Friday, November 13, 2009
By Abid Hussain
When Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP) Oral History Project Coordinator Sanam Maher reached Imperial Garden, the venue of the Shanaakht Festival, at 8am on Wednesday, she was stunned to see the entire back marquee set up by CAP ruined due to strong winds earlier that morning. Within a few hours, however, the resilience and fortitude of CAP volunteers and their “little helpers” ensured that not only was the CAP exhibition salvaged but better arrangements put in place.
“When I reached here in the morning, it was complete chaos as our all exhibition halls were blown away due to the strong wind. The first thought in my mind was to save the precious photographs and the exhibits,” Maher told The News.
Wednesday was the last day of the festival, and it seemed that the organisers were unwilling to breathe easy till the eventual conclusion of the festival, given the controversy that embroiled the opening day of the festival in April. While any event can be disrupted for the most trivial reason in a volatile city such as Karachi, what the CAP certainly didn’t anticipate was that Mother Nature could wreck havoc with the arrangements.
Like the first two days of the festival, the morning sessions were open for exclusively for school-going children. The responsibility of managing over 800 inquisitive minds, along trying to salvage the exhibition, posed a rigorous test of character.
“While we held discussion with our interns and volunteers, the thought of giving up never once crossed our mind. Instead, we decided put up all the exhibitions inside the main auditorium while conducting a show-and-tell session with the children. It was a phenomenal experience as it enabled us to interact with children closely, and see their excitement as they got to learn about the history of Pakistan and learn about it through videos, audio clips and photographs,” Maher said.
What truly made her a believer was the compassion and willingness of students to help. “Despite having over 50 volunteers and our dedicated teams, the task at hand was huge as we had to put the exhibition back up at such a short notice. The children became our volunteers, and offered their help and support to us. It only helped in lifting our spirit and motivated us more.”
CAP board member and Treasurer Fahad Asadullah said that it was merely a matter of dusting off the disappointment, and standing tall once again. “The show must go on. We shook off our disappointment after the last event in April, and we will not let anything deter us again. The important thing was to keep aside all the differences and egos, and work towards a unanimous goal of making this festival a memorable success,” Asadullah opined.
CAP President Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy shared similar sentiments. “The idea of Shanaakht was to unite people from all walks and sections of society, and have them enjoy this exhibitions without any egos, prejudices or biases. The response was fabulous, as over the course of the three days, we had over 6,000 people visiting our exhibition halls and attending our evening events.”
Due to the prevalent situation in the country and the April incident fresh in the mind, the organisers were extremely cautious in making the event as secure as possible. “We had a four-tier security arrangement with assistance from provincial government, city government, Rangers and police officials, who provided us with immense support and encouragement,” said a grateful Asadullah.
Despite small glitches and complaints by visitors who bemoaned the lack of advertisement for the festival and the choice of location, the organisers heaved a sigh of relief at the eventual turnout and eager response provided by the audience.
For Sharmeen Obaid, the lasting impression of this event was the unflinching spirit and commitment shown by everybody involved. “The fact that we managed to return back within span of six months, and make it as big a success as it turned out to be, it is only because of the great dedication of the people involved and testament to their courage to achieve their goal, come what may, because this is our Shanaakht.”
Meanwhile, Asadullah revealed that planning for next year’s event has already begun, with the aim of making the festival three times bigger than this year. “We also aim to take this festival across Pakistan and bring together as many people under one banner, and create harmony amongst us.”