A complex drama revolving around the contentious issue of Kashmir
The Djinns of Eidgah
Performed by: Rage Productions
Date: August 18
Venue: Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall
Over the last three days of Ramzan, Dr. Baig, a psychiatrist at the government psychiatry hospital in Srinagar, is asked to be part of the team of interlocutors that speaks to the Indian Government in a process that is arguably leading to dialogue. This is the premise that kick-starts The Djinns of Eidgah, written by Bangalore-based Abhishek Majumdar and directed by Richard Twyman from Britain. Around this central event, representational characters abound, standing in for the ways in which the average Kashmiri deals with the horrors around him. Ashrafi, the traumatised child, the innocence of Kashmir, opts to escape into fantasy, clutching her rag doll and losing herself in a world of Djinns. Dr. Baig, on the other hand, is the pragmatist, the optimist, choosing to soldier on towards peace.
Ashrafi’s brother Bilal, meanwhile, wants to remove himself from Kashmir altogether — he wants to play football in South America. Then there is the soldier, the fanatic, far removed from any semblance of sane dialogue.
These characters come together in a drama that eschews easy answers for a complex and thought-provoking sojourn through one of the most tragically unresolved political issues of our time.
PLAYWRIGHT’S TAKE — Abhishek Majumdar
Your play is based on the premise of dialogue and negotiation, which is a very practical way to go about things. But at the other end, it shows people retreating from reality. Are you saying that people get cynical after a point?
The general feeling in the valley is that of unrest as the Kashmiri youth view this as another instance of eyewash by the Indian authorities. In spite of opposition Dr. Baig agrees to be part of the dialogue, just as over the same three days, his young patient Ashrafi's world changes. The events are less scary than the existence of continuous fear. If somebody starts fighting in a room, it’s scary. But what is more terrifying is waiting in that room and knowing at some point the fight will start. If you’re an
eight, 10 or 15-year-old imagine what fear you are going to live in. How long can this continue before the people begin to look for ways to escape? I find them very optimistic because they want those few moments of joy and they’ll go to any extent to get them. The word “kashmiriyat” means hospitality.
What do the Djinns stand for? Are they conscious fantasy or is there a bit of reality to their existence in this troubled context?
When you’re pushed beyond a point, the imagined begins to seep into the real.
I know people who have seen Djinns, who have studied their existence. Anand
Taneja, a doctoral student at Columbia University, has done intensive research on the Djinns of Tughlaqabad. A Pakistani scholar has published a research paper on Djinns and children. And of course, the Quran talks extensively about Djinns. I believe that it is important to acknowledge “that-which-we-don’t-understand”. I think ours is one of the most unreal cultures. We have living myths. I think we are a story-telling nation. We are fine with fantasies. We broke down an entire mosque for a fantasy. We have stopped exhibitions of a painter because he gave a form to a fantasy. I would be happy if they perceive this play as fantasy. Ultimately, it is a work of fiction.
The contentious Kashmir issue is so much a part of our history, our psyche. Did you have any apprehensions about handing over your play to a British director who may know little or nothing about the Kashmiri's plight?
The world is a smaller place today. There is access to a lot of information, which wasn’t there earlier. I am not from a school of thought where I believe that I have done justice to the text and now I’ll hand over the play to someone who’ll do the same justice to it. Theatre is not a solo art form. As a playwright, I am aware that I need people who have a certain stage craft and a certain emotional intelligence — who’ll be honest with me and tell me what’s working in the play and what’s not. Richard is wonderful with that. Writing a play is a bit like travelling. One really has to enjoy the journey.