by Maleeha Sofi
SRINAGAR: The curtains rose to the sound of water gushing and birds chirping, offering an idea of a serene spot lacking noise and visibility. Melodious background music added to the sensory appeal.
As soon as the stage lit up, a beautiful set-up of the village could be seen. Heemal, played by Zareena Ali, came to wash dishes as any normal village girl. Shahi Mumtaz gave voice to the character in the play. As Heemal was seen dancing, her friend played by Jameela Akhter asked for the reason. The whole conversation took place in a rhythmic manner exhibiting the poetic capacity of the two Kashmir women. Heemal expressed her happiness over her marriage tie-up that had taken place a day before.
It was the play surrounding the life of Arinmal, a Kashmiri poetess, who has left behind a lot of poetry and lived an interesting life. The next scene showed up two men explaining the life of Heemal. She was born in a Hindu family in Palhalan (Baramulla). Born in 1718, when Kashmir was misruled by Afghans. Intelligent and beautiful, the conversation suggested that she wanted to study, but women’s education was not in vogue.
Her parents, however, provided her with all the possible education, they could afford within the confines of their Palhalan home. She was fond of poetry and literature.
At a very young age, she was married to Bhawani Das Kachroo, a resident of Rainawari in Srinagar, who worked on a very high post in the administration. Besides, he was also a good Persian poet and wrote under the name Naikoo. Heemal nodded for the marriage for the common love of literature among both of them. This was the point from where she was known as Arnimaal.
The play was presented by Saath Theatre Group, and directed, written and designed by Manzoor Ahmed Mir. The music direction was done by Raja Bilal. The songs in the play were sung by Shahi Mumtaz and recorded at Folk Studio Srinagar.
The couple loved each other immensely until the day Bhavani Das returned home drunk. He was furious at Arnimaal and accused her of causing him humiliation. Unaware of the cause that frustrated the Afghan courtier, she insisted but failed to elicit a response. Following days Bhavani Das became an alcoholic and frequented Srinagar’s dance bars.
When Arnimaal came to know about her husband’s newfound refuge in dancing, she made efforts to get him out of bars. In an attempt to make her husband fall in love again, she practised singing and dancing. Even though she struggled hard but he did not give up.
In fact, when Bhavani Das learned about it, he raised her hand against her and defended himself by saying that religion, culture and society gives man the freedom to do whatever he wants. She refuted him politely which worsened the situation between them. He asked her to leave his home. However, she stayed back. Bhavani Das spent most of the time outside. Nobody talked to her.
Meanwhile, she planned to go back to her parents many times, but her intellect did not allow her. Eventually, one day, an angry Bhavani Das succeeded in throwing her out of his home.
Arnimaal went back to Palhalan where she waited for him for several years without any change in her love towards her estranged husband. On the other hand, Bhavani’s hate also remained unchanged.
Eventually, she lost her sane self and turned old and dull. She died in the same place where the play started. Bhavani’s servant was provoking him to bring her back. When the news of Bhavani’s behaviour reached the governor, he was upset. After facing humiliation, Bhavani Das went to Palhalan but it was late already as she was no more. He arrived when the funeral of Arnimaal was going on. He regretted his actions. The darkness that would follow was shown by the lights that turned off marking the end of the play.
Throughout the play, Arnimaal sang songs that explained and detailed the situation she was in. The dresses chosen for Arnimaal in the play also added to the character that shifted from modest when she was unmarried to bright and glittery during her marriage, then simple but colourful during the conflict and completely dull towards the end.
The Arnimaal cast line included Zareena Ali, her friend by Jameela Akhter, Bhavani Das Kachroo by Ashraf Nagoo. The narrators in the play were Mehrajuddin Bhat, Reyaz Ahmed Mir, Haseena Sofi, Farid Ahmed Sheikh. The dancer was played by Midhat. Other artists were Shagufta Rehman, Ghulam Mohammed Bhagat, Manzoor ul Islam Bhagat, M Iqbal Bhagat, Irfan Ahmad Bhagat, Manzoor Ahmad Bhat and Bilal Ahmad Bhat. The properties were provided by Gulzar Ahmad Dar, costumes by Shaheen Masarat, Set by Mir Adil, and Make-up by Aijaz Ahmad. The lights were operated by Tariq Hajini.