Rahman Baba decried Mughal pride and was aptly enacted in the play.

According to popular belief, the great mystic poet Rahman Baba was born in the early 17th century during the time of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir and he received-religious education from Mullah Yousaf in Kohat, but made the village of Bahadar Kalay in the outskirts of Peshawar his permanent abode.

Unfortunately, a major portion of Raman Baba’s life remains shrouded in mystery with researchers yet to discover its many hidden aspects.

Entertainment-starved Peshawariites watched the play seeped in spiritualism, philosophy and humility, based on the life of the Sufi poet who for centuries has continued to inspire generations of Pakhtuns.

With a cast of 30-plus playing out different major and minor roles, the play opened with a few college students glorifying their favourite rock stars during a photo exhibition. A fakir baba (holy man) draws their attention to a local hero who reigns over souls and not just the hearts and minds of men. The story goes in flashback mode to show Abdur Rahman, a child putting forth intelligent questions to his father, Abdul Sattar, regarding the jirga and other social customs of the Pakhtuns. The bright, sensitive child grows up to become a religious scholar well-aware of his environment.

For centuries, Rahman Baba was treated as an ascetic but progressive critics discovered in him a mystic revloutionary and social reformer who not only challenged the power and pelf of his rival landlord cousins, Aziz Khan and Shamroz Khan, but also decried Mughal pride. He bequeathed his own land to poor widows and orphans on the basis of poetic references found in his diwan.

Although the three-hour play was free of glitches, a few criticised the plot for laying too much stress on religiosity of the Sufi mystic. The universal message of Rahman Baba was played out by a befitting set, stage lighting, sound effects and veteran histrionics by seasoned stage and TV actors such as Iftikhar Qaiser, Umar Daraz, Javed Babar, Ishrat Abbas, Said Rahman Sheno, Zahida Tunha, Meena Shams, Riaz Akhtar, Uazir Sherpao, Salim Shauq, Obaid and Kalim Khan.

In an exclusive chat with Images on Sunday, play director Ajab Gul said, “The play has a mega cast due to it being a mega project. I took it as a challenge with all the shortcomings of theatrical architectonics. I dared to stage a classic play based on the message of a well-loved Sufi mystic of the Pakhtuns, and surprisingly the audience who are totally unaware of the traditions of theatre were spellbound and quite responsive.”

Actor Iftikhar Qaiser who played Rahman Baba said, “It was not only a character, it was a soul-stirring experience. Abaseen Yousafzai, the scriptwriter, treated it very differently.”

The Afghan Consul-General in Peshawar, Syed Mohammad Ibrahimkhel, and the Afghan Envoy to European Union, Kamal Gul, were among the audience. The latter came all the way from Brussels, Germany, to watch the play and hopes to take the play to Kabul after consulting the Afghan Federal Culture Minister, Makhdoom Raheen. “I told the Afghan envoy that it could be made possible after taking it up with Pakistan’s culture ministry, if is done it will help in cementing cultural ties between the two countries,” Gul said. It will soon be available on DVD with English dubbing and subtitles.

The play also raises questions regarding the misquotation of Rahman Baba’s couplets on public transport, thereby pointing to poor knowledge by a university professor who takes a group of students to the shrine of the Sufi poet encroached upon by drug addicts, thereby inviting the wrath of militants who blew up a part of it in March 2009. The play comes to an end with the transformation of Palvasha, a carefree young Pakhtun girl, as she marries Jamal who is a great admirer of Rahman Baba.

In Jamal is represented the sentiments of present-day Pakhtuns who believe explosions cannot destroy the vision of everlasting peace and tolerance because the same lives on in our hearts. The KPK Minister for Information and Culture Mian Iftikhar Hussain said on the occasion that Rahman Baba was just the first drop of rain which will hopefully be followed by a heavy downpour of plays focusing on prominent heroes of the soil in order to promote peace and defeat militancy.

Rahman Baba is directed by Ajab Gul and written by Abaseen Yousafzai

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