In his poem Burnt Norton, TS Eliot makes a shrewd comment on man’s conscious negligence of the past. “Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past./If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable,” he says.
He laments over man’s ‘unredeemable’ inability to rectify the follies of history. It’s also man’s ineptitude to confront the darkness that keeps him from being enlightened. The 1971 separation of East Pakistan, lest we forget, is a case in point of history unresolved and made lopsided. Delivering a subtle yet profound statement on the woes prevailing in an average household that experiences this divide, Rahat Kazmi’s Aik Diary Jo Kho Gayi offers a harrowing look at how, today, we are still where we were 44 years ago.
Set in 1987 with an incumbent President Ziaul Haq, the play centralises the lives of a lower-middle class Bihari family. Moeenuddin (Akbar Islam) and his wife Shakila Begum (Bakhtawar Mazhar) have two sons Fareeduddin (Tariq Raja) and Kaleemuddin (Ahmer Hussain). Shakila’s sister Rabia (Zarka Naz), who is the widow of a Bengali named Kalaam, moves back to Pakistan from Bangladesh to live with her sister, accompanied by her two daughters Amina ‘Amy’ (Jia Khan) and Jasmine (Erum Bashir).
An adaptation of Neil Simon’s coming-of-age comedy Brighton Beach Memoirs, Aik Diary Jo Kho Gayi makes the plot and characters relatable for a Pakistani everyman, one who is distraught and still struggling with ethnic disparities. He is one for whom things, such as ensuring that all the lights are switched off before retiring for bed and avoiding hoarding of food to prevent wastage in case of a flood (as Shakila notes), hold worth. Kaleem is the ultimate scapegoat; his annoyance over being held liable for everything that goes wrong in the house evokes both laughter and pity.
The ‘Diary’ in the title Aik Diary Jo Kho Gayi, perhaps, represents Bangladesh, the memory of which is now tantamount to a lost memoir. Interestingly, Kalaam, who Shakila often snubs for being ‘Bengali’, but also acknowledges for his goodness of character, seems to be reminiscent of Bangladesh as well. Rabia and his daughters make repeated references to how the memory of Kalaam is increasingly becoming a blur, another indication that what now remains is a vague impression of the baleful implications of the 1971 war.
Raising a question on the myopic understanding of history, Shakila is shown laying emphasis on keeping the house clean, quoting how her parents’ house was spick-and-span before the ill-fated attack by Mukti Bahini. This is not just a rant of a domesticated woman. It certainly is a double entendre. By stressing upon the need to clean the house and mocking her Pathan neighbours who don’t keep their windows clean, she reminds the viewer of how the bloody stains of the past remain uncleansed. Rabia refers to her weak eyesight multiple times, which could also represent her short-sightedness while, one, opting for a ‘Bengali’ husband, and two, by maintaining silence every time her sister slams her late husband’s ethnic origin.
The family faces a constant battle between what constitutes right and wrong. They struggle to uphold familial relationships while making ends meet. Moeen and Fareed take up part-time jobs to ensure that their family is well-fed. The play also comprises conflicting gender roles, with the family reinforcing that women should take interest in household chores, while making Kaleem do the ‘unmasculine’ task of setting the table. Not only do these incidents make the play believable but also make the audience self-reflect and acknowledge, as Orwell would say, the ‘doublethink’ that they base their lives on.
The play veils all these grave concerns with smooth comic timing. Its strength lies in the subtlety with which it treads areas often unspoken of. But what’s laudable is that it doesn’t offer a history lesson; the comic one-liners and chemistry between Shakila and Rabia, and Fareed and Kaleem, rivet the audience’s attention.
Among the standout performers were Hussain, who delivered gripping soliloquies, and Islam, whose monologue regarding the responsibilities that are part and parcel of every role that an individual plays, makes the audience ponder over their own roles in life. Mazhar and Naz’s chemistry is also worthy of commendation. It was fitting to see Kazmi’s self-tribute in the play, with a reference to Dhoop Kinare made at one instance. Aik Diary Jo Kho Gayi will be performed every Thursday to Sunday, from January 15 to February 1, at Napa.
Verdict: The play’s strength lies in the subtlety with which it treads areas often unspoken of. But what’s laudable is that it doesn’t offer a history lesson; the comic one-liners and chemistry between the characters rivet the audience’s attention.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2015.
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