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Posted at: Apr 16, 2018, 1:48 AM; last updated: Apr 16, 2018, 1:48 AM (IST)

‘Politician da pata nahi, par mai 50 saal baad vi shayad parheya javanga’

‘Politician da pata nahi, par mai 50 saal baad vi shayad parheya javanga’
Dr Atamjit Singh

Aparna Banerji

Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, April 15

“All Punjabi writers have largely been anti-establishment. Be it the British, the Congress or BJP or Akalis. Guru Nanak was also anti-establishment. Waris Shah was also anti-establishment. I have hope from every genuine writer. But at the same time, there are avenues where state or establishment — choga pandiyan ne te loki chugde hai (they feed you and you get fed). By and large, our entire literature is positive. I believe writers should be together. Maybe, we need to build a stronger momentum. I believe we shall.”

Acclaimed Punjabi theatrist — the wise old man of Punjabi theatre — Dr Atamjit came to Jalandhar after decades to stage his play “Rishetyan Da Ki Rakhiye Naam” during the KL Saigal Punjabi Theatre Festival being organised by YUVAA at Saigal Memorial Hall.

Expressing hopes about the consistent efforts from the region to provide a centre and a hub for theatre – like is being done by YUVAA during the festival – Dr Atamjit spoke about the perils of narrow nationalism and hopes he had from artistes who, he believed, can triumph over the evils haunting our society.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q:The warrior and Sufi identities of Punjab have grown side by side and in the present times do you think the saner Sufi voices have taken a backseat from hypocritical interpretations of the warrior ones?

A: There have been phases in the history of the state and there will always be foregrounding and backgrounding of things. Nowadays, the extreme which you are talking about is in the foreground and the saner elements have gone to the background. But it’s a worldwide phenomenon, how can I isolate my people? The real thing, however, – is that part which is saner, beautiful, subtle and spiritually dead? I don’t think so. It’s not dead yet. And I don’t see any situation where it will be dead.

That’s why our effort is to keep it living. These are difficult times. And during these difficult times, one has to trust that we can save those elements.

Q: In the present times which are the subjects which weigh heaviest on your heart?

First of all women. I believe women of Punjab are better off than women of our neighbouring states and they have also grown a lot. However, it is still not an ideal situation. There is still a lot of work to be done for women. I have already written a lot on these issues. The latest two plays I did were on this theme – ‘Main Ta Ik Sarangi Han’ and ‘Panchnaad Da Pani’. The second subject close to my heart is migration – women migrate from one home to another. Ninety five percent of the women have to do so. People from villages go to cities, those from cities to bigger cities. Punjabis are migrating abroad, causing cultural problems. People of UP and Bihar coming to Punjab have given rise to cultural problems. Similarly, when we go to England or America, similar problems arise. This process of acculturation –it’s very painful at times. I have written about it.

Apart from these issues, I feel some of the big contributors of Punjab who have contributed very highly to the state need to be highlighted. For example, I have a play called Mangu Comrade – It’s on a man called Makkhan Singh who fought for the freedom of Kenya. No one in Punjab knew about him before I wrote the play. Similarly, the Ghadarites, our legendary singers and artistes have to be talked about.

Q: What are the modern scenarios which disturb you?

A:One of the things that really disturbs me is parochial patriotism and narrow nationalism. There is need to rise above  narrow walls. Personally, Albert Einstein is my model. Our concern should ideally be with humanity irrespective of the walls built around us. Despite the problems we are facing, we should take a stand somewhere. If I’m at war with Pakistan, I should be the first person to offer my services. But on the other hand, why should I blacken a statue’s face? Why should I reject a programme by Ghulam Ali. He sings in my language, I write in his. Can we ever relegate Sadat Hassan Manto only to Pakistan? If we do so, we are also limiting Dr Atamjit only to Hindustan. Sadi oh insaniyat jihdi gal Baba Nanak ya Kabir karda hai – oh khatam ho jaegi (our humanity which Baba Nanak and Kabir talked of, will end, if we do those things).

Q: Do you think artistes are passive and compared to politics, they have a harder time prevailing because they lack that focused aggression to fight for their cause?

A: I may agree with your contention but not with your words. It’s not the work of artistes to fight. Art is used for dialogue. If I go and fight on the street I will be a fighter not an artiste. So we can’t fight like a politician. Eh sadi kamzori vi hai takat vi (this is both our weakness and strength). But the artiste’s triumph is that he can prevail. Politican da pata nai agli chon jittega vi ki nahi par mennu lagda hai mai 50 saal baad vi shayad parheya javanga. 40 saal baad vi mera natak khedeya javega (you never know whether the politician will win the next elections, but I think I shall be read even after 50 years and my plays still staged after 40 years). However, I agree we should take a stand. Though our stand has to be aesthetically and artistically very clean. We can’t be rough. We can’t be dirty. And given the award wapsi muhim – and other instances, I believe we have fought our battles very nicely and symbolically and that is how an artiste should fight.

Q:What future do you see for Punjabi theatre?

A: I see a very good future for the Punjabi theatre. With one rider — we should have much more playwrights. But playwrights and directors won’t come unless Punjabi theatre becomes independent. Just like the medium of films has become already. Film is an area which can show you the success of art and commerce joining hands. Punjabi theatre wants and also awaits the meeting of commerce and art. Once that happens, theatre will get unprecedented support. Till that time, it’s a struggle and we are all part of it.

Q:Your upcoming personal projects?

I am working on many projects. My latest play shall be presented at this festival on April 17 – Mur Aa Lama Ton. It’s on World War I. The subject is World War I, but it hits at so called parochial patriotism and narrow nationalism. I believe World War I was the outcome of that narrow nationalism which we are seeing even today. Beyond this, I am also writing about Kashmir.

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