Kharaashein leaves a mark

Updated: Oct 29 2004, 05:30am hrs
Gulzar was in the audience while his work was being enacted on stage last week. If he was keeping an eye out for the audience reaction he must have been pleased. Kharaashein is the kind of play one would willingly contribute an evening to, and emerge a little stirred by emotion.

All the performers Lubna Salim, Yashpal Sharma, Atul Kulkarni, Anoop Soni, Kishore Kadam and Ganesh Yadav live up to their reputation as seasoned artistes. Directed by Salim Arif , the play is produced by his wife Lubna Salim.

Kharaashein comprises verses and short stories by Gulzar. So the characters take turns to recite the poetry while pairing up to enact the skits. While the language is quintessentially Gulzar, the kind that draws his fans in droves, the one thread that runs common to all the performances is the theme scars left by riots. The actors emerge from different entry points to talk about their own and other peoples experiences, right from the time of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre to the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 and the most recent Gujarat carnage.

The Play: KharaasheinGulzar tells the poignant story of a young Sikh couple from Pakistan who must leave behind all they have to make their way to India. The couple have just become proud parents amidst all the chaos of Partition. Unfortunately, they lose one of their newborn twins on the train journey to India. The twist comes as the young father throws his living child into the waters of the Ravi as the train passes over it, mistaking it to be the dead one. The dead baby, meanwhile, is clasped to the mothers chest, as she, in her insane grief, lulls it to sleep. As the revelation dawned, the audience let out a collective gasp of horror.

Another skit has Atul Kulkarni as a petrified train commuter who hides from his lone travelling companion on a dark night, fearing he might be killed because he is Muslim. It is, after all, the time of the Mumbai riots. A tremendous buildup later, he convinces himself that attack is the best form of defence and lunges for the man, throwing him many feet down into the creek below. Imagine his horror when the man yells Allah! before plunging to his death!

Director Salim Arif creates a near panic situation in the story of two men out one night in violation of curfew orders. Each confronts the other, demanding to know which community he belongs to, while shielding his own identity. The hostility reaches a point of frenzy until they realise they have a common enemy in the police that night, and in the forces of communalism. The Muslims reason for transgressing the curfew is nothing more sinister than the fact that Kal Eid hai. That is what has prompted him to go and pick up some clothes and toys for his children.

Then there is the tale of a Bengali couple cleaning Hilsa fish for their lunch one afternoon against the backdrop of the riots. The man comments how one should not buy fish from May through August because that is their breeding period. The lady of the house confirms that when she slits open the fish to find a host of fish eggs inside. Meanwhile, the man picks up the days newspaper to find the story of a pregnant woman who was killed by rioters in the city. Gruesome but the story is true.

Kharaashein was disallowed entry into Lucknow about two months ago, because the administration thought it would incite communal violence. On the contrary, it might have helped people face their common fears.