Life in a prison is all about the struggles and sufferings that are intended to break the sinner or ‘mujrim’ inside out. However, not everyone is destined for ‘Qaid-e-Bamashaqqat’. There are always people like Mahmood Farooqui, a well-known writer, and director, who are gifted to bring something out of the box.
Although Farooqui was not offered any special favor, his journey in the prison was quite different. He had decided to serve his sentence through his love affair with art. He started with a group of four people in jail no. 3 that was dedicated to education and creative pursuits, music classes, English classes and a training workshop. There are prisoners working in different departments like akbar panja, bijli panja, jharu panja, etc. Luckily, he got a couple of mates from Ignou ward, where he intended to start a new art-affair.
The superintendent of the jail knew the interests of Mahmood Farooqui and agreed to his suggestion of starting a drama class in the Ignou ward. Although the permission was granted, it needed a herculean effort to get the members ready for the classes. The family meetings, ward in-charges, and a number of other things would often steal the show. It is not a cake walk to step out from the prison in Tihar. It needs a properly signed letter to get to the other ward.
This was not the only thing Farooqui needed to worry about. He had to start with very basic practices, as most of the people were illiterate. Starting a day with prayer was the best option in those circumstances. It was the Iqbal’s poem ‘Parinde ki Fariyad’ that lead to a perfect start. His tarana ‘Lab pe aati hai dua’ would prove to be the perfect foil. Although there were no high-class singers to make it beautiful, it served the purpose of breaking through the darkness. A number of other songs and prarthnas would fill the members with hope.
Now, it was the time to introduce basic theatre workshop. A meditative journey back home was the show stopper. The inmates would close their eyes and use their imagination to get out from the confined place, board a bus to their house and get into the kitchen. They would then prepare a cup of tea and serve it to the person they loved the most. This activity would often bring tears into the eyes of people, who had not stepped out from the prison for years.
Next in the menu was improvisation exercises that were related to the case and arrest of different people. It gradually brought a sense of positivity to the ‘mujrims’. It was the perfect time for Mahmood Farooqui to perform the first play, as the class strength had also gone up to 10. The script was ready, a short story of Munshi Premchand, called ‘Nasha’. It was all about learning lines scene by scene, for all the unlearned people. The characters were defined, the situations were improvised, the songs were embedded, and it was time to deliver.
The play was taken to the wards, one by one, instead of a big performance. Performing on makeshift stages, without mikes, curtains and wings were a stiff challenge. The reception was a mixed bag, with many inmates showing enthusiasm as well as laughing it off. However, the main purpose was served, and the members received a boost. It was yet another successful art-affair of Mahmood Farooqui that was also shown as a part of a cultural program for countrywide Prisons Director Generals Meet at Tihar.