What have we become?

I was at a strings concert a few days ago…you know one of them fancy sit down affairs with hideous white sofas and people taking selfies of each other to put up on social media in the next 5 mins when it happened. Bilal maqsood started singing “nindia” and the lcd screens behind him played an old video…a very old video circa 1990’s and it hit me. Suddenly I wasn’t there nodding and smiling politely to the music but in arts council screaming as the crème de la crème of the urban rock phenomena in Pakistan belted out their numbers.

Yes there was such a time in this city and as the sick realization hit me on that kind of era being gone, I started thinking on why this was so. I mean think about it…its not like the 90’s were a period of any sort of peace in this city, there was always ethnic strife, shia sunni fasadat and small proxy wars going on in Karachi’s ghettos back then as well. What was keeping it all at bay?

Is it because that was the time when Pakistan’s fledgeling music industry realized its potential and was on its way up? Or perhaps they had sponsorships which are hard to find now? Or maybe people at that time appreciated music more? I think none of these are true, with the music scene in Pakistan at a more mature stage and sponsorships being available not just locally but opportunities in our neighboring country being ever present it cannot be a money issue. It cannot also be an issue of talent suddenly dissipating from our society because one hearing of any episode of coke studio will tell ya that we have that in spades. Obviously the phenomenal success of this very program and some 20 odd FM channels tells us also that pakistanis love music in every shape and form and I am not just speaking of the more endowed strata of society either.

So what the hell has brought us to this position? I think its because our tolerance level as a society has gone berserk and you see this everywhere you go. Whether it is in the liberal pooh poohing a woman wearing a hijab, or a hijaban looking down upon someone wearing sleeveless shirts, or the road rage and fights you see break out, or the incessant honking of horns when you delay your blastoff from a just opened traffic signal. KArachi  has an underlying seething rage now at anything which is even slightly different from what certain groups of people consider a normal way of life.

Art and music in particular needs an outlet and this intolerant society is not ready to open their ears and listen anymore. We have in short as a people forgotten how to enjoy ourselves at all. That coupled with the fact that more and more kids are interested in their ipads and cyber existence more than getting together to have some fun and we have a situation tailor made for implosion. An implosion of the worst kind. That in which a society gets so radical that it castrates anything different and folds on itself till it becomes tiny islands of self aggrandizing fetid loathing.

The only way out as I see it is to start with our immediate surroundings and actually speak to people, listen to what they have to say rather than imposing our own opinions and then try to understand rather than condemn. Its not that hard once you start with the baseline that whether religious or ethnic, taste or habit the barriers exist more in our minds then in real life. Once we start its pretty much a certainty that you will find areas of common interest and then from then on get along.

Thats all we need to do to get those fun engines started again…get along. I for one would love to see my kids enjoy the full spectrum of life that Karachi has to offer rather than these claustrophobic environments which limit their own selves rather then be conducive to social & healthy life.

So dont hate, tolerate!

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A city on edge

Year after year in Pakistan we see the security situation drop another notch, a bit more of crime becomes acceptable and we go through our paces as if nothing is wrong with us or this society. This year the notorious activities of criminals in Karachi have gone up another level, as from the start of this holy month where people are supposed to exercise restraint things have gone ugly pretty fast.

Not a day goes by where you do not hear of someone you know being either held at gunpoint, kidnapped, conned or made a mamu of in some way shape and form. It ranges from cell phones to car jackings to mass robberies of entire neighborhoods and the police are either totally out gunned or more interested in making sure their record for their particular area stays completely clear (by not noting reports of incidents) then taking any action. Most of the criminals involved have the backing of politicos who sit and wax lyrical about the state of this country on our tv channels thus even if the police tried to take action the norm is a phone call from above resulting in the said criminals (chotas) release.

