Karwat: A Poetic Anthology on Communal Riots
My first experience of watching a play live.
Not unlikely any other hot summer/autumn day in Delhi, 8th September was sultry and my brown cheeks were sweltering in the Rajdhani furnace. While a fraction of Dilli was ecstatic to watch the inauguration of the newly christened ‘Kartavya Path’, the ceremonial boulevard of the national capital running from Raisina Hill to India Gate, the cinemas were swamped with film junkies brimming with hope for the long-awaited Brahamastra premiere. While the rich bureaucrats in their AC offices around New Delhi were ostensibly working hard, the hardworking labours of Central Vista Avenue were embracing the appreciation of the honorable prime minister. While the trees which survived were reveling in the festive mood of Ganpati Visarjan, the business tabs were grateful to be switched to sports or entertainment channels in the shade of inky and as always smoky night. But I had other plans. I went to watch a play called Karwat presented by manngadhant.
Karwat, as the description reads is a Hindi-Urdu poetic anthology play based on communal riots. The biggest challenge for India when she reclaimed her freedom in 1947 was communal unity and unfortunately, it is still a serious problem today. And since the past few years, communal discord is rising. The educational institutions do not let the students anywhere near the communal topics supposedly to protect them. Well, if turning a blind eye to a grave problem could protect anyone, it is the perpetrators of the crime.
Anyways, Karwat is not about who did what to whom, it is about what happens to human beings in different positions of social strata when trapped in a conflicted situation. It does not talk about how Hindus or Muslims react to communal tension, rather it attempts to illustrate the lengths a human can go for survival. It traces the ways different people grieve, gently nudging each cord of dark humane thoughts. It evasively explores the unconditional love both for akin or unbound to kin without neglecting the tangents of vile emotions like greed and fear. It grotesquely paints the shades of helplessness ranging from delusion owing to the unfathomable truths to a deadpan state because of the indiscernible emotions. The play cogently emplaces the layers of riots from the victims’ vantage point as well the emotions felt by the witnesses. The disgust and dread which has been instilled in even those human beings who were unscathed by the incidents of violence and in ways their lives have turned upside down. It unintentionally demonstrates the ambivalence of violence in juxtaposition with art. Just like violence, the art leaves an indelible mark not only on the performers or the audience who find it relatable but anyone who survives to live another day. Furthermore, an impressionable element of the play was “unanswered scenes”. Life does not answer all our questions. There are numerous dead-end chapters in our book of life and we eventually come to terms with not knowing everything. Very often writers fail to grasp the stability of mystery which makes a reader long for more yet satiate the reading experience. I am enthralled to say, Karwat has that mystique.
Written and directed by Karan Singh Gehlot, to my surprise a young goofy boy in his 20s and brought to life by less than fifteen people, divided by contrasting trauma and united by art. The plot is ordinary and the setting was low-budget but its brilliance lies in riveting dialogues, hypnotic performance, and usage of ingenious music.
When I heard the title Karwat for a play based on the riots, I was intrigued but at the same time confused. For those who are unfamiliar, Karwat in Hindi means a turn generally referring to a sudden turn. And after watching the play, I cannot think of any other name. Karwat unfolds with sudden turns of unease reflecting the complex human psyche evened by the poetic denouement like a wrinkled sheet smoothed by the balmy fingers. I wonder what was Mr. Gehlot thinking while naming the piece. Whether he wrote the play first and then titled it Karwat or he titled it first and then developed a story around it.
As a criticism, all I could say is that there could have been something more to female characters. Even though a unifying thread between all the characters was love, survival, and guilt, I wanted something more substantial for a woman than love for her child or the anguish of abuse. The emotions that stir in a girl reading the news of the assault during riots or the muscles of conscience that triggered a female journalist who is obliged to bow down to muscle power.
I would recommend Karwat by Karan Singh Gehlot to everyone. It might complicate your beliefs of what a human being is but it will help you become more empathetic and kind. Also, in this fast-paced digital world where public judgments are made in a matter of hours, Karwat will press a pause on that black-and-white picture of the world and bring you a step closer to the grey reality.
They are performing in Ahmedabad and Mumbai on 15th and 17th September respectively. If you are in these cities, there is no excuse for missing such an immaculate play. You can find the details on their Instagram page @manngadhant or here.
Manngadhant had collaborated with @mritkavisamaaj for the opening lineup. Six very amazing people performed poetry from Inquilab to Ishq. The poems before the play were like the caramelized crust of sugar at the top of Crème Brûlée beneath which lies cold soothing custard. My favourite piece was Kutta or Shabnam by Anish Jain. He performed loop poetry that touched on many important topics in a short time. It is the quirkiest piece of art I have ever heard and I wanted him to go on and on.
The best part of the Poets’ Roundup of mritkavisamaaj was their diversity in performances. Each one of them has a unique style disparate in approach which coalesces into the same ground of pleasure as Sahil or Lehre (shore and the waves). This expression is borrowed from another beautiful piece performed by Sahil Kaushik.
I read and listen to a variety of poems every day. And my endearment for these amazing poems lasts for a fleeting moment. But some verses strike a sensation in me that makes it unforgettable. The monostich below is one such line from a piece called ‘Inquilab ya Ishq’ by Anurag Patel
“मैं कैद में इंकलाब लिखूँ या आज़ादी में इश्क़?"
‘Inquilab and Ishq’ is recited by a young man who is conflicted between his duties towards the country and the rising desire of living a magnificent love. He is seeking affirmation from the audience for the possibility of a balance between Inquilab and Ishq which mirrors the dilemma in his mind and the hunt for an answer which satisfies both his conscience and heart.
It was a beautiful experience and I will be going to watch more plays from now on. What do you think? Share your favourite theatre play experience in the comments and also drop some recommendations for me. If you have watched Karwat, what was your favourite part?
That’s all for today! Happpyyyyyyyyyy Reeaddiinnggggg!❤️