Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Viewpoint - Culture Shock in Hip Pakistan

A Lahore girl, living in US, returns home to find a changing society.

[By Maryam Arif; picture by Jawad Zakariya]

Coming from an all-girls Convent school, it was taboo to talk about boyfriends. Not to say that people weren’t going out, just that no one ever spoke about it. We believed that guys never married girls they went out with, and we were training to become good wives, not girlfriends.

But times were changing. My juniors seemed more confident, and their juniors even more forthcoming about romantic relationships. Unlike most of my friends, I went from Convent to a co-educational college. Things were more relaxed there. There was less sexual tension. Somehow it seemed a more natural and normal environment.
Boys and girls could be friends or lovers, both roles being for the most part quite acceptable.

Then I decided to come to the United States for higher education. I was to live in Boston, a city in the most liberal part of the country. Thanks to the globalization of MTV and McDonalds, I did not really experience culture shock. There was however an identity crisis. What does it mean to be a Pakistani, a South Asian, and a Muslim in American society? Initially, I felt like I had to defy all things American to be Pakistani. I had to preserve my cultural values in their purest form. It was all about holding on to the roots and showing cultural pride.

I must not smoke, drink, eat haram food or think about boys. Must not become like those American girls who flirt openly and talk loudly about their sexual experiences. I decided that best way would be to adorn the traditional attire and be reserved. I couldn’t let them corrupt me.

When I went home in the summer after freshman year, I found that I was too conservative for my Pakistani counterparts who embraced modern culture. While I walked around with a paranda in my long braid and a dupatta on my head out of respect for the local culture, the locals were bold in their fashion statements. The shirts were tighter, the shalwars shorter, the jeans lower and the cargos baggier than I remembered. I felt outlandish. That was culture shock.

Next year I witnessed more changes. More cafés and chic restaurants had sprung up all over the place. Smoking "shisha" and going to dance parties was as cool as speaking English with an American accent. After two years of living in the U.S. my accent did not compare to that of Lahoris working in call centers.

A friend from Karachi, whom I had met in Boston, came to visit. We went to the hip Café Life for dessert and witnessed what we never imagined we would see in Pakistan - lots of intimate couples romancing openly. Why was this so shocking?

While "dating" sounds like a western concept, the idea is in fact not. It is a human concept. People are attracted to each other and look for ways to express their emotions. If it is not suppressed, I think it is a pretty universal phenomenon. Of course, people in different cultures at different times have different beliefs regarding the practice of courtship.

The college experience in America has transformed me in many ways. I can connect better with rebellious lovers and have come to resent their over-protective parents and family members. I have come to value freedom and independence.

As far as the question of traditional values is concerned, we must ask ourselves what part of orthodox society is worth preserving and what is not. Certain traditions must be challenged. Silence is not a virtue. Suppressing and discouraging natural processes can lead to frustration, aggression and dissatisfaction with life. Society will benefit from individuals being aware, open, and accepting of their sexuality. It will lead to a more educated, responsible, and enlightened world.

[This viewpoint completes the Dating in Pakistan Series. A Valentine's Day Special Photo Essay by acclaimed photographer Usman Ahmed will draw the curtains.]

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dating Scene in Pakistan – “Liberal Parents Allow Arranged Love Marriages”

How western impact affect inter-generational relations

[Usman Ahmed is a software entrepreneur in Lahore]

Welcome Usman. You are not new here. You are an extraordinary photographer and have published several photo essays in Pakistan Paindabad. Tell me, have you ever dated?

Yes, I love this website! No, I haven’t really dated. I have studied in co-ed colleges where I had female friends. We used to go out sometimes but you can't call it dating.

So you do have gone out with "female friends" but won’t call it a dating. I see…Tell me tips on dating in Lahore?

I will say it is good to have a car. You may go to parks or eat in fancy restaurants but nothing is more convenient than a car with black mirrors. Since no one can see inside, it is the most secure way to date. You can drive all around the city this way with your girl friend. In fact, one can see such cars all the time.

What is your idea of a perfect date?

For me it would be to go to some fun place, maybe play golf together or chill out in a bowling alley.

What exactly happens in dating?

