KARACHI: The launch of a collection of essays titled The God of My Idolatry written by distinguished artist and man of letters Zia Mohyeddin was short, sweet and profound. The event that took place in the National Academy of Performing Arts Theatre on Sunday was marked by its brevity, and yet had both wit and intellect in abundance.

Mohyeddin read out three pieces from the book. Before doing that he told the audience that it was not an autobiography, though he had been asked to write one several times. Sounding modest, he said he did not feel that he was exalted enough to write an autobiography. He said the book that was being launched was a collection of his memories, experiences and thoughts.

The first piece that Mohyeddin read out was ‘The Bridal Suite’. It had the kind of humour and sarcasm that was subtle when it was required to be and in-your-face when the message had to be delivered in unequivocal terms.

Next up was an essay called ‘You May Have Noticed’. The piece began with Mohyeddin telling the story of a film director in the 1970s who called him to play the lead character in his film, a musical thriller. He immediately gave away the disposition of the director by saying: “As it turned out, it was neither a musical nor a thriller.” He went on to say: “The director who I learnt later had a vocational addiction to shouting at the crew.” This, he said, led him to discuss the experience with the eminent actor and writer Peter Ustinov who shared with him the story of a school headmaster desperate to explain the facts of life to students who had just reached puberty. It was a nice little transition from the director in Lahore to a school master in England, but sadly the audience on Sunday afternoon understood the punch-line of the piece a tad later than Mohyeddin may have expected.

The final essay that Mohyeddin presented was ‘O, What a Rogue Am I’. As can be guessed, it’s a line taken from a famous Hamlet soliloquy, which meant that Mohyeddin had kept his piece de resistance as a tribute to William Shakespeare (whose 400th death anniversary is being observed all over the world). The essay started off with the author talking respectfully about his father who was “a part-time dramatist and a part-time musicologist”. His father was also fond of the Bard, and he was the one who used to utter the phrase ‘O, what a rogue am I’ and first acquainted him with Shakespeare. Mohyeddin said he “got hooked on Shakespeare when I saw Richard Burton’s Hamlet at the Old Vic in the early ’50s.” Subsequently, he met Sir John Gielgud, “the only actor I know who spoke Shakespeare as though he had written the lines himself.” In between the reading stint, Mohyeddin gave a couple of lessons on how Shakespeare should be read and how the great playwright had enriched the world literature.

Earlier, Mohyeddin was introduced to the audience by writer Asif Farrukhi. He was of the view that apart from being an actor, director and intellectual, Mohyeddin was a stylist.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2016

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