Purva Naresh’s play Aaj Rang Hai calls out for a unified India through Amir Khusrau’s poetry
Purva Naresh’s play Aaj Rang Hai runs across two timelines - one is the poetry and philosophy of Hazrat Amir Khusrau and the other is a slice of life story set in 1970 when a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl fall in love with each other. The play further chronicles on how communal strife destroys the harmony and how poetry and music play a unifier. Relevant in today’s time when hatred and communal tensions are strife in the country, the play is a clarion call to stay united. The playwright throws more light on the production. Excerpts:
To weave a story that talks about polarization and also keeps the thread of Sufism must have been quite complex. Tell us about it.
So basically, we tell a story unfolding in the 1970s with the help of the writing and the life stories of Amir Khusrau, and through this, we talk about the ‘Sanjhi Virasat’ - our shared cultural legacy that defines India. In the current context, all this becomes even more relevant but primarily the play is a love story unfolding in a Mohalla with beautiful characters interacting and living harmoniously. The atmosphere is very evocative of the ‘Ganga-Jamuni' tehzeeb. Yes, the play’s structure is complex but I think we have managed to fuse the past and the present and stitch the two timelines seamlessly to make them both relevant to each other. The play is like a patchwork quilt or a tapestry woven with stories, poetry, dance, and music including beautiful qawwalis.
Tell us about the play in brief.
‘Aaj Rang Hai’ is the story of Fanney and Sharda, a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy who fall in love in a Mohalla set in the 1970s which is full of colourful characters like Munnu Mama, Beni Bai, and Bua. Beni Bai is a singer, Bua is a widow and Munnu Mama is the wise fool as we say in classic texts. He is a man who does nothing except running errands for Beni Bai and Bua. There are also two young girls, Ameena and Vidya in this lovely, syncretic mohalla with its secular ‘taana baana’ or interwoven threads of harmony and love. The story narrates how all of this gets destroyed due to communal strife. The poetry and the music are a reminder of what unites us and all the indivisible connections that have sustained us as a nation so far.
Tell us about the character of Beni Bai.
Beni Bai is a character inspired by my grandmother's life who was an estate singer and was called Beni Thakur. Beni Bai is secular, well-versed in Urdu and she sees the world through the lens of music and the fact that Indian classical music has evolved from masters who represented something larger than just religion. She remembers Ustaad Amir Khan and his deep respect for goddess Laxmi and also draws similarities between ‘Taraana' and ‘Kirtan.’ So, everything that she has to tell or say in the play is through this unified viewpoint that is shaped by her understanding of the history of music and the poetry of Amir Khusrau. She is very particular about ‘tehzeeb,’ about etiquette, and always tells her students to not cross the line of basic courtesies and to surrender to the discipline of music. Even in life, she believes that to love is to surrender. She is a wise soul, a teacher, a friend, a guide, and a philosopher.
How does Khusrau's poetry add to the play?
Amir Khusrau's life shows how much he loved India, its people, and its diversity. Khusrau's poetry contributed to the ‘Khadi Boli' and created the mixed, inclusive language we speak today. He didn't believe in elimination but assimilation and embraced Indian dialects and used them in a rhyme format to craft riddles. These riddles got so popular that housewives would sing them in their homes.
We have used his popular riddles or paheliyan like ‘EK Thaal Motiyon Se Bhara' in the play. He has made a sterling contribution to the progress of the Hindi language and demonstrated that dividing languages on the basis of religion is a futile exercise. A one-note culture becomes monotonous and monolithic.
Do you think the play and its plot are more relevant now?
The play is more relevant today than at any other time. It talks about a unified India, a diverse India, a rich heritage that is syncretic, secular, and about inclusivity. The play talks about the interconnectedness of love and culture and a heritage that is rich because it has been impacted by so many influences. Ours is a shared history to the extent that the ‘Khadi Boli’ we speak today, came into being because of the contribution of great poets like Khusrau.
The play will be aired on Dish TV & D2H Rangmanch active throughout this month.