By: Rashid Sami

A third world country such as ours finds itself unable to sustain and preserve its culture and heritage. Unfortunately, the political and economical greediness, the unstable system and above all, lack of self-perception is leading us to a path where the richness of humanity is overshadowed by malice. Owing to whatever reasons, art, culture and the heritage of our country is heading towards extinction.

Some of the foreign cultural organizations here are taking interest in promoting a cultural link between their countries and their host. These organizations, through their programmes, are tools of understanding between different cultures.

The relation and understanding of the two different cultures of Pakistan and Britain go back a long way. Our historical ties are well-known and have led to the country’s’ cultural diversity of present Britain is a reflection of its multi-racial presence, a substantial percentage of which are Pakistanis.

March 24, 1948 saw the establishment of the British Council at Srinagati Building, Pakistan Chowk, Karachi with Mr. W.R. Owain-Jones at its first permenent representative. Sarnagati Building, which was originally built in 1938 by Dewan Metharam Dharmada (Public charitable) Trust, already housed Karachi Central Library and Karachi School of Arts. Through the years it has shifted to other localities.

With the help of the British council, Naheed Siddiqui has formed an art school in Birmingham, the presence of which also has had a positive affect on the dance form in Pakistan.

The golden jubilee celebrations were started by almost all the foreign missions present in Pakistan. The British Council’s contribution to the 50 years celebration was ‘From Thames to Indus’. The year 1997 saw the climax to the bilateral activities in which a series of events took place. ‘The aim is to encourage dialogue in the arts, building audiences and exploring the ways in which Pakistan and Britain can work together,” stated Sir Martin Jacomb, chairman of The British Council.

One of the significant cultural activities was The Royal Shakespeare Company bringing their first-ever production to Pakistan titled ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at Alhamra Open Air Theatre, Lahore. Then followed ‘Tradition of respect’ portraying the statements of modern sculptures. Naheed Siddiqui brought ‘Rung’, a combination of traditional classical Kathak and modern dance. Her group included Nighat Chaudary, another exponent of Kathak in Pakistan. The visit of the Royal yacht, HMY Britannina, to Karachi was also the venue for a seminar with reference to Pakistan’s heritage and its conservation. Anthony Peebles, a British pianist, held a performance at Karachi Sheraton and Francis Reid, one of the world’s leading stage lighting designers, came to Islamabad to give a week’s workshop, co-sponsored by Pakistan National Council of the Arts. The climax to the proceedings came with the visit of the Qeen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

One must acknowledge the efforts of David Pottinger, previous director of the British Council, Karachi all this colleagues. Richard Hardwick, the new director of the British Council, Karachi, has been associated with the Council for the last 20 years. Prior to his appointment in Karachi, he was posted in Cairo.

“I find a depth in culture of Egypt and Pakistan with reference to the such ancient societies have maturity and solidity that we in the West do not have. For the last fifty years the British Council has been providing information and artistic manifestation with reference to education, art, culture and other relevant fields of mutual interests. Philosophy of the Council in any country is to foster and endure mutual understanding between the cultures of that country and Britain.” The education center at the British Council was the first in South Asia and Richard Hardwick plans to double the student capacity.

“Culture is everything between our two countries that isn’t strict diplomacy and business” states the new director. He plans to invite an English pop musical band and hold a series of seminars with top British designers to “meddle art with commerce”, to benefit the local businesses.

On the evening of March 24, 1998, the British Council held a reception to inaugurate the new presentation suite and also to celebrate 50 years of operations in Pakistan. Liaquat Jatoi was representing the official quarters and did his best to persuade the British Council to restart their operations in Hyderabad, his area of political interests.

Through the streets of our country one comes across several landmarks that remind us of the colonial days. We secured independence with hope to becoming a greater nation. Let us collectively achieve that.

All we have gained then by our unbelief,
Is a life of doubt diversified by faith,
For one of faith diversified by doubt:We called the chessboard white – we call it black