A Softly Wrapped Surreal Story
Pashmina is a symbol of accepting grief, coping with loss, seeking solace
‘Pashmina’, a Hindi play authored by Mrinal Mathur and directed by Sajida, a graduate member of the National School of Drama, is being performed in Kolkata under the auspices of Rangakarmee. Rangakarmee was founded by the late Usha Ganguly with the group’s very young cast to packed theatres across the city.
‘Pashm’ means wool in Persian, in Kashmir, it is the raw unspun wool of the domesticated Changthangi goats. In common parlance today, pashmina refers either to the material or to the variant of the Kashmir shawl that is made from it.
Pashmina is famous across the world not only for the rarity of its raw material but also for the intricate, hand-crafted embroidery designs worked on each shawl by human hands. Each shawl is unique, and is not replicated.
In this play however, Mrinal Mathur uses the pashmina shawl as a symbol of accepting grief, coping with loss and then, seeking solace in the harmony it brings for two parents, one a Hindu couple and the other, a Muslim father both of who have lost their respective sons in the constant killings that are on in Kashmir. The pashmina is also an agency of love, a creator of synthesis and a coming to terms with personal loss that is tough for any parent to adjust to.
It is a deceptively simple story of a middle-aged couple, Amar (Shubham) and Vibha (Sneha) Saxena who go on annual vacations but have been avoiding the dreamiest vacation among all – Kashmir where they once dreamt of getting an original Kashmiri shawl.
Vibha is hesitant about the Kashmir trip but with Amar’s constant persuasion, she agrees and the two set off for Kashmir. Amar promises his wife that in Kashmir, he will certainly buy a pashmina shawl for her before coming back.
As the play moves from Lucknow to Kashmir, the couple keeps wandering across the beautiful valley and meet a Sikh couple who are loud show-offs but otherwise good-natured. They are also looking for a pashmina shawl.
As they visit a regular shawl seller (Aniruddh Sirkar) who deals in shawls of all varieties, Amar and Vibha discover that like them, this shawl seller has also lost his only son Adil (Ankit Sharma) in the political and military turmoil of Kashmir.
When the seller learns that they are the parents of the dead Atul, he informs them that their son (Om Tiwari) who died within the atrocities in Kashmir, was strangled with the same pashmina shawl he was bringing to his mother even after being shot down. He never gets to meet his parents ever again. This is the reason why Vibha keeps avoiding the trip to Kashmir.
The empathetic shawl seller gives away the only expensive shawl he has to the Saxena couple at a throwaway price. But there is much more to the play. It has an undercurrent of the surreal within the real. We discover Atul gliding merrily, holding a bouquet of colourful balloons in his hand but in complete silence, across the proscenium space to entertain his grieving mother. She can feel his presence but cannot see or touch him.
This is a beautifully constructed sub-plot the play is woven with and in Kashmir, we get to see the dead Adil resting his head on his grieving father’s lap.
Do the dead unite the living – the dead sons uniting their grieving parents with the pashmina shawl as the ‘invisible’ powerful unifying agency? Yes, they do.
The play closes with the two young men, now dead, facing each other with smiles on their faces, and cementing their relationship by exchanging their caps – metaphor for their religious/communal identity sealing the schisms of man-made communal differences with that single gesture.
The entire cast has imaginatively used the limited space of the proscenium floor at the Usha Ganguly Mancha with different set pieces changed in absolute darkness. The actors step in and out to move pieces of furniture to change the scene and the situation.
Swishing, translucent curtains play hide and seek with the moving characters, adding to the intrigue of the ambience while a colourful chorus group of singers and dancers steps in to offer some breathing space to the characters.
The discipline put in by the actors and technical team is amazing and so is the use of the surrealistic actions by the two dead young men who float in and out without a speaking line. we learn at once that they do not live in the real world now but did at one time.
The acting by the entire cast, including the security guards in full uniform holding rifles, the waiter in the restaurant of the hotel and the Sikh couple is so mesmerising that you are afraid even to blink an eye for a second.
It is the simplicity with which the play has been presented, treated and enriched by the actors who perform as if they are electrically charged that subsumes the terror of young death and at the same time, offers a ray of hope at the end of a dark tunnel.
“Kashmir” mentioned with reference to a play, a story or a film immediately brings up imaginary visuals of gore and horror and torture and death. But though ‘Pashmina’ deals with these unpalatable truths of life, it is not only understated but is also realistic.
Tripti Mitra, who manages the new young team of Rangakarmee, says that the group had to put in three long months of rigorous rehearsals for each play and not for a single day was any member late for the rehearsals even for a minute, come rain or shine. Rangakarmee is certainly raising the standards of its performances one after the other in the footsteps of the late Usha Ganguly.