Is the end
While explosions and killings dominate national polity, theatre in Karachi has been witnessing a boom not seen before. Shahid Shafaat talks to Kolachi about the direct relationship between times of conflict and the surge in theatrical activities
By Rafay Mahmood
In today's epoch of terror, when headlines of how many dead are splashed in national newspapers, and when images of burnt homes and structures seem to have become embedded in people's consciousness, theatre in Karachi is providing the perfect antidote to adversity.
"Good art is born in bad times," believed Shahid Shafaat, one of the founding members of theatre group 'Katha' and the man behind the widely acclaimed plays 'Maen Adakaara Banoongi' and 'Kahaniyan'. Katha, a group of theatre maestros, is perhaps one of the many who seemed to have benefitted from the boom in theatre and of course, increased interest different from sections in society.
"Why has our group resurrected, and why have a lot of others started performing? It is because the masses have become hungry for entertainment. Notwithstanding the good role that the free media has played in recent times, they have also depressed the masses. This has indirectly increased the demand for alternative entertainment, and hence, all theatre performances keep running despite increased security threats," Shafaat told Kolachi.
"If you look at the history of art, the literature of depressive times has always been the best. Take a look at pre-world war literature and one after that, and you'll find a marked difference," he explained, adding that theatre in Pakistan was previously at its best during the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq. "That was a time when censorship was practiced with an iron hand, and the script had to go through a lot of censorship. For instance, if you had 'general science' written in your script, then the writer would be asked to remove 'general' because the authorities thought it was not in national interests."
The socio political environment is but one of the factors that have influenced the recent boom of theatre. The current situation is a far cry from the state of theatre in the past. While theatre has its own influence, it did not seem to have due respect accorded to it. While veteran groups such as Tehrik-e-Niswan had continued to perform and others weren't, the year 2009 brought about a radical transformation in the number of theatre productions on show. Groups such as Katha and Anjum Ayaz's 'Creative Workshop' re-emerged from their hibernation, and new theatre groups came into the mainstream - and by large, did not look out of their depth.
Shafaat attributed this phenomenon to the formation of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) - the second factor responsible for the surge in theatre in the city. "A debate which had been going on since the past many decades about the need for an academy is finally over. The argument was that an educational academy of performing arts was required, and this was fulfilled by Napa. Although the formation of one academy is not sufficient, but a good step should not go unnoticed," he said.
The theatre virtuoso said that across the world, academies are the base of consistent theatre, because professionally trained theatre artistes keep entering the industry. In his experience of theatre, he said, there hasn't been a more consistent era of theatre audience. "You won't find the Arts Council free of engagements now, you have to reserve the auditorium well in advance," he said.
Theatre of opportunity
While conventional wisdom dictates that theatre is not a lucrative career, recent entrants into the profession believe there are many opportunities in the field and its associated vocations.
Uzma Sabeen, one of the founding members of Rung Munch - a theatre group formed by alumni of National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa), told Kolachi that for many budding performers, theatre proper is not the only career preference in performing arts.
"I have designed lights for most of the Napa Repertory Theatre Company (RTC), as a lighting technician is a well-paid and specified job. While their importance is recognised across the world, it has no recognition in Pakistan because such people don't come to the limelight," Sabeen said.
It is perhaps due to such specialisation that Rung Munch's 'Loan-ly in Love' had exceptional lighting, which added to the narrative being performed. Another recent play that received critical and commercial acclaim was 'The odd couple' which was directed by Fawad Khan.
"There are also other jobs which prove rewarding. These include wardrobe design, set design and a couple of others, which are taught at a professional academy of performing arts. These can be applied in mediums such as film as well," she explained.
Zeeshan Nalwala, another Napa graduate, also shared similar sentiments. "It is an undeniable fact that theatre is not a lucrative field at all, but it depends on the individual and how he looks at it. Improvisation comedy is an alternative carrier, public speaking training is another, just to name a few," he said.
For Nalwala, the time spent at the academy was all worthwhile. "Although I am pursuing some other studies after completing my undergraduate degree, I don't have any doubts about what I have learnt, because other arts may die with time, but the art of performance never dies," he maintained.
Shahid Shafaat and other senior thespians appreciate the role of academies, but continue to maintain that youngsters cannot pursue it as a carrier. "Theatre has been going on consistently for a while, but it doesn't mean that it is lucrative. Theatre has not yet reached a stage where a student joins an academy of performing arts after completing their intermediate or A-Levels, as it is still the people who populate the theatres".
