x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A bid for meaningful communication

I let my online persona be my public facade. A witty, receptive, always available version of me for the 500 friends on my list to assault with invites to events I will not attend, and to pages I will not 'like'.

This weekend, I was treated to a play at the Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre.

Personally, Tumhari Amrita (Hindi for Your Amrita), has been on my wish list for a long time. If you're desi and have even a passing interest in theatre, it is highly improbable that you have not heard of Tumhari Amrita, which features two stalwart thespians from the Indian landscape: Shabana Azmi and Farooque Sheikh.

On February 26, 1992, the Prithvi theatre in Mumbai staged the first performance of this Indian adaptation of AR Gurney's American play Love Letters, directed by Feroz Abbas Khan and written by Javed Siddiqui. Azmi and Sheikh slipped with beautiful ease into the roles of Amrita and Zulfi, and 20 years on, they are still doing it with aplomb.

However, the real star of the play is neither Azmi nor Sheikh. It is the dialogue. The beautiful Urdu falls on your ears like gentle drops of winter drizzle on a window pane, as you sit huddled in a blanket, sipping hot cocoa and listening to smooth jazz. Of course, you cannot deny Azmi and Sheikh their inimitable control over the nuances of the language: a disarming assault on the sensibilities. Lacking even the most basic of theatrics, this play is no more than two people sat at desks on stage. The script is as simple as a series of love letters back and forth. But there is nothing simple about love letters, is there?

A romance lived through the written word is destructive and addictive in equal measures. There are no languid lunches and no hand-holding to gently nudge the inkling of "feelings" on to the doorstep of longing and across the threshold of pining and heartache. A romance devoid of physical interaction and spoken words is distilled with the brutal honesty and bare bones of pure emotion. Each word is a pronounced proclamation. And when the bubbling over of passion simmers down to tepid, how to pick up your pen and write anything that can do anything but inflict pain? What do you write? "Sorry, but I don't love you anymore?" As always, silence speaks louder than words, but the casual distancing of oneself becomes that much more difficult when your only contact ever has been from a distance in the first place.

This is what made me want to experience the story of Amrita and Zulfi - a friendship-turned-romance that spans 35 years. I wanted to see how a childhood friendship turns into unrequited love and sustains itself as a relationship spanning three and a half decades.

I wanted to sit in my seat for the full 90 minutes, rejoicing in the beauty of this bittersweet romance, not knowing whether love will triumph over the small inconveniences of real life and destiny. I came away having done a bit more: mourning the fact that all of this could so easily have happened 20 years ago, but maybe not today. Not in the age of Facebook, Whatsapp and BBM, where even the most meaningful relationships are debased with meaningless correspondences, pings and pokes.

Like most people, I am addicted to the constant social assault. I am a communication junkie. I want more, even if it is just a whole lot more half-hearted nothingness. So I let my online persona be my public facade. A witty, receptive, always available version of me for the 500 friends on my list to assault with invites to events I will not attend, and to pages I will not "like", while the real - and more private "me" - is reserved for the more meaningful interactions that any sane mind is simply not capable of handling with 500 people.

Azmi has been quoted referring to Amrita as "sensitive, flawed, intense and indulgent", adding that "each one of us has an Amrita in us".

And so I come out of the play, hungry to feed the Amrita in me: sensitive to the degeneration of social interactions, flawed for being party to this degeneration, intensely aware of the need to connect in a more meaningful way, and keen to indulge this need.

With my BlackBerry on silent

artslife@thenational.ae

Follow Arts & Life on Twitter to keep up with all the latest news and events @LifeNationalUAE