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Swat dancers looking forward to journey home

By Fawad Ali Shah

KHARACHI: Zarmeena, 27, at her three-room flat in Banaras, decorated with musical instruments and pictures of her homeland Swat valley, is preparing to return to her war-torn native area.

“My family members in Swat say that the place is peaceful now and the barbaric people [Taliban] have been flushed out,” she says, as her fingers play with the wires of ‘Sitar’, producing light music.

Zarmeena is one of the dozens of artists, who migrated to Karachi after the sudden appearance of the Taliban in the once culturally and artistically rich Swat area. Foreigners used to enjoy dance and musical nights in Mingora before moving to other parts of the green valley of Swat.

But the streets of Mingora, once known for the richness of the art and natural beauty, lost their charm when the Taliban appeared and banned music and dance in the area describing them as ‘un-Islamic’.

“Now the situation is much different,” she says. “Previously they would hang musicians and artists in the streets but this time it would be safe to return.”

The singer-cum-dancer claims that she earns a decent amount of money in Karachi by performing in weddings and musical programmes at homes.

“But this does not mean that we would desert our homeland for money,” she says with empty eyes staring at the roof.

“I cannot live without Mingora…I learnt this art over there and my sister [Shabana] died at the hands of terrorists,” the middle-aged performer goes on to say, as tears appear from the corners of her deep brownish eyes.

“I hope the situation will improve and we will return to Mingora within a month,” she hopes.

One of the three rooms of her flat has been reserved for clients, whereas the other two are for personal use, and are filled with luggage as she claims the flat was too small as compared to their house in the Banar Bazaar of Mingora.

Zarmeena has four family members living with her. She introduces them as her mother, uncle and two sisters. Fatima, Zarmeena’s mother, claims to be the dance master and the teacher of the girls. Zareen Gul, who wears a thin beard, deals with the clients.

Fatima, 45, mother of the girl, wearing a dark green suit decorated with artificial flowers, prays that the Taliban do not appear again.

“We hope they are gone and do not appear again,” her voice trebles with emotions as she utters these words.

Fatima still remembers how she received threatening letters from the “animals”, and how they butchered her colleague Shabana.

“Whenever I remember those incidents, my body shivers,” the dance teacher says, paying tribute to the artists who braved the Taliban and never surrendered to their demands. She denies the impression that they migrated from Swat in order to earn some extra money. Rather, she says that they migrated to the big city in order to protect their art.

“During the Taliban era, we had two options…either to die or leave the art of singing and dancing,” Fatima says.

The artists of Mingora would not only entertain foreigners, but were famous all across the province for their dance and singing. Usually, well-off families of the province and the neighboring Punjab province would hire their services for weddings and other parties.

“I performed in Lahore, Peshawar and Nowshera and was appreciated by the people,” Fatima says. She also says that the locals of Swat were moderate people and the sudden Talibanisation was an external phenomenon. The artist says their sudden shifting to Karachi and now their return to Swat would not affect their routine lives.

“We usually perform at night time, whether it’s in Mingora or in Karachi,” she explains. Zarmeena and her two sisters, Zubeida and Rukhsana, were busy in their dance practice.

Zarmeena plays the Sitar whereas her uncle plays the traditional Mangay (urn).

The flat presents a compact picture of the homes in the Banar Bazaar in Mingora, but the only difference is the environment outside. In Karachi, there is a lot of traffic and the music is lost in the noise, where as in Mingora, roads are silent.

“We don’t fear whatever happens…we will go back to Swat wait and for a month before starting our business,” vows Zarmeena, promising to brave the fear created by Taliban and entertain the war-stricken people of the area. It appears that the Swat is ready to receive its heritage back.
Source: Daily Times

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