The CPLC has been doing some remarkable work on this front in recent years but lets call a spade a spade they are a liaison committee not a parallel police force so there are limits to what they can do.  The result is that now mohalla committees have gone into action and started installing barricades all over their neighborhoods with armed guards on them. People often object to these barricades but do not realize that when the state leaves a vacuum someone has to fill it. This is however just the beginning and its not very hard to see compound life being the future of the residential colony in Pakistan with huge walls and armed sharpshooters to keep the ruffians out. D.H.A residents seem to think an electronic entry and exit system to their privileged community should be able to keep the evil at bay, perhaps we will need a visa to go to certain zones of Karachi soon as well.

At this moment in time though the city of lights is deserted and helpless at night. One cannot make any stops between origin and destination lest they are carjacked and things like going to the beach or the highway have really become out of the question after dark. So we are getting restricted, more and more with each passing day. If someone does not get somewhere on time the automatic creepy thoughts start entering your head. As a parent of two young kids who go to school here I personally start to breathe after they are home not before when they are in school.

So what is the solution to all this?. A local police force would be good to start with. One that is as equipped as the people who are trying to rob us would be better. For this I am sure the citizens of this city would be willing to pay whatever tax the said authorities place on us. It would be cheaper than the bhatta all of us have to pay daily in the form of panic, fear, actual theft and so on. However this will also mean that the citizens that is us need to get together and speak out not snigger away when someone loses their new phone. We need to demand our rights from the state and that does not mean making phone calls to someones friends chachas batijha who is in a political party, it means going to the concerned authorities as one and asking for help.

Many people are now leaving Pakistan from the business and the corporate community with each passing day. In the past it used to be out of  better economic opportunity being present abroad, but now it is because they cannot live in this country out of fear of being harassed or killed in their day to day lives.

I think we are now standing at a crossroads. One path leads to a struggle to uplift this nation and the other falls into an abyss from which recovery does not seem possible. If we wish to save this country we have thrived in for our future generations we will have to now take the difficult path..there is no other choice.

 

 

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Mainstream vs social media media in Pakistan

In recent times after the leak of behind the scenes footage of a special on dunya tv and the creation of a  fake list of 19 journalists who had allegedly taken some form of bribe from Malik riaz,  a vast chasm of insecurity seems to have opened up in peoples minds about social media in Pakistan.

Not a day goes by now when some barb is not thrown at social media here on our broadcast mediums. We have been called a gutter, invisible and non ethical as well as a form of media which has no credentials and no integrity.

Let me first point out that both the behind the screens footage and the list was created by mainstream media and not the social media of this country. Various proofs have been given to this effect in several blogs and I do not want to dwell on them, but the fact remains that because you have an accident you dont stop driving  Hence being the super hyper distribution medium that social media in pakistan is becoming these days with 6 million on face book 3 million on twitter and so on it is pretty silly to blame the medium for good or bad content. That is just like any of us, the viewing public of the broadcast media were to tell them, we dont like so and so show because it goes against what we think so the whole medium is of no use.

Secondly let me now come to the various arguments made against social media and its effective use in this nation one by one.

1) They are not journalists or reporters and thus have no clue of what is going on other than what they glean from our coverage.

In today’s day and age if reporters still think that their press card entitles them to have some kind of monopoly over opinion and how it should be projected then I am afraid they are already left behind. These days a kid with a twitter enabled mobile phone standing across the street can report on who goes in and comes out of your house for instance. They dont need “training or permission” for that. As for bloggers not having first hand information about what goes in this world, wikileaks has proved that they can break channels and cables which the mainstream media cannot even dream off,  so much for that claim.

2) There is too much anonymity is social media and thus anyone can say anything.

First of all who has made our mainstream media tekhaydars of our opinion and why should we listen to them as to what is right or wrong? What and how much actual analytical skill do they posses that they can tell for instance a person like me that x is corrupt and y is..well y we cannot really talk about? The anonymity in social media is for a reason, it is because we can actually reveal things without the burden that putting a face on the screen results in in this country.  Also if they speak of responsibility then they should try to create a few fake accounts and say what they want, no one will listen to them. Social media like any other form of media operates on the principle of credibility. Those who are credible in this media and have a following have a voice which resonates and those who are not do not have a voice. Plus when one talks about responsibility they should first look at what goes on in their own shows as Talat who I consider the voice of reason among “political talk shows” points out below…


Let me also remind the esteemed “reporters” in mainstream media that not many of them “reported” on the incident at AAJ tv in their talk shows for one reason or another..wither responsibility?

