Category Archives: Culture Criticism

Vertigo

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Come here.

Sit.

 

How did we get here? When we stopped looking for monsters underneath our beds, and started looking for them within and around?

Don’t make a sound. They’re listening.

 

Did you check for the ones hidden beneath the sheets of your bed? The ones that hold you close on a winter’s night, warm their bodies, until summer arrives? Did you hunt them down?

 

How did we get here? When dreams stretched longer than a night, and reality came a bit too soon..but still too late?

Open your eyes.

 

Do you want me to pinch you now, so you know what is true and that which is not? But didn’t you ask for that pinch when nothing seemed real? I believe you felt the pinch too late, my dear. Wait..

How did we get here?

 

Are you out of colors, yet again? The black, the blue, the green, the grey.

Prick your finger with a needle sharp, and paint your wall with blood so dark..

Wrap it with a chain and lock, not a door this time..

Remember the last knock?

 

Nothing is true, did I tell you not? Not the words spoken, or the purple rock.  God died in all the battles that were fought, the devil crawled out of him, I kid you not..

 

A sweet demise this shall be one, a revival, a reform? Or maybe none..

A cliff you’re standing on, yes, right there..

 

Wait..

How did we get here?

 


 

Inspiration:

 

The Other Side of Lahore

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A pictorial assignment on various street vendors in Lahore.

Quite often, amidst our menial worries and small problems, we tend to forget that there are people in the world who have bigger problems than us. While our problems concentrate around finding the perfect outfit for a birthday party or getting an A grade, there exist those who don’t even know whether they’ll have food on the table the next day. These people have a whole family to support on a measly income that ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 a month.

This post is dedicated to the street vendors in Lahore and all over Pakistan, who work tirelessly to give us delicious street food and some wonderful products that we wouldn’t be able to spend a day without.

 

And the winner is…

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Photo courtesy Sanwal Tariq (Facebook)

The entire world watches on and waits with bated breath for the results of ANTM (Afghanistan’s next top man) and three main contenders have emerged as the leading candidates in what is to be Afghanistan’s first democratic transition. We have the people’s champion, Abdullah Abdullah, “with a name so nice, you have to say it twice”. Contesting against him is the good doctor Ashraf Ghani, who will seemingly use debate and logical arguments to thwart the Taliban (we all know how well that works). And the third horse is the one being backed by the outgoing president, the ‘king’s man’, Mr Zalimai Rasoul.

Our people’s champion is a well-known politician, who is well received by the Afghani public, judging from the 31% of the votes he got in the presidential elections of 2009. While he is experienced in international diplomacy, and as Foreign Minister was responsible for broadening ties with the global community, his plans to tackle terrorism and fix the security situation in the country are still a mystery. He has advised the Taliban to change their ways if they are to be brought into the fold of the rest of society through dialogue, which is like telling a dog to stop using its nose to formulate likes and dislikes.  His election campaign is centered around putting the lid on corruption in the country.

The doctor is an academic and an intellectual, and is famous for his economic acumen alongside his self-imposed exile during the Taliban years. Believed to be temperamental and on occasion, volatile, it remains to be seen whether he is as inconsistent as his potential predecessor Karzai. For the good of Afghanistan and the world at large, it is hoped that he is not.

The last frontrunner, is our king’s man and is seemingly experienced in issues of national security. Whether he manages to break free from the yoke of the old government and all of its failings still remains to be seen.

It must not be forgotten that amid all this, the BSA hangs in the balance, and the next President will decide whether US troops are to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Whichever candidate is selected, it is imperative that Afghanistan is not left on its own with untrained security forces to fight the battle-hardened Taliban. But with the way things stand, one man’s decision will decide the outcome of the drawn-out war on terror, and we can only hope that Afghanistan chooses the right man for the job.

Mob mentality

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Another temple was burned down, this time in Larkana, by a mob that lost control over yet another fake blasphemy charge against a Hindu. Imagine being constantly scared and feeling vulnerable and alien in your own country, in a sea of people that have nothing but disdain for what you stand for. Imagine an eid, or any other day of festivity where you cannot celebrate for fear of being attacked by an ignorant mob over some trumped up charges that have nothing to do with you. This is how the religious minorities in Pakistan feel on a daily basis. The blasphemy laws are to blame once more, being used for all the wrong reasons to take advantage of the inferior status ascribed to being part of a religious minority.

