Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review - The Coffee House of Lahore; by KK Aziz

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

ook Review - The Coffee House of Lahore; by KK Aziz

Coffee, tea and revolution.

[By Raza Rumi]

Before his death in July 2009, KK Aziz had accomplished one mission that he had set for himself, i.e. to write about the Lahore Coffee House, the glorious nursery of ideas. Luckily, despite his failing health, Aziz finished a draft that was meant to be a shining part of his autobiographical kaleidoscope. The Coffee House of Lahore: A Memoir, 1942-57 was published in 2008 and Aziz, in the opening chapters, tells us about the genesis of his passion to document this memorable phase of our contemporary history.

Whenever an intellectual, cultural and literary history of Lahore (or the Punjab and Pakistan) is written, the diverse circles which met and discoursed in the Coffee House will have to be described in detail and the ever-widening waves of their influence recorded. As nothing has been written so far on the subject and I don’t see anything in the offing, I give below a list of the important persons who I can recall.

Quite diligently, Aziz sets forth to list two hundred and six names that would include a wide array of thinkers, scholars, artists, writers and even some CSPs who obviously changed their life course despite the influence of their Coffee House days. For those who want to know about Lahore and its not-so-old diversity, KK Aziz’s memoir is a must-read. It is perhaps the only serious work on this important institution. Aziz has rightly mentioned in his book that the names he lists and the personae he describes in his biographical sketches aim to achieve four objectives.

First, that such a remembrance proves the ‘age of talent’ as it existed in Lahore. Second, a faithful picture of Lahore in the 1940s and 1950s emerges from the text. Third, that it provides the cultural historians of the future with a primary testament; and finally at a personal level, it shows how Aziz the historian and thinker was influenced by this exciting and vibrant milieu. During the early part of the 20th century, Lahore emerged as perhaps “the most highly cultured city of North India”, to quote Aziz. With a wide range of educational and cultural institutions and a composite society comprising all faiths and religions and political ideologies, the Lahore of today is no longer what it once was.

This eclectic mood of Lahore was best captured and represented by the Coffee House. As Aziz tells us, the Coffee House was “for over 30 years, the single most important and influential mental powerhouse which moulded the lives and minds of a whole generation, and its legacy affected the careers of the succeeding generation”. It is odd that the tea-drinking British were to introduce coffee houses in India. Aziz takes us through the history of coffee-drinking as to how it inspired the world to switch to coffee as a beverage of intellectual invigoration. One aspect that he omits is that coffee drinking was popularised by the Sufis who found the drink conducive to their meditation and mystical elation. It is said that in the 1930s, the Government of India created a Coffee Board to promote the sale and consumption of coffee beans which were grown in South India, and hence a coffeehouse was established in every large city of the Indian subcontinent. Aziz comments that this was also the period of a resurgence of communism and the rise of the Progressive Writers’ Movement.

The British were tea-drinkers, so were the Russians and the Chinese. But the leftists chose to issue their exhortations over a cup of coffee. Even the otherwise cataclysmic partition of India in 1947 could not break this radicalism-coffee bond.

Thus in Lahore, the India Coffee House and India Tea House, situated 150 yards apart, became the two most popular meeting places of the literati and the radical intellectuals. Little wonder that Aziz states that the Coffee House of Lahore, “entertained more leftists than I found on the Communist Party office on McLeod Road”. We find out from the book that before 1947, the leftist visitors of the Coffee House included luminaries such as Sajjad Zaheer, Syed Sibt-e-Hassan, Abdullah Malik, Safdar Mir, Zaheer Kashmiri and many others. The Coffee House changed many sites but remained at the Alfred building till the end. Its old site, off Mall Road, was later the location for Pak Tea House , which survived until the turn of the last century, before commercial imperatives became paramount and intellectualism had to be abandoned in favor of greed.

The best part of this book, of course, is plain writing that sketches the lives and personae of its regular habitués. For instance, my favorite, Safdar Mir, the towering intellectual of our times, finds a prominent place in the narrative. Aziz paints a rather intimate portrait: unafraid of authority and uneducated public opinion, he spoke his mind freely and persuasively. While a lecturer at the Government College, he had his head shaved and smiling down the frowns and boos of his 2nd-year students, continued to lecture calmly and suavely. He was the best-read journalist of his age, and I know no other man whose reach and understanding encompassed so many fields: English, Urdu and Punjabi literature, Marxism, politics, the way a society works and modern history. His hall-mark was a resounding laugh which could be heard three rooms away. His eyes glittered with merriment behind his thick lenses while narrating a funny story or narrating a point in his argument, as if throwing a challenge to his audience to produce a better one.

While browsing through the book, other eminent habitués of the Coffee House also came to life. Men of letters, such as Chiragh Hassan Hasrat, Zaheer Kashmiri, Aashiq Hussain Batalvi, Syed Abid Ali Abid (whose biographical sketch is candid and a wee bit un-sparing) are found walking on the streets of Lahore, sipping coffee at their favourite joint and indulging in the world of ideas and discourses.

The death of the Coffee House and the burial of Pak Tea House have coincided with the demise of discourse in Pakistan. We have done well to acquire nuclear weapons and thousands of madrassas that preach violence and hatred. But we have lost a culture that was based on tolerance, peace and amity.

KK Aziz has done a great service to Lahore, Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent by documenting an era that will never return.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Special Feature – The Indian Who Loves Pakistan

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

The Indian Who Loves Pakistan

Author Khushwant Singh's home is always open to Pakistanis.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The celebrated Delhi-based author Khushwant Singh loves Pakistan, a nation often looked at with suspicion, and sometimes even with hatred, by a majority of Indians.

One winter evening in 2009 at a rare public appearance, the 94-year-old novelist, facing a select audience that included the Indian prime minister’s wife, said, “I wish more Indians realise that most Pakistanis are nice people.”

Mr Singh’s views and preferences matter. Born in what is now Pakistan, he had migrated to India after the Indian Partition. His first novel, Train to Pakistan, is considered a masterpiece among the several books dealing with that part of the subcontinent's history. He has served as editor of some of India’s most prestigious newspapers and journals. He was close to prime ministers and presidents. Even at this ripe age, he writes a weekly column that is very popular.

A former member of the Indian parliament, Mr Singh lives in Sujan Singh Park, an old money neighbourhood in south Delhi. He has a board outside his drawing room door that famously says, “Don’t ring the bell unless expected.” The rule applies to all, including the VIPs, including the ‘self-important’ visitors from the West who send in chits saying “I’m so-and-so from the University of Chicago or Harvard.” No one is welcomed without a prior appointment, not even the President of India. However, Pakistanis - important people or not - are an exception. “For them, my doors are always open,” Mr Singh said, rather emotionally. “They never need an appointment to meet me. After all, Pakistan is the land I come from.” God bless the old man.

Khushwant Singh said it at this rare public appearance in New Delhi

The Indian Who Loves Pakistan

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Today Islamabad, Lahore Feel Like War Zones, and Karachi is Calm" - Novelist Sehba Sarwar

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

"My Life's Not Dramatic but I Married Outside the Community"

Interview with the Karachi-born novelist, part IV.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Sehba Sarwar’s first novel, Black Wings, was published in 2004. Presently, besides working on her new novel, she is also the director of a multi-media arts organisation in Houston. There she lives with her husband and daughter. She also has a website. This is the fourth and final part of the interview Ms Sarwar gave to Pakistan Paindabad. You may read the first part here, the second here, the third here. This exclusive feature is an attempt to understand the alternative reality of Pakistan.

Ms Sarwar, you also work for Pakistan Live Broadcast, a video installation project that tries presenting ‘an alternative image of events unfolding in Pakistan’. What is this alternative image?

I'm employed by the arts organization that I founded, Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB). Through VBB, I'm working on a production that I visualized called Pakistan Live Broadcast. The show premieres in November, 2009 with a new title, Honoring Dissent/ Descent. I'm using footage that I collected about my father - he passed away in May 2009 - and will be honoring his history, his work. I'll also be showcasing an activist in Houston. I did a short piece to kick off the production last fall, and you can see it on my blog Daily Noise. I created this short video piece using a format I call video collage through which I weave together different layers of sound, stills, video and poetry. (I wrote the poem for this piece after seeing an ex-student of mine walk out of a gun show).

In the winter of 2008-09, you travelled in Pakistan? How and what places did you travel?

I mostly stayed in Karachi, but traveled into Sindh to Bhit Shah and Sehwan Sharif. Both were amazing trips, and I plan to use footage from those experiences for the November production. I also flew to Lahore and Islamabad, where I led workshops and several readings.

What new things you noticed in the country?

New things? Mostly that both Lahore and Islamabad felt like war zones, while Karachi felt calm. It was interesting to see that flipped around. But, as you know, things change fast. And hopefully, some of the fear that was affecting Lahore and Islamabad has shifted, now that the situation in Swat is slightly better.

Ok, Ms Sarwar, some final questions. When you close your eyes and think of Karachi, what images do you see?

Sea spray. Kites (the birds). Jasmine flowers. Open trash. Donkey carts. My mother.

