The party may not yet be ready for a split but omens are not good if it continues to ignore its essential base and democratic and social justice stirrings of the wider public
By Arif Azad
The question of the PPP's implosion is being silently mused among a section of political observers and commentators since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Although the PPP has been here before in its history, this time around the talk of disintegration may acquire a concrete form if its current leadership does not read the mood correctly and institute proper mid-course correction.
The first time the question of the PPP's disintegration arose was in the immediate aftermath of Zulfikar Bhutto's judicial execution in 1979. The fears of the PPP's immediate disintegration, however, proved unjustified because of the strong bond that knitted the PPP's cadres and Bhutto senior. An additional strength to this bond was provided by the heroic courage shown by the mother-daughter duo of Nusrat and Benazir. The sense of a strong and unyielding leadership powered by a deeply held belief of a great wrong done to the Bhuttos was strong enough to weather any schism engineered by the military regime (One small faction headed by Maulana Kausar Niazi came to nothing)
With the Bhuttos out of the country, the PPP leadership fell into the hands of the old guard represented by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and others who chose to remain in the country. From a tiny Barbican flat in London, Benazir ran a tight party ship during the party's wilderness years while plotting to oust the gang of uncles. This strategy closely mirrored the one followed by Indira Gandhi who earlier had consolidated her grip on the Congress party by dislodging the party's grey eminence from positions of power. On returning to power, Benazir too deftly edged out the old guard, incurring a serious damage to the party's unified future. Will the party this time survive minor or major mutinies, factional groups and dark mutterings within and beyond the party?
Are things different now? Yes. I tend to think so. One big difference being the absence of an overarching, unifying personality with immense pulling power to keep different contending factions in harmonious play. In the seventies, the elder Bhutto provided such a personality followed by Nusrat Bhutto (up to an extent) and later on by Benazir Bhutto who cultivated her own myth by virtue of giving enormous sacrifices and showing immense courage. In the process of keeping her party's caboodle together, Benazir acquired political legitimacy of her own, which kept a substantial section of the party and the general public tied to her. With Benazir's assassination the party stands at a cross road again, and on the evidence of recent months, it is fair to conclude that the party is slowly drifting away from its roots. This is reflected in close associates of Benazir's being edged to the fringe of the party, with little meaningful and transformative role to play within the party.
More problematic perhaps is the PPP's confused relationship with the lawyers' movement which has pitted the party faithfuls against the leadership and the general protesting public. During the long march, the sorry sight of the party faithfuls finding it hard to explain the top leadership's dithering over the judge's issues and its studied distance from one of the most vocal social movement of recent years was heart-rending. This has given rise to splittist and anti-splittist viewpoints in the party. Those who think implosion is imminent base their case on the following emerging trends. Asif Zardari is not a public man in the sense Benazir was. Hence he may find it difficult to keep a cacophonous party in one piece. Moreover, the party's current leadership is a closed shop, with old trusted leaders thrust out of the public eye
(when did we last see the likes of Raza Rabbani, Naheed Khan, and Makhdoom in the party-sanctioned public eye?). Contrast this with the PML-N leadership which always gives a sense of the party being more consultative, in public at least.
With the PPP distancing itself from a powerful social movement coupled with its eroding urban base the possibility of the party being confined to a minority province and feudally-ordered bits of southern Punjab looks quite real now. In that event, the party's effort to recover its lost base would involve an uphill task particularly when the party lacks a charismatic figure at the helm of affairs.
However, anti-splittists maintain that the party is going to remain united despite temporary setbacks. They base their case on the past history of the party. While it is true that the party may generate some factional atmosphere in the shortrun, it maybe temporary as the party has survived such factional groupings in the past. What happened to the people who tried to float factions within the party.(Ramay, Khar, Mumtaz, Kausar Niazi are trotted out as the sorry spectacle of such efforts in the past)
Moreover, the party occupation of power and pelf would acts a strong disincentive as the pork barrel politics is going to ensure a fair portion of the pie to deliver to the party faithful (this depends, of course, on how long the coalition endures).
There may be great a strength in the argument being put forward by the anti-splittist groups. But omens are not good if the party continues to ignore its party's essential base and democratic and social justice stirrings of the wider public.
