Friday, 28 April 2006

Review: Hindi stage play, Raat: Night hides many secrets

2006
Syed Akbar
Night hides many secrets in its folds of darkness but when it starts revealing, the truth is not always easy to comprehend. The memories it leaves in its wake are often bitter and sometimes startling.This is true both with the physical darkness of the night and the psychological darkness in one's life.
Raat (Night), a Hindi drama by eminent director MS Sathyu, successfully brings to light the untold atrocities and crimes committed by the protectors of law against hapless and innocent people under the cover of darkness, inside the four walls of the so-called investigation cells. Raat can be valued as a dramatic work that examines the psychological repercussions of human rights abuses.
Sathyu, who shot to fame with his "Garam Hawa" in 1973, also speaks of the trauma, both physical and mental, the victims undergo for the rest of their life while inquiry or truth commissions take their own time to prepare voluminous reports, which are ultimately consigned to government's apathy and its disrespect for human dignity. Through his three-person play, Sathyu vividly depicts how an innocent victim of police or state torture will react when he or she gets an upper hand over the perpetrators of crime.
Raat clearly has Sathyu's stamp on it. The play is set in an Indian State, assumed to be Gujarat or Maharashtra after the communal orgy there. It is based on "Death and the Maiden", an internationally acclaimed play by Ariel Dorfman. The original is set in Chile in the times of dictatorship exposing political bosses. Writer Javed Siddiqui has based script on the present-day Indian scenario highlighting treatment and torture of political activists, especially women. Death and the Maiden was produced in London at the Royal Court Upstairs in 1991. Like the parent play, Raat requires the active participation of the audience. The staging is beautifully used to achieve the audience's interaction and drive home the message.
With his Raat, Sathyu has revived the Hindustani theatre in Hyderabad after a long gap of two decades. The Hindustani theatre, quite popularly in these parts in 1970s and 1980s, died a slow death with the passing away of the doyen Qadir Ali Baig. His eldest son Moin Ali Baig continued the tradition for some time but in English through his Avant-garde Theatre, before shifting the base to the USA. A theatre foundation formed in memory of Qadir Ali Baig recently has already brought to the city two versatile Hindustani plays, Aparajita and Raat.
"It's a pleasant audience here. I am delighted to receive such an appreciation from the people in Hyderabad. I asked Javed to write the script based on Indian context and the play is before you," says a delighted Sathyu, who has brought his Raat to Hyderabad for the first time.
Raat and Aparajita have established that theatre is still attractive in Hyderabad despite the presence of a huge number of cinema halls. What's noteworthy is that almost 60 per cent of the audience were people between the age of 18 and 24 years. "Though the play was staged at Taramati Baradari, quite far away from the city, the turnout was in appreciable number. The audience comprised mostly of students and youths. This is a clear sign that theatre has a bright future in Hyderabad, as in Kolkata and Mumbai," observes producer Muhammad Ali Baig.
Versatile artiste Aanjjan Srivastav lives in the role of Bobby, a senior police inspector known for his surgical precision in execution of third degree methods on the detainees. Surender Gupta plays the role of Kabir, an IAS officer appointed by the State government to head a commission to inquire into the communal riots and the excesses indulged in by the police and government machinery against innocent people. Rashmi Sharma acts as Kabir's wife Aashi, a political activist held in illegal custody for nine days and gang-raped by policemen to extract information which she does not possess.
Rashmi uses powerful dialogues, often unprintable, to bring out the anger and fear she had been nurturing for years after her traumatising experience at the hands of the police. She was returning home from a relief camp in a communally hit city when a police van stops by her and a police inspector offers her a lift. Unsuspecting she sits in the vehicle only to find herself in an interrogation cell for the next nine days. Bobby is the senior police inspector, and he may or may not have been Aashi's chief torturer. The play is about the mystery of whether Bobby was the torturer or not. Aashi played her role excellently as an angry and bitter woman. She is angry at life and everyone in it including her husband.
Sathyu uses the characters of Aashi and Kabir to drive home his message on the futility or otherwise of the inquiry commissions set up by governments from time to time. "Inquiry commissions are able to establish certain truths in a public way, to become part of official history. The previous regime had committed excesses. It lived by telling this falsity. The new government is sincere and let's hope justice will be rendered to the victims," Kabir tells Aashi.
Javed Siddiqui tells the audience through the dialogues Aashi and Kabir exchange between themselves as Aashi holds a revolver against Bobby to teach him a lesson. The message is loud and clear: symbolic punishment is important. We should be content if the people who did terrible things to us and those we love came to ask forgiveness, to say I will never do this to you again, I am really sorry this happened. But until that happens, we should demand they be brought to justice, and the justice we seek has to do with the truth.
The title of the play Raat comes from the dark days Aashi underwent in policy custody. The entire play is set in the backdrop of a stormy night. The opening scene depicts the tension writ large on the face of Aashi. The entire 90-minute play is set in an isolated house where Aashi and Kabir live and the former in virtual fear.
Rashmi could not resist the temptation of a big applause from the Hyderabad theatre lovers after the show. "It's a better turnout than we expected. The audience got themselves involved in the play and this was quite evident from the occasional applause," points out Rashmi, who is performing a Hindustani play for the first time in the city.
Kabir returning from a meeting with the chief minister gets struck in a storm as his car had a flat tyre. He could not change the tyre as his wife Aashi had removed the jack from the car a day earlier. He founds Bobby a Good Samaritan who drops him at his house. Aashi gets agitated when she hears the sound of a new car. She opens the door and enters into an argument with Kabir for having come in a stranger's vehicle. You could have changed the tyre.
Bobby returns and bangs at the door in a drunken state. Before Kabir could open the door, Aashi runs into the bed room and watches the stranger enter. Soon Aashi becoming increasingly agitated decides that Bobby was her torturer. Though she was blind-folded by the police, she could easily recognise Bobby through his voice and smell of sweat.
Thanks to the unparalleled directorial skills and the tight and powerful dialogues, till the end of the play the audience were not sure if Aashi was going to kill Bobby, torture him or what, but rest assured that it is a long night of terror for the three characters. The play takes many twists but ends with Kabir and Aashi decided to adopt an orphan, a victim of mindless communal frenzy.
"In the foundation's quest of bringing professional standard theatre to Hyderabad, we are presenting this universal play as a tribute to theatre doyen, Qadir Ali Baig. Our aim is to develop local talent. Until then we will have to depend on artistes from outside," says Muhammad Ali Baig.

