Dance away the war

May 14, 2014


HOW does one get one’s message across to a large audience when a cacophony of sounds drowns out one’s voice before it is heard? Politicians scream into microphones making aggressive gestures before a captive audience that has been assembled for their benefit by their minions. Extremists and militants hire killers and suicide bombers to drive home their point. Television talk show hosts broadcast their inanities.

At the other end, artists draw pictures to tell their story, while authors and poets play with words. In fact, there is another medium that can be employed to win the hearts and minds of people. Last week, Suhaee Abro demonstrated effectively that dance can be used to convey the message of love and peace.

Having seen this talented child blossom into a charming dancer-cum-choreographer, I was fascinated by the ease with which Suhaee and the 44 dancers she brought together captivated a crowd of more than 2,000 people with their message of harmony and beauty blended with a lot of colourful cheer.

The performers brought diversity and richness to the stage as a number of them had travelled from outside Karachi and displayed their skill in a variety of dance forms. So strong was their commitment to their medium and the message that the only honorarium they accepted was a bouquet. And they left no one in doubt that dance can be a compelling tool to

influence opinion and to counter hatred. That is so because dance has an emotional appeal.

Having trained under Sheema Kermani, the renowned women’s rights activist and dancer, since an early age, Suhaee has now formed a dance group of her own, Nritaal. She is a practitioner of the Bharatanatyam and is also a skilful choreographer. Her forte is the contemporary Sufi and folk genre of her native Sindh.

Suhaee is an artist with a mission. She befittingly titled her latest show Raqs mein hai sara jahan (the whole world is dancing) — a powerful expression of her yearning to get people to dance away their differences. This message of inclusiveness was driven home by her move to collect well-reputed and seasoned dancers from Lahore and Balochistan to join her performance to uphold this mission.

The presence of Nighat Chowdhry, a Kathak dancer, and Adnan Jahangir, also a Kathak dancer and choreographer, Munawar Chao, a seasoned dancer specialising in the Bharatanatyam, and Wahab Shah, a choreographer and performer, became symbolic of the bonds that tie dancers from all regions together.

But what stole the show was the ‘Do Chappi’ performed by the Baloch troupe directed by the Napa-trained filmmaker Tariq Murad who dedicated the dance to the missing Baloch students whose trace cannot be found. They are the persona non grata of the country and the powers that be would prefer that their voices not be heard as they do not want their message to be sent out.

The ‘Do Chappi’ is performed by a group with dancers holding each other’s hands and tapping their feet rhythmically. It is a dance of celebration: a cultural manifestation of rejoicing.

It symbolises the ‘united we stand’ and ‘we will win’ spirit of the Baloch. The Baloch have since 1947 demonstrated their defiance of the ‘accession’ they claim the Khan of Kalat was coerced into. There have been a series of insurgencies — in 1948, 1958-59, 1963-69, 1973-1977, and 2005 onwards. The end of the 1969 insurgency led to Balochistan being incorporated as the fourth province of the country.

The conflict has acquired an agonising urgency with human rights implications. The ‘kill and dump’ operation has cast a shadow over our collective conscience More than being a violent territorial or constitutional dispute, Balochistan’s political history with its ups and downs now has state actors — both civil and military — responding to the nationalists and separatists by allegedly abducting and killing their leaders.

The commission set up in 2011 to investigate the cases of missing people — quite a few of them are Baloch — has been faced with a daunting agenda. With 138 cases before it four years ago it now has another 1,856 cases on its file and almost a third of these relate to the Baloch. The Baloch missing people were said to be 621 but this figure has been challenged by the Voice of the Baloch Missing Persons that recently led a march to Islamabad.

But for many of us even one person missing equals the agony of a thousand people missing. The struggle then goes on. In the ‘Do Chappi’ dance the groom has his nuptial outfit snatched from him but he wins it back as he and his friends continue to dance. Is anyone listening in Islamabad?

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.