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Voice beyond LOC

Madeeha Guahar gives a taste of being a theatre activist ‘border ke uss par'

PHOTO:G. RAMAKRISHNA

Theatre time Madeeha Guahar

Madeeha Guahar was in conversation with theatre lovers at Sutradhar on Thursday morning. Carpets were rolled out — not to walk but to sit and the mood was set as plateful of kaju cookies and osmaniya biscuits were passed on.

As Madeeha began to talk about Pakistan and theatre, the recent killing of Shahbaz Bhatti which made her wonder, “is this the beginning of the bad days which we were warning each other about?”

Speaking in a Punjabi-influenced dialect, strewn with a few English words, nothing about her appearance, be it her hair loosely tied in a bun hung at the nape of her neck or her kohled eyes and the silver jewellery along with a kada speak the many roles she essays in her real life.

Madeeha Gauhar, is a political activist, a TV celebrity and the founder of Ajoka Theatre. The group which has been a part of the struggle for a secular, democratic, just humane and egalitarian Pakistan for the last 25 years. “Few cultural institutions have been able to thrive, even survive, in the climate of hostility and apathy towards performing arts that has existed in Pakistan and we are part of them,” she says.

She is quick to add, “but it hasn't been easy for us.” Madeeha says that Ajoka is an exception which was set up by a small group of cultural activists in 1983, during General Zia-ul-Haq's politically and culturally repressive regime. “We struggled with determination against heavy odds. All governments have been disinterested, if not antagonistic towards socially meaningful art. Conservative elements have been opposed to the very idea of theatre and the corporate sector has not played its role in promoting art and culture,” she explains.

As a theatre activist Madeeha and her group staged a number of plays of which she has brought Dara to India. Her other plays like Hotel Mohenjadaro and Burqavaganza are widely appreciated.

Born in Karachi in 1956 her mother, Khadijah was a dedicated socialist, fearless writer, committed human rights activist and an untiring social worker. “That was why she probably chose to divide the ancestral property amongst all the children and from her drew most of the inspiration,” adds Madeeha while sipping lemon tea.

Madeeha says General Zia-ul-Haq's politically and culturally repressive regime might not be there now but there is definite censorship from parts of society and organisations like Talibaan. She strongly says “we always thought Pakistan was a country of moderate Muslims but the notion is soon eroding, forcing most of them to think conservatively because of fear of life.” And these issues become the topic of her plays.

She says she loves the diversity of the Indian plays and was also influenced greatly by it in the beginning.

Discussing theatre with Vinay Verma and the modestly select group at Sutradhar, she expresses her desire to bring plays to Hyderabad. She also chose to share scripts of her play with Sutradhar.

PRABALIKA M. BORAH

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