Articles on this Page
- 12/27/18--01:02: _Rustic and audaciou...
- 12/28/18--02:50: _If Pakistan has not...
- 12/29/18--22:00: _When 2018 brought t...
- 01/02/19--04:30: _In the Karachi vs L...
- 01/04/19--03:38: _A peddler’s life in...
- 01/12/19--22:27: _Urdu Bazaar: “We ha...
- 01/14/19--04:21: _12 entries that wer...
- 01/18/19--03:49: _Easy way out: Stop ...
- 01/25/19--00:03: _Karachi will never ...
- 01/29/19--04:00: _“I was going home a...
- 01/31/19--04:19: _First Empress Marke...
- 02/11/19--03:07: _PSL4: 3 reasons why...
- 02/15/19--00:52: _Alamgir Khan should...
- 03/16/19--03:03: _Gladiators vs Zalmi...
- 03/18/19--04:11: _The PSL4 final was ...
- 03/25/19--02:43: _Laal Kabootar is a ...
- 03/27/19--05:03: _If BRT Peshawar is ...
- 04/01/19--02:50: _Why is a mega metro...
- 04/17/19--03:49: _How many Ahsans, Am...
- 04/28/19--00:03: _Abbottabad: The cit...
- 02/15/19--00:52: Alamgir Khan should #FixIt more like an MNA and less like a rebel
- 03/16/19--03:03: Gladiators vs Zalmi: When the best of the best come face to face
At the time of writing this article, the trailer for The Legend of Maula Jatt (LoMJ) has already garnered around three million views on multiple accounts on Facebook, around one million views on YouTube, and more than a million views through different reaction videos. It has generated the hype it truly deserved. Anurag Kashyap was one of the first ones to tweet about the trailer, while the likes of Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor are full of praise for what they have seen. https://twitter.com/anuragkashyap72/status/1076108848929202176 https://twitter.com/karanjohar/status/1076341258686091264 This is Fawad Khan’s first film since returning from greener pastures, Bilal Lashari’s second venture after the trendsetting Waar, and Mahira Khan’s reunion with Fawad. What’s not to look forward to? It has something for everyone; even for someone like me, who thought Waar was overrated and disjointed (even though very well treated). Before moving further, let’s address the elephant in the room. I have seen numerous posts leaving comments like:
“Gladiator ki copy hai.” (This is a copy of Gladiator) “Game of Thrones chhaap liya.” (They’ve copied Game of Thrones)My simple answer to whoever says that to me is:
“Tou aap chhaap letay!” (So you could have copied it!)Whether or not it is copied, has the Pakistani audience seen Fawad in this avatar before? Has the Pakistani audience been privy to this scale on the big screen by a Pakistani film before? The answer is a plain and simple no. Teefa in Trouble was a big film, but even that does not come close to the scale Lashari has brought to the screen. It might not be at the level of Baahubali, but it’s close to KGF, which is already breaking record after record. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] Undoubtedly, LoMJ looks grand. However, what’s important is the substance behind the froth. It doesn’t look grand for the sake of it; effectively meaning it does not look like Thugs of Hindostan or Tashan. It looks rustic. It looks raw. It looks audacious. It does not look like a remix by Neha Kakkar; it looks like a remixed track by Tiesto. It does not look like what Farhan Akhtar’s Don was to Chandra Barot’s Don; it looks more in line with Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes to Alfred Werker’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; essentially improving a classic in modern times. Does it also have the potential to become Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag? Yes, it does. Remaking a classic is a daunting task. Expectations are high and there will always be some purists who will never be happy, no matter how well you do. Agneepath, for example, was a very good remake; however, it also faced criticism for removing the character of Krishnan Iyer. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] Fawad’s look is on point; his hair, not so much. However, his intensity is contagious. My forehead had a frown while watching his trailer, and for no reason at all really. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] Photo: Giphy[/caption] Hamza Ali Abbasi looks closer to Khilji of Padmaavat, and to be honest, falls slightly short of Fawad in the trailer, particularly in that laughter scene. Perhaps he is supposed to? [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] Photo: Giphy[/caption] Mahira is there, albeit overshadowed by Humaima Malick’s slyness. Gohar Rasheed looks evil, and Nayyar Ijaz even more so. Sreejesh Nair’s soundtrack speaks for itself, and is probably going to be 50% of the ticket’s worth. I would also not have been surprised if the characters started speaking Dothraki, but why not? [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] One of the toughest tasks of the film was the makeup, and boy have Maram and Aabroo lived up to the task, barring Fawad’s hair. Did I mention his hair looks out of sync? The trailer of LoMJ is thus everything it was expected to be and then some. Will it make commercial sense? Let’s have a look. Firstly, it’s an expensive film. That scale and grandness does not come cheap. In order to make money, it will have to become the highest grossing Pakistani film ever. Not just the highest, but highest by a mile. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Screenshot[/caption] There are still two problems with the film though – starting with the language. It’s 100% a Punjabi film, just like the original. How the audience from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will react to a national level Punjabi film remains to be seen. If Shaan Shahid is to be believed, Karachi already has a problem with films being made in Lahore, let alone a Punjabi film. Secondly, if the rumours are true, there are no songs in the film. A film without a song in today’s time is, once again, audacious. In front of LoMJ will be Wajahat Rauf’s third film, taking around 20-30% screens out of the 130 or so available. Rauf’s film is a comedy entertainer with a relatable young cast. Can that topple the grandness of LoMJ? You never know. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] Photo: Giphy[/caption] As Maula says,
“Maulay nu Maula na maray tay Maula nae marda!” (If Maula does not kill Maula, then Maula does not die)Maybe the only reason for Maula Jatt not working at the box office will be Maula Jatt itself. The Legend of Maula Jatt is set to release on Eidul Fitr 2019.
The country is in the grip of a gas crisis. A shortage of natural gas has meant that millions of people do not have gas to cook or hot water to bathe with. There are mile-long queues at compressed natural gas (CNG) stations. Half of Karachi’s buses, which run on CNG, are off the roads, creating chaos in the city’s public transport system. There was even a report that a rickshaw driver set fire to his vehicle in protest, as he’d not been able to feed his family for a week because he could not get CNG to run his rickshaw. What is going on? What’s behind this sudden and acute shortage of natural gas? Well, as they say, it’s complicated. The proximate cause is that winter has ramped up demand, while supply has not kept up. But that is not the whole story. First, let’s be clear that Pakistan has not, overnight, run out of gas. The gas is there. But we cannot produce it. To understand why, we first need to understand some basics of oil and gas production. Oil and gas are hydrocarbons and they occur naturally deep in the ground in what are called fields or reservoirs. There are two basic types of reservoirs. The first type has mainly gas in it, and the Sui and Kandhkot fields are of this type. The other type contains both oil and gas, and examples include the Nashpa and Adhi fields. In reservoirs which contain both oil and gas, the fluid coming out of the ground is processed in a plant known as a gas oil separation plant. This, as the name suggests, separates the gas from the oil. The gas is delivered by pipeline to the gas distribution companies – Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC). The oil is sent to oil refineries by truck or pipelines, where crude oil is converted into furnace oil (a type of fuel), petrol and the likes. Furnace oil is then sent on to power stations to generate electricity. Pakistan produces gas from both types of reservoirs. Much of it comes mainly from gas fields such as Sui, and the remainder from the oil and gas fields such as Adhi. The gas reservoirs, such as Sui, are continuing to supply gas normally. The present gas crisis is related to the second type of reservoirs, the ones that produce both oil and gas. In this case, the operators of these fields, companies such as the Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) and Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL), have been obliged to cut back on oil production. When they cut back on oil, the result is an automatic reduction in gas production because both are produced together, which is why there is a shortage of gas today. The oil producing companies – PPL and OGDCL – have reduced oil production because the refineries to which they supply oil have cut back on their production, because they are not able to sell their furnace oil to power plants. Why? Because circular debt has left power plants with no money to buy furnace oil, and so the refineries are also operating well below capacity. Some of them have said they may have to shut down if the situation continues. Thus, to add to the gas crisis, we may soon also have a fuel crisis on our hands. The import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), while useful and necessary, has ironically contributed to the problem. This is because not much has been done about integrating LNG supplies with the existing national pipeline network, not to mention putting in place the necessary distribution and control system to optimise availability at all points. The absurd consequence of this poor integration is that on some days output from Sui is actually reduced to accommodate imported LNG into the system! It should be clear from the above that managing the country’s highly interconnected petroleum ecosystem is not a simple job. The prime minister has blamed the gas distribution companies – SNGPL and SSGC – for the gas shortage and ordered an enquiry into their managements. He has clearly been misinformed. The gas distribution companies can only supply the gas they get. If they don’t get it in the first place, they can’t be held responsible for not supplying it. All the main protagonists of the industry – oil and gas producers (PPL, OGDCL), distribution companies (SNGPL, SSGC), oil refineries, and power stations – are doing what they should be doing, and cannot be reproached for the present crisis. The failure is of planning and regulation. This task falls squarely on the shoulders of the Petroleum Ministry, or the Petroleum Division as it is now called. And here is where we have the real problem. Unfortunately, the Petroleum Division is run by civil service officers who have zero knowledge or experience in the oil and gas industry. It is unrealistic to expect them to manage such a specialised, highly integrated ecosystem. The present crisis is proof of their abject failure. But in a sense they also cannot be blamed, for they are only doing, or trying to do, the job they’ve been tasked to do. The fault is in the system. It puts singularly unqualified people in positions they are woefully unprepared to occupy. The challenge for Prime Minister Imran Khan is to understand this basic issue. The solution, surprisingly, is not difficult. What he needs to do is to cut through the red tape and put in the position of secretary (Petroleum) a qualified industry professional who has worked his or her entire life in the oil and gas industry, and has a solid understanding of this highly technical business. There will be those who whisper in the PM’s ear that he cannot do this. But he can – and he must. The people of Pakistan have elected him so he can think outside the box. He is making a grave error if he allows himself to become hostage to his own bureaucrats. Finally, it is important to appreciate that the current crisis, ultimately, is a manifestation of decades of neglect in the search for new oil and gas in Pakistan. For much of Pakistan’s history, exploration and production (E&P) companies made little to no effort to search for new resources. PPL, for instance, relied on Sui – its sole asset discovered by the British in 1952 – believing it would last forever. It was only when an overseas Pakistani with international oil and gas experience was recruited as the CEO almost four years ago that the company started to make a serious effort to find new resources; an effort that is only now starting to pay off. The harsh reality is that our gas fields, such as Sui, Mari and Kandhkot, are reaching the end of their producing lives. The gas crisis we see today will only get worse whenever the system is stressed, making it absolutely critical that activity in the E&P industry is ramped up sharply. This will involve radical improvement in the regulatory regime and culture. It will necessitate enticing back overseas Pakistani E&P professionals who work for some of the largest and most successful oil and gas companies in the world, and giving them the responsibility to revamp the sector. The need to bring these professionals back cannot be overstated. The lack of activity in the E&P sector over the past decades has meant that we’ve not been able to develop local talent that can understand and address the challenges; talent familiar with the cutting-edge technology needed in today’s world to find new oil and gas resources. There are more, possibly many more, Suis and Kandhkots out there. Let’s find them. We will be much better off with that than relying on imported, expensive and unreliable LNG that only worsens the crisis we find ourselves in.
