Tag Archives: pakistan

New Years’ Eve Special: Interview with Shazaf Fatima Haider

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    Photo courtesy: Penguin India

To kick start my new year, I interviewed someone who came out with her first novel earlier this year. To say that it has been a huge success would be an understatement. Her book How it Happened perfectly captures the beauty of Pakistani marriages, the social (and apparently religious!) stigma regarding inter-sect marriages and most of all, has portrayed immaculately the innocence of adolescence.

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Book cover of ‘How it Happened’

First of all, I would like to thank her for agreeing to do this interview, and for responding promptly to the interview questions I emailed to her. 

Me: So, tell me a little about yourself. Do you come from a background of writers?

SFH: You know, if you look hard enough, everyone comes from a background of writers. Everyone wries secretly and has masterpieces that go hidden or are lost because no one believed in them. I was rummaging through the bookshelves and saw that one of my mother’s cousins was a poet – and he wrote the wittiest Urdu poetry I’ve read. But he died a long time ago and possibly self published this anthology. I felt so sad because had he been born in the right place, connected to the right people, he could have been famous. Now all that’s left of him is a tattered book of faded yellow pages. But otherwise, no, I don’t think I’m related to any famous or great writers. 

Me: What inspired you to write ‘How it Happened’?

SFH: Frustration. Too many ‘suitors’ marching in, exhibiting bad manners in my drawing room and then marching off; the demeaning of women by other women. I suppose at one point when the anger fades away, you’re left with frustration and all you can do is laugh or cry. I chose to laugh.

Me: Did you worry about the kind of response you were going to get, especially by the elders of a ‘Shia-Syed’ family?

SFH:  I didn’t, because a lot of the Shia-Syed community agrees that this sort of sectarian division is ignorant. The kind of people who disagree don’t read.

Me: What was the biggest obstacle you faced while writing?

SFH:  I was working as a full time teacher up until this year. I just didn’t get the kind of time to really delve into my writing as I wished. That was highly problematic.

Me: Is there any particular song you like to listen to while writing?

SFH:  I listen to music mostly when I’m exercising – music distracts me. But I’m a huge fan of Alanis Morisette. 

Me: Any particular time of the day that suits you better while writing?

SFH: Morning is the best time. Now that I teach part time, I’m done with classes by eleven, so I go to a cafe and write for two hours until lunch. Sometimes, when the mood strikes, I work all day – but that doesn’t happen very often

Me: Are you working on any other project right now?

SFH: I’m actually done with my second novel – the story is on paper, now the long process of editing, proof reading is left.

Me: What is it about?

SFH: It’s about Jinns. Very unlike the first novel, I should warn you.

Me: Considering the low literacy rate of Pakistan, what can you say about the scope of writers in our country?

SFH:  People love stories. And there are more readers than you know. The  problem isn’t literacy ( a lot of people who can read just don’t) it’s the availability of cheap books and the lack of a local publishing industry. If books were cheaper then students would buy them, people who wanted to read them wouldn’t have to think twice about their price. That’s the real issue with reading in Pakistan.

Me: Were you turned down by other publishers before Penguin India decided to publish your novel?

SFH: No, actually. Penguin was one of the first publishers to get back to me. 

Me: Quick question time. Give me one word responses to these.

Caffeine – Headache
On your bookshelf –  Dust
In your DVD player – Thor 2
Revolutionary – Jaun Elia
Paradise – Family
Corruption – Big fat politician in waistcoat
Inspirational – Marquez
Politicians – Scum
Deadlines – Never a problem

Me: Lastly, what advice would you give to young and aspiring authors?

SFH: Keep writing and be patient. Believe in yourself. And listen to criticism as constructive feedback.

 

 

Burka-tastically Entertaining – Hello, Burka Avenger!

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The Burka Avenger

When I stationed myself in front of the television at 6:02 pm today, I had a few questions in mind. The biggest question, in fact, the biggest worry, I had was that the Burka-haters so common on the social media ever since the release of the Burka Avenger trailer would be proven correct.

