Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 Happy Pakistan Series – Get Out of Self-deception

2009 Happy Pakistan Series – Get Out of Self-deception

Columnist Irfan Husain writes exclusively for Pakistan Paindabad.

[Text by Irfan Husain; picture by Azlan H]

When you hit rock bottom, you have no place to go but up. The year 2008 has been a turbulent one for Pakistan, starting with the riots that shook the country after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, to the economic meltdown that had Asif Zardari’s government asking for a bailout from the IMF. But the high spot of the year was Pervez Musharraf’s exit and the induction of an elected government.

While the Mumbai attack was a tragedy for India and a disaster for Pakistan, it also provides an opportunity for the latter’s leadership. Hopefully, the horrifying incident has opened the eyes of Pakistan’s establishment to the dangers our home-grown terrorists pose, not just to India, but to ourselves.

Having pushed the two nuclear powers to the brink of armed confrontation, the bloody terrorist assault might yet focus minds in Islamabad.

My hope for 2009 is that there will be a firm consensus about battling the menace of extremist terrorism, and that the civilian government will form a durable partnership with the army high command to eradicate this domestic and regional threat.

Rather than live in a permanent state of denial, I hope more Pakistanis will emerge from the self-deception they live in, and face facts.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Special Editorial – A Happier Pakistan in 2009

A Happier Pakistan in 2009

Eminent Pakistanis to share their optimism with Pakistan Paindabad.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Kashif Qadri]

Afternoon, December 29, 2008. This is a time of transition. The year we are living in is about to die. How will the New Year be?

2008 had started on a gloomy note for Pakistan. The nation was in mourning following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Now, after 12 months, the nation still seems to be in mourning. The wound still appears to be fresh.

On December 27, Bhutto’s first death anniversary, a friend from Lahore sent this sms:
It (Bhutto’s death) is a loss for all time to come.

The friend maybe right but can a nation survive by constantly feeling the absence of a leader? A leader who was both loved and hated with an almost equal intensity?

I talked to other Pakistanis, too, asking them about all the good things that happened this year. Most shrugged their shoulders and said nothing nice happened.

Really? Doesn’t it register to anyone that Pervez Musharraf, that seemingly death-defying invincible dictator, was forced to relinquish his power this August? Not by another coup but by the popular will of We The People.

There was more good news: democratic elections, a new government, a new President. This year also saw author Nadeem Aslam’s new hauntingly beautiful novel The Wasted Vigil. Another Pakistani author, Mohammed Hanif, made his impressive global debut with the funny, provocative and teasing A Case of Exploding Mangoes. Moni Mohsin’s The Diary of a Social Butterfly fluttered quite a few butterflies of even the faraway Delhi.

Who says there was no good coming out from Pakistan in 2008?

What about 2009?

Pakistan Paindabad regrets to note that both sort of people – those who love Pakistan and who don’t – are of the opinion that there won’t be much to look forward to.

Pakistan Paindabad disagrees.

In order to find out what good can be expected from Pakistan next year, this blogsite has invited several eminent Pakistanis like Irfan Husain, Ardeshir Cowsajee, Hassan Abbas, Sehba Sarwar and many others to share their optimism. This special series will start from the first day of 2009. Watch this space.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembrance - 6:16 pm, December 27, 2007

Remembrance - 6:16 pm, December 27, 2007

On Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s first death anniversary.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Kasper Olsen]

December 27, 2008: It’s been one year since Pakistan got a Benazir-shaped hole in its body politic. Much has changed in the country and yet it appears nothing has fundamentally changed. Pakistan Paindabad relive the fateful moment that hit the world this day last year.

Begum Nawazish Ali, TV Host, Karachi

I was in Karachi, sitting at Aaj TV’s director-entertainment office. In fact, it was Aaj TV which first broke the news. We all screamed and could not believe it. I have met Benazir thrice in my entire life and she was always extremely gracious towards me. I owe my career to her. As a child I always wanted to be Prime Minister. I could not become PM but I became an actor by mimicking Prime Minister Benazir. Her death has been a great loss.

Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed, Columnist, Singapore

I was watching the first India-Australia cricket test match at Melbourne when a woman journalist from the Singapore Asian News Channel called me and broke the news. She wanted a telephone-based interview for my reaction. I was quite shaken to hear the news but it was nothing surprising. I just felt very sorry for Benazir.

Ardeshir Cowasjee, Columnist, Karachi

I was watching TV in my bedroom. The obvious reaction of a human being about the violent death of a fellow human being – enhanced because one had known her father and met her.

Khalid Hasan, Journalist, Washington DC

I was in Burlington, Vermont, when a morning TV programme I was not quite watching was interrupted for the flash announcement that Benazir Bhutto had been injured in an attack. She was also said to have survived. But the sense of relief was short-lived because the next announcement said she was dead. My reaction was (and remains) utter disbelief.

Shandana Minhas, Novelist, Karachi

I was in my apartment with my sister and her four-year-old daughter, visiting for a week from abroad, when my mother called with the news. I thought she was joking. Then I turned on the TV and realised she wasn't. I was shocked; half convinced it was a hoax. It took a day to sink in. BB wasn't a saint, but that doesn't make what happened to her any less tragic or horrific.

Kamran Shafi, Columnist, Wah

I was recording a long TV programme at Dawn News in Karachi with some other people. At first the news did not sink in - when it did, 3 minutes later, I just burst out howling. I am devastated.

Raza Rumi, Blogger, Lahore

I was in Ajmer Sharif, India, on my annual visit to pay respects to the great Khawaja when I heard about this ghastly incident. Having returned from the famous dua-i-roshnaye (the pre-sunset prayer), the state of calm, my friends and I were jolted by this news. For the first few minutes I could not believe it and hoped that this was a repeat of the October 18th suicide bombings where BB was miraculously saved. But it turned out to be horrifyingly real and painful. I was numb for a few minutes and thought of my beloved homeland and our collective lives.

To say that this was a great loss would be an understatement. Benazir was always a symbol of hope and change; and to imagine a country without hope is pretty drastic. Thus the shattering of the individual and collective hope, the faces of her three young children and her larger than life, and beautiful persona mingled with tears and a deep pain that refuses to go away.

My leader is not dead, she is immortal now - she faced the bullets with grace and proved that she was the most courageous Pakistani politician of the recent time. Pity for Pakistan that lost her.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Karachi Diary - In Love with Arundhati Roy

Karachi Diary -  In Love with Arundhati Roy

A young Pakistani besotted with an Indian passport holder.

[Text by Kazim Aizaz Alam; picture by Pradip Krishen]

Arundhati Roy epitomises intellect, boldness, righteousness, beauty and character.

The strongest desire that I harbour is that I meet this wonderful woman in person and let her know how much I revere her.

I heard her name first perhaps when I was in the university. A friend told me that she came to Karachi in April, 2002, for the launch of Najam Sethi-Salmaan Taseer’s Daily Times. I will always regret that I didn’t go to listen to her speech. I did not go because I did not know. I did not know because I was always pre-occupied with (and looking forward to) saying my three-time prayers at the local Shia mosque.

By the time I graduated I had become a liberal. I also remember purchasing Roy’s Booker-winning The God of Small Things from a second-hand books’ dealer. But I returned it the next day since I couldn’t appreciate (or understand) her language. It was only after I got a chance to know about socialism that I, sort of, rediscovered Arundhati Roy.

Just Google “Arundhati Roy interviews” and there comes a dozen or so web links. One by one I read each of them with the glee of a six-year-old. Roy’s sentences are like, as they say, pearls turned into a necklace. She is sharply critical of the exploiting classes and that too with a caustic touch.

For instance, in one of her interviews, she says: “(The Indian state) has a lot to teach the world about how you manage dissent. You just wear people down, you just wait things out. When they want to mow people down, when they want to kill and imprison, they do that, too. Who doesn’t believe that this is a spiritual country where everybody just thinks that if it’s not okay in this life it will be okay in the next life? Yet it is one of the most devastatingly cruel societies. Which other system could dream up the caste system? [It is equally true of Pakistan where caste system is in full action, particularly in rural Sindh and Punjab — Kazim] Even the Taliban can’t come up with the way Indian civilisation has created Dalits.”

Ghalib said the following verse probably keeping someone like Roy in mind:
Dekhna taqreer ki laz’zat ke jo uss ne kaha
Mei’n ne ye jana ke go’ya yeh bhi merey dil mein tha

Today, the door of the my room has a photograph of Roy along with that of Che Guevara, besides a poster of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s everlasting poem, “Bol ke lab azad hain tere”.

One couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of Arundhati Roy. Ignorant friends often confuse her be an actress when they see her photograph in my room. One guy asked me what was the use of her photograph (in which she looks stunningly beautiful) in my room. “If you like her thoughts, why can’t you just admire her by reading more of her stuff,” he asked. “Why put her photograph in your room?”

“Why didn’t you object to Che’s picture that is hanging next to Arundhati’s?,” I shot back. “ Maybe I’m a bisexual and I like men as well as women.”

Just because Arundhati Roy happens to be an elegant woman, besides being a radical intellectual, it shouldn’t mean that I stop being myself. Who should I remove photographs of all those people who I feel closed to?

