Visit Pakistan in 2007?
Let's restore history first
As we enter 2007, the official Visit Pakistan year celebrating the spirit of Karachi with Hamara Karachi festival, it is pertinent that we take a look at the pathetic state of the city's heritage
By Lubna Jerar Naqvi
Like most historical places in Karachi, Manora Island is a mixture of the native Hindu culture and the visiting regents of the pre-partition days. You have your historical but modern lighthouse, nestling a sturdy well preserved brick church from the pre-partition era and then you have a beautifully but swiftly dilapidating carved Hindu temple on the verge of the shore, the structure of which would have, in good times, spilled out into the ocean to facilitate prayers. Over the years this beautiful edifice has been left to be eroded by the ocean breeze and the modern day pillagers who use this as a urinal or for graffiti. The beautiful stone structure beckons you with its architectural delightful rising steeple, but the rancid stench emerging from inside leaves you swooning.
Except for a plaque putting a date to the tiled addition (December 1, 1940) to the structure there is no historical information regarding the actual structure of the temple at least not at the venue. The waiters working in the shanty huts next door tell you that the temple is 'open to visitors'. According to them, the temple is seldom used by anyone any more; only when and if Hindus come from the mainland does anyone use this as a religious place. They cautioned that the structure was frail and it would be dangerous to enter.
And hence this beautiful structure from another century, a historical gem as far as Karachi's history is concerned is left to decay and eventually be obliterated without a trace. Other similar structures sparingly scattered throughout Karachi reveal that some of these structures may date from the 14th and 15th centuries, and regrettably many have been left to erode with time.
Unfortunately, Karachi is left with a very small treasure of old buildings, and even these are being gobbled up by the greedy yet artistically impaired building mafia. One beautiful building after another has been razed without a care and replaced with commercially viable but ugly cement and concrete blocks. We could have taken our cue from the beautiful Lahore, where newer structures are created in the same vein as the rest of the old city. This means there is not only uniformity in the city, but a unique beauty on the whole.
Interestingly 2007 has been termed as Visit Pakistan year, with the tourism ministry expecting a deluge of tourists clamouring to see the country. But what do they have to offer to their potential tourists? Have they restored interesting historical sites? Have they restored temples, churches and other structures from pre-partition to entice visitors to return to the country and/or tell their friends? Lahore for one has much to offer and is a relatively safe city. But are the other cities safe for foreigners to visit? Karachi has become notorious for its criminal activities and many people even from other Pakistani cities dread coming here.
Wouldn't it have been prudent to catalogue the entire tourist pulling venues in the country, including ancient buildings all over the country, especially in Karachi considering that this is the business hub of the country and the most frequented city after Islamabad? Although the authorities declare they have done a lot of work in which some 600 buildings have been protected under the Heritage Act and keeping the events of Hamara Karachi and Visit Pakistan 2007 in mind, they have organised tours to historical sites in Karachi conducted by guides (mainly students from Karachi University).
Maybe the first step to make Karachi a tourist magnet, apart from trying to curb the crime scene, should have been restraining the construction mafia from consuming many beautiful buildings from the pre-partition era to be replaced by ugly blobs of concrete housing thousands of people. But this didn't seem to be on the agenda considering we have many other wondrous tourists sites in the country, which expected visitors will be breaking down our doors' of immigration to see. But then the authorities couldn't have been expected to suddenly right all the wrongs committed over a decade and a half of mindless destruction of many buildings, mainly in the old areas of Garden East and Queens Road. This should have been a conscious act by all preceding governments who allowed the construction mafia to continue gorging our history without remorse.
If that wasn't possible, shouldn't we have concentrated on using the last year, since plans had already been made to hold events like Hamara Karachi and Visit Pakistan 2007, in trying to preserve places like the temple on Manora Island so that people, yes even Hindus, could come savour the historical heritage of Pakistan. The Hindu community doesn't seem motivated in trying to save this historical gem on their own accord, or to move the government to do something about it (that is no doubt an extremely difficult, if not impossible, task to take up). For the reservation process it is imperative that the government harness talent from the minorities to make them feel that they belong, and a campaign initiated to preserve as many historical sites as possible in Karachi and Sindh as possible. Or our historians and architects can take the responsibility of classifying each and every historical site and demand preservation and restoration before these are reduced to rubble to be replaced by architectural horrors.
By offering diversity to the potential tourist we will be saying Pakistan is working towards becoming an open society, and that despite the extremist elements amongst us, not unlike many of our neighbours especially India, we preserve our history regardless of caste or creed.
