Working Together LLF 201626th February 2016
Mujahid Eshai is an actor & storyteller from Pakistan who joined Ian Stephen for a week of trading stories. In his blog entry, he explore the surprising spirit of his first story-telling collaboration…
One was informed that this group of four out of Scotland (whom one had never met or seen before) were arriving in Lahore, to collaborate with myself and Mehreen Fatima in preparation for a session at the Lahore Literary Festival, 2016. Of course, there were a couple e-mails exchanged telling us about the objective of the project but with hardly any details as to how the collaborative effort was to work, considering that Scotland and Pakistan did not exactly share the same social, literary and cultural backgrounds.
Lahore was slumbering out of a rather cold and foggy winter with not as much rain as one would have expected. The sun was out and the trees and shrubs were beginning to indicate that spring was round the corner.
On the appointed day I arrived at the meeting point, Sang-e-Meel Publications, the largest and most prominent of Pakistani Publishers, who incidentally are also my publishers, a little earlier than the appointed time. I met the other person from Lahore, a young lass, the illustrator, called Mehreen, also waiting in the office of Ali Kamran, the head of the publishing house. Pleasantries were exchanged but she too was all at sea about the proposed project to be put together in four days and presented on the sixth day. Ali kept telling us that it would be great fun and we would enjoy working with these people. He perhaps knew something that we did not, but he was certainly not telling!
Dan Gorman and Ryan Van Winkle arrived with groggy eyed Ian Stephen and Kate Leiper in tow. The latter two had landed in Lahore early that morning. After initial introductions were over we all sat around and chatted as if we had known each other for a very long time. Four hours later we all were looking a little tired but a lot wiser about the project. We had a fair bit to think about, not only the stories but how to conduct the proceedings as well.
The next day the illustrators wanted Ian and myself to narrate the stories that we wanted to tell so that they may visualise the illustrations. There was not much time left! Well, unrehearsed, for the first time we told the stories. They were not read from written text. But were these the final stories that one was to narrate on the appointed day? We were not sure, but carried on regardless.
The third day was even longer and strenuous. Stories were timed, told and re-told. The two illustrators were busy painting in the next room while Ian and I unravelled the stories.
Rehearsals, dry runs, lunches and dinners with or without spirited runs! The fourth day was as well spent and we were by now absolutely sure of what and how to present with the beautiful illustrations rolling from one frame to the next.
The day of the presentation finally arrived. I was pleasantly surprised to find the hall absolutely full. So off we started. A bit of the difference between story-telling and book reading and a short history of ‘DASTAANGOI’ (Story-telling) in the sub-continent was part of the introductory chit chat. Then a musical interlude, a Scottish song on the harmonica. This was followed by the stories, two each by Ian and myself and a fifth one shared by both of us, half in English and half in Urdu. The audience thoroughly enjoyed listening to the stories as was apparent from the applause and the best part was that the hall stayed packed! The illustrations done by Kate and Mehreen scrolled in the background, visible to all, as the stories were told. Finally, the host of questions and requests from the presentation to audience on how to address the issues of elocution and delivery of the spoken word to the enthusiastic appreciation of the presentation.
An exhilarating four days and a great show. The collaborative effort was a new experience for me but absolutely worth it. We enjoyed being with each other regardless of the fact that we came from varied cultures and societies. We integrated by doing work together. The best part was that we made space for one another. Is that not what collaboration is all about?
Thank you Highlight Arts, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council for a wonderful opportunity!
LAHORE, FEBRUARY 25, 2016