COMMENT: The Pakistan Arts Council that was — I —Naeem Tahir - Saturday, April 16, 2011

It is said that immediately after independence in 1947, the two ‘giants’ of arts and culture, Mr Chughtai and Mr Taj, also old friends, got together and decided to form an arts body for the promotion of the arts and culture of a new nation 

I am sure there are some people still alive who remember the early days of the Pakistan Arts Council — Alhamra — Lahore. Even now the area is the same, located on the Mall Road. However, the building has been replaced and the glorious chinar trees are gone, and with those trees have also gone some traditions and memories.

For a large number of people interested in the arts today, the history of this institution is likely to be unknown. A lot of things have changed in Lahore, and so has the Arts Council. But changes form history and, if recorded in time, these are extremely useful archival documents. I recount some of my memories, which may shed light on the history, trials and tribulations in building this institution. It is part of our national heritage and cultural history. But how did I get connected?

It was in the 1953-55 session, while I was studying for a BSc in Government College Lahore (now GC University), that an interest in the arts started to get the better of me. I was involved in writing, translations of plays, singing, acting, photography, etc., as an amateur. My earlier interests, hiking, swimming, boating and rifle shooting, were fading away. So it was during this period that my interaction with creative individuals increased. While my fellow students would go home after their laboratory work, I would meet my friends, Zafar Samdani, Fazal Kamal and others, and would head towards the famous Pak Tea House or Coffee House or towards Radio Pakistan at Simla Hill.

An interaction with the Arts Council was naturally destined but the Alhamra was not yet a very active body. It was going through the same settlement and ‘unsettlement’ that followed the post-1947 era.

It was early 1957, when I was a student of Masters in Psychology at GC and when I had earned a bit of a name in drama, that I was sent by the principal to meet Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj. Taj sahib wanted to induct fresh blood into Alhamra. It was from this point on that I got associated, first as an actor in a play and then as the in-charge of the drama section in the reorganisation of Alhamra. The reorganisation by Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj took place to revitalise the Council. Mr Taj was the general secretary and Justice S A Rahman was the president of the organisation. The section in-charges were Mr Hayat Ahmad Khan (music), Mrs Anna Molka Ahmed (arts), Mr Feroze Nizami (music classes), Mr Theo Phailbus (photography and films) and Naeem Tahir (drama). Only Mr Nizami and Mrs Ahmed were given some allowances. Later on, Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj became the director of Majlis-e-Taraqqi-e-Adab and Mr Faiz Ahmed Faiz was appointed secretary of the Arts Council. The section in-charges continued to work as before. In 1962, I left for the University of California to pursue my passion — a degree in Theatre Arts.

Mr Faiz Ahmed Faiz suffered a heart attack and left for treatment, and the Arts Council looked for a replacement. Since the position had earlier been occupied by luminaries like Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj and Mr Faiz Ahmed Faiz, it carried with it prestige. Several people applied, including me. To the disappointment of some, I was chosen, perhaps because of my foreign training and youthful energy. I stayed there for a decade and learnt about the Pakistan Arts Council and its history that I share now with the readers.

It is said that immediately after independence in 1947, the two ‘giants’ of arts and culture, Mr Chughtai and Mr Taj, also old friends, got together and decided to form an arts body for the promotion of the arts and culture of a new nation. They discussed the idea with Justice S A Rahman and the three went through the necessary steps to muster support and to register the organisation under the Societies Registration Act.

During my tenure, I found a most valuable document. It was the ‘minutes register’ in which the minutes of all the meetings of the board of governors of the Pakistan Arts Council, Alhamra, were recorded since its inception. It was an ordinary register containing the handwriting and comments of extraordinary men! Unfortunately, it has been untraceable since 1980.

The board of governors was more or less permanent among the founder members and it included: Justice S A Rahman (chairman), Mian Mumtaz Daultana, Tassaduq Hussain Khalid, Professor B A Hashmi, Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj and Zafarul Ahsan. The board also included ex-officio director of Radio Pakistan Lahore, the Punjab finance secretary and education secretary. I found out that Alhamra had been inaugurated by the then Governor General, Khawaja Nazimuddin, on December 10, 1949. A sipasnama (inaugural address) caligraphed in Urdu was last seen by me lying in the carpenter’s workshop in its original frame about three years ago.

The inaugural occasion was the first exhibition of paintings by A R Chughtai. Alhamra’s rooms had been decorated by curtains and furniture borrowed from the houses of the elite in Lahore and the paintings were displayed. The building was a large graceful bungalow at the same plot as now but located somewhat set back from the front, about where the music section is located now. Originally, the building was owned by a Hindu philanthropist who had set up a school of dance and music in the pre-independence period. After independence, the then Deputy Commissioner and custodian of evacuee property, Mr Zafarul Ahsan, allotted it to Alhamra. In 1963, when I took over, I found out from the PTO that the land with the building was mentioned as being on seven acres. The building was dilapidated and thoughts of renovation were circulating. Mr Faiz had asked an Italian architect, Mr Mario Massina, to prepare a sketch for a new building. That sketch adorned the walls of the secretary’s room. But at that time it was only a dream, hard to fulfil!

(To be continued)

The writer is a culture and media management specialist, a researcher,
author, director and actor

Source :\04\16\story_16-4-2011_pg3_3

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