The recent cancellation of a play in Delhi proves that sarcasm is not everyone's cup of tea

Recently, in Delhi, acclaimed dramatist K. S. Rajendran was invited to stage a play at an international seminar on Dara Shikoh— Shah Jahan’s heir apparent who lost the struggle of succession to his brother Aurangzeb.

The play “Aurangzeb” is a landmark one. It was written in 1974 in Tamil by Indira Parthasarathy— the visionary who started Pondicherry University’s Department of Performing Arts, one of the most progressive labs of the art in the region. Parthasarathy, now in retirement in Chennai, explores the transformation of Aurangzeb from a child interested in music and Sufism to someone perceived as a divisive character in history.

He used the writings of Sir Jadunath Sarkar, then the Bible on Aurangzeb, for reference. His play came at a time when many states, including Tamil Nadu were uncomfortable with what they saw as an imposition of Hindi on them by the rulers in Delhi. The play is a critique on the one nation- one language- one faith theory.

Rajendran has staged “Aurangzeb”, translated in Urdu by Shahid Anwar— an eminent dramatist whose play on controversial Pakistani poetess Sara Shagufta was disrupted by the Shiv Sena in Mumbai in 2010. “Aurangzeb” too subtly compares Mughal ruler to the contemporary Hindutva right. In fact, Rajendran’s “Richard III”— which featured in the Second International Theatre Festival in Beijing in September 2011— flanked by two priests, looks like Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Four days before his scheduled show of “Aurangzeb” on March 23, which was to be staged at an auditorium named after Mirza Ghalib— the patron saint of irreverent poets, Rajendran received an email from the organisers cancelling the show

Members of the Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu (Hind) that was conducting the seminar, had seen the play earlier and felt it was communal. It is believed that they found Aurangzeb’s statement “ek zaban, ek mulk, aur ek mazhab...” (one language, one country, one god) inaccurate. Historians like Satish Chandra and Irfan Habib also say that this is inaccurate and that there’s no evidence that the Mughal emperor planned to convert his subjects to Islam. Parthasarathy has even offered to re-look at the script.

Unfortunately the defenders of secularism, in this case, missed the sarcasm of the play. Sarcasm is not for everyone. Ashis Nandy will agree.