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In US, Indians, Pakistanis stage Partition-era play

August 20, 2009 21:16 IST

Even as tensions continue to simmer between New Delhi and Islamabad, Indian and Pakistani-Americans have come together to stage a play at the Kennedy Center to show that they can interact without the hang-ups of their respective countries.

The play -- Jisne Lahore Nahin Dekha by Asghar Wajahat  -- is, ironically, about the events of 1947, when Partition divided the nation and wrote the first of several blood-soaked chapters in the histories of the two neighbors.

The Phoenix Rising Media Group, based in Woodbridge, Virginia, which is staging the play at the Kennedy Center August 14 and 15, said the intent 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 celebrate its 20th anniversary, will also tour 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 expected to be at the premier at the Kennedy Center.

The play is structured as the story of interaction between a Muslim refugee family that migrates from Lucknow to Lahore and the mother of a Hindu refugee family somehow left behind when her family members leave for India.

Noor Naghmi, founder of The Phoenix Group who is producing the play locally at the Kennedy Center and Ravi Khanna, director, public relations for the group, both of whom are acting in the play directed by Umesh Agnihotri,  told Rediff India Abroad that it is a deliberate effort to show that Indians and Pakistanis can work together and enjoy each other's company.

"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," Naghmi said.

"Art is like the fragrance of flowers, which has no borders, no limits," he said.

"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."

Khanna, news editor for South Asia at the Voice of America, told India Abroad "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. This is the first Hindu/Urdu play to be staged at the Kennedy Center, 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.

"We believe both governments always exploit region for political purposes."

Pointing out that in the US, Indians and Pakisanis mix together socially and professionally with no ill will even when tensions boil over in the subcontinent Khanna, who plays two roles in the play, said the play and its performance holds out the hope that such amity can spread to their respective countries as well.

Aziz Haniffa