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Latest Breaking Pakistan News, Business, Life, Style, Cricket, Videos, Comments

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    Karachi suffers from a serious law and order situation. Along with criminals, some of the rich and powerful citizens and state institutions also challenge the law for their own advantage. A number of private and government vehicles are illegally using emergency flashing lights installed on the roof or hidden in the front grills of their cars. They are seen casually flashing these emergency lights and impersonating as police vehicles, using the conventional red and blue colours. These cars are seen driven rashly, and the drivers continuously honk and harass others in traffic. Some of them are private vehicles with families sitting inside and one wonders what emergency is taking them to places like sea-view. A few of the official police luxury black Toyota Corolla cars, which bear a Sindh Police license plate, also use these flashing lights and are often seen driven by family members of these officers, with their emergency lights on. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="533"] Photo: Dr Jahanzeb Effendi[/caption] Recently, more and more VVIPs have started the indiscriminate use of sirens and hooters. SUVs dotted with armed private militias are seen and heard with blaring sirens at almost every traffic signal and intersection, followed by an entourage of other police and security vehicles. These individuals not only disrupt traffic but also pressurise the traffic wardens, who are busy handling extremely high flows of traffic. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="517"] A police vehicle without a number plate. Photo: Dr Jahanzeb Effendi[/caption] The extent of disregard for other fellow citizens is such that they continue to use these sirens in residential areas every time they leave or return to their abodes. These VVIPs disturb the peace of these residential areas and cause inconvenience to neighbours. The VVIPs, with their armed guards, are seen carrying prohibited bore weapons, often pointing them directly at the motorist behind them. While others are seen gesturing and flashing weapons at the traffic to clear off and motorcycles to stay away. This humiliating practice has become part and parcel of life in Karachi. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Dr Jahanzeb Effendi[/caption] A recent protest organised by the Citizens Trust Against Crime (CTAC) for de-weaponising the city identified that the Parliament has issued a total of 69473 licenses for prohibited bore weapons. This has been the largest number of weapons being allowed legally in the world. Another serious violation of law is impersonating a government license plate. In the city of Karachi, vehicles with a private license number printed on green backgrounds, along with the ‘Government of Sindh’ logo, are being spotted regularly. These vehicles have fake license plates but continue to evade police snap checks. Either the police force is fooled by the owners, or they are turning a blind eye, that still remains to be established. Some of the cars have AFR-2013 printed on a green background, which gives an impression that it is a government vehicle. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Dr Jahanzeb Effendi[/caption] The majority of the vehicles belonging to the government, bearing the green license plates, are not the official plates issued by the government. They usually are a copy and can easily be spotted by the difference in their font and a lack of government stamp. These vehicles have great potential of being involved in crimes, smuggling and kidnapping as well as acts of terrorism as they cannot be traced. The Sindh government has failed to register its vehicles with the excise and taxation department. A recent independent inspection by Mr Naeem Sadiq, a concerned citizen, proved the unlawful use of a Government of Pakistan license plate being used on another vehicle, instead of the one issued officially. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="575"] Photo: Dr Jahanzeb Effendi[/caption] The Police have also failed to set an example. According to recent Government statistics, the Police have failed to register 3212 four wheel vehicles, 826 motorcycles pickup trucks and cars. They have not registered a single vehicle with the excise and taxation department since 2007 and have defaulted in Rs241 million which the institution owes in registration. The rich and powerful elites and government representatives have followed suit and set an even more pathetic example. One particular individual living in DHA Phase V insists on using ‘MNA’ as the license plates for all his vehicles, including a Toyota Tundra truck. While a whole clan of others believe that a license plate bearing the words ‘Peer Pagara’ is sufficient registration for their vehicles. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Dr Jahanzeb Effendi[/caption] There are other offenders who continue to use clan names such as ‘Zardari’ ‘Bhutto’ ‘Lehri’ or simply ‘VII’ or ‘BL 1’. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450"] Photo: Dr Jahanzeb Effendi[/caption] A strict enforcement of traffic laws and a ban on display of weapons is required immediately. Vehicles with false, dubious, fake and faltered license plates should be impounded by the police. Every government vehicle should be especially checked by the police, and the excise and taxation department, for using the official license plate issued by the relevant state department. Sirens, hooters and police lights should be withdrawn from private and government vehicles and only be restricted to the police, fire-fighters and Emergency Medical System vehicles. Using these sirens in residential areas should be restricted. A message to the VVIPs should be sent to limit the use of such nuisances as they are not rushing to an emergency on their way home. Efforts by the civil society and the CTAC are commendable and should be joined and supported by the masses to make laws more effective. Until the people in the position of power and state institutions do not present themselves as role models for others, the common citizen will not get the motivation and example to obey the law.

    Zardari number plateZardari number plate

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    With the increase in usage of social media in Pakistan, we are also witness to the trend of ‘cyber impersonation’ – often a dangerous crime. This is a common method used by harassers and can do irreparable damage to the person or organisation the victim is attached to. However, there are options available if you are a victim of digital impersonation. Here, I would like to bring forth a case that took place recently. Mr Uroojuddin Ansari, a resident of District Central in Karachi, became the victim of cyber impersonation by one of his colleagues who made a fake identity for Ansari on Facebook and started uploading material which could cost the latter his job and earn him a bad reputation. This case is a good example of a situation in which personal or professional jealousy can cause people to take extreme measures. According to Ansari, a few months ago his immediate boss received a threatening text message under Ansari’s name which almost led to his termination from the job. This was followed by the cyber impersonation. Using this fake profile, this so-called friend posted vulgar messages and pictures on social media and spread hate messages against MQM; a Karachi based political party, even though Ansari happens to be a strong supporter of the MQM. In addition, he used the fake profile to spread messages of sectarian hate as well. In a country like Pakistan, currently facing political and sectarian instability as well as increasing levels of social intolerance, such activities could cost Ansari his life and that of his family too. Having had enough, Ansari decided to take action to help clear his name, especially since a political organisation was being defamed in his name. He filed a complaint to the cybercrime cell of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) on October 16, 2012 and to the cybercrime department of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on November 12, 2012. As a result, the FIA launched an inquiry, contacted Facebook authorities and requested for the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the fake profile. The details of IP addresses were procured from two main internet service providers in Karachi. Both companies revealed the information of the subscriber to the FIA and both matched the profile of a person named Raja Raees who, according to Ansari, had served as a sports coordinator at the same school Ansari was employed. At the time of this incident he was serving in the local police department as Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI). As a result of Ansari’s quick action and the efforts of the FIA and CPLC, the culprit is now facing a lawsuit while Ansari’s name has been cleared of the issue. Perhaps, Raja Raees did this out of professional or political jealousy. But the point is that, in a country like Pakistan, social websites are being increasingly used to create political feuds and promote sectarian hatred under false profiles; what’s worse is that most victims are not aware of the action they can take in the case of cyber impersonation. In Ansari’s case, had he not contacted the CPLC and FIA, he would never have known the identity of his impersonator. Therefore, the options available to the victim of a cybercrime can range from the usual ‘doing nothing’ to actually standing up and taking legal action against the culprit. However, one must bear in mind that legal action requires a lot of time, energy and man power. That is not to say that it isn’t a strong deterrent. So, if you are ever the target of such a crime, contact the concerned website managers, administrators or forum moderators; most leading social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter have strict rules against impersonation and if you can establish your identity, the account is usually suspended. In cases like Ansari’s, where your entire life – job, political affiliations and personal life – are put at risk, the one thing you should know is that something can be done. Don’t just ‘let it go’.

