Pakistan needs to do some soul searching…!!!

Part II

Image circulating on Facebook and Twitter

Shahrukh Khan has recently talked about the problems he faced in India due to his faith. The article, ‘Being a Khan’ has been published in a magazine Outlook, a subsidiary of the New York Times.  It has provided a golden opportunity to those who would never do any soul searching, yet are quick to point fingers at others. One of the most wanted terrorists, Hafiz Saeed, was quick to extend a helping hand to Shahrukh Khan by asking him to relocate to Pakistan. I am sure he did not consider what Pakistan could offer him, and what he was getting in India. Our one of the most circulated English daily The News headline reads, ‘Shahrukh Khan exposes Indian secularism’. Then there are social media jihadists who have started posting this kind of images showing Shahrukh Khan in big trouble and Jinnah telling us “that is why he created Pakistan”.

Let us have a closer look at what Khan has said. Then we would be looking at some facts about Khan’s life in India and about life of minorities in Pakistan.

Khan has only one complaint that he has been sometimes asked by political leaders in rallies to leave India and go back to his ‘homeland’ which, of course, means Pakistan. Some people in India suspect that he harbors secret allegiance to Pakistan. The rest of the things are related to the problems he faced in western countries after 9/11 due to his sir name ‘Khan’.

What if a few people – may be a few hundred or a few thousand at the maximum – have doubted his loyalty to India, or asked him to leave India. He, as well as India bashers on this side of the border, need not forget that there are millions and millions of Indians who worship him. He is the most expensive Bollywood star. Do I need to hold some sort of survey to prove my point? No, there is no need to conduct a country-wide survey; just go and see a cinema house where his film is being screened; go and see how tickets are sold if Shahrukh is to appear in any stage program. He is loved; he is respected; and he is envied. Such fame, such popularity does create jealousies.

My friends on Social Media need to remember that Shahrukh Khan has not been declared ‘Kafir’; he has not be declared “Wajib ul Qatal’. He has not been taken off a bus and asked to prove his faith. He is still living , earning an enviable amount of money, and raising his children in the same country – India.

Gulzar Alam with his cruches

Gulzar Alam with his cruches

Now let us imagine what Pakistan would have offered him. Hmmm….Okay, I think we should not indulge in imagination – something that cannot be tested or trusted. Let us see what we have done to the great artists Pakistan has produced. Gulzar Alam – one of the most popular folk singers of Pakhtoonkhwa – was beaten by some Islamists. His crime was that he sang songs of love and peace. He cannot walk without crutches now. He had to abandon singing and drive taxi in Karachi for quite some time. Haroon Bacha – another prominent and respected singer of Pakhtoonkhwa – was lucky enough to have moved to another secular country in the west where he continued singing songs for/of his beloved homeland. Mastana – a gem of an artist – was beaten … No, not by some Islamist vigilante, but by a policeman. He died heart broken. Recently I heard Sabiha Khanum – a top notch heroin of Lollywood – is selling samosas in an Indian restaurant in California. She is now 78 years old but has to work to earn her living. I hope Hafiz Saeed would be kind enough to bring Sabiha Khanum – a Muslim filmstar – back to the land of the pure and extend her support, so that she can live the rest of her life without worrying for her livelihood.

Sabiha Khanum

Sabiha Khanum

Now let us have a look at what we offer our minorities. I would not go into details, but here are a few news reports published in past 5 years. These reports tell us that we need to do a lot more to protect our minorities than India needs to do to protect her minorities:A church was destroyed in Mardan by a Muslim mob in September 2012.

The plight of Ahmadis in Pakistan

Even their (Ahamdis’) graves are not safe

Hindu Temple vandalized in Peshawar

Hindus leaving Pakistan

and now here are stories about Shias who are considered Muslims by the constitution of Pakistan.

Over 80 Shia Hazara killed in Quetta Twin Blasts

Mastung Massacre of Shia Hazara

These stories are just a tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, the problem with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is much deeper and much more alarming. We, as a nation, need to do a lot of soul searching, which must be followed by course correction. We have a gigantic task before us. We need to make Pakistan a prosperous, and safe place where people of all cast, creeds and color enjoy equal rights. Only then Mr. Jinnah would be able to smile as in the picture above.


