Eminent Punjabi playwright Swarajbir :Policeman’s pen
Between a police baton and a writer’s pen … there is a world of difference. But eminent Punjabi playwright Swarajbir crosses this distance with effortless ease, letting neither his writing felicity nor his job as Inspector-General (CISF) interfere with the other. Nor do the responsibilities of each infringe upon each other and intermingle.
Holding the high position in the police force, one presumes, would have hemmed if not stifled his creativity. But says the writer, whose very first play Krishan stirred a hornet’s nest, “I write freely and fearlessly.” Not that the intention ever is to hurt the sentiments of people. So Krishan, otherwise hailed as a masterpiece, may have raised the hackles of Right-wing Hindu groups, he deems that those who objected to his play hadn’t seen it and their misgivings were entirely misplaced. The play he reminds is more about the divide between pastoral life and power than religious beliefs.
Writing plays on gods and goddesses, he feels, is an age-long tradition and cites the example of Greek literature. Religion anyway is a recurring thread in his plays. Be it the much-acclaimed Dharamguru, Medhini or his favourite Shayiri, he often reverts to religious themes, for “religion plays a very significant part in our lives, more so in Punjab, where it was a dominant thread both in the 1980s and 1990s and also during the time of Partition.”
The cataclysmic year of 1947, he asserts, cannot be forgotten, for nowhere in the history has such a kind of migration taken place. Though he believes that one always writes from and about the present, the divide of 1947, which continues to cast its shadow on our present, is one subject he would certainly like to revisit.
What about writing on the encounters of life as a police officer? Strangely, it has not yet surfaced in his plays. “May be, there is a novel in it,” he adds, but isn’t sure whether one day he would write it. Plays and, of course, poetry remain close to his heart.
His writing odyssey began with poetic musings and he has written three books on poetry, one on radical poet Avtar Paash and another on terrorism in Punjab. “As a writer,” he says, “I stand with the progressive movement, be it in my poems or plays.” Interestingly, playwriting happened when he started reading mythology. He quips, “It is not a compulsion for a writer to go back into history or mythology but yes, the call of roots cannot be ignored.”
Nor can one be oblivious to the times in which one lives and this is where he finds Punjabi theatre, which echoes contemporary concerns, far ahead of the one that is happening in Delhi. While his play Kalar talks about the agrarian crisis and Maseya di Raat revolves around female foeticide, he is also toying with the idea of writing one on the current predicament of modern life. He rues, “In the commerce-driven world where money has subsumed our existence, the space for dissent and for an alternate lifestyle has been completely lost.”
So, in such a critical period where does a writer get his inspiration? He replies, “The genesis of a new play lies somewhere within the one I may be currently writing. It is a continuous and an organic phenomenon.”
But isn’t playwriting a craft, too? He answers, “When writing a play, I am aware that it is going to be staged. The demands and the paradigm of theatre have to be borne in mind. Besides, unlike a piece of poetry or short story or a novel, a play is under test and scrutiny long after it has been written.” He also concurs that a director can make or mar a play. However, since almost all of his plays have been staged by well-known theatre director Kewal Dhaliwal, he has never had any issues about the director not doing justice to his plays. On the contrary, he often feels that not only the director, even an actor can lend new meanings and punch simply through the rendition of a single dialogue.
Since many of his plays are part of the university syllabus, what gives him greater satisfaction — to see his play acquiring life on stage or being read? He says, “Both. The beauty of theatre lies in the gripping manner in which it engages oneself.” And it this engagement and not laurels like the Param Sahit Seva Puraskar by the Punjabi Akademi, Delhi, and many others that has him hooked. Alongside, his pen continues to weave dramas that not only keeps the audience enthralled but also takes Punjabi theatre several notches above the average.