And when you close your eyes and think of Houston, what do you see?

Rain. Bayous. Freeways. Our daughter. 

[The interview ends here. You may read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here. ]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"I Would be Lost Without My Laptop" - Novelist Sehba Sarwar

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

"My Life's Not Dramatic but I Married Outside the Community"

Interview with the Karachi-born novelist, part III.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Sehba Sarwar’s first novel, Black Wings, was published in 2004. Presently, besides working on her new novel, she is also the director of a multi-media arts organisation in Houston. There she lives with her husband and daughter. She also has a website. This is the third part of the interview Ms Sarwar gave to Pakistan Paindabad. You may read the first part here, the second here, the fourth here. This exclusive feature is an attempt to understand the alternative reality of Pakistan.

Ms Sarwar, what is your writing schedule? Where do you write?

When I was working on Black Wings, I could only write in my study, and I mostly worked at night. Now, I can write anywhere, anytime.


I have a young daughter, and my time is very precious. I also run a very demanding arts organization and am busy creating artistic work for our productions. So wherever I get a chance I write: study, bedroom, coffee shop, inside, outside, and at any time of the day. Now, mornings are my favorite writing time. I would be lost, though, without my laptop.

Woman, Pakistani, Pakistani-Anerican, South Asian, Muslim. Which of these identities have been most influential in shaping up your artist’s life?

In a writing | blogging | video workshop I did in Houston for Pakistani college and high school women, the first question I asked them was: "How do you identify yourself? Write down the order of the words you use to describe your identity." I did the exercise with them and here's my order: woman, artist, mother, activist, Pakistani/ South Asian.

The greater truth lies where – fiction or non-fiction?

Both. Depends on what you're writing. I generally rely on memory to create fiction, and then use my imagination to enhance, change, etc. I also write non-fiction for sometimes it's important to assert that a particular memory is the truth. It really just depends on the purpose for creating the piece.

Which authors you liked reading in the past and then stopped pursuing them? Who have stayed with you? Who are your present pursuits?

I continue to follow certain writers including Rohinton Mistry, Bapsi Sidhwa (who I'm lucky to know since she lives in Houston), Anita Desai, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje and many more. Other writers I've recently enjoyed include Fan Wu, Alice Albania, Kiran Desai, Mohammad Hanif, Sorayya Khan... the list is long. I don't read British writers much any more, though I was a big fan of Virginia Woolf's while I was in college.

How long did it take you to write your first novel Black Wings? How tough it was to get it published?

I worked Black Wings on and off for a good eight years. I took time off in between to deal with an illness. In 2003, I acquired an excellent agent in the US, but she was unable to get Black Wings placed in the States. All the feedback that I got was that the novel and the characters didn't conform to the western image of Pakistan. After a year of trying (it was hard enough weeding through all the agent rejections), I went ahead and sought a Pakistani publisher, Alhamra. And I am so grateful to Shafiq Naz and to Alhamra Publishing. He is a remarkable man, and has done an amazing job with changing the face of publishing in English in Pakistan. Once I approached him, things moved very fast.

You are working on your second novel. Is it based in Pakistan?

I can't talk much about my second novel yet. It's a work in progress and, like Black Wings, moves between countries. It'll probably dip more into India.

What about Karachi inspires you most as a writer?

I rely a lot on memory. My most life-changing moments have taken place in Karachi. It is my first home. I'll have to write about it quite a bit more before I am ready to move and adopt another space in the same way. I love the sea, the city noise, the landscape of a street scene.

What will you like to share with young aspiring Pakistani writers?

Keep writing. There's room for everyone. Be honest and tell your truth.

[The third part ends here. You may read the first part here, the second part here, the fourth here]

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Houston is as Ugly, Polluted, Hot as Karachi" - Novelist Sehba Sarwar

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

"Houston is as Ugly, Polluted and Hot as Karachi" - Novelist Sehba Sarwar

Interview with the Karachi-born novelist, part II.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Sehba Sarwar’s first novel, Black Wings, was published in 2004. Presently, besides working on her new novel, she is also the director of a multi-media arts organisation in Houston. There she lives with her husband and daughter. She also has a website. This is the second part of the interview Ms Sarwar gave to Pakistan Paindabad. You may read the first part here, third part here, the fourth here. This exclusive feature is an attempt to understand the alternative reality of Pakistan.

Ms Sarwar, what things do you like about Houston, your ‘adopted city’?

Actually I frequently write on the similarities between Houston and Karachi.

Karachi and Houston – similar!

You know, sometimes when I want to be provocative I say: I like Houston because it's ugly, polluted and hot - just like Karachi. But yes, Houston has open spaces like Karachi, and is very quirky. I published an essay about just these kinds of similarities in CITE, an architectural magazine that comes out of Rice University (in Houston). Of course, you have to know the city very well before understanding it.

This could be true of Delhi, too, where I live.

Yeah? But the truth is that both Karachi and Houston have depth, and one cannot really appreciate the beauty of either city without exploring, or digging deeper. In Houston, there are many reminders of ‘home’. I can eat samosas, naan, chaat, or drink chai without going too far. I also like that I can navigate between different worlds because the city draws people from around the world: South Asia, different parts of Africa, the Middle East, South and Central America, and Mexico.

I see.

You know, Mayank, one of the best things about Houston is that it's an open city, and I have been able to walk into the space - without any prior connections - and create my own non-profit arts organization, practice my art and get support (both funding and community) to do the work that I am driven to create.

Ms Sarwar, how different is your life in Karachi and Houston? What do you usually wear in Karachi? What in Houston?

Life is very different, I suppose, in both cities. However, I don't act too differently in either place: I wear what I feel like wearing and that runs the gamut from jeans and skirts to shalwar kurtas and saris.

You never feel the pressure to dress or behave differently?

Look, the communities in which I socialize and work in Karachi are generally open-minded. Also, because of the nature of my work - I'm deeply involved in the arts and activist communities in Houston - I don't feel any need to conform to a lifestyle that's not my own. And even though it's been a while since I've worked full-time in Karachi, I do run workshops when I'm in Pakistan, and have held many readings there.

Are you more a Houstonian than a Karachiite?

I don't call myself a Houstonian nor do I aspire to. And I've never called myself a Karachiite either, even though I feel as if a part of the city lives in me. After all, that's where the heart of my writing emanates. Anyway I’m not committed to living in the States for good, and am working on increasing my time in Pakistan, and the region.

You would upset those with a high regard for passport boundaries.

But I don't really like borders. I find them a bit superficial. Ever since I was a child, I've always been interested in exploring the Subcontinent as a region, rather than the countries defined by recent borders.

And you did explore this region...

Yes. While raised in Pakistan, I have spent time in north, south and eastern India, and have traveled through Sri Lanka. I haven't been to Bangladesh, yet, though I've been very close. In 1987, while enrolled in a graduate program in Austin (US), I spent three months in Calcutta doing an internship at The Telegraph in Calcutta. I never went across the border, but would very much like to do so.

Gosh, you just don’t respect borders!

History and human connections happen despite political borders. I've always loved travel, and over the years with my husband, have spent time many other countries including Thailand, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Australia.

[The second part ends here. You may read the first part here, the third part here part, the fourth here.]

Her life in Houston

"Houston is as Ugly, Polluted and Hot as Karachi" - Novelist Sehba Sarwar

On the job

"Houston is as Ugly, Polluted and Hot as Karachi" - Novelist Sehba Sarwar

Thursday, October 01, 2009

"My Life's Not Dramatic but I Married Outside the Community" - Novelist Sehba Sarwar

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

"My Life's Not Dramatic but I Married Outside the Community"

Interview with the Karachi-born novelist.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Sehba Sarwar’s first novel, Black Wings, was published in 2004. Presently, besides working on her new novel, she is also the director of a multi-media arts organisation in Houston. There she lives with her husband and daughter. She also has a website. This is the first part of the interview Ms Sarwar gave to Pakistan Paindabad. Click here to read the second part, here for the third part, and for the fourth here. This exclusive feature is an attempt to understand the alternative reality of Pakistan.

Ms Sarwar, your writing focuses on women and explores lives that span two continents – Asia and North America. You yourself have homes in these two places.

All this shifting and moving homes affects me. Luckily, I use my art - writing, performance and video - to express all the joy and pain that comes with having two homes. An essay that I'm working on is called Sliding Doors. Through it, I'm trying to explore the loss that comes with leaving the 'home'. In many ways, Mayank, I was born with a lost home already: both my parents were raised in India. They had to migrate to Pakistan after the partition.

Is your life as dramatic as your fiction?

I wouldn't say that. It is similar to that lived by many. One big difference, though, is that I married outside the Pakistani community. My husband is Mexican American and our daughter is ‘mestiza’, as they say in Spanish. I suppose that could be called dramatic. But then again, all of us are from mixed races. No one can truly claim to be of purely one race or another.

You married a Mexican-American? Isn't Pakistan a conservative land? How did your people took to it?

