FOSA Celebrates Success of 'Suppressed Voices'
By Ali Hasan Cemendtaur (Continued from last week)

The next item was a reading-cum-dramatization of Sa'adat Hasan Manto's "Khol Do", the famous short story in which a man, Siraj Uddin, fleeing Amratsar (and expected atrocities of the Sikhs) is separated from his daughter. On finding himself in a refugee camp in Lahore he asks a group of volunteers to help him find his beautiful daughter, Sakina. The Muslim volunteers promise to help Siraj Uddin. Eight volunteers make several trips to Amratsar and one day do find Sakina. For the next several days the volunteers repeatedly rape Sakina, and when she is almost lifeless leave her near the camp. Sakina is taken to a hospital; Siraj Uddin follows her.

The hospital room where assaulted Sakina lays on a stretcher is dark. The on-duty doctor enters the room and asks Siraj Uddin to open the window and let the light in - "Khol Do." Sakina, who is tormented by days of rapes, and is now in a trance, instinctively starts undoing her shalwar. Along with "Toba Tek Singh", "Khol Do" is considered Manto's masterpiece, and is definitely one of the most powerful short stories ever written in any language. Some material of the film 'Garam Hawa' seems to be influenced by the in-your-face-myth-shattering veracity of "Khol Do." Remember the Sikh character in that movie that describes the 1947 riots in these words? We knew how evil the Muslims were. So we gathered all our women and told them we needed to guard their honor. We killed all of them.

Then we waited for the Muslim attackers. But the Muslims never came. At the 'Suppressed Voices' show FOSA's dramatization of "Khol Do" failed to invoke the deep sense of betrayal, the pain and suffering, the helplessness, and the down-the-spine chill that a solo nighttime reading of this story produces. Neither Sakina (played by Shikha Malaviya) pretended to undo anything nor the last, pivotal line of the story was read by the reader (Ijaz Syed)--censored, suppressed? So, those among the audience who hadn't read the short story beforehand were completely clueless about its end. Furthermore, in the absence of a raised stage it took a while for the back row audience to realize that someone -- Siraj Uddin (played by Moazzam Sheikh)-- was down on the floor.

Nevertheless this writer saw a raw acting potential that needs to be exploited. With some 'bruise' make-up and eyes turned frightfully desolate Moazzam Sheikh did transform himself into a fatigued Sirajuddin. Let's hope Sheikh pursues an acting career. "Khol Do" concluded the first part of the 'Suppressed Voices' show. The main attraction of the second part, the musical part, was Sawaaz, a Bay Area band comprising of Noor Lodhi aka Shonu (guitarist, vocalist), Syed Amin (base guitarist), Maneshwar Judge (tabla player) and Asim Wali Khan (keyboard player and vocalist). Sawaaz beautifully sang a number of songs and ultimately fired up the audience with the qawwali 'Shahbaz Qalandar.'

The musical part ended with performance from two hobby vocalists: Hemu Joshi and Cookie. Hemu regularly sings at private parties and has an excellent voice. Cookie works for the Mehran Restaurant and that night had asked FOSA organizers for a chance to sing. Listening him sing Kishor's 'Meray mehboob qiyamat ho gee' it was not hard to tell that he is very talented. Cookie will definitely appreciate more singing opportunities given to him. All in all the 'Suppressed Voices' event made a memorable night because of the variety of items presented and because of the controversy it generated. The program's legacy lived for days as people hurt by one or the other presentation complained to the organizers. FOSA members deemed this controversy the proof of the success of the program. [Actually the controversy had started midway in the program when a harmonium player walked out, being hurt by a prop made for a skit - the prop had a religious symbol, that he venerated, shown slashed.] One thing that went to the total disadvantage of the program was the choice of the venue.

A restaurant is definitely not an appropriate place for theater productions. In the case of the 'Suppressed Voices' show the inconvenience of a flat space (no raised stage, no sloped seating arrangement) was exacerbated by a boisterous engagement party going on in the other hall of the restaurant. Amidst the loud music emanating from the other party the theater part of the program was almost incomprehensible to the back row audience of the 'Suppressed Voices.' But the next door revelry did serve an important purpose in the end: one singer who was not given a chance to sing at FOSA's event went over to the other party and sang there.

The 'Suppressed Voices' show was produced by Ijaz Syed, a well-known Bay Area activist. In the field of directing Moazzam Sheikh was helped by fellow writer Shikha Malaviya (of monsoonmag.com). This writer had been to a few rehearsals of the show and was extremely wary of the laissez-faire style of directorship -- actors were asked to improvise their own lines: looming chaos was dreaded. But the fears proved unfounded when the production turned out fine -- maybe because the actors were given flexibility only within some constraints. FOSA's event was co-sponsored by Ekta, Dr. Khawaja Ashraf, Editor of Pakistan Weekly.com, and by Zain Jeewanjee, the famous insurer. Other noteworthy credits included Yasmeen Fatimah, the MC; Ramkumar Sridharan, the stage manager and the technical director; Shalini Gera, the lighting engineer -- the nifty, concise program brochure was also made by her; Mohammad Irfan, the sound engineer (of newageentertainment.com); and Riaz Khattak, program's video-recorder.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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