The Well with Stairs

It is an interesting well of pre-colonial era – seems to be of Mughal era. You need not pull water out of the well, but you can fetch it by going down to the water level through 100 stairs.  It has spaces for providing water to horses. It definitely had shady trees around it – only one of them remains now. The building does not have any inscription or stone giving us any idea when and why was it built. The small building has two small rooms on both sides. I did not find any inscription or engraved stone.

Current Condition:

The building has developed a huge crack, though it is not dangerous – not falling apart. In spite of the crack, I walked inside it as well as at the rooftop. The two side rooms are filthy as they have been used by people for defecation. The water seems clean, though a few wrappers and tissues had fallen into the well. Overall the building and well show signs of neglect. The local people have no idea about the origin and purpose of the well. However, it should be noted that I did not have time to talk to too many people. I just talked to one or two people who were present at the time of my visit. We may find more from old men of the nearby village – Injra.

Location and How to Reach It?

It is situated in Village Injra, Tehsil (Sub-District) Jand of District Attock. Though two roads – one from Jand, and another from Pindigheb – from within district Attock take you to this place, but the road network is complicated, and the condition of roads is not good. The best and simplest route to reach this place is to go to Talagang (District Chakwal). You would pass through following significant points if you start from M2:

M2-Balkasar-Talagang-Tamman-Multan Khurd- The Soan River – Injra Well (Exactly 84 Kilometers from M2)

Follow the blue line from point A (Balkasar Interchange on M2) to point B (The Well).

Follow the blue line from point A (Balkasar Interchange on M2) to point B (The Well).

The well is situated a little before Injra, and it stands out prominently on the left side of the road, and there is no chance of missing it while driving towards Injra.

Child Marriages – Why?

Child marriage – a very cruel practice indeed – is very common in Pakistan. I came across many

news reports of child marriages and wanted to write about it, but could never furnish any data and did not have the time, capacity and resources to conduct a survey. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I found very authentic data on this important issue in Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) conducted in 2006 and 2007.  PDHS mentions in its section on teenage fertility that almost half of the girls of 15 to 18 years of age were already pregnant or had a baby to take care of. The figure is, no doubt, shocking.

If you find a 15-year old girl already pregnant or having a baby to take care of, it effectively means a baby has to take care of another baby. It means she has been deprived of good education – a teenage mother means she could not complete 10 years of education which is a basic right according to the constitution of Pakistan. It means she does not enjoy good health as well. Consult any doctor and you would know how problematic it could be for a teenage girl to become pregnant. And last but not the least, it means she has been deprived of her right to choose her life partner.

Next, I tried to find out why child marriages, that too in such high proportion, are taking place in Pakistan, and the answer is not simple. The reasons are multiple and complex. There are financial, social and religious reasons behind this cruel practice. However, I personally believe poverty and the concept of honor in our part of the world are two most important reasons. The rest of issues are brought up just to hide the real issues.

Though poverty does not need any explanation, the concept of honor needs to be explained here as some of my readers from other regions of the world may not understand the point until they know what I mean by honor. Honor of the family is connected with women’s chastity and fidelity. If a woman of the family has an illicit relation, the honor of the family is tainted and must be restored by killing the woman. It usually does not apply to men of the family. In extreme situations, a mere suspicion of any wrongdoing on the part of a woman may result in her murder (this notion is used and abused by men freely to get rid of unwanted woman in the family).

This notion of honor gives rise to child marriages. Parents of a single girl, who has reached puberty, are in a constant fear that she may tarnish the honor of the family by developing some sort of illicit relationship. In that case, the male members, most probably the father, would have to kill the daughter. So it is safe to get her married as soon as she reaches puberty, and get rid of the fear looming over their head. She has to be handed over to her in-laws with her virginity intact. Parents try to fulfill this responsibility as soon as possible.

