Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Indian blogger's website on Pak creates waves in cyberspace

Pakistan Paindabad is being noticed.

[Report by Rezaul Hasan Laskar; the author is a PTI correspondent in Islamabad]

It took Mayank Austen Soofi just two visits to Pakistan to fall in love with the country and its people.

And now the Indian, who is in his 20s, is keen on portraying the "enemy" in the right light for which he runs a dedicated blog to "point out those aspects of Pakistan which nobody notices".

New Delhi-based Mayank, who runs the "Pakistan Paindabad" blog, said: "My first Pakistan yatra was a great learning process as I finally came face-to-face with people who are identified by most Indians as 'enemies'. The country is great, and the people are kind."

The going, quite obviously, has not been smooth for Mayank, even though he has over the past year managed to build a cadre of Pakistani writers who contribute to his blog. "The reactions to Pakistan Paindabad range from gratitude to disbelief to out and out suspicion. Indians are often puzzled at why am I writing such stuff on Pakistan. Some think I am a Pakistani living in India, others send me e-mails calling me an ISI agent," Mayank said in an email interview.

"If somebody feels I'm a spy I just ignore them. If they e-mail me, I do not bother to reply. If they leave nasty comments on the blog I let them stay in the spirit of democracy," said Mayank, who is "amused" by the accusations.

The blog offers an eclectic mix of articles and photo-essays on topics as diverse as Karachi's beaches, the Banbawali Ravi-Bedian canal of Lahore, Pakistan's minority Hindu community and Heera Mandi, Lahore's red light district.

The blog has also stirred up heated debates in cyberspace, especially with its posts on controversial issues like dating in Pakistan.

Asked about the origin of the name Pakistan Paindabad, Mayank said, "I have often heard Pakistanis shouting the slogan 'Pakistan Paindabad' during cricket matches. I think it's quite a catchy line. Like Hindustan Zindabad!

"Paindabad is a Persian word and it loosely means 'to stay'. As you see, despite its critics, despite all the doomsayers, Pakistan has endured. And it will endure. The country may have problems, like many other nations including India, but it will survive. It has its basics in place. "

Mayank was born with a different last name but his passion for Jane Austen and his yearning to be a "Sufi-hearted human being" led him to adopt his current name.

"I have never had any relatives in Pakistan. But I have made some close friends there. During my travels I met people who referred to themselves as Pakistanis -- not as Punjabis, Sindhis or Baluchis. So Pakistani nationhood, an idea which is still discussed in an uncertain tone, is actually alive and kicking."

Though he has got support from Pakistanis from all walks of life - columnists, journalists, artists, students, photographers and of course bloggers - the one person he really looks up to is columnist Irfan Husain.

"I like everything about him: his elegant writing style; his courage in criticising his own country; his sensible opinions; his charming travelogues. He is a real inspiration."

Mayank, whose Pakistan travels have been confined to Lahore and Karachi, wrote a piece on Lahore's famous Heera Mandi that may soon become the subject for a Bollywood film.

"Filmmaker Sanj ay Leela Bhansali plans to make a film based on one of my pieces in Pakistan Paindabad. This was a travelogue on Lahore's Heera Mandi. If the deal goes through, I guess it will be the first time that a big scale film will be based on a blogger's piece," Mayank said.

What really puts off Mayank is when people think he is doing some service to Pakistan. "The country doesn't need any charity. It is just an effort on my part to present those truths about Pakistan which the news-hungry media somehow forgets to cover."

So does he dislike anything about India's neighbour? "Yes. The overdose of biryani treats!"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Recollection - Heartbreak in Lahore

Two Sisters

A play that moved both Indians and Pakistanis.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi. The author travelled to Lahore in September, 2006]

Dholaks and garlands greeted us at the theater. The crowd shouted for a 'Visa-free India and Pakistan'.

It was our first evening in Lahore. We were a group of around seventeen Indians -- singers, writers, intellectuals, retired army generals, priests, and peace activists -- who had come to Pakistan to take part in one of those NGOesque peace seminars. We had crossed the international the same afternoon. Now a play was being staged in our honor.

Many Pakistanis waiting inside stood up and started clapping as we fumbled our way in the artfully lit darkness of the hall. We smiled and shook hands before settling down to watch the play.

A girl dressed in jeans clambered up the stage. She launched the evening by singing a Hindi devotional song which lamented how Hindus and Muslims could be capable of killing each other.

Her voice was sweet; and lyrics beautiful as only sad lyrics could be. They clicked. Heads bobbed up and down. Murmurs of 'how true, oh how true' were heard. The special occasion added to the mood. We Indians and Pakistanis were meeting each other for the first time only to discover that we were so similar - and yet different. Amidst such divided people, the song mournfully dwelled on the root cause of the divide – the hostility between Hindus and Muslims.

The Urdu play was titled Kahin Dair Na Ho Jay (Lest It Be Delayed). It had an unpromising start. There was no curtain in the first place. The back area of the stage, being used as a green room, was shielded by a white sheet. There were shadows furiously swarming around behind it. The delay gave me enough time to look around and do some people watching.

