Wednesday, 5 April 2017

My Wanderings - 52. Unsung Pioneer of Theatre in Kashmir

My maternal Grandfather Pt. Sham Lal Kak was born  at  the end of nineteenth  century and  year was  eighteen hundred ninety two  in a joint family at Habba kadal Srinagar. He was the eldest child of his parents having three other siblings comprising of two brothers and a sister. He was a brilliant student of Mission school , Fateh Kadal , the motto of which was 'In all things be men'. He was good in studies as well as other extra curricular activities of school like boating, swimming and hiking  etc. But unfortunately he was married at very young age, when he was only a student of 6th class as early marriage of children was most common in Kashmiri Pandit families  those days. In order to discourage child marriage Mr Tyndale Biscoe , Principal of Mission school had levied extra fee for those students who were married earlier. Therefore, my Grandfather had also to bear the brunt and to remit the extra fee. But such schools helped in changing the outlook of young students coming mostly from much orthodax families of Kashmir who could  shun to play volleyball with their naked hands as it was made of leather. They mostly covered their hands by lifting the long sleeves of their' firan' and then only touch the leather ball. It was due  to some progressive ideas inculcated in the young mind  at school level and brilliant scholarship somewhere inherent in his genes that my Grandfather completed Graduation with top grades, which was a rare achievement those days. In the  the meantime his father died and he was left with no other alternative but to look out  for a job to support his large family. He first joined state excise Deptt. and later on  Accountant Generals office. His wife Rajrani belonged to  Natipora area, who was very sagacious lady and  gave birth to three sons and one daughter. My Grandfather was interested in reading world class literature particularly English , American and Russian right  from his early youth. He was also interested in Art and drama. Chekhov and Pushkin were his favourite playwrights . Theatre was his dream. He wanted to start Drama theatre in Kashmir, when it was still  in inception   level at big cities like  Delhi, Calcutta and Baroda. Only village level theatre like Band pather in Kashmir was known. He was influenced by the Modern Indian theatre , the pioneer of which was Rabindra Nath Tagore, who himself wrote plays in Bengali noted for their exploration and questioning of nationalism , identity, spiritualism and material greed . His plays included Chitragada 1892, The King of Dark Chamber Raja 1910 , The Post office Dhakghar 1913 and Red oleander Raktakabri 1924. My Grand father wanted to bring modern theatre to Kashmir also. But it was an uphill task and required a huge financial investment.  He along with his  close friends contributed few thousand rupees towards the venture. Thousand rupees was a huge amount those days. He had to  apply for withdrawing his Provident fund to arrange his contribution. His father in law,  a patwari of  Natipora advised him to invest the amount in question in  purchasing land at Natipora which will make him a big landlord of Natipora. But his passion for theatre was much beyond the materialistic gains as he was influenced by the revolutionary ideas and artistic flavour.
They rented a big hall along with few rooms in the periphery of Srinagar city, The drama artists were called from Delhi and Calcutta on salary basis and the great venture was started. Many dramas were played on the stage including 'Bilwa Mangal' Raja Harish Chandra etc. on ticket basis. Late  Sh. Jagar Nath Saqi ,  who became a veteran artist of Radio Kashmir later on,  was just working as  apprentice there. The venture was successful for sometime but proved to be a great financial disaster later on. The reasons thereof were that audaince  was ignorant about modern theatre and poverty viz a viz  hand to mouth living was rampant throughout . Drama and theatre was considered luxury and few condemned  it for immorality . The founders of this venture had perhaps overlooked these factors. The venture started incurring losses and how far the promotors could sustain losses. The venture was closed and promoters incurred huge losses. These happenings made  my grand father much desperate and distraught. It was only after few years  after this incident , he  died very young at the age of thirty nine only in year nineteen thirty two.
To those who  tried failed and died, I give my great honour , glory and tears.