Patriarchal mindset is also responsible for this practice. Men do not like to marry adult, fully grown woman. The reason is simple.  “An adult woman is difficult to manipulate, while young girls are very submissive and yield easily to men’s demands” retorted an old trader who was about to marry a 13 years old girl. He had paid Rs 30,000 (US $ 315) to the girls’ father, who was working as a guard at the trader’s warehouse. See the marriage of convenience between poverty and patriarchal mindset.

This patriarchal mindset is not always that naked and direct. It often hides behind religion. It should be noted that many attempts have been made to enact laws to ban child marriages, but it is always mullahs who would block all such attempts citing religious scriptures, and the holy prophet’s marriage to Ayesha Siddiqua. Due to the mullahs regular preaching of child marriages, there is a considerable number of people who believe it is a sin for girl to remain single after reaching puberty, and her parents would be held responsible for the sin in the life hereafter.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of reasons. However, it is important to understand and solve this issue, which remains a great challenge for the government and civil society alike.

Chakwal Railway Station – Use It or Abuse It


I had passed by that building quite a few times, but never noticed it before. I think the reason was that I always passed by it driving my own car. However, last week I was travelling in a rickety public van. It stopped right in front of this building as its driver failed to silence its horn, and finally had to stop the van and pull the wires out. As the horn went silent, I took a deep breath and look… what do I have right in front of me – an abandoned building that looks at least over 100 years old.

Before the driver could get back into the driving seat, I left the van and forgot about it. My eyes were focused on the building. As I looked closely, I guessed and did that correctly that it was an abandoned Railway Station. There was no railway line. Before reading any further, please have a look at the slide show below:

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The current situation of the building is fairly well described by the pictures, so I would not dwell on that. All I want is it should not be wasted like this. The managers/administrators of the city can turn it into a useful public place. It could be turned into a museum to showcase Chakwal‘s history – photos, paintings, books, important historical items and books on Chakwal’s history, literature, culture and geography etc.

I know it’s easier said than done. However, I would make a serious effort for the purpose, and would write to the Deputy Coordination Officer, and the Chairman Pakistan Railways, and the local media as well. I hope somebody takes it seriously and the people of Chakwal get a good place of learning about their own city and district.


Our Generals VS Our Politicians

We often ridicule our politicians and glorify our army generals even if they sabotaged our constitution so many times that we lost the count. But we do not notice that our generals have always proved to be stupid and slow learners. We describe our politicians as corrupt and self centered, but we never notice that their decisions have proved beneficial for our country.

You may be wondering what makes me make such a statement at this point of time. Well… this observation of mine has been prompted by the most recent speech of our Current Man of Steel – General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani – at the occasion of 66th Birth Anniversary of our dear land of the pure – his remark “the fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war”. It has dawned upon our Army Chief now that it is our war, though we are fighting it since ages, and have already lost over 40,000 lives.

On the other hand, our political leader – who has received a lot of scorn in past four years – had said that many a time earlier. When Osama bin Laden was taken out by the US Seals, Mr. Zardari wrote an article published in Washington Post titled “Pakistan did its part”, and claimed that Pakistan had cooperated with the US for eliminating the world’s most wanted terrorist.  Let me share some excerpts from that article here:

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani

“Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden…”

“The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as as it is America’s”.

“Our people, our government, our military, our intelligence agencies are very much united. Some abroad insist that this is not the case, but they are wrong. Pakistanis are united.”

It is interesting to note that what our political leader was telling the world at that time was despised by our generals and they chose to whip up the anti US sentiments by declaring the incident a violation of our sovereignty. Today, our general has realized that it is very much “our war”.

This is not the only time when our generals have made a late realization. When Mr. Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari – President of Pakistan

was elected President of Pakistan, he declared that India was not our enemy. This statement was given probably in September 2008, and we saw the Mumbai Attack in November 2008 – in less than two month. The accusing fingers were pointed at Pakistan, and Pakistan later admitted that the attack was planned at its soil. The two nuclear armed armies stood face to face for a considerable time. The peace process was thrown out of window.

Our political leaders have again managed to restart a dialogue with the arch rival, and  we are having a lot of positive vibes these days about the peace. If this process were not scuttled in 2008, we would have moved much ahead.

