Articles on this Page
- 02/11/14--01:47: _Books, cooks, schno...
- 02/11/14--04:01: _Don’t label me ‘Moh...
- 02/15/14--03:45: _Don’t forget our po...
- 02/15/14--03:55: _Beware, antibiotics...
- 02/19/14--03:41: _Where were you Laho...
- 02/20/14--03:52: _North Waziristan op...
- 02/24/14--01:21: _Why was my mamoo ki...
- 02/24/14--04:05: _Be Pakistani, suppo...
- 03/01/14--23:00: _Karachi is blasphem...
- 03/03/14--03:58: _Islamabad is the sa...
- 03/04/14--11:01: _Lost in translation...
- 03/06/14--00:53: _Aerial firing: “If ...
- 03/06/14--04:19: _Is it a crime in Pa...
- 03/06/14--23:39: _Karachi Grammar Sch...
- 03/08/14--21:00: _Attack in Islamabad...
- 03/11/14--05:53: _Every time you buy ...
- 03/14/14--03:19: _Bahria Town project...
- 03/22/14--02:59: _A FRESH! prespectiv...
- 03/23/14--00:00: _What it means to be...
- 03/25/14--06:06: _PPP wants Sindhi Hi...
- 02/11/14--04:01: Don’t label me ‘Mohajir’
- 02/15/14--03:45: Don’t forget our police jawans, they are the real heroes!
- 02/15/14--03:55: Beware, antibiotics are not the answer to every disease
- 02/24/14--01:21: Why was my mamoo killed?
- 02/24/14--04:05: Be Pakistani, support the Pakistan Protection Ordinance
- 03/01/14--23:00: Karachi is blasphemous, Lahore is not
- 03/03/14--03:58: Islamabad is the safest city in Pakistan? Not today…
- 03/04/14--11:01: Lost in translation: 12 signs you’re new to Pakistani culture
- Chop the tindeh,
- Peel the tindeh,
- Scoop out the insides,
- Cook the inside goop,
- Refill the tindeh with the inside goop,
- Find the other half of the tindeh and place it on top of the filled one,
- Tie up the tindeh with string and cook it again.
- Remove the string before serving?
- 03/06/14--00:53: Aerial firing: “If Shahid Afridi’s brother can do it, so can I!”
- 03/06/14--04:19: Is it a crime in Pakistan for a boy to drop a girl home?
- 03/06/14--23:39: Karachi Grammar School admission blues: Do you have what it takes?
- 03/08/14--21:00: Attack in Islamabad: Where did the Pakistan I grew up in go?
- 03/11/14--05:53: Every time you buy a stolen phone, you take a life
- 03/14/14--03:19: Bahria Town project and it’s invisible hands
- 03/22/14--02:59: A FRESH! prespective at the Amin Gulgee Gallery
- 03/23/14--00:00: What it means to be a ‘Pakistani’
- 03/25/14--06:06: PPP wants Sindhi Hindus to vote for them, but won’t protect them!
The Karachi Literature Festival inaugurated in 2010 and in five years has become the leading cultural event in Pakistan. A literary spectacle. I throng in with an assortment of school children, aging grandfathers and what seem to be ramp models only to run into four journalists lounging at a table and discussing media studies at a local university. The conversation is stimulating but my eye catches a glimpse of a well-known writer. A quick chat and she’s surrounded by eager little fans. Another breezes past and announces that she is moderating a book launch and needs to meet the guest, a budding novelist. A famous television actor is coming out of a session and we talk briefly about his work. He is gracious but the conversion is interrupted by officious paparazzi. At lunch, I offer my samosa to a Booker prize finalist, except he wants a chicken tikka. Would I? Who wouldn’t? And all this in the space of an hour. It’s heady, it’s scintillating, it’s the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF). [embed width="620"]http://vimeo.com/80966770[/embed] The Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan is a quiet place. During the day one can often hear the rustling leaves as they blow across the parking area. Set in an unfrequented nook of the teeming megalopolis, it is usually the setting for exclusive weddings and parties. However, for three days in the year, it undergoes a metamorphosis. The venue for KLF causes the nightly festivities to be replaced with witty quotes and lyrical verses, and the crowds come in by thousands in to sample the intellectual offerings. The KLF provides an opportunity to showcase Pakistan as a country rich in culture and creativity and is a reflection of the country’s historical roots as expressed in a multiplicity of languages and in various forms of writing with past and contemporary context. Taking advantage of interest in writing from and about Pakistan, the festival also seeks to broaden the picture and counter-balance the negative depiction of society in Pakistan by celebrating the diversity and dynamism of this society. As organiser Ms Ameena Saiyid said,
“The aim of the Karachi Literature Festival is to promote and project Pakistan writers and to get people reading. The author, the poet, the playwright, the biographer have a great contribution to make to our society and we are organising this festival to honour our writers, raise their profile and bring them closer to their readers.”The melee of characters makes for a slightly haphazard program which is hardly surprising, given that it brings together the diverse elements of Karachi and a whole slew of writers, actors, dancers, musicians and assorted personalities under one roof. While rushing from one session to next, the visitor experiences constant cognitive dissonance about the missed sessions and cannot escape the feeling that the word ‘festival’ is a key part of the name and thus the most prominent persona of the event. The dictionary defines ‘festival’ as a celebration for a specific occasion – the occasion in this case being the confluence of writers, thinkers, intellectuals, academics and visitors who are all ready for stimulating literary sessions. At the KLF, one could experience long talks on regional politics, on education, on women’s legal rights, on the broadcast media, etcetera. With a select audience and a liberal ambience, KLF is an uncensored field for freedom of expression, thought and contact. A Parsi, a Bohri and I get into a conversation about the on-going TTP talks. The Parsi talks about the possibility of growing a beard. Since I am rather addicted to my look I joke about declaring myself a dhimmi (non-Muslims of an Islamic state) and paying jizya (tax). We laugh because we can and because we feel liberated enough to joke about it. Yes, it’s the KLF, the dark humour is perfectly acceptable and you naturally feel slightly freer when you have just heard a speech by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. Sustaining Karachi’s literary roots A few years back, literary and cultural programs were a regular feature in the major cities of Pakistan but due to various challenges they have become scarce. In this light, KLF is an important step in the right direction and belies the poor impression of Pakistan by putting forth the country’s writers alongside the global literary elite. KLF is also a reflection of Pakistan’s societal resilience and self-belief which is instrumental in holding large events like this one. The tenacity of Karachi’s society makes a successful case for the international community to ignore the negativity that pervades the country and they fly in droves to interact with an audience hungry for cultural expressions. At the Festival the oft mentioned bullets and bombs are replaced by a fusillade of verbal gunfire and the figurative violence is usually done by a vociferous audience who unleash their questions and comments on the panellists and moderators. A couple of mothers, childhood friends, are both sitting next to the Oxford University Press book van. One of them enthuses,
“I am encouraging her to read and buy as many books as she wants.”Looking at her daughter devour the books, I hoped she has a steady supply of cash. But the joy of the little one was infectious and I sat down to hear her read aloud the Grimm Brothers fairy tales. Another couple had brought their month-old son. They posited that the literary germs would infuse the child and transfer some of the genius. The sceptic in me balked but in a place such as KLF all things are possible and that’s as good a theory as any. KLF isn’t just about interacting with writers or books or listening to debate, it’s about story-telling that brings audiences to the edge of their seats and rooms heaving with disbelief, anger and laughter. This year around, a session on the question about Pakistan’s problems, opportunities and ambitions had the audience either nodding sagely in agreement or curtly shaking their heads in denial. Beyond the glamour, the hobnobbing, the signed books and millions of selfies with celebrated intellectuals or the there-to-see-and-be-seen bunch, the KLF is actually a serious literary event and a much needed avenue for the pining voices of liberals and intellectuals, famished for a space to hear and talk about topics now vanished from mainstream media and happy to bask in a feeling that in spite of all the strife, there is all this. A visiting Canadian in line for coffee told me she’s never been so excited. She’s staying at a Pakistani friend’s home and is in love with the ambience.
“You are so lucky. Toronto is freezing right now and all you can do is hole up.”The warm sun, the cool sea breeze, the verdant grass as a setting for a talk and the wit of Mohammed Hanif, yes, I did feel rather lucky. Will she come next year? She responds to my curiosity,
“Just try and keep me away”Growing pains KLF, while being a worthy effort, has a few glitches. One of them is that its scope is so broad that it is difficult to digest it as a purely literature festival. The discussions often ventured into two areas the audience seems to be particularly interested in – economics and politics. Perhaps it was difficult to separate them from the general discussions but often the speakers were not fully cognisant of the prevailing issues to offer valuable insights. With a packed schedule and multiple sessions, there seemed to be a noticeable shortage of speakers who could do justice to the varied topics. At times it was laborious to hear the same panellists discuss vastly different subjects which would lead to a plethora of shallow comments and vapid insights. The location can also be more accessible. The event is held at one end of Karachi – one can understand the security concerns behind the decision to host it there but a central location would draw in a larger and more diversified group of people thus leading to wider ranging discussions. One wag put this socio-economic and locational narrowness in context when he spoke about the struggle a writer faces in covering a story or writing a book because he keeps running into the same six intellectuals in each visit which gives a stilted account of an issue. While the organisers have made an effort to encourage local writings and provincial literature, the sessions were few and there a concern that the focus is more on English writings. If indigenous literature and Urdu are not given the same attention, they will thus lose their cultural context and they should be given encouragement by bringing in writers who are currently producing literary works in them. Bright road ahead Nevertheless, KLF is a significant achievement and truly a labour of love for the organisers. In spite of travel restrictions, a floundering economy and the internal insecurity of Pakistan, KLF has simply gone from strength to strength and has become Pakistan’s literary event of the year. It remains a work in progress but with few changes, it can become a major cultural event for the entire region. It’s also a great opportunity to cock a snook at those who can’t help but condescend about Karachi and its somewhat challenging life. It felt rather good when a London based friend said looking online at the event program,
“OK! I will admit, I am seriously, seriously jealous.”