Ha ha .. I don't know what exactly happens, Mayank. But you know most of the so-called dating still goes on phone. But when two love birds miss each other so much or want to discuss their future, they decide to meet. No matter what happens.

Is sex rampant?

No I don't think so. But sometimes I have heard about it. Again, I'm not so sure.

If you don't have a car with tinted glasses, is it difficult to get cozy?

It is impossible, man. You have to make sure no one is around or people will definitely harass you. At least this is how it used to be. But things are gradually changing. However, there was a time in Pakistan when even going out with a female cousin set people talking. But now there is more tolerance. People do not bother much.

What role does Islam play in the life of youngsters like you?

You see Islam doesn't permit man and women to meet each other alone before marriage. Though in arranged marriages, Islam gives full right to both boys and girls to make their own decisions. The only condition is that the prospective partner must be evaluated in the presence of guardians. If you like someone from your work or college, you can ask your family or friend to propose to him/her and his/her family.

Mayank, Islam says that when an unmarried man and woman are alone in a private place, the invisible third is always Shaitan. Bad things are to result from such liaisons.

Do you feel dating is a western impact?

It sure is. Dating started in the 90's. True, some people dated even before that but they belonged only to the super-elite section of our society. It was after the arrival of cable TV that dating climbed new heights.

For instance, nobody had heard of Valentine's Day ten years before but now it is almost a festival. It has grown so huge that it is celebrated in schools and colleges. Special parties are held. One courier company even started a special gift sending service for the occasion. Markets sell heart-shaped pastries and cards.

Last year that day I met an illiterate balloon seller selling his stuff at triple the usual price. I asked him why and he said it was Valentine's Day!

If it is a western influence, as you say, then how does it affect the bonds between the young people and their parents?

It is a pretty difficult thing for our elders to accept. You must understand they have lived their lives with a completely different concept and therefore sometimes there are serious clashes between the young generation and parents.

Some couples chose to run away because parents refused to accept their choice of companions. Sometime they receive death threats forcing them to end the relationship. However, parents who are liberal enough to let their children select their own soul-mates are in peace. Sometimes there are “arranged” love marriages where both families are open and acceptable. But there could be problems afterwards.

Still it is universally believed in Pakistan that arranged marriages, where families play the most important role, are more secure.

Usman, Thanks for sharing your views with Pakistan Paindabad.

You are welcome, Mayank.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dating Scene in Pakistan – “Good Girls Not Available”

A non-resident Pakistani recalls the non-dating days in Karachi.

[Picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Mr. Pervez Bhutto hails from Karachi but is living in North America since more than two decades. On his request, his true identity has been concealed.

Mr. Bhutto, welcome to Pakistan Paindabad. You dated with girls?

No. I was raised with very strict Pakistani/ Eastern/ Islamic/ traditional values, so it was not something I would have dreamed of doing.

But you must know the usual places in Karachi that were frequented by lovers during your time?

Looking back now, I can tell you that we (my family and I) would have looked down upon this practice and would have probably also looked away. Hard to explain this now more than 20 years later and transplanted for almost the same number of years in a totally different culture.

I knew about dating in Karachi, but either the filthy rich or the working class youngsters did it (again talking from the view point of me as a teenager back then), or perhaps the non-Muslim minorities. Even then I was aware that dating was an acceptable part of life in the West, but in my prim and proper little life it was a big no-no!

Was PDA difficult in Pakistan?

PDA?

I mean the public display of affection.

Mayank, are you feeling ok? You live in India and even there PDA is not acceptable, let alone in an Islamic Pakistan of General Zia-ul-Haq's vintage. Besides, what exactly do you mean by PDA? Kissing, or holding hands? Looking at each other with loving eyes, playing footsie under the park bench? What?

Well…it varies from culture to culture…

Rest assured, dear friend, in my time the answer would still have been a big, resounding NO.

How approachable were people of the opposite sex?

Depended on how horny you were. But seriously, guys were always accessible (to girls that is). But as far as I remember, only the most "modern" (in a very "loose" sense") girls would be approachable. Good girls were not. They were supposed to be modest and chaste.

Was there a healthy interaction between them in colleges?