But that was not the only time when peace process was scuttled. We have a long history. Let me remind you of first tenure of PPP’s rule after the dark days of General Zia ul Haq. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan, but soon our elected government was thrown out.

Later, Nawaz Sharif – a prodigy of our generals – came to power twice, and realized that Pakistan could not sustain an enmity with its neighbour. He threw the shackles of establishment aside and started a dialogue with India.  Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Pakistan and agreed to resolve all issues through dialogue. However, our then Chief of Army Staff allegedly refused to meet Vajpayee as he would have to salute a Hindu Prime Minister.

As Nawaz Sharif was holding dialogue with his Indian counterpart, our general staged Kargil war, and dashed all our hopes for peace with India. The general soon toppled the elected government and took it upon himself to save this hapless nation.

Musharraf shakes hands with Vajpayee after finishing his speech to SAARC Summit in Dhaka (Jan 2002)

As he struggled with the responsibility of running this county, he was quick to realize that Pakistan could not sustain endless enmity with India. Then, the whole world saw on their television screens that the same general finished his address to SAARC Summit in Dhaka (Jan 2002) and went straight to shake hands with Vajpayee, who was surprised at such an unexpected gesture from his arch rival.

Today, we see that the normalization of relations with India is moving ahead without any Mumbai style hiccups, and our most powerful man realizes that “the fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war”. 

Let us hope that our generals also realize that our politicians are not all dumb heads, but they make much better leaders than do the generals. Let us hope that our generals realize that they better stick to what they are supposed to do, and leave the political arena to those who are supposed to rule that arena. And last but not the least, let us hope that General Kayani has realized the futility of operation in Balochistan as well.

Let there be Theatre – An Unpublished Interview

a)      What do you see as the major problems faced by theatre in Pakistan?

Well the greatest problem is the security situation in the current scenario. The violence

Safeer Ullah Khan

has spread far and wide. It has a very negative impact on cultural activities. Here in Islamabad, we are not celebrating the traditional urs of Bari Imam since 2005. Annual Folk Festival was not organized in the past two years (Luckily, we are having this festival going on in Islamabad these days).

Another important reason is the rise of religious fanaticism, and the state’s lenience in dealing with these fanatics. They have declared music and dance as something unacceptable in Islam. In this scenario, artists had to go into hiding. In Pakhtoonkhwa, artists had been killed. Gulzar Alam – a famous and respected Pashto singer – was beaten on stage for indulging in the sin of singing. Many Pakhtoon artists (singers as well as actors) made formal public announcements that they would go for preaching Islam, and would have nothing to do with acting/singing anymore. My own theater group (Bedari Theater) was stopped from performing a play by religious zealots in Khewra (District Jhelum). Later we were arrested by Jhelum Police for creating a law and order situation, and the team including three kids stayed at a police station for nearly 4 hours. Luckily, with democratic forces back at the helm after elections in 2008, the situation is improving. Gulzar Alam is singing again.

Another important issue is the disrespect we extend to our artists. They are looked down upon. When I started to take interest in music and theater, I was declared a mirasee (a derogatory term for artists) by my neighbors. This stigma often keeps good, intelligent and educated people away from joining theater as a profession, which has led to the decline in the quality of theater produced in Pakistan.

Another important aspect is the state policies and procedures, which keep educated and sensible people away from theater. For example, if I want to perform a play, I have to submit the script to the district administration, where somebody having no background in theater would be vetting my script, and asking for senseless changes in the script. There are too many topics which cannot be touched by our writers like security related policies, relations with India etc.

Then there are problems within the theater community. New people are not encouraged. They have to storm their way into it. The people working as actors, directors and producers need to be really professional in their attitude. They need to learn that it is a team effort. Nobody can make a successful play single-handedly. I describe the successful directors in theater and film industry as the feudal lords of this field. They behave like feudal lords. They need to learn that educated actors and actresses would not like to work with a feudal lord, but would love to work with a friendly director who treats everyone with respect.

2. We had very progressive and healthy traditional and local theatre which is on the verge of death now. Is our culture not supportive of theatre anymore? What went wrong?

