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.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Capital Notes - Once was Islamabad

Once was Islamabad

Mourning the demise of Pakistan's greenest city.

[Text by Raza Rumi; picture by Ahsan Rashid]

After my week-long sojourn in Islamabad came to an end, I realised that it was not the Islamabad that I had lived in or the one that my memory was intimate with. It has changed and perhaps forever.

I have been an accidental resident of Islamabad as I was thrown into the sleepy folds of the capital by imperatives of securing a livelihood. Lahoris can never be content with any other city. But Islamabad's serenity as a stark contrast to the urban mess of Pakistan was most endearing to say the least.

Even its cultural wastelands were forgivable for the communion with nature was a splendid alternative to civilisation. Thus the sprawling greenbelts of Islamabad and its wild foliage became a source of inspiration and muse. I left the city three years ago with fond memories.

But the return of this accidental native was not too charming. Islamabad over the last three years has confronted a development paradigm that reflects much of what is wrong with the elite-led progress in Pakistan. Whilst the political fissures have also erupted in the form of terrorism and activism around the issue of deposed judges, it is the brazen model of urban development that remains most worrisome.

Express-ways and highways have been built all over the place that can facilitate fast paced cars, cavalcades and power caravans. But the pedestrians who by even conservative estimates are 30 per cent of commuters find themselves at the wrong side of history. They have been virtually bypassed or at worst humiliated. Many of the express-ways have no provision of underground walkways or overhead bridges. Small wonder, that the absolute poor of Pakistan are also nearly the same percentage and almost as invisible.

The natural gifts of Islamabad have been mercilessly chopped in the name of widening the roads or even erecting senseless structures. Tracts of green areas that would bloom in the spring and sway in the monsoons have all gone. Barren squares reveal the idiocy of the initial layout of Islamabad that Nature had shielded for so long.

Where else in the world would find a public park space rented out to a global corporation and that too of dubious credentials such as the McDonalds. And, if the purpose was to entertain the hapless Islamabadites then why not patronise a local chain? This is crass commercialism being actively promoted by gurus of modernization and elites who find the global signs as a proof of having arrived.

All of this has happened at the expense of the public aesthetic and values. Islamabad of today with its copycat musicals and made-to-order tourist villages is nothing but an attempt in cultural annihilation. Amazing that a city next to Gandhara and capital of the Indus valley terms Broadway remakes as high culture!

The original Islamabad-wallas remember how the CDA installed dustbins sported the chaste Urdu-Persian word Khashaak in bold. No more. It is now all English wonderland and a signpost on a major highway displays the route to "Atwar bazaar". Since when has the mighty state language lost its relevance. If this was to be the future of Urdu, then why was there a need to alienate our fellow Pakistanis in the Eastern Wing now Bangladesh in the name of a uniform national language.

Believe it or not, Ramna, a Bengali name was used for the old sectors. If in the 196os the Bengalis complained of excessive investments in Islamabad they were termed as traitors. Today, a similar fetish for capital investments in Islamabad remains unchanged. The complaints are muted often sidelined due to the bomb blasts and the glitz of highways and underpasses.

In stark contrast, the poor relative town of Rawalpindi is quite neglected where a flood at Nullah Lai ravages segments of population and their livelihoods each year and where the martial and non-marital divides are difficult to overlook.

Islamabad continues to grow and is liked by many including the foreign diplomats, thanks to its wondrous surroundings. But we are keen to make it a mess. Where have big roads and speed-ways been a substitute for traffic management and integrated urban planning? Even an undergraduate would know that. And, why is there no public transport system in place if this were the best that we want to showcase in the world.

While the entire country has been administered the magic dose of devolution, Islamabad remains 'undevolved' and its administration is highly centralized reflecting the culture of an overarching and central state. These are not accidental contradictions but symptoms of the larger malaise.

About time the Islamabadis woke up and shunned the flashy development for more substantive progress that includes the poor, creates livelihood beyond consumerism, saves the trees and focuses on long term urban vision rather than short term infrastructure feats.

