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Save Palmyra From ISIS’s Rampage


Photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils, Myron Bement Smith Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.  Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils, Myron Bement Smith Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have placed on view a relic from ancient Palmyra in Syria. In addition, the galleries are displaying images of 18th century engravings and 19th century photographs from its archives. In the wake of Daesh or the Islamic State’s offensive in Syria, this exhibition has attained a symbolic significance. Being held in the capital of the world’s only superpower with a questionable Syria policy, the display reminds us of what is at stake.

It was exhilarating to be connected with this rich past of humanity and at the same time extremely devastating to remember that we live in a world where our ancient treasures can be wiped out while we look on helplessly.


Haliphat – a limestone funerary relief bust on display at Sackler- stares at you with an intense expression. Her two fingers on the chin represent modesty and virtue. For a moment it seems like a reflection on what is happening in Palmyra today. Halpihat has been dated back to 231 C.E. The almost-alive figure displays Roman and Aramaic artistic styles, reminding us of how Palmyra was the bridge between the East and West.

The Islamic State reportedly has planted mines and bombs in Palmyra. It is unclear if ISIS intends to destroy Palmyra or is using the threat as a strategy to deter attacks by Iraqi forces. Nevertheless, our collective heritage under grave threat. […]

Ajoka’s new play on “Dara Shikoh”

It is absolutely a significant cultural landmark in Pakistan. Ajoka has decided to stage a play on a personality that has been neglected by India and Pakistan. His views and role in history challenges the myths of Indian and Pakistani nationalism and confronts religious militancy rampant in the two countries. Had Dara – the visionary, sage and believer in humanism – lived, we may have avoided blood, carnage and violence that defines South Asia of today. Those interested to explore the hidden history, removed from textbook propaganda must watch this play. The venue and timings can be found at the end of this post. Now the formal introduction to the play:

Dara – A play on the life and times of Mughal prince Dara Shikoh

Ajoka’s new play “Dara” is about the less-known but extremely dramatic and moving story of Dara Shikoh, eldest son of Emperor Shahjahan, who was imprisoned and executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb. Dara was not only a crown prince but also a poet, a painter and a Sufi. He wanted to build on the vision of Akbar the Great and bring the ruling Muslim elite closer to the local religions. His search for the Truth and shared teachings of all major religions is reflected in his scholarly works such as Sakeena-tul-Aulia, Safina-tul-Aulia and Majma-ul-Bahrain. The play also explores the existential conflict between Dara the crown prince, and Dara the Sufi and the poet. […]

Ajoka Theatre and the Caucasian Chalk Circle

My piece published in The Friday Times (October 24 issue)

Who is entitled to keep the child – one who is a better, nurturing mother, or the one who may be the natural mother but could not care for the child? The larger question then haunts the audience: who is entitled to ownership – the one who has the deed or the one who tills the land?

Ajoka Theatre has revived a production that was first staged twenty three years ago. A deft adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, its vernacular version, Chaak Chakkar, is a timeless comment on the viciousness of Pakistan’s exploitative culture of power politics. Perhaps the duo, Shahid Nadeem the playwright, and Madeeha Gauhar the director, would have tried to capture bits of social reality in the mid 1980s when General Zia was still the Lord Master of Pakistan. Why did Ajoka choose to stage this after a gap of two decades?

As Madeeha Gauhar explained: “In 2008 one marvels at how Brecht had foreseen the chaos, the anarchy, the shameless switching of loyalties of recent years, especially since the return of the popular leadership exile.” The seat of total power, “symbolized as Lal Mahal, is uncannily similar to Lal Masjid and Lal Haveli of our times,” she added. […]