Posts Tagged Partition

Toba Tek Singh: Play Review (naatak.com)


Toba Tek Singh is yet another example of NAATAK company’s efforts to bring bold and audacious plays in Indian languages or with Indian theme, on stage.  Very special credits for this amazing production go to brilliant director Sujit Saraf who adapted the original story for stage, to brilliant producer who wears multiple hats, Soumya Agastya and to brilliant music director, Nachiketa Yakkundi. Based off of the original story written by Saadat Hasan Manto, Toba Tek Singh focuses on exchange of inmates in a Lahore asylum, after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The ensuing conflict between India and Pakistan displaced nearly 15 million people and nearly 1 million people died during the migration, leaving behind a bloody legacy. The story of Toba Tek Singh is not only a powerful satire on the events that transpired in the aftermath of the violent division but when observed through the eyes of a madman, one can’t help but feel that he was the only sane person questioning the ridiculousness of the entire situation, in a sea of complete and utter lunacy.

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standingPerformed with live music and phenomenal dances by women in colorful costumes, the lunacy of the bloody events feels even more stark. Toba Tek Singh is the largest production in Naatak’s 22 year history.  It is amazing and delightful to see the huge entire cast perform their roles flawlessly. But it is the live musicians, under the leadership of Yakkundi and amazing dancers under the leadership of choreographers, Shaira Bhan and Snigdha Singh that this special story was transformed into a grand musical.

Image result for partition, india, pakistan
When the British
left India divided and splintered, clear borders were not announced until after the division, throwing millions of people into chaos and confusion. In an immediate aftermath, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Hindus and Sikhs began the trek towards India and millions of Muslims in the opposite direction towards Pakistan in the West and East. While millions and millions were displaced and left homeless, nearly a million never made it as people were massacred during migration, some were abducted and many were raped, forced into sexual slavery, and left disfigured and dismembered. But lunetics housed in the mental asylums were safe from this madness.

Image may contain: 3 people, people sittingThe story of Toba Tek Singh begins in 1948, a year after the partition, when the governments of India and Pakistan decide that the lunatics living in the mental asylums must also be exchanged so that Muslim lunatics in India may be sent to Pakistan, while Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistan may be sent to India.  One of the lunatics is a Sikh inmate named Bishan Singh who is to be sent under police escort to India from Lahore. Bishan Singh wants to remain in a country where his home village Toba Tek Singh remains and he asks several people where Toba Tek Singh is.  He is alternately told it is in India and then told it is in Pakistan. When he finally believes that his hometown Toba Tek Singh will be part of the new Pakistan, he refuses to go to India and lies down right in the middle, in the no man’s land.

When you watch the play, you somehow feel that Bishan Singh is the only man true to his feelings, unlike Naidu or Jinnah or Gandhi or Nehru or Mountbatten or Edwina or Godse who are all caught up in their own self serving versions and visions of the event.  Each one of the other characters use multiple tactics and strategies, plot and craft to manipulate and maneuver the events to fit their vision. Bishan Singh simply wants to live in a place he has known as home because home is where the heart is and to get uprooted from homeland is like getting  your heart ripped out.

Toba Tek Singh will be running in Woodside, CA till July 29, 2017. Get your tickets at www.naatak.com .

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“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” – Bolywood Movie Review


“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” (run Milkha run), shouted Milkha’s father, as he lay dying, at the hands of the militants, and Milkha kept running, all the way across the Indian border, from his village in Pakistan.  The devastation and carnage that resulted when the British left a deeply divided and broken county, displaced an estimated 12 to 15 million people, and over 1.5 million people are estimated to have lost their lives, in the mass violence.  It probably left wounds so deep, trauma so inexplicable that one cannot imagine how people put their lives back together.  Here is one story of Milkha Singh.  The movie unfolds, against the backdrop of tragic massacre of Milkha Singh’s family, who chose to stay in their homeland and fight the enemy, rather than run.  The movie is based on a true story and you can google the details of how young Milkha (Jabtej Singh) and his sister (Divya Dutta) with her family, manage to escape, how Milkha got into trouble with the law, but then found inspiration in love, which propelled him to a career in the Indian army, where he took up running, eventually winning scores of medals on behalf of the country.  (A little side note, both Jabtej Singh and Divya Dutta have done an awesome job in the side roles of junior Milkha and his sister, respectively).

Eventually, Milkha Singh, superbly played by Farhan Akhtar, faced a dilemma that would bring him face to face with his past.  India’s most inconic athlete who ran away from Pakistan and had been running ever since, was summoned by the President himself, Mr. Nehru, to return back to Pakistan, to lead his team in running.  Indian officials implored, cajoled, and pleaded Milkha Singh to represent India, in Pakistan, during the friendly games, to mark the occasion of coming together of both countries.