Pakistanis looked so much like Indians. No. No lady was dressed in sari. They all wore shalwaar kameeze. But young girls were like young girls everywhere -- restless, giggling, and whispering with hands covering their lips.

Meanwhile the hall hummed with murmured conversations. Suddenly, the sound system made crackling noises and spluttered to bhangra beats.

The setting, a female voiceover told us, is a neighborhood in Amritsar, the Indian town across the Wagah border. It was 1947 once again. India was cracking up and Pakistan had just come into existence. Muslims were killing Hindus and Sikhs, and Hindus and Sikhs were chopping up Muslims.

A soon-to-be-married Sikh bride and groom were sitting together. The bride's sister and her friends sang a lusty Punjabi folk song wishing her the wedding-night happiness. The lyrics were aimed to tease the groom whose friends, in turn, did a zesty dance around him.

The next act had the poor bride being kidnapped by Muslim rioters. The younger sister was left dazed. The voice-over explained that the Sikh bride was taken away across the border to Lahore.

Time journeyed along in the play. The sister in Lahore was made to convert to Islam; and made to marry a Muslim man. Adapting herself to a new life, her only wish was to see her younger sister in Amritsar. By then India-Pakistan relations had soured and it was impossible for most people to visit loved ones on the opposing side.

Meanwhile the sisters, one Sikh and the other Muslim, one Indian and the other Pakistani, one Amritsari and the other Lahori, regularly exchanged letters. But they lived separate lives, became mothers, were widowed, and became grandmothers. The continued tensions between the two nations kept them separated. Their desire to meet remained a desire.

Both Indians and Pakistanis in the hall could understand the helplessness of these sisters. Amritsar and Lahore has less than forty miles between them and yet they could not meet.

In spite of such close distance, most Pakistanis would find it easier to fly to Atlanta than to drive to Amritsar. As for Indians, it takes longer to commute between the two extremities of Bombay than to travel from Amritsar to Lahore. Yet most Indians would never get to visit this city.

The frustration was more intense because the travel between these two nations could be inexpensive and hassle-free. Easily.

Yes, we could understand the plight of these sisters.

Finally, the older sister did manage to cross the border into India, but she arrived too late. Her sister in Amritsar had already died.

The actors received standing ovation. We were quite moved.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Viewpoint - On Pakistan Paindabad's First Anniversary

On Pakistan Paindabad's 1st Anniversary

The blogsite needs a Pakistani collaborator.

[Text by Gaurav Sood]

Time passes quickly; it certainly appears that its pace has hastened as I age. Whether or not that is true doesn't quite matter, what does matter however is that Pakistan Paindabad is more than a year old. In that time earth has circled around the Sun, spun around its axis 365 plus times, the general sahib has faltered far too many times on his way to implementing a gerrymandered democratic process, and most unbelievably a small blog started by a well meaning Indian gained a regular following, and also a fair amount of attention from the press.

Mayank Austen Soofi is an Indian, as many of you would know - not a 'typical' Indian – not by philosophy, by intellect, or by values. The fact that he isn't a 'typical' Indian hasn't allayed doubts about the blog. Many have mused – some openly – whether he is an operative for RAW. Perhaps he is. The acolytes of the Saffron Brigade – whose numbers abound on the Internet- have alleged that is an agent for the ISI. Perhaps he is that too which would make him a dual agent. That would be quiet something, wouldn't it. I somehow suspect - perhaps through my rather longish acquaintance with Mayank - that that is true.

But that still leaves the question as to what an Indian is doing running a largely celebratory blog on Pakistan. I wish I knew but I don't. But I suspect that it is has something to do with increasing understanding about Pakistan – the Pakistan which is predominantly known for its Islamists, its diabolically politically gifted General, its status as a Nuclear armed state, and its fractious ongoing dispute with India. Perhaps more correctly it is a venture to foment understanding about a country by providing a better understanding of its people –their aspirations, likes, dislikes, peeves, and the (five) things they are 'proud' of. That is quiet an ambitious statement, and I doubt that PP has been successful in making much headway amongst Pakistan baiters who rarely switch off Fox or the numerous Indian equivalents. Nonetheless it’s a worthy motive.

So what do we do with worthy motives and all the two-penny idealism that is available by the liter at the corner haberdasher? We try. For, as G.K. Chesterton wisely said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." It certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to improve, and there is every indication that Pakistan Paindabad hasn't tried to rest on its laurels or its lack thereof, which was the case until very recently. But given the recent media attention, Pakistan Paindabad needs to strive anew and with more vigor. And for that it needs your help. If you believe in the larger goal of the site, not that that has been cast in stone but direction certainly has, then help it achieve those via your own contributions – be they then be articles or simply educated criticism, to enhance the 'probability' of its success.

So let me cast the first stone, and my contribution. I have little doubt that for Pakistan Paindabad to be really successful, it needs an active permanent collaborator from Pakistan. I believe that it will go a long way in providing more in-depth coverage about the panoply of cultural, political, and social issues that define Pakistan and yet evade news. Now it's your turn – send in your comments and your offers to volunteer for the job. Pakistan Paindabad.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Memoirs – Confessions of a Grass Eater

Confessions of a Pakistani Vegetarian

Living a vegetarian life in Lahore.

[Text by Maryam Arif; picture by Asad K]

Lahoris are often offended when you tell them you are a vegetarian. It is an insult to their intelligence. How can anyone voluntarily give up the meat delicacies that constitute our cuisine? Surely you must crave Mohammadi Nehari, Behari Kebab from Bundu Khan, Seekh Kebab, Siri Paye, Macchi of Mozang Chungi and the mouth-watering abundance of Food Street.

Many times people do not really comprehend what it means when you tell them you do not eat meat, and respond with, “So have chicken, at least.” Eggs I can understand, that I debate myself and settle for the arguments in favor of eating them, but chicken? (!) My befuddled expression is met with eye-rolling, sneers and all sorts of judging. Some look down on you from their meat-eating position of superiority, while others resent you for being snobbish, elitist or just plain weird.

Being vegetarian in Pakistan is highly suspect, Indian-like; even though most Indians I know ask for beef kebabs first thing they come to Lahore. Yet in our minds vegetarian = Hindu = Indian = weak. The popular thinking is that meat gives us an edge over them grass-eaters across the border. Carnivores are stronger and taller; even light-complexioned than herbivores. Isn’t that so? It has to be (!) The ultimate argument is of course that healthy children, growing bones and intelligent minds need loads of animal protein and animal fat. That kidney beans and olive oil substitute just fine I dare not say.

There is no way you can pass the “Why are you vegetarian?” test. When God has declared it okay to eat certain animals, how dare you refuse goat testicles, cow feet and buffalo brain? I give my ten-minute spiel about animal rights, health consciousness, environment-friendly practices, greed versus need, cost-benefit analysis, simplicity, self-restraint, feelings of guilt, anger and shame over economic disparities. All my arguments meet with the ultimate roadblock: “O yaar, but it tastes too good!” So does boiled rice with daal – not without the fried fish. Aaloo Raita? – only with Chicken Pulao. How about pakoras? – tikkas are better! Wadyasaytathat??!!! (What do you say to that?)

Pakistanis never learn to love their vegetables. Greens are usually seen to be a curse, a last-resort, an enemy. Khichri (rice and daal mixture) for example is only for when you have an upset stomach. Karelas are for the diabetic grandparents. Children are fed concoctions of peas, carrots and potatoes with methi leaves thrown in throughout winter because those are the only vegetables in season. Of course veggies are not worth mom’s creative innovation in the kitchen.

We take for granted the simple pleasures of life that are so rare to find in other parts of the world – Saag and Makki ki roti, Aaloo Gobhi, Baingan ka Bharta, Missi Roti, Kachnar, Puri Channa, Fried Bhindi, Aaloo ke Paratha, Til Wala Naan, Parathas with achar and the list goes on.

Since meat is valued far more highly than any vegetable, as a guest be prepared to be served with massive quantities of Desi Kukar (murgha) in Punjab, Sajji (roasted meat cooked in a special way) in Balochistan, Chapli Kebab in N.W.F.P. and Chicken Biryani in Sindh. The fact is if you are vegetarian, you are pretty much a social outcast. So you may as well throw away those wedding invitations, and stop going to those dinner parties. You’re just going to be a source of annoyance to your hosts. Even staples like rice and bread are usually meat-infested – Keemay Wala Naan and a dozen varieties of biryani and pulaos.

While Pakistanis are a little suspicious of those who prefer leaves over goats, they remain friendly and hospitable. While Korma, Achar Gosht and Degi Chargha (another word for chicken – that tells you a lot!) are a part of the Pakistani experience, they are, I like to think, not a central part of our identity, not the defining element at any rate. It is possible to be Pakistani and vegetarian. It is a tough struggle, but so is life.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Opinion - A Fight to the End

picture by Raja Islam

Pakistan's eminent opinion maker on BB's bloodied return, exlusively for Pakistan Paindabad.

[By Irfan 'Mazdak' Husain; the author has been widely published in major Pakistani newspapers. He writes weekly columns for the Dawn, the Daily Times, and the Khaleej Times; picture by Raja Islam]

When Mayank Austen Soofi asked me to contribute a piece for his blog Pakistan Paindabad, I was vaguely thinking of writing about the contours of Indo-Pak relations. But when a suicide bomber tried to assassinate Benazir Bhutto on her triumphant return to Pakistan, my thoughts turned elsewhere.

