here is my final article for the “emerging voices of asia” series that i was selected for last year. i represented pakistan, of course. and while i am sad that my time writing on and representing pakistan is over, i am glad that this blog series has permanently enshrined my experience living and working in pakistan last summer. this last article of mine looks at mental illness in pakistan including a mental health and the law conference which i helped organize in lahore last july.
not the most lighthearted of subjects but i wanted to end on a note of importance.
Others looked upon the four-eyed fish creature as a bad omen for the city, or perhaps Pakistan. Some citizens said the fish was a sign that the upcoming elections would be delayed, or massive rigging would take place — at least in the locale the fish creature was found.
“A fish with four eyes and no mouth is not going to impact the elections…we are working hard towards free and fair polls, and if anything, extra eyes should be seen as a sign of greater scrutiny and transparency at the polls,” Muqam said in a media briefing.
Read the story in full here.
A friend, Wajahat Ali, has done a great interview in The Atlantic of one of my favorite novelists, Mohsin Hamid, on his upcoming “fake self-help book” called Getting Filthy Rich in Asia.
You should read the interview as a whole but below is an excerpt of one of my favorite responses by Hamid.
ALI: What should be the role of the Pakistani artist in today’s sensitive climate? In Pakistan itself, does the artist have a function in addition to creating entertaining content?
HAMID: As far as I’m concerned there’s way too much “should” in Pakistan already. You shouldn’t drink alcohol; you shouldn’t have pre-marital sex; you shouldn’t wear these types of clothes; you shouldn’t speak in this way, or follow that God or whatever.
In a country which has such a powerful set of often oppressive “shoulds” shoved down the throat 180 million people, a part of what artists do is reject the idea of “should” and create the art they want to create.
I think the gesture of human independence, of whimsy, and of idiosyncratic views of the world is what matters. This whole concept that an artist “should” do this, or “should” critique — I think artists should just be artists.
Some of them want to be political; some want to challenge orthodoxy and some won’t, but the overall project of art that is that of self-expression. In a place (like Pakistan) where many are fond of limiting self-expression, just the attempt at self-expression is invaluable.
The people in the arts are keeping these embers alive in this climate and trying to improve the overall atmosphere. For example, take the classical singing tradition - my wife is a classical singer and her teacher is one of the last old masters of this particular South Asian singing tradition. Now, it’s not like someday this tradition is going to sweep the country like wildfire. But, if he doesn’t teach, and he didn’t have students learning from him, then it’ll be gone when he, the ustad, dies.
The transmission of knowledge and artistic participation and people performing and creating art is a hugely important function in society. And there are daily attempts in Pakistan to stamp it out.
So the only “should” I have for Pakistani artists is that they “should” make art and that’s an important enough project. What they do politically and socially is up to them.
You can read my most recent article for Pakistan’s Express Tribune here. It’s on halal nail polish. Yes, that exists.
Here’s an article I wrote for the Asia Pacific Foundation. I am one of the bloggers for their Emerging Voices of Asia section and this is my second article. I talk about my experience working at a law firm in Lahore this past summer as well as violence on women in Pakistan. I also share the story of a refugee woman I dealt with during my internship.
“Yes, drone strikes are not very popular among a large section of Pakistani society…but Pakistanis are not united in opposition to drone strikes. In fact, many Pakistanis support the drone strikes”
-as per the horrendous Christine Fair and her group of confused intellectuals
She really needs to shut up and stop herself from so often and so wrongly speaking on behalf of the people of Pakistan because a degree in South Asian whatever doesn’t enable her to become the sole representative of a region. And most importantly, she needs to reexamine long-held beliefs about human nature. NO one in Pakistan is able to embrace foreign-led attacks and killings on their soil. And those who are not wholly opposed to it — well, chances are they don’t know what’s happening. The Atlantic has a good follow-up story on Fair’s comments.
who is as excited as i am to find out Bilal Khan is on Pakistan’s Beautiful People of 2012 list? weeeeeeeeee.