Nizam Saqqa, staged at the Alhamra last week, has been a well-known production with a successful run in the past
By Sarwat Ali
The play Nizam Saqqa, staged at the Alhamra last week, was reminiscent of the plays that were staged in Lahore about twenty years ago. The director and writer of the play Munir Raj too made a name for himself about thirty years ago. He has been passionately involved with commercial theatre for the major portion of his life. Once commercial theatre shot to fame about forty years ago, Munir Raj was one of the consolidating figures who made sure that the curtain goes up every night in one avenue or the other in the city.
Organisations like Alhamra have promoted theatre in a number of ways: By mounting and putting up a production; by facilitating a production to be staged in one of its halls; and by merely renting the hall on cheaper rates to theatre groups. The first one is the most difficult to manage because for that Alhamra has to develop its own team and engage creative people like directors, writers, actors etc. And Alhamra has not done that for a considerable period of time. The last option of renting out the halls on cheaper rates is the easiest. But it seems Alhamra has opted for the middle option where an already well-known production with a successful run in the past is facilitated to be staged at the Alhamra.
Nizam Saqqa has been a popular play which was staged many a time in the past. The story revolves around the incident where Mughal King Humayun while fleeing for his life was helped by a saqqa (water carrier) to cross the river. In return Humayun promised that if restored as King of India, he would let Nizam Saqqa rule his kingdom for a day. It so happened that when Humayun came back to claim his throne after ten years in exile, he did not forget the promise he made to the one who saved his life and allowed him to rule for a day.
The situation was dramatic and ready-made to offer ample opportunity of throwing up the contrast between a hereditary ruler and one who has come to rule from a less-privileged section of the population. What was taken for granted in statecraft was exposed by the change of perspective, while the confusion and the postured certainty by the ruler for one day was also incongruous. This comic potential had been exploited by Munir Raj and taken almost to the verge of the slapstick.
The actors did outshine the rest. Anwar Ali, Irfan Hashmi, Abid Kashmiri and Humaira Asghar all put in a well-timed act, honed of course by the last forty odd years of stage appearances. The popular theatre is basically an actor's theatre. The script, the direction and the sets are all subordinated to what the actor is saying or doing. These actors, who have not had any formal training except being apprentices in either theatres or any other form of performing arts, are naturally talented.
The first actor who made an impression at the popular level was Kamal Ahmed Rizvi and he was closely followed by Rafiq Khawar. Their popularity was also sealed by a television show called Alif Noon, which they did successfully a number of times. Kamal Ahmed Rizvi, being lanky, played a conman always on the lookout to swindle others while Rafiq Khawar being plump played a well-intentioned fool. Both were a perfect foil to each other. But others then appeared on the stage like Ali Ejaz and Khalid Abbas Dar. All these actors and people related to show business were renowned names because they also took part in radio and more so television plays, shows and programmes.
Athar Shah Khan, who also had made his debut on radio and television, tipped his balance towards comedies that were unbridled and appeared more like talk shows. His plays like Chirya Ghar were immensely popular and, in more ways than one, were responsible for theatre to stand firmly on its own legs without the crutches of support from government of semi-government autonomous bodies.
Then a totally new breed of actors appeared on the scene that had no pretension of doing anything other than what they were doing successfully -- that is to make people laugh. They never acted in any serious play or any other kind of play. The person who then became a very popular actor and on whose appearance depended the box office proceeds was Amanullah Khan. Hailing from a family of musicians he gave up singing for a more lucrative profession -- theatre. His first play was Sixer, a super-hit comedy that till then had broken all box office records.
With him appeared Albela, also a singing star, who came from a background of professional musicians and successfully carved a career for himself on stage. Both Amanullah and Albela's success made Punjabi the base language of this kind of theatre. Urdu was used but more for caricatural reasons or to typecast a character. The popular appeal of Punjabi was capitalised upon by these two very popular actors. Then there appeared many others like Anwar Ali, Hamid Rana, Mastana, Baboo Baral, Nashila, Teddy, Sohail Ahmed and Iftikhar Thakur.
Ever since the authorities became more stringent about allowing dance on stage, the more popular plays are held outside Alhamra and its huge facilities are being underutilised. This has also provided an opportunity for Alhamra to pursue its own theatre agenda more vigorously. It is about time Alhmara starts to produce its own plays, handle them fully, from getting a script written to choosing the director and then letting him select his cast.
