Divided by borders, united by emotions

People flocked in large numbers for drama

Divided by borders, united by emotions
Pakistani Theatre Festival made the audience look back into a lot of events

After 67 years of Independence, the country still suffers from the aftermath of partition. People have grown in an environment where they ignore some critical parts of history and hence the repercussions of partition are still existent.

 In the recent Pakistani Theatre Festival “Humsaya” by Ajoka Theatre held in Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi, the above notions were brought to focus by playwright and director Shahid Nadeem.

He says, “We call ourselves theatre for social change. It’s meant for Pakistani audience who face so many problems of existential nature like challenge from the national security state or military rule or authoritarian regimes as well as from non-state actors like Taliban, al-Qaeda and other extremist forces. Our society faces a grave threat which should be challenged through all possible means, including all cultural means like theatre.”

Organised by Routes 2 Roots, the festival opened with “Bulha” , the story of Bulleh Shah, who lived in the times of the downfall of the Mughal empire. Conflicts, rebellions, civil and religious strife and total ideological and political chaos were all the common characteristics of that era, some of which are similar with present day South Asia.

Written by Nadeem and directed by Madeeha Gauhar, Bulha was a tribute to the great mystic Bulleh Shah.  Through Nadeem and Gauhar’s collective excellence, the audience was able to see the contrast between the divergent views of Bulleh Shah and Banda Singh Bahadur (even though there is no historical reference that they ever meet). Where Bulleh Shah demanded peace and love, Banda Singh Bahadur, on the other hand, wanted bloodshed and terrorism for the civil strife caused by Mughal emperors. Intrigued by the powerful performance, people continued to come in large numbers on the following day to watch the tragedy that hit the life of Dara Shikoh, who was killed by his Machiavellian brother Aurangzeb.

For someone who welcomed new ideas, religious, ethical, social and scientific, it is a sad reality that Dara and his story couldn’t find space in the history textbooks. Amidst his non-existent presence, Nadeem presented another powerful staging of the play “Dara” wherein the war of succession between the two divergent and conflicting interpretations of Islam, namely those of Aurangzeb and Dara were brought to life.

“Dara was the one who spoke of all faiths and religions in India, and that was the reason he was declared heretic and executed. He was the one who lived in Delhi and was buried in an unmarked grave in Delhi. He has no road named after him. He loved the city and people showered him with equal love. I think he definitely deserves recognition here,” says Nadeem. In Pakistan, Dara is ignored, but Aurangzeb is regarded as the model Muslim ruler, who is like a prototype of present day extremist rulers.

What ended on the shared cultures and history of India and Pakistan, was followed by the prolificity of Saadat Hassan Manto on the third day of the festival. Titled ‘Kaun hai ye Gustakh’, the play focused on Manto’s life, works and events after his migration to Lahore in 1949. 

Nadeem said, “all the short stories in Kaun Hai Ye Gustakh were staged to give glimpses into Manto’s writings, and the facts that even in the most difficult and chaotic times, people had some sort of a humanity left in them (Thanda Ghosht) and how the lunatics in the mental hospital made more sense than the people outside.”

So far, Delhiites were filled with memories of partition and its impact. But Ajoka had something entirely different in store for them with their fourth play of Humsaya, titled “Lo Phir Basant Aayee”. Giving history, culture and devastation a break, the festival ended on a much lighter note with numerous comical representations that left the audience sharing a hearty laugh.

The story of Lo Phir Basant Ayee revolved around the ordinary folk of Pakistan, who are denied to celebrate the coming of spring (Basant); where a teacher is being told what to teach and what not to; where young lovers cannot sit on the same bench.

The play posed poignant questions like, “The spring has arrived but will Basant ever be celebrated again in the besieged city?” “Young boys will be arrested for flying kites, kite makers will be arrested for creating colourful kites, but will the spirit of Lahore ever fade?” As long as there is one kite flying on the rooftop, the dream of flying, joy and freedom will live on.

The play made people feel relieved and lucky to have the freedom of celebrating Basant, unlike those in the neighbouring country, where rigidity is still prevalent. The four days of retrospective theatre, made the audience look back into a lot of events that have gone by, a lot of instances that have left a long-lasting impact. Two countries divided by borders and united by emotions, indeed!

However, it was unpleasant to learn from Nadeem that the National School of Drama (NSD) ― has been denying Ajoka to stage their plays during its annual festival  “Bharat Rang Mahotsav.”  “We last performed in NSD in 2012.  Since then, we have not been invited to participate in Bharat Rang Mahotsav,” says Nadeem.

He concluded on a subtle note saying, “There are still some irritants in different parts of the country, but people broadly want to move on now. In fact, in Pakistan people are more ready for peace, than people think about them. We hope that we will be able to come to India more often. We hope that the NSD will revise its position. Also, we are planning to invite Indian theatre groups to Pakistan next year.”

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