play
review
The 'dark’ nights
LUMS’ annual dramatic presentation, Con Fuse marked the revival of the much-overlooked genre of black comedy
By Usman Ghafoor
What happens when a bunch of distinctly funny characters make dodgy moves so as to keep each other in the dark? You have a 'black’ comedy. Throw in some cleverly timed verbal sparring, a great deal of physical humour with a bit of song-and-dance and you have a perfect recipe for a play that will have the audiences in stitches. The annual production of LUMS’ very popular Dramaline, Con Fuse did just that, and how.

MOOD STREET
Wake up Pakistan, the clock is ticking!
By Haneya H. Zuberi
We like waking up to the chirping of birds, to the rays of sunshine filtering through our windows marking the beginning of a new day. Then after a healthy breakfast we head to work driving our perfect cars. A little glimpse at the newspaper here and there is a light hobby. "10 killed in a drone attack", "3 died in a bus accident", "20 killed in a suicide attack", "4 killed over a family dispute". So on and so forth.

TOWN TALK
*Women Life Style Exhibition today at Pearl Continental Hotel from 11 am to 11 pm.
*Theatre: Maas Foundation’s 'Mera Ki Qasoor’at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall on Mon, Mar 15 at 6:30 pm. The play is a part of the awareness compaign by Maas Foundation about women’s sexual harassment in society.

security
Unsafe in homes
Sensitive offices in residential areas are a major issue with people who demand they be shifted to safer places
By Aoun Sahi
Sadia Javed, 45 years old resident of K-Block of Model Town in Lahore looks at her house littered with broken glass, pieces of metal and wrecked furniture. "On the morning of March 8, I was preparing breakfast when I heard the huge blast. My house started shaking; I felt that the blast had taken place right where I was. Doors, windows and furniture of my house broke down in seconds in front of my eyes. Some pieces of broken glasses and metal also hit my body," head covered in bandages, a tearful Sadia points at a pile of broken household items in her grassy lawn.

A tale of torture
Baghbanpura police not only brutally thrashed and humiliated a man in public, they are giving him life threats now
By Arshad Dogar
A victim of police torture and his entire family have been forced to sell their house located in Baghbanpura and move to some other place in the provincial metropolis, in order to save themselves from the wrath of the local police.

Life in shanty homes
Thousands live in the outskirts of the city and along the nalas without basic amenities with no government plan for them
By Shafiq Nizami
Shanties are normally built at the edge of cities and along railway lines and with the swell of population these squatter settlements turn into shanty towns stretching far and wide.

 

 

play

review

The 'dark’ nights

LUMS’ annual dramatic presentation, Con Fuse marked the revival of the much-overlooked genre of black comedy

By Usman Ghafoor

What happens when a bunch of distinctly funny characters make dodgy moves so as to keep each other in the dark? You have a 'black’ comedy. Throw in some cleverly timed verbal sparring, a great deal of physical humour with a bit of song-and-dance and you have a perfect recipe for a play that will have the audiences in stitches. The annual production of LUMS’ very popular Dramaline, Con Fuse did just that, and how.

Based on Shoaib Hashmi’s adaptation of British dramatist Sir Peter Shaffer’s much-filmed and variously staged comic marvel, Black Comedy, Con Fuse was a winning script already. Guided by the inimitable Shahnaz Sheikh -- who had also been a proud part of the Hashmis’ 1980 performance of the same -- and supported by Lahore Arts Council, the young team of university students eventually put together a competent show for three consecutive nights at Alhamra, that was not to live down the high expectations attached to the original.

Of course, Dramaline did indulge a bit of 'contemporising’ also, such as a stray reference to Bollywood’s Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, musical interludes that used melodies from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and so on. All this went down famously with the young crowds that had swarmed the venue.

