Hate seems to outlast Faraz and Bulleh Shah
By Sher Baz Khan
ISLAMABAD, Aug 27: Artists staged the burial of a long lost poet in the city on Tuesday evening as others buried Ahmad Faraz for real.
Ajoka Theatre's play Bulha opened in the National Art Gallery auditorium with a scene of a funeral procession taking the great mystic poet Bulleh Shah to his last resting place chanting Bulleh asan marna naahi, gore peya koi hor (Bulleh, I cannot die; it is someone else in the grave).
The play tries to resurrect and reinvent the iconoclasm of Bulleh Shah who advocated religious tolerance, goodwill and peace and left a lasting imprint on the simple folks of Punjab.
Though the set design and characters of the play carried the aura of 18th century in which Bulleh was born contrasted sharply with the modern hi-tech society in which Faraz lived, the chaos and hold of religious dogmas in the two periods presented a shocking similarity to the audience.
It left a haunting feeling that this land is yet to rid itself of hatred.
The play portrays events that took place during the dying Mughal Empire in the background, when the Sikhs were busy in taking revenge for their prolonged sufferings at the hands of the Muslim rulers and the later were divided into groups and sects, each busy in eliminating the other from the face of the earth.
A Mullah refuses to grant permission for the burial of Bulha, a Syed by origin, at a Muslim graveyard, until it is established that he had died a Muslim. The crime for which he is punished posthumously is that Bulleh gave voice to the long suppressed desire of millions of people from this part of the world for peace, brotherhood and religious tolerance and because he stood for the supremacy of truth, love humanity and compassion over religious orthodoxy and dogmatism.
“I think, our society is still drenched in the same medieval mindset recorded by Bulha where innocent people are being slaughtered in the name of religion and where people are being kept poor, illiterate and pushed to extremism for political designs,” said a visitor Amna Abdullah.
The play carries a very strong message of peace and love at a time when Pakistan is almost giving in to the Talibanisation, where thousands have so far lost their lives to suicide attacks and bomb blasts and where tolerance is fading away and rivals are either being murdered or suppressed by the state.
Ajoka’s Bulha revives on stage the soul of Bulleh’s poetry blended with the popular genre of drama that attracts the very soul and heart and makes an everlasting impression.
Sarfaraz Ansari performed Bulha’s role, as the 28-member group displayed a rare show on a sultry and somewhat suffocating August evening.
While, holding the burial of Bulleh, a Qazi orders for evidence against the blasphemous life of the great poet when a series of flashbacks bring forth the story of the life and death of the great Punjabi poet from Kasur and his efforts to enlighten his society.
Narrated by two characters, Sona and Chandi, in the form of an on-and-off commentary the storyline is taken forward on a reasonably well-set and nicely-lit stage, with most of characters dressed in yellow, black and green, perhaps symbolising the richness and diversity this land has ever been home to.
The music, poetry and love for which Bulleh strived, and from which he was forbidden by the power brokers of his time and later condemned for not giving in, are still things openly despised by many religious groups and sects in Pakistan.
The message of the play is that like Bulleh who defied the orthodoxies of his time through his acts and poetry, need to be fought back at present. Being a perfect blend of music (Qawaali), mystic poetry and dances, the play also reinforces the magic and power the theatre has always enjoyed since its inception.