Friday night’s weather was perfect to evoke nostalgic emotions of the yesteryears. It was raining in Lahore and the sparkling car lights from a traffic jam near Al-Hamara Mall Road meant that there was a theater performance going on. Upon arrival, I was greeted with a full house and a stage set with lamps, the two performers (or readers, in this case) facing opposite directions against the back drop of Sitar, Tabla and guitar. The audience was ready to embark on the journey of love letters, politically correct statements, radios, mehafil, classical music, love, separation, and conversations in Urdu that our millennial generation isn’t accustomed to.
Likhay Jo Khatt Tujhay: An Ode to Love (Letters Written To You)
The play, “Likhay Jo Khatt Tujhay ” is directed by Kanwal Khoosat and brought to you by Olomopolo Media. It was first performed in August 2016. Since then, it became a favorite theater experience for fans in Islamabad, Singapore, Multan, and Lahore. The reason being simple; we miss the things that were once a part of us; reading and patiently waiting for those handwritten letters attached with emotions and opening sealed envelopes. When it comes to Urdu Literature, this art is like a treasure box for us to open and evoke emotions; revisiting memories and a part of us that no longer exists.
“Cigarette laga kar pyaroun say mahrum nai karta. Jab tum nai hote tou aur azziz ho jate ho…Ek baar mar kar dobara paida hona he naam hai inqalab ka hai.”
These few lines are a rendition of a fictional, yet an original love letter with an exploration of Safia Jaanisar Akhtar’s love letter to her husband – Jan Nisar Akhtar. The narrative style letter expressed Safia’s feelings that she developed over a period of 9 years while residing in Aligarh University – taking into account the cultural differences, societal pressures and the role of religion in the love story. Sania Saeed recited this letter in the third session; which was gloomy, dim-lit, sad toned. Her voice expressed grief and longing for Safia’s husband with broken promises in an era of parting remembrance. He became a memory that she loved.
“Tumne mujhse kaha kay aaj kuch na khena…Aur meine kuch na Kaha”
The lovers in them had to part and Safia didn’t utter a word on the departing of her beloved. Similar to this; Tajdar Zaidi recited the letter Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote to his wife, Alys Faiz, while in jail. It was narrated in a hopeful tone and mood for the audience and had a bittersweet ending to it encompassing the time till Faiz reunites with his family -if he got the chance to do so.
Urdu Literature is known for its simple yet deep feelings, poetry, and words. This letter was my favorite with its mellow yet intense mood to revive the nostalgia of crossroads and losses between people.
In an unconventional manner of a theatrical performance, the readers Sania Saeed- a versatile legendary actress ruling our hearts since the PTV drama Aahat and Tajdar Ziadi- a great theater artist who feels the depth of each word and emotion, recited three different themes with variations in moods and feelings. It was a three-session performance of two hours. The presenters through their readings brought to life the personas of Majid Amjad, Fikr Taunsvi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Josh Malihabadi, Col Muhammad Khan, Amrita Pritam, Safia Jan Nisar, and Shafiqur Rehman – the original and fictional letter writers.
Letters, exchanged between family and loved ones carried a vast importance in people’s lives. Letters that had to be read and written in privacy and sent to their lovers; for losses, grievances, longing. While the readers were engaged in the conversation, live music was being performed by Wajih Nizami on Sitar, Shahdab Younis on Guitar and Irfan Khan on the Tabla, which gave a soulful atmosphere to the theater.
A road of nostalgia and reflection of PTV’s Era of Urdu Literature
Not to give away much of this live performance since words would not do justice to what the feel of conversation was; the first session –Lahore – a short free verse poem by Urdu poet Majid Amjad – was the first narration. Tusi ka Tota was the best example of wit and dramatic correspondence between a schoolmaster named Khadim Hussain (Ziadi) and a colonel named Tusi (Saeed).
“Jasmani aur zubani fasley mein rehte the Tusi sahib aur Khadim”
The letter is about Tusi’s parrot that had flown at the schoolmaster Khadim’s house. They argue for the parrot’s identification and fight for right ownership.
“Khaht apne naam kay bhajein, kisi aur kay naam likha nai, aur ghar nai bheja karein” -Aapki Bhen ki sehli
The second session comprised of an exchange of letters between ‘Miss ABC’ and ‘Mr BCD,’ – two young lovers in the neighbours. They used pseudonyms having youthful energies and emotions, with letters being sent across rooftops. Saeed’s Miss ABC gave a comical timing to the narration, whereas Ziadi being Mr. BCD, reciprocates love as being an affair of fearful hide-and-seek letter exchanges from youthful times.
Takeaway emotions and nostalgia
The music had a depth to it, due to classical raag, along with the high and low pitches of readers provided the perfect blend of theatrical experiences to the audience. By the end of two hours of performance, everyone had that ‘oh it ended too soon‘ smile on their faces with a standing ovation. These kinds of theatrical performances need to keep happening to keep in touch with our roots culturally, for we are known by our mother tongue. Hoping this will revive the art of handwritten letters with a personal touch and not just a template made for hitting send.