zahid lilani

Review of “An Afternoon Dedicated to Urdu” Show at UC Berkeley

I went to see “An Afternoon Dedicated to Urdu” show at UC Berkeley which was last weekend on May 3rd, 2008. This show was presented by Pakistani Students Association at UC Berkeley.

The show had quite a lineup of acts including, but not limited to, a live song/ghazal performance, a Qawwali, Saturday Night Live type news segment named “Khabarnama” and Antakshri. Apart from that, UC Berkeley Urdu Professor Aftab Ahmed, Chariman of Urdu Society Tashie Zaheer and representative from yourDIL.org were some of the guest speakers.

I hope you liked what I said above because you might not like what I am going to say now. The show was in a very small classroom in Dwinelle building on the gigantic UC Berkeley campus where there are humongous lecture halls. Apparently the organizers thought that no one will show up, talk about high expectations. I would rather see few empty chairs than see no chairs at all and people being crammed.

The hall wasn’t decorated with a single piece of paper that had the name of the show on it. I mean seriously, when you organize a show, you try to at least create a banner that has the name of the show maybe outside the hall or for that matter, inside the hall.

The point where I completely lost it was when I saw the worst Urdu speakers hosting the show. If you cannot speak Urdu, why exactly are you hosting an Urdu show? Every time the hosts showed up to announce acts, I had to cross my fingers because people around me were making fun of each and every word that was pronounced with a WHITE Urdu accent or butchered.

It was very much evident that the organizers had messed up big time, especially when you see a person on the damn stage sitting on a table with two laptops trying to change PowerPoint slides.

That said, all the acts like the song/ghazal performances, Qawwali, and Khabarnama were very nicely done and it looked like the performers treated the show with more respect than the organizers who were involved with micro managing.

I enjoyed the music videos also as they were better than the ones that were produced last year. I did keep in my mind that each one of the performer, on and off the stage, is basically an amateur and one can only do as much as one is capable of. All the performers did a wonderful job and tried to do their best and I applaud them for this.

I, like everyone else, tend to remember the bad rather than good and I just can’t ignore the organizers who treated this show with utmost disrespect, especially when they dumped Urdu in the middle of the show and decided to announce acts in English, that honestly is a disgrace.

From the beginning days of this show, my wife was involved with the whole project and from what I heard, they were not really prepared. All the organizers wanted was to pull off a show, they were not concerned or cared about why and how? This show had a reason, at least for me, I wanted to hear what good is in Urdu language, I wanted to see it promoted… that was not what organizers thought about the show because they had lowered their expectations to such a low standard that few 5th graders who sing national anthem would look better in front of them.

There is hope though; I heard that this show was better than what they had last year. That is a good sign. It is getting better every year and next year hopefully it will be better than this year. On a very good note, the show was able to generate $950 in cash for the non-profit organization yourDIL that promotes literacy in Pakistan.