Karachi’s recent anti-encroachment drive has caused uproar all across the city over the past few weeks. While some argue that for the sake of ‘development’, it is perfectly justified to remove the illegal establishments that have existed in the city for decades now, others strongly believe that legality should not take pre-eminence over the need to sustain the livelihoods of the poor. Regardless of which side you take in this debate, the repercussions on certain neighbourhoods of Karachi have been unavoidable. One such neighbourhood is Saddar, where most of the illegal occupations have now been cleared, including some of the most loved eateries on the popular Burnes Road. [caption id="attachment_76114" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Anas Ali/Express Tribune[/caption] Burnes Road is usually referred to as the pioneer food street of Karachi. For those of you who don’t know, Burnes Road is a street located in the very heart of the old city of Karachi and is traditionally famous for food items such as nihari, kebabs, fried fish, bun kabab, desserts such as rabri and drinks such as lassi. The street derives its name from the British Dr James Burnes, and although the name was changed to Muhammad bin Qasim Road after Partition, most people are unaware of this change and colloquially continue to refer to the street not as Burnes Road but ‘Buns Road’, the desi equivalent. This street was not set up purposefully by any government; rather, appeared organically as migrants from post-Partition India (especially from the Delhi area) settled in the adjoining areas, bringing with them the food and culture of the respective cities in India they belonged to. Most of these shop owners call themselves ‘Delhi-walas’ and in most cases, these families had food businesses in India even before Partition. These very families laid the foundation of the original food street in Karachi. Waheed Kabab House is one such eatery. Known for its spicy nihari and dhagay wale kabab, the eatery attracts the masses each day. The place has existed in the region since right after Partition, and it is rare to find a Karachiitte who has never visited the place. However, under the Supreme Court’s orders, this eatery was one of the many touched by heavy machinery. What is particularly tragic about these partial or total demolitions is the feeling that in the end, our memories and the essence of Karachi did not seem worth preserving. After all, Waheed Kabab House is more than just a restaurant. Within these walls are years and years of newly-discovered love stories, newly formed friendships, family reunions, couples going on first dates, parents taking their children out for dinner for the very first time, and countless such memories. [caption id="attachment_76110" align="alignnone" width="400"] Photo: Anas Ali/Express Tribune[/caption] [caption id="attachment_76111" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Anas Ali/Express Tribune[/caption] Waheed Kabab House isn’t the only eatery that is considered the heart of Burnes Road. All of last month, people took to Twitter and Facebook to talk about their beloved eateries being affected by the drive. Over 70 eateries have been demolished thus far, while many others have been impacted in some way or another by the destruction surrounding them. Delhi Dahi Barey, that has existed in the area since the late 50s, has also not been spared. All year round, especially in the month of Ramazan, there would be lines of people swarming outside, waiting to get their hands on the most exquisite dahi barey in town. Now, alongside the sweet smell of chaat masala exists the unpleasant odour of construction. Billows of smoke have replaced what was once the waiting area where lines of people used to form. [caption id="attachment_76113" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Anas Ali/Express Tribune[/caption] Delhi Rabri, located right next to Waheed Kabab House, has been a favourite for desserts since decades. A visit to Burnes Road was thoroughly incomplete without stopping at Delhi Rabri to fulfill that sweet tooth craving. Rabri, a traditional sweet dish, is one of the specialties of Delhi, India and it is these families originally from Delhi that brought with them the most exquisite Rabri to the city of Karachi. Families would wait for Sundays when they would go to ‘Buns Road’ and be able to feast on this delight. Will these Sundays remain the same, when Burnes Road no longer is? https://twitter.com/khalid_pk/status/1070220927609307136 Agha Sajji is yet another example of a much loved eatery that is no longer the same. Sajji is a traditionally Balochi dish consisting of either chicken or lamb on skewers, loved by many. Sajji was certainly not the only thing on the menu at Agha Sajji. The restaurant serves all sorts of popular desi food, ranging from the most simple daals, to the more complex katakat. [caption id="attachment_76107" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Anas Ali/ Express Tribune[/caption] Suddenly, the anti-encroachment drive isn’t only about risking the livelihoods of the poor, but equally about destroying years and years of memories attached to each cherished eatery in the vicinity. Places are made up of more than just the walls that encapsulate them, and when the walls come tumbling down, so does everything associated with them. This is tragic, to say the least. https://twitter.com/faizanlakhani/status/1066736940525989891 https://twitter.com/faizanlakhani/status/1066730473823617024 The famous activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir took to Twitter as well in order to voice his reservations about the way this drive was conducted. https://twitter.com/MJibranNasir/status/1066696712478228480 Nasir’s words are akin to what most Karachites have been feeling these past few weeks. In the end, we have to ask ourselves whether ‘development’ and the need to make Karachi the next Dubai is worth the cost of not only leaving these poor people (for whom Burnes Road has always been everything), without anything at all, but also destroying what might have been the only source of excitement and happiness in someone’s life.
The server quickly refilled my (styrofoam) ‘cup’ of tea, and asked in the most inconspicuous and unassuming of tones if my nashta (breakfast) was to my liking. With such displays of courtesy, how could it not be? This five-star service was not at an expensive restaurant in one of the more elitist areas of Karachi. No, this was at Dera, Boat Basin – one of Karachi’s go-to nashta places. Having recently achieved a significant milestone at work, we decided to have a commemorative breakfast at Boat Basin. It would be the usual halwa puri, and Dera itself requires no introduction. Established in the early 2000s, Dera quickly emerged as one of the best nashta places in the city. The best item on their menu is indeed halwa puri, which is a traditional dish and is a local favourite, especially on lazy Sundays. Some old-school cooks serve halwa puri with mango pickle and sliced onion; others include a variation of eggs – desi omelette or fried eggs, depending upon what you prefer. A well-known secret is that this meal isn’t quite complete without a glass full of sweetened lassi. The food capital of Pakistan is often said to be Lahore, but I beg to differ. Yes, Lahore has its attractions, but Karachi has made a solid mark in the foodie’s paradise – with its culinary delights ranging from paaye to pizza and ravioli to rabri. To enlighten those who have yet to undertake this sacred food pilgrimage, Boat Basin is the ultimate food street running through Khayaban-e-Saadi, parallel to the Benazir Bhutto Park and extends till the commercial area of Motta’s, Clifton. The area is famous for its mouth-watering plethora of food offering – which is exactly what people associate Boat Basin with. While we were there for halwa puri, this is only the beginning when it comes to what Boat Basin has to offer. One can easily take a trip through crispy paratha rolls at Roll Inn, tantalising tikkay and behari kebab, laden with spicy and fiery chutney at Tandoori Hut or Thali Inn, the traditional old is gold Hanifia burgers, or the iconic ice cream at Baloch. Those who grew up in the city will recall joints coming and going, where some, such as Mr Burger and Pizza Hut, relocated elsewhere after establishing their brand here, while others randomly disappeared, such as Kings and Queens Pizza, which is where the Hobnob Bakery stands now. This food street is a serious business that includes no fancy presentation – just honest, good food that entices eaters into a very gluttonous feast. I remember my first experience of literally eating ‘at’ Boat Basin, and it was no light-hearted affair! It was a complete immersion in the halwa puri that was on the menu. Make no mistake. If there’s one thing Karachi offers in abundance, it’s food. And if there’s one thing Karachiites are passionate about, it’s food. Emitting a very palpable energy from a distance, a closer view reveals steam blowing from barbeque stands, a legion of waiters scurrying around prospective customers, and countless eateries for foodies to choose from. The grills might have sajji, tikka or boti on display – who knows? And honestly, as long as its mouth-watering food, I really don’t think it makes much of a difference. This is how one would associate with Boat Basin at night. However, ‘seasoned’ eaters will have differing perspectives. Escaping lives fraught with everyday stress, these people will tell you about sitting on charpoys with their friends or families, sipping chai or lassi along with a hot meal of their choice – taking a break from their everyday lives. While gradually settling into my seat, I noticed that the area didn’t seem to have changed much since I was in school. Nihari Inn probably hasn’t changed its signage since it first opened, while KFC seems to have been there since the beginning of time, just like Tandoori Hut and Thali Inn (again, with the same signs that don’t seem to ever change). The construction site across the road also seems to have been a work in progress since I was in the 10th grade, with no material progress whatsoever. A monumental tribute to Benazir Bhutto is a relatively recent addition, but taking a left turn on the said roundabout on the same road leads us on to Mai Kolachi, which again has maintained its basic façade over time. This street being a regular part of my daily commute across the city, I silently observe the very palpable energy pulsating from across the road, and yet, am simultaneously always riveted by the sounds and aromas wafting their way from the food area. I sometimes trek my much bruised soul across Boat Basin to just absorb the energy, even if it means taking a detour towards a commercial area nearby. In my mind, these food vendors might very well be amateur cooks; perhaps they are adopting family businesses from their forefathers, or possibly improvising recipes shared across generations. Maybe some of them are former corporate slaves who are now seen trying their hand at something new. Then there are stragglers like me, who come solely to absorb the energy, if nothing else. Maybe we’ll buy something to eat, maybe not – it truly doesn’t matter. When our silence is louder than words, we wish to sit on the charpoy and silently sip the chai we bought earlier, whilst attempting to evoke memories of chai sessions gone by. Food tends to let our guard down. Despite having spent more than half my life here, Karachi remains as elusive to me as ever, even as I grew older and became a professional with a great group of friends and a more than satisfactory life. But as my guard falls here, I continue reminding myself that life finds a way and that I get to live to fight another day. In the background, I overhear Zohaib Hassan’s Muskuraye Ja playing. Tomorrow will be another day in Karachi. But at this moment, giving in to the chaos of the soul, letting the tears stream – in Karachi, to just give in and start again is the easiest, and perhaps the best thing. I quickly looked around to see if anyone noticed, but this is Karachi, after all. Nobody seemed to care, or even know, as I breathed a sigh of relief. As the crescendo of Muskuraye Ja reached its high, I realised that sometimes it’s easier to just hang around and sob; the silent tears that only you experience. And when you leave this place that encapsulates the spirit of Karachi, you start everything again. This is Karachi, after all. Where even the gentlest of tugs melts the silence of the soul. All photos: Sarah Fazli
My first interaction with the peanut selling peddler was nearly 28 years ago. In those days, I had gone to Badin (a city in Sindh) with my father. My father bought peanuts from him and that’s how I first met him. Just a month ago, I met him again with the purpose of writing a story about him and his life. The kind, old man was honoured and said to me:
“I am happy to know that at least someone cares about the story of a poor man.”Muhammad Ashraf Chandio, 53-years-old and not formally educated, runs a roadside peanut cart in Badin. His father died when he was only eight-years-old and from that day, he too worked as a labourer. For 15 long years, he continued breaking bricks and stones with a hammer, digging deep with shovels and dragging concrete-filled carters. About his time as a labourer, he says:
“It was my very first experience. I took a hammer and with as much force as I could muster, hit the bricks and stones. This process was repeated all day. At the end of the day, the skin on my hands was peeling off and they were swollen. The pain was excruciating. This situation continued for many days, but eventually, I got used to it.”To help ease his difficulties, one of his friends suggested to him that he would be better off buying a cart and selling fruits or vegetables. This seemed like a reasonable suggestion to him and as soon as he had some money saved up, he bought a cart and started selling fruits. After a year, instead of fruits, he started selling roasted peanuts. Since 1985, his only source of income has been his peanut cart. He remarks:
“During 1985 to 1986, one sack of raw peanuts comprising 40 kilogram cost only Rs250. Today it costs somewhere between Rs7,000 to 8,000.”Ironically, 20 years ago, he used to earn Rs30 each day and approximately Rs900 to 1,000 each month and this money was enough to fulfil his needs for the month. Today, he earns on average Rs500 to 600 each day, but this is not nearly enough to meet his needs for the month. Why then did Ashraf continue to spend his life selling peanuts? The main reasons according to him are:
“Poverty, deprivation and a lack of resources.”Whatever little he earned was spent on daily amenities. At one point in time, he did try to expand his business by establishing a wholesale shop in the city. To help him set this up, he went to a number of friends and relatives to borrow some money, but no one agreed to help him. Dejected, he gave up on the whole idea of setting up a wholesale business and continued selling peanuts. Ashraf leaves each day early morning and returns late evening. He pushes his cart no matter how hot or cold, come rain or shine. His hardwork and struggles allow him to earn just enough to feed him and his family. He says:
“Soaring inflation has made poor peoples’ lives a daily nightmare. Inflation has cracked the backbone of an already marginalised segment of society.”Like him, there are many others who depend on selling vegetables, juices, newspapers and so on to survive. Ashraf lives in a small straw cottage about one kilometre south of the city. He doesn’t just need to feed himself, but also his three daughters, wife, and son. His son, who received intermediate education, also sells peanuts in the city. This is the tragedy of our society: a cart-vendor’s son becomes a cart vendor. A cobbler’s son becomes a cobbler. A poor peasant’s son or daughter becomes a peasant. Similarly, a minister’s son or daughter becomes a minister. Unlike in the West, where individualism allows each individual to choose their own life path, this system of family dependence prevents most people from living the sort of life they would ideally wish to live. Thus, there is no way out of this cycle of abject poverty and deprivation. Ashraf lives in a city that is situated about 200 kilometres away from the industrial and trade hub, the city of lights: Karachi. Badin is an example of one of the most underdeveloped cities in the country. With shattered roads, bubbling gutters, a horrible stench that prevails across the city, low-hanging electricity wires, tons of roadside waste, and walls painted red with paan spit. Everywhere you look, you see people infected with all sorts of water borne diseases and diseases stemming from poor waste disposal mechanisms, reckless health conditions and malnourished children. Interestingly, the city is rich in natural resources such as oil and gas reserves, human capital, natural freshwater bodies, livestock and the fishing industry has a lot of potential, as does agriculture. In spite of all this, the people of the city are socially and economically deprived. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government has been ruling the city since the past four or five decades, but conditions here are worsening every day. Life in the city of Badin is monotonous and the only goal is to survive on a day-to-day basis. People get up bright and early in the morning. Work all day, search for food, and come back in the evening, with or without food. Often the food search is unsuccessful and people go to bed on an empty stomach. The next day, they wake up and do this all over again. Not really living, merely existing. In a rapidly changing, globalised world, peddlers such as Ashraf find it particularly difficult to survive. Despite Badin’s location from Karachi, there are little to no opportunities here for small businesses to be set up and flourish. Like Ashraf, there are numerous poor peddlers in Karachi too who spend their lives with no education, no healthcare and no social protection. Unless they don’t follow the criteria of this changing world which demands a skilled, trained and educated labour force, the coming days may be increasingly difficult.
