K.K RAINA: The Act of Life!by Aparajita Krishna September 14 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 30 mins, 2 secs
Aparajita Krishna walks down the road, which brought writer, director, actor K.K. Raina, from his homeland Kashmir to Mumbai, many years ago, where today he is one of the most respected talents of films and theatre.
My first memory of K. K. Raina is befittingly as a theatre actor. Decades back Ek Ruka Hua Faisla came and stormed our Indian theater scene. Written/adapted and directed by Ranjit Kapoor, it featured a line-up of theatre actors from the National School of Drama and Delhi theatre circuit. Young K. K. Raina was amid the outstanding cast that included young M. K. Raina, Pankaj Kapoor, Annu Kapoor and other theatre performers. They were stars! Young me became captive to the Act. Years later I would get the opportunity to act with K. K. Raina in Shyam Benegal’s tele-serial Yatra.
On this platform I engage with KK (fondly called) to talk of his lineage, the making of the actor-director, the journey through the years that has made him a veteran. We also talk of Jammu & Kashmir as it poignantly rests in him.
It was a pleasure to receive KK’s meticulous and expressive answers. They define the immensely graceful person living in the artist-citizen K. K. Raina.
You were born in Srinagar. At 70 you have marked your own place in the field of Indian theatre, television, film. As a rank outsider to your chosen calling, you have travelled an admirable path and distance as an actor-director. Most importantly you have steadfastly nurtured your theatre. How would you philosophically summarise today and that journey that gave you your identity?
Yes, I was born in Kashmir. The address: 50, Purshyar Habba Kadal, Srinagar, Kashmir still brings a smile to my face. Although this address no more belongs to us. Half of this house was burnt by terrorists after looting and ransacking it. The tragedy of exodus forced my family to leave Kashmir and now we live in Jammu. My date of birth is a kind of riddle.
We have a Kashmiri Hindu calendar called ‘Panchang.’ The birthdays are registered according to this calendar. The funny thing is that the date as per the English calendar keeps changing. This is because according to the Hindu calendar the cycle of dates keep on changing as per the movement of the nakshatras (stars). It was okay as long as I was in Kashmir, but when I came to Delhi to study in the National School of Drama (NSD) it became difficult to explain to my friends why my birthday keeps changing. Then when my parents informed me one year that my birthday is on 16th October, I held on to it unchanged. So, I started celebrating my birthday twice: once on 16th October and once according to our Kashmiri calendar.
You have used the right words by calling me a ‘Rank Outsider.’ I am from an ordinary Kashmiri Pandit family. No one in the family had anything to do with the arts. My grandfather was a clerk in an army establishment and my father was a circle officer in agricultural department. We had a joint family. My uncle was the most qualified, B.A in those days. It always amused me that he had put a nameplate on the entry gate of our house as "Kashinath Raina B.A".
I remember my father took me to watch a play, Sita Haran, when I must have been around 6 or 7years old. As a child I was mesmerized to see the change of scenes taking place in no time. They used curtain backdrops to depict the location of the scenes. And I fell in love with the actress who was playing Sita! To my horror I came to know that Sita was not a female, but a male. Those days women didn't act in plays. Maybe the seed of theatre got ingrained in my mind that day. Back then an actor was called Bhand, not complimentary in anyway. Kashmiri Pandits are largely a very educated society. So, the focus always was on education.
Today when I look back at my life, I feel satisfied that I did what I always wanted to do. Yes, as an actor I have worked in all the mediums: theatre, television, films. And I have been directing plays for stage. I believe in Lord Krishna's saying in Gita: Karam karta reh, phal ki chinta mat kar! I have been working passionately, fearlessly and have never bothered about what the result is. Have I made a difference? I really don't know. Have I made a place for myself? I don't know. Even today I have to look for work, find people to support our theatre activities.
My long experience of forty years doesn't guarantee any privilege. It is a painful struggle that gives me pleasure and I accept it because I chose it. If you can smile and be at peace with yourself then I think you are in the right space. Today I feel there is so much to learn and explore and it is getting difficult to race with changing circumstances around us.