Actually I am not sure what your definition of a healthy interaction would be. But yes, girls and guys would study together, and also in groups, in co-ed universities and higher education colleges. If anything (unhealthy?) happened between them, it would be kept hidden. Most marriages were arranged marriages then (and now?) but the ones that were not were the result of matches made in universities and colleges by the kids themselves.

I see…Mr.Bhutto, have you any idea if Islam permits concepts like dating? Do you feel it is a western influence? Does it affect our traditional values?

Islam does not permit dating which is a result of westernization and whether it affects our traditions depends entire on our personal value system. Does that satisfy you?

Yes, it does. Thanks for talking to Pakistan Paindabad.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Samjhauta Express Editorial - Give Respect to Pakistani Travelers

It took a bomb attack to expose the travails of the traveling citizens.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi; Picture by Mustafa Quraishi]

Around 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, died in a bomb blast at Samjhuata Express while it was running at 90 kilometers per hour at the midnight of February 19. The non-stop train was on its way from the Indian capital Delhi to the border post at Attari. There the passengers were to board a second train, which would have taken them to Lahore. The cross-border rail service is considered as one of the few symbols of progress in the peace talks between the two nations.

The dead included 26 men, 14 women, and 13 children. 15 bodies were charred beyond physical recognition. Victims ranged from places as varied as Multan and Karachi. A shopkeeper from Faisalabad lost five children.

Both the nations have made the right noises. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared his country's ''abhorrence for this heinous terrorist act." While Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri called the bombing a ''terrible act of terrorism'' and said ''the peace process must go on with greater vigor and greater determination.''

The two bogies that caught fire after the blasts were unreserved and over-crowded with poor people. Since it is a tendency in both the nations to keep the poor at a distance, the compartments were not linked to the rest of the inter-connected train. On hindsight, many lives could have been saved if this were not so. Besides, the Indian security measures included locking this special train from outside. (The trains are usually locked from inside) No one could get in or get out. The burning passengers had no escape.

Railway Minister Shaikh Rashid rightly urged Indian authorities to stop the practice of ‘caging’ the train’s passengers in barred bogies.

Shaken by the tragedy, India has responded with responsibility. The country's High Commission opened a special visa camp at Lahore's Grand Hotel to facilitate immediate travel by relatives of those killed or injured in the blast.

This is surprising. What if "Pakistani Jehadis" get a few of these quickie visas to bomb the great boom-towns of Bombay and Bangalore? If the travel formalities are suspended on an emotional impulse, won't India stand vulnerable to the "evil" designs of the ISI?

However, the stark human face of the tragedy appears to have moved New Delhi to make security compromises. “Incidents like these that are very heart-rending, and which affect both countries and both peoples, can only add to the urgency of the need for cooperation," Mr.Kasuri observed.

Can this temporary relaxation, occasioned by the tragedy, be made permanent please?

No one denies that Pakistan has terrorists within its borders but is a strict visa regime a solution? Further, is it wise to seal Pakistan-bound trains from outside, as if all the passengers are Al-Qaeda operatives? Such measures create insurmountable, sometimes fatal, difficulties for the travelers. It is regrettable that a deadly bomb attack had to expose their travails.

Pakistan Paindabad mourns the dead and demands more respect for the traveling citizens.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dating in Pakistan - “There Are No Discos in Lahore”

[Picture by Arif Ali]

A young man discusses the “scene in colleges” and in other “intimate hideouts” in Pakistan’s cultural capital.

Tehman Lall is pursuing MBA in Lahore.

Tehman, it is Question Time Pakistan. You have dated girls. Confess.

No, but I really need to and should!

Liar! I saw you in Shalimar Gardens. You were holding hands with a woman.

Take a break, Mayank. You are seeing things. But yes, Shalimar Gardens is the place. It is a good haunt for middle-class doves. Hey, add Lawrence Gardens, Race-Course Park and Model Town Park too in the list.

Public parks for middle-class doves! Interesting…What about the rich-papa kids? Discos?

There are no discos in Lahore. But right mood, food and style are important to the moneyed love-birds. Cafes and restaurants at Gulberg and Defense are wildly popular. But do you know the most happening and intimate hideout?

