Art Langar: The Inception of a Ritual Festival

Source: Art Langar

Something extraordinary happened in Islamabad for the last two nights. A quiet city briefly came alive, and even though it has before, never like this. Never in such a grand Sufi manner. All thanks to Islamabad’s very own, and I am proud to call him that, Arieb Azhar.

Arieb Azhar is a very special person. He is sensitive about the society around him, mindful of the injustices, and somehow shockingly focused on positivity and bringing people together. There is enough hate to go around over here anyway, especially after weeks of a hateful sit-in protest by a religious party. Islamabad surely needed a break.

Art Langar, the new ritual festival of the artists of Pakistan, especially with a Sufi, spiritual and humanistic inclination, provided just that. Langar refers to the holy token food offered for free at a Sufi shrine, which primarily serves as enough for the day for the poor of the town. But it is not just reserved for the poor. A Sufi does not see class, caste, creed or color of the skin. The doors are open for everyone. And so were those of Art Langar.

I can’t say if loads of crowd visited the Art Langar but those who did were in for a treat. Art Langar mixes art with music performances, with a section reserved for art installations as well as the main auditorium serving as the venue for the musical performances of the featured stars. And they had quite a lineup.

Art Langar, the idea still being in its infancy is yet to achieve perfection in execution but more importantly, it seeks to initiate the trend of a gift economy in Pakistan, as well as the culture of buying tickets to support art as opposed to freeloading as is the norm.

The performing acts included the Shah Jo Raag Faqeers of Bhittai, Krishan Lal Bheel and his troupe, Mai Nimaani, Qawalistan, Farhad Humayun and the Overload, Khumarian, The Sketches, Akhtar Chanal Zehri, Makrani Lewa dancers, and the Mekaal Hassan Band, apart from Arieb Azhar himself.

But most appropriately, the festival concluded with the Dhamaal at the beat of the dhol of Pappu Saeen of the Shah Jamal Shrine, considering the theme of the festival and the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar chants just about after every act in a very non-religious way.

The purpose behind this festival was much deeper than the lineup of musical acts performing in it but I think we are going to take a few years, if the Art Langar team remains steadfast, to get there. All I hope is for Arieb Azhar to get encouraged enough to continue this journey.

Making a Living Through International Days

Source: boston.com (Vanderlei Almeida for AFP/Getty)

Source: boston.com (Vanderlei Almeida for AFP/Getty)

Never thought of it before but you could actually make a living coming up with International Days for things and coming up with new ways you can observe them. Oh well, almost, and I guess some people are already at it and doing alright.

I mean, it’s a brilliant way to create awareness about things, as well as have fun.

There are international days for a lot of things you know. International Days for peace, non-violence, health, children, prayer, Palestinian people, clean drinking water, radio, communications, population, poverty, hunger, planet earth, tolerance and whatnot.

Then there is also the Earth Hour campaign by WWF, which I count as another International Day. I mean it does not necessarily have to be initiated by the United Nations to have that kind of impact and popularity.

It’s a good example actually because it is activity oriented. Not sure if there is a lot of point in celebrating, or more appropriately observing, these days if they were not activity oriented. Not something to belittle the cause, but to actually make people look forward to it.

For example, making it customary to plant a tree on International Day for Tree Plantation, or sending flowers and stuff to your loved ones on Valentine’s Day or go trick-or-treating on Halloween. You know, we could even treat these days like festivals. I mean, why the hell not?

I know that most international days involve a new theme and varying activities each year. That’s cool, but I believe that these days can really be popularized if they involved fixed activities and rituals. Something like Groundhog day or involving the festivities of the Carnival, or even some kind of pilgrimage, say to Sirkap or Moenjodaro on International Archeology Day.

This way people would have a better idea how to associate with them, and if they are depicted in a motion picture, that would do wonders for popularizing these events.

So I was wondering how many more international days could we come up with without burdening our minds much.

We do have an International Day of Hunger. This day everyone could skip a meal all around the world in solidarity with the starving of the world.

I know you could give to charity to help, but that’s not the point, you see. You could possibly save more power by turning your lights off all day long all week, right? But that’s not what the Earth Hour thing is about, right? I hope you get it now.

So you could skip a meal on the International Day of Hunger. And you should go without drinking water for a whole day or just a few hours on the World Water Day.

The list could go on and on really and you are free to add to it in comments. I mean, did you really think they had an International Day for virtually everything? Right? Wrong. It sure looks that way but there is a lot to cover yet.

A random criminal or a bunch of them who have committed minor “crimes”, like smoking pot, committing adultery or attempting suicide, should be released on the International Day of Crime, if only for a day.

There could be one for antitheists and atheists as well, as some friends often talk about having a festival for the community, just like the religious folks. No, not Isaac Newton’s Birthday, that’s already a feast day, isn’t it?

The International Day of Secularism, in which they can openly and publicly speak ill of religion. Not that they need a day for that. But it’s a brilliant idea and particularly theocriceis of the world would or should be pressed by the rest of the nations to observe it.

Countries officially or unofficially banning the books of Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins would be required to make them available just for a day. Similar would be the case for the works of Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Christopher Hitchens, Martin Scorsese and Luis Buňuel among many others on the International Day of Blasphemy, or International Day of Freedom of Speech.

On the International Day of Internet, Pakistan government and judiciary could be forced to lift the Youtube ban for the time duration of exactly 00:24:00:00:00.

You could go without using a toilet for a day on the International Day of Sanitation. Or at least just relieve yourselves in the outdoors once in the day to express solidarity with millions without access to toilets. Just to feel their pain.

How about International Day of Honesty? One exists on a limited scale but woah, this could really be dangerous. I mean this International Day could have some serious consequences if properly observed, such as telling at least one person a day what you honestly feel or think about them. So perhaps it is better to abandon this idea altogether.

Speaking of which, we could have International Day of Lying. It could be a fun festival on so many levels, depending on the sense of humor of people celebrating it. However, the right consultants could always offer better ideas for it.

Look, I don’t really want to be cynical over here, but given how much our lives and existence depend on lies, we virtually live this day everyday. But if you are in the mood for self-deprecation, then fine, you could go ahead with observing this one.

A dumb and morally correct way of observing this day is telling someone a white lie. Though this one is rather difficult to have fun with no matter what you do. A more creative way is to joke about emergencies etc. But wait, don’t we have the April’s Fool Day for that? But that’s a little different.

On the International Day of Obscenity, everyone could be required to cover every inch of their body except for their genitals, while everyone would be allowed to display a creative personal obscenity in public, without jeopardizing another individual’s safety. The one with the most and least offensive acts would be awarded prizes. But not sure if we are ready for that yet.

International Day of Hypocrisy could be celebrated by everyone recording short messages, confessing how they have been hypocrites in various areas of their lives and displaying them openly. However, the catch is that no one would be held accountable for it or prosecuted under law. All of this must be done in good humor, or there is no point.

I know this one could be rather controversial, but it really is up to the sense of humor of the people observing it that could make it a success. They could always settle for boring ways to observe it such as writing articles about how hypocritical everyone and all the politicians are. We already know that, don’t we?

Another nice but not as fun way of observing it is sending “The Hypocrite in My Life” card. This would be a rare opportunity for Oriental wives to vent too, with a lot of jealous and possessive men receiving it, even in the West. Also, no surprises if a lot of people would end up sending them to their parents.

But don’t get too excited about it, we already have days reserved for them.