Do further inform about your familial antecedents, about J&K of your childhood and growing up years. Obviously Kashmiriyat would be resting in you, even though for decades you have been living in Mumbai.
Kashmir is the most beautiful place in the world. Nothing compares with Kashmir for me. This maybe a subjective opinion because everyone loves his or her motherland. I have spent important part of my early life in Srinagar. My father's name is Soom Nath Raina and my mother's name is Uma Devi Raina. I have lost them. We are three brothers and one sister. All have been in government jobs and are living happily.
We lived in a joint family with my grandfather, his two sons, their families and my grandfather's brothers’ families. At one time I remember we were twelve children running up and down our two small houses, adjacent to each other, with a small courtyard in-between. Those were the best days of our childhood. Although our parents had very limited means, but they ensured that we all got good education.
I would like to narrate a very interesting incident of my younger age, when the bug of acting bit me. I would call all my friends and try to create a play. Those days we heard a programme called Geeton Bhari Kahani on Radio Kashmir. So, we wrote a small story with some film songs in it and prepared the play. All the actors were boys. The girl’s role was done by a boy. The first show was performed in our bedroom among an audience of the twelve children of the family. When the play started most of us forgot our lines and our legs trembled. This was noticed by our audience of twelve children and they started hooting and laughing. Thus, the first performance of my life was a disaster. That night I kept thinking how to get rid of the trembling of the legs? I thought that we had to break eye contact with the audience. Suddenly an idea struck. I made a curtain out of my mother's light blue saree and placed it between us actors and the audience. We lit the stage part of the room and kept the audience's part in dark. This way we could not see the audience, but they could easily see us. Later when we performed this act of twenty-minutes it was a grand success. And the show was not free, each one had to give one button as a ticket!
So, my childhood and growing-up years were full of fun and love. For many years as a child, I never knew who my real mother was. I always thought my aunt was my mother. The reason being that my mother would accompany my father on his postings to different places out of Srinagar and I was left with my uncle-aunt so that I don't miss school. The name of my school was Hindu High School. When I grew up, I realised Uma is my biological mother and not Kanta. That was the joy of joint family. In our childhood nothing was a distant relationship. Even a neighbour was a part of our family.
Let me also tell you that I wanted to be a cricketer and never thought of becoming an actor. In Kashmir we had six months of winter and at least for four months everything around was white-snow. So, what would happen to cricket? My cousin brother Ashwini and I would play with rubber ball in various bedrooms. My father's bedroom was Firoz Shah Kotla Ground, Ashwini’s father's bedroom was Brabourne Stadium and our granduncle’s bedroom was another stadium. My cousin sisters showered all their love on us.
My best friends were neighbourhood boys who grew up with me: Maharaj Bhatt, Mohan Raina and Chandji Razdan. They have been part of my life ever since. We are in regular touch. They encouraged me to act and gave me all possible help. Since we could not act in our homes, we would go to the Mughal Garden and I would act various parts for them there. They would click pictures. Looking at those pictures I used to think I am no less than Dilip Kumar. We studied together till 1970 and completed our graduation. I also remember Sayyed Muddasar who was with me in college. Another great soul I would mention here is late Zahid N. He directed me in my first play, Pagal Kaun.
Kashmir was not what we see or hear today. It was famously called the Garden of Rishis. I have grown up hearing azan early in the morning and after sometime the aarti in the temple. This was my morning-clock. I never saw any contradiction or conflict in this. But today people don't like the sounds. We as people have deteriorated, are decaying slowly and losing our soul. I am a traditional Hindu, a Kashmiri Pandit, strongly believing in my religion. Our Kul-Devi is Kheer Bawani. But we are also disciples of the Peer of Chare Sharif, the famous dargah that was burnt by terrorists.