Set in a middle-class apartment, somewhere in Lahore, on a menacing Sunday night when the fuse blows out, plunging the place into darkness, the play’s very opening premise promises laughs galore. Abbas is anticipating the arrival of his girl friend Amber’s father at the same as he expects filthy-rich art collector, Seth, to visit the place. Apparently, he has got some expensive furniture pieces that he lifted from the apartment of his neighbour Khurdam while the latter was out of town. For all the audience know, Khurdam could be back any moment and turn Abbas’s plan to impress his to-be father-in-law upside down. Enter another neighbour, the squeaky voiced Shakila Begum aka Shakko and, a little later, Abbas’s ex, Neelofur, a mischievous coquette, and the situation is expected to get murkier. But it is completely dark all around, albeit for the few occasions when a lighter is lit or a torch is put on, so the characters can afford to play the con game. Not for very long, though.

The humour in the barely hour-and-half-long play is 'physical’ as well as situational and verbal, when everyone on stage is feeling their way around clumsily because there is limited or no light. Con Fuse, true to Shaffer’s script, dwells a great deal on some very elaborately choreographed antics of its lead characters -- chiefly the bedeviled but charming Abbas, played masterfully by BSc (Hons.) student Asser Malik; his curious and hysterical neighbour, the paunchy Khurdam, a well-nuanced performance by Shehzad Ghias; and the prim and prissy, stick-wielding Colonel Saheb, brought to life by Talal.

The ladies deserve a mention, too. Mariya Dada, flashing her saucer eyes, a colourful attire and a who-cares attitude, makes a bright and lively Neelo. Wajiha Saqib as Amber has shades of veteran TV actress, Samina Ahmed. That should serve as a compliment, too. Another BSc (Hons.) student, the pretty and petite Anum Kamran as Shakila Begum is surprisingly not made to look old. Whether the director did this on purpose is not known, but she looks quite effervescent and livens up the stage.

The props and lighting had an especially important role to play in Con Fuse; and these departments were well taken care of. Depilex’s makeup was complementary, too. In fact, mention is due to the entire team of Dramaline, especially President Ali Chaudhry and Director Junaid Fazal -- who also plays the eerie looking Seth -- for handling a master script with great care. Had a single gag gone wrong, the effect would’ve been lost in the darkness.

 

MOOD STREET

Wake up Pakistan, the clock is ticking!

By Haneya H. Zuberi

We like waking up to the chirping of birds, to the rays of sunshine filtering through our windows marking the beginning of a new day. Then after a healthy breakfast we head to work driving our perfect cars. A little glimpse at the newspaper here and there is a light hobby. "10 killed in a drone attack", "3 died in a bus accident", "20 killed in a suicide attack", "4 killed over a family dispute". So on and so forth.

We have succumbed ourselves into our daily routines and have dissolved our conscious in our robotic lifestyles a little too much to really feel the naked pain of a life which just perished. Do we really think of a beating heart which is beating no more? News flashes, people die, which is a bad thing, but bad things happen, life moves on. We drive back home from work. We finish our chores, have dinner and go back to bed.

I was living such a life, feeling remorse for a few minutes over a bomb blast or a drone attack which took place a few hundred kilometers away from where I live and then continuing with my life just like nothing ever happened. Indifference was taking over me. Like everyone else I would talk about the turmoil our country was in, very causally. Suicide attacks were normal talk parallel to the discussions over latest laptop models or how hem lines of the shirts have gone low until I experienced what it is like to be directly affected by a bomb blast. Yes. A bomb blast.

On Monday, I did not wake up to the sun rays filtering in from the corner of my window or to the sweet humming of the morning birds. I woke up to a bang. It was sounded in my own neighborhood. I got up with a thud and ran outside. The urgency was so intense that I even forgot to wear my slippers. The sky was a deadly sight. For once, it wasn’t blue. It was black and grey. Clouds of smoke were floating across the sky. It looked like they were mourning mourning mortality, humanity. Birds were hovering over the sky as if in dismay. The sight gave me goose bumps. I ran inside and switched on the television. There had been a bomb blast in Model Town a few houses away from mine.