Mild sunlight warms the streets tightly packed with books, stalls and rows of parked vehicles. Shops aligned adjacent to each other brim with colourful books meant to appeal to book lovers. The market chaotically mixes the queries of customers and shopkeepers alike. The ancient Urdu Bazaar seems entirely unaffected by the government’s recent anti-encroachment order. Urdu Bazaar is one of the oldest book markets in the subcontinent and almost every Karachi dweller has some sort of memory associated with it. For many, the book market played a pivotal role in their childhood. For some, the market itself was their favourite play area because here they bought imagination in the form of books. The long-established market hasn’t changed much in all these years. In fact, even the government’s recent order of demolition hadn’t affected Karachi’s hub of literature and scholastic books. When asked about the government’s recent orders, Abdul Ghaffar, who has been running his own shop in Urdu Bazaar since 1965, commented:
“It is going to cost the government significantly if they won’t get rent and taxes from us anymore.”: Even after three days of having been given a notice to shut down, the shops are still running just as they used to. Students continued to look for books and journals and shopkeepers continued to suggest different authors to their usual buyers. Mohammad Asif, a shop owner in Urdu bazaar also complained about the situation:
“We have paid rent and taxes every year. If the government demolishes the bazaar, it will be a great loss for the citizens of Karachi.”The shop owners of the book market continue to successfully run their well-established businesses despite the decreased interest of today’s generation in reading. In an era where technology rules our lives, book-reading is becoming increasingly rare. Even so, these book-sellers love what they do and don’t ever want to stop. They understand just how valuable books are, today and forever. Khalid Ali, an old bookshop owner, emphasises this in the following words:
“Qusṭanṭīniyya (Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul) was invaded for the treasure of its libraries and literature. That’s how important a country’s language and literature is!”The business of this market is not purely confined to selling books. People from all around the city also turn towards this market to purchase brochures, wedding cards, posters, banners and all kinds of stationary products. Urdu Bazaar is also famous for dealing with the trade of old and used books, allowing readers and students to buy the books they need at the most reasonable prices. The market thus facilitates its citizens by providing them the means to fulfil their educational needs at the lowest prices. A purchaser, Nayyer Hussain, while recalling his childhood said,
“I bring my children here to introduce them to a culture of reading and to acquaint them with Urdu literature as my father would do when I was a child. This place is literally a heaven for readers.”Urdu Bazaar has been a representation of the Urdu language since even before the division of the subcontinent in 1947. The hundreds of shops and stalls in present-day Urdu Bazaar date back to the 60s and most of these are run as a family business. These businesses are passed down from generation to generation as a family legacy. Urdu Bazaar doesn’t only sell books but also plays its part in preserving the Urdu language, and the culture, literature, history and knowledge of the subcontinent for coming generations. The market is abundantly filled with every genre of Urdu literature including fiction, satire, drama, poetry, travelogues and short stories. A roadside book vendor laughed cynically at the current situation saying,
“For selling shoes, there are lavish showrooms allotted but for books, we cannot even find space on a drain.”The decision to shut down the market and demolish the roadside stalls is thus equally disheartening for those who are making their livelihood from the market and for the citizens. Urdu Bazaar is one the oldest and most valuable pieces of Karachi’s heritage and needs to be preserved at all costs. An old customer of the bazaar while searching for his book commented:
“KMC is not only demolishing the market but also the greatest source of education for the city.”He wasn’t the only customer extremely unhappy with the decision. These book lovers have no substitutes in their minds and this surprise notice has shaken them up completely. Ziauddin working at Ayaz distribution at Urdu Bazaar reminisced:
“I have been working here since even before I could grow a moustache. It has been years and the government has given us a time frame of merely three days to vacate the area. This is extremely troubling for us and for our customers.”Many voices are protesting against the government’s decision of demolition. No one is able to find a single reason to justify the decision or the short notice given by the government. The protest has temporarily postponed the demolition of the book market but this doesn’t mean that there is no longer a reason to worry. All photos: Arishba Khan
Karachi Eat this time around was bigger and better when compared to previous editions. But was the food worth the massive crowds, seemingly never-ending queues and overall chaos one faces at a food festival in Karachi? No doubt, Karachi Eat this year was better managed (thank God for that huge parking space) but the space wasn't utilised properly and the event seemed unorganised. The ground space from the park entrance to the actual festival entrance was left unoccupied where people were just hanging out. In our opinion, the unused space should have been utilised as there was hardly any walking space, let alone space to sit, and the stalls were too close to each other. At the end of the day, food festivals are so much more than just the food. As such, I find it useful here to compare Karachi Eat 2019 with Coke Fest, held in the city just last month. The differences between the two are apparent enough. While Coke Fest focused more on the music aspect of the festival, with daily concerts by leading pop bands in the country (including Fuzon and Josh), Karachi Eat more or less neglected the entertainment aspect of the event. Perhaps the focus was meant to be solely on the food because other than some horribly off-key singing in the background, the only entertainment at Karachi Eat was the food itself. It is important to remember that last year, Karachi Eat catered to both food and music lovers by bringing in star performances by Atif Aslam, among others. This year, too, late night on Sunday, the organisers decided to hold a concert by RDB, the British-Punjabi pop band. This concert started after 10pm, the time when the event was officially supposed to have ended. This certainly wasn’t fair to the people who had been there all day and one concert certainly doesn’t make up for three whole days with little or no entertainment. These comparisons aside, let’s talk about what the festival was really about: the food. Karachi Eat initially started off as a festival meant to promote home-based eateries so it was disappointing to see that mainstream restaurants such as Hardee’s, Pantry and Nawab had set their stalls up at the event. This slightly took focus away from the whole purpose of the event. Even then, there was a lack of home-based eateries and no one stall or entry stood out as such. Every Karachi Eat, people already have a list of stalls and food items they want to try, but this year, it was all... meh! That being said, here’s a list of certain stalls (not in any order) that brought something new and unique to the festival and left us happily surprised. After all, a food festival is all about trying new things! 1.The Smoking Lion This particular stall focused on Parsi cuisine. Their specialties included Dhansak – slow-cooked beef served with brown rice and Prawn Patia – savoury prawn curry served with rice and daal. For dessert, they served Parsi Ravia, something that to me tasted like a combination of Suji ka Halwa and Kheer. The prices at the stall weren’t too exorbitant (given how unique the dishes were) and the stall was quite efficient at serving, not allowing too many people to line up because of the speed with which they were serving. All in all, a stall definitely worth stopping by. 2. Hot Bomz Although the queue at this stall was extremely long and the wait was tedious, ultimately, it was worth the wait. The fried mashed potato balls were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Made up of a combination of cheese, corn and of course, potato, coated in Cheetos and drizzled with siracha mayo. 3. Babamoo For those living under a rock and not aware of what Babamoo is, let us educate you deprived people! Babamoo launched at last year's festival and has been booming since then. Known for its real comfort food, Babamoo came back this year with so many funky combinations of mac'n'cheese and loaded jacket potatoes, leaving you drooling and confused as to what to order! We opted to try their MagicMac: perfectly cheesy mac with fried popcorn chicken, topped with flaming cheetos! It was served fresh and hot, and by far the best comfort food Karachi has to offer! Since Karachi only has a few places serving mac'n'cheese, Babamoo can easily claim to be the 'real mac'n'cheese'! 4. Tantuni House This stall promised authentic Turkish cuisine and didn’t fail to live up to this promise. With Turkish wraps called Tantuni and a special tea called Matka Chai (Sand Tea), the stall really did bring something different to the festival. The chicken wrap was simple and delicious, full of vegetables and grilled chicken, but with an obviously distinctive flavour. The Matka Chai was also quite different from local tea and was an interesting choice. 5. Fresh Greens This place was swarming with people standing in line for the Red Chilli Taco so we decided to try it and see what all the hype was about. With a crispy red shell, the taco was visually appealing to begin with. The filling within the crust comprised of tangy sauces, chicken, vegetables and of course, red chillies. The taco was certainly a treat for those who love spicy food. 6. SOL Although this place had run out of its famous Butter Beer by the time we reached, we decided to try the Korean Fried Chicken. Crispy from the outside and tangy from the inside, this was one dish absolutely worth trying. Our visit to this stall was all the more enjoyable because there were no long queues. Management was effective and we were served the food within just a few seconds of waiting. The chicken cost about Rs 300-350 and was well worth the price. 7. Lady Marmalade The queue at this stall was so long that we almost gave up. In the end though, I’m glad we didn’t. We were told that both the Funnel Cake and Funnel Chicken were worth trying so we decided to give them both a shot. The Funnel Chicken was interesting in terms of both its shape and flavour and the serving size was large enough to share with a friend. Finishing the chicken off with the cake proved to be a great idea. The cake was served warm and delicious, topped with chocolate and served with vanilla ice cream, the perfect dessert for a cold winter night. It cost Rs300 which was a small price to pay for something so delectable! 8. No lies fries This stall again had far too many people waiting in line. Deciding that this probably implied there must be something exceptional about those fries, we too decided to join the long queue. We were told that the specialty here was the Poutine fries and we didn’t regret our decision one bit. We were served a large serving of fries, topped with cheese and bite-sized pieces of fried chicken. This combination was surprisingly scrumptious! 9. Hobnob The famous bakery is coming back with a bang, with a revamped menu and brand outlook. Although this stall was famous for its Cronuts, the croissant-donut hybrid was sold out each day by the time we went! Talk about demand! While we were disheartened to know that we couldn't try one of the items on our list, Hobnob had much more to offer and did not disappoint! The next best thing at the Hobnob stall was the divine salted caramel cake. Even though the caramel popcorn topping was not doing it for us, the cake itself was moist, not too sweet, and the perfect caramel-vanilla balance. And, of course, how can we forget their eclairs! The stall opted for a ‘make-your-own-éclairs’ concept. In just Rs 100, you could design your own éclairs ; from the filling to the toppings, everything was of your choice. There was also a large variety of toppings, catering to all sorts of tastes. You could choose from milk chocolate, dark chocolate, biscuits, sprinkles, and even maltesers. We tried the malt chocolate eclairs with maltesers and sprinkles, and the coconut eclair with roasted coconut shavings. Boy oh boy, let's just say two weren't enough! All in all, the éclairs and salted caramel cake were great value for money and enough to fulfill a sweet tooth craving. We were nonetheless disappointed at not being able to try the famous Cronut. 