Based on a script written by Prasoon Joshi, the film is produced and directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.  It is albeit a bit long and I would have liked to see it a little short.  However, the cast is superb, the songs are beautiful and the true story of Milkha Singh, known as the “Flying Singh”, a moniker given by Pakistan’s General Ayub Khan, is tragic and inspiring.  The devastation of India Pakistan breakup, the roads littered with broken limbs and broken dreams, left such deep wounds, that countries and people sought to burry the tragedy and forget about it, rather than talk about it and learn from it.  It is only now that this subject is getting attention.  Recently, San Francisco Bay Area’s local NAATAK company (www.naatak.org) produced an incredible play “Jisne Lahore Dekhya Nahin Vo Janmya Hi Nahin”  http://bit.ly/11PhK5q and 1947 Partition Archives http://www.1947partitionarchive.org/, a non profit group, is building an archive of true life stories impacted by the partition.

Always buried in the tragedy, there is a story of inspiration, love that was transforming, a character that was built, achievement that was remarkable, past that was revisited and reconciled with.  Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, is one such story and Milkha is said to have publicly opined that the movie is a fairly accurate depiction of his life up to 1962, where the movie ends.  Don’t miss it.  I give it a 4.8 on a 5 point scale, with 5 being excellent.

English: Flag of Indian Army

English: Flag of Indian Army (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Play – Jisne Lahore Nai Dkhya O Jamya hi Nai (One who has not seen Lahore has not been born)


This was another superb play put up by local bay area Naatak company.   Not only the troupe has matured in terms of acting and direction, but increasingly they are bringing plays with themes that enhance insight and education among the local community.

This play is set in 1947 and tells the story of a Muslim family that migrates from Lucknow to Lahore in the aftermath of the partition of India and Pakistan.  The family is allotted a Haveli supposed to be vacated by departed Hindu family.  When the family moves into the Haveli, they find an old Hindu woman living there who refuses to leave her land and her home.    The drama that ensues gives a peek into human psyche of fear and ignorance and of hatred based on imbibed religious ideology.  And then it also gives an insight into those who overcome such hatred and form ties that transcend shallow boundaries and find the answers to such complex issues what might be an appropriate and respectful way to deal with the dead body of a Hindu person in a town devoid of a crematorium and in a town where there is no one to show how to perform last rites for a Hindu.

It was a mature story that was beautifully told, superbly enacted with expert direction.

After the play, the organizers arranged a short session for real life survivors of the partition to share their stories.  For me, this was an eye-opening account of what transpired.  Before I summarize their stories that they shared, here is a short history lesson that I learned after I heard their stories.  The partition displaced up to 12.5 million people in the former British Indian Empire.  Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly formed states in the months immediately following partition.  Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders, hoping to migrate to safer environment, based on religious demarcation.  No systems were put in place to facilitate such large scale migration of people and the newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with the flow of people on both sides at such a massive scale.  Estimates of the number of deaths go as high as 500,000.

One of the survivors who shared his story was about 8 years old, at the time of the partition.  He and his brother was migrating with his grandmother from Kasowal, a village in Pakistan, to Delhi by train.  They boarded the train, packed to capacity.  At a station where they got off the train to board another train there was firing going on and he was shot in the calf by a bullet.  His grandmother tore off her clothes and tied the foot and they boarded another train.  En route, they witnessed women jumping into wells to save their honor, they passed through train station littered with dead bodies and miscellaneous body parts and they were in deep fear for their safety.  Luckily, a rich Hindu family and kind Muslim family was traveling with them.  They Hindu family gave the Muslim family some money and their ornaments at each station and the Muslim family told the mob at each station that they were traveling with their own family and all these were their children and at times hid them in bathrooms and under the seats.  The Muslim family was to get off at the last station before the train left Pakistan’s borders.  The family begged the Muslim man to stay on the train and defend them till the last minute before the train left and that is exactly what he did.  He got his own children off the train but himself stayed on the train, defending these Hindu passengers against the mob and finally got off after the train began moving.  When the Hindu family reached Firozpur station, they found to their horror, that theirs was perhaps one of the isolated compartments with real people.  All other compartments had dead bodies and body parts.

Another survivor also told a similar story of migration from their village.  They were the landowners with 6-7 villages.  On account of the impending news of partition, the father of this person and his uncle went on to India in search of livelihood.  Before they could arrange for their extended family of 21 to migrate to Indian side, the family’s survival was threatened and they moved into a refugee camp.  They lived for two months in this camp before a brave Indian military officer risked his own life and brought a convoy with some soldiers to bring them home.  About 50 survivors traveled together in a convoy with these soldiers under strict orders to not venture anywhere far during brief stops.  They were traveling hungry and thirsty for the most part.  At one stop, this man’s brother and one other kid ventured out to the river to drink water and were shot dead.  Finally, the convoy reached India and then they were transferred from one refugee camp to another.  Finally, one day they heard Radio India announce the name of his father.  Radio India announced names of survivors and family members with an aim to unite them.  This family was then united but without any home.  In one village, it was decided that who can find an empty home and sleep for one night in that home, would own that home.  This family of 20 people got a 300 square foot home in which they all lived together for 15 years.

These accounts were eye opening accounts for me.  My family was not anywhere near the border towns and this was not discussed extensively in schools.  In fact, one of the persons who shared his story said that this was the second time in his whole life that he has shared this story of his experience during partition.

Once again Naatak company delivered phenomenal performance around an extremely crucial historical event that touched so many lives.

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