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Once upon a time, there were two travellers – one Pakistani and one Indian


It was a late Friday evening in Chicago. After working the full day, I rushed to O’Hare International Airport, to catch a flight to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on my way to Delhi. It was a short impromptu trip to meet my parents and I intended to be back within five days. The past few days had been very hectic at work and I was half hoping that I would be able to catch some sleep in the 14 hours of the first leg of my travel. Of course, an empty middle seat next to mine would be even better, allowing me more room to stretch. I was one of the first to board and as all the seats filled up slowly, I kept my fingers crossed that the seat next to mine would remain empty. Then, I saw an elderly gentleman walking up slowly, looking at the seat numbers. He turned out to be the passenger in the middle seat. We did the customary head nod and he slid into the middle seat. It took everyone in the row a few minutes to slip, slide and fit into the space that had narrowed down considerably. The enforced intimacy and relative anonymity on long haul flights is the elixir for many interesting conversations and soon enough we made tentative moves towards striking up a conversation. He began,

“Hello, I am going to Karachi, how about you?” “Delhi”, I replied.
He smiled.
“Nice! Delhi! Do you live there?” “My parents live in Delhi and I live and work here in Chicago.” “Delhi…” he mumbles “…like the proper Delhi?”
By this time we both realised that it was time to switch to Hindi/Urdu for a more comfortable conversation. He continued,
“I am Owaisi. How about you?”
I told him my name. After this exchange, I addressed him as Owaisi Saheb while he called me Manas Bhai. The plane had not left the tarmac yet. Owaisi Saheb was on his way to attend his late brother’s 40th day ceremony. He told me of his family, brothers and sisters and how he had come to the United States.
“Do you have any connection with India?” I inquire. “Do you know a place called Muzaffarnagar?” he asked.
I smiled.
“Yes, I know it. It was on the way from the town I grew up in on the outskirts of Delhi and I would visit it for various reasons.”
Owaisi Saheb seemed really surprised at this.
“You know Muzaffarnagar!”
He carried on.
“My father’s family lived there. He was in the army and moved to Pakistan in 1948.”
I tell him that there is a smaller town near Muzaffarnagar called Khatauli, where I always stopped near the banks of upper Ganges canal for some tea and snacks at the road side dhaba (cafe). He is completely amazed.
“My uncle’s family lived in Khatauli. Oh my God! What a coincidence!”
By then, we were being served food. Owaisi Saheb saved a bar of chocolate from his tray and gave it to me.
“I have no gifts for you but this should do!”
He reminded me of many uncles of mine – old, gentle, simple and just nice people. I asked him if he had ever visited India.
“I have applied for visa so many times but even with a US passport the Indian consulate refuses. They say, after all, you are a Pakistani. There have been marriages in India of my extended family members that I would have loved to attend.”
I asked him if he had heard any good stories from his father about life in Muzaffarnagar. He looked at his hands for a while and then said,
“After the partition, when my father decided to move to Karachi, he went to his Hindu neighbour and handed him the keys. The neighbour said ‘I will keep the keys till you come back’. A year after we arrived in Karachi, my father realised that he had left some important papers back in Muzaffarnagar. He needed those for official purposes, so he went back to collect them, not knowing what to expect. When he got there, he found his house intact and the same lock in place. He collected the keys from the same neighbour and opened the house. The things were placed exactly where they had been the day they left – clothes with needles in them that the women of the household were working on when they left hurriedly were still lying on the table, waiting to be mended and finished. Manas Bhai (brother), even today it is not possible for me to tell this story without my voice shaking.”
We did not talk much after that. Both of us were lost in our own thoughts and sleepy; strangely we seemed to have run out of words. My layover was short and hence I hurried along to get to my Delhi flight. I looked back at him while leaving and he said,
“Carry on. Who knows we might meet again.” “InshaAllah”, I replied and went on my way.
This was probably the first time I was not saddened by the fact that the seat next to mine was not empty.

Pakistan just doesn’t feel like home


“I have and always will live in Canada.”
Well, that was the plan until two years ago when all my plans, my vision for life – everything changed suddenly and rapidly. Quite unexpectedly, I had to make new plans, which included living in Pakistan. My eyes still closed I enjoyed the crisp, cool weather and tried to decipher whether the heating was on or not. As I pulled the pillow over my face to block the sunlight, I decided that the heating had to be on. After all, November in Toronto was never cool; it was freezing. This thought led me to the far less pleasant one of me having to scrape the ice off my car and shovelling the snow off the driveway. Boy was it cold and painfully so.
“Maybe I’ll get a nice hot cup of cappuccino on the way.”
Before I could decide if I felt like full cream or regular coffee, I was awoken from my dreamy haze by my husband, creating a hue and cry about how she would get to work since there were road blocks because of the 8th Muharram processions. Confused and annoyed, I sat up and snapped back to reality. With a cheeky smile, he pulled me to the window at the end of the hall in our apartment. I was dismayed to see two containers and a truck guarded by police officers blocking the only exit of our building. Then, I noticed two officers with snipers on the roof of the opposite building, which was just too close for comfort. The main road leading to our building was eerily empty, with the exception of police patrolling each side. With a smug smile on his face, my husband said,
“Welcome to Karachi.”
Suddenly, all the grogginess and confusion vanished, and the only concern on my mind was how I was going to get to work. Out of nowhere the image of Ismail popped into my head. Ismail is an elderly rickshaw driver, who does not own a cell phone in this day and age.
“Mein darakht ke neechay hota hoon, agar kabhi bhi zaroorat ho.” (I am usually standing under the tree, if you ever need me.)
Of course as my luck would have it, today of all days, he was nowhere to be seen. So, I frantically began to make phone calls. The first call was to my office to see if the company could arrange a pick-up, then I called the cab service; but as expected there was no one available. With a heavy sigh, my husband claimed he had an idea. Although the main road was completely blocked, there was one other way out – the dump. There is a hill behind our building which has been made larger over time by the mound of trash piled up on it. We got the bike out of the garage and headed out. After accelerating as much as he could, we only managed to get up to a third of the hill. Then, we got off and my husband pulled the bike up the steeper part of the hill and rode through a football field-sized field of trash! The stench of trash still in our nostrils, we navigated through numerous narrow gullis (streets) until we emerged onto a wider road to my office. As we got closer to my office, it seemed like any other day. There was nothing out of the ordinary; no road blocks or containers. There just seemed to be little more policemen than usual. I entered my office, realising that I did not need that cappuccino anymore. I was wide awake. I have never really felt Pakistani. I am not saying that I am ashamed of my heritage but I always felt that Pakistan had more to do with my ethnicity than my nationality. I was born in Pakistan. I have vague memories of the places I visited when I was 11 and 14 years old. Pakistan was my grandparents’ home. It was an all-inclusive resort for me with family, good food and all sorts of help available from cooks, maids, drivers and the ironing lady. Pakistan was long road trips from Lahore to Hyderabad; it was visiting the village where my grandfather grew up. Pakistan was beautiful, enchanting and magical. Yet, it simply never felt like home.

In Italy, I was asked why I was not wearing a Burqa


It was our last day in Rome. My friend and I decided to spend it at our two favourite places in the city – Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fontana. It was almost noon on a pleasant day with the brilliant autumn sunshine warming the cobble-stoned square and illuminating the magnificent Roman sculptures in the centre of the piazza (city square in Italian). It was as if both of us wanted to take a part of Rome away with us in our hearts as we sat quietly on the stone bench simply absorbing the relaxed Italian life around us. I had my camera in my hand and was finding it difficult to put it down since every other moment I would spot an interesting play of light, shadow or colour to capture. All around the square, there were various artists displaying their skill with colour and I was quite taken with the utterly beautiful collections some of them had. Just then I spotted a middle-aged Italian artist who was trying to convince an American tourist of the mastery of his piece. He looked at me and I lowered my camera and smiled at him. I asked him to wave while I took a picture; he good naturedly obliged and I clicked. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Yamna Sultan Bari[/caption] Ten minutes later, while we were still enjoying the warm sun on our faces he ambled over to us and asked in heavily accented English,

“Where are you girls from?”
We squinted up at him and replied that we were from Pakistan. He looked surprised and said,
“Oh! I thought you were from South America!”
My friend and I looked at each other. Neither of us looked remotely South American but we deduced that South America for him was the country where non-white and non-Indian looking people lived. We shrugged and smiled, and he walked away to entertain another potential customer. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Yamna Sultan bari[/caption] He was back five minutes later with a list of questions for us,
 “So Pakistan, eh? How come you are not wearing a…what do they say… a Burqa?”
We both burst out laughing at his innocent question, then, regaining my composure I replied,
 “Not every woman in Pakistan has to wear a Burqa. We wear what we like mostly. The Pakistan you see on your TV is not the only Pakistan there is.”
The poor man still looked a little confused and then he asked,
“So they let you study?”
He was really on a roll. However, I could understand his confusion given the way we are portrayed in the media and so I replied,
“We are both working women.”
The man now just looked dumbfounded and he asked,
“And your parents let you do this?”
My friend and I were thoroughly enjoying the conversation by now. We tried to explain to him the paradoxical world that resides in Karachi – the melting pot of ideologies, of schools of thought (or lack thereof), of the way of life, of culture and of that most encumbered word ever to grace any language – religion. We also tried to explain that Pakistan and Afghanistan are two separate countries; that the bearded Taliban that he sees on TV as our ‘representatives’ were in reality the bane of our people’s existence – for both, people who agree with their ideology as well as those who are horrified by their arrogance. He nodded, looked away for an instant and then turned back to us. His eyes lingered on the headscarf I had on and then shifted to my friend’s beautiful, straight hair. Drawing an imaginary circle around his head, he asked,
“How come she doesn’t wear that?”
I shrugged and replied,
“Because she doesn’t want to.”
He looked at us completely perplexed by now and asked,
“But you both follow the same religion? You are both Moslem?”
We were really cracking up now and his sheepish grin indicated that he also seemed to realise the stereotyping he had subjected us to. However, this little encounter did make me think. We have managed to compartmentalise everything - liberals, fundamentalists, conservatives, chauvinists – the list is endless. I could easily make this piece all about how Muslims and especially Muslim women have been put into a box and how difficult it is to explain to someone from another culture that a Muslim woman wearing a burqa is not just a ‘woman-wearing-a-burqa’ -- she may be completely different in her thoughts and beliefs to another ‘woman-wearing-a-burqa’. In fact, she may actually have a lot in common with a woman who is not burqa-clad. I could do this but I would rather not. Deep down I know that the stereotyping that this Italian gentleman subjected us to was no less than the stereotyping I receive every day in my own city of Karachi. In fact, I am not innocent of this evil myself and often end up stereotyping people based on my limited knowledge of them. Most of us are guilty of picking the most visible trait in a person and defining the person simply on that one quality. In essence, we try to capture an entire ocean in one tiny drop; paint an entire rainbow in monochrome. We pick one piece of cloth and make it into a Chinese screen. We unfold it in our heads, sit back and watch the entire theatre from behind it. In doing so, we forget that humans are beings of movement. In our attempt to make sense of the world around us, we structure and compartmentalise everything around us which leads to judgement, and then we let this judgement define our attitude and consequently our behaviour. Although this compartmentalisation helps us formulate a response to people and situations, must we not also grant the freedom of fluidity to ourselves, the people around us and even the situations that we find ourselves in? Some of these compartmentalisations are harmless and in some cases even provide comic relief. However, most of them simply serve as chains rather than ropes. Someone takes one step outside the little box in our heads and we waste no time in terming it as ‘uncharacteristic’, ‘unlike them’ and consequently take it to mean that ‘something is wrong’ – either with the person or with the situation. With this very categorisation, we imprison people into ‘was’, ‘is’ and ‘will be’. In this prison there is no place to simply ‘be’ for if we were to allow people to simply ‘be’, how would we know which box to put them in? Hence, the question is essentially basic and basically essential. Must we always be held accountable to how we are or were at a point in time? Must I not be allowed to feel one way today and another tomorrow? Believe one thing today and discover something new tomorrow? Is this not the vital sign of a ‘constant flux’? Must not the mind pulse to its own rhythm and the soul vibrate to its own music just as God gave the heart its own beat so that the blood in our veins may flow? After all, the day it stops is also the day we die. So, must we not ensure that the death of our mind and soul does not occur before the death of our body? In this process, must we not also let flourish the freedom of another’s mind?  

Is your online life more ‘real’ than your reality?


Your online identity has seen you do a bunch of crazy things from naming yourself after your favourite Star Wars character to putting up highly fantasised pictures of your human self on Bitstrips [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Bitstrips has become a craze among the young and old, with people creating pictures of their human selves online. Photo: Bitstrips (Facebook Page)[/caption] However, what started as fun and games has long since existed to be only that. You are now as much of an amalgamation of your online experiences as your real-life ones and who is to say which one is what? With phone alerts punctuating almost all our human interactions, the time and importance we give to knowing why Karachi is trending on Twitter is way more than how we actually spend an ordinary day in the city. https://twitter.com/HMNAQVI/status/406723423696478208 https://twitter.com/pawspakistan/status/406692020690747392 However, where does our online life end and where does the real life begin? Moreover, does our real life even matter anymore? Though a seemingly preposterous idea, our increasing participation in cloud communities, online food groups, art pages and movie review forums, at the expense of real-life interaction with fellow mortals says otherwise. Even when it comes to things such as developing skill-sets or finding a living, we are more likely to spend time on activities that are valued on the internet as opposed to real life things, like getting out of bed. Busy adorning our cell-phone experience with the furniture of apps, we are slowly doing away with the need of having tangible things around. Notebooks, calculators, chess boards, canvases, alarm clocks are all examples of things that have slowly disappeared from our physical surroundings, only to appear in our virtual one. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Online apps are slowly doing away with the need of having tangible things around. Photo: AFP[/caption] Remember how you hid the other day from that acquaintance at the mall? It is a fact that we shy away from having real-life encounters and are wary of stepping out to buy say, brownies, but willingly struggle to earn extra lives in Candy Crush – okay maybe, that one is a tough call, but you get what I mean, right? [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] People struggle to get to the next level of Candy Crush as if their life depends on it. Photo: Reuters[/caption] We abandon our comfort zones to protest against the banning of websites and it is only when we are blocked on online pages that we truly begin to value our ‘fundamental’ rights. With our rooms slowly transforming into bat-caves where we wish we could store a week-long supply of food, our online lives are taking over, leaving little or no room to develop our offline identity. We know how to respond to various online situations with standard acronyms like YOLO (You only live once), ROFL (Rolling on the floor laughing) and of course, the staple LOL (Laugh out loud), but often find it next to impossible to tell someone off in real life – a fact I am now convinced of after a friend disclosed that she had taken an online course on ‘How to say NO and stand up to your peers’. Even though we would like to think that this is a problem that affects only a certain strata of society, upon closer inspection this does not seem to be the case. From daily-wage earners to salaried drivers, sometimes it is getting lost in the world of their mobile phones that keeps them going. With people adding filters to their photos on Instagram to cropping out their photo-bombing friends, our online appearances have started to matter just as much as our real selves, if not more. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] It has become more important to share one's picture on Instagram than meet people in person. Photo: AFP[/caption] Who are we turning into and who are we leaving behind? The question to ask yourself is,

“Are you for real, bro?”
If you still think that I am exaggerating, here is why I am not - Mark Zuckerberg’s sister thinks one should register a baby’s online identity at birth!

Mustafa Kamal: Karachi’s superhero should return!


The Karachi we know today is nothing like the city many of us lived in a decade ago. In 2000, the local government system was introduced by former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, which was initially just an experiment. However, the way Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur made use of this opportunity to flourish and improve has no parallels; one cannot find similar examples anywhere else. When Karachi is discussed, one cannot omit the role of Syed Mustafa Kamal, as the mayor of Karachi, in its development. It has been almost four years since Mustafa Kamal has left office – and Karachi hasn’t been the same ever since. We all have been hearing about rumours that a difference of opinion exists between Kamal and his party the Mutahidda Qoumi Movement (MQM), ever since he was appointed as senator by the party leadership in the elections. However, the extent of these ‘differences’ was not known until recently, when Kamal not only resigned from his position in the Senate, but also decide to leave the country. I, as a spectator, assumed it to be a political stunt and the setting up of a stage for the former mayor to contest the local body elections. No matter what differences Kamal may have with his party, the people of Karachi are least interested in it. The reason for the public’s interest in his resignation is that they want to know if this is the end of Kamal’s political legacy in Karachi. In Pakistan, the norm is that local government elections are contested under a party banner, which should be discouraged. But as practice suggests, we can’t imagine Kamal contesting for the local body elections under the present circumstances. Kamal is a man of action and every responsible citizen of Karachi would agree considering the contributions he has made towards the development of this city. It wouldn’t have been possible without his determination. When he was given a platform to work, he used that opportunity with determination, zeal and enthusiasm, to uplift Karachi from its underdeveloped outlook and infrastructural lacking. Before Kamal, the city was facing multiple, severe issues which included water supply, drainage, hygiene and traffic jams. To top it all, the city was unceremoniously dug up and left that way under the pretense of some pseudo-development projects. It was Kamal who actually worked upon the lines of international standards. When my father used to drive me to college, I remember seeing construction workers working in the morning and even later in the evening when we would be returning, in order to complete the projects early. The world talks about super heroes with supernatural powers. I would say Kamal is our very own super hero who, despite the odd working hours, relentlessly and selflessly worked for years to solve the issues of a common man. Ideally, a local government should comprise of representatives from the general public who understand the day to day issues of the people. Under the supervision of Kamal, this ideal was made a reality. Never during his tenure did I see garbage accumulating on streets – just one complain call from our side, and the issues would get resolved as priority. Now, however, it’s been six months since I complained to the local administrators about the overflowing trash bins near my area but they care little about any one. Kamal was a living example of how an effective government is run. He has set the bars of performance so high, that whoever becomes the next mayor would have to work twice as hard, just to meet his standards. He will have to work 24/7, be able to deal with the issues faced by this city and give priority to things that may seem nominal to him; that is what Mustafa Kamal did. He was on the field day and night making sure the work is followed up upon as planned and on time. Kamal’s resignation is particularly saddening news for the people of Karachi who were hoping for him to take charge of the city once again. The literal mess that Karachi is in today needs his guidance and supervision. He did a lot of work to reinstate this city back to its original title – the City of Lights. In my opinion, Mustafa Kamal’s departure from Pakistan would be too big a loss to our nation and even though he has resigned, he should come back and take part in the local body election. Karachi needs him and his determination to take this city to newer heights. As a citizen of Karachi, I would like to see Mustafa Kamal reinstated. I would like him to come forward and do whatever he must to push Karachi to its potential and return the city to what it used to be. And the only man who can do it is Mr Mustafa Kamal.

Begging: Pakistan’s new profession for kids?


They keep navigating from one car to another, knocking at your car windows and doors until you pay attention to them. This is the time when we are waiting for the traffic signal to turn green. They make sure their appearance is seen and not ignored. They are adamant and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Every summer I come down to Pakistan to spend time with my grandparents, and on my way home from the airport, I feel disheartened looking at these children navigating between cars. These are the handicapped young children on the streets of Pakistan asking for alms. The secret of getting more money is to have one or more of their limbs cruelly amputated. In order to elicit more sympathy, these young children pull themselves along the filthy streets, either on their bellies or on low wheel carts, which is extremely pitiful and heart-wrenching to watch. Hundreds and thousands hand out money everyday. But the questions that come to my mind are: Should we give them money? Do they legitimately deserve our charity? Who are these children? Where do they appear from in the morning and disappear off to at night? Where does the money go? Do they have homes and parents, or do they belong to some mafia gang? This culture of begging is so widespread that no one thinks about stopping it. When I look at these beggars, it reminds me of the movie Slumdog Millionaire. According to some sources, most of these malnourished children are considered as the so-called property of different mafia gangs who disfigure their bodies to make them seem more miserable. These kids are deliberately maimed by forcibly amputating their arms and legs, and their master’s cruelty goes as far as practically blinding some of the kids to earn more from their pitiful appearances. Evidence says that the more these poor victims are tortured and tormented, the more sympathy they will earn from the public. They are forced to be on the streets from early morning till late in the evening while the revenue goes to their torturers, the organised gangs who possess expertise in mutilating and exploiting defenceless children. Is there any law enforcement agency that can take some time out to look into this matter? Isn’t there any way that these under-aged beggars can go to school holding their schools bags in the morning instead of sticking their hands out for cash? It is important for the respective authorities to reach out to our society and make sure that these children are provided opportunities to go to school and live in a safe environment. According to some sources, there are many NGOs that are involved in solving such issues, but no significant results could be achieved. These children can be a productive part of our society if only they are given the required resources and guidance. Unless we make an effort to include them in our society, they will remain outcasts and resort to begging. They need to be introduced into educational systems to be able to make their own choice, but who is to take that first step? If the government and NGOs have failed so far, perhaps, it is time for the citizens of the country to play their own role in eradicating this ‘new profession’. If these kids belong to some mafia lord, then there is a bigger threat to their lives than we think and if this continues to spread, begging may become a little industry of its own. Now is not the time to sit back and ponder upon what I have just stated, now is the time to get up and make a difference. Every little step counts!

‘Kidz Dunya’ teaches your 5-year-old to get a job and manage money!


Finally, after a plethora of anticipation, ‘Kidz Dunya’ (KD) opened its doors to the entertainment starved kids of Karachi. Nobody really knew what was being done behind the sky blue panaflex on the food court floor of Dolmen Mall Clifton. The general perception was that a Sinbad style recreation facility is under construction and that the children will have yet another venue to go and enjoy coin rides. However KD changed the entire approach towards child entertainment and for the first time in Pakistan’s history, a dedicated facility for activity based entertainment and learning was introduced. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Children role playing as police officers at Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] KD has been designed by a famous architect based in Karachi. The concept has been borrowed from Kidzania (Dubai) where the main focus is to indulge young minds into some healthy role playing activities. The entire facility is designed like a small town with a proper road, street lights, road-side cafes, hospital, police station, a fire station, an ice cream factory, a pizza parlour, a football field, a science lab and several other outlets that are yet to open. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="333"] Police station at Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] After paying the entry charges, children are provided with a KD cheque which is used to withdraw KDR 500 from a customised Habib Bank Ltd (HBL) branch dealing in KD currency. The kids are then supposed to earn and spend this currency while they spend their time in this beautifully designed town. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Habib Bank Ltd customised branch at Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] In order to earn cash they have to serve in the police, work as a fire fighter or help the ailing humanity as a doctor. For each of these assignments they get KDR 100 which they can spend in various other activities. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="375"] Children role playing as firefighters at Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] There is a Pizza Hut specially designed for kids where these young hands can indulge in some pizza baking. The ice cream factory is another colourfully designed facility where the kids go through the entire process of ice cream making. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="354"] Children learning how to make ice-cream at Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] There is a stuffed teddy bear making facility where the kids can actually build a bear and buy it against actual PKR. Other than that, there is an arts studio where kids can assume the role of artists and can indulge in painting, sketching and puppet making. The attendants at each of the facilities are extremely friendly, well trained and interactive. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Teddy Mountain at Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] Kidz Dunya is all about learning and fun side by side. The experience teaches kids to manage their money and get some exposure to real world professions. Such healthy activities in a safe and secure location were badly needed. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] The only challenge that the management will face is how well they manage the flow of visitors and how frequently they change the nature of their activities in order to keep the kids engaged before they get bored of doing the same things over and over. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] The pricing, at the moment, caters to the children belonging to the upper middle and elite segment of society. To ensure an influx of customers, the management can, perhaps, dedicate certain days when parents can enter free of charge and kids can avail certain discounts. This will encourage parents belonging to the lower income group to visit KD and take their kids through this wonderful learning experience as well. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] KD Studio at Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] The management can also design special packages for schools. With a dearth of recreational spots in the city, schools can send their students to a safe and secure location without any worries and can provide their students with the benefit of an educational tour along with the fun aspect of a field trip. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] My six-year-old is suffering from a fractured arm but even with that neck sling tied around, she had a ball of a time. I found the staff to be courteous, patient and well trained in dealing with toddlers. They were being extra considerate towards my daughter’s injury and made her stay at KD as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Kidz Dunya. Photo: Arsalan Faruqi[/caption] As a parent I’m naturally concerned about the activities that my kid indulges into. These formative years require a lot of activity based learning and Kidz Dunya provided me with just the kind of recreational activity I would have wanted my child to be involved in and learn from. After this first-of-its-kind experience, my young one can’t wait to go back.

KU, IBA and PU are plagued by political wings, they must be stopped


There is a common norm for political party student wings at the University of Karachi – if an issue is at odds with your views, the only way to deal with it is through disruption and menace. The members of these wings are university going students. One would expect, at this level, a certain sense of maturity and control over emotions from individuals at this age. Unfortunately, student politics has led them down quite the opposite path. There is hardly any wall or corner devoid of graffiti favouring or defaming one political party or the other. Student political wings, however, posses a more emotional attitude, or regard it as a personal favour to someone, rather than practicing the actual essence of politics, which is, solving problems faced by the public. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Political posters on the wall at Karachi University. Photo: Minerwa Tahir[/caption] Some of the political posters can impact these grooming minds in a very destructive manner. For example, if a student sees the American flag imprinted on the ground in front of the Arts lobby every day, the psychological impact on her/his mind would be the development of a tendency of intolerance. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The US flag painted on the floor near the Arts Lobby, Karachi University. Photo: Minerwa Tahir[/caption] The acceptability of intolerant views in an already intolerant society is the last thing we need. It is grotesque that we see many people walking with dirty shoes on the flag, succeeding only in sparking unnecessary hatred. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Political posters on the wall at Karachi University. Photo: Minerwa Tahir[/caption] Why are we so incapable of voicing our views without being disrespectful? One is only left to wonder. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Political posters on the wall at Karachi University. Photo: Minerwa Tahir[/caption] There is no possible rationale behind this act of disgracing the flag of another country. One may not like a particular country for its policies and attitudes, or for whatever other reason (the validity of your likeness or dislike is not the question here), but that does not justify insulting that country’s flag. Moreover, the Americans couldn’t care less about how a bunch of rowdy students in Karachi desecrate their cultural representations, burn their flag or draw it on the grounds of the university premises to make sure people walk on it. Such absurd forms of protest will only have a detrimental effect on the people who see this grave insult daily. It will not cause the US to change its policies! Where is the admin? Unfortunately, the administration is helpless when it comes to political student wings. When I went to take pictures of the American flag, I decided that I would talk to the student responsible for it and see if he would be willing to answer some of my questions. On seeing him I asked,

“Do you know who is responsible for this flag’s desecration?” “The administration of Karachi University is responsible for this. Now you should go,” he replied.
Taken aback at the threatening tone in his words, I decided to verify this information with the chairperson of my department. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] The US flag painted on the floor near the Arts Lobby, Karachi University. Photo: Minerwa Tahir[/caption] Dr Tahir Masood told me that it is one of the student unions who is responsible and not the administration.
“The administration is helpless and at times uninterested at the hands of these student unions,” he stated.
I told him that if I write about the issue then perhaps the administration might be propelled to take action.
“You should not hold high hopes in this regard” was his honest advice to me.
The Institute of Business Administration (IBA) incident, when KU students created chaos because ‘loud music was being played’ at one of IBA’s functions is yet another example of the intolerant attitude that exists in these political wings. Different methods are employed by student political unions for carrying out their ‘activities’ – most of which are present just to disrupt the functioning of the educational institution. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="337"] A political poster on the wall at Karachi University. Photo: Minerwa Tahir[/caption] To give you a brief introduction to how the university works, you should be warned that at orientation day, after the chairperson’s address, you will be subjected to hearing the manifestos of all the parties, one by one, and you will be invited to join. Secondly, two groups clashing with each other is a regular sight. Apolitical students are told to go home before the clash starts because most of the times, such brawls are pre-planned. Many a times, classes are cancelled because student members have to attend ‘meetings’. Moreover, you can get your way out of any trouble, irregular attendance fine or cheating in exams, so long as you have the support of one of the parties. To sum it all up, you can do ‘anything’ at the university if you are affiliated with a party. There are two broad categories that all of the student unions at KU fall into in terms of ideology: the liberal and the conservative. The liberals would demand absolute freedom of expression, while the conservatives would ask for a rigid adherence to cultural and religious values as determined by them. This polarisation begets extreme intolerance of the other’s view. Both groups work incessantly at galvanising and recruiting more members, leaving no stone unturned. They will offer unwanted help and support to increase their following. However, most of the parties from both categories follow a similar democratic, organisational structure with an elected governing body. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] A political poster on the wall at Karachi University. Photo: Minerwa Tahir[/caption] This dominant trend of political party-based student politics is corrupting the environment of educational institutions throughout Pakistan. The violence that erupted after the Punjab University administration decided to convert a party stronghold into a girls’ hostel is yet another example of this corruption. Moreover, alleged connections with terrorist organisations reflect a growing inclination towards intolerance and extremism. Drugs and alcohol were said to be uncovered from a party position holder. We cannot be sure if these are the routine activities of a party or if they are trapped into allegations, as they say. But surely, where there is smoke there is fire? It has to be something that always brings these parties into disrepute and I doubt that they are always 'innocent'. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] 'Down with America, Israel and India' written on the road near the administration building at Karachi University. Photo: Minerwa Tahir[/caption] It was my responsibility to highlight this issue as a student. We need to join hands and address this issue collectively. Authorities, like the political leadership need to take serious measures in this direction. It is a sad state of affairs that even university administrations are helpless at the strength of the mentioned student unions. Incidents such as the violence at IBA and Punjab University are the outcomes when there are no checks and balances conducted. It would be a much better sight for the students if, instead of political banners posted on walls, there would be more educational and intellectual material posted. I do not speak against the right, of these political academic wings, to free expression but this right should not be misused. They are entitled to have their political meetings but not at the cost of cancelling classes. Peaceful, non-violent and ‘decent’ protests against any issue are always welcome. In short, it is imperative to keep in mind that you are always free to swing your arm as long as it does not come in the way of another person.

Karachi Sea View: The sun, the sea and … harassment by the police?


A friend of mine was visiting from Lahore and asked me to show him the beach in Karachi. So, on a nice Sunday afternoon, December 1, 2013, I took him to the Clifton beach. He had never seen the beach before and was quite excited. Two of our other friends also accompanied us. I parked my car in the service lane by the beach and we started walking along the promenade. My friend purchased some souvenirs made from seashells for his family and as we were walking back towards our car, we were greeted by three men wearing white shalwar kameezs’. One of the men said,

“Assalamualaikum! I am Azhar* from the Anti-Car Lifting Cell (ACLC), Karachi and your car is illegal.”
I was shocked, like anyone would be. Firstly, they were in civilian clothes and secondly my car was definitely not illegal. When I asked them for some authorisation or identity, they showed me a bogus card. Looking at the card I said,
“If my car is illegal, your card can be illegal too.”
He pushed me towards the car parked next to mine – a silver Toyoto Vitz – with tinted glasses and pointed towards a handcuffed man sitting inside. He asked,
“Do you see him? If we were not actually police officers, how could we have someone in custody?”
I was still doubtful. Why would I believe that men in civilian clothes, sitting in a civilian car were police officers? They told me that one of them would accompany us in my car to the police station but I refused. I had been in a similar situation twice before when a group of men with fake identities pretended to be police officers/intelligence agents and took away my car, money and cell phone. So this incident seemed like a sham to me. We resisted and did not allow them to sit in our car unless they proved their identity. I told them that they would have to call their police van or that I would call them. One of the ‘police officers’ made a phone call spoke into the phone in a regional language, which I understood, and called for the van. While we waited, I inquired what proof he had that my car was illegal. He hurled abuses at me told me to address him as ‘Sir’ since he was a police officer and also claimed that he was part of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). When my friend and I asked him for the abbreviation to CIA, he told us to shut up. An-hour-and-a-half later, a police van came. Instead of listening to our side of the story, the policemen forced us into the van and took us all to the police chowki at Sea View, Karachi. They had realised by now that they could not prove that my car was illegal but they still persisted in trying to convict me. After all, I had wasted an hour of their ‘precious’ time claiming that they were not real officers. It had now become an ego battle. When I confidently showed them my documents, they grudgingly conceded but then started walking around my car suspiciously, pointing at my car’s number plate, looking for a fault. The officer-in-charge at the chowki confiscated my car keys and CNIC, and told me to get the complete file of my car from my house. I knew that I could not do anything since I did not have any contacts in the police force or the government. Although I hoped that even if I had known someone influential, I would have still tried to prove my innocence in the correct manner, rather than use someone’s position of power and authority. Since I lived far away, I requested him to provide transport so that I could bring the documents, to which he replied,
“You are not some VIP (Very Important Person).”
I could not help but retort,
“Well, your salary comes from the taxes I pay. It is your responsibility to cooperate with me since I have not committed a crime and neither am I guilty of any charge.”
He told me to take a cab. I could not believe that he actually expected me to pay Rs 600 out of my own pocket for a cab. I told him,
“I am not guilty. The car documents that you checked are legal and the officer in civilian clothes has been proven wrong. Now you just want to push me around because a common man like me has proved an ‘officer’ wrong? Is this not harassment?”
After much altercation, I finally convinced him to give me back my car keys. But he still told me to bring the documents for verification, even though everything had checked out just fine. He wouldn’t give me the car back if he thought that it was illegal, would he? He wouldn’t just let me go and ask me to bring in the documents, would he? What if I had not gone back? But I did. Like the honest citizen that I am, I drove back home, brought the documents and showed them to him just to prove that I was right. In the end, he offered us tea (as an apology I assume) to which we refused. Why would we have tea out of the money that millions of Pakistanis pay as tax? On the way home, my friend from Lahore said that he had enjoyed the beach. I do not know if he was being sarcastic or if he thought that this would be an exciting story to tell back home. As far as I was concerned, I know I did the right thing. It is not legal by any means to harass people in public on baseless allegations by people who are not even in uniform! Our police force has come to think of themselves as VIPs. They think that they are above the law and consider themselves accountable to no one. They have forgotten that their basic duty is to protect and safeguard the public rather than harass them. After all, protection is what they are paid for by the public. I understand if they had doubts or were suspicious. However, they should have operated in a professional manner instead of abusing their position and power. But who am I to complain? This country has bigger problems and this was just a small incident that happened to an ordinary citizen. After all, there are millions of others who are harassed on a daily basis in public by officials both, in uniform and those in civilian clothes. If you happen to be harassed by such so-called ‘officers’ in civilian clothes, I would advise you to do what I did. Do not give in if you know you have done nothing wrong. What is the worst that can happen? It will just spice up your day and you will be subject to verbal and physical harassment by egoistic policemen. But at least you will know that you stood up for yourself and your rights. *The name has been changed. 

They killed my cousin. They killed a 9-year-old’s father.


If I were to believe any of the ‘feel-good, badly-designed’ inspirational quotes that go around cyberspace, I would tell myself that the best things somehow always are. Feel good, badly designed, that is. Why do I say this? Can you imagine seeing someone with their brains splattered across the hospital bed? You probably have not, but I have. Trust me, at that point, you don’t know what to think. You don’t think that it will be okay eventually. You don’t know whether to wail in grief or throw up. That someone happened to be my cousin’s husband. He was only 32-years-old and was the father of two young daughters. Well, at least they were young when it happened. Now, they are suddenly too old. He was shot through the head. Killed for reasons that somehow fade to a pathetic whimper compared to his daughter’s dream of being a doctor and an actress at the same time when she is 20-years-old and living in New York. She is nine. His wife and I grew up together and did everything possible to break the rules. We laughed when we managed to escape unscathed and laughed even harder every time we got caught. When she fell in love and decided to elope, she had the same mischievous gleam in her eyes. It was another adventure that would cause both of us to bite our lips in the face of a disapproving family grimace – a grimace born out of words like ‘sect and ethnic differences’; words that are so hollow that they keep echoing in your ears. Ten years later when I saw her husband’s wounds, all I could think of was the clean, starched sheets on the hospital bed. I wondered how long it would take to clean them back to that acidic white, peculiar to hospital sheets. I had no recollection of ever laughing in my life. The performance by throngs of relatives and ‘well-wishers’ – the whispered intrigues and the usual circus acts – took away any space that we may have had to grieve. There was anger, followed by a numbness reserved for battles and incomprehension. Then, my work place was attacked and I was left to wonder if I was in the middle of a nightmare. I kept waiting for the proverbial straw that breaks your back. I was helping my cousin’s nine-year-old daughter get dressed at that time. As I pulled out a jacket for her, she looked at me with eyes that seemed suddenly sad and wise – the same eyes that had once shone with dreams of living in New York. She told me that although she found my taste in fashion agreeable, she asked me to reach out for a purple jacket for her because the colour I had chosen would never suit her complexion. And then I knew, life would be okay. Not today, not tomorrow. But eventually. The best things in life are free, after all. They may not be easy but nothing worth having ever was.

Applying to NED? These tips may save your life!


Ever wondered why people who manage to get admission into NED University of Engineering and Technology (NEDUET) have a certain kind of ecstasy in their eyes? As if they have conquered the world, or at least part of it? I used to ponder over it as well, until I too became a part of the university’s legacy. Recently I decided to apply for admissions in NEDUET. The days that followed saw me transforming from a lovable creature to someone full of loathe and hate for the institute’s administration. Standing in lines for almost seven hours, with an additional hour spent waiting for my name to be called out to submit the form, using languages and swears I never knew I could use, and almost landing in a hospital bed are all those things that made me realise that getting into NED is not child’s play. Hence, I have decided to let people know what it means to become a part of this institution. This is a step-by-step guide for all those who wish to apply to a university that still insists on using pre-historic administrative procedures. What you will need before you apply: -          A relative with a lot of free time on their hands to accompany you. -          Your own mode of conveyance. -          A relative who is a 17 grade or above government officer. -          Knowledge of a few regional languages. -          The ability to comprehend profanities and dish them out. -          Friends in high places or the ability to make friends instantaneously. -          Patience, stamina and of course, a large amount of money. Optional but highly recommended -          Health insurance Step 1: Getting ready Try to be one of the first applicants to acquire the prospectus from the university’s bank – the earlier, the better. Signup on the university’s website using the codes in the prospectus, fill in the online form and print it out along with the bank slips (chalans). Step 2: Paying the form submission fee Go to the university’s bank and submit the fee. Try submitting it as soon as admissions open. (Reaching the bank at a later date will mean encountering angry parents and students, along with very tired and frustrated bank employees.) There will be either a queue or a crowd when you reach the bank. In the case of a queue, you can either, 1) Stand in line and wait for your turn, which will take around 15 to 30 minutes. Or, 2) Go to the beginning of the queue and start complaining about the bank’s procedures. This may or may not result in your work getting done – but oh well, at least you tried. In case of a crowd, using option two will yield positive results faster. There is a higher chance of getting your turn early if you are a female. Your sister or mother may come in handy at this time. Step 3: Attestations You will need a few hundred documents attested. Put that grade-17 relative of yours to work. If you have done your A’ levels, visit the board office for an ‘equivalency’ certificate. The speed with which work gets done depends on your connections and your understanding of the word ‘fees’. Step 4: Submission of the form On any one of the submission dates, get up early, have a good breakfast (you’ll need all the strength you can get), ask your relative to join you, yup the same one with a lot of free time, and reach the admissions office a few hours before it opens. Collect a token, wait for your turn, submit your form, wait for a while more and then receive your admit card. Get in line as soon as possible. Take turns with your relative for standing in line. Make friends with those in front and those behind you. Be prepared to yell at people cutting in line, to be shoved and pushed. Once inside the office, follow the instructions from the token system. This entire ordeal may take around seven to ten hours, which is where your health insurance comes in. You may need it afterwards. Step 5: The test Study from your prior textbooks or join a centre for the test. Show up on the day of the test and just pass it (50 or above marks is a pass)! Step 6: Documents submission and medical test Utilise your government officer relative again. Get a PA (posterior-anterior)-view X-Ray report made. Arrange the required original documents and medical test fee. Reach the admissions office a few hours before time. Get a token, wait your turn and then submit the documents. Wait another 15 minutes. Receive a stamped and signed slip that says you have submitted them. Pay the medical test fee and receive a bank slip. Go to the medical centre. Get your height, weight, eyesight, colour blindness and X-Ray inspected in the fastest health check-up you will ever have witnessed. Receive a ‘thumbs up’ or the bad news that you cannot be a particular type of engineer because you are just a few centimetres short of the required height. Step 7: The interview Prepare by memorising your choices and arranging the admission fee. Show up at the designated time. (Everything will be delayed; you will not miss out on anything.) Walk to the auditorium, where the interviews are taking place, find a nice seat, sit down and just pray. There will be a projector displaying the merit list on a screen. Your position on the list determines your chances of realising your parents’ dreams. Wait for your name to be called out. Go to the bank employees and pay the fee. Receive the bank deposit slip and proceed to the university officials. The ‘interview’ will begin with the all-important question,

‘Have you paid the fee?’
Next will be,
‘Which department?’
Followed by,
You will answer the first question by producing the bank deposit slip, the second by stating your choices and the third by taking the admission slip they offer. Leave. (Try not to look back) Tell your friends, yell enthusiastically and let the whole world revel in your happiness. You are now officially a student of NEDUET. Congratulations!

Your daughter’s education is as important as her marriage


The wedding season is currently in full swing in the country. There are weddings events and functions almost every other day.  This is the time when practically every household is involved in mehndis, dholkis and mayuns (musical nights) along with nikkahs, shaadis and valimas. I do not know whether it is the pleasant weather that inspires so many to get married at this time of the year or if it is the fact that winter holidays means that friends and family from abroad can attend weddings at this time, not to mention that local schools are also closed, making it easier for the parents. What I do know is that anyone who has been to even one of these events would know what awe-striking extravagance these occasions depict. The dream wedding vs the education dream Perfection is the ultimate goal in Pakistani weddings. Everything has to be and look perfect at every single event, of which there are quite a few. Thousands of rupees are spent on each occasion on clothes, venues and invitation cards not to mention event managers, choreographers, give-aways and the likes. Often this can sum up to at least a few crore rupees. Keeping the expenses in mind, one would think that the bride and groom would get the wedding of their dreams and often they do. But perfect weddings do not always translate into perfect marriages. It is important to see the ‘perfect wedding’ from a different perspective. Imagine someone who has just found out that they will not be able to get admission in a university abroad - not because their grades were unacceptable but because it is financially impossible for their family to afford the tuition and lodging. If such individuals are made to attend numerous wedding functions in this frame of mind, their only thought as they gaze at the lavishness of it all might be,

“I could have gone for my studies abroad, spent three or four years there in happiness and been able to obtain an internationally-recognised degree. My future would be secure in less than a quarter of the amount being spent at each of these weddings. Three whole years, compared to a mere 20 days of stress-filled functions related to the preparations, the in-laws, the wants and needs of the bride and groom or the making of the dresses. So much expenditure just for uniting two people!”
The sacrifices and compromises This entire matter becomes heart-breaking when one finds out that the bride never had the opportunity or the encouragement to study any further than O-Levels or A-Levels. Even if the girl is studying somewhere abroad, her parents usually call her back to Pakistan when a ‘rishta’ comes along because ‘good rishtas should not be ignored’. So this young girl with hopes, dreams and ambitions flies back, gets ‘approved’ by the in-laws and an engagement ceremony takes place. After the ceremony she is told that she will not be going back to complete her studies because ‘what need is there now?’ So, all her time, money, energy and hard work come down to nothing. What is worse is that she probably did not even fight or argue with her parents because she had accepted that this is how things are done in Pakistan. Coming back to the perspective of the distressed students with no means of financing their education, it would probably baffle them as to why and how the friends and peers of these girls would allow this to happen. More importantly, they do not understand why the parents are not concerned about their daughters’ education. Why are these parents more than ready to spend such exorbitant amounts on their daughters’ weddings but not let them complete their education? The reasons for the extravagance All of this is pretty baffling for me. However, what we need to understand is why parents act in such an absurd manner. Well, simply because everyone in Pakistan is doing the exact same thing. It is all about the money. The status. The ego. And the competition. That is what weddings are all about in a nutshell. I have had endless discussions on this disturbing social behaviour with my best friend and my mother and like all rational people they agree with me. My question is, if they realise and recognise the absurdity of it, why doesn’t the general populace understand it? And I know that many people are aware of this problem in our society and that there are enough dinner table debates on it. But if everyone is aware of this issue, why is nothing being done about it? Sadly, in most of our cities, where every single person aims to outdo the other – be it friend or foe; where money is the only concern for most of us. Money, money, money – that is the entire game. What I do not understand is that it is just a piece of paper so why make it matter so much? Why choose money over your brother or sister, your mother or father, your wife or husband, your friend or relative? If you probe deeper, it all comes down to one trait prevalent in our society – judging. The entire foundation of our society is built upon one person judging the other. And sadly, we form our opinions and judgements based on outwardly appearances and attitudes, rather than concrete characteristics such as intelligence, morality, humanity and humility. Marriage is more than the dream wedding Don’t get me wrong. I am not against marriage and I do think that it is important. And I know that parents get worried about their daughters remaining single for the rest of their lives if they focus on their education and career for too long. However, I feel sad that as a society we have failed to strike a balance between education and marriage. Most brides are treated like a princess during the entire month of the wedding and once married, they are expected to spend the rest of their life sitting at home, going shopping and socialising because they never completed their education and hence, cannot pursue a career or do something to realise their true potential. Eventually these girls get fed up with the direction that their life has taken only because their parents made them dependent, instead of allowing them to have the opportunity to become self-reliant. I am disturbed by these ideals and values which are held important across Pakistan – the ideals of money over education, beauty over brains, clothes over principles. It is just perplexing and baseless. And this is why weddings have become such dramatic, extravagant affairs. We are more concerned with what people will think of us if we do not spend enough on the venues, food, dresses, choreographers and give-aways, than what they will think if we lack the basic values of courtesy, etiquette and good manners. A wedding is about bringing two people together; it is about uniting two families. So why can it not be just that? Why have we made it into something which a family can use to display their immense wealth? Not only does this cause unnecessary stress to those involved, it takes away the essence of what a wedding should be. Of course, weddings should be fun and enjoyable but that enjoyment should not come at the risk of stress, debt and anxiety. It should exist automatically, spontaneously, as an extension to the happiness of the event itself.

No Dr Hoodbhoy, Karachi is not headed towards nuclear doom


Recently, in an article published in Dawn, a few respected academics argued that, with the proposed construction of two new nuclear power plants in Karachi:

 ‘20 million people (of the city) are being used as subjects in a giant nuclear safety experiment’.
This is an outrageous claim and the following is my attempt to deconstruct and counter the authors’ argument. First, the proposed plants are of the ACP-1000 variety. This is a pressurised water reactor, the sort that constitutes the vast majority of western nuclear plants and is based on an extension of Westinghouse Electric Company’s AP-1000 model. It is designed by the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), adopts both ‘active’ and ‘passive’ safety features. Consequently, safety against both natural and man-made disasters is actually one of the outstanding features of this new design. It may be true that, strictly speaking, so far this reactor exists only on paper, but to ring alarm bells over the safety of such a reactor is akin to worrying whether the latest BMW or Porsche models are likely to have their brake systems fail unpredictably and urging consumers not to buy them before they ever become commercially available. We can only expect the safety features of ACP-1000 to be stronger and certainly not any weaker, than the existing nuclear plants – and the authors have presented no evidence to the contrary. Secondly, the authors cite the accident at Fukushima. They question whether Pakistan would be able to handle such an event if it has proved to be a catastrophe for a technologically advanced country such as Japan, yet they fail to point out the crucial fact that Karachi is nowhere near as prone to tsunamis or earthquakes as Fukushima is. Leaving aside even that consideration, let us investigate just how ‘catastrophic’ Fukushima really is. Reportedly, between 20 to 40 trillion Becquerels (Bqs) have so far leaked into the Pacific Ocean as a result of this incident. Divide this number by two years, by 365 days, by 24 hours and we get an hourly rate of 1.14 to 2.28 million Bqs. To put this number in perspective, cement – a common ingredient of most buildings and houses in Pakistan – has a natural radioactivity of around 304 mBqs per gram due to the trace Uranium, Thorium and Potassium found in its composition. A typical two-bedroom house requires about 1000 bags of cement, each weighing about 50 kilograms (kgs). This means that the hourly radiation leak from Fukushima is the same as the radiation exposure we all receive from between 75 to 150 two-bedroom houses around us. This is not including high rise buildings, or even other radioactive sources such as Radon found in rocks and soil. Another back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that the radiation from Fukushima is under half the radiation exposure we all receive from eating bananas and a quarter of the radiation that a coal plant delivers in normal operation, which brings me to my next point. It is a little known and often overlooked fact that coal ash, a natural by-product of burning coal for electricity, carries about 100 times more radiation into the environment than a nuclear plant producing the same amount of energy does in normal operation. This is relevant information for those concerned about eco-safety, especially in a country that, according to a British Petroleum review at the end of 2009, possesses the 19th largest coal reserves in the world – though our coal industry has yet to develop. The harmful greenhouse gases as a result of coal burning and the impact they have on the environment is a fairly well known story. It is for these reasons, along with others, that nuclear power is often hailed as an ‘eco-friendly’ source of energy, at least in comparison to several other mainstream sources. This is not to say that nuclear power is some miraculous cure for all our electricity woes, or even that it’s completely safe. There is a reason that the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, was established in the first place. There is always a non-zero probability of some safety aspect that we human beings might have overlooked. It remains a valid point of concern that a nuclear plant is constructed in proximity to a city hosting around 20 million people. KANUPP-1 already has the most number of people in a 30 kilometre (km) radius of all nuclear plants. On the other hand, Karachi is certainly not the first mega-city in the world to have a nuclear power plant nearby. There are other issues as well, such as availability of infrastructure, geographical stability against natural disasters and the likes that point to the area outside Karachi as a suitable candidate to host a nuclear plant. In any case, it is highly unlikely that the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) or the IAEA would allow construction to follow through unless it is established that all safety concerns have been addressed, for this is precisely their job. I am sympathetic to the view that information regarding safety, including evacuation plans in case of an unforeseen disaster, should be widely available to the public. However, this goes into the separate topic of how the powers have to decide what is wiser to release as information to the public and what is not; seeing that a vast portion of our population is illiterate. In short, nuclear power is not as bad as it is often made out to be. There are of course cleaner, alternative sources of energy such as hydro or solar and these should be explored and developed. Yet our electricity crisis is dire and we need rational debate surrounding these issues. Mindless alarmism backed with little or no evidence helps no one and is all the more dangerous when it comes from established academics.

I am jealous of the US, and have every right to be


It was freezing outside. I did not have a ride and had to walk all the way home on a chilly winter evening. However, at that moment, the cold did not matter. Nothing did. My mind was troubled, and my conscience was not at peace. And that is all that mattered. Earlier that day, I had given a presentation about Pakistan in my high school. As a youth ambassador to the US, my presentation was supposed to be about ‘what’ Pakistan was. In an effort to portray the positive side of my country to a people who are all too often only exposed to its negative side, it had leaned more towards ‘how good’ Pakistan was. Perhaps, I was afraid of admitting the harsh realities myself. I had begun the presentation alluding to the city of Karachi as having one of the busiest ports in the world but I had conveniently skipped over the bitter truth that Karachi also had one of the highest crime rates in the country. I had told them that Pakistan was the pioneer nation to come into existence in the name of Islam. Of course, I did not have the courage to mention on my PowerPoint slides that the country had broken into two in 1971, and also has a high rate of alcohol consumption among Muslim countries today. I had displayed pictures of the magnificent Badshahi Mosque in Lahore to my audience. But I did not speak of Heera Mandi (the Red Light area) where the sex-workers of the city reside, located right behind the mosque. I had commented upon our ‘independence’ from the British Raj. But I had withheld the fact that as a nation, we are still imprisoned in our minds. I did not even say that we, Pakistanis, curse the US for pretty much everything that goes wrong in the country, while accepting its aid and green cards aplenty. But now that the presentation was over, I felt angry at myself for concealing the other – darker – side of the coin. And for the first time, I felt responsible for everything that Pakistan has been going through. I could sense that I possessed a power, and I felt ashamed that I had never tried to bring change – not even a trivial one. I felt such powerful guilt as I walked that cold night that my vision became blurry with a sudden rush of tears. Since then, I have felt as if I have had an awakening. Events and people in the US became a source of inspiration for me. I was moved by the high degree of honesty that was a characteristic of these people. Even minor things like the pleasant smiles that people gave while passing me by increased my respect and admiration for them. Moreover, all the Americans whom I came across have an immense passion for hard work and an independent life. They know that in order to bring change, they will have to drive that change. Bring that change. Be that change. And that is precisely what most of them did. I noticed that they were taught from a very early age that nothing would come easily to them; they would not be spoon-fed. They would have to work for all that they dreamed of. I saw children being assigned chores from the early age of eight or 10. They would be responsible for taking out the garbage, cleaning the yard, laying the table and taking the dishes out of the dishwasher. They were taught to do everything on their own and not depend on anyone for their survival. As harsh as this may seem, to the sometimes over-protective parents in our society, perhaps, it is this thinking that inculcates in them the attitude to be self-reliant adults and hence, a self-sufficient nation. Truth be told, I am jealous of the people in the US and I have every reason to be. No, this write-up is by no means a tribute to the US and I have no intention to portray the country as a land of angels. Believe me, I could write another piece on my dislikes about the US, just as honestly as I have written this one. However, as a youth ambassador, my job was to grasp as many moral values and skills as I could and then put them in practice in Pakistan so that it would become a better place to live in. My experience as a youth ambassador made me more tolerant, understanding and mature. Ironically, even my perception of Islam enhanced while residing in a non-Islamic country. Earlier, I used to believe that bowing down to God five times a day had far greater value than telling the truth all the time. But now I understand that telling the truth is an act of worship. During this developing stage, I started thinking about a future in politics as well. Aside from becoming a vigilante like Batman, politics seems the only way to handle all the corruption and law and order issues that face our country and its people. After all, the homeless need shelter, the hungry need bread and I want to contribute to their salvation. And yet, at the same time the thought of getting my hands dirty to do some good scares me. Still, the more I think about it, the more I feel that politics is a pragmatic route to reach out to everybody in the correct way. Here I am wondering if that one walk in the cold ever ended. Perhaps, it was the beginning of a lifetime journey towards a better me – a more learned me.

Karachi is the lover, the tormentor: Mysterious, dark and hurt


It’s human nature to desire that which is not in your grasp, love which will always remain unrequited and stress about matters that are not in your hands. The worst part is that we know this. And yet it doesn’t matter. Despite this, certain things are bound to catch our attention, making us fall in love so that it’s impossible for us to simply move on, and accept the stark reality of our existence. A small break, sometime apart, a little space can of course prove healthy for our minds as well our hearts. However, our basic instinct always remains an instinct to return to where we were, to have what we used to. Because sometimes, you will try your hardest to let go of something, but finally end up realising it was meant to be. That’s where you belong. That’s where your home ultimately is. A multicultural, dynamic, complex city that it is, Karachi promises you the versatility unmatched in most places. Having spent a lot of time outside Karachi, I have learnt the customs, written and unwritten, of Lahore and Malaysia, making these three diverse places comparable, at least for me. While the air in Malaysia is comfortable, intelligent and adventurous, Karachi breathes a frantic, chaotic and daring air. It’s the air that warns you while at the same time beckoning you towards it. They say,

Jisne Lahore nahin dekhya woh janmya nahin” (He who hasn’t seen Lahore, hasn’t been born yet)
And this is definitely true, to an extent. With the cultural splendour of Lahore, even one trip, is enough to fill up your cultural greed. The architecture, the mausoleums, the tombs, the mosques, the literature, the air, it certainly boasts of a sophistication and cultural background that Karachi cannot compare with. However, a few trips to Lahore and you’ll be bored of the same old art, same old atmosphere, and same old people. That’s where Karachi steps in and takes the win. With the grace of an old lady, the playfulness of a small child and the impulsive and volatile nature of a teenager, Karachi is everything you can possibly imagine it to be and more. When I was six-years-old, I moved back to Karachi after spending four years in Malaysia, moving from city to city, not being able to figure out the perfect match for our family. Although I was quite young, and I don’t remember every single detail of Malaysia, I still remember seeing my parents happy but confused. It wasn’t until we moved back that I finally saw the confusion vanish, bringing those calm, and comforting faces back to me. We used to live in a joint family system, with my grandfather, his older brother and their children’s families. We were 15 people altogether in a house in Dastagir Society, Gulberg Town. Recently, having moved back from a protected, healthy, tension free nation, my father witnessed a target killing right next to the lane we lived in. We had just gotten back from a relative’s wedding reception and my father was getting something from the car when he saw two men kill someone around 20 feet away. The next morning we found out the victim was someone my father used to play cricket with in his school days. I remember the stiffness in the air. It felt almost claustrophobic. I remember my father completely losing it, trying to convince my grandfather to move away from Karachi, but even after the most intense of discussions, my grandfather didn’t budge. Karachi was not going to see the last of us. ------------------------------------------------------------------ I had a dream that night. I don’t remember how it started, but there are things in it that I remember quite vividly. Her long, cold fingers rest gently on my bare-arms, sending an icy ripple of waves down my otherwise sweltering body. I can feel the numerous scratches, bumps and bruises on her otherwise fair skin. She’s looking down at her feet, her long, dark, messy hair is covering most of her face but I can see a scar here and there. She starts to speak, her voice strong and melodious, narrating a story of her past. Her voice quivers as the story slowly unfolds, the words rolling off her pink tongue and pinkish purplish lips that seem as if their stitch finally came undone, the thread hanging off a side. As she speaks, I can almost feel her delicacy on my exposed skin. I want to hold her in my arms. I ache for her touch, but I control myself. It’s a little too soon for that. Even with the pain in her tone, there’s something frisky, almost childish about her. She goes on and on, and by the time her story reaches its unprecedented end, the sun has finally reached the top and is burning my back through the blue cotton kurta I wore making it wet and sticky with sweat. I wonder if I should’ve brought her here today. Maybe I should’ve taken her to somewhere a little enclosed. When I woke up, I couldn’t place the girl I saw in my dream. I was baffled and confused; the dream seeming to be more of a clouded thought than anything meaningful. I ached to know more about her, I wanted to know more about her story. Although she never told me her name, I could picture a pretty name for her in my head. She didn’t look too old, but the blood stains on her once new clothes, the lacklustre in what once must’ve been beautiful, hazel brown eyes and the sporadic responses to my questions betrayed a long, tiring journey that had brought her here. Whilst I could still not understand her, there were parts of her that had started forming some shape in my mind. With her being a part of my every thought, I carried on. I thought about her while reading a good book, texting a friend and even when washing dishes. She became a constant thought amongst the muddle in my head. Gradually, I made some sense of it. This girl in my dream could be my vision of Karachi; mysterious, dark and hurt. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Photo: Myra Iqbal/ Express[/caption] With the charisma of a lady, the enigma of a silent victim and the tenderness of a loved one, Karachi is what keeps us adventure hungry souls satisfied. Who likes easy going, happy people who carry their hearts on their sleeves? Don’t we all crave for the bad person? The one who’s so close, yet so far away; the one who gives us a little something every once in a while just to keep us on the edge; the one who keeps us begging for more. She’s what keeps us on our feet, allowing us to mimic her just to have a tweak of that vibrant persona she shows off. She’s a festival that should be celebrated, because in the end, she’s home.

Stop running after nuclear energy, solar and wind power is the solution for Pakistan!


The efforts to attain nuclear power have increased globally in recent years. Several advocates in Pakistan, such as the recent article by Kazmi (Jan 7, 2014), have argued that nuclear power promotes economic development along with meeting the shortfall in energy supply. A critical question I would like to ask is that, is nuclear power absolutely necessary for an economic development, given the potential safety risks and the vast amount of investment that it requires? With Pakistan’s incredible potential of untapped renewable resources, why is Pakistan trying an untested nuclear technology when the rest of the world is moving towards greener energy solutions? I feel that this is a preposterous idea. Nuclear energy faces immense challenges, in terms of capital intensity and availability of supplies and technology. The growth rates implied by such advocates for the development of nuclear power suggest a realisation of targets, which very few countries have been able to achieve. China is currently the only supplier of nuclear supplies to Pakistan but in order to meet projections, Pakistan would require access to advanced technologies from Western countries. These constraints raise questions about nuclear development, especially where our government is particularly prone to overestimating their ability to develop such resources and install generating capacity and underestimate costs. In a recent news piece by Ilyas (Nov, 26 2013), it was argued that the recent nuclear power project is a step towards a load-shedding free Pakistan. Governments in the past (the current government included) have made several such promises that are merely hollow words, to gain popularity amongst the masses. These statements are backed by little or no scientific substantiation. Load shedding is a problem not only due to the gap in supply and demand of energy but also due to deep-rooted and intrinsic issues such as corruption, bribery, subornment and nepotism. These problems cannot be tackled by a nuclear power project, where the stakes are very high and the prospect of exploitation and dishonesty inevitable – particularly by a government that has been accused of corruption twice in the past. Very few countries have been able to achieve and maintain the level of nuclear energy growth as Pakistan is estimating. The United States and France had a growth rate of 7% and 14% respectively from 1980 to 1990s and India has only attained 4.9%. All growth rates have since levelled off.  In order for Pakistan to meet its own nuclear development estimates, it would have to emulate and surpass the efforts of countries like the United States and France. This idea seems highly unlikely and unrealistic to me. Development of nuclear power requires long-lasting coordination between private and government sectors and a strong government effectiveness and control of corruption, since nuclear projects require large capital expenditures. Compared to countries like the United States, France and South Korea, that have developed nuclear power at impressive rates in the past, Pakistan cannot compare in government effectiveness and control of corruption. I believe that renewable energy provides for a much better solution for Pakistan’s energy crisis. Pakistan receives an average of 2000 kilowatt-hour (kWh) per square metre of solar irradiation and eight to nine hours of sunlight a day. Just a quick look at the map of the global irradiation in Pakistan is enough to argue that we have the potential to meet the projected 40,000 megawatt (MW) demand in 2020. Comparing this to a country like Germany, where 36.4% of energy was renewable in 2013 with peaks of 61% on certain days, and projected targets such as 80% average by 2050 has an average irradiation of ~1000 kWh per square metre. This is, on average, half of what Pakistan receives. Recent studies have shown that in the long run electricity generated from solar technologies can be cheaper than that from nuclear fuels. The potential for wind power is also very significant in Pakistan, with 50 gigawatt (GW) of generation capacity at the Gharo-Keti Bandar wind corridor, near Karachi and Hyderabad. The primary concern over technologies such as solar has always been that they remain far too expensive and are not reliable. This is an ages old idea that has been stuck in the minds of the average layperson for decades. Wind power has led the way in becoming more economically viable and solar is following suit in the near term. The primary problem for solar energy in developed countries has been grid integration. However, almost half of Pakistan is still off the grid. Pakistan can use Germany’s people-driven energy model and become self-sustainable with the involvement of local businesses. As for the mystery surrounding solar and wind power sheds, we can see that this change has already begun. A local village, Narian Khorian, has installed 100 solar panels by the help of a local firm. Today, all houses in the village have sufficient energy to run an electrical fan and two light bulbs. An average solar panel lasts almost 25 years and has no maintenance costs associated with it. There is no downtime or risk of failures that may cause large-scale evacuations or other threats to life and/or property. This is the solution that Pakistan has been looking for: a change that is driven by the people on fundamental grass root level. From a cost standpoint, the current cost estimate for the nuclear project is $ 9.59 billion. At a capacity of 1000 MW per plant, electricity would cost 5.7 cents/Watt assuming constant generation rate. Nuclear plants have significant down time due to maintenance that adds to the cost of operation and ultimately, to the cost for consumer. On the other hand, wind power can provide 5.6 - 8.7 cents/Watt using technologies that are available today. There is no downtime and very low associated maintenance costs. I think, most importantly, there is no risk of failures that can cause catastrophic damage. Due to the wind corridor in Sindh, the potential for wind power in Karachi is extremely high. A combination of wind and solar can easily meet and exceed the demands of this growing city. Solar/Wind power is no longer as expensive and unaffordable as it once was. The predominant reason that solar power has been expensive in Pakistan is because all panels are primarily imported from other countries. I think that the cost of these panels can be significantly reduced if they were made in Pakistan. The basic raw material for silicon solar cells, quartz, can be found in abundance in the northern regions of Pakistan. Silica, the other main ingredient, can also be found in River Sindh, in inexhaustible quantities. If an investment was made to get basic equipment to extract, this Pakistan can develop its own solar cells, given Pakistan’s labour source. I believe that this will not only stimulate the economy and provide jobs for the local population but will also help militancy issues that have plagued the northern areas. It’s a solution not only for Pakistan’s energy crisis but has the potential to significantly help the economy and stability of the nation. Pakistan has proposed several renewable energy schemes that have always been left unattended. Examples of these include the proposed Thatta power plant and the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur. We need to inject funds into such projects and give local businesses more motivation to come into the energy sector. A tariff-based incentive, such as the one offered in countries like Germany and Belgium, can stimulate local investors into the renewable energy sector. Pakistan needs to skip the nuclear experiment that other countries have tried and failed at in the past. For non-grid connected Pakistanis (which is almost half the population), the potential for solar/wind technologies is extremely high. There will be lower upfront cost and no reliance on the central government for investment in infrastructure requirements for transmission and distribution. Further there is a predictably lower fuel cost and solar/wind farms can often be built in stages with the first phases of installation becoming immediately productive. Lastly, even if the funding of a certain project is constrained due to a change in government or other political factors, the already built solar/wind farms will remain productive whereas a fractionally built nuclear facility cannot produce anything. It is time for our government and our business sector to work towards more reliable schemes of power energy, instead of building nuclear power plants.

“Badshaho, we saw you kissing the girl”: To make a quick buck, the police will accuse you of anything


Going out with friends was a simple routine for me. It never bothered me whether I was going out with guys or girls since I never thought it to be much of an issue. However, in just one encounter, the Pakistani police taught me all the things that can go terribly wrong while going out with male friends. It was just another day when I went out with two of my friends from university. One of them was driving while the other sat in the front passenger seat and I took the backseat. We drove to a café located on main road, bustling with traffic and parked in front of a roadside café. The server came and we ordered juices. It was a café frequented by many and hence, there were other people present as well, sitting in cars around us. We were handing our empty glasses back to the server and settling the bill, when six policemen on three motorcycles appeared out of nowhere and stopped us. I was really confused and wondered if we had done something wrong or unlawful. The only thing that came to my mind was that perhaps, we had taken a wrong turn. They told us to stop the car and asked my friends to step out. In order to lighten the mood, we started teasing my friend, who had been driving,

“Who gave you a driving license? You should go back to driving school.”
Amidst this light banter, both my friends stepped out of the car. While one of them began to explain how we had mistakenly made the wrong turn, one of the policemen yelled at him,
“We saw what you guys were doing in the car!”
My friends looked at each other in bewilderment and then, one of them – in a voice laden with frustration and indignation – asked,
“Excuse me? What exactly are you trying to imply?”
In a heavy Punjabi accent, one of the policemen sarcastically replied,
Badshaho! Hun aay vi assi dassiya?” (Your highness, you want us to tell you that as well?)
My friend persisted and repeated his question. And now the other policeman, who had remained silent until now, came forward and said,
“We saw you kissing the girl.”
I felt my mind going numb at their accusations. I wanted to jump out of the car and protest that these boys were just like my brothers. But then I calmed myself down and thought that it was probably more prudent to stay silent and listen to their exchange. My friends did not say a word for a while. The policemen’s accusations had shocked them as well.  However, eventually, one of them broke the silence and said,
“Do you even know what you are saying? Are you in your senses?”
To this, one policeman shot back,
“Yes! We swear to God, we saw you people kissing.”
Although I knew that I had not done anything wrong, I was still shivering. These so-called protectors were accusing me of something that I had not done. I took out my cell phone and thought of calling my parents. One of my friends walked over to the car and seeing the state that I was in, tried to calm me down.
“We are handling it, don’t worry.”
He went back to the policemen and said,
“I have the Quran with me in the car. How about you take an oath on it to prove that you guys saw us kissing?”
On hearing this, two of the policemen immediately took a step back, while the expressions on the faces of the rest changed from smug satisfaction to slight indecisiveness. After a few moments, one of them came forward and said,
“We shall not do any such thing. Either come with us to the police station or we can resolve the issue here, in a ‘friendly’ manner.”
My friend asked, in a sarcastic tone,
“And what exactly do you mean by a ‘friendly’ way?”
One of the policemen replied in an annoyed voice,
“You know very well what we mean.”
The arguments carried on for a while until one of my friends decided to call his cousin, who happened to be a police officer. He handed the phone to the policemen and after talking to this officer, the policemen agreed to let us go, without any further discomfort. I shudder to think how this situation would have unfolded if my friend had not called his cousin. We were not willing to give them any ‘friendly’ bribe and had we continued to resist, God knows what those policemen would have done to us. As we all sat in silence on the way back, only one thought kept going around in circles in my head – would I ever be able to go out with my friends again? And the only answer that echoed back was ‘No’. I was truly traumatised by this event. We all talk about how our roads are no longer safe but to actually experience a situation such as this leaves one quite shaken and shattered. And the sad irony is that our police force itself is a major cause behind this lack of security and safety. They are out there, hunting down innocent civilians for their own motives; to make quick money. I do not think I will ever be able to roam around freely on the streets of my city – not anymore. After my encounter with our police force, I am fearful of its corruption and harassment. Since that day, my own city has become a little more daunting and disturbing.

