I have always read. As a child I remember carrying two books everywhere, one that I was reading at the time and the other a backup, in case the first one finished faster than expected. I grew up reading everything and anything that came my way and every so often patted myself on the back for being so very well read.
With time came the realization that reading involved a lot more than the ability to summarize the who, what, when and where of a particular text. Reading, a very dear mentor taught me, is not merely about checking off a box – this popular book and that famous author – it is about actively engaging with the sense and sensibility of the written word.
A skilled reader is one attuned to not only that which is written but also to that which is left unwritten. Deafening silences, exquisite emotions, subtle nuances, implicit undertones – all waiting to be heard and heeded, unveiled as it were, by a connoisseur. Reading out loud and make the text come alive is a whole other art form, one which takes a special kind of performer, and not every dramatic rendition will leave an impact, but magic does happens when an accomplished reader meets a fabulous text.
Weaned on a steady diet of Zia Moheyuddin’s recordings of selections from Urdu literature, over the years I’ve been privileged to see Zia sahab read live and have also attended readings by stalwarts like Shabana Azmi, Farooq Sheikh, Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapoor, among others. Most recently I had the pleasure of watching Sania Saeed and Tajdar Zaidi perform live in Lahore, and this has to count among my most favorite of the readings I have attended till date.
Organized by Olomopolo Media on occasion of their third anniversary, this exclusive event was directed by Kanwal Khoosat and featured a meticulously curated playlist comprising fictional and original love letters penned by an eclectic mix of writers, included among them Majid Amjad, Josh Maleehabadi, Shafiq-ur Rehman, Safia Jaanisar, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Amrita Pritam.
Spanning a whole range of emotions – from the naive flirtation of teenagers, to a young wife’s yearning for her new husband, to the companionable conversations of a couple who’ve seen and survived the vagaries of life, to the gut-wrenching heartbreak of a love lost to the finality of death – the appreciative audience was made privy to the multifarious nature of something so easily described with one word – love. So skillfully was the sequencing and so fluidly did the pieces flow from one to the other that not once did the arrangement appear anything but organic.
That Sania Saeed is an actor par excellence is not news and neither is the fact that I am an ardent admirer. But to see her perform live, successfully tackle a range of characters – from a teenager to a young bride to a mature – and do all these women complete justice, with no props, no movement, relying her theater training and expressing emotion solely through her voice, was truly a revelation. Her rendition of Amrita Pritam’s final letter to Sahir Ludhianvi was exceptional. Even if I hadn’t been a fan I would’ve walked away a convert after this masterclass.
Joining Sania from Islamabad, Tajdar Zaidi’s is a name that was new to me then, but after this performance is unknown no more. To perform alongside Sania and hold his own takes a lot of doing, but Tajdar proved himself to be a worthy partner. Hopefully we will continue hearing and seeing more of Tajdar in the days to come (Hello TV people, are you all sleeping?!?). Wajih ull Hussnain’s skillful playing and his judicious selection of accompanying musical pieces went a long way towards providing the necessary ambiance, drawing the audience into the worlds inhabited by these characters, allowing us to peek over their shoulder as they poured out their heart on paper.
Of the readings I have previously attended many may have boasted big names and have had a lot more hoopla surrounding them, but I have on occasions walked away feeling less than thrilled. I am typically disappointed not on account of the artists, but of the way these tours are organized in order to make them commercially viable. No matter how good an artist might be, after reading the same thing day in and day out for 10-15 days at stretch there creeps in a mechanical quality to the performance, which detracts from the joy of hearing these literary classics come alive.
In sharp contrast, this was a one off reading, put together especially for this Olomopolo’s anniversary and from what I gathered this was the first time Sania had performed some of these pieces; in many ways, therefore, this playlist was as new for her as it was for the audience and thus made for a very special experience. Beginning with content selection to the quality of performance, the simple but effective set, the intimate setting, and the overall production values, I have no qualms in saying that this event was as world class as any that I have attended here in the U.S.
I am now back home, from my other home, and looking back cannot help but envy those in Pakistan with the ease of access to such high quality events. I really wish more people in Lahore, as in other cities of Pakistan, would come out in numbers and support such events and register their appreciation for the class and quality of talent right here in our backyards. And on that note, DRNR readers in Islamabad do not miss out on your chance to attend a retooled version of this performance in your city, to be held on October 22nd. For further details please contact the Olomopolo Facebook page.
Finally as I sign off, here’s a pic that captures the paisa vasool moment of my trip. Talk about checking off item numero uno on my fangirl bucket list!
Written by SZ~
Videos and images courtesy Olomopolo Media.