The author writes at Jahane Rumi and edits Pak Tea House and Lahore Nama blogozines.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Memoir - Pakistan Paindabad Blogged Me to Fame

Open Secrets - Gay Life in Pakistan

This blogsite has changed my life.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The day I became a story on page one of Hindustan Times (Blogged in India, between covers in Pakistan), one of India's most popular dailies, thanks to dear old Pakistan Paindabad, people looked at me, looked away, and then looked again. What kicks I got.

Current friends demanded a treat, forgotten friends demanded to meet, neighbours congratulated and strangers called from Gorakhpur to Peshawar to Buffalo (my phone number is listed on my blog). But these glory moments are fleeting. The day dies, the daily is dumped, and that day's story becomes yesterday's headline. Life chugs back to anonymity and I'm back in darkness, groping to keep the machine running - five blogs, one day-job and five bosses in that day-job to take care of.

In the beginning, three years ago, there was only one blog – Ruined by Reading. It started by accident one afternoon when I first saw Arundhati Roy – my muse – in the flesh in Jantar Mantar. That was a different time and I was just another employee in a different office. During the day, my mind would be on my job; at night, I would pour my mind and also my heart and soul into this new calling. The blog was my secret mistress. She was a new world with her own lingo: float alignment, site archiving, dashboard and rss. Here I wouldn't write stories, but 'posts'.

I would stay up late, sometimes going to bed at dawn, to write posts. Once 'published' (ah, that sweet feeling!), imagining people around the world reading me, I would wait for comments that wouldn't come. But, so what?

Each day I would read a new book, see a new thing, and write a new post. Just when I would start losing interest and fail to 'upload' anything new, a stranger's comment would pop up demanding a new post. I would start again. A writer needs nothing more than the satisfaction of being read. In the office nobody knew the real me. That didn't matter.

Then I went to Lahore, drove all the way to Karachi and started distilling the adventures in a new blog – Pakistan Paindabad. Once back in Delhi, I consummated my affair with the city and the result was a new baby – The Delhi Walla. Then I made a Sony digicam my mangalsutra and presto – there was a photo blog. A few months ago I decided to translate my passion for Arundhati Roy into something more tangible and, yeah, here was another blog.

While my colleagues 'poke' friends in facebook, I twiddle away my after-and-before work life (4am-7am; 10pm-1am) in blogspot. Sometimes, a new idea would start hammering in my head just when the boss is ordering me to stick to the deadline. Listen to her or to write a new post…?

Blogging is addictively sinful. It is sex outside marriage while a day job is sex within. With blogging it's no rules, no protocols. You can be nice or nasty, responsible or irresponsible. If you have more than one popular blog, you feel as if you own a publishing house.

Except, of course, you have no office, no employee, no printing press and, sadly, no secretary to wake up at 4am and do the mundane-but necessary stuff – writing and publishing blog-posts, answering reader feedback, requesting contributions, networking and forwarding 'great' stories to the 'right' folks. Plus no secretary can take care your day-job which pays the bills, including your internet connection.

In any event a secretary would rob me of the pleasure of answering a mail that says, "I reached your blog through… I couldn't resist writing this mail to you"? Why deny myself the nervous thrill of waking up at an unearthly hour, splashing cold water on the face, logging on, opening a blank word document, staring at the laptop screen, thinking hard to compose the first sentence of the day's first post and -- oh God – nothing comes to mind!

Such are the illicit thrills of the blogger's life. Pakistan Paindabad.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Bina Shah's Review - Pakistan Paindabad's Intentions are Good, the Execution Clumsy

Pakistan Paindabad - A Critical Review

Pakistan's eminent author discusses this blogsite.

[By Bina Shah]

Mayank Austen Soofi’s Pakistan Paindabad blog is an interesting Internet social experiment: he wants to portray Pakistan in a positive light to his readers.