I think I have given some of the reasons in my response to your earlier question. However, I can add a little bit here:

a)      The two-nation theory required the articulation of differences between Islam and Hinduism to provide some reasoning to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. This led to a cultural cleansing. All cultural activities including music, dance and theater were declared Hindu rituals. Basant and Besakhi were also sacrificed at the altar of two-nation theory. This led to the slow and unceremonious demise of local traditional theater. The proponents of two-nation theory need to learn that we did have religious differences with Hindus, but we shared the same culture and geographic conditions.

b)      State has not patronized any art form (except if we take sycophancy and conspiracy theories as art forms). Even National College of Arts is a legacy of the British Raj. It was only during Bhutto regime that we created National Council of the Arts, and Lok Virsa. Only recently, Rawalpindi Campus of the National College (which has become a University now) has started a bachelor’s course in theater, and we have NAPA in Karachi now. Thus the traditional theater had never been studied as a subject. No researches have been conducted on this important cultural aspect of our lives. Our young generation does not know anything about our traditional theater in the sub-continent. All our young generation knows about theater is Shakespeare and his plays – Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo Juliet.

3. It is often claimed that theater in Pakistan cannot establish itself as a viable business or industry hence can’t finance itself. Your comments?

Well, I personally am unable to agree. When we make such conclusions, we forget that

Tartuffe – A French Play in Urdu (April 2011)

ours is an entertainment starved nation. We have a commercially successful theater in Lahore, albeit some quality issues. We have commercially successful English theater here in Islamabad. People in Islamabad thought an Urdu play would not get as much crowd as the English plays do. However, recently we had an experiment and it was a great success. Alliance Francaise decided to do a French play Tartuffe in Urdu. It rocked the Capital. We had three consecutive house-full nights. In fact, the third and last night was literally “Khirki Tor”.  There was no ticket for that play, Alliance Francaise was giving out free passes, and people were shocked to know that they did not have to pay anything for watching such a beautiful play. I am sure if there was a ticket on that play, even then it would have been as much successful. I personally believe that somebody has to take the plunge. By the way, I do plan to do a Pashto play some time in future…

4. Many major alternative theater groups in Pakistan are dependent partially or totally on the international donor agencies for their finances. Does this effectively influence the content, message or the overall quality of theatre, in any way? If so, how?

Of course, it does. The one who pays the piper calls the tune…

Most of the alternative theater groups are registered as non-profit organizations or NGOs. There are many issues involved here. The play is usually one of the small activities under a big project. So the message has to be consistent with the project objective. Under Bedari Theater Group, I had only one chance to do a play independent of any project. That was titled “Mukhlisabad ki Ghumman Ghereyan”. We could manage to perform this play only once.  Though the play was a resounding success as over 300 young boys and girls remained spell bound for 45 minutes, we could not make another performance for lack of funds, as it did not fall in line with the objectives of any project.

One should not forget that decision makers in NGOs are also not aware of the power and dynamics of theater. They, too, are not fully aware of the significance of theater as a development tool. I and my group have often been treated as insignificant supporters in executing big projects as if they could achieve their goals without us quite comfortably, and we are a nuisance.

5. Theatre here has not come yet with any sustainable solution to finance their expenses. How do you think can the problem be solved?

Well, as far as commercial theater is concerned, I seriously believe that it can earn money and become self-sustained. All that we need is professional people who develop plays, have a good marketing plan, and target the right audience. People are willing to open up their pockets, but we must come up with a worthy product.

6. Are current parallel theatre groups playing any significant role in addressing the problems faced by a common person?

Keeping in mind their limitations, they are certainly playing an important role. Anyhow, there is a lot more to be done.

7. Is Pakistani theater still capable of carrying a healthy progressive message for masses?

 Of course, it is. If there is more activity, there will be more experiments. All it needs is a peaceful environment where artists are not threatened. At the moment, this is the most important precondition for theater’s growth. I am sure there would be many more amateur groups doing theater with progressive messages in spite of financial constraints if we manage to solve the security issues.

8. What are the elements present in public and private spheres which resist the presentation of conflicting themes through theatre?