Look, I come from a non-traditional home and so does my husband. Both our families were - and continue to be - very open to each other. We had a court marriage in the States, and a reception in Karachi. Though his family didn't make it to Karachi for our wedding, a Mexican friend and her Lebanese husband joined us. We traveled north together to Chitral, Hunza, Shandoor for our honeymoon, and he continues to join me in Karachi as often as he can.

You are from Karachi?

Yes, I was born and raised in Karachi, off Jamshed Road, around a neighborhood called Guru Mandir.

Your parents?

My father, Dr. Sarwar, was a medical doctor and was heavily involved in the student movement during the fifties. My mother is an educator and worked in government colleges most of her life (now she runs her own NGO, Society for Professional English Language Teachers (SPELT), that specializes in training English teachers). Both of them were activists and had a passion for the arts.

How was the childhood?

At a young age, my brother, sister and I were enrolled in classical singing and dancing classes - though none of us stayed with those art forms. Our house was known for the gatherings our parents hosted, at which poetry, music and dance were performed. During my teens, when General Zia took over, my mother was involved with the Women's Action Forum (WAF), then just a collective of women organizing protests and rallies. My sister and I immediately also got involved with its activities. We would attend rallies, among other things.

How was Karachi then?

Karachi was a very different city during the seventies, prior to the Zia years. There were night clubs where alcohol was openly served. Even during my teens, after alcohol was banned, we would go to parties at the 5-star hotels that held disco nights on Fridays. We frequented movie theaters with our classmates. When I turned fifteen, our family moved to Clifton, where we went for walks in the neighborhood. The city seemed much smaller back then. It seemed as if we knew everyone.

How is the city now?

Today, even though Karachi's much more violent, and population continues to grow, there are some exciting changes. There are more institutions of higher learning such as the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, and the National Academy for Performing Arts (NAPA). There are also amazing cafés and gatherings where literary readings, film screenings and protests take place. 

Why you had to leave the city for USA?

See, I was always inclined toward the arts, social studies and politics. If one was studying medicine or engineering, there were some good choices in Karachi, but in those days, if one wanted to major in the arts, there were few choices within Pakistan for higher education. Most of the students in our school - especially those in arts and social studies - went abroad for higher education. I got a good scholarship to a women's college in Massachusetts, and I ended up flying to the States to get my undergraduate degree.

That was your first foray into a foreign country?

Till then the only other place I had visited outside of Pakistan was India.


Both my parents are from UP, and you know, I've visited Delhi, Aligarh, Allahabad, Kanpur and Bombay on two different trips.

What did you think of that country during your first visit?

India was foreign, but then, again, it wasn't. Of course, we had to report to the police everytime we entered or exited a city, but that's the same for Indians when they visit Pakistan. That felt strange. But on the whole, everything around us was familiar.

So, it did not seem any different from Pakistan…

We spent a lot of time with the Indian part of our family. My mother's chachas showed us around in Delhi, Agra, Aligarh. We also spent time with her first cousins in Kanpur, as well as my father's first cousin in Allahabad. In many ways our visits were just as we imagined. Our grandparents as well as our parents had already told us so many stories about them and it was wonderful to finally be in their houses.

Anything that made you feel India was some other land?

We visited India during the Indira Gandhi days - so there were Ambassadors and Fiats everywhere - and that was the most visible difference between India and Pakistan, which was flooded with Japanese and German cars. We didn't start manufacturing our own till decades later. We also went to Bombay with our mother.

When I went to India on my own during the late eighties to intern in a Calcutta newspaper, I remember being startled by the cycle rickshaws, which one never saw in Pakistan. Other than those minor differences, everything felt very familiar. The last time I was in India was in 2001, when my husband and I traveled around south India (Kerala, Chennai etc) - and that felt more 'foreign' because of the different languages spoken.

[The first part ends here. Click here to read the second part, here for the third part, and for the fourth here]

Dr Sarwar with children - Beena, Sehba and Salman

"My Life's Not Dramatic but I Married Outside the Community"

The novelist

"My Life's Not Dramatic but I Married Outside the Community"

The novelist with her family

"My Life's Not Dramatic but I Married Outside the Community"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Special Series - Interview with Novelist Sehba Sarwar

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Special Series - Interview with Novelist Sehba Sarwar

Understanding Pakistan through its artists.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi]

To showcase the alternative reality of Pakistan, Pakistan Paindabad presents an interview series with novelist Sehba Sarwar. This exclusive feature forwards the process that was started by holding exhaustive conversations with Islamabad-based painter Faiza Khan (read that interview here). The idea was that by celebrating the country’s artists, this blogsite could throw a momentary light on the inner - and the Other - world of Pakistan.

Ms Sarwar’s life that spans two continents is fascinating. Her parents were born and raised in Uttar Pradesh, now in India, and relocated to Pakistan a few years after the Partition. She spent her own teenage years in the Karachi of General Zia’s regime. Her childhood home was known for hosting artistic soirees. She then studied in USA; married a Mexican-American. She now has a daughter.

In 2004, Ms Sarwar’s first novel, Black Wings, was published by Alhamra Publishing. Presently, besides working on her new novel, she is also the director of a multi-media arts organisation in Houston.

While based in US, Ms Sarwar travels frequently to Pakistan. She has also spent time in India. No doubt her experience of Pakistan will interest all those who want a better understanding of this country. Ms Sarwar talked to Pakistan Paindabad about Karachi and Houston; about writing and writers; about boundaries and nations, and of course, about Pakistan.

Click here to read the first part of the interview.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Karachi Life - A Gay Man's Diary, Part II

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Karachi Life - A Gay Man's Diary

Being gay in Pakistan's biggest metropolis.

[Text by Jalaluddin; imaging by Mayank Austen Soofi; the picture is not of the author]

These are edited excerpts from Jalaluddin’s Tuzk e Jalali.

04 Rajab ul Murajjab 1430
Slowing Down

From now on I'll be blogging very irregularly. One of the reasons is the fear elicited by the fact that my blog has been quoted in the Indian and American online sites. The closet door is being banged at very hard. I have come out of the closet to my family and friends but that does not mean that I am ready to do it officially. Not in Pakistan. Sorry.

22 Rabi ul Awwal 1430
Good News

Ok. Ok. Ok. Depression is over. Thank God.

21 Zilhaj 1429
Let Me Go

I am in my depression phase again. I guess this has become so common for me that I can talk about it with a reasonable amount of detachment. With all the anger and hatred targeted at my parents, even though I came out to them, they keep pestering me to get married. They did not let me move out of the house, even though I could have.

I don’t think I can forgive them. There is this feeling of having lost five years of my life fighting with my parents on this one topic. It is a very long period of life, and I felt I was caged. I want my time back. I'm angry with myself for not having the courage to tell my parents that even if it would hurt them, and they might disown me, I want to live alone.

See, I wanted to be happy. I just thought that being parents they would allow me to make the choices that would direct my life. They did allow it, but on the other hand my mother cried every time I mentioned it.

All I can hope for is that during this bout of depression, I don’t end up with cut marks on the wrist like the last time.

[Click here to read the first part of the diary]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Special Feature – 9/11, The Day Mr Jinnah Died

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

The Day Mr Jinnah Died

The final day in the life of Pakistan’s founder.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi]

On the eve of Pakistan’s first Independence Day anniversary (August 14th, 1948), Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, weighed only eighty pounds. He was seriously ill and was being looked after by his devoted sister Fatima and a team of doctors - not in Karachi, Pakistan’s then capital where Mr Jinnah had his official residence, but in Quetta in Baluchistan.

Lying in bed quiet all day, Mr Jinnah was surviving on a few cups of tea, coffee and plain water to swallow his pills. Both his lungs had been consumed by tuberculosis and lung cancer. When the doctor examined his pulse, he found that every tenth or fifteenth beat was missing. Mr Jinnah who was used to smoke an average of fifty Craven A cigarette daily was asked to reduce the intake to just one.

When doctors suggested him to move to Karachi, Mr Jinnah desired otherwise. He did not want his Karachi staff to see him being taken around in a stretcher. “Don’t take me to Karachi on crutches,” Mr Jinnah said. “I want to go there when I can walk from the car to the room. You know, from the porch you have to pass the A.D.C’s room and then the Military Secretary’s before you reach mine. I dislike being carried on a stretcher from the car to my room.”

By September, Mr Jinnah needed a oxygen mask to breathe. He also caught pneumonia. He had to be flown to Karachi.

At 2pm on September 11th, a Viking plane took off from Quetta carrying a feeble Mr Jinnah to the nation's Capital. A bed had been made up in the front cabin and oxygen cylinders and gas masks were kept at hand. The plane landed after about two hours at the Air Force base at Mauripur. This was the same place where Mr Jinnah had arrived from New Delhi about a year ago to take over the reins of the new Pakistan. There were thousands who had come to greet him then. But on September 11, there was no one at the airport.

Mr Jinnah was carried into an army ambulance which then sped south of the highway towards Karachi. After about four or five miles, the ambulance came to a stop. There was a breakdown due to some engine trouble. It could not start. The afternoon was humid, the September heat was oppressive and flies buzzed around Mr Jinnah’s face. He had no strength left to brush them off though his sister Fatima helped by fanning him. Meanwhile Mr Jinnah’s pulse started becoming weaker and irregular even as hundreds of cars, trucks and buses rumbled by. The highway was lined with huts belonging to refugees who had come from India. They had no idea that their Qaid-e-Azam lay dying right there on the road.