All day on the 18th October, I had been glued to the box, switching channels to see who had the better camera angles. Platoons of talking heads solemnly discussed the significance of her second homecoming, comparing it with her first one 21 years ago. I had been on the Shahrah-e-Faisal, Karachi’s principal artery, on a cool evening in December, 1986, when she arrived from Lahore where she had been accorded an unprecedented welcome by adoring supporters. After she passed, young and radiant on top of an open truck, we drove to Jinnah’s mausoleum where she made a speech, as she had planned to this time. A few hours before she planned to return to the scene of her earlier triumph, I drove around, and saw thousands waiting patiently for their ‘Bibi’ to arrive. People were singing and dancing for sheer joy. As I wrote a few hours later, in a country with so little to celebrate, it was wonderful to see so many happy, hopeful faces.

But this euphoria was not to last long. As TV images of the carnage around Ms Bhutto’s truck started filling the screens, and the magnitude of the tragedy began to sink in, I was reminded yet again of what a dangerous place Pakistan had become. When we went to cheer her in 1986, an American diplomat had insisted on coming with us. She was courteously treated by the crowds, and it was simply no big deal. This would be unthinkable today, when security rules would not have permitted a diplomat to be out among large crowds.

Clearly, the suicide bombing was the work of Al-Qaeda, or one of its affiliates: they have the motivation, the means and the organizational capability to pull off such an attack in any part of Pakistan. But although these extremists number in the low thousands, they have supporters in all the intelligence agencies, and ideological fellow-travellers in the army. They are thus capable of death and destruction on a scale disproportionate to their numbers. And they are utterly ruthless and determined. To judge by the comments of the talking heads holding forth, these killers have the tacit blessings of significant chunks of public opinion. For instance, many of them implied that the fault was Ms Bhutto’s for not delaying her return as suggested by Musharraf. Others said she should have gone to the mausoleum by helicopter. This is a classic case of blaming the victim. Benazir Bhutto is a populist leader, and the PPP has always been more of a movement than a political party. Her followers are impassioned jiyalas, and are a breed apart.

What this attack has done is to draw a line between religious extremism and a sane and secular state. No Pakistani can sit on the fence on this one. In this fight, India can help by giving Musharraf a face-saving way out of the Kashmir mess. This would rob the fundamentalists of one of their key issues, and reduce their appeal. Of course, those who seek to impose their bleak vision of Islam on Pakistan would fight on, but anything that undercuts their attraction among the young can only help.

Given the way each country has demonised the other for decades, it is time India and Pakistan put aside their differences, and together fought extremism in all its forms. In this effort, blogs like Pakistan Paindabad can go a long way in promoting better understanding.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Special Editorial - Blasts, Blitzkrieg, and BB

Blasts, Blitzkrieg, and BB

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Lefteris Pitarakis]

Is Benazir Bhutto’s second return as hopeful as her first?

Amidst blasts that killed more than 100 of her supporters, Pakistan’s former and (perhaps) future Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, returned home to Bilawal House at Karachi's Clifton. This ended an 8-year-long self-imposed exile in Dubai and London. The attack on Ms. Bhutto's convoy proved it was sensible of her to leave the three children behind. But assassination threats by terrorists did not deter thousands of working-class supporters, of Sindh and other provinces, from flocking to the city avenues. The wealthy were glued to their television.

It was a tender picture. Wearing green shalwar kameez and white dupatta, Ms. Bhutto had tears as she emerged out of the Emirates aircraft. This woman, of course, has been fortunate. Belonging to a great feudal family, she was the eldest child of the country’s most dynamic politician. Father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto groomed her as a successor to his legacy. Educated in Radcliffe and Oxford, she became the Muslim world’s first democratically-elected woman Prime Minister. She was twice elected to that post.

Yet there is much to be pitied about Ms. Bhutto. Father was hung by the noose. Brother Shanawaz died in suspicious circumstances in France. Second brother, Murtaza, was killed in a mysterious gunfight in Clifton. Husband Asif Ali Zardari spent 8 years in prison. She herself wasted about 5 years in solitary confinement during General Zia’s regime. Meanwhile her life remains in danger.

No wonder Ms. Bhutto excites sympathy even from her critics. She has seen too many bad times; has made too many sacrifices. She deserves all the adulation she has been greeted with. As eager crowd besieged the streets to welcome their leader, she reminded the romantic heydays of 1986. (That is till the blasts marred her triumphant procession.) That was also the year of her Return but a very different one. Then back from exile in London, she would crisscross the nation in a steel grey Pajero jeep raising slogans of General Zia jawe, jawe, jawe. Today she has power sharing agreement with the General. That year she was Ms. Clean. This year she comes tainted with corruption scandals.

Yet, we are not pessimistic about Ms. Bhutto, the country’s truly popular leader. If she creates a smooth working relationship with General Pervez Musharraf, restrain the entrepreneurial instincts of her husband, strengthen the ‘moderate middle’, rein in religious fundamentalism, limit America’s influence, phase out the army’s extracurricular hobbies, and somehow manages to stay alive, we feel this can as well be one of those defining moments for Pakistan. Once again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pride, Prejudice, and Pakistanis

picture by Mayank Austen Soofi

What does Pakistan Paindabad’s Indian readers think of Pakistan Paindabad.

