Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Letter to the Readers - On Gay Life in Pakistan

In response to accusations of maligning Pakistan's reputation.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

This blogsite has received e-mails from many readers as a response to my article Open Secrets – Gay Life in Pakistan.

I have been accused for my “sickening methods” to “further my agenda of maligning Pakistan”. I stand banned from Pakistani Photographers Group in flickr.com. I have been called an “idiot” and a “male prostitute”. One lady wrote a colorful mail casting imaginative theories on my sexual habits. Two penetrating readers have blamed my encounters with gays on my “look”. Some e-mails were too indelicately worded to be quoted on the pages of this site. Such responses are to be ignored. But certain honest complaints need to be acknowledged and answered.

Quite a few have pointed out that such homosexual norm in the society is not merely a phenomenon in Pakistan. They have also noted that the said piece carries an impression that homosexuality is rampant in the country. One gentleman asked “how were these experiences and other issues of Pak sociology different from India and Bangladesh?”

Indeed my article was an account of a very brief visit to the country. It would be unwise to draw broad generalization from an extremely personalized piece. As for not talking about other countries, this is a website on Pakistan, not Burkina Faso.

Lastly, I urge readers to appreciate that Pakistan Paindabad doesn’t believe that homosexualism is evil and gays are monsters. Writing on them was not intended to defame the country.

Thank you and Pakistan Paindabad.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Open Secrets - Gay Life in Pakistan

It's risky but easy to be a homosexual in this country.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; author's picture by Faisal Khan]

During my first trip to Pakistan in 2006, I found the country teeming with homosexuals. In the 20-hours long bus journey from Lahore to Karachi, a bearded missionary of Tablighi Jamat, an Islamic movement that advocates extreme austerity, advised me to convert to his religion. I politely nodded at his persuasions but was forced to vigorously shake my head when his hand started caressing my thighs. The massage was relaxing but the vibes were clearly sexual.

Later while strolling in the early-evening heat of Karachi's Clifton Beach, a charming kulfi seller got fixated on me. He promised to show me the "real" Karachi. I would have been a game if not his tendency to hold my arms a little longer than usual. Even that would have been fine, but the pressing and rubbing was just too disconcerting.

These were just few of the queer moments of my Pakistan excursion. While returning back to Lahore in Allama Iqbal Express train, a Bahawalpur trader suddenly confessed in the midst of our Musharraf conversations that he liked sleeping with boys! The ultimate was when an old Karachi Pathan, with kohl-lined eyes, escorted me to a seedy shop at Saddar Market and offered the pirated DVD of Brokeback Mountain at bargain rates. (I bought it!)

Such experiences appear unreal. After all the website of the International Lesbian and Gay Association quotes the Pakistan embassy in Hague making it clear that "the homosexual is not accepted as a decent individual, and homosexual acts constitute an offense punishable with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years."

Indeed it is difficult to conceive Pakistan as a place where individuals could be free to celebrate sex, and different sexual orientations. But that is what everyone seems to do. In his 2004 essay, appropriately titled The East is Blue, Sir Salman Rushdie claimed that more than 60 percent of Internet users in Pakistan visit porn sites. Unfortunately we do not have figures of Pakistanis who access gay porn sites.

Few years back a news story in the Boston Globe concluded that across all classes and social groups in Pakistan, men have sex with men. "In villages throughout the country, young boys are often forcibly "taken" by older men, starting a cycle of abuse and revenge that social activists and observers say is the common pattern of homosexual sex in Pakistan," the newspaper reported.

In fact, in the conservative regions of North Western Frontier Province it is socially acceptable for Pashtun men to take up young boys for sexual pleasure. But don't rush to fancy the country as some liberal San Francisco outpost where life is all about celebrating individual choices. Many homosexual relationships here are not a result of two gay people wanting to make love but consequences of aggression and abuse by the strong on the weak. It is less love and more rape.

In her acclaimed book The Dancing Girls of Lahore, British author Louise Brown who established intimate friendship with a Pakistani prostitute and her family made the following observation:

Homosexuality is derided in public, but it is accepted, provided it remains a secret. The men involved in homosexual acts don’t perceive themselves to be homosexual, and the men’s families won’t perceive them to be homosexual either...Having sex with other men or boys is not associated with stigma providing a man takes a dominant role in sexual encounters. It may even reinforce a man’s masculinity and status because he is sexually dominating others. It is the receptive partner who is despised and ridiculed.

