More than half an hour was left for the play to commence. Nevertheless, most of the audience was already in and grappling with heavy security at the packed Little Theatre Group auditorium.
Ladies' handbags were deposited outside and cellphones and wallets frisked. For, it was no ordinary event but the staging of the controversial Pakistani play Hotel Mohenjodaro. The National School of Drama (NSD) wanted to leave no stone unturned for a peaceful performance.
The curtain rose after an introduction by director Shahid Nadeem. "It is accepted great writers can at times be prophetic. Their fiction can predict future reality. Though their prophecies are not based on data analysis or formulae, sometimes their predictions are more exact than scientists. Ghulam Abbas was one such writer," he said.
The story unfolds.
It is 1969 and Pakistan is the first country to land on the moon. Foreign diplomats arrive to congratulate Pakistan in a party at Hotel Mohenjodaro. There is revelry all around. Enraged, a religious leader (mullah) declares Pakistan had become an anti-Islamic state. Thus begins the advent of a theocracy.
Singing, dancing and speaking in English are banned. Women are not allowed to venture out. Massive infighting breaks out among religious leaders after which a foreign power invades Pakistan. In the end, archaeologists arrive to find a civilization completely destroyed, just Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
"When this story was written in mid-1960s, it was dismissed as far-fetched. However, the tale was a harbinger of what was to come," Nadeem said.
As the play progresses, a background screen draws parallels between the script and contemporary events like Taliban law in Afghanistan and fanaticism in Pakistan and Iran. The Mumbai attacks are incorporated as an example of radicalisation. "While we left the basic story intact, we gave topical examples to substantiate Abbas's predictions," Nadeem said.
The play ends without incident. All of a sudden, the lights go off. The police are alerted, but it turns out to be a power cut.