Dramatist from the desert
Nonika Singh

Ignoramuses might take refuge in the dictum—‘Ignorance is bliss’—but noted playwright, poet and critic Dr Nand Kishore Acharya feels that there is no greater happiness than the bliss of knowing. In the world of performing arts, his quest to know more had begun with theatre criticism. A cultural correspondent with a newspaper in 1974, as he went about reviewing plays he began to understand the medium inside out.

Nand Kishore Acharya
Nand Kishore Acharya 

Only as he picked up the pen to write plays, the student of ancient history took centrestage. Indeed, a large number of his plays, right from to Dehaantar to Zille Subhani to the most recent Bapu, have a historical or mythical reference. "No society", he insists, "can reject its myths. Only, these are not to be confused with religion." While he calls myths an "eternal truth," he is only too aware that myths do not remain static. "New interpretations and meanings are added to mythical tales each time these are re-told."

More so, when Dr Acharya explores and digs into the past, new layers are added to the conventional perspective. So, when the play Dehaantar was born after a heated discourse with friends, the famed tale of Yayati, who exchanges his old age with the youth of his son Puru, acquired a new angle. Dr Acharya ably brought forth the predicament of Yayati’s wife Sharmistha, who is unable to accept the youth of her son in the form of her husband.

"Conflict", Dr Acharya asserts, "is the starting point of the play and there can be no drama without a duel or counter ideological point of view." Of course, when his pen moves, it often delves deep into grey areas, the subliminal recesses of the human mind and invariably tackles hitherto forbidden issues. While KimdimYaksham dealt with the contentious issue of incest, Zille Subhani in no uncertain terms alluded to the debauch perversions of a 14th- century ruler. This acclaimed writer, recipient of the Rajasthan Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Mira award conferred by the Rajasthan Sahitya Akademi and many others, like the Bihari award by the K. K. Birla Foundation, is not afraid to speak on thorny issues he feels strongly about. "The idea," he says, "is not to shock, sensationalise or create a scandal. Literary endeavours are spurred by purpose and rationale. There has to be creative logic behind writing."

Drama, he holds, by it very nature is a voice against something. Alas, he rues, today this voice isn’t fully comprehended by critics, for a few possess the ability to do threadbare analysis of what truly comprises theatre. The lot of those associated with the arc lights, especially actors, too he feels, is no better. He advises them to work on pronunciation and language, for "theatre is first and foremost vaachak and once the actors get the speech right, histrionics will follow."

Interestingly, though his plays have been staged by well-known theatre directors like Bhanu Bharti, Faisal Alkazi, Rajendra Gupta and Chandigarh-based directors like Virendra Mehndiratta and Pahlad Aggarwal, he has no reservations about who stages his play and how directors interpret his written word. Though he does contend that there should be greater interaction between directors and playwrights, he avers, "My job begins and ends with writing." The fact that playwrights are paid little or often not at all, too, doesn’t bother him much, for writing itself is the biggest reward. Having written nearly eight plays, out of which seven have been published and all have been staged, he says, "Indeed, it is commonly perceived that plays have life on stage alone, whereas the truth is that reading a play is as pleasurable an experience."

He himself is a voracious reader and a prolific writer, too, whose essays --- published in many journals and newspaper publications --- cover the entire gamut, from politics to economics to education. Besides, he has nearly nine books of poetry to his credit. In fact, poetry was his first love, the starting point of his writing odyssey. Hailing from the land of desert, that is Bikaner, Rajasthan, expectedly desert is the recurring leitmotif and appears in its myriad manifestations in his hymn to the majestic desert called Ret Raag. Distilling the forts, havelis, squares, narrow alleys, windows and casements and the desert breeze beautifully in his poetry has earned him the epithet "inimitable bard of the beauty of the desert." Dittoing the sentiments of the ultimate bard, Shakespeare, Dr Acharya believes brevity is the soul of the wit.

Poetry, he agrees, as against a play or journalistic commentary, might be understood by few, but that doesn’t stop him from imbuing it with imagery and subtlety. So, he writes paaon hi nahi bhatakte raasta paane`85 raaste ke sapno mein bhi aate hai paaon’. Thus, as raasta pratiksha main hai, he remains in pursuit of knowledge and is all set to compile an encyclopaedia on non-violence that will chronicle the ideologies and personalities associated with it the world over. Yearning to learn ceaselessly, he realises both his experiences and heightened awareness through word power.