By the way, the photograph under question is exceptionally well and portrays the natural beauty of Arundhati Roy. Maybe because it has been taken by her husband. He knew the real depths of her beauty and was thus able to bring out the purity and charisma of her sensitive soul.

It is people like Arundhati Roy who make the world a livable place. I wish we had a few like her in Pakistan, too — but alas, we have none.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Viewpoint - Should Pakistan Hand Mumbai Suspects to India?

Should Pakistan Handover Mumbai Suspects to India?

A look at the costs and benefits.

[Text by Gaurav Sood; picture of the Pakistanis protesting against Indian allegations by S.Murtaza Ali]

Columnist Irfan Husain, writing in Dawn on 26/11 Mumbai attcks, finds Pakistan government’s denial of access to 20 terror suspects to India on basis of legalese, patently disingenuous.

“While defending Pakistan recently, our foreign minister was quoted as saying that we were a “responsible state”. And when India presented our government with a list of the names of 20 people accused of terrorism against our neighbour, spokesmen immediately demanded to see the proof against them. This legalistic approach would have carried more weight had the Pakistani state shown this kind of respect for the rule of law in the past. But given the frequency with which ordinary Pakistanis are picked up and ‘disappeared’ by organs of the state without any vestige of due process, the claim to responsibility rings a little hollow.

Indeed, a responsible state would hardly allow the likes of Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-i-Mohammad; Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-i-Taiba; and the Indian criminal Dawood Ibrahim to run around loose.”

While Mr Husain focuses on the hypocrisy of a ‘responsible state’, a stronger argument can be made on basis of rather minimal costs for such an enterprise.


Handing over suspects will likely strengthen the hands of moderates in India, and perhaps dampen the chances of BJP coming to power in elections next year. This argument is reasonably important given negotiating with sane people is a necessity, though arguably BJP at least for some of its time in power was predisposed to following a sane strategy.

It will be a potent gesture towards extremist organizations (domestic), India, and US. I believe any such handover ought to be accompanied by negotiations with India and US and perhaps getting some guarantees on issues of interest, and it ought to be done in blaze of media glory to burnish Pakistan’s image.

Handing over 20 people to India – even if they aren’t involved in the attacks – is probably the most painless of the gestures that Pakistani government can make to address the media inflamed demands of India and US.


As Mr Husain says, the arguments made about inability of handover aren’t real – not because of legal issues, and not because of stated weakness of Pakistani political establishment. Pakistani political establishment lacks power due to two reasons - lack of public support for measures which may be seen as blatantly catering to Indian whims, and existence of a powerful military with interests that are different than the political establishment.

Politics is often circumscribed by incorrect perception of political costs; Public opinion constituencies can be ‘shaped’ to line up behind cogently argued, and aggressively marketed policy initiatives. It is lack of political entrepreneurship behind good policy – which probably stems from rampant cynicism and preference for ‘safe’ choices - that dooms most policy exercises.

There is perhaps a genuine opportunity for some Pakistani leaders to craft constituencies by taking an appropriately framed response around handover of the 20 people to appeal to vast majority of their countrymen.

The second point would about weakness of political forces vis-à-vis military establishment is powerfully highlighted by Army Chief General Kayani’s refusal to allow ISI chief to travel to India. However, it is but one instance and ought to be considered in lieu of the following facts – ISI chief is probably directly under the protection of the military, India’s demand for ISI chief was mostly a political maneuver and India would have used the visit for primarily political point scoring.

On the issue of handing over suspects, it is quite likely that the PM and president can use the leverage provided by Indian and US pressure, and the media brouhaha, to negotiate some kind of deal.

Even if we assume that handing over all 20 people may be a particularly costly strategy for Pakistani establishment given its weakness, it is always possible to ferret out more than a few of these people by negotiating deals with others. I say this because we know that the interests of even ‘jihadi’ organizations are often contraposed.

I believe handing over terror suspects is perhaps an optimal strategy to quickly firefight the situation at limited cost, and to likely benefit Pakistan's long-term interests.

[This piece appeared here in a longer form]

Friday, December 05, 2008

Viewpoint - Pakistan After Bombay 26/11

Pakistan After Bombay 26/11

Policy shift needed, not war.

[By Raza Rumi]

The dastardly attacks in Mumbai have irritated the old wounds and replayed the familiar, jingoistic tunes across the Indo-Pak borders. The Pakistanis, clamouring for friendship with their larger and problematic neighbour, have condemned these attacks in no uncertain terms.

Who could be a worse victim of terrorism than Pakistan in these extraordinary times? Yet, the Indian media and sections of its establishment are quick to involve 'Pakistan' as the key perpetrator of the terror regime. This has obviously angered some and allowed a few Cold-War practitioners to call for self-defence and fighting with India till the last.

The truth is that much of Pakistan does not want war. Hopefully, the Indian citizens are also not looking at war as a solution, or so it seems.

It is almost a cliché to state that war is not a solution to the current imbroglio despite the hysterical calls by the Hindu right to 'neutralise' Pakistan. The saner elements in India have already pointed to the implicit and deep-seated issues of misgovernance, short-termism and the mess of Partition that were neither carefully deliberated nor rectified during all these decades.

The non-state actors in both India and Pakistan have gained ascendancy due to the power distance of the Raj induced steel-frame structures of governance. If there are dozens of districts in India that operate beyond the writ of the formal state, there are areas in Pakistan that are not just outside the scope of the formal state but in a state of rebellion due to the war on terror.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, an ignored persona in Pakistan, termed the partition of India as a partition of Indian Muslims. Whether we like it or not, this tragedy has happened in actual terms, leaving scars and wounds that will take years to heal. As if the 1947 bloodshed was not enough, the 1971 war of liberation fought by the Bengalis against the Pakistani state further divided the mass of Muslims into three distinct categories under tottering, imagined nation states.

Kashmiris are up in arms once again in India – this time Pakistan cannot be blamed for the excesses of the Indian state noted by the international groups and the bold sections of Indian intelligentsia.

The inimitable Arundhati Roy has already called for India's 'azadi' from Kashmir. The rise of the Hindu dominance movements allegedly to correct the wrongs of one thousand years of misdoings by the Muslims; and the concurrent branding of Muslims as terrorists have further fuelled the alienation of Indian Muslims. This is not just a Pakistani position but a fact recognized by many Indian thinkers themselves.

In Pakistan, years of misguided policies using Jihad as a policy instrument have also brutalized the society with a dogmatic interpretation of the lofty Islamic notions of struggle, change and self-improvement. Thus we have bigoted and political jihad factories that appear to be drifting away from the central hold and assuming a life of their own.

So we have a self-fulfilling cycle of violence, hate and war-mongering. Acts of violence in India are blamed on Pakistan, and groups of Indian Muslims thereby adding to further profiling of a beleaguered community that is huge in numbers despite being a minority.

Pakistan plays up this trend and attracts the criticism of the Indian extremists for sponsoring terror by misleading the minority youth. And, any insurgency in Pakistan is immediately traced to Indian intervention, real or fabricated. The wound festers and bleeds unabated.

Things have come to such a pass that we have jihadist state officials, especially a few retired ones who use war as a road to Pakistani (read Islamic) glory, TV presenters who predict that India will be ruled by Muslims once again and madressahs that preach stuff that can put most of us to shame.

On the Indian side, the involvement of serving and retired army officers in communal, barbaric violence is also a matter of public record. In addition, you have serving chief ministers and leaders of political parties who preach hatred and talk of 'fixing' the Muslims within India and beyond through regional and global coalitions that would make Gandhi and Nehru turn in their graves.

Religion and communalism sell where economic opportunity is short supply and where the modes of governance reinforce exploitation and alienation. This is the crux of the problem that is faced by India and Pakistan and to some extent by Bangladesh as well where abuse of religious sentiment has gained currency much to the horror of the secular Bengalis.

Therefore, the need of the hour is for India and Pakistan to acknowledge that they have to cooperate and address the menace of poverty, social and cultural exclusion and rethink their eagerness to espouse the neo-liberal mantra of growth at any cost and identifying consumerism with general prosperity.

This requires fundamental policy shifts within these states. Calls for war and revenge are mere ruses to avoid taking the hard route to reform and social transformation. The entrenched civil and military bureaucracies would need to take a backseat in the policy-setting process.

Pakistan's current and former presidents have presented India with some unprecedented proposals that include shift from the traditional positions of Kashmir, trade-facilitation and responsible agreements on the use of nuclear warheads, among others. The recent Mumbai attacks have occurred right after President Zardari articulated bold and fearless proposals on a long-lasting peace.

This is why the Indian establishment needs to review its current spell of belligerence aimed at the domestic, pre-election milieu and understand that this is what the miscreants are aiming for: a breach and reversal of what was optimistically named as an irreversible peace process.

The Pakistani state needs to ensure that it provides full cooperation in future investigations to allay the fears of Indian public. This is how the cycle of violence, hostility and war-mongering will start to break. Any kind of war – surgical, targeted, small-scale or large scale – is not the answer.

The sub-continental states have to reinvent themselves after six decades of independence and re-examine how the colonial legacies of social and economic exclusion, the great games and communalism have to be done away with.

If we as a region fail to act, history shall be brutally candid about our collective illusions, suicidal streaks and the shared contempt for history.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Exclusive - 'Dostana' in Pakistan

Gay Planet in Karachi

The Dawn newspaper refused to print this op-ed on homosexualism in Pakistan.

[By Irfan Husain, columnist for Dawn]

The furore caused by the movie Dostana underlines the hypocrisy rampant in the subcontinent. The film is an exploration of a gay relationship between two men played by Abishek Bacchan and John Abraham, and is in no way overtly exploitative. Apart from one kiss, there are no scenes containing any sex. Nevertheless, a storm broke out when the film was released in Pakistan.

The truth is that we in South Asia are extremely Victorian in our attitudes towards the discussion of sexual mattes of any kind. Given these taboos, it is easy to understand why a debate about homosexuality remains out of bounds in polite company. And yet, this aspect of human sexuality is rampant in our part of the world, much as we would like to sweep it under the carpet.

Foreigners new to the subcontinent are often shocked by the sight of men walking along, holding hands in public. Even in the most liberal western country, such a sight would be rare in broad daylight along a public thoroughfare. And yet, despite this common display of affection among males, a similar demonstration among young men and women is frowned upon. Indeed, it might well cause couples in Pakistan to land up in jail if they don’t have a marriage certificate.

However, despite our prudish pretence, the fact is that we are relatively tolerant of homosexual behaviour. Our literature contains many references to romantic attachment between men. And for years, homosexuality in Pashtun society has been an open secret, although it might well be exaggerated. According to local tradition, many men live by the credo “Women for duty; boys for pleasure.” Indeed, Afghans often dress up pretty boys as girls, and have them dance in public.

According to Afghan tradition, even birds cover their rear with their wings when flying over Kandahar. In our tribal areas, local society was shocked when one amorous man actually married his young (male) lover after a colourful ceremony a couple of years ago. Muslim aristocrats in Delhi and Lucknow in Mughal India were known for their frequent affairs with attractive young men.

In the West, there have been huge strides in public opinion since the infamous trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde for homosexuality over a century ago. Now, being gay is fashionable in New York, London and Paris. While residual dislike lingers in the working classes, homophobia among educated urban professionals is very rare. And as attitudes change and gays move into the mainstream, their rights are part of the public agenda. Thus, the discussion is now about whether gays can marry, adopt children and live life as normal couples. And these relationships are as much between consenting men as between women. Lesbianism, too, is widely accepted as an alternative life choice.

According to biologists, around 2.5% of the male population has a genetic predisposition towards homosexuality. Apparently, some male babies are born with a different gene pattern, and their sexual orientation is therefore preordained by nature. To demand that such people must conform to the heterosexual norm is both cruel and unnatural.

Such social pressures cause huge stresses on these unfortunate individuals: parents want them to get married and have children, while society demands that they keep their natural desires tightly under control. And yet, transvestites are allowed to exist on the fringes of everyday life. Middle class gay men and women occupy a twilight zone in urban Pakistan (and India, too, I suspect).

In truth, while we reluctantly accept the existence of gay men, lesbianism is something we are much more uncomfortable with. And yet, our rigidly segregated society often forces young women to turn to each other. As there are very few opportunities for young people to mingle and meet, teenaged girls can hardly be blamed for experimenting with their own sex. In some cases, this becomes a lifelong preference.

While many people I know express shock and horror at these alternative lifestyle choices, I find it odd that they should choose to express their abhorrence for matters that are really none of their business. What happens between consenting adults in the privacy of bedrooms should not really concern the rest of us. True, the monotheistic faiths contain injunctions against carnal acts between men; but surely it is for the Maker to allocate blame. I, for one, refuse to be my brother’s keeper.

By driving an entire category of men and women underground, we have inflicted untold misery on hundreds of thousands of our citizen. Our penal system and laws reflect a deeply intolerant mindset that demands conformity at every level. And while we condemn any lifestyle that is not in line with the norm (whatever that is), we never stop to think that gays do not harm anybody else. If anything, they tend to be more creative than straight people. A study in the UK found that in industries like fashion and advertising, gays tend to earn more as a group than do ‘normal’ people. Music and the film in the West contain a disproportionate percentage of gays.

The ‘no-discrimination laws’ in the U.S. and the UK mean that more and more gays have begun joining the armed services. Normally, these are the most conservative institutions anywhere, so this change signifies how attitudes have been transformed within a generation. Despite these profound changes in much of the world, we in the subcontinent cling to our intolerant outlook. Indeed, we take positive delight in making life miserable for nonconformists: anybody who looks, talks or dresses differently is mocked or locked up. Perhaps I am overstating the case a bit, but the fact is that we are a deeply intolerant society.

And yet a TV programme like ‘Begum Nawazish’, featuring a man dressed as a woman, can become hugely popular in a deeply conservative country like Pakistan. How to explain such a seeming contradiction? Clearly, we can laugh at a cross-dressing act as a fiction created by show biz, but would probably be very uncomfortable if we were seated next to an overtly gay person at a dinner party.

But until we can accept and celebrate the reality of all kinds of differences within the vast mosaic that makes up humanity, we will continue to struggle with edgy movies like Dostana.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Capital Culture - Making Music in Pakistan

Making Music in Pakistan

Claiming back our heritage.

[Text by Raza Rumi; picture by Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi]

One November evening the breezy environs of the majestic Lawrence Gardens again swayed to the tunes of Hindustani classical music.

A week long music festival organised by the All Pakistan Music Conference attracted musicians, vocalists and enthusiasts from all parts the country, as well as from the imagined “enemy” India. How could it not be the case when musical traditions emerged out of a cultural synthesis of 700 years or more?

The leading light of APMC was Hayat Ahmad Khan, whose sad demise in 2005 was interpreted as an end to the glorious tradition of subcontinental streams of music in Pakistan. However, 83 years of hard work and philanthropic contributions was not in vain. He left behind a powerful institution and a network of committed individuals and aesthetes who have kept the torch ablaze.

Not a small feat in the troubled waters of a Pakistani cultural landscape constantly under attack by nation-state ideology and extremism that consider music to be too “Indian” or, even worse, un-Islamic.

This is the greatest irony of our existence: the Muslims in India contributed to what is known today as Indian classical music and innovations such as the sitar and the tabla.

The Qawwal bache trained at the shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi under the tutelage of Amir Khusrau became the founders of what was to later evolve as the sophisticated Khayal style of music. In dire times of the Sultanate and Mughal periods, these musicians had to take refuge in the princely states, and this is how the various gharanas, or schools of music, originated.

This loose network of musicians organised along the lines of kinship or teacher-pupil bonds, sustained by court patronage and eclectic and secular in appeal, led to some fine moments. Tansen at Akbar’s court, Mohammad Shah Rangeela’s patronage and later the Kingdom of Oudh defined the high-points of this fused and seamless culture beyond religion, communal and sectarian divides.

To keep this tradition alive in post-independence Pakistan was a Herculean task.

Pakistan was a moth-eaten and truncated country in the words of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The psychological trauma and barbarity of the Partition had jolted everyone and the traditional patronage of the state was missing. It was under these circumstances that on September 15 1959, music-inspired citizens met at the famous Coffee House of Lahore and launched a voluntary organization called The All Pakistan Music Conference. Eminent personas such as Roshan Ara Begum were among the illustrious list of its founders.

It should be noted that this was also the age when the maestro Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan migrated to India and Roshan Ara Begum was almost about to give up the passion of her life. Thus this civic action and reclaiming of cultural space was impressive, to say the least.

Since 1960, APMC has organised festivals and concerts, with Lahore’s annual music conference assuming the climactic apex of year-long music and its interaction with the public.

For days, all night long musical performances and singing was to become the standard format and the chilly, larger than life nights at the Lawrence Gardens provided a befittingly tender venue for these soirees.

Great masters performed and interacted with the citizenry through the language of music, thus reminding that borders could change and politics become messy, yet the shared traditions of music were not forgotten.

Ustaads like Qadir Bukhsh Pakhawaji, Nazakat Ali Khan, Salamat Ali Khan, Amanat Ali Khan, Fateh Ali Khan, Barkat Ali Khan, Sharif Khan Poonchwalay, Zahida Parveen, Sain Akhter Hussain, Latafat Hussain Khan and Roshan Ara Begum performed for years to keep music flowing into the blood-drained veins of Pakistani society.

After half a century, it was therefore a pleasure to have listened to the melodies, old and new. The older gurus were there but the refreshing part was the new and emerging talents from various schools and locations in Pakistan who testified to the fact that music was anything but dead in the land of the pure.

During the conference several genres of subcontinental music, such a Geet, Ghazal, Kafi, Kajri, Dadra, Thumri, Tarana, Dhurpad and Khayal, were presented. Dozens of students performed classical, semi-classical and instrumental numbers. The majority of those performing were from the National College of Arts, Government College University, Punjab University, Kinnaird College, MAO College, FC College and other private institutions.

It was most heartening to see that the majority of the audience were younger people and many seemed interested and engaged with the performances. This also belies the common myth that the youth are only interested in pop music and that demand for classical or semi-classical music has dwindled. How easily we fall into the traps of unsubstantiated claims.