    Cover2-Essa Malik fileCover2-Essa Malik file

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    Death is very different from finishing a novel; both symbolise the end of something, the emotional attachment to both is poles apart. One similarity, however, between the death of a good person and the end of a good novel is that both leave a mark on your life. It’s hard to realise the importance of some people, until one day you wake up to find out that those people are no more in your life. I understood this reality on June 26, 2013. It was a very strange, sad day for me and my family. The day started like any other. My father, a judge by profession, left for work at 8am while I was still sleeping. Almost 20 minutes later, my older brother began banging on my door. Surprised at hearing his voice – he was supposed to have left for work with my father - I got off my bed and ran to open the door. My family was huddled up around the TV, pale as death. After this, my whole life changed. My father had been attacked by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. It had been about five or ten minutes since the bulletin had been aired – the longest minutes of our lives. But Baba survived the attack. Glued to the TV screen, we saw the camera shift towards Baba; he was severely injured but alive. My father, along with a few other injured people (mostly security personnel), were taken to the Civil Hospital. Those who survived were shifted to Agha Khan. Among the shaheed are two people I will never forget. One was Saleem bhai, our driver, who was so much more to us and the other was Khalid, my father’s guard. Both of these men were like family to us and I remember getting into many meaningless arguments with them. They were there for everything; every occasion, good or bad, these two men were always by our side. Clad in a white shalwar kameez, Khalid bhai looked nothing less than a senior police officer with his Beretta shining in his hands. Saleem bhai, on the other hand, was a brave, selfless person. Long journeys never felt like a burden with him around; he would tell me tales of his childhood and I was so engrossed in the stories that the memory of time would just slip away. Many a times, on different occasions, both of them told me that if a dangerous situation were to ever arise, they would be the first ones to sacrifice their lives for my father. That is exactly what they did. It’s strange isn’t it, that you remember the tiniest of details about a person when they have gone? I remember Saleem bhai was never fond of mangoes. While everyone else would fight over the shred of pulp, Saleem bhai would not even touch them. A few days before the incident though, while having lunch, he asked for a bowl of mangoes. He said he had started liking the fruit. He didn’t even make it to the coming mango season. Every single day since the attack, I struggle to sleep at night. There are days when all I can think of is them and their faces. I had grown up in front of them and now all I have of them are countless memories. Both of these men were Muslims and, above all, both were humans. They were not involved in any sort of activism nor were they corrupt politicians or bureaucrats. And yet, they suffered. They suffered because they were honest brave men doing their jobs. It is so sad and disturbing that there are still people among us who support the peace talks with the Taliban. It is a known fact that the Taliban is responsible for the killing of numerous Pakistanis, mostly Muslims. It is because of barbarians like them, who slaughter our army men and bomb our police officers, that today the youth of Pakistan is fleeing. They are responsible for leaving thousands of women widowed, children orphaned, parents childless and families broken. Just close your eyes and imagine for one second. Do it earnestly! Imagine losing your father, husband, brother, wife, sister, daughter, friend or even an acquaintance. Imagine them having been slaughtered or being blown up into pieces. Imagine the fear in their hearts and minds before the brutal killing takes place. All you have left are pieces of flesh and bone to signify their existence. Open your eyes and tell me now, would you want to negotiate with these people? I, for one, do not want any other Saleem or Khalid to die for no reason; I do not want anyone to go through multiple strings of surgeries, like my father did, and I do not want anyone to be confined to the four walls of their homes, like my family is now, out of fear. It is high time we realise that the Taliban are extremists, they do not represent Islam, they cannot be trusted and we should not negotiate.


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    Greed is a disease that infects us all and there are plenty of scoundrels in Pakistan who take innocent people for a ride. However, as people have become more aware of these scams and are less gullible now, these lowlifes have evolved and become more sophisticated. What I will narrate below is perhaps one of the most high-tech and elaborated scams I have come across so far. I, myself, was about to fall prey to this fraudulent scheme and hence I know about its logistics first-hand. Fortunately, we had the common sense to understand, at an early stage, that something was wrong with the scheme and hence not much was lost. A few days back, my wife received a call informing her that she had won a Toyota Corolla GLI in a raffle. Since such shady calls and text messages have now become a norm in Pakistan, my wife told the caller to buzz off and hung up the phone. However, the caller, who sounded educated, called again and told my wife that it was not a joke. He explained that a couple of months ago his company, named Ghani Foods, ran a promotion drive at Metro supermarket and coupons were given to everyone who had purchased their oil, for a lucky draw. The lucky winner would win a car – a Toyota Corolla to be precise, and in this case, the lucky winner was my wife. This was indeed correct, as my wife did purchase a product called Ghani Oil and had taken part in the lucky draw. Furthermore, the caller confirmed my wife’s name, my name, our home address and her Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) number; all the information which my wife had provided with the coupon. We started believing that it was a legitimate call. To further prove his credibility, the caller told my wife that if she were to visit their website, Ghanifoods.com, and enter her first name along with her mobile number, she would see her record in the account, proving that this was no scam. So we accessed the site and entered her name and password, and sure enough, there it was; she had won a Toyota Corolla. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A screenshot from Ghanifoods.com[/caption] My wife was asked to come to Karachi to collect her car ‘within three days’. It was the within-three-days deadline which raised a few red flags for me and I became suspicious. My wife told them that it would not be possible for her to come to Karachi on such short notice. Upon this, she was informed that the car could be delivered to Islamabad but she would have to pay for the delivery charges. She was provided a number of a transporter, who was to arrange the delivery. Suspicious as I was, as soon as the call hinted towards advance payments for the delivery, I became thoroughly convinced that this was a scam. Just to be completely sure, I searched their website and clicked on the ‘about’ section. Pictures of three so-called ‘members’ of the Ghani Foods management, along with their designations, were seen posted in the section – Farooq Azam, Managing Director (MD), Syed Sharjeel Kazmi, General Manager (GM) and Muzhar Mehmood, Marketing Manager. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A screenshot from Ghanifoods.com[/caption] A quick Google search of the images revealed that the pictures did not belong to the people named on the site. The picture of the so-called MD of the company was in fact of a Gulf-based Indian billionaire named JR Gangaramani and the alleged GM’s photo was of the famous Indian billionaire, Aditya Birla. I don’t how many innocent people have been fooled by such unscrupulous scammers. However, I would urge the media and the concerned parties to launch an investigation into this scam and request all users to share this story via social media, so that innocent people do not become victims of these scoundrels. Companies like Ghani Foods take advantage of people who do not know any better. At a time when we should be looking out for one another, such companies are making fools out of gullible poor souls.

    Cover scamCover scam

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  • 04/21/14--04:16: Trigger happy in Karachi
  • I grew up in a city where guns were unheard of. People moved about freely. Neighbours, family and friends dropped in without informing. Gates were left open and doors unlocked. We were taught never to point a gun at anyone or even threaten anyone. We were repeatedly reminded of guns being a matter of life and death and a grave responsibility. The only exposure we had to guns was when we went up North during summers. Over there, a man was not a man unless he had a gun hanging on his shoulder as carrying guns signified manhood. Pakistani laws did not influence the Tribal Areas. They had an ancient and unique code which they lived by. If anyone carried a gun, even a 6-year-old, he would be considered to be a fair fight. The safest was he who wouldn’t pack a gun, for he could not be threatened by anyone. Their code was respected a whole lot more than we respect our laws today. That is perhaps the key to the successful functioning of a society, following a code of conduct, even one that may seem unreal and out-dated. Speaking of unreal and out-dated, let’s take a look around. If you think I have mentioned the word ‘gun’ too often, take a look around. If you think it is the odd, once-in-a-blue-moon ‘terrorist’ who terrorises your city day and night, take a look around. If you think more guns will keep you safer, for God’s sake, take a look around. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.” Today, I live in a city where people have signed off on their liberty, their privacy and their sense of decency for a false sense of security. We place unknown and unfamiliar armed men in close proximity to our homes and families and feel the need to have semi-automatic gun(s) to protect our lives or drive around with an entourage of guard vans, with little regard for other motorists. I am afraid we have forgotten the long-learnt lesson that guns are a matter of life and death and a grave responsibility. Now, there may be some who think their lives are more important, needing serious and professional protection. It doesn’t matter to them how many innocent bystanders will be severely wounded or die when semi-automatic guns are fired indiscriminately, as long as they do not feel the slightest threat heading their way. Let’s put that in perspective shall we. When Cain was going to slay Abel, the two sons of Adam and Eve as per the Book of Genesis, Abel refused to retaliate in any way. He was the third man to be born in the history of mankind, and yet, he didn’t consider his own life to be so important, that he would be willing to take his brother’s for his own protection because of his fear of God. It is time to rethink the sanity of your security. Keeping more and bigger guns does not make you any safer. It is time to think long and hard about the murder of Hamza Ahmed. Who was it that placed a lethal weapon in the hands of an irresponsible guard? Did anyone get a psychological report on the man before giving him a gun? Did Shoaib’s father consider the consequences of handing his teenage son an armed guard to do his bidding? Can we all sit around, talking self-righteously about Hamza’s death, when most of us are guilty of the same behaviour? And what can all of us do to prevent this from ever happening again? Karachi has a gun problem that needs resolving. An effort of this magnitude requires special treatment. It has to begin with the individual, with you. If every one of us did so, we wouldn’t have a gun problem. It’s that simple, as solutions usually are. Of course, this needs to be done country-wide as well, but as the largest and most progressive city of Pakistan, let’s take the initiative. Such schemes have already been set in motion. From artists to traders to political parties, we seem to have a consensus – no one likes guns and their consequences.


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    Did you know that there is a chai ka dhaba (tea cafe) in Karachi that has four branches in one of the most affluent parts of the city? Similarly, were you aware of the fact that this said cafe has only three items on its menu and it operates from 6:30 in the morning till late in the night? No? Well then, don’t be disappointed; I didn’t know these facts either. In fact, there was a lot more I didn’t know about this peculiar cafe, until I decided to investigate and find out more. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="301"] Photo: Saadia Tariq[/caption] Almost every other morning, as I hip-hop on the elliptical machine cornered in a local gym and peep out of the window to observe the outside world, I notice the bustle surrounding a small, Coca-Cola bannered dhaba named the ‘New Quetta Super Sharjah Hotel’ located near my gym. All nearby shops around the restaurant are usually closed by the time the hotel starts serving its delicacies. The staff at the cafe is seen smoking away cooking oil on a huge flat pan, transforming freshly made dough into yellowish-golden, oil dripping parathas, served with hot steaming tea to all those who are heading out for their early morning mazdoori (labour). Those more ravenous than the rest have the option of ordering omelettes as well, cooked on the same black, flat pan. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="302"] Photo: Saadia Tariq[/caption] Strangely though, as I have started peeping down regularly, the only thing that always strikes me is the relentless energy that all the staff members exude during those early hours of the day. Be it the food server, the tea maker or the paratha man, all of them look so focused and committed, going through with their daily, monotonous chores with the utmost finesse, or whatever finesse is required to run a dhaba. After days of observation, I decided to go and speak to them. As I approached them, with caution, they eyed me with suspicion. I gathered it was because their clientele primarily consisted of men but I was proven wrong when they immediately questioned me,

    Aap media sey hain?” (Are you from the media?)
    When I assured them that I did not belong to any media channel and that they will not be featured on any political tabsaraas (discussion forums), they eased down and very reluctantly divulged some information. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="305"] Photo: Saadia Tariq[/caption] After moving to Karachi from Quetta, Mr Katkar and his family opened up a tea joint near the Karachi Highway. This was roughly eight years ago. Today, they have four outlets in Defence Housing Society (DHA) – one of the most upscale residential areas in Karachi. This particular outlet sells 200 parathas every day, from 6:30 in the morning till midday and sells tea till midnight. The dough is freshly prepared every morning at the outlet. Albeit a one-egged omelette, a paratha or a cup of tea, nothing exceeds Rs25 per item. When asked about his daily sales or savings, he was cautious to answer, and naturally so. However, he did say that,
    Kabhi chaar hazaar, kabhi paanch hazaar bach jaata hai, baree baji” (We usually save four to five thousands, on an average, Madam)
    However, he tried to evade the question and I did not persist either. The cafe employs six people and pays a rent of Rs17,000 per month. I asked Katkar how much he pays his staff and he gave me a smile with his tea-stained teeth, saying,
    Sab apna log hai, baji jee” (They’re all our people, Madam)
    Yet another evasive reply; he was really good at this. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="303"] Photo: Saadia Tariq[/caption] Soon enough, I realised he was getting uncomfortable with my presence and didn’t want to answer any of my inquisitive questions. Hence, I decided let him go and took his permission to take some pictures while he worked at his station. He smiled in agreement and immediately took out his cell phone, which had been buzzing in his side pocket all this time. Whilst I clicked away, he made about two parathas and one omelette for a customer and all this while he was on his phone, intently chatting away with a ‘khocha’. When I finally thanked him and made my way towards my car, he shouted from behind,
    Baji jaan, kidhar jaati ho, koi chai paratha?” (Madam, where are you going? Aren’t you going to have any tea or paratha?)
    This was accompanied with yet another smile. Katkar and his family may not have become very successful so far, but they are striving to climb up the social ladder. In the last few years, they have made a name for themselves. They seem complacent with the limited menu and do not desire to diversify it – serving from dawn to midnight, they have monopolised on early risers and late sleepers alike. Happy and contended, they continue to serve hot, steaming, fit-for-slurping chai, flat bread doused in hot oil and a freshly whipped egg cooked into an oblong-shaped omelette to innumerable customers. Eight years, four outlets and with only three food items, the cafe has marked its territory and that is something they can be proud of. Way to go New Quetta Super Sharjah team! This post originally appeared here.


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    After almost two years, I returned to my old home town in Maryland. It was a small town and when I had lived there, nearly 40 Pakistani families resided in the area; most of them were from Punjab and a few were from Karachi. Many of these Pakistanis were physicians, pharmacists and businessmen. My husband was also a physician; hence we had anticipated many similarities within the neighbourhood. However, soon after we moved in, I realised how wrong we were. Even though I made a few good friends, I never felt wanted in the neighbourhood. The reason I left Maryland in the first place was the social isolation inflicted upon me by my fellow Pakistanis. In retrospect, I now understand that the reason I had became a social pariah, all those years back, was not because I didn’t fit in with their materialistic ideas or their hypocrisy, it was because I belonged to a different sect. Surprised to hear that such prejudices existed beyond the borders of Pakistan? Well, yes, they did. All the stereotypes of a particular Pakistani society were present in that small community in Maryland. I was the only Shiite Muslim amongst all of them and this, along with the fact that I saw their lust for materialism truly detestable, led to my isolation. For the women of that community, the size of one’s house and the number of branded clothes one wore were the criteria of friendship. I found this behaviour utterly revolting. Their beliefs and practises confused me and this isolation left me with no choice but to go back to school and pursue a Masters degree. Then, in 2010, I visited Pakistan and saw the miseries of the flood victims. This sight perturbed me and I decided to help out in any way that I can even upon my return to the US. I looked for different charity organisations and approached many people in Washington DC; after a while, I found an organisation suitable for me to work in. This US-based charity was organised by a few Pakistanis, from Karachi, and the organisation had some great projects running in Karachi, one being a school for children. They had other projects as well, established in Haiti, Uganda, Philippines and many other places around the globe. Hence, the reputation of the organisation merited trusted. I decided to work for the flood victims and launched some good projects under the charity’s banner. The director of the charity was politically active in Washington DC and his political affiliation made many people biased against the cause of my charity event. Instead of helping me raise money in Maryland for the flood-hit areas on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Punjab and interior Sindh, people became suspicious of my intentions, as if I had some separate, Pakistani political agenda for which I was collecting their money. Suddenly, I was unwelcome in their parties and get-togethers. I was seen as someone who was affiliated to a political party and was there to spread propaganda in the Republican-dominated town. I received many emails that maligned the charity and spread rumours against it. Unfortunately, as a result, not many people supported my event, even though it was for helping Pakistanis who were in desperate need. Interestingly, the Indians and Sri Lankans of that town supported me more than my own people and I raised a handsome amount of money. Although their isolation made me a social worker, a blogger and a social media activist, I was gravely hurt by their lack of unity. True, their behaviour became a blessing in disguise for me, and I found a chance to explore myself and serve the people of Pakistan even though I was thousands of miles away. But what broke my heart was the prejudice of these people and their hatred. I think it was their materialism that made them so blind and they didn’t even think of what their own brothers and sisters were going through after the flood in Punjab. Fortunately, in 2012, I moved out of that town but one question still continues to nag at me wherever I go; will we, the Pakistanis, ever leave our political affiliations and ethnic prejudices behind and become one nation? Not yet... but I hope one day we can. Correction: An earlier version of this blog depicted Maryland as a town - the mistake has now been rectified and the error is regretted.

