Culture Compass

By Sonya Rehman

Lahore, to me is a bit of an enigma. In tiny little pockets tucked away, art thrives and rejoices – pumping life back into the veins of the city’s cold, ‘commercial’ exterior. Be it dhol-wallahs on the main road beating away rhythms on their dhols at infrequent hours, the flute maestro playing songs of yesterday on his bass flute within the walls of his room, the vibrant eunuchs clapping and dancing away to contemporary tunes or the city’s famous ‘street theatre’ groups, Lahore stands as a ripe, cultural pomegranate waiting to be plucked.

Art remains isolated, cocooned – almost like an assortment of colours in various tubes eager to be squeezed onto a dry, hungry palette. Danka, meaning ‘announcement’ fills in the vacuity of culture oblivion. Operating exclusively as a website, it allows anyone to post notices regarding art and cultural events within the city entirely free of cost.
Started up by Dr. Andreas Matt, Pierre Jolit, Yasir Hussain and Amer in November 2005, these individuals along with a few of their other friends decided that it was about time Lahoris were provided a liaison between themselves and their culture. And that is what Danka really is all about: a link between the seekers of art and the providers of it. Launched in conjunction with the Rafi Peer World Performing Arts Festival in the summer of 2005, Danka today in a very short span of time stands as an extremely respected and valued service provided to the people of Lahore.
I had the pleasure of meeting a few of Danka’s members at their office in Model Town one evening (the starters of Danka including Martin Beddeleem and Atif were either out of the country or unable to make it) and was pleasantly surprised at how ‘structured’ and proficient it all felt. We met in a sparsely decorated room with a few tables, chairs and laptops thrown about – there was a certain earthy and homely feel to the place. Those present at the meeting were Foaad Nizam, Jakob Steinkogler, Sajjad Haider and Jakob Steiner.

So what has the feedback been like so far? “Pretty good,” Foaad said. “We receive quite a bit of fan mail every now and then. In fact, we’ve had people write in to us from abroad who just happened to stumble across the Danka website via a search engine”.

Lahore seems to be following a bit of a trend with regard to theatre productions, concerts and the likes supported by mega sponsors. Since Danka aspires to execute its plans of holding its own cultural events in the near future, will it be seeking the assistance of similar sponsors? “Not at all”, Jakob stated, “you know the other day I saw this huge billboard advertising a play and I could hardly make out the name of the production since the sponsor’s name had dwarfed it! This is why we want to be extremely selective about our sponsors…we don’t want to be too commercialised”. “Yes, right now we simply want to provide information”, Sajjad emphasised. “Sure we have some projects in the pipeline but for now that’s not our primary objective”.

In the near future Danka anticipates having individual offices in every city within the country – covering each area’s art and culture events independently. Not only this but Pierre Jolit intends to establish a collaboration between both Pakistani and French artists, which would essentially act as a cross-cultural exchange involving the two countries. Lahore’s so rich with activity that it truly perplexes me when I hear people complaining about how dreary and unexciting the city is. Now with Danka acting as a little ‘culture compass’, there’s so much to do, see and explore. It is time we started taking the initiative to advocate Pakistan’s fast fading cultural traditions and start valuing and respecting not only what it encompasses, but also what it has to offer.

Sunday, Daily Times

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