I'm all ears.

The lush-green Jallo Park near Wagah at India-Pakistan border remains a favorite - for all classes. It is situated slightly away from the Lahore city, a good thing since it keeps you away from the prying eyes of uncles and aunties.

Then there is always your car! Couples like isolated, dimly-lit parking lots and streets in Defense, Gulberg, and Model Town etc . Sadly, Lahore Police is always on a sniff out.

Pray, why?

Apparently, prostitution is making inroads in these areas as well, with similar techniques and methods, if you please!

Oh, I thought Heera Mandi was the place for that...Hey Tehman, do you tell your Mom and Dad before going to meet your girl?

Let's not talk of my folks, buddy. But I think most parents are no longer naive about these issues. Nowadays they try too hard to limit their children's social exposure, especially towards the opposite sex. I guess parents do get that "sinking feeling" when their kids start spending too much time on cell-phones, friends, and on Internet chat sites.

If they could be a little less smart...Now, don’t think I’m referring to you but do your close friends hold hands in malls and parks - making a nice show for the rest of the people?

I know people who've tried smoochin' and the sorts in cars and parks. I also know people who've seen that. Does that answer your odd query?

Yes, thanks. Tehman, you are a boy, she is a girl. You look at her. You wanna talk to her. So will you go and say hello to her?

Huff, not that easy, dude! You have to understand there is a diverse mix of young adults in Pakistani society, ranging from ultra-conservatives to the ultra-modernized. Mostly, boys and girls keep their distance. It is not like you could just walk up to the girl and start singing to her.

However, I've heard of instances, generally in the Defense Housing Society, of complete strangers getting to know each other in music stores. Isn't that interesting?

Very fascinating. How is the scene in colleges?

Things are relaxed in numbered colleges and universities, which are mostly private and cater to the largely affluent students.

The government colleges have a very conservative culture but boys and girls interact even there. Given the uncalled interference of the extremist Islamic student bodies there, the mel-milaap is on a very basic level. However, forget about the dating. It is difficult to be friendly with girls when such "watchdogs" are around.

In universities, though, both boys and girls obviously have to learn to interact with each other. From my personal experience I can say it is tough. Worse, in my university, we have segregated post-graduate classes for men and women. Damn!

Tehman, do you feel dating is a result of over-exposure to Hollywood flicks?

Not at all. But unfortunately it is believed to be by many, especially in Pakistani society. I believe we are social and sexual beings, and interaction between the sexes is extremely important for our growth as individuals, as a society and for a mobilized youth.

But don’t trends like dating and pre-marital sex run counter to our culture?

Perhaps it does. That is why most of the middle-class households, apart from conservatives of course, remain against it. They believe it is an amreekan concept and that the young are being morally corrupted by such liberation.

So watching Friends and Desperate Housewives is not good for us after all?

Mayank, I'm not sure if that really matters. I've spent time with both the ultra-old-fashioned and the ultra-modern young boys and girls, and I fear I spotted no "traditional values" in either of them.

But then I have also met youngsters who are quite traditional, aware of their roots, culture, beliefs and yet have no qualms in interacting with the opposite sex in a mature and healthy manner. Some of them are fully aware of the western lifestyle but still do not seem to be influenced by the cable culture.

Wonder what you mean by "mature and healthy manner". Now Tehman, don't make a face please. I was only joking. Thanks for chatting to Pakistan Paindabad.

Be good and get a life, Mayank!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dating Scene in Pakistan – The Correct Way

By Usman. His blog is bent upon debunking the myths foreigners carelessly associate with Pakistan.

[Picture by Juan Blazquez]

If you wish to go further, get married.

A simple thing such as dating acquires complexity in Pakistan. Take your pick – pious Muslims, conservatives, middle class society, and people of the rural regions. They all look down upon the free mingling of opposite sexes. Unfortunately, together they constitute the majority.

Now, unfold Pakistan's map and fix your eyes towards the western part of the country. You will find the states of North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. With their tribes and coded customs, these provinces are decidedly more conservative. But look east and Lahore is easy. Go south and Karachi is liberated.