The importance of celebrating Karachi
Hamara Karachi managed to reach out to the masses and rejuvenated the city's jaded spirit. Kolachi reviews the event...
By Gibran Peshimam
As is the case with most efforts, large or small, the recently concluded undertaking of the Hamara Karachi festival by the City District Government of Karachi will be beset by its share of naysayers and antagonists. Undoubtedly, their disparagement will contain ample and valid servings of justification that cannot, at least completely, be rubbished. For one, it was poorly planned, resulting in last-minute schedule changes, which, in turn, meant that the public, for whose benefit it was being carried out to begin with, remained largely less-clued-in than one would have ideally liked. There was a very obvious sense of excessive ostentation about it all.
Moreover, Karachi, as it stands today, is riddled with a plethora of problems, socially, legally, economic and, for good measure, politically, whence, it is said, the citizens have little to celebrate or be proud of.
Yet, despite the soundness of such sentiments, there is an inexplicable sensibility in shunning the negativity and adopting, in its stead, a more buoyant and positive analysis. Quite frankly, the perpetual pessimism that has been inculcated into this city's collective psyche has meant that one finds it hard to delineate where rationality ends and cynicism begins.
The intention of the CDGK, when it first unveiled its plans for the Hamara Karachi festival, was, at least on the face of it, noble in nature. Aside from attempting to improve the image of the city, which has taken a lot of hits in the wake of political and sectarian violence in the past, it was aimed at facilitating a greater interactivity between the menagerie of cultures and ethnicities that make up Pakistan's largest city. Furthermore, while the city has gradually opened its doors to greater socio-cultural activities, the events, ranging from colourful movie fests to glamorous fashion shows, have been isolated to a small minority largely made up of the relatively-affluent.
No one will dispute that these efforts have played a vital role in rejuvenating previously moribund industries. However, to enrich the entertainment landscape of the entire city, it is important to cater to the masses and not only to a selective audience. And, up to now, the less-privileged areas remain starved of the harvests of the ongoing paradigm shift towards relative liberalisation.
If nothing else, this is where Hamara Karachi has succeeded in where previous efforts failed: It reached out to the masses. While continuing to engage the already active elements, it has spread its efforts across a wider base. There were, for example, free concerts, performed by both popular artists, such as Najam Sheraz and Strings, and grassroots artists such as Rahim Shah, which were held at venues such as Korangi, Landhi, Surjani Town and Orangi Town. By and large, the residents of these areas have never had the opportunity - or could not afford - to see popular performers such as Najam Sheraz and Strings and those who had, probably had to travel extensively and out of their way to catch a glimpse of them.
There were beach carnivals and food streets that allowed families from all walks of life to partake in festivities. Over the years, Karachi, and indeed the entire country, has seen a yawning divide open up between classes and the accompanying privileges, and this festival was, at least in spirit, an attempt to temporarily address this situation.
Aside from the entertainment side of things, there were informative events, such as inter-faith evenings, during which people were able to witness the rare sight of the Islamic mysticism of the Maulana Rumi-inspired Whirling Dervishes.
The list goes on, but the underlying essence of the effort remains an effort to bring colour to a city that has, in recent times, known nothing but gloom. It attempted to bring unity to a city that has been plagued by potent divisiveness and aimed at giving its citizens something to be proud of. The success of these endeavours will undoubtedly be debated, but, at any rate, it was an effort. Something that it did indeed do was push, at least temporarily, the disheartening and desolate headlines of water shortage, crime and poverty into the back pages. While some would call that wilful ignorance, others may prefer to call it mental respite.
In the end, it may not have been the magical panacea for our ills that we have been searching so desperately for, but it still made for a good sedative. That said, now that the Hamara Karachi festival has concluded, it's back to the starkness of reality. One hopes, perhaps somewhat over-optimistically, that this reality is now characterised by a new vigour to make cheerfulness a permanent feature of the city. After all, in a city where it is easier to be a pessimist than an aspirant, hope and effort, irrespective of how fleeting and ineffectual they may be, have to be better than negativity, no matter how realistic.
The rise and fall of theatre in Karachi
Kolachi undertakes a survey of the past and future of theatre in Karachi
By Sana Jamil
In 2005 President Pervez Musharraf inaugurated the new Arts Council Theatre. It was a novelty for Karachi: a good theatre auditorium. It was a gesture which was welcome but rare, indicative of the kind of patronage that cultural activities get from the state. Due to lack of state patronage the performing arts in general and theatre in particular, have been on a decline in Karachi.