The first nail in the coffin of religious freedom came in 1949 — yes, so early in this country’s life — with the objectionable Objectives Resolution that put paid to any tolerance of minorities. Not that there should be such a thing as minorities in Jinnah’s Pakistan, for as he said that far gone day, if the people of Pakistan work in the spirit of the equality of all, “in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities … will vanish.” What has happened? They have multiplied.
Since then, in complete disregard of his exhortation that “religion is not the business of the state”, a string of rulers has brought this state of Pakistan to where it is today, to men and women being killed or tormented in the name of one of the great religions of the world, in the name of the law as it exists here, and even in the name of the constitution. The atrocities we have witnessed, and witness to an even greater extent today, are in large part due to the fact that religion is very much the business of the state. But it is an adopted religion that masquerades in the name of Islam, distorted and made to measure for those whose purposes it serves.
Tolerance, freedom? As I write I have before me a photograph of MAJ, sitting on a London lawn, a cigarette in his mouth, in the company of his two dogs. Now there is a goodly horde out there that would swear I am hallucinating. Such a thing is intolerable, as was proven only as far back as 1999 when Pervez Musharraf was censored by — and sadly surrendered to — the forces of darkness for daring to allow himself to be photographed with one dog tucked under each arm. And this is but a trite example of the bigotry and intolerance that pervade our lives.
Equally important — if not more so, as all things flow from it — was Jinnah’s insistence that the foremost duty of any government is to impose and maintain law and order. Well, that has been a non-starter, as the leaderships we have suffered have been the foremost violators of the laws as they stand and have been efficient perpetrators of a state of disorder.
That when writing on Jinnah’s Pakistan there is nothing but a long line of lament, dismay and disgust is a dismal fact. The corrupt, the inept and the gutless who have been in charge of this country for far too many decades and surrendered themselves and their policies to false deities have tailored the state to their fit, throwing out all pretence, and certainly intent, to curb lawlessness, instil tolerance and keep within acceptable bounds “the biggest curses … bribery and corruption…. the evil of nepotism and jobbery.”
Cowasjee must have died so disappointed in his Pakistan.
The other day Kat, my Roomie, came home with $75 worth of Lego.
She’d gone on a shopping expedition at Toys R’ Us for her adorable little twin brothers.
We ooh’ed and aah’ed over the Lego because it really was the coolest…Batman-inspired and Spiderman-inspired.
And today, I just came across these…Lego-inspired Pakistani truck art. Two of my favorite things combined together.
The Universe is pointing me in the direction of some Lego purchases. Leggo, legggoooo.
On October 22 a crowd of 24, 200 young Pakistanis crowded into Lahore’s National Hockey Stadium. The crowd erupted in cheers when a representative from Guinness World Records announced they’d indeed created the “world’s largest human” flag - a record held by a crowd of Portuguese women since 2006.
Clearly, we’re on a roll. Because a group of 1, 936 Pakistani students then formed the largest human picture mosaic at the stadium. This time they collectively created an image of the Lahore Fort (Shahi Qila)
Similarly, yet another group, this time 42,000 strong, of young Pakistanis sang the national anthem in unison at the Punjab Youth Festival 2012. So, here we have it. A mass wave of record-setting exuberance and patriotism.
This video has been circulating on my Facebook, Twitter feed, and Tumblr inbox begging for my attention the past week. So, here it is, Tumblrkittens. The side of Pakistan that mainstream media hardly shows. And the story of how a large group of individuals - from kids to the elderly - in various cities across the country turned out to rid the streets of the mess created by the handful of typically inflammatory and defamatory individuals.
We were 12 or 13 when we entered Cadet College Hasanabdal (CCH). This was an all-boys boarding school. It attracted academically bright kids from the middle class from all over Pakistan who were generally driven by the need to make something out of their lives on the basis of personal merit.
