sound of Music for something more cultural relevant, considering that 36 per cent of Whittlesea’s population came from non-English speaking backgrounds.

At the time, we music theatre junkies scoffed mightily at this suggestion.

The Sound of Music has always been one of my favourite things, but now I understand how for immigrants, understanding local cultural and humor is yet another one of the many mountains they have to learn to climb in order to feel at home.

Image

The Kanjoos, cast photo from the program. Photography by Wong Xin Yi, Alistair Chew and Sujoy Sen.

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