Being a first generation Mohajir might have felt like stepping into an exciting new territory full of adventures in reassertion of identity, a deeper assimilation into the national fabric and finding a voice in a country teeming with provincialism. However, as a second generation Mohajir reflecting over the three decades that have transpired since, it seems that these were nothing short of a fool’s dreams that at least I could have survived without. Objectively, I feel that having chased these dreams has actually left me more devoid in numerous avenues than empowered. Retrospectively, I find it hard to understand why we had to push for an ‘identity’ in a country that was in reality created as our collective identity regardless of language, race or creed. However, much to the contrary, the forthcoming generations of Mohajirs, myself included, are ostracised for having migrated from India while the groups that did not fret are more comfortably assimilated in the national soil. Talk about giving the dog a bad name and hanging him. I continue being increasingly convinced that the label of Mohajir has made it near impossible for me to be accepted as a Pakistani in Pakistan. In fact, I wonder where exactly I belong. Personally, I believe it was entirely unnecessary to have even attempted to carve out a ‘niche or identity’ for us in a country that was made for all of us anyway. I feel like I’m labelled as an outsider on account of being Urdu speaking. And on the political front, regardless of whether or not I agree with the party agenda, being Urdu speaking makes me an unwitting member of the only political party representing me. Interestingly enough, Urdu speaking, like myself, are now even arrogantly brushed aside by ‘rishta walis’ (aunties with proposals) who have added the ‘Urdu speaking’ clause to their regular questionnaire. Many a times when making selections, we, Urdu speaking girls, are not usually preferred. This is just one of many ways we are side-lined in the social avenues. I hate to be blunt but the steadily increasing notoriety of the party over the years has polished off on the whole lot of us and has a lot to do with the situation. Overly simplistic as it may sound, I often wonder why it was at all necessary to have created the student association specifically for Mohajirs or Urdu speaking. Initially, the Mohajir students were grouped aside and gradually, the label spread to the Urdu speaking population in general that had emigrated from India. I think I was better off labelled ‘Muslim’ in a non-Muslim country than as a whole different creed of Muslim who is shunned in a Muslim country. On that note, I don’t even know why we are even called ‘immigrants’. An entirely new country emerged on the globe in the form of Pakistan on August 14, 1947 and our elders moved here as new citizens. So why the label ‘Mohajir’ at all? This forced label only hurts my presence, my participation and my identity in a country that I consider my own but that has gradually disowned me over the years. As a student, I stood out among my peers in my educational institutions. Now I stand out among my colleagues and in my social circles. The fact that I know only Urdu and English is enough indication that I am a Mohajir. Residents of the other four provinces speak the third provincial language and even if they don’t, it is certainly spoken in their homes. I have even noticed people getting visibly uncomfortable around me. They prefer to flock together with ‘similar feathers’ and give preference to another province resident rather than an ‘Urdu speaking’ like myself. My list of complaints could go on and on. Don’t pat my head and tell me it is all in my head because it is not. We have started to suffer a lot now and the situation can no longer be brushed aside as a story in our heads or simple paranoia. Karachi has become a crazy hell hole and the burning city has stamped our infamous presence and name in the discussion columns around the world, which is soon disregarded. Frankly, I have turned into a minority in the country, representing the white part of our flag, and sadly enough, minorities aren’t very kindly accommodated here, especially, an unsavoury one. By hook or by crook, I might enjoy an upper hand in Karachi but in the other areas I am not looked at very kindly. Despite having emigrated from India, being a Mohajir wouldn’t have been such an ‘issue’ if it hadn’t been ‘made such an issue’ with the emergence of an identity that honestly is no help to the common man. So dear countrymen, do me a favour and refer to me as a Pakistanis and not Urdu speaking or Mohajir. Putting tags on each other and setting each other aside does nothing to strengthen our or the country’s identity internationally or domestically. It only demotes Pakistan at a time when it is imperative to pull together as a whole and not break apart into pieces based on labels, which might be hard to put together later.
I would like to thank everyone for spreading and sharing the word about Ibtihaj when he visited Karachi for his treatment. He was a little boy who ended up being a victim of terrorism. He smiled through his pain and misery and gave us hope. We rallied up behind him and celebrated him as a hero and rightfully so. However, there is a group of men in Pakistan who, by their very job description, fill in the category of heroes but they don’t get the adoration, love and respect. In these times, when we are at war or at least living in war-like conditions, this group of men stand guard at all sensitive locations risking their lives every day as part of their everyday job thinking of it as a normal routine just so that we can stay busy with ease in our normal everyday lives. I am referring to the policemen of our country who come under attack almost every day in order to protect us. The polio team is attacked, a police man dies. A hospital is attacked, a police man dies. A school is attacked, a police man dies. A cinema is attacked, a police man dies. They stand guard on all soft targets knowing very well the danger. And sometimes they themselves, either at their check posts or in their training academy, are targeted directly just to bring their morale down but they stand right back up and fulfil their duties to protect us the next morning. In the last 10 years, our police officials have buried over thousands of their brothers. The government announces compensation for their families but in majority of the cases, they don’t even get that unless they agree to some kickbacks for the government. When Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Bilawal Bhutto, Munawar Hassan and Fazlur Rehman ponder over whether to indulge in talks or go for military operations, it is the life of a policeman that remains under constant threat. But until the government gets any sense of direction, who will look out for the lives of our policemen and their families? The attack on February 13 by the TTP in Karachi claimed the lives of 13 police jawans and injured 57, including civilians. The injured have been admitted to PNS Shifa, Liaquat National, Agha Khan and the police hospital in Garden. I urge you all to take a little time out of your busy schedule over the weekend and bring along flowers or if nothing else then at least a smile for our original heroes; those who have signed up their own lives to protect ours. Let them know that we won’t just dismiss them as corrupt officials but that we care and respect their services and sacrifices. Let them know we are proud of them. When their sacrifice is no less than that of a jawan wearing an army uniform, we shouldn’t exhibit any ignorance towards them and celebrate them the same way heroes are meant to be celebrated. It remains to be seen how quick the Sindh government will act to ensure that the families of the martyrs get due compensation and privileges. Especially since, our ministers shamelessly brandish their tinted Prados whilst being securely guarded by these very jawans. In these times of insecurity and terror threats, our VIPs owe their safety, peace of mind and sanity to our jawans. One sincerely hopes they realise this. Long live our jawans. Pakistan Zindabad!
A few days back, I called a friend and found out that she was suffering from a sore throat, yet again. Being a pharmacist, people talk to me quite frequently about the medicines they have been taking. This particular friend was tackling her sore throat with Amoxicillin and had disregarded the need for a prescription. Recently, however, she complained to me that Amoxicillin doesn’t work for her anymore. The truth is that she is not the only one. Most people don’t understand the dreadful consequences of misusing antibiotics. A sore throat, runny nose and fever are all inevitable gifts of the winter season and since Karachiites are less accustomed to this season than those in the rest of the country, they suffer more than the others. Therefore, I thought it best to share a few noteworthy points about the use of antibiotics so that everyone can enjoy the weather without constantly falling ill. 1) Antibiotics are prescription based Please keep in mind that antibiotics are strictly ‘prescription-only’ medicines. Most of the time, using antibiotics for a sore throat and a runny nose is absolutely unnecessary. Good general practitioners (GPs) prescribe antibiotics justifiably and never for mere allergic reactions. So my first advice is that one should never take antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription. 2) Time duration The prescriber understands the medicine and the disease better than you do so trust them when they ask you to take your medicine for a certain duration. Take your medicine for only as long as the prescriber has recommended. 3) Cost-effective medicines Considering the low income state of our country, I would also like to address the economy factor in this situation. Many people opt to discontinue therapy as doctors prescribe expensive medicines. This is where pharmacists come in as they can help you select a relatively low cost brand of the same and equally efficacious medicine. Don’t discontinue your visits to the doctor just because he suggests costly antibiotics. 4) Resistance building germs Some of you might question all this fuss about antibiotics. Well, this issue is graver than you can even imagine. Misusing antibiotics does not affect only a single individual but the whole community. The germs have a tendency to build up resistance against antibiotics (as displayed in many cartoon advertisements of antibacterial soaps). When a person takes an antibiotic unnecessarily, the germs get an opportunity to fight that type of medicine. And when this new germ multiplies and spreads in a community through viral sprees, it becomes stronger and requires a higher dose or a more sophisticated medicine to be stopped. 5) Shortage of effective medicines If old antibiotics won’t work as efficiently as they used to do in the past and the disease continues, there may come a time when doctors and prescribers will have very limited options for curing infections. Some time ago, I went to see a GP about my flu condition. Usually GPs who know that the patient is a pharmacist, let the patient select the medicine of his or her choice, since a pharmacist is a medicine expert. I do not take antibiotics very often so I asked the GP to prescribe Amoxicillin to me. The GP told me that it won’t work, Amoxicillin used to be a highly effective and very commonly used antibiotic and it’s not as effective anymore, and that I should go for Levofloxacin – an advanced form of antibiotic. So it’s already happening – once a powerful antibiotic has lost its efficacy, the simplest of infections will need to be cured with advanced medicines. We are making infections stronger and more immune to our medicines due to this excessive use of antibiotics. 6) Antibiotics are not for trivial diseases The misuse of antibiotics has a toll on highly epidemic diseases as well. Tuberculosis (TB) is a very common infection in Pakistan and in other developing countries. TB is treated with a combination of at least two or more antibiotics due to the resistant nature of the bacteria. Now imagine if an individual is already exposed to a lot of antibiotics for apparently trivial infections, won’t his body become resistant to medications? And if that same person is infected with a TB germ, the treatment options would become immensely scarce as only a few antibiotic drugs would be effective for him. Unnecessary exposure to antibiotics for common infections has reduced the treatment options for life threatening conditions. 7) Professionals’ responsibility I was attending the out-patient counter at a pharmacy once and a regular patient came up with her prescription. When I entered her medical record number in the system and viewed the patient history, I realised that the patient had already taken a full course of Cefixime (antibiotic) the previous week. I scanned her new prescription and found out that the doctor had prescribed her Ciprofloxacin (antibiotic) this week. I requested the patient to wait while I confirmed her prescription from her doctor.
“Good morning, doctor. I have this patient who has been prescribed Ciprofloxacin by you.”I forwarded the doctor the medical record number so that he would know which patient I was talking about. After he reviewed the respective patient’s medical records, he inquired what my query was regarding.