Well, there is this notorious mullah military alliance. If we try to explore personal lives, and experiences, mullah would find out something repugnant to religion. If we try to explore the society and state affairs, we fear to tread the path declared forbidden by the security establishment. We cannot even dream of doing something like ‘Rang De Basanti’ in Pakistan. Quite recently, we have seen murders of Salman Taseer (former governor of Punjab) and Shahbaz Bhatti (former Minister for Minorities Affairs) on the one hand, the killing of Professor Saba Dashtiari (Baloch Intellectual) and Saleem Shahzad (a journalist) on the other hand.

9. What would you suggest for long-term organic progress of meaningful theater in Pakistan?

Let there be theater. I think I cannot simplify it any further. If we let it go on, we will definitely have thriving theater scene within a few years. We will make a lot of mistakes. Many would fall; some would go on producing more and better plays. And we have hope. As I said earlier, Gulzar Alam is signing again; Nishtar Hall in Peshawar is open again; Annual Folk Festival is happening again (offering some theater performances by traditional theater groups), and Ajoka, Punjab Lok Rahs and many other alternative theater practitioners are actively working especially in Sind and Punjab.

The Veiled Girls by Saadat Hassan Manto

Written by Saadat Hassan Manto, Translated by Safeer Ullah Khan

When Zaheer got admission in third year of his education, it suddenly dawned upon him that he had fallen in love. And it was so intense that, he thought, he might lose his life. He was very happy when he returned from his college the first day. He was about to enter his room, when he saw a girl wearing ‘burka’ (an all-covering veil) getting off a tonga. He had seen thousands of girls getting off tongas but this one having books in her hands had got off the tonga and landed straight into his heart. The girl paid her fare and entered the house next to Zaheer’s. He kept wondering why he remained ignorant of her existence in the neighborhood.

Actually Zaheer was a rambler who was interested only in himself. He would get up in the morning, go to his college, attend his lectures, would come back home, have lunch, take some rest, and get busy with his books. Though he had many female classmates in his college, but he never talked to them. It was not that he was an insipid, boring, dry person. It was just that he remained busy with his studies and had no time for anything else.

However, that day when he saw that girl, he forgot his latest lesson in political science; the new verses of Khawja Hafiz slipped out of his mind. All he could think about were the gorgeous hand holding a few books…those slender white fingers, one of which had a ring. The other hand that she used to hand over fare to the tonga wala was as stunning. Zaheer had sought her face, but the veil was so thick that he could not see anything. The girl took a few quick steps and entered the next door house, while Zaheer stood there for quite some time thinking why he remained unmindful of her being in the vicinity.

His first inquiry from his mother was who lives next door. ‘Why’, his mother was stunned at his question.

‘Just asking’

‘They are migrants like us’ mother replied.

‘Who are they’?

Mother told him that their father has died, mother is very old, and they are three sisters and one brother. He is playing father… he is very good, he hasn’t married yet because he thinks he won’t be able to support his sisters if he gets married. Zaheer was neither interested in their sad story nor in the reasons for the boy’s decision to stay single. He was interested only in the girl who entered that house holding some books in her beautiful hands. After lunch, he switched the fan on, and lied on his bed. He used to have a nap after lunch, but that day, he could not sleep. He kept thinking about that girl.

Several days elapsed, but they did not come across each other. For a number of days, he would stay at the rooftop under the blazing sun just to steal a look at her, but she would not appear. Zaheer lost all hope. He was the kind of man who loses heart quickly. He thought it was a waste of time, but love said that was the most valuable thing. This is what a lover has to face in love. Nonetheless, Zaheer resolved that he would not give in even if the sky falls; he would remain steadfast.

More than a few days later, he was cycling back to his home when he saw a veiled girl in tonga a few yards ahead. He was right. It was the same girl. Tonga stopped, Zaheer dismounted his bicycle. The girl had books in one hand; with the other, she paid the fare to the tonga wala, and turned to her house. Tonga wala came down, showed the coin to her and said, “These eight annas won’t do”. The girl spoke in a frail and anemic voice, “But that is what I’ve been paying”. The tonga wala, who appeared to be quite a nasty man, said, “They’d be givin’ concessions to you, but….”!

