After six years, Indian and Pakistani theatre groups are collaborating to produce a new play, which will open in July in Amritsar as part of a two-year theatre for peace project.
Madeeha Gauhar of Ajoka theatre group told The Hindu on Sunday that it was collaborating with two well- known groups from India, Manch Rangmanch from Punjab headed by Kewal Dhariwal and Ranga Karmi from Kolkata in a two-year project with seminars in Karachi and New Delhi in August on theatre in times of peace and conflict.
The highlight of the project will be theatre festivals in Amritsar and Lahore in November and a collaborative production with actors from both countries. Ms. Gauhar is back from a trip to Amritsar after a reading of the proposed joint production directed by Ranga Karmi's Usha Ganguly, Ani Mai Da Sufna (The Blind Woman’s Dream) written by Shahid Nadeem.
She said the script was written in Shahmukhi, which is unusual since the Persian script for Punjabi was rarely in use. It had to be translated, however, for the others to read.
The play was based on a true story of a woman, who used to live near Lahore and leaves for Amritsar during Partition. It is set in the aftermath of the terror attacks on Mumbai in 2008 and tell the story of Janki, a woman in her 80s, who has never gone back to her home and wants to see it once again.
With a contemporary theme in times of terrorism, the play evokes nostalgia and narrates the main
character’s longing to see her childhood home and friends. Ms. Gauhar said it’s the aspiration of thousands of Punjabis who have felt the trauma and violence of Partition the most. The play is also an attempt at talking to younger people and except for the lead role of Janki, which is played by Ms. Jatinder Kaur, an actor from Amritsar, the rest of the cast is young and not affected by the events of 1947 or the dislocation.
Earlier in 2004, Ajoka did a play for children called ‘Border Border’ with a cast from Amritsar and Lahore, exposing the “theatre of the absurd” at the Wagah border, Ms. Gauhar said. It was about children inadvertently crossing the border while this current production was a more serious venture. Between 2004 and 2008, there was the Panj Pani Indo-Pak theatre festival in Lahore and Amritsar and it’s after six years that the effort has been revived.
While Ajoka has performed for 25 years in India, it was never allowed to visit Punjab till 2003, when a play based on Sufi poet Bulleh Shah was staged to much acclaim in eight cities. “It was a turning point in my understanding of history and the connection with East Punjab was so lacking. It was so meaningful and you discover a part of your body, which has been brutally cut off. That was the time when news of the ceasefire came on the line of control and we were performing there and people said the good tidings came because we brought Bulleh Shah there,” said Ms. Gauhar.
Ajoka, which completes 30 years, was the first Pakistani group to perform in Jammu and Srinagar. Travelling to Punjab, Ms. Gauhar encountered amazing stories including one of a boy and his uncles who were forced to convert and become Sikhs. The family was reunited at one of the theatre group’s performances.
The play now under production is about the longing to go back home and at least she feels the older people should be allowed to go back for visits. Strangely the visas for senior citizens on arrival doesn’t work all that well and they cannot visit Punjab. She said the theatre for peace project was aimed at interaction between audiences and artistes and increasing cultural diplomacy.
For her it was a journey of getting to know artistes from India and finding a part of you that is lost. She said, “Pakistan is an incomplete story where centuries of history have been cut off. Our work is about that memory, which has been deliberately lost to us because of some ideological discourse and these historical and personal narratives don’t fit in.”