Amidst a mix of jubilation and controversy, the Sindh Festival 2014 started last Saturday at the epicenter of Indus Valley Civilization, MohenjoDaro. Announced by PPP’s young leader, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the inauguration ceremony of the Festival pulled exotic audience and invoked a much-needed link to our heritage rooted in thousands of years old civilization. Being on the venue of the inaugural, one experienced the rare connect to a civilization that did not start with a whimsical military expedition from the far-flung deserts. Here was a Pakistan that smiled, clapped, sung and danced despite all the bloodshed meted out to it by the visionless, self-seeking ruling establishment.

Is this resilience or just a manifestation of ‘we don’t care’ attitude? Listening to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, it appeared to be something more. It was something beyond the misinformed campaign against the selection of inaugural venue for saving the ruins from perceived damage. It was something far above the mistaken concerns of the intellectual elite insisting that peace through culture was not only a vain idea but was akin to fooling ourselves when radical madrassas were still working in the heart of otherwise mystic, secular Sindh.

The Marxist oversimplification of Pakistan’s complex problems, by the thinking classes is dangerous at best and hypocritical at worst. Madrassas throughout Pakistan are not just the brick structures that could be demolished to save the Sufi sanity of the province. They are also not about just the logistic and financial support by some state and non-state elements, which could be eliminated to erase the Madrassa radicalism from the land of Sufis. The radicalism rooted in and springing from Madrassas requires a strong counter-narrative as well as more exuberant and fulfilling choices of life to the downtrodden and the demoralized, both in terms of economics and intellect.

Having roots in both Sindh and Siraiki Punjab, one has childhood memories of Shah Sayeen’s Urs (Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai) at Bhit Shah, Sindh as well as the epic Mela of Channan Peer near Yazman in Siraiki Punjab. Both Bhit Shah, being at an hour and half drive from my maternal Mirpur Khas and Channan Peer at less than an hour from my paternal Chandni Chowk near Yazman, Bahawalpur invoke colorfulness of the events. These two occasions used to be more attractive for us as kids, than even Eids. Colorful new clothes, holidays from School, festivities, street theater performances, circus, dances, games, umpteen kinds of races and what not. But on our return to the usual routine at Lahore where we lived, there was absolutely no connect with the wonderful experience we had had in the ancient lands. The classmates would not even know who was Hazrat Jalaluddin Bukhari Surkh-Posh or even Shah Sayeen. It just did not ‘clicked’ with the urban middle class that influenced mainstsream opinion.

What was happening in those saintly lands remained limited to only those places. That was probably one reason why it was so easy for the engineers of violence to erode at least partially the ages old Sufi peace calmly rooted in the local culture. So much so that even referring to these roots would invite violent reaction with forceful reminders of the ultimate mythical ‘solace’ that supposedly resides in the far flung deserts, neither in the saintly sands of Cholistan and Thar nor in the rich heritage that reinforces our localness rather than exquisiteness.

For reversing this erosion, reclaiming that forgotten heritage and assertion on magnificent rootedness in local culture should be the first step. That Bilawal is well aware of this important point stimulates hope and galvanizes enthuse to reclaim what was ours and what has been unpardonably neglected rather stolen and robbed for decades. His direct approach and positivist method of problem solving makes all those baroque analyses with ornate theoretical references absolutely pale irrespective of how serious-minded and scholarly Op-Ed writers author them.

Almost always when such initiatives as the Sindh Festival are to be belittled, the intellectual elite – which itself remains rooted in religio-societal exploitative framework – normally invokes social class theory. Any initiative that is either inducted by or is partaken by the loosely defined ‘elite classes’, has to be shunned and disregarded as either a political stunt or a bid to ‘fool the masses’. Bringing the intellectual ‘elite’ that controls the ‘means of production’ of the cultural manifestations and the heritage - the production – closer to the cultural lumpen proletariat was a smart idea. What is to be seen now is, how this idea is taken forward to steer the original goal of bringing the change through counter narrative and for coining the counter narrative.

For a pleasant change, the youngsters are seen excited for reasons other than an ill-perceived ‘change’ through either the laptops or arrogant self-righteousness, mudslinging and vigilantism. For a change the term ‘youth’ was disaggregated into urban/rural realities and brought to the contemporaneous budding lives gasping the burden of existence in the middle of the desert where no laptops can bring them food. Where stopping the NATO supplies as daily cause is but a luxurious engagement.

The youth there was preparing for the donkey cart durbey and the horse & cattle Grand Prix while some of their mates at MohenjoDaro got employment, howsoever temporary it my be. Rest were hopeful of more good things coming their way for next fifteen days. ‘Bilawal sayeen’ for them was to bring employment, schools, roads, electricity and water. May be the points that the Team PPP must note as their management plan for next five years in Sindh.

There are other points too that require due consideration. Despite the limitations of the space, ways could have been found to involve the local population. At least local media could have been involved (elements of which produced unwanted controversies about the festival just because they were kept aloof). Most of the local media, the vernacular Sindhi one, kept standing outside the venue with no permission to enter. Only one private TV channel was allowed entry while others waited for the linking rights. Unnecessary commercialism lead by vested interest!

Coming to the substance of at least the opening ceremony, the translation of an extremely valuable idea into the action could have been immensely better. The Festival was inaugurated probably keeping in view the importance of inclusiveness. Probably that’s why the opening ceremony started with a Punjabi Jugni sung by Sayeen Zahoor. The rock n roll versions of Sohnay Yar di Ghadoli Bherdi and Dama Dam Mast Qalandar as well as the contemporary fashion show might have been included to create a sense of connectedness to the hip hop youth. The ‘Sindh’ however, would not have gotten sidelined had the execution & creative team coupled with a conceptual team to oversee the intellectual side to bring in the real side of Sindhi culture.

All fingers crossed till February 15th, the closing of the Festivals, with hopes to see the soul of Sindh. Expecting to see the depiction of magnificent leading women of Sindhi culture, Mai Marvi (the saint who inspires my name) and Mai Kolachi. Listening and seeing more about Hosho Shibi – Hosh Mohammad Shibi who fought gallantly as the commanding general of Sher Mohammad Talpur against the forces of General Napier in 1843. The campaign slogan of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Mer Soon Mer Soon Sindh Na De Soon was originally voiced by Hosho. One would want to see the echoes of the Sufi Kalaam by Shah Bhitai and Sachal Sermast as well as by the Hindu saint Sami Bhai Bachomal to celebrate Sindhi pluralism.

The writer is an Islamabad based campaigner for human rights and works on parliamentary strengthening and democratic governance.

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