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In memoriam: Puppet master extraordinaire

January 06, 2013

Faizaan Peerzada 1958 - 2012
Faizaan Peerzada 1958 - 2012

Art in Pakistan lost an invaluable patron with the sudden death of Faizaan Peerzada on December 21 in Lahore at the age of 52 owing to a massive heart attack. The youngest amongst his siblings of four brothers (one of them a twin) and two sisters, Faizaan was a fiery and energetic dreamer who was the driving force behind the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop.

As the son of Pakistan’s leading playwright Rafi Peer, Faizaan proved that art was embedded in his genes. He was a painter, puppeteer, sculptor, music lover, designer, food connoisseur, documentary film make and more famously the festival director who organised wonderful art festivals in Lahore in spite of financial and security challenges.

As a journalist attending the World Performing Arts Festival, I always saw Faizaan on the forefront; getting the props welded as per his artsy designs and simultaneously giving interviews to the press. His energy was infectious. His work stood out. The Indian art film director Govind Nihalani had remarked that Lahore’s Performing Art Fests were the best in the whole of Aa as he had been a jurist at several international art festivals.

The last that I spoke to him on a chilly night outside the tastefully built Arts and Crafts Village at the Rafi Peer Cultural Centre, he had been particularly bitter about the way no government or corporate was supporting his projects, and how people were spending crores on their weddings and yet not patronising indigenous art. Nevertheless, he was determined to stay in Pakistan and deal with the challenge ‘creatively’.

Faizaan was the one who introduced many of us ordinary Pakistanis to fascinating art genres from around the world. It was at these art fests that I for the first time saw shadow puppetry from Russia, 3D live cartoon storytelling from Croatia, gymnastic dances from Switzerland, theatre from Syria and folk puppet tales of my own rural villages. I and many like me owe it to Faizaan for enriching our life experience with beautiful art. He shall be remembered by art lovers and performers alike.

The Peerzada family was terribly shaken when Images on Sunday contacted them, owing to the fact that Faizaan had died in the midst of a fully engaged life packed to the brim with art projects. His mother and his twin brother, Saadan, were too grief-stricken to articulate their feelings.

Tassneem Peerzada (sister): “Which facet of his shall I tell you about? He had tremendous energy. He was giving time to his children, having dinner with his mother everyday, organising festivals and meanwhile managed to write a book on the theatre history of Pakistan and another one on painting. His schedule was packed till the day he left us. His painting exhibition was scheduled a few days later, a festival was on the cards after that in Dubai. He was representing Pakistan every year at the art festivals in Norway and Amritsar. His studio still has so many of his canvases freshly painted and some half-finished. Till his last night he was meeting artistes back-to-back for shows till the wee hours when he complained of chest pain and left us within seconds by the time he was taken to the hospital.

“He had achieved so much in a short life. Nobody believed him when he wanted to do the first art fest and yet he convinced and trained all of us so well that incredibly we got 22 countries coming the first time. For him the show had to go on even if 10 people came to see it.”

Alena Peerzada (niece): “I had a very special relationship with him. He was my father’s twin so was my dad and my boss. We lived in the same house for 30 years and I was with him 16 hours a day everyday. I feel extremely lucky to have been in the proximity of his energy. He was the strength behind us all even though he was the youngest.”

Samina Peerzada (sister-in-law): “He was my baby brother. Buddy as we called him. I knew him from the time I was dating Usman and my mother thought of both Saadan and Faizaan as her own sons. In fact these two came to our wedding from my side as brothers. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that he would be the first to leave us. He was the driving force behind all our achievements. He was a dreamer who achieved all his dreams. I would disagree and quarrel with him over work and he would get his way with a dimpled smile. His greatest quality was that for him no one was a crowd. He noticed everyone for their special-ness. He made a positive difference in the lives of so many people and no wonder after his Soyem, the dholis who were a regular feature at the festivals paid him a befitting tribute with their drumbeat.”

Usman Peerzada (brother): “For us the challenge is to accept that he has gone. He was so full of life. He was a national asset with the way he served art. He was sending three to four hundred local artistes to international festivals every year. He introduced so many folk artistes like Saeein Zahoor, the dholis and Zarsanga who have now become household names. He sent Zarsanga to as far as France. His mission was to stamp Pakistan all over the world and he managed to do it.

“His festivals helped to evolve new music genres. He paired folk artistes with international acts much before Coke Studio. So many folk artistes began earning respect and livelihood due to his efforts. Numerous college students attended his festivals as volunteers and were trained into the nuances of organisation and management of art events. With his going, we’ve lost a very important pillar of Rafi Peer.”