The lost (and found) Jews of Karachi

Published Nov 27, 2012 07:19pm

KARACHI, Nov 27: Why would anyone write a short play on members of the Jewish community that were once an integral part of Karachi’s social fabric? The answer to this question is: to dig out those aspects of our (collective) history which for known or unknown reasons have been swept under the carpet. Jews were once as through and through Karachiites as any other community that to date resides in the city. After the inception of Pakistan things changed, and let’s not delve into that.

A 20-minute play, The lost Jews of Karachi, written and directed by Veera Rustomji and performed at the Alliance Francaise Karachi on Tuesday evening, tried to bring back memories of the Jews who lived in, and loved, Karachi not too long ago.

The drama was one of the three plays put up by the foundation year students of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.

Before the performance, the director of the play told the audience that it was a fictional story based on real characters.

The lost Jews of Karachi opens with the voice-over of Daniella (Amal Elahi) who talks about her family and reveals that in the late ‘50s her father died leaving her and her sister Abigail (Muniba Rasheed) orphan. And their mother moved to Israel. The voice-over is run against the backdrop of a screen on which black and white visuals of a household are shown. Next, the drama cuts to the cemetery where their father David (Muddasir Sheikh) is being buried. Those who attend the funeral include the sisters’ uncle, Ezra (Saman Musharraf), and their aunt, Margaret (Tajwar Aziz).

Then the play cuts to the scene where Daniella’s relationship with Malcolm (Sameen Javed) is being celebrated by Ezra, Margaret and Abigail. Their maid, Shireen (Rabia Ahmed), is introduced as a non-Jewish character. The festival of Hanukkah is touched on to impart authenticity to the situation and the changing times are brought to light in the scene when the girls’ aunt hints at a contradiction that was taking root in Pakistani society. She talks about the use of alcohol being looked in unfavorable light, whereas Yahya Khan dances with a famous showbiz star.

Almost inevitably in the next sequence it is given away that the situation has worsened as Jews are leaving the city. Daniella tries to convince Abigail to move to Israel, which the younger sister resists arguing it’s her ancestral town and that her father wouldn’t have left like that. To which Daniella responds that it’s become increasingly difficult to ‘go unnoticed and unrecognised’ in the city. ‘We can’t recreate Karachi,’ she makes a poignant comment.

In the last scene, Daniella, Malcolm and Abigail are seen at the railway station. Abigail, in a rather filmic way, lags behind and misses the train. In the end her father’s ghost appears (who makes its presence felt intermittently in the play) and sits beside her.

Given that The lost Jews of Karachi was written, directed and performed by students it was a praiseworthy effort in terms of intent. However, it lacked build-up to the scenes and the story moved way too fast to reach its conclusion. The play has the potential for becoming a full-length drama, with a little bit of fleshing-out of characters and proper sequential progress. The script was good and Veera Rustomji has all the makings of a good playwright. Her dialogue writing is noteworthy; it’s the scene building she needs to work at.

All the actors did a decent job with Muniba Rasheed and Amal Elahi being the standout performers.

Prior to this, a play titled ‘Paan Kahani’ was presented. The last drama of the day was ‘Fasla Rakhein Warna Piyar Ho Jaey Ga’. Both were light-hearted plays.


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