Alive and kicking —Ejaz Haider

  • by

Needless to say that it is a universal principle recognized in the civilized world [no kidding] that cultural heritage has to be preserved and protected by alive nations [Indeed! Alive, no less]

June 29 this year I wrote in this space about the government’s decision to slash the funding of the National Academy of Performing Arts, established in 2005 under the now-fallen ‘dictator’.

That decision stays, like a bad marriage, even as the issue in which I wrote about it has long perished like a one-night stand, its memory notwithstanding.

But Rome is a republic again, and rejoice we must. While the dictator needed NAPA to project a softer image of Pakistan, a democracy must save up what is wasted on culture so bread can be put on the table of every Pakistani.

Meanwhile, how about just getting rid of NAPA? Can we find something that can be used against them so they are evicted from the Hindu Gymkhana, that historical building whose preservation as a dead monument requires that it be kept away from cultural activities, lively by definition?

Easy. Send them a notice for violating the terms of their contract with the Sindh government and the provisions of Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act, 1994. And how might the government go about this. Easier still. Get them for building an unauthorised theatre on the precincts.

Good work. A violation is a violation, as Shams Jafrani, secretary culture and tourism department, told me. I agree.

I called Mr Jafrani after we received a letter from him in response to our editorial, “NAPA must be defended against anti-culture vultures” (Daily Times, Oct 15). This is how the letter goes and, gentle reader, don’t fall off your chair because Mr Jafrani did not intend to be funny! Apologies for my interventions in this purple patch:

“Apropos to…. Let it be clarified that there is nothing of the sort of something “personal affair”, as has been alleged [I do understand something of the sort of nothing in this sentence].

Needless to say that it is a universal principle recognized in the civilized world [no kidding] that cultural heritage has to be preserved and protected by alive nations [Indeed! Alive, no less]. It is in this spirit [let there be no doubt about this] that Government of Sindh decided to take cognizance of the violation of law, because of the facts that NAPA breached an agreement [let nothing stand in the way of facts because if facts]…

“In the editorial comment it has been made to give an impression [oh blimey! I am loving it!] that NAPA is being “pulled down”, which is a misconception. On the contrary, Culture Department does appreciate the good art work of NAPA [jolly good]. However, violation of law has to be taken seriously [I completely agree; this country would not have reached its present heights without such regard for laws and zero tolerance for breaching them].

“The editorial comment is not taken in good taste [marvellous!] by the people who are in favour of saving heritage, particularly when it involves heritage which is under threat of distortions [I ask you!]…”

But back to my call to Mr Jafrani. He repeated that NAPA had violated the agreement. When I said that a semi-constructed open-air structure existed at the place where the theatre is being built, he couldn’t deny that. When I asked him if the secretary culture department was also ex-officio member of NAPA’s board of governors, he said yes. When I asked him how NAPA could have taken the decision to construct the theatre without the secretary knowing about it he said he couldn’t say anything because he was not the secretary at the time.

Fair enough.

I then asked him if NAPA sends him invites to all BoG meetings. He said they did even though at times he could not attend those meetings. I then pointed out that such a decision could not have been taken without the secretary knowing about it. NAPA raised money for the construction and got it from the UAE government. This could not have been done overnight and definitely not on the sly.

Was the government sleeping through this violation by NAPA? Mr Jafrani said a notice had been sent to NAPA in 2006 alleging violation. Ok, so what happened after that? He told me NAPA wrote back denying the construction involved any breach of agreement. And? What did the government do?

Nothing. Until now, when it woke up to this violation about three months ago and issued another notice to NAPA. Interestingly, the notice came within days of the government’s decision to cut NAPA’s funding by half. Does one smell a fault here?

I picked up the phone to talk to Rahat Kazmi. He gave me details on what was going on and said that NAPA’s decision-making can be determined from the minutes of BoG meetings; also, that no decision has been, or can be, taken without the knowledge of the concerned department(s).

Clause 3 of the Agreement between the government and NAPA stipulates that the latter cannot “make any alterations in the original structure of the building”. Any changes, according to this clause, “will have to be vetted by [the] Advisory Committee for Cultural Heritage”.

The question is, if we accept that NAPA has been running the entire theatre construction project without informing the culture department, what is the definition of “original structure”? Does it include the entire premises or relate only to the building? Also, what was the semi-constructed open-air structure doing on the premises? Why was it not taken note of? Did it not violate heritage preservation laws? Does improving that structure constitute altering the “original structure”?

The Sindh culture minister, one Ms Sassui Palejo from the PPP, is going round raising the flag against NAPA. If she has a case, she should let a court decide it. She should also defend herself against rumours that she might be trying to do this because the Sindh government has constituted a Rs1 billion Sindh Cultural Heritage Fund which may require knocking down NAPA.

Though why one must go to make room for another boggles the mind. It’s not like we have a surfeit of culture. Quite the contrary. Let both stay. No?

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at\10\19\story_19-10-2008_pg3_4


Leave a Reply