We returned home quite late, but well before the dawn, and left hundreds of people at the music conference venue. Spellbound by the sitar and musical tunes, I wondered how exciting it was to be a part of historical cycles – that are not just composed of war and violence but of music and undying bonds of humanity.

It would be appropriate to mention the services of the late Syed Wajid Ali. He had been the chairman of the APMC since 1960, with Hayat Khan as the general secretary. Ali’s death was also mourned during the proceedings of the conference but as one of the stage managers appropriately commented: individuals fade away but institutions continue.

This is the magic of Lahore and its deep-rooted cultural mores. No other city can boast of such individuals, movements and trends. Hopefully, the music will live on. The interest of younger generations and their experiments with various forms of music hold great promise.

Let the cynics fume and froth. Melodies shall play on in Lahore.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"The Only Country Where I am a Non-Muslim is My Own" - Interview with Saira Wasim

"The Only Country Where I am a Non-Muslim is My Own" - Interview with Saira Wasim

Chatting with a Pakistani artist who happens to be an Ahmadi Muslim.

[Interview by Gaurav Sood]

Saira Wasim is a noted US based contemporary artist from Pakistan. Ms Wasim has carved a niche for herself with her innovative and meticulously crafted Persian miniatures, which she employs to make devastating political and social commentary. Her work has been widely feted, and has been showcased in numerous prominent art institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


You were born and raised in Lahore. Can you tell us a little more about how it was growing up there? Did you ever visit the BRB canal?

While I was born in the city, my parents moved to the suburbs right after my birth. I grew up in Allama Iqbal town, which is a south-western suburb of Lahore.

After my birth, my father built a house in Allama Iqbal town - he always wanted to live away from the city life. Our house was one of the first in the town. My early memories of living in that new town include seeing fields all around our house.

My parents still live in that house though the town itself is much more crowded now.

And yes, I have visited BRB Canal plenty of times; my father loved to take us there on picnics.

Is your family originally from Lahore or they moved there during Partition?

My maternal grand parents were from Lahore while my paternal grand parents were from Pasrur, a small village near Sialkot (near the Indian border).

Many of my family members originally lived in Qadian, a small village in Gurdaspur in Indian Punjab as Ahmadis have long had very strong ties with Qadian.

Can you tell me a little more about your childhood and your parents?

We were raised in a protected environment. Our weekends were spent at my father’s village of Pasrur. Our father always wanted us to have a first hand knowledge of village life because he wanted us to experience how people live in extreme poverty. We were also taught swimming, horse riding, fishing, climbing on trees, and many other activities of village life.


My father is an engineer. In 1984 my father started a factory for manufacturing capital goods in Lahore. He ran a factory to manufacture control panels and switch gears. ‘Power Electronics’, my dad’s company, was the first Pakistani company that made Switch-gears. Before that, Pakistan had to import these products from Western countries at an enormous cost. It was in fact that realization which prompted him to start manufacturing capital goods.

My father disliked the idea of emigrating to other countries. He believed that we have to make things better in our own country. He thought things would get better after Zia’s regime and that our Caliph, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, would come back. He thought that Pakistan would be on the road of peace and prosperity soon after Zia left but my father was mistaken in his optimism.

Anyhow, while the 1980s were the worst in Pakistan history in terms of freedom of speech and religious freedom, 1990s were the worst in terms of political chaos and corruption in the country.

My father had to struggle hard and faced numerous obstacles due to the constant flip flop of democratically elected governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, and because these governments brought a lot of corruption in the country. The common man in Pakistan had thought that democratic governments would bring peace and prosperity in the country but things got much worse.


She is a very sensitive person.

My mother had a very tough childhood. My Nana Jaan died when she was two years old and she had to live in extreme poverty.

Although my Nana Jaan, a close friend of Mirza Gulam Ahmad (founder of the Ahmadi sect), was a very rich businessman, with interests in Lahore and Bombay, before partition, and left huge property for his four kids and two widows, those four kids and two widows didn’t get even a single penny from that property because my mother’s two Chachas (uncles) were very much against my naana jaan’s conversion to Ahmadiyya faith and his second marriage at the age of 60 to my nani jaan (a young Kashmiri Ahmadi school teacher from a very poor family).

His first wife was a rich lady from a nawab family who lived most of her life with my nana jaan. She had converted to Ahmadiyya faith along with nana jaan but couldn’t have kids so she, along with second caliph Mirza Basir-ud-deen Mahmud and his wife, made my nana jaan do a second marriage with my nani jaan. The first wife died soon after my nana jaan death, and both chachas distributed the wealth among their children.

My nani jaan, who got widowed at the age of 25 with four young kids, moved to Rabwa from Lahore where the second caliph was living, who supported nani just like his own daughter and grand kids and there she started teaching at local school. My nani also died when my ami was 16 yrs old and my mamoo (ami’s elder brother) who was himself just 21 yrs old became the guardian of three younger siblings.

Can you tell us a little more about the impact of growing up as an Ahmadi in Pakistan?

Ahmadis have faced antagonism since the beginning. Ulemas of all the major seventy-two sects of Islam declared them Kafirs in 1891.

In 1974, Prime Minister Zulifqar Ali Bhutto declared Ahmadis non-Muslims. The constitution of Pakistan was amended to outlaw Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims. Following the legislation, anti-Ahmadiyya riots broke out in the entire country. Thousands of Ahmadis died in the riots. Their properties were looted and their homes burnt.

My ami (mother) always tells us this story that in 1974 when she was pregnant (with me) and alone in the house with her three year old daughter (my elder sister), the mullahs led a call during the Friday sermon for every Ahmadi house to be burnt in order to secure Islam from Ahmadiyyat.

A huge mob went on a rampage. As the word got around people, including our next door neighbors left their houses to try to save themselves. When the mob, which included some of our own Sunni relatives, was marching toward our house, my abu (father) went to the police to ask for help. The police refused point blank saying that they could not go against the mullahs.

Just when the mob was about to reach our house, there was a sudden severe sandstorm. My ami always says that it was a miracle. The mob couldn’t do anything except break a few windows. My Ami tells us that after the storm there were only shoes and turbans found on the street.

So at a fairly early age we came to know that we had a religious identity which was unacceptable to the mainstream Muslims. We were nurtured in the basic teachings of Ahmadi faith in house, and sent to Convent of Jesus and Mary school because my father didn’t want us to face any discrimination because of our faith.

The discrimination against us has also been endorsed on our passports. If we call ourselves Ahmadis we have to enroll as a non-Muslim which deprives us of all our basic rights as Muslims. For example, Ahmadis cannot cast votes as Muslim and in order to vote, we have to enroll as non-Muslims.

During Zia-ul Huq oppressive regime, our Fourth Caliph (spiritual leader) Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad was compelled to migrate to England. Since then many Ahmadis in Pakistan have emigrated to European countries. Most of my relatives moved to USA and Canada.

Zia’s oppressive regime left a long lasting legacy of turmoil in the country and religious extremism. There were many incidents of animosity that I witnessed, and now living in US I realize how much we were denied of our basic religious rights. Ahmadis were not allowed to practice their faith in public places or build their mosques.

So my father volunteered our house for congregational prayers in Ramazan and other Ahmadis meetings. When Mullahs of local mosque got this news my father had to face huge threats and warnings that we were using our residential area for un-Islamic activities. It is against the constitution of Pakistan to build Ahmadiyya mosque or use a building as Ahmadiyya mosque and activities. My father was sued by the local mullahs but my father took the fine in his stride and paid the penalty.

I find it ironic that the only country where I am a non-Muslim is my own. In the past I have never commented on these issues in my work. And although I was very willing to address such controversial issues, the general air of intolerance in my society always discouraged me from doing so.

When did you first realize that you were interested in art? Was it a Eureka moment for you or a slow eventual realization? South Asian societies generally see art as a hobby. From art as a hobby to choosing it as a profession, this transition is especially difficult in Asian societies. Were your parents supportive of your decision? If you feel comfortable, please tell us a little more about your parent’s professions and their impact on you.

From the earliest that I can remember, I have always been very fond of drawing. Every wall, cupboard and door was covered with silly figurative drawings and portraits of family members, relatives, and who ever visited our house.

I watched the visitors secretly and drew their appearance on the wall and when they were gone I showed it to my parents and said, “Look, I made the picture of Baba Chokidari, motti Chachi, and Apa ji - don’t they look like this?”

In the beginning my parents were amused by the drawings, my parents said, ‘look how creative and clever she is’, they laughed at those silly drawing on every wall of the house, and then they realized that every wall was covered with scribbling and drawings, and it gave them a very untidy appearance.

So I was given blackboard and white chalks to draw on and instructed to draw on the blackboard only. The blackboard had two sides, one for me and one for my elder sister. We were told to do anything on our given area of blackboard. My sister’s side was always covered with homework and my side was always covered by drawings. It is funny that now my sister is a Doctor (a general physician in Missouri), and I am still doing those silly drawings.

Let me share one another interesting story with you, my mother was also interested in art and always wanted to be a professional painter. Unfortunately, being a woman, she was not allowed by her family to paint or to pursue a professional carrier. When she was young, art was considered un-Islamic, and a waste of time. She used to make miniature paintings on fabric, newspapers and vases, from scratch and without any guidance or training.

