KARACHI: Ajoka Theatre’s play based on the epistolary exchanges between poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and his wife, Alys, when he was in prison from 1951 to 1955 by virtue of readings by Naeem Tahir and Yasmin Tahir, complemented by a heart-touching mix of dance, recitation and music, at the Arts Council Karachi on Monday evening proved to be a worthy token of affection for the eminent poet, his family and admirers.

Introducing the performances, Madeeha Gauhar, who directed the play titled Rozan-i-Zindan Se, said they were based on the letters that Faiz and Alys wrote to each other when Faiz was in Hyderabad Jail along with other activists. She said the letters were written in English and were subsequently translated into Urdu. They were published as ‘Dear Heart’. She said Faiz’s letters in the play, selected and edited by Shahid Nadeem, would be read out by Naeem Tahir and Alys’s by Yasmin Tahir.

The setting was simple. On the left of the stage sat Yasmin Tahir and on the right Naeem Tahir. Yasmin starts off proceedings by reading a letter written on March 9, 1951. The content speaks of how the sound of boots resonated in their place and Faiz was asked to accompany those who had come to imprison him. Alys also mentions the voices that were raised against Faiz demanding that he be hanged. The letter was followed by Wahab Shah’s dance performance to the famous poem ‘Dasht-i-Tanhai’.

Naeem read his first letter dated June 20, 1951. In it Faiz laments that he couldn’t write to Alys early on, and now that he’s able to get hold of a piece of paper, he is writing to her.

The exchange then leads to expressing a range of emotions from romantic to dispiriting and from uplifting to fun-loving. For example, on July 17, 1951, Alys discusses rain, which prompts Faiz to react to it on Aug 16, 1951, and jokingly says that he fears when he gets out of jail he will have lost his sex appeal. The mood immediately shifts as Zia Mohyeddin’s voice is heard in the background reciting the poem ‘Yeh raat uss dard ka shajar hai’. He was followed by Suhaee Abro dancing her heart out to ‘Tum aaey ho na shab-i-intizar’, which the audience thoroughly enjoyed.

In a sensitive moment in the play, on Oct 30, 1951 Faiz talks about his wedding anniversary and embellishes it with the verses ‘Ijz-i-ahl-i-sitam ki baat karo’. It’s made abundantly evident by the famous couple that they had a terrific sense of humour. On one occasion Faiz says ‘yeh shaeri badi bakwas cheez hai’ (poetry is useless).

Also, names of literary luminaries and Faiz’s comrades like Sufi Tabassum and Sajjad and Razia Zaheer come into the scheme of things, covering almost all the bases of that period in the poet’s life. In a letter Alys writes to Faiz that Sufi intends to celebrate Faiz’s release from prison by having dancing girls perform at Mochi Gate and that she (Alys) has heard that upon hearing the news of Faiz’s imprisonment Malika Pukhraj couldn’t eat for four days.

All in all, the play successfully captures one of the most important phases in the political and literary history of Pakistan. Both Naeem and Yasmin Tahir did a nice job on Monday, and although Naeem had a bit of an issue with pronunciation (for instance he kept saying nazam instead of nazm) he was very impressive when he read the poem ‘Mujh ko shikwa hai merey bhai’. It had a heart-wrenching effect on the audience.

Suhaee Abro and Wahab Shah’s dances, choreographed by the latter, too, were well received.

Rozan-i-Zindan Se will also be staged today (March 8).

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2016

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