Our collective shame
It serves the purpose well: add a dose of politics, shift the focus, create confusion and end the case as it begins
By Alefia T. Hussain & Delawar Jan
The grainy two-minute video that captures the flogging of the 17 year old Chaand Bibi, Swati girl, who is said to have received Taliban's wrath for alleged illicit relations, has brought to our homes a glimpse of savagery.
"Please stop it," she moans in pain. "Kill me or stop it now", she repeats in Pushto, at one point swearing on her father that she will not do it again. But the bearded, turbaned man stops only after his job is done - that is, lashing the girl 34 times. On-lookers stand back and watch, as if it's a spectacle.
In the country's major cities, though, the haunting scene filmed with a mobile phone and telecast on tv brought the rights' activists out on the streets on Saturday, April 4, 2009. They unanimously condemned Chaand Bibi's flogging, vowed to counter Talibanisation and urged the government to not surrender to terrorists. The large number of demonstrators and their angst testified that they stand together on this issue - that warped, misinterpretation of Islamisation is absolutely unpalatable, whether in Chaand Bibi's village of Kala Killay village in Kabal tehsil or elsewhere.
Amid this outrage and vehement condemnation of brutality committed on Chaand Bibi, doubts were created about the video's authenticity and the incident's timing. It was condemned as an act to sabotage the peace deal in Swat. Chaand Bibi's denial that she was not flogged made the situation more complex. One wondered if the victim confessed in duress. One also wondered if the incident is deliberately made so complex and murky that the clear picture is never visible. Never be told what the young girl's crime was, who the culprit was, and who deserved to be punished… What was an act of violence became a full-fledged controversy.
So, did the incident actually take place? Reportedly, the Swat Talibans deny the flogging took place at all. They term the video fake and allege that the video is a conspiracy to block the Swat peace agreement signed between the coalition government comprising the secular Awami National Party and the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Maulana Fazlullah-led Islamic militants in February. Commissioner Malakand Syed Muhammad Javed endorses the Taliban claim.
Later, Tehrik-i-Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan, however, confirmed that flogging took place. His comment that the incident happened before the peace deal in February raised many eyebrows. Supposedly he confused this case with another one that took place on October 20, 2008, in Ser-Taligram village near Manglawar in Charbagh tehsil, in which a woman and her father-in-law were flogged.
Chaand Bibi's statement in which she denied being the girl in the video added yet another twist to the controversy. But that her statement may have been influenced by the domineering Taliban in her area is anyone's guess.
"I witnessed the flogging myself, so there is no reason to doubt its occurrence," says a resident of Kala Kallay. "At that time, about 200 militants and 130 villagers were present to see the flogging of the girl. The flogging was a shocking development for the villagers. They had assembled to watch the screaming girl but everyone was frightened and helpless while the militants were unmoved."
The resident says the lashes were awarded in the village in front of a medical store - Ayub Medical Store - which is near a mosque. He said people in his village, like the rest of Swat, were terrified by the Taliban. Even today when the issue has surfaced in the media, people do not have the courage to speak up.
"My sister started crying when she watched the clip on my mobile," says another resident of Dir. The man, who claims to have witnessed the flogging, does not remember the exact date but claims the incident occurred after the peace agreement. "The government is under an illusion if it thinks the militants have laid down their arms."
The man adds that two separate incidents of women being flogged have taken place in Nusrat Kallay and Dakorak, besides this one.
Locals say a man and his daughter-in-law were given 35 and 25 lashes each in Dakorak for going out of the house together. According to locals, the Taliban don't allow women to go out alone or with relatives other than their husbands, fathers and brothers.
When various spokesmen refute the occurrence of such a crime, or for that matter the timing of it or are hesitant to share facts, they sound nonsensical. We know how Taliban have used violence against women. Their ways are harsh and often horrific. Eyewitness accounts and newspaper reports clearly suggest that flogging has become a standard form of punishment in the region. Senior journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai, writes, "The Taliban in Swat awarded punishment of public flogging about 25 times to men and twice to women during the past two years as they consolidated their control in the valley and established their own courts." And must we be reminded of blasted girl schools, killed NGO female workers, bars on women's mobility …
Officials got some flak from Chief Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Iftikhar during an eight-member hearing on April 6. He rebuked government officials, particularly Attorney General Sardar Latif Khosa and Interior Secretary Kamal Shah. "Before the video became public, what were you doing, why couldn't you find out what had happened?" he asked Khosa.