Even then, no matter how liberal Clifton residents of Karachi are, there is always a difference between a dating man and a dating woman. A man could be a good friend of a "liberal" woman but most likely he would not consider her to be "wife-worthy". You see even "liberalism" has its limits.

Yet, dating, or even premarital sex, is quite common among the urban poor in katchi abaadis. The rich of the so-called "high society" are also quite relaxed in their life style choices. Middle class, alas, is stuck in the middle.

But the boundaries between middle and upper classes get blurred in certain spaces, like in colleges and universities. The dating and the courtship there might still be "innocent" and "pure" but not rare. For instance, in medical schools, boys and girls often pair off into "couples" as soon as they grow few months old in the campus. Some of these couplings last long. In few cases, following years of studying together, and ending up being doctors, the boy's family finally shows up at the girl's home for "chai". This leads to engagement ceremony and marriage – hopefully they all live happily ever after.

This arrangement is neat, cute and socially acceptable but I doubt if Islam permits mixing of men and women for the purpose of romance. Helpfully, our religion, contrary to the general impression, is open to interpretations. My own is that though you could talk to a woman, you must always be respectful, courteous and alert to her dignity. If you wish to go further, take your parents to meet the girl's. Get married. That is the correct way.

But correct way or not, many have problems with the growing liberalism. This version of "enlightened moderation" is gradually becoming more visible, at least in urban areas like my city Karachi. But it would not do to credit (or blame; your choice!) the phenomenon to West alone. We must not ignore the power and influence of Bollywood. Hindi films from next-door India are very popular here. These song-and-dance spectacles of love, dating, and longing leaves a deep impression on youngsters. (After all, it is tempting to watch the hero circling the trees with his girl!)

On second thoughts, can we really give that much importance to outside forces? Isn't attraction between the opposite sexes simply the very essence of human nature? Isn’t it normal?

In the end: Though the percentage of women "modernizing" in Pakistan, as far as within the limited orbit of dating is concerned, is increasing, the society remains conservative for some 50 million frustrated male teenagers.

This is bad news. Of course, that’s my interpretation.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dating Scene in Pakistan – "I Prefer the Oriental Ishq"


[Picture by Usman Ahmed]

Where do young people meet in Lahore? And how things eased following Musharraf’s takeover?

Raza Rumi is a native of Lahore. He maintains the blog Jahane Rumi and writes on literature, history and society for The Friday Times – Pakistan’s popular weekly magazine. The interview was conducted in a series of e-mail exchanges.

Mr. Rumi, welcome to Pakistan Paindabad. You grew up in Lahore during the 90s. Have you ever dated?

Well, my dear, not in the Western sense. In our generation, and the preceding ones, it was a hushed up affair. We did not have that culture of inviting girls to dinner or dance (perhaps not even now). People would meet discreetly, away from the populated places, and find little corners in the parks and monuments. It still happens that way.

As for me, I was more of the Urdu-Persian variety of Ashiq mizaj, and not a part of this dating paradigm. Call it passé, but I prefer the oriental Ishq - where you can yearn for someone and internalize their presence in you, rather than the commercial product known as dating.

Coming back to your question, Lahore is a conservative society. But times are changing and the recent (last 5-10 years) urbanization and "modernization" of the city has changed the so-called dating patterns as well.

How has it changed? Please explain.

The last decade has witnessed a surge of globalization. The penetration of electronic media and the internet has accompanied urbanization and awareness. Consequently, the old value structures are crumbling and the younger generation wants to be part of the global cultural patterns that are sold as pre-requisite to 'freedom', individualism and rise of the self.

Also, consider this: the break up of joint family system in urban areas implies that nuclear families have increased in number. Kids are no longer constrained by restraints urged by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. There is an increase in 'personal' space. I am not saying if it is for good or bad but these are the signs of our age.

Mr. Rumi, is there a healthy interaction between the opposite sexes in colleges?

It used to be very tense and difficult. It is improving now. There are generally separate educational facilities, though the higher education is mixed. Interaction is easier among cousins and other relatives. This is why weddings are a grand setting for hearts to flutter and romances to bloom.

How approachable are girls?