Obviously chivalry codes exist among gays too. But even then if a homosexual lifestyle is risky option for men, it is unthinkable for women. In June 2007, the Lahore High Court sentenced two ladies in love to three years imprisonment.

Yet there are reasons to hope. Following the capture of Islamabad's bra-and-underpants clad Chinese masseuses by the dreaded burka-clad students of the all-girls conservative Islamic school Jamia Hafsa in June this year, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who leads the man's school, drafted a new ruling. He declared, "If you want massage treatment, men should go to men, and women should go to women." Gay Pakistanis should gleefully catch the hint.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Satire - President Musharraf’s Little Khaki Book

Exclusive excerpts from Pervez Musharraf's new book.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture courtesy - World Economic Forum]

The theoretical basis guiding our thinking is Mullahism-Militarism.
Opening address at the first televised address to the nation after the coup. (October, 1999).

Coups and commerce are the life of the Army; leading generals at all levels must give them full attention and must never on any account be negligent.
"Pakistan Army Inc." , Selected Works, Vol. IV, p. 220.

Democracy is not an Iftar party, or addressing a rally, or casting a vote, it cannot be so leisurely and gentle, so restrained and magnanimous. A democracy is a strategy, an act by which one man exiles another.
"Report on an Investigation of the Democratic Movement in the Army House", Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 28.

We should support whatever Indians oppose and oppose whatever they supports.
"Interview with Three Correspondents from the Dawn; Irfan Husain, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Ayaz Amir", Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 272.

Pakistan’s army is not merely an organ for fighting; it is also an organ for the political advancement, as well as of the production of cornflakes and cement.
In a speech at Karachi Stock Exchange, 16 May, 2007.

The final settlement by dismissals and disappearances is the central task and the highest form of duty. This holds good universally, for judges and for journalists.
Conversations with former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Edited by Kamran Shafi, p. 109.

As for America, we should unite with its neocons and strive to do dealings with them but under no circumstances should we disassociate with its enemies.
On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, 1st pocket ed., p. 75.

Enlightened Modernism must be developed in Pakistan, and the route toward such an end is military rule. It is also important to unite with the homosexual mullahs, and explain them on the uselessness of women.
In a Letter to Asma Jehangir

The generals have boundless entrepreneurial power. They can organize themselves and can give full play to their business; they can concentrate on production in breadth and depth and create more and more undertakings for their own well-being.
'Action Plans for Creating New Business Opportunities’ at the Annual Meeting 2004 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 22, 2004.

As far as my own desire is concerned, we don't want to fight the Talibs even for a single day.
"Interview with the American Journalist Bob Woodward", Washington Post, 12 Jnauary, 2006.

Every enlightened Pakistani must grasp the truth, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a Kalashnikov."
"Problems of War and Strategy”, Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 224.

[The super-secret book whose title is yet to be confirmed by Random House would be launched during Pervez Musharraf’s next state visit to the US.]

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bapsi Sidhwa: "I wrote naturally about sexuality..."

Born in Karachi, raised in Lahore, now living in Houston, Texas, Bapsi Sidhwa is the grandmother of Pakistani writing in English. Her novel Cracking India, a New York Times Notable Book, was made into a film. Her latest book is the anthology City of Sin and Splendour : Writings on Lahore.

[Interview conducted by Gaurav Sood, with few questions also by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture provided by Bapsi Sidhwa]

Gaurav Sood: This is a quirky way to start the interview but I have always wanted to know what your name Bapsi means? Who gave you the name?

My grandmother doted on the British, and she thought she gave me an English name. Ironically an English woman asked me: ‘You’re quite dignified; how come you have a name like Bapsy or Popsy?’ They said it was definitely not an English name. I would have preferred to have a poetic Persian name, but I’m reconciled to it now – It’s short and easy to remember in the US.

Gaurav Sood: I gather there is a lot of biographical detail in Cracking India’s Lenny but it is hard to disinter facts from the bowels of fiction. Can you tell me a little more about your parents? What school did you go to? Was it a catholic school? What do you remember most about your time in pre-partition Lahore?