One hour passed this way.

Finally another ambulance came and Mr Jinnah reached the governor-general’s mansion at 6.10 pm. Four hours and ten minutes later he was dead. The last word he uttered was to his sister Fatima – ‘Fati’.

Mr Jinnah's remains, weighing seventy pounds, were buried the next day, covered in a simple shroud.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

Growing up in Pakistan’s biggest metropolis.

[This article by Imran Ahmed is written exclusively for Pakistan Paindabad; Pictures by Junaid Zuberi]

Many years ago a highly regarded geomancer, Raymond Lo, told me that based on my ‘Feng Shui’ elements I should live near a large body of water.

Given that I cannot afford a luxury condominium overlooking the Singapore marina, I make do with an HDB apartment that is near enough to the Singapore – Johor Causeway to satisfy his conditions!

As a Karachite, I was born in a city by the Arabian Sea. I take the sea for granted. I only recently realized that in almost every city I have lived water has played a large role in its history.

Karachi is special to me for many reasons.

My father bought our first family home in the city in 1984. The house is now our family ‘ancestral home.’ Many family histories are young in South Asia.

Our family is not the only family that chose to settle in Karachi. The Sindhi capital is like a mother who continually welcomes orphans – no matter that she has no food or shelter to provide them. It is in her nature to welcome and accept.

At Partition, in 1947 the city had an estimated population of 400,000. Today it is north of 16 million. Over 90% of the city’s residents are migrants, including about 1-1.5 million Afghanis who fled the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

I don’t call the Afghanis refugees anymore as they are not going home. (Their cuisine is delicious but very, very high cholesterol!) There are another approx. 500,000 - 1 million Burmese, Bengalis, Iranis and Africans permanently settled in the city. They are not refugees anymore either.

But no more about Karachi’s history.

The city provides me some of my earliest childhood memories. My initial recollections of Pakistan before my family moved to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates when I was ten. (Note that Abu Dhabi is a port city with a large body of water nearby!)

Playland, an amusement park in Karachi, is where I first rode bumper cars. Although it disappeared in 2007 to make way for a large 130 acre public park many Karachites remember the theme park fondly.

It is located adjacent to Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s mazar (mausoleum). The mausoleum has housed the tomb of Karachi’s protector and patron saint for almost 1400 years. The mazar is also the site where some pious soul relieved me of my wallet. I have no doubt that the pick pocket sought forgiveness for his actions by praying at the holy man’s grave soon after!

In the mid-1970s our neighbourhood was not fully developed. By walking around I could easily find ‘swamplands’ which soon became my fishing ‘lakes.’ In hindsight, homemade fishing lines were pretty effective at catching fish (or swamp fish are just starving and will eat anything).

The rocky open areas all around our residence made fantastic playgrounds for seven tiles and marbles. My best playmates were two Pashtun brothers who were the sons of a chowkidar (guard) at a neighbouring house.

We played together almost every afternoon – as soon as my mother decided the sun was not too strong. The fear of heatstroke was used very effectively by my mother to control my outdoor activities.

It’s funny but I never played cricket, hockey or any other field games. They just never appealed to me. I can’t say why.

I live in Singapore now. It is a city near the sea.

It is orderly, organized and well planned. In 2009, the resident population is approximately 5 million people. The government can tell you the exact number. The population became 5 million because the government had a target to achieve. The government also knows what the population (and ethnic mix?) will be in 2020.

Who really knows what the population of Karachi is today. And what the population will be in 2020? And where the new migrants will come from?

In my life I have learnt to respect the limitations of planning and the combined power of hope and faith. Karachi lives on hope and faith.

[The author runs a blog called The Grand Moofti Speaks. The photographer is a marketing professional in a financial services company in Karachi]

Total Karachi

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

Total Karachi

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

Total Karachi

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

Total Karachi

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

Total Karachi

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

Total Karachi

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

Total Karachi

Personal History – The Karachi Quotient

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Family Portrait – A Karachi Family in an Indian Mall

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Family Portrait – A Karachi Family in a Gurgaon Mall

A slice of their Delhi afternoon.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

One afternoon I bumped into a Pakistani family in Gurgaon’s Metropolitan Mall. The mother, Fauzia Shakeel, was in Delhi after a gap of 25 years, while daughter, Urfa, and son, Rizwan, had come for the first time. They were staying with Indian relatives but were on their own in the mall.

“There’s nothing like this in Karachi,” exclaimed Rizwan while comparing Gurgaon’s skyline to that of his city. A stylish young man of 24, with gelled hair, he was in a blue T-shirt and white cotton capris. “No, capris are what the girls wear,” Rizwan explained. “This is called three-quarters.” He said it with an authority befitting to what he is - an ambitious fashion designer.

Brought up in Karachi's middle-class Baloch Colony, amidst a family business of cycles' wholesale, Rizwan’s career choice had created ripples. His father, who wanted him to be a banker, was upset. “Pappa said that a fashion designer’s job is not real work,” Rizwan told me while peering into the Swatch showroom. The mother had then stepped in and convinced her husband to let the son do whatever he wanted.

A black sheep in his family, Rizwan was looking exactly that in the mall, while walking between his traditionally dressed mother and sister. In their long-sleeved shalwar suits, both stood out among Delhi’s jeans-clad mallrats.

Rizwan agrees that it demands more hard work when one is trying to carve an identity that is separate from that of the family. Even before he could have completed his graduation from Karachi’s Asian Institute of Fashion Design, he hired a tailor and jumped into the business. The initial orders – almost all were for men’s wear, especially shirts – were from friends. Once they were won over, more orders came from their friends. “We have many good designers in Pakistan but no big fashion houses,” Rizwan said. “And I want to run such an emporium where under one roof you could get a complete range of wedding designs from clothes to cards to jewelry.”

Since the Independence Day was just a week away, the mall was decked with the Indian tricolor. “Mamma, at least get a photo done against their flag,” Rizwan called out to Fauzia. “That’ll be a proof that we were really in India.”

While taking the escalators to the first floor, Fauzia grew nervous. She finds it difficult to maintain balance on these self-automated stairs. “They are there in our Karachi malls also,” she sighed. However, supported by her laughing son and an embarrassed daughter, they landed safely and stopped outside a saree showroom. Rizwan pointed to the embroidery work on a Kanjeeveram silk hanging on the display window. “Every store is offering discounts,” whispered Fauzia. “Yet I can’t see anyone carrying a shopping bag.” Next pause was at a men’s salon where he wondered to get streaks done on his hair. “Our wallet will be emptied in one go,” said the mother. “Things are so expensive in India.”

Later, the family sat down for a meal at Haldiram’s, on the third floor, and ordered for masala dosa. During the wait, Rizwan looked around and said, “In Karachi if we spot a girl in jeans or shorts, we say ‘Wow, it’s an Eid today.’” Sister Urfa smiled. “I saw girls riding scooters here,” she mumbled, and blushed. “In Pakistan, they always sit with both their legs on one side.” The discussion stopped with the dosa's arrival.

“What’s this,” the mother pointed to the crisp layer. “Is that a wrapping?”

Clueless to the world of South Indian cuisine, the three Karachi-ites peered inside the dosa, tapped on its surface, tried to turn it around, and discovered a potato stuffing inside. They referred to sambhar as bhaaji and stared at the white coconut chutney with complicated feelings. Urfa yearned for a KFC burger but the mother said that she could always have that back home. “In other people’s countries, you must try their dishes,” she said.

Picking up the earlier conversation, Rizwan said, “The population in Pakistan which wears short clothes is very small and belongs to a special class.”

A little later when he went to the counter to get himself cold coffee with ice cream, the mother confided to me, “He is working very hard and Inshallah, he’ll be successful in the fashion industry.”

Rizwan sure is promising. In his seventh semester, he had designed a jacked inspired from the works of a Canadian painter called Lena Karpinsky. The artist was so impressed that she created a separate page on Rizwan on her website.

By the time the family walked out, it had grown dark. Having bought nothing, they sat down on a grassy slope and quietly looked at the neon signboards blinking on Gurgaon’s several malls. “Indians have now more money,” the mother said. “We also have these kind of malls but you people are ahead.” They then decided to try out Delhi’s famed metro train the day after.

The Indian holiday

Family Portrait – A Karachi Family in a Gurgaon mall

One with the flag

Family Portrait – A Karachi Family in a Gurgaon mall


Family Portrait – A Karachi Family in a Gurgaon Mall

India's not bad, eh?

