A return to 80s-style Lahore

Published: May 10, 2011
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Areeb Azhar

Pappu Sain Areeb Azhar Sanam Marvi The schedule for the event that was cancelled

Last night I was supposed to attend a Sufi music festival organised by the good people of the Rafi-Peer  group. I didn’t.

Why? Because it didn’t take place.

That seems to be the story of Lahori cultural life of late.

I can remember when things began to change.

To someone who came of age in the Post-Zia Pakistan during the early ‘90s, this country was a happening place to be in – almost.

In 1989, when PTV tentatively shed its mandatory dupatta, a live concert featuring Pakistan’s premier pop/rock bands was aired and young people danced next to the catwalk style stage. A whole generation of kids watched fascinated as Pakistan’s television ethos became bolder, though not necessarily better, almost overnight.

Young people tried to come to grips with their new-found freedom that altered their lifestyles through ‘mixed’ live concerts. Now, going out on a Saturday night did not just mean dining at a staid ‘family restaurant’ or cruising aimlessly on city roads to catch a glimpse of women out shopping in Liberty Market. It could also mean going to the grand brick structure of the Alhamra amphitheatre and seeing Pakistan’s premier bands perform live. These concerts weren’t without their problems, often fights would break out, women usually had to go with a group of men for fear of being harassed and these things were still by and large testosterone driven.

A change for the better

The Rafi-Peer Theatre Festival used puppetry, dance, theatre and music to lure families and younger, hipper crowds. Perhaps by then, a few years of checkered democracy and relative freedom had calmed down young people enough to be able to take cultural public events in stride. The festival’s stellar line-up of local and international groups and its impeccable but unobtrusive security also helped, of course. The International Rafi-Peer festivals began in 1996 and ran till 2008 till they were abruptly brought to a halt with what was called a ‘cracker’ bomb.

I distinctly remember the night it happened. An almost-full amphitheatre, dotted with men and women sitting on colourful floor cushions, anticipating a leisurely evening of music under the sky in the pleasant November air. A relatively unknown pre-Coke Studio Arieb Azhar had just begun singing when an explosion was heard above the music. It was loud enough for everyone to sit up and take notice but the band kept playing.

The second explosion, however, sent the audience in a panic and immediate evacuation was announced by the organisers. I knew on that eerie night, as we rushed fearfully to the parking lot, that this was possibly the foreseeable end of any international cultural event in Pakistan. This prediction surpassed expectations. It also proved to be the end of large scale Pakistani concerts.

The subsequent year also sounded the death knell to international sporting fixtures as the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked right in the heart of Lahore (not far from the Alhamra amphitheatre) in broad daylight thanks to the utter negligence of authorities concerned.

This essentially means, that apart from a sporadic play or two imported from Karachi, I can’t recall a large scale public event that can qualify as entertainment since nearly three years. Faiz’s centenary in February this year did provide a bit of respite, but its invitation only format assured entry only to the well connected, or to corporate customers of sponsoring banks (chew on that irony for a Faiz event).

The announcement for the Rafi-Peer Sufi Music Festival, thus, was greeted with much delight and anticipation. But this is the post war-on-terror Pakistan. Murphy’s laws holds truer here than anywhere else.

The raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad resulted in the festival being cancelled due to security fears and fundamentalist backlash.

Pakistan changes – again

Fear and bombings in Lahore have taken us back to the days when the only options for entertainment were food and aimless cruising. Only now I mainly cruise online. I hear the LHC is planning to take that privilege away from me soon as well.

Sabahat Zakariya

Sabahat Zakariya

An English Literature teacher at Lahore Grammar School who freelances for various publications. Her personal blog can be accessed at sabahat24.blogspot.com

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://www.salmanzq.com Salman

    I’ve never lived in Pakistan but have visited off and on. Over the years I’ve noticed the change that has happened. The performing arts scene is dismal and being bombed into oblivion. Very sad indeed. Specially because it leaves the people here with nothing to do. I don’t know what kind of islam people here believe in now. It sickens me.Recommend

  • sharay alam

    Well the religious barbarians won’t let us live in peace.They want to impose their savage beliefs & values on the rest of society as well.They can’t stand entertainment of any kind because they’ve been brainwashed in their madrassas to hate any thing that brings some happiness to people.

    They bombed rafi peer theatre so they could prevent women from a chance to get out of their houses for a little family entertainment,these religious barbarians want women to live all their lives imprisoned behind the chaar diwari of their houses.The sick obsession of the religious people of our country with making the lives of women hell is truly mind boggling,our maulvis spend countless hours of their on the length & tightness of female clothing.