Eight hundred kilograms of explosives were used that stopped a dozen beating hearts within microseconds. Human flesh changed into ashes. A vehicle loaded with explosives rammed into the gates of the FIA building in K Block. The after effects of the attack loomed in momentarily. Eighty people were injured and taken to nearby hospitals. There were bomb particles in the yards of adjacent houses. Parts of bodies of people were lying around the site. There was a huge crater in the ground. The Model Town lawns which were once pristine with lush green grass were now littered with glass particles, window particles and metal along with upended furniture.

I never knew I could come this close to a bomb blast neither did the parents who were dropping their kids off at a nearby seminary and the doctors, lawyers and businessmen who were preparing to leave for work. What a start of the week! All the political leaders and parties condemning such attacks has become more of a new "social norm" now. Relatives and friends calling and inquiring the well being of those who live near the affected areas is part of the new "social responsibility" now. "Hi, I heard there was a blast next door, you alright?" Did humanity have to come down to this? What surprises me is how we have made bomb blasts a part of our life and have added dealing with it to our list of etiquettes.

The world has witnessed long periods of death at various times if you go down the pages of history: the World Wars, the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan wars, the Iraq war and now the war on terror. But as we move through chronology along with the dates the world also advances in technology. Each single day brings along more innovations than the previous. Hence new methods of killing also come in the picture. Someone said, "a bomb is an invention to finish all the other inventions". I would simper when I would hear it earlier but now it brings chills to my spine. I think of the wounded and the bandaged victims of this invention. I feel helpless.

What is next? We will sit back and watch the sunrise after a restless, sleepless night, will try to appreciate the gravity of what just passed by us. Lost in aesthetics, the true value of what just slipped by us time we can never regain is lost upon crimson yellow rays and to the faint sounds of birds chirping. It will be only later when we will begin to regret, when we begin to fall into that vicious cycle of regret that we could have done something for our country helped in some small way to change the status quo. But I still think that it isn’t too late. We can wake up as nation now. Right at this moment. Together we can unite and combat terroirsm. It is high time we give foundations to the castles we have built in the air. We should take heed from what has happened for we do not find what we do not seek. Wake up Pakistan, the clock is ticking!

 

TOWN TALK

 

*Women Life Style Exhibition today at Pearl Continental Hotel from 11 am to 11 pm.

*Theatre: Maas Foundation’s 'Mera Ki Qasoor’at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall on Mon, Mar 15 at 6:30 pm. The play is a part of the awareness compaign by Maas Foundation about women’s sexual harassment in society.

Book Signing: The Untamed Affair by Shaista Bukhari at Cafe Bol, today from 4-9 pm.

*Exhibition of Works by Rehana Mangi and Iqra Tanveer at Rohtas Gallery opening on Wednesday, Mar 17. It will continue till Mar 24.

*Solo Show by Hussain Tariq at The Drawing Room Art Gallery from Mon, Mar 15 to Tue, Mar 30.

*Exhibition titled 'Miniature Madness’ by Amal Peerzada at Peerus Cafe from 5-9 pm.

*An artist from India exhibits her works titled 'Song of the Sirens’ at Grey Noise. Gallery open from 7-10 pm. Tomorrow is the last day of the exhibition.

*Exhibition of recent works by Shahid Mirza at Zahoor-Ul-Akhlaq gallery, National College Of Arts. Galeery timings: 9 am to 6 pm. The exhibition will remain open till Tuesday.

*Calligraphy Exhibition at Tasneem Inam’s studio at Askari 10, Lahore Cantt. Only for families.

Timings: 10 am to 6 pm.

 

Unsafe in homes

Sensitive offices in residential areas are a major issue with people who demand they be shifted to safer places

By Aoun Sahi

Sadia Javed, 45 years old resident of K-Block of Model Town in Lahore looks at her house littered with broken glass, pieces of metal and wrecked furniture. "On the morning of March 8, I was preparing breakfast when I heard the huge blast. My house started shaking; I felt that the blast had taken place right where I was. Doors, windows and furniture of my house broke down in seconds in front of my eyes. Some pieces of broken glasses and metal also hit my body," head covered in bandages, a tearful Sadia points at a pile of broken household items in her grassy lawn.

