Welcome to the Hotel Mohenjodaro

An adaptation of a suppressed short story send chills down the spine.

Ali Usman April 20, 2011
Welcome to the Hotel Mohenjodaro


“No Muslim can even conceive killing religious leaders or bombing mosques,” was said by rightwing writers and critics when one of the Urdu literature’s finest storywriter Ghulam Abbas wrote “Dhanak” in the mid 1960s, and read it at a meeting of Halqae Arbabe Zauq in Lahore.

The picture of Pakistan created in Abbas’ story was considered far-fetched and unimaginable at that time. It was said that the story was an insult to people’s religious beliefs and Abbas had to be escorted out of the Young Men’s Christian Association  (YMCA) where he read that story.

The years have passed, the grim prediction has come true, and the story that was not included in any of Abbas’ collection has now been adapted into a mesmerising play by Shahid Nadeem.

Hotel Mohenjodaro, Ajoka’s play based on “Dhanak”, was staged before packed audiences at Alhamra Art Council in Lahore on April 19. The story of the play is about Pakistan being taken over and run by mullahs, who have come into power and have changed the fabric of the society. Music, entertainment, the English language, modern dresses and many other things are banned by them in the name of Islam.

The songs featured in the play, like “Band Karo Sab Band Karo”, “Hum Rokain Gay”, “Janat Kay Mazay Hum Lootain Gay” and “Marna Halal Hai, Jena Haram Hai”, aptly depict the way these mullahs govern the country. Though it was written decades ago, the story is quite relevant today. Watching the play, one can’t but help think about the public lynchings and executions in Swat and the suicide bombings across the country. The play shows how the mullahs prepare a force of young people in madrassas (religious schools) and use them to take over the country.

An ameer (head of the state) is chosen without elections and he then nominates all other officials. Things go on the same track till the mullahs themselves differ on which sect of Islam should be followed by the state. Thus start the target killings of various religious leaders, followed by anarchy in the country. The play concludes with the sounds of war planes, suggesting an attack from another country.

Shahid Nadeem, who has adapted the story into a play said: “The story seems to be so close to the present day’s ugly reality that it is hard to believe that a writer could have foretold it with such uncanny accuracy. It seems to be an account of a television reporter from one of the troubled tribal areas or from the scene of a devastating suicide bombing.”

“Unfortunately and tragically, the intellectuals and analysts are in the same state of absolute denial, not much different from the conservative writers and their cohorts in the 1960s. They still want us to believe that society is not facing any serious threat. They still announce that ‘No Muslim can kill his brethren or bomb mosques’ even if the killers and bombers are trained in the madrassas next door. Well, like the concluding scene of the story, the sounds of the war planes in our skies can be clearly heard and they are not friendly planes.”

Madeeha Gauhar, artistic director of Ajoka, said: “We have been ending this play on different scenes. When the  Marriot blast happened in Islamabad, we ended it on that scene. Then we ended it on the blast at the procession of Ashura in Karachi, and then we ended it on the suicide blast at the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore. There is no ending to it. We all hope that we manage to change the ending of this play.”

The cast of the play included Furqan Majeed, Usman Zia, Asif Hussain, Imranul Haq and Sarfaraz Ansari, who played the role of the ameer exceptionally well.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2011.


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