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Gandhi and Bose open pathway for reviving India’s syncretic culture on new radio play

A new radio play brings together Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose for reviving India's syncretic culture

Humour, wit and satire come together for the theatre lovers as M. Sayeed Alam airs on the virtual world his first Hindi-English radio play, To Gandhi Ji With Spelling Mistakes, which focuses on India’s syncretic culture. The drama penned and directed by Sayeed does not just begin and end with laughter.

In fact, raising sensitive and vital issues like religious divide and mutual distrust, the play underlines the need to tap India’s age-old syncretic tradition. It makes a case for following the legacy of icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose, who laid emphasis on the region’s Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, fusing the good of all denominations rather than isolating their drawbacks.

The Pierrot Troupe’s presentation penned by Alam was inspired by a story in Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’ autobiography. “It features a true tale about a boy writing a letter – replete with spelling mistakes – urging Mahatma Gandhi to come back. This triggered me to write a full-fledged script by bringing in more children and issues of that period,” says Alam.

The story is about a grandmother (Naheed Ashraf) reminiscing about her childhood in Delhi to her grandchild (Sayed Arij) in present-day Karachi, featuring five children, Zainab (Bhoomi Nighat Siraj), Radha (Aarifa Noorie), Anwar (Mehul Garg), Suryaprakash aka Sunlight (Yash Malhotra) and Gurvinder (Aryan Kumar). The first four are penning a letter in English to Gandhiji after his death, beseeching him to return. What makes the play interesting is the use of wit and satire through the innocence of the protagonists. One laughs loudly at the instances of spelling mistakes like allmytea for Almighty, beleeve for believe while cutting a joke at the expense of English for their inability to decide on whether to keep the ‘i’ before ‘e’ or after it, citing examples like believe and receive, die-mond for diamond and writing pearl as pirl as it rhymes with girl. The children ape the elders, like Zainab while dictating to Radha, instructs her sternly “para change”, “line change”……

Behind all these absurdities, Alam, subtly and deftly brings to fore important issues such as bridging the religious divide, eliminating distrust among people and the needless Hindi-Urdu tussle. It calls for the return to the spirit of the Indian National Army (INA) formed by Subhas Chandra Bose, which represented the grand enmeshment of India’s syncretic spirit, energised to achieve the goal of decolonisation. Zainab and Radha, spotlight the blunder of departing from the essence of INA, by switching their allegiance to form Hindi Sena and Pakistani Fauj and fight each other with a toy pistol and gun. On hearing of Mahatma’s death, they surmise that he left them because of their fight, and swear never to do so.

While the four children are vocal, the quiet Gurvinder, a refugee from Pakistan, having lost his family, mirrors the reality, the horrors and torment of violence. On hearing Gandhiji’s death, he breaks down, pleading with him not to leave. The children emote well through their voice modulation and subtle tone change impress the listeners.

Worth tuning to as it is rib-tickling while making a case for unity based on India’s civilizational syncretic heritage.