Even I often don’t know where fact ends and fiction begins. My father was orphaned as a child and his mother ran their wine business in Lahore. He acquired wealth after the war and Partition: He had the Parsi business gene. My mother was the youngest of 10 siblings. Her father Ardeshir Mama, became Mayor of Karachi, built the Mama school for girls and donated generously to hospitals etc. before going bankrupt. Because of childhood polio the doctor suggested I should not be burdened with school. I had light tuition – thankfully no math. The roar of mobs and the fires were a constant of my childhood pre-partition. A mob came into our house to loot, but departed when told that we were Parsi by our cook. I’ve used this scrambled memory for the ayah kidnapping scene. I’ve fictionalized biographical elements in the earlier part of Cracking India – Lenny is not me – perhaps my alter ego.

Gaurav Sood: The following is a broad question and I am unsure if it is correctly phrased. However, I do think it is an important one. A novelist is expected to be both an insider and an outsider. Can you tell me a little more about how each of the following things that relegated you to the role of an outsider in different ways affected your writing – contracting polio at a young age, being a Parsi in Lahore, your short stint in India in your youth and your contact with the larger Parsi community in Mumbai, and your immigration to US. Looking back, it is virtually impossible to disentangle how each major event affects us singly so please feel free to amalgamate perspectives and weave in anecdotes that capture the effect where necessary.

That question deserves a detailed answer. I write instinctively and I don’t quite know how to answer the first part of you question. Having polio as a child, and being a Parsi in Lahore or anywhere except in Bombay, marginalizes one. This creates a distance, and also a pressure – I was a lonely child and motivated to give voice to the silences in my life, I guess. Being with the larger Parsi community in Mumbai, was a wonderful experience for me – it gave me a sense of belonging. I had never experienced – I found I shared the same weird sense of humor, tastes, and enormously enjoyed being with my cousins. I loved and still love Bombay.

Lahore and City of Sin and Splendour

Gaurav Sood: Do you think the title of your book, City of Sin and Splendour, capture the essence of the city or the book? Yes, there is Heera Mandi and there is Badshahi mosque but I felt the real heart of the book and of the city was in its people and perhaps its ‘undying’ love for food.

It is called Beloved City in Pakistan, but I think the Indian title is more chutpatta.

Gaurav Sood: How often do you go back to Lahore? How has Lahore changed from the days of your youth?

I still have my house in Lahore, and I go back about once every two years. I spent the nineties in Lahore to look after my sick mother. On each visit I find Lahore improved.

Gaurav Sood: How much of the book – to the extent that you chose the stories and the writers- an expatriate’s silver tinted reflection on the city of her youth?

Lahore is not just the city of my youth – till the late nineties I was more in Lahore than in the US. I chose the stories and articles for the Lahore book for the quality of the writing, my respect for the authors, many of whom I know, and because the pieces engaged me as a reader. I tried to present a broad spectrum to show the many facets of Lahore. I also commissioned quite a few pieces. One Indian reviewer asked why I hadn’t mentioned street-children. Lahore has virtually none. The Lahoris take care of their own: children are adopted by madrassas or orphanages. Visitors are surprised at how well-fed Lahoris look. There are hundreds of langars in charitable institutes, Mosques, shrines, etc and no one needs go hungry.

Mayank Austen Soofi: You dedicated your Lahore anthology to your daughter Parizad whom you complimented as the quintessential Lahori. What traits should a person have to merit such a title?

To me she is a typical Lahore girl of a certain class. She spent nights with her friends doing tapsaras of Urdu poetry and most of her friends are still from or in Lahore. The way she dresses, relates to her friends, the subjects they talk about, her hauteur and reserve with strangers, her mannerisms, gestures, values and thought process still reflect the culture of that city – she moved to the US in the late nineties and still functions at the rhythm and laid back pace of that city. Please keep in mind, this is a spontaneous, perfunctory answer. Any more and I’d be intruding on her privacy.

Other Books and such

Mayank Austen Soofi: Usually, films are based on books. But your new book Water was based on Deepa Mehta’s film. This was also your first book which was a world away from your setting – no Pakistan, and no Parsis. What prompted you to write it? Can you also elaborate of the relationship that you share with Deepa Mehta?

Deepa Mehta called to say that she wanted me to novelize her film Water and sent me a rough edit of the film. I started with much trepidation – particularly since she wanted me to write the novel in three months to time it with the release of the film. I said I would give it a try, because I loved the film, and Deepa can be very persuasive. Once I started writing I didn’t find it as difficult as I had imagined. The child widow Chuyia has much in common with the child Lenny in my novel Cracking India, and once I created an earlier life for the child in her village, before the film starts, I had a grip on the novel. I enjoyed the challenge, although I have never worked so hard – I would wake up dreaming of sentences and get to the computer to write them down. I wrote late into the night.

I have known Deepa Mehta since she called me to say she wanted to make my novel Cracking India into the film Earth. She wrote the script for the film but I worked closely with her on it, keeping in mind that it was her cinematic vision of the book that mattered. I was at the film-shoot in Delhi for a good part of the time. I think Deepa and I respect each other and appreciate and trust each other’s work.

Gaurav Sood: You put in a fair amount of autobiographical detail in your novels. Can you briefly comment on it?

I write instinctively, one paragraph giving rise to the other, and have a general idea of where I want to go. Everything, everyone I know and every experience I have or hear of, are grist to my mill – like Flaubert, who famously said: ‘I’m Emma Bovary’. I am almost every character in my books.

Pakistan and being Pakistani

Mayank Austen Soofi: Your novels Cracking India and The Crow Eaters captured the flavor of Pakistan at its dawn. In The Pakistani Bride, you dealt with the tribal lores of the Frontier. If you were to decide to write a book on present-day Pakistan, which theme would you like to deal with?

I have just finished writing a collection of short stories – I think that will contain the answer to your question. The stories deal with what you mention above and also my new location in America.

Mayank Austen Soofi: Being a woman in Pakistan, did you think it was a risk to put in sexual humor in your novels? Did it upset the readers? In fact, you self-published your first novel The Crow Eaters, which had quite a lot of uninhibited sexual comedy, in 1978 – the very year General Zia-ul-Haq announced setting up of the Shariah benches. Did anyone harass you?

I wrote naturally about sexuality because I hadn’t realized I needed to censor what I wrote. Although I am very liberated, my writing is more inhibited now. There were no complaints about this in Pakistan, in fact my candor was appreciated. When I launched the self-published “The Crow Eaters”, in Lahore, there was a bomb scare at the hotel and the function was hastily closed. I realized later that the Parsi community was very offended and responsible for the bomb scare. No one had written about the Parsis before, except books praising the community, and the Parsis could not stand to see characters fictionalized, warts and all. The general Pakistani community loved it. It was not until the book was published in Britain to critical acclaim that the Parsis gradually accepted it.

The only squeamishness about Cracking India has been in the United States. A mom and her pastor tried to ban it from being taught in a Baccalaureate program in a Florida high school. A committee of 30 people decided it was suitable to teach.

Mayank Austen Soofi: Who are the writers to watch out for in Pakistani literature?

Mohsin Hamid and Kamila Shamsie are the most prominent. Tahira Naqvi and a few others who write short stories in America. Aamer Hussain has published three collections in the UK, India, and Pakistan: he is a sensitive and poetic writer. Among the new crop of writers published in Pakistan, I really like Bina Shah’s writing. All of the above have stories or articles in the Lahore anthology.

Mayank Austen Soofi: Living in USA, do you ever face any discrimination because of your Pakistani passport?

I have a US passport now, and it is a breeze to sail through various countries with it. Pakistan is out of favor in American and Europe and this does affect me as a Pakistani writer. Although I must admit “Cracking India” had a spectacular reception when it was first published and is taught in almost every university.

A ‘novel’ medium

Gaurav Sood: Naipaul has talked about the end of novel as a literary form. Is novel a sufficient medium to bring forth the complexities of modern life?

The novel is thriving – there is no other medium which can bring out the emotional nuances and complexities of modern life as well as the novel can in the hands of a good writer.

Gaurav Sood: Milan Kundera recently wrote novel is the only form in which you can convey the pointless. More broadly, it can convey the pointlessness of violence, the myriad irrational tugs and pulls that define humanity. History is an exercise in sense making when none exists. Do you agree with Kundera’s statement?