I am not sure what you mean, Mayank. In general they are approachable, but I fear not-so approachable for 'dating' purposes. However, internet is simplifying the matters.

Do you have any idea about the most common dating places in Lahore?

I have noticed that for the upper middle classes, the major restaurants in Lahore, particularly those situated on M.M. Alam Road are perfect venues. Now with the rise of consumer culture, there are more restaurants in every locality. Besides, there are parks, monuments, even houses for the lucky ones!

The internet of course has provided an alternative space for young boys and girls to interact and even get together. Online relationships are perhaps most common.

You mean it is not that tough for lovers to spend some quiet hours together?

If you have noticed, you’ll realize that our Urdu poetries, film songs and even classical music have allusions to the difficulty in meeting of lovers and how they are always hindered by the zaalim samaaj. In fact the most exciting part of dating in Pakistan is this "struggle", secrecy, mystery that surrounds the whole exercise. The concept of "invisible love" therefore becomes more exciting and entertaining for the individuals concerned.

Do parents know when their children go for dates?

Most often, parents remain in dark. It actually depends on the socio-economic strata: there is a tiny slice of liberal/Westernized class where dating is normal and acceptable. However for the middle class, dating remains a clandestine activity. Thankfully, the lower classes are free of such notions.

We also need to draw a distinction here. Parents are far more relaxed if it is sons who are dating and not daughters. They can be tolerant of the boys. Due to social reasons and fear for "reputation", girls are expected to remain Nek Parveens and shareef virgins. They have to be “nice enough” to be chosen by a good suitor and his larger-than-life mother.

Of course, this is changing with the entry of more and more women in the workplace. The new generation is more forceful in asserting its right to choose life partners etc.

Is it difficult to display affection in public?

It is but was much worse in the past. Things have somewhat opened up since General Musharraf's takeover in 1999. For instance, in places like Lawrence Gardens and Race Course Park you are likely to find couples sitting quite intimately, sometimes even lying down on the grass. These are spaces where the public display of affection is more visible.

Mr. Rumi, do you feel dating is a western concept?

Yes, I have problems with this whole expression "dating" and what it implies. The concept has a western genesis that is promoted and sustained by the popular media. It is now getting more and more embedded due to globalization. When I was young, Valentine's Day was hardly known. Now not only the Valentine's Day but the Mother's Day, Father's Day and other blahs blahs are sold on the consumer shelves for quick emotional gratification.

But does Islam permit concepts like dating?

Depends on which "Islam" are we talking about. The orthodox view, preached in Pakistan, thanks to the clergy, is that na-mahram (unrelated) men cannot be with women. But this is only one of the several interpretations in Islam. According to more enlightened interpretations, platonic interaction (don't know about dating per se) and meeting is not un-Islamic. After all, men and women have to meet in colleges, at the workplace and on social occasions.

Take the case of Iran - there is high level of women's participation in public life. Also look at Indonesia, Malaysia and Egypt. These are strict Islamic societies but women are not constrained. In my personal view, dating - if it means an interaction where modesty and limits are observed - is not against Islam. Contrary to the media generated reality, Islam is actually a tolerant faith preaching moderation, a middle path and certain limits for the collective good.

Could such trends adversely affect the traditional values of our society?

I am not sure. Interaction between men and women (or same sex encounters) have taken place since time immemorial. I suppose more important things for the youth are awareness on HIV, AIDS, STDs etc.

Traditional values are being challenged. There is a struggle between Islamists and what one would call the moderates (I am not comfortable with this term but can't think of another one) taking place in Pakistan. You have a free media here with pop music and radio talk shows blaring out flirtatious conversations and sighs. On the other hand, you also have the Islamic parties in the parliament and the provinces. These are interesting times for Pakistan and I am an optimistic. The good from the tradition will survive and all the crap will end up in the dustbin of history.

Mr. Rumi, thanks for talking to Pakistan Paindabad.

