Sheema Kermani – Hum Aahang Orientation 2018-2019
Each year we set out with the goal to voice the truths of the unheard. We maintain it as our responsibility to bring light to the stories that have been turned away time and time again because by virtue of our privilege, to remain silent is to be complicit to violence. This year Hum Aahang started off their Orientation on a similar note. In keeping with our tradition of interfaith harmony and peace and with the help of the Gurmani Center, we were able to have a conversation with our guest speaker, Sheem Kermani. In our fragmented society, Sheema Kermani is an anomaly. She is a woman who not only holds her place as one of the leading practitioners of classical Indian dance globally, but is also an avid advocate of peace and women’s rights, and is the creator of Tehrik-e-Niswan (Women’s movement).
Our conversation centered on her perception of performing arts and how it is organic to our culture. “We have denied our history, our ancestors and our traditions”, she says; our contemporary settings have been selectively designed to exclude what was once a mark of our civilization. But she says more on this, to her, dance is a way of communication. She tells a story of life and living, that dance is a language of the people, our people. As she speaks, she slowly rises and pirouettes to express the core of all dancing, the principle of worship that is embedded in movement and is a part of our history of shrines. She tells us about her experience at the shrine of Lal Shabaz Qalandar after the terrorist attack, “This is our space, it is a ritual that has been ours for hundreds of years and no one can take it away from us.” Shrines are spaces free of moral judgment, they are places where “men and women can let their hair down” and they are what keep us alive.
Sheema also shed light on the women’s movement in Pakistan. As one of the founders of Tehreek e Niswan, she tells us about how in a time of extreme policing, they managed to reach out to women through a street performance in Karachi’s Meena Bazaar. The ‘Naatak’ performed acted as a bridge which spoke a common language, a collective story of women.
In a show of enthusiasm she got up once more and with the swift but delicate action of her arms expressed the power of her art. ‘I want to make you feel, to resist and to fight!’, art evokes something and in denying the instruction of this art our education institutions are denying us the development of emotion that provokes us to think and question and muster a movement that stands for something important. She gives examples of Mashal Khan and Junaid Hafeez and how we need more people like them, unsung heroes who dare to endeavor that which has the power to change. “We’ve let our values go and have brought ourselves to the violence that we see today.”
Towards the end, we were graced with two brief performances of spoken word by Sheema Kermani herself. As she recited the poem ‘What I will’ by a Palestinian poet and ‘Songs of Silence’ by a Vietnamese author, she left the audience entranced. No one moved and not a single sound was heard, save for her voice. There was a deeply emotional element to the performance, it was as if we could feel the words she was saying, the fight and resistance she was voicing. ‘Why do you think the religious fundamentalists fear dance?’ someone asks. She shrouds herself and asks, “What do you think of me when I look like this? She explained how a dancing woman is against the very nature of a woman in their eyes. One who is fully shrouded can only be considered meek and frail as opposed to the strong and bold woman she embodied.
Sheema Kermani ended the discussion with a note of confidence, for us to take the reins and ride in full stride towards accomplishing that which we were set out to achieve. To always fight and question that which is wrong and stand together. She left us shook to the core with one last verse of Songs of Silence, “hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, a human wall will not give way.”