Stories can do magic. They plunge us into different worlds, introduce us to new people and expose us to their predicaments. They allow us to think new thoughts and imagine new possibilities — especially if they are afsanas from Saadat Hasan Manto’s pen.
The theatrical group Zambeel Dramatic Readings comprises of a trio that loves stories; Asma Mundrawala, Mahvash Faruqi and Saife Hasan hold reading sessions where texts from literary fiction are read out, complete with intonations and sound effects to suit varying climaxes. Their session on Saturday evening saw the main room of T2F bursting full of people who had come to listen to readings of Manto’s work.
The reading focused on stories which presented the most vivid picture of the partition of India. Commenting on the day’s selection, Faruqi said, “Man is the same. The scenes from Manto’s partition stories are the very scenes that unfold before us today. People kill people and have no idea why they kill them. Society is just as desensitised as it was. Hence, these stories are important.”
The turnout was spectacular. Some people from the audience leaned against bookshelves or sat cross-legged on the floor. It was delightful to see so many people thirsty for a recital in times when the trend of reading or listening to Urdu literature is, at best, dead. It was even more heartening that instead of grey-haired aunties and uncles, there were several young people in the audience, which is indeed a rare observation in times when recreation is mostly limited to American TV shows and endless hours on Facebook — which hardly give exposure to the breathtaking richness of Indo-Pak literature.
The evening began with excerpts from Siyah Hashiye which is a set of 32 vignettes highlighting everyday life during the Partition. This was followed by a marvelous audio performance on Gurmukh Singh ki Wasiyat — a story based around a family in Amritsar caught in the crossfire of growing animosity between Muslims and Sikhs.
Reading sessions like these are perhaps the best way to celebrate the writings of any author. The story is simply read out, so that listeners may freely appreciate whatever appeals to them, quite unlike the pedantic treatment of the academia which likes to pinpoint the ‘accurate interpretation’ of literature by analysing stories to death.
The performances were directed by Asma Mundrawala, and were masterfully done. It was not a surprise to learn that all three performers of Zambeel Dramatic Readings are accomplished actors with Sheema Kirmani’s famous theatre group, Tehrik-e-Niswan.
The stories read carried the usual charisma of Manto’s words: terse, vivid and telling. Apart from promoting the literary value of Manto’s partition tales, such dramatic readings sessions also allow the young generation to lend ears to some crisp Urdu, which is spoken with perfect delivery and flawless pronunciation.
Lamenting the aversion to Urdu amongst society’s younger lot, Asma Mundrawala says, “Quite sadly, literature in this language has a limited appeal. We hope that these stories help young people take an interest in Urdu.”
The trio has managed to make some success. Saife Hassan says, “We haven’t yet performed a show which wasn’t full house.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2012.
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