3) Social media will never take off in this country and at best can run in parallel with our print media.

WRONG! Social media ala blogs and twitter has already left our print media far far behind in circulation. Its not some bolt from heaven that has inspired all the media houses to open up their own blogs its a doctrine of necessity. When mainstream media journos are themselves on twitter all day long how can they even claim that social media is some alien different system. The truth is that social media has actually absorbed mainstream media in pakistan in its midst and is now “indispensable”  As when you use any social media tool you become part of this giant mesh, in effect those making fun of social media are actually social media users..pretty ironical if you ask me.

The fact is that the only thing standing between social media and a digital explosion which would bring the roof down on our bumbling media houses is the “language barrier” We need effective translation tools in place for the masses to be able to “Access” this media..once that happens..there will be no mainstream media or social media..it will all just become “media”

P.S – I also condemn most vehemently the vicious comments made on social media against Nusrat Javed. There is no cause or reason that can justify what was said regarding the attack on aajtv on the sm medium by some people.

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Firewall looming

 

These days social media in Pakistan is abuzz about the new spectre of doom it is facing.  All of us got to hear about it through an ad placed in a local newspaper from “The national ICT R&D fund” which actively invites both local and foreign software and hardware companies to help develop a url filtering system for Pakistan.

I do not think anyone has an issue with a system which could be used to block out offensive material like say “porn” or other “anti islam inflammatory”  sites and the like. However some of the things the government puts on its wish list for the development of such a system for example the ability to filter out more than 15 million urls sends a bit of a chill down the proverbial spine.

Its scary because we do not have as citizens of this country any oversight on such a system. The word objectionable is used but what do they mean by “objectionable” is anyone’s guess. The past shows us that draconian measures across the world are usually put into place under the guise of  “protecting national interest”  and that maybe happening in this case as well? Even now the PTA orders individual isps and telcos to block websites they deem objectionable and this takes place through a manual system which has frankly become a liability on these companies. Perhaps this is the reason they are silent on the development of this grand firewall.

Obviously the silence might also be due to the 10 or 15 million dollars such a firewall would provide to its developers. Pretty lucrative a contract and I am sure some companies are already vying for it. However twin taps on the international fibers coming into Pakistan at the two peering points (TWA and PTCL) beg the question as to what the authorities want to further achieve with this new firewall as they already have surveillance capabilities which allow them to reconstruct someones surfing history and recent cyber activity when required.

Lets also not forget the youtube fiasco which led to a major outage in the whole region because of our governments rather misconstrued attempt to block it. Although experts say part of that blame was also due to companies in hong kong, we cannot rule out errors amongst 15 million blocked urls. Which could make many social networking sites and services simply disappear overnight in Pakistan.

Let me also point out here that if some of these sites are “accidentally blocked” it may lead to say Facebook switching off Pakistan and thus leaving many here to lose their precious marketing done over years on it for everything from baking goods to designer textiles. Social media is a tool many now use in Pakistan in their day to day lives and to run businesses and it would be very unfair to hinder it in this way.

So I think our elected politicians in both the PPP and the MQM whose manifesto’s include freedom of expression and spreading of communication need to take this to the the floor of the national assembly and debate it. Why do we want such a massive firewall? What will it result in for the speed of the internet here? What will the reversal process be if a site is listed by mistake? How will it be determined if a site is objectionable? Who will determine whether a site is objectionable? Will social media and networking sites also come under inspection and finally when will such a system go into effect?

If a system like this is implemented without consultation or feedback from the actual users of social media and the internet in Pakistan, it will be a chokehold on free thought and speech. A chokehold we as a country should not indulge in as the U.N has already declared access to the internet as a basic human right.

P.S :Organizations like Bolobhi have already launched an online petition against such a firewall here

P.P.S I call upon everyone in the new media scene in Pakistan to please give your inputs and get involved in this issue as it involves the space where many of us spend most of our time in.

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Karachi literature festival 2012

Three years old, the Karachi literary festival at least by its lineup seems to have come of age finally. I was there last year and although there was much local talent present the international big name flair seemed to have given the festival a miss as many invited Indian authors could not get visas on time.This does not by any means indicate that international authors “have to be there” at the festival to make it a success. It was a success last time as well but unfortunately to make it register on an international level in mainstream and social media the presence of international stars makes all the difference.

Why do I mention social media here? Well its because increasingly literature festivals have become interactive  forums between authors and their readers and nothing emulates interaction more than social media. Naturally people who attend this time are far far more media savvy than last time and some of them have followings of 10,000 or more on social media platforms thus their voices and discussion will resonate at this forum.

A cursory look at the lineup shows us  Vikram Seth, Hanif Kureishi, Shobha De, William Dalrymple, Anatol Lieven among the people visiting from other shores and Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie, H.M. Naqvi and Maniza Naqvi amongst the local talent on showcase. Quite a mouth watering lineup for any reader I might add! However if you havent read the books of any of the visiting authors let me clue you in on some of their prowess.

William Dalrymple is the author of seven acclaimed works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the best-selling From the Holy Mountain; The Age of Kali, which won the French Prix D’Astrolable; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson, and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize and The Crossword Prize for Non Fiction. He divides his time between New Delhi and London and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New Statesman and The Guardian.

His sessions at the KLF [all on Day ONE]
1.  Keynote Speaker at the inauguration  (what will kick-start it all)

Time: 10:00 am to 11:00 am

Venue: Main Garden (open space)

2.  INDUS JOURNEYS: In Conversation with William Dalrymple

Moderator: Kamila Shamsie
Time: 3:00p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Venue: Main Garden

3.  Afghanistan & Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism & the Taliban

 Ahmed Rashid, William Dalrymple, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Navid Kermani

Moderator: Rasul Bakhsh Rais

Time: 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Venue: Ballroom

Hanif Kureishi is the author of numerous novels, short story collections, screenplays and plays. In 1984 he wrote My Beautiful Laundrette, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. His second film, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, was followed by London Kills Me, which he also directed. The Buddha of Suburbia won the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel in 1990 and was made into a four-part drama series by the BBC. Intimacy, his third novel, was published in 1998, and was adapted for film in 2001. His work has been translated into 36 languages. He has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres and a CBE for services to literature. In 2008 The Times listed him as one of ‘The 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945′ and in 2010 he was awarded the PEN/PINTER prize. Hanif Kureishi lives in London with his wife and children.

His sessions at the KLF
DAY ONE
1. In Conversation with Hanif Kureishi

Moderator: Muneeza Shamsie

Time: 12:00 noon to 1:00 pm
Venue: Main Garden

DAY TWO

1.  LITERARY CRITICISM

Muneeza Shamsie, Hanif Kureishi, Aamer Hussein, Alok Bhalla, Stefan Weidner

Moderator: Maniza Naqvi

Time: 10:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Venue: Maharaja

2.  Reading by Hanif Kureishi (extremely important)

Time: 7:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Venue: Beach View Garden

Anatol Lieven is a professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College London., and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington DC. His areas of expertise include US strategy and political culture; Islamist terrorism and insurgency; contemporary warfare; the countries of the former Soviet Union; and the Greater Middle East, especially Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.  His latest book, Pakistan: A Hard Country was published in 2011-2012 by Penguin in the UK, Public Affairs in the USA and Oxford University Press in Pakistan. It is based on his time as a journalist in Pakistan in the late 1980s and extensive research on the ground in recent years.

