‘Looking back to look forward’ – amazing response to an uplifting event

Slightly revised version of what was originally posted to the Dr Sarwar blog earlier – more photos at this web album:

Rahat Kazmi introducing speakers - photo by Aliya Nisar

What an amazing response to ‘Looking Back to Look Forward – Celebrating the 1953 Student Movement’. (‘…we look back not to revel in nostalgia, WE LOOK BACK TO LOOK FORWARD,’ said veteran journalist Eric Rahim in an email while we were conceptualising the event).

We didn’t think we’d be able to fill the 1000-seater hall. Everyone said “be happy if 500 people turn up”. The hall was FULL, thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers and participants – students and youngsters from Sindh Awami Sangat (huge team of volunteers and a crowded bus-load of participants), Szabist University, Ziauddin Medical College, PECHS Girls’ School (thanks to Seema Malik, 150 students who formed the heart of the audience and kept up the tempo with their youthful energy), and other groups.

Naushaba Zuberi slams the A.T.Naqvi Tower and demands one for the Jan 1953 martyrs. Photo by Sakhawat Ali

View of the audience with PECHS Girls School students - photo Aliya Nisar

“It’s not just the event, it’s the timing of the event that’s important,” said Hiba Ali Raza, one of the student volunteers. “At a time when things look so bleak, and people are so depressed, this was very significant”.

Many had come expecting the usual 200-300 crowd of old lefties with a sprinkling of the young ones. Instead, we had a hall full of young people, boys and girls, students and young professionals who listened attentively to the speakers – Alia Amirali from Quaid-e-Azam University, Varda Nisar from Karachi University, Amar Sindhu, activist and teacher from University of Sindh, Jamshoro and Ali Cheema, assistant professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Dr Adib Rizvi meets old ICB comrade Moiz Farooqui - photo Aliya Nisar

Several people came in from out of town – NSF activists from Peshawar University and Punjab University, former student activists like Dr Ruquiya Saeed Hashmi and Sohail Kassi from Quetta, Dr Ghafoor Kassi (now based in the UK), Iqbal Haider Butt, Khurram Shehzad from Bargad in Gujranwala, and elsewhere. Veterans like Fatehyab Ali Khan and Meraj Mohammad Khan were also there.

The audience, young and old, avidly watched a 30-minute documentary made specially for the event by Sharjil Baloch incorporating tremendous research on the movement. They enthusiastically applauded the activists of the 1953 movement who were present. The great Dr Adib Rizvi, who arrived a little later, got a hearty round of applause in acknowledgement of his contribution to healthcare for all through his pioneering institute SIUT. One of Pakistan’s most seasoned and clear-sighted analysts, I.A. Rehman of HRCP summed up the proceedings beautifully, noting that the students’ struggle had to be seen in context as part of a wider, ongoing struggle.

Tina Sani - photo by Aliya Nisar

Fehmida Riaz enthralled the audience with her ‘Palwashe muskura’ dedicated to the daughter of the late Mazdoor Kissan Party leader Afzal Bangash, and Tina Sani bowled everyone over with the one song she sang, in great form – Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Tujh ko kitnoN ka lahu chahiye…’.

Laal rocks - photo by Aliya Nisar

Boys and girls danced and sang with Laal – “This was the best reception we have ever got,” said lead guitarist Taimur Rahman later over dinner for the volunteers and participants in a little lawn at the venue. “It was amazing”.

Thanks to all those who made this event possible by contributing to the solidarity fund or donating their time and talent – especially Shabnam Abdullah and her events management team at PMC, Seema Q. Jaffar and the Bond Advertising creative department (for putting together the artwork for a ‘keeper’ Event Book that Rabeea of Peaceniche designed), Mauj Collective for putting together the slide show, Rahat Kazmi for compering the event, Fehmida Riaz, Tina Sani and Laal for their participation, Piler for support with logistics and hospitality. And all the other volunteers, as well as all those doctors in the US who contributed, through Dow Alumni and Aana, and Voices Breaking Boundaries and Pkonweb for help with publicity.

“There should be an event around January 8 every year”, said many people. The Sindh Awami Sangat volunteers sounded like they want to take the lead in this. I say, go for it!

p.s. Also see this 90-second film by Sehba Sarwar, compiled from footage taken at the Voices Breaking Boundaries ‘Honoring Dissent/Descent’ event held in Houston, which was to be screened at this event but got left out by mistake. Really sorry about that.

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