It was around
4.30pm on Tuesday when the first shock sent the terrified residents of
Balochistan out of their homes and workplaces. That was more or less routine
for people living in Balochistan. But, when the jolt shook the ground
thunderously the second time they knew it meant disaster.
Faizullah Baloch, a truck
driver, was resting in his mud house in Tarteej village of Awaran when the
earthquake struck. The first jolt levelled his house to ground, burying five
members of his family. “I am not the only one in Awaran grieving the loss
of family members; most around me are in the same situation,” he says with
tears in his eyes.
In a conversation with TNS
on phone, a woman based in Awaran recalls, “My daughter-in-law was busy
cooking food in the backyard of the house while I was praying inside the
room. Suddenly, the house started shaking and in no time it collapsed. I
could hear my grandchildren scream… Then I fell unconscious”.
Most of her family members
escaped death, except a sister.
The thoughts of the earth
shaking and children screaming do haunt her, but the aftermath, she says, is
“dreadful. We have no shelter, no food and are living under the constant
threat of another jolt”.
Awaran, the least
developed district in Pakistan according to the Human Development Index, has
been the worst hit area by the Sept 24 earthquake.
“Around 80 per cent
houses in Awaran town have collapsed while the rest of the 20 per cent are
unliveable. It is a town of around 70,000 people and almost everybody is
shelter-less,” says Zahid Ali Baloch, a social worker from Awaran town who
had helped bury more than 85 bodies till the filing of this report.
Almost 60 out of 85 buried
so far in the town of Awaran were women and children. “People are busy
digging graves. We couldn’t bury bodies for two days after the earthquake
because of shortage of shroud,” he says.
He estimates more than
1000 people have lost lives in Awaran town.
Baloch says people need
shelter, food and drinking water urgently. “People in rural areas depend
on wells for drinking water. But, here, most of the wells have been
destroyed. People have no other source of drinking water available. Most
people are living in makeshift shelters made with sticks and cloth
The level of disaster,
says Baloch, is much higher than the response it has generated so far.
Dr Noor Bakhsh Baloch, a
medical superintendent of District Hospital Awaran agrees with Zahid Baloch.
“It would take a few days to really assess the final death toll. But
safely it would not be less than 700, while thousands have been injured,”
Hospitals are in a state
of absolute chaos. “We need heavy-duty ambulances to bring the injured to
hospitals from far-flung and hilly areas. We need more doctors and medical
supplies,” he says.
Awaran district has an
estimated population of around 300,000, scattered over an area of more than
21,000 square kms. Nomads comprise about 50 per cent of the population. Vast
stretches of land are underdeveloped. Awaran is the only town in the
district that offers some basic amenities.
Awaran is considered to be
one of the most sensitive and troubled districts of Balochistan. It is the
hometown of Baloch guerrilla commander, Dr Allah Nazar Baloch.
“There is only one
hospital in the district with three out-of-order ambulances and less than 10
doctors,” says a senior government official of Awaran district on
condition of anonymity, adding, “There were only three doctors in the
district on the day of the earthquake. There were no medicines available.
Many people died due to delayed medical aid while several others were buried
alive under debris. There is not a single bulldozer, excavator or loader in
the district. People are still recovering bodies from the rubble. Several
villages have been completely wiped out.”
The district is one of the
most vulnerable in Balochistan and it is placed in the seismic zone-3. The
authorities are well-aware of the situation as 2012 monsoon contingency plan
of the province reads that the district has been hit thrice by massive
earthquakes in the past. It has also been marked as ‘high’ on flood
vulnerability chart of the plan.
As tested by last week’s
devastation, the level of preparedness to fight natural disasters is
shockingly low in the district — the government appointed DG of PDMA only
after the quake hit the province. District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs)
in all districts of the province are very active on papers but have nothing
to show on ground.
The situation is not
different in other parts of the affected areas. Tehsildar of Hoshab sub-tehsil
of Kech district tells TNS that 44 have died while 180 injured in the
district. “We do have enough doctors, medicines and food but have no
equipment to dig up the debris
of collapsed buildings. It would take at least a week to get machinery here
from Quetta or Karachi. We hope that nobody is stuck in the debris alive,”
Even days after Turbat,
Awaran, Panjgur, Chagi, Khuzdar and Gwadar districts of Balochistan were
struck by the earthquake of the 7.8 magnitude on Richter scale, the
government agencies are unable to assess the magnitude of destruction.
