Monday, 25 June 2018

Evening walk and golden amaltas 🌼

Kavita and I enjoyed our evening walk today. There are so many little play grounds and green belts in  our neighbourhood. 

At the playground, a boy and a girl (I imagine they are friends or brother and sister) were on the see saw. The girl was at one end and the boy kept saying, 'moti'. But he was a bit weak and couldn't get on his end. They were probably 12 or 13 year olds. I told him, it's not fair to call his sister 'moti' while he himself is so 'kamzor'. The girl started laughing. 

On the way back, we enjoyed the breathtakingly beautiful blossoms of the amaltas by night. What a magical moment. 

Read about amaltas here

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Thoughts of being home

I've been in Pakistan since the first week of April making it just over a month since I've been away from my apartment and office in Monrovia. Poor Haresh is back in Liberia running the company, dealing with day to day headaches, and surviving on sandwiches.

The past few days in Islamabad were rainy, cool and extremely pleasant. Yesterday I enjoyed the weather on one of the television channels: "mausam khushgavar hai...jurva sheheron mein rim jhim baarish ho rahi hai aur thandi havaaon ka silsila hai." Dislocated and rootless Pakistanis like me cherish the sound of weather being described in poetic Urdu.

Trips home in the last 5 years or so have have deepened feelings of rootlessness in me. Having grown up as privileged brats of a diplomat, my siblings and I grew up in various countries 'abroad.' We were not immigrants seeking better economic fortunes but moving from one capital to another, floating from one diplomatic mission to another. We were clearly Pakistanis but we were not schooled in Pakistani schools but mainly American ones. We did not grow up in a Pakistani city but one in Europe or West Africa. I don't remember, though, being connected to any city we were in. I didn't experience the reality of the people living there. Our school friends were from a host of different countries and, our teachers were American. Except for the odd school trip here or there, we lived in our own little safe bubble. So, what does that make you?

It's only as an adult that I've actually lived at a stretch in any one city and that is Monrovia, Liberia. During the first few years, I was safely cocooned in my UN life but since running a business, I have started to understand what the ups and downs are of living and working in a city as they really relate to that specific city. I can sketch improvements or challenges over a period of time that are part of Monrovia's fabric and history as I have experienced them.

I come and visit Pakistan really only as a visitor and 'tourist'. I don't enjoy coming home because I do feel disconnected to anything that is real.

In fact, when I was purchasing some items from Khaadi, the fellow at the counter smirked when I asked him whether I could use the loyalty card. It was no longer in use and, that was more than a year ago.

Liberia doesn't offer a long-term residence status to anyone who has lived for 5 years or more let alone citizenship. (Never mind George Weah's attempts to address this delicate minefield in his inaugural address) I will mostly likely hang on to my Pakistani passport for many, many years but what meaning does it really hold if I don't have a stake in my own country? And, what stake do I have in Liberia, for that matter, even though I have a business there and have spent most of my adulthood there?

Pakistan is really an Islamic Republic

The anti-Ahamdi rhetoric and agenda is at an all time high. A resolution was passed in the National Assembly, declaring that the Dr Abdus Salam Centre for Physics should be renamed "as al-Khazini Department, a little known Byzantine-origin astronomer who according to many historians lived and researched in late 14th century."

It is shocking and enraging that our National Assembly has no other fish to fry.

And, at the same time, an assassination attempt was made on the Interior Minister. The suspected gunman claims the Minister and ruling party committed blasphemy.

Stepping into Pakistan, where one sees mostly veiled women in public spaces, where religious naats are being played even in ultra fashionable boutiques, where 20 loudspeakers are blaring the azaan in a 1-KM radius, where one is hard-pressed to meet anyone else from any other faith, you can't but think that we really are an Islamic Republic and nothing else. And, what concerns our National Assembly members? Erase all memory and respect for our Noble Laureates, simply because they belonged to a different sect (Dr Abdus Salam) or spoke against extremism (Malala).