Saturday, 22 April 2006

Stringent rules on bio-fertilisers

April 22, 2006

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 21: The State government has come out with stringent rules on bio-fertilisers including compulsory registration of manufacturers to protect the interests of farmers, who are increasingly turning to natural manures following their bad experiences with chemical fertilisers.
Manufacturers and marketers of bio-fertilisers and organic fertilisers will now have to register themselves with the agricultural department on or before May 31. The new amended rules to the Fertiliser Control Order - 2006 will come into force from June 1.
Those violating the FCO like selling or manufacture of spurious or substandard bio-fertilisers or organic fertilisers will attract imprisonment up to seven years and fine. Minor offences will attract jail sentence up to one year and fine.
The State government first introduced legislation a couple of months ago and inspired by the Act, the Central government issued orders extending Fertiliser Control Order to the entire country. The new legislation covers bio-fertilisers like rhizobium, phosphate solubilising bacteria, azotobacter and azospirillum while organic fertilisers include city compost, vermi-compost and pressmud.
Agriculture Commissioner Poonam Malakondaiah said the State has about 60 bio-fertiliser and organic fertiliser manufacturing units and in the absence of any regulations so far, farmers have been losing heavily because of spurious or substandard fertilisers.
"All our efforts to promote bio-fertilisers in the State have yielded little results because of spurious commodity available in the market. Now that we have come out with stringent rules and compulsory registration, farmers will go in for bio-fertilisers on a massive scale," she told reporters on Friday.
The State government has notified FCO laboratory at Rajendranagar for analysis of bio-fertilisers and organic fertilisers.

Monday, 17 April 2006

Ecological crisis in India: Change in rain pattern in Ranga Reddy district

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 17: A severe ecological crisis is looming large over the neighbouring Ranga Reddy district with a change in rain pattern and steep fall in groundwater table in several places.
This summer is going to be worst-ever dry season in the past one decade what with 70 per cent of the borewells and surface water bodies drying up early. As Rangareddy district surrounds Hyderabad, the adverse environmental impact is likely to be felt equally on the State Capital.
Water levels in and around Hyderabad city have gone down almost by five metres over a period of two years. The fall was quite steep during 2004-2005 due to excessive drawal of underground water and the failure of the rainwater harvesting structures.
Earlier, borewells used to go dry only during summer. Now most of the dug wells remain dry throughout the year. According to a research study by Indo-French Ground Water Project, even electric motors, in many areas in Ranga Reddy district where the study was carried out, pump water for 45 seconds and run without water for the next 60 seconds.
The study noted that there had been a shift in the climatic conditions in the area. "Both time and space variability of rainfall has changed and it is becoming unfavourable. Ponds and tanks have become evaporative bodies. Fluoride levels in groundwater are much higher than the WHO safe limit for drinking for the whole year", the report stated.
The research study reveals that since the underground system and the problem associated with it is complex, heterogeneous and variable, corrective measures do not work and if they do, they are not foolproof.
Most of the rainwater harvesting structures constructed by the previous Telugu Desam government have failed to deliver the goods and even the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India has found fault with the State government for its bad planning and execution.
All over the State the fall in the ground water levels ranged from five to 10 metres with Kadapa, Chittoor, Anantapur, Mahbubnagar, Ranga Reddy and Prakasam districts being the worst affected.

