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In tense times, a play on pangs of 1947 partition

August 07, 2009 11:59 IST

Even as tensions continue to simmer between India and Pakistan with the Mumbai terror attacks still fresh in the minds of those who don't want to talk to Islamabad until the perpetrators of the attack are brought to justice, Indian and Pakistani Americans have for the first time come together to stage a play at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, DC to show that they can interact without any hang-ups of past history.

However, ironically, the play Jisne Lahore Nahin Dekha by Asghar Wajahat is indeed about past history -- the 1947 partition -- that has divided Indians and Pakistan, Hindus and Muslims for more than six decades.

The Phoenix Rising Media Group, based in Woodbridge, Virginia, which is staging the play at the Kennedy Centre on August 14 and 15, said, it was to 'remember millions of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who were killed or displaced by British India's 1947 Partition', and to 'commemorate the recent demise of Habib Tanvir Sahib who first brought the play into limelight amid rave reviews in 1992'.

They said the play, which would soon be celebrating its 20th anniversary, after its run in DC, would also be touring New York, London and Sydney and would also be made into a Bollywood movie by director Raj Kumar Santoshi and Wajahat, the original producer, who are both expected to be at the premier at the Kennedy Centre.

According to the blurb, the play takes place in 1947 during the chaotic partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, and the world witnessed perhaps the largest migration of people in history, when 'the displaced population crossed the border with minimal possessions, hoping the newly created 'custodian's office' would allot them a home vacated by the refugees in the other country'.

It adds that 'this is a riveting story of the interaction between a Muslim refugee family that migrates from Lucknow to Lahore and the mother of a Hindu refugee family who is somehow left behind when others in her family leave for India'.

Noor Naghmi, the founder of The Phoenix Group and who is producing the play locally at the Kennedy Centre and Ravi Khanna, director, public relations for the Group, both of whom are acting in the play, which is being directed by Umesh Agnihotri, told rediff.com that it is also a deliberate effort to show that Indian and Pakistani can work together and enjoy each other's company and that it proves to be contagious both here in the US and back in India and Pakistan.

Naghmi said, "I strongly believe in the message of the play, which is that Islam teaches you to respect all religions and faiths, so that others can also respect Islam in the same way."

"Art is like the fragrance of flowers, which has no borders, no limits," he said, and declared, "So I am for love, peace and friendship among the people of India and Pakistan and we hope that is what people will take away after seeing the play and that is what we hope to achieve with our efforts to stage this riveting play with its profound message."

Khanna, news editor for South Asia at the Voice of America, who played the president of the Theosophical Society of India in the much acclaimed Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink by the Studio Theater here, which won the Helen Hayes Award, told rediff.com, "India and Pakistan are at each other's throats again and here in Washington, Indians and Pakistanis together are remembering the millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs killed or displaced by the 1947 partition by doing this play."

He said, "This is the first Hindu/Urdu play to be staged at the Kennedy Centre, and that too by a group of Indians and Pakistanis working together."

"Our group believes that if the Indians and Pakistanis can work together outside the region, which I call a 'neutral zone' why can't the two countries be more friendly," he said, and alleged, "We believe both governments always exploit region for political purposes."

Khanna said, "Indians and Pakistanis here mix socially without any ill will even when the two governments are fighting, and no newspaper seems to have report on this fact. So, we are also doing this play to show that among us -- people to people -- there are no differences among the Indians and Pakistanis here."

"In Bollywood, Hindus and Muslims work together day in and day out without any problems or grudges and they were doing this even when there were Hindu-Muslim riots going on elsewhere in India."

Khanna plays two roles in the play -- as the custodian and Mr Taqi, an Indian Muslim, who has come to Lahore after partition and supports the community in doing the final rites of the Hindu woman according to the Hindu faith.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC