BEFORE me is a new publication by Sang-e-Meel under the title Aap Ki Tareef. This seemingly slim volume also carrying a full-length stage play contains far more substance than meets the eye. Firstly, it speaks of the nostalgia of two retired souls, Naeem and Yasmin Tahir, who pay homage to the good old days when they were young and wholeheartedly devoted to the cause of reviving theatre at the Alhamra Arts Council.
Secondly, it serves to remind us of a bygone period known for its endeavours to revive and promote theatre in Pakistan. As Naeem and Yasmin start recalling their entry to the thespian circle, those theatre years gradually come alive for us. It was, they recall, the year 1956 when Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj had taken charge of Pakistan Arts Council as its secretary. Taj, being a man of theatre, activated the theatre business and directed more than one play held at the council. Soon enough a group of young souls devoted to theatre gathered around him. More prominent among them were Safdar Mir, Izhar Kazmi (of Radio Pakistan) Shoaib Hashmi, Salima Faiz (now known as Salima Hashmi) and Sikandar Shaheen.
The Tahirs formed part of this group. The first play produced by them was Adaab Arz. This play was an adaptation from Oliver Goldsmith’s play She Stoops to Conquer. They both cooperated with each other in translating it into Urdu, Naeem directed it and he and Yasmin both acted as central characters in the play. This play, staged in 1959, was a comedy. The next play produced by them was also a comedy, and was an adaptation of the English play Little Bit of Fluff presented in Urdu under the title Soay Kahan. Naeem and Yasmeen both played central roles while Khursheed Shahid was in one of the supporting roles. Their third production, Aap Ki Tareef, which was an adaptation of Philip King’s play See How They Run, was a huge hit.
The year was 1960 when Naeem selected Aap Ki Tareef for production, but his mentor Taj did not approve of it at all. By then Taj had left the Arts Council for the Majlis-e-Tarraqi-e-Adab. Faiz Ahmed Faiz had taken charge of the Arts Council, and Naeem had developed a great inclination towards comedies. He was expecting that this new comedy would become a big hit. And lo, he was right.
But was it just a play brimming with laughter carrying no further meaning, no depth and weight? Not so. We cannot call it a play devoid of meaning, rather quite the opposite. Man seemingly is a creature possessed with wisdom but any trifling situation may push him to a level where he stands exposed, bereft even of common sense. And we feel compelled to conclude that man in spite of his wisdom and rationality is basically an idiot. Indeed, there was a profound message to a play as seemingly light as Aap Ki Tareef.
The play also reminds us of the international movement known as the Theatre of the Absurd. And in Aap Ki Tareef we find characters behaving in ways that lead to an absurd situation, which speaks of the absurdity of life itself. The extraordinary success of Aap Ki Tareef gave a fillip to comedy at Alhamra and the people who made up the drama circle came to the conclusion that this is the way theatre can gain popularity in Pakistan.