Quetta and some other
parts of Balochistan fall in a seismic zone and have been rocked by
earthquake on several occasions. The worst incident was in 1935 when over
35,000 people were killed.
Because of the frequent
earthquakes, there is a restriction on construction of high rise buildings
in Quetta. But, several multi-storey buildings and plazas have come up in
the city in the last two decades. In the wake of every major earthquake, the
residents of Quetta demand of the authorities to take cognizance of the
violation of Quetta’s building control regulations. Otherwise, they fear
that a major earthquake may repeat the history of the devastation caused by
poets are also known for making
prophesies. Years before the current phase of violence in Karachi, Zeeshan
Sahil, the remarkable Urdu poet of his generation, wrote a poem called Firing (included in his
collection Karachi Aur
Dosri Nazmein). The lines could roughly
be translated like this: Firing is here/As if firing is a modern day folk
song/On its tune, while running and shouting, cricket can be played.
The verses are resurrected
seeing a recent video installation ‘To Love is to let Go’ by Sausan
Saulat, at her solo exhibition ‘This, That and the Other’, held from Sept 16-25, 2013 at the
Koel Gallery in Karachi. The video consists of a sequence of 5 minutes 7
seconds projected on an open and empty suitcase. It shows black and white
visuals, primarily of a young girl who is trying to relax or is surfing
channels on television but is in reality looking at the spectators.
Earphones are a part of the installation which plays a classical thumri, the words of which literally mean: sleep has become an enemy.
What a viewer experiences
is the image of a woman against two pillows, superimposed with scenes of
violence from Karachi the sound of which is mixed with an enticing voice of
a female singer.
On surface an urban
political scenario, the artist has constructed her narrative in such a
scheme that, like poetry, suggests certain concepts without illustrating a
specific content. It is this quality that has transported the work of a
young artist like Sausan Saulat (back recently after acquiring her MFA in
painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design USA) from being a
student exercise to a body of mature pictorial materials. The use of music
along with the visual of a girl, who appears restless and yet is unable to
delink herself from the news transmission, conveys the psychological state
of a whole nation that is incapable
of detaching itself from the reportage of catastrophes, killings and bomb
blasts and has no peace of mind.
Like an accomplished
alchemist, Saulat was able to incorporate diverse elements in order to
create a work that left its deep impact on the viewers, because they could
identify with the turmoil and ethos of the city or the state that is on the
verge of collapse. However, one does not find a sense of optimism in her
approach — a question that may have intrigued or angered some of her
But perhaps an artist is
not obliged to provide a solution or a pleasant version of reality. The job
of an artist is to indicate the conditions in the society as well as to
record his personal reaction to it. This was evident in Saulat’s
exhibition, since work after work refers to the issue of violence, with the
depiction of blood, resence of weapons, discolouration of Pakistani
passport and dislocation of reality. In her other videos and prints,
blood-like liquid spreads on the ground beneath a dancer’s feet; and a
part of human flesh is tinted with blood stains, shaped in the form of
Pakistani map. Kalashnikovs and other arms are composed as patterns in her
installations and photographic prints.
Besides the portrayal of
violence, it is more important how the artist has transformed and tamed her
harsh content into a visual entity that could transcend immediate concerns
and content. An example is ‘Dry Laundry: Perceived for Heartburns?’ in
which an iron board is placed in such a way that with the projection of two
videos on it, it replicates the form of a female figure. Hanging on the
wall, the top of iron
board had a projected image of a woman leaving the remaining area of board
as the head cover; and the cut-out of an iron was exposed in the place of
heart, exposing the footage of turbulence in the city. Thus implying how
terror not only affects gender but brings heartburn to the larger and wider
In her oils on canvases,
photography-based installations and other pieces, she has added small
medicines as the visual motif. These signify pain-killer tablets on being
exposed to personal, private or collective grief, acting as a form of
catharsis of living in a society that is going through the pathos and pain
One of the most striking
works comprises small pieces of jewellery, wrist bangles, rings and ear
rings. The pieces, looking like ordinary trinkets, have another twist — of
either having a tablet in place of a diamond or precious stone, or two
wristlets joined in such a scheme that these look like handcuffs. These
small interventions in familiar items introduce an unusual element to her
work, evident also in her oil on canvases.