“Sir, if you can please have a look at the history, this patient was prescribed Cefixime for 10 days and her course finished only two days back. Can you please confirm the patient’s diagnosis that requires another antibiotic so soon after the first one?”In agreement with my concern, the doctor replied, “I see. Well, the patient has Gastrointestinal Infections (GI) and if she has already taken the antibiotic then I think you should not be issuing it again so soon. Cancel out the prescription and send the patient back to my office.” I told the patient to go back to her doctor. When she returned to me after meeting him, she reported that the doctor had given her some diagnostic tests – a sensitivity test – which is performed to find out which organism has caused the infection and which antibiotic will be most effective. This test is prescribed to find out why the infection was not cured by Cefixime and to assess the current status of her infection. I told the patient,
“Ok ma’am. You need to get these tests done and then your treatment will begin accordingly.”She angrily shot back at me,
“Why can’t you just give me the medicines and be done with it?”I tried to assured her,
“It is not in your best interest to take antibiotics so frequently without even knowing the kind and severity of the infection you have. The doctor has rightly recommended you to get these tests done first.”She fumed at me again saying,
“But I want to take these medicines. Just give me these; I will pay for the medicines.”I replied to her as patiently as I could,
“I did not cancel your prescription on my own. I just pointed out your history and your consultant did the cancellation. It was for your benefit. I apologise but we do not dispense antibiotics without prescriptions.”She left, fuming. The point to be noted here is that had the patient’s history gone unnoticed, she would have taken another antibiotic soon after the first one and the bacteria - which had already succeeded in defeating the first antibiotic - might have grown resistant to the second one as well. We, as professionals, need to keep a check on our patients and their medicine intakes. 8) Side effects Another argument for using antibiotics sensibly is that a misuse can lead to serious side effects. It needs to be understood that antibiotics are meant to kill germs and that germs are a kind of living cells. So the antibiotics are basically working against living cells and this is what causes adverse side effects. The prescribers are trained to recommend medicines only if the benefits outweigh their adverse effects. A common man, who doesn’t know all the factors, cannot possibly take the right decision when it comes to the intake of antibiotics. So, take care of your health and try avoiding infections as much as possible. If you are prescribed antibiotics, take them on time and for the complete and prescribed duration. After all, taking care of one’s health is a serious concern.
I attended the long march of the Baloch Voice for Missing Persons (BVMP) in Lahore to show my solidarity with the cause. I was amongst the journalists who came from various news organisations to document a critical portion of the walk that had departed from Quetta last year. The protestors were entering the capital of Punjab. The reception they got here could mirror the reception they receive in Islamabad. The walk had caused quite a stir among those who followed the story behind it. The protest walk, led by Mama Qadeer Baloch, the vice president of the BVMP, received due press attention at each stop they made. When they entered Punjab, excitement over the growing popularity of the cause grew. The protestors were warmly received in Karachi, Hyderabad and several other places in Sindh. There was no reason why the protestors, mostly women, would not get the same reception in Punjab, except, of course, given the history of the Baloch struggle against state brutality. I met the protestors at the Canal, two hours after they had started walking from Thokar Niaz Baig to the office of the Punjab Union of Journalists on Mall Road. At first sight, the protestors looked like a small collection of people. On a closer look, I saw that they were much more organised; nearly 50 boys had formed a human chain around Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch and eight other women who were pushing a cart carrying pictures of their missing men. There was an additional space for female protestors who had joined the walk. Another group of 50 young men flanked the human chain, carrying posters and distributing pamphlets. Behind them, an ambulance and a police patrol van drove slowly – a constant reminder of the fear we live in. 30 minutes into the walk and I am slowly getting aware of my aching feet. An hour into it, my throat was parched and the layers of winter clothing I had on me felt like a burden I was encased in. My hair was a mess from the wind and my face was burning up from the relentless sun. An hour later, I started wondering when the protestors would finally stop. I pushed into the group to try to get to one of the ladies who had arrived from Quetta. I politely called out to the backs of three women wearing hats with Che Guevara’s face on it. One of them turned when I asked,
“Are you with the people who came from Quetta?”She nodded curtly and kept walking. I tried again. I was desperate.
“How long have you been walking?”She turned to look at me again. I couldn’t see her face because she had covered it. But I could see her eyes trying to gauge me. I could almost hear her contemplating whether to trust me or not. Finally, she spoke.
“Wow, you walked really far.”She nodded and looked at me for an extensive moment. The girls she was walking with were also beginning to show interest. They gave me furtive looks which did not go unnoticed because the only visible part of their face was their eyes. She spoke again.
“How long?”I could tell she still clearly remembers the date when she said,
“Since August 13”I daren’t ask her what that day was like.
“Who took them?”She gave me a wary look and said,
“Agencies”I decided I needed to change the topic. It was too heavy. I have a brother too and the thought process going on in my head had to stop. So I changed the topic and asked,
“How was the journey through Punjab?”She had a smile in her voice when she replied.
“The people in Dera Ghazi Khan were very nice. We had a nice dinner and a nice place to stay.”I then asked her,
“What about Multan?”She shrugged. So evidently, Multan hadn’t fully won her over. I carried on with my inquisition,
“What about the rest?”She replied with disappointment in her voice,
“From Khanewal onwards, people stopped being welcoming,”As I processed this, I frowned. She saw my confused face and added,
“They were cold.”And I understood. The protestors had left the Saraiki/Baloch belt of South Punjab and had entered Central Punjab, the backbone of the province. Here the protestors had no common ground with the Punjabis, except a historical resentment. I opened my mouth again, but she cut me off.
“One minute”She turned around, raised a loudspeaker to her mouth and called out,
“Mama Qadeer, kadam barhao” (Mama Qadeer, step forward)And from behind me, a chorus of male voice rang out,
She gave me one last apologetic look and began chanting in earnest.“Hum tumharay saath hain”(We are with you)
“Baloch rights are also human rights.” “We want justice.” “Free those who have gone missing”And finally, a chant that sounded like a hymn; they called out a list of names of men who were taken away from their families, like a prayer for their safe return. The protest walk in Lahore was attended by 200 people. Awami Workers Party and a group of other people’s movements facilitated their stay. When I asked around, I was told that the protestors were all young Baloch and Pakhtuns studying at the Punjab University and the Government College. They didn’t identify themselves through their ethnicity unless asked. I asked one handsome young Baloch student why he was there. He was almost offended I asked the question when he replied,
“To mark my protest of course!”I spoke to Noore Maryam, the co-founder of Pakistan Youth Alliance, who was also walking with the protestors. I spoke to her in Lahore and later in Gujrat on Tuesday night once the group had settled in. She told me,
“Lahore’s response has been quite disappointing. While the protestors had been warmly received by supporters in Gujranwala and Gujrat, entering the cities was suddenly problematic. The protestors, notably Mama Qadeer, received threatening phone calls from untraceable numbers. The callers told us to call off the march for we would not be allowed to enter further cities ‘at any cost’. While these calls had been alarming, we decided to proceed with the march nonetheless. There was nothing to lose. When we were entering Gujrat, we were stopped by a large contingent of police, something that we had not encountered all through our journey. The police included a team of the Elite Force, which did a head count of the number of protestors (nine women, two boys and several males). They apparently had orders to arrest us if we got violent. They had no idea who we were and had been told that we were a group of terrorists.”I inquired about the progress of the protest,
“How did you all manage to enter Gujrat, then?”She informed me that,
“We reasoned with them, of course. We told them we were their sisters and were going to register our protest in Islamabad. When we told them that we were protesting against illegal abduction of Baloch men, one of the policemen exclaimed that his brother had gone missing a week ago. As we spoke to the policemen, we saw their expressions soften. They were immediately sympathetic towards us and eventually, they let us pass.”I asked her about what they’re hoping to achieve from this protest, when she told me,
“We want the United Nations to take notice of this brutal policy. When we reach Islamabad, we will protest outside the UN office. We want them to hold the government of Pakistan accountable.”It was a simple plea. She informed me that the best way to show solidarity was to show up to the protest in Islamabad when the protestors reach, which was expected to be in three days.
“We know that some Baloch and Pakhtun activists will be joining us in Islamabad. But there is strength in numbers. We hope many people come out and join us in this protest.”I was curious about how the protestors had managed to stay hydrated through the journey. Maryam told me that the ambulance that has been driving behind them from Quetta was donated by the Edhi Foundation. The ambulance was packed with first aid supplies and a stock of water bottles. My last question to her was borne out of pure curiosity. I wanted to know the name of the girl who had spoken to me briefly in Lahore. She informed me that it was Zarina Baloch. I looked up the meaning of her name – gold. To me, she immediately became the ‘Golden Girl’. Her brother’s name is Manzoor Qalandarani. Ali Haider, a nine-year-old boy who I also spotted in Lahore, has not seen his father since 2009. Maryam answered my queries about this boy as,
“He was discouraged from joining the march because he is so young. He is a determined young man and therefore he refused to just stand back and not participate.”The rest of the protestors included Farzana Majeed, who has the flu as she walks, and has not seen her brother Zakir Majeed since 2009. Sammi Baloch has lost her father Dr Deen Muhammad. Some other names of the protestors include two girls – Samina Baloch and Gul Saba. The low participation of the Punjabis and the indifference shown to the protestors in Lahore was not missed by anyone. I was left wondering where the Lahoris were. Is it because the protestors did not bring with them an entourage of singers to entertain them? Is it because the walk was just too inconvenient? Is the cause not grave enough? Is Mama Qadeer not fun enough? Good looking enough? Not giving away free laptops?