His sessions at the KLF:

DAY ONE

1.  In conversation with Anatol Lieven

Moderator: Ayesha Siddiqa

Time: 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Venue: Ballroom

2.  Today’s Pakistan: An economic and political perspective

Asad Sayeed, Ishrat Husain, Anatol Lieven, Maleeha Lodhi

Moderator: Ghazi Salahuddin

Venue: Maharaja

Time: 4:00p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

DAY TWO

3. Eyewitnesses and Observers: Writing about Pakistan from a Foreign Perspective

Manu Joseph, Declan Walsh, Anatol Lieven, John Krich, Kishore Bhimani , Hartosh Bal Singh, Alok Bhalla, Navid Kermani, Daniel Lak

Moderator: Raza Rumi

Venue: Maharaja

Time: 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Off course there are many more offerings at this grand buffet of literature, and some of the best will be found in the halls where budding wordsmiths and bloggers will be gathered around writers of such repute like moths to a flame.  The above were just my version of what constitutes the “must attend” parts!
By chance if you see someone soaking up the atmosphere hunched over a smart phone, that will probably be me :) See you there!!
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The human tragedy remains

I was standing on the banks of a muddy tributary making its slow rippled way through rice paddies. A cold wind was blowing in my face and ruffling the trees freshly washed from last weeks rains. The sky was partly overcast with shafts of lights peeking out from among the clouds onto the fields, it seemed like a great place to just put amanji and lie down to listen to nature at its idyllic best. Unfortunately there was no time to lie down on this trip as we had come to Khorwah to conduct a medical camp.

Khorwah is a sleepy little village cum town just on the outskirts of Thatta. Too small to be of any note yet of the size that can support 5000 to 6000 people. Most of the locals earn their living from working on rice farms or weaving baskets and other handicrafts to sell along the main highway.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

The floods had ravaged this area just like others in Sindh right up to the Deewan sugar mill which was right opposite our campsite on Saleem Khan’s farm, who not just hosted us but fed every single patient who visited.

The waters have receded with time but they have left behind many families who do not have income streams any longer, plus many of the locals had been hosts to their family members fleeing the incoming water from higher up in Sindh and thus are still in a desperate need for aid.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

After a quick wash in the tributary to take off the dust of travelling to this location (three and a half hour drive from Karachi), we proceeded to start setting up our medical camp which would start early next morning with the doctors accompanying us and would grow as the second team joined us from Karachi. When I say we, I mean our team ofOffroad Pakistan which has been working on relief activities all around Sindh since August last year.

Once the camp was setup and signs made in local Sindhi for the incoming patients, we proceeded with organizing stationary for the camp. Many teams ignore the importance of proper patient forms and data entry in the field to later realize that they saw a lot of people but have no information on them for follow-ups.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

A proper screening area with three volunteers was setup which processed patients into areas of ailment marked out on desks which doctors would man to consult. The last stall was the pharmacy which would supply the donated medicine and lead the patients to the food area where they could eat their fill before leaving.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

We started at the crack of dawn and opened doors to a throng of people at 9.30am. As patients streamed in we realized that people were mostly dealing with three issues: poor hygiene, unawareness of birth control methods and rampant poverty. They, either had skin diseases and were unable to treat them properly due to lack of a working rural health center or they were too poor to buy the medicines prescribed to them by other visiting doctors. There were many families with eight kids or more and this seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the day, as our team of psychologists also discovered large scale suicidal tendencies in a lot of female patients.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

As one of the organizers helping patients and trying to maintain crowd control, it was surprising for me to see that most of the male patients were easier to handle than the women. Or perhaps the women were used to violent herding-like tactics which none of us would indulge in. Suffice to say, in about five hours the camp treated 1,200 patients, handed out 1,500 dental kits and aided more than a 100 people for post-camp surgical procedures, which we will sponsor in hospitals upon returning to Karachi.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

It’s always euphoric to help people but for me, the highlight arrived around midday with a father bringing his severely malnourished child to the camp. Our doctors not only managed to re-hydrate the child and revive him but most certainly saved his life which was hanging in precarious balance. Saving that one child gave our team renewed vigor to see the effort through.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

As I sit here writing this after the first Sehri of the holy month, I am thinking how important it is for all of us to realise that although the floods of last year may be over and long gone, the human tragedy remains. It remains in the form of people stranded in areas they fled to, it remains in the fact that they cannot go back as they do not have the prowess to obtain further loans from their respective landowners to plant new crops. It also remains in the grim reality that their life is better in these alien surroundings with visiting, once-in-a-while medical camps and aid teams than it actually is back home.

So as a nation we still need to own and provide for these people, especially during Ramazan. Therefore please remember the flood victims when you donate your Zakat to any organization and recognise the fact that poverty-stricken, malnourished and on the brink of suicide, could just as easily have been one of us.



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Why is Kaali a gaali

A few days ago I was surprised to see an advertisement for under arm fairness cream on television. Now I know that the third world has a skin complex but I never thought we had fallen in our own minds to this extent.

I suppose it started with the English who may have colonized and ruled many parts of the world but have rarely entered the intellect of the locals in a way they did with us. The east India Company used to deal with the common man of Hindustan through their chosen local mouth pieces and they were showered with rewards and a lifestyle far above their peers. Those local mouthpieces/puppets were also bestowed with powers to deal with the population as they pleased backed by English swords. This is where I think the whole “wanna be English” thing started. The easiest way to distinguish the two races was, of course colour of skin. Sounds familiar to the current scene in our corridors of power doesn’t it?

The English left us divided in two countries and later we made it three but the fascination of being like them has prevailed to this day. This is perhaps why we see numerous advertisements toting magical skin whitening effects in 6-8 days and every kind of body part being promised fairness and thus beauty as we see it. Further proof of this insanity is found and reinforced by our pop culture which sings songs like “gori rang ka zamana” and our sports super stars like Umar gul, who are shown applying fairness creams and then taking lots of wickets in the field the next moment. Fair = success is the mantra and I’m afraid to break it to you dear readers, but all this is nonsense.

I am not going to launch into a spiel on inner beauty here as all of us know how much that counts in today’s cut throat environment. However I would like to beg the question “Has anyone noticed what the other half of the world feels?” While we are dying to get white, they are tanning in the sun till they get skin cancer, applying henna and all sorts of assortments to get any kind of brown in their skin tone and marveling at how radiant our olive and brown complexion looks.

The rest of the world considers our skin colour beautiful and if you are not satisfied with the above examples then perhaps you need to look at the results of the last few miss universes and miss world pageants (shallow as they are) to see what beauty is to them these days, newsflash its brown!

So the concept of universal beauty is therefore a sham. Its all grass is greener on the other side, all over this mud ball and companies promising fairness or tanning are making a fool out of all of us and minting gazillions. These same companies then back musical and sports superstars to reinforce their message – get the picture? It’s a vicious cycle and every time you believe that your skin tinge or colour is going to hold you back all you are actually doing is falling prey to your own insecurities which these companies live off.

Gibran once said “People of Orphalese beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing itself in the mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”

Bottom line: God created us in his own image, each one of us is equal and beautiful put down the mirror, it’s of no use.

Originally published on the Dawn Blog on July 4th 2011

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A welcome move

As educated members of this society we often stress on the importance of developing the learning sector and pooh pooh our country for being “so backward” when it comes to imparting knowledge in any organized manner to the masses. Odes have been written about how much we could benefit if we were to just allocate a few percentage points more to  public sector education in Pakistan from our grandiose budget of borrowed wealth

The basis for imparting education though, which are text books and supplementary materials for both students and teachers are in such a shambolic state in the state of Sindh & Baluchistan that they have not been updated for the last 11 years, are full of misnomers and spelling mistakes and lack the basic nuance of any sense. The main culprits can be found in the subjects of Math , English and social studies.

I say Sindh & Baluchistan because Punjab & KPK have already upgraded their textbooks to meet the requirements of the guidelines put forth In the 2006 national curriculum. Why our region of Pakistan lagged behind is anyone’s guess?? It seems we are living In some sort of utopian vacuum where we believe that we can build excellence in fields without providing the basic building blocks.

Still unlike what is fed to us in a daily diet of negativity, it seems that certain individuals in the present government have pulled up their socks and gone to work on this. An initiative has been taken under the Education Minister, Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq and Secretary of Education, Naheed Durrani to get our government schools curriculum reformed as soon as possible to meet at least the aforementioned 2006 standard. The Sindh education department and the Sindh Textbook board under the National Textbook and learning Material Policy and Plan of action 2006 will be following a transparent process inviting private publishers to submit books for English (class 1-6) Math (Class 1-6) General Knowledge (Class 1-3) Social Studies (Class 4-6) – For the first time, private publishers will be submitting transcripts for approval. This plan also includes teacher training workshops which are sorely needed as well. So that we not only have better books in government schools, but more able people to teach them with..

These transcripts will then be reviewed by a panel of government and private experts to ensure that they are selected and published in time for the academic year 2012. Once this takes place perhaps the gap between the public and private schools of our country can be reduced from the yawning chasm of disparity it now is.

Full marks to the people who have initiated this endeavour and good luck to them, I am sure they will encounter many hurdles in their way yet, but every step that leads to a more educated country will bring with it the promise of a brighter future.

 

 

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Mind Games

When my lips are sealed, my eyes blindfolded and my ears stuffed with cotton—memories would still be mine. In the window of my mind, I will see green, hear laughter and carry conversations on beauty and on goodness.How long, you ask, how long? I wonder too. Yet, I need to preserve.

Everyday when I leave for the office, I see shades of green with some yellow (sometimes white) peeking in through the trees….my street is pretty, lined with trees….and then as I sip at my coffee, listening to my favourite tunes, I reach a roundabout…I look left, I see mountains…on clear days a cloud would be floating over them…on hazy days they become the mountains I used to imagine while listening to fairy tales, with genies and fairies, narrated by my grandmother…. Past the round about, I pass in front of a park on my left and a green belt of trees on my right…at the edge of the park is a big Mcdonald’s. Of late, I have stopped taking these images for granted, I am so scared for my city, my country that I love…I just pray every time I enjoy any of these images which are my journey to my office…

Out on a Sunday, surrounded by the green, the trees at some distance and the blue of the water just slightly visible. I catch a group of teenage girls wearing brightly colored shalwar qameez, coordinated jewelry and bags of various shapes and sizes being dangled around— out on a Sunday picnic on the Rawal Lake. Somewhere I can smell rice cooking—probably, the biryani stall we passed.I make  a mental note of trying some on my way back .

A few years back , I was compiling a research on women for an NGO. It meant going through hundreds of questionnaires filled by data collectors from all around the country. Filled in Urdu by the data collectors, the questionnaires had both open ended and closed ended questions. I distinctly remember one questionnaire filled with the responses from a woman living in a dar ul aman (shelter home) “My wounds are weeping wounds, they stem from a deep curse. The curse of the sanctuary of your home disappearing into darkness of madness and cruelty” Her sentiment made an impression, I wanted to meet her— the depth of her observations of life compelled the researcher in me to dig deeper and develop this woman’s story into a case study. Unfortunately, due to the time lag between the data collection and the questionnaires coming to me for collation and analysis, life itself had taken that woman somewhere else. Thus for me, she remained a coded questionnaire, yet her profound scrutiny of ‘being’ stays with me. Since then, I have quoted her in many conversations on domestic abuse; I never thought I would be able to ever empathize with her, with my own fears, my own pain.

Surely, I wouldn’t have to worry about the sunshine, the clouds, the mountains and the trees had it not been for ‘the curse of my sanctuary, my country, my homeland at the verge- disappearing into darkness of madness and cruelty’. For how else do I explain driving on streets with pickets every 2 kilometers, going into an office with 10 feet high walls, sending an sms to my friend before going to watch a play—not to invite her– but to assure myself that the fear will not captivate me to keep me from leading a normal life but actually it has. In the act of writing that sms ‘normal’ left.

What is normal? For us in Pakistan, of late, it lies somewhere between fear and denial interspersed with bouts of anger and frustration accompanied by a severe sense of loss. Every bomb blast brings a renewed sense of loss. As terror grips, it is a struggle to remember the light and not be overwhelmed by the darkness. How long, I ask, how long can we preserve goodness, nay sanity?