You are welcome, Mayank. It is great to come across thinking individuals such as you who have the ability to rise above the mainstream prejudice and officially constructed histories and realities. Keep it up.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Making Love in Pakistan: An Introduction

On this Valentine's Week, a special series on the mixed-sex dynamics of the country.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Sajjad Ali Qureshi]

Some thinking people scoff at the absurdity of St. Valentine's Day, but they do not need to. There is no Red Heart Revolution under way in Islamabad. Roses are not likely to be exchanged in Waziristan hamlets. Occasional lovers will continue to confront harrowing times in rural Sindh. Brothers will not fail to keep a strict eye on their college going sisters in the town of Multan.

Besides, there are sad rumors of Benazir Bhutto's 20-years-old marriage with Asif Zardari being on the verge of collapse.

No February mood this, yet spring is not far. Perhaps, even as you are reading this line, someone, somewhere is making plans in Rawalpindi. A card is waiting to be sold. A flower is waiting to be plucked.

Pakistan is said to be a conservative country, but has that ever restrained the passions of growing kids? Pimpled people, be they in Kansas or Karachi, are driven by the same substance - hormones. No matter what their religion or nationality, they all close eyes when Roberta Flack swoons "Killing Me Softly With His Song". They all feel Julia Roberts's disappointment each time they watch her watching her best friend's wedding. Love and sex remains a combustible mix for all times and all societies.

On this Valentine's Day, Pakistan Paindabad presents a special series to probe into the mixed-sex dynamics of the country. Do youngsters date in Pakistan? Where are the meeting places in cities like Lahore and Karachi? What role does Islam play in shaping their romantic lives? How the conflict between the Old and the New is handled?

In trying to get a glimpse into the modern life of this nation, many young Pakistanis, both men and women, have come forward to offer their versions. Starting from February 14th, their stories will run through the entire week. While these guest writers do not represent the entire country, their views are important. They, too, are a part of what makes up Pakistan.

Pakistan Paindabad – Long live Pakistan.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

How To Survive The Taunts And Jibes Of Pakistani Columnists

Reading Pakistani newspaper columns in the times of Pervez Musharraf.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi; Picture Courtesy: The Dawn]

Pakistani newspaper commentators routinely complain, bemoan, and wail about the wretched state of affairs. So depressing are their opinions and forecasts that it is a surprise to come across no reports of readers dying of sudden heart attacks in the midst of browsing the morning headlines.

Perhaps these hard-hitting columns are more bearable when read as satire. It is likely this was also envisaged by the respected columnists – their (accidental) wit serving as tools for the people to cope with the stress of living in such unbalanced times.

After all, having a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at oneself is a key to balanced living. So do not feel guilty if you burst out chuckling while reading this minor compilation of some classic feel-bad lines, often taken out of context from otherwise thoughtful columns.

Moreover, take comfort from the fact that our Pakistan is a strong nation and will outlive its dictators as well as its doomsayers. Pakistan Paindabad – Long live Pakistan.

Face It
Is it not a fact that we Pakistanis are misogynists and wife-beaters of the first degree?
Kamran Shafi in Daily Times

Fun 'N' Frolic in Allah's Own land
There are times when the antics of our rulers assume surreal proportions. Consider this recent headline as an example: “Prime Minister directs tourism ministry to attract one million foreign tourists to Pakistan this year.”
Irfan Husain in The Dawn

Basic Instincts
In southern Punjab, much of North West Frontier Province, Sindh, and Balochistan sodomy and bestiality are common among rural youths.
Ishtiaq Ahmed in Daily Times

Self-Introspection
Are we a nation of sinners? Of course we are.
Ayaz Amir in The Dawn

Big City Blues
The fire-fighting ability of Karachi’s fire brigade is zero.
Ardeshir Cowasjee in The Dawn

How To Get Bald
Every time I read or hear that Osama Bin Laden is in a super-secret safe-house — a friend tells me there are 28 of them in Islamabad alone — I pull out a few more of my hair.
Khalid Hasan in Daily Times

How To Stop Worrying
I am writing this on (the festival of) Muharram 10 and praying that it will be a peaceful day.
Najmuddin A. Shaikh in The Dawn

Animal Farm
1965. 1999. Thirty-four years. No change of thinking. We are consistent and dogged. That’s a quality generally found among the asinine population.
Ejaz Haider in Daily Times

Second Thoughts
We shouldn’t belittle ourselves...
Ayaz Amir in The Dawn