As Zaheer heard that, he abandoned his bicycle and without giving a second thought punched the tonga wala under his chin. Before he could get his head together, Zaheer gave him another blow on the right side of his head. The tonga wala screamed with pain. The girl was quite upset at this unexpected turn of the situation for obvious reasons. Zaheer politely addressed the girl, “Ma’am, you please leave; I will handle this rascal”. The girl wanted to say something. Probably, it was gratitude she wanted to express. However, she did not say anything and left the scene. It was only ten feet. However, it took Zaheer nearly twenty minutes to deal with the tonga wala. He was such a vulgar man.

Zaheer was really on cloud nine that day. He had demonstrated his daring before his beloved. He had beaten the tonga wala black and blue. He saw that the girl was viewing the whole scene stealthily standing behind the blinds. Realizing this, Zaheer gave another two blows to the tonga wala. Now he was head over heels in love with the girl.

From his mother, he acquired some additional information. Her name was Yasmeen. They were three sisters. Their father was dead, but mother alive. They were living off a small property. Now, Zaheer knew his beloved’s name. He wrote quite a few letters to Yasmeen but tore them to pieces. However, one day, he wrote a lengthy letter and resolved to hand it over to her come what may.

After a few days, he saw her in a tonga again. As she got down from tonga and was about to enter her house, Zaheer swiftly reached her and collecting all his courage gave the letter to her, “you dropped your papers in the tonga”. Yasmeen took the paper from his hand, and turned around, “thank you”. She said that and left.

Zaheer heaved a huge a sigh of relief. Still his heart was beating really fast as he did not know what fate had in store for his letter. As he was thinking about the possible reactions to his letter, he saw another tonga stopping by his bicycle. Another veiled girl stepped down, and paid the fare. The hand was exactly like the one he had seen the first time. This girl also entered the same house in which Yasmeen had entered. Zaheer kept wondering for a while. Nonetheless he knew that they were three sisters, and this girl could be Yasmeen’s younger sister.

After handing over that letter, Zaheer thought half of the mission was accomplished. However, when he got a small piece of paper from a young boy the next morning, he knew the mission was completely accomplished.

‘Just received your love letter. The feelings and emotions that you have expressed…I can’t say anything… except that … I am but your mistress’. Reading this letter brought a large grin on Zaheer’s face. He did not attend a single period in college that, but kept wandering in the college lawn, reading the letter again and again.

The third day, he found her again. She was paying her fare, when he threw his cycle aside, stepped ahead and held her hand saying, “you dropped these papers in the tonga”. Yasmeen pulled her hand away, turned around angrily, and shouted, “you rascal, shameless man”, and she went off. Zaheer’s love letter flew around in the air. He was stunned. Why would a girl declare herself to be his mistress, and then behave so arrogantly?  May be, it was a way of ….

Day in and day out, Zaheer would keep thinking about Yasmeen. Her words kept echoing in his head “rascal, shameless man” and the words in her letter “I am but your mistress”. Zaheer wrote quite a few letters afterwards but tore them to pieces. He wanted to tell Yasmeen in very polite and appropriate words that she had insulted him, his love by calling him rascal. But he could not find proper words. He would write a letter, but after reading it, he would think it was not right.

One day, a boy gave an envelope in his hands and ran away. He opened it and found a small letter saying “You forgot me so soon. What was the need for expressing your love? Anyway, forget me if you can, but I am a maid of yours, there to serve you. I cannot forget you.”  Zaheer was flabbergasted. He read the letter again and again. As he looked up, he saw Yasmeen getting on the tonga. The tonga was about to leave, so he rushed towards her and said, “got your letter. Please don’t use words like maid and serve, I don’t like them”. Rage boiled up in Yasmeen’s eyes, and she said with extreme disgust, “You rascal, shameless man… I will complain to your mother that you harass me”.

