"One thing you can't hide – is when you're crippled inside." ―John Lennon
This time I am crippled within me, that's why I can't hide, I don't want to hide and I won't hide because 60 years of grief, suffering, misery, pain, hurt, anguish, despair, and countless synonyms staged in only 90 minutes by Ekta School of Drama, staged in Tagore Hall Srinagar on 28th March 2017 to celebrate World Theatre day, took me in a trance. Kashmir is a prodigy of melancholy and Mukti Ravi Das immersed himself in this sadness, untied its numerous filaments, and appreciated its elusive nuances in an episodic collage of socio political events of Kashmir in "The Black Calendar" which in spite of being BLACK acted as a prism through which wretchedness of Kashmir could be divided into its infinite spectrum.
Like all episodic Plays of medieval and works of Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Edward Bond and Tony Kushner "The Black Calendar" also trances the characters through a journey to a final action and to an understanding of what the journey meant. But unlike Shakespearean plays where people are not forced immediately into un-manoeuvrable positions. Possibilities of action are usually open to them until the very end. But here in the design and direction of Muzammil Hayat Bhawani, action in "The Black Calendar" is a never ending process. It leaves you in spool and lights a quest for some emotional relief towards its end but only to leave you in despair.
Play opens with Mukti Ravi Das as a personification of Time, detailing the current circumstances and highlighting the mystical significance of the content of the episodic collection of black events over 60 years of Kashmir history. It was followed by frequent parallel plots and subplots in addition to the main plot with a single theme and many characters played mainly by Mukti Ravi Das and supported by few others. The impeccable transition between various characters made Mukti Ravi Das a versatile and nifty actor who made audience laugh and weep with him. He was at his best as a woman whose cloths were torn to pieces and was raped, he was equally astonishing as an old man who was interrogated without any fault, he was yet again at his best as an army man, a waza, as a scholar, as a sister, as a mother, as a news reader, as an female actor, and finally as a half widow. He played every character with great energy and spirit.
Killing of 15 year old only son to his parents in an encounter, chopping of bangles with meat knife, bringing candies for his grandson by a man after being tortured, teargas shelling, scissoring of shalwar and pheran of a woman, drilling of an earthen pot embodying a rape made this calendar really a pitch black one. And there is the seclusion of suffering, when we go through darkness that is deserted, penetrating, and dreadful. Libretti become powerless to express our pain; what others hear from our words is so distant and different from what we are actually suffering but The Black calendar not only gave these suffering lyrics but also sang a soul itching song, which shall echo in the hearts of audience for a very long time.
Each intervallic scene started with the morning newspaper symbolising the cabalistic battle lost every day in Kashmir. Although there were few jolly moments but grief of bleeding Kashmir recessed deep into hearts and the curved line of both lips vanished soon as it came.
Although dramatic script by Bhawani Bashir Yasir and Mukti Ravi Das is seriously ironical but epitome of time after introductory scene is being left out which created emptiness in audience. Script was tight and phrases are catchy. Language too was simple, relevant and contemporary.
Muzammil Hayat Bhawani appositely designed set. From earthen pot, to the pheran, to the torture cell created by a simple old charpayi to the drilling machine everything fitted in place aptly.
Director Muzammil Hayat Bhawani has commendably put together an amazing show with smooth scene changes, a clear focus, and in spite of episodic plot there is an impressive and matchless cohesiveness.
No actor pulls focus when they shouldn't, and even the smallest detail of characters is of the utmost importance. All the characters supported main lead in their own capacities and capabilities but special mention to the person who played as an interrogating officer. Special appearances by renowned dramatist and actor Bhawani Bashir Yasir on two occasions is delight to eyes especially in the concluding scene where he appears in a special costume made of newspapers symbolising the never ending conflict. The dilemma of climax and infinity of zenith reminds me a piece of poetry by Ghulam Nabi Gorgani:
Keh rahi hai ye Madar-e-Kashmir
Gam-e-Douran bayan nahi hota
Ya ladhakpan hai ya bhudhapa hai
Koi beta jawan nahi hota
In addition, the lighting designer and the costume designer augment the show in their own ways. I can only describe the lighting as prevailing part of the play, with the beams of exquisitely placed spotlights playing their own distinct shares in the show.
I always believed theatre plays a great role in education so did The Black Calendar. It taught me a great lesson and that is standing up with the pain and speaking out our anguish. We People are afraid of ourselves, of our own reality; our feelings most of all. Feelings are disturbing. We are taught that pain is malicious and dangerous. Pain is meant to wake us up. We try to hide our pain. But we are wrong. Pain is something to carry. You feel your strength in the experience and expression of pain. It's all in how we carry it. That's what matters. Pain is a feeling. Our feelings are a part of us. Our own reality. If we feel ashamed of them, and hide them, we're letting society destroy our reality. We should stand up for our right to feel our pain.
They say time heals all wounds, but that presumes the source of the grief is finite but 'The Black Calendar' is all about the infinite source of heartache.
Dr. Rabia Naseem Mughal is Research officer, State Institute of Education, Kashmir