10. Sweet Escape People were raving about the Jolly Rancher-flavoured cotton candy, so we decided to stop by this stall. The flavour brought back memories from childhood when cotton candy was a staple food in most of our diets and also teenage years when almost all of us underwent the Jolly Rancher lollypop craze. While we tried several flavours, including green apple and watermelon, their grape flavour truly was the most memorable. The cotton candy was a welcome change from the typical chocolatey delights being served at every other stall. 11. Health Act The festival made a special attempt to cater to those who love to eat healthy. So if you’re someone who refrains from eating fried stuff, you could make your way to the Health Act stall. Here, we tried the chicken salsa wrap which proved to be a safe choice. What really impressed me here though was the Flourless Quinoa Brownie. Quinoa is a gluten-free, protein-rich plant food that is sometimes used as the healthy alternative to rice. The brownie was in itself delicious and knowing that it was healthy made it all the more appetising! Pakistan is certainly in need of more places that focus on healthy food. The Flourless Quinoa Brownie, equal parts healthy and delicious seems like a much-needed innovation. 12. Mad Roosta We heard good things about the Mad Roosta’s Nashville Hot Chicken, which was apparently created exclusivity for this festival, and it did not disappoint! The chicken, alongside the sauce, was the right combination of tangy and spicy and had us going back for seconds! This was definitely the stall for all the chicken lovers out there. All in all, the event was definitely worth visiting in terms of food options. In spite of the initial mismanagement and efficiencies at the entrance, the no-stag policy and the female-only ticket counters were all great measures taken by the management to counter unforeseen happenings. This was a once-in-a-year event and for this reason itself, should not have been missed. All photos: ET Blogs
Kasur, a city with a population of 3,454,996, has seen rising incidences of sexual violence, including child sexual abuse. This city has seen 700 cases of child sexual abuse in the last three years. Faces of little Zainab Ansari and the victims of the series of child sexual abuse scandal that involved at least 280 boys are still fresh in mind. The federal Ombudsman recently brushed many reasons under the carpet by using common buzzwords and only blamed drugs, pornography and prostitution for the increase in sexual violence against children. My contention is that the Ombudsman has taken an extremely narrow approach in understanding a complex, multi-dimensional problem. Pakistan has banned most of the pornographic material for the general populace. On the other hand, many other countries allow online pornographic material yet have low number of sexual assaults. Pornography may be an extrinsic factor in encouraging sexually violent tendencies in people by blurring the lines between reality and fantasy and encouraging a male-dominated, violent mindset towards sex and sexuality. However, studies have shown that individuals with an existing predisposition to aggression are more drawn to pornography as compared to others. Thus, people with an innate behavioural tendency to be aggressive are more likely to watch porn. Therefore, I refuse to believe when the Ombudsman says that pornography is an intrinsic factor in the increased sexual violence cases. The same theoretical contention can be made for drugs and prostitution being intrinsic reasons for the increase in sexual abuse of Kasur’s children. Karachi, a city with a higher population than that of Kasur, was recently reported to be the second largest consumer of cannabis in the world. So shouldn't Karachi have a higher number of child sexual abuse cases? Countries like Canada, Mexico and a large part of US have decriminalised the use of marijuana. Similarly, prostitution was not just a large part of the Mughal history; it is now also legal in a large part of the Global North. There is no doubt that these places also suffer from the epidemic of sexual violence but they at least try to undertake a multi-pronged approach to the issue. On the other hand, the problem of child sexual abuse continues in Kasur despite uncovering the biggest scandal in the history of Islamic Republic of Pakistan where 400 videos surfaced of young boys being forced to perform sexual acts on each other and on people who forced them into it. This is happening in a country where even the word homosexuality is ‘kosher’. Thus, relating an individual’s physiological predisposition and societal catalysts with already demonised vices is a simplistic view of the issue at best. The federal Ombudsman would do well to dwell on the physiological and societal issues as well. Ours is generally a hyper-masculine, misogynist society that seeks power over the weak. One reason of sexual abuse is to gain power over the victim and control their physical and mental autonomy. Moreover, other reasons for the increase in sexual violence include our punitive criminal justice system that is reactive in dispensing punishment as a deterrent rather than proactively working to reform a ‘dehumanised’ criminal. Needless to mention, it is very difficult for the abuser to reform himself without the mental health and educational support required to rewire the brain against their individual predisposition. Moreover, often abusers have themselves been abused. An excellent documentary on the issue of child sexual abuse called Pakistan’s Hidden Shame features a 13-year-old boy who was gang raped by four men when he was 10-years-old and now works as a prostitute and abuses boys younger than him. Obviously other factors include a lack of sex education, an inherently conservative society, lack of employment and educational facilities for children and the general apathy of the society. I believe authorities and the society in general needs to stop deflecting the real reasons for sexual violence against children. This article has debunked the reasons given by the federal Ombudsman as a simplistic approach to a complex problem that requires a more open-minded and broader attitude. Incidences such as in Kasur will keep on happening unless we do just that. Have incidences of sexual violence decreased, if not stopped completely, since Pakistan banned prostitution, drugs and pornography? Just like us, the federal Ombudsman knows the answer. Or at least, I hope he does.
I woke up to a text message from my mother on a lazy Wednesday afternoon on Boxing Day, December 26, 2018, advising me not to react after receiving the news of what had transpired in Karachi. I did not quite understand what my mother meant, until I swiped to the next message from my uncle asking me (and presumably a number of other people in his WhatsApp group) to recite something for the ‘late’ Ali Raza Abidi. Only then did it dawn upon me what my mother was talking about. The first thing I did after that was to go to his WhatsApp chat and check his last seen, and that did not do me any good either. I started making calls, not just to Karachi but to people all over the world who were close to Abidi and could assure me the news was fake and that he was alive somehow – but this was not to be. It was strange that instead of feeling enraged or even extremely sad, I just did not know what to say or do – I had no words to offer on this tragedy. All of my friends and acquaintances who had met Abidi were posting pictures with him as a tribute, and as I dug deep into my phone and my cloud to find a photograph with him, I realised that I never took a selfie with him. Probably because I had never imagined he would go so soon, and in such a horrific manner. Even though everyone around him feared for his safety, I suppose we never expected it would happen so suddenly and in such a manner. I had worked with him (and learned from him) on so many occasions that I can honestly say that despite being an overwhelmingly busy man, he never had any air of arrogance or rudeness about him. I first met Abidi back in 2012 at Azizabad along with a few other people for a casual meeting. As a political official, he immediately impressed me. He was the diametric opposite of what the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) public image was at the time – soft spoken, well-educated, rational and tolerant. As I was a concerned Karachiite who came from an Urdu-speaking family, I wanted MQM to honour the mandate handed to it by the people of Karachi by serving the metropolis. Abidi was often all ears to my suggestions, and even my rants at times. I know I was not the only one who was always in his ears, and yet despite this he always remained patient and responded to everyone with kindness. Of course, there were times when he would disagree with you strongly, but his expression of disagreement was in the most un-Pakistani of ways. He would articulate his disagreement so politely that not only would his point come across, but the other person would also find it difficult to hate him for carefully deconstructing their argument. This is precisely the reason why Abidi had people from all ethnic backgrounds and political parties coming to his restaurant and having a chat with him regarding different issues. It would not be a lie to say he knew a majority of his customers personally, who would crowd his restaurant to get his opinion on some social or political matter. Abidi’s restaurant, Biryani of the Seas, had become a hotspot for people who were even slightly interested in the betterment of Karachi as a city and Pakistan as a country, including journalists and TV personalities as well as common political workers. Abidi came to prominence in the MQM in the mid-2000s as one of the pioneers of its social media department, and it was his early involvement that saw MQM’s social media team compete against the strong social media groups of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He was widely followed on Twitter (with 145,000 followers) and Facebook, and this made him a popular leader among the youth of the metropolis. As Abidi was highly educated, he strongly opposed politics of violence and arm-twisting and was a very straightforward man. It was perhaps his honesty and forthrightness that made people hate and like him at the same time, and also why he was not liked by a few old hands in the party. His rise as an energetic, compassionate, level-headed and young leader was also not enjoyed by the same, and this got him suspended from the party, although he never disassociated himself from it and returned to become an MNA and an important part of MQM’s cadre. Despite his calm demeanour, Abidi was scathing in his criticism of PTI and PPP on certain issues. He was perhaps most critical of the political establishment of the country, and this would often result in him becoming the target of below-the-belt campaigns by some social media activists. This irritated him at times, but he never preached violence nor intended it at any level, even to those who mocked his family on Twitter. I know there have been some instances where Abidi lost focus – he was after all a human being like the rest of us – but I always found him brave enough to accept that he could have done things in a better way, and that is one lesson I learnt from him that helped me in my corporate career as well. My bond with Abidi did not weaken even after I left Pakistan, for I kept in touch with him. Such was the humility of the man that he would answer my calls even during his election campaign. He genuinely cared about Karachi and Pakistan, and my last conversation with him – three months before his untimely death – slightly excited me. From what I understood, Abidi wanted to make Karachi a city like New York and London, where the sense of belonging to the city and the identity of being a Karachiite was bigger than the ethnic, social or political background you came from. He wanted to forge a culture of inclusivity where the sense of being a Karachiite would trump the social and political ills of the city. In this regard, perhaps it was fitting that one of the first articles to rue his death was written by a Pakhtun scholar. I believe it was his capability as someone who could unite the youth of this city beyond ethnic, religious and social bounds due to which he was martyred in cold blood by people who do not want to see this city thrive. I can easily say that in Abidi, our people have lost a concerned son, a capable future leader, and a citizen who genuinely cared and could have done something about the country, had he been left alone by the people who have no stake at all in the future of Pakistan. Rest in eternal peace, Ali Raza Abidi. Your city misses you deeply.