At that time, parents decided what careers the children would pursue and with whom they would marry. My widowed grandmother, who was a teacher and vice principal at a local school, decided that my mother should become a doctor. However my grandmother died untimely and the male guardians of my mother disallowed her from continuing her education. So, with her hidden passion for the arts and her mother’s unfulfilled dream for her to be a doctor, she was married away.

Since early childhood my mother has been mentally and academically preparing my sister and me to eventually become doctors. My sister fulfilled my mother’s dream and became a doctor. But when it came my turn to choose a career, I disappointed her. She always said “I didn’t get permission to be an artist by my mother, so how can I allow you?”

At the time my progress in school was getting very weak and she had to face complaints from my school teachers that they had caught me drawing in the class.
So whenever my mother caught me drawing or painting, she would destroy whatever artwork I had created. The only safe time I had was in the middle of night.

I used to wake up in the middle of night when everybody was asleep, switched on a torch, covered myself with a big blanket, and pursued my art underneath it. Now I feel funny sharing all this but I was still caught, and received a good beating from Ami. My mother had a special beating stick for me. If I ever said I wanted to be an artist my sister immediately fetched that stick and put it in front of Ami.

My mother was not an anti-art person but she feared that her daughter wouldn’t have respectable place in the society and that pursuing art would kill my professional abilities. As you know in South Asian society artists are deemed to be mere craftsmen.

My ‘secret’ decision of being an artist was totally opposite to what my mom had decided for me. What I was painting was an even graver threat to Ami and Abu because starting 8th grade, I started painting compositions on ‘human suffering’ ‘persecution on minorities and women issues’.

Eventually, after years of persistence, my parents realized the intensity of my devotion to being an artist and I was granted permission to go to an art school. My Abu was a very big support from the very beginning - he always supported me in whatever I did or chose except we were supposed to be good in studies and elite in our fields. Like, “Kasbeh Kamal khon khe Aziz-e-Jhan Shohri’’ Iqbal

My Ami had her own very strong principles and believes, she always taught us it was a rigid patriarchal society (secondly we were a religious minority) where there was much discrimination against women and minorities and so women must pursue a career of utmost prestige and which would be considered safe and money making too.

Another reason for these strong anti-art sentiments in the 80’s was Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship. Every sort of art except for calligraphy was condemned; figurative art was considered un-Islamic. In fact, engaging in any form of art was considered a great sin.

I was careful to never show my work to my family till it was exhibited or published because if they saw the content and imagery of my work, they would never allow me to continue making such paintings or display them. So, belonging to a family from a controversial religious minority, and one that didn’t support the arts, I grew more politically conscious by the day.

On Art, why did you choose miniature art? What specific affordances does miniature art provide for your overtly political work?

Even today, Pakistani audiences perceive miniature painting as decorative, a form of art that reflects and glorifies their rich traditional heritage. Miniatures, for me, however, have a a more transcendental role; it is a vocabulary for the artist to engage in a sociopolitical dialogue with viewers towards a more humane society.

Of late, the miniature has drawn attention from foreign curators, museums, and art institutions. Yet, in Pakistan, my work was accepted by just one gallery––Rhotas2, the only serious gallery in Lahore–the others being reluctant to display anything controversial.

Moving to Chicago in 2003, I gained the artistic and religious freedom that was somewhat precarious in my own homeland. I began responding to my new environment. The post 9/11 climate of fear, scrutiny and surveillance of Muslims in the West thus shaped my current works. Global politics has become a consistent theme.

Western societies in general - and the United States in particular - tend to be less aware of other societies in the world, particularly about Islam and Muslim culture. This is an era of cross-cultural misunderstandings; misperceptions created by a Western media that is mostly hostile to Muslim societies and Islam. Much of this misperception is attributable to the Western media, which often presents a distorted version of reality and only one side of the global debate. My new works unmask the injustices and hypocrisy of both Eastern and Western worlds.

My work has journeyed through several boundaries, from employing the centuries-old miniature format to a contemporary stage where a human drama unfolds every day, to cross-cultural forays and political interventions. And the inspirational sources have been many –– the courtly propaganda of the Mughals, the grandeur of baroque opera, the fun and enjoyment of circus performances, icons of pop culture, and the glamor of South-Asian cinema.

With Mughal allegorical symbolism, we miniaturists have created our own visual semiotics and metaphors. For example, the extremist mullahs who have hijacked Islam for their own political agendas and manipulate Muslim youth in the name of Jihad are allegorized by Greek-satyrs; Muslim leaders are depicted as string puppets in the hands of President Bush; Pakistani army generals wearing Hawaiian sandals indicate the irony that this nation is the world’s seventh nuclear state and is spending on a defence budget of over $3.5 billion a year in spite of a national debt of over $40 billion; the Shia-Sunni clash in Iraq is a bull-fight and the bogeyman media is a monkey with a camera.

Although they provide comic relief, they are critical of ignorance and prejudice, manipulation of governments and religious heads. The ironies and paradoxes of a post 9/11 world permeate my tragi-comic paintings. Mine is a plea for social justice.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Special - Life, Love, Lahore

Jahagir's tomb-complex, Lahore

Life and times of Pakistan's premier monstropolis.

[Text and picture by Raza Rumi]

There was a Lahore that I grew up in, and then there is the Lahore that I live in now. Recovering from an exile status for two decades, I find myself today turning into something of a clichéd grump, hanging desperately on to the past. Yet I resist that.

Writing about Lahore is a sensation that lies beyond the folklore – Jine Lahore nai wakhaya o janmia nai (The one who has not seen Lahore has never lived). It has to do with an inexplicable bonding and oneness with the past, and yet a contradictory and not-so-glorious interface with the present.

Lahore is now the second largest city in Pakistan, with a population that has crossed the 10 million mark. It is turning into a monstropolis. Had it not been for Lahore’s intimacy with Pakistan’s power base – the Punjab-dominated national establishment – this would be just another massive, unmanageable city, regurgitating all the urban clichés of the Global South.

But Lahore retains a definite soul; it is comfortable with modernity and globalisation, and continues to provide inspiration for visitors and residents alike.

Over the last millennium, Lahore has been the traditional capital of Punjab in its various permutations. A cultural centre of North India extending from Peshawar to New Delhi, it has historically been open to visitors, invaders and Sufi saints alike.

Several accounts tell how Lahore emerged as a town between the 6th and 16th centuries BC. According to commonly accepted myth, Lahore’s ancient provenance, Lohawarana, was founded by the two sons of Lord Ram some 4000 years ago. One of these sons, Loh (or Luv), gave his name to this timeless city.

A deserted temple in Lahore Fort is ostensibly a tribute to Loh, located near the Alamgiri gate, next to the fort’s old jails. Under the regime of Zia ul-Haq, Loh’s divine space was closed and used as a dungeon in which to punish political activists.

Later records, such as Ptolemy’s “Geographia”, written around 150 AD, refer to Lahore as ‘Labokla’, and locate it with reference to the Indus, the Ravi, the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers. Another readable account from the past is that of Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese pilgrim who visited Lahore during the early seventh century AD. He described it as a large Brahminical city – mullahs beware! There is many a contradiction within these accounts, of course, but the important point is that Lahore was not built yesterday. Its ancient moorings explain its indomitable will, ability to survive the upheavals of time, and an innate life beyond the limits of recorded histories, fancy notions of urbanity and cultural evolution. Lahore is also about its centuries of residents.

The mystique of the city thus is a personalised experience, as if a city were in permanent dialogue with its residents even while speaking to a newcomer.

Little Ghazni

I spent my early years in a Model Town colonial bungalow, which was originally the creation of a Hindu doctor who had to leave the city at Partition. This was an age when birds were an integral feature of Lahori skies, and the seasons played out their glory.

As the name suggests, Model Town was an ‘ideal’ suburb, created during the Raj by the advanced citizenry on the idea of ‘cooperative urban life’. Established in 1922, it was the fruition of advocate Diwan Khem Chand’s unshakeable belief in the values of self help, self responsibility and democracy, loosely the principles of cooperative societies.

This was the reason why Model Town was established as, and still is, a ‘cooperative society’. What fewer people know is that these values of cooperation were first popularised by George Jacob Holyoake, a 19th-century English social reformer responsible for the cooperative movement. Incidentally, Holyoake was also infamous for the distinction of having invented the phrase ‘secularism’, for which he was the last citizen to be convicted for blasphemy in England.

Khem Chand and the renowned engineer and philanthropist Sir Ganga Ram (founder of the two famous Ganga Ram Hospitals, in Lahore in 1921 and Delhi in 1954) together created Model Town.

As a child, I would hear these stories from my father, also a lawyer, connecting his surroundings with his profession and middle-class dynamism. The importance of Model Town is such that it became the 20th-century standard for urban living in Pakistan. In every city in the country, you can find a Model Town or its close relative. As author Ranjana Sengupta writes, “Many of the elements of Model Town, Lahore, were followed in the colonies that came up in post-1947 Delhi, including one also named Model Town.” Lahore and its trends can be infectious.

