By Sonya Rehman
We’ve just driven up to Alhamra Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. She’s all lit up in pretty lights, colourful flags and posters – decorated in the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop’s [RPTW] signature style. The organization’s 13th Youth Performing Arts Festival [YPAF] is well under way – running from the 16th to the 19th of October, this year.
This is the first time since 2008 that the RPTW is back ‘home’ at Alhamra, a few years after the devastating attack on their immensely popular World Performing Arts Festival [WPAF]. Walking to the venue, I’m a little light-headed. Alhamra Gaddafi is exactly where my love for the arts developed, where my exposure to the events at Alhamra instilled within me, a deep admiration for performance, how everyday people would, and could transform into fantastical, otherworldly characters, beings, once on stage, once under the spotlight. And it was my introduction to RPTW’s events, as both a child and young adult, that I chose my career-path: to become an art and culture journalist, to bring to light Pakistan’s treasure trove of local arts, in addition to those hardworking, insanely talented individuals associated with it.
After being ushered into the open air theater with some friends, a young man screeches a silly song into the mike. It’s hilarious, the crowd – full of students – is both cheering him on and cracking up. He’s having the time of his life. Strumming his acoustic guitar animatedly, his mushroom haircut is wildly flopping over his forehead as he bobs his head to a rhythm which probably sounds fantastic in that sweet little mushroom head of his.
A few minutes later, he leaves the stage. He’s buzzing – he’s had the time of his life. Soon after, this petite little bespectacled thing with shoulder-length hair, a kameez and jeans, walks up on stage as some attendants set up her keyboard. The lights dim. She starts singing. She’s singing about someone who has gone, someone who she’d like to call very much — it’s a popular song I think, I must’ve heard it once before but I can’t place the name. It touches my heart. She’s singing from her belly upwards; like liquid gold, her strong voice flows forth from her mouth as she plays her keyboard. The crowd has been cheering her on ever since she started singing.
I catch glimpses of the crowd: young, soft-faced boys with neat beards, some, clean-shaven, nice gelled hair, girls with pure faces and glossy locks, sneakers, plaid shirts, new heels, the hint of winter, the promise of change, perfume, cologne, youth in full bloom. I look at them, and just like that, I remember what it was like to be young, pure, full of expectation. In the past, it would sting a little because I’d think, wow, I’m so jaded now. But strangely, I don’t feel that way anymore. Being jaded was so last year. Instead I feel a weird affinity to these college-going children, these teens, like I can relate — right now, amidst them, I can relate to what they’re going through – the virgin anxiety of the unknown.
Looking at youth is like driving past beautiful scenery with your window rolled down, it’s so, so pretty. But you can’t pull over, get out, touch it, make it your own. All you can do is drive past – the remembrance of it is quite surreal. Yes, I was there once. I was you. The remembrance of youth in overdrive, full of possibility. Laughter was different then, your entire body shook with a good joke. When you laugh as an older, more responsible adult, laughter is a little restricted – you don’t lose yourself in it, don’t you think…
There’s this guy from Punjab University on stage now and he sounds like a pro, just as this other boy from Islamia College – damn, they’ve both knocked it out of the park. Their voices ricochet throughout the amphitheater – youth in the now, youth full of promise. Youth, forever, tomorrow shall take care of itself.