By Raza Rumi
Not far from where the Lahore High Court is hearing a moral policing plea against the ever-popular Punjabi singer Naseebo Lal and her cousin Nooran, a multitude of theatre houses dish out soft porn for the male consumers of verbal abuse. The Lahore theatre scene has denigrated into a contest for vulgarity of the most banal variety. The new age of Lahore theatre is nothing but a reinforcement of the worst of chauvinism where every woman is a sex object to be measured against her attributes in bed and her anatomical worth.
Naseebo Lal emerged as a star from her early performances. Her earthy and soulful voice was an instant hit throughout the country, especially in the Punjab. After the exit of Madame Noor Jehan from the film industry, Naseebo was greeted as a long-awaited monsoon by Lollywood’s producers and directors. This was also the end of Naseebo’s innovativeness and range, as she was meant to fill a void, and she was made to sing in a similar vein. Bawdy Punjabi numbers where Mutiars yearn and chase love and lovers, were all now handled with much aplomb by Naseebo. Whether you like her voice or not, she is very noticeable.
Unlike Reshman, Naseebo’s voice had the dexterity to be a mainstream film voice. In the process of commercialisation, she was transformed into a thin version of Madame with glamorous apparel and a makeover that, alas, was not the innate style of the glorious Madame. Nevertheless, it was good to see a new talent from the nomadic margins of Punjab succeed at the national level. But then she was made to sing all sorts of numbers – from the tragic to lilting romantic songs, and from sizzling to downright innuendo-laden pieces.
One fine day, a moralistic lawyer approached the newly freed judiciary to ban her cassettes as they were supposedly inciting the country’s youth and destroying public morals. A devastated Naseebo was seen crying on television complaining that her music was not a hobby but a means of livelihood for her and her family. The way it works is, that the successful member of a singing family supports a large number of dependents. Of course no mercy for the vulgar Naseebo was envisioned by the puritanical petitioner, or by the blind goddess of justice with scales that by default, are tilted towards conservatism.
Why are the state institutions, whether executive or non-executive, anti-culture in the land of the pure? As it is, the state has successively and insidiously destroyed the thousands of years of plural culture over the last six decades. Ghalib is “Indian”. Amir Khusrau is good if he is acting as a good Muslim, and the devout Islamic scholar Abul Kalam Azad is spurned because he believed that Muslim identity would be protected in a united India.
We have complained enough about the barbarians of Swat who murdered the local singer Shabana, for she represented evil. Now evil is culture for the anti-culture polity that Pakistan has become.
Naseebo Lal and Nooran Lal are from the marginalized community of gypsies who use the “gadvi” as a musical instrument. The clientele for the Lal sisters, in the main, happens to be the working class and this also explains why the Ziaist state and the MTV generation of elite youth find them distasteful. And they really don’t care.
The nascent bourgeoisie of urban Punjab are of course hooked on the soul-destroying theatrical performances that contain mujras of the basest kind with their vulgar puns on mothers and sisters and their anatomies. A large number of small-time Lollywood actors have turned into theatre actors. One such damsel dances on the stage, provides bare exposure and gets paid a whopping monthly fee of 1.7 million rupees. The patrons are rich men who travel from small towns to Lahore to consume ‘drama’ and more if required.
The provincial government had taken note of what goes on in the name of drama but later the ban was withdrawn due to the powerful clients of this mini-industry. The necessity is not to ban one or the other form of recreation, but to facilitate a process where regulation takes place within the entertainment sector.
This also brings into focus the larger question of sexual repression and perversity that permeates the country. Public morality is endangered the moment a woman steps out of her house and enters the public domain. The judiciary has continued to rule against women and their rights. If on the one hand it lets go of Maulana Aziz and the leader of the Jaish-e-Muhammad, on the other hand it is more than willing to entertain petitions such as the one against poor Naseebo.
Reshman, the legendary singer from the borderless deserts of Southern Punjab and Rajasthan, is dying of a serious ailment. Recent footage on television showed a frail woman who had lost her zest and fire. The state has done next to nothing for her. It was after the entire country cried and wailed that the king of melody, Mehdi Hasan was given partial financial support to cover the exorbitant cost of his medical treatment.
The devastated Naseebo Lal on TV, a ghost of her former flamboyant persona, was a tragic sight. The lyricists who wrote the apparently erotic – a la Pakistani definition – songs, and the producers who wanted to make a quick buck have hardly been at the receiving end of the media, the right wing lawyers and the guardians of public morality. It is only Naseebo and her sister who are the apparent victims.
The composite cultures of Pakistan are dying out of neglect and deliberate destruction, while Islamism of the Wahabi variety is taking root through foreign and domestic funding and jihad factories within and outside the ambit of the state.
Saving Pakistan entails an overarching, secular vision to protect inclusive culture. Undoing the Zia years will be a long, painful process but it has to be gone through. The ghosts of bigoted fascism are dancing all around us and threatening to overwhelm us.
Raza Rumi is a development professional and a writer based in Lahore. He blogs at www. razarumi.com and edits Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama e-zines