“Art and sports should never be dragged in whenever there is war mongering on either side”

Even though host National School of Drama cancelled Madeeha Gauhar’s theatre group’s performance on noted Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto at the ongoing “Bharat Rang Mahotsav,” the Pakistani director had the last laugh as her play “Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh” was finally staged at the Akshara Theatre here on Saturday to a packed house.

Ms. Gauhar, a peace activist who has been campaigning for people-to-people contact for the past 24 years, said: “NSD invited us [Ajoka group] to host a play as both countries are celebrating the centenary of Manto, who stood against fundamentalism all his life. Both countries share the same history, culture and tradition. This play was produced especially for the international theatre festival in Delhi. The decision to cancel our performance along with NAPA Repertory Theatre of Karachi was unfortunate and without any logic.”

Describing her group as a harbinger of peace and tolerance, Ms. Gauhar said her group had been performing in India with the aim of cementing ties between the two countries. “Commercial considerations were never there. Our cricket team was given such a warm welcome in India recently.”

Noting that conditions in India were conducive for cultural extravaganzas, Ms. Gauhar said that in Pakistan extremist elements armed with Kalashnikovs were capable of disrupting a play.

“Once a bomb went off outside the auditorium where artistes from the NSD were staging a play. But in India even if a handful of protesters tried to disrupt our play they could easily have been stopped by the police. For us, all this is nothing but a joke. India is a big secular democracy and it is astonishing how fringe lunatic elements practicing hate ideology succeeded in preventing our group from staging a play, which talked about how Manto’s voice was suppressed.”

Thanking Akshara Theatre for hosting the play, Ms. Gauhar said though the venue was smaller than the Kamani Auditorium where her play was earlier scheduled to be staged on Saturday, the spirit and symbolism made her feel welcome.

“Nothing should derail the peace process. Our music concert has been cancelled, hockey players were denied permission to play and senior citizens, who are longing to visit their ancestral home in India, have been denied visas. It was a cruel decision to prevent elderly folks who are in the twilight years of their lives from visiting their ancestral home. Civil society would never support such a decision.”

Describing the beheading of an Indian soldier as unfortunate, Ms. Gauhar said such incidents needed to be talked through the hotline between the armies of both countries. “Politicians must talk. We should avoid a confrontation and not take recourse to wars like the ones fought in 1965, 1971 and the Kargil war. Both nuclear powers must handle ups and downs in relationship with maturity.”

Naseem Abbas, who essayed the all-important role of Manto, said even the literary giant was not allowed to democratically express his opinion in India and Pakistan. “Unfortunately, we are facing the same situation now.”

Veteran theatre personality Gopal Sharman, who along with his wife Jalabala Vaidya manages the affairs of Akshara Theatre, said once Pakistani actor Zia Moinuddin staged a solo-act play based on the literary works of Manto and other Pakistani writers at Akshara Theatre. “His performance got such an overwhelming response from the public that the then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, took a clue from it and went on a bus journey to Lahore.”

Noting that her theatre group stood for independence of institutions, Jalabala Vaidya said: “Art and sports should never be dragged in whenever there is war mongering on either side.”

All-India Student Association national president Sandeep Singh said the NSD must explain why it insulted the Ajoka group by cancelling its show. “The State and the NSD have surrendered to pressures from those indulging in war mongering, but democratic-minded people will still go ahead fostering people-to-people contact. Ajoka group will stage its play at JNU at 10 p.m. today,” he added.