I am walking on the road. Moti Lal Kemmu meets me. He says: ‘Come to the Tagore Hall tomorrow by 4:00 to watch my play, lal ba drayas lol re
I am seated in the over-packed Tagore Hall. The curtain rises. A fantastic set greets us. The play is enacted. The girl, who is playing the roles of a daughter, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, is splendid.
I congratulate Kemmu and shake his hand. He smiles and thanks me. I leave for home.
Moti Lal Kemmu comes to our 3-room house in Udhampur which we have taken on rent. In the evening I offer him a drink which he doesn’t accept. He gifts me five of his books written in Kashmiri. Soon he narrates some light and comic verses. He calls them tichiri. This is nonsense verse or limericks.
Don’t be shocked. Nonsense verse is a genre in poetry and literature throughout the world. Limericks are a form of literary nonsense.
We laugh. This is entertainment of high order. He opens one of his books and reads. No, he doesn’t read…..he enacts all the roles of the characters in the plays, Tshai and Trinov. This is brilliant.
I recall Govt. College at Khanabal in Anantnag where his play Manziel Nika, directed by Prof. Rattan Lal Shant, was enacted in the open. Make-up had been done by Prof. Sant Ji Sultan.
Kemmu often comes to our place at Khankah-i-Sokhta near Safa Kadal in Srinagar.
I am sitting in a room of his huge house at Zaindar Mohalla in Srinagar.
‘Please tell me something about yourself and your contribution to theatre in Kashmir.’
‘Many years ago I read The Theatre of the Absurd and Absurd Drama written by Martin Esslin. These books shaped me as a playwright. I learnt much from these books. I read many dramas written by absurd dramatists, viz. Ionesco, Albee, Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Camus, and many others.
‘I am an actor and theatre director. I went to Baroda University where I did dramatics on national scholarship. There I learnt the classical dance kathak under Prof. Sunder Lal Gangani.’
Moti Lal Kemmu, the artiste, stands up and starts dancing. The performance is mesmerizing. I see a glimpse of his dancing and acting skills. He is fantastic. Being a performer he betrays no inhibition. I am overawed.
‘And, what else?’
‘The Hindi translation of my play Bhand Duhaii was staged in most of the cities of India. It continued to be staged for a number of years.’
‘I have seen that brilliant play in Delhi. Apart from that I have seen your plays enacted in the Abhinav Theatre, Jammu and in the auditorium of the Government College for Women, Gandhi Nagar, Jammu.’
‘So all of your plays have been translated into Hindi too?’
‘I have written more than forty full length plays in Kashmiri and many more radio plays. Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani has translated all my plays into Hindi. Besides, he has written a book on my plays. His critical write-ups on my plays appear in the various literary journals brought out in India. Gowrie Shankar Raina, a Hindi writer has written a lot on me. He too has translated my plays into Hindi.’
Where else have Moti Lal Kemmu’s plays been staged?
‘Some years ago I was invited to Britain where I delivered lectures on folk theatre in Kashmir, bhand paether and other forms of paether. It was a novel experience for me to meet other authors and playwrights. I watched Shakespearear’s play Julius Caesar in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. I will never forget that experience.
‘I revived bhand paether in Kashmir which is actually a very old folk theatre of Kashmir. I have conducted workshops in association with other theatre groups. I got Kashmiri children from various places in Jammu like and trained then in acting. I have worked with the bhands of Akingham, Wathore and Bamrod.
I know nothing about them. Nor do I know where these places are. There is nothing wrong with ignorance. Why boast unnecessarily? Jean-Genet, the author of the interesting book and my favourite The Thief’s Journal said to the students in France: ‘My superiority over you is that I am uneducated.’ Genet , who had never been to school, had made the existential choice to become a thief, homosexual and evil. He was jailed, and in prison he wrote The Lady of the Flowers. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an extremely difficult book on him named Saint Genet.
Mister, mark my snobbery and hollow intellectuality.
It was a digression.
‘Do you write criticism?’
Moti Lal Kemmu has written a book on folk theatre in Kashmir named Bhand Natyam. The book is the history of bhands and folk arts of Kashmir. Kemmu is the founder of Abhinav Bharati, a Hindi cultural organization. Pashu Gatha (a novel in Hindi) is an allegory in which the characters are animals like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The locale is Kashmir. The novel is political and historical in nature. Some years ago Dr. Tej Kishen Zadoo translated excerpts from the novel into English.
‘Ravinder Kaul, Pankaj Dhar and B L Saraf interviewed me. Those interviews appeared in a newspaper brought out in Kashmir and in other literary journals. Besides, there are many interviews here and there. Ravinder Kaul has written much on my plays. He is a drama critic. Adarsh Ajit is a reviewer and he too has reviewed my plays.’
I go to Kemmu’s home in Apna Vihar. He is not well. His books, awards and photographs are lying in order on the shelves in his room. He speaks less. There is a huge photograph of him with the President of India.
‘Do you write these days?’
‘No, I have stopped writing.’
Moti Lal Kemmu is very weak. He doesn’t feel like talking.
15 April 2018
10: 30 p.m.
A friend sends an SMS which reads: Moti Lal Kemmu has passed away. He is no more.
Shock! Acute sorrow and grief!
16 April 2018
Moti Lal Kemmu is transformed into flames. A flame is a flower.
And that is the end of the play.