How is an organized mob created anyway? In a mob, there is no responsibility, no reprisal for any atrocities committed. There are no faces. There is bravery in numbers. Pitchforks and fire is the only image that comes to mind. The mob does not need facts, only allegations. The mob functions on the basis of outlining an ‘us’ with an opposing ‘them’. Those that are left out are easier to dehumanize and subsequently attack, if needed.

The biggest problem with any democracy is that it can potentially establish a tyranny of the majority and oppress those that do not identify themselves with the biggest group. Our country though divided along many lines, still calls itself an Islamic nation. Everybody else, those that have different beliefs and even those who are perceived as deviating from the ‘norms’ (what these are is debatable) are second-class citizens. This is not the first incident, and nor will it be the last. When minorities are left completely unprotected by the government, the people are free to exploit them in any way they see fit.

The only way Pakistan can begin to improve the status of minorities is through repealing a law designed to oppress the freedom of expression. Can a law really stop people from committing blasphemy? There is no real way to assess when blasphemy has been committed. And a mob can never pronounce judgments, let alone on something this subjective. All religions inherently contradict each other. Those that believe that their religion is the one true religion should be secure in their own knowledge and should attempt to rise above anything they perceive as insulting. We are no longer in the dark ages, and a law made to facilitate elaborate witch hunts has no place in the modern world.

Utopia

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Astronomica

 

Faith.

Ever had that feeling, when you’re lying on the hospital bed, and you just know who you want to see when you wake up; That one person who’d make it all better? Have you ever had that moment when you’re treading but you can’t stop yourself from turning around expecting to lay your eyes on something other than your shadow? Have you ever hoped to feel a warm embrace when you’re sitting alone crying?

 

Ever looked into someone’s eyes, wanting to see love? And have you ever led yourself to think that it’s there? Ever come across an episode when you see the knife, but you let your back turn anyway? And have you pretended like your loved one didn’t tear your spine with it? Ever been in a state when you can’t embrace the truth because it’s too harsh? And have you ever knowingly let go of the truth, and embraced the lies because they give you a reason to smile?

 

Ever lived in a time when humanity perished and greed prevailed? Have you ever been a part of the system, even though you hated it? Ever become the person you dreaded the most? Have you ever reaped your soul to have a little power? And have you ever sadistically liked being superior, while crushing your fellows beneath your feet?

 

Ever come across a point in time when you think you’re special to god? Have you ever had the faith to nullify the fact that he’d let you get hurt? Have you ever told yourself that it’s going to be okay, when you know it isn’t? Have you ever lied about how you’re grateful to god, when you really aren’t? Have you ever fashioned a facade, believing that god will give you the answer, when you can’t find it? And have you almost always known that that isn’t going to happen?

 

Faith is a funny thing. A state of intoxication, an eternal beauty where reason has drowned and lies have succumbed. A beautiful denial; A beautiful lie; A beautiful utopia. Faith is what all of us need. A reason to decline, a reason to believe in good when there isn’t any, a reason to smile when there is none. Faith, like utopia, is not wanting to know the truth because the lies are better.

 

 

To a Teacher’s quest, Nobody Protests!

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To a Teacher’s quest, Nobody Protests!

 

 

Teacher introduces and implements a ‘five percent of the total grade’ assignment for a course in Islamic Studies that is compulsory for everybody in class. The whole class has to offer prayers at the college mosque. There are people from various sects and religions in the course. Nobody protests.

Teacher states that the military is the only institution that can  lead economic development, in terms of GDP growth, in Pakistan. In her first lecture on Macro Economics, nobody even tries to counter argue, since the teacher has an amazing reputation in the economics department. Nobody protests.

Communication skills instructor details in a half an hour long diatribe that students must watch Zakir Naik if they want the real truth in life. teacher goes ballistic on sole student who tries to question the logic behind that revelation. Student humiliated, and ostracized. Class moves on to further lecture on piety. Nobody protests.

Teachers questions why the Shia’s can’t even dare to challenge the writ of the state by protesting against the mass killing sprees all over the country. In the backdrop of the Alamdar road incident where the families did not bury their dead for four days, A professor claims that the shias should listen to the majority as the majority rules in a democracy. And yet again, nobody dares to stand up, its all about securing your grade and remaining in the good books.

Teacher feels up girls in class and calls his methodology “a spiritual reawakening of the student population”. Later he lambastes a girl for wearing a hijab who giggles and takes it in her stride. Teacher is woken up by his female teaching assistant everyday and escorted to class by girls who have to do it out of duty. Nepotism reigns supreme. Nobody protests.

