An Evening of Prose and Poetry with Salima Hashmi
By Shaila Andrabi
Pictures by Anwar Khawaja and Annie Athar
The Pakistan Arts Council (PAC) of the Pacific Asia Museum held their second Faiz Ahmed Faiz Centennial event of 2011 on Sept 24 in Los Angeles, California.
The venue was the Mabel Shaw Bridges Hall of Music, a six hundred seat gem of a concert hall, which sits within the beautiful grounds of Pomona College in Claremont. Built in 1915, with recent major renovations, including acoustic and seismic updates, this striking facility provided a remarkable space for an event commemorating Faiz, whose poetry will always be associated with music.
Guests began arriving well before the given time of 3:30 PM. The check-in tables were decorated with Pakistani rillis and fresh flower arrangements and PAC board members milled around, welcoming the guests. Amelia Chapman, curator of Education at the Pacific Asia Museum signed up new members at a table close by. A bevy of youngsters collected tickets and handed out beautiful booklets about the performance.
This event attracted a diverse audience in terms of age, culture and geographic spread and also brought together several different disciplines. Among those who attended were Claremont College students, professors, local Claremont community members and of course Pakistani Americans from LA and its environs. The subsidized ticket price of $20 for adults and only $5 for students, made it accessible to a wide range of Faiz admirers. Entrance was free for Pacific Asia Museum members and Claremont Colleges and Graduate School staff, students and faculty. There was no reserved seating in honor of Faiz, a people’s poet. Everyone was treated equally and guests, sponsors and organizers all sat wherever they pleased.
The program started promptly, a little after 4 PM, to a hall filled almost to capacity. The Dean of Pomona College, Cecelia Conrad, welcomed the guests. PAC President Shaila Andrabi introduced the speaker as an artist, educator, activist, curator, author and the daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Faiz was arguably the greatest Urdu poet of the twentieth century after Allama Iqbal. Shaila pointed out that Faiz did not let go of hope even in his darkest times and ended her introduction with a quote from Faiz:
Chale Chalo Ke who Manzil abhi nahin aye (Let us press on for the culmination is not yet)
Salima Hashmi took the podium to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. She began with:
“Intesaab”: Aaj ke naam aur Aaj ke gham ke naam (“Dedication": Let me write a song for this day, This day and the anguish of this day).
The performance had flair and stylishness coupled with that inimitable Faiz humaneness that comes through in any event associated with him. Salima recited her father’s poetry in both Urdu and its English translation, read extracts of letters exchanged between Faiz and his wife (Salima’s mother Alys Faiz), and regaled the audience with witty and moving anecdotes from her father’s life. Salima’s commanding performance was punctuated with musical interludes by saxophonist David Wilson and tabla player and percussionist Inder “Goldfinger” Matharu, both of Leeds, Yorkshire, UK. The music had been especially commissioned for this event and was a creative collaboration between Salima, David and Inder. The result can only be described as magical. The audience responded in the most complimentary manner possible and were often moved to accompany Salima as she recited Faiz. The hour-long program concluded with David and Inder playing an encore: a piece specially written on their trip to California.
Following the program, guests were invited to tea in the Lyon Garden. Refreshments were enjoyed by over three hundred people in a serene setting with fountains, sculptures and the historic buildings of Pomona’s Art, Art History and Music departments, including the Montgomery Art Center which houses the Pomona College Museum of Art. The Art Museum was open and was free of charge for the guests, who enjoyed this added treat.
Teatime socializing extended the pleasurable experience that evening. Salima signed autographs for admirers and chatted with old friends, well-wishers and students who had all gathered for some extra time with the esteemed guest.
There were several other events during Salima Hashmi’s five-day stay in Los Angeles. Samira and Shiraz Saleh of Irvine hosted a dinner in her honour. PAC board members, past presidents of the PAC, the Director and curators of the Pacific Asia Museum, Consul General Riffat Masood and some notable sponsors attended the intimate and elegant gathering.
Salima shared with the guests her work for Faiz Ghar, which is a center that houses Faiz memorabilia and is also a place for gatherings and research. Salima also presented a talk on Art and Activism at Oldenburg Centre, Pomona College, to a packed house, and gave a lecture to an art history class at Pomona College.
The Pakistan Arts Council Board members are, in alphabetical order: Hina Abidi, Tahira Ali, Fileema Amjad, Shaila Andrabi, Aqeela Athar, Kishwar Jaffer, Tehmina Jasrai, Ayesha Kamran, Atiya Khan, Ruquiya Khan, Samira Saleh, Gazala Shawk, Zara Shah and Shahnila Shoaib. With their hard work and dedication, the sponsorship of Pomona College, the Consulate of Pakistan and the Pacific Asia Museum, an impressive series of elegant and well-organized programs were added to the cultural life of Los Angeles.