Diwan Singh Bajeli
The brutal violation of fundamental human rights of passengers on board Komagata Maru en route to Vancouver, Canada in 1914 became the rallying point of patriotic forces to struggle against the British in India. The tragic incident represents the darkest face of imperialism in the early 20th Century. It is heartening to watch “Komagata Maru-1914-Ik Zakhmi Parwaz” which was presented by Punjabi University, Patiala this past week at Shri Ram Centre.
As a part of the centenary celebration of Komagata Maru, the stage enactment of the suffering, struggle for survival and finally their growing political consciousness to confront the monstrous forces of imperialism is one of the most inspiring pieces of theatrical art seeking to enact history on the stage in recent years.
Directed by Prof. Jaspal Kaur Deol with remarkable ingenuity, she gives the production a revolutionary interpretation, ensuring the gradual transformation of simple people going to Canada to work into a fearless force to confront their mighty tormentors. Prof. Deol’s production is not a mere enactment of facts of history but it is a work of art that absorbs the attention of the audience from start to the close.
Gradually, the dramatic thrust keeps on intensifying. The passengers facing the ordeal, start resisting their oppressors. On reaching the Vancouver harbour, the authorities refuse the passengers to disembark and the ship remained anchored for two months. The starving passengers are not provided with drinking water and food. Outside, the Indian patriotic forces are uniting themselves to fight for the human rights of these passengers, legally and politically. The passengers are humiliated and branded as revolutionaries and sympathisers of the Ghadar Party.
Finally, the ship is ordered to leave for India under the threats of bullets, with passengers retaliating with coal and materials kept on the ship. To avenge their insults and denial of human rights to survive, some Indians killed their British and Canadian immigration officers. The climactic scene is unfolded in Kolkata where the majority of emasculated passengers are butchered and only a few could manage to escape.
The message of the production is clear and loud-only citizens of a free country are able to live with dignity and hence the enslaved people of the world unite to over throw their alien rulers to attain freedom.
The play is written by Gurpreet Singh Ratol after undertaking a great deal of research in collaboration with the director who took nearly five months to produce the play with student cast. The playwright also attended these marathon rehearsals and made the required necessary changes as suggested by the director and the cast. In fact, there have been several attempts to stage this saga on the stage in the past. Ali Kazimi’s feature documentary “Continuous Journey” has won several awards. It is time Komagata Maru should be treated as a symbol of enslaved people’s struggle to protect their honour being ruthlessly trampled on by heartless colonial powers. I
n the words of Ghadar Party leader Sohan Singh Josh, “This was an earliest chapter our freedom history written with blood.”
The action mostly takes place on the ship. The set designed by the director consists of minimal structure to reflect the right ambience symbolically. On the upstage there is a raised platform with ramps and steps to enable performers move freely from one locale to another and at the same time to provide the audience with a clear view of the vital dramatic scenes.
To unfold the narrative, the director has adopted the device of conversation between the writer and Gurdit Singh, the protagonist of the play and a rich Sikh who chartered the ship Komagata Maru to carry people from Punjab to work in Canada.
The audience watch the unfolding of the events on the ship through the eyes of Gurdit Singh. As far as stage properties are concerned there are three flags representing three communities – Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus – on board and Kesari Nishan Sahib is hosted on one side, symbolising communal harmony.
Music score by Gurjeet Singh play an important role in the production. The opening lyric is written by the playwright himself who begins “Ik Zakhmi Parwaz, Masoomo Ki Awaz Hai”. The production concludes with the same lyric rendered by the chorus. Folk songs and Gurbani Gayan are rendered at dramatically tense moments to enhance dramatic impact.
Set to heroic tunes, these songs become the source of determination of the oppressed to challenge their oppressors.
Such oppression raises the ordinary people’s suffering and death to the stature of martyrdom-this heroic power inherent of the common man in the moments of crisis is brought alive on the stage with force. Now in the centenary celebration year of the Komagata Maru, the production should be staged in different parts of the country to acquaint new generation with one of our chapters from “freedom history written with blood.”
The large cast of students of the department of theatre and television of the Punjabi University, Patiala give spirited performances, truly living their characters passing through crisis of their very survival. Sandeep Singh as Gurdit Singh, the protagonist, gives an outstanding performance, making desperate efforts to protect his passengers from the heartless and racist colonial oppressors.
Diwan Singh Bajeli, “The wound that rankles ,” in The Hindu, April 30, 2015. Accessed on May 1, 2015, at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/the-wound-that-rankles/article7158936.ece?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication
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