Family Portrait – A Karachi Family in a Gurgaon mall

Career dreams

Family Portrait – A Karachi Family in a Gurgaon Mall

Neon-ed dusk

Family Portrait – A Karachi Family in a Gurgaon Mall

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Our writing is older than the creation of Pakistan itself" - Ali Sethi, Novelist

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

"Our writing is older than the creation of Pakistan itself" - Ali Sethi, Novelist

Exclusive interview with a new Pakistani novelist.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

I caught up with Mr Mr Ali Sethi, a young Pakistani novelist, in the lawn of Delhi's Ambassador Hotel during the last week of July, 2009. He was visiting India for a book tour of his first novel The Wish Maker. Mr Sethi's parents, Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin, run The Friday Times and Daily Times, two of Pakistan's most popular newspapers. He lives in Lahore.

Hello, Mr Ali. You are 25 and already a novelist. At this age people just dream of one day writing a novel…

I think I was lucky. I began writing when I was at Harvard, surrounded by people who were writing for their living. All my professors had published books behind them. Amitava Ghosh and Zadie Smith taught me creative writing. I attended the classes of Amartya Sen. I had other professors also who might not be wildly famous but are read seriously in the academic circles. So, you know, I didn’t feel uncertain when I began to write the book. Perhaps it all came because of living in a writing environment. We would talk about writing, read about writing… I was also contributing articles to some of Pakistan’s newspapers which, of course, were my parents’ publications. But I was also in the editorial board of Harvard Advocate, our college magazine.

What were you doing in Harvard?

I majored in South Asian studies in 2006. That was the year when I started writing this novel…

…Coming to which… well, how to put it… I mean, you are the son of Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin. They are powerful people. They know powerful people. They run some of Pakistan’s most popular newspapers and magazines. That must’ve made it easier for you to become a published novelist.

This fact didn’t help me in any way as far as getting the book published was concerned. My parents don’t know literary agents. They are not familiar with the world of fiction publishers. But yes, being their son helped in a very different manner. When I was back in the country, they let me stay in their house in Gulberg, Lahore, without me paying rents for the room and food. In fact, my mother finished reading the novel a few days ago, while my father has just started it.

Thanks to its troubles, Pakistan has become hot. Everyone from The New York Times to South China Morning Post has got something to write on your country. The world is now hooked to Pak’s problems. Doesn't this renewed interest makes it lucrative to be a Pakistani writer?

Yes, there’s more buzz on Pakistan due to the new global suspicion about it. Anything you touch on Pak is a potential subject. But there is a trap in that as well. You start to festish-ize your themes. You began processing them in certain ways for peoples’ consumption. It’s easy to start performing for a post 9-11 audience. But that’s not how it should be. Some things are better communicated through news reports, you know.

Isn’t it that suddenly we have Pakistani authors like Daniyal Mueenuddin, Mohsin Hamid and Nadeem Aslam making it big in the global circuit?

While I’ve read all these authors and they all are good, this is not the first time that Pakistani writing has come of age. Our writing is older than the creation of Pakistan itself. Why, it’s even older than the creation of the novel. Haven’t you read Bulle Shah? He was a Punjabi poet, still widely recited in Pakistan through the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen.

Mr Sethi, you’ve written your novel, published it; what now?

I’m looking on a project for research. I’d recently made a documentary on student politics in Lahore. It was good. I mean why just write when you can combine writing with music and camera. We’re living in a multi-media age and can explore the world in interesting ways.

What about just writing books?

They take such a long time and then writing is a completely solitary process. I feel there is a time to be in solitude, and there are also times when you ought to go out into the world. If you stay cooped up in your own fantasies, how will you find new subjects? You’ve to acknowledge that there is a world beyond yourself. That is where, hopefully, my next subject will come from.

You are presently visiting India for a book tour set up by Penguin India, your publishers. How has been the experience?

Well, I've been to Delhi twice before...

Is it like what they say, same as Lahore’s?

No, Lahore is different from Delhi. It’s getting different everyday. The fact is that the reality of the rest of Pakistan is gradually becoming the reality of Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. It was inevitable. You can’t isolate the country’s big cities from the anger of our towns and villages, like those in the NWFP (North West Frontier Province). It’s the same in India. What’s taking place in the peripheries, like Kashmir and Chhatisgarh, would sooner or later come around to Rajpath.

Perhaps. Which are the cities you visited here?

Besides Delhi, I went to Bombay, Chennai and Bangalore. I really liked Bangalore. Maybe it was the newness of South India. Or because I had my first Idli-dosa there!

Unbelievable. You don’t get that in Lahore?

No, not even in the food street at Anarkali.

That’s a shame. Thanks for talking, Mr Sethi.

Meet me when you’re in Lahore.

Mr Ali Sethi

"Our writing is older than the creation of Pakistan itself" - Ali Sethi, Novelist

Monday, July 20, 2009

High Life – A Pakistani in Sri Lanka

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

High Life – A Pakistani in Sri Lanka

Columnist Irfan Husain finds a new home.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi]

A rare newspaper columnist from the subcontinent who doesn’t betray that widespread subcontinental pettiness while writing about Pakistan and India have found a new nest in the south of the subcontinent.

In July, 2008, Mr Irfan Husain, an ex-civil servant, a gourmand, a bibliophile, and also a columnist with Dawn, finished building Thalassa, a snug family cottage, on a remote beach in Sri Lanka.

About a 5-hour non-stop drive from Colombo, Mr Husain’s two-floor home has a piano, a barbeque, a stainless steel chandelier, a swimming pool, a ‘massage temple’, seven sea-facing bedrooms, 25 palm trees, and of course, books and mosquito nets.

“Actually, this is a family home which will be used by us for holidays but we intend to rent it for a few weeks a year to cover the running costs,” says Mr Husain in an e-mail interview to Pakistan Paindabad. By ‘us’, he meant himself and his English wife Ms Charlotte Breese, an author whose biography of a bisexual Grenedian musician, rumored to be a lover of both Lady Mountbatten and Princess Margaret, had once created talking points in the London society. Negotiations are going on to adapt it into a film.

It was Ms Breese’s aesthetic sense that went into the making of this cottage. While Mr Husain supervised the construction, the plans for the interiors were entirely his wife’s.

“Me and Charlotte went to Sri Lanka for the first time in the millennium and we immediately fell in love with the beaches there,” recalls Mr Husain. “Since Lanka is close to Pakistan and one of the few countries that does not require a visa from Pakistanis, and since Charlotte hates the winters in England, we decided to build a home here.” Having recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, the couple thoroughly enjoyed the winter in their new pad.

One might as well get envious of Mr Husain’s charmed life. With bases in Karachi, UK and Sri Lanka, he is a globetrotter having no day-job like you and me. He buy books in Hay-on-Wye, dines in London’s iconic Kensington Place restaurant, writes for Pakistan’s most respectable dailies and now has a beach house in one of Sri Lanka’s most exotic beaches.

However, Mr Husain had a tough time in setting this establishment. “There were many challenges in building a house so far from Colombo,” Mr Husain notes. “We had an awful contractor to begin with, and had to get rid of him after he tried to rip us off.” But it all ended well.

Ms Nandi, the housekeeper and the cook with several years of work experience in Saudi Arabia, must be an asset. She was the nanny in the Karachi household of Mr Husain’s brother. The lady speaks good Urdu and is said to come up with reasonably delicious korma and rotis.

On her days off, Mr Husain could as well be a tolerable substitute. Besides being a fine food writer, he is also an accomplished cook. In 2003, he threw a party at his London home in honour of friends visiting from Lahore - Najam Sethi and wife Jugnu, the proprietors of the venerable The Friday Times. Mr Husain himself prepared pasta in duck sauce. “Yes, I do cook now and then for ourselves and guests,” the columnist confesses.

Truth to be told, a few newspaper readers who do not agree with Mr Husain’s political views actively encourage him to focus more on his gastronomic skills. A few years ago, an angry gentleman sent this fiery e-mail:

Hello Mr. Husain:
In your recent diatribe against Mullah and Islam…
… May I suggest that you leave the serious subjects of life alone and write on the lighter ones? You do well describing your cooking adventures and dream vacation home in Sri Lanka. Your column on the boiled eggs and sausage lunch you prepared on your mother-in law's death anniversary was good. Stay in those precinct, you will do well.
Bint Waleed
Asst. Prof. Mathematics and Computer Sciences

But Mr Waleed, our columnist is doing well. Thank you very much.

See Thalassa by clicking here Note Since it is a family house and not primarily a business venture, excellent references are required to rent a room in Thalassa Contact

Ms Nandi

High Life – A Pakistani in Sri Lanka

The Lankan home

High Life – A Pakistani in Sri Lanka

The Lankan home

High Life – A Pakistani in Sri Lanka

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dateline Karachi – The City’s First Monsoon Rain

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Dateline Karachi – The City’s first Monsoon Rain

When the tough weather surrendered to the people’s will.

[Picture by Ali Adnan Qazalbash; text by Mayank Austen Soofi]

On the late morning of July 18th, 2009, when Mr Kazim Aizaz Alam, a young journalist in Karachi, woke up at his third floor home in the city’s Defence Housing Authority, he found there was no power - as usual. Yet, he could not feel that typical Karachi-esque stickiness. Since the bedroom windows were open, Mr Alam put on his glasses, peered out and discovered the reason behind this unusual pleasantness: it was raining. Karachi was having the first rain of this monsoon season. “I immediately went to break the news to my Abbu but he already knew it,” says Mr Alam.