I can proudly say, my fears were unfounded.

The animation was not only entertaining, but educational. While showing off her Ninja-tastic outfit, the Burka Avenger (Jiya – in everyday life) brought up a few important points to light. The issue of educating women and treating them as equals was brought up and dealt with very carefully. The protagonist was snubbed using carefully worded satire.

The burka in the show is nothing like the piece of clothing worn by women in general. It, by no means, looks like a symbol of oppression. Moreover, the fact that Jiya does not sport a Burka in her everyday life just emphasizes on how wearing the burka is a much more of a choice than a means of oppression.

Moreover, Jiya doesn’t just fight evil. She is a schoolteacher at an institution that provides education to both girls and boys.

While the liberals’ ego might be hurt by watching their national superhero clad in a burka, I’d say it gives the whole thing a more local feel. Dressing her up in anything otherwise would have made the show difficult to relate to.

All in all, it is a good concept; one which may play an important role in moulding the mindset of our younger generation. It has raised an important issue in its very first episode, and I look forward to the upcoming ones.

Lastly, Kudos to Haroon Rashid for this brilliant innovation – and for giving Pakistanis a superhero of their own.

PTI’s Car Rally at Seaview: false hopes?

The car rally at Seaview today was the first PTI rally I’ve ever attended. Being an avid PTI supporter, mind you, most of my support was limited to my facebook profile, blog and facebook profile. Today, despite Imran Khan’s absence, I decided to attend the car rally. 

While I adorned myself in a green and white kurta shalwar -depicting Pakistani flag, of course,- my brain repeated the slogan ‘Ek tsunami, Ek toofan, Imran Khan Imran Khan.’ What I expected of this rally was obviously not anything like those at Mazar e Quaid and Minar-i-Pakistan. However, I did expect it to be a fraction of those, especially since all the other parties claim that most of Khan’s support resides in the ‘burger’ areas of Defence and Clifton. 

Was I right? No. Was I close? Ha. No. This car rally consisted of a little more than twenty cars that assembled at Seaview and proceeded to Salt and Pepper Village, before turning back and going to Teen Talwar. 

The question which arises here, is that is Khan’s support really that weak as shown by the rally today? I suppose not. Undoubtedly most of Khan’s support comes from underage youth, but the fact that less than 1% of those supporters came to the rally is disheartening. 

I would like to point out here that despite closely following all PTI and Imran Khan updates, I found out about this rally through a relative. I conveyed the message to a few of my friends and my facebook friend’s list through a status update, but most of them didn’t pay much heed. In the end, I reached two conclusions:

1. PTI should have promoted this rally better. Moreover, it should have been organized better. The few cars attending the rally were lost between the traffic of cars coming to Seaview. Funnily enough, the main Seaview road had the least traffic I’ve ever seen there on a Sunday evening, including visitors and participants of the rally both. 

2. Majority of PTI’s supporters are drawing room supporters. They will tell others to support PTI, will list off the advantages off their fingers as if they were talking about their favourite food and will stand up for Imran Khan every time someone supports PPP or PML-N. However, when it comes to actually supporting the cause and coming out on the roads, they would prefer to sit at home and watch it on television. 

This makes me wonder whether my vote for PTI is going to go to waste. Are there enough voters out there to bring PTI to power? Are there enough voters who want change? Or are we doomed for another five years?

With Apologies to Mr. Jinnah: I Let Pakistan Crumble in Front of Me

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Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Father of the Nation

On the fourteenth of August in 1947, you, Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah finally gave the Muslims (and other minorities) what they had been struggling for: a new nation to freely practice their faith. Now, almost sixty-six years later, Pakistan is anything but.

Everyday, innocent Christians are blamed, and given the most outrageous punishments for the most petty crimes. Everyday Shias are targeted for practising a slightly different faith. Everyday the sons of influential people are let loose because of their heritage. Pakistan was supposed to be a peaceful land, the land of pure as the name says, or the place where no person would ever feel unsafe no matter what their religion, caste or creed. I say now, and I’m terribly apologetic to Mr. Jinnah, that I have failed you. You made a state for my family and I and we gave you nothing in return.

I am sorry Mr. Jinnah, but I was not able to sustain the land you provided us Muslims. I let your sacrifice for us go in vain, for if we were targeted before in India, we are targeted multifold today.

I am sorry Mr. Jinnah, but I did not educate myself. I had the resources to, but I let it all go to waste. I did not stop for a minute to think about that child who was craving education, but did not have the means. I had my parents’ money, and that was enough for me. I am sorry I did not try to learn more about my country, it’s heritage, and your struggles to give us my beautiful motherland.

I’m sorry Mr. Jinnah. I sat in my home and shook my head, but I did not get up and stop them. I saw the monsters taking over my country, and I sat in front of the television with popcorn. I foresaw how this was going to end, but I refused to care.

I’m sorry Mr. Jinnah, for I was unable to protect the females in my country. I could not provide them the protection you promised. For you see, there was a more ravenous creature inside me.

I’m sorry Mr. Jinnah, I knew this would happen if I brought a criminal to power. I was greedy, and I voted for him. He kept us all well fed during his tenure, and we never felt the hunger of the poor.

I’m sorry Mr. Jinnah, for coming into government for the money, and not for the people. I came here to enjoy, not to serve. I’m sorry to have let you down.

I’m sorry Mr. Jinnah, but I stood aside and watched them take apart Pakistan. I supported them, offered them my shoulder, too. I should have not. I should have thought about my citizens. I should have thought about your sacrifice; I did not.

I was selfish yesterday, I am selfish today and that is how I thrive. But the time has come for this government to go, and I am afraid my role in this country will no more be important. I’m apologizing Mr. Jinnah, deeply, sincerely. I let Pakistan crumble in front of me, but I did not do anything about it.

Now, as the elections come near, I am given another chance. I can choose to re-elect the same government and eat off people’s taxes for the next five years. Or I can elect a reasonable, sincere leader and give the people of Pakistan what they really deserve.

But, Mr. Jinnah, forgive me once more for I am just a human. I have not learnt to place others’ needs before me, I do not know if I can start now.

I salute you for doing what no human has done for his people. It saddens me to say that we didn’t deserve it. Once again, I am sorry Mr. Jinnah, for taking your vision of Pakistan and shredding it until it was no more.

My apologies. But I’m only human.

Why Doesn’t the Government Care?

Over thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in between 2012-13. The government persists, the situation persists. People are still afraid for their lives when they go out. The government is still devouring cash for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Why haven’t we been able to capture these terrorists? Why is it that they can contact the government and the media, but when it comes to tracing their calls the government reaches a dead end? Why is it that the government spends its time and energy in banning a website in light of the blasphemy law, but chooses to ignore the immoral, gut-wrenching acts taking place in front of their very eyes?

Why does that government, which has given us Pakistanis nothing at all except tears and hardships, stand a chance to be re-elected in May? Why, after all this, do Pakistanis not understand that the future of Pakistan is in their hands?

Why is it that while people continue to die from poverty, the elite continue to multiply their resources? All these why’s need an answer. And the answer to this is simple: the government doesn’t care.

You took a criminal out of jail, and placed him at the highest position. You gave him access to the country’s resources, and you gave him the right to control your lives. You knew this would happen the day his government came. After all, what does a child do when you give him his favourite candy?

In a few months, the government will be gone. We hope that it is true, and they know that they will be gone. They continue to celebrate their last few weeks unabashedly, behaving as if they’re leaving behind a healthy and prosperous Pakistan.

But there’s a reason why they are happy. In this five year tenure, they have managed to rip open Pakistan and rattle every bone of her’s. They know that, even once they leave, they have left plenty of their own progeny to continue what they had once started. They know that even if they will not be the masters, they have way too many sources deep down to feel at discomfort with any ruler who may come.

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Pakistan is officially going through the worst period in it's history

Pakistan is corrupt. Morally, socially, religiously, economically corrupt. It is a fact, and we cannot deny it. Removing the government will do no good, because the corruption has slithered into the masses and is throbbing in the veins of the general public.