A web site that showcases all that is good and positive about Pakistan already exists, called PakPositive, run by and contributed to by Pakistanis. But Soofi’s blog differs from PakPositive not in intent, but in origin: he is an Indian living in New Delhi who became enamoured of Pakistan when he traveled in the country; he sees maintaining his blog as a personal mission to evoke goodwill and peace between the two countries.

The question is: does Soofi achieve his intention, or is Pakistan Paindabad a case of good sentiments translating into not-so-credible results?

It’s not surprising that the initial reaction to the premise of Pakistan Paindabad has been suspicion on both sides of the border. Indians accuse Soofi of being unpatriotic, unIndian, even a spy for Pakistan. Pakistanis wonder what Soofi’s up to; is he sincere, or is this some plan to humiliate Pakistan by yet another hostile Indian blogger? A quote at the top of the blog from Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Daily Times and Friday Times, attempts to allay at least some of the fears: “Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be”.

But what should a blog be, exactly?

A blog, firstly, should be what it says it is. In this, Pakistan Paindabad succeeds: it is a blog which contains articles, reviews, interviews, surveys, photographs, and essays about all things Pakistani.

On the front page, a pieces called “50 Pakistani Destinations Before You Die” combines a beautiful photograph of Karomber Lake with Soofi’s accompanying text, asking readers to send in their requests, which he will try to accommodate in future.

Many of the articles on the site are written by Soofi himself; they are earnest and personal in tone, capturing his impressions and beliefs about Pakistan based on his travels to this country. Even a Pakistani living in Pakistan will learn something about her own country by visiting Pakistan Paindabad – and that’s a strong point in its favor.

Soofi employs a small team of volunteers, Indian and Pakistani, to compile his articles; every once in a while, a guest writer, often a Pakistani writer of some repute, will also contribute. Raza Rumi, Maryam Arif, and Gaurav Sood are names you’ll see popping up often on the roster; Khalid Hasan, Irfan Husain and this writer have also written special columns for the blog in the past year.

The articles range from the mundane to the intriguing: “Five Things I Love About Pakistan” and “Because Heart Hai Pakistani” sits side-by-side with “Heera Mandi: Dream House of the Whores” and “Pervez Musharraf Arrested My Mother”. No topic is taboo: a series of pieces on gay Pakistanis; interviews with Amin Gulgee, Bapsi Sidhwa, Kamran Shafi, in which artists speak freely about their work and their country; and political satire find their way onto the site.

The tone and style of the Web site, though, is dictated by Soofi; a majority of the articles are either authored, co-authored, or the ideas originate with him.

Soofi seems to have no editorial agenda, commissioning articles informally and writing features of varying length, style, and quality. The result is hit or miss: hit when Soofi plays the role of the wide-eyed wanderer, moving through Lahore markets or Karachi streets with hunger to find out about life on the “other side”. He misses when trying his hand at more sophisticated writing: some of his satires fall flat, others are cringe-worthy, and then there are some that induce in the reader a feeling of confusion or misunderstanding.

This is dangerous ground to tread when there already exists such a charged atmosphere between the two countries; one might take Soofi’s intent the wrong way, as when he was warned by the Pakistani government to remove a Photoshopped picture of Musharraf cavorting in a swimming pool with Britney Spears.

What will help, though, is if Soofi manages to have his articles vetted by a group of friends of the blog, both Pakistani and Indian, who can tell him when he’s getting it right and when he might be inflaming sentiments.

There’s no doubt that Soofi’s intentions are good, even if his execution is slightly clumsy. Tighter editing, a judicious pruning of purple prose, and a more imaginative design would make this blog really turn heads.

One hopes for an expansion of the Pakistan Paindabad site in a direction that really makes a difference in Indo-Pak relations, at least on the Internet. Until then, Pakistan Paindabad will continue to impress in its quirky, homely way, but a bigger world is out there waiting to be conquered by Soofi and his co-conspirators in peace.

[Bina Shah is a Pakistani novelist. Her web site is:]