Overpowering moderators, reluctant panellists

Published: January 22, 2017
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HYDERABAD: Lahooti Melo 2017 has started on Saturday and everything seemed perfect at the outset.

A cool breeze was blowing, and the venue and its backdrop were beautiful. An assortment of ministers and organisers delivered some great speeches and the fakirs from Tharparkar danced in the sun.

Then the first session started, and it went downhill from there. The session was named, Thi Tand Wirhay Talwarun Saan, after a Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai verse that talks about how art can replace the sword. The speakers were aptly chosen: a fakir, Juman Faqir, renowned author and activist Amar Sindhu and a member of revolutionary band Laal, Shahram Azhar. But the moderator, journalist Wusatullah Khan, decided to hijack the session instead. The conversation became about the downtrodden, about feminism, about why the Laal the Band broke up. It was about everything but the session.

But a session with such distinguished speakers cannot be without quotable wit. “Hearts are never hard to begin with. They get hardened by society,” said Juman. Wusatullah answered with a quip about military generals, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf — a joke that no one in the audience understood apart from him.

Juman didn’t take the bait. Refusing to touch upon political subjects, he clarified he was not there to talk about politics. “I am here to talk about love. I think hearts need to be softened by sharing the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.”

Sindhu was more willing to talk politics. “How can arts thrive in a place where children are killed in Sialkot, women are charged with blasphemy by mobs and then killed,” she said. It was clear that Azhar’s talk did not interest the moderator, who was itching to talk about the falling out of Laal. Azhar spoke about the close relations between Sufism and Communism, thinking that his part in the discussion was over.

But he thought wrong. Khan promptly asked him why Laal broke up — a question Azhar was clearly uncomfortable answering. Khan insisted, and then he insisted some more. After five minutes of back and forth, Azhar relented.

The crowd, gathered to hear about Sufism, love, art and war, was treated to a reluctant artist divulging the reasons his band broke up.

Then he brought up Shah Inayat, Sindhu said she wanted to answer but the moderator thought the crowd should. In 15 minutes, the only question the crowd could muster was why a man should perform ablution five times a day.

He wanted to connect that to Sufism. He could not. The session was, fortunately, over.

The sun was still shining. The backdrop was still beautiful. The breeze was still cool. The crowd was gathering in numbers. There could be no going downhill from here.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2017.

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