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Boogeyman Mentality

We are all in a frenzy. Stories from our parents of trust and security seem to come from a land of fairy tales. Much like Aladdin, the Genie and Princess Jasmine, it seems the honest shopkeeper who would return the money if you miscounted and the by stander who would willingly keep an eye on your stuff while you took your child to the washroom exist as figments of imagination created only to entertain. We can all very easily recall the shopkeeper trying to cheat us out of money, the bystander waiting for our attention to divert before doing away with some object from our belonging…the list, unfortunately continues. Most times, this is not even ,mal intended towards you, it is plain self preservation and survival in this frenzy we are all in. Push, shove, elbow out to get ahead or be prepared to get pushed, shoved and elbowed out–survival of the fittest. Nowhere does one see, more clearly, the manifestation of these attitudes than at the airport. God forbid you do not wear closed shoes to the airport, your ankles would be hit by a cart or two, you should also be prepared to get more than a push, shove and elbow and if you are a woman you will be expected to tolerate men hogging even the queues meant for you.

So when I came back from a short official trip abroad, it was no surprise to observe the same routines. I stood in the passport control line as a gentleman in uniform conveniently went to the counter to get stamped a stack of passports of those more equal than the rest. I knew my protests will fall on deaf ears, as usual–incorrigible as I am, I protested still. Queue jumps, trolley snatching, racing to the conveyor belt and the next step being hounded by the cab drivers– I had resolved to take the radio cab. It was hot and what’s more how can I trust an ‘ordinary’ taxi wallah. So as the taxi wallahs approached, I just shook my head to ward them off-yes, ward them off, like flies. One persisted and somehow, I felt bad at not being able to contribute a poor man to earn an honest living. So there, magnaminously, I took the ‘ordinary’ yellow cab instead of the presumably safe, comfortable and air conditioned radio cab.

I have to admit that upon approaching the cab that I groaned at the realisation that its a hatchback, my suitcase would have to fit on the seat beside me. Saved by the hatchback! the suitcase lying on the passenger seat was not mine, there had been a mix up!!!! The suitcase was dragged out and as I gathered my laptop case and the duty free shopping bag, the cabbie told me me ‘Leave it here, it is safe’. Not wanting to offend yet unwilling to trust him I muttered ‘ But the windows of your cab are open, so someone else might take it’. He agrees as he eagerly takes all the stuff carrying it for me back to the terminal building.

As we attempt to enter the terminal building,we are told the suitcase will have to be scanned before allowed in. Fair enough, only the scanning is done on the other side of the building. Still willing to help but aware of my mistrust, the cabbyy gingerly asks if he can get the scanning done and at this point he offers to give me his identify card and airport pass. No idea as to what use they would be in event of him not returning with my some of my earthly belongings, I am actually for the first time since my interaction embarrassed that while he is the one who is helping me, the onus of him being worthy of my trust to help me also lies on him. Out of sheer embarrassment of being more worried about my few material things than the a human being’s dignity, I agree.

He gets the bag stamped OK by security, I take it in. He now has my laptop and the shopping bag and he waits outside for me to get free even after I tell him this could take a while and he can get other fares. Sure, it takes a while and then some but he is standing there with the stuff which by now seems ridiculous to have been worried about. Finally, I leave the airport in the yellow cab, with my own bag beside me. As we reach my house and I try paying him he refuses and tells me that the respect he gained by being trusted is enough. He was saying very nice and kind things, in my mnd I was hearing ‘Thanks for accepting me as an honest man making an honest living instead of the thug that I always am of whom tourists and local travelers , especially female travellers should always be aware of. You should always trust a company and not a human being because a company has systems and structures giving you the feeling of being safe. A human being on the other hand….’

The point here is not that all cabbies are nice guardian angels-sure there are those who have found space in the newspapers for being thugs. The point is, we as a people have stopped believing in human goodness within our society. For us, it is easy to criticise, it is non existent to appreciate our own people, except in those nostalgic fairy tales of our parents. Yet, time and again, you, I and all of us come across these daily examples of human goodness which we just do not acknowledge, let alone celebrate!

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