Play: Khol Do (Adaptation of Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story), 1993
Performed by: Maya Rao
The play, ‘Khol Do’ (Open Up), is based on Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story of the same title. The story revolves around an old father Sirajuddin, who is searching for his young daughter Sakina, whom he lost in one of the urgent evacuations during the looting and communal violence at the time of the Partition in 1947. Distraught and losing his sanity, Sirajuddin asks for help from a group of young male volunteers. The volunteers are able to find Sakina and rescue her but they keep her in their custody and gang-rape her repeatedly. While they continue to assure Sirajuddin that they are searching for his daughter. The story ends at the hospital where some men bring the body of a girl that was found near the tracks of a railway station, thinking she is dead. Sirajuddin, who is present there with the hope to find his daughter, immediately recognizes Sakina HER. While examining the body, the doctor asks Sirajuddin to “open up” referring to the curtain of the windows, for some air. This phrase triggers a reflex in the girl’s body, and she takes off her salwar (pants), exposing herself. This reflex action stuns the doctor but triggers Sirajuddin to shout with joy that his daughter is still alive.
Maya Rao’s performance was a non-verbal solo piece performed in 1993 where Rao enacts both – the father and the daughter in this performance. According to Bishnupriya Dutt,
“Rao plays the child, crawling and circling the stage and playing games. She takes off three white bangles from herwrist and spreads them on the floor and plays with them, clapping in childlike delight, occasionally transforming into the father, who holds the child in the crook of his arm. This sequence is interrupted by sounds of a train. Rao shifts to depict the horror of rape that has befallen Sakina. Her Kathakali-styled facial expressions depict delight, changing to terror. Slowly, she covers her face and collapses, picking up a blue scarf lying on the ground and intertwines it around her body; she lets it fall over her leg, covers her vagina, and drags it across her body to end as a gag across her mouth. This anticipates Sirajuddin’s actual discovery of what happened to his daughter…” (Bishnupriya Dutt, Maya Rao and Indian Feminist Theatre. 2022, p.42).
The performance comes as a response to the political situation of the early 1990s and highlights human values and sufferings. Khol Do critiques the sexual violence done to women even within the communities during the riots time. “They are narratives that destabilize our revisionist critiques of the Partition of 1947 and nationalism, and problematize the efficacy of historiographical and socio-anthropological frames in accounting for and addressing the history of everyday forms of gender violence…” (Kavita Daiya, Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender, and National Culture in Postcolonial India, 2008, p.86) In the words of Raman Kumar, “this decontextualization allows Rao to move beyond the mimetic counterparts (India vs Pakistan) and explore how violence and its effects get inscribed in everyday life” (Raman Kumar, “Being Lost and Becoming: Exploring the Performance of Pain and Empathy in Maya Rao’s Khol Do (Take It Off)”, Asian Theatre Journal vol.39 no.2 2022, p.270).Khol Do (Adaptation of Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story)
Source: Still from the play ‘Khol Do’. Image Courtesy – Maya Krishna Rao’s Blog, http://mayakrishnarao.blogspot.com/p/solo.html