Hiding behind the past

  • Plays dealing with present issues are needed


The Turkish television serial Ertugrul: Resurrection has a large viewership, it is immensely popular in several countries. The series has English subtitles so it can be understood by non-Turkish speakers. Unlike the show itself, the subtitles are poor: tough warriors are regularly called ‘niece’ by their uncles, and felicity termed as velocity, and many other errors. But oh well. The superb production and acting, excellent choreography, meticulous sets, and a gripping story more than make up for it, and– a huge relief– it is full of confident women who work alongside with men, women who are not weepy, clingy, shrieky or die-away.

Ertugrul, a real person in the 13th century and a hero in the annals of Turkish/Islamic history, was the son of Suleyman Shah, the leader of the Kayi tribe of Orghuz Turks. Along with his tribe he came up against the Templars.

Our Prime Minister Imran Khan has said he would like to have the play dubbed into Urdu so that non-English speaking people in this country can watch it too and exult in the glories of their past as Muslims.

Muslims did have a glorious past, in a few places not as glorious as we would like to believe, in others even quite inglorious. But it is easy to gild what no longer exists and use it to divert people’s attention from the present. Politicians are therefore consistently keen to refer to said glorious past, towards events unconnected with current issues, so that the woefully little– or even the wrong that is being done in the here and now can pass unnoticed in the hankering for a resurrection.

Pakistan’s PM should, instead of glorifying the past yet again– and good as this series is, look to stress the value of plays that focus on the present and its issues, something other than marriage and nasty in-laws, something more constructive, from which people can learn, a kind of a show and tell.

And we need plays that speak to us about the ubiquitous misuse of the religious card, that sickening use to which Islam is put in this country, a tactic that benefits no one

For example, there could be plays with themes such as what comprises justice. The story could demonstrate just why certain laws such as the blasphemy law are a travesty of justice, and that justice delayed is justice denied, as in the case of the young man Junaid Hafeez. He has been accused of blasphemy, but his case is not being addressed after Rashid Rahman of the HRCP, the one person who dared to fight on his behalf, was gunned down. Junaid has been in solitary confinement since 2014.

There could be plays about the real meaning of honour, about how honour most emphatically does not mean killing people for marrying partners of their own choice, such as the couple hanged in Kalat recently for that very reason. Earlier this year a man was shot in Baluchistan in the name of ‘honour,’ and several people also this year in Karachi.

There could be a movie about power and what it means; with a mocking reference to the use of power to oppress as in the case of Dr Hisham, the provincial health minister in KP, whose guards beat up a surgeon at the Khyber Teaching Hospital. Doctors in that province are on strike to protest against the event, and because the police will not register an FIR against the minister.

There could be plays too about what happens in the event of a war, and a nuclear war in particular, to make it clear to a chest-thumping public on either side that chucking nukes at each other is no way to settle disputes, it is no trivial matter and will solve nothing, only because no one will survive a nuclear war. No one on either side.

We need plays with strong women as central characters, as role models to this downtrodden segment of society which supports their own suppression by perpetuating the myth that to be weak and languishing is to be feminine.

We need plays that speak of government and its institutions, and how different branches of government work best when they stick to their own sphere, instead of interfering in what does not lie within their remit. Inspiration can be drawn from army chiefs who deal with the country’s economy or confer with leaders of the business community.

Definitely, we need a play that would talk about the thing called a constitution and why ruling by means of arbitrary means such as ordinances and decrees is a slap on the face of democracy. That play could be called ‘Taaleem-e-Balighan’.

And we need plays that speak to us about the ubiquitous misuse of the religious card, that sickening use to which Islam is put in this country, a tactic that benefits no one.