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Befriending the mermaid on Facebook

June 06, 2015
Nameera Ahmed responding to a question.
—White Star
Nameera Ahmed responding to a question. —White Star

KARACHI: It was a moving experience to see a film made on the life of a trailblazing person and then get to hear her speak in person in an unassuming, unaffected way in front of a discerning audience. The occasion was the screening of three short documentaries by Nameera Ahmed at an event captioned The Mermaid and Other Water Stories at the Alliance Francaise Karachi on Friday evening.

The first film was titled The Living Amongst the Dead. The 11-minute-long documentary was about the 2010 floods that ravaged parts of Sindh and how some survivors found refuge in the Makli graveyard, hence the connection between the living and the dead. It began by showing short interviews of the people displaced by the floods and shifted to the Makli hills, where some 150,000 men, women and children found shelter.

The second documentary, Rescuing Raheema, was only six minutes long. It tried to capture the story of some survivors of the 2011 floods and highlight the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s rescue efforts. It is during one such rescue mission that a child named Raheema was born.

One thought that the films mainly hinged on interviews of the internally displaced people and did not show the scale of devastation that the deluge caused the way it was required. Perhaps the lengths of the films, if they were predetermined by Nameera Ahmed, constrained the director from delineating the stories with reasonable detailing.

But it was the last film, The Mermaid of Churna Island, where the film-maker’s talent came to the fore to a decent extent. The 21-minute documentary tried to encapsulate the life of Pakistan’s first and only woman scuba diving instructor Rosheen Khan, called the ‘mermaid’ by the media. It did not just depend on brief interviews, but nice little inter-cuts of underwater scenes and the shots of the paraphernalia needed for the sport/art, along with some very poignant private moments from Rosheen’s journey were pretty engaging. The scuba diver candidly narrated the difficulties she faced in pursuit of her dream, such as the pain of being disowned by her family. In one intelligently captured moment, Rosheen, on her way to the diving site of Churna Island, is seen trying to relax with her sunshades on, and in that instant just says “I want to sleep”. It nearly summarised her (tough) life’s trajectory.

The screenings were followed by a discussion, moderated by Dr Markus Heidingsfelder, among film-maker Maheen Zia, journalist Tehmina Ahmed, Nameera Ahmed and Rosheen Khan. The moderator began by putting a question to the maker of the three documentaries about her first film that how she decided on discussing the living alongside the dead. Nameera replied it was visible from the beginning because the (flood) survivors were living inside the Makli graveyard. In the second film, she said, it was an experience for her to see a life (birth of a baby) coming out of a dire situation. To the moderator’s query about the author being present in her own films, especially in the third one, Nameera Ahmed responded spending time with Rosheen Khan made her realise that her story was worth telling.

Maheen Zia reasoned that facts and figures could be had from the news, but it was also important to have the “human side of it” and to have “perspective”. She congratulated Nameera Ahmed for approaching the lives of the survivors in a dignified manner. On the same issue of the authors’ presence in their work, Tehmina Ahmed said it depended on the kind of film one was making.

When the moderator asked a question about water as both a life-giving force and a destroyer, Nameera Ahmed admitted that she hadn’t thought about it.

Perhaps the best part of the conversation came when Dr Heidingsfelder turned his attention to Rosheen Khan inquiring whether art could change lives (or whether the documentary on her life worked). Rosheen said it did work, as people from all over the world started calling her and befriending her on Facebook. Even her family was now proud of her, she told the moderator.

Interestingly, it was also Rosheen who gave a very eloquent answer to the question regarding the ambiguity of water. She said when she went 50 feet down under water for the first time, “it was a different feeling” and enabled her to see other manifestations of beauty. “When I’m diving, I feel younger and younger.”

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2015

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