Laughter challenges tears of Kashmir……………………. By Rashmi Talwar

“Kashmir Comedy Theatre Festival -2011”

Laughter challenges tears of Kashmir

By Rashmi Talwar

Bumbroo ! Bumbroo ! at 'Kashmir Comedy Theater Festival -2011

FIRST PUBLISHED IN KASHMIR TIMES MAGAZINE FRONT COVER ON JULY 10, 2011

‘Myon Shoosh’–My Love- Whisper the majestic Kashmir Mountains to me, opening their tessellated imposing arms, in a bear hug. I immerse into their beauty. The prickly needles of emerald hued conifers outlining their conical bodies, hurt me no more, they bring tickles at first, a smile and then a rolling laugh. It has been a quarter of a century since I last set foot in this wondrous land. ‘Maayi Barut Istaqbaal’ – Warm Welcome, ‘Khush Aamdeed’ – Happy Tidings, they murmur softly in my ear.

I raise my hand in a silent salute to the Jammu Kashmir Film Makers and Artists Co-operative Ltd (JKFMAC), the organizers who have brought the 10-day ‘Kashmir Comedy Theatre Festival -2011’ to this paradisiacal valley in the throes of tumult, as Shabbir Haider the Secretary General and CEO of JKFMAC puts it, “Where smiles come at a premium and laughter is in danger of growing extinct”.

A whole generation of Kashmiris turning old at 23 years, growing up in lurking fear and a daily call of attending dirges along with their elders, are completely cut off from what ‘normal’ childhood, adolescence and teenage years meant for others in India. For this generation it is so special to feel the emotion of hilarity, few have encountered or tasted in their lifetimes.

I feel there could be no better time. The ‘Amarnath Yatra’ is in full bloom albeit ‘under the shadow of the gun’, that provides pre-set security cover for the ‘laughter challenge’.

Serene, languid, doppling and dancing Dal Lake in Srinagar shows no sign of any fracas, smoothly letting the ‘shikaras’ or oblong romantic boats, slide on its beautiful belly, poked off and on by the paddle and rippling in mirth…

At Jammu and Srinagar airports, the almost embarrassing body search, the feel of metal detectors and human hands (even though female) feel like an amorous encroachment of privacy, not once, as at most airports, but three tier and times. Add to that, is the quick pick of a lady’s ‘tampon’ by a security guard and askance expression of suspicion followed by giggles when explained.

Strange, but some emotions of glee are traceable everywhere. I brush aside realms of media reports on turmoil and blood-baths to a ‘fake sting operation’ feeling some conspiracies lurking beneath the surface to bring disrepute to this virtual heaven on earth.

***
The grandeur of the inaugural ceremony on June 25th can hardly be gauged from the periphery of the venue of Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Complex (SKICC) with gun-toting, quick response teams and armoured vehicles lined up, outlined with camouflaged-capped sharp shooters.

Inside, however, the cyan hued ‘pedicured’ lawns and lofty elusive Chinar trees are busy spreading their enchanted halcyon beauty to the surroundings, where guzzling laughter and fragrances of colors will rule for more than a week.

Ravinder Kaul, globally renowned theatre critic, has a wonderful take on comedy and satire in theatre. He puts it thus, “The man who slug out the first ‘abuse’ has done a great service to humanity. He has inadvertently given an alternative to human kind to vent out anger other than to invite the rival for a ‘bloody-duel’ to end the argument. His displeasure therefore has shed no blood or caused no bodily harm to anyone”.

And continues, “In theater, especially in ‘satire’, an alternate way lends itself to vent out pent-up anger against the government policies, inadequacies of administration, all pervasive corruption, excesses of armed forces and of dogged militants with their quirky logic; creating havoc, deeply affecting and attacking the lives and vital ethos of Kashmiris”.

“Kashmiri-a peace loving community, is facing a whole gamut of daily life–threatening situations, robbing them of their privacy, peace and progress. The massive extent of corruption deprives and saps their ‘celebrated strengths’ and relegates their development in multiple spheres, to a mere trickle. For them, comedy and satire has come as a whiff of fresh mountain wind to air their grievances.”

***
The ceremony of the book release “Theatre Akh Tarruf”, authored by veteran theatre personality and Additional Director General, Doordarshan, Ashok Jailkhani is equally ‘theatrical’, albeit in the positive sense. Seeds of ‘Issbad’ are touched upon the heads and shoulders of the author, the chief guest and others at this auspicious occasion, as a tradition practiced by both Hindu and Muslim Kashmiris, and then thrown over the simmering coals in a ‘Kangri’ or a traditional vessel kept burning for warmth in the winter chill. A ‘pious’ fragrance emanates from the burning seeds and envelopes the surroundings, warding off evil spirits.