Theatre in Karachi was never in such circumstances though. In fact, it was the voice of the masses during times of severe political repression. It has been the past twenty years which have seen its downfall.
Theatre among other things is a space where contradictory possibilities exist and interact. Hence, it flourishes in cultures where dissent is not suppressed. In cultures where obedience is sought as a matter of policy and dissent is suppressed, theatre is also suppressed. Hence, the role of theatre in society's entertainment is a revealing indicator of the cultural values.
Zain Ahmed, a promising young director, says, "If over a period of fifty-nine years you do not teach a subject in your curricula, while at the same time you endeavour to ban discussions on it and discourage people from performing, then it is very obvious that eventually such arts will vanish. It has been the case since 1947. Every performing art has had to face restrictions by every government, but the most sustained and damaging period was the Zia-era."
It is true that during the Zia-ul-Haq's dictatorship, theatre (along with all other cultural activities) suffered a dire setback and has been unable to recover from it. However, at that time a few theatre groups emerged like Tehrik-e-Niswan, Ajoka and Lok Rehas whose performances were a political statement of protest against the status quo. Interestingly, these groups are the ones that still survive to this day, while the rest have dissolved.
"There was a time," director Shahid Shafaat said recalling the terrible times, "When the word Cheeta was censored from a script of a play on environment only because it was the political sign of a leading politician in the country. The word Baby was also supposed to be prohibited from another script being the pet name of a famous female politician again. This gives one some idea of how frustrating it was for us to work under such nauseous and unjust conditions."
The fundamental problem, however, is a lack of institutions and active discouragement from the state. Theatre and TV artiste, Khalid Ahmed says, "If we look ten years back we would not find much work done in the field of theatre. Governments have always created hurdles and troubles for those willing to practice this art form. For instance the procedures of getting No Objection Certificates (NOC) have made the process of a simple performance so complicated that to do theatre is to fight a losing battle." Getting NOCs is not the only issue producers, writers and directors have to fight through in order to get one production on stage, censorship laws are equally frustrating. "In the name of censors, governments have treated theatre harshly. When on one hand vulgar and baseless stage plays are available and easily accessible – completely unchecked by the censor board – most functional scripts of parallel theatre have been regularly rejected."
Others, like TV and theatre artist, Rahat Kazmi advocates radical reforms. "Theatre should have started from primary levels way back in Karachi but we have never placed performing arts at the academic levels in Pakistan. This is the reason why a number of youngsters despite their keen interest in the field have never been able to make it as a profession," he laments.
However, it is a fact that in this country, art and cultural activity as a rule has remained nothing more than a political exigency. This is also reflected in the current government's decision to establish the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in Karachi under the chairmanship of Zia Mohyeddin. It came as a measure of the state policy to soften the country's image and the late realization that promotion of artistic and cultural activity can counter other terrible things like sectarianism.
Arshad Mehmud, renowned music composer and actor, acknowledges this, "It was our wish and dream few years back that a formal academy for performing arts should be established in Karachi. That dream has finally become a reality in the form of NAPA. I am very sure that through NAPA a positive theatre culture would emerge."
But Rahat Kazmi isn't that optimistic, "To be frank I cannot say anything as far as future of theatre is concerned in Karachi. Nevertheless, if this Academy continues to work at the same pace as it is doing right now then maybe in a couple of years, students from NAPA will advance towards successful careers in the performing arts."
This does indeed sound promising for a city of almost fifteen million. Karachiites are starved for entertainment, and maybe this lack of exposure to cultural activities makes them easy targets for harsh criticisms that they are not a good audience. Rahat Kazmi disagrees and raises a valid point, "We cannot say that Karachi lacks a proper theatre audience. It is not true. Whenever people present good quality and revealing theatre, people throng to theatres. But if you do not do theatre on a regular basis how do you expect them to be there in regular attendance?"
Establishment of institutes like NAPA is indeed an important step, which, even though is not sufficient to revive Karachi's theatre scene, is still a step in the right direction.
Mind your language
Eminent scholars and linguists stressed the importance of social sciences and humanities education in Pakistan at the recently held International Conference on Language and Literature in Jamshoro
By Adeel Pathan
Language is an important element of culture and the role it plays in human interaction transcends basic communication. Pakistanis know this fact well, having gone through times when language became a political issue. There have been differences among people of various schools of thoughts about national language issues as there are more than 60 languages spoken in Pakistan.