There is validity in what he says when it comes to violence, although the sequence of cause and affect, even in the most irrational seeming incidents, are always present. Novelists like myself use the novel to express their deepest emotions and views – one usually writes the truth as one sees it. Of course no one owns the truth and there are many valid points of view. Many historians have arrived at the truth. But often their narration is imbued with their own prejudice, and can slant history to suit their or their own or their country’s agenda. History in the hands of fiction writers like Tolstoy is often more authentic and vivid than history books.

Gaurav Sood: Azhar Nafisi in her largely bankrupt novel, Reading Lolita in Tehran, makes a fascinating point about the democratic structure of a novel - where each character has a voice. Obviously, Nafisi miserably fails at the task herself and all we hear is her elitist trauma. Nonetheless, I think it is an important point and one if followed can help readers really empathize with a variety of characters. Virginia Woolf to me remains an epitome in that regard. More broadly, I think the point goes to the heart of the role of an author and of a novel. Is the role of the novel to build empathy? Relatedly, what do you see is the role of a novel and a novelist?

The role of a novelist, and by extension the novel, is to reveal the culture and complexities of a society in a manner that is engaging and entertaining. The emotions we hold in common have to be strongly portrayed: without empathy for the characters the novel looses its value as a narrative.

Lastly

Gaurav Sood: I am often stuck by how few of the stories of my parent’s and my grandparent’s generations have been chronicled. We are soon going to lose a lot of those stories forever as the oral traditions die, and the storytellers grow old. What do you think should be do to keep some of these traditions alive?

The Partition was poorly represented because the memories were too painful, and people were too busy setting up new lives. But story tellers will tell their tales, and very little will be lost. Writers in Indian and Pakistani languages are chronicling the old tradition. As long as there are writers and storytellers most of what is important will be retained. Writers are the new myth makers.

Gaurav Sood: I am stuck by the ‘unconscious feminism’ (Sara Suleri-Goodyear) of South Asian female writers like Ismat Chughtai. South Asian female writers take on feminism bubbles with urgency, excitement, humor, and candid pugnaciousness that rejects the system but does so in a rooted and informed way. Can you expand a little more on the South Asian female writers and their contribution to highlighting the gender inequalities?

I cannot talk for all South Asian women writers, but I imagine that as women, consciously or unconsciously, we bring out the problems and discrimination women face and project our aspirations. I myself don’t like to preach about feminism but the way the stories unfold illustrate their position in the family and in society.

Gaurav Sood: While South Asian writers have grown in prominence in recent years, their books reflect more and more reflect inert globalized ideas rather than alertness to South Asia. Is there a future for the distinctive South Asian fiction or are we seeing the end of it with increased globalization?

The vernacular languages embed South Asia in their narratives. South Asia will continue to be written about and by authors who write in English as well. Indian writers in the Diaspora reflect their new experiences if that is what you mean by globalization. As writers move their writing reflects their new locations, experiences, thoughts and aspirations.

The interview was conducted via email. Some of the answers and questions have been edited for style.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Exclusive - Five things I love about Pakistan

Picture courtesy: DawnOne of Pakistan’s most respected opinion-makers on the country’s better side.

[This is the eleventh article in the Proud, Powerful and Pak series.]

[By Irfan 'Mazdak' Husain; the author has been widely published in almost every major newspaper in Pakistan. He writes weekly columns for the Dawn, the Daily Times, and the Khaleej Times.]

As Pakistan hits the headlines around the world, the news all seems bad. From the disaster in the World Cup, to poor Bob Woolmer’s death, to the recent bloodbath in Karachi, it seems that Pakistan is the source of much of the nastiness in a nasty world. But we Pakistanis have become so used to the succession of bad news that we have come to take each fresh crisis in our stride. In fact, it is this resilience in the face of so much adversity (mostly self-created), that is one of the things I am most proud of. In fact, Pakistanis are often puzzled at the reaction to random violence and terrorism in most of the world. Since we face this all the time, we cannot see why others make such a big deal of it.