After much hue and cry about the peace talks, things ended up as most people predicted - the militant group would not let go of its savage ways and the federal government’s peace initiation would eventually go down the drain, fuelling military action from our armed forced. On February 16, 2014, the TTP beheaded 23 FC soldiers. This was the last straw for our forces and the government retaliated by directing the Pakistan Air Force to launch airstrikes in North Waziristan, killing 40 militants. This is the first time our Air Force has launched airstrikes in the region since 2007. A fantastic move by the federal government, one that could not have come soon enough. Everything has a boiling point and the recent wave of attacks by the militant outfit is no different. The atrocities committed have reached new levels in recent times and it was only a matter of time before the state of Pakistan took action. The magnitude of the threat by these groups should not be downplayed at any cost. This is an existential threat to the state of Pakistan and it needs to be crushed in the most brutal of manners, let there be no doubts about it. The writ of the state should not and cannot be challenged at any cost. These factions have not only tested the resolve and patience of the powers that be in Pakistan for way too long, they have themselves proven how they do not deserve even an ounce of sympathy. The notion of peace talks, or whatever was left of them, should be well and truly off the table permanently now. Having said that, the recent airstrikes by the Pakistan Air Force will spark a string of attacks from the militants end. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) is already their favourite playing field, with Karachi also being the city they target very regularly. Punjab has been relatively safe compared to the rest of the country but there is every chance that it will be next on the hit-list. In short, cities across the country, regardless of their geographical location, will come under fire from the militants now. The magnitude of the bloodshed Pakistan will face in the not so distant future cannot be stressed enough. It is a scary state of affairs, but it is a reality staring at us right in the face. What is even scarier is the fact that despite their horrendous levels of brutality, the militants continue to have sympathisers in every walk of life – from people in the media to people in the government, from professors in universities to the average man on the street. The militants are not short of apologists who paint a sorry picture for them and how they are only misguided docile creatures. The most common story developed by this pity-party for the militants is the fact that they only launch attacks in retaliation to brutality against them in the form of drone attacks by the US and military attacks by the Pakistan Forces. They are completely and utterly oblivious to the fact that there has not been a single drone attack in the last 55 days, the longest pause between drone attacks in Pakistan, but there have been 460 terrorism related deaths in Pakistan during the same time – the latest of many stark reminders to every militant sympathiser that there is no link between drone attacks and terrorist attacks. Even though sympathy for the militants is very visible, there is still hope and no matter how thin it may be, it lies in military action. As things have developed recently, it should start dawning on everyone how peace talks have become redundant and they serve no purpose. They only serve as an utter waste of valuable time which could otherwise be spent on taking down militants via military action, which is the only logical and obvious solution to this whole dilemma. The militants are not interested in resolving anything via peace talks and it should be obvious to everyone by now. They were given yet another chance, but they (pun intended) blew it themselves. Everyone in our political arena needs to come together on one united platform. As General Kayani rightly said,
“Our biggest enemy now is an internal one and not on our western borders.”It is high time everyone accepts that. Not only is that imperative for how history will remember the eternally disillusioned, it is even more important for our mere existence. The drums of peace talks and Taliban sympathy need to be silenced, broken and thrown where the sun doesn’t shine. Everything has a certain level of tolerance; the state of Pakistan has reached that level.
The gunshot outside was deafening. The woman inside the house continued talking on the phone, thinking it was just one of those routine firing shots that are a norm in her area of residence. Moments later, there was a loud, insistent pounding on the door, accompanied with hysterical screams. Startled, the woman hung up and rushed outside in a panic. All she saw was red, a pool of red. She squinted, trying to see past the flood of human bodies. That is when she saw her husband, motionless, lying in the pool of red. It took her seconds to comprehend. It was her husband’s blood staining the road and he was dying. She looked at the swarm of men crowded around her husband’s dying form and shouted,
“Someone take my car and drive my husband to the hospital”No one budged an inch.
“Please, someone! Anyone! Khuda ka wasta (for God’s sake), take my car and drive my husband to the hospital”Again, no one moved, no one stirred. Someone told her politely,
“Baji, don’t worry. The ambulance is on its way.”The woman didn’t quit pleading. She couldn’t fathom why they were all just standing around, staring and doing nothing. Helpless, she continued begging all those standing in a circle around her and her husband. But her efforts were in vain. The ambulance took around 30 minutes to reach her house, during which her pleading continued. Little did she know that she was trying to seek help from people whose hearts had no mercy; such incidents happened daily and these people had grown indifferent to the whole routine of Karachi killings. Her husband died. Another victim of target-killing. Another life taken. Another family broken. Another story unfinished. He was my uncle, my mom’s younger brother. Five feet four inches in height, he was a harmless man with twinkling hazel-brown eyes and a sweet, charming smile. Unfortunately, he also sported a beard, prayed five times a day and wore his trousers in a way that his ankles showed. In short, he was a devout Sunni-Muslim and it showed. But that doesn’t mean he hated other Muslim sects. No, because he generally didn’t hate. Yet, he hated one thing – violence. He was a firm believer of Islam being a religion of peace. In return, he got what he hated most. My mamoo (uncle) was the type who believed in the motto ‘live and let live’. Easy-going, carefree and a down-to-earth man, he was your typical ruddy-cheeked uncle who you go out with to the zoo, Funland rides and an occasional jaunt to the nearby park. His oldest son is a nine-year-old, his youngest boy hasn’t even started kindergarten yet and his daughter is in grade four; nowhere near the age where fathers normally threaten the bad boys away. My aunt is not even 35 yet. I’m sure you can do the math and figure out how old he was. It’s quarter past four now and I can’t sleep. The reason I write this is not because I wish to glean sympathy from the readers but because I am confronted with a question and the answer eludes me. Why was my mamoo killed? Was it the Shia versus Sunni war or was it a killing intended to spread terror in the city? Was it because of some personal grudge? Considering my mamoo’s case, the last question is almost ridiculous. He was an average, middle-class father and husband, who worked his back out every day to provide for his family. He was too busy with his little generator-repair shop to get involved in politics or any enmity. He never received a bhatta (extortion)-demand either. So what was it? Did the gunman even know why he pulled the trigger on his head? Did my mamoo know why he was being killed? If the answer to these two questions is a no, then I have a new question for my readers. What’s the point of Pakistan? Muslim blood is being spilled and innocents are still being murdered. Unemployment is high, terrorism engulfs the country and Muslims are still oppressed. What was the point of our ancestors’ sacrifices? And now that it is created, is there anything worth living for in this country? Shouldn’t we preach our children, mantra-style, to leave this country and never return? I know people would be quick to attack my view but I wonder how many of them lost a father, a brother or an uncle? I don’t want my loved ones’ blood to stain Pakistan’s roads. I had always been an optimistic, patriotic Pakistani who voted for the ‘Bat’ in the May 2013 elections, and had patiently waited for a revolution. But on the ill-fated morning of February 20, 2014, I didn’t just lose my uncle… I lost all hope too. I guess I was just another victim of false promises and hopes that people make to get their way.
Leadership has never been our strong suit. When it’s time to step up to the challenge and rally the nation on a certain path, our leadership crashes; it always falls short of selling an idea and forming a narrative. Similar is the case with the Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPO), which has fallen victim to proponents on the left who argue that the ordinance violates human rights and may be a prelude to governmental tyranny. Sure, point taken that it represents such implications. But this ordinance was made to bypass the parliament not because Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in the process of becoming a tyrant and nor was it passed through an executive order with malicious intent. Sharif knew that while the ordinance would make it through the National Assembly, it would face stiff resistance in the Senate and would probably be rejected, both for ideological and political reasons. But even before enacting the PPO through executive authority, the prime minister could have stepped up to the challenge and could have at least tried selling the idea. He should have addressed and rallied the nation multiple times if need be, to convince the country why such measures needed to be taken. He should have tried to explain to the people that we need to go on a war footing to tackle our most pressing national concern. Considering how this country yearns to be led, people would have bought it had Sharif tried harder. But instead, a much-needed and important bill was hurriedly enacted without much discussion. And it is now becoming the victim of its so-called tyrannical murkiness. It is being labelled as a ‘draconian law’ by many rights activists and lawyers who argue that the PPO will merely perpetuate existing ills rather than resolve them. They are screaming that such measures had been previously employed in Balochistan and Karachi but the situation remained unresolved. However, it raises the question – what kind of a country do these people want if citizens are allowed to plan, perpetuate and execute separatist agendas and violence against innocent civilians on the basis of ethnic nationalism and religion? Some of the PPO provisions might sound extremely alarming, including stripping someone of their citizenship, detaining them indefinitely and forming a parallel judiciary. But at the same time, the ordinance also clearly defines who it targets. It lays down the rules by defining who is considered an enemy combatant or an alien combatant. At the end of the day, alien residents and illegal citizens who not engaged in anti-state activities or violent rebellion against the state, have nothing to worry about. We could draw similar parallels with US surveillance activities which ultimately drag ordinary citizens into its fold. But then again, not many Americans have been worried about this except for civil liberty groups. And they shouldn’t be worried about this if they haven’t done anything wrong. Citizens and society, during testing and challenging times, must compromise if such measures are put in place to protect the society as a whole. A balance between liberty and security must be struck. But one should realise that such measures are not being taken to deliberately limit our freedom or to invade our privacy. They are being taken because a few bad apples have found innovative ways of wreaking havoc and to counter them our security forces and security agencies need to be temporarily empowered beyond traditional means to ensure the well-being of law-abiding and innocent civilians. This doesn’t mean that we must not remain vigilant. Although we should trust our men in uniform, we must collectively rise against the visible abuse of such authority. Our agencies must also be mindful that the abuse of their powers might serve as a recruiting pool for those whom these measures aim to counter. This is a tough call but if I’m no longer alive, my liberty and privacy don’t mean anything. So, in the future Mr Prime Minister, please develop a knack for public relations and strategic communication. If you sell a policy effectively, we won’t disappoint you.