An essay on the history of modern miniature painting in Pakistan
By Quddus Mirza
In the political process, scientific research, intellectual work and artistic movement, there can be many initiatives and innovations. Some are false starts while others add something substantial to the field. Only the fruitful attempts are remembered, whereas failures are quickly and conveniently forgotten.
Something similar happened to the history of modern miniature painting in Pakistan. For anyone tracing its past, it would be a surprise that the first graduate in this discipline was Musarrat Iqbal Qureshi, a.k.a. Omeair Paash. She joined as a major student of miniature painting in 1984, and graduated in 1986 from NCA. Qureshi did not opt for miniature out of love for its cultural import, nor did she intend to explore its formal elements. She was not interested in its traditional significance or historical context either. Her reason to join miniature was practical. She realised she was unable to do well in other areas of fine arts, such as painting and sculpture, so she tried her hand in the newly offered subject. She could not perform here too and was so disappointed with her output that she had a nervous breakdown and did not appear for the final jury in her degree show. However, Musarrat passed and was awarded the degree in miniature painting.
Today nobody remembers Musarrat Iqbal Qureshi as the first student of modern miniature. People know of Shahzia Sikander being the pioneer of miniature painting, not only at NCA, but outside Pakistan. Shahzia Sikander has become a symbol of the rebirth of miniature painting in modern times, followed by a large number of other artists practicing in this genre; some merely copying the past, while others introducing new ideas, techniques and imagery within the conventional art form.
Now, when the movement of modern miniature painting is almost two decades old, one must recall its origin and examine the factor for its genesis in Pakistan -- especially at the National College of Arts, Lahore. Long before its revival, the miniature painting existed in India, ranging from the Buddhist illuminated manuscripts on palm leaves (made between 800 to 1200 AD in North West), to the Jain painting on fabric from the state of Gujarat (around the fifteenth century). When Muslim rulers brought paper to India in the Sultanate period, this surface was preferred for making miniatures. But it was only in the reigns of great Mughals that the art of miniature flourished and attained an unmatchable sophistication, and later continued in the courts of Rajasthan and Hill States of Northern India.
After that glorious phase, the miniature painting witnessed a decline -- in its appreciation, patronage and practice in colonial India; by the mid-twentieth century it was manufactured and sold like a tourist item to attract foreigners in Indian cities, and as a craft piece in Pakistan (despite old Ustads Sheikh Shuja and Haji Sharif teaching it as a minor subject at NCA).
The boom of miniature painting in Pakistan is a recent phenomenon, so one must inquire and analyse the value of this art form in the local art scene as well as in the international markets and biennale circuits. There has never been any other art trend that was so much admired by outsiders and pursued by our young artists and art students. Its popularity can be summarised in the fact that not only those who studied it at NCA are active as miniature painters, but a number of individuals trained in textile design, architecture and other areas are also creating miniature in order to survive as artists.
The unprecedented and insurmountable success of miniature painting, besides a few other reasons, has an important aspect. It fulfilled a long awaited need/niche: To have a national art of Pakistan. As with the creation of the country, questions started to circulate about what is the national art of the newly found state. These queries were not limited to the realm of visual art only; they extended to other fields of culture such as poetry, fiction, music, dance and drama. Attempts were made to connect our cultural activities with the Indus Valley Civilization, Indian aesthetics, Muslim faith, folk expression etc. But in terms of visual arts, the matter was never satisfactorily resolved. Often this issue was approached by pressing on artists to use 'local colours', indigenous themes and rural and urban landscape, but every effort in this regard seemed dull and derivative (even though the business of national dress, bird, flower, sports and language -- like the national flag and anthem -- was already dealt/determined).
After years of multiple possibilities, it was only in the form of miniature painting that Pakistani art found its national character. It represented something new and different from the rest of the art being produced in other parts of the world (and distinct from India too). Thus modern miniature was hailed as the authentic visual expression of this nation, and its popularity, besides it scale and intricate work, rested upon its link with the heritage and its presence as a unique genre.
