Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Abhishek Majumdar | Peeling back the layers

When we first meet Gasha (Adhir Bhat), a Kashmiri Pandit, he is six months old. Abhishek Majumdar’s final play in his Kashmir trilogy, Gasha, follows the adventures of the titular character and his best friend Nazir (Sandeep Shikhar) through school and the streets of Kashmir till Gasha is 12, and his family is forced to leave the Valley. Gasha returns 20 years later, only to find that he can barely recognize his past. Gasha has been nominated in six categories at the eighth edition of the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (Meta), including best play. In an interview the 32-year-old director, who co-founded the Bangalore-based Indian Ensemble theatre group in 2009 along with Shikhar, talks about the themes of identity, displacement and how large political movements can impinge on the daily lives of ordinary people. Edited excerpts:

The narrative of ‘Gasha’ moves back and forth in time. How important is the process of remembering in the play?

Memory is not linear. My most distinct memories may be from seven years ago, and then from yesterday. The form is interesting. It’s the cohesion of rhythm not of time, linearity of the idea.

The critical thing is that Gasha leaves Kashmir at 12 and returns at 32. He knows nothing of what has happened here in 20 years except through newspapers, etc. You can’t possibly expect Gasha to connect to the place after this time.

There is minimalist use of props in the play—there are some suitcases that serve as chairs, altars and even as a drawing board...

Thematically, the Pandits left Kashmir with so little—if they were to tell their story, what means would they have to tell it? There’s a sense of how they left their entire home in Kashmir with just seven bags, and of living out of those bags in exile.

Also practically, we need to travel with the play. Most of our budget was spent on research. The play was made over one year.

So what kind of research did you do for this play?

The research for Gasha began with The Djinns of Eidgah (the second play in the trilogy. The first one, Rizwan, has now been made into a film). The entire team except Sandeep travelled to Kashmir; the play was initially conceived as a monologue. We lived in Kheer Bhavani (a temple), interviewed everyone in Adhir’s family and around, including former intelligence officers, people who had worked with the government and against it, Pandits and Muslims, even some hardliners who said the idea that Kashmiri Pandits were forced into exile was hogwash.

There’s an additional dimension of Bihari versus Kashmiri identity that is established early on in the play.

We wanted to develop the idea that human beings are fundamentally discriminatory. We wanted to give our characters the ability to hate as well as love. When we went there, the Kashmir rail was being extended to Baramulla. A majority of the workers were Bihari. So that added the aspect of capital, of looking at people as rich or poor.

Were the plays conceived as a Kashmir trilogy from the start?

I started by reading Agha Shahid Ali’s The Country Without a Post Office. It is Kashmiri, but it is also very universal. In fact, when I first devised Rizwan at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, there wasn’t a single Kashmiri in the play.

The plays can be seen as stand-alone productions. Most people will likely see only one of the three. But if the plays are seen in the order (in which they were produced), it can show a certain development.

The story of ‘Gasha’ is told for the most part from the child’s perspective...

The important thing is to capture the humanity of the play. There’s a child’s complexity that creates the fun in the play. The humour arises from that context.

Your Kashmir trilogy and ‘Afterlife of Birds’ are played out in conflict zones. Are conflict and displacement important themes for you?

It’s the stories that are important to me. These four plays happen to be based in such a situation. Afterlife of Birds has more to do with people who have left the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and the parents of those who were thought to be part of the struggle. I am trying to show how some of the larger, faraway things affect us in our daily lives, how they affect families.

Gasha will be staged on 4 March, at 7.30pm, at Kamani Auditorium, Copernicus Marg, Delhi. Tickets, 100, available at www.buzzintown.com. The META Awards will be given on 9 March in New Delhi.

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