I’ve been reading Ismat Chugtai’s ‘Kagazi Hai Pairhan’ and ‘Tedhi Lakeer’. Recently. Reading them, almost back to back, was a little confusing. ‘Kagazi ..’ is Ismat’s almost fiction like autobiography and ‘Tedhi Lakeer’ is her novel, almost like her autobiography. I was completely engrossed in both, but came out, a little annoyed by the books, mainly by the main character, Ismat herself in one, and Shamman in the other, both completely self-absorbed, a little too full of themselves.

That makes me take a pause, at a mental picture, of Ismat Aapa, or anyone else for that matter, full of bits and pieces of other people.

But I will write about these books later, in another post. Maybe.

Yesterday, Teja and I after a long ride back from Surat, actually took another ride down to Prithvi and went to watch Motley’s ‘Kambhakt Bilkul Aurat’ (Ismat Aapa ke Naam – II). This is a rendition of three stories, ‘Amarbel’ performed by Manoj Pahwa, ‘Nanhi ki Naani’ performed by Lovleen Misra and ‘Do Haath’ performed by Seema Bhargava Pahwa.

Manoj Pahwa recounts that Manto had read Ismat’s ‘Lihaaf’ before he met her, and though he liked the story, he was very annoyed at the last line of the story, and thought to himself ‘Kambakht bilkul aurat nikali‘. Damn, just like a woman. But later, when he met her, read more of her work, he realized that her being a woman, made her stories so particular, in their femininity, in their observations.

And indeed it does. Both Teja and I were sleepy, tired. But this disappeared as the power of the words took over, undoubtedly enhanced by masterful performances. Both Manoj and Seema are such fine actors, that they own the stage, they seem so much at ease, that their performances seem effortless.

But yesterday, it was ‘Nanhi ki Nani’ which made me cry. Lovleen, with her burkha, at one moment a child, at another a begum, the next the beggarly Nani, and yet another, a monkey, her burkha not only illustrating the myriad uses that Nani put it to, but becoming a character in itself, now flying around her, now a blanket, now a turban, now a shroud.

The set for each story, and the props were quite effective. Minimal, and yet lending a form, a visual point. The only thing that did not work for me was the music. It was completely unnecessary, and seemed to come in fits and starts, was either too little or too much and therefore seemed arbitrary. But that is a small quibble.

Manoj at the beginning of the performance speaks of their director, Naseerbhai (Naseeruddin Shah) who has become a little senile, and begun doing planchet. He said Ismat Aapa came to him in a planchet session and said she would be very upset if mobile phones rang during the performance.

None did.

But Ismat Aapa did come to life, yesterday. Not admonishing, but just so full of observation, a deep empathy for human helplessness, and such a play of words. motleylovleen