Theatre

In Ghalib's skin

“In recent years, we have seen several plays and a few serials on Mirza Ghalib. They have caricaturised a great poet by focusing on his relationship with courtesans and their coquetry, Ghalib's drinking and gambling habits interspersed with his popular ghazals. I was pained to see them and decided to project the real personality of the great poet in the context of his troubled personal life and the history and culture of his times. For five years, I studied works by Indian as well as foreign scholars on Ghalib and finally completed the project,” says Charan Das Sindhu, author of 36 plays. “Ghalib-e-Azam,” his latest offering, was premiered at Shri Ram Centre recently under the direction of Ravi Taneja, his son-in-law.

Creative vision

Endowed with a unique creative vision, he writes in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi with equal felicity. His Ghalib is a great poet and a great man who suffered one heartbreak after another and was betrayed by his close relatives. “The death of one child is too much of a shock that breaks one's heart. Ghalib lost seven children when they were in their infancy but he endured all this displaying great fortitude, sharing these deeply tragic moments with his dear wife Umaro Jaan,” says the playwright. “To add to his woes, he had to look after his mentally ill brother — who is said to have been killed by a British soldier during the 1857 revolt.”

In “Ghalib-e-Azam,” Sidhu has dramatised three significant events in Ghalib's life — his struggle to get a family pension from his estate Loharu (Rajasthan), his pain at the untimely death of his children and the deep bond with his wife who silently suffered the loss, and his journey to Calcutta and stay in Banaras. Sidhu says he has incorporated into the thematic structure Ghalib's compassion and faith in man despite betrayals, his profound humanism and his contribution to India's tradition of composite culture.

To convey the universal relevance of Ghalib's poetry and life, the playwright has devised a chorus which includes references from Charvak philosophy from the Rig Veda, lyrics from Bulle Shah, Kabir, Nanak, Amir Khusrau, Ravi Das and Tulsi Das. The chorus is aimed at reinforcing the humanistic philosophy of the poet. “I believe in Shajjad Zahir's assessment of Ghalib. He said that Ghalib was much, much ahead of his times and was a visionary and a genius to visualise the dawn of a new era which would ensure man freedom and the light of scientific knowledge. I have tried to dramatise all these aspects in a play that runs to two hours and 40 minutes.”

A former professor of English at Hansraj College, Sidhu did his MA and Ph.D. from Madison, Wisconsin, in the U.S. and is passionately devoted to theatre. His 33 published plays in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi have been staged and some translated into English

A prolific writer, he was honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2003 for his play “Bhagat Singh Shaheed: A Trilogy.” His plays could broadly be placed in three categories — plays of social protest, those that critique the educational system and those based on history.

Sidhu never uses literary language in his plays. He comments, “I belong to the tradition of Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Munshi Prem Chand. I use the language spoken by the common man and try to capture its vigorous, vivid and effective expression.”

What prompted Sidhu to write one play after another for nearly three decades is the encouragement and collaboration of his family. His wife Gyan Kaur played lead roles in most of his plays, his daughters acted too, and now his son-in-law directs and acts in them. In a way, his entire family is his repertory company.

Sindhu's plays have evoked keen interest in the academic field. So far, 15 scholars in Punjabi have obtained their Ph. D. degrees on various aspects of Sidhu's works.


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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 4:42:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/In-Ghalibs-skin/article16298755.ece

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