[Compilation and the picture, at the Indian side of Wagah border, by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Pakistan Paindabad is happy. Thousands of visitors are clicking on these pages each day. Kind-hearted strangers are taking out time to write e-mails. I’m being congratulated for doing “good work”. It is a heady feeling indeed. The sense of self-importance is over-whelming and dangerous. However, the credit truly lies with people who have written for this site. And also with those who agreed to be interviewed here. Here are some of the recent letters sent by Indian readers.

Open Mind

It is a wonderful thing you are doing. I've always been uneasy that age old hostilities carry themselves over to subsequent generations for no apparent reason. Imaginary lines on a map could create so much division between people who are so similar. Perhaps we just need to be introduced to the idea that we can choose to think differently and have an open mind about things. Your blog does that and more. Congratulations and keep up the good work!
Poorni Pillai

Join the Crusade

I want to join you and your website to do something for the good relationship between Pakistan and India.
Prashant Bhardwaj

Views On Pakistanis

I am an Indian studying in US. It was only after coming here that I met Pakistanis, and frankly I have really good Pakistani friends here. I don’t know about Pakistanis in Pakistan, but the Pakistanis over here are totally different from what I had imagined. Some of them, of course, are the types I wouldn’t like to be friends with. Especially those blaming India and Hindus for everything wrong. But most Pakistanis are not like that.

Carry On

I went through your blog and I am glad you are doing such a simple yet significant thing. Don’t let anything stop you.
Sriharish Padmanabhan

Bad Weather

It is nice to see your blog. I heard about it from one of the news websites. Let me put it this way. Every single individual has a personal admiration perspective and it might end up anywhere. It is absolutely coincidental that you hold such love and affection for Pakistan. As rightly said, people are never bad; it is the weather (fiza) that creates adverse feelings.

Jehadi View

As I was going through yours blogs, it reminded me of the few interactions I had with people from Pakistan in Italy and US. Sometimes I wonder why media and Indians always see Pakistan as enemy and consider all people in that country as Jehadis.

After reading your blog, I feel like going to Pakistan at least once and see the canal in Lahore and roam on Karachi beach. Hopefully I would be able to fulfill my dream soon.

Personal Viewpoint

Your blog was an excellent idea.
Professor Ramesh Manghirmalani

Monday, October 15, 2007

Accolades for Pakistan Paindabad


The Daily Times newspaper has something to say about this website.

Celebrated Karachi-based author Bina Shah (she has been interviewed in these pages) has profiled a short sketch of Pakistan Paindabad in the Daily Times newspaper.

In a story titled Pakistan Paindabad — the website that teaches you neighbourly love, Ms. Shah observed that this website "displays an attitude towards Pakistan that is positive, honest, and respectful." Click here to read the full story.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Photo Essay - Celebrating Lahore's Canal

Columnists, critics, students, travelers, and bloggers gather together to share their memories of Lahore’s fabled canal

[Pictures by Usman Ahmed]

The BRB Canal

Constructed in 1861, this 82-kilometer-long, tree-lined Banba-wali Ravi-Bedian (BRB) stream slices its way through the heart of Lahore - meandering through posh colonies, smooth highways, famous colleges, scenic student hostels and cheery cricket grounds.

Coming Together


Here are the musings and observations of few people nice enough to share their “canal moments” with us.

1, 2 and 3!


By Irfan ‘Mazdak’ Husain
[Pakistan’s eminent columnist, Mr.Husain writes for The Dawn and Daily Times. He divides his time in Karachi and London.]

I have been lucky enough to have traveled to many countries over the years, and have driven across some spectacular landscapes that included mountains, sea-sides, valleys and lakes. But I can never forget driving along the Lahore canal, with its canopy of trees overhead, as the full moon's reflection followed me on the surface of the water.

Back in the 70s, there was little traffic, and one caught glimpses of couples sitting on the canal's grassy verge. On hot summer evenings, we would park and sip a beer or two while watching leaves glide by. Now, alas, traffic is heavy and the moral police would swiftly pounce on couples and drinkers. I suppose I'm lucky to have the memories of a more relaxed period in Pakistan's brief but turbulent history.

Here It Is


By Mian Naeem
[A painter, Mr. Naeem is also an art-critic. He lives in Lahore, with his vintage car.]

It starts from BRB canal, few yards away from the Khaira Village, dividing the poor neighborhood of Lahore from the trendy addresses of the privileged rich. After crossing the Thokar Niaz Baig it turns left and moves parallel to the Raiwind road. Flowing between the main highways, the canal also serves as the chief artery of the city. Despite receiving sewerage from (some) localities it flows by, the water looks and feel clean.

During summers, its very sight is a relief to the Lahorites. In those hot, simmering days hundreds of people come to swim. They eat watermelons and generally have good time in the canal. Young boys make the crowd but in the evenings one sees a good number of families sitting on the banks, the women with their feet in the water.