    They want to have a society where all women walk around in black tents with black gloves.It’s time the sane people of our society stood up for their rights & demanded a society where religious dogma didn’t dictate every waking moment of our lives.Recommend

  • adul rafay

    I think the mazhabi fundoos bombed the theatre because to them puppets might seem unislamic just as they scream & shout all the time about the statues worshipped by hindus.

    i remember my deeniyat book had all these statements filled with hatred for the statue worshipping non-muslims & how glorious muslim warriors entered their temples & destroyed their gods.This was presented in a manner that the young children will be inspired to repeat these “heroic” actions.

    We can have all the conferences,talk shows & columns in newspapers but as long as our children keep on getting taught in their school books how bad all the non-muslim religions are we can’t have a vibrant,peaceful society.Recommend

  • rida

    Better safe than sorry.Recommend

  • saima akram

    @adul rafay:

    Me too,my deeniyat books also had this glorification of violence & murder in the name of jihad & disparaging & insult of all other religions.This only changed when i reached my a’levels but for 6,7 years i was fed religious bigotry,intolerance & the inferiority of women courtesy my islamiat books.It’s time our govt. changed the contents of these books,haven’t losing 35,000 people to the religious savages been enough ,if we don’t change our ways our next generation will also be doomed to suffer the cancer of islamic fundamentalism.Recommend

  • Happy Man

    @Salman:
    Islam has nothing to do with what an individual thinks or acts. You are no different from all those who blames Islam, after every Violent action done by an individual half way across the world. If you can’t love, please don’t hate either.Recommend

  • Henna

    @ Happy Man ….if islam doesn’t have anything to do with it, then what the hell does?Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    My Dear Sabahat, please move to Karachi or atleast visit more often. Karachi has transformed over the last one year into a very happening place, and possibly the most happening place in Pakistan at the moment. Sure, we have our problems with crime, ethnic tension, target killings etc, but a lot is happening here Every fortnight there is a play being staged either in English or Urdu at the Karachi Arts council, just recently I attended the Urdu adaptation of the ‘Office’, and not long ago, I attended a Rahat Kazmi play, featuring the legend Talat Hussain on the stage, and before that Bombay Dreams. Just last week, there was a Noori re-union concert at the PACC in Karachi, not to mention countless underground gigs, stand up comedy events. We had a brilliant Karachi Literature Festival some time ago, with writers from all across the globe. Family mela’s and events are happening quite often at places such as the Expo Center, for example the The Express Family Expo which was attended by a large number of people from across the province and from the rest of the country. Just Come to KARACHI
    you will not be disappointed…..Recommend

  • parvez

    You have spelt out the symptoms but the sickness started a little before you were born some claim it started in ’47 but that is debatable.
    The misuse of religion ( a very potent weapon ) for selfish ends is the main cause, coupled with no governance, limited law and order and a open house for corrupt practices.
    The answer to correcting this lies in the hands of the youth of this country, as the future is theirs.Recommend

  • Columbus

    they should haven,t canceled it because the extremists also never cancel there engagements…Recommend

  • Happy Man

    @Henna:
    What has Islam got do with a festival being postponed or by we doing nothing. Why do we blame Islam all the time. Grow Up Now!!!!Recommend

  • Hafiz Shahid

    My colefecation FARecommend

  • 001

    Islam is a beautiful Religion , it does nowhere stop Any type of art or Culture from Flourishing . These So called Islamists in real are Power hungry Individuals and Organizations Perverting Islam to Serve their own causes , not following The Real Islamic teaching of making decisions according to Time and Society to serve that Time and Society , and take it back to the 7th century , Which suits them so well here in Pakistan as most of the People who follow them have no idea About Islam and are obliged to follow anyone that sounds any bit pious or Clean and tell them That Putting Your shalwar Above your ankle is a necessity in Islam as the Holy Prophet (PBUH) did so without explaining to them that The main reason that this was done in reality just to avoid dust from reaching the cloth and to remain clean . When the Teaching will come before the reasoning all that will result is chaos , people in Pakistan don’t reason any teaching told to them by these Fundoos by Opening the Quran themselves with even the widespread availability of translated versions into local languages . And the same goes for the people commenting above , they are placing all their comments on teaching by these fundoos without realizing that the real Religion is so much different, they are from the privileged class
    and have the to education and resources to atleast check the Real teachings and differentiate between right and wrong , how can they believe the Islam of those who have murdered 30000 innocents and those who don’t allow women to walk and work in society can be right ?
    Islam is once again , just a cause perverted by these intolerant bigots to cause chaos , just like many other Organizations in the past have perverted causes rightful causes like Freedom to spread chaos and kill and murder innocents.Recommend

  • Muhammad Aftab Alam

    Well written Sabi. Great Article, Keep it up! I am a fan of your writings plz keep it up. God Bless YouRecommend