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Alys in wonderland, with Faiz


LOVE BEHIND BARS: Salima Raza has recreated the thoughts and feelings shared between Faiz Ahmed Faiz and his wife Alys in her new play (centre)

One of the most enduring love stories of our time is being recreated on stage in the play Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan. The protagonists - the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984 ) and his Irish wife, Alys - are not young lovers but a much-married, middle-aged couple.

The play is based on the letters exchanged between Faiz and Alys between 1951 and 1954 when Faiz was incarcerated for the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Says the writer and director of the play Salima Raza, "The letters, like his work, reveal how Faiz, then in his early 50s, lived two lives - that of a romantic as well as a revolutionary - with the same amount of passion. Sharing his concerns was Alys, a poet in her own right. In fact, many believe that without her support and encouragement, Faiz might not have scaled the dazzling heights he did. "

Alys met Faiz, who was teaching at MAO College, when she came to visit her elder sister Christobel in Amritsar. Once the two decided to get married, there was some resistance from Faiz's family who wanted him to marry someone who'd bring in land as dowry. In a recent interview, Alys, who passed away in 2003, said it was Faiz's sister who made the family come around by suggesting that the two would have very beautiful children. Once they relented, Faiz and Alys, who converted to Islam and became Kulsoom, married in 1941. "Their camaraderie was like a meeting of souls. Alys, like Faiz, was as intelligent, passionate and as committed to love as to their common cause - the upliftment of the poor and deprived, " says Raza.

The idea for Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan came up during Faiz's centenary celebrations last year. "He was being celebrated across the world with recitations of his poetry, ghazals and musical evenings, " says Raza. "In my tribute, I wanted youngsters to get an understanding of the man as he was. "

Actively involved with theatre since 1958, Raza wanted to tackle the subject differently. "The idea was to make the letters (written in English), not poetry or music, the protagonists, " she explains. "It was tough, I had to be very harsh with myself because his poetry is something that's difficult to resist. Also, I did not want the audience to feel cheated about not being given yet another chance to listen to his poetry. So, in between the 'musicality of their conversation', we have woven in bits of ghazals by Begum Akhtar, Iqbal Bano and Nayyara Noor. So, it's like a montage of performance, narration and music. "

The curtain goes up on a stage split into two - one part is the poet's prison cell where he sits at his writing table and the other, is his home in Lahore, where Alys is. Their life comes alive through their exchanges (Faiz: "I have realised for the first time that to give grief to my loved ones over some things which I believe in but has no meaning for others is totally incorrect and immoral" ) and the everyday problems of running the home on a limited budget, the loneliness of separation (Alys mentions a friend asking her if sex worried her? To which she replies, 'Sex does not worry me, but its absence does' ), love (Faiz: "How do I put down the relationship between you and me, for, in the language of love, it is not imprinted anywhere" ), the weather (Faiz misses not being able to see and smell the rain), his "mehboob shaher" (beloved city) Lahore where the two lived after Partition, weight problems, hair loss and of course their two daughters, Salima and Moneeza.

The play has been produced by the Wings Cultural Society, that was started in 2009 by a group of theatre enthusiasts mentored by Salima Raza, with the sole intention of, in the words of one of its founding members Tarique Hameed, "saving Urdu from going into oblivion". And among the productions staged by the group are adaptions of Roald Dahl and Brecht in "simple audience-friendly Urdu that is managing to endear itself to youngsters".

'Chand Roz aur Meri Jaan' will be staged at the IIC on June 28, at 6. 30 pm

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