My mother believed that Hazrat of Chare Sharif gave her the first child, me. Every year our family would go to Chare Sharif on a particular day to take blessings. This is ‘Kashmiriyat.’ It is a Sufi belief wherein all religions, prayers, beliefs connect you with God. “Yeh mandir hai, yeh butt-khana/ maksad to hai dil ko samjhana." This Sufi way of life is part of my being, my sanskar, and I have grown up with it.
You did your graduation from a college in Srinagar. Thereafter you started working.
I did my graduation in science from Srinagar’s SP College and my subjects were Physics, Chemistry, Maths and English. One day after my exams, while awaiting results, my school Head Master Shri Daya Krishan Kaul asked me to come to school and teach science because our science teacher was on leave. I then became the science teacher of my own school. I worked there for almost one year, drawing a salary of Rs. 75 but was asked to sign for Rs. 350. I could not question them because my grandfather after retirement had joined the school as senior clerk. In order to avoid joining university for further studies I applied for a job in Accountant Generals office. As luck would have it, I got the job and worked there for some two years as an auditor.
In Kashmir you partook in amateur theatre and also got nominated for the best actor award. Do tell us of your recall.
Once I got interested in theatre to act, the only way to do it was to join some theatre group. I managed to attend the rehearsals of one of the eminent theatre groups of Srinagar. We Kashmiris have an attire called the phiran, a long robe we wear during winters. So, there I was sitting in a corner in my phiran and watching these seniors rehearse a play. During the break the director took my interview. I answered all his questions, but one question baffled me. I was asked, ‘Can you disrespect the turban of your father?’ I did not understand what he meant by this. The director said ‘Find the answer to this question. Then only you can qualify to be an actor’. I went back to the corner.
After sometime he called me again. Through a window he pointed to a shop across the road that sold liquor. He gave me some money and asked me to quietly go and get a bottle of rum and hide the bottle in my phiran. This I thought was the toughest job. What if someone saw me go to a liquor shop and reported to my parents? But the urge to become an actor was so strong that I took the risk. This became a regular routine for one week. Apart from making me do these odd jobs, I was also made fun of. I could not face the humiliation and that was the end of my affair with that theatre group. Years later I understood that he was actually trying to tell me that by becoming an actor I will bring disgrace to the family. Actors are not respected in our society. I became restless.
P.K. Raina, an actor, was my neighbour and family-friend. I went to him. He was planning to start a theatre group. We kept on working towards it and finally Sangarmaal Theatre was born, headed by P.K.Raina and Bhuwanesh Raina. Here too I was not considered for any part and instead was asked to do back-stage work. To them others were better than me as an actor. I remained an outsider for a long time. My urge to know more and understand the art of theatre was increasing. I kept on attending the rehearsals and asking questions. I must thank P.K. Raina that he was always ready to answer my questions and share his experience.
It was only when late Zahid Nashad directed Pagal Kaun that I was given the minor part of a painter in the play. I felt good, but there was no word of encouragement. Then came Badal Sircar’s Baqi Itihas. I played the main part of Sitanath. I got cast only because I could learn the lines fast and speak Hindi comfortably. The play was a part of the academy’s festival and my role was appreciated. I was nominated for best actor. I did not get the award, but that was a move forward. I was now someone who could not be ignored.
One day I went to Tagore Hall to watch a play. In a room an actor’s workshop was going on. Out of curiosity I opened the door and to my surprise I saw all my fellow actors of Sangarmaal Theatre sitting there. The director of the workshop, Shri M.P Sharma, saw me standing at the door and asked me to come in. M.P Sir asked me to do my improvisation. When I finished, he asked me why I had not joined the workshop? I replied that nobody told me about this. I felt that my friends had betrayed me. M.P Sir said that from that day I would be a part of it. This was the moment when my life took a different turn.
I played the main part in the workshop production, Suno Janmejaya, by Adya Rangacharya. M.P Sir told me that I should go to the drama school. He only ordered the form of the National School of Drama (NSD), Delhi. He had himself passed out from the drama school and knew how to go about it. It was because of his persuasion that my parents agreed and I went for the NSD interview. Perhaps my father never thought that I will be selected. It was a great shock for him when I gave him the news that I was selected with scholarship. Then in 1973 I joined NSD and life changed forever.
