Contemporary politics and social injustices drive the theatre of Lokesh Jain, ranging from the searing Akarmashi, based on an important work in Dalit literature, to Pratibadhh Hoon, a poetic incision of prevailing discriminations. He was working on another play when the nationalistic debate started to rage through India and Bharat Mata returned to the centre stage. With actors who were grappling with questions on Indian identity and “femalehood”, Jain created a play titled Bharat Mata Ki Jai, based on Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s famous book Bharat Mata Kay Paanch Roop. Abbas, famous for films such as Saat Hindustani, Do Boond Paani and Neecha Nagar, told the stories of the spirited common man around the time of Independence and evoked the complex emotions of the Partition. Excerpts from an interview with Jain:
How did you come across KA Abbas’s book, Bharat Mata Kay Paanch Roop?
I was feeling bad. Main khoj mein tha (I was searching) for Bharat Mata. Issues surrounding love jhaad and beef were erupting around us. That’s when Syeda Hamid (writer, activist and former member of the Planning Commission) gave me KA Abbas’s Bharat Mata Kay Paanch Roop. I remember that the first time I read it out to my actors, they had tears in their eyes. Abbas found Bharat Mata in five old women, and I knew I had to create this play.
Who is Bharat Mata according to the book, and your play?
In the first story, titled Hindustan Hamara, she is a Tamil Brahmin woman who is learned, a participant of the Azaadi movement and free of religious biases. In Manu Maharaj ki Jai, Bharat Mata is an old grandmother who doesn’t let caste come in the way of protecting the young freedom fighters who set up their headquarters in her house. Bharat Mata is a poor, blind woman in Khaddar ka Kafan, who gives away her life’s savings to Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement. It is important that, in the story Sharanarthi, Bharat Mata is a woman from Rawalpindi who continued to pine for Pakistan after she moved to India during the Partition. Abbas writes about his own mother in Nafrat Ki Maut. She, a Muslim who loved India, died on a visit to her daughter in Pakistan and was buried there, ensuring that a patch of land in that country would forever be India.
What is the significance of the song, Sabarmati ke sant from the film Jagriti, that opens the play?
Jagriti was one of the important nationalistic films of post-Independence India. I discovered that it was remade in Pakistan in 1959 as a nationalistic film and called Bedari. The song on Gandhi was replicated to eulogise Jinnah. Another famous song from the film, Aao bachchon tumhe dikhayen jhaanki Hindustan ki has become Aao bachchon saer karayen tumko Pakistan ki. That wasn’t the strange bit. The boy in Jagriti, known as Ratan Kumar, was actually named Nazir Rizvi. He migrated to Pakistan during the Partition and acted in Bedari. I want to have video clippings of both films during the play to add a layerof irony.
The play also has another song, as well as a poem. Why did you include these?
We have added Kabir’s Aman hai in the play as well as a segment in which a young refugee boy recites the poem of Munawwar Rana. He captures the dard or pain of the era when he says Buzurgo ki kabra ko dhasta chood aaye/marte hue logo ko tanha chhod aaye.
Why did you choose the form of a dramatic reading of the works?
I saw the form as I read the works. There were many ways in which we could have depicted this story, as a conventional play of many scenes or through an exchange of dialogues. For me, it was important what not to do with this play. I did not want to disturb Abbas’s language. I wanted the form to be minimal in order to highlight the emotional content that Abbas was concerned with.