In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.
— Bertolt Brecht
And so, a play (in Hindi), ‘Hatya Ek Aakar Ki’, raises the same old uncomfortable questions, prompted from the same old historical event — Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Only, neither Gandhi nor Godse are named here, only inferred. Does the murder of the physical form represent the termination of the ideal itself? We are left with this, and other questions, after watching an intense, verbose and nearly hour-long performance. Written by Lalit Sehgal and directed by the Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee MK Raina, the play was staged at the heritage Gaiety Theatre in Shimla recently. This was the first time that Raina came to Shimla with a play.
80 years of Three Arts Club
Delhi-based Three Arts Club, which produced and presented the play, was conceived and founded in Shimla back in 1943 by RM Kaul. They last performed here in 1965, producer Anuradha Dar said. That made it a rare and special occasion, even though the play itself has been performed over the years in other cities, including Delhi and Kolkata.
Yet, considering the several previous artistic explorations on the same theme in mainstream cinema and theatre, why Gandhi again? In a conversation preceding the show, Raina immediately quipped, “[Because] Gandhi is my rockstar.” He then explained that this was only a part of his larger Gandhi project and enumerated four of his other Gandhi-based productions, the first one being a play based on Sabyasachi Bhattacharya’s ‘Mahatma and a Poet’. There were a set of letters that Gandhi wrote when he was in prison to Tagore, when the poet was very unwell. Gandhi wrote, ‘Stay yet awhile’, for humanity needed Tagore. That is also the title of the play.
“I wanted to enter Gandhi through that era which shaped those great minds. They were not only talking of the contemporary struggle of their country but were highly educated people looking at the world with responsibility, the future of humanity, religion and defining faith in the most universal way. My next play was on 100 years of Gandhi and the third on Gandhi and children. There was a small book written by Narayan Desai (called Babla by Gandhi), ‘Blessed to be with Mahatma’. His father was Gandhi’s secretary and as a child in the ashram, he grew in the lap of Gandhi. The book had nothing to do with the struggle, but the way the children were educated there; it also recounts incredibly funny incidents. I met him one day; he was very old by then. I expressed my desire to make a play out of his book and he said, in a typically Gandhian way, ‘I was waiting for you; where were you all this while?’ So, I did a play called ‘Babla and Bapu@
Raina says that these four plays have been his attempt at entering the world of Gandhi. “Particularly so, after what has happened to us in Kashmir and what is happening there even now. The whole crack is Partition. And we have not been able to mend it, fill it. Naïve politics in South Asia led to the making of three countries. Manipur is burning today. Women wrestlers have been protesting. We are creating an error somewhere. The state has become too trigger-happy and too violent. But the discourse may change; people may start thinking that love is better than hate… Relationships need to grow. Unfortunately, South Asia has become hostage to violence.”
The message of the play lies in the discourse in it, which is prevalent even today — blame games and calling names. Raina says, “We need to understand that back in 1947, India could not manufacture a single needle or a razor blade and it is hard to imagine the burden the leaders of those times had to carry. The greatest challenge of humanity was the massive population moving on either side. Luckily, we did not have war-mongering politicians. The present ruling party suffers from a huge psychological complex. They well know that they have not contributed to the freedom struggle and want to find beaten horses and people like Savarkar or Godse in defiance.”
One entered the proscenium ruminating on these and other troubling issues taken up. In the first scene, we see four characters discussing an assassination they are about to carry out. Just as they are leaving, one of them is doubtful and wonders if killing ‘him’ was necessary. Unable to convince him, they decide to hold a mock trial of the person to be assassinated. The doubtful one decides to defend ‘him’, ‘truthfully’, reading all there is about ‘his’ life. The mock trial seemed a chilling reminder of the mockery of justice we see today, such as in staged encounters, where guilt is pronounced even before the trial begins. The audience became a mute witness to the trial and its pre-devised outcome. The defendant and the prosecutor argue out the ‘charges’ referring to historical episodes in Gandhi’s life. Interestingly, the historian is the main witness for the prosecution, another stark reminder of the state historians of our times.
‘His’ (Gandhi’s) views on the revolutionaries, his support for the Khilafat and Muslims, his satyagraha after Noakhali riots are taken up for questioning. It is fascinating to watch ‘his’ defendant intermittently becoming ‘him’ (as he suddenly speaks in first person) to defend Muslims, calling upon the need for their support and when he questions himself for supporting the Boer War. Even as informed reasoning and truth-telling threaten to derail the decision, the judge suddenly pronounces the defendant guilty of creating unrest and destroying the country and ‘orders’ his assassination in full public view. Even as we hear three gunshots in the backdrop, the defendant (or Gandhi?) in the end remarks that this is nothing new; that he was killed several times over. But, was it the form or the ideal that they killed?
Vipin Kumar as the wrath-filled, gun-toting prosecutor-fanatic was excellent, and so was the defendant Rakesh Singh as the Gandhian counter-foil. Kabeer Khan as the witness-historian and Kapil Pal as the angry judge were reasonably good. Jatin’s subdued lighting lent solemnity to the minimal set.
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