    cover US-PAKcover US-PAK

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    “Man-Pasand shaddi…” (Marriage of your choice) “Kia aap be-aulaad hain?” (Are you childless?) “Kamzor jism ko mota banaein…” (Beat weakness and get healthy)
    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Sana Urooj[/caption] I am sure every single person in Karachi is immune to all these appealing statements painted on walls catching our eyes almost daily. The system is usually blamed for such cheap marketing tactics but it is in fact, Karachiites’ signature trend – purposely created. Graffiti, defined as wordings or images scribbled on a wall, actually originates from ancient Romans and Egyptians in the form of cave paintings and was used as a manner of self-expression. It has transformed ever since in different forms with the impulse to make one’s mark in the society. Ironically, we see some protected heritage sites like bus stops, parks and buildings boundaries, side-walks of main roads and flyovers as the most appealing canvas for such mass messages. An agonised building owner remarked,
    “Wall chalking is an illegal exploitation of private property and ruins the aesthetics of the city”.
    There are numerous places with signs which are trying to keep the city clean saying,
    “No spitting Paan,” and “Don’t throw garbage here!”
    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="588"] Photo: Sana Urooj[/caption] But, in my opinion, they are a different form of littering and ruin property. It makes me wonder if we are a filth-loving nation or if it is just a mind-set of rebelling against what is being told not to do. Do we not have enough mediums for expressing our talents and emotions? Or do we just purposely select the medium under least scrutiny for displaying unethical content of advertisements? A beggar pointing to a roadside wall claimed it to be the best place for advertisements. He claimed,
    “Jo bhi lagaogey foran bik jayega… Koi kuch nahi poochta!” (Whatever you put up gets sold immediately… nobody asks anything)
    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="588"] Photo: Sana Urooj[/caption] The government, despite numerous efforts, has failed to eliminate the root cause of the problem. But wait! Do we even need a new law here? There is an already established wall chalking regulation which declares it a punishable offence with a fine of Rs5000 along with six months imprisonment. Also, most of the political parties themselves are a major cause of this problem. The most noticeable statements depict that the flag bearers of democracy making their presence felt through unauthorised graffiti without actually quantifying its impact, such as,
    “Jiye Muhajir”
    “Jiye Bhutto”
    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="595"] Photo: File[/caption] On one hand, political slogans and nasty comments ignite sensitive issues while on the other hand, fraudulent medical claims by quacks and fake faith healers misguide the unaware majority of our population. My major concern, being a health manager, is about the authenticity of the practitioners advertising medical services and their necessary credentials. There is a dire need for scrutinising such healthcare marketing modes because of its far-reaching impact. An elderly female at a local clinic revealed that she had been visiting a road-side healer who had displayed his advertisement and contact details on almost every other street. She said,
    “I used to go five hours before his visiting time as he had a packed schedule with a long list of appointments and patients to treat every day. But I regret it now, as it delayed my required medical treatment and I ended up having two of my fingers amputated”.
    While exploring the wall chalking trends in Karachi, I came across more than half of them by hakims and spiritual healers. These ‘pirs’ have a majority of shares in wall graffiti, promoting their wonders and self-proclaimed miracles. While interviewing my neighbour, it was interesting to note that she had been visiting some popular pir for her critically ill son. The pir had told her,
    “Bete ko is la-ilaaj marz se bachana hai to teen tolah sona pooray chand ki raat ko samandar ke kinaarey phenk do”. (If you want to save your son from this incurable disease then throw three tolahs of gold into the seashore on a full moon night.)
    She said,
    “We were utterly deceived. Despite being one of the educated elites, we fell prey to the influence of the much-publicised criminality visible on street walls”.
    My father has always been against such wall graffiti, especially those that post devious and deceitful ‘religious’ messages that need to be communicated to the masses. He believes,
    “Such unethical endorsements pose a major threat to the society, being a guide towards fallacious beliefs”.
    On the contrary, I am not totally against this form of art. I believe that if used constructively, graffiti can be used as a very powerful medium for public service messages. While doing a survey, I found one such message by the Chhipa ambulance service ‘Dus-Bees’ (10-20) which is their contact number for emergencies. One of my colleagues declared it as a good reminder and said,
    “Our minds stop thinking when we are in a state of panic. When my sister went into labour, the urgency of the situation was creating chaos, but in the midst of it all, I remembered the graffiti ‘10-20’ I had seen chalked on various walls and that helped us a lot”.
    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="588"] Photo: Sana Urooj[/caption] My research also led me to a very appealing initiative that seemed like a great way to eradicate the nasty impact of graffiti. The initiative was organised by the Message Welfare Trust and Master Paints; students from Gujarat, Faisalabad, Islamabad and Gujranwala participated in what was a Street Art Competition held in Lahore in March 2011. The contestants were given themes like peace, education, culture etcetera to enhance and sustain the positive image of Pakistan. The best painter was to be awarded Rs25,000. In my opinion, this out-of-the-box activity not only restored the beauty of Lahore but also gave those involved a good creative outlet and became a great community building activity through which all the participants interacted with local residents for ideas and help. In light of that, I strongly believe that the prevailing menace of wall graffiti can be countered easily; graffiti culture need not be eradicated but should be streamlined towards its productive and positive impact. It can eventually be transformed into a very effective marketing medium provided the necessary regulation of the content. Moreover, we can also encourage expression of our hidden talent if this unique alternative medium is appropriately utilised. If one city in Pakistan can manage to give graffiti a creative spin, I don’t see why other cities can’t follow suit. With a little help from the government and support from the masses, we can tame this beast into beauty.

    graffiti covergraffiti cover

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    April 25, 2014 Friday, 4:08pm:  I finally check my regular worldly news and social media updates. After a hectic day of running errands, wading in the rain and running around for meetings here and there, spending time at the library with its semi-hushed warmth seemed like the perfect end to a long week.  The promise of a late afternoon catching up on reading turns into just that, a promise. There was a blast in Defence, exactly an hour ago, when I had been rushing out of class. It was too close for comfort to where I lived. Sickened, I look at my phone wondering if the fact that no one had called was actually a good thing, or whether it’ll be too alarming if I call right now. I refresh the Express Tribune website – six killed and 28 injured. It stated sombrely, again. I remind myself that the live updates had ended 12 hours ago which meant that it had been exactly 13 hours since the blast. I realise in a wave of surprising dismay that I was, in fact, too far off for comfort. Surprisingly, because at this point in time with little or no news of how family and friends were at home, the blast was a gut wrenchingly awful reason for suddenly wanting to be there. I had felt a little irritated at idea of resilience brought up in a discussion about Karachi a day before. Today, as the word randomly popped up in my head, I realised it held no meaning. Not before I messaged my father and not before I thanked my stars for his insomnia and reading habits that kept him up all night. He had replied with the usual,

    “Of course we’re fine, it was just a blast. You know how Karachi is”.
    I knew. But I had forgotten. I inquire about our driver who went for his Friday prayers in that specific area. He tells me that the driver had been running late and therefore missed his prayers, thank God. He laughs at his unintended joke and asks me if I was glad to be away from the madness. I wasn’t. It seemed unnatural now that I was complaining about the rain to a friend only an hour ago. The panic I had felt by ‘just a blast’ seemed more real, yet displaced. It wasn’t very Karachi-like of me to be alarmed the way I was. I was told by my mother that I sounded like a foreigner. I reminded her I had been only been gone a month. She insisted I was still irritating in the way I had panicked when only six people had died. Six people dead and almost 30 injured did not seem so ‘only’ to me from a few continents away. I missed home again. The horror of not knowing had been magnified here somehow. The usual quick news updates that made you assess the damage done to lives and homes around you, your regular hurried phone calls about the whereabouts of your family and friends, and the inevitable next-in-line disaster that follows wasn’t accessible here. I was faced with the rain stopping to a disgustingly bright day and meeting very concerned friends an hour later. As they tip-toed around me in alarmed silence, the kind that comes with having the comfort of making a choice about being resilient, I felt a surge of irritation. I ticked violence as a reason why I would never want to live away from Karachi. I wasn’t used to having a choice about feeling horror at unnamed deaths; I was used to a numbed stupor that I can dismiss as resilience.

    amna coveramna cover

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    Dear Edhi sahib, As you lay in the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation for your routine dialysis, we hear worrying news that you have been admitted in the ICU. Edhi sahib, I am very worried about your deteriorating health, as I assume every Pakistani is. I have been checking the news every hour to find out about your well-being. I wish you a speedy and a complete recovery. You are 86-years-old, we pray you live to be 186. While, like every Pakistani, I am praying for you, a part of me is covertly but awfully scared.

    What if… you…?
    I am not known to be an emotionally weak person but thinking and writing about you brings tears to my eyes. My words may not be coherent today.
    What if…?
    They say you are in the ICU and every home in Pakistan should pray for you. But…
    What if you do not return from the hospital this time?
    The thought alone is killing me. Edhi sahib, before it is too late, I want to thank you for everything you have done for the Pakistani nation. Edhi sahib, thank you for showing us, that humanity is superior to all else. Your name is synonymous with charity and humanity. You did not shy away from begging on the streets of Karachi in the scorching heat to raise money; money that you later invested in buying the ‘poor man’s van’. This van travelled around the city to provide free, basic medical aid to those in need. Edhi sahib, people who know you from the 1950s, tell me that you slept outside your dispensary on the cement floor so that anyone in need for medical assistance, even in the wee hours of the night, was helped. Thank you for this! Edhi sahib, thank you for setting up free orphanages, nursing homes, shelters for homeless women, children and animals, vocational schools, legal aid departments, rehab centres for drug addicts and the mentally ill, and morgues all around the country. Edhi sahib, thank you for being there for humanity from the cradle to the grave. They tell me you have never taken a single cent or a salary for your services. Edhi sahib, thank you for showing the world a different side of Pakistan, a softer more charitable side. Edhi sahib, a lot of people believe that the only life worth living is the life spent travelling between your house and the mosque but little do they realise, that God stresses more on Huqooqul Ibad (Rights of the  people) than Huqooq-e-Allah (Rights towards Allah). You have taught us that throughout your life Edhi sahib and I thank you. I thank you for the unconditional love you extended towards not only humans but animals too, may they be alive or dead. Edhi sahib, we want you to know that we love you for your simplicity, sincerity and untiring hard work. You are an ‘Abba’ to countless children. Please accept this note of gratitude from all of us, Edhi sahib; you deserve much much more! Please get well soon and remember that you are in all our prayers. Sincerely, Every Pakistani out there