Being nestled in a small town, CCH enforced a uniform rigorous routine, provided no real opportunity to flout family money or influence and thus created quite a level-playing field. You made friends because of who they were and not where they came from. But at that impressionable age one can acquire a cruel disregard for the sensitivities of others.
My recollection of our Islamiat class is that it injected in me the fear of religion not its love. We were told that even if one relevant hair on the body was left dry during wazu (ablution), the prayer wouldn’t be accepted. Our teacher chided the society for teaching infants bye-bye before Allah Hafiz with no realisation that while learning to speak toddlers will utter words easy to pronounce before the phonetically difficult ones.
I believe it was during one of the Islamiat lectures that Ahmedis were denounced as religious renegades and thus worst than infidels. By this time we were in 10th grade, we had spent over two years together, confronted rigging and bullying by seniors and developed a kind of espirit de corps especially when it came to entry mates.
A close friend and entry mate was Ahmedi. I don’t remember exactly how the hate preached in our Islamiat class overtook our friendship and camaraderie, but I do remember being part of a group that poked fun at his religious beliefs and saying vile and nasty things that I now find hard even to acknowledge to myself.
My conduct was not a product of any deliberately held religious beliefs of my own. But while I was born to Sunni parents and thus mainstream, our friend had suddenly become the ‘other’ and a fair object of ridicule and cruelty. I was still in the gleeful bullying mode when my parents came to visit on Friday. On hearing of my newfound hate for Ahmedis and the consequent despicable conduct, I received a severe rebuke from my father.
He reminded me that my religious inclination was due to the incidence of my birth and that one ought not deride others for holding beliefs they similarly inherit from their ancestors. I was also asked to apologise to my friend and bring him home over the next long weekend. I don’t remember if that happened.
I always find it remarkable how so many of my Pakistani-bred & educated friends, family members, and acquaintances were not taught a love for Islam but a fear-based approach to religion itself. It’s sad and thankfully something that most of us, who grew up in the West, had a chance to be immune from.
At about 5:00 that evening, they heard the hissing sound of a missile and instinctively bent their heads down. The missile slammed into the center of the room, blowing off the ceiling and roof, and shattering all the windows. The immense pressure from the impact cracked the walls of the attached house, as well as those of the neighboring houses. Our research team reviewed photographs that Faheem showed us, which he said showed the destruction to the home. Faheem, who stated that he was approximately ten footsteps away from the center of the hujra, suffered a fractured skull and received shrapnel wounds and burns all over the left side of his body and face. All others in the hujra-at least seven, but as many as 15 people-were killed.
In the moments after the strike, Faheem said he “could not think.” “I felt my brain stopped working and my heart was on fire,” stated Faheem. “My entire body was burning like crazy.” Faheem wanted to splash water on his face, but he could not find any. After a few minutes of confusion, he stumbled out of the gate of his hujra, where neighbors found him. They quickly gathered Faheem into a pickup truck and rushed him to a government hospital in Mir Ali, a ten-minute drive away, according to Faheem. Medics there bandaged his wounds and transferred him to another hospital in Bannu, the closest major city outside FATA, where doctors operated to remove shrapnel from his abdomen and repair damage to his leg, arm, and eyes. Following the surgery, Faheem was transferred to a private hospital in Peshawar, where he remained for at least 23 days. In the end, Faheem lost his left eye, which has since been replaced by an artificial one; he also lost his hearing in one ear as a result of damage to his eardrum. His vision in his right eye is still blurred, requiring ongoing treatment, and he now has only limited mobility.
Faheem’s cousin Ejaz Ahmad, who lives just a few kilometers away, did not attend the gathering in the hujra that evening, and was instead at a friend’s home. He discovered the next morning that his paternal uncle, Khush Dil Khan, in whose hardware store Ejaz worked, died in the strike. “The bodies were completely destroyed,” Ejaz stated. “All we could retrieve was the torso and upwards.”
Later that year, Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
FYI: I’m 24 in my country of birth. That makes it my birthday.