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A different snowfall this!

Meera Kant's "Kaali Barf" is a poignant play built around the plight of displaced Kashmiris, comments ROMESH CHANDER.

"Kaali Barf" strikes Delhi.

MANY OF our senior theatre directors particularly in the Hindi belt never tire of saying that hardly any good plays are being written these days. True after Mohan Rakesh there was a void for some time but there are many upcoming playwrights. Joining their ranks is Meera Kant.

Meera Kant's latest play "Kaali Barf" (Black Snow) presented by Sri Ram Centre Repertory and directed by Mushtaq Kak that premiered this past week in Delhi lives up to the promise one saw in her first play, "Nepathya Raag" . As the playwright puts it "Kaali Barf" is built around the diaspora of the Kashmiris who left their homeland in the very early days of the tribal invasion from across the border.

The story is mainly built around Tathaji's family and their friend Naseer who initially is opposed to the migration of Hindus from Kashmir but later forced by circumstances not only to help his friend Raj escape to Jammu but eventually himself leave Srinagar.

As the lights come up, lines from the poet Dina Nath Nadim and Habba Khatoon beautifully set the atmosphere and as the recitation fades out, full lights come up on a small room in a big house in Delhi's Civil Lines. We see a seven or eight-year-old child getting ready to go to school and his grandfather Tathaji searching for his socks. Enter Sharika, Tathaji's youngest daughter with a cup of tea. Tathaji is still searching for his socks, actually in his hand. He puts on the other socks slowly muttering to himself, "these are all signs of old age". As they leave Sharika mutters some broken words, "this is not just old age...he was a jolly person working in a Government office, had an apple orchard, lived life on his own terms and now living here with what remains of his family..." A good introduction to the head of the family Pandit Shrikant lovingly called Tathaji by everyone.

Upstage we see a shadow of an uprooted chinar tree trunk, and Sharika's shadow on it is a reminder of the days gone by and we have her saying in a beautiful tone, "Sometimes I feel as if I too have become like the chinar and seeing everything from a distance". It seems as if Sharika has merged into the dead tree and the scene fades into a flashback. The locale is Tathaji's home back in Srinagar. We meet some of the family as also Chaman, Sharika's college friend with whom she is in love. Tathaji's son-in-law and his elder daughter Raj and Roopa come in. We come to know of what they think about the situation in Kashmir. The scene is a good introduction to what follows but a little slow.

Next we meet Chaman in the apple orchard waiting for Sharika. Sharika pleads with him not to take on the terrorists. In the next scene we return to Tathaji's house and while the grandfather and the little Gosha are having an interesting chat there is a knock on the door. After some hesitation the door is opened and Shiban, now a broken man, stumbles in and says, "Chaman... Chaman... they have killed him".

Back in Delhi

We are back in Delhi and by now Raj has also arrived who in a flashback tells his story of what was happening in Srinagar. We are told of a family friend Dr. Naseer's efforts to persuade the Hindus not to leave their homeland.

In a twist to the story the playwright brings Dr. Naseer to Delhi who accidentally meets Raj in a bazaar and tells him in yet another flashback how Gulla, their domestic help, who had suddenly disappeared and joined the terrorists returned one night and wanted to marry his daughter. To save his life the doctor agrees but the very next day he with his wife and daughter leave Srinagar for ever. The scene is most touching. The doctor had just heard that Gulla had been killed by the police and so he was returning home after two years and wanted Raj to come back too.

As we come to the end Gosha is listening to a story about a poor woman's son who had been told that he would marry a princess but only when there is black snow on the hills. "But can snow be ever black? Black snow means the impossible, that never happens," says Sharika. "No, you don't know there is black snow," whispers Gosha falling off to sleep. One day Tathaji was heard talking to himself, "my son died, so what? I became homeless, so what? There is no snowfall yet, so why should I lose hope of returning home one day".

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