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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

‘You can kill the man but not his ideas’

A play by Lokesh Jain explores liberal politics through a story about Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba

Written by Dipanita Nath |
Updated: October 26, 2017 12:59:36 am
Patrice Lumumba, Kala Sooraj Safed Sayee, Sharan Kumar Limbale, Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, art and culture news, India news, National news Dramatis personae in the play, Kala Sooraj Safed Sayee

The subaltern turns into the hero in Lokesh Jain’s theatre — from Dalit writer Sharan Kumar Limbale in Akkarmashi to the five common women in Bharat Mata Ki Jai to the labourer and the goatherd in Pratibadhh Hoon. The other in Jain’s new production is Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of Congo who was executed by a firing squad in 1961. The play, Kala Sooraj Safed Sayee, is based on a story by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and presented by the Khwaja Ahmad Abbas Memorial Trust. It will be staged at the Urdu Academy Theatre Festival today. An interview with Jain:

Quest for Questions

The play starts after Lumumba is dead and his spirit enters the United Nations to ask questions, about racial prejudice and injustice, which he could not during his lifetime. I read the story and then turned it into a script over the past nine months and, all through, I kept thinking about the importance of free speech. The story of Lumumba proved that you can kill the man but not his voice.

Corridors of Power

The story is layered with modern-day politics, so we have tried to keep the plot tight. In the UN, Lumumba meets three individuals — to correspond to the three bullets that killed him as well as Mahatma Gandhi — an Irish revolutionary, a sex worker of African origin, who has lost her husband, and an alcoholic war correspondent from India. Lumumba begins to realise that the fight for equality is widespread and both, personal and political. In the play, I have also included a character representing Abbas who is very critical of the UN.

History on stage

I came across a lot of archival material, including a five-minute footage of a protest against Lumumba’s death that was brutally suppressed at the UN. The soundscape includes tracks by Bessie Griffin called Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, and Freedom. The stage is an empty space because, when you close your eyes, either because you are dead or don’t want to see, all that you look at is emptiness. I have attempted to use light and darkness on stage as metaphors for the story. It is darkness that makes us ask questions.

Playing the leader

Actor Divesh plays Lumumba, and is suitable for the role for three reasons. He was closely involved in the protest movements at Jawaharlal Nehru University and his political stand is clear. He is also a poet and has a deep interest in literature and, most importantly, Divesh is passionate about acting and bring personalities alive on stage.

The two-hour play will be held at Sri Ram Centre in Mandi House, as part of the Urdu Academy Theatre Festival,
on October 26, 6 pm

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