We need money, we embezzle. We want a new car, we go harrass a factory owner to give us a bribe (bhatta). We don’t like other religions, we blame them for committing blaspemy. We don’t like other sects, we kill them. Oh, yes. We Pakistanis have a solution for every problem of ours.  

What we don’t do, is work. What we don’t know is how to rid ourselves of this monstrous being that has settled itself amongst us. Are we ever going to be normal again?

It will not take a change of government. It requires a change of priorities. People are dying, and the government is worried about changing the name of the province Sind to Sindh. Children roam about hungrily on the streets, and they are signing papers to begin the construction of the tallest building.

Where is your humanity? Have you become so corrupt and dissolute that it all simply bounces off you? Can you not understand the pain of a mother holding the dead body of her child, begging you for mercy? Do you not see the hundreds of people deprived of a normal life because they were the victims of terrorism? Do you not know that you’re going to have to face God one day?

President Zardari, I do not care what you do after this tenure ends. But right now, since you’re sitting foolishly on our heads, I plead you to see our stance. Imagine if it was you holding Bilawal’s or Asifa’s dead body. Would you, or would you not want to get hold of their murderers? Would you not try to get justice?

Please stop having these closed-door meetings and making nonsensical decisions. What more must happen for you to appoint the Army to take control of Quetta? You have failed miserably in doing anything for Pakistan. Before going, just give us this one demand of ours.

Or are you, too, against the Hazara’s because they’re Shia? Against Ahmedis because of their belief?

I’m sorry, but you’re officially the worst thing that has happened to Pakistan in these 65 years.

I’m  just glad I believe in karma, and leave the rest to God.

Let My Death Be the Life of Another

Over 80 people were killed in the blast in Hazara. In this year alone, over 200 Hazara Shias have been killed on the basis of their sect. This sectarian war needs to stop, NOW!

This poem is a tribute to the people killed in the Hazara blasts, and a salute to the mothers, wives and daughters who are braving the deaths of their loved ones.

I sit here, waiting for my name to be called
Anxious, yet content
For God is not angry with me
He chose to make me a martyr

To my mother, who I left behind
Shedding tears in my memory
I beg you, don’t cry
I’m in peace, my beloved

Use my death to promote your cause
Save many others who will live alone
From the misery of being an orphan
Or the screeching cries of a widow

For they did nothing wrong,
In believing in Imam Hussain (A.S)
If that’s my mistake and their’s
Then I shall die, and die again

Use my death to stop the evil
That is spreading through my country
Stop it, erase it
Only you can do it

There is nothing like the will of a grieving mother And the curse of a mother whose son
Has been taken away, cruelly, selfishly
And there might never even be another

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Refusal to bury their dead to protest the killings of innocent Shias.

My mother, pacify those
Who have loved and lost, once more
Give them hope, a ray of sunshine
Tell them things will be fine in time

Take my name and protest
Till your very last breath
Use my death as your cause
To avoid other innocent’s deaths

My country that once gave me refuge
Tells me that it is time to owe
What it gave to me a long time back
And I am leaving it in your hands

Scream, shout, let your cries be heard
Beware, not another drop of blood
Should fall onto my motherland
Just stop the genocide

For if we keep sleeping as we were
Another few will be killed today
Tomorrow, day after, and the next
And soon, it will be too late.

Of Double Standards and Poor Ol’ YouTube

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Everyone in Pakistan is aware of the YouTube ban which was imposed back in September 2012. Rehman Malik, and then later Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf banned YouTube in view of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan.

On one side the media is condemning the insulting video made on the Prophet’s life. On the other hand, Geo TV and Geo Films are publicising Race 2, a bollywood movie. Now, these two things have absolutely nothing in common, except for the fact that they both have, in a way, insulted Islam.

A recent poster used to market Race 2 was brought to our attention. This poster consists of its semi-clad cast posing in front of a work of calligraphy. How is posing in such a vulgar manner in front of verses from the Quran any different than making a blasphemous video on the life of the Holy Prophet? Or are we so eager to mend ties with India that we plan to overlook this little fact?