It would have been a daring move back then. Do recall you first few emotions regarding a new environment, language etc.
Leave alone NSD, Delhi itself was a different world for me. This was the first time in my life that I had come out of Srinagar. I had never seen so much of traffic on the road. It would take me at least fifteen minutes to cross the road to NSD. I had thought of specialising in direction. Ebrahim Alkazi Sahab looked at my C.V and told me that I had not studied enough literature. He could only think of me in the direction class if I got more than 80% marks in the first-year exam. I agreed.
In my first year he took me to the library and showed me how I should select books to read. He advised me to start with reading Ibsen. I did get 86% marks. But more than the marks in that one year I was transformed and understood that I have to start from zero. The influence of Mr. Alkazi was phenomenal. He not only taught theatre, but turned us into responsible human beings. He taught us life. In my class of twenty students everyone was some kind of a genius. All were from good theatre background so the atmosphere did initially unnerve me. I could understand English, Hindi and Urdu, but speaking was a problem. This meant more hard-work. Fortunately, I became friends with late Prem Matiyani, Pankaj Kapoor, Vijay Kashyap, Ranjit Kapoor and many others who helped me a lot to learn Hindi and English. First six months were like a nightmare, but then things slowly settled down.
Living in a dormitory with eight fellow-students was a new experience. Every evening there would be intellectual discussions about literature, art and theatre. I would listen with rapt attention because I had nothing much to say. The first year was a combined course. It was only in the second year that we were given specializations.
Who were your noted classmates and teachers at the NSD? In the second year you shifted to the acting course.
Our batch of 1973 was unusual in many ways. Mr. Alkazi used to say this quite often. My classmates were Pankaj Kapoor, Ranjit Kapoor, Robin Das, Gurucharan Singh, Atiya Bakt, Anil Choudhary and many others. All of them have made a name for themselves. The teachers were Mr. Alkazi, Mr. Dev Mahapatra, Mr. Sharma, Mrs. Rita Kothariji, Sheila Bhatiaji and Nibha Joshi. Mr. Alkazi told me that since I had got the required percentage, he would not stop me from taking up direction. He also added, “But I must tell you that you are a very fine actor and you should take acting as specialization.” During my first year Mr. Alkazi had become a God for me. His every instruction was like God's command. I just said, “Sir I will do whatever you say.” He wrote acting as my specialization. I took my specialization in acting in second year.
Life has come a full circle. Mr Alkazi initiated you with Ibsen plays and your theatre group Surnai has been holding the Ibsen Festival for the last 7 years.
I can write a book on Mr Alkazi. He shaped us as a people and evolved us as actors. He was very caring and had a direct communication with each and every student. Most importantly he would ask about our family, whether we needed any help, emotional, monetary or otherwise. One day I was walking in the corridors of Rabindra Bhawan. He called me and just corrected my shirt and put on the buttons, which I had kept opened, perhaps to fashionably show my bare chest. He quietly told me “You look much better with buttons on.” He would come to the hostel every day. Often, he would scold us for not keeping our rooms clean. He would clean the washbasin of our hostel dining room.
These small, but very important incidents were a great inspiration. He also insisted that I should read about painters and visit painting exhibitions. Today I can tell my youngsters how important is colour, the use of space, dimension and expression through colours. It helps in the emotional build-up of characters.
When I started directing plays, I realised it was through those moments of looking into the books of painting and exhibitions that I could think of designing stage-setting and lights. You see, when you fall in love with a person like Alkazi Sahib, words are not sufficient to explain that relationship. You are right that life has come full circle and for last seven years we have been performing Ibsen in our theatre group Surnai. Ibsen is so relevant to today's India.
Do inform us of the plays at the NSD.
