When a woman goes mad: True story at heart of Partition play
Rich in visuals with soulful music by Lopoke Brothers, Lakhbir and Rajinder, the play tells the story of Punjab’s pain from 1947 to 1984. However, what makes the play more relevant is that it is inspired by the heart-rending.punjab Updated: Feb 11, 2018 10:25 IST
‘Pul Siraat’ refers to a mythological bridge over hell that must be crossed on the day of judgment, according to Islam. This was also the name of a play directed by Kewal Dhaliwal of Manch Rangmanch, Amritsar, staged on Saturday at Bal Bhawan in Sector 23 as part of an ongoing theatre festival.
Rich in visuals with soulful music by Lopoke Brothers, Lakhbir and Rajinder, the play tells the story of Punjab’s pain from 1947 to 1984. However, what makes the play more relevant is that it is inspired by the heart-rending story of a Muslim girl, Fujjan (played by Mandeep Ghai), abducted during the Partition riots in 1947 and renamed Harnam Kaur. Forced into conversion to Sikhism and marriage, she bears two sons of her tormentor Jassa (played by Gurtej Mann) and pays a heavy price for the trauma by losing her mind and becoming the village’s mad woman, rechristened Namo.
Sahitya Akademi award-winning playwright and IPS officer Swarajbir says he grew up watching Namo in his village in Gurdaspur district of Punjab. “This play was inspired by her although I added much from imagination linking it to the separatist movement around 1984. But at the heart of the play is the true story of a woman who bore on her body and soul the scars of communal frenzy.”
Namo represents thousands of women across religions who met such a fate, or even worse, in 1947. The playwright hesitantly names his village Nawan Pind where the 16-year-old girl is brought by her abductor along with other loot. She is then forced to convert and marry her oppressor. Swarajbir reveals, “I heard from the village elders that when the process of rehabilitation of abducted girls in both India and Pakistan started, Pakistani police visited the village. At that time she was kept hidden, buried under a huge stack of toori (fodder). It was that trauma which was probably to affect her mind for all times.”
He adds that every morning she would take a dip in a nearby rivulet saying: ‘Namo bathes every day, but the bhai from gurdwara does not/Namo does path (prayers) every day, but the bhai sleeps!’ “Such were the fears of conversion playing on her mind!”
Eventually her husband died and her elder son became a Nihang; the younger one was mentally challenged. “I wrote the play after she died and an old man in the village joked about her. That hurt me so much and I felt Namo’s story must be told in some way. Of course, to bring attention communal frenzy I portrayed her son as a terrorist.”
Director Dhaliwal says, “I have interpreted a woman’s madness as the madness of the times, of the killings of the divide, and of recurring violence in Punjab. The theme was very close to my heart as my parents had come uprooted from Lyallpur (now Faisalabad).” The playwright dedicated this play to the memory of legendary street theatre director Gursharan Singh, who used to say that he had not been able to laugh after what he saw during the Partition.