Friday, February 11, 2011

Jis Lahore: A Logically Written Emotional Argument

Jis Lahore Nahi Dekhya, Woh to Jamya Hi Nahi - A Logically Written Emotional Argument

Asghar Wajahat is an extremely logical guy. 

When I was first invited for the play reading of Jis Lahore, I lent my voice to the character called Ratan Ki Maa. However, I did not feel any awkwardness mouthing the lines of a sexagenarian female; as all of what she or the other characters around her said absolutely made sense. Guess you could also pass that off as an extension of the creative sensibilities of the play, which made the whole experience so ethereal.

As I got more engrossed in the play and other leads started overtaking the scenes, the rationale just started staring right at my face more blatantly. Every dialogue, thought and sequence is how a civilized creature would process information. With the exception of some goons, who obviously want to ignore what we call is the right-thing-to-do. And this sparks tension, creates the uneasy undertone which make the play more yearning.

As rehearsals progressed and the actors started sculpting the characters on paper with their own quirks and flavors, the horizon of the play started expanding within the realms of my consciousness. Here’s a slice from one of the most important events of history, and when you break it down from a nation to city to family and eventually to an individual level – the whole madness keeps making more sense. I’ve just heard about the horrors of the partition, however I can now vouch that the overall mood wouldn’t have been very different from the riots in Ahmedabad which I’ve been a witness to from a close quarter. 

It all begins with ignorance. The root cause. 

A Pahalwan has a considerable influence in the society around him due to his ability to exert brute force and a loyal band of followers. He is blinded with what is religion and the implications of partition and hence has lost the broader argument of reasoning along with other enduring qualities of a civilized society such as love, trust and tolerance. Jingoism subtly dawns the veil of the new found definition of patriotism towards a nation which is still struggling to find the right reasons for its existence. What amazes me more though is the mass hypnotism. We have seen a certain irreverence for the nobler values around us in varying degrees. However, when this intensity rises sharply and is accompanied by a widespread loss of cogent dharma; large scale destruction is inevitable. This is what happened in post-partition India/Pakistan.

And there are fewer examples of a threadbare portrayal of the ground level realities in post partition Pakistan than Jis Lahore. Of course, it would have taken an extremely sensitive yet logical mind to deconstruct the chemistry of that era by each molecular mohalla and further break it down to the dynamics and interactions of its various constituents.

So, Is Jis Lahore about India, Pakistan and Partition? Yes. However, it’s much more than that. It’s a journey to the deepest corners of human fear and ignorance. It’s about the personification of the innate radiance which still manages to penetrate the engulfing smog of hatred all around. And at the end it signifies how the extremist forces strangled the tolerant voices of reason leading to perhaps the darkest hour of humanity.

- Sriram V (A NoMAD)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


She remembers that August to be the hottest summer ever in Delhi. They were happy and carefree school girls looking forward to a prosperous free nation. With dreams in their eyes, my mother, a 15 year old Hindu girl, and her best friend, a Muslim girl, spent all their waking hours together. On August 14, 1947, they decided to go watch the celebrations of August 15 together. At nightfall, the servant of the house informed my Naniji (my maternal grandmother) that something terrible was going to happen that night. She asked them to lock the doors and windows and be prepared to escape. My Naniji ordered all 6 children to wear three sets of clothes. She handed each child some jewellery to hide in their clothes. The whole family sat in their store room, turned off all lights and locked all doors and windows. The whole night was spent hearing loud chants of “Har Har Mahadev and Allah Ho Akbar”. They could hear people screaming and calling for help. Not a soul slept that night. In the morning, my Nanaji (my maternal grandfather), went to check on my mother’s best friend’s family. No one was to be found. On my mother’s insistence her brother searched for her friend’s family until 1950, but no one knew anything. She has found many of her Muslim friends from childhood now; some in Pakistan, some in the U.K., and some even in the U.S.A. but not her best friend. My mother still mourns her loss.