But not all is pleasant. The road on both sides of the canal is a traffic nightmare, especially during the working hours. The District government had decided to cut the thick trees to widen the lanes but the move was resisted. Thousands of trees still survive with ‘death markings’ on them.

As of now, the canal remains one of the few places in Lahore where I’m still able to inhale a gust of fresh air. So is my car which too is able to ‘breathe’ - what with the speedometer reaching hundred kilometers per hour!

One Summer Afternoon


By Usman Ahmed
[Mr. Ahmed is a Lahore-based software entrepreneur. An excellent photographer, the pictures in this photo essay were his creations.]

When people in Lahore grow tired of their daily lives, they go to the canal to refresh themselves. I do not need to travel far since my house is situated a 5-minute walking distance from it.

One of my best memories of the canal is when I went for a swim during a fine summer’s day near the Indian border in Wagah. Since not many go that far, the water was very clean, and cold too. I was with Faisal and Sarfaraz – my best friends. A June morning, monsoon clouds were on the horizon and a fine breeze was blowing. The water level was only four feet deep and I could feel the soft sand crumbling against my feet. Everything was perfect.

Yeah, I think I’ll go there again.

Here He Goes


By Tehman Lall
[Mr. Lall is a thoughtful, intelligent and articulate gentleman. Impressive and persuasive while delivering well-argued extempore speeches in public podiums, Mr. Lall is pursuing MBA in Lahore.]

It is Lahore's Sciatica nerve. Damage the Sciatica and a part of your body become immobile!

The canal is perhaps amongst those few purposeful, historical and valued structures of this city which might never loose its life and significance. And what a life it has lived! The canal saw the 1947 partition of India (and the consequent birth of Pakistan) when its waters turned red with blood. It has occasionally witnessed the negligence of our city government when the poor thing is sucked out of all the water. Besides, it has always been abused as a free dump by industries and cattle owners.

Nevertheless, the canal is valued most during the summers when it offers respite to the surrounding localities. It comes as a special boon for amateur swimmers and adventurous boy-divers who could not afford the pricey membership fees in club pools.

I do hope that the canal’s value and condition is improved further by our government. There still remain several ways by which this city could benefit from such an ingenious creation of the Mughals.

Outside and Inside


By Maryam Arif
[A Lahore native, Ms. Arif is a law student in Boston. Fascinated by radical ideologies, she also has deep interest in social movements.]

My association with the canal spans over a decade. I grew up admiring the weeping willows lining its muddy banks. I remember the joy and excitement around national holidays when the canal was lit up, or decorated with floats.

But we Lahoris do not take our beloved possessions for granted. In the summer of 2006, we noticed huge red crosses painted on the trees that shaded the canal. The City District Government of Lahore and the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency had planned to cut around 2000 trees to widen the highways.

The canal I had known since childhood was under attack. The residents of Lahore who saw this action for what it was – cruel, horrendous and scary – joined hands to save the canal and gave birth to the “Darakht Bachao, Lahore Bachao” movement. I will never forget the day my friends and I spent on the canal road, tying banners to trees. We had become a bunch of tree huggers out to save the Banba-wali Ravi-Bedian canal, Lahore's invaluable treasure.

Something for Everyone


By Jawad Zakariya
[He travels all around the world, with his camera, but remain fond of hometown Lahore – “a city like no other”.]

The canal is a ubiquitous Lahore icon like the Mughal-built Badshahi Mosque or the more modern but equally historic Minar-e-Pakistan. Just like those icons it might not be perfect but it is what gives Lahore that soul which is so often missing in other places. Whether driving along it on a rainy monsoon day or going for a cold-water swim on a hot summer afternoon, the canal plays a vital role in the life of all Lahoris. Personally speaking, late-night drives along the canal are among my fondest memories of my city.

What Fun


By Mayank Austen Soofi
[He lives in Delhi, India.]

I had left India and the Daewoo van I was in was now speeding towards Lahore, some twenty miles away.

A canal gushed forth on the right side of the window seat. Grassy patches sloped down to the banks and trees on either side hugged together to make a comforting canopy over its length.

Haiku moments flashed past: buffaloes swimming in the waters; a green-turbaned Mullah lying on the grass and reading a book; bare-chested young boys splashing water on each other, their shalwars ballooned with water; fully dressed women blushing, laughing, and taking quick cold water dips in the canal; a family contentedly feasting on a picnic lunch, with men and women sitting in separate groups; a young man and woman whispering under a tree; a lone man throwing pebbles in the water; two woman holding hands and sitting quietly; a middle-aged man resting against a tree trunk; a pair of boys washing a bicycle...

Soon these enchanting scenes began fading and finally vanished. The fallen tree leaves, languidly floating on the water, gave way to polybags and tin cans. Lahore was approaching.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Makes Pakistanis Laugh?

Smiling Pakistani

The celebrated Pakistani author investigates.

[Text by Bina Shah; picture by Steve Eveans]

Bina Shah, a Wellesley and Harvard alumna, is a noted Karachi based author, journalist, editor, and blogger. She has published two novels and two collections of short stories. She lives in Karachi.

