Tibet and Kashmir have a better future, says scribe who writes fearlessly…
HE IS A WRITER drawn to conflict, struggle and justice and two his of plays staged in London have powerful similarities.
Abhishek Majumdar’s ‘Pah-La’ (meaning father in Tibetan), currently playing at The Royal Court in London, closes this Saturday (April 27) after a near month long run and quite universal praise.
A play about the Tibet uprising in 2008, it has connections to his 2014 work, ‘The Djinns of Eidgah’, which is about the troubles in Kashmir, India – and was also presented at the Royal Court.
Centred around an orphaned family, ‘The Djinns of Eidgah’ takes a very personal look at the troubles and how young people are affected mentally by the continuing sense of struggle and strife. The Djinns are lost spirits or ghosts to be found among Muslim stories and practice.
The playwright who is mostly based in Bengaluru (Bangalore) in India, told www.asianculturevulture.com he was pleased people had noted the convergences.
“The main connection between these works is going to places of conflict and examining them,” explained Majumdar, speaking to acv, before the horrific Sri Lanka attacks.
Before every play, he undertakes a period of research and examination, travelling to these areas and talking to people there about the troubles.
What you get is a much deeper appreciation of the aspirations of these people and how similar their hopes and dreams are to yours and mine – it is the condition they find themselves that puts them at odds with the world.
“I take up a lot of research even if I am writing one of my Hindi plays,” Majumdar told acv.
He travelled to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet and engaged with those seeking change. He had to do this surreptitiously – as groups opposed to Chinese rule are regarded as ‘terrorist’ organisations.
The country’s leader, spiritual and temporal, the Dalai Lama, is an outlawed figure and regarded as an agitator and troublemaker by the Chinese authorities.
He remains in exile in Dharamshala, India and advocates peaceful change and greater cultural and religious freedom for the region.
Majumdar has met the Dalai Lama and part of the inspiration for the play comes from this meeting and the global leader urging him to write fearlessly.
Majumdar’s sympathies are always with people fighting a system and looking to re-establish or re-invigorate the culture and spirituality of a people mostly repressed and discriminated against.
“The Tibetan struggle is the last bastion of the non-violent struggle, what I am saying, is that, whether we talk about Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the struggle was highly dependent on international pressure and the moral compass that the world was seeking since the Second World War.”
He feels that without that pressure and the sympathy of a moral compass, there is only so far these movements can go.
“It seems to be that unless we are that moral compass as a world, a revolution on its own – it’s very hard for it to succeed.
“It’s very hard for it to teach us any lesson, unless we are seeking a moral compass. We have the responsibility to seek it.”
That last line is crucial – do we care enough?
He thinks that the Arab Spring and more recent stirrings in Algeria and Sudan show that non-violence hasn’t completely lost its power.
“The hardest and most important thing is that violence is not embedded in the thing that it is trying to replace,” he pointed out.
In bars in Lhasa, he found the calls for freedom strong.
“There are at least three major underground movements run from these bars,” he reported.
He is optimistic about change – but both plays don’t necessarily give that impression.
In ‘Pah-La’, Majumdar translates the politics into very personal situations.
‘Deshar’ (Millicent Wong) is a young female monk who is committed to the cause of freedom, but her monastery is subjected to re-education from the Chinese authorities, and her form of resistance is immolation – it may actually have happened as Majumdar in the play text pays tribute to Deshar.
“You gave your life and started a revolution,” he writes.
Majumdar told acv: “I am absolutely certain that the map of the world will change. Empirically speaking, if you look at any 70 years of human history the world has changed, and we are definitely not living in the most stable of times and it’s impossible that the map of the world will not change.”
In both cases, there is a larger concern though about how much culture is being vanquished on that road to change and freedom.
“I am very optimistic about Tibet’s freedom – that is not the issue, but whatever that freedom is – how much will be lost by the time we get there – what is the point of getting there, if so many people have been killed and so much literature and philosophy has been lost.
“It’s not just happening in China but everywhere – look at Native Americans living in Reserves in the US,” he pointed out.
While he shares a longer-term optimism about both regions, he said the current appetite in India for hard-line solutions concerned him as the country goes to the polls.
“Populism and peace do not go together but populism and fear do, and most of the people voting (who can or and who do) are voting for a government which wants to be hard-line in Kashmir, and these are people who have never been to Kashmir, who have not read a single book on Kashmir and know nothing about it.”
His next play will tackle the intricacies and interpretations of the Qur’an as ‘Baatin’ – the title of the play – takes us back to the time just after the Prophet’s death in Medina.
It was commissioned by the National Theatre on the Southbank but there is already some nervousness, and Majumdar ends our conversation, with a “Let’s see” when asked about the timeline.
‘Pah-La’, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS
Tel: 020 7565 5000
Check (sold out): https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/pahla/