Shafaat said Karachi has a lot of cities within one city, but given the current state of the industry, a product at present only caters to a certain part of the city, and not the masses. "A ticket worth a thousand rupees can only be given to a handful of people, the rest have to buy it," he said. -- RM
Lost culture of a wandering people
By Jan Khaskheli
Jogis (traditional snake charmers) swear by the Muń -- a precious healing stone that they take from the head of old cobras. This stone, they claim, is used for healing snakebite victims.
The Muń, a shiny black stone, is more precious than gold to Jogis, so much so that it is often part of the dowry of brides from the nomadic community. This commodity, however, has become hard to come by now, because a number of factors, including environmental degradation, has led to a drastic decline in the population of indigenous snakes.
The healing stone, once obtained, is kept safe in cotton, and dipped in a bowl of milk once a week to maintain its effectiveness. Snake charmers believe that the cobra stone sucks poison instantly, and has long been a quick and effective mode of treatment. Now, however, with traditional values on the way out, they say that experienced people who recognise and collect the Muń from dead cobras are hard to come by; a decline in the population of cobras does not help either.
Moreover, the community on the whole has fallen upon hard times, says Yousuf Jogi of Rawal Jo Daro, district Matiari.
Jogis, who were traditionally "wanderers," are now unable to continue old traditions and want to get small pieces of land for permanent settlement. Rawal jo Daro is a small locality of snake charmers, comprising makeshift huts. Located near Bhit Shah town, the locality portrays a pitiable picture, where residents eke a miserable existence. Two hand pumps help them get water; there are no schools, no healthcare facilities, and no community centres. The Jogis of Rawal Jo Daro seem isolated, deprived of all basic facilities.
During a visit to the locality, Indus Watch learnt that instead of visiting doctors, elders of the community buy syringes and vaccines and administer "healthcare" to patients themselves.
Despite these hardships, however, the head of the clan, Yousuf Jogi, who is around 70 years old, demands nothing from the government, except to be allowed to live peacefully in the poor huts. "Now we are convinced that white-collar people visit our localities occasionally only to seek our votes, or to take photographs. We have been here for the past 25 years, but nobody has brought us any good news, nor done anything to improve our lot," he complained.
Yousuf Jogi still knows the names of all 172 snake species; he heard these from his forefathers and wants to transfer this knowledge to his grandchildren. He claims that many of these species have either disappeared from the local environment or are under threat of extinction.
After witnessing impacts of climate change on their lifestyle, these peace-loving wanderers of the past prefer to settle down now. They leave their homes every day in the morning, carrying snakes in rucksacks for exhibiting in the streets and amusement parks in return for money, and head home after sunset. Begging is their tradition, and is not seen negatively.
Over the years, however, the number of Jogis who keep snakes has declined sharply. Endangered species are not being bred either, but Yousuf Jogi maintains that the community does not capture snakes during the breeding season.
His teenaged grandson, Photo Jogi, said that young people from the community do not try to catch every snake on their own, but follow their elders and learn from their techniques. Besides, handling poisonous reptiles is difficult, he added.
The use of pesticides and machinery in agriculture, as well as fear and the ensuing hostility from people, are the main reasons for the disappearance of several indigenous species of snakes, Faqeer Urs Bahrani said.
Moreover, although selling snakes was seen in a negative light by the senior Jogis, some young people from the community are now involved in this business. They catch reptiles and sell them to companies who kill them for their precious skins.
The community currently resides at two locations -- the Jogi Colony in Umarkot, and Hoosry in Hyderabad, Snake Research Academy (SRA) Project Director Tanveer Shaikh said. Jogis at these makeshift villages enjoy some basic facilities.
Apart from them, a majority of the community is still dispersed. Owing to the tough, nomadic lifestyle, Jogis have traditionally not enrolled their children in schools. They do not even demand their basic human rights, preferring instead to hover around the outskirts of villages, away from human settlements.
The SRA is now conducting research on snakes and the socioeconomic conditions of this nomadic community in collaboration with UNDP Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme. Since the community is scattered, wandering from one village to another, the SRA has not been able to get in touch with many of them to collect further information, but is trying to reach out to families while they are en route from one unknown destination to another.
Intense monsoons, sea invasion, floods, increase in temperature, and disruption of agriculture in this region are only some of the grim manifestations of climate change. Is it already too late, or can these effects be reversed?
By Nasrullah Thahim
Climate change in South Asia will disrupt the monsoon seasons, cause sea eruption and an increase in temperatures. Germane sectors, such as agriculture, irrigation and livestock, will suffer the most due to the lack of precautionary measures and preparedness.
In the perspectives of Pakistan, the situation is far more serious, because the irrigation and agriculture sectors have neither been dealt with administrative competence, nor have effective mechanisms been planned for combating the threats of climate change.