Hence miniature provided a good option for making it a symbol of cultural nationalism. It was the same period when the country was disconnecting itself from the Western customs and state was promoting its Islamic image/facade. Simultaneously, the Afghan war, the Iranian Revolution and the beginning of East-West confrontation played a part in invoking the necessity for nationalism, is not only in the domain of politics, but in all the other spheres of life, including culture.
Though, with the waning of nation state in Pakistan (where all the functions of the government, such as health, security, education, telecommunication, entertainment etc. have been shifted to private sectors and multinational organisations), the idea of nationalism is bound to alter. More so, with the emergence of globalisation and cultural trade from across the border, the idea of nationalism not going to be much effective in the future. One can draw two examples, from dress and vocabulary, in this regard. Due to the availability and affordability of T-shirts and trousers, many men in Pakistan (not necessarily from the educated, privileged or Western background) have switched over to Western attire instead of their traditional/national dress of Shalwar Kameez. Likewise, with the increasing usage of mobile, text messaging and internet, various English words and terms are fast turning into our local expressions -- preferred and used by both educated classes and illiterate sections of society.
With all these developments, the notion of nationalism is subject to change, and one wonders what will happen to our favourite miniature painting in the due course. Probably we are on the verge of a new beginning again -- after Musarrat Iqbal Qureshi and Shahzia Sikander -- if that new beginning has not already been made by Rashid Rana with his computer generated work I Love Miniatures!
The government slashes NAPA's grant to one third of what it was
Three years ago there were only two countries in our region without an academy for the promotion of performing arts, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In 2005 the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) happily put an end to this misery in our neck of the woods at least.
To put it simply, NAPA represents an effort to take the unpolished raw coal of our society and through hard work, lots and lots of manhours and three whole years turns out glittering jewels of performing arts for us to enjoy as a nation. Yes, that is how long it takes to excel in a specific field of performing arts of which there are namely three, Music, Theatre/Drama & Dance. The amount of hard work and dedication required for each of these subjects is quite immense as witnessed by the fact that out of 50 enrollees for each discipline, the last graduating batch saw 9 students get over the finishing line per area.
Housed in the magnificent Hindu Gymkhana, the faculty for this academy is a quartet of immense power and experience, the chairman being Zia Mohyeddin and the board comprising luminaries like Rahat Kazmi, Arshad Mahmud and Talat Hussain, all grand masters in their own areas of excellence and proven stalwarts of our theatre, film and television fraternity.
NAPA spends around 1.5 million rupees per student during the three year course it offers. With such a vast ground to cover for each student, this organisation basically survives on donations and grants that it receives from its patrons. However its largest patron which is the government, has recently displayed sluggishness in their support and basically reduced their grant size to one third of what it was some time ago. NAPA which was getting Rs37 million in funding from the federal government to promote arts and culture will now get Rs17 million. This, of course, means an enormous reduction in revenue input and thus NAPA is struggling badly.
We might sit and think from an outsider's point of view that 1.5 million charged on each student over three years represents a high sum of money and perhaps like the rest of us NAPA should also tighten its belt in these worsening economic times. However, we need to cast a glance at some of the comparable schools in the west in terms of faculty experience and teaching imparted, to learn that they are charging the same amount for just one year of teaching. For example the London School of Performing Arts where a single annum's fee is around 12,000 GBP and that's just tuition. This is not the only difference because NAPA, unlike the other academies worldwide, does not just provide its graduates with the proper tools to glitter with onstage but also an opportunity to do so practically. It basically employs its graduates the year around in the NAPA Repertory Theatre Company, which stages plays on its premises and is groundbreaking in this regard for the students.
So do we let an effort like this just dwindle away? To me, our art is as much a part of our culture as our language and forms the basic perception of us worldwide. We as a society need to realise that we have limited options for safe and fun family entertainment in this urban jungle of ours. NAPA and its theatre company are a tempting and enlightening option, we need to come together to support it and our rich art and music through it. If not for us then for our future generations, who will forever thank us for giving them the stars of tomorrow and not just broken dreams from re runs of art extinguished through lack of support. As Arshad Mahmud put it aptly, "No society can have economic development without social development, and we are working over our capacity to bring about social development."
So for those who matter, for those who can make it happen do something, your nation's creativity awaits your response.