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    On the eve of  May 10 and 11, 2013 I saw a very different Lahore. Lahore was completely crowded with families and teenagers supporting their respective political parties, majorly PTI and PML-N. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A poster in central Lahore asking citizens of Pakistan to vote. 'Say yes to vote' Photo: AFP[/caption] From Liberty roundabout to Hussain Chowk and from Hussain Chowk to either side of Firdous and Mini Market roundabout, roads were jam packed with cars and motorbikes. It seemed like nothing else was more important to anyone that day, they came out to celebrate and their democratic festivity showed! To represent the spirit of democracy, in the air, rival party supporters provided space for people to chant slogans in their respective party’s favour and to revel in their right to vote. Traffic was moving slowly but no one halted its movement, both party’s supporters were vigilant to make sure that no inconvenience was caused to the families and females participating in those rallies. PML-N and PTI’s supporters had their cars rally side by side, greeting each other, curious about the elections’ outcome, providing each other with beverages and trying to outdo each other’s vocal chords in chanting their party’s slogans but making sure not to overlap the other. And in between all good cheer, I thought to myself, this is the spirit of democracy; raising your voice as much as you want but providing a listening ear to the other point of view as well. I believed we had finally evolved, Pakistan had arrived in the high and mighty sphere of democracy. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Supporters of Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan flash victory signs as they take part in an election campaign rally in Lahore. Photo: AFP[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] PPP supporters at an election rally in Lahore. Photo:AFP[/caption] My impression was that, in a matter of few minutes, all of this would change, since nothing good can come out of two opposing parties conducting rallies together, that too, in Pakistan. But I was wrong because the rally remained peaceful and went on for a good four- five hours with more people joining in with the flags of their respective party in hand. Not a single soul tried to disrupt or cause harm to their opposing party’s supporters. The most heart-warming moment was watching kids, aged between five to 12 years, with their faces brightly painted in PTI and PML-N colours and flags, while they chanted the slogans, enjoying the night out, waving their party’s flags and campaigning for the grown-ups to vote for PML-N or PTI. And the girls wore their political party’s flag as bandanas, making a statement of their involvement in the political process. This was the kind of political activity previously missing from Pakistan’s political scene. In the last few years I’ve never seen Lahore this alive; it felt as if Lahore’s soul has been resurrected. On the eve of May 11, the Lahoris had to make a big decision. They had to decide what to have for breakfast before voting or after casting their vote. Lahore is known for its delicious food, and so plans were made, relatives and friends were invited (to join in on the day’s festivities), and I too, had a lunch planned out with friends after casting the vote. When Lahoris plan their breakfasts and lunches, that day is far from ordinary and on that day, people knew the importance of that day and their vote as well. They wanted to celebrate it, their exuberance was evident. This was the change that political activists, journalists, judiciary and civil society sacrificed and dedicated their lives to. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Nawaz Sharif celebrates victory in Pakistan election. Photo: AFP[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Pakistani voters pose with their national identity cards as they queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Punjab. Photo: AFP[/caption] I woke up early, around seven in the morning. I couldn’t sleep because of the level of excitement I had witnessed the night before. On my way to the polling station, I saw that a lady had park her car about 400 metres away from the polling booth because the parking slots allotted were occupied by the cars that came before her and so she had to walk cast her vote. Many people would have taken it as a sign to walk away but she walked those 400 meters and casted her vote. I saw different polling stations where the long queue was populated by the aged, young, poor and rich. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Many flew in from abroad to make their vote count. Photo: AFP[/caption] It seemed that people had realised what their vote meant for their country and that to me, was the real change. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Voting spread far and wide to the outer districts of Punjab. Photo: AFP[/caption] On this day, May 11, 2014, I hope that spirit has still lingered on. It is imperative that people vouch for democracy and democrats adhere to their vows. People voted a year back to affirm their trust in the political process, it is now the responsibility of political leaders to do their part.


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    Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) is a name synonymous in the annals of Urdu literature. Considered among the greatest contemporary Urdu short story writers of the 20th century, he has left a legacy that stretches far and wide. Manto’s greatest gift was his ability to depict the reality of society with such ease that he would leave the reader mesmerised and in utter awe. His attention to minor details and his signature style of description was second to none. Manto was a realist and a puritan who hated hypocrisy in every given way. Manto was a household name for me, virtue of my mother being his daughter. The name of ‘Manto Abajaan’ echoed in my ears from a very early age. He was not someone for me to discover or look for, he was very much part of my conscience. As an eight-year-old, I distinctly remember his readings being staged in the Goethe Institute by the Ajoka Theatre group in Lahore where now ChenOne stands alongside Hafeez Centre. Famous personalities like Uzma Gillani are embedded in my memory, reading stories like Tetwal ka Kutta and others on a sultry November evening echoing the end of the autumn season. Having grown up in an environment where the mention of Manto was synonymous with Urdu short story writing, there was always a question mark in my mind over his writings being very controversial. I had all the access in the world to his books and was never stopped from reading his works whether in Urdu or English translations that followed in the early 1990’s to early 2000’s. I always wondered what made him so controversial and why a particular segment of society was vehement on calling him a ‘Fahaashi’. Lacking a clear understanding as a youngster, I started reading his stories well into my early 20’s. It was then that I realised, the genius of the man and the wizardry in his stories. As a reader, his writings projected the harsh reality of the society, which we now live in. I felt the intricacies in his writings were rather touching; his attention to issues that were sensitive in nature heralded the greatness of the man. Being termed a ‘Fahaashi’ was something very hard for me to digest, but with the passage of time I realised that he is a public figure open to criticism and acclaim. The more I read about him, the more I marvelled at his ability to foresee the future and the direct relevance he commands in every era. I have always heard from my mother, that Manto was a very sensitive man, and his persecution and boycott by the literary masses and public at large did impact him. He was denied the right to earn a livelihood in a society that persecuted him for his writings that perpetuated the grim reality of society. The persecution and boycott did not stop Manto from unleashing his creativity and repertoire which was viewable in his writings till the very end. Manto’s observation skills and directness of his language, while writing, were arguably second to none. A humanist par excellence barring his alcoholism, he was proud and arrogant in nature, which was a virtue of his talent. He never augured faith and beliefs into his friendships. Manto forged bonds with people from all walks of life, irrespective of faith, and examples of that are Ashok Kumar, Shyam and Pran. Manto’s uniqueness lay in calling a spade a spade, and would not budge one bit from what he wrote. Outspoken and brash in nature, this made him susceptible to attack from all quarters which as a result led him into trouble amongst the literary elite of that time. He was a rebel, who had formed his own niche of writing, and was unique in every given sense of the word.


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    Batman is a muscular and charismatic character, created by DC Comics, who has a large fan base and millions of followers. His mysterious moves and unique costumes have become a symbol of power. His persona demands reverence. In other words, he is probably one of the best action heroes ever created. Now imagine, what would happen if our government decides to hire Batman for his ‘services’? The increasing crime rates in Pakistan warrant a superhero, no doubt about that. However, would Batman be able to use his extraordinary powers to stop con artists and terrorists from creating more mayhem? Do you think Batman would be happy in Pakistan? Do you think he would stop working in the United States? The following reasons would probably throw light on why Batman would never be able to live in Pakistan, let alone fight crime effectively. Issues with his Batmobile If Batman was deployed on Kati Pahari in Karachi to stop the blood-curdling criminals, for instance, the worst problem for him would be the roads leading to the crime scene. Since Kati Pahari is a mountainous area, Batman won’t be able to drive his smooth, highly maintained black Batmobile anywhere near there. He would be forced to reach the place by foot, without most of his equipment (considering he is leaving the Batmobile behind and that has his gadgets). Here’s to hoping that he doesn’t get shot on the way up. Trouble with his wardrobe Pakistan is very warm country, especially when compared to the United States. Batman may have to stop wearing his skin-tight, leather pants and might have to switch to shalwar kameez or something more comfortable. Wearing black clothes, in this weather, all the time, will leave the hero drowning in his own sweat and in constant need of a change of clothes. How will he fight crime if most Batman’s time will be utilised dealing with his wardrobe malfuncti0n? Difficulty with his mask Batman’s mask will never produce the same terror amongst criminals and terrorists in Pakistan, as it does in Gotham City. Many would think of him as a joke; someone they can bully and play around with. For Pakistan, Batman will have to sacrifice his mask and switch to wearing a black turban, accompanied with a niqaab to hide his identity. Now that would definitely be scary. Pakistan’s sense of humour The detrimental socio-political scenario here has given us, Pakistanis, a somewhat questionable sense of humour. Disturbing incidents, that would normally make a person cringe in discomfort, are not taken as seriously as they should be because people are so used to them happening. Therefore, a superhero in a bat costume will stand little chance against the witty Pakistani audience. Not only would he be not taken seriously, he will be made fun off with witty puns and a cunning sense of humour. The Faisalabadis will have a field day on his expense. To appear more serious, Batman will have to carry a pistol and a knife, visible to everyone, to show he means business. The Bat signal Karachi does not have too many skyscrapers, unlike Gotham. The only ones we do have are the likes of Bank Al Habib’s head office and the Ocean Mall. I don’t see how either of those buildings would serve the purpose of accommodating the Bat signal machine; the owners of these buildings would probably charge a phenomenal sum of money. But it wouldn’t just end there. Since the city is so big, we would need the Bat signal on almost every building within a 10 kilometre radius of the other. But then again, we don’t have that many skyscrapers. Do you see the conundrum? In order to solve this, I thought about how he could overcome this little problem. And so, all I could come up with was Google maps. Batman would have to make use of Google maps to keep a check on the activities of Karachi – that is, of course, if he finds a good internet connection that doesn’t follow the government’s internet censorship policies; you never know, their next target may be Google maps. Mobile phone theft Mobile phone thefts happen almost every day, multiple times a day. If Batman focuses his energy on the multiple amount of petty street crimes that take place he will never be able to concentrate on any of the bigger issues! Also, these thefts usually take place in different areas, far away from each other. It would take Batman ages to reach the crime scene. Also, if you remember: he can’t drive his ultra fast car everywhere in Karachi, so that’s another issue. Hence, if someone is mugged in Liaquatabad and the next victim is in Korangi, it would be impossible for Batman to reach both locations in time and if the muggers found out about this weakness, it wouldn’t take them very long to activate that sense of humour and start messing with  our superhero’s head. Fuel problems I am sure Batman’s huge Batmobile consumes a lot of fuel. Batman won’t be able to afford fuel at such high prices in Pakistan. So, he would need to switch his car to CNG. Now the problem is, almost every other day, there is a CNG strike. If Batman has to go on an emergency mission during a CNG strike, he would have to find some other mode of travel; I would have suggested the auto rickshaw but even that runs on gas. Perhaps a donkey cart will be a more suitable option for Batman in Pakistan, and possibly the fastest. Health issues Due to pollution and our spicy food, Batman will no longer be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle and hence, won’t be as strong as he needs to be. Indigestion may take over his life and we can’t have a superhero yell out during a fight,

