Cosmos and our jehan

Sabahat Zakariya's roundup of the week's cultural zeitgeist

Cosmos and our jehan

PTV in the 1980s was where Pakistan interacted with and understood American and global culture. At the same time that Zia-ul-Haq's millat absorbed a heavy rotation of paens to the army, PTV telecast artfully censored American sitcoms and science fiction shows that fuelled the imaginations and developed the global sensibilities of many an (English-medium) Pakistani. The overall television experience on that one channel alone was far more educative (though just as bent on indoctrination) than the hundreds of television channels today.

One such show that left a deep imprint on many young Pakistani minds was Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos: A Personal Voyage', beamed all over the country four years after it was first telecast in the United States. The sage and mild-mannered Sagan who invited viewers along on his journey to the stars did not seem like such an anomaly in the television of that time. Pakistan had its own educational icons. Laeeq Ahmed (who passed away on 28th January 2014) conducted a science magazine show in 1964, and he along with Iftikhar Arif, Obaidullah Baig, Qureshpur and later Ghazi Salahuddin simultaneously educated and entertained the nation with a mental agility and sophistication in Kasauti unknown to our television screens today. Even those remembered mostly as hosts of entertainment talk shows, Tariq Aziz and Naeem Bukhari (who conducted Pakistan's only worthwhile quiz show ever, Jahaan Numa) had far greater propensity for intellectual discourse than the supposedly serious talk show hosts we have now (think Mubashar Lucman).

Torrent sites have made access to worthwhile international content much simpler today but their dissipated impact cannot match the noiseless Hobson's choice Pakistani children were presented with during the telecast of 'Cosmos: A Personal Voyage' in the 80s, giving birth to astronomers like Salman Hameed, Associate Professor of Integrated Science & Humanities at Hampshire College, who attributes his interest in astronomy to watching Sagan on PTV as a 13-year-old. Not all who watch end up becoming scientists, however. The real impact of such shows lies in slaying superstition and connecting us to the larger narrative of the human race, forcing us, literally, to look up and beyond our little worlds.

This preamble was to mark the return of Cosmos to our television screens after a gap of 24 years. Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan's widow) and comedian Seth Macfarlane (who seemed like an odd choice to me till I discovered he had financed the project) have come together with famous science communicator and physicist Neil De Grasse Tyson to create a new Cosmos series for the 21st century called 'Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey'. This time, thankfully, Pakistan does not need to wait four years to catch the show. Its first episode was broadcast in the United States on the 9th of Match, 2014 and Pakistanis will be able to watch the same along with the rest of the world on Saturday the 16th of March at 7:30 PM PST on the National Geographic Channel. In Neil De Grass Tyson's words:

"What most people who remember the original series remember most is the effort to present science in a way that has meaning to you, that can influence your conduct as a citizen of the nation and of the world -- especially of the world."

This is one you and the children shouldn't miss.


Around town:

A week ago I saw Shaadi Ke Side Effects at Vogue Towers on MM Alam Road. Since the multiplex is right on top of the busy MM Alam Road I wasn't sure how the parking would work out but efficient valets quickly dispelled that fear. I only wish I had enjoyed the movie half as much as I did the cinema. With a huge (IMAX huge!) screen and a hall and seats plusher than the Cinestar, supercinema at Vogue Towers is a much-needed addition to the city's cinema scape, considering how conveniently it is located for those who don't live on either end of the city (Township and Defence). It has none of the college auditorium ambiance of the DHA cinema with the added advantage of being able to choose between three different movies at a given time. Its timings and choice of movies is also smarter, a day after the Oscars it decided to show Gravity. The Lego Movie is still on there although it has stopped playing at all other cinemas. It even has a greater variety of snacks on offer. I am never going anywhere else.



In December 2013 I took my son to Jahan-e-Jahan Ara, a place I discovered through a friend's Facebook post. So charmed was I by Sheherzade Alam, the founder of this traditional arts centre and Pakistan's foremost potterist, that ever since I have felt like stopping people in the streets and urging them to send their kids there for an enriching experience no school can match. Alam's embrace of each child in her class is so spontaneous and affectionate, the centre's open spaces and mud outhouses with Harappan drawings so transporting and the activities so close to our soil and traditions that the 12 thousand rupees she charges for six weekends does not at all feel exorbitant. Next to trilling birds and under whispering green trees children below 13 are taught basic pottery, khataati and naqaashi, and a little bit of the ancient history of our land. It is such a treat to know that people like Sheherzade and sanctuaries like Jahan-e-Jahan Ara are around to take forward the once-great legacy of this city. Spring classes take place around this time and if you are interested in enrolling you can go to: for further information.



If you are a Lahori envious of the cultural variety NAPA has added to that city's cultural landscape, not just with its regularly held plays and classes, but also through its ongoing NAPA Theatre Festival, a slice of it is coming to Lahore from the 12th to the 15th of March. Indian actor Om Puri and actress Divya Dutta will be performing a play called 'Teri Amrita' at the Alhamra Art Centre from the 12th to the 15th of March. The stage performance has been organised by Barfi Theatre Productions, headed by Badar Khan, a well-known comedian. Originally in English 'Teri Amrita' has been translated into Urdu by Javed Siddiqui, the writer of popular Indian movies ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ and ‘Zubeidaa’. The version playing at Lahore's Alhamra is in Punjabi though, a translation that was undertaken by Om Puri himself, also the director of the play.