Voices that need a ear

Written by Dipti Nagpaul
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Published: December 5, 2019 1:20:12 am





Sameena Dalwai and Geetanjali Kulkarni in rehearsal Amit Chakravarty

They sit in the bright, sunlit room on the cold, stone-tiled floor, across from each other, one dressed in black and the other in white. Yin and yang.

Geetanjali Kulkarni transforms into Seema Hakim. She is a resident of a Hindu-majority basti in Kandivali’s Charkop and loved by her neighbours for her delicious biryani. But soon, she is silenced by the brutal slaughter of her husband Shahid. Taking on the role of Shaila Satpute, Sameena Dalwai says that Seema was later gangraped by boys from her neighbourhood. Shahid’s nationalistic shayari painted on Mumbai’s pipelines could not save them from religious riots.

As the scene ends, an uncomfortable silence envelopes the room before Kulkarni and Dalwai move on to the next story as part of their 20-minute performance, titled December 1992, which will be staged at the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa on December 18. The performance is based on excerpts from four essays in the book, Babri Masjid, 25 Years On (Kalpaz Publications, 2017), edited by Dalwai, with playwright Ramu Ramanathan and activist Irfan Engineer. Activists, artists and journalists have written about what they saw in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition. The play looks at Mumbai through the eyes of four women activists who worked for the victims — Satpute, Shama Dalwai, Helen Bharde and Sanjivani Jain.

Currently in Marathi and Hindi, both Kulkarni and Dalwai are thinking of ways to take the play beyond a festival platform, especially after the recent verdict of the Babri Masjid demolition case. “The current silence among the minorities is induced from humiliation. One cannot term the court’s decision unanimous and the reception of verdict as peaceful,” says Dalwai. The daughter of Congress MP Husain Dalwai and activist-teacher Shama Dalwai, she grew up near Behrampada in Bandra East, which saw some of the worst cases of rioting.

Kulkarni sees the need to take the play to housing societies and bastis where, she says, the hatred for minorities is more palpable. “I grew up in a traditional Marathi household where everyone believed the post-Babri riots were serving justice to the Muslims. I believed so myself. It’s only over time that I have begun to understand how this religious divide works. But there are still all those people who continue to carry the old belief, and who have lauded the recent judgment. The play is for them,” she says.

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