Ghalib comes knocking on a present-day house in DHA
By Mashal Usman
KARACHI: Never did miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ seem so spiteful nor did the prince of Urdu ghazal, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, seem so wise as they did on Tuesday as children from ninth grade gathered to act out the lives of these literati.
The parents, who sat under a large green canopy in the courtyard of Bay View High O’ level Campus, watched the children perform on a makeshift stage with an old, graying wall providing the perfect backdrop for the evening’s performance.
A cardboard wall was propped up along the stage and from the space between the two, the anxious faces of the cast members who had yet to appear and the relieved ones of those who had already played their parts, peeped at the audience to see whether or not they were enjoying themselves.
Soggy old Scrooge, who had an ample amount of red blush on his face and a very strong shade of orange lipstick, lit up the stage the minute he stepped up on it. His spiteful personality came through with remarks such as asking the “poor to die so that the surplus population can be reduced.” But his performance was moving enough to evoke feelings of empathy from the crowd as he breaks down in front of God asking for mercy.
After the English play, a short skit on the economic and political situation of Pakistan was performed by eleventh graders. The ninth graders then came back with their Urdu play, ‘Mirza Sahib DHA’.
In the play, Ghalib – an Urdu poet who lived between the late 18th and early 19th century and became famous for extraordinary grasp of the Urdu language – visits a family living in the Defence Housing Authority in Karachi. He is deeply disturbed by the decline in standards of propriety and how the Urdu language is understood and spoken.
The audience can see him struggling to figure out the lady of the house, Samina, who likes to be called ‘Sam’ because “it sounds so much cooler” and continuously mispronounces Ghalib’s name infuriating him further.
The poet becomes even more depressed when he meets the children who intermingle words from Hindi – vishwas [belief], bharosa [trust], chinta [worry] – and English, while speaking Urdu.
“Were your ancestors English?” Ghalib asks Samina, to which she responds “I believe in the Urdu language. I even teach it to my children.” But when asked how she teaches them, she merely says “By letting them watch StarPlus” – her response leaving the audience in fits of laughter.
“Recognise yourself for who you are,” a saddened Ghalib advises the characters and the audience. “Learn English by all means, but speak every language the way it deserves to be spoken.”
Asad Rizvi, who played Ghalib, later told The Express Tribune that he had studied Naseeruddin Shah’s performance of Ghalib diligently to be able to deliver a moving performance
The two plays faced all the customary glitches that any drama with a large cast could – the background music began playing at odd moments and the sound system acted up every now and then. But the one thing they didn’t compromise on was the acting skills – the ninth grade actors made sure that they spoke loudly and clearly while facing the audience, their dialogue delivery was spot on and even when they forgot their lines, they improvised without hesitation. The parents, some of whom seemed to be taken aback with the acting skills of their progeny, left with looks of pride and contentment on their faces. “I didn’t know he was so good,” said the mother of the boy who played one of the three ghosts in A Christmas Carol. “He doesn’t show it at all.”