There have been debates in and outside the Parliament too for giving official status to regional languages such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto, Siraiki and other spoken languages in different parts of the country. No solution, however, has been put into place to address this crucial and politically motivated issue for a long time now.
University of Sindh's Arts Faculty keeping in view this importance of languages in Pakistan and to pay homage to famous Sindhi poet Sheikh Ayaz organized an International Conference on Language and Literature at its Allama II Kazi campus in Jamshoro recently. During the Conference three sessions were on language, linguistics and literature and one session was dedicated to the life and works of Sheikh Ayaz.
Noted scholars and educationists spoke about different issues and praised Sheikh Ayaz for his poetic genius. Sheikh Ayaz's poetry is especially pertinent to our youth who need to study the life and works of legends and promote services under the concept of community development in areas of education with the help of literature. Most scholars stressed on the need for high quality education especially in literature, as it is crucial to society.
The Chief Guest of the inaugural session of the conference Vice Chancellor University of Karachi Dr. Pirzada Qasim Raza said that Sheikh Ayaz was not only a great poet but he was an intellectual of unique caliber and added that our society needs scholars of high repute in universities for pursuing education and development of society.
He said that Sheikh Ayaz through out his life through his poetry and works gave importance to humanity and his message was of love and humanism. "Language, literature, humanities and social sciences indeed play a vital role in the uplifting of individual as well as the whole society," said Dr Pirzada. Very little attention is paid to humanity and social sciences subjects when they really are very important and essential issues of human relations, cooperation and coexistence. One can only produce thinkers, philosophers, intellectuals and politicians through the study of humanity and social sciences.
Vice Chancellor of the University of Sindh, Mazharul Haq Siddiqui expressed similar sentiments. Paying rich tribute to Sheikh Ayaz, Siddiqui lauded his services in the area of literature, education and social services and informed that University under the aegis of the Faculty of Social Arts organised this conference to promote disciplines that are equally important for social life.
Noted scholar of history and Advisor Darul Ihsan University of Dhaka, Prof. K.M.Mohsin also gave a keynote speech on 'Language Issues in the Initial Years of Pakistan, 1947-1956'. He said that in recognition to the sacrifice of the people of Bangladesh for their mother tongue February 21 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Mother Language Day. In his paper the scholar highlighted the brief history of the language movement and examined how the controversy arose and the reactions of East and West Pakistan respectively.
The Chairman organizing Committee and Dean Faculty of Arts Dr. Mohammed Qasim Bughio in his welcome address said that after the immensely successful organization of Sindhi Adabi Conference by the Sindhi Department in 1988, the Faculty of Arts has tried to hold the International Conference in cooperation with all departments of the Faculty. He said that efforts in holding the conference will prove to be symbolic for the pressing need of time to think and to work in the fast emerging global context. Not keeping in view the lingual, gender, racial, geographical and religious differences among people will definitely strengthen the concept of peace and harmony in the world at large.
After inaugurating the second session noted scholar and linguistics Prof. Dr. Ghulam Ali Allana in his paper on 'Linguistic Similarities in Sindhi and Persian' addressed the widespread notion that there was heavy influence of Persian on Sindhi when in reality these two are altogether different fields of linguistic studies.
Noted scholar Dr. Abdul Jabbar Junejo spoke on the 'Origin of Sindhi Language' shedding light on the undecided origin of Sindhi and the importance of this issue. Dr. Sarmad Hussain from National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, Lahore in his paper on 'Linguistic Resources for Natural language Processing in Pakistan' added that diversity in languages makes language computing a necessary field of research in Pakistan.
Former Dean Faculty of Arts University of Sindh Dr.K.M. Larik presented a paper on 'Teaching English - Some Stigmas' while Dr. Ziaul Hassan Department of Urdu, Punjab University presented his paper on 'The Variations of Form In modern Urdu Poem'. In his paper, Dr. Hassan said Muhammad Hussain Azad was the first Urdu critic who realized that classical forms of Urdu poetry lacks the capability to represent the changing society.
Professor of Philosophy University of Karachi Dr. Arifa Farid's paper on 'Importance of Hermeneutics as a Historical, Literary and Religious Discipline' about Hermes, the Greek god who was God's messenger and interpreter for His people was interesting.
A number of young and senior scholars, professors also presented their papers on language, linguistics, literature and the life and works of Shaikh Ayaz.
