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Karachi blues

?It should have happened 60 years ago!? mourns Zia Mohyeddin, the new director of Pakistan?s mint-new National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) set up last year in Karachi.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2006 01:32 IST

‘It should have happened 60 years ago!’ mourns Zia Mohyeddin, the new director of Pakistan’s mint-new National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) set up last year in Karachi. The 60-ish Mohyeddin (photo) spent most of his career treading British boards as an actor. In Delhi last week to recite from Ghalib, Faiz and the usual suspects at the invitation of the Sahitya Akademi, the UP-born mohajir drew a packed hall at the IIC and was feted at dinners by the city’s literati during his two-day visit.

Alas, thereby hangs another tale, which Mohyeddin tells thrice over. It seems a certain Mr Tripathi at our mission there asked him how long he wanted to stay in India. Instead of answering straight, Mohyeddin seems to have done ada-baazi with a languid “Bas, ek-do din.” To his dismay, Mr Tripathi took him at his word and gave him a two-day visa.

But to be fair, Mohyeddin did not know what the consulates know: just last month a theatre group from Pakistan, invited by WISCOMP to tour six north Indian cities, apparently upset their hosts and broke the rules of guest etiquette. Cheapest trick of all, say sources, some supporters tried to pitch a Hindu-Muslim angle to the fact their plays were not welcomed in certain venues because they were more about naara-baazi than relished locally. Now this theatre group is apparently blacklisted and because of them, other ‘harmless’ ones are facing visa problems.

In Track II terms, the Indian government is less than pleased about not being met halfway in its bridge-building endeavours. Just last month, two Pakistani artistes, Begum Fareeda Khanum and Ustad Amjad Fareed Sabri, were received with great fanfare in Delhi. But Shubha Mudgal, who sang for Musharraf at the Agra Summit was recently refused a visa to Pakistan, as were other Indian performers.

But artistically, what can Pakistan bring to the table to match India? The performing arts are virtually extinct there, with rustic Punjabi prejudice against ‘bhand-mirasi’ (musicians) still heavily in place, further addled by hardcore Islamic prejudice. Indeed, the very week that Napa was inaugurated, politicians from religious parties in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province announced a bill to ban all public music performances. Their proposed punishments ranged from heavy fines to hard labour. No wonder Musharraf’s act of endowing Napa is talked of as ‘revolutionary’ in Pakistan.

Lost in political if not popular denial is an old soul rich in expression through every possible art form — music, dance, theatre and visual arts, folk and classical, that India proudly presents as hers. The Pakistanis, at present, offer only the limited appeal of ‘Punjabiyat’ and Indian Punjabis are already asking how much Sufiyana can even they digest.

Bored with listening to the fourth retelling of Mohyeddin’s visa debacle, some of us moved away and began to hum Samaja vara gamana. It’s a popular song in praise of Krishna in the Carnatic Raga Hindolam that both children and big vidwans love to sing. Mohyeddin abandoned his grumping to join us and we politely faded out. “Oh, please don’t stop!” he said charmingly. “Weren’t you singing Raag Malkauns? I know it well from the tapes my nephew collects.”