How long has it been since you last saw a children’s play in Lahore being performed in Punjabi? Some of us were lucky enough to experience it this weekend. The play ‘Jeebho Jaani Di Kahani’ was presented by the Olomopolo media on Saturday and Sunday evenings at the Alhamra Arts Council Lahore. The play was performed by over a dozen children between the ages of four and fourteen. The children were a part of a 24-day summer camp that trained them in theater, dance, Punjabi and the creative skills. The summer camp included training on recycling by Yamina Peerzada. They were also taught pottery and printmaking by Madiha Munir. The result of that effort was this absolute marvel on stage. The plot of the play is based on a famous story by Dr Suess called The Lorax. The entire play, skillfully adapted to Punjabi by Farjad Nabi, was lyrical and engaging. The main character is called Jeebho Jani who lives in a jungle under an old tree. The tree is cut down and Jeebho Jani is left homeless. The villain of the play is a businessman who wants to amass wealth by cutting down trees and selling the wood. He repeatedly performs Hajj to whiten his black money. The play’s main theme is about conserving the environment. Jeebo Jani is in a unique position to experience the environmental impact first hand. Therefore he repeatedly returns to confront the greedy businessman. Eventually, his wisdom prevails. The play is a musical and the poetic narration begins in lucid Punjabi accompanied by a background score. Two young narrators dance and define the premises of the play. A dialogue begins between them and a storyteller. Other listeners on stage join in the celebration. The music composed by Agha Haider, was very appropriate to the overall plot and the background score was composed by Mobeen Zahid. The singers were all adults and the play’s Punjabi ethos was well served by the music. The performers, as mentioned earlier, were all children. They appeared comfortable on the stage and seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. (After all, there was plenty of running around, dancing and singing to do). Barring the few scenes where an environmental calamity is unfolding, most of the play was light-hearted and funny. The props were interesting too. Some of the action took place behind a white screen and one could only see it through the silhouettes of tree-cutters or ships. The jungle was depicted by leaves strewn on the floor and large boards covered with creepers. As the deforestation continued, the leaves gradually disappeared and the stage light becomes harsher. The most remarkable aspect of the production was that it was performed in Punjabi. Even though Punjabi has the tenth highest number of speakers in the world, the language is losing its speakers to Urdu, Hindi, and English. These children from various schools and households were made to learn the proper diction, pronounce the thick poetry and sing it as well. Most of them seemed to come from Lahore and were probably not much exposed to the language. Many of them were anyways too young to be speaking any language fluently. This must have been a colossal learning experience for them. This is also one of the best ways to save the language and introduce these children to Punjabi poetry. Both the audience and the performers enjoyed this adventure. Iram Sana was the art director and did a stellar job. Her contribution was particularly remarkable because she dealt with child actors. Samiya Mumtaz trained the children in Punjabi. At the end of the play, each audience member was given a free plant to improve the city’s environment. The play aimed to raise awareness about deforestation, environmental degradation as well as climate change. The play also raises the issue of the tragedy of the common and limited resources. The scenes in the play reminded one of the deliberate forest fires and tree cutting in the northern areas of Pakistan where many lush green mountains are now barren. Interestingly, though the play was based on children, it was equally interesting to watch as an adult. There is a need for more such experiments. Child theater and cinema is the least explored aspect of our entertainment industry. The performances opened to a full house, proving the fact that a well-written, aptly directed and properly advertised production with children can be a bankable project. Of course, there were many children in the audience. But thankfully, the play kept them occupied and there was no screaming or crying in the middle of the performance. Hopefully, many such Punjabi plays with an all children cast will be presented in the future. The writer lives in Lahore and tweets as @ammarawrites. Her work is available on www.ammaraahmad.com Published in Daily Times, August 7th 2018.