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Play on religious fanatics wows Pakistan

A play inspired by a short story written in the 1960s, which prophesised the rise of religious extremists and bombing of mosques in Pakistan, was staged before packed audiences in Islamabad.
By HT Correspondent | PTI, Islamabad
UPDATED ON JUN 09, 2008 01:53 PM IST

A play inspired by a short story written in the 1960s, which prophesised the rise of religious extremists and bombing of mosques in Pakistan, was staged before packed audiences in the federal capital.

When "Dhanak", the short story by noted Urdu writer Ghulam Abbas, was read out to a select audience in Lahore four decades ago, it had caused a furore with rightwing writers and critics enraged at the portrayal of religious zealous in it.

They believed the story was exaggerated and distorted and ruled that "no Muslim can ever conceive of killing religious leaders or bombing mosques".

Following the reading, Abbas had to be escorted out of the hall for his own safety and the story was never included in any of his collections.

With the story becoming so believable in the present day Pakistan, "Hotel Mohenjodaro", the play by leading theatre group Ajoka, was sadly not shocking.

The prophetic writing couldn't have been closer to the "ugly reality" of present day Pakistan, said its creators. The play, adapted and directed by Shahid Nadeem, was premiered last month in Lahore and staged at the National Art Gallery auditorium here over the weekend.

Nadeem's hallmark wit and tongue-in-cheek presentation of religious zealots had the audience in splits, who also appreciated the sparse but uniquely conceived sets and the effective use of multimedia to propel the narrative.

Also appreciated were the songs by Nadeem -- including one with the lyrics "jeena haraam hai, marna halaal hai" as they were an apt summing up of the havoc wreaked in Pakistan in the name of jehad and Talibanisation.

The satirical story unfolds in 1969, when Pakistan has beaten all other nations to send a Pakistani to the moon. "Adam Khan" lands on the moon and the landing is shown live at Karachi's 71-storey Hotel Mohenjodaro. The ambassadors of US, China and Saudi Arabia laud the landing, drinking and dancing with women at the hotel.

The next morning, religious leaders are already giving sermons condemning the landing of a Pakistani on moon, saying this is a sign of doomsday.

The "Khateeb-e-Azam" of the grand mosque condemns the "Satanic sciences" and calls the landing on the moon a blasphemous act, urging his followers to overthrow the "kafir" government and orders the promulgation of divine law.

The new regime is successful in enforcing Islamic law but soon sectarian differences crop up, leading to conflict and internal strife.

Soon after, a foreign country attacks Pakistan and defeats it. Some decades later when experts and archaeologists go in search of Hotel Mohenjodaro, they find a pile of bricks and stones. "Dhanak" was written when the religious forces were a marginal force in Pakistan.

"Jamaat-e-Islami was an isolated, fringe group of rigid, intolerant and exclusivist zealots. The state was all-powerful, military ruler Ayub Khan was in full control, feudal and tribal lords controlled the destinies of large sections of the society and the westernised civil-military elite held away," Ajoka said in a statement.

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