There’s a movie that came out a couple of years ago, called “Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World”. Albert Brooks plays a somewhat unsuccessful comedian who’s hired by the US State Department for a fact-finding mission to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims laugh, because by finding out what Muslims find funny, the United States will be able to win over hearts and minds in the Muslim world. Joseph Nye probably never thought of this twist to his theory of soft power, but it certainly makes for an interesting premise.

Sadly, the hapless Brooks tells his jokes in India, but they fall completely flat, and he never gets the laughs he’s hoping for. However, when he crosses the border in a highly secret night-time mission, he’s taken blindfolded to a group of jihadis gathered around a fire, and when he tells his jokes to them through an interpreter, they fall down laughing, which made me fall down laughing only because the scene was so silly albeit in an endearing way. You wouldn’t normally think of freedom fighters as having a sense of humor, and especially one that they share with a Jewish comedian from Los Angeles, but hey, this is Hollywood! (and any time Hollywood makes us look better than Indians, Pakistanis are going to laugh – but so are Indians. Sad fact.)

Brooks may not have been able to find out what makes Muslims laugh, but the movie does give rise to an interesting question: What is it that makes Pakistanis laugh?

1. Anything the Government Does

I posed the question “What makes Pakistanis laugh?” on Facebook and a Pakistani journalist friend of mine shot back with a quick answer: “Seeing the country blossom and progress under dedicated and true governance”, which made me laugh so hard that my pet budgies let out an alarmed burst of machine-gun squawks at the sight of me falling off my chair.

Similar responses from other people included: “The National Reconciliation Ordinance”, “Ministers getting their faces spray-painted by lawyers”, and “Pakistan importing wheat from India”. Someone told me that what makes them laugh is the regular reappearance of a fresh crop of hair on politicians that are patently bald. One person laughed and laughed at the idea that Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed would become the next President of Pakistan. Then, when he found out that Benazir Bhutto just might be our next Prime Minister, he cried inconsolably for three days.

The end result of all Pakistanis finding their government and its representatives so hilarious is that they no longer want to obey even the slightest sign of authority, so nobody stops at traffic lights anymore; they rush through the red lights with joy in their hearts and glee on their faces. Then they have fatal accidents, which nobody finds funny.

2. Schadenfreude

This is a word from German that translates into “pleasure taken from someone else's misfortune”. Unfortunately, the Pakistanis I polled listed this as the second most likely thing to make them laugh. “The misery of others is what makes us laugh,” said one young Pakistani, “like when two urchins start fighting over a few coins, everyone gathers around them and laughs like hyenas”.

Other tragedies which make Pakistanis laugh: an accident which involves a truck driver who somehow manages to get his truck swimming in the middle of a lake/sandwiched up a lamppost/ flying off a bridge, and is photographed sitting at the scene with his head in his hands and a “Why me” look on his face; the photograph of the cart that’s so heavy that the donkey pulling it has been lifted three feet into the air; and anytime a big society wedding is followed by a scandalous divorce.

We’re not mad enough to laugh at death, natural disaster, or terminal illness. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we share this aspect of our national sense of humor with Hitler, as Albert Speer wrote in Inside the Third Reich. Don’t worry: there are enough Pakistanis who think Hitler was right to try and massacre the Jews who will find this fact incredibly funny.

3. When Bad Things Happen to Indians

This is an extension of schadenfreude, but compounded by when the misery involves the nation we love to hate, India. There are dedicated Pakistanis who scan the newspapers and Internet for any sign of trouble or problems in our neighboring country, and then use the slightest snippets to wax hysterical on the superiority of Pakistan to India. “Look! Ha ha ha! In India you worship elephants and marry your daughters to dogs! Ha ha ha!” There are endless variations of this: rats found having signs of bubonic plague in India? Rajiv Gandhi assassinated? Apu made a permanent character on the Simpsons? Hilarious!

When Indian politicians are found guilty of corruption, we laugh. When a Bollywood actor or actress stars in a Western movie that flops at the box office, we laugh even harder. And when the Indian cricket team loses a match, we can hardly contain our merriment. I personally know IT folk who laughed until they cried when it was announced that the United States was cutting back on H1B visas because it meant that Indians who were making a living in Silicon Valley might have to give up their high paying jobs.

Of course, the real reason we’re laughing so hard is to drown out the sound of one billion Indians jeering at us across the border, twenty four hours a day. This was never more true than when India beat Pakistan in the Twenty20 World Cup final last month.

But seriously, who didn’t enjoy a little snicker when Shilpa Shetty was arrested for being kissed by Richard Gere?

4. You Just Wouldn’t Understand Unless You’re a Pakistani

Numerous items fall into this category: Punjabi and Pashto films, Begum Nawazish Ali’s jokes, Memon jokes, Sardarji jokes, drunkenness, women wearing Western dress, transvestites, toupees, bombs going off in Western countries, Anwar Maqsood… the list goes on. These are things that nobody else in the world finds funny, but Pakistanis manage to derive a lot of amusement out of all of them. Perhaps it’s because Pakistanis possess a different funny gene than other people, but whatever it is, it guarantees a sense of humor that is unique to the nation.