If blasphemy is defined as ‘irreverent behaviour towards anything sacred’, Karachi is blasphemous; a city where something as sacred as human life is irreverently and disdainfully extinguished. As January limped to a close, three health workers administering anti-polio drops to children were shot dead. Bullet-ridden bodies of three young men were discovered and a police officer was gunned down in a suspected targeted attack. And yet, it is in Karachi, much more so than in Lahore, that a bastion of sharafat (respectability) is present; it is here that strangers smile at you, people say thank you for services rendered or stand aside and allow you to pass. In this sense, it is hard to decide where the blasphemy lies. Karachi’s heritage including the Empress Market, Frere Hall, Jinnah’s home and Mohatta Palace has been lovingly preserved. When the Indus Valley School was founded by a group of concerned citizens in 1989, the building was transported to the site brick by brick from a location further away. Karachi is where enterprise is most valued. It is home to some of the country’s oldest and best newspapers and magazines; its businessmen are the best in the country. Rarely in Karachi does one encounter the Lahori shopkeeper picking his teeth or worse while a customer fruitlessly searches the shelves. While Lahoris reel from the food street wars and meet over three-tiered trolleys in ornate drawing rooms, you meet friends in Karachi at a show or over a dossa or cappuccino at one of its innumerable cafes. What’s more, you go there without dolling up, in the same clothes you’ve been wearing since yesterday and without blonde streaks in your hair. Yes, blasphemy is a many faceted word, and Karachi a multifaceted city. In Karachi, I saw a little ragged boy no more than six-years-old, weave through cars to a water tanker to fill a can from a tap set into its side. The driver leant out but did not stop the child; the urchin grinned in thanks and darted back before the traffic light turned green. The whole incident was so illustrative of the symbiotic relationships that thrive in this massive city seemingly so alive but where nothing would survive if such relationships did not exist. All it needs is peace for its enterprise to flourish; a peace that appears to be extinct. Violence is the old man on this Sindbad’s shoulder, slowly throttling it to death. It would be a rare Karachiite who has not had his purse or phone snatched, his car taken away at gunpoint or his home broken into by armed men. You live in this city alongside gun battles, strikes and public transport shut-downs. Car owners skirt troubled areas with practiced ease while those who use public transport are forced to take expensive rickshaws instead of buses to work and back. On the worst occasions, neither buses and rickshaws, nor cars can run. Absenteeism in schools and workplaces is high. In Karachi’s Defence and Clifton, there is no Shahbaz Sharif to focus manically on a few issues. Even these ‘elite’ areas are dirty with large tracts of windblown rubbish dumps; the overwhelming issues of the people of Landhi, Korangi and Lyari are beyond the imagination and remit of this piece. In Karachi, buses are loaded as never seen in Lahore and each one bears signs of being burnt or smashed at some point. There is no rapid transit bus system such as the one Lahore possesses, no clampdown on late and noisy wedding parties such as in Lahore and no controls on the menu. Will Karachi ever be able to shake the old man off like Sindbad did? My hopes are pinned on that boy with the jerry can. It is from such roots that many of Karachi’s entrepreneurs have sprung up and many of its volunteers and workers, such as those who run the Edhi ambulances, go where no man would care to go. Maybe that child’s native ingenuity and of those like him can weave a path around Karachi’s troubles in a way that more privileged scions cannot do, before the lights turn red forever on this tortured but still pulsing port city. Karachi encapsulates the entire gamut of problems that separately beset the country; overwhelming problems relating to ethnic and religious diversity, poverty and above all, an absence of governance. The result is its dire absence of security. In Lahore, one is able to catch a glimpse of what can be achieved in however small a way when someone, anyone, cares, for however selfish a reason. That is the difference that makes all the difference. It is also what makes Lahore the better place to live, despite all Karachi’s attractions, interests and dynamism.
I was tying my shoe laces, getting ready to go for a walk when the number of my children’s school flashed on my screen. My heart always flutters a little when I see this number on my phone and this time was no exception.
“Maybe you should pick your kids from school early today,” said the coordinator. “Umm why,” I thought, running through a mental check list in my mind and wondering if I had forgotten a costume or an art supply or something at home. “You know, because of the shut down,” she added helpfully.I gasped. I had been too busy working to switch on the television and had only now seen the dozens of messages on my phone. I switched on the TV as I said good bye to the school, and saw headlines about the shut down at the katcheri (lower/district court). The shooting at the judge. The killing of 11 people. The sense of disbelief on the faces of the bystanders. For a few minutes, I couldn’t move. I stared at the TV screen – at the stretchers leaving the katcheri. At the fear on the faces of those who had narrowly escaped the bullets. We had moved to Islamabad from Karachi partly because of the insecurity in the latter. I was getting emotionally exhausted getting calls from schools asking me to pick up the children earlier than usual. Their after-school activities were sometimes delayed, at other times postponed due to a shooting/strike/disorder. I often felt that I was operating my businesses on a war footing. Strikes. Firings. Booking bridal makeup appointments while there was open fire right outside the salon doors. Arranging events whilst shops were being shut down by political parties. Trying to understand why, on an incredibly busy day, half your staff was unable to come to work. Finally, it just became too much for us. All of it. And so when an opportunity arose to shift to Islamabad, we ran. For the last one year, it has been bliss. The children go to school and come back on time. Working hours continue uninterrupted. Plans are made and actually adhered to. Though we still have a security guard accompanying the children everywhere, it’s more of an old habit holding strong scenario rather than an actual need for such precautions. But today, it all changed! Gun shots so loud my friends living in F 8/3 heard them clearly. Unexpected deaths just when the day was starting off. A complete shutdown of the area, which is easily the heart of Islamabad. My feeling of security went haywire. The blanket I had pulled around myself, the false sense of safety I had developed in my world. This is where the terrorists won. By making me scared. I came home and cancelled a tea I had planned for close friends. I thought of postponing a play date later in the week. I wondered if the children should stay home for the rest of the week. I told them sternly no when they asked if they could go to the park.
“Why?” Keyaan wanted to know.I had no answer. I put down my head on the desk and wept. I had never felt like this in Karachi. There insecurity, threats, bombings, shootings, killings are a norm. But in Islamabad, none of this is supposed to happen. I boast to my friends about how safe the capital has become. Even when there was a curfew in Pindi, Isloo stayed safe. When there were strikes in Karachi, Isloo was secure. When there were protests in Lahore, Isloo was fine. Today the terrorists won because today whilst living in Islamabad, I felt scared. Scared enough to lock my children in the house. Scared enough to cancel a chai. Postponing plans. Wondering about school for tomorrow. Today the terrorists have won because they have made those who live in the safest city in the country feel scared. The deaths will be mourned and probably forgotten. But the fear is here to stay.
Recently moving from Canada, where I’ve lived practically my entire life, to Pakistan, I’ve had to do a lot of learning. Here are few of the things I have learnt since coming to Pakistan: 1) My mother-in-law asked me to clean char maghaz. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] I was relieved to learn that I was supposed to clean seeds and not four animal brains. 2) There is no uncle by the name of ‘lal baig’. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 3) Don’t’ wear bronzer in Pakistan; rather than getting compliments on a healthy glow, aunties will recommend Fair and Lovely. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="225"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 4) Chukandar (beets) and chuchandar (mole) are very different. You should have seen the look on my husband face when I said I put chuchandar in the curry. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 5) The concept of not littering is practically non-existent. After carrying an empty can for 20 minutes in search of a trash can, I was forced to throw it where my flat disposes trash, in a pile behind the building. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="370"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 6) You will get many evil stares if you call a Zuhljina a horse. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="245"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 7) While we are on the topic horses, there is a difference between gora (foreigner) and ghora (horse). To my dismay, it was people who were visiting the office from a foreign embassy, not a bunch of horses. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="319"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 8) Green smoothies are unheard of – nobody makes spinach smoothies. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="499"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 9) Milk can be stored in the pantry, it never goes sour! Is it even milk…? [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 10) No matter how loose ones clothes are or the hijab on my head, I am not modestly dressed unless I carry a dupatta; yet it does not matter if it’s net or completely sheer. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 11) Flagyl, the pill for stomach problems of all kinds, is my best friend. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"] Source: Reactiongifs[/caption] 12) Bharay huweh tindeh is the most uselessly annoying dish to prepare in the world.
After an indubitably glorious victory against India in the Asia Cup this past Sunday, ardent Pakistani fans, all across the world, have indeed found various ways to celebrate this euphoric occasion. While some celebrations are fun and safe, others are not. I am referring to the infamous aerial firing or, in other words, firing bullets into the air, which is a common practice in many places and cultures around the world within South and Central Asia, the Middle East and South America. While aerial firing is a widespread practice throughout Pakistan, it is particularly customary in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) region where gun shots are often known to be fired up in the air in sheer rejoice. Celebrations enumerating aerial firings include weddings, the birth of a male child and other occasions such as sport and election victories. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s recent win against India elicited this extremely dangerous practice in the region’s illustrious city of Peshawar shortly after Shahid Afridi scored incredible back-to-back sixes that resulted in the remarkable win. One honestly can’t help but wonder why such an occasion or any occasion would be celebrated in this way, while failing to realise just how violent and dangerous it is. There are several questions that keep gnawing at me. What do these people, men, achieve from firing random bullets up in the air anyway? Does it give them some sort of uncanny gratification, authority, perhaps? Or do they do it simply out of show? What goes on in their minds to enable them to grab such dangerous weapons and fire bullets into the sky? While we know that such aerial firings are done with good intentions, it is quite blatant, however, that the practice does more harm than good. Traditionally, it appears that guns are, and have been, perceived as a status symbol, signifying power and prestige, where the flagrant firing of a large, heavy and powerful weapon such as the Kalashanikov is profoundly and perhaps even psychologically associated with a raw sense of masculine pride. Yet, there are countless reports and incidents delineating cases where innocent people, in nearby towns and villages, have been hit and killed by the stray bullets. As a matter of fact, in a similar article published by The Express Tribune a couple of months ago, it was mentioned that according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), around 81 people, which includes men, women, and children, were killed by stray bullets alone in the highly populated and urbanised city of Karachi, one of the major cities in the nation that popularises aerial firing. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the practice of aerial firing has been banned within the limits of the Peshawar district as it led to countless injuries and fatalities, many still continue to practice it persistently and carelessly, violating the law. What’s even more distressing is that we witness these imprudent acts of aerial firing day after day as many have either not comprehended or simply forgotten to pay heed to the essential aphorism, ‘what goes up must come down’. Hence, what normally starts out in joy and celebration sometimes ends up in grief and tragedy. I also blame the media for further relegating what is and should be an issue that needs immediate attention. It was particularly distasteful that Shahid Afridi’s younger brother was publicised being involved in a series of aerial firings, cheering and celebrating his brother’s incredible performance in winning the match. This is not just recently but goes as far back as 2009, when Pakistan won the T20 World cup. And considering the famed popularity of Afridi all over the world, his zealous fans would more than likely follow in the footsteps of his brother, believing that aerial firings are not only ‘cool’ and ‘fun’ but that it is the accepted norm to celebrate such a joyous occasion. This, as a result, poses great threats, especially amongst the Pakistani youth. They need to understand that aerial firings are neither ‘cool’ nor ‘fun’ but extremely dangerous, posing great risks to people’s lives. Hence, I feel that the media is liable to ensure that it does not positively showcase nor support such a belligerent and unappealing method of celebrating, as it not only encourages and promotes aerial firing, but it also undermines the seriousness of the issue. Undoubtedly, places within the KPK region, as well as Pakistan on the whole, are already facing countless social and political problems – from the lack of human rights to blatant militancy and terrorism that has enveloped parts of the nation time and time again in utter despair. Not a day goes by that we learn about the lives of innocent men, women and children being lost to suicide bombers and other such murderous atrocities. And while these acts of terrorism are inexorable, causing death and casualties at an alarming rate, those that are caused by aerial firings, on the other hand, can actually be avoided. As a matter of fact, they can be eradicated all together. Aerial firings are not cool. Not only are they highly unethical but those who do engage in it need to realise just how senseless and obtuse an act it is as well. There is no need to indulge in such superfluous violence when there are clearly other, much more fun and safer, ways to celebrate a joyful occasion, one that will not end in tragedy and despair. Guns are not toys and should not be treated as such, as people’s lives are at stake. It’s time we, as a nation that is aiming to be more progressive and civilised, stopped being so irresponsible with our actions.
