Playwright Purva Naresh retells the story of Kashmiri poet Habba Khatoun
The story of 16th century Kashmiri poet, Habba Khatoun, is the central theme of Aadyam's closing play for its fifth edition. The production titled ‘Zoon – Noor Kashmir Ka’ will unravel the love story of the poet, originally named Zoon, and Yousuf Shah Chak, the warrior king of Kashmir, who she eventually marries. However, Chak, after being imprisoned by Mughal emperor Akbar, never returned, leading Khatoun towards the life of an ascetic. Bringing this interesting tale to the audience is award-winning playwright Purva Naresh who has set the musical, ‘Zoon – Noor Kashmir Ka’, in two eras, 16th century and the present day. Ahead of its premiere today, Purva tells us what made her pick this tale. Excerpts:
Q: Can you briefly take us through your play? What’s in store for the audience?
The play is a retelling of Zoon’s story. Zoon is Habba Khatoun, the poetess of Kashmir from the 16th century. She married the king and rose to the status of the people's poet. I find in her a rebel and a strong artist. The play has lovely music and some fantastic performances, as well as live singing and some innovative sets and costumes. All in all, a treat for the eyes and ears.
Q: How did you stumble upon the story of Habba Khatoon? What led you to develop it?
I heard her story from almost everyone in Kashmir. When they heard I am a theatre writer they wanted to tell me her story. Initially, I was not intrigued but then while pondering over the role of an artist in times of conflict, she flashed upon the inward eye….
Q: For how long did you research on the subject before writing it? Can you please take us through your research material?
Books and discussions with Kashmiri poets, Zerifi Saheb, Muhammed Yusuf Taing Saab and Farooque Nazki. Besides them, every Kashmiri whom I met over my three trips to Kashmir had information for me.
Q: You have also made it contemporary by developing some sort of connection between her and the present times. Please tell us how exactly have you connected the two times? And, what was your reason behind doing so/What were the thoughts you had on your mind?
There is a field where a play is about to be staged. Some kids are assigned backstage duties. And, the two worlds would intersect and the two timelines would connect during the course of the play.
Q: We read that there are three actors who portray Khatoon in various forms - which all forms are they and why did you decide to express her in three forms?
One is the actual Zoon, the queen; the other is her inner voice, the rebel peasant girl; and, the third is the actress, Hubba, who plays Zoon. The reason I chose to represent her like this is because Zoon resides in the heart of every Kashmiri!
Q: Kashmir evokes so many feelings in the hearts of people, some are even starkly contrasting. How did you deal with the subject? What will people take home from your play?
People will take away characters, the music and some moments from the play. Razia, Salema, Fatema, Shuja, Naseer, Zahoor, Bibi, Hubba, they will all linger with the haunting melodies for a while. And, of course, a very strong flavour of Kashmir. I dealt with the subject as humanly possible. I heard the people. I felt Zoon. I retold their tale with a dose of my own emotions.
Q: Lastly, how do you see the role of an artist in times of conflict?
An artist keeps the conscience and the morale of the people going and challenges the establishment in search of the truth. It's a tough subject. But, it's important to tell their stories till they can't and while doing so, make them real and not vague distant people on a map.
The play premieres tonight at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre