Articles on this Page
- 11/29/14--03:03: _A lethal weapon or ...
- 12/07/14--00:00: _Karachi: Chronicles...
- 12/12/14--05:34: _What is the differe...
- 01/01/15--03:39: _There is more to us...
- 01/17/15--23:00: _Can Pakistanis rise...
- 01/29/15--11:01: _Bridge kay us par
- 02/06/15--04:42: _Memories of Shikarp...
- 02/10/15--03:15: _Dear PTI and MQM, a...
- 02/14/15--00:54: _We are solely to be...
- 02/14/15--04:13: _Really Pakistan? Ha...
- 02/17/15--05:49: _Lahore blast: When ...
- 02/18/15--06:21: _They came, they saw...
- 02/21/15--01:45: _The story of my lif...
- 03/06/15--11:01: _The end is nigh, wh...
- 03/11/15--05:05: _#NineZeroRaid: Why ...
- 03/12/15--03:24: _Is the wicked game ...
- 03/12/15--03:24: _Will the real Afrid...
- 03/14/15--03:21: _Why Lahore is the b...
- 03/16/15--12:01: _She was my mistake
- 03/18/15--01:14: _Pakistan’s moral ca...
- 11/29/14--03:03: A lethal weapon or a regular red leather ball?
- 12/07/14--00:00: Karachi: Chronicles of a mad man – the girl who never smiled
- 12/12/14--05:34: What is the difference between an MQM strike and a PTI strike?
- 01/17/15--23:00: Can Pakistanis rise to the occasion?
- 01/29/15--11:01: Bridge kay us par
- 02/06/15--04:42: Memories of Shikarpur, the Paris of Sindh
- 02/10/15--03:15: Dear PTI and MQM, abuse and vitriol won’t get us anywhere
- 02/14/15--00:54: We are solely to be blamed for the water crisis in Pakistan
- 02/14/15--04:13: Really Pakistan? Haya Day on Valentine’s Day?
- 02/17/15--05:49: Lahore blast: When will the barbarity end?
- 02/21/15--01:45: The story of my life as a Poetic Scribe
- 03/06/15--11:01: The end is nigh, when North Nazimabad is the new Clifton
- 03/11/15--05:05: #NineZeroRaid: Why is MQM the only one being targeted?
- 03/12/15--03:24: Is the wicked game of Chinese Whispers destroying Pakistan’s beauty?
- 03/12/15--03:24: Will the real Afridi please stand up?
- 03/14/15--03:21: Why Lahore is the best get away for a Karachiite
- 03/16/15--12:01: She was my mistake
- 03/18/15--01:14: Pakistan’s moral catastrophe – Don’t execute Shafqat Hussain
Cricket, the gentleman’s game, has seen so many changes since its inception, from coloured kits to batting power-plays, from mongoose bats to LED stumps, but one thing that has remained unchanged over these years is the hard, solid, weighing 5 3/4 ounce red cherry – the cricket leather ball. And once again, the hard round ball has delivered a fatal blow which has plunged the cricketing fraternity into darkness and has also raised a question on the safety of the cricket ball. Once again it has been proved that it will hit harder than the stroke of any bat – the most recent being the death of Australian opener Phil Hughes, who was struck by a short bouncer in a domestic match for the New South Wales. Hughes was attempting a pull shot, when he missed it and the ball struck him on the skull in an unprotected area, just below the safety helmet. Over these years, batsmen have employed different safety gears to combat the danger this little ball can cause. Even then the little missile sneaked in and caused irreparable damage. But this is not the first time that the leather ball has dealt a deadly blow. Let’s take a look at some of the lives taken by this red cherry: Darryn Randall (South Africa, 2013) Aged 32 years The wicketkeeper-batsman was struck on the side of the head while attempting a pull shot during a domestic match in South Africa. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital but the doctors failed to revive him. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300"] Photo: Remembered.co.za[/caption] Zulfiqar Bhatti (Pakistan, 2013) Aged 22 years He was struck on his chest and collapsed to the ground while batting during a club game in Pakistan. He was taken to the hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Zulfiqar Bhatti (left), a local cricket player, died when a ball hit his chest during a match in Sukkur. Photo courtesy: Family[/caption] Alcwyn Jenkins (England, 2009) Aged 72 years The umpire was struck on the head by a throw from one of the fielders while officiating in a league match. He was airlifted to a hospital but failed to recover. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="369"] Photo courtesy: Wales News[/caption] Raman Lamba (India, 1998), aged 38 years The former Indian opener suffered brain injuries after being hit on the head while fielding at short-leg during a club match in Dhaka. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="354"] Photo courtesy: Sportstar 1987 edition[/caption] Abdul Aziz (Pakistan, 1959), aged 18 years The wicketkeeper collapsed while batting after being hit in the chest in a domestic match in Karachi. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. George Summers (England, 1870), aged 25 years Summers died from a blow on the head while batting for Nottinghamshire at Lord’s. He died a few days later due to the injury. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="366"] Photo courtesy: 'Cricket' magazine[/caption] This list only contains of the deaths caused due to injury by the leather ball. Seeing the number of players who are maimed, injured and even killed by this ball, one wonders if its usage should still be permitted on the pitch – and if yes, then what safety measures can be taken to ensure that it doesn’t become the lethal weapon it has the capacity to become? Policy makers have their work cut-out and they better act fast, before another Phillips Hughes loses his life.
Each night starts off the same way. Something is happening. I can feel it. Someone is calling my name. I have no choice. I have no say in this. I must respond. The echoes of the screams bounce off of every wall in this city as they make their way towards me. Where will it be tonight? Where will I finally see my own reflection? These streets haunt me. The electric energy of 15 million people all radiate through one light bulb. It is hauntingly beautiful. The very light it radiates not only throws me into a sea of confusion, but also attracts me like a moth to a flame. I go out every night looking for her. She is out there somewhere. I just don’t know what she is. Is she a wandering soul looking for me as well? Is she a mother looking for her lost child? What if she is a street alley that swallows people up and spits out their corpses? What if she is a painting that puts all of this to reason? Perhaps she is a man who has just written the perfect song. I have to find this song. I need to find that song. I drive through this city, looking for my next prey. I don’t know which way I am going but the scent keeps on getting stronger. I pass the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine, and can see its impact on the eyes of people swarming around it in hopes of getting a better grip on their reality. What are they hoping for? Will they get what they came for? Tired eyes continue to drop tears of hope to the tune of a beat. This hypnotic and repetitive beat is being played by a stoned drums-playing-duo on the side of the shrine. I understand the stoned duo. I know what they are doing and why they are doing it. It is the only constant noise in this city of madness. It beats with a rhythm of a perfect heartbeat. It reminds me of how alive everything is. Karachi has been given her own musical composition as I drive through the sea of people looking out from my car window. Is this all real? The colours of everything through my window are so rich and scary. People are reaching into my heart and yet still perfectly placed on the other side of my screen. This must be high definition TV. I make my way towards Boat Basin. My hands, suddenly and on impulse, turn the steering wheel towards the side of the road. I stop the car. There she is right in front of me, and yet she doesn’t see me. How can she see me? We are situated less than ten feet away from each other and yet are living in completely different worlds. To her, I, in my car, am a reality she is far away from. I am just a blur in her eyes with no face and no structure. But I see her. I instantly know that she is my story tonight. She is now you and you will be given a name for my records. Your name is Safia. I can tell of the heartache you have lived through. Your beaten-down skin and aged feet reveal your age to be about 45-years-old. However, on closer inspection, your eyes scream a bitter truth: you are no older than 20. You are wearing your best dress tonight. Why wouldn’t you? It is a beautiful night littered with stars all over the sky. Sadly, it is also your only dress. I see the stains and tears of your clothes do not impact your confidence of being in them. I can tell that you can still see the beauty of the colourful yellow flower design going up and down your clothes. Have I ever seen a more beautiful dress? Perhaps the many stains on this print each tell a different story of your life and now you have simply given up trying to rid yourself of these stains. I can understand why. What good is it removing the physical stains if the memories are permanently tattooed on you? You start walking past people in a quicker pace than normal. I make my way out of my car and into your world. However, I am still protected with a layer of invisibility in your eyes because, you see, I am wearing clothes that cannot register with your mind. My clothes are far too clean and expensive, and ironed for you to see through your blur. I am relieved at the power of my invisibility so that I can continue to follow you. You make your way past people munching away into their chicken tikkas and plates of samosas. I can see you walk up to a group of people smoking a shisha. You talk without smiling. You are a hardened woman. I see eyes, a mouth, nose, ears, and a body, but your skin has become as hard as rubber. There is no smile. The people nonchalantly brush you away, and without losing face, you simply turn and walk to the next group. Eventually, I see you approach an older man, who is probably in his fifties. You stand in front of him and start to talk. Again, there is no smile. I wish I could see you smile. I invisibly walk right next to you so I can hear you. You continue to speak. You tell this man you want him to buy you some milk for your two-year-old boy. You insist you don’t care if he doesn’t give you money, but you just need the milk. The man stares at you. You have a poker face. All the stares in the world cannot change that poker face of yours. The man takes out his wallet and proceeds to give you a hundred rupees. I feel a rush of excitement come over me. I look at the man who has just started to smile as he hands the money over. I recognise that smile. He is pouring all of his guilt into that note and depleting himself of any further mental stress for the night. It is all he can do and he has done it well. You take the money, still without smiling, and walk away. Surely, a little smile now wouldn’t hurt, would it, Safia? You continue onwards. I don’t take you for a married woman. There is too much awareness and knowledge in your eyes of the grim reality of your situation for anyone else to be a part of it. I conclude you are the parent of a bastard child. I feel comforted with the fact that you will feed him tonight. You make your way to the little store nearby and pick up a carton of milk. You pay the money, get some change, and make your way into the night. But you can’t shake me off so easily. I am right behind you. You cross the street and walk towards the entrance of the park right opposite Boat Basin. I don’t see your child. In fact, I don’t see anyone else around you. Where is your child? What have you done to your child Safia? As I make my way closer to you, I suddenly see the great mystery of the night unfold itself right in front of me. You have no child, my dear. You lied. As you sit down and open the carton, I see in front of you, three incredibly small baby kittens hidden behind the rock you just sat on. There is a metallic small bowl right next to them, which you have just filled up. Without wasting a moment, the three kittens dive their tongues into the bowl and start slurping away. They aren’t scared of you. They aren’t scared of anything. They are just grateful that they are being fed. You sit on your rock and turn back around to face the might of the Boat Basin market in front of you. Of course, you don’t see me on the other side as I continue to stare. You take out a cigarette and light it up. You take a drag, and look back at the kittens. You turn back around again, and for the first time in the night, you start to smile. You smile for a few seconds as you continue smoking your cigarette. I realise that perhaps I have never seen a more justifiably earned smile before. I try to imagine what kind of a cruel reality you are a part of where you have to lie about a starving kid just to feed a bunch of homeless kittens. I know you conjured up a kid because if you did not, those kittens would not live through the night. You continue to smile. I also realise that that is my cue. I smile back at you – of course you do not see it – and make my way back into my car. As I leave Boat Basin and make my way back into the night, I pass yet again the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine. The beat emerges back amongst the many other sounds of the night. I drive through taking in all these sounds. There are of course some sounds that I know are of sadness and pain. However, on this starry night in Karachi, I can also very clearly hear the sounds of three kittens meowing away merrily. And I know, somewhere, Safia has smiled yet once again. This is my Karachi. I am a superhero. I am invisible to millions. I am no one. I am you.
It’s that time again. The city’s roads are busy with protestors and crowds are congregating to listen to their political leader. TV anchors and websites of media houses are keeping everyone abreast of the latest happenings. There is a political strike, a protest march, in Karachi and we have been through plenty of those in past few decades. So much so that there is practically a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that we all follow. Stock up the night before, watch early news to check routes, head to work if we can, call home to say we are there safely, get told by security to leave because it is getting rough, get home and watch the news. Repeat at next strike and keep decreasing turnaround times. However, this time it feels different and as a child of the 90s, a particularly strike and strife filled decade even for Karachi, I can tell. The biggest difference is that the strike call was not by the usual suspects, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Sure there are other parties that call for strikes but they have as much effect as Indian pacers on dead pitches, honest tries but nothing to discuss at the next day’s water cooler. Word is that two, just two, entities control Karachi’s barometer, Abdullah Shah Ghazi and the leader of the MQM, one Altaf Hussain. Since Ghazi Sahib intervenes only when it’s about to get very wet and windy, which is seldom, it’s really the MQM that was supposed to be experts at impacting the city. No, this strike is by the (relatively) new kids on the block as far as city-wide strikes are controlled. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), now in its fourth month of protests and third phase of action, has decided to do shut downs in different parts of the country to put pressure on the ruling party. After Faisalabad, Khan Sahib and his passionistas are in Karachi to keep the protests simmering away and hence the call for today’s strike. But this strike is different from the ones we are used to and the signs are all to see. Here are some of the major differences between a PTI strike and an MQM one that I have noticed so far: Massi (maid) magic The first sign that things are different is when the cleaning maid shows up. Just when we had expected to clean the house that looked as if it has been hit by a tornado, a tornado that also entertained guests the night before, and resigned ourselves to our fate lo and behold the most loved household member waltzes with nary an excuse. We asked her about the hartal (strike) and she replied,
“Yes there is a strike but it is not the dangerous sort. I know I will be able to make it here and go back easily.”Viva la massi! Dude, where’s my fear? I started to get dressed for work expecting my mother to say what she always does during an MQM strike which is basically along the lines of,
“Are you crazy?” “No one will be there.” “Don’t take the nice car!” “Have you signed your will?”I went to her armed with my typical responses of being brave and deadlines. She first looked confused at my dramatic pause and then seeing that I was ready, she waved me off with a nonchalant goodbye. Confusion was rising and I had to ask,
“Ammi, aren’t you worried about the strike”?Sipping her morning tea she replied,
“No. The massi’s here, she’s the one I was most worried about, and this is a PTI strike.”Then it hit me – there’s no sense of fear, no lingering feeling of menace. It’s a strike but what are the PTI people going to do, slogan me to death? Cheerio off to work! Keep on truckin’ When I got to the roads, the way was blocked by some people waving flags. During a normal strike, I would retrace my way with the alacrity of a deer chancing upon a tiger at lunch time but fear factor way down, I approached them and asked about the situation.
“Sorry about the blockage but we have left alternate routes open. We don’t want to make the city impassable.”I asked around and was shown the way. This was something new for me. The city was closed down but one could in fact move about. Let’s go! Flower power? As I drove off, it struck me that the boys, alright very young men, were decidedly different from my previous experience of strikers. Yes, they would burn tires and have the usual paraphernalia, what’s a strike without some burning tires right, but they looked harmless otherwise. The raffish clothes and shades were more promenade than politics and the female protestors were the sort you wanted to do homework for back in university. Some protestors were having tea and samosas while others preening about thinking themselves as modern day Che Guevaras, taking selfies from expensive phones. And wait, was that the guy from the dramas and his friend the model? This looked way more fun than my last office shindig and if I wasn’t late for work I may have joined in. Viva la party! Missing hardware So far there was no sign of the other strike staple guns. Not even an itty bitty 9mm or 38 revolver. There was something unnerving about this Karachi protest and its lack of proper protocol. No guns, no violence? I even gamely tried to pass on a stick to a protestor and he thought I am selling sugar cane. I tried to reason with him, don’t do it for you, do it for the media reps, what the hell will they report? Spare a thought for the screaming talking heads who descend upon us at the sign of any hits. Do you want them to actually do some real work and talk about issues? The sadist refused and I left shaking my head. Aren’t revolutions supposed to be violent? This was turning out to be more ‘kiss kiss’ and less ‘bang bang’. Business as usual I pulled into the parking lot and trudged to my desk. I was barely seated when the smell of fresh parathas assailed my senses. Some colleagues were having them and I was reminded of the hollowness inside, the hollowness that comes from a missed breakfast. Since the shops would be closed and this has to be a home product, I sauntered over hoping for some largess. There was but little left but I was gracious with my compliments.
“Your mother is a great cook”, I told my colleague hoping to catch him early next time. “Oh this is not from home. I got it from the dhaba across the road.”It hit me. Shops are open? On a strike? I rushed over to the dhaba and while he fixed my breakfast, I asked him about closing shop.
“Nobody has told us to shut down. You can if you want to and go to the protest but we have regular customers and can’t”, the owner replied.So no goons closing shops? No na maloom afraad? No hungry days? Viva la food! New spaces The final thing was the demographic spread of the protests. Normally, the sit-ins are concentrated in the middle income areas. But PTI has garnered support from those who until recently were outside the political realm. They cut across the social economic lines, the well-heeled rubbing shoulders, figuratively speaking, with the labourers and so the protests were spread from Teen Talwar to University Road and beyond. Not to say that other parties don’t have support from different income groups, but their sit-ins don’t usually spread to Clifton and its nearby areas. Has PTI given a glimpse of the future or will Karachi be subjected to same old soon enough? Looking at all this, it seems today’s strike could be changing my SOP soon. The real victory though will be if the city never has to be shut down by anyone. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope we get to that stage soon.
Pakistan isn’t an extraordinary country. But Pakistan is a country brimming with extraordinary people. They are not perfect – yet therein lies their beauty. Extraordinary Pakistanis don’t wait for a perfect opportunity, a perfect personality or a perfect external landscape to make an impact.
This is the first insight we stumbled upon after interviewing extraordinary Pakistanis for a series of articles published on our website Extraordinary Pakistanis. Unlike the rest of us, extraordinary Pakistanis aren’t turned off by the problems plaguing this country. Where we see hopelessness, they see problems they can solve. Where we see a failed state, they see a nation waiting to be saved. And where we see escape as the only viable option, they see selfless determination to put things right.
Here is our round up of 10 extraordinary Pakistanis whose stories made an impact on us in 2014:
Haris Suleman – teenage pilot
Haris Suleman is the 17-year-old boy who began his venture to fly around the world in 30 days to raise money for schools in Pakistan, and lost his life to the cause when his plane went down into the Pacific Ocean.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Haris Suleman after he landed in Pakistan. His single engine Hawker Beechcraft crashed shortly after taking off from Pago Pago in American Samoa. Photo: Athar Khan/Express[/caption]
Suleman was a thrill and adventure seeker like any other 17-year-old Pakistani boy. However, what’s different about him is his sense of purpose and drive to break new boundaries, which is visible from his writing,
“I’m preparing for the biggest adventure of my life; to break the world record by flying round the world in a single-engine plane in just 30 days,” wrote Suleman, before setting out on his journey.
“I will be flying as pilot-in-command with my father Babar, who will only take over the controls in an emergency situation. If we succeed, I will be the youngest person ever to accomplish this daredevil feat. But I’m not just flying to break a world record; I’m flying to raise money for The Citizens Foundation (TCF), a non-profit organisation that is leading Pakistan’s silent education revolution to help educate Pakistan’s poorest children both in urban slums and remote, rural villages.”
Mushtaq Chhapra – founding director and chairperson of TCF
In 2014, The Citizens Foundation proudly achieved a target it set for itself, back in 1995 when it first started, to establish 1000 purpose-built schools all across Pakistan, and make education accessible at grassroots level. TCF is a shining example of hard work, selfless devotion, and conviction – a movement started and nurtured by a team of six extraordinary Pakistanis.
One of these individuals is Mushtaq Chhapra, the founding director and the chairperson of TCF, but more than that, an ordinary citizen silently helping millions of children from slums and rural areas of Pakistan to pursue their dreams and build a progressive future for themselves, their families, and their country.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Mushtaq Chhapra (C). Photo: File[/caption]
TCF has managed to make a credible identity for itself over the years, attracting donations from all over the world and marking its presence all over the country. But as expected, the ride was never a smooth one. The businessman-cum-philanthropist mused on how the journey has unfolded,
“It has been such an extraordinary ride full of bumps, challenges and criticisms. From the word go we decided we wanted to build 1000 schools – we didn’t want a small target. So many people said we were mad to invest so much money and effort or that it’s impossible,” he said.
“But we felt that a change was needed from within, and on a larger scale in order to impact lives. So we just kept our heads low and continued to follow our vision. The rest is history!”
When asked about what gave him the motivation and strength to continue on, despite the fact that there were no financial benefits for him, he gave a response that is worth pondering over for all Pakistanis,
“The motivation is the gratification when you see someone’s life change right in front of you, and to know that you had some small hand in that. The TCF kids, who probably would never have known life beyond the poverty and difficulties of their households, turn up with stable careers as teachers, doctors and engineers. In that moment, it all seems worth it – and so much more.”
Dr Ishrat Husain – dean and director of IBA
Dr Ishrat Husain shatters every negative stereotype we have of Pakistani leaders today. As dean and director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Dr Ishrat has quietly raised a large amount for the transformation of one of Pakistan’s finest institutions of higher learning. Dr Ishrat throws the full weight of his credibility to build the profile and change the performance of every institution he serves. Prior to IBA, Dr Ishrat ushered in a similar era of transformation as governor of Pakistan’s State Bank, leading an internationally-recognised programme of restructuring there.
“Hard work is number one,” shared Dr Ishrat, as he revealed the drivers of his success.
“There are no short cuts to success. Second, I try to be adaptable and constantly learn new ways of doing things. It’s important to know about new developments taking place in your country and the rest of the world. For example, when I was working at the World Bank, I kept a close eye on the macroeconomic landscape in Pakistan, which gave me a head start when I joined as governor of the State Bank. Meanwhile, most boys and girls today are so narrowly focused on their grades that they don’t even take the time to read newspapers to understand what’s happening around them. This has to change.”
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Dr Ishrat Husain. Photo: File[/caption]
Ahsan Jamil and Arif Naqvi – CEO and chairperson of Aman Foundation
Ahsan Jamil is leading one of the most audacious social transformation initiatives in Pakistan today. As the chief executive officer and one of the founding trustees of Aman Foundation, Jamil is pioneering a constructive model for social change in Pakistan. If you live in Karachi, you would have experienced the blaring sirens of the iconic yellow-coloured Aman ambulances. The ambulance service, which was launched in March 2009, has already conducted more than 312,000 emergency medical interventions.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Ahsan Jamil (L) and Arif Naqvi (R)[/caption]
In August 2008, Jamil joined Arif Naqvi to bring Aman Foundation to life.
“In many ways, this was about being a Pakistani and wanting to give back,” Jamil shared. “If we don’t give back, who will? However, none of this would happen without Arif Naqvi making quite possibly the single largest private philanthropic donation in Pakistan’s recent history.”
“Arif didn’t want Aman to be run as an NGO,” Jamil added. “He had a vision for venture philanthropy by running Aman like a private sector organisation and chasing the maximum social return on investment in health and education. Our idea is to build running models in Karachi for various initiatives and then find partners to reapply our successful models in other parts of the country.”
Saad Latif – Acumen Fund Global fellow
If Saad Latif was born in a political family, he could easily become a serious contender for the highest office in the country. Latif has made Pakistan proud by becoming the only Pakistani (and South Asian) to be selected as an Acumen Fund Global fellow for 2015, after competing against 1,200 individuals from 105 countries. Acumen fellows are described as “innovators, game changers and visionaries looking to make substantial change in the world”, but barely anyone in Pakistan knows Latif’s name.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] Saad Latif. Photo: Twitter[/caption]
His remarkable journey started in 2007, when emergency rule was imposed in Pakistan and he was thrust in the spotlight as the president of the Student Council at LUMS. A significant portion of the student community wanted to come out and protest but LUMS had no culture or history of mass political student mobilisation – precisely the reason countless parents had trusted the institution with grooming their children in the first place. Latif’s decisions in those fateful days could alter the very fabric and future of one of Pakistan’s leading universities.
As part of his fellowship, Latif will now spend nearly a year in Tanzania where he will work with an organisation that generates electricity from rice husks in rural areas and then possibly bring this model back to Pakistan after his fellowship.
Sarah Adeel – founder of Lettuce Bee Kids
Sarah Adeel set up Lettuce Bee Kids for the children who grow up without having any childhood at all – children who grow up on the streets, in orphanages or in madrassas. In the absence of stable home environments, they grow up to be broken and shunned. She has come up with a creative and unique way to provide a self sustainable space that provides maximum social inclusion to these dejected children and provide them with the upbringing they never had a chance at in their own confined environments.
“We are not a school; there are quite enough of those already. What we are trying to be is that bridge between these kids and schools, which connects them with the existing schools after improving their self-image. Our idea is to give them social acceptance at a young age so tomorrow when we place them in schools, they can adjust better and don’t fall out the next day because they feel they do not belong”, Adeel explained.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sarah Adeel. Photo: Screenshot[/caption]
We asked her where she got her inspiration and resilience from, to which she said,
“My single source of both inspiration and resilience are the children I am working with. Once their self-image changes, so do their dreams. After this realisation, there was no turning back for me.”
Adeel’s efforts are truly extraordinary and she has proven that one doesn’t need big resources or plans to help others. Sometimes, smart ideas, innovative collaboration and basic empathy are all you need.
Saad Haroon – The (second) funniest man in the world
When Saad Haroon isn’t putting on a show, you realise that comedy is actually a very serious business for him and the burden of representing Pakistan is a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
“It feels good to change the narrative,” said Haroon, referring to how being a Pakistani comedian in the United States forces people to change their view of Pakistan.
“But I try not to over think it. For me, being a comedian is a compulsion. It’s a drug. People enjoy my jokes but I enjoy them having a good time more.”
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Saad Haroon. Photo: Saad Haroon's Official Facebook Page[/caption]
It hasn’t been an easy journey but Haroon has persevered. He created Pakistan’s first improvisational comedy troupe, named Blackfish, which besides being a huge success in Pakistan, was also chosen to represent Pakistan in an international theatre project in Manchester, England. Haroon was also the creator, host and writer for Pakistan’s first English language comedy show, The Real News.
Haroon’s story is powerful on its own but the idea that he represents is even more influential. If a Pakistani comedian can make it big, what’s stopping the rest of us from achieving our dreams, beyond our usual list of excuses?
Imran Sarwar and Aneeq Cheema – founders of Rabtt
Too often we underestimate the importance of empathy and compassion. We find faults in others, criticise them for their behaviour, and often turn a blind eye to their suffering when it should actually be much easier to try to understand and relate. For two fresh graduates, the message was loud and clear. Imran Sarwar and Aneeq Cheema realised that one reason we rush so quickly to our own righteous judgments and assumptions is that we are never wired to react in any other way. And herein lies the problem.
They began to understand that empathy can only come through connection, and through education – if we can see from the eyes and think from the minds of others, we will be less quick in our hatred, bias and indifference. For them, this was a much-needed solution to all of Pakistan’s inter-community, inter-class and ethnic tensions.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Imran Sarwar and Aneeq Cheema. Photo: Mehreen Ovais[/caption]
This comprehension inspired them to set up Rabtt – a platform where volunteers and mentors interact with students from high schools in an effort to make their educational experience more holistic, fostering the ability to question, analyse, and empathise with different worldviews.
The spirit of Rabtt – literally meaning ‘connection’, is to weave the threads of empathy through a desire to understand, to analyse and be critical.
“We incessantly build barriers and categories in the society, between the elite and the underprivileged, the educated and the uneducated, the teacher and the one being taught, the others and us. Rabtt is an attempt to understand the ‘other’, to break different barriers we have constructed in the learning space, and consequently in the society. Rabtt brings together students and mentors from different walks of life and creates a space that is conducive to mutual learning and respect”, explained the young founders.
These extraordinary Pakistanis gave us a reason to hope and believe in Pakistan, despite all the negative news going around. We hope to continue to share more inspiring stories next year, building on a narrative which shows to the world – and more importantly to ourselves – that there is more to Pakistan than extremism.
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It’s been a while since I last visited Pakistan; long enough that the kids I knew have now grown up to become functional, responsible adults. The friends I made are descending into the middle-age bracket. Many of the relations I had have either passed or are in the late stages of their lives. In a nutshell, a tremendous amount of transition and transformation has taken place as far as my personal life, as well as those I left behind, is concerned. I keep a close eye on a regular basis, thanks to the great tools of technology, on how the Pakistani society has evolved and continues to grow rapidly. Those who know me often suggest that I should visit South Asia to witness first-hand the incredible changes and the good stuff that’s happening in the region. I guess I’m too lazy and not young enough anymore to embark upon a journey that might entail and stir up some unwarranted emotional feelings. For some odd reason, although I travel extensively, putting Pakistan on the itinerary has been a tough proposition. I’ve often been accused of being judgmental and unkind when it comes to Pakistan and its culture. To be honest, that’s not true. Having lived in the country long enough and observed it from outside for eons now, I have, more than often, been overcome with dejection and disappointment and hence, at times, I sound like a jerk when it comes to Pakistan. One is disappointed only when one has hopes and aspirations for certain people or a particular nation. My feelings are similar to a father having dreams of success for his offspring but ends up bitter and devastated when he finds them not doing too well or unable to meet his expectations. Such has been my love-hate story with Pakistan. Pakistanis are doing wonderfully well in the West, to say the least. I see them everywhere, smart, sharp, successful and industrious. They are blessed with all kinds of skills and contribute productively to the societies they reside in. Needless to say, they are law-abiding, futuristic and well networked. In the backdrop of this phenomenal effectiveness of the community, I cannot but question Pakistan’s steady decline into a sad, unsystematic, scattered polity that is blessed with such great folks who survive and thrive when faced with the toughest of odds and environments elsewhere. Why this dichotomy? Why this inability to raise the bar and make Pakistan a better place when the same exact people are able to make a positive impact outside? I’ve scratched my head hard but I doubt there are any easy answers. It’s a complicated situation, one that only worsens when we start looking for solutions. I know for sure that Pakistan suffers from a crisis of leadership. Politicians, generals, all seem to have failed to deliver. The current crop of office bearers consists of a bunch of self-aggrandising nincompoops who seem to be running around like headless chickens. The issue of leadership crisis further deepens when one realises the fact that the people elected the guy who failed twice before for the third time as the prime minister. It goes to show that there’s not many options to play around with; no fresh blood that can inculcate a true spirit of socio-economic development and lead the nation to a certain level of prosperity. Imran Khan, apparently the sole beacon of hope, continues to get rejected so much so that he’s now out on the streets, declaring blatant disobedience and acting like a headless chicken himself. Pakistan has a religion problem. Back in the day, it wasn’t such a huge deal. In fact, people were secular minded. Now it appears that religion is an ultra-sensitive affair which is not to be discussed and only leads to anger, madness or killing if one dares to speak up. Granted that an overwhelming population of the country is Muslim, the spirit of true Islam is, for the most part, missing in action. Politics is heavily intertwined into matters of faith and hence India, Kashmir, Israel, the US, our nuclear program, religious minority issues are in essence dealt with combative, superfluous and non-peaceful ways. While Christians and Hindus are relentlessly maimed and murdered by ignorant zealots, starting a conversation regarding the reform of blasphemy laws is a no-go area. There’s too much of emotional heat found in the system. It seems as if people get worked up when it comes to issues like India. The element of logic makes a convenient exit when one talks about making peace with the ‘archenemy’. Peace is not a bad thing and pretty much a gettable concept. So then why is it so impossible to initiate a realistically prudent dialogue with India? Why is it considered an act of cowardice to intermingle with our neighbours across the border? Why this hatred when Indians and Pakistanis are intrinsically one people who lived together for centuries until only about seven decades or so ago? A groundswell of economic opportunities can appear on the horizon if Pakistan and India make peace with each other. Other than the Palestine connection, does Pakistan have any points of friction with Israel? How much do the Arabs care about Pakistan? Thinking outside the box, if an olive branch is offered to Israel, such an act can pay rich dividends in terms of business opportunities and foreign investment. Radical, yes, but something worth pondering over. Lately, I’ve come across grand stories of corrupt officials, bureaucrats and politicians being ‘disciplined’ by the public at large. This is a wonderful development, one that must carry on without hindrance. However, the irony is that the government is not pushed to check the problem. Unless the cancer of corruption is removed from the national arterial system, Pakistan and its citizens cannot be expected to make any economic headway. The growth of social and electronic media has had an overpowering influence in creating awareness but the bottom line is that people power must necessarily be backed by government authority to get things done. Here’s another question that I, for the life of me, can’t find an answer to – why this disgust for Malala Yousafzai? The girl is the darling of the West. Does it bother folks that she’s a globally active and popular figure? Would it not be great if she’s appointed as a goodwill ambassador for enhancing Pakistan’s image? Doesn’t Pakistan need all the Malalas of the world to bolster its image internationally? Granted that the public believes that she did not deserve the Nobel Prize, but the reality is that she got it and no one can deny that. Now let’s move on, think about making the best use of an invaluable resource who can help put in a good word across the globe. Use Malala as an asset and stop condemning her. Is that too much to ask? Sooner rather than later, Pakistanis will have to make hard choices. The days of mediocrity are over. Nations that have fire in their bellies, the ambition to progress and better the lives of the common lot are the ones that excel in modern times. All this militancy, war mongering, macho-istic statements of bravado don’t mean much. What matters in today’s world is how strong a country’s infrastructure is, how resilient its systems are, how much trade and commerce is carried out, volume of exports, flexibility of attitudes and, of course, committed leadership. All this counts toward an A or an A+ rating, and that is what the ultimate goal should be. It’s only a matter of shifting priorities. There is absolutely no dearth of talent, energy and vitality in Pakistan. People, in fact, are yearning to make a positive impact. Young folks are clamouring to step up to the plate. They are suppressed because of the few influential people who think Pakistan is their dad’s personal ranch. One is sure that there are leaders waiting in the wings to introduce fresh thinking into the mix. We can’t see them since the waderas (feudals) and the jagirdars (feudal lords) like to keep the general populace in the background. There are plenty who want to make sensible choices with respect to India, Islam and all things extremist. The gladiators of change and moderation must get together and fight the existing disorderly state of affairs. No hurdle is insurmountable. If Pakistanis can work wonders all over the world, they can turn their own country into a rock solid example of progressive thinking and modernisation. Let’s not think too hard about issues that no longer have much relevance. Let’s just focus about what’s important to build a strong Pakistan and focus on creating a contemporary society. With courage and a sense of initiative and integrity, Pakistanis can certainly rise to the occasion. In the meantime, while I remember the gorgeous Karachi seafront, miss the sweet smell of the Lahore spring and long for hiking in the Margalla Hills, I’ll sit back and plan a trip once the good times roll in.
As a child growing up in Karachi, in PECHS, I just had one dream, one day I will go bridge kay us par (across the bridge, to the other side). The Kala pull was the Berlin wall of my world. Every rickety road I travelled on only strengthened my desire. Every night I slept with a pillow on my rear end, dreaming of the perfectly paved roads on the other side of the bridge. I even wrote a poem,
“I have a dream that one day we will live in a city where we will not be divided by the imperfections in our roads but the content of our character. I have a dream that one day the bikes of Gulshan and the BMWs of Defence will be able to drive on the same tarmac of brotherhood. I have a dream today!”Then the day came. I still remember it vividly. It was a rainy summer afternoon; the monsoon met the city with all its glory. We did what any self-respecting Karachi would do on the rainiest of days – we decided to go to Sea View. My entire neighbourhood decided to rent a bus and go together. All of us boys immediately took off our shirts and climbed on top of the bus with a Pakistani flag in each hand. As our ancestors migrated from India to Pakistan to look for a better life, aboard that W-11 we crossed that Kala pull, it felt like Rosa Parks was also on that bus with us. (I cannot be sure though, but I did hear some woman screaming that she did not want to go to the back of the bus; it could have also been my Phupho.) As soon as we crossed that bridge, bridge kay us par seemed like a dream come true. No more was the bus bumping along, no more did we have to hold on to the railings for dear life, no more, no more. We were in Defence. It felt like we were floating, it seemed like we had left Karachi and entered Venice. It was beautiful. It felt like time stopped; an eternity stuck in that single moment. It took me a long while to realise what was stuck was the bus in a ditch. It did look like Venice but only because none of the rainwater drained away. It did not feel like we were floating, the bus was literally floating. The words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz immediately came to mind,
“Ye dhaag dhaag ujala, ye shab gazeeda sahar, Woh intezaar tha jiska, ye woh sahar toh nahee, Ye woh sahar toh nahee jiskee arzoo le kar, Chalay thay yaar kay mil jaye gi kaheen na kaheen, Falak kay dasht main taaron ki aakhri manzil, Kaheen toh hoga shab-e-sust mauj ka saahil, Kaheen toh ja kar rukay ga safina-e-gham-e-dil.” (This tattered raiment of darkness, This sputtering of dawn, This is not the dawn that we had hoped for. This is not the dawn we had set out for. Through the darkness, Towards the last station of the night stars; Hoping to find the end of our journey, Somewhere on the distant shore Of the languishing sea of night, Where our sorrow-laden ship Would at last come home to anchor.)Where were the roads made of melted butter that I dreamt of all my life? Defence was no better than MA Jinnah Road on a Friday afternoon. In fact, it was hardly better than the roads of Shikarpur. I remember every time I went to my village I saw the naali ka pani (sewerage water) running along the roads. The same sight was now in front of me in the promised land of Defence. Slowly, we lingered on and I gathered the crushed pieces of my dreams. I was glad to see at least some infrastructure when I noticed a pond right before Do Talwar. Somebody later told me it was an underpass. Then, I went to Lahore. And it was in Lahore that I truly saw what underpasses were. Thanks to Shahbaz Sharif, the city has been littered with underpasses. I can only imagine the amount of money that transferred through underpasses beneath the tables of bureaucrats to ensure Shahbaz Sharif could play SimCity 2000 with Lahore. Defence, Model Town, Gulberg; all of Lahore was united in their use of these paved roads. I was glad to leave the infrastructural disaster of Karachi behind and enter this land of underpasses, bridges and overpasses, sometimes all on the same traffic junction. One day I went to androon Lahore. It was almost as if the inner city was a land time forgot. The architecture was Mughal, the clothes were Mughal and the roads felt like the Mughal’s elephants played football on them. I cried out,
“Where are you Shahbaz Sharif?”The man, the saviour, legend has it that Shahbaz Sharif even laid the road to Bethlehem but one has to walk through horse manure in Lahore just to get to Cuckoos Den. Is there no peace to be had in this country? No city where we can shoot a half-decent episode of Top Gear in? Heartbroken, I made my way back to Karachi, as broken and battered as it may be, it is still home. I drove over 1200 km through the heartland of the country. No motorways, no highways, just a man and his car. (And another man herding his cows in the middle of the road along the way.) I would highly recommend the drive to everyone; it was the most adventurous drive of my life. The government has strategically placed potholes along the route to ensure the drivers stay vigilant throughout. Their genius should be lauded. After all, nothing puts the fear of God in your heart more than hitting a pothole at over a 100 km/h. Hungry and thirsty I entered Sindh; the land looked completely barren and lifeless. I was even willing to be kidnapped by dacoits only if they would give me some water. I drove next to carcasses of animals. Somewhere far away I saw a silhouette of giant soldier, was it a mirage? I had to take the risk. I drove to it as fast as I could, watching half-naked people and children looking for sustenance and women carrying water in pots from far-away wells whizz by. Alas, I reached the gates of heaven. It was not a mirage. It was an army cantonment. In the middle of the desert I had found life. I had to take the risk. I faked my credentials thinking of the most generic Pakistani name for a general.
“I am here to see General Muhammad Ahmad Ali.”As luck would have it, as all cantonments do, that cantonment had a General Muhammad Ali. Saint Peter had my name. The barrier was lifted and I was let through. As soon as I crossed the gates, I forgot about my thirst, the dreams of my childhood were finally coming true. It was a perfectly laid down tarmac. My tyres did not drive over the road as much as they were caressed by the road; they were in love. I could hear the music they were making. Watching the lush polo grounds and the perfect roads made me forget all about the misery outside. I had finally found peace – I had finally found the perfect road. Maybe, just maybe, Pakistan does have some infrastructure, even if it cordoned off for most of us. I enjoyed that perfection for all of those five minutes before they found out I faked my credentials and sent me to Guantanamo Bay. People still ask me,
“Shehzad, was that five minute ride on that perfect road in the middle of a desert worth spending 20 years of your life being forced fed by the CIA through a pipe?”And I always answer,
“How much wood can a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck can chuck wood?”Clearly their torture techniques could not break me.
The news of a bomb-blast at an imambargah in Shikarpur rocked the nation on Friday. But the attack was particularly shocking for my family. They remember a different Shikarpur – a land of peace, tolerance and Sufism, a land once called the ‘Paris of Sindh’. Many a wars have been fought by people coveting dominion over the emerald city. In the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1841, Lieut. Postans describes Shikarpur as,
“The most important town in the country of Sindh in point of trade, population and influence”.My father was born in Shikarpur, my grandfather was born in Shikarpur, as was his father and beyond; “We are the Shaikhs of Shikarpur, the sons of this soil” as my father would say. But he grew up in a different Shikarpur; a Shikarpur were people of different religious beliefs, social standing and cultural values could meet every evening in the same autaaq (courtyard) to break bread together. This city district was famous for its kufli falooda, achar (pickles) and mithai – not acts of extremist violence. Even in the land of the Sufis, Shikarpur was particularly home to a vibrant, tolerant community. Many notable Shia families and scholars belong to Shikarpur; some caretakers of the Karbala imambargah also called Shikarpur ‘home’. Let alone different sects of Muslims, Hindus and Muslims have lived peacefully in Shikarpur for centuries. Growing up in Shikarpur, my sister remembers that her favourite shop, Deewan Sweets, was owned and operated by Hindus. She was ecstatic when Sunshine Sweets opened its doors on Tariq Road near our house after our family moved to Karachi. The owners of Sunshine Sweets belonged to the same extended Hindu family. As a child, whenever I visited the city of my forefathers, I never felt a hint of communal tension. While my parents would not let me move freely in Karachi, in Shikarpur I was free to roam the streets. I could go to the sweet vendors or the videogame shops without any adult supervision. Back then, there was no suggestion that this community would also fall victim to the cancer of extremism that plagues Pakistan a couple of decades later. The fall of Shikarpur’s status is symbolic of the general lowering of the standards throughout the country. A prominent city famous for its infrastructure has been allowed to fall into decay, and oblivion. When my father was young, he remarks, people would come to Shikarpur for education.
“The Government Qazi Habibullah High School was a centre of high quality education in the entire province” he says proudly.Post-partition, a lot of migrants settled in Shikarpur due to its high level of education and economic opportunities. The location of Shikarpur in Upper Sindh, and closeness to the Bolan Pass, meant it was a hub of trade. The region dominated the trade between Central Asia and Northern India through Afghanistan. Shikarpur traders constantly visiting Central Asia meant there was a constant exchange of ideas from Central Asia to Shikarpur. The Bukhara province in present-day Uzbekistan had a particularly large Shikarpuri community settled there. Contrary to our current labelling of the region as ‘rural’, this was not always the destiny of this great city. After partition, Shikarpur had the third best rural to urban ratio in Sindh, only behind Karachi and Mirpur Khass, according to the statistical data calculated by Iqtidar H Zaidi in 1955. In 2005, Haroon Jamal found 43.87% of the population in Shikarpur to be living below the poverty line. When we talk about the broken dream of Pakistan, we are talking about the lives of people in these communities who got dragged below the poverty lines. Fertile lands with vibrant communities reduced to wastelands bereft of economic opportunities; cities stripped of their prominence, and allure. Shikarpur has a history of being a prominent city in the region. During the Kalhora Rule in the 18th century, Shikarpur was one of the financial capitals of Central Asia. It remained a centre for culture, trade and literature till the partition. It was referred to as the “financial and commercial centre of Sindh” during the British era. Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, who formed the first autonomous government in Sindh in 1937, was born in Shikarpur. He later became the first governor of Sindh post-partition. His tenure as chief minister of Sindh from April 28, 1937 to March 23, 1938 followed by the tenure of Allah Bux Sumro, also born in Shikarpur, from March 23 1938 to April 18, 1940, are famous for the Manzilgah controversy. Hamida Khuhro outlines the role of both the leaders in the controversy in her article Masjid Manzilgah, Test case for Hindu-Muslim Relations in Sindh. The Masjid Manzilgah referred to two domed buildings on the banks of the Indus near Sukkur. The buildings were used by the Muslims of Sindh as a mosque but were incorporated into the British agency after the British conquest of Sindh. During the early 20th century, there was mass agitation by Muslims to force the British to hand over the property back. The twist in the story was that Hindus were against this demand since the buildings were situated directly opposite the river island of Sadh Belo. The temples at Sadh Belo were a favourite site of pilgrimage for the local Hindus. This situation gave the Muslim League their first chance at spearheading a mass movement in a Muslim-majority province. All the elements of a potential communal riot were present – two agitated religious communities claiming a historic right to the use of the land earmarked as holy by both communities. There were cases of outbreaks and lawlessness, there was a strike that lasted 15 days but before massacres could break out, the leaders on both sides realised they preferred peaceful co-existence. Both communities were able to come together and form an agreement for the use of property. The most perilous possibility of communal riots in Sindh was prevented through negotiation. The Muslims were allowed to pray at the mosque and the Hindus were allowed to play music at their temples. How did we come from a temple and a mosque operating next to each other to explosives being set off in mosques belonging to a different sect? Where are the communities that our forefathers remember? And where are the lands we find in our history books? It is particularly disappointing to see how subsequent governments have let the two most important elements of the city decay – education and infrastructure. Karachi is inundated with urban migration because the lack of foresight by the government to create more urban centres in Sindh. In the case of Shikarpur, it was merely a case of maintaining an urban centre but we have failed to do even that. The government of Sindh expressed its helplessness at the poor quality of hospitals in the region.
“You cannot expect us to work miracles; there is no adequate healthcare in rural Sindh. It is what it is,” seemed to be the party line taken by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).A cursory look through history books will show us why the situation is not as helpless as advertised. A British medical journal from 1985 admires the level of healthcare provided at the Civil Hospital of Shikarpur. Surgeon Major AF Ferguson writes how a young Muslim woman was treated with “fat embolism following free incision of the female breast for diffuse suppuration”. The woman did not survive but the hospital was equipped to provide all the health services. A thorough post-mortem was also conducted with her organs diagnosed fit for further medical research. In 1911 a special hospital was built in Shikarpur by a Hindu philanthropist. The British Medical Journal of 1965 notes how Sir Henry Holland performed numerous operations for cataract at the hospital and visitors from all over the world came to the hospital. We are fed a very clear narrative of Pakistan being denied its right to resources at partition and a constant struggle since then to catch up to its more powerful neighbour but this narrative of ‘helplessness’ painted by our governments whitewashes their ineptitude. Shikarpur is only one of the many examples of how a once bustling urban centre has deteriorated into complete economic isolation. Economics and extremism are closely connected; people who have little to lose are keener to blow themselves up for a few thousand rupees. We stress a lot on the ‘religious’ elements of terrorism but little on its economic aspects. Almost exclusively, extremist militant organisations are only able to seize control over lands which are in economic decay. These organisations may be funded by rich ideologues but the foot soldiers are inevitably of a much lower social class. While discussing the role of religion in promoting extremist terrorism, we must not lose sight of how poor governance in the past 68 years has shattered the dreams of Pakistan for many communities. The world is looking forward to their future whereas people in Pakistan are longing for a Pakistan from a century ago. Somewhere along the way, we must have taken a few wrong turns to end up here. Today, the only thing Shikarpur has in common with Paris is that both the cities were marred by extremist violence in the past month. #JeSuisShikarpur
The recent war of words, clichéd personal attacks and mudslinging between Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leadership has once again drawn a wedge between the two major political forces of the country. Starting from the startling revelations by Sindh rangers regarding the Baldia Town inferno, to a half-cooked joint investigation report by law enforcement agencies (that too so close to senate elections), everything reeks of a dirty political game. The friction started when top tiered PTI leadership didn’t waste a single moment in blaming MQM for the massacre at the factory despite the fact that a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) doesn’t pass judgments but gives an investigative summary of findings by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of the country. It is upon the courts to decide who the real culprit is. Without a judicial judgement, it was quite pre-mature to jump to conclusions and put the entire blame of arson on a major political party which, by the way, happens to enjoy a sizable share in the provincial and national legislative assemblies, and has massive street power in Karachi and Hyderabad. That blame game went on, in bad taste of course, and hence started an ugly game of character assassinations by both sides. The Badlia Town JIT is to MQM what the PTV invasion JIT was to PTI. Altaf Hussain is not your ordinary street or college level political leader. He leads a movement that gets strength from millions of followers and holds influence both locally and internationally. He has a struggle of more than two decades behind him, starting off from a low income segment of the society and rising to the top slot as a leader of the movement. This fame, power and authority comes with a baggage and there are certain quarters which do conspire against leaders and institutions in order to pursue their own vested agendas. His recent remarks against the women in PTI were however quite derogatory and should have been followed by an apology. Such remarks never go in good taste, especially when they are spoken by the supreme boss of the party and are duly applauded by the ladies present at the jalsa. Imran Khan, however, should have exhibited some patience and reserved his comments instead of going vocal at a live press conference and labelling the leader of a political party as “insane”, considering the fact that the remarks by the MQM chief were regarding a certain leader of PTI and not their chairman. He went all out against the epitome of centrality and power within the MQM which obviously initiated another dirty game of personal attacks between top tier leadership of both the parties. That brief time period where both MQM and PTI were enjoying absolute harmony and a positive working relationship was instantly brought to a halt and gave a fresh start to probably another week of hate-centric fodder to the electronic and print media to feast upon. Imran has worked his way up to where he is today through hard work and dedication. His local and international stature has been on the rise since the time he went all out against a sitting government and managed to gather massive crowds against corruption and injustice. He not only managed to bring young blood into the electoral process but also gave them hope for a better Pakistan. At this juncture, patience would have been a wiser strategy. Maintaining political decorum and sticking to standard political ethics would’ve given him some extra mileage, which was unfortunately a chance that he missed after his recent press conference. If MQM is to be blamed for the unrest in Karachi and their decades old extortion-centric allegations, PTI cannot be exonerated for the fact that they never openly condemned the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and their terrorist activities, which ultimately resulted in loss of innocent lives. There are skeletons in the closet on both sides and such sweeping statements between the leadership of two major political forces of Pakistan will always bring up facts and figures that neither of these parties would be proud of. The political Pandora’s Box has already fattened up and is ready to burst open any moment. The need of the hour is for both parties to show restraint and a mature approach towards politics. Both will have to leave the past behind and move forward. Amidst all this turmoil, it is the general public that suffers. Political forces go into coalitions, break up, claim to strengthen the democratic process and label all of this as mere “beauty of the political process”. Public service centric politics remains a distant dream in Pakistan, when it should in fact be the first priority.
The average person uses over 300 litres of water to wash their car at home. The average car wash uses half that amount. Some automated systems use barely a 10th of it, when accounting for water recycling. But why would people spend hundreds of rupees to wash their cars when they can get it done for ‘free’ by the household help? Isn’t that what they’re paid for? Well here’s the problem. In an area with 100,000 cars, one wash a week would end up using 30 million litres per week, or almost eight million gallons. That is over a million gallons. There are over 600,000 cars registered in Islamabad – a city with over 1.8 million residents – and many more which are registered in other cities. Based on the figure alone, one wash a week would use close to seven million gallons, or 11% of the city’s daily water supply in the summer. For comparison, in 2012, a severe water shortage in neighbouring Rawalpindi left 3.5 million residents of the city to share four million gallons a day for a while, and a water authority spokesman desperately urging people not to wash their cars. But they still did. Parts of Karachi have had a serious water crisis in recent days but even though the port city is thousands of miles away from Islamabad, anecdotal evidence would suggest that public attitudes towards water shortage are worryingly similar. Most countries, even water-rich ones, use metered billing with large slab increases for higher usage. Even Canada, the country with the third largest water reserves, charges consumers more for higher consumption. Yet in Pakistan, a country where billing for every service, necessity or not, seems to be based on usage, water bills, both residential and commercial, are by-and-large based on flat fees due to people’s reluctance to install meters. Even with metered billing, the increments are relatively low. And like many other things, bill default rates remain high. Curious cases, such as the bill for over Rs260,000 sent to Fatima Jinnah for her house in Karachi, accruing since her death, are highlighted but the fact remains that in a city such as Rawalpindi, which has around 50,000 legal water connections, there are 10,000 defaulters who owe over Rs400 million. Add to that the estimated 25,000 illegal water lines in the city, and it is no surprise that the honest tax and bill paying citizen is left with the short end of the stick. On that note, Bilalwal House is allegedly using illegal lines to get water. There would be no surprise if this were true since the high-and-mighty of our land are known to hold themselves to a lower standard. Though the accusation has been denied, I can recount a discussion with a former MNA – who will remain unnamed out of respect for the dead – in which he was laughing about getting a water bill higher than his power bill. During our meeting, he called in his assistant to ask why the bill was so high. The answer was quite simple.
“Sir, you haven’t given me money to pay the water bill for the last year.”The smirk on the man’s face disappeared almost immediately. The former MNA, incidentally, was a lifelong member of the party that Bilawal House’s residents now head. Given these facts, why wouldn’t people waste water? It’s not as if civic sense comes naturally to us. Other factors are obviously at play – the condition of water lines, the state’s inability to control supply or add reservoirs, and the level of pollution in many waterways. But no matter what domestic consumers do, until agriculture gets its act together, water shortages will continue. This is because over 90% of water goes to agriculture, even though people in many parts of the country do not have water to drink. Until water waste and usage inefficiencies in agriculture are addressed, domestic conservation is little more than eyewash. The Pakistan Agriculture Research Council estimates that two-thirds of supply is lost due to seepage and transmission loss, which also includes theft. Climate change and failure to add new reservoirs is leading to a reduction in water availability per capita. Meanwhile, failure to control population growth means that demand for water at all levels will continue to rise. Political and environmental scientists have long believed that the next world war will be over water. The local political discourse over water resources would suggest the seeds of an internal conflict have already been sown. But, as all things in Pakistan go, it is simply a blame game. Nobody is willing to own up to the fact that we are water starved, not due to climate change, but because our population is increasing at an alarming rate – 13 fold since independence. Split a pie six ways, and you have six happy people. Split a pie 78 ways, and people will throw 78 tiny pieces of pie at you.
It’s that time of the year again. Women are anxious and men are distraught; the day when every guy and girl sitting together are stared at suspiciously; the day when people are edgier than usual; the day you are confused about how to celebrate this day because it also happen to be the day students fear being seen in public with someone from the opposite gender because of the 'consequences'. While the world celebrates Valentine’s Day today, the students at the University of Karachi are celebrating something different. These students have given various names to this day, including Hijab Day, Haya Day and Modesty Day, among many others. The main purpose behind this is to instill a sense of humility amongst students so they may refrain from engaging in “inappropriate behavior”. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: KU, KU Hai Yaar Facebook page[/caption] Somehow, it is only a handful of students, mostly belonging to a particular rightist, conservative religious party’s student wing, who find sanity in the aforementioned description. Here are a few reasons I believe fighting Valentine’s Day with Haya Day is a senseless notion. 1) One day won’t make a difference One reason that people give to oppose Valentine’s Day is that they believe love shouldn’t be confined to just one day. My question to these individuals is shouldn’t the same hold true for modesty? Why have we chosen one day to signify haya? And does observing modesty one day exempt us from practicing it the other 364 days? Because I know, through my own experience and those of my colleagues, that many students at KU have a roving eye. So just because students observe a day of modesty (that too just in response to something else), that gives them a license to grope, harass and catcall women throughout the year? No, it doesn’t. As a student currently studying at KU comments,
“I believe that both the sentiments of love and haya should not be confined to some particular day. Haya is something so humble that it shouldn’t, technically, be ‘celebrated’.”2) Valentine’s Day is from another culture Valentine’s Day is the day of love. Love is universal. So if there is a day which celebrates it, then I really don’t see what the problem is. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1c301q_haya-ka-janaza-molana-mehboob-ilahi-sahab-say-no-to-valentine-day_sport[/embed] This video was posted on the University of Karachi’s Facebook page last year; it talks about how Valentine’s Day is wrong and shouldn’t be celebrated. The clerics propose that people should observe modesty on this day to curb this alien culture. Those who argue that displaying or acknowledging love is not part of our culture, how would they explain the tons and tons of Urdu and Persian literature that is full of love stories and love poetry? The very poets that students are forced to rote memorise in their SSC and HSC examinations have written odes and ballads full of love – praising it and propagating it. How do you explain that? Or will you say that poets like Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and the likes are not part of our culture? Also, if we bring Haya Day in this context, then the standards of modesty are different for all cultures and are ever changing. For our forefathers, a man and a woman sitting together in a classroom would have marred the boundary of modesty. Today, however, it is a norm. So who decides if the standard of modesty that we have today are the right ones? Who says that two consenting adults, who wish to spend time with each other and blossom their love, are breaking the barriers of modesty? When did love and modesty become mutually exclusive? 3) Valentine’s Day encourages obscenity [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="335"] A pamphlet that is being circulated in KU this year against Valentine's Day. Photo: Facebook[/caption]
“We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.” – John LennonThis quote signifies our society today. We are so enthralled by violence that we find everything else inappropriate. A couple can fight in public, and no one will bother helping them out. But if the same couple is found holding hands or displaying affection for each other, they are reprimanded. I am not encouraging PDA over here but the idea that Valentine’s Day is obscene needs to be let go. Because if you feel that Valentine’s Day is obscene, then so is every other day of the year, because people don’t stop loving each other as soon as the day ends. 4) Valentine’s Day is forced upon us by western propaganda If Valentine’s Day is propaganda, then so is Haya Day – because that too is forced upon people by an organisation that believes in moral policing everything. As a graduate from the Department of English, who shared her views on this issue, puts it,
“I think it is highly illogical because it appears that both genders have no control over their emotions and need a constant theological reminder. Those who propagate Haya Day just try to moral police the masses. We have graver problems than this, and I'd want to see some day celebrating the idea of love instead of this idea of ‘love brings shame’”.5) Haya Day will regulate the behavior of individuals And why is that necessary? Why is it important for a party or an organisation to decide whether people should love others or observe modesty? How is this different from the news in India where, it is said, people will be forced to get married to each other if they are found alone with a member of the opposite sex on Valentine’s Day in public? Whether someone focuses on their modesty or decides to meet their loved one, how is it the business of anyone except the two individuals in the relationship – and their close family members, to an extent? Even previously, we have come across instances where the university’s administration has barred students from celebrating Valentine’s Day, in fear of the riots that might take place as a result by the said religious party’s student wing. Last year, the students of Peshawar University faced similar consequences; three students got injured and a hostel building was set ablaze. My question is who has given the university or these parties the right or the authority to interfere in other people’s personal lives? What is it to them if someone does or does not celebrate Valentine’s Day? Such a mindset is corrosive to progressive notions. How can we focus on other developmental factors when we are so hell-bent on forcing people to become modest? Is forced modesty even worth it? How does forced modesty make us better people, or better Muslims for that matter? Haya Day is an example of the pseudo-religiosity that is all too rampant in our part of the world. For me, February 14th is just that – a simple date. It is time that we start focusing on what we do throughout the year, instead of merely observing something for one day and then going back to our merry ways.
February 17, 2015. Two months and one day after the unimaginable tragedy of the Peshawar Attack, Lahore has been targeted today. Today, at 1pm, a suicide bomber blew himself up right outside the Police Lines in Lahore. So far, as reports have suggested, there have been about eight causalities but the number is expected to rise. Emergency has been declared in hospitals and other prominent buildings. The city has been struck by terror by once again. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2he01z_lahore-blast-kills-eight-rescue-efforts-underway_news#from=embediframe[/embed] Only yesterday, I came across the video of the attack in the mosque in Hayatabad, Peshawar. The video sent shivers up my spine. Every gunshot made me skip a heartbeat, and when the bombs flew inside the mosque, my jaw simply dropped. The video was just not digestible. [fbvideo link="https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=815904335132996"][/fbvideo] We as a nation have grown so immune to these tragic events that it is almost baffling to see that no one really reacts to it anymore. When the news of this blast went up on social media and TV channels, it was shocking to read comments from people saying that the news wasn’t newsworthy and that news agencies were thriving on ‘sensationalism’ rather than ‘journalism’. How was this not newsworthy and when will this madness come to an end? I have searched for answers that have only led me to conspiracies as to why this all is happening to my country. Who are these people who want to hurt us and bomb us back to the stone ages? It is certainly not any religious fundamentalist. It just cannot be. You know why? Because if you see that video, where they are mercilessly killing people in a mosque, I can’t be led to believe that anyone who is touched by my religion in the slightest of all manners can do this. These people are barbarians. They aren’t fit to be called humans. I don’t care who these hooligans are and for today I do not want to know. Let me tell you why so – because it doesn’t matter. You and I can’t do anything but protest, hold vigils, and be keyboard jihadists. We all don’t have it in us to be someone like Jibran Nasir. For if we did, I can assure you of one thing, we would be seeing a lot of things changing around us, there will be no hate speech, there will be no merciless killings and it also might just be a saner place to live in. But alas, there is only one Jibran, and not many of us have it in us to be like him. Lahore, The City of Gardens, is in flames today. The same city which is soon going to be hosting the much awaited Lahore Literary Festival this coming weekend, featuring some high profile guests on its program schedule. It is the same city that has been known for peace and its historical beauty. As if it doesn’t hurt enough to see the terror in Peshawar and Karachi that now Lahore is being targeted. At 2pm, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) Faction, Jamaatul Ahrar, claimed the responsibility for the attack. This is the same faction whose spokesperson threatened the civil society in a call that was made viral online to take back its FIR against Abdul Aziz who has been involved in hate speech. As always, today I am left with a heavy heart. With all the security measures that are being taken, yet there seems to be no end to this prevailing insanity. I end this by sending out my heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their loved ones and pray of the injured. I also achingly hope to know that someday Fazlullah and the likes of him will have met with an end that leaves as a lesson for all mankind.
The screeches of the motorcycles were loud enough to announce their blustering arrival; the cadres jumped from their vehicles, blocked the PIDC Bridge and parked their wheelers in the middle of the road. The traffic was halted; bystanders ran away from the spot, local food vendors hurriedly shut their stalls. It was pretty much evident; a sudden panic had conquered the street, which just a minute ago was running normal. Irrespective of the diverse ethnicities present in the area, an unexplainable fear was shared by all. This took place on February 5th, 2015, in the metropolis of Karachi. Interestingly, the group which organised the rally was declared a banned outfit by the Sindh Government just a day before. By law, the ostensible political party does not enjoy the liberty to gather people under their official party flag, but not only did they organise the rally, they also chose to take their gathering near the CM house. It was clearly visible that the mass gathering by the banned outfit was a show of power (read: nuisance value) to the incumbent provincial government rather than anything else. And in response, the government chose not to assert their authority after being challenged by a few hundred protestors. Sadly, the writ of the state withered. Before the reader makes up their mind to bash the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led Sindh Government, let’s take a look at a similar, persisting case in Islamabad – the capital city, which comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government. An FIR was launched against the Islamabad-based controversial cleric, Maulvi Abdul Aziz, on the constant appeals of the civil society, which eventually resulted in an issuance of a non-bailable arrest warrant against the cleric. More than a month has passed and the cleric safely resides at his well-known house-cum-madrassa, a few kilometers away from the parliament. Law enforcement agencies have failed to take any action against him, regardless of the fact that he has an arrest warrant issued against his name. In the eyes of the law, he is an accused who should be arrested as soon as possible but in reality, the accused cleric lives as freely as any other law abiding citizen. What do these two classic cases tell us? My take on this is that irrespective of which body is governing which sector, one can take a Mickey out of the state of Pakistan and challenge its right at its capital centres by showing that they are greater than any of the stated law, provided they have a significant religious following backing them. However, if the same tactics were to be practiced by a citizen who has no religious backing, the state would immediately take action against him. For instance, the famous Akbar Bugti case; a rebel challenged the writ of the government and the state, in response, chose to use hard power as its first and foremost option. Putting aside the debate of whether it was constitutional or not, the question that arises is why does the same state appear powerless when it is persistently challenged by the declared banned outfit and controversial cleric? The state is scared. Post-Peshawar incident, the government promised us a different state; a state which will not tolerate extremism under the banner of religiosity. But the dual standards that persist because of the fear of a backlash from the far right ‘fundos’ present among our policymakers are clear indicators that the state cannot shake off its old trait. It’s too strong for a weak challenge and extremely frail against an opponent with a religious backing. The government chose to be silent against its opponent. The media seemed too scared to talk about it. Nothing has changed, and maybe nothing will. No matter how many Peshawar like massacres we witness, the bottom line will remain that the state is yet to muster up courage to look into the eyes of their far right opponents. It will be a sheer display of naivety to assume that the menace of terrorism will vanish as soon as military courts start their trials. It may bring perpetrators of crime to justice, but in no way can this curtail the intensity of terrorism present in the state. It is a means to achieve an end, but not a definite end for sure. It’s a case of dichotomy; where the state today remains on its toes to tackle militancy (and it should) but at the very same time it chooses to ignore the pseudo-political faces of the militant entities – the very same groups who never fall shy to support and defend anti-state elements. We are against the demon, but not against the mother who is nourishing it. In an ideal world, the hard power rests with the state. It’s the final enforcing authority, and by all fair means it enjoys the right to enforce state order, where the requirement doesn’t revolve around frequently biting; rather it revolves around the existence of its fierce, sharp and cut throat teeth. It’s the fear that is missing in the case of Pakistan; the state is not yet perceived as scary by her opponents. Be scary Pakistan, be scary.
ASWJ cover copy
“Hassan would travel the world on foot. By day he would brew tea – maybe Cairo, maybe Morocco. He would find different ways to sustain his travels as he always only moved from city to city by foot, guided by the moonlight. The day was to work he claimed, and the night to travel. Soon after this wandering artist crossed the Wagah Border, he met the love of his life. And anchored his heart in Lahore. Please can you put all these details in your poem”, said Shama.I blinked at this stunning woman telling me a very personal love story of her dearest friend so I could compose the perfect poem for her. We were sitting across a wooden table on bare chairs surrounded by murals of inspiring Pakistanis in a dimly lit cafe nestled in the heart of Karachi. This is the life of a poetic scribe. I scribbled feverishly as she completed her story of how her friend came to find his true soul mate. What an extraordinary story in such an ordinary place, I thought. We sipped ‘kahva’ and shared a relationship only two strangers speaking the utter truth to each other can share. Indeed it is an honour to be taken into such confidence, very similar to the confidential relationship of a doctor and patient. Within 10 minutes of meeting my client, I know things about them often no one else does.
“Oh! And he always wears black. So can he have a black velvet scroll with his parchment in it and a silver braid to indicate she is the silver lining in his life?” Shama continued.She also told me the name of his fiancé means a halo around the moon, which I then portrayed in this poem, that this wandering traveller was not really lost but was being guided by a stealthy halo around the moon so he could seek her out. An excerpt from their poem follows:
“He flowed through the River Indus, Travelled in search of a soul. He brewed tea in Morocco And burnt his identity To fill a gaping hole. Shrouded in darkness Carrying only the burden of his heavy, wretched heart. Bathed by the winking moonlight, Stealthily, casting a halo around his heart.”I have been writing poems since the age of 10. Today, 18 years later, I moved to Karachi from London armed with a medical degree to practice in the city I loved. For a long time, I have struggled with the red tape of the Pakistani government to achieve a license to practice medicine. Only those who love their profession more than themselves can understand the frustration of not being allowed to do what they do best. So I found solace in my poems. I started a company called ‘Semazen – the poetic messenger’. I am a personal poetic scribe, the only one in Pakistan as far as I am aware. I started with the encouragement of those who believed in my writing and a trip to Pakistan Chowk where I discovered a magical ‘naqoosh’ or a calligrapher. There amongst a stray kitten who found her home in my lap, this fascinating man created the most beautiful versions of my company’s name with a wooden ‘qalam’ and some black ink. Some dear friends drew me a whirling dervish and I created a Facebook page. That is how I began to scribe the secrets of the hearts of Karachiites. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="449"] Photo: Zahra Shah[/caption] ‘Sema’ is the dance of the whirling dervishes originating in Turkey and envisioned by Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi alongside his soul mate, Shams of Tabriz. One hand of the dervish is always pointing towards the skies and one to the ground; they whirl in a space between the ‘Is’ and the earth. When I read good poetry, I too feel like I am whirling in a medium between God and the earth. It is an ethereal escape from the woes of the world. So my poetic scribing is named after this mesmerising dance.
“What you seek is seeking you” – RumiAnd I find my seekers, or clients, have a poem that always belonged to them. They just need to seek it out. And across an oak table in a cafe, we whirl together in a dance to create their poem. Indeed it is as exciting for me as it is for the client. I then make customised Elizabethan style poetic scrolls in velvet or suede. I place the order at Behbud, a well-known NGO, where young female artisans craft and stitch these scrolls by hand. Every scroll is designed exclusively for the seeker depending on their story. My first client was a loving son from an affluent background.
“My father buys my mother everything she needs. But we never express to her what she means to us,” said he.I knew this was a calling for life when he rang me, ecstatic with excitement to tell me how his mother started crying as she read the poem and realised it was about her. He had even gone through the trouble of telling me what sandwiches she sent him every Sunday whilst he was at boarding school. Somehow that little detail made its way into the poetic whirl. Another client of mine was a girl who asked me to create a scroll that matched a traditional ‘jamawar’ Quran cover that her dying grandmother left to her mother. Her mother’s expression moved me deeply when she saw her poem. I often melt traditional sealing wax to seal poems and deliver them to my seekers. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] Photo: Zahra Shah[/caption] I am often told I am getting distracted from my medical career, but it’s hard to explain to them that medicine is exactly this. To hear someone’s story and provide some form of healing. Anton Chekhov, the famous Russian writer, said
“Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress.”Many doctors, such as Khaled Hosseini, have chosen a career in writing. I am hardly the first. So as I await permission from the government to work in a hospital, I heal myself and others in the way I know best – as a poetic scribe. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="563"] Photo: Zahra Shah[/caption] One always sets out for a destination; I cannot imagine what the destination of my little business could be. But it has mapped out a journey that even the best destination could not be compared with. One of my seekers introduced me to the famous Greek poem Ithaca by Constantine P Cavafy. It aptly reflects my sentiments:
“Have Ithaka always in your mind. Your arrival there is what you are destined for. But don’t in the least hurry the journey. Better it last for years, So that when you reach the island you are old, Rich with all you have gained on the way, Not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth. Ithaka gave you a splendid journey. Without her you would not have set out. She hasn’t anything else to give you.”There is a Sufi saying that says,
“The wound is where the light enters you.”I find through the stories I scribe daily, and through my own journey, that this philosophy holds true for most hearts in Karachi.
Everyone laughed at me in school for living on the other side of the bridge. Well who is laughing now? Was centuries of affluence really worth ending up in a real life Finding Nemo type situation? No longer will people from the other side of the bridge have to drive an hour just to see the ocean. The ocean is finally coming to them. North Nazimabad is the new Clifton. People from Defence/Clifton would sit on buses every Sunday and drive to Nazimabad for some fun. The Super Karachi Express is only the start of a city-wide trend. For so long, I have dreamt of Nagan Chowrangi being converted to Sea View and now my dreams are finally coming true. The National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) predicts that Karachi could submerge by 2060. No longer do Karachites have to wish for Shahbaz Sharif to come to Karachi to make underpasses. All our roads will be converted to underpasses on their own; it is a miracle! No longer do Karachites have to wait for the monsoon rain for the simple pleasures of swimming on the streets. This is the best thing to happen to Karachi since Altaf Hussain. My only regret is that I am not a school going child and I would be unable to enjoy all the ‘rain day’ holidays. Why couldn’t our ineffective government have worked harder to ensure it happened earlier? Is there no one to hold the government accountable for all their unfulfilled promises of transforming Karachi into Venice? There is one reason we have been deprived of a city wide water park so far. The Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazaar. The Mazaar is the only reason Pakistan Tekreek-e-Insaf (PTI) did not win all the seats in Karachi. It is the only thing that prevents Tsunamis in Karachi. We might as well cut all our mangroves and turn them into ballot papers. We need the wood for all the millions of extra ones we print every election. You have no idea how costly it is for a country to pretend that it is a democracy. It is about time we save Karachites from the wrath of the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazaar. Its presence makes finding parking for Funland so difficult. Its protection of Karachi from the sea means we have been forced to go to sub-standard water parks and swim in wave pools with baby diapers and golden water. Are women melting their jewelry at these public water parks? I cannot think of any conceivable thing in the world that would give water such a yellowish tinge. God has finally heard all the prayers of the people of Karachi wishing for a flood. For too long have we been disappointed after flocking to the coast after predictions of typhoons and tsunamis have gone awry. I have still not forgiven Nilofar for her bewafayi. All the promises of leaving us wet but never coming as promised, Nilofar sounds like all the girls that have ever broken my heart. I am just going to add Nilofar to my list of exes; an exhaustive list of one that is. The news is not only great for Karachi; it is great for the entire country. People will not have to risk their lives to drive to Saif-ul-Malook to appreciate the natural beauty of Pakistan and all the beauty of the trash other people appreciating the national beauty left behind. They can simply drive down to Hyderabad, Pakistan’s latest coastal city. Countries in the world work hard to create coastal cities and nature is simply gifting us one in the shape of Hyderabad. Those cakes from Hyderabad are now closer than ever. I just hope the government applies the principles of equality and equity and does not restrict all the benefits to the people of Karachi. An equitable distribution of resources would mean some of this water would be redirected to Thar, where the drought-stricken people could also enjoy the benefits of being submerged. As usual, we can forget about giving any resources to Balochistan though. Why don’t they get their own flood? They need to show us that they want to be a part of Pakistan before we start giving them all our hard earned resources. This news is basically the best thing to come from Karachi in a long while. I only hope I can live long enough in Karachi to die from the water in 2060.
The early morning raid at Nine-Zero, the headquarters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has raised a series of questions. On one hand, it seemed like a well-coordinated search operation carried out reportedly upon a tip off by the intelligence agencies, while at the same time, the timing of the raid right after the Senate elections and especially when MQM, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had apparently turned over a new leaf, gives credence to some political back channel arm twisting either by PML-N or the ruling party in Sindh, PPP. Such serious actions are usually taken when either there is a series of events that build up and take the form of a grand operation or there is a political objective to achieve by displaying of power and authority. Could this be yet another attempt on part of the PPP to force MQM back into the ruling coalition setup? Could this be a message from the armed forces of Pakistan or is it purely on merit and part of the on-going operation in the city? If that is the case, then why only MQM? Why haven’t the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) been able to remove barriers near Bilawal House and carry out a similar operation within and outside the PPP headquarters in search of the Lyari gangsters who are still in hiding? Or any such operation in Punjab for that matter? If the government and the LEAs are committed towards improving the law and order situation in Karachi and want to put all criminals behind bars, why is Uzair Baloch still in Dubai? Why are delay tactics being used to keep him away from Pakistan? Which PPP leaders are reluctant in letting him return in order to keep certain information classified? If MQM was protecting terrorists, then who in the Sindh government is protecting a hardened criminal like Uzair Baloch? Areas like Sohrab Goth, Kunwari Colony, Lyari are no-go areas for LEAs. They have to seek permission before carrying out raids in certain neighbourhoods within these areas and if not permitted, they cannot even enter. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Waziristan and Afghan refugees are well-stocked with assault rifles, RPGs, missiles, etcetera and yet they enjoy full waiver from LEAs and strike with impunity whenever and wherever they wish to operate from. We do not witness any grand scale operations in their strong holds or any recovery of illegal weapons. Even a party like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which has been exposed several times in the past for providing shelter to high profile al Qaeda operatives and leaders, is enjoying good relations with LEAs and therefore stays among the untouchables of the society. When it comes down to religion-centric terrorism, we are yet to witness the arrest and hanging of someone on sectarian grounds. Mumtaz Qadri is being praised by the lawyers’ community as mard-e-momin while speedy justice seems to be a distant dream for the family of late Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Abdul Aziz is a free man despite his fiery speeches, direct links with the Taliban and recovery of gas masks, assault rifles of prohibited bore etcetera found in his compound. He is probably on good terms with the “establishment” and therefore enjoys complete immunity. Who exactly is calling the shots then? Is it the federal government, the Sindh government or the armed forces of Pakistan? [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2j7177_rangers-spokesperson-briefs-media-on-mqm-raid_news#from=embediframe[/embed] The answer to this question will never come to the lime light. More innocents will die and Karachi will continue to burn as long as double standards prevail and an across-the-board operation is not ensured.
Pakistan’s current political situation discussed in dining rooms, gatherings and media is beginning to resemble an advanced version of Chinese Whispers; a popular game played worldwide in which entertainment is derived from the errors in retelling a message through a series of shared whispers. Regardless of the authenticity of the source, people are increasingly discussing the deteriorating law and order situation, Talibanisation, bombings and violent street clashes in Pakistan, all of which paint a disturbing picture of what is actually happening in the country. Despite the dismal pictures being painted and reinforced by my surroundings, I wanted to go explore my country and see it for myself. Thus, along with a group of nine people, I embarked on a New Year’s Trip to Azad Kashmir. Almost everyone I encountered prior to leaving Karachi questioned my decision and asked about the safety of the trip. Given that December 16, 2014 was marked as a Black Day for Pakistan, due to the unfortunate Peshawar Attack, perhaps it was my immunity to violence or a positive mind-set which emanated from my successful trip to Shogran (Kaghan Valley Tour) that I did not waver. We flew from Karachi to Islamabad and then onward to Muzaffarabad by road to begin our adventure. The trip was planned by our tour guide, The Trekkerz, so that we spent every night at a new location and woke up to a different view. What remained consistent was the bonfire we sat around every night due to the near zero degree (plus or minus a few) temperature. The destinations included Keran, Sharda, Kail or Kel, Upper Neelum and Kutton. The rest houses offered stunning views and basic amenities. This entire region was closed off for tourism prior to 2006 when a cease fire was signed between India and Pakistan. Should you decide to go on this tour, this will explain the numerous checkpoints and signs which read “No Photography”. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Sana Dadabhoy[/caption] As we passed through Sharda, we stopped to visit the remains of a 1000-year-old monastery. You can still make out the pillars and a little bit of the architecture. It makes you envy the monks for the views they enjoyed while studying, and explains how they managed to be so positive and peaceful as well. It was there at a local tea house that I took a picture, on which my friend would later comment and say,
“It’s interesting how when you get closer to China, the architecture changes.”[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="588"] Photo: Sana Dadabhoy[/caption] The locals were quite inquisitive as they huddled around us, and in turn, we were just as inquisitive about them, attempting to make conversation about their everyday lives. Every night when the bonfire was lit, our group was joined by a few locals who engaged in conversations about politics, food, developmental organisations, traveling stories, amongst various other topics, including famous rubies found in Kashmir that are contracted to a Swiss company, which was my personal favourite. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="588"] Photo: Sana Dadabhoy[/caption] You may have heard that Pakistanis are overwhelmingly warm and hospitable; however, the level of humanity, kindness and friendliness of the people in Azad Kashmir was enough to make one fall in love with not just the landscape but the people as well. Everyone we encountered wanted to make our stay as pleasant and enjoyable as possible. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="588"] Photo: Sana Dadabhoy[/caption] To think that the people there have had generations grow up in war-like conditions amid tensions between Pakistan and India, one cannot imagine how they are so cheerful and warm against the backdrop of that history. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="592"] Photo: Sana Dadabhoy[/caption] Looking out of the van, we saw some of the most beautiful people walking on rough terrain with such fluidity that their level of fitness also left us in awe. Among other moving images, there were inspirational signs that read,
“Darakht zameen ka zevar hai” (The earth adorns itself with trees) “Humaray kudrati vasail aanay wali nasloon ki amanat hai” (Our natural resources belong to our future generations, or rather, we have a moral responsibility to leave the world in a better condition for our future generations.)[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="588"] Photo: Sana Dadabhoy[/caption] This type of free-spirited and original thinking does not seem too coherent with the “backward” image projected. In fact, we can probably take that a step further and say that the tourists who visit the Northern areas should value their own natural resources and avoid littering as a civic responsibility. Furthermore, companies engaged in the production of food and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG’s) frequently highlight “distribution” as a part of their successful company strategy. Therefore, they should share the responsibility as well and conduct sustainability workshops as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives in such areas. Tourism, development or distribution should not be at the cost of increased littering or pollution. Upon returning to Karachi, safe and sound, one must question the image problem internally. Is the media partly responsible for spreading despondency and negativity or are we the culprits who feed the negativity and spread it when we share unconfirmed rumours? Is there a way to challenge the portrayal of Pakistan, at least on a national scale, if not internationally? There is no doubt that terrorism is a reality in Pakistan and one cannot be completely oblivious to the security situation. However, as a nation, we must challenge existing perceptions and take responsibility for the tone and news we choose to share to avoid the dangers of Chinese Whispers.
“Of Shahid Afridi, it can safely be said that cricket never has and never will see another like him. To say he is an all-rounder is to say Albert Einstein was a scientist; it tells a criminally bare story.” – CricinfoShahid ‘Boom Boom’ Afridi is a legend, whether people agree to it or not. After close to two decades of belligerent bowling, barbaric batting and iconic off-the-field banter, I say this with great despair that the end of Afridi is upon us. Since his game changing 102 off 37 balls against Sri Lanka, Afridi has become the apple of everyone’s eye. Even earlier, he was the player that people talked about, even when the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis still dominated the game. This new lad had taken a toll on the people of Pakistan, as well as the cricketing community at large, and continues to do so. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2gb6u3[/embed] Whenever Afridi comes to bat, the crowd goes wild. Whenever Afridi is out, the stands are deserted. Such is the charisma that Afridi has brought to the field. People are crazy, fanatical and emotional about him. In the entirety of his career, he might be the least dropped player ever. His aura amongst the playing 11 would strike fear in the opponent’s hearts. The Bangladeshis have firsthand experience of this as the wounds of the Asia Cup 2014 are still fresh. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1f39si_pakistan-vs-bangladesh-highlights-asia-cup-2014_sport[/embed] Afridi’s resume is quite impressive too. With almost 400 ODIs played, he has scored 8000 runs and is five shy of 400 wickets. But those numbers do not do justice to his heroic performances. One cannot simply put into digits his Imran Khan-esque gallantries in the victorious T20 Word Cup of 2009 or the all-star performance in the 2011 World Cup, while bagging 22 wickets. But what still resonates with the masses are the twin sixes he scored against India in the 2014 Asia Cup and the bellowing cry of Ramiz Raja’s “Afridi you beauty!” that reminded us of the great Javed Miandad back in Sharjah, 1986. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="343"] Shahid Afridi is mobbed by his team-mates, India v Pakistan, Asia Cup, Mirpur, March 2, 2014. Photo: AFP[/caption] Alongside these, no one can forget the number of world records this man has made. Most sixes by a batsman (350*), youngest player to score a century in ODIs (16 years and 217 days), joint second fastest 50 (18 balls), sixth highest wicket taker of all times in ODI (395 wickets), second best bowling figures in ODI (7 for 12), most wickets by a captain in world cups (22 in 2011), the only Pakistani to score 10,000 runs and take 500 wickets in all forms of the game and, lest we forget, the booming 16-year-old record of the fastest century scored in any format of the game (102 off 37 balls). The list goes on. Yet it’s not his magical bowling nor his marvellous batting that makes him a favourite; it is the persona that he carries. Every young boy who grew up in the 2000s wanted to adopt the Afridi name. From Karachi to Khyber, he is a favourite. The way his hair is pulled back under his cap, his fielding position at short cover and his remarkable pose, all are copied on the streets of Pakistan as kids continue to idolise him. With a lack of superstars, Afridi has become the role model everyone longs to be. He is the women’s heartthrob, the teenagers’ mascot and his electrifying energy has unified the nation on various occasions. He is the hero Pakistan needs. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Pakistan's Shahid Afridi (L) congratulates Mohammad Hafeez as he dismissed Bangladesh's Shahriar Nafees successfully during their second One Day International, ODI cricket match of the series in Dhaka December 3, 2011. Photo: Reuters[/caption] Being the poster boy for Pakistani cricket since his debut, he was never able to shake off the expectations that were attached to him. But soon, he opted out of opening for Pakistan and focused on his bowling. This proved to be vital for him as well as the team, as he secured a permanent spot in the side and, alongside Ajmal, dominated the game. Even still, the fans of Pakistani cricket expect him to deliver his onslaught. One hopes for Afridi to stick around for just five overs during his batting, and when he does, everyone knows that they are in for something spectacular. 396 ODIs later, here we are, at the close of another chapter in Pakistani cricket. He may be amongst the few lucky cricketers in Pakistan’s history to leave the game with their respect and pride intact. As the dawn of the day comes for Afridi’s departure, I can’t stop thinking about Eminem song, Real Slim Shady. For Afridi, the lyrics could go like:
“So will the real Afridi please stand up, And put one of those fingers on each hand up And be proud, to be out of your mind and out of control One more time, loud as you can, how does it go?”[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Shahid Afridi bowls during a cricket practice session ahead of their ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final match against India on Wednesday in Mohali March 28, 2011. Photo: Reuters[/caption] Classified as ‘aggressive, passionate and immature’, he fits the definition of an angst-filled teenager, ready to prove himself out in the world. Whether he has proved himself or not is a different debate, but what he has done is set a precedent for future cricketers who aspire to dream big. All one needs to do is pluck at the strings of the nation’s hearts and sing in key. Afridi has done exactly that, many times, and his career has gone nowhere but north. Afridi has left no prodigy behind. There is no heir to the Afridi throne, because the fact of the matter is, there will never come another like him. Whenever he walks down to bat for the last time or bowls his final delivery, one will automatically think of how much he has contributed for Pakistan and a small part inside all of us would want him to raise his hands in the sky for the last time. All the best for the remainder of the tournament, Afridi, and may you be as victorious as Imran Khan was upon his retirement. Amen.
I am a Karachiite to the core. I love my city’s hustle bustle. I adore the variety of culture Karachi offers, especially as it is not a unilingual city. I know its sights and sounds by heart. Karachi, for me, is perfect despite its imperfections. Yet, Lahore is not lagging far behind Karachi when I think of my choicest places in Pakistan. In fact, in some ways, it even has an edge over Karachi. Here are five reasons why: Safety The traffic at Kalma Chowk is sluggish and heavy. As we get off the Daewoo coach that got us there from Islamabad and head towards the city, Lahore is crowded as ever. I am looking around suspiciously at passers-by on motor bikes from the car’s windows as I take out my phone to text my friend that we have reached. At once Saleem, the driver, friendly in a Lahori way, sees my nervousness and says,
“O baji jee kuch naheen hota. Karo karo aap phone karo,” he reassures. (Don’t worry, nothing will happen. You can make your call)For someone who has suffered from attempted mugging twice in that last one month alone, this Karachiite felt relieved. I simultaneously felt a little envious seeing children riding bikes when I visited a friend in the newly populated Defence locality of Lahore. The friend, a diehard Karachiite, has recently moved to Lahore unexpectedly with his entire family. They seemed very at home in Lahore.
“You all have become total Lahoris, haan?” I said.And they confessed that this was true. Karachiites are flocking towards Islamabad, and more towards Lahore, in search of safer pastures. It’s a better place to bring up your children who will have a less chance of growing up with safety-related phobias. Isolated incidences happen here too, but overall it is definitely a safer bet. Literally. Trees It’s a semi-chilly February afternoon. My friend Ayesha, who is one reason why I wish to frequent Lahore, honours my wish to take photographs, and takes me to Aitchison College. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] A gurdwara in Aitchison College. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] The gurdwara, mandir (temples) and masjid, all are charming beyond words, due to both the red bricks and the feel of pluralism they lend. But perhaps the prettiest thing about Aitchison, and Lahore generally, is the trees. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A mosque in Aitchison College. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Red bricks in Aitchison College. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] Lawrence Garden (now Bagh-e-Jinah), alone, has some 150 varieties of trees. Islamabad has more trees and plantation, and the air is crisper and purer. But Lahore’s trees are mostly aged and huggable; they have a certain character. They have seen the world. They are wise. They are the backdrop of the historic buildings that make Lahore what it is. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The tennis courts at Lawrence garden (Bagh-e-Jinah) are a hub for aspiring tennis stars. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] In the stables of Aitchison College: Beautiful horse Shehbaz being bathed by his keeper Labba. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] Food The Lebanese food at the renovated Faletti’s Hotel at Lahore reaffirmed this: While Karachi offers everything a foodie can ask for, Lahore is in no way lesser in terms of being a food haven. From the authentic experiences of the Lahori masala fish of Daarul Maahi to the mithai (dessert) of Laal Khooh, and from the fancy eateries at M M Alam road to the various food streets (the one near Badshahi Masjid is not the only one), it is a foodie’s paradise. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Begum Shahi (Maryam Zamani) mosque. More than 400-years-old- history crumbling away. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="386"] A mihraab at the Begum Shahi (Maryam Zamani) mosque. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A carpet at the Begum Shahi (Maryam Zamani) mosque. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A tile motif at the Begum Shahi (Maryam Zamani) mosque. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] Organic and healthier food alternatives are also more readily available. But I struggled with my need for a good paan after dinner. Lahore needs to import someone from Karachi to make good paans and perfect its repute of being the ultimate food hub. It’s happening Lahoris are zinda dil (lively), truly, as are all Pakistanis. And a safer environment makes that easier. From theatre and grabbing just the right books from “readings” to musicals at Yusuf Salli’s Haveli, it has a lot to offer for those who want to live it up. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Yusuf Salli's Haveli courtyard. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="261"] Yusuf Salli's Haveli from the outside. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] For the wanderers, an added advantage is that places like Islamabad and Nathia Gali are at drivable distance. Some of the best educational institutes, with the most beautiful campuses, are here, as are places of history and culture. And Lahore doesn’t go to sleep early, just like Karachi, which makes it easier for a Karachiite to settle in. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Beautiful vines at Yusuf Salli's Haveli. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] A pictures wall at Yusuf Salli's Haveli. Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] The people At what was supposed to be a nashta (breakfast), I am at the third floor of a thin house in inner Lahore, visiting a family I have not met in decades. Her children, in their teens, are taking selfies with me, while their father is frying stuff for us in the kitchen. From adjacent rooftops, people are waving. On another day, a random person, himself a photographer, agrees to pose for me as I find him an interesting subject for photography. There is a certain openness in Lahore that I love. Lahoris are not afraid of emoting openly. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="383"] Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi[/caption] They laugh, cry and share readily. While there are cons to this behaviour, there are definitely many pros. Without stereotyping, I would have to say that I end up making connections in Lahore more readily than any other city. There is a lesser bureaucratic and also a less hurried, guarded and agitated feel to Lahore’s people. Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons why I love Lahore.
