Not Even Bombs Can Silence Lahore's Arts

"You know, like any other country, you need these people, these artists, to change the direction of the society, take it to a positive level," he said after the performance. "Arts and culture and music can actually do that, can actually bring that change."

It is a message that Peerzada had been hoping to deliver.

"This is to dilute the structure of this orthodox or this madrassah culture. Because there, they're putting the fear of God and training them," he said Friday, pulling his long gray hair back behind his ears. A madrassah is a religious school that teaches a strict version of Islam.

"Here, it's talking about love. It's talking about finding beautiful things, finding divine God, talking about how beautiful this world is," Peerzada said.

But then the bombs went off.

Peerzada and his brothers, all of whom produced the festival, are still struggling to pay for it. They had no corporate sponsor this year, and despite money from the Norwegian Embassy, "what my bank is showing -- the car is going to stop in the next five days. It has no gas," Peerzada said.

The government, he said, had declined to contribute except for a "joke" of a sum.

But still, said Peerzada, sounding a bit tired, it was worth the cost. And he believes the decision to hold the last day's event was the most important one he made.

"A small group that did their little thing with their little toys, and they succeeded in what they had to do," he said. "But we have been spending on art and culture from our pockets, and we are going to continue to do so."

So perhaps this was a story about music after all.

"A country without arts," Peerzada said, quoting one of the visiting artists, "is a country that has no meaning and no reason."

"One night of bravery and defiance is a good start," wrote Ayeda Naqvi, an activist in Pakistan, today in the Daily Times. She had visited the festival on Thursday night. "But if we are to save ourselves as a society, we will have to fight back, to show our commitment on more than just one night. Otherwise Nov. 22, 2008, will always be the day on which a lot more than just music died."

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