AP Wakf Board politics

2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 17: Bureaucratic one-upmanship in the State Wakf Board has severely affected its functioning in the past one month with the present special officer reversing some of the welfare decisions taken by his predecessor, including promotions to board employees.
In one go, special officer Muhammmad Shafeequzzama issued orders withholding promotions to as many as 28 employees given by previous special officer Syed Anwarul Huda since June last year. When Wakf employees raised a hue and cry, Shafeequzzama withdrew his orders. He, however, set a deadline of March 1, 2006 and all promotions given to employees after that date stand cancelled.
While 22 employees were promoted between June 2005 and February 28, six employees got promotions after March 2006. The six employees include two senior assistants (promoted as superintendents), one assistant engineer (executive engineer) and three assistant secretaries (promoted as deputy secretaries). Their promotions, given by Huda just before he demitted office, now stand cancelled.
"The promotions were against rules. So I have formed a three-member committee to look into the rules. Untill the committee gives its report, the promotions given from June 2005 to February 28, 2006 stands good. We will take a decision based on the panel's report. However, the promotions after March 1, 2006 stand cancelled as there are no posts of executive engineer and deputy secretary in the State Wakf Board," Shafeequzzama told this correspondent.
According to Wakf sources, the decisions taken by previous special officer, who belongs to IPS cadre) are being reversed now purely because of bureaucratic clash as the present incumbent belongs to IAS stream.
Even a purely welfare measure like grant of widow pensions has been stopped. The present officer has stopped issuing cheques even for the beneficiaries already selected by his predecessor.
In the absence of a full-fledged governing body for the Wakf Board, the country's richest Muslim endowment body, special officers have been ruling the roost, often reversing their own decisions. The board suffered huge financial loss in the past 20 months. Congress government has been postponing elections to the Wakf Board because of legal hurdles.

Saturday, 15 April 2006

Kottur: Archaeological survey of India on a "treasure hunt"

April 15, 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 14: The Archaeological Survey of India is on a "treasure hunt" in the nondescript Kotturu village of Visakhapatnam district searching Buddhist ruins for priceless artefacts, inscriptions and ancient gold and silver coins.
Kotturu is one of the six new archaeological sites selected by the Central government for excavations that are likely to throw a deep insight into the lifestyles of people dating back to second century BC. The ASI will dig up "mounds" in and around Kotturu that have so far been the target of vandals seeking treasure throve.
The Central government has decided to go in for a thorough excavation of the "mounds" in Kotturu after archaeologists discovered stone inscriptions containing Telugu words in Brahmi script about 2200 years old. Earlier excavations at the site brought out 107 gold coins, silver coins, pearls, diamonds and gems stored in a small vessel. The vessel was hidden in a rectangular container.
According to officials at the ASI office in Hyderabad, the excavations on Buddhist "mounds" will also throw more light on the language spoken by Buddhist monks and local people in those times. A rock edict in Brahmi script contained the words, "Tambayya Danam", which in Telugu means "donated by Tambayya".
Tambayya was believed to be a Telugu noble who had donated gold ornaments and precious stones to Buddhist monks towards charity. Tambayya's donation includes 21 silver and gold flowers and two gold containers.
Ever since the discovery of the rock edict, the interest of archaeologists and linguistics has gone up on the "mounds" in Kotturu. The edict has pushed the age of Telugu language by at least 800 years. Earlier, Telugu was thought to be evolved around the sixth. The latest evidence now shows that Telugu is as old as 2200 years.
Like Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada, the literature of Telugu has been in vogue for over 1500 years. Some archaeologists have been arguing that Telugu is more than 2000 years old. The first Telugu words can be observed in Ikshavakula inscriptions. Nagarjuna Hill inscriptions of 250 AD contain Telugu words. But the Kotturu inscriptions have come in as the first ever "solid evidence" to prove that Telugu was spoken even before the start of the common era.
The Kotturu "mounds" are similar in structure to the internationally famous "Salihundam", a Buddhist site in Srikakulam district. Salihundam is an ancient settlement containing a maha stupa, votive stupas, chaityas, platforms and viharas. Here the inscriptions date back to the second century AD. The Kotturu "mounds" are four hundred years older than the Salihundam and archaeologists expect more "surprises" during the excavations.
Kotturu and surrounding areas as also the ancient sites along the river Krishna in Krishna and Godavari districts had played an important role in the spread of Buddhism from India to Sumatra, China and other countries in the Far East.
The "mounds" are locally known as "Dhana Dibbalu" (mounds of treasure) in local parlance. There are Chaitya Grihas or halls of worship built of brick. Similar ruins are also found in Andhra Pradesh at places like Guntapalli near Vijayawada, Nagarjunakonda and Amaravathi in Guntur district. But these mounds are 100 years older than the Kotturu mounds.
Along with Kotturu mounds, the ASI has taken up excavations at ancient sites in Chaturbhuj Nala (Mandsaur district) and Gondarmau (Bhopal district) in Madhya Pradesh, Aragarh (Puri district) in Orissa and Sanauli, Baghpat and Latiya (Ghazipur district) in Uttar Pradesh.
The other oldest Telugu inscription is from 633 AD. The Telugu literature begins with an 11th-century translation of the Sanskrit classic Mahabharata.
Telugu words appear in the Maharashtri Prakrit anthology of poems (the Gathasaptashathi) collected by the first century BC Satavahana King Hala. Telugu speakers were probably the oldest peoples inhabiting the land between Krishna and Godavari. ASI officials hope that the Kotturu findings are likely to give a historical look to the Telugu language and the traditions and culture of the Telugu-speaking people.