But this suburban delight was not the Lahore with which my grandmother was acquainted. She called it a jungle, and returned to the walled city on any given pretext. The journey involved a bus ride, hopping tongas and walking along the ancient streets of surreal Old Lahore. I would accompany her on each of these visits. We would move through the gates of Old Lahore, which sported no signage or self-conscious tourism-promotion gimmickry. Rather, passing through these gates was entering into a domain of lived history. And this is what Lahore remains – a lived and a living city.

Under the early Sultans of Delhi, especially during the 11th and 12fth centuries, Lahore assumed considerable importance as the easternmost bastion of Muslim power, and an outpost for further advance toward the riches of the East. Apart from being the second capital, and later the only capital, of the Ghaznavid kingdom, Lahore had great military and strategic significance: whoever controlled it could look forward to sweeping the whole of East Punjab to Panipat and Delhi.

Long known as ‘Little Ghazni’, Lahore attracted mystics and scholars from Central Asia. Ali Hajweri (who died in 1077), also known as Data Saheb, was one such luminary of that age, whose primal book Kashf-al-Mahjub (the Unveiling of the Hidden) remains an authentic treatise on an Islamic variant of mysticism, and whose shrine is today busier than ever.

My Old Lahore visits were never complete without a salaam to the great saint, and this habitual halt continues even three decades later. The value of Kashf-al-Mahjub lies not only in the experiential accounts of contemporary mystic orders, but also in the fact that it is a seminal, systematic exposition of personalised mysticism.

Over time, Kashf has become a standard textbook for Sufis. In popular lore, Ali Hajweri is also the protector of Lahore. During the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, many a Lahori attributed the city’s survival to the saint, and to his fantastic ability to catch Indian bombs in his green fakiresque robes.

Mughal dream

It is not that Lahore did not face devastation during what is commonly known as the ‘medieval’ ages. The fearless Mongols were there to inject fear into the Lahore-walla, and in 1241, during the chaos following the death of Sultan Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, the Mongols attacked and levelled the city. Thousands were killed.

Lahore was a desolate place until Sultan Balban, who, after 1270, restored the fortifications of Lahore and proceeded to rebuild the city. True, the sultans were more focused on Delhi as the Islamicate capital, with Lahore being only a strategic outpost to be protected. However, the walled city lived on and expanded.

During the early 16th century, the victory of Babur and the defeat of the last sultan, Ibrahim Lodhi, ushered in a new era in Indian history. Babur captured Lahore in 1524, before he was proclaimed emperor of India.

This was the beginning of Lahore’s expansion and beautification, much of which can be seen today – notwithstanding the population explosion and atmospheric pollution that seem to put the Mongol threats of yore to shame.

The prime of Mughal rule – from 1524 to 1752 – and the special attention by Mughal emperors, particularly Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, transformed Lahore into the ultimate representation of Mughal aesthetics. For the two centuries following the ascension of Akbar in 1556, Lahore was a Mughal dream translated into architecture. Little wonder the adulation with which the English poet John Milton wrote in 1670:

His eyes might there command whatever stood
City of old or modern fame, the seat
Of mightiest empire, from the destined walls
Of Cambalu, seat of Cathian Can,
And Samarcand by Oxus, Temir’s throne,
To Paquin of Sinaen Kings, and thence
To Agra and Lahore of Great Mogul...

The Delhi-obsession of the Muslim rulers of India was interrupted when Akbar made Lahore his capital from 1584 to 1598. The majestic Lahore Fort was rebuilt, next to the Ravi River, and the urban habitation was enclosed within a red brick wall boasting a dozen gates.

Jahangir and Shah Jahan further extended the fort, building palaces and tombs, and laying out gardens, among which only the Shalimar Gardens survive today in their unkempt glory. Jahangir loved Lahore, and he and his wife, Noor Jahan, chose to be buried at Shahdara, on the outskirts of Lahore. The tomb of Jehangir and Noor Jahan is today a majestic and melancholic monument.

Shah Jahan, the most extravagant of the Mughals, was born in Lahore, and his eldest son, Dara Shikoh, also found the city enticing.

Dara was a popular figure in Lahore, and it was there that he found his spiritual mentor, Mian Mir (also buried in Lahore). Dara’s nemesis and Shah Jahan’s successor, Aurangzeb (1658-1707), bestowed on Lahore its most famous monument, the Badshahi mosque and the Alamgiri gateway to the Fort. Even during the anarchy that followed Mughal rule, Lahore remained a city with a formidable reputation; under Sikh rule, from 1780 to 1846, it was popularly referred to as the ‘Mughal capital’.

It took almost a century for the British to move towards the Punjab, from their foothold in Bengal. The annexation of the Punjab in 1849, and the successful control of the 1857 uprising in many parts of North India, resulted in the consolidation of the British Empire.

Due to its strategic location, the Punjab was subsequently central to the architecture of the colonial power. Lahore was to become a major outpost of the empire in the ‘Great Game’ that continues to be played out in Afghanistan, as the sahibs ventured to create social and cultural spaces for themselves in otherwise unfriendly and unfamiliar surroundings.

The earliest signs of colonial Lahore are found within the Lawrence Gardens (baptised the Bagh-i-Jinnah following Independence), representing the quintessential Raj ethos. Built primarily for the sahibs and memsahibs, the park has managed to maintain its dreamlike beauty for a century and a half, with halls and pavilions that play on the nostalgia for ‘home’.

A garden in the heart of British Lahore was essential. True to the colonial policy, the new garden was a continuation of the Mughal tradition of creating baghs as the aesthetic expression of self-indulgence. This project also reflected the expanse of the British Empire. Thousands of saplings of various exotic species were imported from colonies around the world, and by 1860, the gardens were set up as a Lahore version of the famous Kew Garden in London.

During chilly winters and unbearable summers, for years I have walked in the Lawrence Gardens. Indeed, my fondest memories of Lahore are in one way or another linked to this splendid park. Whenever I have wanted to hear the sound of trees, I have not been disappointed.

The contemporary core of Lahore’s architecture and spaces are rooted in the British period, with a marked emphasis on the brick-based Anglo-Mughal architecture style, a combination of the Mughal, Gothic and Victorian.

The famous Young Men’s Christian Association and General Post Office buildings of Lahore were built to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria, an event marked by the construction of clock towers and monuments all over the Subcontinent.

This was also a time when institutions were intrinsically linked to their buildings – such as the High Court, Government College, Forman Christian College, Lahore Museum, Governor House, National College of Arts, Tollinton Market, Punjab Assembly and the old campus of Punjab University. The latter was once considered the largest centre of education in Asia.

The ‘Paris of the East’ had already emerged as a cosmopolitan and cultural capital of British Punjab, where poets such as Iqbal and artists such as Amrita Shergil, as well as future writers like Khushwant Singh, Amrita Pritam, Saadat Hasan Manto and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were all to emerge.

But the multicultural spirit of Lahore was to be ruptured by Partition. In the new state of Pakistan, Lahore therefore became ‘provincialised’, while the large-scale exodus of non-Muslims inevitably worked to limit the city’s secular credentials.

Layers and layers

I studied at Aitchison College, known as Lahore’s top college and one that had the dubious distinction of aiming to educate the relatives of the ruling chiefs of the Punjab.

Aitchison’s foundation stone was laid in 1886 by the then-viceroy, the Earl of Dufferin and Ava, and it was named after the then-lieutenant-governor of the Punjab, Charles Umpherston Aitchison. During my years at Aitchison, the quality of the academics remained at best tentative, but its sprawling 186-acre campus was a veritable treasure trove of the finest Anglo-Mughal buildings. Its tree-lined boulevards and playgrounds still return to me at times in my dreams.

The most memorable of experiences was living in one of the bungalows in the Government Officers’ Residences, known as GOR-1. Located in the centre of Lahore, GOR-1 is to Lahore what the so-called Lutyens bungalows are to Delhi.

The verandas, little gardens next to each bedroom, and the fragrance of Lahore’s monsoons and springs, all of these were best experienced in this part of the city. Others will, of course, have loved where they grew up as well, for each Lahori has his or her own store of memories and attachments.

Beyond the annals of history, there are as many Lahores as the number of its residents. This is why those who migrated from Lahore to India after 1947 could not take Lahore out of their system. Khushwant Singh has to reconcile with his memory time and again; his writings replete with Lahore tales. Prem Kirpal, a Lahori migrant to Delhi, wrote these lines to sum it all up:

My beloved City of Lahore
Still standing not far from Delhi
Within quicker reach by air or train,
Suddenly became a forbidden land
Guarded by a sovereign state
Of new ideologies, loves and hates

Kirpal’s poem is befittingly titled “Spirit’s Musings”. A spirit will break free of limits. These individuals were not locating their selves in the politics of Partition per se; this was the personal that gets submerged in the cruel and indifferent political.

It was in Lahore that I met the Indian writer and former diplomat Pran Neville. He was there to launch his own book on Lahore, A Sentimental Journey. It was a monsoon evening, heavy and similar to the weather on the day when his family packed their bags for Delhi.

Unusually fit and active for a man who had lived over seven decades, he appeared timeless. Sitting in Lahore, he walked various paths and cities in his conversation. Having travelled the world as a foreign-service officer, Neville had concluded that foremost, he was a Lahore native.

In a conversation, he declared, “In a way I never left Lahore, because it was always with me. I am an un-reconstructed Lahori, you could say, who never thought he would live anywhere else.”