The flip side of this is that we must be the most critical people in the world. We love to carp about everything the government does. At every party you go to, the talk is about the latest scam. Newspapers are full of articles by hacks like this one, in which we rail against social ills. Invariably, our rulers are roasted for sins of omission and commission. This attitude might not get any results, but at least we blow off steam. Years ago, I was talking to the editorial team at the Times of India office in New Delhi, and I said that one big difference in the media in the two neighbours was that in Pakistan, we constantly questioned core official policies like the nuclear programme and Kashmir. I did not see similar criticism in the Indian mainstream press. Nobody present at the discussion questioned my observation. So the second thing I value about my country is this sceptical approach to those in power.

Thirdly, I must celebrate the quality of our mangos. I remember as a child in the Fifties, the selection was limited and the quality mediocre. But over the years, farmers have worked steadily to improve their crops, and now, a wide range of mangos from Alfonso to Sindhri to Langra are available during the summer. This is a success story we have simply taken for granted. In fact, the same is true for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Take strawberries, for instance. Until relatively recently, these berries were almost impossible to come by, except briefly in April and May, and even then, they were small and sour. Now, farmers around Islamabad and Lahore grow large and luscious strawberries, and they are easily and cheaply available in Karachi.

Another thing I admire about my countrymen is their puzzling adherence to democracy. Despite Pakistan’s numerous bouts of military rule, the average person has hankered after democratic institutions. Thus, dictators have been forced to pay lip service to constitutional rule, and have been forced to search for legitimacy. This quest has been strewn with traps as an amazingly lively media has made life difficult for the generals. Currently, Musharraf, for all his pomp and power, is being embarrassed by a movement spearheaded by lawyers. With elections due later this year, it is anybody’s guess how long Musharraf will stay on as president and army chief.

And finally, I must pay homage to all the millions of meat-eaters of Pakistan. Our vegetarian cuisine may be lousy, but the varied preparations of meat are unparalleled. And without wishing to score points, I must say that the desi meat dishes in Lahore are superior to anything I have tasted in Delhi. A good Lahori nihari, cooked over a low flame through the night, and served with maghaz (brain), and nali (marrow) is hard to beat, especially when eaten with fresh nan from the tandoor. Karahi gosht and gurda kapooras (kidneys and testicles) cooked in dhabas along Lahore’s legendary Abbot Road make the risk of a heart attack worthwhile.

So despite all the troubles Pakistan is beset with, I don’t think I would trade places with anybody.

[Pakistanis from all walks of life are invited to share what they believe are the five best things about their country. You too must be a part of this. Send your favourites to mayankaustensoofi@gmail.com.]

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Editorial – Mr. Musharraf Gags Media, Ruins His Own Legacy

Can Pakistanis be pushed back to the bad old dictatorial days?

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; Picture sourced from the internet.]

Taking note of the protests, Pakistan government, on June 7, suspended implementation of the media ordinance against the electronic media till a committee reviews its content.

Those with fond memories of General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan's last true dictator, can sit back and wink. The two-skinned President-General Pervez Musharraf has crawled out of the pretensions of being a despot-democrat.

No longer would Karachi socialites have to undergo embarrassments of discussing the intricacies of "genuine democracy." Lahori 'intellectuals' too could dump the concepts of "enlightened moderation" to their rightful place – waste bins. Hapless viewers are rid of maddening talk shows of the uppity TV news channels. The pre-fall innocence is lost and chastened Pakistanis must prepare for a winter of genuine dictatorship.

On 4th June, a deeply unpopular Mr. Musharraf killed a genuine reform his regime had helped blossom. New restrictions have been imposed on electronic media. Amendments were introduced to the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance, 2002. PEMRA can now suspend the licences of TV channels if they operate illegally or violate PEMRA rules. Under a new section, the PEMRA authorities have been authorised to make new regulations without informing parliament. The new laws also deprive the media of the right to be heard at a Council of Complaints before being punished for violations.

The ordinance raises possible fines for violations from Rs 1 million to Rs 10 million. It also brings Internet Protocol TV, radio and mobile TV under PEMRA regulations. The new ordinance has come into force at once. In a promising start, the government suspended the transmission of two private television channels - Geo TV and Aaj TV in major parts of the country.

No one must be surprised. The media had it coming. Taking Mr. Musharraf's macho graciousness for granted, it sought to cross the limits by uninhibitedly broadcasting unprecedented public protests following the General's dismissal of an independent-minded Chief Justice early this year. His government, or let's say just him for the government hardly matters in the Musharrafian scheme of things, had started frowning over the increasing tendency of the press to criticise him, his policies, and worse, the army – Pakistan's holiest cow.

