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 suppression.


Glimpses of the talk show

Tina with Ustad Surinder Mann

Next 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.

'PTV 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.


Maneshwar

Ashok

This 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 dusty villages.

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

While 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 graciously agreed.
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 and powerful:


A section of the audience

You 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.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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