“I am going home… after 71 years.”I mumbled something along those lines to passengers sitting beside me, while taking a flight from Karachi to Islamabad on Christmas morning. Late in October, a friend of mine who is like an elder brother and a bitter critic of Indian state policies, asked me for my passport. I quickly took some pictures and sent it over to him. A week later, he sent me an affidavit with an invitation to his daughter’s wedding in Karachi that was to be held in late December. And that is how my journey of going home began. It is quiet pertinent to share my family origin, given my ‘unusual’ interest in Pakistan. I belong to a family with roots in Potohar which is around Pindi. We were uprooted in the upheaval that accompanied the Partition of the subcontinent 71 years ago. Cyril Radcliffe had first separated the people by drawing a line between them and then the affairs of the state made it impossible to maintain a kinship between people who had lived together for thousands of years and shared common heritage. When it looked like I might actually cross Radcliffe’s line, I began going through a tumult of emotions. It wasn’t overwhelming initially; however, as the day to leave grew closer, I somehow lost the sense of balance and composure. It felt no less than a pilgrimage to me. To visit the land of your ancestors, land of your people and your soil is a sacred concept in ancient beliefs and that is something I identify with. I had essentially grown up with my late grandmother reminiscing about our home in Potohar. The home where she was born, where she spent a large part of her life, where she got married and had kids, these memories and places remained very dear to her. While others who migrated had reconciled and knew India as their home, my grandmother had not forgotten where she came from and always spoke fondly of that life. Listening to her talk about her memories, I grew close to that home of the past. On December 21st, I crossed the white line at Wagah for the first time. The first Pakistanis I met were the ones I had already been talking to on social media and on the phone and thus they meant a great deal to me. Over the next many days, I realised that Pakistan had somehow preserved and retained what existed 71 years ago; its culture was more organic and full of feelings. On the day of my arrival, I spent a good while at the Lahore Airport since my flight to Karachi had been delayed for over six hours. Azeem, a Facebook friend from Lahore who was travelling back home from Karachi, had just landed at the Lahore Airport when he discovered on Facebook that I was around. He called me on Messenger and we were overjoyed at this chance and manner of meeting. It was some coincidence! After arriving in Karachi, I met many people who I felt a very strong bond and kinship with and something within me spontaneously reciprocated the love, affection and warmth. There were four other visitors from India and they were all received with the same fondness. I had brunch, lunch and dinner invitations the next day and had many visitors lined up. However for me, the most significant leg of this visit was only beginning. On Christmas morning, I was struggling to keep my composure as I had a flight to Islamabad later in the day. Oddly enough, those standard chores ahead of the flight managed to divert my thoughts and attention for some time. However, as I comfortably sat in the flight that Christmas morning, the avalanche of emotions came rushing back with its absolute and final force. Two passengers sitting beside me offered me a tissue and that’s when I told them I was going home after 71 years. Throughout the journey, I kept looking at what appeared to be the landscape of Potohar, starting with the Salt Range. Upon landing at the Islamabad Airport, I could sense that I was home. I had journeyed to the land that’s my own and as my friend and host in Islamabad put it, the land of my ancestors. There is something about strong roots, roots that go deep. They are often felt for a very long time; they resonate for long or possibly forever. However, fate often dictates a different course for individuals, communities and nations. Over the past few decades, the Indian state, media and society have cultivated a picture of Pakistan that is far removed from reality. I can say this because I witnessed the reality firsthand during the 11 days of my visit to Karachi, Islamabad and even Lahore, albeit that was only for a few hours due to transit. The experiences I had in Pakistan go beyond words. If I were to venture describing them, I would only say that they defy all negative stereotypes that India and its people have associated with the country. I came across no hostility or negativity during my time here, which is often a misconception ascribed by visitors. With the kind of experience I had in Pakistan during these 11 days, I feel we do a great disservice to our common humanity by putting a premium on politics. My visit to Pakistan had a very selfish and personal agenda: to touch base with my roots. I wanted to be able to go deeper and farther into the past that I had grown up hearing and feeling so much about. It is probably apt to mention another visitor, a pilgrim who managed to create something enormous out of a very poignantly-felt first visit. This first visit was followed by many more and it gave life to a cause: to rediscover and highlight a heritage lost. Amardeep Singh’s campaign is only gaining strength with each day. His first visit was also made memorable due to his strong feelings and the warmth, love and support he received from several ordinary Pakistanis, who joined him in his campaign with all their passion and all their earnest. I would also like to thank the many people who made this visit a memorable one: Malik Rashid and Rabi Bashir in Lahore, Tariq Jamil Khan, Dr Yasmin Qazi and Dr Fasih in Karachi, Dr Uzma Anjum, Dr Omar Qureshi, Haroon Mustafa Janjua, Fatehul Mulk Ali Nasir and Osama Malik in Islamabad. There were several other individuals who out of love and affection did so much for me that I hope I never forget that feel of Pakistan, one of pure and unbridled joy. It restored my faith in the goodness of humanity. I went to Lahore from Islamabad on December 31st and returned to India via Wagah on January 1st. Every time someone asks me if I have come back home, I correct them and tell them that I have come back from home.
The courts have given their verdict. Encroachments will have to be removed and Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) has already started issuing notices to property owners throughout the city. The current drive is against two different types of irregularities: a) individuals or businesses that encroached upon government land; b) usage of residential property for commercial purposes. If we look into the socio-economic dynamics of this issue, Karachi has been home to job seekers and entrepreneurs from the entire country. The influx of migrants from other cities and provinces is still going on with the same volume and pace. People are heading for this city to secure jobs as daily wage earners, setting up tea or tandoor shops, garment stalls, electronic shops or just working as street vendors. Due to an absence of proper planning and lack of checks and balances on part of the SBCA, these businesses sprout sporadically throughout the city. By the time the government takes notice of the situation, the business owners have already employed quite a number of people and are serving a sizable number of customers on a daily basis. Anti-encroachment drives, therefore, affect the livelihood of a big chunk of the society (business owners, their employees and customers). Recently, the move against wedding hall owners turned ugly when they turned towards the streets and lodged protests outside the Civic Centre (home to SBCA). These protests were in response to SBCA cancelling all its previous regularisation orders and issuing notices to proprietors to end commercial activities on residential plots in three days, by January 28th which was in line with the Supreme Court’s January 22nd order. Their stance is a valid one. After paying hefty sums in lieu of regularisation to the concerned authorities and taking the legal route to secure permission for carrying out commercial activities on their piece of land, they are now being asked to shutdown their businesses and instantly cause mass unemployment. These wedding halls provide an entire range of options when it comes to marriage venues. Those with a limited budget can opt for a venue with lesser facilities, one that is closer to their homes and conveniently located. The judgement by the honourable courts also mentions commercial activities being carried out within the premises of the armed forces. That again may affect a number of people as the most sought after marriage venues in the city are located within the safe confines of military-managed clubs, bases and museums namely PAF Museum, Maritime Museum, Bahria Auditorium, Global Marquees, DHA Golf Club, Karsaz, and so on. Without any alternatives, if the government shuts down all the marriage venues being run on residential plots and inside military premises, people will be forced to erect tents outside their homes to carry out their wedding festivities. That will eventually result in mass blockades throughout the city. Therefore, a more rational and pragmatic approach is needed to address this crucial issue. If the government can regularise katchi abadis, illegal settlements in the city, why can’t these businesses be regularised too? And who would take notice of those thousands of settlements on the mountains? The Supreme Court, in its judgement, also asked for recommendation to re-instate Karachi to the city it used to be four decades ago. This, however, won’t be a walk in the park. In order to go back 40 years, dozens of buildings will have to be dropped to the ground, major business hubs will have to demolished resulting in thousands of people being jobless and homeless. The city used to be a well-planned one with proper business districts, residential areas and a dedicated neighbourhood that was to house the capital of the country. The decision taken by General Ayub Khan to shift the capital from Karachi to Islamabad had put the entire plan in jeopardy and the city hasn’t been able to recover since then. Katchi abadis, encroachments, unplanned apartments and portions and so on have all contributed to the slow destruction of the city. This city has already lost some wonderful socialising hubs in the name of ‘anti-encroachment drive’. The eateries that were a part of our childhood memories are no more. If the government wants to keep the city from losing its charm and glory, the Burnes Road eateries and similar businesses will have to be re-instated by providing them with a planned space that is in line with government bylaws. At a time when jobs are scarce and young boys are turning towards the world of crime, the government must come up with a structured program to provide security and confidence to business owners who are playing a major role in keeping the society in equilibrium by providing jobs. Efforts must be made to provide them the confidence and strength they deserve. Encroached land must be retrieved, however, businesses being run on residential plots must be regularised to keep the economy of Karachi from collapsing.
If you love stories with happily ever afters, then Pakistan Super League (PSL)’s story might just be the right pick for you. I know I may sound biased, but I absolutely love PSL out of all the leagues around the world because it defied all odds to make its own name in a densely populated T20 market. As PSL4 is around the corner, let’s peek at what it's got in store for us to look forward to! Star-studded opening ceremony I know what everyone first noticed when PSL announced its plans for the opening ceremony: is that Pitbull? Is this a fake post? https://twitter.com/thePSLt20/status/1090948606742401025 PSL has been around long enough to prove its own worth. It survived all the turbulence in its early days and seems all prepared to spread its wings and take off. Pitbull is the first international star with a popular following around the world who will have anything to do with a Pakistani event – PSL. I know the talk in the town is that Pitbull is bagging a ridiculous amount for a performance that may be over before you got back with your snacks from the kitchen. From my perspective, hiring Pitbull is more than just having him jump around on the stage singing lyrics that may sound like gibberish to the locals. It’s about getting the brand name out to global audience via Pitbull’s social media platforms. I like that PSL is dreaming big even if that means we have to be generous with our pocket. If Pitbull is not your cup of tea, there is more in store for you at the opening ceremony. Pitbull is nothing more than a marketing gimmick to get some more global eyeballs but the real performance that everyone in Pakistan should be looking out for is Junoon! https://twitter.com/thePSLt20/status/1094617635541659649 For a band that holds so much heritage and legacy, if it ever was to re-unite again, then PSL must be the right platform to make it memorable. Having Ali Azmat and Salman Ahmed share the stage again is a dream come true for a lot of music fanatics that I have come across. On a side note, let’s not forget Ali Zafar’s contributions in each of the first three editions of PSL and we surely will miss him this time around. AB de Villiers enters PSL Enough of the showbiz, let’s talk cricket. This year’s first pick from the players draft was a no-brainer and thankfully the turn went to Lahore Qalandars who often don’t bother making intelligent decisions at drafts anyway. De Villiers was an obvious first choice and I doubt any of the other five franchises would have picked anyone else. https://twitter.com/champagne_lassi/status/1092896677898403840 With de Villiers all set to make his debut in PSL, I would suggest anyone going to the stadium to start doing some fielding drills for ‘catch a crore’ because this man is Mr 360. It won’t matter much which part of the field you find a seat in because he can pull, paddle sweep, reverse sweep, cover drive or simply smash one down the ground. He doesn’t discriminate against any side of the field so everyone should have a fair shot at ‘catch a crore’. https://twitter.com/faizanlakhani/status/1084707893574692864 With de Villiers under their sleeves, PSL4 seems to be the season that will bring Lahore Qalandars back to life. Wounded Lahore has found itself a superman in the field and a mad man with the bat. If de Villiers gets going, then Fawad Rana can plan on bringing his dancing shoes with him and perhaps practice a few moves already because the camera sure does love him. Pakistan bags eight matches Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars have two things in common: loud fans and empty shelves of trophies. Luckily, we can put the energy of their fan base to better use this time around. PSL4 is bringing eight matches back home and if anything, Lahoris and Karachiites are the best at screaming their lungs out to support their teams. Especially since we all know that the Karachi versus Lahore battle is a never ending one! https://twitter.com/saleemkhaliq/status/1073515344243974145 Whether you belong to one of these two beautiful cities brimming with passion or happen to be a neutral fan like myself, games in Karachi and Lahore are something you would not want to miss out on. Both cities may lack victories in the field, but they sure do know how to turn up in numbers. https://twitter.com/Saj_PakPassion/status/1094204074172579845 Music, laughter and dancing in the stands – for eight days, the differences within our society will become a big fat blur. One can only wonder why we can’t stay in such harmony for the rest of the year but even if it happens for a moment, let’s make sure we live it to the fullest. Lucky people of Karachi and Lahore, call it your national duty or whatever else you may want but we trust you to fill the stadiums to the very brink as always! Meanwhile, the rest of us outside Lahore and Karachi need to mark our calendars and get our excuses ready to call off from work; I am using “I fell off the stairs” so please pick a different one. PSL4 is about to bring the best entertainment package for 2019 and we better be prepared to hog our stadiums and our television screens. Lastly and most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself because no matter which team loses, at the end of the day, PSL and its fans have already won. Congratulations to Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and each one of you out there for the fourth season of PSL.