Monday, January 31, 2011

My Experiences of India-Pakistan Partition

(On behalf of Ravi Chopra, who is also acting in this play)
I have a personal experience of migrating from Kasowal, a village in Pakistan, to Delhi by train. On Aug 29, 1947, I with my DAADI boarded train packed to capacity heading towards Raiwind Junction. While changing train at Raiwind, there was firing at the plateform and I got a bullet hit at my calf muscle bleeding till my daadi tore her Dhoti to make a bandage soaked in her urine. Enroute, we witnessed homes on fire, young girls jumping into the wells to save their honour. Sight was sickening to say the least and we were not sure if we would survive the ordeal.

There was a rich Hindu family travelling in our compartment who dished out money and at times parted with their ornaments to keep away the miscreants entering our compartment. Luckily, A good hearted Muslim family travelling in our compartment was a great help. To cut the story short when we reached Ferozpur, We discovered to our horror that ours was the only boggie which survived the massacare as there were hardly any survivors in other compartments. At Ferozpur station sardars were distributing food, tea and fruits free of charge. Though we reached India in one piece, the ordeal did not end here. We almost perished in refugee camp but to my good fortune we were located by my parents after miserable camping experiece of 7days and me running 104 degree temperature looking like a skeleton of 8 years old.

Jis Lahore POSTER is now Available!

A true story of Lahore to Lucknow

The bloody violence and chaos of Partition has been recorded with painstaking detail in history books for posterity, in part so that future generations may never forget the staggering scale of human suffering that followed- the displaced millions, the countless dead and deformed, the untold horrors that frighteningly laid bare man's propensity for sheer, animalistic barbarism. But for those that lived through that dark period in the subcontinent's history, it was much more- a stark reality which left them marked, immeasurably changed, their existence altered forever.

My mother-in-law, Santosh Kumari Khanna (now Singh,) was a young girl living in Lahore at the time- her father, a well-heeled, successful and highly respected businessman- and her family enjoyed all the trappings of a lifestyle filled with material comforts including the kind of "haveli" depicted in Jis Lahore. In classic communal harmony, she and her siblings intermingled happily with the neighborhood Muslim children and learned to read and write Urdu alongside Hindi. With the announcement by the departing British that Indian independence would be accompanied by the creation of Pakistan, and Lahore would now be a part of the new Muslim majority state, life as they knew it changed.

As the riots and violence around them began to escalate, her maternal grandfather pleaded with his son-in-law to leave for India. Her father flatly refused, stating that this was his ancestral home, and that while the world around him had lost its senses, nothing would force him to give up that which was his birthright. So the family watched as their near and dear packed up their belongings and left for an uncertain future in an unfamiliar land. Until one fateful night- a Muslim family with close ties to her maternal grandfather warned them that there would be an attack on their home at night, and cautioned them not to sleep outdoors. (Normally, many of the family members would sleep out on the verandah under the stars to enjoy cool breezes which provided a much needed reprieve from blazing hot summer days.) But that night, sure enough, a group of thugs set fire to the verandah, which went up in flames, but thanks to the Muslim friends who had been kind enough to alert them, the family was spared a terrible tragedy.

Following this incident, her maternal grandfather once again beseeched his son-in-law to reconsider his decision for the sake and safety of his many young children and begged him to leave Lahore. This time, her father relented and the family fled in the dead of the night with very few things. They headed for Lucknow, where they would start life again from scratch. They had literally nothing- not even their identities- they had not had enough time to gather their birth certificates when they left. To this day, my mother-in-law and all her siblings can only guess at their ages and their birthdates. Her father had to start from the ground up, and established a carpet business in Lucknow, which generated just enough income to provide for his family adequately, but never again did he achieve the heights of wealth and status that the family had been accustomed to.

Even today, as she talks about those times, the intensity of my mother-in-law's emotions is palpable- she speaks of young girls who were raped, had their breasts cut off and then sent home to their families, and the subsequent refusal of their parents to accept them now that they were considered "tainted." Her voice shakes as she describes her own mother's depressive mental state at having to leave home and hearth, and the multiple shock treatments she had to undergo before she was able to regain control of herself. There are many more atrocities- probably some that she will never share to spare us the knowledge. But the sad irony is that on balance, theirs was a happy ending, a near best-case scenario, considering the fact that millions of others in similar circumstances were not as lucky.