We live in a country where peace is fast becoming an illusion, a struggle.
The years between 2006 and 2011 saw more than 35,000 civilian and 3,500 security personnel deaths (Economic Survey of Pakistan 2010-2011).
Against this backdrop, peace initiatives in any arena – education, sport, or art – have great capacity to serve as agents for change in a society that sorely needs them.
One such initiative is the recent two-day festival ‘Playing for Peace’ staged by the Ajoka Theatre Group, a troupe that uses theatre as a form of activism, to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attack.
Lines of concord
During the festival, the famous play Bullha, one that has been playing for many years, was staged at the Alhamra Arts Council. Based on the life of Baba Bulleh Shah, it reverberated with the theme of peace.
The World International Day for Peace is celebrated around the globe on September 21. Even today, Bulleh Shah’s message lives on, in part due to efforts such as this. On his 255th Urs, the message of plurality he stood up for resonated loud and proud, seeing the varied kinds of people who attended it with zeal.
“Ajoka has always been a harbinger of peace,” says Madeeha Gauhar, who along with Shahid Nadeem forms the powerful duo which is the force behind the group. “For 29 years, Ajoka has forged cultural links with theatre groups and artists from neighbouring India, and has consistently performed from Kerala to Kashmir.”
In line with Ajoka’s work and commitment to peace, similar peace initiatives have sprung up across the country. One such effort is the Youth Peace Festival, put on earlier in the month by the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS).“We will continue brainstorming with the younger generation to make them into peace loving citizens,” stated Saeeda Deep, the patron of the IPSS.
Thus spoke Bulleh Shah
Bullha depicted the course of the famous Baba’s life, and how he continued preaching love, peace and interfaith harmony, despite being alive at a time when religious extremism was at its peak.
The play portrayed how he continued on the path of spirituality, how he taught the masses to be tolerant, his expulsion from his city, Kasur, his meeting with his mentor Shah Inayat, his mystic beliefs, and his passion for love dance.
Interestingly, the play also illustrated two different extremes – on the one hand was Bulleh Shah, and on the other Banda Singh Bahadur, a rebel on a killing spree, simply to take revenge from Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. In this, playwright Shahid Nadeem admits he used artistic licence.
“There is no historical evidence that the two ever met,” says Nadeem. “However, in the play they do. I have taken this liberty to present two divergent world views to the audience.”
Veteran artist Asim Bukhari, who performed the character of Shah Inanyat, stresses that the message of the play is a critical one.
“I am into spirituality and Sufism, which taught us to promote interfaith harmony and peace,” he says. “Messages such as these are important, [especially in Pakistan].”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2013.
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