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A new play looks at ongoing personal impact of partition

by Lauren Codling

When Nick Ahad was in the developing stages of writing his latest stage play Partition, he considered making it a historical piece.

But rather than place it in 1947 India, Ahad gave it a contemporary setting as he realised the repercussions of Partition are still rippling through families today.

“The more we explored it, the more we realised that what would be relevant to audiences is how Partition has legacy for everyone,” the writer explained.

A collaboration between West Yorkshire Playhouse and BBC Radio Leeds, the play presents a newlywed British Asian couple, Saima and Ranjit, who battle with ethnic divisions 70 years after Partition.

The story struck a chord personally with the Leeds playwright – who himself is of mixed parentage, born to an English mother and a Bangladeshi father. Ahad told Eastern Eye that he experienced a similar divide with the family of his Hindu ex-girlfriend.

“It was an issue for her family and it surprised me as someone who hadn’t been raised with all of that.

“It surprised me to find that it was an issue and I think it does continue to be. Partition still plays a real part in our lives living in Britain today.”

This parental disapproval was not the inspiration for the play, however. Having married his wife, who is of Pakistani Muslim origin, last year, Ahad said it was this poignant event that inspired the backdrop of a wedding within the story.

“Looking at what getting married means and how it is bringing together of
families [is interesting]. In our extended family, we now have a Pakistani and Muslim heritage part of our family. We have a white English part of the family and a Bangladeshi part.

“When you get married, you think about those things – what it means and [how it is] bringing families together.”

The presenter sees it as very important to raise awareness of the historical event, which left more than a million dead.

“We are still being taught this westernised, whitewashed view of [the Partition] so it’s really important for us to fully understand the facts of what happened.

“It is that old thing of unless you know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going. Understanding our history is something that is important.”

So how does Ahad want the audience to feel when they leave the theatre?

“I want them to feel like they’ve heard a really great story. I want them to feel moved and invested in the characters that they’ve just met. I want them to feel connected to the stories that they’ve watched.”

But what Ahad would truly love is if the audience left the theatre with a realisation of what took place in 1947.

“In a time when our minds are completely closed and everyone seems to have their intransigent points of view, [I’d love to the audience] to leave with a sense that the stories that we’ve been told aren’t necessary the stories that really happened,” he said.
Partition will be performed at the Courtyard Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, on 8 and 9 September. The radio play was broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds and can be listened to via the BBC Leeds website.