Quake, culture and courage -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Quake, culture and courage

By: Peerzada Salman

KARACHI: In a Woody Allen film, a character describes comedy in different ways, one of which is ‘comedy is tragedy plus time’. He goes on to explain that when Abraham Lincoln was killed it was a tragic moment; later on people made jokes out of it. One had a similar feeling watching a very talented US-based comedian Jawad Ali do a standup act at T2F on Friday night.

His performance did not elicit guffaws but constantly kept the audience interested in his story with a smile on their faces.

The theme that Jawad Ali chose was the devastating 2005 earthquake that hit the northern areas of Pakistan. Given the sensitivity of the subject he knew he was walking a tightrope. So he kept his jokes to the cultural variants that one faces when one visits a lesser known territory.

Jawad Ali started his story from the time he reached the Kunhar River near the Balakot region. As a relief worker from California he thought of visiting the farthest village and after a 12-hour climb he reached a meadow of wild flowers where he was greeted by a dog. At this point Ali made an interesting comparison between Pakistani and American dogs. “A California dog has personality, has opinions… whereas it is difficult to have a human communication with a Pakistani dog.”

Then he ran into two young girls carrying suitcases over their heads. Here the narrator lauded the courage of the two girls for carrying such a load all the way to the mountain top, conceding that while he was there to help the quake-hit people, these girls had overabundance of strength.

Then he touched on the issue of distributing money that he was given to give to those in need, but in the process found it difficult as to whom to give it to, because when he walked up to a man who led the prayers in a broken mosque, he recommended that the money be given to his father who recommended that it be handed to another elderly person. Once he managed to track who to give it to, he thought he could finally have the answer to the perennial question ‘what is the meaning of life’ from the old sage. To his dismay, when he met that man he saw people giving him a calf massage, something which he also had to do. Here he again drew a parallel between the Pakistani old man to an American oldie who would go naked into a California gym caring two hoots about others. It was a funny sequence.

The story progressed to the point where Ali was accompanied by a red-bearded guard who thought two of his guests and fellow (foreign) relief workers were white people, whereas one was from Nigeria and the other, a woman, hailed from Mexico. In a lighter vein Ali spoke on the very serious subject of officialdom when stacks of food couldn’t be distributed among the affected people owing to formal impediments (signatures, approvals, etc). He made an effort to take the food where it belonged in two days.

Towards the climax of his story, Ali recounted the tale when he stopped a mini bus (calling it a death trap) to reach his camp and since it was full he had to resort to the ‘rooster position’. He demonstrated the position and reminded everyone of school days when ‘murgha banna’ could be counterproductive. On the bus he realised how generous the people of the northern areas were as someone paid his fare (Rs10) because he looked a foreigner. Talking to an elderly person he regretted that he couldn’t reach his village, to which the old man replied that it didn’t matter; what mattered was ‘courage’ to come all the way here to support his fellow human beings, and that brought tears to Ali’s eyes.

On the whole, Ali’s act was funny in a sensitive way. It didn’t have the audience in stitches but there were occasional laughs and constant smiling, which served the artist’s purpose.