Her house is amongst the many residential buildings badly affected when a vehicle full of explosive material hit the building of special investigation agency that investigates high profile alleged extremists and terrorists, killing 13 people on the spot.

According to Sadia, the office was a permanent threat to the residents and they were sure of the fact that a terrorist attack loomed on their doorsteps due to the investigation agency’s office. "Model Town is a residential area; I don’t know why such a sensitive office of security force was allowed to work here. The residents of K-Block have been complaining since March 2008, when the first bomb blast occurred in F-Block. The road blocked in front of this office in the name of security has been causing a lot of problems for the residents. We have been facing dual consequences first the threat of a terrorist attack and secondly the people in the area have been bearing with the screams rising from the office at night when alleged terrorists were interrogated by security forces," she says.

Colonel (retired) Tahir Hussain Kardar, President Model Town Society, tells TNS that after the 2008 attack they have been requesting the authorities continuously to move the sensitive offices from the society, "but we received no response from them. There are still 8-10 sensitive offices situated in the premises of the society. The commissioner Lahore has assured us of moving only one of them.

"The residents of the society are very angry as this is second time that they have to face terrorism only because of these sensitive offices. We have already sent notices to the owners of these buildings to vacate them in a week or be ready to face the consequences," he says.

The society rules and regulations do not permit commercial activity in the jurisdiction of the society but more than 300 government and other offices, including 10 investigation offices, 45 schools and two TV channels, are currently working in the society. Kardar says that all these offices will be removed gradually from the society "but our first preference is to get the sensitive offices out of the area," he adds.

SP Model Town Ayaz Saleem confirms that the authorities have received complaints and have considered moving the facility away from the residential area but negotiations were still in process to move the office out of the society when the tragedy occurred.

Model Town area in the city is only one case, in fact, many of the residential areas have been facing similar situation. In Lahore there are 77 police stations and most of them are situated in residential areas. Both police training schools in Manawan and Chuhng are also situated in densely populated areas. The headquarters of FIA, IB and other security agencies in Lahore are also situated in populated areas. That is not only unsafe for the security departments and intelligence agencies and for their investigation processes, but also very dangerous for the citizens who live nearby. The recent attacks on the offices of the security departments and intelligence agencies in Lahore have caused many civilian deaths and injuries. The authorities should take immediate action to solve the issue.

Lahore police chief, Pervaiz Rathore says that police stations cannot be moved away from residential areas as the prime job of police is to ensure law and order in the cities. "We are trying to make police stations more secure to avoid the attacks but no one can assure that if we move the police stations away from the residential areas there will be no attacks in the city. General public needs to cooperate with police and inform them if they see a suspect in this area," he says.

Maqsood Ahmed, a resident of Queens Road situated on the opposite side near police 15 rescue building says that residents of his locality have been living in terrible conditions because of presence of different sensitive offices in the surrounding area. "On one side we have headquarter of Lahore police while on the other side is headquarter of an intelligence agency. The provincial head office of FIA is also situated only a kilometre from here. Sir Ganga Ram hospital is also only metres away from our houses, so we will have to face the consequences of all terrorist activities in city as most of the victims in these blasts are brought here. We are living under a permanent fear of being killed at any time. The loss is not of property or health alone. In last two and a half years, we have faced five big terrorist attacks in the surroundings including one at rescue 15 building in which all the houses in my locality got damaged while more than 15 people were injured," he says that sometimes all ways leading to their localities are blocked by authorities in the name of security and they get stuck in their houses for hours.

District Coordination Officer Lahore Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta tells TNS that issue of removing sensitive offices from residential areas is under consideration "Many of these offices were established when these areas were sparsely populated and were away from the main city. But now as the cities have expanded at a rapid pace, these offices are now in the middle of the masses, and they are no more secret. It is not an easy task to move all of them at once from the residential areas but we are planning to move them out," he says.

