by Zubair A Dar
On Friday, May 15, when Ghulam Ali Majboor breathed his last, it was not the death of an artist alone, it was the end of an era. For 21 years, Majboor had kept listeners tuned into Radio Kashmir Srinagar with his satire on just about everything in Kashmir.
Majboor was born on December 17, 1952, in village Hanjigund in Chadoora area of Budgam district. The village is famous for Kashmiri folk art – Bhand Pather – and his father, Sunnaullah Bhat, was a prominent folk artist. Despite the fact that Bhand Pather was the only art form that could critique the kings and powerful elite in the feudal era, Bhands were looked down upon by society. The art thus had begun to go extinct.
Humour too had turned extinct and laughter was almost forgotten when militancy began in Kashmir in the late eighties. Co-anchoring Zafraan Zaar along with another prominent satirist Talha Jehangir on Radio Kashmir Srinagar, Majboor began to lighten up people. Soon, the duo could be seen performing on stage. Watching the two trying to outwit each other, the audience would suddenly realise that the politicians sitting in the front rows of the audience would actually face the harshest of criticism and still could not control laughing about it.
Majboor, however, had come a long way to reach that point. Watching his father and other artists perform, he had learnt the art of Pather (drama) in his childhood. His first performance on stage had come at the age of six.
“Bhand theatre was, once upon a time, the Bollywood of Kashmir,” says Majboor. “After 1947, the popularity of the Bhands declined. They turned into drum-beaters for various political parties. Militancy dealt the final blow,” he once told me in an interview. Despite odds, Majboor kept the art alive. Even after his appointment as a teacher in the education department, Majboor kept devoting his free time to stage.
“One day, militants came and warned me. They considered theatre a sin. They ordered me to burn all his costumes and destroy the musical instruments,” he said. “I told them that if tomorrow they achieved their goal, they would have to call Bhands for celebration. And if Bhands had no costumes and musical instruments, how would they perform? They were so happy that they left immediately,” remembers Majboor.
Majboor went on to form the National Bhand Theatre Association. He, however, did not confine his role to a non-performing secretary of the association. He would perform along with his junior colleagues whom he patronised. He also brought together artists from other genres and formed the Kashmir Folk Theatre Association.
In one of his performances, Majboor played the role of a king, who, along with his prime minister, has to pass through a metal detector in order to reach his throne. His army chief arrives in the court with bruises all over his body. Upon being asked who did this to him, he replies, “The Ikhwanis (renegade militants).”
Immediately, the king and other courtiers begin to tremble. This performance left the people in splits.
Besides a performer, Majboor was a playwright, poet and director. Majboor, in fact, was his pen name. It was in a programme written by him for a local TV channel that his partner Talha Jehangir cracked a joke on him. “Asalamualikum, Maboor said opening the programme. It was not a part of the script,” says Talha. “I responded with Walakum Salam but added the word ya ahlal kaboor. It was just a joke then that audience would laugh at.”
Two months after the recording of the programme on December 27 in 2007, Majboor started showing symptoms of some disease. He was soon diagnosed with a stomach malignancy. Doctors at SKIMS Srinagar, who recognised him as an artist and a humble person, operated upon him and removed the worst affected part of the stomach. Chemotherapy followed. But the treatment could not save his life.
“Doctors at SKIMS and those associated with Cancer Society of Kashmir tried their best. But death and life are in the hands of Allah alone,” says Talha.
Majboor finally succumbed to the disease at 56, however, not before leaving behind a new genre of humour in the Kashmiri language to follow.