The tonga moved out of his sight. Holding Yasmeen’s letter in his hand, Zaheer wondered what the hell it was. Then it occurred to him that girls often do not like to be addressed in such a brazen manner. Everything should be communicated in writing. Hence he wrote a very long letter. When he was coming back from college, he saw Yasmeen alighting from tonga, he stopped his cycle near her, and handed over the letter to her. She did not object or disapprove. She took the letter, gave him a stealthy look from behind her veil, and left. Zaheer felt that she was smiling behind her veil, and it was an encouraging sign.

The next day, when he took out his bicycle for college, he saw Yasmeen waiting for her tonga. She was holding a few books in her right hand, while the left one was free. There were not too many people around. Zaheer thought it was a good opportunity. He gathered his courage, approached her, took hold of her hand and said in a very romantic tone, “you are a strange girl. You express your love in the letters, but become so abusive when I talk to you”. Before Zaheer could complete his sentence, Yasmeen had started beating his with her sandal. He was astounded. She had used abusive language, but Zaheer could not understand a single word coming out of her mouth. He was in a state of shock.

He was not sure if anyone else had witnessed the scene. As tonga arrived, Yasmeen got onto it, and left the scene. Zaheer felt relieved at her departure. In the meanwhile, another girl wearing the same kind of veil appeared from the same house from where Yasmeen had come out. She saw Zaheer and signaled him to come closer. But Zaheer was afraid. When she saw that Zaheer did not understand her gesture, she passed by him, dropped a letter on the road, and walked away. Zaheer lifted the letter, it read “how long would you keep fooling around, when would your mother see my mother? Let’s meet at Plaza cinema… matinee show… at 3 pm, yours Parveen”.

Drama Achieves What Endless Sermons Cannnot!

Theatre has fascinated people all around the world since time immemorial. On the one hand, the elite classes had their own theatre that told the stories of kings, queens, princes and princesses; and on the other hand, there was a tradition of street theatre that focused on the common man’s life and problems. The elite theater made heavy use of costumes, and other props with usually very large cast; while street theater was comparatively inexpensive entertainment.

The subcontinent of India and Pakistan has its own tradition of people’s theatre that is known as Notanki, Natak, or Rahs. The most important aspect of this traditional theater is its simplicity. Unlike theater in the proscenium, street theatre entails minimum use of lights, cosmetics/makeup, costumes and other paraphernalia. A character is established with a small but significant prop, e.g., a stick to portray a policeman, a stool/chair to represent a king’s throne etc. The actor achieves success with his acting skills such as voice control, body language and expressions.

This kind of theater was quite popular among the masses, and people thronged to its performances, which were held on melas or fairs regularly in every nook and corner of the sub-continent.

Its strong appeal to the masses makes it a most cherished tool for development workers, especially the ones involved in advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns. As the sub-continental version is more affordable and culturally acceptable, it becomes more important for awareness raising campaigns. There is no need to hire professional actors and actresses, as members of a community can themselves prepare short plays with minimum training.

Alex Mavrocordatos says, “The first step to development is a change of attitude, both individual and collective — and in that order — from declared helplessness to empowerment. This is culture in action, and theatre is a cultural tool.”

Theatre is a cultural tool that helps change people’s attitudes. When they prepare a play on a certain issue facing their community, they analyze its different aspects, and search for its causes and learn about its possible consequences. These insights lead to a change in the attitude of the people who are directly involved in the production of the play.

As these activists become aware of the complications of the issue, they can become the best advocates on the issue for the rest of the community, and their play can be the best way to convince other members of the community to take the issue seriously.

Furthermore, these people have continuous presence in the community as opposed to the advocacy campaigners who visit a community for a short time, and cannot have long term interaction with the community.

Another special aspect of this kind of theatre is that the play is produced by the members of the community, so it portrays their problems in their own unique context, which makes it more relevant to the viewers.

People start identifying themselves with the characters of the play, which makes them feel the agony, pain and suffering as well as joys of the characters. As a result, what characters of the play learn, is also learnt by the audience as well. It results in a change in the way the people perceive that particular issue, which leads towards a change in behaviour afterwards. Drama achieves what endless sermons cannot.  Theatre remains an under-utilized tool in Pakistan. We need to make proper use of this powerful tool to bring about a positive change in our society.