In a number of series,
Saulat has painted figures of young women, or her own portrait, in a process
of being immersed inside printed patterns. The immaculate way of painting
details of figures and features is impressive but more than that these
convey the plight of a woman in a protected environment.
paintings in their skillful rendering and execution of idea can be compared
with the video installations made by Sausan Saulat. Two formats which are
far apart and yet, when viewed closely, have much in common, particularly
with reference to her painterly sensibility. Both types of work certify how
an artist can pick a mode of expression and communicate her concepts in a
way that not only delight the viewer with their aesthetic features but
depict the essence of the artist’s thought in a clear and convincing
It shows that if an artist has command over his means of expression and a control on
visual material, he can take any genre and explore it to the level of
excellence as was the case with Sausan Saulat, whose paintings were as
powerful as the videos, and installations as interesting as the photographs.
After a gap of a
few months the Pakistani audiences were again treated to evenings of German
Jazz at Lahore and Karachi. The Rafi Peer Cultural Complex hosted the
programme, in collaboration with Annemarie Schimmel Haus an associate of
Goethe Institute in Lahore, of the band called Underkarl. It includes of
Sebastian Gramss (bass), Lomsch Lehmann (reeds), Rudi Mahall (clarinet),
Frank Wingold (guitar, turntable) and Dirk Peter Kolsch (drums).
Underkarl when formed in
Cologne by Gramss in 1993 was considered by many to be one of the foremost
upcoming European jazz bands. It has lived up to its promise and the five
players, all highly respected soloists, have performed in over three hundred
concerts all over Europe and in international festivals. In these years
their trademark style has been of continually pushing the boundaries of
contemporary music like rock, jazz and improvised music.
Their diversity extends
from playing in their individual style the standards of Twentieth Century
jazz cover, film and radio music and an idiosyncratic version of Bach. In
their latest programme Goldberg, they merged classical roots with an
approach of jazz, adapting and interpreting the complete series of the Aria
in thirty different variations.
It is often with
programmes like the one held that a more serious side of European culture is
revealed which has been shut off from us by the polyglot presentations on
the more popular television channels.
It is well-known that jazz
has been one form of music widely experimented with. Probably because the
music was not written and that it established itself on foreign soil, the
do’s and don’ts were not applied very stringently. It has been
infiltrated and mixed with other forms of music, some formal but mostly
Other than the distinct
American variety which has been its home, jazz over the years has also
developed a European style which is probably even more experimental than the
American. Perhaps it gave more space to the European musicians who found
themselves hemmed by the highly developed and stylised form of their own
classical traditions. Its musical form, often improvisational, first
developed by Afro Americans and later influenced by both European harmonic
structure and African rhythmic complexity is also often characterised by its
use of blues and speech intonations.
Traditional Jazz bred in
the ghettos and slums of the Afro-American communities was seen to be a work
of pure genius. In the absence of proper training institutions and
infrastructure, it evolved on the steam of its own creativity to become a
major form of music during the course of this century. The basic principle
of improvisation facilitated the external infusions without limiting their
influence as it can happen with artistic forms which are highly rigid or
stylised. Since of all the musical forms it was easier to handle creatively,
jazz was widely used in multi-media multi-artistic forms like the cinema and
The band started with a
typical jazz piece with less prominent bass riffs. The composition grew on
the listeners and Mahall’s clarinet augmented the sound effortlessly. This
was cleverly complemented by a dialogue between Lehmann and Mahall whose
instruments indulged in a flirtatious musical tiff with each other.
The second number called
‘The Small Coalition’ was influenced by the political setup in Germany.
Both the wind instruments began the piece in a way as if announcing the
arrival of someone important, with bass matching note for note, later joined
in by the drums which created a solid, regular thumping beat, somewhat rock
style. The turntable’s screeching sound heightened the dramatic effect of
the composition. An engaging work of modern jazz, it had fresh sounds.
The next number, a
composition in fits started movement with continual breaking of rhythm and
the wind instruments in great flurry. In the end it was followed by a track
witch had a staid mood having long notes that drifted from romantic to
melancholic to mysterious shifts.
