Saudi–India Theater Festival in pipeline

India eyes collaboration in 11 Saudi culture domains: Ambassador

March 03, 2020

By Hassan Cheruppa

Saudi Gazette

India is keen on tapping the vast potential of Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage and culture with collaboration in almost a dozen cultural domains, says Ambassador Dr. Ausaf Sayeed. “Recently I had a very fruitful meeting with Minister of Culture Prince Badr Bin Farhan and we have given concrete specific proposals for collaboration in each of these 11 sectors,” he said while speaking to media persons in Jeddah.

The envoy’s comments came in the wake of the Council of Ministers’ decision last month to create 11 authorities to manage the Saudi cultural sector in various fields such as literature, theater and performing arts, music, film, heritage, architecture, visual arts, libraries, museums and culinary arts. Renowned Saudi woman violinist Jihad Al-Khalidi is named as the CEO of the Saudi Music Authority that came into being recently.

Dr. Ausaf, who is also a scholar and key proponent of India–Saudi cultural ties, unveiled ambitious plans for a vibrant revival of the centuries-old historic trade and cultural relations between India and Saudi Arabia that date back to pre-Islamic period. “We are keen to embark on a series of programs to further bolster strong bonds of culture. The centuries old linkage is evident in the form of many landmark entities such as some educational institutions like Madrasah Sawlatiyah, the oldest regular school in the Arabian Peninsula, established in 1874 by Indians in the proximity of the Grand Mosque and Madrasah Malaibari in Makkah.”

The ambassador also announced plans to organize the first ever India–Saudi Theater Festival in the near future. “We are in the process of discussing with Saudi authorities organizing a theater festival as part of reviving the traditional theater linkage between the two countries,” he said while hailing the umbilical relations between the countries in the theater sector. “Ebrahim Al-Kazi, the father of Indian theater, is a Saudi origin, as his father left the Kingdom for India and settled down there,” he said while noting that Al-Kazi, with his Saudi roots, has changed the history of Indian theater.

Al-Kazi’s father, Hamad Bin Ali Al-Kazi, was a trader from Unaiza in Qassim, who traveled to India and subsequently settled down in Pune, near Mumbai. Born in Pune in 1925, Ebrahim Al-Kazi made outstanding contributions in preserving Indian cultural history through his Al-Kazi Foundation for the Arts, and later came to known as Indian theater legend. He served as director of India’s prestigious National School of Drama and later as the director of the Asian Theater Institute. India honored the living theater icon with conferring its second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2010. In February 2015, Al-Kazi was honored at the second Saudi Film Festival in Dammam, and in September 2016, Riyadh hosted an exhibition titled “The Theater of E. Al-Kazi.”

During his last visit to the Kingdom, Al-Kazi met with Minister of Culture Prince Badr Bin Farhan.

Dr. Ausaf said there are proposals to create “model India towns” in different Saudi cities as part of promoting ethos of cultural exchange. “We are very seriously working to promote culture as it is one of the identified areas of cooperation being part of enhancing strategic partnership. There are many proposals on card and when we are integrating different ideas while some of them are on course,” he said adding, “we already had a series of discussions on this and will soon come up with concrete programs.”

Dr. Ausaf was instrumental in elevating India’s profile in the Kingdom through creating several India-Saudi joint platforms during his stint as consul general in Jeddah during 2004-08; the Saudi Indian Friendship Society, Saudi Indian Business Network (SIBN), Indo-Saudi Medical Forum are some of them. “The friendship society was a very successful one and I think there is a need to rejuvenate such bodies. At that time, there were a host of civil society dialogues to which people from a cross section of Saudi and Indian society came to attend and there were exchanges of women only delegations between India and Saudi Arabia,” he said while explaining about the ongoing measures to restructure SIBN and Medical Forum as Kingdom-wide bodies, in addition to establishing Saudi Indian Education Forum to address vital educational issues and tapping the emerging vast opportunities in this sector. He also formed the Asian Consuls General Club in 2005, which is composed of consuls general of 13 Asian countries.

Dr. Ausaf, a 1989 batch Indian Foreign Service diplomat, was appointed as ambassador to Riyadh in March 2019 after completing his tenure as India’s high commissioner to the Seychelles. Previously he served as Indian consul general in Chicago and ambassador in Yemen.

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