In my first year there was Tughlaq, Andha Yug and Sultan Razia, directed by Mr. Alkazi. The first-year students were given small parts. We played roles of Amirs in Tughlaq and were also part of crowd scenes. In Andha Yug I played the role of Yuyutsu and in Sultan Razia I played Rukn-ud-din Firuz. It was mesmerizing for me to see Manohar Singh, Surekha Sikri, Uttara Baokar, Rajesh Vivek, Rohini Hattangadi and others act in Purana Quila theatre. I was asked by Mr Alkazi to watch a play every day, The Lesson, and to write how Om Puri’s performance keeps changing in every show. All these experiences have helped me shape myself as an actor. All these people have been my gurus and guides.
Then in the 2nd year you opted for acting course. Do recall your work in these coming two years.
In second year we repeated same plays and did many classroom exercises. The emphasis was on mime and movement. Rita Kothariji was a tough task master and contributed a great deal in shaping our postures. We learnt Yakshagana, a very important folk tradition of Karnataka. We also learnt Nautanki when we performed Laila Majnu in this folk form. We were also taught Maharashtra's folk form Tamasha. All these experiences helped me grow as an actor and theatre director.
After graduating from the NSD in 1976 you joined the NSD repertory and stayed there for five years. Tell us of the moments that remain most precious.
This period was the real test of my acting abilities. The important repertory plays I performed were Andha Yug directed by M.K Raina, Adhe Adhure directed by Amal Allana, Jag Utha Raigarh by Mr. Alkazi, Suraya Ki Pehli Kiran Se Suraya Ki Antim Kiran Tak by Mr. Ram Gopal Bajaj, Biwiyon Ka Madrasa by Mr. Alkazi, Begum Ka Takiya by Ranjit Kapoor, Mukhya Mantri by Ranjit Kapoor, The Fool by Barry John and Chopra Kamal Naukar Jamal by Fritz Bennewitz. The repertory experience gave me confidence as an actor and helped me to be on my own when I left Delhi and came to Mumbai.
Is it true that Govind Nihalani watched you in a repertory play and offered you the role of Wilson in film Vijeta (1982)? How was the experience of Vijeta?
Govind Nihalani and Shyam Benegal were regularly watching NSD Repertory plays. Govind Nihalaniji knew me as an actor and offered me the role of Wilson in Vijeta. Vijeta shaped me as an actor for films although I had done a small part in Shyam Benegal's Mandi before Vijeta and also a feature film directed by Mr. S.N Dhir. Govind Nihalani is a tough task master and he keeps on encouraging you to do better till he gets the right kind of shot. Vijeta was a kind of training for me to learn acting for the camera. It also gave me a wonderful experience to know the lives of air force pilots by being with them. Most importantly our workshop at the NDA is unforgettable and has a special place in my memory.
Many like me recall Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, a seminal play. You played Juror 8. A whole group of dynamic theatre actors including you stamped your presence on the stage for a very wide audience profile. How did it benefit all of you in getting work?
When most of my batchmates had left the NSD Repertory we thought of doing something special on our own and prove a point. Ranjit Kapoor, Pankaj Kapoor and myself thought of doing a play. The play selected by director Ranjit Kapoor was Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, an adaptation of 12 Angry Men. Yes, you are right that the best of theatre actors on scene at that time in Delhi became part of this play. The play was received well in Delhi and when we reached Bombay with the play it created a sensation. Basu Chatterjee thought of making a film of it, to which we readily agreed. Honestly speaking it didn't benefit us in getting work in films, but surely created a great impression about all of us in film circles. Most importantly people close to theatre in Bombay accepted us as great theatre people.
Theatre has admirably been a constant in your life. On 11th June 1982, by the inspiration of Ms Jennifer Kapoor, Ila Arun, your core team and you started Surnai, the theatre group. Surnai Theatre And Folk-Arts Foundation is now in its 40th year. Bravo! Tell us the beginnings and the journey as a short summary. You have majorly helmed it as a director-writer-actor.