Karachi Burns Road: The Holy Grail for foodies


The waiter picked up my Naan. He saw my quizzical expression and said,

“It’s not hot anymore. I am getting you a fresh one.”
Then he comes back and asks in a solicitous whisper if I am enjoying myself. With such courtliness, how could I not? This Michelin star service was not at an exorbitantly priced restaurant. No, the setting of this delightful exchange was Waheed Nihari at Karachi’s Burns Road a.k.a. food paradise. Ernest Hemingway called Paris a moveable feast – in the same vein, Karachi is an immovable feast and Burns Road the location. The food capital of Pakistan is reputed to be Lahore. I beg to differ. Lahore has her temptations but Karachi’s place in gastronomic heaven is firm with her culinary repertoire running the gamut from Paye to pizza and ravioli to Rabri. To enlighten those who have not embarked on the food pilgrimage or haven’t gone outside their comfort zone, Burns Road is a street in the heart of the old part of Karachi and is famous for its traditional (read mouth-watering) food items such as Nihari, Haleem, Kebabs, fried fish and desserts such as Rabri and traditional drinks such as Lassi. If you take the road from the Urdu Bazaar and turn to the traffic light at the far end, you’ll enter the Holy Grail for foodies. During the day the road looks like any other main road with buses spewing smoke and pedestrians choking the sidewalks. But come night and the street metamorphoses into a cornucopia of savoury and sweet, awash in garish neon signs advertising the delectable offerings of each eating place. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Sibtain Naqvi[/caption] It is serious eating here, with no fancy presentations or garnishes, just honest, good food that lures the eater into a bacchanal of gluttony. My first experience was no light hearted affair but a complete immersion in the victuals on offer. While perusing the various places, even the most casual observer will notice the predominance of restaurants that hark back to the city of Delhi. You can hear the echoes of Chandi Chawk and Nizammuddin and, in fact, I found more than a passing resemblance between a Nihari place here and the famous Karim restaurant in Delhi. According to senior denizens of the area, many people who migrated from Delhi to Karachi preferred to live on Burns Road.
“In the 1950s, the newly migrated people were looking for dishes that were famous in Delhi and the shopkeepers of that time not only adapted the names and reproduced recipes of Delhi’s traditional fare but also decided to include the name Delhi while naming their shops to conjure an effect,” said Abbas Raza, an elderly resident of Burns Road.
Before partition, Rizwan’s grandfather was running a sweets shop near Jama Masjid Delhi and today he owns an establishment that is now known as Delhi Darbar Sweets. Many shops, including Rizwan’s, that opened in the late 1950s and early 1960s are still going strong and it is a testament to their popularity that even at four in the morning I have to get past a traffic jam to get some Nihari for my Sehri in Ramzan. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Sibtain Naqvi[/caption] Waheed’s Nihari is probably the best known place and one bite of the hot, gelatinous concoction will make it clear why it is so. Perhaps the cleanliness of the floor might deter some, but do not be alarmed since the plates are incontestably clean. The ambience resonates with that of the fictional Weatherbury Inn from Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, where the drinking cups are described in much the same vein. The rough hewn patrons mix happily with the affluent who are here partly because of nostalgia of student days but mostly drawn in by the siren call of the Nihari and the butter fried Kebabs. Opposite Waheed are two of the many gems in this treasure house, namely the Gulab Jamun maker and the fried fish seller. Names are withheld at their request but even I felt that the hot, deep fried treats should really be kept a secret. You can choose your fish and have it cut any way you desire. A slow dip in the searing oil, a sound of frying that’s music to my stomach, a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of spices and you will have your taste buds dancing in no time. The fish is fresh from the morning catch and the taste is enough to make the English swear off their bland version. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="402"] Photo: Sibtain Naqvi[/caption] If Nihari or fish is not your thing then perhaps you will opt for the other import from across the border, Haleem. Mazedar Haleem, the city’s most famous Haleem seller, is head quartered here, as is Karachi Haleem. These people are no mere mortals but magicians who take the humble pulses, toss in a bit of meat and some spices and create a stew fit for a monarch and healthy to boot. Haleem was probably created to debunk the theory that anything hedonistic is bad for your health. You can even get it canned to send to your loved ones abroad or store it as rations for nuclear fallout. Even being encased in a lead bunker isn’t so bad if the canned supplies last so I usually have a few pounds of canned stuff lying around the house. Moving from the Delhi foodstuffs you come to the relative newcomer from the north, the Sajji. The meat, usually chicken or mutton, is minimally spiced and slowly cooked over a fire, then cut up and sprinkled with masala and lemon juice. Agha Sajji House and Al-Sajjad Sajji are two prominent places. The roaring fires and meat laden spits do whet your appetite and the droves of people munching away prove it to be so. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Sibtain Naqvi[/caption] Burns Road caters to a variety of tastes, so capricious epicures need not worry. If snacks are what you are looking for then look no further than Fresco Sweets, famous for its Dahi Phulki which balances sweet and tart perfectly and the Phulkis seemingly made out of sunbeams and angel mist – so light that they can almost be inhaled in but with a burst of flavour that hits you and keeps lulling away long after you have had your fill. Burns Road is also host to some of the city’s famous sweet places too. Delhi Rabri House proves that Nihari and Haleem are not the only things the Delhites were adept at, for the Rabri here is sinfully good. Kulfi, ice cream, Faluda, and sweet milk are all on offer and awfully good too, but it’s the Rabri that brings in the customers. I was told that the maker has been making the same creamy stuff for over thirty years with no intention of stopping soon. Amen to that! [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Sibtain Naqvi[/caption] After sampling Karhai, Nihari, Sajji or Haleem many want to pass over the rich desserts and move on to something refreshing to wash down the good stuff. The Punjab Lassi House has been doing that for over a quarter of a century. The Lassi slips down your throat, singing the songs of the Punjab and erasing the after effects of spicy food. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Sibtain Naqvi[/caption] In summer, it is a godsend and banishes the heat demons just as effectively. Sweet, salty or churned with a crumbling Perha sweetmeat, the Lassi here is the benchmark for the rest, the highpoint of any dairy drink. Burns Road’s position as the dowager empress of the food world is firmly entrenched. There are other places in different parts of Karachi and the country which have great food and firm clientele. But if there is one spot that throws down the gauntlet and stands apart, it’s this magical street of sumptuous, succulent treats.

Sindh Festival 2014: ‘Culture’ is not a spectacle to be sold, neither can it disguise past failure


The Sindh Festival 2014 is not a beacon of hope; it is a reminder of just how far behind we are lagging. Perhaps it is because of my deep Sindhi roots, my familial history and my life experiences but I don’t think that the Sindh Festival 2014 is anything worth celebrating. I have lived in Hyderabad for 14 years followed by five years in Karachi and the distinction between the two cities is clear – Hyderabad is more Sindhi centric culturally while Karachi is more of a melting pot. Neither one is better than the other but they are both different. In Hyderabad, spectacles similar to what Baby Bhutto showcased at the opening ceremony of the festival are widespread. The festival’s opening ceremony was a variety show with the best-behaved aspects of Sindh highlighted and polite omissions of anything that may seem radical or even ‘heavy’. The performers happily reduced an ancient civilisation to a handful of singers, women were used as props to showcase clothes they’d never wear otherwise (even if it were to save their lives) and an archaeological site was decorated as the centrepiece so that the present inhabitants remember that we are lucky enough to own such a site. But why we are lucky, we neither have the time nor the willingness to find out. Of course, these sites never reached this level of extravagance in reality.  But then again a former president with multiple Swiss bank accounts never funded them. The problem, however, is not the reduction of cultural heritage to a spectacle so that it is examined like a rare species of insect. The problem is that we still believe that this qualifies as cultural preservation. Let us, for a minute, not even think about the fact that almost half the children, under five years of age, are facing malnutrition in Sindh, that the percentage of out-of-school children in Sindh is the highest in Pakistan or that ethnic and religious minorities face constant hate crimes – for surely, none of these need be the provincial government’s priority (sarcasm absolutely intended). Let us instead, focus solely on the culture apparently being represented. During the opening ceremony, like the well-bred little politician he is, Bilawal Bhutto declared,

Marsoon, marsoon, Sindh na dain soon…” (We will die, we will die but we will not give up Sindh…)
Perhaps, no one in the audience knew the original orator of these immortal words. A young Sindhi general named Hosh Muhammd Sheedi uttered these last words before Charles Napier’s fleet was about to take over Sindh and he went down in history as the Indian subcontinent’s first Afro-Caribbean hero. But why should that be remembered? For surely, as the Sheedi community of Afro Caribbean descent is marginalised into the ghettos of Lyari where gang violence parades like the harbinger of death, bringing up a national hero belonging to the same marginalised group isn’t the wisest thing to do. It is too ‘heavy’ for the ‘happy time’ the young patron-in-chief wishes to have with his international friends. Next, an exhausted Ali Gul Pir announced,
“I am a Sufi… everyone coming together and having fun is what the Sufis were all about…”
[embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1auzm7_ali-gul-pir-performance-in-sindh-festival-1st-february-2014_people?search_algo=1[/embed] A montage of clichéd folk melodies intertwined with contemporary musicians is exactly what the Sufi saints of Sindh would have wanted. Why mention here that the Sufis of Sindh have been linked to radical change? Why mention that Sachal Sarmast was a fierce critic of religious extremism? Why mention that Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai was a fierce critic of the submissive mentality? That his poetry opposed the Persian rule? Why mention that their poetry called for total equality in a religiously unequal and ethnically divided society? Why mention that the Sufis were also revolutionaries, resisting the political agendas of the time? Why mention that, had they been alive today, the political monarchy of the Bhutto family would be atop their list of what to resist? For this festival was about happy escapism and anything that encouraged resisting authority required too much courage of conviction to be deemed happy. And then there was the charming display of the archetypical women. Be it the costume clad mannequins that represented the village woman or Bakhtawar Bhutto’s charming promotional video or the songstress whom we will forever know via her first name – all feminine and polite, well behaved and politically correct – all were presented in a modern fashion at the festival. [embed width="620"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1asytd_bakhtawar-bhutto-special-song-for-sindh-festival_news[/embed] However, these perfect women formed a stark contrast with their ancient sisters. In his poetry for the infamous queen Leelan, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai painted the image of a very flawed woman – who literally traded a loving companion for all that glittered. But the famous poet did not condemn Leelan’s lack of political correctness; rather he drew on her experiences to encourage self-reflection and to identify the gravest mistakes that all human beings make – trying to be perfect. Sindh’s Leelan was never perfect but she had the moral courage to accept her wrongdoings as an attempt to learn and do better. But including these elements would not have worked for this particular festival. For if all the missing layers were added to the tower of confused performances that was the opening ceremony, we would have on our hands something that a stage show could never have captured. The reality of this culture is that it is too complex and needs to be studied in context. It has to be understood in socio-political shades of grey – it has to be understood. It is not an hour long performance; it is a story that spans centuries with lessons sewn into its most hidden corners. It is something worth incorporating into your everyday life, not a spectacle to be sold in an attempt to disguise failure.

Nishana daz daz vaj da: The big bang wedding


Since months now, every second night, some fat cat decides to mark a wedding with insane amounts of aerial firing, followed by what – to my untrained ear – sounds like a small bomb blast. Insane, right? You’d think by now, people would have realised that this is a) unsafe b) uncouth  and c) something that will make people wake up at 3am in panic – any of the above realisations should easily bring an end to such behaviour. Forget about how all this might be illegal – after all, that’s never stopped us from having a bit of ‘fun’. Nope. Without fail, someone, somewhere in Karachi thinks a wedding is incomplete without an explosion. Can’t find fault in that logic, except, this isn’t quite the joyous release of expression every couple looks forward to on their wedding. So what exactly are these men – young and old, big and small – compensating for? That’s the question which always pops up. Is it the fact that they have no other forms of expressing? Or is it because, at home, their wives have a vice-like grip on something or everything? Perhaps shooting like whack jobs is just another way to say,

“Hey, I am on top of the social and marital pyramid!”
For in that trigger happy moment, all feelings of insecurity might be erased by some testosterone high. Several authors have written about the ‘sexual and cultural displacement’ which men feel and compensate for with the instant gratification of a quick bang. Agreed, a lot of this literature is about the white male, but the parallels are easy to draw. It is easy to list the number of things which could have displaced the security men felt in their masculinity, but let’s not open the Pandora’s Box. If your follow-up argument is that aerial firing is an old cultural norm in most parts of Pakistan, please holster it. Even if it was a norm in some areas, surely you can hear how it’s been adopted by all your neighbours. Surely you can hear the ‘competitive’ explosions. Sadly, my men, shooting faster and louder seems to have perforated not much, other than my eardrums and everyone’s peace. It has killed more than a few, but what’s a few dead bodies between you and your fun times. Just as an aside, where exactly are our MPAs or has the apparatus of Karachi’s governance just shrivelled into impotency? Perhaps gun control is something their more powerful constituents will not be happy with. Does implementing the law detract some of the pleasure they experience with ‘my gun is bigger than yours’ showdowns? I know, too many questions – too many references to manhood. Just... next time, before you all congregate to fire your load, think about these references. Shaan Dahar – A journalist who died as a result of aerial firing on last New Year’s Eve. Ghulam Mustafa – A former employee of Pakistan Steel Mills, who still lives with a bullet in his head, courtesy ‘celebratory’ firing on chand raat (night before Eid) in 2011. Personally, I think Wazir Hussain’s case is the most tragic and the most apt example of all things wrong with chalo, khushi mein golian chalain (Come on, let’s fire our guns in celebration). Wazir was accidentally shot dead in aerial firing outside the girl’s house, dead before he could claim his bride. I’d say that’s cause for a ceasefire.