Mr. Rehman Malik, this I say directly addressing you. I don’t think banning YouTube was a good idea. All it did was spew some more hate talk about our government and you. You might have banned it for a good reason, but there is nothing stopping me from saying that you used the situation for your own ulterior motives.

If you can ban YouTube for not removing a video concerning our Prophet (p.b.u.h), then you can also ban Race 2 from being shown all over Pakistan. You can ask Geo Films to stop advertising Race 2 because obviously the Indian Film Industry does not care one bit about their Muslim counterparts if they have allowed such a poster to be made and spread.

I am not against improving  the India-Pakistan relationship. All I ask is for you to be fair when deciding between right and wrong. A Muslim Party in India has also appealed to Manmohan Singh to take notice of this matter, and to at least prevent the release of such posters, if not banning the movie itself.

As far as the movie contains no sacrilegious content, we Pakistanis would always love and appreciate Bollywood films. I’m sorry, but this time around you went just a slightly bit overboard. We do not like anyone messing with our Prophet (p.b.u.h) and our religion.

We will not offend you, nor your beliefs and in return, we expect you to do the same. We do not like the fact that you have used verses from the Quran on your poster (which doesn’t seem like it would have altered the fate of your movie, unless it was just a publicity stunt all along), and we do not like the fact that you have them plastered at all places big and small.

I hope you will not take any offense over this matter and understand my point of view. You have exploited my religion and I am hurt. Once again, most politely, I shall ask you to take these posters down and refrain from doing any such thing in the future. We Pakistanis are very calm and nonviolent – unless provoked.

A Day Like Any Other.

I know the kind of reaction I would have gotten once you read the title. Why, oh why, would you want to read about a regular day in my life. I know, it sounds so silly.

Which is why, I would never put you through the torture of listening to my ongoing complaints.

What I’m really going to do, however, is take you through a day in the life of young Zarina.

Meet Zarina. Zarina is five years old, and she lives on the streets in Karachi. Every day, she gets up at six in the morning, to be picked up by a mean driver who drops off little beggars all over the city. Zarina carries a little pocket-mirror with her, which helps her ensure that she has dressed suitably enough. Picking up some sand from her surroundings, Zarina hurriedly rubs it across her face. She knows that doing that will cause pimples later, but that would only add to the appearance. Zarina has now achieved the look that would cause a number of hearts to melt, encouraging them to drop a 10-rupee note into her bare hands.

After Zarina has tapped on every car’s window that came to shop at Gulf Way, and collected a sum of about thousand rupees, she is picked up by the same mean driver. The driver collects the money from Zarina, and pockets it, while Zarina looks sadly at the money she had collected. In return, the mean driver bangs Zarina’s head against the dashboard and gives her a grubby twenty-rupee note to buy herself lunch and dinner for that day. Meanwhile, in his head, he is imagining where he was going to take his family out for dinner today.

After Zarina is dropped off at the house, the run-down house she lives in with many others like her, the driver gives his boss two-hundred rupees, saying that Zarina did not earn well that day. Zarina stares open-mouthed at him, but does not say anything. She knows what the outcome will be. She will be taken into that room, that dark, dark room, and beaten until she can’t breathe. Then he will stop, flex his arms, and beat her some more. Zarina would cry herself to sleep that night.

The next morning, she would wake up to face all that again. Zarina doesn’t want to, but for her, there seems to be no other way. For her, that monster is like heaven, her saviour. He provides her with shelter, food and clothes. Zarina couldn
t dare to leave such a place. Getting beaten everyday seems like a little price to pay for all that.

Zarina needs to know that there are other options. The beggars on our windows, the ones who irk us so easily, they at times are way better off than us. If a rich, educated person cannot work to bring a child out of their misery, then who can?

Who then, deserves to be called literate?

Think. Are we really that developed a country as we claim to be? Is this what humanity is about?

Two minutes. That’s all it takes.