Karachi has been facing serious water and sanitation issues. The sitting government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seems to be completely unmoved and unconcerned about the plight of the common man of this city. A plethora of promises were made, cosmetic measures were taken but to no avail. Despite bringing in Chinese contractors for lifting and disposing garbage, the city still paints a sorry picture. A picture of neglect and abandonment. FixIt was a movement initiated by Alamgir Khan, a resident of Karachi and a business graduate of Iqra University. He came into the limelight with his legendary manhole cover movement where he painted the then chief minister of Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah’s picture right beside all open manholes in the city. His movement gained momentum and the FixIt team started expanding with more members and therefore more street presence. Social media played a vital role in highlighting their efforts to make our city administrators and legislators realise the grievances of the citizens of Karachi. A number of times, their team members were arrested only to be released on bail later on. Karachiites were highly appreciable of the efforts of team FixIt at a time when no one else had the courage to take the mighty government of Sindh head on. Khan’s services and efforts for Karachi bore fruit and he was elected as the member of the National Assembly from NA243 after contesting on the ticket of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 2018. He now has a bigger canvas, a more effective platform and enough political muscle to rally for a good cause and take the plight of Karachiites to the corridors of power. However, his recent move where he was involved in emptying buckets of sewage water at the gates of the Chief Minister House was uncalled for. No matter how crucial and valid the issue is and how clear and genuine his intentions are, what Khan needs to realise is that his FixIt days are over and he now has a more effective medium to get his message across. https://twitter.com/AKFixit/status/1094941357574115328 As a legislator, he holds more influence, clout and political strength (being a member of the ruling party in the centre) and therefore he will have to come out of his street rallying mode and take on a more responsible role as a politically-elected decision-maker. His position as an MNA requires him to act maturely and be more vocal about the issues of Karachi on the floor of the assembly. Here’s what Khan can do to make his city a better place: 1. Appoint someone in his place to take the FixIt movement forward. He can stay as the founder and think tank behind the movement but the movement itself should be taken up by a different face with the same team. 2. He can raise his voice in the National Assembly by coming up with resolutions that could highlight the issues faced by the people of Karachi. PTI has enough political strength in the National Assembly to bring about major changes. 3. Khan can motivate like-minded individuals to file a case in the Sindh High Court against the criminal negligence shown by the government of Sindh in providing clean water to the residents. 4. He can hold press conferences and feature on talk shows on the electronic media to create awareness amidst the masses. 5. He can issue statements in the print media as an MNA. 6. Social media can be used to mobilise the citizens and exert more pressure on the people at the helms of affairs in Sindh. 7. Khan can take up this issue with his party chief and Prime Minister Imran Khan. As an MNA, he now has the approach that he lacked when he was merely the founder of FixIt. Khan is our national asset and the citizens of this great city have appreciated whatever he has done to highlight their issues. More is expected from him and his authority as an MNA. His voters have high hopes and all his future moves will decide his fate in the next General Elections. After all, he won the seat because citizens thought he needed to be in a position of power to bring about change. So use your power and political standing, Mr Khan.
Quetta Gladiators versus Peshawar Zalmi: the two finalists confirmed after a month of enthralling cricket. All the ebbs and flows of the tournament bow down to one game, the final, which is to be played on Sunday, March 17th. Gladiators have previously been part of two finals, yet have come out short on both occasions. I believe the reason is their key players leaving them once the tournament was shifted to Pakistan. This year they will not be facing such a problem, having secured the services of T20 megastar Shane Watson. Watson was part of the previous Pakistan Super League (PSL) seasons, yet refused to visit Pakistan. This year however, he made the trip to Karachi, which has already paid off with him smashing 71 in the first qualifier. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] Shane Watson slammed 71 in 43 balls, Peshawar Zalmi v Quetta Gladiators, Qualifier, Pakistan Super League, March 13, 2019. Photo: PSL[/caption] Zalmi were the second team to reach the final. Winners of the 2017 edition and finalists in 2018, Zalmi were also one of the top teams throughout the 2019 edition. Captained by Darren Sammy, they consistently looked a professional unit throughout the tournament. The best two teams in the tournament made the final, which makes for an exciting game. But since the final is coming up, let’s analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the two finalists and try to predict who will cross that finish line. Quetta Gladiators Gladiators have undoubtedly been the best team of the tournament thus far. At the group stage, Gladiators won the most games, and showed the most consistency. Led by Sarfraz Ahmed, they have been the team to beat this year in the PSL. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] An in-form Sohail Tanvir had plenty of reasons to celebrate. Photo: PSL[/caption] In past seasons, I haven’t been much of a fan of Gladiators, largely due to them preferring senior cricketers over young and upcoming talent. For the first three seasons, Gladiators repeatedly selected Anwar Ali and Asad Shafiq, despite numerous failures. This annoyed me, as I felt that PSL should be about giving youngsters a platform to show and prove their abilities. This year, they replaced Shafiq with Ahsan Ali, and they replaced Anwar with Mohammad Hasnain. Both decisions have proved to pay dividends, as the two replacement players have made a mark this tournament. Pacer Hasnain has impressed the world with his speed and rhythmic action, whereas Ahsan has proved with his powerful top-order hitting that Pakistan is still producing batting talent. The strength I see within Gladiators is their top-order batting. Watson throughout the tournament has been in terrific form, and once he gets going, it is almost impossible to stop him. His partner at the other end, Ahmad Shahzad, has also found form at the right time of the tournament. He started the tournament poorly, yet has come up strong in the latter part. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="560"] Ahmed Shehzad steers one towards third man, Karachi Kings v Quetta Gladiators, PSL 2019, Karachi, March 10, 2019. Photo: PSL[/caption] Whilst the top-order of Gladiators looks strong, their lower-order to me doesn’t look the best, which could cause them problems if chasing a large total. I feel that Sarfaraz is not suited to play in the lower-order. Yes, he can hit the odd boundary, but I don’t feel he is a consistent power hitter, something that is required at the death of the innings. That is why I feel Umar Akmal is extremely important. Akmal has always been my favourite Pakistani batsman, due to his unpredictable nature. It will be interesting to see which Akmal turns up tomorrow, because if it’s the ‘best Akmal’, Quetta will be lifting the trophy because he has that much of an impact on the game. If Gladiators win the toss, I would hope they choose to bowl first, because allowing Zalmi to chase will be a mistake. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="488"] Umar Akmal celebrates his half-century, Peshawar Zalmi v Quetta Gladiators, PSL 2019, Dubai, February 15, 2019. Photo: PSL[/caption] Peshawar Zalmi Captained by one of the most successful T20 captains in world cricket, Zalmi once again find themselves in the final of the PSL tournament. Sunday’s game will cap off a tournament filled with comprehensive victories, final over thrillers and heartbreaking moments for Zalmi. It has been a rollercoaster ride! Their strengths are aplenty, starting with their ferocious pace attack. Bowlers who can hit 90mph are rare, yet Zalmi have three of them in their attack: Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz and Tymal Mills. The trio makes it difficult for opposition attacks, especially on the Karachi pitch, which has pace and bounce. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] Hasan Ali celebrates a wicket in trademark fashion, Karachi Kings v Peshawar Zalmi, Pakistan Super League, Karachi, March 11, 2019. Photo: PSL[/caption] The second strength I see in this team is the lower-order hitting. Whilst the likes of Sohaib Maqsood and Umar Amin haven’t impressed, the two West Indian power hitters have consistently delivered for their team. Sammy and Kieron Pollard have rescued Zalmi from various situations throughout PSL4. Having such experienced T20 cricketers is a massive advantage for them going in to the final. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] Kieron Pollard and Umar Amin hit unbeaten half-centuries, Multan Sultans v Peshawar Zalmi, Pakistan Super League, Dubai, February 28, 2019. Photo: PSL[/caption] Whilst the team looks good on paper, they do have a few weaknesses, most notably their spinner (or lack thereof). Liam Dawson for the majority of the tournament has filled the spinner duties; however, he was dropped in the previous game for Chris Jordan. I feel in order for Zalmi to best utilise their squad, they should select young leg-spinner Ibtisam Sheikh. Sheikh is a good spinner, who did play at the start of the tournament. In his last game he took two wickets, most notably the wicket of the dangerous Luke Ronchi, therefore I’ve been surprised that he has been excluded for so long. Predictions Although it is hard, I have been pressed to make a prediction. Judging by the strengths and weaknesses of the two sides in question, I slightly lean towards Zalmi in the final. It’s a 55-45 lean but due to the strengths mentioned above, largely the strength in pace bowling, I do think Zalmi might have an edge in the final. In Hasan, Riaz, Jordan and Mills, you have one of the best T20 attacks in the world. And if you add a quality spinner in Sheikh, the team will be very hard to beat. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Twitter/PSL[/caption] However, if Gladiators can somehow cope with the pace attack of Zalmi, it could be a different story. But this is why we love this beautiful game. We never really know what will happen because cricket truly is unpredictable. Till the next time Overall, it is sad that PSL season four will come to an end. It has been fantastic, but we are lucky enough to witness one more game; a game that will be better than any other matches that have preceded it because of the competitiveness of both teams and the enormity of the final. One thing that has gone under the radar is the fantastic pitch produced by the Karachi ground staff. The pitches have been good enough for batsmen to hit through the line. They’ve also had enough pace and bounce for bowlers to purchase out of the wicket, as well as offer spin to slower men, as Karachi King’s Umer Khan showed. Whatever happens on Sunday, it will cap off yet another fantastic PSL tournament, and whether it is the Gladiators or the Zalmi who lift the trophy, in the end Pakistan will win. Till the next time, PSL, I am already looking forward to season five. [poll id="790"]
The rest of us had to wait till March 17th to know who will ultimately be crowned the champions of Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2019, but in the Quetta camp, it seems victory was already foreseen. Soon after qualifying for the final, Dwayne John Bravo was already humming to:
“Quetta Quetta, we the Gladiators!” “Quetta Quetta, we the Gladiators!”https://twitter.com/thePSLt20/status/1107392056866021377 I must confess, I sang along those lines too even though I felt guilty because I was supporting Peshawar Zalmi (a team that never showed up in the final). Not taking away from Gladiators’ victory but it almost felt like Zalmi had run out of gas right before they hit the station. There was no intent, no fight and no ability to counter Gladiators’ bowling attack. It almost felt like the match was just a formality because the trophy already had Gladiators engraved on it. Zalmi has a lot of explaining to do because the game plan they had still makes no sense whatsoever. The openers got dismissed early due to a good bowling spell from Gladiators, fair enough, but what followed next was a complete disaster. In any part of the world, you would want your best players to get the maximum game time in a T20 match, but Zalmi’s think tank lives in a parallel world where their least in-form player, Sohaib Maqsood, bats majority of the innings Maqsood has played five games in the tournament with an average of 17.25 and a strike rate below 100! The game was lost the very moment Zalmi sent him in to bat at the most crucial stage of the game, when players with higher average and higher strike rates were warming the bench. If I was the owner of the franchise, I would pull my hair out thinking why I spent so much money on players that have mastered the T20 format, if I was still going to trust Maqsood to win me the final. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Quetta Gladiators Pakistani captain Sarfraz Ahmed (L) celebrates with his teammates after dismissing Peshawar Zalmi cricketer Sohaib Maqsood (R) during the qualifier match between the Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators of the Twenty20 (T20) Pakistan Super League (PSL) at the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi on March 13, 2019. Photo: AFP[/caption] It was beautiful to see Zalmi’s owner, Javed Afridi, take Daren Sammy on a historical tour teaching him a lot about Pakistan’s culture and values but it seems he forgot Sammy is still hired to play cricket at the end of the day. In the all-important final of PSL 2019, Sammy and Kieron Pollard, who are possibly the two biggest hitters in the game, were sitting in the dugout watching Maqsood and Umar Amin swallow one cheap over after another. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] Kieron Pollard and Umar Amin hit unbeaten half-centuries, Multan Sultans v Peshawar Zalmi, Pakistan Super League, Dubai, February 28, 2019. Photo: PSL[/caption] If you decide to play a T20 tournament, then play it in fashion. Nobody was excited for the final in a packed Karachi stadium only for Amin and Maqsood to make peace with the opposition bowlers. By the time Sammy and Pollard had come to the crease, Gladiators had already sucked all the momentum out of Zalmi’s innings and allowed no room for the two biggest hitters to make any difference in the last few deliveries left. Gladiators, on the other hand, deserve this trophy more than any other franchise because they have simply been the best without any flukes or luck. Sarfraz Ahmed deserves a lot of respect for not only taking his team to the final yet again but doing it with Umar Akmal and Ahmad Shahzad, both in the same side. That alone is enough to make me stand up and applaud Sarfraz; he truly is a genius to make that work. I would have resigned as the captain the moment I would have seen those two names in the lineup. Akmal had a great start to the season which helped Gladiators always remain amongst the top ranked teams on the table ever since their campaign began. Midway through the season, Akmal started to lose some of his charm but then Shahzad decided to step up his game. Along with Akmal and Shahzad, Shane Watson was there to ensure Gladiators were always in safe hands. https://twitter.com/thePSLt20/status/1107347028043018240 Gladiators have been the strongest contender for the PSL title every season but this year they have achieved another feat. They have gifted Pakistan with a promising emerging player, Mohammad Hasnain, who bagged his first Man Of The Match award in the final of PSL 2019. Hasnain is still young and needs to be further groomed before putting on the green jersey, but every time he gets on to bowl, our eyes are glued to the speed gun. It has been a while since Shoaib Akhtar left the game and we never really got to see anyone else push the speed gun to the limits. He is already making our adrenaline pump up, with figures touching the 150kph mark. https://twitter.com/thePSLt20/status/1107314161044934656 Speed alone isn’t enough to make you a great bowler but as a country with a long heritage of producing the finest fast bowlers in the world, we have a natural fascination with raw pace. Anyone who makes the speed gun hit numbers above 145kph, gains our attention no matter what. Even though the final was an anti-climax, largely due to Zalmi’s flawed game plan, I enjoyed watching Hasnain run in hard and challenge the batsmen by banging it in short with some serious pace. Another emerging player that deserves a mention here is Umer Khan from Karachi Kings. He is perhaps the biggest find of PSL 2019 with 15 wickets in 11 games and the primary reason Kings even got the taste of the play-offs. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="451"] Umer Khan goes up in celebration. Photo: PSL[/caption] PSL 2019 is yet another success story of a league that had been challenged at every step. It was a late entrant to a market that had already been populated, but under the leadership of Najam Sethi, PSL found its own ground. It took baby steps but after eight matches being played in Pakistan this season, and with all the international players participating, PSL has reached the point where it can spread its wings and fly high. I know people will always get to the drawing board to compare PSL with Indian Premier League (IPL), but for me the financial comparisons hold no meaning. PSL isn’t a business alone; it has a spirit and meaning behind it. For Pakistanis, it is a path to bring life back into our empty stands, to bring cricket home. It has a purpose far bigger than glamour and money can ever be. PSL is special, almost a living entity, and no matter what others tell me, I will always stand by PSL for the love and happiness it brings to everyone. https://twitter.com/TheMahiraKhan/status/1107321287049969664 The time to say goodbye to PSL 2019 has finally arrived and it will leave us all nostalgic yet again. Gladiators are surely the champions of PSL 2019 but along with them, the crowds of Karachi and the security personnel on duty have won too.