At the start of the hearing, Khosa had requested that the hearing be held behind closed doors. But Chaudhry disallowed. Does it mean that the government is ashamed of making facts public? Why else would it ask for a closed doors hearing.
The point is that Chaand Bibi's is a human rights case not political, and must not be allowed to develop as such. Why should a person be subjected to such brutalities in the first place? It's typical of us to politicise the case to dilute the gravity of the crime. It serves the purpose well: add a dose of politics, shift the focus, create confusion and end the case as it begins. The perpetrators of crime sit back, smile and soon after carry on another act, un-relented, only braver each time. We are left with an unsolved case of violence, a mystery, and at best a controversy.
Women, beasts or demons
Waseem Ahmed's paintings present women as a blend of sensuality and sin, thus linking his work with present times
By Quddus Mirza
"The newspaper world, like that of the wild beasts, exists solely in the present." Karel Capek
The above comment by the Czech author about print media in his 1925 essay In Praise of Newspapers could now be extended to the electronic media where life of a news item is reduced even further: from present to a moment and from a day to a couple of minutes. However, certain incidents when reported in the media, print and electronic, acquire a longer and lasting effect. These eventually turn into globally-shared images and secure a permanent place in our collective memory.
In recent years, two planes hitting the Twin Towers is a visual that has become part of everyone's personal data. A number of other important visuals become a concern of a large section of population, like the video footage of Taliban beating a girl in a barbarous manner. The helpless screams of the female reveal the status of women in our society and predict a gloomy future.
Often, woman is considered a source of evil, provocateur of lust and instigator of sin who must be confined to the four walls of the house, only brought out to be punished in public (like on that disgraceful occasion, transmitted by television channels across the world).
Somehow, the work of Waseem Ahmed, being exhibited at around the same time, could be linked with this incident. In his latest work, women are depicted entangled in the web of intricate lines and forms, unfolding the way a woman is perceived in our society. All her assumed duties -- performing household chores, looking after children, providing physical and social comfort to her male partner, serving the in-laws -- reduce her to a domestic servant, dependant on man. So, whenever a society is in the process of transforming its norms in an orthodox way, women are the first ones to face restrictions.
The shameful incident took place in Swat, illustrating the way the Taliban-led authorities will handle women but they are treated not much differently elsewhere -- in our midst, minds and art. This may appear paradoxical in the art world, primarily occupied by women in the role of artists, educators, critics and collectors. Yet, in most cases, a woman is represented in art works in the same stereotypical fashion, possessing the same traits that make her a doomed person in the hands of extremists.
Waseem Ahmed -- a painter trained as a miniaturist, even though this fact does not contribute much to his new body of work -- has presented women as a blend of sensuality and sin. Lean figures of naked females in languid poses surrounded by numerous lines which drape them partially; hence a sense of carnal attraction attached to these figures. When examined carefully, lines which travel on naked bodies resemble a beast or a demon.
Interestingly, it is not only the female figure, which is dominated by an unknown entity, but the male character (the painter's self-portrait) is also destined for the identical end. In a meticulous manner, Waseem has drawn himself, usually half-hidden behind the vegetation, or amid sweeping growth of grey lines, and occasionally with the stem of a lotus flower. Study of form, grasp on anatomy and the ability to observe details and tonal values are visible in these works. But by and large male characters are not much different from the female figures in terms of treatment and placement in the composition.
Actually, it is the female figure which excites Waseem, providing him an insatiable source of inspiration; one can detect a sort of infatuation with the portrayal of his models. In more than one case, females are faceless, thus projecting a stereotype of woman as the embodiment of ideal proportion. This is reaffirmed by positioning her in classical, semi-classical postures, or making her kneel down on the floor. Even though these figures, masterfully rendered in dark hues, suggest his skill, these also signify a distinct approach towards his source of inspiration. Ahmed's interest in discovering, rather digging, the sensuous aspect of his models is evident in the way the bodies are composed or face the spectators.
Compared to his earlier work, the new paintings of Waseem Ahmed are predominantly white, yet filled with stained layers that assume the shape of an animal or a monster. On the surface these odd creatures exist in harmony with naked models, even though one suspects that the large spans of lines that end up in some recognisable image with open jaws and canine teeth might have eaten or are about to devour the figures. The two elements, human bodies and strange species in the form of whirlwinds -- echoing a deep-rooted cultural concept in which whirlwinds are normally believed to be genies or lost spirits -- compliment each other.
