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Mian, Biwi aur Wagah: An Indo-Pak story told through letters

The play that tackles the themes of letter-writing, partition and nostalgia, is in Delhi as part of its first international tour.

art and culture Updated: Jan 25, 2018 20:43 IST
Danish Raza
Danish Raza
Hindustan Times
India,Pakistan,play
Amna Ehtesham Khaishgi portrays biwi (wife) in the play that aims to revive the spirit and tradition of letter-writing (Goonj.)

When was the last time you wrote a letter? Are you aware how significant a letter used to be for lovers? Have you ever tried hiding a letter under a pillow? Can you imagine communicating through letters?

The play Mian, Biwi aur Wagah leaves you with many such questions about nostalgia, the sense of belonging, and isolation. The play opened to five full houses in Dubai last year and is on its first tour abroad.

Mian and Biwi are the South Asian husband-wife duo, while Wagah – a border crossing between India and Pakistan – takes human form to become the narrator of the play.

“The play aims to revive the spirit and tradition of letter-writing that is rapidly disappearing under the onslaught of communication technology. At the same time, it tells you how similar people in India and Pakistan are,” said Dhruti Shah D’Souza, director of the play.

Mian, Biwi aur Wagah is based on the real-life experiences of a Dubai-based journalist couple from India and Pakistan, Ehtesham Shahid and Amna Ehtesham Khaishgi, playing themselves.

In early 2017, the couple was part of a short play in Dubai where they experimented with the idea of letters for the first time. They portrayed a married couple, each one writing letters to their respective families. These letters were used as a voice-over. “The audience loved the concept. We decided that there was potential to develop the idea and look at it from a Dastangoi (storytelling) perspective. That was how Mian, Biwi aur Wagah came into being,” said D’Souza.

Ehtesham Shahid, the miyan (husband) in a scene from the play Miyan, Biwi aur Wagah. (Goonj.)

The couple made an archive of real-life events that were worthy of being written about as letters: A teenaged Khaishgi taking dictation from her grandmother for the letters that would be posted to her extended family in Khurja (Uttar Pradesh); Khaishgi’s first visit to India, among other events.

“We drafted 25 letters based on our experiences. These were whittled down to 12 for narration purpose,” said Shahid.

Originally, the idea was that Shahid and Khaishgi would contribute to the play as co-writers. They were to give these letters to D’Souza who had to identify people to play the husband-wife duo. “But writing and enacting your own story has its own depth. I cajoled them into playing these characters,” said D’Souza. “It was challenging because they are not from a theatre background. But eventually they did bring alive the two characters.” On his part, Khaishgi said, “We have not played these characters. We have lived them.”

Wagah, the narrator, is the link between the couple. He is a spirit walking on stage, oblivious to the characters. He represents stories from both sides of the border. “These are not the stories you see in the media. These are tales about a normal Indo-Pak couple,” said Mohammad Majid, who plays Wagah. “In the process, Wagah explores his identity. He questions his existence when everything looks the same on either side,” he said.

The first half of the play is about the couple’s lives – the sense of loss, memories, bidding good-bye to your close ones.

The second half dwells on the forgotten heroes of letter writing, primarily the postman and the kora kaghaz (blank page). The page’s account is a poetry recital which is converted into a short Kathak piece. “Both the postman and the blank page ask the audience, ‘have you forgotten us’”, said D’Souza.

As soon as the play went live, Khaishgi said that they were convinced into taking it to India. “The relationship between India and Pakistan is as beautiful as the two countries. This was the conviction with which we wanted go beyond Dubai,” she said.

WHAT: Mian, Biwi aur Wagah, an Urdu play on the lost tradition of letter-writing

WHEN: 27 January, 7pm & 28 January, 4pm and 7.30pm

WHERE: Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road.

TICKETS: Rs 250-600 at bookmyshow.com & at the venue.

NEAREST METRO STATION: Jorbagh.

First Published: Jan 25, 2018 20:39 IST