Noisy talk shows asked Musharraf to throw away his army uniform. He protested that the dress "has become part of my skin". (Soon enough a newspaper column appeared mischievously titled Must we now learn how to skin?) TV channels broadcasted a fiery Superme Court seminar in which the dismissed Justice observed, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

In spite of Mr. Musharraf strongly urging "the media not to politicise a purely judicial and legal matter," the excited journalists refused to take the hint. Worse happened when Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, a military writer, recently published a book titled Military Inc - Inside Pakistan's Military Economy. Taking on the army for its corporate entanglements, the talk-of-the-town book was denied a launch, as scheduled, in an Islamabad club. Stranger things happened. The book was sold out on the first day itself – an honor not enjoyed even by the General's 2006 ghost-written memoirs. Many suspect state funds were acquired to buy the entire first edition so that 'gullible' people remain unaware of the goings-on in the cantonments.

With the stifling of TV channels, print media fears it could be their turn next. They need not worry. Once a tiger has tasted blood, it won't settle for grass. Pakistanis have seen too much to be lambs again. They just need to roar, a little louder than usual, and Mr. Musharraf would scurry away – his tail tucked between his legs.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Because Heart Hai Pakistani

Picture by Nahal SA Pakistani, living in America, muses on her land.

[This is the tenth article in the Proud, Powerful and Pak series.]

[Text and picture by Nahal S; an interior designer and an accomplished photographer, she lives in Chicago. Click here to reach her picture library.]

Pakistan Paindabad asked me to write top 5 reasons to love Pakistan. The first thing that came to my mind was - do I need reasons to love my motherland!

Sufism

One of the most significant facets of Islamic civilization is the mystical tradition called Sufism. The teachings and writings of famous Sufi saints like Ibn 'Arabi and Rumi echoes even to this day in the vibrant culture of Pakistani life.

Culture -Vulture

Pakistan has a rich cultural and traditional background going back to the Indus Valley Civilization. No, beyond that for our culture derives from or was influenced by Greeks, White Huns, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols and various Eurasian cultures. Pakistan has too many things to be proud of - its folk lore, dances and songs. Beautiful hand embroidery from Thar, Bhawalpur and Multan is famous all around the globe. And can we be pardoned for not mentioning the kite festival of Basant which turns Lahore into a giant marigold flower?

Taste

Having inherited the culinary traditions of the Moguls, the Turks, the Central Asians and the Iranians, eating in Pakistan is a rich experience. Cooked as per strict Islamic codes, our cuisine is opulent in taste. We cook dishes like Biryani, Karhai, Pilau etc in weddings and birthdays. Our famous Doodhpatti chai, of course, is the most delicious thing on earth.

History & Literature

What glorious historical past we have! Mohenjodaro and Harappa have been the centers of ancient civilizations (5000 years old). There are great ruins and relics near Quetta. The Shah Jahan Mosque at Thatta, the ancient capital of Sindh, and Bambore dazzles the senses with their ancient mosaic art.

Pakistan also has its share of excellent poets and writers in Urdu, English and other regional languages. Bapsi Sidhwa and Mohsin Hamid are just some of the few international names. Lahore, of course, stands out for its publishing industry.

Beauty

Allah be praised! We are the land of mighty mountains, gurgling rivers, sparkling springs, dense forests, lush green fields, cheerful meadows, rugged high lands and parched low lands.

For nature lovers Pakistan's Northern areas present a mighty feast. The changing terrain and the topography, the snow clad mountains and the gorges, mountains and valleys, hilly terraces, rough and rugged tracks, the winding and narrow routes, the cataracts and the canyons, the riotous rivers, the thirst quenching springs, the brakes and the bushes, the chinar and poplar trees captures imagination and make you click your cameras. Northern areas are also famous for hand woven carpets that gleam in a myriad of colors. Forget not Swat, the land of shy damsels. The scenic beauty there is simply enchanting.

Above all I love Pakistan because its people have smiling hearts and shinning faces.

[Pakistanis from all walks of life are invited to share what they believe are the five best things about their country. You too must be a part of this. Send your favourites to mayankaustensoofi@gmail.com.]