Karachi vs Lahore
I stepped out of the air conditioned car, onto the street which seemed to have been paved with the heat of hell. In a matter of seconds, my sunglasses began to fog from within and I took them off. It seemed like the sun was a foot away from my head. I squinted and rubbed my eyes for a few seconds before my gaze began adjusting to the burning weather. It was a typical mid-summer afternoon in Karachi, but coming from a breezy city like Toronto, the air was suffocating. I walked straight towards the monstrous wooden doors, guarded by two security guards, and as I had anticipated, they let me in without any questioning. The common Pakistani man always seems to be intimidated by a man in a suit, especially when he steps out of car worth millions of rupees. I knew if I walked the walk correctly, they would hold the doors open for me. I guess some things never change. The open doors led to an open school ground. It was time to clean out the skeletons in my closet. Just as I was exposed to the ground, I sunk in my own wistfulness. A massive wave of nostalgia overcame me and I stood struck by the memories for a few minutes. There, on the left, used to be the sports office, where I would regularly check my name on the board to see if I had made the cricket team or not. On the right used to be the twin canteens which were separated by a fence for boys and girls. I would line up every day with my friends and rush to grab the last piece of foiled beef roll. In the middle of the ground lay the cemented cricket pitch, where I had perfected my skills. The tall white buildings that rose from the ground on either side of the school gave me immense joy. Twenty years ago, they were the last thing I would want to see. But today, after two decades of a mournful divorce from this place, I could not be happier to witness them. Each floor of these buildings had a different tale to tell. The building on the far left was my primary campus. All the pencil picking and address learning had been done there. On the right was my secondary building. That is where I had gone through puberty, and learned what calculus was and wreaked a lot of mischief. Memories came rushing back; the time I had broken the chalk eraser in grade seven, the time I had snuck out of class and bunked my history period, loitering around the water cooler in grade nine. Or the time that I had picked my first and last fight and had broken Mohammad Ali’s nose in grade 10. So many memories of those past wondrous years came flooding in. I was in the center of these memories, the protagonist and the hero. And yet somehow, they felt like folk tales; stories that one tells others for self-amusement. They have no truth to them, just stories that fade away with time. But when I was living them, they were real. They were what I had known to be true. I had created my own food for life, and this is where I got the flavouring from. I saw the cement pitch on the rocky yellow sand with great pride. I walked towards it, like I had done so many times before. Rejoicing a wicket taken by a fellow player, or putting my head down with shame as when we would lose an easy match, my walk towards that pitch had always been remarkable. But today I walked towards it with a different motive. I walked towards it so it may relieve me of my pain. I walked towards it not as a 17-year-old boy who believed that the world was his, but a 37-year-old man who had realised that it was not. I walked towards it with shame, a strong sense of shame that I was unable to fulfil all my promises to it. I walked towards it to seek redemption. Every step I took, I got lost further and further into my mind, drowning in its empty abyss. Finally, I took one step on the rugged gray piece of cement and stepped on to the centre of the pitch, my back towards the secondary building. I hoped what I had come here for would finally pay off, that I would not be disappointed after I turned. I saw my shadow on the ground. It looked ready for the 180 degree spin. And with a twist of my heel, I spun. For a second nothing happened. I looked straight at the wall of the secondary building that stretched on for meters, turning till the far corner and then continuing again, so it made a rather large L shape. For years, the wall of that building served as a boundary for our cricket games. Alongside the wide walls were benches lined up under the shade. Those benches served as a meeting point for our ‘gang’. It was there that we used to gather and plan the rest of the school day. And then it began. My brain finally picked out the memory I had long been savouring. At the east end of the secondary building was a gate that opened into the auditorium, where we would take our O’ level exams. I fondly remember the day I took my final Islamiat exam. I had written a perfect answer and walked straight to the pitch to get away from the tall shade that the secondary building cast upon the ground. The sunlight relaxed my muscles and I felt free under the burning sun. My friends would soon follow me to the centre of the pitch to discuss the exam. One said it was amazing, the other complained about the time constraint. One said he was surely going to flunk it. A lot of conversations had taken place right where I stood now. And suddenly, the voices seemed to diminish as a young girl stepped out from that gate on to the rocky field. Her pencil box clenched between her teeth as she redid her hair in a bun. Her hair band wrapped around her wrist as she fixed the little strands of hair that fell loosely over her forehead. She gave her neck a little jolt and fixed the band on her hair and pulled the pencil box out of her mouth. She asked her friend if her hair looked fine. She then smiled and gave an ecstatic scream about her exam. The gleam in her eye dimmed the scorching sun above me; I could have sworn that nothing could be more perfect than the moment. She took small strides towards the benches and sat down. One of her friends seemed to insist that she had quoted some Hadith wrong, but she had no care of the exam anymore. She was free. She seemed to tell her that she was indifferent and made her realise that summer vacations were finally upon us. Not a moment went by when the mesmerising smile left her face. I could still hear my friend talking, but somehow he was muted. Everything had paused. I had a tunnel vision only of her. That was all I could see. Her, sitting on the white marble bench with her feet crossed – so majestic. Minutes went by and I continued to look at her, not batting an eyelid. I had seen her before, but not like this. This was something I had never felt before. Soon enough her gaze met mine and I felt as if my heart had been electrocuted. My heartbeat increased and I could feel the boneless muscle in my chest skip a beat every time it made the effort of pumping blood into my astonished body. My lips curled into a smile, my cheeks went red but I did not avert my gaze. Her smile turned into amazement. She took up the challenge and continued to stare at me, not knowing what enchantment she was putting me under. Soon she stuck her tongue out and made the most ridiculous face she could make. It was like watching a flowery meadow in spring. I laughed, not at her face, but at how it made me feel. I broke away from my little group and walked towards her. I felt each step I took led me to enlightenment. This was my good fortune I was walking towards, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When I was in her presence I stopped. She raised an eyebrow, her smile still glued to her face. “Hi,” I said. “Hi,” She replied. “Hi,” said a teenage boy standing next to me. I looked over my shoulder and I realised I was standing on this gray paradise for a long time. The ghosts of my past evaporated like vapour in front of me. “What are we looking at?” he asked. He must have been 15 or 16. I hesitated to answer. I made a living constructing fairy tales but today I was at a loss of words. “Just thinking,” I finally said. “About what?” “About how fast we grow up, but how slow our memories do.” He looked confused. He pondered upon what I had said and shrugged it off. He stared at my face for a long time, as if trying to remember me from somewhere. “Have I seen you somewhere?” he inquired. “I don’t think so.” I knew he had seen me. A picture of me was printed in his English curriculum. Soon enough he pulled out a book in his bag and flipped to the back cover, only to see my face smiling back at him. “You’re this guy!” he screamed. He suddenly understood he had met a celebrity. His realisation faded soon as he heard the final bell of the day and realised school had finished. Almost involuntary, without even asking for an autograph, he shoved the book back in his bag and stood beside me silently, staring at the auditorium gate. A bunch of students exited from that door and out to their vans and I saw him examine each one. His vision halted on one particular student, a girl that walked past with her books placed against her chest while talking to her friends. She exited the doors and out the school. I looked at the boy again and saw a smile develop on his face. He gathered his things, shook my hand and made his way to the exit. I stood there perplexed at what had happened. For a brief moment, I could see the spark I felt for her in this young boy. Were kids still capable to feel what I had felt two decades ago? If so, were their destinies similar to mine? I was stuck on that notion when I saw her again. Sitting on her white marble throne like a queen, she was just like I had remembered her. The young girl that had not a care for the world, the young girl who had taught me more about life than life itself, the young girl I had abandoned to chase my dreams, only to realise she was the dream. And now it was too late. She saw me and flashed her wicked smile again. She then stood up and walked towards the gate. My brain was playing tricks on me. She was not real. But I had the urge to follow her, to set everything right, to tell her I was sorry. But I could not. So I stood there, sheepishly atop the gray paradise and under the blazing sun. I remembered how the boy’s face lit up when he saw the girl walk by. I could fondly picture myself in his position; believing love was as simple as they showed it in movies. I put my glasses on and walked towards the giant doors. I was a prisoner of my regrets and this was my punishment. For twenty years she pecked on my brains, reminding me of the mistake that I had made. Today, after twenty years of suffering, I welcome the pain; it is the sensation which will liberate me. Pain, my impeding friend.
Shafqat Hussain, the youngest of seven children, came to Karachi from Kashmir in search of work in 2003. Having struggled with a learning disability, Shafqat failed in school. He was 13 years old when he dropped out, barely able to read or write. He sought refuge in a metropolis that had no space to give and was quickly relegated to the city’s fringes. He never saw his parents again. When he was 14, still four years under Pakistan’s legal age of adulthood, Shafqat was detained illegally by the police and severely beaten. The boy was held in solitary confinement, his genitals were electrocuted and he was burned with cigarette butts. The policemen interrogating him removed three of his fingernails. Sadly, Shafqat’s case was not the exception. It was the rule. He was told that he would never escape police custody or his torturers until he confessed to a crime he did not commit, the murder of a seven-year-old boy. Shafqat was then falsely convicted on charges of kidnapping and murder, and sentenced to death. His eldest brother, Manzoor, spoke to the BBC last December about Shafqat’s confession under torture.
“When I asked him about torture in custody,” Manzoor said to the press, Shafqat “started shivering and wet his pants. He put both his hands on his head and starting crying, saying, ‘Don’t ask, I can’t tell you what they did.’”The only evidence the courts had against him was a confession he made after nine days of being tortured in a police cell. Shafqat was not tried as a juvenile. Nor was he given access to a lawyer when presented with the charges against him. His mother hasn’t seen her son in 10 years. She cannot afford to travel to Karachi to see Shafqat now, before he is to be killed. After a seven-year moratorium, Pakistan recently reinstated the death penalty. After the most horrific terror attack the country has faced, the murder of over 100 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, the Pakistani government decided to counter violence with violence. There was no moment of reflection, no introspection, only a knee-jerk call for vengeance. In Pakistan, blood will always have blood. The state lifted the moratorium on the death penalty and introduced military courts — neither of which are known to be great deterrents to crime. The military courts, where presiding judges and prosecutors come from army ranks, are a controversial addition to Pakistan’s deeply flawed and ineffectual judicial system. Like Pakistan’s contentious anti-terrorism courts, they have ostensibly been formed to try terrorism cases, though their jurisdiction is likely to expand over time. There are currently more than 8,000 people on death row in Pakistan. Close to 1,000 convicts who have exhausted their appeals are set to face the gallows. Thirty-nine people have already been executed. Shafqat is scheduled to be hanged on Thursday. More than two months, after Pakistan’s interior ministry stayed his execution and ordered an inquiry into why a juvenile was placed on death row, Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts have issued a fresh execution order. These draconian courts were set up in 1997 under statutory, not constitutional law; they operate on the premise that the accused is guilty unless able to prove himself innocent. Defendants cannot be granted bail in these courts and as such they have commonly been used in politically motivated cases, rather than to curb crime. Shafqat Hussain has now spent 11 years on death row on charges that have nothing to do with terrorism. He was not a militant; he worked, during his brief spell of freedom in Karachi, as a caretaker at an apartment building. He impacts national security in no way. Reinstating the death penalty is a moral catastrophe for Pakistan. For those who argue the facile logic of an eye for an eye, it is worth noting that in Pakistan the charges of blasphemy, apostasy and adultery are also punishable by death. In an era of unrepentant violence, intolerance and injustice, it is our duty to raise our voices for compassion. Pakistan cannot claim to be just or democratic when it provides security to officials from the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a violent and extremist sectarian group, and puts to death innocent juveniles. This post first appeared on The New York Times here.