A few days ago, as a friend was dropping me back home after dinner; we were pulled aside by the cops on main Khayaban-e-Shahbaz road in Defence, Karachi. No dark corner or shady alley but while driving smack in the middle of a bustling road. While we pulled over the car, the men in uniform, (who in all likelihood belonged to the Darakshan police station since the area falls under that jurisdiction) asked my friend to get out of the car. As expected, he was asked to produce the required ‘kaaghzaat’ and give details of our whereabouts. Upon inspection and failing to find any reason to grill him further on the paperwork, he decided to focus his attention on the nature of our relationship.
“Yeh kaun hain aap ki?” one of them questioned in an authoritative voice. (How are you related to this girl?) “Dost hain ji meri” (She is a friend) “Aap ko pata hay na Defence aur Clifton mein yeh ijaazat nahe hay.” he thundered. (You do know that this is not allowed in Defence or Clifton.)My friend who was completely baffled by this point retorted,
“Kis cheez ki ijaazat nahe hay?” (What exactly is not allowed?)The second cop who had been silently observing until now, probably figured that they would have fared better if they had picked out their ‘targets’ a little younger and a tad more naïve. Both of us were ready to go to the police station with them until they could prove what exactly it was that we were doing wrong. And that was clearly not part of their plan.
“Agar police se ziyada zabaan chalai na toh section 294 laga dain gay,” he added as one last attempt to warm his pockets for the night. (If you argue with the police unnecessarily we will charge you under section 294)Seeing our refusal to budge or pay, they eventually decided we were too much effort and let us go. As soon as my senses settled down and had time to process what just happened, I hastily began to Google section 294. For those of you who do not know, section 294 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) entails the following:
“294. Obscene acts and songs: Whoever, to the annoyance of others, (a) does any obscene act in any public place, or (b) sings, recites or utters any obscene songs, ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.”I paused for a minute to mentally kick myself for laughing at a rumour about music being banned in public vehicles a couple of weeks ago. Suddenly, nothing seemed absurd enough to fall outside the realm of reality. I did not even attempt to delve into the mechanics of what constitutes as ‘obscene’ and who decides that, since the whole incident had bypassed reason and logic several minutes ago. While I was still fuming with anger and going over the predictable rhetorical adult arguments in my head:
“What if he was my brother? We did not break any traffic laws, so why did they stop the car in the first place? What right did they have to stop and question us like that without any proof?”I realised that the actual question here was:
“So what if he was NOT my brother? What right does any law enforcement member have to question your relation or motives if you are not violating any law or code of decency? Were a boy, a girl and a car enough evidence to turn someone into a suspect? How could morality, propriety and piety be judged based on a piece of paper?”But, apparently it is not even a piece of paper that these guardians of law are looking for. As I narrated this incident to a friend, she told me that the same thing happened to her a few weeks ago as she was going back home with her husband. Only this time, the cops outrightly demanded to see the ‘bottle’.
“I showed them my wedding ring instead,” she said with a resigned smile.Going back to the night, my friend and I drove the rest of the way in silence. As I was getting off the car, he said,
“You know when I got mugged last week, a police mobile was parked just at the end of that street. I didn’t think much of it then but now…”He didn’t need to finish off his thought. The irony of the situation was not lost on either of us.
It is that time of the year again when parents of three-year-olds queue up breathlessly outside the most coveted red building in Pakistan, to get their wards admitted into this 150-odd years old institution thus, ensuring a ‘secure and bright future’ for their beloved offspring. Some of these little ones have been going to preparatory classes along with their preschools, filling their lives with more alphabets and numbers than any three-year-old should be subjected to. Every parent who saunters into this school is confident that his or her child is ‘the best’ and if Karachi Grammar School (KGS) lets them fall through the admission net they will be beating their proverbial chests in anguish for the rest of their existence. The child is made to attend an interview, along with the parents, and is then escorted inside for a short assessment session, while the parents wait outside. Whatever happens inside is anybody’s guess and you have to rely on the words of the little ones and that too if they decide to share the experience. But I know from experience that neither the interview nor the assessment comprises of any rocket science, like people tend to believe. It consists of just the basic stuff that any average child of that age attending any preschool worth its salt, knows or should know. Nobody knows what exactly goes on in those fifteen-odd minutes the child is inside since the auditorium in which the appraisal is conducted is guarded like Fort Knox. As for the interview, the questions asked are also very basic and trust me, they don’t care whether you drove to the school in your latest Audi or a 10-year-old beat-up Suzuki Mehran; whether you are wearing the latest Sania Maskatiya or a generic lawn shalwar kameez; whether there are multiple diamonds flashing on your fingers or you are wearing an imitation ring. In my opinion, what is important to them is how well-disciplined and smart your child is, how involved you are as parents and what kind of values you hold. And trust me, no matter how much you attempt to lie through your teeth about the time you spend with your child and how disciplined he or she is, the truth shows in your body language. No amount of holding hands, gushing with love for your child and spouse, and buttering up the head mistress can help your case if it is just a farce. My suggestion to all those aspiring to be KGS parents is to be yourself and avoid rubbing off your tension on your children by asking them to be someone they are not. The more anxious you will be, the more agitated they will become. And that will not help the admission process at all. Being part of the coveted KGS parent body does not simply mean preparing for a test; it is a conscious move to adapt to a certain lifestyle. If I have to say one thing about the parent body, it would be that they are extremely involved in their children’s school life – not only at the day-to-day homework level but also in being a part of everything that happens at school from the reading sessions to the bake sales, from the field trips to the sing songs, from the plays to the after-school clubs, from the sports activities to the Parent Teacher Meetings (PTM). These parents turn up in droves to donate blood at the annual blood camp and are ready to come out of their homes to protest against the illegal construction of a building next to the school. So, before coaching your child for the KGS admission test, ask yourself first,
“Do we have the ‘G-factor’?”
How many deaths will it take for our government to wake up and realise that our country is doomed if they don’t wipe out these terrorist groups once and for all? The recent attack in Islamabad sent shivers down my spine. My wife used to go to the katcheri (lower/district court) regularly to get documents attested just a few months ago. My younger sibling’s school is in F-8, not too far away from where the blast took place. I know I sound selfish at the moment thinking about what could have been, considering the dozen lives that were lost the other day. My heart goes out to the families of the departed. It’s devastating to think that what started off as just another day at the office, ended in tragedy. All these years, we considered Islamabad a safe haven, as compared to my hometown Karachi. My family has lived in Islamabad for three years and we considered ourselves secure. It pains me to realise that what was once thought of as the safest city in the country, and by safest I mean safest by Pakistani standards, has now opened its doors to terrorism. I miss living in the Pakistan I grew up in and I wish I could give that to my children. I’m an 80’s and 90’s child – which doesn’t seem too long ago. I remember biking with friends on the streets of Karachi; walking to Mr Burger which was few minutes away from school; being overly excited when Pizza Hut came to town – one of the first foreign chains to hit our market. Those were simpler times, happier times, more secure times. Now, getting out in Karachi is a task. Moving around from point A to point B is a dilemma. I’ve had my cell phone snatched more times than I can remember, my house broken into, my car stolen, my best friend kidnapped – need I go on? What has happened to our once ever so beautiful country? What have we become? We kill each other under the pretence of religion. We are making dinner plans with the terrorists. We are decorating garlands on the Mumtaz Qadri’s of the world and putting the innocent six feet under. We were once a strong nation – proud of our Army; now our Army stays quite and lets the terrorists take over. Does our government actually think peace talks will be fruitful? Are we that naive? Have we not learnt from the past? Pakistan is a country with so much talent. Talent that goes unrecognised and gets suppressed as all people can see is the bloodshed and we live in constant fear for our lives, along with the lives of our loved ones. I can see the terrorism spread. I’ve seen it spread slowly at first and then taking bigger steps as time goes by. It has grown bigger, which brings us to today, when terrorism has taken over our lives and we dwell in fear. Terrorism doesn’t only include the usual suspects and the suicide bombings; it also includes the robberies – big or small, and the current state of almost every city in the country we call home. We need a miracle to get us out of our current state of affair. Let’s take a moment to pray for all those who have lost their lives over the years. Let’s pray for their families and end with the hope that one day Pakistan will return to the simpler times we remember so well; times we all remember and associate ourselves with but times that are slowly being erased...
Early last Sunday I was awakened by a call from a cousin.
