GILGIT: Hasan stands outside a house in a Gilgit street. He is visibly nervous.
“Should I knock on the door,” he hesitantly asks a group of boys surrounding him.
“Yes you have to,” replies a boy in the group.
Excited to be doing it for the first time, Hasan pulled down his mask and knocks on the door.
When the door opens, the entire group of children rushes in and starts performing a traditional play.
The 14-year-old was part of ‘Shaap’, a traditional form of street theatre popular in Gilgit. It is a nascent form of entertainment for children.
The shows are performed by groups of around 15 young boys, aged between 10 and 17. During the cold winter nights of December and January, they go house-to-house knocking on doors. When someone lets them in, they start performing the musical play.
The main characters in ‘Shaap’ are “Jaro” and “Jari” – a old man and an old woman, respectively. The couple’s characters are usually performed by teenagers under the age of 15. Their props are generally limited to masks and walking sticks to add a bit of visual depth to their characters.
The boys also bring their own musical arrangements, with the senior-most member of group carrying a drum.
The drummer usually goes door-to-door, beating the drum to alert residents about the arrival of Jari and Jaro, as the rest of the team who follow in tow.
“Apart from alerting the residents, the drumbeat ‘heats up’ the frozen atmosphere and the actors,” said city resident Altaf Khan.
The boys only visit around four houses a night before returning to their respective homes due to the extreme cold.
But in some cases, residents are not interested in allowing the kids into their homes. They simply tell the boys off at the gate.
But the boys are stubborn and do not leave without exacting a ‘tip’ – which could range from Rs10 to Rs200.
Once the ‘tip’ exchanges hands, the boys move on to the next house, happy to have at least earned something.
While boys continue to perform the traditional theatre in areas such as Nagral, Kashrot, Majini Muhalla, Barmas, Amphery and Napura, its prevalence has decreased considerably over the years.
Technology is the chief culprit in this regard, keeping young and old alike preoccupied.
“There was a time when we had free time for such activities,” Khan told The Express Tribune.
“But now our kids only have time for technology,” he said, fearing that the decades old tradition was at risk of being forgotten.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2017.