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Dark Borders: Women through the Eyes of Manto!


Deep Jagdeep Singh

Manto means bold, blatant and brutal truth. Neelam Maan Singh is known for her sharpest characters and subtle presentation of human psychology. When Manto and Maan come together, it becomes a lethal combination of the dark realities of life. ‘Dark Borders’ was the final presentation of a three day theatre festival held at Punjabi University’s Kala Bhawan organised by Punjab Lalit Kala Academy in association with Theater and Television Department of Punjabi University, Patiala. I must say that it was the best culmination of the festival.

A scene from the Hindi Play Dark Borders Directed by Neelam Maan Singh based on the stories of Sadat Hasan Manto
Starting with reference of partition, Dark Borders juxtaposes the various stories with the life story of legendary Urdu short story writer Sadat Hasan Manto. In various stories women characters come in different shades of black, white and grey. Even when women are absent from the stage they are personified as hunger and lust through the acts of men. In the few stories women are victims of brutality and patriarchy, while in others they are brutal and mean and at another point a woman is a saviour too. Between the transitional intervals comes Manto and jitters the inner cores of modern youth and strikes upon the contemporary social, political and cultural scenarios.

In foremost stories women are shown doing household chores of washing, cooking and serving men in the bed. In all these stories men are absentees or doing nothing apart from brutalizing women and using them as objects. But few humans enter into these stories; a customer marries a prostitute, a son helps his mother, a victim of domestic violence, in labour pain to deliver a child while his father is missing from the scene. In all these stories from the atmosphere to apparels everything is dark. And in the culminating calm story, Neelam Maan Singh turns everything upside down. She takes the audience to the tribal era where men are doing everything from installing the makeshift huts to washing clothes and cooking dinner, while women are relaxing after the day-long shift. In this story everything is pure white from linen to hut covers and lights. Even the warm fragrance of rotis cooked live on stage makes you feel the most soothing experience of life running in tandem, where men and women exist together like humans. 
The USP of the play was live music and sound effects embedded with the folklore, which highlighted the plight of women through the rendition of folk songs of Punjab.

She leaves the audience with a question that was women’s life better in tribal era? What good modernity has done to modern women and men as well?

What Punjabi playwrights need to learn from Neelam Maan Singh, is the subtlety, clarity and boldness to address the contemporary issue of the society. 

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