I never stopped doing theatre while I was working in films. Ila Arun had started Surnai Theatre group on her own, inspired by Jennifer Kapoor. Ilaji met me after the performance of Ek Ruka Hua Faisla in the Prithvi Theatre green room. She asked me to join her group. I told her that once I come back from the shooting of Vijeta, I will definitely meet her and take it further.
What I found interesting in Ilaji was that she was ready to take challenges and do something different from routine theatre activity. She was writing a play based on a Rajasthani folk story called ‘Jjethwa Ujli’ to make a musical of it. We worked out a kind of modern interpretation of the story. This is where my journey with Surnai started. Since that day onwards we have been together and try to bring the best theatre for the audiences.
I was not a director. I had just assisted Manohar Singhji in a play called Uncle Vania in the repertory company, but Ilaji insisted that since I am from NSD I should take the baton of directing plays for the group. That is when I started directing plays. We worked on a plan wherein I will select the plays and Ilaji will adapt them. This routine is still going on. What I am happy about my work in Surnai Theatre and Folk Art Foundation is that we always picked up something that was not done before, and which we felt was challenging.
Since we have very few Hindi playwrights around, we thought of adapting relevant and thought-provoking plays for our audiences. For example, Jamila Bai Kalali is an adaptation of Mario Vargas LIosa play LA Chunga, Athol Fugard’s Valley Song is Goonj, Agni Lekh and Shabd Leela are based on Dr. Dharamvir Bharti's literary works. Then started our tryst with the greatest modern playwright of the world, Henrik Ibsen. We have done Peer Gynt, The Lady from the Sea, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler and at present we are working on An Enemy of the People. All adaptations have been done by Ila Arun and most of them directed by me except the Lady from the Sea as Mareechika. This has been a very hard, but satisfying journey.
It's unbelievable that we could sustain Surnai for 40 long years. We do have our share of disagreements, fights, but what matters for us is the end product. That is very important to both Ilaji and me. What has sustained this long relationship is mutual respect for each other and accommodating each other's views and weaknesses. I hope this journey carries on for another forty years.
Through the 1980s and 1990s your noted acting work in film and television have been in Adharshila, Gandhi, Mandi, Godam, Ardh Satya, Party, Aaghat, Trikal, Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, Yatra, Susman, Bharat Ek Khoj, Tamas, Amir Khusro, Lifeline, Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, Damini, Byomkesh Bakshi, Ghatak.
I have been very selective in choosing my work for films, television or theatre. The works you have mentioned are very dear to me. I stand by what I have done in them. Most of them have been great parts and I have enjoyed playing them. One film I wish I could do again is Godam wherein I played Edekar. I could have done much better, but did not have the maturity of understanding the part at that point of time, 1983. It was a phenomenal role and my co actor was late Pandit Sataydev Dubey. People today know me by Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, Bharat Ek Khoj, Tamas, Lifeline, Byomkesh Bakshi and Ghatak. Films like Godam, Aaghat, Trikal, Susman didn't get the right kind of release as they were branded art cinema.
Your chosen work in films/TV continued through 2000 to 2020.
I have loved and enjoyed working with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra in all his films where I played important parts. Aks, Rang De Basanti, Delhi 6 and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag are very close to my heart. Rakeysh is an actors’ director. He gives you space to work on your role and readily accepts suggestions if they are relevant to the scene. Tanu Weds Manu, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana, all have been fun films. Samvidhaan is very special for me. This was once again the best television series after Life Line and Yatra.
My role in Sony LIV series Scam 1992 was also a wonderful experience. I choose to do roles that give me creative satisfaction and an experience to better myself as a human being. Most of the films have done that to me. Then there was a series called Upanishad Ganga. This is an outstanding series thematically and I have played multiple roles in it. A great experience as an actor. It also gave me an understanding of our Upanishads.
As a film writer you have written Ghatak (1996) as associate screenplay writer, China Gate (1998) as screenplay-dialogue writer, Dahek (1998) as screenplay writer, Pukar (2000) as dialogue writer. Share your experience.