 

 

A tale of torture

Baghbanpura police not only brutally thrashed and humiliated a man in public, they are giving him life threats now

By Arshad Dogar

A victim of police torture and his entire family have been forced to sell their house located in Baghbanpura and move to some other place in the provincial metropolis, in order to save themselves from the wrath of the local police.

However, the ill-fated youth and his family are not sure whether the police will 'allow’ them to live peacefully in any part of the city.

The 30-year-old man, who was subjected to torture in public by the Baghbanpura police on January 24, 2010, was identified as Nadeem Masih, son of Makanda Masih, a resident of Shahjahan Street, Naseerabad, Baghbanpura, Lahore. It was his family residence for the past 45 years and housed in the densely populated Muslim area. The Christian family enjoyed a good reputation, though.

Makanda Masih had left behind four sons and seven daughters, all of them married. Nadeem, the youngest, is a carpenter by profession.

Nadeem, together with his brothers, joined hands with the three sons of the late Siddique, a retired sub-inspector of Lahore Police, and resident of the same locality, some 14 years back. Siddique appointed two of his sons, namely Muneer and Shabbir in the Police, and they are currently working at Police Lines Qila Gujjar Singh, while the third, namely Latif, started a business of rickshaws on rent. They purchased around eight rickshaws and employed the four brothers of victim’s family as drivers. The four brothers kept on working with the police family for over 7 years.

Meanwhile, the four brothers managed to purchase two rickshaws. Nadeem became a carpenter and his elder brother started driving Mazda. Thus the victim’s family got separated from the accused police family. Police constables Muneer and Shabbir were not happy with the new business of the four brothers. However, the victim’s family avoided indulging in any kind of scuffle with the policemen.

Police Constable Muneer Ahmad visited the house of torture victim Nadeem a week before the incident and borrowed new Honda 125 motorcycle from Nadeem. The latter refused to give the bike saying that his elder brother had stopped him from giving the bike to anyone. Constable Muneer Ahmad felt humiliated upon refusal and started screaming abuses besides giving life threats.

On Feb 24, Sub Inspectors Zahid and Riaz Ahmad along with police officials Muhammad Mumtaz, Faisal Javed, Muhammad Qasim, Javed Akhtar and Shahid Pervez barged into Nadeem’s house and dragged him out in the street. A large number of locals also gathered on the spot. Police officials asked the children of Nadeem’s sisters-in-law as well as the men present to beat him. The police started beating him with shoes and punches, right in public, before carrying him to the police station. They also seized his mobile phone, Honda 125 (LEL-5446), and Rs 10,000 in cash.

Further torture awaited Nadeem at the police station where he was also implicated in case No 88/10 under Articles 3 & 4 of Prohibition (enforcement of Hadd) Order (PEHO) of 1979. The police first tried to impose the recovery of 100 bottles of wine on Nadeem but as they went short of wine bottles, the recovery of 21 bottles was imposed against him. Nadeem was sent to jail.

Since his release on bail on January 26, Nadeem has been striving for justice. To no avail. Torture was proved in the Medico-Legal Certificate (MLC) conducted at Mian Munshi Hospital. The court ordered the police to return his possessions -- the motorbike, the cash and the cell phone. With no success.

There is a huge amount of pressure on Nadeem to withdraw the applications filed against the policemen with the offices of Punjab Chief Secretary, SP Cantt and DG Anti-corruption.

Talking to TNS, a traumatised Nadeem says that ever since the incident, he and his children have been forced to stay away from their house. He says that his elder brother Saleem was never in favour of selling their house "but after the incident, he decided to sell it and move elsewhere."

The locals of the area have also expressed their strong resentment against the high-handedness of the police. On the other hand, the police is said to be giving Nadeem death threats in a false encounter and implicate him in heinous crimes.