The showers were not a surprise. There was a hint the day before when the sky was overcast, the weather nippy and the air windy. In quite a few offices, including Mr Alam’s, the shutters were drawn open so that everyone could breathe in the fresh air. Many Karachi-ites were out in the evenings; on their bikes with their women on the backseat. The traffic was heavy towards Sea View, Hawksbay, Sands Pits, Quaid’s mausoleum and Paradise Point. It was a good day for those who sell bhuttas, ice creams and papads on the beaches.

“You know people also go to Nissar park near DCL and to Bagh e ibn Qasim Park, just next to the samandar,” says Mr Kazim. However, there is a rule that doesn’t let people go alone inside these parks. Having a woman by your side is a necessary requirement. Apparently, the logic is that if there are too many single men roaming around, then the few girls who do brave themselves to enter these recreation spots would stop going in. “But we are single,” complains Mr Kazim. “We don’t have girl friends. We want to go out. But we can’t.”

This indeed is a matter of much restlessness for the city’s loners. Mr Muhamamd Haseeb Khan, a young actuarial assistant in a management company, too, is single. His disappointmens are fewer. He has no plans to go to any park to enjoy the mausam’s first baarish. “I like walking in the streets when it rains,” says Mr Khan who lives in Malir, near Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah airport. “The khushboo of the wet earth, the flowing water, the uninhibited happiness of the children abandoning themselves to the elements… all these sounds, smells and sights give me great delight.”

Such monsoon delights are not universally shared. On the morning of the first showers, the website of the newspaper Daily Times reported:
As usual, the first few raindrops caused the electricity to disappear, causing severe suffocation indoors. All the people who could manage to get out of the house, did so, while those who couldn’t, including mostly the women, children and the elderly, suffered at home.

To quite a few Karachiites, there is nothing pleasing about the rain’s aftermath that inevitably results in clogged drains, power failures, flooded highways, stranded traffic. “Yes, it’s raining, the weather is beautiful but the aftermath is generally not pleasant,” says Mr Junaid Zuberi, a marketing professional in a financial services company. “However, it doesn’t normally rain in Karachi and this time the rains have finally come after it has rained everywhere else in the country, so one may as well enjoy the moment.”

Mr Zuberi lives in Defence Housing Authority and he plans to drive around in the rains with his car’s music stereo tuned to Indian classical music. He may also go to the seaside with friends. “I will go to a qawwali in the evening,” he reveals.

Meanwhile Mr Alam enjoyed a breakfast of plain parathas and balai-waali chai in his balcony. “My abbu made both the chai and parathas,” he says. “They were as good as the rains.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Karachi Diary - Arundhati Roy in Pakistan

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Arundhati Roy in Pakistan

India's literary terrorist wows its 'enemy'.

[Text by Kazim Aizaz Alam, picture by Khuda Bux Abro; in the picture you can see Arundhati Roy with Amar Sindhu, a Karachi-based intellectual, writer and activist who has a very strong voice in Sindhi literature. Ms Sindhu teaches philosophy at Sindh University and also represents the Sindh Chapter of Women's Action Forum]

Famous Brazilian author Paulo Coelho said in The Alchemist, "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." I came to believe in this quotation in May, 2009, when I met the woman I have admired most of late – the great Arundhati Roy.

Not only I heard her speak in close proximity but also got her autograph! She was at Karachi Press Club to attend a Women's Action Forum programme against creeping Talibanisation in Pakistan. This is what I can recall from that memoreable evening.

Her dress
She was in a white kurti and blue baggy trousers with a wrinkled blue-white dupatta (this dress is probably called gharara). Going by many photographs of hers (courtesy Mayank Austen Soofi) in which she is in the same kind of dress, one can say that she perhaps feels comfortable in a gharara. If I were a woman I would have started wearing it too.

Her expressions
She was smiling continuously and seemed totally at home among Pakistani civil rights activists.

Her Urdu
She was the last speaker (barring Dawn's India correspondent, Javed Naqvi, who had accompanied Arundhati Roy, in his own words, as a 'travel agent'. Till she got up, the speeches were largely made in urdu. But Arundhati Roy started off in English saying she was sorry that her Urdu wasn't good enough to express her views conveniently. Still she said that for those among the audience who couldn't understand English she would say something interesting in Urdu. Then she told us how amused she was recently by watching the video of a 10-year-old member of the Taliban brigade who said something like this: "Just like the government has banned the use of plastic bags, why can't it impose a similar curb on women in public spaces? Why can't women be simply banned from coming out of their homes?" So in the eyes of the Taliban, Arundhati Roy said, she too was a plastic bag and so were all the women activists present there.

Her twists
She said she considered George Bush a 'Twisted Prophet'. Twisted because unlike a 'normal' prophet who makes a prophecy about future which turns out to be true later on, what Bush did was that he 'designed' the future in a way that it 'fitted' the prophecy he had made.

Her advice
She urged us not to be selective as a protester and stay away from the 'pick-and-choose' syndrome. The pick-and-choose syndrome, she said, was something that would make us take up the issues that 'suited' us as protesters and leave those unaddressed that somehow weren't 'attractive' enough. She cited the example of the urban Indian feminists not coming forward to help the people facing displacement due to the government's plan to build large dams. Displaced women in such cases were the worst victims since they wouldn't get even what the government called 'compensation' which was handed over to men only, she remarked.

Her call
She vociferously called for rejecting the 'either-or' condition. She said we should oppose the Taliban without aligning ourselves with imperialism. Opposition to the Taliban should not mean joining hands with imperialism, she stated. She held that the Taliban in Pakistan were like the Maoists in India. Give a dog a bad name and hang him. In India, children are killed and then their extra-judicial killing is justified in the name of combating the Maoists – just like what is happening in Pakistan in case of the Taliban.

Her job
"My job is not to make people comfortable," said Arundhati Roy, whose views were clearly in contrast with those held by the Women's Action Forum as far as confronting the Taliban was concerned. She said she was considered a 'Desh Drohi' in India, which probably means a traitor.

Her surprise visit
She told the audience that she planned to visit Pakistan (Lahore) for an Eqbal Ahmad lecture along with Noam Chomsky. For some reason, Chomsky had to cancel his visit so the Eqbal Ahmad lecture was also postponed indefinitely. Since she already had a valid Pakistani visa she decided to visit Karachi and participate in the demo against the Taliban.

But who's she?
After the conclusion of the programme, I made my way into the crowd surrounding the diminutive Arundhati Roy and sought her autograph which she happily signed. The cheeky, but funny, bit of the evening was that just when I got her signature, an annoyingly stupid person came forward and asked her intensely, "Your good name?" Bewildered, she replied, "Arundhati."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Viewpoint - An Insult to My Pakistan

An Insult to My Pakistan

Remember why we created Pakistan.

[Text by Sehar Tariq; imaging by Xploiтєя]

Eight years ago I boarded a plane to the United States to come to college. I was 17. As I left, my father hugged me and told me to never come back because he believed that soon Pakistan would not be a country fit for me to live in. I told him he was trying to save money by not having to buy me tickets to come home. We laughed it off. I hugged him goodbye and that day my father and I began our great debate about the fate of Pakistan. Abba told me to stay away. I defied him every time. I came home twice a year. I only flew PIA. I refused to do an internship in the US I worked every summer in Pakistan. I moved back when college ended. I started work in Pakistan. I worked two jobs because there was so much to do and not enough time to do it in. I was inspired and energised. I was hopeful and optimistic.

Today I am neither. And I have lost the debate with my father about the fate of Pakistan. The Parliament by endorsing the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (NAR) has heralded the end of Pakistan as I knew and loved it. Today, the elected representatives of the people turned Pakistan into Talibanistan. Today we handed over a part of the country to them. I wonder how much longer before we surrender it all.

Today we legislated that a group of criminals would be in charge of governing and dispensing justice in a part of Pakistan according to their own obscurantist views. They have declared that the rulings of their courts will be supreme and no other court in the land can challenge them. They have also declared that their men that killed and maimed innocent civilians, waged war against the Pakistani army and blew up girls schools will be exempt from punishment under this law. A law that does not apply equally to all men and women is not worthy of being called a law. Hence today we legislated lawlessness.

What was most disturbing was the quiescence of the Parliament to this legislation. The utter lack of debate and questioning of this ridiculous legislation was appalling. The decision was not informed by any independent research or expert testimony, and to my knowledge none of the parliamentarians are authorities on matters of security, rule of law or regional conditions in Swat. This signals disturbing possibilities. Either our politicians are too afraid to stand up to criminals or maybe they don't possess the foresight to gauge the national impact of this action. There is no hope for a country led by cowards or fools.

How can one be hopeful about the political future of a country where the will and the wisdom of politicians becomes hostage to the threats of barbarians? How can I be optimistic about a country where doyens of the media like Ansar Abbasi hear the collective silence of the parliamentarians as the resounding support of the people of Pakistan, but are deaf to the threats issued by the Taliban to anyone opposing the legislation? How can I feel secure in a country where the army, despite receiving the largest chunk of our resources, cannot defeat a bunch of thugs? How can I expect justice when there are different laws for different citizens, and I as a woman am a second class citizen? How can I be inspired by a country where there is no culture, no music, no art, no poetry and no innovative thought?