The situation in the future will be even worse for the poor, with a shortage of water for both, agriculture and drinking purposes. Also, the chain of the eco-survival web will be disrupted, creating challenges of food insecurity and decay of biodiversity. The number of people affected can be gauged from a recent World Bank report ("Climate Change in South Asia; World Bank South Asia Climate Change Strategy"), which says that 77 per cent of the rural population of Pakistan, and 23 per cent of the urban portion lives below the poverty line.
Actions today affect a century
What we do about climate change today will have consequences that will last a century or more. In 2007-08, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published "Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in Divided World", a report which showed the emerging threats of climate change, in the light of scientifically-established facts.
Moreover, the report discussed the dismal response of the developed, carbon dioxide-emitting countries, such as Spain, Canada, Australia, United States, Italy Japan Netherlands, Belgium , Japan, European Union, France, Denmark, United Kingdom, Germany Poland, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, towards endorsing their commitments for the reduction of carbon dioxide under the Kyoto agreement.
How prepared are we?
No effective planning exists regarding the climate change adaptation mechanism in Pakistan . Most importantly, water management in the country needs to be adapted to climate change; the Indus Basin is no exception. Pakistan relies on the Indus Basin's hydrology, which will have to be adapted to the vagaries of climate change in order to protect the local irrigation system.
Some climate models predict precipitation changes ranging from -20 per cent to +20 per cent for the upper Indus Basin, and -20 per cent to +30 per cent in the main system. Temperatures will increase too, with warming averaging 2.0 to 4.7 degrees Celsius in the upper basin and 2.0 to 3.6 degrees Celsius in the main system.
However, higher temperatures could increase evaporation leading to drier soils. This, however, may be compensated for by higher precipitation and higher run-off from snowmelt. The Indus Basin will see increased run-off due to increased glacial melt. In essence, Pakistan will "mine" its glacial water over the next few years, as higher temperatures melt more of the glaciated north and less precipitation falls as snow during the winter months.
Fig. 1 is a schematic diagram, which shows major rivers, canals, dams and other works of the Indus Basin irrigation system. Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma are the three primary reservoirs on this system. Tarbela is the first regulation device on the Indus and Pakistan's largest storage device with 10.93 billion cubic meters of storage capacity.
Dire need for water management
The government's "Water Resources and Hydropower Development Vision-2025" mainly focuses on creating additional shortage capacity through reservoirs. This perspective gives insight into the trend in government's policies about water management, and show that they are still engineering-oriented and physical infrastructure-focused .
Agriculture, which is considered to be the backbone of the local economy, would be devastated if the water management system is not made effective, keeping in view the challenge of climate change in the future. The expected erratic and intensive rains, late monsoons, dry winters, and prolonged dry spells would be the new challenges according to which, climate change policies will have to be adapted. The impact of this chain will also be a threat to the livestock sector, which is a major source of livelihood and survival for the poor of the rural areas.
Shattering coastal ecosystems
Pakistan's dependency on natural resources and coastal eco-regions will be under serious threat in the future. Presently, the coastal communities are increasingly migrating towards urban localities in the wake of increasing sea erosion. With diminishing catch and traditional livelihood opportunities, fisherfolk now have no option except to migrate somewhere else.
These social and economic changes are causing an increase in poverty in the rural parts of Sindh and Balochistan, especially in the coastal areas.
What should the govternment do?
In view of the Hyogo Convention of 1997, communities living in high-risk areas must be prepared for disasters and will have to adapt climate-change tactics. This issue, however, is apparently not being taken seriously by the government.
No adaptation and mitigation policies have been developed for the impact of climate change, which will be seen in the form of disasters, such as floods, droughts, hurricanes and storm-surges.
A deliberate and effective water management mechanism needs to be developed on a regulatory basis, and adaptation and mitigation measures need to be taken for agriculture and climate-related disasters in the future.
It is not too late, but there is a dire need to build understanding and awareness among the institutions and citizens who are at a very high risk. The government should adapt new strategies based on the threats of climate change, and new mechanisms of water management should have regularised form.
One potentially effective way to adapt water resource management is through demand management, which looks into better use and allocates a given amount of water through institutional and price mechanisms.
It avoids the gamble of committing to large financial and capital investments for physical infrastructure that may not be suited to future climatic conditions.
As almost 97 per cent of Pakistan's available water resources are used by the agriculture sector, applying demand management could secure significant gains. There are, however, several issues that would need to be understood and tackled first. If these hurdles are not properly addressed, farmers and smallholders in particular, could lose out.
For effective disaster risk management strategies, the government should focus on the institutionalisation of the relevant sectors.
The government authorities, including the water and power, agriculture, and livestock departments, as well as the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council and the National Disaster Management Authority, will have to be prepared for focusing their priorities towards the emerging threats of climate change.
The writer is a development practitioner. He can be reached at [email protected]