Monday, November 16, 2015

The Road to Paradise

Leaving behind my third world problems has been mildly challenging. In a country where there are no power failures, availability of safe public transport and where life is not threatened on regular intervals, you begin to lose the sense of familiar meaning in your every day existence. As my daily struggles of being a Pakistani woman have been replaced by the trials of being a new immigrant, I am having to step out of my comfort zone of strife, which can be a little disorienting at times.

In such a state of disarray, when I found out about a play in Toronto, the description of which began with the words 'A child suicide bomber in Pakistan...', I got intrigued; almost tempted to go back into my comfort zone where I dismayingly but avidly used to discuss bomb threats and daily deaths. And so, I willingly parted with $20 [or so] and my unemployment self-pity to watch 'The Road to Paradise'.

Reality is always more complex with many layers unseen and unheeded. Often that reality has to be simplified as fiction for the comprehension of the human kind who has the tendency to be one dimensional in processing feelings, especially when it comes to war and devastation. And so, this play endeavours to present a very complex reality into a simplified 2-hour performance with limited cast and crew. A child suicide bomber in Pakistan; a Canadian soldier in Kandahar; and an Afghan refugee in Toronto represent the three intertwined worlds depicted in this emotional saga. Three parallel worlds, fighting and suffering from one meaningless war.

The play kept me engaged for all of the two hours even if the storyline was not a revelation for me as a Pakistani. You see, there was a time when I would only read about terrorism acts and lament about the deaths of those unknown. I would sit amongst friends and the faraway war would feed our intellectual discussions on religion and politics. And then came a time when I narrowly escaped a bomb blast in Lahore. There came a time, when I received anonymous threats for my anti-religion blog. There came a time when my good friend's parents were brutally murdered because of their faith. There came a time when I almost lost my daughter because I was a woman not scrupulous enough for my religion. There came a time when the war became close and real. I have stood on the spot in Swat where the Taliban would hang or behead liberals for everyone to witness and have heard stories from the survivors. I have mourned the death of an amazing female activist who was senselessly murdered for being a forward thinker. I have feared sending my child to school in the aftermath of the Peshawar carnage.

So the war and its interconnected devastation depicted in this play was not a revelation for me. But it still made me cringe. It still made me weep. And it made me nostalgic of the tragedies that I have left behind, but my family and friends are still living.

With the narrative on refugees and war-on-terror  drastically altering in the wake of the tragedy in Paris, this play is a good reminder to the Western audience of the true cost of humanity on ALL sides of the war. It is an attempt to prevent the narrative from reverting to its one-dimensionality.

Christopher Morris and his team need to be commended for bringing together actors from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Canada to depict stories that are not only true but also well-researched. Years have been spent to explore those stories and bring the real characters on stage. The emotional investment of the team was evident. Art is a painful process; it takes so much from the artist, and the returns are rarely lucrative. And yet for the storyteller, all that matters is that the story is told and heard.

A Human Cargo Production, The Road to Paradise will be on stage at Buddies in Bad times theatre until November 28th, 2015. It should be a consideration for those whose minds are confined to and fed by traditional media. It is also for those who think Pakistan is in the middle east.