Thereafter, the Governor of this beauteous state Mr. NN Vohra unties the ribbon on the book, declares the Festival open with lighting of the ceremonial lamp to the flash of festoons and a swirl of colors of rainbow ‘phirans’- a typical Kashmiri garment, and matching swinging jewellery, classically Kashmiri.

It is ‘Bumbroo, Bumbroo’ time, a melody, as ten lovely lasses of Kashmir roll their ‘mehandied’-henna patterned hands-and lift themselves to melt into a frenzy of dance, bringing the audiences in close clasp of what one could say ‘befikri’-unmindful of worries.
Jammu girls match their Kashmiri counterparts in obvious competition with gusto on a Dogri dance and song and steep the audience into an untamed, full-blooded frolic.

***
‘Local Taxes Extra’- the opening play releases the first choking veil of curtains restricting the overenthusiastic actors waiting to showcase their talent for the Comedy Festival.

Written by Dr Sohan Lal Koul and directed by Ayash Arif of the Kalidas Theater Group, the play revolves on social issues facing a Kashmiri Pandit couple Bhushan Lal and Usha Rani who fall on the mercy of a quirky landlord out to take advantage of their plight in a series of hilarious situations wherein the servant Gash Ram too develops a taste for intrigues to create misunderstandings between the couple.

That the play in Kashmiri language sustains the attention of the State Governor, one known to have just a formal flavor of the Kashmiri language and constrained for time as dignitaries are wont to say for effect, speaks volumes about the histrionic prowess of the actors on stage. Of more significance, however, is a largely Kashmiri ‘Muslim’ audience glued to their seats watching the play with all Kashmiri Pandit characters. It seems to me, to be the true bearing or ‘icing’ of the lurking agony of separation of these two ethnic communities both of whom claim Kashmir as their rightful home and hearth.

It is this spirit of communal harmony and a composite culture that truly spells the values of the lush valley wherefrom many a Bollywood movie scripts have taken their first cues of unbridled love.

Kashmiri Pandits have been pushed, evacuated and left to fend for themselves due to hatred of alien mercenaries in cahoots with some local hawks and hardliners. Their Muslim brethren still hold them dear in unconditional love, that is what the attendance and attention at this Festival reinforces.
***

The Festival continues for the next ten days, bringing in fun and tears of joyous laughter. The themes revolve around overall corruption in high places and at the grassroots level. Even state run ‘Doordarshan’ is not spared to bring in guffaws while a play by tiny-tots takes the audiences to matchless taste of twists and turns in the ‘kiddy’ world.

Artistes include Bhands from Akingaam and Wathoora, the Akingaam Bhands’ group being in existence for many centuries, having been elaborately mentioned in Sir Walter Lawrence’s seminal book ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ (1895). As it began, the Festival ends with another hilarious tale revolving around a Kashmiri Pandit family. ‘Dastaar’, the play, has already become a part of the popular folklore of Kashmir with legendary actor Hriday Nath Gurtoo’s inimitable dialogue ‘Dastaaras karizam raachh’–‘Protect My Turban’-albeit ‘Honour’; on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

That Gurtoo died in a miserable condition in a migrant camp in Udhampur soon after being forced to migrate from his happy dwellings in Kashmir, in the early 1990s, has in no way dimmed his creation but rather highlighted the plight of some of the ‘Jewels of Kashmir’ being ostracized from their beloved land and perishing in misery.

The Festival comes to an end, the armored vehicles and sharp shooters leave the venue, but it has successfully scattered the seeds of tangible merriment in the entire valley.

My eyes scan the picturesque landscape and rivulets flow down my cheeks, I feel a tug, as if a dear one says ‘Maty’e Rozu Dama Roz Dariyam Chany’e Lol Re’! ‘My love, stay a while longer’. However agony of separation from Kashmir is lesser than the wish that Almighty may shower His choicest blessings and cheer to this Land of the Gods.

In their forlorn imploration, asking me to return to the valley blooming with spring flowers ‘Rosh wala myani dilbaro, poshan bahaar aav, yoori walo’– I peer to look for smiles down from the window of the plane. The arc that begins at one mountain top and, after covering the flat valley, ends at another mountain top, seems like a broad smiley like smile. Today, even the sun has been veiled by clouds on the top to spread the huge glowing smiley that I look for in the crinkly as well as reddish lips of Kashmiris blessed with unsurpassed beauty and as I place my hand on my heart it leaps and cheers ‘Aall izzz well’!