How can I be expected to return to a country where women are beaten and flogged publicly, where my daughters will not be allowed to go to school, where my sisters will die of common diseases because male doctors cannot see them? How can I be expected to call that country home that denies me the rights given me by my Constitution and religion? I refuse to live in a country where women like me are forced to rot behind the four walls of their homes and not allowed to use their education to benefit the nation. By endorsing the NAR and giving in to the Taliban, Parliament has sapped my hope and optimism. Parliament has dealt a deathly blow to the aspirations of the millions of young Pakistanis who struggle within and outside the country, fuelled by sheer patriotism, for a peaceful, prosperous and progressive Pakistan.

When there is no hope, no optimism, no security, no justice, no education, no progress, no culture – there is no Pakistan. Maybe it is because I am the grandchild of immigrants who was raised on stories of hope, patriotism and sacrifice that even in this misery I cannot forget that Pakistan was created to protect the lives, property, culture and future of the Muslims of the Subcontinent. It was not established to be a safe haven for terrorists. We fought so that we could protect the culture of the Muslims of the Subcontinent, not so that we could import the culture of Saudi Arabia. Our ancestors laid down their lives so that the Muslims of the Subcontinent – both men and women - could live in a land free of prejudice, not so that they could be subjected to violent discrimination of the basis of sect and gender.

Maybe it's because I'm competitive and I don't want to lose the debate to my father, maybe I am afraid to lose the only home I have, or maybe because I love Pakistan too much to ever say goodbye – I hope we can remember the reasons why we made Pakistan, and I hope we can stand up to fight for them. I hope we can revive the spirit of national unity of 1947 and lock arms to battle the monster of the Taliban that threatens our existence. Talibanistan is an insult to my Pakistan. I want my country back. Pakistan Paaindabad!

[The writer is pursuing a master's at Princeton University. Earlier, she attended Yale University]

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Special – Hello Taliban

Hello Taliban

Background of the Swat peace deal.

[By Amir Hashim Khakwani; picture by Mohammad Sajjad]

Translation by Kazim Aizaz Alam.

For the readers of Pakistan Paindabad, I have translated from Urdu a newspaper article by Daily Express columnist Mohammad Amir Khakwani on the Zardari government’s peace deal with the Taliban of Swat. It briefly states the circumstances that made the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) give in to the militants’ demands in the scenic valley of Swat.

On Tuesday, Feb 18, the NWFP government signed a peace deal with the Taliban of Swat. According to the deal, the Taliban and the military forces will observe a ceasefire for 10 days in Malakand division (comprising Swat, Dir and Chitral) and Kohistan district of Hazara division. As a result, a Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (Sharia law) will be promulgated by the government and the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) -- led by Maulana Sufi Mohammad -- will apparently be free to implement it in the restive valley.

Maulana Sufi Mohammad established the TNSM in 1992. He demanded that Sharia be implemented in Malakand division. He also issued a fatwa (religious decree) stating that Islam did not allow any sort of democracy and declared the electoral process un-Islamic. In 1994, he staged a sit-in in Malakand along with other TNSM activists and blocked the Peshawar-Mingora Road for seven days, which practically cut off Swat from the rest of the country. The local administration could not tame him and the federal government took notice of the grave situation. At the behest of the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao initiated the dialogue process with the TNSM, which led to a formal, but cosmetic, enforcement of Sharia law in Malakand division in November 1994.

The whole issue apparently died down till 1998 when furious demands of Maulana Sufi Mohammad compelled the Nawaz Sharif government to issue an amended ordinance for the implementation of sharia. By then, the tentacles of the TNSM had spread as far as Hazara division and Bajour agency (FATA). Then 9/11 happened and Maulana Sufi Mohammad took a few thousand mujahidin to the neighbouring Afghanistan to combat US forces. As the Taliban regime collapsed, these Pakistani mujahidin were either killed or taken hostage by the Northern Alliance. Only some of them were able to return safe and sound.

General Musharraf banned a number of sectarian and jihadi organisations on Jan 15, 2002. The TNSM was one of them. On March 30, 2002, Maulana Sufi Mohammad was arrested from Kurram Agency (FATA) and sent to Dera Ismail Khan Jail on various charges. After spending six years in jail, he was released on April 20, 2008.

During Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s six-year detention, his son-in-law and a member of the now defunct TNSM, Maulvi Fazlullah, emerged as the most prominent militant leader of Swat. His real name is Fazal Hyat. After passing 12th standard from Degree College Saidu Sharif he took admission in Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s madressah “Jamia Mazahir-ul-Islam” in Dir.

During his stay at the madressah, Fazal Hyat married Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s daughter and changed his name to Maulvi Fazlullah. He had accompanied Maulana Sufi Mohammad to Afghanistan and upon his return also served a 17-month sentence in a Pakistani jail. Fazlullah now reinvigorated the TNSM and instead of Dir made Swat its new headquarters. Fazlullah established his own FM radio and in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake took part in relief activities with great enthusiasm. This made the TNSM popular among the masses. Now his slogan became ‘Sharia or Martyrdom’.

The insurgency began in Swat after Musharraf government’s operation against Islamabad’s Lal Masjid in 2006 that killed hundreds of young female religious students living within the seminary. After the Lal Masjid operation, General Musharraf decided to weed out Swat militants. On Oct 22, 2007, a military operation was launched in Swat that initially defeated Maulvi Fazlullah-led militants as they lost Matta, Khwaza Khela, Kabal and Charbagh tehsils to the security forces.

Later, companions of Fazlullah changed their strategy and opted for guerrilla warfare against the security forces. Gradually they established close links with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud and his deputy in Bajour (FATA) Maulvi Faqir Mohammad. Fazlullah’s organisation became a part of the TTP and by the beginning of 2008 its influence and power had reasonably increased as it had got support of different Taliban groups.

It also wooed members of the suicide bombers’ squad from South Waziristan agency (FATA) to come to Swat and take part in the fight against the security forces. The subsequent incessant suicide attacks on the security forces forced the government to negotiate a deal with the Taliban. In result, Maulana Sufi Muhammad was released on April 20, 2008, hoping that it would pacify the situation but the Maulana soon adopted an indifferent approach towards the whole Swat crisis and left it up to his son-in-law Maulvi Fazlullah.

By the end of 2008, around 90 per cent area of Swat was under control of the Taliban and the security forces were restricted to Mingora city only. Meanwhile, backdoor diplomacy continued between the Taliban and the government despite an unsuccessful peace deal in May 2008. Now Maulana Sufi Mohammad had set up a protest camp in Lower Dir calling for the enforcement of Sharia in Malakand division. The entire area brimmed with terror and fear and that forced the ruling ANP to request Maulana Sufi Mohammad to play a role in restoring peace in Swat.

The breakthrough came when a couple of weeks ago Maulvi Fazlullah agreed to a ceasefire if Nizam-e-Adl (Sharia law) was enforced in Malakand division. He also released, as a goodwill gesture, a Chinese engineer who was abducted eight months ago. That has resulted in a temporary halt in bloodbath after one and a half years.

Apparently peace has been restored in the area. There’s no more bloodshed for now and both the Taliban and the security forces have adopted a wait-and-see policy. Only time will tell if government’s policy of negotiations with the Taliban is right or not.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Obituary: Khalid Hasan, Journalist & Writer

"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."
Late Khalid Hasan, US correspondent for the Lahore-based Daily Times and The Friday Times

Obituary: Khalid Hasan, Journalist & Writer

He died of cancer, aged 74.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Writer and journalist Mr. Khalid Hasan died of cancer on February 6, 2009, aged 74. He was the US correspondent for the Lahore-based newspaper Daily Times and the weekly The Friday Times. Author of more than 40 books, including Rearview Mirror - four memoirs, The Return of the Onion, and The Umpire Strikes Back - People and Politics in Pakistan, Mr. Hasan lived in Washington DC.

I knew him. He had written for this blogsite. He liked Pakistan Paindabad. This is the blurb he wrote for me:
"Pakistan Paindabad has set others a model of what a blog/site should be."

Once he sent me this mail:
Dear Mayank,
Well it was time somebody gave you credit for what you have done. It is a handsome tribute. You deserve more, of course.
Khalid Hasan

When Benazir Bhutto died, he wrote to me saying:
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.

After a few days of this message, I heard someone saying that Mr Hasan is suffering from cancer. I intended to write to him but never got around to it. Now it's too late.

Back in 2007, I happened to interview Mr Hasan for this blogsite. It's outdated and has references to things we may not care for in today's date but I'm still re-publishing it. So that we have a better idea of the person that Mr Hasan was.

Breaking the Ice

I’m glad to have veteran Pakistani journalist Khalid Hasan for an exclusive interview. Khalid sahib, welcome to Pakistan Paindabad. Since how long you have been stationed in US?

I have been living here since January 2000.