“My nephew, Abdul Ghaffar, has been killed.”Considerably shaken, I said,
“What? How?”A reply came my way,
“Cell phone robber shot him when he resisted.”At the funeral, I heard what had happened. Even though he had been robbed a couple of times before and had surrendered his wallet and cell phone, this time he made the fatal mistake of trying to grab the robber’s gun. The gun had gone off, shooting him in the neck. He was just 42, not old or middle-aged by today’s standards. Married with two kids and an average income, he thought his life couldn’t be better, regardless of his wife’s complaints about their house being too small since his aged parents also lived with them. Little did she know that soon she’d be a widow. It really shouldn’t have happened the way it did. Every day we hear of people getting mugged, even our friends and family, which you consider a small price to pay for living in Karachi. Sometimes, however, things go horribly wrong and a life is lost. As he stood at the paan shop, he didn’t realise at first that the man who stood near him was a robber. He looked aghast as the young teenager pointing a gun at the paan waala and took all the cash. He then turned towards Ghaffar, who tried to yank the pistol out of the bandit’s hand. The mugger panicked and the gun went off. By the time an ambulance arrived and took him to a nearby hospital, he was dead. The doctors said that he had died instantly. What can you say when you see the aged parents overcome with grief? He was their only son, the breadwinner of the family. His two children, a boy and a girl, are not even old enough to understand what happened. All you can do is mutter some words of sympathy, shake the father’s hand and walk away, trying not to break down. If only shopkeepers stopped buying and selling stolen cell phones, perhaps, fewer people would be robbed and killed. I remember the incident of how shopkeepers in the electronics market of Abdullah Haroon Road had gone on the rampage and burnt a police mobile van because one of their peers had been arrested for buying and selling stolen phones and other items. Some of these shopkeepers have probably seen close relatives robbed of their cell phones or killed, yet they continue doing what they’re doing, breaking the law. Yes, the law says that it’s a crime to buy and sell stolen goods. But who will enforce the law in a country where the law-makers are the ones who often break the law? You can’t help but think of the old days when it was safe to walk on the streets and the country was in the hands of leaders who were not overly concerned with filling their Swiss bank accounts or buying property in Dubai. And you know that as long as crooks are at the helm, the situation in the country will get worse. Nothing you can do will change the situation; the leaders will not suddenly become pious, honest and God-fearing men who only have Pakistan’s interests at heart. You know that it’s a hopeless situation; all you can do is to hope for a man like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to appear and take charge. But in today’s Pakistan, such a man would be very hard to find.
It was back in October last year, when I first noticed the crowd around the Bahria Town Karachi office at Shahre Firdousi. Having physically witnessed the extravagance of Bahria Town (BT) projects in the country, I was excited about their expansion in Karachi and across Sindh. The masses in Karachi too, were delighted by the launch. What pushed me to pen this piece was the chaos and, somewhat, surreptitious mechanism that the BT adapted for the launch of these projects, specifically the Bahria Town Karachi (BTK). It was initially launched with an undisclosed location, which triggered heavy subscription, reflecting the unshaken confidence that the developer commands over the general masses. Even a conservative estimate would spell out the billions of rupees raised, based on the registration fee only, back in October last year. Needless to say, it takes only 67,000 applications at the rate of Rs15,000 per application, to raise a billion rupees in a populous city of 18 million. Here, I would reiterate my nonchalance in guessing the gigantism of the funds contributed by the plebs, lying idle with the property developer and earning nothing for the past four months till an unknown period. Once the registration process was over in October, these registered forms bearing a future promise of a real estate onset, garnished by the blotless stature of BT, interestingly turned into highly traded instruments. These forms, perhaps due to some fictitious market making, peaked their trading even at leverage by 10 times, Rs15,000 form for Rs150,000 in the open market. Eyeing such returns, the real estate investor community with their copious investments in the pursuit of windfalls jumped in to the Bahria Bandwagon. In January, the formal booking was announced and the location and price of the project was finally unveiled. It came as a surprise, a pleasant one at that, when BT followed their legacy of magnanimity, endorsed this irrational exuberance of leveraged market valuations, and announced overall prices of the units to be adjusted by the same amount. Who knows whether it was the forms or the plot itself that was priced higher to accommodate the incoherence. Not to undermine this seemingly lucrative proposition, the point to note here is that BT belongs to the most reliable genre of developers in Pakistan, comparable to any big name across the world. It doesn’t make sense for it to create such casino gimmickries to fetch the spotlight for its showcases. One may disapprove it as an exaggeration, but let’s review it factually. Initial registration with undisclosed location, price and balloting date, followed by a re-registration fetching in a token amounting from Rs150,000 to Rs4.6 million. Mind you, these tokens were stipulated for an unconfirmed property, awaiting its share of luck in a balloting on an unknown date. In case you are not lucky enough to get it through, your token is to be held with BT for six months even after the unknown date of balloting. This process apparently seems to have a lot of grey area and redundancy, perhaps driven by some parasitic instinct of sitting on the funds of the masses. It was generally anticipated that the booking process would stabilise it. But then surfaced a brand new anomaly, originated by the brokers; a bypass to the balloting process for a premium as low as Rs100,000 was on sale! Digging it deeper, my broker proudly told me that it’s us (brokers) not BT who would guarantee it. We have been assigned confirmed quotas beyond any balloting, which is on sale. I wondered what the basis of this Rs100,000 magic number is. It doesn’t require you to hold a Masters degree to understand that this confirmation premium is going to change hands on further which is going to be a classic case of ‘premium over premium’. Bravo BT for introducing us to some super-synthetic derivative structures in disguise. I can bet on the fact that, had it been a regular registration through banks, with announced date of balloting, it would have been equally successful, much respected yet less speculative. It seems that BT is keeping a lot of ‘unknowns’ and a lot for the invisible hands of the market. If they were to hold the initial registration fee and unconfirmed tokens for an unknown period of later than six months, then the unknown balloting dates may have been legitimised but still cannot be justified. The ersatz premiums and the ‘premium over premiums’ must have attracted attention, but may not earn them the respect in the long run.
This evening I attended the launch of an unusual art exhibition in Karachi at the Amin Gulgee Gallery. It was called ‘Fresh!’ – 64 artists under 30, and showcased the art of yes, you guessed it, 64 young Pakistani artists from all across the country. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="337"] Source: AminGulgee.com[/caption] John McCarry, coordinator of the gallery, told me that Amin had attended an exhibition in New York at the New Museum called ‘Younger than Jesus’, which showcased artists all under the age of 34.
“Why not do something like that here?” wondered Amin.So he found two co-curators, Raania Azam Khan Durrani, founder of the Commune Artist Colony in Karachi, and Saba Iqbal, a sculpture and printmaking teacher at Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture, and decided to make the idea become reality. They sent out an open call to Pakistani art institutes, university departments and other friends and colleagues in Pakistan’s rich art network. The submissions came pouring in, but from the hundreds the curators had to narrow it down to only 64, a difficult task, as Amin writes in the catalogue for Fresh!
“I was very committed to representing artists who were not only producing conceptually and technically resolved work, but also those who show promise and are dedicated to their careers as working artists.”And the search was lucrative indeed, in terms of the talent that they uncovered. Some came from trained backgrounds in large cities, others from small towns in all the four provinces. The catalogue explains it formally.
“We found the creative voice and visual language of a critical mass of Pakistani artists, specifically those at a turning point in their careers, ready to take off and make their individual mark on the national visual identity of Pakistan.”[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="225"] Rickshaw (Qadir Jhatial) Source: FRESH Facebook page[/caption] But at the exhibition, Amin expressed that in a much more direct way, pointing out the young artists as they stood proudly in front of their artwork.
“Look! That artist is from Balochistan. That one over there, a really talented fashion photographer, he’s from Gujranwala. And the girl who made the condom dress, she’s from Malakand.”Condom dress? (*record scratches, music stops*). Yes, a real live dress hanging from the ceiling, on the second floor of the exhibit, made of hundreds of (unused) condoms (Is it really protective? Malghalara Kalim). I gasped with surprise when I saw it, then chuckled and then leaned close to look at its design and construction. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="337"] Condom Dress (Malghalara Kalim). Photo: Bina Shah[/caption] Next to the dress, another artist stood next to a blue Samsonite vanity case and urged me to look inside the two peepholes she’d made. Inside were miniature hospital wards, complete with white beds and fluffy pillows and screens between the beds.
“What does it mean?” I asked her. “I made this to show that memory is something you can remember, but you can’t go back to. You can only visit it in your mind in a very limited way,” she told me. (Hireath, Sidra Bukhari) “Oh, I see.”I recoiled in horror from a corner of the grand gallery where it appeared that leeches were crawling up the wall. These turned out to be made of iron (Maggots, Fatima Sabeekah). I admired a painting that made me think of Monet, then peered at the exhibition label only to realise it was called It Happened on Monet’s Bridge (Sehr Jalil). [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="527"] It happened on Monet's bridge (Sehr Jalil). Source: FRESH Facebook page[/caption] I stopped in front of a large bulls-eye drawn in red paint, overlaid with newspaper headlines describing how many people had been killed in various bomb attacks across the country and the faces of grieving women painted at the bottom (Untitled, Iffat Tehseen Amjad). [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="454"] Untitled (Iffat Tehseen Amjad). Source: FRESH Facebook page[/caption] There was a painting of small Balochi boys playing marbles in the dust (Nothing is Funnier than Unhappiness, Shabir Ahmed Baloch) with a background of pistachio green that drew my eye to it in the next room. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="592"] Nothing is Funnier than Unhappiness (Shabir Ahmed Baloch) Photo: Bina Shah[/caption] Next to it stood a sculpture that consisted of crystals suspended from the ceiling and ending up in a pile on a mirrored tile (Blood Diamond, I can’t seem to find the artist’s name). [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="337"] Photo: Bina Shah[/caption] If that wasn’t enough, there were performance artists walking around in costumes too strange to be described, and one who sat in a rocking chair with a veil of flowers over his face, knitting continuously. Then there were video installations, a film projected onto a wall (The X Line, Narjis Mirza), and an entire darkened box that you could walk into and stand to watch a film projected onto the floor (Room, TBP). [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="337"] Knitticism (Muhammed Ali) Photo: Bina Shah[/caption] A DJ played ambient tunes from a MacBook and the gallery was filled with soothing tones and chimes, making me feel like I was in a very cool European art film while I was walking around the gallery. I only learned on reading the catalogue that he wasn’t a DJ but another performance artist called Dynoman, whose music was actually a live performance, taking samples from the audience around him to feed into his electronic machines and synthesisers. No wonder the music seemed to change, growing and shrinking depending on what was happening in the room. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="595"] DJ Dynoman Source: FRESH Facebook page[/caption] But there was no pretence and no playing at ‘cool’ for the young artists who buzzed around the room surrounded by family and friends. They were thrilled at having been given the chance to exhibit their work and to talk about their philosophy and vision. The catalogue, with text written by John McCarry, devotes one page to each artist and her or his work, and is worth reading. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="608"] Construction-Deconstruction 2
Adnan Mairaj Malik. Photo: Bina Shah[/caption] It all vibrated with the energy of 64 young minds, who had been given carte blanche to express themselves with complete freedom, to let their imaginations run wild, to let their talent soar untrammelled. I thought about the generosity of Amin and his co-curators to give them the platform. Who knows how many stellar careers will be launched from this night onwards? [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Umber Majeed Source: FRESH Facebook page[/caption] But it was Pomme Shahbaz whose art design company Phenomenon was responsible for the publicity and execution of the evening, who encapsulated what made this show unique.
