KARACHI, Nov 2: Let’s be clear about one thing: the progression of Pakistan as a state and country is not a straightforward one. Some may like to call it a chequered historic chain of events. Some might differ with this thought.
And therein lies the intricacy of the whole subject. It is in this perspective that an interactive exhibition looking back at events that took place between 1947 and 1971 leading to the creation of Bangladesh with the help of photographs, footage and oral histories left the viewers pondering about that particular period.
The display, organised by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan and Vasl Artists’ Collective at the Indus Valley Gallery, marks the 40th anniversary of the 1971 war.
The sequence is simple and effective. The year-wise photographic voyage accompanied by captions begins from 1947 with migrants leaving their land(s) of birth for Pakistan through different modes of transport. A grab dated June 3, 1947 shows a Muslim tailor hastily working on the Pakistani flag, indicating the earnestness with which the people wanted to be a part of the new country.
An interesting image in the same section from Aug 15 shows a cartoon from the Hitavada in which Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah are heading the funeral procession for British Imperialism in India. It’s a sketch which is more reflective than many theses written on the subject.
The story, by virtue of oral histories and videos as well, moves in time and Pakistan is created. A picture in which the Quaid-i-Azam is on his way to inaugurating the State Bank of Pakistan is followed by a shot of Dawn of Sept 12, 1948 whose profound headline screams: The Quaid-i-Azam is Dead — Long Live Pakistan!
The journey becomes insightful in the early 1950s with the Bengali language movement taking root and on Feb 21, 1956 the Constituent Assembly deciding the country will be a federal republic known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Ayub Khan makes his appearance in a photo with the imposition of martial law and a cover picture of Time magazine of Sept 17, 1965 has the following caption: Pakistan’s Ayub vs India’s Shastri. On Feb 12, 1966 Shaikh Mujeeb of the Awami League announces his six points and on March 14, 1969 the Awami League snaps ties with the Democratic Action Committee. Another grab illustrates the first general election of 1970 in which the Awami League and the Pakistan People’s Party emerge as leading parties of East Pakistan and West Pakistan, respectively. This culminates in a lesson-learning picture of Dec 16, 1971 when the Pakistan Army signs the surrender document.
In the latter part of the day, Zambeel Dramatic Readings presented two stories titled Shigaf. The first one was ‘The Body’ by Afshan Chowdhury (translated from Bangla by Sabreena Ahmed) and the other was Masood Mufti’s ‘Tashnagi’.
‘The Body’ was read out in English. It’s a story of a Hindu woman looking for her husband Shankar’s dead body, who lost his life in a war-torn atmosphere. It’s difficult to find the body in a stack of corpses near a building which is watched over by Muslims.
During the course of their search the woman and her young son have to undergo tremendous ordeal, so much so that they even pose as Muslims for the purpose. When they do manage to find the body, it’s discovered that though the head of the corpse is of Shankar, the rest of the body is of a Muslim man. It’s a heartrending story and one thought that while Asma Mundrawala and Mahvish Faruqi read out their parts well, it was Saife Hasan who fluffed his lines and was not totally comfortable in the roles he was assigned.
However, Saife recovered relatively well when the trio performed the next story, Masood Mufti’s ‘Tashnagi’, in Urdu. The tale, beginning with radio-recorded voices of the principal political actors of the Dhaka Fall, is set a few days after Bangladesh’s independence in a society which has taken to violence and finds no qualms in beating to death those holding opposite views.
Three boys see a corpse floating in a river, which makes them curious and they start fiddling with it. We’re told that dead bodies surfacing like this has become a routine occurrence. The narration suggests how violence and death condition gullible minds. The story takes a sudden turn when the boys, led by Manju, discover the body of a woman. This further obfuscates his understanding of things and he kills a woman standing by the river.
The reading of Tashnagi was better and effective than that of the preceding story as the three readers did their best to use the correct stresses and pauses required for the script.
The exhibition will continue till Nov 24.