Email: [email protected]

 

Life in shanty homes

Thousands live in the outskirts of the city and along the nalas without basic amenities with no government plan for them

By Shafiq Nizami

Shanties are normally built at the edge of cities and along railway lines and with the swell of population these squatter settlements turn into shanty towns stretching far and wide.

The Lahore City is surrounded with such thousands of impoverished dwellings, particularly along Bund Road, River Ravi, Sabzazar and China Scheme drains and in Batapur, Jallo Mor, Saggian Pull and Shahdara areas, besides in developing LDA housing schemes. People living in these shoddy huts are bereft of basic amenities like sanitation, electricity, gas, water and healthcare as these homes are usually deemed illegal and unauthorised by town planners, but forgetting the fact that these dwellers are after all human beings and have rights to all the facilities which a government provides for its citizens.

Usually, these people earn their livelihood from juggling on streets and festivals and their women sing folk songs at weddings to earn money. They have their own lifestyle and seem content with whatever they have.

We hardly see any plan for socio-economic uplift of this marginalised segment of society. Even the attitude of people settled around them is not encouraging towards them. They are often looked down upon and treated as criminals by the people living in big houses around them. Well-to-do families living close to these shanty towns rarely look after them, rather, are suspicious of them.

"I am happy with my life. I have all the things which a man needs to live a good life. But the thing which perturbs me and my family is police raids. Whenever a crime is reported in our locality, police comes to us straight away, even at midnight and pick up our youth," says Mushtaq, a man in his 50s sitting in his tiny battered hut.

Four girls tell TNS they spend their days and nights in despair and fear -- as they cannot forget the horrible event when an LDA demolition squad uprooted their hut and killed their old father.

"You are not the only one who has come to us, a lot of people have visited this place, they interviewed us and took pictures of our houses but they did nothing to help us", says a grim-faced woman surrounded by six or eight naked kids with running nose and barefoot. Talking to TNS, the old woman says she has been living in this area since her childhood.

"My marriage took place in this hut and now I have four young daughters but I have no home to marry them off. We have been living here for more than fifty years. Shouldn’t the government allot this land to us?" She asks, adding, "Monsoon is always a turbulent season for us as we don’t have any proper system to pump out rainwater. Our huts become inundated and their roofs start leaking during heavy rain."

At a nearby hut, two well-dressed boys Imran alias Lali and Kali told TNS, "We are Qalandar by caste and have been living in the city for many years and have our national identity cards and speak Punjabi. Taliban (begging) is our forefathers’ profession, but we have given up this occupation and are doing business of selling monkeys which we bring from different parts of the country."

When contacted, an LDA director on condition of anonymity told TNS, "In the guise of gypsies, land mafia occupies vacant LDA plots. In the beginning, the members of land mafia ask these people to build makeshift huts and after sometime they themselves occupy the LDA plots." The LDA views gypsy encampments as illegal and has no plan to adjust them on its land.

There is a difference between katchi abadis and shanty dwellings. Katchi abadi dwellers have some documents on the basis of which government gives them ownership rights of the land after sometime where they have been living for many years while those living in makeshift huts don’t have CNICs, the LDA official says, adding these people keep moving from one place to another because it is their culture. He agrees that they have a right to clean drinking water, sewerage and electricity. 

Many gypsy families in the city have improved their living standards and have their own businesses and properties. They are status conscious and think education is vital for their children so they send them to schools but thousands of families don’t even get two square meals a day. Their children are often seen scavenging for food in local rubbish dumps.

On government side, we do not see any specific plan for improving their lot. These people don’t have national identity cards so they don’t have votes. Roti, Kapra aur Makan remains a slogan. Social welfare groups can also play an important role in improving their living standard. They can provide them with waterproof and fireproof tents.

According to a report, last year more than three dozen people were burnt alive in Karachi when their shanties caught fire. It is said the casualties could have been averted if there had been a fire-fighting squad near their homes.

Unfortunately, literacy rate among these dwellers is almost zero which can be improved by convincing them to send their children to schools where they can get free education. Social groups can hold classes for women here.

Email: [email protected]

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