People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 09, 2005



Cultural Workers Renew Pledge To Continue Struggle


IT was January 1, 2005, and in the national capital the cultural workers active in various fields and intellectuals of diverse persuasions again came together in large numbers. They once again pledged to continue the fight for democracy, and for an egalitarian society, for which their beloved comrade, Safdar Hashmi, had courted martyrdom 15 years ago.


One recalls that Safdar Hashmi was fatally attacked in village Jhandapur near Sahibabad (Ghaziabad district, Uttar Pradesh) on January 1, 1989, when he was staging a street play there, and breathed his last the next day. Ever since then, intellectuals, cultural workers and political activists of Delhi assemble on the New Year day every year and rededicate themselves to forging ahead with the task Safdar has left unfinished.


But the New Year day this year was somewhat different. This time the programmes had to be organised not on the Safdar Hashmi Marg near Mandi House, that is regarded as the cultural capital of Delhi, but in the V P House lawns. The change was necessitated because of the ongoing Metro rail work in the Mandi House area.


Secondly, and more importantly, the January 1 programmes this year were dedicated to immortal fiction writer Premchand whose 125th birth anniversary is currently being observed. One will note that Premchand is the biggest icon of a secular culture in the Hindi-Urdu speaking areas.


As an important part of the January 1 programmes, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) had provided excerpts from Premchand’s writings to a number of renowned painters and designers in various parts of the country, asking them to present Premchand in their own mediums and from their own angles. On January 1, all the art works and paintings received in response to this initiative were displayed in an exhibition. Some of such prominent artists were: Ghulam Mohd Sheikh, Arpana Kaur, Hakku Shah, Vir Munshi, Shamshad, Ellina Banik, Awani Kant, Ratnabali Kant, Nand Katyal, Gopi Gajwani, Hem Jyotika, Sanjay Sharma, Saba Hasan, Ram Rahman, Parthiv Shah, and Rajinder Arora. Some of the art works received have also been presented in the form of a Premchand Calendar, which noted Hindi poet Ashok Vajpayee released on the day. This was perhaps the first occasion when so many noted artists and designers had displayed so much enthusiasm in taking the writings of a great writer and creating something on their basis, on so wide a scale.     


Another attraction of the day was the recital from Premchand’s writings by well known Hindi dramatist Ram Gopal Bajaj and Urdu dramatist Anees Azmi. While Bajaj read important paragraphs from Premchand’s presidential address to the foundation conference of the Progressive Writers Association in April 1936, Anees Azmi read out Premchand’s note that criticised Muslim communalism and separatism. As a befitting finale to the occasion, the programmes ended with the impressive presentation of a play based on Premchand’s short story Bade Bhai Sahib. The play was presented by the street theatre group Jan Natya Manch (JANAM).


Earlier, the programmes started with an impressive performance by Ratnabali Kant in which lines from Pablo Neruda, another very important writer of the 20th century, were integrated in an expressive way. Ratnabali Kant integrated her own acting with a big canvas erected on the day and with the colours spread on the ground under the open sky, to recall the fatal attack on Safdar Hashmi 15 years ago, connecting that gory episode with Neruda’s celebrated lines “there is blood on the streets.” Her presentation ended with the images of a bloodstained sky and small rainbows arising from the surface of the earth, creating a note of intense optimism through the fiery excerpts from Neruda’s immortal creation The Heights of Macchu Picchu.


One will note that this year we are in the process of observing the birth centenary of this great Chilean poet, whose poetry gives voice to the whole of Latin America.


The afternoon programme in the main pavilion started with the presentation of a play Hawalat by Kirorimal College students. Thereafter, through her music programme, Vishala Venkatachalam paid homage to the noted singer M S Subbulakshmi who recently expired.


Noted Punjabi folk singer Jasbir Jassi, Shubha Mudgal, Madan Gopal Singh, and Imran Khan and Tanvir Ahmad Khan of the Delhi Gharana overwhelmed the audience with Sufi and Bhakti songs and music.


One of the important attractions this year was the presentation of urban folk songs of Cameroon by noted singer Prince Eyango. Though he belongs to Cameroon, he is currently residing in California. Prince Eyango began his singing career in 1980 and is much popular in the Francophone Africa. So far he has 15 albums to his credit. Prince Eyango also presented a song of hope and peace, which he had especially created for this occasion. Lawrence Ireland and Deepak Castelino from Cameroon accompanied Prince Eyango on musical instruments.


The SAHMAT had already announced that whatever monetary cooperation it would receive this year would go to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund for the tsunami victims.