By Muhammad Ali
LAHORE: An event stretching over four hours was held on the October 25 at Government College University (GCU), Lahore as a tribute to Madeeha Gauhar, the founder of Ajoka Theatre and the most radical theatre director of her times who left the world in April this year.
The first two hours comprised of a documentary show on her life and works, followed by brief lectures on the various facets of her personality, and in the last two hours, her popular play, “Kaala Medha Bhes”, was presented at the Bukhari Auditorium of the university.
The session was moderated by GCU’s English Department Chairperson Siddique Awan. His introduction acquainted the audience with the facts that Madeeha Gauhar herself was a student of the English Department at GCU, who then went abroad to study theatre in a proper manner and returned to form Ajoka Theatre, the theatrical company known for having produced rebellious plays raising their voices against every atrocity perpetrated in the society, whether direct or subtle. Her motive was to form such a theatrical group which could mould the society into a just, humane and secular society.
It was after this introduction that the documentary was presented, showing clips from Gauhar’s various plays, her tours to different countries for performance and her interviews done by channels outside Pakistan. For the ones who were not aware of her works, the documentary set a very good basis for the performance of “Kaala Medha Bhes” and made them look forward to a play amalgamating traditional culture with contemporary realities.
After the documentary, Dr Sobia Mubarik Durrani was called to say a few words in Madeeha Gauhar’s honour, for Dr Sobia is not only an instructor of drama at the university and a script advisor of its Dramatics Club, but had also done her PhD thesis on Ajoka Theatre. After talking about Madeeha Gauhar as a non-commercial theatre practitioner and a social activist, Dr Sobia recalled her own brief conversation with her, from which she remembered Gauhar being a highly compassionate woman, and someone brave too.
“I met her in the days when she was quite ill, but not once did she talk about her illness with a tincture of fear in her eyes,” Dr Sobia said.
Then Shahid Nadeem, Madeeha Gauhar’s husband and the writer of all those plays which she directed, presented the history of their union, telling that it was when he was residing abroad as a political exile and Madeeha had come to study theatre that they both met. Madeeha knew him from his initial radical works and asked him to write for her.
“I would write plays then and send them to her. Madeeha produced a theatre which was not only a theatre but a meaningful theatre, and not only a meaningful theatre but a culturally rich theatre,” he said. “One finds folk dances and traditional styles of tale-telling in Ajoka Theatre’s works,” he added.
Professor Shaista Sirajud Din, one of the most renowned drama professors of Lahore, then introduced herself as the teacher of Madeeha Gauhar. Her words on Madeeha Gauhar and Shahid Nadeem’s marriage seemed a good secondary discussion after Shahid Nadeem’s own discussion on the matter.
“The marriage of Madeeha Gauhar and Shahid Nadeem does not have to do with love and compatibility only, but with words and language too. Madeeha might have left us physically, but she is alive in the form of Ajoka Theatre,” said Professor Sirajud Din. She then pointed towards Nirvaan Nadeem, Madeeha’s son and one of the guests of the event. “I was there when he was born. And now, he sits before me as a grown-up, young man,” she added.
After Professor Sirajud Din, Justice Nasira Javed Iqbal was called who termed Madeeha Gauhar’s efforts in the field of art as genuine and meaningful by comparing her approach with that of Asma Jahangir. She was of the view that Madeeha’s radicalism had an importance equal to that of someone’s real, political radicalism.
“However, the dark plays never mean that Madeeha was someone who had grown disappointed. She was an optimist and was hopeful about the societal change,” she said.
The second last person to speak on Gauhar was the actor, writer and director, Naeem Tahir who told the audience how it was surprising for him to know in the times of Zia that a girl had gone abroad to study theatre. It made him quite excited to see who that brave girl from Pakistan was and at a theatre festival which he had organised, he met her for the first time professionally.
“We remember her mostly for being a rebellious woman but she was quite compassionate as well. My wife and I never came across such a loving and caring person,” said Naeem Tahir. “Madeeha brought an altogether a new approach and new mindset for women,” he added.
After this two-hour discussion, all the people who had gathered at Fazl-e-Hussain Reading Room were directed towards Bukhari Auditorium, where “Kaala Medha Bhes” was performed and received an overwhelming response, for dialogues from a regional language accompanied by folk dances and gestures deeply rooted in the indigenous culture were relatable and made their way instantly into people’s hearts.
The play’s performance, in the end, validated the words that it is in the form of Ajoka Theatre that Madeeha Gauhar is still alive.