Mashal: Carrying Forward the Torch of Our Pakistani Heritage
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Glimpses of the annual Mashal program at the San Ramon Performing Arts Center on April 9
Every once in a while a reporting job becomes more of a challenge than usual mainly due to the quality of an event. This was one of those occasions as the San Francisco Bay Area organization “Mashal” or “Torch” (www.mymashal.org) held its annual program on April 9th at the San Ramon Performing Arts Center to celebrate Pakistan and the Pakistani-American identity at its finest. Titled “Virsa 2011, A celebration of our cultural heritage” the program this year brought to the stage close to 150 performers from within our Northern California community who took everyone on a journey through time, to a Pakistan which once was, still is, and one which refuses to be intimidated by the often grim forces of history manifesting themselves through current events. '
Glimpses of the annual Mashal program
The word “virsa” means heritage, something which is passed on to the next generation to carry forward. This event proved that it can be done with some hard work and devotion. The young people in our community already have plenty of talent.
The evening started off with a dinner catered by Chutney Restaurant. Their tawas (skillets) and tandoors were both going strong to try and keep up with the close to 600 people present. Small talk, socializing and dinner took quite some time as it is a national pastime of sorts for the community too. Slowly but surely everyone transferred over to the Performing Arts Center from the cafeteria. One must say that the decorations of Pakistani handicrafts and carpets made for a very attractive entrance.
Shaiq Chishty started off things with his flute playing talent and in the process made us look back at our own “armaans”. With the hall now full, everyone stood up for the American national anthem which started off the formal program. The national anthem of Pakistan was played next. Kudos to the community youth for doing such a fine job playing the music to both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Pak Sar Zamin Shaad Baad”.
Program directors Ayesha Sheikh and Sadaf Sattar and emcee Omar Khan frequently took to the stage. Masahal President Faraz Sattar made the introductions of the distinguished guests present, which included San Ramon Mayor H. Abram Wilson, Pakistan Consul General Mrs. Riffat Masood and writer Ethan Casey. Congressman Jerry McNerney’s was absent possibly due to the budget battle being fought in Washington but he was well represented by his staff. Additionally, several local members from the area leadership were present. Faraz Sattar went into the history of the Mashal event, this being the third, and described the organization’s other activities including its participation in the local 4th of July celebrations and a walk for Pakistani flood victims. Faraz also mentioned how this event has grown over the years. “We are showcasing our culture through our youth,” he said. He added that in the process our community kids are learning about leadership. “Science and Math is great. Art is equally important,” said Faraz.
Consul General of Pakistan in Los Angeles Mrs. Riffat Masood spoke next. Saying that the vibrant Pakistani community on the West Coast is the best, she added, “You are the real ambassadors of Pakistan.” Admitting that it was not always easy to market Pakistan, she said that “it is a misunderstood country,” and that it is events like this one that show the world what the real Pakistan is all about. Challenges were there but just the fact that a progressive woman was officially representing the country here speaks volumes of its forward plod.. Mrs. Masood talked about the historically close relationship between Pakistan and the United States and that Pakistan has sought an increase in trade with America. Stressing the need for greater commercial ties, she said that greater market access for Pakistani textiles would be a boost. On the strategic relationship, she said that a stable Afghanistan is in the interest of the world.
Mayor of San Ramon, H. Abram Wilson in his speech said of Mashal and the local community: “It is a family. We are one.” Mayor Wilson has not just been a distinguished guest at Mashal programs but an active participant in them. His appreciation for the area’s diversity is well known. “Welcome to San Ramon and we hope to see you next year,” he said. Emcee Omar Khan as a footnote added that most dignitaries leave a program after their speech, especially when not familiar with the language used, Mayor Wilson is one who stays till the very end.
“We need to pass on the baton to our next generation,” said Omar Khan while introducing the Virsa-Heritage theme for the event. An evening of song, color, poetry and much more was in store for us. “This is the Virsa that we Pakistani-Americans grew up with.” With over 140 participants, Omar said that people need to see the real Pakistan through our eyes. A very colorful video was presented; a journey through majestic Pakistan, from the high Karakorum Mountains to the deserts of Sindh, from the fertile plains of the Punjab to the vastness of Baluchistan, both the landscape and the people blended in with wonderful music as a group of our community youth along with their local friends inclusive of the Mayor proceeded to dance to “Teray Bina Dil Na Lagey” and made their way to the front of the stage.
First, the music segment literally moved everyone, followed by a trivia contest which everyone enjoyed thoroughly. And the fashion show, starting with the kids and ending with adults modeling the work of designer Zahra Saeed, colorful clothing, music and our community youth presenting them, created quite a spectacular mixture. And who could ignore the comedy segment? From Khabarnama, Bashira Returns, Gup Shup Show and Mind Your Language, laughter proved to be the best medicine.
For a change of pace and a learning experience, the last invited speaker, journalist and author Ethan Casey came to the stage. His two books and several articles on Pakistan have created quite a stir recently in both literary and academic circles. Ethan said that he speaks on Pakistan all over the United States and during his talks always tries to mention Mashal. He said that the torch of Mashal was preparing young people for leadership roles and that was very important for the younger generation of Pakistani Americans. “They are going to be leaders in American society, Inshallah,” said Casey. “Someday, one of them will be a US Senator.” He spoke of our country being a nation of immigrants. “Mashal represents what any community in America should be doing.” Ethan had recently returned from a trip to Pakistan. He spoke of the widespread damage due to the recent floods there and the reconstruction effort there, a topic which will be added as a chapter to his latest book on Pakistan. He added that we as Americans and Pakistanis need to do what the mainstream media is not doing in this country. America only sees 2% of the Pakistani story while the other 98% needs to be told.
The other 98% was vividly introduced during the dance segment which followed Casey’s speech. Chori Chori, Dekha Jo, Tuk Tuk and Papoo Yaar all electrified as our community kids lit up the stage. A poetry segment with Qaiser Daud, and a beautiful mehndi ritual presentation on stage was also very well received. And dance returned including the dazzling spectacle of Bhangra Empire Juniors-Coed and adult Bhangra which had the entire audience moving.
The last music was a “Gurus of Peace” presentation inspired by a cooperative effort started by India’s A.R. Rahman and Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. One has to admit that peace between the neighbors is both desirable and long overdue.
At the end of the event, both the Mayor and the Consul General presented recognition medals and plaques to individuals who have been instrumental in making Mashal a success. And Mayor Wilson himself certainly deserved the award presented to him by Mashal.
In closing, congratulations are in order to the entire Mashal team for planning and so beautifully executing “Virsa 2011”. Abid Farooq, Anwar Mirza, Azhar Mahmood, Faraz Sattar, Jafar Safdar, Mohammad Jawaid, Omar Khan and Rasim Bokhari are indeed worthy of praise along with Program Directors Ayesha Sheikh and Sadaf Sattar. But without the young performers, our Pakistani-American kids, the success of this program would just not have been possible. Too many to name here along with their segment directors, the message to you is, “You have all made the entire community proud”. And to our readers, yes the Pakistan journey is difficult and may remain so for a while. But let us not lose hope, and let us leave here with these simple lyrics from a song written by Bilal Maqsood and sung by Strings: “Mein Tou Dekhoon Ga, Tum Bhi Dekho Gey, Jab Roti, Sasti Ho Gy, Aur Mehengi Ho Gy Jaan, Woh Din Phir Ayaiga, Jab Aisa Ho Ga Pakistan…”
(Watch the Strings song on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVloK2avZy8&NR=1)