|—Photo by author.|
He was feeling isolated at home since his father entered a second marriage, leaving behind him, his eight siblings and his mother. As a severe financial crises erupted in the household, the responsibility for help fell upon him, the eldest sibling.
His family needed money to survive, but Ali Mohsin was a polio victim, how could he help, he wondered. It seemed all hope was gone until one day, he decided to do something he had enjoyed doing for a long time, but never in front of other people: dancing.
“I started dancing behind closed doors when I was 14 years old,” says Ali.
“I pursued my passion for eight years and one day, a friend asked me to dance at his wedding and I promised to but only in front of close friends. Their appreciation gave me the courage I had lacked.”
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Life is not the way we perceive it; it is unpredictable and full of surprises. In this war of survival, the battle of nerves is most important. Ali Mohsin recalls:
“When I started school, I observed that where people ignored me because of my disability, teachers paid extra attention to me, which made me feel like I was not normal and that it was my fault somehow. This inferiority complex isolated me, but it was dance that helped me survive and overcome this mental trauma.”
Finance became a barrier to his education, and eventually, he left it completely after finishing his D.com. He enrolled in the Government Virtual Training Institute and achieved a diploma as a Computer Operator, starting a job in Lahore. But then, he moved back to his hometown Arifwala in Punjab, to look after his family, as Lahore was expensive for him and the pay was not reasonable.
This was also when he committed to dancing, he started training with Nasir, a famous dancer in Arifwala. One day, he went along with him to a wedding function and danced to a song Husn Mukhtre Tu, sung by Madam Noor Jahan. The audience appreciated him and even paid him; that's when he realised he could earn money from this and could start to live independently.
Ali was very attached to his father, who had bought him a VCR so that he would not get bored at home. Music comforts him, he says. Sometimes, he starts dancing on instinct, without thinking – that's how his entire journey began.
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As he grew up, he sought inspiration from the internet. “YouTube helps me a lot, I watch dancing videos and practise them, which helps me understand and imitate the method of professional dancers”, he says. Some moves are difficult for him, and sometimes, he creates his own moves to help himself. But he has never given up.
After a couple of functions, he has become famous in his hometown. His Punjabi bhangra, classical dance and belly dance numbers are a crowd favorite.
“After doing some wedding functions, fellow dancers became jealous and refused to take me along for functions. Then, there was a Christian boys’ group who offered me the chance to dance as their group leader,” he says.
He performs as much as he can in the wedding season to earn money and feed his family. But of course, not without an expected amount of opposition from our society:
“Some of my relatives and friends asked my family to stop me pursuing this 'dirty profession'. Religious people threatened me and told me to instead join a Madrassah so that I could enjoy the fruits of the afterlife; that I was being punished and my family was being punished by god, since I am a polio victim. But I just ignored their hate.”
Three years ago, he was approached by young people who came to him to learn dance, after TV shows and the cinema had increased public interest in this art. Sometimes, it would be students training for their school or college functions, or people planning to dance at a wedding.
“I am happy with my situation; disability did not discourage me but motivated me to survive in this mysterious world,” he said.
Ali also decided to launch a dance academy, but has failed twice, as people in general still look down upon this profession, and there is not enough scope in it to be turned into a regular profitable enterprise.
Yet, Ali Mohsin hasn't given up.
“I have never given up in my life. I still wish to launch a dance academy soon, and to contribute this form of art, which I so dearly love, to society before I depart from this world.”