A case for communal harmonyThe play Kathadesh 3, directed by Aashant Sharma, currently on at Gothale Theatre, depicts two ancient societies and tells us lessons that should be learned from them
The Aashant Sharma directorial Kathadesh 3, currently on stage at Gothale Theatre in Battisputali, is a compilation of two realistic stories written in about same period of time—one, Saadat Hasan Manto’s Thanda Ghosth, translated into Nepali as Hiun Bhanda Chiso, and then our own Guru Prasad Mainali’s magnum opus Chhimeki. Both stories were written in the 1940s and are equally relevant today and both works bear an authentic testament of the societies working then. And hence, it’s fascinating that someone took an effort to revisit the stories.
Before we plunge into recounting the interconnectedness and similarities between the two stories—and between the plays staged out of them—let us take a moment to separately analyse the stories and their enactment on stage.
Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story, Thanda Gosht—translated into English as Colder than Ice, and then into Nepali by the director Sharma himself as Hiun Bhanda Chiso—is a psychological tale in the best sense of the term: It narrates how the religious upsurge between the Hindu and Islam, which ultimately led to the divide of Pakistan from India, triggered a change into the psyche of people who lived through it.
Eesher, the protagonist, comes back home after a spell of eight days to find his beautiful wife, Kalwanti, lying on her bed waiting for her husband. He sways his dagger once in the air and then puts it down; then, he proceeds to make love to her. But he fails to perform. Kalwanti senses something wrong, asks Eesher if he slept with another woman, a “whore?”. Kalwanti snaps at her husband with the same dagger used by Eesher to dash off people during the uprising. Eesher’s voice weakens, he falls on the floor and then in a telling moment he recounts to her the reason behind what happened.
In Sharma’s rendition, there is not only one pair of Eesher-and-Kalwanti but four. The story has been narrated through numerous voices which also appear on stage. (The play has been enacted by the 18th batch of Actor’s Studio’s students.) And although, we are told in the beginning that, to advocate the equality all the characters are adorned in white attire, there is a subtle difference between the four pairs only noticeable on a close look. The four pairs are the epitome of four religions, and the director might be using that visual metaphor to dictate that there are Kalwantis and Eeshers not in a Sikh or Muslim community but also across all other religions.
While Hiun Bhanda Chiso deals with the psychological horrors invoked after the partition of two to-be neighbours, Chhimeki is all about the feud and an ultimate reconciliation between two families, close neighbours.
In Sharma’s retelling of the classic tale of Dhanjite and Gumane (the first time the story was reproduced into a play?), the characters will take you on a journey to a rural village; interestingly, there is no elaborate sets and props that would in any way depict the village. But there are plenty of songs which do the job, like the Asare bhaka, which ensures that the audience won’t have any problem placing themselves into the rustic surrounding as they listen to it. The enactment is well-processed; but the larger-than-life character of Dharmanada Padhya steals the show. He is old and sneaky, weak, yet daring. He is a catalyst. And, he is a joy to look at.
Director Sharma’s choice of staging two different, yet subtly similar, tales of society is understandable, given the times we are currently living through. The first play, Hiun Bhanda Chiso, is told through a chorus, which indicates the case Director Sharma is trying to make. The play might be a reflection of the deeply polarised society we are living in and the aftereffects it might bring with it. Meanwhile, the second one, Chhimeki, dictates why it is necessary to maintain communal harmony.
By telling the stories of two different societies and even while working with the novice actors, director Sharma succeeds in making the case that he desires: he depicts the nuances of the typical eastern societies and the feuds that may arise and also, he does suggest us the best way to move forward.