These conferences play an important role for provoking thought but concrete efforts should be taken for the promotion of languages. Bettering the status of national languages and sorting out differences has really become the need of the hour for a moderate and tolerant society where everybody gets space.
The government and intellectuals should speed up their contributions in ending rifts over languages and stop making language a political issue. There is a dire need to start thinking beyond politics, at least when it comes to languages as many ancient languages of the world are diminishing fast.
Photographs by Majeed Panhwar
By Sumaira Jajja
Firdaus Shaheen, is a middle aged woman who works as a nurse. In a white uniform and a blue sweater with the dupatta neatly pinned on her head, Firdaus hands out medicines to her patients. As she does that she asks her patients about their health. Hailing from interior Sindh, Firdaus moved to Karachi searching for a better life and has been living here for the past seventeen years. Employed in a community hospital, Firdaus took a breather during her night shift to talk to Kolachi.
Kolachi: Tell us a bit about yourself?
Firdaus: I was trained as a nurse some 20 years ago and I have been working non-stop since then. I got married 17 years ago but my husband passed away and now I live with my two sons, Ali Raza and Taimor, aged 15 and 14 respectively. They are both students. My mother lives with me in Karachi while the rest of my family still lives in a village near Tando Adam Khan.
Kolachi: Why did you move to Karachi?
Firdaus: After my husband's death, I didn't know what to do. Although I was employed in a government hospital, the salary was too meagre to meet my household expenses. A relative in Karachi told me about vacancies in a private hospital in Karachi and that is when I moved. Initially, I moved here alone but after a few years, I managed to have my sons and mother move here as well. Karachi has proved to be my saviour.
Kolachi: What were your initial reactions about the city?
Firdaus: I considered it to be huge even then. In the first few months I would lose my way and often ended up on the wrong bus.
Kolachi: How do you find the people?
Firdaus: Coming from a small town, I had to make a lot of adjustments in my life. Things move very fast here. When I moved here, although I had quite a few years of experience behind me, yet I lacked communication skills. My Urdu was not good and I would start stammering if a doctor spoke in English. The hospital where I was employed in earlier had an Iranian doctor as an administrator who helped me overcome this shyness. My neighbours have been very kind too. There are times when I have to do two shifts, but my neighbours are kind enough to keep an eye on my kids and help my mother with chores. Good and bad people are everywhere but I feel lucky that I always met good people. As a single parent I have seen many ups and downs, but I can safely say that these experiences have taught me invaluable lessons and have taught me how to remain calm in the face of any sort of crisis.
Kolachi: Why did you become a nurse?
Firdaus: I am the only child of my parents and they forced me to study. A distant relative was a male nurse in Hyderabad. After I did my Intermediate, my father asked him to get me enrolled in a nursing school. I am glad that despite hailing from a small town, I have made it this far. There are women in my family who find it difficult to fend for their families if their spouse passes away but I thank Allah and my parents for giving me the strength to get through difficult times.
Kolachi: What is the best thing about your profession?
Firdaus: I feel happy when a patient recovers his health and leaves for home. Also, I like it when people address me as 'sister'.
Kolachi: What is the worst thing about your profession?
Firdaus: I don't like dealing with the negative attitude people have towards nurses. Just because we are not doctors, people think that we would not be able to help their patients. People don't realize that a doctor cannot treat the patient alone. Also, men think that female nurses are 'free' and 'available' and very often pose stupid questions and try to fool around. The younger generation is worse. They don't think it important to address a nurse with respect, and speak to us in derisive tones.
Kolachi: What is your favourite place in Karachi?
Firdaus: I like the beach. It's a pity that Play Land is no longer there. I have plenty of memories of that place. But the new Beach Park is a good idea; it provides us with a clean place for an evening stroll. Apart from that I like the Hyderi Market a lot and often go there for shopping with my friends. Burns Road is another place where I often go, although my mother does not like the sight of food stalls right next to over flowing gutters and refuses to eat there.
Like every Karachiite, she agrees that there are days when she finds it hard to cope up with the ever escalating costs of commodities, the traffic jams and power breakdowns, yet she says that Karachi is her home away from home. Healing the sick and providing comfort, she is happy that her hard work is reaping her rewards, with her sons being star students at their school. "A good progeny is Allah's reward and I hope that my sons follow the right path in their lives," says Firdaus as she puts down her cup of tea. As she goes around taking a round in the ward, Firdaus is happy that she is making it on her own. Giving back to those who give to the city, such is Karachi's character.