When riots shook Lahore in July 1947, Neville’s siblings moved to Delhi, but his parents were reluctant to migrate. Finally, persuaded by their Muslim friends, his parents also left, though with a fantastic certitude that they would return after the dust settled.

That has been one of the foremost tragedies of Partition: many who left in the flurry of events were convinced they would return some day to their homes, villages and cities. This was never to happen. The lines instead got thicker on the canvas of history.

Today, in Delhi, Neville leads a group composed of Lahore’s former residents, who meet regularly and share memories of a city that lives on within them. Memory needs a playground, seeks indulgence and reconciliation. Pran Neville, Ajeet Caur and Khushwant Singh, in Delhi, try to inject some order into the chaos of their ruptured memories.

Yet in many ways, Lahore remains one of the most invisible and underappreciated cities in the region. The journalist Simon Jenkins once wrote: “For centuries the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi through Punjab carried the history of the subcontinent streaming beneath the walls of Lahore. But while India is at least fighting to rescue what remains of its past, Lahore is left to languish.”

Despite the appearance of neglect for its monuments, however, Lahore’s upkeep has not been all that bad, by Southasian standards.

Under the former chief minister of Punjab and later prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, Lahore found a new builder. Sharif’s interest in and fondness for Lahore has been given continuity by his efficient younger brother, Shahbaz, now twice the Punjab chief minister.

The upgrading of infrastructure and serious (though admittedly ad hoc) attempts at urban planning has ensured that Lahore’s untrammelled growth does not become a nightmare. But no amount of goodwill can hide the fact that this wondrous city is one of the most polluted in the region.

It is a separate matter that one of the most robust citizen-led urban mobilisations in Pakistan during recent years has been the Lahore Bacaho Tehreek, the Movement to Save Lahore. Saving the trees along Lahore’s canal, which cuts across the urban jungle, has been the focus of this movement, though it also laid the foundation for the 2007 lawyers’ struggle for rule of law in the country.

Other groups, such as a spectrum of conservation associations, likewise, testify to the electric zest of Lahoris. Indeed, since the inception of Pakistan, Lahore has been a nerve centre of political mobilisation and public opinion. I am reminded of writer S Asad Raza’s evocative lines:

The world in general has few cities that interweave so seamlessly a great vitality today (the city is about the twenty-fifth largest on the globe) with an unbroken and luxurious history (spanning the last two millennia). Only in Lahore do you find the sepulchre of the legendary Anarkali, the star-crossed dancing girl buried alive for her love of the young prince Salim (the film Mughal-e-Azam is a version), inside the dusty Archives of the Punjab Secretariat, which was a mosque that the British whitewashed, and is now decorated with portraits of British colonial governors. Layers and layers: it’s that kind of place.

When a city delineates the cultural and political contours of a country, and handles the conflicting layers of past and present, it has to be out of the ordinary. And this is why Lahoris love to say: Lahore, Lahore aye.

[This piece was earlier published in Jahane Rumi]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Scoop – When Mr Zardari Met Ms Palin

Scoop – When Mr Zardari Met Ms Palin

All he wanted was a hug.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; imaging by Roberto De Vido]

Pakistani men, the upper-class English-speaking types, have a “Savile Row-suited gigolo kind of charm.” No, it’s not the official view of Pakistan Paindabad. This was noted by someone close to US Secretary of State Ms Condoleeza Rice as she sat face-to-face with former PM Mr Shaukat Aziz on her virgin trip to Pakistan in 2005.

This was recorded in an otherwise yawn-yawn book titled Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power. The book also noted that Ms Rice was left unimpressed by Mr Aziz’s gigolo-esqe seduction.

Now another suited-booted Pakistani man has tried his luck. President Asif Ali Zardari, the nation’s First Widower, pumped in his macho Feudal Lord rugged-look appeal (but with a trimmed mustache…in keeping with the Savile Row profile?) with another American lady of repute and disrepute.

This time it’s the Alaskan moose-killing Ms Sarah Palin, mummy of five children and also the Republican vice-President nominee.

During a state visit to New York in September, 2008, the First Widower met Momma Palin and yes readers, there indeed was something at first sight, if only from our man’s side.

First, they both shook hands. The moose-hunter who could become America’s dumbest president said she was “honoured” to meet Pakistan’s President. Our Widower, clearly delighted, in a return compliment, which only we Pakistani men could come up with, called her...ahem, “gorgeous”.

Mr Qadari...oh, sorry Zardari (blame Mr McCain) said, “Now I know why the whole of America is crazy about you.” (Ouch!)

“You are so nice,” Momma Palin shot back.

Just then the First Widower’s lackey told the two happy people to keep shaking hands – oh, no hidden motive. For the cameras, you see.

(More embarrassment coming)

The First Widower, all beaming, said, “If he’s insisting, I might hug.”

Momma Palin just smiled. Politely.

At the time of going to the press, Pakistan Paindabad could not confirm whether any hug actually took place.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

In Mourning - Once Was Marriott

In Mourning - Once Was Marriott

Terrorist attack kills more than 40 people in the Islamabad hotel.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Explosion at Pakistan Marriott hotel kills 40
The Associated Press

Ideally located in the heart of capital, Islamabad Marriott Hotel with its distinguished patronage, plays host to Heads of states, dignitaries, corporate moguls and leisure guests from across the world. A symphony of contemporary decor, IMH reflects the diversity, the grandeur, the style, the hospitality - intensified in an intriguing way. And only here will one experience those sublime moments Islamabad is famous for.

Rooms and Suites
The living embodiment of glamour, Marriot Hotel Islamabad, combines elegance with style to enhance a variety of guest rooms and suites. Introduce yourself to the unique delights, up-to-the-minute amenities, and homely comfort within an ambience of exclusivity. Hospitality and swank décor in deluxe and executive guestrooms make your stay a relishing experience.

Contact Us
Islamabad Marriott Hotel
Agha Khan Road, Shalimar 5,
P.O.Box 1251 Islamabad.
Phone: +92 (51) 111-223344, 2826121
Fax: +92 (51) 2820648, 2825113

The hotel was hit before, too

A letter from Bill Marriott, Chairman & CEO of Marriott International

Islamabad, January 26, 2007

Today we witnessed the cruel hand of terrorism once again. According to Pakistani authorities, our hotel in Islamabad was the target of a lone suicide bomber. The explosion occurred by the loading dock in the afternoon local time.

No guests were hurt but a hotel maintenance worker was hospitalized and sadly, one of the hotel's security guards was killed as he tried to stop the suicide bomber from approaching the hotel. He is a great hero and he represents the true spirit to serve of our associates; to go above and beyond, which he certainly did.

Today, we're doing all we can to assist the hotel in Islamabad and reach out to the family of our security guard, who gave his life.

On September 20, 2008, the seven-storey building of five-star Marriott hotel was completely destroyed in a powerful suicide blast and more than 50 persons were killed and over 200 others were wounded.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Special - Mr Zardari, You've Got Mail

Mr Zardari, You've Got Mail

A Pakistani student writes to the nation's new Prez.

[By Hassan Masud]

Mr Zardari, You have fought, work now you must
For heaven's sake, save this country from utter rust;
High hopes that people have, build upon them
Come to us, instead of going to them.

Bring the new tradition of think and act
Please cut the crap and honour you pac

Mr President, you are now at the height that glows
Can we finally also have a system that smoothly flows?

You have burdens on your shoulders, burdens that are huge
Act responsibly and courageously because that's expected of you;

Economic depression, inflation and severe insecurity
Please resolve these issues by giving away your luxury.

Honorable Judiciary continues to bleed in your democracy
You make us wonder when will you ever do away with this tyranny?

Treacherous dictators usurped and slashed without any morality
Will you quitely give them pure, simple and easy indemnity?

What is more important, standing proud before your nation
Or bowing to "Mighty ones" and pleading for ration?

God has given you a tremendous oppurtunity, use it for Pakistan
Live it to the dreams of those who sacrificed to make this land.

You must listen to the best possible advice and assistance
Turn to us if you need help in matters of utmost importance

For we are the common people of this land
Whose future and destiny are in your hand

Our dear innocent brothers in the north are getting killed
For whose fault? Everybody is in the dark and uninformed.

We are fighting a war that we do not want to fight
You are as much aware of this as are we, am I right?

Corruption and bribery, murder and extortion
These are the very perils that pinch our population

We need the institutions to be strong and formidable
Only then will we feel secure and comfortable

And in all this is your victory, Mr President
And in all this is the revenge WE want for her death.

You have fought, work now you must
For heaven's sake, save this country from utter rust!

We wish you all the best and pray that the next 5 years, which will be termed as "Zardari Era" bring out the best of us as a nation. May we get mature as Pakistanis and may our democracy, for which we have truly paid a huge price to get, prosper!

The 'poet' is a final year student at Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute (GIKI), Topi.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Xclusive – How President Zardari Courted Benazir Bhutto


Revealing excerpts from Benazir’s memoirs.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

As Mr Asif Zardari, the widower of Ms Benazir Bhutto, becomes the new President of Pakistan, Pakistan Paindabad looks back into his wife’s autobiography, Daughter of Destiny, to find out just how he became Pakistan’s First Husband.