Mahall’s performance was
particularly noteworthy in the piece. ‘Frogs in Love’ was part of a
series based on animals. The beat played the central part in it, but Frank
Wingold’s guitar that came into its own as the quick runs on the
guitar’s neck with occasional bluesy notes was a delight to listen to.
In the last couple of
decades, cultural insularity and purity is being challenged by the forces
that push for a greater exchange between the cultural expressions of the
various regions of the world. Now the domination of the media has seen jazz
journey from America to Europe and is now encroaching upon various Asian
Fusion is not a very old
concept in music but it has been egged on by the great exposure through the
media of the various cultural strands and forms all over the world. In the
past a music idea travelled to another land got assimilated, indigenised and
was then reborn as the genetic mix of its parents.
In today’s world the
period of assimilation and digestion has been squeezed and musicians come
and play their own thing. The fast pace of the world coming together has
probably left the artist far behind, still
struggling in the discovery of a new idiom to express this rapid fire coming
together. It is not only the coming together of various forms from all over
the world; it is also the changes brought about by technological innovations
that will announce the next staging post in music.
At last week’s
Punjab Lok Rahs Annual Performing Arts Festival, Punjab was the dominant
theme — all plays and other performances were in Punjabi. And the
atmosphere was indeed heartening as the audience, consisting mainly of
youth, seemed to be captivated by the Punjabi language and culture.
three-day long mega event, held at the National College of Arts (NCA),
Lahore, was packed with performances by amateur artistes and university
students from across the province. It showcased folk dances, songs,
lectures, workshops and a photography exhibition.
The main component of the
festival however was its six dramas, performed over the span of three days.
The festival was held
inside the auditorium as well as in the open spaces of NCA. The outdoor
performances gave a rather rural feel to the festival. The plays were
performed by Punjab Lok Rahs, Fareed Rang, Zakarian Dramatics Club of
Bahauddin Zakaria University (BZU), Multan, and University of Lahore, and
dealt with subjects varying from social issues to politics to religion to
feminism. While one play dealt with the centuries-old, but relevant, theme
of feminism, the other revolved around the floods of 2010 in Southern Punjab
and yet another took up the class and caste system rooted in our rural
One of Lok Rahs plays,
Zanaani (Woman) that depicted the predicament of a female as a product of
the patriarchal system, was performed twice. It was based on the same theme
as A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. The only difference perhaps was the
Punjabi touch — the local elements and pathos.
The other play, Mahno
Kahani, focussed on the devastation caused by the floods; on how local men
in power in South Punjab changed the direction of floodwater by breaking
river dykes from wherever they liked to save their own lands, yet projected
themselves to be messiahs of the poor flood affectees.
The BZU students also took
up the floods as a theme for their play Asaasa. It showed how a heartless
feudal lord left his servants stranded in his haveli as floodwater inundated
the area around.
Ranjha Jogeera Ban Aya was
staged by Fareed Rang. The play, based on Heer Waris Shah, used the poetry
of the classical Punjabi poet as its dialogues. The saga of Heer Ranjha has
been a part of the folk tradition and culture of Punjab, and its performance
at the art festival got more relevance due to the ongoing urs of Waris Shah
at Jandiala Sher Khan in Sheikhupura.
Koonj was staged by
amateur actors from Sahiwal and Akhian Waliyo by students of the University
of Lahore. Both these plays dealt with social issues. Koonj highlighted the
class system and divisions in the society on the basis of wealth and
property while Akhian Waliyo dealt with how the different strata in society
take advantage of a political situation.
As all the plays revolved
around Punjabi themes, they brought with them the whole context of the rural
Punjab and issues related with the culture and life in villages. Taking the
message across through the characters, using the form of theatre, will
hopefully break the stereotypes attached with the Punjabi language among
History of theatre in our
region is more than 2000 years old, when the Aryan kings fully patronised
arts and culture. This was the same time when the Greeks were producing
their best in the arts. Both civilisations focussed on depicting religious
mythological characters on stage.
Punjab, being central to
the power politics in the last two millenniums, got influenced by art forms
in the region — and Heer Waris Shah set an apt precedent.
Theatre is performed in
rural Punjab by travelling groups. Up till 1960s and 1970s, theatre was the
only source of entertainment as well as learning for rural folks as
classical romantic tales were mostly the subject of the performances.
Recently, theatre by
amateur artistes has gained popularity, and it seems they are challenging
the stereotypes on stage.