    “TWO MINUTES! I need to go to the bathroom first!”
    Just like Raymond Davis became addicted to naswar, I fear Batman might start taking a liking to gutka. He could pretend he started this to just ‘blend in’ with the crowd but eventually he will get mouth cancer and die. Therefore, Batman coming to Pakistan would be a very bad idea. Not only will he not be able to help Pakistan with its crime and security issues, he will also lose his health, be ridiculed for his costume and mask and die in the process. DC Comic’s and Gotham’s finest should not go through such a mistreatment.


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    Having a disability does not necessarily make you worse off; it simply means you have to do things differently. However, it is sad to say, our society is plagued with ignorance when it comes to meeting the needs of mentally or physically challenged people. A blind eye is turned towards the needs of these people and because of this ignorance we do not realise the fact that most of the public places lack the basic necessities, such as ramps, integral for the physically challenged. Apart from this, very few schools exist for children with developmental delays. In a social setup like this, it is important for organisations to take initiatives on raising awareness about this concern so that people can contribute towards changing it for the better. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] ACELP (Association for Children with Emotional and Learning Problems) is one such initiative. ACELP is one of the very few voluntary organisations in Karachi that has been working for the well-being of children with developmental delays since the past 30 years. It provides diagnostics, education, therapy, vocational training and rehabilitation to the children in need of special education and training. Currently, the school has 150 children who regularly receive physical education, sport skill training, medical evaluation and referrals for consultancy where ever it is needed. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] The school has now become a two storied purpose-built campus with modern infrastructure that will help in increasing the number of classrooms and hence, accommodate more children. The floor now hosts 10 purpose-built rooms with one main hall that helps with the educational aspirations of the school. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] In my opinion, children with special needs are no different from other children and require the same attention, support, care and guidance. As individuals we need to realise that levels of disability are unique to every individual and all they require is fulfilment of their needs. One of the parents in attendance at the school pointed out that parents only want their children to be brought up in the best possible manner and acquire the best education - which is their right. The parents of these children have similar aspirations for their kids, but due to the ignorant nature of our society, parents feel apprehensive bringing their kids on the forefront and, hence, deprive them of their basic needs. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] Ms Mehar, the principal of the school, said,

    “Even though some schools do exist for such children, where various activities take place, they are not enough to cater to the needs of all such children - the main reason for this is lack of awareness”
    The harsh reality, that I see in our society today, is that a majority of people do not even know that there is a ‘World Down Syndrome Day’ or a ‘World Disability Day’; while I am sure all of us are aware of other, more popular days such as ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Mother’s Day’ that are deemed to be more important.  While I agree, that these days are extremely essential, my point is that the same importance should be bestowed upon days that relate to children with special needs. These children face severe challenges in coping with their peers and the society as a whole. They have to be treated in a way that makes them feel they are a productive part of main stream society; this lack of awareness is just widening the gap instead of bridging it. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] On a recent visit to the school, I saw children with bright smiles on their faces and it seemed like they were filled with hope and motivation. They were involved in different activities ranging from flash cards, for younger children, to physical exercises for those with physical disabilities. As I stood there watching them, a young girl came running to me with some flashcards and though she could not speak I knew that she was signalling me to take part in the activity with her. One of the teachers said,
    “They are determined to learn, and we feel proud to be associated with such kids and school, but more schools like these, need to open.”
    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption]   When I inquired about the chances these kids have in succeeding in their respective careers and acquiring employment, she pointed out that there has been a change in the community and people have become more open to hiring children with disabilities. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] I went around the school in search of water and ran into Ejaz, a 14 year old boy. His journey at ACELP started three years ago. Ejaz stopped and said
    “Bhai dekh kar tou chalo” (Brother, at least look where you are going)
    I immediately apologised and started a conversation with him.
    “Aap baray hokar kiya banogay?” (What do you want to be when you grow up?)
    He promptly replied,
    “Helicopter banun takay aap say takra na sakun (I want to become a helicopter so that I don’t crash into you)
    Astonished and speechless, I was left in complete awe of how intelligent this child was. I could never imagine any of my 14-year-old cousins giving me such an answer. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] I think that even though the society has adopted an open-minded attitude to some extent, a lot still needs to be done. If these children can represent their country on a global front, all they need is a little support from us as a society which will allow them to excel more. It’s about time that the society starts seeing these children, as an asset rather than a burden. I see schools at every nook and corner of Karachi but none of them cater to the needs of special children. ACELP is one example of such a school, along with a handful of others, but this is not enough and the average person needs to play his/her part to raise awareness about this issue. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="599"] Photo: Miqdad Sibtain[/caption] I am not asking everyone to open up a school but, at the least, support such initiatives and provide the little help they require.


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  • 05/14/14--12:01: A vaccine a day…
  • I have heard her say, She fears for him, for his fleeting eyes, For his silent voice, He has built some walls A tad too thick and far too long. He has escaped from this world and now he lives within, Surrounded by his opacity, she yearns to hear him, She says, one of these days, he will talk, he will shout She is sure, the storm, that is brewing inside him, will be let out, She is afraid, before it consumes him, she wants him to consume her, With his head against the ground, with his nonsensical articulations, Bouncing off the walls, she just wants to hear him talk, a word, nay an alphabet would do, Anything but this silence and those eyes, eyes that can’t see her, eyes that she can’t see either, A voice, some eyes,  a sense of recognition. I have seen her point fingers, one, even at herself, From her excitement to her caution, She has short-listed them all, Mistakes she made, the first time round, I peeked over to see, saw vaccination casually crossed out. I have seen her, Chase him, run behind, as he outran her, She says, he runs faster than the light, Off the bed and he is quickly out of sight. But in her conversations, he permanently resides, You will frequently meet him there, for even a missed flicker, Is enough to trigger, copious bouts, of unreasonable amounts, A wave of nauseating guilt, inadvertently washes over her. A narrowed world, an even narrower perception – her accomplishments, Revolve around, rearing a product of some spontaneous conception, Perpetuations of a name, the purpose of a woman, From him to his, from vows to bells, even of the masculinity, of a man. The ball should roll, the soil shall erect, and the tree then awaits - Anything short of this, a shameful, pitiful, obvious defect. You are incomplete, till you set them loose, this world and those, impeccable genes. Cutting her musings short, I saw her attend an urgent knock. Soon, she self-assuredly returned to our world, The world of crippled boys and castrating drops.

