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Critically acclaimed Aurangzeb show axed

Pheroze L. Vincent
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Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu (Hind) has called off the staging of ‘Aurangzeb ’ at the Aiwan-e-Ghalib auditorium in New Delhi this weekend citing its sensitive nature amid growing intolerance in society.
Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu (Hind) has called off the staging of ‘Aurangzeb ’ at the Aiwan-e-Ghalib auditorium in New Delhi this weekend citing its sensitive nature amid growing intolerance in society.

Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu (Hind) has cancelled the staging of Aurangzeb , a critically acclaimed drama on the Mughal emperor. The play was scheduled to be staged at Aiwan-e-Ghalib auditorium here in the Capital during the three-day Dara Shikoh Seminar to be organised by the Anjuman from this Friday.

Anjuman general secretary Ather Farouqui in an e-mail to the play’s director K. S. Rajendran said, “… Representatives of the Anjuman saw a recent performance of the play at India International Centre and expressed their reservations about the play and its relevance to the present seminar…. I am not blind to the rapidly intolerant society in South Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan, with religious atavism as its central feature. From the platform of an organisation like the Anjuman, the matter of your play gains extraordinary sensitivity. Hence this decision.”

When contacted by The Hindu, Mr. Farouqui refused to reveal the objections raised or the names of the members who had objected. The seminar is being funded partially by the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language, a body under the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development. Its director Khwaja Ekramuddin clarified that the grant was for the seminar and not the play.

Rajendran, a renowned dramatist, is a professor of classical Indian drama at the National School of Drama here. He has been staging the play for the past six years in Urdu. The play was originally written in Tamil by Indira Parthasarathy, a former academic of Delhi University who set up the Department of Performing Arts at Pondicherry University. He retired in 1992 and now lives in Chennai.

Written in 1974, the play is a critique of the one-nation-one-language-one-religion theory. It deals with ideological and religious differences between Aurangzeb and his brother Dara Shikoh.

The play has been staged four times in Delhi over the past seven weeks. After a performance at Jawaharlal Nehru University on February 9, five students under the banner of Muslim Students Association wrote to the organisers saying “the script was not at par with the historical facts and was many a time replete with exaggerations and gross distortion of religious policies of Aurangzeb… Furthermore, these sort of things always play in people’s mind and may lead to a feeling of hate towards a particular historical character or a community at large which we feel is not good for a healthy society”.

In the letter they cited historian Satish Chandra’s “Essays on Medieval History” to say that the idea that Aurangzeb did not want to establish an Islamic State is outdated and loyalties for Dara and Aurangzeb cut across religious lines. Mr. Parthasarathy, who was present in the Capital at the time, met the students and explained that his script is based on Sir Jadunath Sarkar’s volumes on Aurangzeb written between 1912 and 1924. Years after the play was written, more recent research had thrown new light on the Mughals. Mr. Parthasarathy told The Hindu that his play was a psychological study of Aurangzeb and not a political analysis of his reign. “The play explores why Aurangzeb turned against his father. He was fond of music and Sufism as a child. The play depicts incidents that led to his alienation from his father and Dara… The play shows how he used emotional and religious slogans like a politician, even though he gave endowments to temples.”

Historian Irfan Habib, who will address the seminar, said that during Aurangzeb’s time the concept of the nation did not exist nor did the concept of a single faith. “Of course he (Aurangzeb) discriminated against Hindus, but there’s no historical evidence of any plans to create an Islamic State. I have not seen the play, but as I understand it, the known facts, even in historical fiction, should be true,” he explained.


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