Open Mic events give the people of Lahore a room to share the thoughts they might be lynched for expressing anywhere else
century ago, speakeasies emerged as a place that allowed for the pleasure of expression. While they were the holes-in-the-wall that sold illegal liquor, they had simply been the places where the ‘unaccepted’ parts of society gathered, allowing the darkness to protect them. The Open Mic events seem to serve a similar function for the people of Lahore, giving them a room to share the thoughts they might be lynched for expressing anywhere else.
One such event was held recently, in a collaboration between The Tinkers’ Collective and The Looking Glass. Whereas the former often hosts gatherings and classes for visual artists, the latter acts as a place for discourse, encouraging provocation and dissection of opinion. There was no requisite for performance — you didn’t need a number of followers, you didn’t need an agreeable ideology, you didn’t need experience; you just had to have something to say.
Now, that does mean that there were some less than enjoyable acts in the day. One performer, a stand-up, told the type of tasteless jokes you’d expect from edgy Reddit trolls and out-of-touch Facebook pages. Another, well-meaning but overconfident, sang Disney covers with the grace of a cat falling in a pool. And yet, these people in their earnest optimism would like to be described as artists. The growth of talent cannot occur in isolation. It needs to be placed forth, to be accepted and cauterised by the public.
As they left the stage, they would return to the fold of the crowd. Anyone could pass a snide comment under their breath, or outright go up to them and dismiss the attempt, but then both sides walk away from a moment of thought and expression unchanged.
Indeed, Iffa Nasir, founder of The Tinkers’ Collective and the co-host of the event, said that this was outside of the wheelhouse of their usual events, and it was meant to act as “a welcoming and non-judgmental platform for talented people, both young and young-at-heart, where they feel safe to express themselves, openly and unabashedly.”
From a viewer’s perspective, it can be a lesson in self-improvement. With the consistent bombardment of tragedy and negative virality on social media, we are becoming trained to find the ill and unacceptable in something new or different. It is incredibly easy to dislike something. Yet, listening to applause for what feels indefensible brings to mind the Fitzgerald quote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Whilst listening to jokes and songs, we shouldn’t aim to know why we dislike them.
The aim should be to speak on them freely and intently, to understand the perspective of another person without extending the empathy that might diminish our own opinion. As they left the stage, they would return to the fold of the crowd. Anyone could pass a snide comment under their breath, or go up to them and dismiss the attempt, but then both sides walk away from a moment of thought and expression unchanged.
ejection and silencing have been the simplest solution our people have known. If a book should mention something untoward, we shall remove it from our schools, rather than understand the difference in culture and sensibility. To the Minar-i-Pakistan incident, our reaction was not to make these spaces safer, but to ban influencers from coming to them. Our film censor board even took issue with Dr Strange because a character had Sapphic parents. We keep rejecting what we don’t want to think about, as if that might help retain purity and sanctity among our people. Inbreeding doesn’t sound like the means to evolve, does it?
At the Open Mic, the performances, save a few, were dull and drab. But The Tinkers’ Collective and The Looking Glass had attempted to offer a platform for people to share and explore their views, and that fact alone is far more important than any entertainment that could be derived from a night out. We try and fail and try again until the art strips away those inherited, misfit clothes, and our collective thoughts are a bit more accepting of individual freedom.
The writer is a storyteller and a journalist. Having published a short story collection, titled Encounters, he is now working on his second book