The first 15 days of February this year promise to put ‘Sindh on the map’ - at least this is what has been envisioned by its organisers who have come up with a detailed schedule which takes visitors from the ruins of Mohenjo Daro to the seaside for kite flying.
The Sindh Festival, a project initiated by the Pakistan Peoples Party’s patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, aims to ‘revitalise the long-lost culture of harmony and peace’ of the province. Throughout the festival, fireworks will light up the skies of Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana and Thatta at 10pm sharp - a first in Sindh.
When asked about the budget for the elaborate festival, Sharmila Faruqi, the special assistant on culture to the chief minister, told The Express Tribune that the Sindh government was dipping into the Rs250 million budget for the culture department. “We have the amount and we are utilising it for the festival,” she said. According to the project manager, Fakhr-e-Alam, however, the government is providing only Rs150 million for the festival while Rs350 million is to be covered by sponsors. “It is the government’s venture and will become an annual event,” Alam reassured. “It will become a separate body one day and will work for the mission on its own — under the patronage of government of course.”
Every event and decision is being overlooked by Bilawal and while there is no apparent team in place to organise the event, his foreign friends are also said to be helping with the festival.
Save the date
The two-week Sindh Festival starts on February 1 with multiple events running side by side in different districts - Larkana, Hyderabad, Karachi and Thatta. “This is only our first year, and we hope to expand the festival across Sindh in the coming years,” said Alam.
With a promise to bring the ‘Mound of the dead’ back to life, the festival will kick start with a star-studded opening at the Mohenjo Daro in Larkana. “First time ever, one of the oldest civilisations of the world will be lit up. The place holds a lot of significance - we should revisit our roots and revitalise them,” said Alam, adding that a huge display of fireworks and laser lighting would be part of the night - all available for the people in their homes to see on live television. “We are still tweaking the final details which is why we can’t disclose too much information. Some of our prestigious guests are flying in from all over the world and we have rented a plane to commute them back and forth out of Karachi for events,” he added.
Fuzon and other musicians are expected to perform at the ceremony while singer and comedian Ali Gul Pir will also unveil his song for the festival. “The diverse cultures of our land should be celebrated, not used as an excuse to divide the nation. I am proud to be part of an initiative that strengthens our bonds with Sindhi culture and ultimately celebrates the diversity of Pakistan,” Pir said while talking to The Express Tribune. “My song for the festival promotes Sindh’s culture and its union with Pakistan. For more, you’ll have to wait for the super saeen to take the stage!”
The largest family park in South Asia sprawled across 130 acres, Bagh Ibne Qasim, will be the epicentre for the festival. The Festival City, the makeshift point for festivities from February 2 till February 15, will have four separate enclaves - Sindh enclave, international enclave, food enclave and children enclave. The Sindh enclave will feature the province’s specialties, such as ajraks, topis and cultural artifacts.
“We will have banners and posters across the park’s walls to give marketing space to our sponsors,” Alam said, adding that a huge screen might also be set up at the park for cinema viewing under the sky.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of the festival is a peek into the late Benazir Bhutto’s private art collection. Bilawal has agreed to display 100 art collections of the former prime minister and leader of Pakistan Peoples Party at the Frere Hall.
Karachi’ites will also get to celebrate Basant as an official event, scheduled to be held on Saturday night and Sunday morning, February 8 and 9, at the Sea View. Boasting big name from across the border, Basant in Karachi is expected to be attended by Bollywood singer Mika Singh and Bhangra king Sukhbir Singh.
International Film Festival
Director Assad Zulfikar Khan, an upcoming filmmaker, has been tasked with looking after the International Film Festival, which is being held in collaboration with the Raindance Film Festival based in London. According to Khan, it will feature numerous award-winning films along with local film entries. A competition has also been planned to boost the enthusiasm of amateur filmmakers and the film industry of Pakistan.
The fashion festival will feature works by designers exclusively on Sindhi theme. The event, however, is not being looked after by Karachi’s own fashion gurus - instead, its management has been given to the son of the late Salman Taseer, Sheheryar Taseer.
For those willing to spend Rs2,000, Keerti Sanghatiya, Abida Parveen, Masroor Fateh Ali and Sayee Zahoor will perform on February 7 at Bagh Ibne Qasim.
Aptly titled ‘Mohabbat Bhari’, a ghazal night has been planned for Valentine’s Day, featuring artists Talat Aziz, Ghulam Ali and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan at the DHA Moin Khan ground. Tickets for couples are priced at Rs5,000.
Grand Mushaira, Sindhi Music Mela
To bring back some indigenous music and poetry, a grand Mushaira will be held in Karachi on February 3. Meanwhile, local Sindhi singers will go on a 12-city tour between February 2 and February 15.
Fun for all
Known to be Asif Ali Zardari’s favourite sport, horse and cattle grand prix will take over the streets of Hyderabad on February 2 as part of the festival.
On the streets of DHA Phase VIII, a donkey derby with participation of Lyari residents, will take place on February 4. The donkey carts will be painted in neon colours while the jockeys will wear hi-tech gears. “Lyari’s residents are excited about this already - they have prepared their carts and we will facilitate them with hi-tech attire and props,” said Alam. A deep sea fishing tournament is also scheduled to be held on February 6 at Mubarak village.
A professional cricket tournament is also part of the festival for sports enthusiasts. The series has already started and the finalists will play at the the Moin Khan Academy on February 13.
The closing ceremony will be held right next to the Keenjhar Lake in Thatta in an open ground. With lights, live music, fireworks and celebrities, the organisers hope to end the festival with a bang. Artists Atif Aslam, Ali Azmat, Bilal Khan, Asim Azhar and others are expected to perform live at the ceremony.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2014.