However, the blend of human beings and extraordinary creatures repeatedly created in each work can not transcend from one meaning. Waseem tries to introduce a variation in terms of postures and even change of gender, but the basic narrative remains identical in each work. This approach indicates the usual pressure on our artist to prepare a series of paintings for an exhibition (only to switch over to a different set of imagery and concept in the next one). It also reminds of the visuals printed on the covers and inside pages of monthly magazines and digests.
(A preview of his work was held on April 2, 2009, at Rohtas 2, Lahore, prior to his solo exhibition at Chawkandi Art, Karachi, which is being held from April 7-15, 2009).
A whirlwind comedy of errors, characteristically without much substance, Tom Dick and Harry is brought to audiences in Lahore by Centre Stage Productions
By Adiah Afraz
Centre Stage Productions, with almost twenty years of quality theatre performances, such as Phantom of the Opera, Moulin Rouge and Bombay Dreams, is back again. Tom Dick and Harry is a farce written by Ray Cooney in association with son Michael. The story written in true European farcical tradition revolves around a couple's desire to adopt a baby, until everything happens to ruin the prospects.
The curtain opens to a simple set of a living room where Tom (Taimur Shakoori) and Linda (Rudaba Zehra Nasir) await an appraisal visit from the adoption agency. Sharply reminiscent of the sitcom Friends' episode where Monica and Chandler prep their house for a similar purpose, the opening scene and many more that follow, serve to remind us how plagiarism is not just our problem; even the Hollywood can unabashedly copy its European counterpart sometimes. The layman, however, unfamiliar with the chronological history of farce, remains uncertain about the originality of the script.
Hence, good entertainment notwithstanding, Shah Sharahbeel's choice of play this time is one that has been a source of inspiration for so many recent comedies, to the extent that for today's audience, it is predictable to the core. A frantic pace of events, enough hullabaloo, crazy shenanigans, preposterous lies, ridiculous cover-ups, foreseeable climax, a deux ex machina 'Oh dear the wife has been feeling sick all day' resolution, and props like a dismembered corpse in a bin bag (ouch!) make for a whirlwind comedy of errors; characteristically without much substance.
Still, to the credit of the Centre Stage Productions, one must concede that it is no easy task to make people laugh when the language is English, and the script full of puns and innuendo. Shah Sharahbeel with assistant director Ijlal Khan, and a cast of amateur actors, manages to do just that. Although the play begins with Linda (Rudaba) and Tom (Taimur) screaming their lines in an unintelligible burble, there are some star performances that save the day. Leading the best is Harry (Ijlal Khan) along with Dick (Ibrahim Kayani). They bring out the better in Tom (Taimur Shakuri), and together, with their immense comic chemistry, pull the play out of its initial drag. Tom (Taimur) evolves from ordinary to brilliant, and Harry with his cherubic demeanour brightens up the stage. Linda (Rudaba), however, in her rendition of a flustered wife, remains a grievous disappointment. Not only does she scream her lines, but, overacts when there is no need to, and doesn't react when a reaction is expected. Her 'I'm-just-irritated' demeanour remains unchanged and stale.
Gauging from the audience's response, the highlight of the play will have to be the wacky Sikh duo Roopa ( Sara Riaz), and Sardar Suraj Singh (Shams Aftab). Although, most clichéd among the characters, with sappy hilarity and unashamed over-acting, they bring the right amount of nativeness to the otherwise imported comedy.
We have often seen these kinds of adaptations of non-native scripts, because commercial theatre realises the importance of indigenous flavour. Be it the dance and song of Bombay Dreams, or amateur directors' preference for scripts like Mind Your Language, the indigenous element seems to creep in somehow or the other.
Shams Aftab has replaced the original Kosovan situation with Punjabi banter, exhibiting a true understanding of the local audience's sensibilities. By conceiving the punch lines spot on, just the way they would like, he has the audience peeling with laughter.
Throughout the play the directorial genius is most evident in the well thought out use of stage space. With intermittent choreography by Wahab Shah, the whole onstage action is a sequence of well-coordinated moves. The physical action is solidly supported by body language and facial expressions of most of the actors. Harry (Ijlal Khan) deserves a special mention in this regard.
All in all, watching the play is time well-spent in the dreary entertainment scene of the summers, especially for those who enjoy the kind of action where couches fling open on their own, and villains are tied up in bin bags, live on stage.