*****
FIRST PUBLISHED IN KASHMIR TIMES MAGAZINE FRONT COVER ON JULY 10, 2011

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Chaman pe ghaarat e gulchin se jaane kyaa guzri….
    kafas se Aaj saba beqaraar guzri hai (faiz) .______

    Nobody knows what befell the garden,
    in the wake of flower gatherer’s pillage_
    so restlessly has the breeze flit past the nest today.

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  2. Posted by Ahmad on July 23, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    Dear Rashmi

    ‘When you to choose between illusion and reality, may your heart be the judge.’ and when you have to choose between theater and agenda, let your conscience do the one talking .

    Best of Luck

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/groups/161517393920975?ap=1

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    • Showkat Ahmed ji,
      I think I did just that …..Only thing is there was no illusion and reality clash !!
      ….I received v positive vibes Overall and i am confident they were for real ….
      Despite few undercurrents of negativity…which otherwise would be a part and parcel of any normal society..
      The fact that I had come with a pre-notion of a disturbed area that they took on a different connotation and enlarged more than of a normal societal grievance …
      Punjab too has suffered more than a decade long militancy and terrorism , so Dear I am familiar with the vibes either way.

      In the second context too the characters on stage and the agenda correlated in no mean measure ..
      Thanks so much for visiting this blog and ur good wishes are welcomed and reciprocated …
      The link u placed is of a closed group ..Best Wishes

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  3. Its a great article without any doubt & was engrossed till the end. You have covered the whole event however after reading this article I realized that you have mentioned few plays & not much info about others moreover there is no mention of my play “KK The Artist”
    (where i played the character of KK) as it was the most talked about play of the festival & kind of response it got from Artist Fraternity/Audience & most important its after effects on the system.

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    • Dear MirSarwar Ji .
      ..I apologize for the omission .
      ..I wish u had mentioned it to me .

      .It was not possible to write about all the 10 plays ..due to space constraints of the paper ..
      But had i known about it surely I would have carried it . If u r on facebook i shall give u my number and promice …u shall never have this complaint again …
      This was my maiden venture in writing about Kashmir ..with support from u all …I intend to go further and write more …and God Willing ..I will ….

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      • Thanks Rashmi Ji ,

        I really appreciate it…
        I understood it now…
        I am on facebook ( mirsamar@gmail.com), hope to c u there & will surely keep u informed about the latest activities.
        As u mentioned it was a maiden venture then I would like to tell u that it was a very good article & u surely will get all the support u require Inshaallah.
        God Bless.

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  4. Posted by Vikram Jit Singh on July 21, 2011 at 7:07 PM

    These words are like flowers budding on desolate graves…hope springs eternal for the cursed valley.

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    • ‎Vikram Jit Singh— If they be the flowers as u say ..May they be richly pollinated and spring forth blooms on the faces of ppl of this beautiful valley …Thks so so much …wat words ! …ultimate !

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  5. Posted by Abdul Raouf on July 20, 2011 at 6:34 AM

    Beautiful.

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  6. Posted by Harry Rakhraj on July 20, 2011 at 1:45 AM

    Hidden in this lively Article is the silent scream of the ‘Chinaars’, the soundless
    moan of the ‘Wular’ and the ‘Dal’. And a whole generation grown old at 23 !!
    It speaks of the indomitable human spirit, too. A spirit that laughs and makes
    merry, and gladdens the heart in laughter and joy in the midst of so much sorrow.

    As one who has known this Paradise-on-Earth in happier times, one is left with moist eyes at the end. But suddenly one finds a bright tear of joy also sparkling on the cheek. It’s a dirge turned into an ode….! It should be titled Rashmi’s Ode to Kashmir.

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    • Harry Rakhraj ji ….Ur comment is so Eloquent of the situation in Kashmir
      …Awesome use of words ….Beautifully written …..
      The situation in Kashmir as we see on TV screens is 70 percent sensational news stories ..as they are wont , inclined and forced to portray..
      ..However my visit showed me the real picture as in the city ….the undercurrents were visible …but there seemed a NEW BEGINNING .!! ..I COULD FEEL IT INSTINCTIVELY …I want to be part of that NEW beginning and move forward and bring all that i can bring to wipe the tears off this beautiful Vale ..
      .Wish me the best and May all Divine forces culminate to make this come True …..

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