India turned 69 last week but the memories of Partition refuse to fade away. Or do they? This past Sunday actor-director Saleem Shah explored the dilemma through a tragic-comedy “Pakistan Aur Alzheimer’s”. A monologue, where Saleem plays a 90-year-old character suffering from Alzheimer’s, the play puts the Partition in perspective. “The aim is to educate the audience by making them laugh on the paradoxical nature of our country’s Partition,” says Shah, who has been a common face on television and films, before putting all his attention to theatre.
Shah says it has been hailed as a unique play as it takes a satirical look at the Partition of the country. The story unfolds in the form of Ghazanfar Husaain recalling the Partition, its bloody aftermath as well as long-term repercussions in a factually incorrect manner as he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “It turns out to be funny for the audience but somewhere the things he says prick their conscience as the old man’s funny memoirs question a range of stereotypes about the tragi event – its genesis, its causes, its worth and its effects,” reflects Shah.
Ghazanfar Hussain truly believes in the idea of India. After Partition his entire family and friends move to Pakistan but he stays back in India. “He remains adamant and never leaves. And with time he loses his memory, gets Alzheimer’s and starts mixing up events in a hilariously incorrect manner. Though he makes the audience laugh, everyone can understand the terrible events he would have gone through His tragedy becomes someone else’s comedy,” says Shah.
On the challenges that a monologue brings for an actor, Shah says the idea to entertain audience for two hours at a stretch is challenging in itself. “If the actor is not well-versed with his art then it can turn out to be a man rambling on and on for hours. One has to introduce subtle variations and make the audience laugh without losing out on the bigger meaning. Having said that mono act does put a lot of pressure on me.”
As for the contemporary relevance of the play, Shah says, when the play ended he heard a couple of children asking their parents, “Mummy what is Partition?” “This is the kind of awareness which the play brings about in the younger generation. They don’t know what life was like in British India. Nobody has ever stopped them from walking on a street because their skin is brown. They don’t have the slightest notion of how humiliating it is to receive racist treatment in one’s own country. My play makes them value freedom in the most funny and hilarious manner possible.”