Fragrant gardens in the desert

The Prime Minister is now back from his visit to the US and the debates continue around what was good and what fell way short, depending on which side of the political divide you are on. Irrespective of the visit, the bulk of us know that things will just continue the way they have always done including the debate on the exchange of Shakil Afridi with Afia Siddiqui. The difference, if any, will not really trickle down enough to be felt. The drones too, may take a respite, but will not stop permanently as requested.
While life at the top continues, according to plan some say, with much that keeps the ordinary citizen disgruntled sans relief, there are also groups of people within this country who do not give up and nurture lovingly and longingly to their gardens of beliefs and passion. As the weather is wonderful therefore I only want to talk about the positive things around me and focus on what is good. These special people may be active in small numbers but collectively they are what stands between us and the annihilation of the thought and creative process – or being dead or alive.
In all our major cities there are ongoing efforts at organizing literature festivals, cultural show casings, exchanges of dialogue, activism, theatre, revival of films, original and fusion music and the display of our brilliant sense of humour. We fight for what we believe in, on different fronts, and refuse to despair. This spirit of resistance is what will one day see us through the travails of the parched desert that the national landscape presents at the present moment.
In Islamabad itself there are several things happening continuously which help to take the mind off the reality of prevalent corruption, underhand wheeling and dealing, the frustratingly slow system and so on and so forth. When an ambitious plan was announced to build another city on the other side of the Margallah Hills by the new government recently with projections of connecting the two through an underground tunnel, there was a small group who decided they were going to fight this tooth and nail. This group, led by the indefatigable Roedad Khan and helped ably by Dr. Dushka Syed, organized the resistance movement which has led to, within days, scrapping of the plan by the Supreme Court. Islamabad has its passionate protectors and more power to them.
It is the spirit of voluntarily contributing to a cause that is worthy that fuels it and keeps it alive. The sub-continent’s favourite resister, equally admired on both sides of the border, Arundhati Roy, puts it thus ‘Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary’. The high that comes from successfully achieving a goal that has been fought for the larger good has no comparison. The effort by a small group in Karachi and Lahore to keep the memory of the slain polio workers alive and pay tributes to them is a step to be appreciated. As polio becomes a non issue for the rest of the world, it keeps rearing its ugly head in Pakistan because of the serious, malicious propaganda against it and because of the scaring off of polio workers when their innocent colleagues are targeted and killed.
There is another voluntary organization that for the last 40 years has made it its cause to project Pakistani culture, arts, history and way of life to the members of the diplomatic community who are posted here so that they get a feel of the actual identity of the country. It does its work efficiently, quietly and voluntarily according to the calendar it devises for one year. The ASG needs to be recognized for the contributions it has made for the country’s image over the last four decades.
The play ‘Sawa Chaudan August’ written by Anwar Maqsood and so well directed and produced by Islamabad’s own and unbelievably young 24 year old Dawar Mehmood, is showing to packed audiences at the Arts Council Auditorium every day. We in the capital can take pride in the fact that the bulk of the young cast in the play is also from our city. The play focuses on Zia ul Haq and ZAB’s contribution to the country and their meeting Jinnah in today’s Pakistan. We have travelled enough distance from their time in power to be able to clearly see things in perspective. Theatre is maturing and coming of age in Pakistan because of the passion of those who have dedicated themselves to it.
There are small organizations like mausikar and others who are making valuable efforts at keeping our traditional, classical music alive. Another place that is providing a tremendous outlet for the youth of the city to polish its talents is Kuch Khaas in Islamabad. It is positioned as a centre for culture and dialogue and is feverishly busy all seven days of the week. Talks, readings, plays, presentations, dialogue interactions, story telling, dance, music and now also a weekly market for organic products keeps the place packed at all hours. Kuch Khaas is breathing soul in to a city that did not have it.
Several Pakistani movies have made waves too in the recent weeks and the most recent is Waar which is attracting huge audiences and even ten shows a day at different cineplexes. Just the thought the cinema is coming back in this way is a feel-good. Lastly our sense of humour keeps us from going insane. When we laugh about something we are able to lessen its impact to our minds and souls. While we love to love Indian movie stars I would not exchange Pakistan’s line of brilliant, natural talent in stand-up comedy for any one of them.

The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.