In conclusion, I can safely say that what makes Pakistanis laugh is a combination of whatever is surreal, farcical, comedo-tragic, and self-deprecating. This is a reflection of the nation we live in. You see, living in Pakistani is a bit like living inside a Salvador Dali painting with red skies and clocks melting off tree branches. Either you go insane, or you laugh at it and shrug it off with a bravado that would win you the Victoria Cross in any other country. And always remember that nugget of wisdom that comes from some other country that doesn’t think it’s funny when people get electrocuted from flying kites: laugh and the whole world laughs with you. Or at you. Or something like that.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Special Survey - What Do Young Americans Think of Pakistan

Still from Aliens in America TV series

Pakistanis in the perceptions of their greatest ally.

[By Raymond Lee; he manages the blogsite People Who Have Touched Me; picture by Warner Brothers]

It is common knowledge, I assume, that Americans are ignorant, and proud of it. On the night of September 29, 2007 I interviewed twelve people from the ages of 14 to 25, seven males and five females. Nine are Chinese American, two Philipino American, and one Japanese American. They all live in California, eleven of them in or around San Francisco.

I am a 23 year old (who studied Philosophy and Managerial Economics at UC Davis) and would here like to put forward a disclaimer: this survey is not academic in any real sense. Instead it is a collection of casual conversations I had with family and friends, written expressly for Pakistan Paindabad. This is what I found.

When I asked people what comes into their mind when they thought of "Pakistan" they either chuckled or gave me an indignant "What?", followed by a genuine "I don't know." Then they started to say the buzzwords that popped into their head. The most common one is "terrorists" (or "terrorism" or "(President Bush's) War on Terrorism"), in this case implying specifically that the nation of Pakistan is responsible for training, harboring and exporting terror and that at least some Pakistanis are a serious threat to Americans and their way of life.

The second most popular term is "Middle East". However, Pakistan is not in the Middle East per se though it is usually considered a part of the Greater Middle East.

Some people mentioned their friends. Jason Chao, 23, talked about his Pakistani school friend Zaki Hussain who "used to want to eat a lot of curry". Jason says that Pakistani students our age "seem to be just a hint darker than Indians." Karen Abad, 22, spent eight years in Saudi Arabia and attended an American international school there. Karen says Pakistanis were quite, humble and reserved, while Indian families were more outgoing and outwardly friendly. She has slightly negative feelings towards India because Bollywood produces movies with high-pitched singing, which gives her a headache. Both Pakistanis and Indians, she recalls, often have "strong odor" - body odor, cologne, or some combination.

Derek Flores, 21, was the only respondent to refer to the aborted comeback of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. David Tan, 23, suggested that there are problems in Kashmir and elsewhere along the border with its neighbor, India. He blamed the "cultural differences" as the culprit.

Here I want to confess that I too knew nothing about Pakistan, its history or culture except for my exposure to characters like Babu Bhatt (actually a Pakistani with a Hindu name) on Seinfeld and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon Jr., Ph.D. (an Indian) on The Simpsons. This changed when I spent some time as a student in Delhi about two years ago.

Politically the country is more similar to the United States than one would think. They are a democratic republic, with a semi-presidential system that includes a bicameral legislature consisting of a 100-member Senate and a 342-member National Assembly, which is the lower house (we have the House of Representatives). The leader of the largest party in the Assembly often serves as the Prime Minister of Pakistan (we have the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives). The President is the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and is elected by an electoral college. The Constitution, written in English, is the country's most important document and lays the foundations of government.

Joseph Geminiano, 23, said he doesn't know much, except that "the whole war (on terror) thing comes to mind.” Christina Umehara, 23, and Jane Lau, 24, both said they are indifferent and "ill-informed" to give any opinions. Andy Mah, 14, an eighth grader in San Diego, connects "war", "Middle East", and "terrorism" with Pakistan. He does not know any Pakistanis, nor has he eaten Indian or Pakistani food.

Gerrick Wong, 24, who has not attended college, thinks of Pakistan as a country of "terrorists", "hairy people", "guns" and "a dusty place" where "some are suicidal." Robert Chiang, a 25-year-old dentist, associates the country with "terrorists, Middle East, Israeli border, West Bank and all that." Jenny Wong, 23, who studied Economics and Sociology at UC Davis, laughed and said, "I don't even know! Oh my god. You can write that down. I don't even know."

California has the largest minority population in the country and many of us, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, believe we have an elevated global awareness over our counterparts in the middle states. However, I think Cecilia Chen, 19, a second-year student at UCLA, aptly sums up our collective attitude when she said that there are terrorists in Pakistan, that she has no negative feelings towards the country, and that she doesn't know enough about it and does not care to learn more.