Films such as Laal Kabootar have a much bigger responsibility to cinema, particularly for Pakistani cinema, which is going through an interesting phase of its life cycle. Pakistani cinema’s revival is over; it is now in the maintenance stage. I don’t think it will go down to the disaster that it was, but whether it grows further or not remains to be seen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgzJ6KRBK8w In order for cinema to grow, all kinds of audiences have to start coming to the theatres; the kind who would watch Kahaani or Andhadhun over Thugs of Hindostan. If you go wrong in making a Jawani Phir Nahi Ani or a Na Maloom Afraad, there will be three more films of the same genre releasing in the next six months and the maintenance will continue. Failure of a comedy will not hurt cinema as much as it would if you go wrong while making a Laal Kabootar, because these films bring in a new audience to the cinema and their failure can alienate those viewers from Pakistani cinema forever. Laal Kabootar has a strong pull for the indie audience. It’s trailer, even though not promoted enough or in the right way, hits the cord and generates enough interest for that specific audience. Once it brings you to the theatre, it has a lot of ingredients working well for the recipe. Taha Malik’s soundtrack is brilliant; probably the best element in the mix, taking a leaf out of Bejoy Nambiar’s book.
*Spoilers alert*The actors are deeply involved. From the smallest roles, such the cameo by Ali Kazmi, to the main leads of Mansha Pasha (playing Aliya Malik) and Ahmed Ali Akbar (playing Adeel Nawaz), everyone took ownership of their character and added zing to the overall flavour. Take Kazmi’s mumbling on Pasha’s treatment of his shirts before being fatally shot. It’s those little details that have been taken care of. The art direction is apt. Take those Kurt Angle and Raveena Tandon posters, or the Dubai sign hanging on the car’s rear-view mirror. Mo Azmi’s work behind the lens is rustic and natural. Kamal Khan’s directorial debut is solid. While comparisons to Anurag Kashyap at this stage would still be ambitious, in many scenes he still reminded us of the last 15 minutes of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya, which itself was written by Kashyap. You would probably never see the underbelly of Karachi the way Khan has shown it in Laal Kabootar. Its language, its graffiti, its faces on the streets, Khan clearly knew all along what he wanted to show. I was not even surprised to see Ahmer Naqvi’s name in the writing credits. Yes, it is that much of Karachi. In the first scene of the film, the steering wheel is in the hands of Pasha, the wife. The husband is on the passenger seat, and then he is shot dead. We should have seen it coming – she was going to drive the film forward, not him. Add to that the sensitivity of the father-daughter relationship, the soft romance of an urban married couple, the conflicts of street criminals and their own friendships. Laal Kabootar has its moments, quite a lot of them, and quite strong ones. It might appear so far that the film has fulfilled its responsibility of being a great parallel cinema experience that a mainstream cinemagoer will not get. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Laal Kabootar has its flaws; the major one being its writing. The grip of the first one hour loosens gradually and by the time we reach the climax, it actually becomes an ordinary story from an extraordinary story. The plot premise of land mafia, the pace of the first hour, the acting and technical soundness of the film, the attention to detail, all look haplessly at the story in the second hour of the film, like a man in a hurry would look at his car’s deflated tyres. There is a damaging suspension of disbelief in the second hour of the story. (Spoiler) Shahi, interestingly named, is the land mafia: the powerful man in the business. Yet he is treated like an ordinary conman by an ordinary corrupt cop. Here, you start thinking that this would turn out to be the point where Shahi would show his merciless side, and that he does; however, that mercilessness is short-lived. The super cop raids the Shahi abode with only two cops and runs havoc. Shahi is seen begging for forgiveness. The whole sequence is colourless. Dramatised well, but failing to convince us of the whole thing. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] Photo: Giphy[/caption] Adeel’s ambitions are real; his conflict and turning point, not so much. Mama, the gangster, is unable to kill a helpless woman in an elevator, despite having a gun. You don’t get around to investing enough in Adeel and his drive as much as you do in Aliya’s revenge story. The irony may be that there is no single defining code that binds the lawlessness to senses. There is nihilism constantly undercut by the hope of good guys winning, even if it is logically questionable. Laal Kabootar is a good film, very well-made and an exciting debut of a talented director. It checks the regular boxes required for a good film, but for my selfish reasons, I want cinema of this nature to work very well and be successful, otherwise investors and audiences will keep ignoring this genre and keep putting their money behind romance and humour. It’s the trendsetting area where Laal Kabootar falls short, where Cake also did. When the history of Pakistan cinema will be written, Laal Kabootar will not go down as a film that changed Pakistani cinema and introduced a new way of filmmaking to the Pakistani audience. As things stand, Pakistan cinema is still waiting for an Andhadhun… a Kahaani. All photos: Screenshots
Peshawar’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) seems to be a never-ending project as once again Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’ s (PTI) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government has postponed its launch. The inauguration ceremony of the BRT was supposed to be held on March 23rd, but because the project is yet to be finished, K-P Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, after consulting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, decided to cancel the opening ceremony. Ever since PTI announced to launch BRT in October 2017, the project has seen many delays because of the inefficient management. The BRT is a 26 kilometre-long bus corridor designed to carry thousands of passengers throughout the city of Peshawar. PTI’s K-P government launched the project to counter the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s infrastructure-based narrative. In Punjab, PML-N has built three metro bus services in Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi, and also introduced the Metro train, which for some unknown reason is not being launched by the PTI government. Imran, a critic of the infrastructure-based development work of PML-N and especially the Metro bus, took a U-turn in 2017 after being questioned about the absence of mega projects in K-P. Perhaps Imran assumed that launching a Metro Bus service in Peshawar will be an easy task which will not only improve his party’s image in the eyes of its vote bank but will also elevate his name for finishing a project at a lower cost compared to the ones in Lahore, Multan or Rawalpindi. PTI slammed PML-N for corruption and alleged that they were minting money by receiving commissions in the transport projects. They claimed they will unmask PML-N’s reality and show the nation how Metros are built in a cost-effective manner. However, after almost 18 months since this project began, the BRT cost has climbed to Rs68.7 billion and since work still remains unfinished, the estimated cost is likely to grow, making it the most expensive Metro Bus service being built in the country. The 27 kilometre-long Lahore Metro Bus service was built at the cost of Rs30 billion, the 23 kilometre-long Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus at Rs44.84 billion, and the Multan Metro Bus at approximately Rs28 billion. Therefore, the expensive and unfinished BRT is further proof of the careless and inept governance of PTI. Had this BRT project been delayed in any other city in Sindh where Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) governs or if, during its tenure, PML-N had failed to meet the deadline, the heavens would have befallen till now. Eleven out of 32 stations of the BRT are yet to be prepared whereas only 21 out of 200 buses have reached Peshawar and the rest have to be imported. Adding to this, due to poor drainage system, surrounding areas of BRT have suffered. In the midst of recent rainfall, many of the shops in the vicinity faced losses due to the leakage of water from BRT. Even an underpass had to be built again when the engineers realised that the one built was too narrow for a bus to pass. In many areas, the construction had to be stopped due to poor drainage or because the route was creating disturbance for the traffic on the road. This unfinished BRT project gives us a glimpse of the working methodology of the PTI. It seems that the party does not believe in paperwork and does not go into details, which is alarming in itself since they are handling such a massive project. Instead of concentrating on developing the vision to help the country out of the current stagnation, Imran is only interested in talking about unrealistic promises that he can’t keep whilst bashing and criticising his political opponents. It has been a tale of blunders, yet the government keeps on giving deadline after deadline despite knowing that the project has not been finished yet. Adding to this abysmal situation, recently the PTI federal government has taken over the Karachi’s Green Line BRT project since it faced the same delayed fate as the bus service in Peshawar. Since Imran is interested in making Karachi his political fort, he has not only allocated money from the federal government resources but has virtually also taken over the project. There is nothing wrong with taking over this project considering the Sindh government’s inability to finish it since December 2017; however, keeping in view the dismal performance of PTI with the BRT Peshawar project, one can’t help but worry whether they are the best possible party to handle this. Imran started BRT Peshawar for political gain and seems to do be doing the same in Karachi but will BRT Karachi also share the same fate and turn into a never-ending project? If that does happen, not only will it let down Karachi and its people but PTI’s image will take a massive hit for messing up two consecutive transport projects. There should be a special mention here for Shehbaz Sharif, who built three Metro Bus projects and an Orange Line train with no delays or hiccups. The only delay in the Orange Line was caused by petitioners who took a stay order against it. Despite that hindrance, he managed to finish the project before the end of his term. CM Khan, on the other hand, has ordered an inquiry into the reason why the project is being delayed. However, should he not have been on top of things from the start or was he only going to take action when something went wrong? Since BRT is PTI’s own conceived and executed project, it is appropriate to worry about the other projects PTI has taken under its belt. The construction of homes and the creation of jobs for the masses feel like empty promises at the moment. After all, it is easy to announce a project and make promises to the public, however, it takes more than words to actually fulfil your commitments and implement such large scale projects. PTI needs to learn the art of governance and especially needs to be taught how to manage bureaucracy, otherwise the party will only regret the chances it wasted. As we wait for PTI to learn these skills and turn a new leaf, the BRT Peshawar project needs thorough investigation by the anti-graft watchdog and the culprits who are responsible for the downfall of this project need to be brought to justice. Wasting the country’s money due to inefficiency, at a time when we cannot afford it, should be dealt with immediately.