It's quite telling that opposition in India is using 'Don't become like Pakistan' card to oust the BJP! I read a headline that Prakash Raj is touring Karnataka and, advising the public they shouldn't given into the ruling party's tactics of mixing religion and politics. What a shame for Pakistan that we are a warning metaphor.


With Facebook's Cambridge - Analytica - related - so-called - breach, it seems a few people on my "Friends" list are slightly disturbed by the revelations. I have 900+ "friends" but only about 2 people actually posted about the issue and, debated for an instant what they should do.

I myself will continue with Facebook, posting articles, sometimes getting into debates but I have less and less of a fascination with posting pictures. I've always enjoyed sharing photographs of Kavita's life (she has so many family members eager to see her pictures), my evening walks, the city, my travels, etc. I hardly post pictures now and, if I do, they are of the scenery or something really interesting. I avoid family pictures, now.

Of course, there's a certain amount of showing off for posting pictures with clever captions. You get a certain high but of late, I wonder what is the point of sharing one's pictures on Facebook? Does it hold any other value than narcissism?

I am not particularly paranoid about sharing my personal details with Facebook (I'm just 1 out of a billion plus Facebook members) but I don't care for sharing personal photos any longer. Perhaps it's a phase but for now, I don't have the energy to curate, peruse and go through my photographs to post about my fabulous life.

I'm using WhatsApp for sharing photographs with very close friends and family members.

By the way, how many WhatsApp groups are you part of?

I have started using Twitter but don't know what's the point of it, still. 

Friday, 20 April 2018

An Unauthorised Review of Cake

Thanks to my father’s career in the Pakistan Foreign Service, I grew up with my siblings in various capitals abroad. I did not get schooled in the Pakistani education system. After I completed my undergraduate studies in the UK, I returned to Pakistan and worked for a couple of years before carting myself off to work with a United Nations Agency. I always feel like bit of a fake Pakistani but try to keep my connection to my country alive by watching Pakistani films and TV plays (more of the latter, which we grew up watching wherever we were on video cassettes) and listening to Pakistani music. Forgive me for the irrelevant introduction but at least I can lay claim to my background in case you don’t agree with my review of Cake.

I always have had a sense that there is a desperate Pakistani effort to showcase itself as hip and modern to a Western audience.  My father was not posted to a major Western capital but I remember reading about some fashion show hosted by the Pakistan High Commission or Pakistan Embassy in Europe or United States.  The presentation of designer outfits modeled by upper class models was somehow meant to present a soft image of Pakistan. I feel Cake is trying to do the same thing!

I am currently visiting my parents in Islamabad where retired after a lengthy service abroad since the early 2000s. I noticed billboards of the film Cake and, a few trailers on TV with shots of reviews in foreign press. I live and work in Liberia, West Africa.

I noticed familiar faces of television actors. Towards the end of the trailer, you will notice an apparent quote from The Guardian: “Quietly revolutionary.” I also remember seeing a few short videos on my social media feed, which touted “Cake” as a bold film that depicted Pakistani women as individual personalities and not just in relation to their husbands or fathers. There was also a video shared by Girls at Dhabas with a interview of Cake’s stars who were politely saying they were feminists but not the men-hating or bra-burning kind.  What an unfortunate display of ignorance!

After all this hype, it was imperative to watch the film and, see for myself what the fuss was about. 

I was a little disappointed with the film because it did not really blow my mind. Who is this film intended for? Which boats did it actually rock? What was so revolutionary about it? It’s being touted as a ‘different’ film but I ‘m not sure it has a mass appeal.  In fact, the film was embarrassingly elitist. Sure, there are many elements from the film which I could draw parallels to my own life, the dysfunctional moments in a family life and, so on, but I’m sure many others can too. But can be hailed as a film speaking on behalf of strong Pakistani women? Sorry, no.