My association with Raj Kumar Santoshi started when I was doing Govind Nihalani’s Vijeta. Rajkumar Santoshi was the chief assistant director. We became very good friends. When he started making his first film Ghayal, I was part of his screen writing team. I would only listen and maybe give one or two suggestions. The same routine continued with Ghatak. I cannot take the credit of writing these films. Yes, I did work as associate screenplay writer in China Gate and also helped with the dialogues. I did help Lateef Binny in constructing the screenplay of Dehak and wrote 90% of the dialogues of the film.
I was also co- dialogue writer with Rajkumar Santoshi in Pukar. Mr. Santoshi felt that I have a good dramatic sense and that's why he would listen to my suggestions carefully. Lateef Binny is like a younger brother. The experience in this area has been good and bad. Good because it gave me an insight of what screenplay is all about, bad because however much of hard work people may do on writing a screenplay, ultimately what matters is what the producer wants. I hated this and thought I will never do that. That is why perhaps I have never ventured to think of making a film.
What are the upcoming projects?
I have recently worked in a film called Shastri vs Shastri directed by Shiv Prasad and Nandita Roy. I have stopped doing television. Some interesting subjects are in the pipeline for OTT platforms. At Surnai we are working on Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. We are also planning workshops for youngsters and have started working on a play called Pagla Ghoda.
You have done creative work in Kashmir and have also shot there during the militant insurgency.
I have done some television work as producer-director for DD Kashmir. My whole intention of producing these series was to go to Kashmir and shoot there. The love of my motherland would always tempt me. Producing television series was the best option. I have shot there during militancy also because I strongly felt that being a Kashmiri no harm will be done to me. What I felt and experienced those days is a story, which we can share some other day.
You have been away from Jammu and Kashmir, but naturally Kashmiriyat lives in your physical, social, cultural DNA. Kashmir, the militancy of decades, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley is like a running leitmotif in your written-directed plays for Surnai too. You have also said, “Main pahad ka aadmi hoon. Samundar (Mumbai) kitna bhi achcha ho par I am a man of the mountains.”
I am born in Kashmir and I spent my childhood there. Then I studied in Delhi and thereafter I have been working professionally in Mumbai. So, in true sense I am an Indian. You put it rightly that Kashmir is in my DNA. I was born in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. One cannot forget that one has been driven out from the place one was born in and has lost one’s homeland. This will surely come again and again while I am expressing anything connected to this tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits.
I did a play called Chota Kashmir on the same subject of exodus. Ilaji wrote the script and I directed the play. I must tell you here that Ilaji has a karmic connection with Kashmir. She sang songs in Kashmiri language, adapted Peer Gynt as Peer Ghani and placed it in Kashmir. I was really amazed at the way she brought out the tragedy of innocent people and how terrorism effected the youth of Kashmir. Kashmir will remain a weak point in my life. However far I maybe, my heart and mind are always there.
Do you as a very liberal, humanist, secular Indian and Kashmiri Pandit feel that Jammu and Kashmir’s social, cultural, political suffering can end provided there is a will on the part of the government? Or, is the issue of insurgency and native disenchantment got too ingrained? A reversal is a very distant future?
Kashmir has reached a stage where only the government cannot set the things right. The people of Kashmir have to come forward and reject what they feel is unfair to them. Unfortunately, there is truth deficit between the people of Kashmir and the government of India. Unless and until some social leaders come up and try to bridge the gap created by dirty politics on both sides, nothing done seems possible to improve the conditions in Kashmir.
Politicians have been playing dirty games and have no respect and value for human life. While talking to young people in Kashmir and Jammu I get the feeling that they want a new life and new stakes in the larger world. They want to be happy, prosperous and grow in life as youngsters all around the world aspire to do. They are perhaps fed up of the gun-culture they have seen from both sides of the spectrum. Peace is what they want and I wish sincerely that peace, prosperity and happiness comes to my homeland as soon as possible.