Spread over an area of 3,780 square kilometres, Karachi is one of the largest cities of Pakistan. Shockingly, commuting is a major issue in the city due to the absence of a government-owned public transport system. As a regular commuter, I often have to wait for the bus for more than half an hour, especially on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) strike days. Moreover, I often have to stand in the bus throughout the 45-minute journey to my university due to unavailability of seats, which numerous other daily commuters including labourers and office workers have to endure as well. Often, as I anxiously wait for buses at various points including bus stops, I have witnessed overloaded buses passing by without stopping to pick more passengers. During peak hours, the ladies compartment – which comprises of eight seats in buses and 11 congested seats in mini-buses and coaches, all situated near the driver’s seat – is also occupied by men. One of the seats allotted for ladies is situated too close to the driver’s seat, which I and most women often hesitate to occupy. My efficiency also deteriorates due to a daily exhaustive commute to the university. From diesel to CNG In 2003, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf introduced CNG as an alternative fuel for vehicles as buses were running on diesel. Initially, CNG cylinders were placed in ladies’ compartment in public buses. Hence, not considering the possibility of them exploding, women’s lives were put at risk. This continued for a few years until the cylinders were properly installed in appropriate places. Moreover, commuters pay a significant amount of their income because of continuous increase in the cost of CNG. It has gradually increased since 2003 from Rs17.5 per kilogram to Rs104 per kilogram in 2018. A record hike in fuel prices was observed in October 2018. Private transporters fixed the bus fare at five rupees per 12 kilometre in 2003 which has now increased to Rs25 for the same distance. I have witnessed constant arguments between commuters and bus conductors over hike in fares. Photostat copies of notices approved by private transport authorities mentioning hike in fares are pasted in buses. Drivers and conductors refer to the pasted document whereas the commuters demand an official government notification. Another issue is non-availability of CNG three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In winters especially, the supply of CNG to stations is frequently interrupted due to high demand as it is used by 85% of public buses in Karachi. During a CNG strike, most of these buses are not operative and hence the remaining have to bear the excess load. According to Ali, a public bus driver, the earnings through fares almost doubles when a CNG strike extends to more than a day. Sindh government and the rising competition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has been ruling in Sindh for the last 10 years. In the General Election of 2018, PPP formed the government in Sindh for the third time. Despite the continuity of PPP’s government in Sindh, the issue of government-owned public transport persists in Karachi. During PPP’s federal government tenure, from 2008-2013, Qingqi motorcycles and rickshaws were introduced in Sindh as another means of public transport. These new vehicles were five and eight-seaters, and provided speedy transport to the public. However, qingqi motorcycles and rickshaws have deteriorated the outlook of the mega city. In the absence of proper terminals, the vehicles are parked at various unauthorised places. Qingqis stop anywhere to pick commuters, making lives difficult for people driving on roads. They also create hurdles for pedestrians, constantly annoying them by asking whether they want to take a qingqi instead. Karachi Transport Ittehad (KTI), a privately-owned public transport body Since 1962, a private association, now known as KTI, has been providing travelling services to the residents of the city via buses, mini-buses and coaches. Syed Irshad Hussain Shah Bukhari, president of KTI, has been in the business of public transport for 56 years. He has seen various governments including military rule in Pakistan and considers Musharraf’s era the best for public transport in Karachi as transporters were able to save money once the conversion of fuel from diesel to CNG was implemented, since the latter was comparatively cheaper than the former. Qingqi motorcycles and rickshaws severely affected privately-owned buses operating under KTI. The transporter had to reduce the number of buses due to the declining number of travellers because they opted for the new speedy transport system on qingqis. In 2008-09, KTI had a total of 25,000 vehicles which included 5,000 buses, 10,000 mini-buses and 10,000 coaches. Today KTI is left with less than one-third of the vehicles it owned in 2008, which includes 2,000 buses, 2,500 mini-buses and 2,500 coaches. Lack of buses is one of the primary reasons that public buses are usually overloaded. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDhFd8GuiaY&feature=youtu.be During PPP’s 2013-2018 tenure in Sindh, transport minister Nasir Hussain Shah tried to address the issue of lack of public transport in Karachi. He had a meeting with Bukhari and other transport providers in Sindh.
“The government wanted to run 600 buses in Karachi on 15% advance and 85% loan provided by the Sindh Bank. Both parties agreed on the terms and conditions but the deadlock persisted on fares,” said Bukhari.The loss of national income The absence of government-owned public transport system results in the loss of national income, said Kaiser Bengali, a renowned economist. The reason is that more time is spent by people on commuting and less time is invested on production. Less input reduces the amount of revenue, which affects the economy. Public transport system can be improved if government takes measures to manage the already existing private transport infrastructure more efficiently. More buses with higher passenger capacity on various routes should be introduced. Moreover, proper bus terminals should be made to avoid parking of buses at random places as a stepping stone towards building a viable public transport network in Karachi.
Conducting encounters to catch criminals, only to end up killing innocent people, has become a favourite pastime for our law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Just a few months ago, we saw the brutal massacre of four people, including a woman and her teenage daughter, in Sahiwal. In yet another case of the innocent paying the price for police negligence, a toddler has lost his life after being fatally shot during an encounter between the police and dacoits in Karachi. Two-year-old Mohammad Ahsan Shaikh was travelling in a rickshaw with his parents when a bullet hit him, and when his father got out of the rickshaw, he saw two policemen fleeing on a motorbike. As usual, Sindh Inspector General (IG) of Police Syed Kaleem Imam as well as the Sindh government took notice of the incident and expressed sorrow over the killing, while the accused policemen have also been taken into custody. Soon, we will probably hear about the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the incident, and as always, with the passage of time, this incident will be forgotten and the killers will roam free, just like all previous such instances. Even if the four policemen arrested are handed a prison sentence, will it be enough? Will it bring back little Ahsan to his parents? Will it prevent another child like Ahsan from losing his or her life in the future? Will it change this gun culture and this terrible mindset our LEAs are plagued with as they keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again and commit extrajudicial killings? According to data by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, as many as 3,345 people have been killed in police encounters from January 2014 to May 2018. This figure shockingly includes 23 women and 12 minors, as well as 55 police officials. What do these numbers indicate if not that there remains a fatal flaw in our police system? In this modern age, police departments around the globe are taught criminal psychology to help them better understand that their job is to eliminate crime, not criminals. Likewise, police departments go through extensive training on how to avoid a scuffle or encounter with criminals in public places in order to not put innocent civilians at risk. Our police officers, on the other hand, are neither provided adequate training nor any counselling to deal with the mental health consequences of the job. Officers of lower ranks are not even capable of handling real-time conflicts with actual criminals, and thus on most occasions just open fire with the fear that the criminals will kill them if they don’t shoot and kill them first. In this action, it is innocent people who end up bearing the consequences. When it comes to delivering justice, there are encounter specialists like Rao Anwar and Abid Boxer who have special patronage and are thus roaming free despite hundreds of extrajudicial killings. Even officials of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) have not been indicted yet for their alleged role in the brutal Sahiwal massacre. What does this do if not promote a culture where officers are free to kill whoever they want – even little children – without suffering any consequences whatsoever? Unless both the provincial governments and the federal government do not bring about serious reform in the police department and other LEAs, nothing will change and we will keep mourning in silence as children like Ahsan become collateral damage. Not a single police officer has been convicted for fake encounters or for the death of innocents. On most occasions, the officers involved use the 'right of self-defence' provided in the Pakistan Penal Code, and always tell the court that they didn’t open fire first and in fact only did so for self-defence. Thus, clearly the change required needs to be systemic, deep-rooted and legal. There is also no point in simply detaining low ranking police officers. Instead, all LEAs should be strictly prohibited from opening fire in public places or before ensuring that no innocent civilians are around. In fact, a senior superintendent (SSP) or even a superintendent (SP) can be made the relevant authority, without whose permission no police encounters can take place. In case one does take place, the SSP or SP should hence be held responsible for the consequences. Over the years, Pakistanis seem to have forgotten that human life is precious. We cannot live in a society that accepts the death of little children through bullets fired by the very men we pay to protect us. The police are there to help people, not to go around killing them. One only needs to have some common sense to only chase criminals and not fire bullets when surrounded by civilians; how can we accept our police consistently showing such basic lack of common sense? Ahsan’s life mattered; his death matters. If nothing else, it should remind the police of their responsibility to take their job seriously. A single decision taken responsibly would have meant Ahsan keeping his life. The issue is most pronounced in Karachi, which has suffered after years of chaos and anarchy. Not too long ago, on April 6th, Karachi mourned the killing of 10-year-old Sajjad who died after getting caught in an exchange of fire between the police and an alleged criminal. Nimra Baig, a 21-year-old medical student, died in a similar crossfire. Before that the city mourned Irshad Ranjhani, who was shot in broad daylight by an influential man who falsely claimed that the victim was a dacoit. Before that it mourned Malaysia-returned student Intezar Ahmad, seven-year-old Aqsa, Rauf and Maqsood who faced a similar death as Ahsan, and before that 10-year-old Amal Umer. How many encounters do we need for the Sindh government to take action? How many men, women and children need to die before our policymakers realise that such killings have become a norm in a city plagued with lawlessness? The job of the police is to investigate and prevent crime, not to act as judge, jury and executioner. Our police officers are clearly unclear of their job description, and if we are to change anything after Ahsan’s murder, let it be this.
Abbottabad, the capital of the Abbottabad District in the Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), is probably the second most important city of the province after Peshawar. It is a city of many famous tourist spots, as well as one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. Most importantly, it is a city that prides itself on education, with some of the most prominent universities in Pakistan being found here, including the Ayub Teaching Hospital and the Pakistan Military Academy. Thus, it is not surprising to expect Abbottabad to be a city of tolerance, open-mindedness and acceptance. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Last month, the 7Up Foodies Festival was held in Abbottabad, which was meant to be a fun event celebrating local food, culture and music. When the event was announced, the people of the city were ecstatic and excited as we’ve never really had an event like this before. Though concerts are organised in the city, they are mostly indoors and for a limited and selected audience only. However, from the day the festival was announced, it drew criticism from the religious parties of the region, and keeping this in mind the event was restricted to families only. The first day of the event ran smoothly, giving the people great food as well as great music at the concert that followed. The crowd was amazing, mainly because a large number of people attended it along with their families. There appeared to be a shared feeling of joy at the fact that this city too could now enjoy the entertainment that was previously restricted to cities like Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. However, this feeling of joy would not last long. After the first day, the event drew stern criticism from right-wing groups, mainly due to it not being a segregated event. They complained that this gender mixing is against the cultural norms of the Hazara Division, and thus will not be tolerated. They then demanded that the district administration cancel the event altogether. The liberal section of the city came forward to support the festival. They suggested it is hypocritical of such groups to not target the myriad of problematic things that are against our culture and yet continue to take place in the city, but take up issue over a harmless and decent family gathering. Nonetheless, a day later, the district administration along with the police forced the organisers to cancel the concert to maintain peace and order in the city, as the religious crowd grew increasingly angry and threatened with consequences. The event was finally restricted to food stalls alone, but even this didn’t sit well with them and an angry mob rampaged and vandalised the event, breaking the stage and the stalls and beating the organisers as well as the attendees. The police silently watched all this and let it happen, making an event that started with great excitement end in such a harrowing manner. This really was an extremely disappointing development. Those who were excited earlier and expected more of such events to take place in the city are now apprehensive and wonder if anyone will ever organise such festivals in Abbottabad again, mainly due to the threat and uncertainty associated with doing so. This was yet another incident of growing intolerance in Pakistan by religious extremists, the likes of which are frequently witnessed all across the country. The country has, after all, been nurturing this mindset ever since General Zia’s Islamisation began, and we are yet to come out of it. Abbottabad, a city previously known for its tolerance, has also not been lucky enough to escape this plague. It wasn’t always like this. Back in the 70s, women in Abbottabad could freely come and march on the streets in protest. Today, the Aurat March that visited many cities of Pakistan could not happen here. A city that previously had two cinemas now has zero. This is now a city that welcomes intolerance, when previously it would have stood up against it. This is also not the first time in recent years that such an event was cancelled in the city. Over the past years, New Year celebrations have been cancelled many times by the district administration because of threats from religious parties. As mentioned earlier, while concerts do take place in the city, they are mostly indoors or in the auditoriums of educational institutes. The terrorism that plagued K-P and the tribal belt may not have directly affected Abbottabad, but the radicalisation of the region has not spared this city. It is also directly impacted by the influx of people from surrounding areas affected by terrorism, who come here for better opportunities and a better life but also add to how conservative and intolerant the city has become. Now that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has launched its tourism policy and is committed to promoting a softer image of the country to the world, it needs to also add efforts to restrict the growing intolerance and radical mindset in the country. Only then can any tourism policy become successful. As Pakistan decides to move forward and leave its violent past behind, we must accept a progressive path and teach compassion and tolerance to our people. After all, those who cannot accept a simple food festival without breaking into riots are perhaps not ready to welcome foreign tourists with open arms.