Teacher mails students six hours before a mid term exam that 80 per cent marks are a prerequisite for students being able to qualify for their thesis in the final semester. Like lambs, led to slaughter, students appear in the exam next day, nobody protests.

 

Never give up on your dreams, keep sleeping.

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Never give up on your dreams, keep sleeping  – Saira Ansari

 

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Until the 12th grade i remember waking up for school with sounds of news channels growing louder in the other room, where my parents would have their breakfast while watching TV. These channels not only provided the 7 am latest but also, there were these morning shows where the host would appear in extra overdone make-up and heavy dresses to talk about everything that was pointless and unimportant. During my 10th grade i remember ‘Good Morning Pakistan‘ being one of these shows.
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They had Dr.Shaista Wahidi hosting with new guests, asking them ‘deep’ questions about their lifestyle, personal relationships etc. The show usually ended with Shahista Wahidi dancing to a hip desi song with the invited guest. All of this happened live; and that too at 7 in the morning. On one of these shows i remember Sahista Wahidi attempted to kiss a cobra with an action/thriller background playing in the studios. To spice things up and make it more tense for the audience, her father called her on the show and begged her not to kiss the snake. But of course she did. And then it just kept on getting worse.
By the time i was ending my 12th grade i remember every single channel airing morning shows with the same script outline which included different segments like the cooking corner, morning exercise corner, horoscopes, beauty tips, live calls and even a special segment dedicated to birthday wishing only. Nadia Khan from ‘Mornings with Nadia‘ on ARY was very popular for her special birthday dance which personally shocked me. These ladies did anything and almost everything to get better ratings. Now i see the morning media situation has continued to worsen. We have theme weeks now!
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There is the wedding week where the host gets hold of an ordinary to-be married girl, provides her with designer clothes and expensive make up packages. The studio set is turned into a shaadi stage and you even see models pretending to be at a wedding, sitting and chatting around on the set. Then there is the valentines day theme which obviously every single channel MUST follow. Whatever news or drama channel you switch over to on this day, you see red. Then comes the women’s day theme and the eid day special (this continues for 4 days. It just has to) . And if they have nothing to talk about, they bring in a maulvi ghost hunter or astrologist who takes live calls and ‘helps’ the audience with their personal problems. If that doesn’t work either, the hosts bring their families on the show and talks about themselves while their kids run around in the studio or start crying on live television..
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There isn’t much left to say because I’m sure everyone else has witnessed such morning show cheapness as well. At the same time i see why no one bothers to change or make such shows better because this is what the audience want to see. And believe it or not, they want to see all of  it as soon as they wake up. Aunties and sometimes even very decent uncles just give in and watch these shows because that’s just all there is to watch during certain times of the day. Such overly done segments get the channels their ratings and make the hosts more popular too.
God bless Pakistan.

 

The Sparrow Sings

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A poem about the social evils and crimes against humanity, committed not only in Pakistan,  but in other developing nations with male dominated societies. The metaphor of the sparrow has been incorporated to indicate how the world rarely notices how brutal and painful these crimes really are.

Far away,
A place where no one dares to travel,
Somewhere along the empty trail,
A young girl loses her innocence,
She wails and screams,
While the sparrow sings.

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In the neighborhood,
In a place called home,
A tattered and broken abode,
A wife, a mother, lies on the floor,
Abused and marred,
And the sparrow sings.

In a field,
A barren and hollow piece,
A man sets his blood on fire,
Simply because she chose to,
Fulfill her desires,
Still the sparrow sings.

Round the corner,
In a desolate village,
The epitome of purity and innocence,
A female infant,
Meets her demise,
But the sparrow sings.

In front of me,
The people I know,
Disrespect and shoot down,
The ones who gave them life,
Yet the sparrow sings.

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Thousands cry,
While millions die,
Torment knows no bounds,
As everyone watches the world burn,
Havoc, unrest and anarchy,
Then why does the sparrow sing?