So, here is the story of how Pakistan's most famous woman got attracted to a rich man's son who would, due to his connections to her, would one day lay claim to his nation's top post. In Ms Benazir Bhutto's own words:

Family pressure
My personal life had taken a dramatic turn on July 29, 1987, when I agreed to an arranged marriage on the prompting of my family.

First whispers started earlier
Soon before the family was to gather in Cannes in July 1985, my mother and Auntie Manna approached me with a proposal from the landowning Zardari family on behalf of their son, Asif.

Old crush?
When we were teenagers, he’d watched me enter and leave the movie theater his father owned.

A suitable boy?
Auntie Manna had carefully researched the prospective groom…asking the Zardaris to answer such questions as Asif’s academic qualifications (Petaro Cadet College, the London Centre of Economic and Political Studies), his profession (real estate, agriculture, and the family construction business), his hobbies (swimming, squash, and his own polo team, the Zardari Four), and even whether he liked to read!

The reluctant girl
…but I wasn’t interested. For the first time in nine years, I was enjoying my own country, free to go out and see my friends, to travel, to work. “Just let me enjoy my freedom for a while,” I kept saying.

A woman’s burden
Remaining single would work against me politically both inside and outside Pakistan. In the male chauvinistic society we live in, little thought is given to a man who remains a bachelor. But a single woman is suspect.

Zardari pressure
Asif Zardarai. Asif Zardari. Asif Zardari. Two years after his family’s initial enquiry, neither he nor his family had given up.

Someone told me that Asif had taken a bad fall from his polo pony and would limp for the rest of his life. That turned out not to be true…

First meeting
He was wearing glasses, and I couldn’t even see the expressions in his eyes. I didn’t have a single feeling about him at all after the evening ended, even when he sent me a dozen roses the next day.

On the fourth day of the Zardari visit, I took Fathi to Windsor Park while Asif went to a polo match. A bee stung me in my hand. By dinnertime my hand was very swollen. “I’m taking you to the hospital,” Asif told me when he arrived at the flat. He ignored my protests, calling for a car, arranging for the doctor, buying the prescribed medicine. For once I am not in charge, I thought.

It’s settled
“Conscious of my religious obligations and duty to my family, I am pleased to proceed with the marriage proposal accepted by my mother, Begum Nusrat Bhutto,” read the statement I released to the press.

No love, yet
We didn’t really love each other yet, though my mother assured me that love would come later.

The D-Day, December 18 1987
I tried to look demurely down at the ground as I took my place on the wedding dais.

Tasting the blood
Two hundred thousand people danced and cheered at the People’s Reception in Lyari, giving Asif his first taste of the love and support of the masses for the Pakistan’s People Party.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

50 Pakistani Destinations Before You Die - Lawrence Garden, Lawrence Garden, Lahore

Lawrence Garden Memories, Lahore

Listening to the sound of trees.

[Pictures by Raza Rumi]

This is the first article in the 50 Pakistani Destinations Before You Die series.

Before the Partition

I was born in Lahore in 1936. We lived not far away from Lawrence Gardens, at No. 10 Egerton Road. Some of my earliest memories are of going to the gardens in a tonga, down Lawrence Road, next to the unending wall around Governor's house, the main entrance guarded by white British soldiers.

I remember a large plantation of tall pine trees at the beginning of the gardens, near the Gymkhana Club. I remember the Cosmopolitan Club, where my father was a member, the big lawns outside where we often played. Also, as an avid cricket fan, I remember watching Abdul Hafeez Kardar score 176 runs against the visiting Australian cricket team in the ground which was located inside the gardens.

After 1947, I have never been able to return to Lawerence Gardens or see my beloved Lahore again.
Subhash Mahindra, Hyderabad, India

Childhood memories

Lawrence Garden is truely amazing. It reminds me of my early morning Saturday walks with my father and sister when i was young. Those were different times and we actually had time to indulge is such pasttimes. A stroll in the Lawrence was always very refreshing, I remember climbing the hillocks and spotting fellow walkers.

I even once met the great Imran Khan there. He looked so giant.
Hassan Masud, Lahore

Where the heart is

I have walked for years in the Lawrence Gardens -- in solitude and with people. My fondest memories of Lahore are in one way or another linked to this splendid place. Often, my soul wanders there to experience the solace and reconnection that the human spirit yearns for. Whenever I have wanted to hear the sound of trees, I have not been disappointed.
Raza Rumi, Lahore

Pass me the sutta

Lawrence Garden Memories, Lahore

All secured here

Lawrence Garden Memories, Lahore

Ah, shade

Lawrence Garden Memories, Lahore

Library now

Lawrence Garden Memories, Lahore

Shhh, I'm smoking

Lawrence Garden Memories, Lahore

[The author-photographer blogs at Jahane Rumi, Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obituary – Pervez Musharraf, 1999-2008

Obituary – Pervez Musharraf, 1999-2008

Pakistan’s former Chief Executive Officer and a friend of George Bush.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Military dictator Pervez Musharraf, a great womaniser, whiskey-drinker, dog lover, bridge player, George Bush's friend, former Chief Executive Officer of Pakistan and lately its President, died or rather his era died on August 18, 2008, aged 9.

In a long drawn-out televised death scene that reminded viewers of Amitabh Bachchan’s last moments in the film Muqaddar ka Sikandar, a moist-eyed Mr Musharraf said, “I am sad that Pakistan is going down fast.”

That could as well be his legacy to the country he describes as “my love.”

Born in the fall of 1999, in a PIA flight somewhere between Karachi and Colombo, Mr Musharraf was a man who could have become Pakistan’s Lee Kwan Yew, the Singapore statesman whom he claims to be very impressed with.

He could have been. In the begining, Mr Mushararf's world was full of possibilities. When he took over the reigns of Pakistan, the country’s economy had collapsed, the corruption had invaded all walks of life, the politicians had jettisoned all pretensions of responsibility, the wealthy had dispatched their children to West, the Shariat was voted as the state law and the nation itself was on the verge of being declared a terrorist state...a failed state.

Lahore’s drawing rooms did not buzz with “Will Taliban come here too” but with – “When will Taliban come here too”.

Amid such tidings, Mr Musharraf’s military takeover was marketed in the world as a feel-good coup. Indeed, there was a sigh of relief in the country. Mr Mushararf talked sense: he promised to punish the wayward politicians, set the economy back in business, re-strengthen the sense of Pakistani identity and then return home to barracks.

But the script went haywire. 9/11 happened. Pakistan’s General became America’s General. Mr Musharraf who should have led his own war against home grown terrorists instead made the great Pakistan army a B-team of George Bush’s happy-to-bomb-anywhere battalion.

The plot only worsened.

Continued army rule. Unrest in Baluchistan. Strange disappearances of people (presumably by ISI). In the Line of Fire, Mr Musharraf’s shameful memoir. Increase in terrorist attacks in the country. The rise of Pakistani Taliban. Finally, the big blot during the dictator’s watch: Ms Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. And the bigger blot: Getting a foreign agency -- Scotland Yard -- to investigate the death of the country's former prime minister.

What could have been more humiliating for any self-respecting Pakistani like Mr Musharraf?

Yet, there are many who might look back upon Musharraf years with a little fondness. It is said that the dictator was better than other dictators, perhaps better than some democratically elected prime ministers too. Pakistanis enjoyed a comparatively free media than they had ever before. There was marked improvement in relations with India. Besides, for nine years, Mr Musharraf single-handedly, with his brash devil-may-care attitude, made Pakistan a household name throughout the world.

In his own fashion, itmustbesaid, the late dictator loved his country. His son, Bilal, was named for a close friend who had died in the 1971 war. But Mr Musharraf won’t be missed.

Friday, August 15, 2008

14th August Series: Bina Shah - "I'm Not Free"

14th August Series: Bina Shah - "I'm Not Free"

Pakistan's celebrated author on Independence Day.

[Text by Bina Shah]

As we face Pakistan and India's 62nd Independence Days, I ponder what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus: "There are people… who think that we cannot rule ourselves because the first few times we tried, we failed, as if all the others who rule themselves today got it right the first time. It is like telling a crawling baby who tries to walk and then falls back on his buttocks, to stay there. As if the adults walking past him did not all crawl, once."

To me, this is what Independence signifies for me this year: the fact that we are both still struggling with what self-rule means. On the surface, it would seem that India has got the formula right while Pakistan still falls back onto its buttocks again and again.

But while Pakistan is still in the infancy of its attempts to bring about good governance, India is suffering through the turmoil of an adolescent trying to make it into adulthood. Each stage has its own dangers, its own difficulties. Neither is better or worse than the other.

Rather than seeing our two countries as rivals along the path of post-Independence maturity, we are siblings, one more mature than the other, but neither having yet reached the goal of self-sufficiency. Like growing children, we have made tremendous mistakes, acted selfishly, had to learn painful lessons.

But just like brother and sister, Pakistan and India can be there for each other, give each other support, and bond in a way that goes far beyond the accident of birth: my birthday wish for both countries.

However, freedom goes hand in hand with justice and equality. As long as any of my sisters in Pakistan or India is enslaved, in patriarchy, domestic violence, sex slavery, honor killings, bonded labor, illiteracy, then no matter how educated or wealthy I am, I am not free.