By Archana Rao
Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) on Friday staged Bhisham Sahni’s Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein, a noted play written by Sahni himself in the tumultuous decade of 1980. The era was plagued by politics of communal mobilization, emergency and riots.
The play is based on the life of Sant Kabir. How a simple man’s thoughts and intellect, by witnessing years of injustice, prejudice and blind faith turned him into a mystical poet. Kabira Khada Bazar Mein (In the Market Stands Kabir) attained popularity in the 80’s and 90’s when it was first penned by Sahni.
The title of the play is based on one of Kabir’s Dohas (couplets) itself.
Kabira khada bazaar mein, mangey sabki khair
Na kahu se Dosti, na kahu se Bair.
(Kabira in the marketplace, wishes welfare of all.
Neither friendship nor enmity with anyone at all)
Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein traces various issues the prodigy came across in his life including caste discrimination, religion and numerous social stigmas which bind and divide people in the society. Kabir not only recites his quintessential poems but is also unafraid of voicing his opinion in front of others; be it the elite or the pauper. Based in the background of the then Kashi, the play holds much relevance in the modern era as well.
The play starts with Kabir’s father complaining about his son’s erratic behavior and outspoken attitude to his wife. This is when Kabir overhears the ongoing arguments and learns how he was abandoned by a woman belonging to upper-caste and got adopted by the family of Muslim weavers. Befuddled upon realizing his true identity, he decides to abandon his religion and embrace the existence of a higher entity who can be loved and worshiped by all.
Kabir’s verse highlighted the divide among Hindu-Muslims, the tyranny of the rich and powerful and the ongoing political conservatism practiced in the society. This not only irked Hindus and Turks but also the local Kotwal (local police officer) who would punish those who supported Kabir.
The stage gave the audience an authentic theatrical feel and also neatly accommodated the actors and the props. The acoustics of the auditorium worked in the favor of the team as the voices and music reached each and every corner.
One of the best aspects about this play is its music. The director of the play, M K Raina, himself has sung and composed songs for the play. The Dohe recited by the artists are catchy and add excitement in the play, making you more curious about the story. The songs are composed using simple and minimal instruments like Harmonium, Ghungroo, Dhol, and drums keep the merriment going.
Each actor has performed splendidly. Rakesh Kumar Singh plays the character of Kabir flawlessly although one could see the exhaustion on his face after the second half of the play. But despite all the odds, Singh keeps the audience entertained by showcasing vivid expressions throughout the play. Shwetha, who plays the character of Loi, Kabir’s wife, appears only for a brief moment. She plays her part well as a person who is loud, fearless and a little eccentric, just like Kabir. The other 29 supporting characters too have enacted their parts well.
Languages such as Hindi, Avadh and Urdu have been used in this play. So those who have little or no knowledge of Avadh, may find some of the dialogues difficult to understand. Also there are moments in the plays where the dialogue delivery has been either too quick or there has been an abrupt pause between two lines.
All in all, one can say that the play recounts anecdotes from Kabir’s life in the straight narrative form, employed as a means to express revulsion against untouchability and religious exclusivity which continue to exist till date. The circumstances which Kabir wrote about more than 600 years ago continue to plague us even now as casteism and religious intolerance dominate the minds of fanatic people.