PERSONAL POLITICAL: Welcome home Mr Ghanshyam

Kathak dancer Babar with his Ustad Sheema's Ustad Mr Ghanshyam, and Iqbal Alavi of Irtiqa Institute for Social Sciences at the last day of Tlism. photo: beena sarwar

Karachi, March 27, 2010 – Personal Political column for Hardnews, India

Beena Sarwar

One thing is for sure. Life is never dull in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) at the last minute backtracked from his support to the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Talk about bursting a bubble.

The proposed Constitutional reforms package was to have restored the federalism, provincial rights and Parliamentary sovereignty, and done away with the hated Article 58(2)b introduced by the dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq, the Democles’ Sword empowering the president to dissolve the Assembly that hangs over the heads of each elected assembly.

PML-N’s support was necessary because a two-thirds parliamentary majority is required for constitutional amendment. The moment we had all been waiting for never came. You could almost hear the collective groan of disappointment across the nation at Sharif’s somersault.

What prompted this last minute change of heart on the part of the would-be Ameer-ul-Momineen (‘leader of the faithful’, as Sharif had tried to style himself during his last stint as prime minister over a decade ago when he attempted to introduce so-called Sharia law over Pakistan) is open to debate. Perhaps he really did disagree with the recommended procedure for appointing judges as he stated. Or he was uncomfortable with the proposed renaming the NWFP as Pukhtoonkhwa. Or perhaps he couldn’t stomach the thought of allowing the credit to his rival Pakistan People’s Party, although it was the late Benazir Bhutto who convinced him not to boycott the last elections. Maybe he was, as is whispered, pressurised by ‘certain quarters’ or a ‘foreign embassy’.

Whatever the case, an isolated Sharif found himself on the back foot, scrambling to retrieve the situation. The ever-amiable Prime Minister offered to meet him and sort it out. And so it goes on. This is politics. This is democracy. Such ups and downs are part of the process of democratic politics. The process must continue.

By the time this is printed, perhaps Sharif will have retrieved the spanner he threw into the works and allow the historic amendments to be made.

These shenanigans continue in the corridors of power. Life continues for the rest of us mere mortals who have other things to think about than power politics. For those who can afford to think about more than where the next meal is coming from, there is plenty going on.

The last few weeks in particular have been a whirl of cultural activities in Karachi. There was the ten-day Tlism Theatre and Dance Festival organised by Sheema Kermani and her Tehrik-e-Niswan (‘women’s movement) group to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary.

The first weekend of Tlism coincided with the first Karachi Literature Festival organised by the Oxford University Press and the British Council (there have been two International Urdu Conferences in Karachi already, but this was a first for this bilingual conference).

The week before that, Katha Theatre, run by the talented Shahid Shafaat and his actor wife Sania Saeed organised a fundraising theatre festival for The Citizens Foundation that builds and runs schools for children in low-income localities all over Pakistan. The festival showcased three plays of which I managed to see only one – but it was wonderful.

For me, the biggest thrill was the return of Mr Ghanshyam to Karachi after 27 years. He is here especially for the Tlism Festival, which his former student Sheema Kermani dedicated to him.

Mr and Mrs Ghanshyam came here from Bombay and for over forty years, ran their Rhythmic Arts Academy for yoga and dance. There were other dance teachers too; some still practice and teach in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad – the oldest now being the great Indu Mitha in Islamabad. They uphold all that is good and secular in our society. But the Ghanshyams ran the only dedicated academy.

The Ghanshyams, harassed and forced out in 1983 during the black days of Gen. Ziaul Haq, migrated to the USA. We wept when they left, and we rejoice that they are back – at least Mr Ghanshyam and his daughter Tara, as Nilma Ghanshyam was unable to travel.

Mr Ghanshyam still hankers to return and re-establish his Centre. Even if this is impossible given his age now (well over 80), his legacy endures.


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