I understand you were born in Srinagar which is the capital of a part of Kashmir that is under the Indian control. So how come you end up in Pakistan?

Like hundreds of thousands of Muslims from the former State, we were among those who found refuge in Pakistan.

Since your birthplace remains in India, which Pakistani city do you consider your hometown?

I spent my growing years in Sialkot. It is in Punjab province, situated close to the Indian border.

In your website, there are pictures of you with many noted figures of Pakistan. In fact, you served as press secretary to the then Pakistan Prime Minister Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto till he was overthrown in a coup. (Later executed by General Zia-ul-Haq.) You have seen Pakistani rulers like Ms. Benazir Bhutto, Mr. Nawaz Sharief, and General Pervez Musharraf from close quarters. Which leader did you find the most dynamic? Who among these was able to capture your imagination?

I think there can be no two opinions about it. No one that I have known had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s charisma, his brilliance, and his sense of history. He was not without his faults but no matter what measure is used to judge him, he was a great man. He continues to remain a hero to countless millions nearly 30 years after his execution, the consequence of a trial that was neither fair nor legitimate.

Politics in Pakistan

Pakistan's present military ruler, is definitely more progressive than its last dictator. The current handpicked Prime Minister, Mr. Shaukat Aziz, is not as tainted as the democratically-elected former Prime Ministers. Pakistan's relations with India too have improved tremendously. Besides, no foreign power can dare to attack this nuclear-powered country. The economy is also spiraling up with unprecedented growth. And still, most of the Pakistani journalists, including you, continue to be critical or cynical. Why?

There may be an element of truth in all that you say, but it is not to be assumed that these things would not have happened with a civilian, elected government in office. Military rule, no matter in what form or for what reason, is wrong and unacceptable. The people of Pakistan reject it. General Musharraf remains in power, but not by leave of the people of Pakistan, I can assure you.

In one of your columns, you described certain Muslim women in the west, for insisting on wearing the hijab, as 'exhibitionist' and 'deluded'. You called them 'hooded bandits'.

I consider the abhorrent practice of burqas as more tribal than religious. In that column, I was referring to women in Europe, especially England, who have created yet another unnecessary controversy around Islam and Muslims by going around in Niqabs. The attempt, sometimes it seems to me, is to convey that “we Muslims cannot live with you Westerners". But they have no intention of moving back to their countries of origin.

Pakistan is ruled by a dictator but if you read its opinionated newspapers, watch its activist news channels, and listen to its people holding a wide variety of views, it appears to be the most democratic country in the Islamic world. How do you view this dichotomy?

It may be the most democratic country in the Muslim world, but that is not good enough. I want Pakistan to be known as a democratic country, not “democratic” in a comparative sense when pitched against other Muslim countries. Pakistan came into being on the basis of a democratic principle and through a constitutional struggle, so it is ironic that it should have remained under more or less chronic military rule.

President Musharraf has intended the 2007 general elections to be the ‘mother of all elections’. You are an experienced observer of Pakistan politics. Whom do we expect to see as Prime Minister by the end of 2007? Who is the most likely candidate in your opinion?

Frankly, half the time I do not know what General Musharraf means. From what has so far become apparent and, given the General’s own stellar record in holding democratic elections, the 2007 elections are going to be rigged. He is not holding them to be thrown out of power.

You are not a soothsayer but what is the probability that President Musharraf will remain at the helm till his last breath?

Things are getting difficult for him. The ruling alliance of sycophantic and time-serving politicians, diehard Mullahs, and a compliant army, with whose help he has been ruling Pakistan, is beginning to come apart at the seams. The most honourable course for him and the best thing for Pakistan would be that he step down and let a fair and free election with the full participation of all political parties and their leaders take place. That is his one chance of going down in history. However, it is unlikely he will take it.

Watching Pakistan

During my recent trip to Lahore, I visited the red-light district of Heera Mandi. Taking a midnight stroll in its streets was a strange experience. Many of the foreigners imagine the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a regressive nation where people are supposed to be intolerant about singing, dancing and pleasures of the flesh. And yet, places like Heera Mandi survive. How is that possible?

Why is that not possible? That is the way Pakistan – and India too – is. Pakistan is not a country of long-bearded Mullahs. The people of Pakistan are like people everywhere. No attempt to impose obscurantist regimes on them and make them intolerant of such diversions and traditions that you observed in Lahore will succeed because it goes against their grain and their native good humour and love for the good life.

It has come as a relief that Hudood laws have been moderated. It will help the raped victims claim justice. Can you think of other laws you wish to be changed?

The entire body of such laws should have been scrapped long ago. What also needs to be scrapped is the 1974 constitutional amendment that declared the Ahmadis community as non-Muslim. No one has the right to pronounce a judgment on who is or isn’t a Muslim, or a Hindu or a Sikh for that matter.

2007 will be observed as ‘Visit Pakistan Year’. You have been very sarcastic about it. The title of one of your recent columns was titled 'Visit Pakistan in 2007’ — and get shot'! Were you being funny?

No, I was not being funny. We need to have better law and order and security than we have. We also have to make Pakistan fun to visit. Not everyone comes to look at mountains or lakes. Most tourists want to cool their heels, have a drink in the evening and visit a good night spot. We used to have it all well into the 1970s. Those facilities need to be brought back. Also Pakistan’s hotels are either five-star establishments or dumps. We need a lot of low-priced and clean hotels with good food and decent comfort. We ought to realize that the average tourist is not loaded with dollars. We should learn from the Indian experience and study how India has promoted its tourism.

Who, in your opinion, are the greatest Pakistanis since the year 1990?

Imran Khan won the Cricket World Cup for Pakistan in 1992 at Melbourne. So being a cricket fan, I would place him among the best men we have produced. He has also built the commendable cancer hospital in Lahore in the memory of his mother, Shaukat Khanum, who herself had died of cancer. A lot of poor people, who would otherwise not get treated, are treated there free of charge. I only wish Imran Khan was as successful at politics as he was at cricket and in building his hospital.

Pakistani Diaspora in US

There are frequent news reports of British citizens of Pakistani origin being suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. Some of the mosques there are accused of preaching extremist ideologies that foment terrorism. Fortunately, this lamentable impression of Pakistanis in the UK is not the fate of their counterparts in the US. How do you explain this difference?

Fortunately not, or at least not so far; but there is a more than fair sprinkling of the fire-breathing Mullah in this country too. These clerics are retrogressive in thinking, uneducated, ignorant but good at spreading confusion and pulling people back into the Middle Ages instead of propelling them forward. Muhammad Iqbal, Poet of the East, wrote: 'the religion of the Mullah is to spread strife'.

You have been working in America since 2000. What, according to you, are the major negative misconceptions held by Americans about Pakistan, impressions that you feel are quite unfair?

The problem is that Pakistanis do not mix. They live in their own cultural ghettos and thus remain uninvolved in the larger life of the community. There always can be a happy marriage between our own traditions, culture, way of life, food, music etc. and the norms, requirements and obligations of the societies in which we live.

Following 9/11, have you faced any serious discrimination in US because of your name or your passport?

Yes, “Traveling while Muslim” is now a fact of life. I myself have been subjected to special attention almost every time I have returned from abroad. I am sure that has to do with my name and my looks. Such discrimination is abhorrent and it is against what we knew as the American Way of Life. Hopefully, with time it will pass, but who knows?

There are many great things about America which, if adopted, can make Pakistan a still better place to live in. But what are those aspects about the West that you do not wish to be emulated by your country?

It has to be that American instinct for rank commercialism to the exclusion of all else.

Reading Pleasures

Did you read General Musharraf's memoir In the Line of Fire? What do you think of it?

It is a third-rate book, and it would have been better if he had not written it or had it ghost-written. It also contains many untruths - Kargil war with India for instance - and it makes some uncalled for and most unfair attacks on individuals, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Let me put it this way: General Musharraf may have many talents, but writing is not one of them.

I can not resist sharing an interesting if irrelevant observation on this entire book hype. Mr. Musharraf’s memoir was first released in English, then in Hindi, and lastly in Urdu - Pakistan's national language. And the Urdu version was titled Sabse Pehle Pakistan (Pakistan First)! Wasn’t that ironic?

The entire book, and what preceded and followed it is best described as an embarrassment.

You are also an acclaimed translator and have translated many important works of the great Urdu writer Saadat Hassan Manto into English. Now, Mr. Manto was a writer who generously sprinkled sex in his short stories. But he is perhaps best known for articulating how religious passion could turn a decent man into a beast. In such context, what example this legendary writer holds for the young generation of the present-day Pakistan? What can they learn from his writings?

Manto was a humanist and that is what we need to learn from his writings.

Please suggest a few books to help us understand your country better?

All you have to do is seek your answer through 'Mr. Google'. I would only add that those interested in Pakistan should read Pakistani literature – fiction and poetry. But people only seem to read books on politics or recent history. That can at best provide a single dimension, if that.

Khalid sahib, thank-you for spending time with us.

My pleasure, Mayank. I wish you the best of luck with your commendable effort to enlarge friendship and understanding between our two countries: India and Pakistan.