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.
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
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
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
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
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,