"Srikrishna Kalachakram", a unique combination of 41 different Yagas

2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 15: A Swamiji from Bhimavaram in West Godavari district has set a record by holding the first-ever "Srikrishna Kalachakram", a unique combination of 41 different Yagas, to invoke peace and love on the human planet.
Sri Krishna Jyothi Swaroopananda Swamiji, chief of Sri Krishna Peetham in Bhimavaram, performed Srikrishna Kalachakram for eight days from April 7. The religious event concluded on Sunday with the breaking of "Dahi-Handi" (pot containing curd) and "Maha Poornahuti".
"This is the first time that Srikrishna Kalachakram is performed in modern times in the country. We have references to this ritual in ancient Hindu texts but people have long forgotten it. We have revived the age-old tradition symbolising the Kalachakra or the discus of time. In general Yagas, only one deity is propitiated. But in Srikrishna Kalachakra, we have included as many as 41 yagas, propitiating a number of deities," the Swamiji told this correspondent.
The Swamiji, who set up the ashram at Bhimavaram four years ago, has been performing "Chaturveda Yagas" propitiating the four Vedas wherever he delivered his discourses. "I do not see any difference between Adwaitam (monotheism) and Dwaitam (dualism) of the Almighty. I also do not differentiate between Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Srikrishna Kalachakra stands for love, affection and peace," he pointed out.
As many as 50 Vedic pandits participated in the Yagas. The highlight of the week-long event was a combination of Sri Krishna Bhagavata Homam (devoted to Sri Krishna), Dasavatara Homam (10 incarnations), Sri Venkateswara Homam (to propitiate Lord Venkateswara), Siva Homam, Satachandi Yagam, Maharudra Yagam, Sudarshana Yagam, Sri Lakshminarayana Yagam and Souranarayana Yagam (solar system) among others.

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Hyderabad madarasas to go hitech

2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 5: Madarasas in the State are all set to go hitech with the State government deciding to equip them with computers and introduce modern education in a bid to improve the educational standards of students coming out of these religious schools.
The State government has sanctioned Rs 1 crore for computers in Islamic seminaries and the first batch of computers will be handed over to madarasas on April 7. The State has about 5000 registered madarasas and six per cent of Muslim students study in these schools. The government plans to cover all the madarasas in the State in phases.
Moreover, dozens of madarasas are also being covered under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan for computerisation. Some of these madarasas will have internet connectivity so that students keep a tab on the developments around the world.
Urdu Academy chairman Raheemuddin Ansari told this correspondent that the State government would route computers through the Academy. "To begin with we will give computers to 15 madarasas in the city. Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy will launch the programme on April 7. This is the first time that the government is supplying computers to traditional madarasas in twin cities. We will extend the programme to the rest of the State soon," he said.
Already various government agencies from the USA, Britain and Australia have been helping madarasas with funds to set up computer training centres. The madarasas, which have introduced English, mathematics and science as subjects along with the traditional religious curriculum, are given special funds to enable the management to sustain the courses.
With the Deeni Madaris Board, the umbrella organisation of various madarasas in the State, raising objection to the government's decision, the State government has made it clear that it would not interfere with the designing of the curriculum. "Our duty ends with the supply of computers. We will not interfere in the functioning of madarasas," Ansari pointed out.

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