Ustad Rais Khan and Farhan Khan touched higher levels of creativity in sitar playing last week
By Sarwat Ali
It is very edifying to behold and hear Ustad Rais Khan perform with his son Farhan Khan together in music concerts as they did at the Barood Khana Haveli in Lahore last week.
Barood Khana Haveli is becoming a venue for music concerts, particularly for classical music and is not limited to invited audiences. As it is being known for classical/art music, the discerning invite them for an evening of good music. Besides, these programmes are also recorded for television.
Last week, it was Ustad Rais Khan and Farhan Khan playing in Lahore after a gap of a few years. Abdus Sattar Tari was accompanying them on the tabla. It was a throwback to probably the first concert that Rais Khan held almost three decades ago in Lahore after he moved from India to Pakistan. The venue was the old EMI studio on the Mall and it turned out to be a memorable evening of virtuoso music.
Ustad Rais Khan undoubtedly is one of the leading sitar players in the world and it is sad that his presence in the country have not yielded the benefits that one had hoped for. The opportunities of playing have been rather limited and somehow the small circle of avid listeners, who meet the affordability criteria, has not really been widened and made bigger. Similarly with Abdus Sattar Tari, he left the country at his prime, finding the playing field in Pakistan too small and restrictive. The general environment has not been very conducive to properly and fruitfully engaged talent. Tari is now spending more time in Pakistan though his schedule of travel and stay abroad is still quite unrelenting.
Ustad Rais Khan's credentials are impeccable. He is from the Indore Gharana, though he has also claimed to belong to the Mewati Gharana. The 19th century legendary Ustad Bande Ali Khan had a disciple, Wahid Khan, who had two sons: Majid Khan and Latif Khan, both married into Imdad Khan's family. Wahid Khan's grandson from his daughter's side was Muhammed Khan Binkar, who married Inayat Khan's eldest daughter and when a boy was born he was named Rais Khan. Thus the relationship of the two gharanas is symbiotic.
He played raags aimen and charokeshi in the concert for about an hour and a half. He too has followed the khayal gaiki ang by transferring the vocal repertoire to sitar. The vocal composition has formed the basis of the gat. The plectrum strokes are played instead of bandish text.
As if to prove the point, the sitar players of the Imdad Khani Gharana also break into singing and then play the sitar accordingly. It was quite common to see and hear Ustad Vilayat Khan, especially in his later years singing and then playing the variations of the same bandish on the sitar.
Ustad Rais Khan is also known to play the ghazal on the sitar keeping in view the contemporary taste in music though he did not do so in this concert. His alaap was shorter than in the past and he moved quickly to the gat and then played the variations which may be more pleasing to the ear of a lay listener.
The domination of the Imdad Khani Gharana is amazing. The sons of Imrat Khan, Irshad and Nishat are excellent players, and so is Shahid Pervez. Some of their shagirds also rub shoulders with their ustads in the sheer quality of playing. The contribution of this family in the evolution of the sitar is so substantial that it is not far from wrong to say that the present day sitar, both in its shape and style, owes a great deal to their persistent dedication.
Sitar has been a very popular instrument in the repertoire of music in the subcontinent at least in this century, and the extent of its popularity can be judged from the range that it is used from the popular to the classical forms. The beginnings of the sitar too have been shrouded in mythological guesswork. But like in most other cases its present form is the result of a long evolutionary process based on the musical requirements and the demands of creativity. It became an instrument that could stand on its own, probably in the 18th and 19th century. As Raza Khani and Maseet Khani became the most acceptable styles of playing, it also signalled the rise of the sitar to the status of a solo instrument.
In the latter half of the 20th century the great boom and exposure has affected the insularity of musical strands that ensured peculiarities of style. As traditional musicians grappled with what to accept and what to reject the peculiarities of styles shifted from the generic gharanas to the inventive abilities of individual musician themselves. And this opened the way for experiments, mostly fuelled by the external pressures rather than an urge to create from within.
Ustad Rais Khan achieved his prime in India. He was part of the exulted adulation that greeted an outstanding artiste. But Farhan Khan is growing up in a different environment. Still under the strict scrutiny of his father and probably mother, he has made great improvement in the past few years. He will need all the support and the encouragement to keep him focused as a sitar player. He has been experimenting and is known to have dabbled with an electric sitar. It is hoped that the widening of his musical expression will result in greater virtuosity and higher levels of creativity.