“The artists said that we were crazy to have let them do whatever they wanted. They couldn’t believe that they were being given complete freedom of expression. But look at what’s resulted from it...”I nodded, taking one last glance around the bright gallery before I left. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Nafs ur Rahman (Breath of the Compassionate)
Mahwish Ehsan. Photo: Bina Shah[/caption] Freedom of expression leads to art, beauty and energy. Isn’t that what life is all about? This post originally appeared here.
A few days ago a good friend of mine, living abroad, asked me a question:
“What do you think ‘Pakistani’ means?”The question threw me aback, partly because it was unexpected and partly because I couldn’t think of an immediate answer. A myriad of images flew around in my head in an instant; from the hustle and bustle of Karachi’s Empress Market, to the textures of the Anarkali bazaar in Lahore. But my friend’s question went deeper than just images and feelings. I found myself trying to truly explore what the concept of being ‘Pakistani’ entails. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="604"] EMPRESS MARKET. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA[/caption] Looking at it purely from a logical standpoint, ‘Pakistani’ can be defined ideologically, culturally or emotionally. Ideologically, ‘Pakistanis’ belong to a nation that was borne of sacrifice, to the tune of the emancipation of a way of life. It was to be a haven for the Muslim minority in the larger Indian Subcontinent, a place where they could discover their own identity and make a life for themselves and their children. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="595"] ANARKALI BAZAAR. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA[/caption] The country did not simply begin its existence for one religion’s freedom. On the contrary, it was a result of years and years of suffering and a culmination of hope that one group of people could build a nation based on unity, faith and discipline, on tolerance and acceptance of religious, regional and ethnical differences, far removed from the persecution that led to the revolution itself. It was to be the country that would create a fine example of prosperity through unity of diversity, of the sum of its people being bigger than the individuals themselves. The Pakistan flag itself is perhaps the greatest symbol of what this country was supposed to be – a progressive nation based on the ideals of Islam and committed to the importance of all within, the minorities and the majority. From a cultural standpoint, Pakistan is blessed with an amazingly intricate diversity stemming from the differing origins of its people. Different parts of the country are populated by the region’s indigenous people, mixed with immigrants from other parts of the country as well as India. Perhaps the greatest illustration of this diversity is the coastal metropolis of Karachi, home to more than 12 million ‘Pakistanis’ hailing from everywhere and anywhere, having different religious beliefs and differing viewpoints. The wonder of such diversity is the richly layered set of traditions, customs and culture that they can call their own. The concept of being ‘Pakistani’ is what should ideally sum together the individual groups within the country, with the constitution and the government creating an environment where people belonging to any religion or ethnicity would have an equal chance to make a prosperous life for themselves and collectively for the country. Such a system would celebrate the concept of one nation inhabited by ‘Pakistanis’, where individual differences on language, region, religion and ethnicity would be overridden. Digressing for an instance, a good analogy to the above is the stance of most successful corporations in the world with respect to diversity (in terms of sex, age, experience and background). Companies largely look for diversity in the workplace, for they believe it fosters new ideas and new ways of looking at things, creativity, mutually beneficial competition, entrepreneurship and adaptability, all intended to achieve company objectives and profitability. Managers tie in diverse groups of people by fostering collaboration under the company’s banner and obtain mutually beneficial goals. Similarly, all the individuals within the country should be ‘Pakistani’, excited by the potential that their diversity can prosper the future of the country. At a very basic level, even a frank exchange of ideas across differing groups of people can lead to better understanding, acceptance and exposure. In terms of emotionality, being ‘Pakistani’ is all about what connects us to our home and how we are tied to our roots. During the conversation, which I mentioned in the beginning, my friend pointed out that being ‘Pakistani’ was all about the strength of our bonds with our family, and how that keeps our feet grounded firmly on the ground. Our families provide us a sane tether and support structure in various forms. This is one major way in which we connect with our roots. It can also be said that every generation of ‘Pakistanis’ has, perhaps implicitly, tried to look for things in common with each other on which to build a concept of patriotism and nationalism over. Across the years, these moments have perhaps been about sports victories, wars or more recently, about having an Oscar winner to name a few. The commonality within all these is the fact that for periods of time, in celebration of such moments (fine or otherwise), individuals considered themselves proud of their ‘Pakistani’ identity rather than their individual identity. The media narrative is a massive factor in this regards. At the very basic core, the emotionality is all about the feelings and imagery associated with being ‘Pakistani’. The colourful busses and trucks, listening to Noor Jehan in a rickshaw in Multan, crabbing eating at Burns Road in Karachi, the Badshahi Mosque and Butt’s karhai in Lahore, the greenery of Punjab, the Fawara chowk in Bahawalpur, the horse and cattle show, the barrages in Sukkur, Makli, Ziarat, Keenjhar Lake, and so many more. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="576"] PHOTO: UMER IMAM UD DIN/FILE[/caption] These are but some of the images that come to mind when defining ‘Pakistani’. There are countless others, and for each individual within this country, those moments and feelings will be unique and different. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="576"] PHOTO: SARAH MUNIR/EXPRESS[/caption] Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that great nations are not born, but made, and made they are on the strength of their people. The question is whether the individuals within this country can truly be who they were meant to be, a diverse group of people working for their prosperity and the country’s prosperity, rather than fighting with each other for petty individuality. The only way to achieve that is to transform our way of thinking and not to forget why we came to be and that we are Pakistanis first and foremost.
On March 16, 2014, while Pakistan’s Hindu community celebrated Holi, the country witnessed an unpleasant incident in Sindh’s Larkana District, where a frenzied mob turned violent following a rumour that a member of the Hindu community, Sangeet Kumar, 35 – reputed to be a drug addict – had desecrated the Holy Quran. In Larkana, after the incident, people wanted to harm the accused man but the police and rangers, somehow, managed to take him away to a safe location. After his safe escape, however, the angry mob attacked and vandalised the Sindhi Hindus’ dharamshala (community centre) and also partially damaged a Hindu temple in the same district, to express their anger. This district, which is the hub of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), houses more than two million Sindhi Hindus. And as compared to Pakistan’s other three provinces, Sindhi Hindus make up a great chunk of Sindh’s total population. But they, in spite of being densely populated in Sindh, are neglected by the PPP government socially, politically and economically. As far as the attack on the temple in Larkana is concerned, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the PPP’s Patron-in-Chief, condemned it via Twitter but, unfortunately, did not come out of the Twitter world to meet and compensate the Sindhi Hindus whose shops and properties were burnt down in the incident. https://twitter.com/BBhuttoZardari/status/445129285884719104 Besides the Larkana incident, there are three more reasons why PPP can be held reprehensible for the Sindhi Hindus’ suffering. First reason: Thar and the famine Thar, where Sindhi Hindus are overwhelmingly populated, has been suffering from a grievous famine. So far, it has taken away the lives of more than 150 Sindhi Hindu children. And they could not even celebrate Holi, due to the bereavement that a large number of their children have died of malnutrition in the famine-hit-areas of Thar. Under these circumstances, how can anyone celebrate his/her religious festivities? Besides this incident, Thar has remained neglected for years. After the fatalities of these children, the mainstream national media unearthed the issues of Thar’s dwellers, which ranged from socio-economic problems and dysfunctional systems to lack of educational institutions, clean drinking water and low literacy rate. They have been suffering from these issues for decades now while the PPP has turned a blind eye to them. Second reason: Destruction of the Shri Krishna Bhagwan temple in Karachi Secondly, during PPP’s rule in 2012 – when they were holding majority seats in both the province and the centre – a furious crowd was rallying against the anti-Islam film, the Innocence of Muslims, and to vent out their anger, the mob damaged Pakistan’s sole and oldest temple, The Shri Krishna Bhagwan, in Karachi. Surprisingly, there were no security guards for the security of the temple, at such a volatile time. That is why they desecrated the temple with ease. They also plundered the valuables of the Hindus living in the vicinity of the temple. This time, too, none of the desecrators were brought to justice. Third reason: Forced conversions of Hindu girls Thirdly, the forced conversion cases of Hindu girls in Sindh have not yet been resolved. Though this trend began in the 1970s, it intensified tremendously during the PPP regimes later on, where Hindu girls would routinely be picked up from anywhere in the interior Sindh and would be forced to denounce their faith and accept Islam. One such example is that of Rinkal Kumari, who was forcibly converted in 2012 and her case was also taken up by the Supreme Court. Similarly, her uncle, Raj Kumar, while speaking during in a seminar at the Karachi Press Club called his six-year-old Jumna on to the stage and said that she and her 10-year-old sister Pooja would have been forced to change their religion, had the media not raised their case. Yet, these cases of forced conversions have not been taken seriously. Such cases have compelled many Sindhi Hindus to migrate to India. And many of them have left the province for other parts of the country in hopes of safer lives. Despite the aforementioned reasons, the PPP always peels away the Hindus’ votes in Sindh. Neither the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) nor the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has been able to get votes from them. Therefore, minority voters see no other option but to vote for PPP, despite the multiple challenges they encounter. PPP has a responsibility towards every voter and the fact that PPP has voters from the Hindu minority makes them responsible for the deplorable conditions they are in today.