Flashback Pakistan: Reverse Gear

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Flashback Pakistan: Reverse Gear – Saira Ansari

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Two days ago, during my usual time wasting midnight activities; which always include over-dosing on food with pointless staring of  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram news feeds, I came across this page called ‘Citizens archive of Pakistan‘. The page belonged to a non-profit organization operating from Karachi. What I found out while looking around on their page was that they really didn’t have any kind of historical archives which showed the long forgotten Pakistani history, photography, culture, literature or some sort of historical documentations of the 60s and 70s. Instead, all of the published content was related to recent events held at schools, orphanages and various art exhibitions.
Most of the time during classes, I hear my teachers talk about how times have changed. Sometimes they discuss and try to make us understand about the evolving of history by talking about their own personal experiences and the things that they could or could not do in the early 70s or 80s in Pakistan. Experiences like going to large rallies in support of a progressive and more democratic state, celebrating Basant, living in older parts of Lahore, the kind of liberal environment found in high class hotels and restaurants before the Zia era or even the excitement of going to a cricket stadium to watch our team play. So I began searching for other sources online where I could find old pictures of the open and Pakistani society which I always heard people talk about around me and I was able find out many interesting pictures and facts, some of which I have shared here.

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I came across beautiful post card stamps and tourist cards from the 60s which showed parts of Pakistan or had Sufi miniature artwork on them. I found pictures of a bar, restaurant and ballroom in Swat from 1970. During the 80’s the ballroom became an arcade games hall with the very first coin-operated entertainment machines. There were Pakistani Tudor cigarette
commercials made especially for female smokers. I also found pictures of tourists visiting areas such as Chitral, Attock and Multan during the 80s.
What I saw in these images was a safe and pleasant country where foreigners were welcomed and treated as guests instead of being slaughtered or kidnapped. The local populace had the freedom(s) without fear of being stopped or ‘Islamized’. It was while looking at these images of Pakistan that I realized, yes, there was a time that existed. When my country was a ‘sane’ place to be; My grandparents and my parents did live their early years in better times…most of the time, what i experienced and grew up watching on television was operations, strikes and killings and now in an effort to shun monotony, we witness suicide bombings by terrorists. There is no direction to take, we are still and for a long time will be
in the reverse gear.

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And She Knew No More

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By Fatima Ebadat Khan

“Get up! You worthless woman! Get up now!” the drunken shouts of Tehmina’s husband mingled with her terrified, blood curling screams of last night echoed in her ears.
As her eyes snapped open, it took her a minute or two to take in her surroundings. She found herself lying on the cold marble floor, wearing what remained of her already tattered clothes, which were now in shreds.
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Tehmina tried to lift herself up but regretted this almost immediately as this slight movement made every nerve in her body twist and agonizing pain rippled through her body. Screams escaped her lips as she mustered the strength to lift herself from the floor. At once she collapsed onto the hard sofa. Tehmina peered at the blackish – blue bruises that her husband had inflicted upon her in his last night’s fit of rage. Carefully avoiding her face and neck, Asif’s merciless blows and kicks across her body, his ruthless abuses night after night made her feel almost inhuman now. Night after night, his cruelty had turned her into nothing more than a disgusting animal to him and he was her tormenting master.

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“Where is my money? Hand over your salary or I will make you regret you were ever born Tehmina!” he growled at her.
“I do not have it yet Asif! Baji said she would give it to me next week. Please!” She remembered sobbing uncontrollably. But yet again, she could not escape his wrath.
She remembered asking her employer, who she had been working for as a maid in her house for almost three months , a advance on her salary but she had refused. Asif, being unemployed, relied on her to keep the house running. Tehmina was the sole breadwinner for her family of eight. She knew then that when she would arrive home, there would be hell to pay for as she arrived empty handed.
She cautiously stepped into her bare house, where Asif was lounging on the bed. The smell of stale drink coming from him filled the air. The children were clustered around him, dressed in clothes that were either too large or too small for them, given to Tehmina by her employer. She thought of it as a blessing to even have her children clothed. Questions about her salary were her husband’s greeting. She felt his menacing gaze fixed on her as she explained she would not receive it till next week. She sensed his impending murderous anger, as did the children, who hastily scurried away one by one when their father threw the empty bottle of liquor on the floor.

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Tehmina remembered him hurling abuses at her, saying that she was worthless, not worth the dirt on his shoes, with his fists raised, ready to strike. At first her screams and cries were loud enough to make the ground tremble until one sharp blow across her cheek silenced her and she subjected to his constant beating till she became unconscious.
As she lay on the sofa, unable to move anymore, tears streaming down her face, she heard heavy footsteps entering the house. At once, Asif came in the room. It appeared that he had not been home since last night and was holding a bottle that Tehmina assumed to be alcohol. Asif walked up to her helpless form. Early in the morning, she could still smell the fresh drink off him. Little did she know that the worst was yet to come. Looking into her eyes, he threw the bottle of acid on her face and Tehmina knew no more.