Meghdoot Auditorium to Alkazi Rangpeeth: Renaming cancelled

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New Delhi: The Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) sent a formal invitation to theatre artistes and connoisseurs of this performing art recently, asking them to attend an event where the Meghdoot I Auditorium, named after the famous 111-stanza lyrical poem of playwright Kalidasa, would be renamed after Ebrahim Alkazi, a known teacher of theatre. The Ministry of Culture, to which the SNA reports, intervened following protests by several nationalist individuals and groups.

“The Chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Shri Shekhar Sen takes pleasure in inviting you to the ceremony for the renaming of the Meghdoot-I Theatre in honour of the Eminent Theatre Educationist Shri Ebrahim Alkazi to E Alkazi Rangpeeth.“ read the invite. At a time when the glorious history of India stands obscured by the school curricula set by Marxist historians, which the Narendra Modi government has not been able to undo in 3 years of its tenure, the invitation riled the nationalists.

Messages were circulated via WhatsApp, protesting the move of the SNA. One such message reads: “When our own people are renaming Hindu centres of art and culture in India, why do we blame Kashmiri Muslims for distorting the names of Hindu shrines in the Valley?”

Soon, the Ministry of Culture sought an internal report on the decision to rename Meghdoot I.

Taken aback, the SNA authorities took a U-turn on the issue. Atul Tiwari, an executive board member of the Akademi, told a newspaper, “When Alkazi came up with the first open-air theatre in Mumbai on the terrace of one of the buildings, it was called Meghdoot. Although Alkazi did not lay NSD’s foundation stone, he was the one to chalk out a structured syllabus for studying theatre at NSD. In 1959, NSD was established as part of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and Meghdoot as well as NSD were part of the same building. To pay a tribute to Alkazi saab for his contribution to theatre, Alka zi Rangpeeth will be added to Meghdoot’s name. A special programme has been planned for the occasion where we will announce this. A performance by Naseeruddin Shah will be part of the evening, which will be attended by many big names in theatre and Alkazi’s family .“

Meghdoot invitation
Where is the scope for misinterpretation in the phraseology of this invitation? [Click on the image for an enlarged view]
No less than the chairman of the SNA retracted his statement. Shekhar Sen said, “There is some confusion because of the invites. We never intended to change the name of Meghdoot I, and the whole controversy is baseless. We are celebrating 50th year of Meghdoot this year, and we wanted to pay a tribute to the man who propagated the making of Meghdoot. We will also have the screening of a short film and an exhibition on Alkazi on May 3. All four Meghdoot theatres will continue to be called Meghdoot for all official purposes, even in future. We called the theatre complex ‘Rangpeeth’ as ‘peeth‘ means ‘centre of learning’.“

If this was a case of bad drafting, where does the buck stop? सिर्फ़ News spoke to a senior officer in the SNA to get to the truth. The source said in no uncertain terms that Sen could not deny his responsibility because his secretary could not have drafted the invitation and circulated it without his approval.

Post on Shekhar Sen’s Facebook timeline by deputy secretary (drama), SNA

In fact, deputy secretary (drama), SNA, Suman Kumar had tagged Sen and extended the invitation to their Facebook friends, and Sen did not dissociate himself from the invite by removing the tag.

The source said that Tiwari’s excuse did not wash, and added that, in order to honour the person who chalked out the first curriculum of NSD, they could have named the NSD auditorium Abhimanch after him.

“Why should an auditorium which is being used for music and dance currently suddenly get dedicated to Alkazi?” the SNA officer said under the condition of anonymity, adding, if there must be a name change, “it should be dedicated either to Rukmini Devi (Arundale) or T Balasaraswati whose (birth) centenary falls in 2018.”

The controversy refuses to subside. Rajesh Chandra, a theatre aficionado, lodged his protest on the Facebook wall of SNA deputy secretary (drama):
“अकादमी अपने ही झूठ और पाखंड में इस तरह उलझ गयी है कि अब वह बहाने ढूंढ रही है! अब वे कह रहे हैं कि हम मेघदूत मुक्ताकाश मंच तथा मेघदूत नाम के अन्य चार सभागारों के नाम बदल नहीं रहे, बस उन्हें अल्काज़ी को समर्पित कर रहे हैं! क्यों भाई, इसकी क्या ज़रूरत पड़ गयी अचानक आपको? अल्काज़ी के नाम पर स्वतंत्र रंगपीठ बनाने में क्यों आपत्ति है आपको? क्या इससे अल्काज़ी के सम्मान में कमी हो जायेगी?

यह कैसी ज़िद है कि अल्काज़ी रंगपीठ हम या तो मेघदूत मुक्ताकाश मंच का नाम बदल कर बनायेंगे, और अगर आप विरोध करेंगे तो हम मेघदूत नाम के पांचों प्रदर्शन स्थलों को अल्काज़ी को समर्पित कर देंगे! अलग से क्यों नहीं करेंगे? मेघदूत नाम से अकादमी को इतनी आपत्ति क्यों है कि वह इसे बदले बिना नहीं मानेगी? आखिर उसे अल्काज़ी रंगपीठ कह कर पुकारने से क्या हासिल हो जायेगा? इसमें नया क्या बनाने जा रही है वह? पाखंड का कहीं तो अंत होना चाहिये?

मैं पहले से कहता आ रहा हूं कि अकादमी की समझ में बिना कालिदास और मेघदूत का अपमान किये, बिना उनकी हीनता का प्रदर्शन किये अल्काज़ी रंगपीठ का बनना असंभव है! ऐसी समझ पर बलिहारी जाइये! वे हर हाल में अपनी मनमानी करके दिखाना चाहते हैं, क्योंकि यह अब उनकी प्रतिष्ठा का मामला बन गया है!

हे अकादमी के स्वनामधन्य महानुभावो! आप क्यों नहीं कालिदास और अल्काज़ी की महान विरासत को बख्श देते? क्यों जबरन सम्मान करने के नाम पर उनकी छीछालेदर करा रहे हैं? आप मेघदूत को बख्श दीजिये और अल्काज़ी के नाम पर रंगपीठ या विश्वविद्यालय जो भी बनाना चाहें, स्वतंत्र रूप से बना लीजिये! असल में आप कुछ बनाना चाहते ही नहीं! बनाने के नाम पर तमाशा करना चाहते हैं! यह तमाशा बहुत हुआ! अब बन्द कीजिये! आपने कालिदास और अल्काज़ी की विरासत पर कालिख पोतने की पूरी कोशिश कर ली। अब इससे ज़्यादा करने की सामर्थ्य भी नहीं है आपमें। आपका इरादा जगज़ाहिर हो गया। सारा छद्म नंगा हुआ! अब आप बौखलाहट में जितने तरह के झूठ बोलेंगे या अपने लोगों से बुलवायेंगे, उनसे कुछ भी हासिल नहीं होगा।

(अकादमी की बौखलाहट और उसके द्वारा की जा रही झूठी बयानबाज़ियों का अंदाज़ा लगाने के लिये कुछ लिंक कमेन्ट बॉक्स में दे रहा हूं!)”

Whoever turns up at the event this evening may see a brass plaque announcing the renaming of the auditorium. Such a plaque cannot be made overnight. Further, hoardings announcing the renaming could be seen in the premises of the SNA building on Firoz Shah Road as well as the boundary wall of Meghdoot on Copernicus Marg for the last 4 days. The evidence flies in the face of Sen’s claim that the controversial invitation was misinterpreted, if it wasn’t an error in drafting.

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