    Knocking on a doorKnocking on a door

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    Thai Air may have a very good air worthiness record both for their fleet and the flying staff. Being a Thai Air passenger on several occasions I have had no bad memories until I flew back to Islamabad on March 17th, 2014 from Manila via Bangkok. Thai Air is probably one of the few foreign airlines that still maintain daily flights from three cities in Pakistan; all western airlines including Singapore Airlines stopped flying into Pakistan for various reasons, almost a decade ago, Thai Air has been providing that necessary bridge to keep Pakistan connected to Asia. By making a code-share agreement with PIA, it dominates the passengers from Pakistan to and fro from Australia, Asia and the pacific. While having a chat on WhatsApp at the Bangkok airport, my wife in Islamabad informed me there was a thunderstorm predicted in Islamabad around the time my flight was supposed to land. I am sure the pilot of this TG 349 was also aware of the weather report besides the inbuilt weather radar fitted in Airbus 340-300. Taking off on-time from Bangkok, this was a smooth flight until about 200 miles away from Islamabad when turbulence started. The lightning all around was a clear indication of a strong thunderstorm. Those living in Islamabad and Rawalpindi know how strong these thunderstorms are during spring and pre-spring. The in-flight-live-information-screen predicted our arrival at Islamabad airport 17 minutes earlier than the scheduled time of 10:25pm. It was wrong, the plane landed at about 10:50pm at the Islamabad airport but what happened in those 43 minutes to the passengers of TG 349 was nothing short of a nightmare come to life. When the plane started its descent towards Islamabad, the pilot informed the passengers about the expected temperature and chances of heavy rainfall in the city. What he probably missed telling us was that it wasn’t normal rain but a strong thunderstorm. Passing through the lightning and heavy clouds in the night, however, probably gave the passengers a fair indication that this landing was not going to be easy, both for them as well as the pilot. As the plane approached the ground it was over-speeding, was waving around, taking big and small turns both left and right. The plane missed the runway once – it seemed like the pilot could not see the landing strip - which meant we were going to take another turn-around in the thunderstorm-hit-Islamabad. Despite the fact that the pilot could have missed it on the second try again, he continued, only this time, he flew really low over Gulberg, passing over Chak-Shehzad area and headed straight towards the Margalla Hills. This was when the pilot pulled in the landing gear, increased the engine speed and started climbing height. It was not an easy situation for somebody who had witnessed two fatal air crashes in Islamabad. Both in which the investigators held the pilots responsible. The two aircrafts that crashed while attempting to land, in bad weather have created ripples in the Pakistan aviation history pages and for the residents of the twin cities in particular – let alone the relatives of the victims who have lost their loved ones. The AirBlue flight 202 that crashed with Margalla hills on July 28th 2010, on a mighty-monsoonal-rainy-morning occurred close to my office. This is one of the reasons I kept following up on stories regarding the crash even months and years later. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A rescue worker searches the wreckage of an Airblue passenger plane which crashed on the outskirts of Islamabad July 28, 2010. Photo: Reuters[/caption] The investigation report issued by the Civil Aviation Authority in November 2011 cited a lack of professionalism in the cockpit crew along with poor weather as primary factors of the crash. Similarly on April 20, 2012, Bhoja Air’s flight BHO 213 departed from Karachi at 5:00pm and was due to land in Islamabad at 06:50pm. The plane crashed only 5.6 km short of its destination, near the village of Hussainabad. All 127 people on board were killed. According to reports, the pilot attempted to land during heavy rain and a thunderstorm. The investigative accounts suggested that the airplane was caught in a strong gush of unexpected wind consequently pushing the plane downwards, towards the ground, resulting in the crash. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rescue workers search through debris following the crash of a Bhoja Air Boeing 737 plane in the outskirts of Islamabad on April 20, 2012. PHOTO: AFP[/caption] And here was a Thai pilot, unfamiliar with Islamabad’s weather and terrain, determined to land the plane. He made another attempt to land, and although he flew frightfully low for the longest few minutes of our lives, we made it! Some of the passengers started clapping, while others started thanking the Lord out loud and the rest, including myself, were still perplexed. It didn’t make sense; why had the pilot put the plane and the lives of over 300 people at risk? No one was judging his flying skills at the time. It wasn’t a challenge he had to prove worthy of. So then why the unnecessary daredevil stunt? Do aircraft land in thunderstorms? No they don’t, even Yahoo says that!

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  • 05/16/14--04:09: A New York state of mind
  • Walking along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, can be an exhilarating experience. Imposing architectural wonders staring down at you on all sides, the throbbing, pulsating and electrifying pace of city life can be, overwhelming to say the least. Yet one cannot help falling in love with this impossibly grand monument to human achievement and skill. The grandeur of the city hits you even before you land on the historic JFK Airport as you get the bird’s eye view of this extremely modern city from the plane window. Once out of the plane, you encounter the thoroughly organised discipline of the airport staff and you begin to harbour an element of respect for the nation you are dealing with. Even though the immigration officer rummaged through my luggage, smiled apologetically and said ruefully,

    “For that one person who blows himself up, we put decent people like you through this!”
    Apology accepted and no damage sustained to the ego. I had my reservations when I first landed in the US because there was the sadness of leaving my home, friends and family, and beloved Lahore and I was sure that nothing could ever take its place. I was wrong, of course. New York City has a personality of its own. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] 5th Avenue, Manhattan. Photo: Saira Khan[/caption] Slowly, it nestles into a corner of your heart and grows on you. You feel it and sense its presence all around you – in its boroughs, buildings, parks, museums, theatres, crowds, taxis, food, cafes and even seasons. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="359"] Photo: Saira Khan[/caption] The achingly beautiful autumn is poetic to say the least, the trees all over the city change colour becoming various shades of orange, rust, lime, red, magenta, ochre, and yellow. It enthrals and captivates you. The red ones seem to bleed from the heartache of impending winter. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="444"] Photo: Saira Khan[/caption] Central Park is the place to be during this time, as I was lucky enough to be. My workplace was very close to the south side of the park so often on my way home I’d grab a cup of coffee and a double chocolate brownie from a nearby Starbucks, and steal an hour or so of profound peace and beauty near the famous Bethesda Terrace Lake. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Saira Khan[/caption] A horse-drawn carriage ride around the park while you eat is definitely a worthwhile experience. Numerous roadside cafes and restaurants romantically tucked away into obscure corners cater to every palate and pocket, be it from any corner of the world. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Saira Khan[/caption] The racial and cultural diversity complimented by a high tolerance level is almost endearing. When the owner of a gift shop on Seventh Avenue lets you go without charging anything (because you work in the building nearby and bought postcards worth less than the amount required for a card payment) with a sweet smile and insists,
    “You can take it as a gift, Hon’!”
    You are charmed. Even when the Indian student in your class brings you Bombay Biryani, just because you are a Pakistani and shares the same culinary background as you, it brings a smile to your lips. Or how about when you are at a party, the only other guy looking for vegetarian and fruit servings apart from yourself, is your handsome colleague and upon enquiry as to why he shares this pastime with you, he replies innocently,
    “Because I’m a Jew!"
    You are stumped. Or when the man behind the counter at a restaurant tells you that whatever you’ve chosen is not ‘halal’ even though you never mentioned you were a Muslim (he assumed I was an Arab), you feel touched. I think I fell in love with the city and its people there and then.

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    The youth, of any country, is always considered its greatest strength and an educated youth is an even stronger pillar for the state. However, these pillars cannot remain strong if young students start looking for shortcuts in their educational life. If such a situation does occur, a decline in a nation's progress will be the inevitable result. Sadly, this process of decline is already in motion in Pakistan. Cheating culture is increasingly prevalent in our education system and it has become a pervasive phenomenon over here. Despite high claims and solemn promises, respective authorities have failed to curb the rampant and blatant cheating culture that is thriving day by day. With the government’s sloppy arrangements and failed tactics, one cannot expect them to maintain a tight leash on this menace. Prior to the current examinations, Sindh Education Minister Nisar Khoro had made a statement that he wouldn’t let anyone cheat; as brief and unconvincing his statement was, the result of it was no different. Students blatantly ignored his warnings and used unfair means to excel during their examinations. This just further proves how exams have now become nothing but a total farce for these students. In Pakistan, the worst place affected by this curse is the province of Sindh. Where urban Sindh has been suffering at the hands of this menace for quite some time now, the educational standard of rural Sindh has also started diminishing slowly and gradually. It has recently been reported that matriculation students, in interior Sindh, could not even read Urdu and Sindhi text books; yet they managed to pass their primary classes and reach the final years of their matriculation. It makes one question how they managed to pass these classes considering, their lack of literacy. After assessing Pakistan’s literacy rate, it is perceived that Sindh is the most literate province in the country, beating the odds with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Punjab. But the questions remain the same: does Sindh really impart higher quality education than the rest of the provinces or is it just a scam to show improved numbers? In our country, where the façade of fake degrees prevails, one must decide what they want more – abundant degree holders or qualified ones. Pakistan and its provinces [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="291"] Photo: Ammad Hafeez[/caption] According to the survey report of the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement, male literacy rate is 72 per cent while female literacy rate stands at 47 per cent. Also, it is seen that Punjab dominates the race when it comes to the female population, as Punjab’s female literacy rate is 51 per cent. Sindh's literacy rate [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Ammad Hafeez[/caption] Male literacy rate is 58 per cent in rural Sindh while female literacy rate is just 23 per cent. Regrettably, there are many reasons as to why such discrepancies exist. One major reason is feudalism, where females do not receive proper education due to prevalence of the wadera culture. Another aspect worth noticing is that most of the men in this 58 per cent bracket procure their degrees by cheating. Many a times, these individuals do not even bother to show up for their exams, yet they somehow magically pass and end up getting good marks. Rural Sindh's literacy rate [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Ammad Hafeez[/caption] If we observe the trend of male literacy in Punjab and K-P, we will see that the statistics of these two provinces dominate those of Sindh. If we evaluate the literacy rate of rural Sindh only, we will discover that Balochistan’s rate is far better, as the male literacy rate over there is 65 per cent while rural Sindh’s is 58 per cent. Balochistan and Sindh are equal when it comes to female literacy rates. This just reiterates that interior Sindh is infamous for fostering the copy culture massively. If we analyse the same situation via the political eye, a majority of the Sindh assembly members belong to rural Sindh; this perhaps answers why education is not given much preference. Urban Sindh's literacy rate [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Ammad Hafeez[/caption] Unfortunately, urban cities in Sindh are also facing similar problems during examinations as respective authorities have failed in attempting to restrain this copy culture. Here I would like to question our beloved democratic rulers that why have they not been able to control these evil malpractices? Aren’t politicians interested in eradicating copy culture? Instead of issuing empty statements, should they not take necessary steps to bring an end to this menace? We have witnessed some counteractive measures being taken by the media, higher authorities and law enforcing agencies in urban Sindh, but in rural Sindh, the situation is highly lamentable. Recruitment processes are conducted on favouritism instead of the candidate’s educational background. Such professional misconduct has ruined the scope of education in Sindh, especially in rural areas. Both, students and teachers, are benefiting from this corrupt culture and in the long run, we shall find this culture destroying our future generations and their prospects. Students don’t go to schools or colleges to study and teachers take full advantage of this. The outcome is that the majority of these graduates cannot even write their names correctly, especially students in rural Sindh. Even if they do end up with a job, it is usually based on favouritism and not on their educational merit. Last year, Pir Mazharul Haq, former education minister for Sindh, opposed setting up a public university in Hyderabad. This is the eminence of our democratic leaders; instead of doing their job, they help make the society even worse. Karachi’s leading political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) should have also taken the responsibility of upholding urban Sindh’s education system and obliterating the cheating culture. I wish to see the day when our country will be known for its commendable education system and not for its tendency to find shortcuts. We will have to decimate this dishonourable culture very soon, otherwise there will be no hope for our future generations to have a brighter tomorrow. This post originally appeared here.


