Mosiki Broadway

How Broadway Made Me Question My Identity

Why do I, a young Pakistani girl, know all the lyrics to 'Apex Predator'?

This one isn’t about pizza. 

Instead, it is about a mellow evening during COVID-19 laden Karachi days — complete with binge watching YouTube videos, freaking out about how quiet Teen Talwar and Zamzama are nowadays, not leaving my bed, vibing to Childish Gambino, staying on call for hours, and gobbling down Prince Double Chocolate biscuits one after the other to fill the void that quarantine forms within me.

This one is about one specific phone-call where a friend randomly broke into frivolously, almost unintelligibly humming just the words “My name is Alexander Hamilton … “, out of absolutely nowhere, which was followed by me completing the entire song, exactly as one would expect right? 

Right? 

Nope, wrong.

Tumhay yeh poora kesay aata hai?”, I don’t think me casually croaking a song has ever been met with so much intrigue and confusion before. 

Now I am a bit of a show-off, so naturally the trajectory of the conversation looked a lot like adventure. What followed included me singing songs from Grease, Annie, Le Mis, and even Mean Girls (the musical) leaving no stone unturned in boasting about my Broadway knowledge.

But aside from how ridiculous I sounded, I was genuinely curious as to how my friend didn’t know about any of this. With every off-key, broken Broadway song I hummed, came a new ray of anticipation, a new what-if, a new chance I gave to my friend before I could be irreversibly disappointed in him and his lack of Broadway knowledge. 

With the seeming inefficacy to my efforts to spark any familiarity, my what-ifs turned into a never-ending list of what-abouts: what about all the Broadway musical references splattered across the walls of every Broadway pizza dine-in facility in Karachi? What about Mean Girls, The Lion King, and Aladdin? What about how three of the kids from the Stranger Things cast started off as Broadway actors? What about supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? And Cats? What about how Grease literally happened as a theatre play in Karachi a few years back?

So I decided that said friend is for sure just a very rare one and I took to texting to ask other friends. 

No luck. One of them declared, “I don’t know broadway, Ur classy, Omg, Even tho ur humor is that of a six yo at best, Somehow u r classiest”. I promise those are their actual words.

At this point I was really questioning my identity and trying to dissect the scenario to figure out how random immersion into the “theatre and performance” side of the internet by my eighth grade self shaped such a major but also latent part of my identity. Why did I know all the lyrics to Apex Predator but it had become a very ordinary constituent of my nostalgia?

All the questions in my head seemed to be unanswered until one of my friends responded, later than the others to my “How much do you know about Broadway?” text. 

Quite a lot, actually”

Hell yes.

So I straight up asked her why, to which she quite nonchalantly answered, “Bec we wanted 2 b white when we were kids. And now we overcompensate by immersing ourselves deeply into our culture hoping to cover up mistakes of our past”, masterfully explaining both the initial immersion and the later latency to a large extent. 

In conclusion, quarantine induced boredom led me to discover a very hidden facet of my personality, lose my head over it, and finally get a friend to analyse for me. 

Now don’t get me wrong, just because I might have gotten into Broadway due to internalised colonisation or something doesn’t mean I am going to start hating it now. I am however, always going to be consciously aware when humming a Broadway song that it isn’t an object of indulgence for quite a lot of people around me, and I just grew up pretty white-washed. 

But I believe things are a lot more multi-dimensional than that. I believe my love for Broadway transcends beyond a mere post-colonial hangover, a mere manifestation of the gora complex. 

Eighth grade was a weird time for me, I had never felt so different and out of place in my school before. I was trying to discover new ways to express myself and that is probably how I stumbled across theatre. I needed an outlet and while theatre ended up just not being it, it introduced me to so many amazing songs and actors. It handed to me an amazing plethora of plotlines to study about.

An ebullient world of eccentric stage performances thriving somewhere in the western world had piqued my interest, compelling me to dig deeper into the Pakistani world of theatre and I would be lying if I said that, as a 14-year-old,  I didn’t try to figure out how to enroll in The National Academy of Performing Arts in Pakistan. 

While I sing Hamilton, I often forget that I also watched reruns of Aangan Terha on my laptop and I went to watch a modern, contemporary play about sexual harassment organized by a bunch of students in Karachi in the ninth grade. 

Getting into performance art did so much for me. My love for Broadway didn’t exactly translate into me becoming a theatre kid, unless playing Sultaana in Aangan Terha in the ninth grade counts, which I enjoyed doing a lot anyway. 

Contemporary Pakistani theatre at the Alhamra, Lahore.

I mostly wasn’t encouraged to get into anything like Broadway since I can not sing for the life of me. I can however, scream out loud on a stage with zero remorse and also maybe write. Giving no credit to Broadway for the fact that I got really really into spoken word poetry would be rather unfair. Giving no credit to my mild obsession with theatre for the fact that I went on to taking story-telling for social change very seriously, and reading up about epic theatre and idolising Bertolt Brecht would also be unfair. It’s weird how me discovering Broadway and theatre in general may or may not have caused a butterfly effect, snowballing into me pitter pattering on my laptop’s keyboard right now.

Maybe I should’ve written this one about pizza, but that is for the day I finally figure out how to write about pizza for social change, as good old theatre taught me to.

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