By Anil Datta
The cleavage in our deeply varied society where the mores and morals of the ‘educated’ urban population, sometimes overdoing in the realm of modernity, and the rural population that stubbornly clings to overly conservative tribal values, is so very visible.
While today the educated urban parents would like their daughters to study and make achievements in the realm of education and learning before being finally knotted down, rural society still considers girls as having been made exclusively for marriage and perpetuation of the race.
They are supposed to be confined to the four walls of the home and cater to the husband’s amorous whims and being no better than slaves to their spouses.
This is the theme of the Punjabi one-act play, ‘Raat’ (Night), put up at National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) on Monday evening as part of the academy’s ongoing festival of young directors’ plays.
Written by Salman Shahid, a famous PTV star of yesteryear, and most astutely directed by Shumaila Taj, it is the story of a 13-year old girl, Sakina, who wants to study further but is being knotted down to the village chieftain with the acquiescence of her father.
The village chief is a much, much older man and Sakina is determined not to be ensnared into the match. This situation coaxes Sakina into running away from home.
As news of her disappearance spreads, a commotion is created in the village and relatives and others, lanterns in hand, fan out to look for the girl in the middle of the night.
Interesting and humorous verbal duels take place in the meantime, as the search is going on. Jhalla, a real simpleton, says things that others can’t quite digest and is castigated good and proper by the others.
A typical example of the rural mindset comes to the fore when one of the characters while pontificating to the others on the virtues of child marriage, insists that a girl is a mature young woman by the time she’s 10 or 12 and must be married off. Most seem to agree with him.
However, Bala doesn’t agree. He insists that a girl should not be married off against her wishes to anybody the parents may think fit and that at 10, or 12, the girl is just a child and should be treated as such.
While the play highlights the rural mindset and values, it also brings out the fact that even among the villagers whom we urbanites may consider backward, there are people like Bala who see reason and rebel against the existing order. They frown upon child marriages which are tantamount to cruelty to the offspring.
The characters put up a really astute performance, all the more so when considered against the fact that most of the cast members were not Punjabi-speaking. They spoke perfect Punjabi.
Akbar Islam as Chacha Karamdeen and Aqeel Ahmed as Jallah infused real power into their roles. It was a profound recreation of the Punjabi village ambience, what with the lanterns and the silhouettes of trees in the midnight light.
A redeeming feature of the festival is that plays in all the languages of the country are being staged, thus giving impetus to promotion of the contours of a multicultural country like Pakistan. A Sindhi play is scheduled for January 17 (today).