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    I was not shocked at all. The room did not look like that of an informant; adequately lit, curtains drawn, handful of furniture, most noticeable of which was the centre table decorated with an unlit candle. Perhaps he was expecting a power outage; part and parcel of Karachi these days. You would be surprised to know that crime reporting is really not as dramatic as it seems on the one hour investigation shows on TV. And here I was, sitting in front of a person, a man the age of my younger brother, who sat there with more confidence than I could muster and not a hint of menace. He had been staring at me for over a minute and when I just couldn’t help myself any longer I blurted out,

    “So, you have a story for me?”
    This better be worth it, I thought to myself. The guy had woken me past midnight and I could not bear with the thought that a false call ruined my slumber, especially when I had planned to visit my family early in the morning; we were throwing a party for my younger brother for finally joining the local police force. Aah… finally a police recruit in our family. I got lost in my thoughts when the guy took out a cigarette from the pocket of his faded jeans and said,
    “Yes, I’m sorry I bothered you at this time, but my people were not expecting this.” “Can you give me your background? Who do you work for” I asked, refusing his offer to smoke.
    Grinning, he replied,
    “I don’t work for any one. I am sorry for lying to you.”
    “I am not a part of any big fancy undercover operation. See, you wouldn’t have come running to interview a self-employed person at 2am in Johar Town now would you?”
    Looking at my expression, he continued,
    “See Mr Naveed, a little lie doesn’t hurt anyone if we do it for the sake of society.”
    Sensing there was more to this man than met the eye, I stayed quite.
    “But I promised you a story and I will give you a good one.”
    He lit the cigarette and continued,
    “My friend Chandio, who is in the other room, had a crazy idea a month back. You can’t blame him. Even you will end up going crazy if someone mugs you thrice at gun point. I bet half of this city is crazy since we have been mugged at least once in our life time. Seriously Mr Naveed, once you see that loaded barrel pointing at your face, you can never go back to who you were. So I found Chandio crazy as well when he let me in on his brilliant idea. He said, what if we do the same? What if we start mugging the muggers? No ethics would disapprove of this. We would take what does not belong to them. Like Robin Hood! But we would give it back to ‘us’…”
    And then in a deceivingly innocent voice he said,
    “Now, Naveed Sahab, don’t judge us. We were very poor at that time.”
    He took another drag from the cigarette and continued,
    “So one day we decided to try it. I acted as bait and started talking on my easily noticeable iPhone in the middle of the crowded II Chundrigar Road. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of people getting mugged there. Only this time, we took the game to them and trust me Mr Naveed, it had barely been 30 minutes before someone nudged me from behind. For the first time in my life, I was happy to see a gun pointing towards me. I handed my phone to him without saying a word. Soon after, Chandio followed him on his Honda 70 and on an empty street, ran over him. Chandio took my mobile and the mugger’s satchel filled with shiny touch screens.”
    I was hooked
    “The mugger must have broken his leg because we saw some bystanders gathering to help him. Had he known that the same people he mugs everyday are helping him, he probably would not have done so. See Mr Naveed, we were not only changing our fortunes, we were changing lives.”
    After a brief pause he continued,
    “It was all going well and even the crime rate at II Chundrigar Road dropped. We hired two day workers from Lyari to assist us. Don’t be surprised, we followed the contracting model.”
    He grazed the burning end of the cigarette on the table and went on,
    “Times were good until this evening when Chandio hit a mugger at Sea View. Apart from the stolen goods, something else caught our eyes… his ID card.”
    He looked straight at me, with an unreadable expression of his face and continued,
    “We were expecting it might catch your attention as well.”
    There was a tense pause and then he just smiled. After a second he yelled out loud,
    “Chandio! Bring in our guest.”
    With the sound of each footstep nearing my heart sank deeper. I looked up to see a badly bruised man being dragged in by ‘Chandio’. I could recognise that face in thousands. My younger brother was not going to be at his own celebration tomorrow.


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  • 05/31/14--23:00: You let me down, my friend
  • Teenage years are said to be the golden age of a person’s life; when a person feels unchained and independent as if the whole universe lies beneath him. Nothing seems unattainable, boundaries are invisible and risk remains a concept unheard of. It was during my teenage years, that I met you my dear friend. When I got hold of you for the first time it was as if I had found a dear friend. You completed me and I felt like you would never let go of my hand. And you never did, my friend. In times of good and bad, you were always there. But throughout our friendship there were times at which you let me down too. The first time was in college when I saw some girls walking and laughing like angels, outside the canteenDesperate to leave an impression, I took hold of you. I thought they would appreciate our friendship but they didn’t. You let me down, when their expressions labelled me guilty. Perhaps they thought I am in a relationship with you. Maybe they thought you are more important to me than them. College was over and I remember how you helped me study during examinations. You stayed awake all night to help me. I passed and I am so thankful to you. But you let me down the day my mother saw us holding hands together. Though she said nothing, I still get embarrassed when I recall the look on her face. Perhaps she did not like her son in your company. Maybe she thought you were spoiling me. Time passed and our friendship deepened. I’m sure you remember when I broke up with the love of my life. That was a crucial point in my life, full of conflicting emotions and feelings, but you stood by me through thick and think. She left but you didn’t, my friend. But then again, on the night of my wedding, you let me down. Dressed as the groom, as I approached my bride with love, I noticed something in her eyes. She must have smelled your presence in my breath. Though she said nothing, her beautiful eyes told me she was upset. I can understand though, I can understand that my bride did not want to share her husband with anyone else. She didn’t like the idea of someone else having touched my lips. Soon enough, responsibilities started piling up on me, droplets of problems started raining over me and I started getting old. Every day was a new fight, a new challenge. I needed you every now and then, and you never say ‘no’. But then, my son started looking at us with a strange look in his eyes. You let me down again. He didn’t want his father’s hands touching anyone else with affection; he wanted me to never touch you again. But you didn’t understand – you never walked away. Then I got old and then, my dear friend, you broke me. I saw you holding hands with my teenage son. How could you cheat on me? How could you use your charms on my son of all people? My son! I never thought that my son, who hated our company, would befriend you. You betrayed me. That day I died my first death. Today, as I lay in my death bed, you have ignited an painful and uncontrollable fire in my body, I have realised who you really are. I can see clearly now. You were never my friend. You only stayed with me so you could become popular in my social circle. Your intention was to betray me from the first day onwards. You were the only reason I stayed lonely, the sole reason that compelled me to set aside other important relations. And I did it all for you. But now I regret it. I regret it because you were never a friend, you were a disease. That is why my dear cigarette, you let me down…

    hospital bed (jupiterimages)hospital bed (jupiterimages)

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