Where is Swadesh Deepak? This question is often put by people about this Mantoesque writer who enjoyed a cult following of sorts. The people of the city loved his readings, his plays and his company. He would be here so often from Ambala, where he lived and taught in a college. Then one day about 10 years ago, he stopped coming here; there were no telephone calls either to talk about the play he was writing. No one knew where he was. Perhaps away on a long journey to some undisclosed destination.
Then a few days ago, one got news of him via Pakistan: Deepak’s pathbreaking play ‘Court Martial’ ‘(1991), a courtroom drama laying bare class and caste crevices in sub-continental society, a major hit in India running into some 4,000 shows till date in different languages, has been a rage in Karachi the past year.
Not just that, Stage Nomad Productions, Karachi, has picked this play for a nationwide movement to be financed by crowd-funding for social justice. They will be casting members of the underprivileged society in key roles because the protagonist of ‘Court Martial’ is a victim of caste prejudice. It is a daring step by these young theatre workers because Karachi has seen many killed in political and ethnic violence in recent times besides witnessing terror by Pakistan’s Taliban.
Interestingly, Stage Nomad is a company set up by two fresh graduates from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi. They are Irfaan Anwar and Saad Qazi who are idealistic and full of dreams at even as they are just 23.
“Some 200 million (20 crore) dreams might never be realised in Pakistan: a country plagued by war, terrorism, corruption, illiteracy and poverty. But we, the youth are just not ready to let that happen,” says Irfan. Saad, who is the director of the play that was staged by the IBA at its annual event.
“Stage Nomad is hopeful that we will succeed in our crowd-funding campaign to not only stage ‘Court Martial’, but also play a part in bridging cultural ties with India. The group believes that art should transcend both borders and limiting mindsets,” he adds.
When Saad is asked that is it not daring to pick up the play in Hindi by an Indian writer, his reply is: “The theme of the play is universal and points at the oppression of the underprivileged by the powerful. That it was written in Hindi is incidental. There may be a backlash by certain sections of the society.”
The play will move from Karachi to Lahore, Faislabad and Rawalpindi, the last being the birthplace of Deepak. Stage Nomad would also like to bring their production to India. Previously, Indian theatre directors including Usha Ganguly, Ranjit Kapur, Arvind Gaur and Kewal Dhaliwal have staged this classic play.
Back home Sukant Deepak, son of the playwright, says: “By chance, I stumbled upon a news item saying that my father’s play was very wellreceived in Karachi. This surprised me and made me happy that a Hindi play was being staged in Pakistan with passion. The fissures the play shows in the Indian Army are a metaphor for similar conditions in all power institutions.”
I now know what my answer will be to the question ‘Where is Swadesh Deepak?’ Well, he is around in his words and his dreams. Also, he carries the power to enable the dreams of others for all times.