FOSA Celebrates Success
of 'Suppressed Voices'
By Ali Hasan Cemendtaur
The much-awaited "Suppressed Voices"
show arranged by the Friends of South Asia (FOSA, friendsofsouthasia.org)
was held on December 18, at Mehran Restaurant in Newark. The
show was divided into two parts: the 'political message' half
and a popular music segment. The "Suppressed Voices"
part of the show, the first part, was a sequence of performances
brimming with political messages.
The program started with a poet (Ijaz Syed) coming to th e
stage and reading Habib Jalib's poem 'Dastoor.' Two plain-clothed
policemen promptly appeared and dragged him away. It was then
that the audience realized they had already seen an act of
Glimpses of the talk show
Tina with Ustad Surinder Mann
in line was a caricature of a PTV talk show -- the panelists
have gathered to discuss the issue of national security. The
show is being compered by Ghulam-e-Mulk (Usman Qazi). The
panelists include Mr. Cheema (Saqib Mausoof), Sain Abro (Ashok
Malani), Mr. Mengal (Sonny Harris), Mr. Dehlvi (Hemukumar
Joshi), and Bibi (Sukanya Mehra) representing the women. Then
there is a Minority Bhai (played by Azhar Shah) who joins
in late because the TV station guards had stopped him, and
let him go only after a thorough checking.
Talk Show' was a well-written short piece by Moazzam Sheikh.
With undertows of language-tussle, regionalism, and dispute
over water, the skit had multiple themes. The talk show ends
in a brawl and the Bibi, fed up with the farce, gets up and
delivers a befitting sermon.
Sukanya Mehra was the shining star of the seven-member cast
of this skit. Mehra is skilful in wholeheartedly and naturally
becoming whatever character she performs. She is going places.
writer believes that in experimental productions like the
'PTV Talk Show' the director should not burden the actors
with characters that are too deviating from the actor's real
self. Case in point: Mr. Cheema, played by Saqib Mausoof;
Cheema is supposed to speak with a heavy Punjabi accent. At
one point, in an argument with Mr. Dehlvi, Cheema started
off speaking in Dehlvi's accent - the actor quickly corrected
himself, but the instance gave a convincing proof of the validity
of the natural casting argument. And that's why Ashok Malani
did so well in the skit. Hailing from Hyderabad, Sind Malani
was best suited to play Mr. Abro--the role came naturally
to him. Though, it also helped that all of Malani's dialogs
were in Sindhi and the character didn't have much interaction
with any other panelist.
The 'PTV Talk Show' was followed by kafis (sh ort Sufi poems)
sung by Amna Ali. Amna sang kafis written by Guru Nanak, Shah
Hussain, and Bulleh Shah. Tabla music was provided by Bay
Area's foremost tabla-player, Ustad Surinder Mann (mannmusicacademy.org).
Amna Ali is a talented vocalist. The melody of her voice has
the power to whisk you to the Punjab of oxcarts and small
Next presentation was a skit 'Gali gali mein' written by Shikha
Malaviya. Paintings in an Indian art gallery depicting juxtaposed
religious symbols have been vandalized by hoodlums. A TV crew
is covering the story. Ashok Malani played the anchorman;
Shikha Malaviya the reporter, Saqib Mausoof was Mr. Kumar;
Sukanya Mehra was the dancer; Sonny Harris was the artist;
and Usman Qazi, Hemukumar Joshi, and Azhar Shah were the bystanders.
The issues at hand were what constitutes art and what hurts
the religious sentiments of the general public.
Two performers in the Suppressed Voices show
this skit was being performed, eight time zones away, in Birmingham,
England, a very relevant real story was taking place. Production
of a play "Behzati" was stopped under the threat
of violence by Sikhs protesters. The protest was on parts
of the play showing sexual acts in a Sikh temple.
'Gali gali mein' did try to make itself credible by using
a few props, but the reporter still held a phone headset to
portray a microphone--not sure why she could not grab one
of the many real microphones present there for the musical
part of the evening.
The next item was songs by Tina Mann. The first one was the
famous "hum dekhain gaay" originally sung by Iqbal
Bano. Tina Mann has a great voice and her father Surinder
Mann should be rightfully proud of her. As the last song finished
the stage area grew dark. Very shortly, Tina Mann came back
to do a Kathak dance sequence. Even this two-minute dance
presentation had a political message puttied on it.
As Tina begins dancing one devout person(played by Saqib Mausoof)
gets up and objects to the "fuhashee" (obscenity)
projected by the dance. Another person (Sonny Ha rris) gets
up and says that dance is an art form, but those who believe
it is obscene and don't want to see the "fuhashee"
should close their eyes. The dance promptly resumes.
Tina's dance was to be followed by video presentations but
the computer that hosted the material refused to cooperate.
While the technical problems were being resolved someone pointed
out the presence of Jaysi Chander in the audience. Jaysi Chander
is a master dancer who has taken her show 'Lamps on Lilypads'
to many cities. A doctor by profession Jaysi is now set on
a healing mission through a new genre of art that she seems
to have invented - it is dancing combined with powerful poetry.
The poetry she reads - her poems in an eclectic mix of inspirational
poetry by others - has themes of love and peace woven in it.
This correspondent had seen the green-eyed beauty perform
at an earlier show and was very impressed with her art.
Knowing a little bit about Chander's background one finds
it heartwarming that a daughter of an immigrant, who must
have felt bitter on leaving his ancestral land (Lahore) in
1947, could express her love for humanity in such a convincing
way. Watching Jaysi dance and talk at the same time it is
hard for you to decide if you should concentrate on her fluid
body movements or on the profound thoughts she is articulating.
Jaysi Chander is a dancing sage.
So, while the technical problems were being resolved that
night, the MC requested Jaysi to present a dance piece to
provide an extempore filler. The audience was lucky that Jaysi
The computer problems got fixed by the time Jaysi got done
with the dancing. The first video presentation was a Dalit
song taken from Amar Kanwar's film "A Night of Prophecy."
The recording of the song is done in the humblest of all settings--a
Dalit man, squatting on the floor is using a 'ghara' (water
container) to play tabla, and is reading poetry that is profound
A section of the audience
don't let us enter your temples; you don't let us enter your
houses. Our touch pollutes your glasses and cooking utensils.
But we breathe the same air you do, and we bask in the same
sunlight you bask in. Then why don't you boycott the air and
the sun too?
The presentation touched the heart of many in the audience
because the song had a s trong spirit of defiance in it --
a rage, a resolve of a long-subjugated people who are waking
up to say, “No more.” Attached with the poetry
was an ethereal romanticism of revolution - the desire to
overhaul the system, overnight.
The Dalit song was followed by a presentation called 'Suppressed
Voices in Pakistan'; it delineated on the life of the Ahmadis
in Pakistan. The presentation ended with the observation that
whatever religious freedom and fundamental human rights Muslims
living in the West demand and expect from the governments
they live under, are denied to weaker religious groups wherever
Muslims control the governments. ---To be continued next week.