If you know not what is happening in this world, read what I write,” said Saadat Hasan Manto. As he stood in the dock defending works that authorities had banned, the great writer of Partition also became an exemplar for the right to write. When Delhi-based director and actor Kuljeet Singh began to reflect on attempts to “purge” bookshelves of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History this year and the Delhi University BA Honours History syllabus of AK Ramanujan’s 2011 essay Three Hundred Ramayanas, he found parallels in Manto’s life. Singh’s play Kujh Afsaney, a package of four Manto stories of the six that were banned, premiered on the opening day of the Punjabi Theatre Festival in Sri Ram Centre on November 17.
“I selected the stories Bu, Thanda Gosht, Kali Salwar and Dhuan, which were banned for the same reasons we ban creative works even today — for obscenity and/or hurting religious sentiments,” says Singh. The popular stories deal with rapes, dead bodies, caste politics and sex workers, and Singh has treated each story differently. Bu is a non-verbal play while Dhuan has restless music, as a pubescent boy comes to terms with homosexuality.
The theatre festival will be held till Friday, and the second day has director Ravi Taneja pointing out antithetical personalities and asking, “Who is superior — Gautam Buddha or Alexander the Great? What is mightier: The pen or the sword? Life or Death? East or West? Peace or War?” His play Sikandar Di Jit will be followed by Farida Raati Waddian on Thursday about a poor but self-respecting man, who takes on a corrupt social order. The festival will close with a salute to a martyr through Main Bhagat Singh, a play on the freedom fighter’s life.
The plays are being staged at Shri Ram Centre till Friday, 6.30 pm onwards. Entry is free.