It is a very intimate portrayal of a family with all its fractures, secrets and regrets and is indeed an endearing family drama to watch.  But ultimately, Cake is about a very wealthy upper class family where all but one servant is given the spotlight to depict a shocking romance with the eldest daughter. An eccentric matriarch hurls sweet curses at her husband, joking about pinching his bum, and loves being made up all the time with the aid of wigs and lipsticks. The daughters attend a private boozing and club party (where do these types of parties take place?) and then, drive around Karachi to release their frustrations, throwing eggs at the fenced villas of their hated aunties and friends. Who can afford such luxurious revenge? One of the daughters who returned from London attends an ultra elitist kid’s birthday party and, then vaguely suffers at having to listen to other women’s dialogues about how fulfilling motherhood is. Really? Are these the revolutionary feminist moments in Pakistani film history?

Lo and behold, this family turns out to be landlords with their own fiefdom in rural Sindh. It’s there these two independent women politely don chadors on their heads when visiting their family fields. But if you see the trailers, this moment is somehow depicted as a bold moment! I had thought – while watching the trailer absent-mindedly on mute – that these were politicians or social workers! No, they are privileged brats of a filthy rich family. They can afford an army of nameless servants for their luxurious villa in the city and, the whole village to wait on them in their rural haveli. What problems do these people have?

Pakistani rich people problems. One of the daughters is grief-stricken that her ex-boyfriend never acknowledged her letters but it turns out (spoiler alert!) she killed a small boy in her village. This was unbeknownst to her and, her family sent their Christian servant to serve in jail to hush up the matter. This same Christian servant (aptly named Romeo) is unflinchingly faithful, loyal and does not seem to hold a drop of anger towards the family. In fact, he seems to enjoy being flung around by the elder daughter. There is something unbelievably tone-deaf in this story.

I did enjoy the depiction of characters on screen that smoke, curse, scream, fight and cry. But, what is so bold about this? Is the pardah being lifted from elitist families? That they are, too, dysfunctional and women can be ‘real.’ But was there a pardah to begin with? Who is the audience? Does the average Pakistani relate to this family atmosphere?

The climax, though, showcased the skill of the director and, it was extremely tense. It was pulled off with perfection as the characters battled it out, the deadly secret was revealed, some of the characters learned they were being pricks, and at least one characters was laid to rest. The family crossfire was extremely well done and, you almost felt you were there. There was one particular moment where the camera diverted and, we went inside another room to witness the dynamic between the visiting brother and wife. It happened as the light had gone out and, then the camera followed him out to the continuing scream match. It was masterfully done! The eldest daughter, played by Aaminah Sheikh, heaves and puffs, self-righteously, explaining the whole fasad to her moronic younger clueless sister.

Parents do indeed suffer when their children are abroad. In a large family, one sibling might stay back to look after the aging parents (and assets in the case of a rich family). In dysfunctional families, parents harbour ill feelings towards their own children for staying away and leaving the homeland. (But why did you bring up your children to value the fast life elsewhere outside your country?) I was having the same conversation with my dear Liberian friend whose son is in the US. She was proud he was sending money back home and, wanted to build a house back in Monrovia. She said, one goes abroad to develop economically but to ultimately come back home. And sure enough, this is something I also think about a lot – I spent most of my life away from Pakistan and, should I have actually pursed a career back here?

Somehow, this film does touch on poignant family themes. A serious drama or ‘damagedy’ follow basic formulas: awakening, reckoning, and/or revelation. But it explores these at the expense of class. What are the aspirations of the servant class? What are the aspirations of middle class Pakistani families? Do girls dream of love, success and, what do they go through? Was this really explored in this film?

I left the cinema theatre with a mixed taste in my mouth, not fully satisfied that this film was all that it is marketed to be. If this family is trying to show the outside world that Pakistani women are strong and independent, then this is not the one. And lastly, what was with the lame title of the film?

Sunday, 15 April 2018

HUM TV is one misogynist media outlet

The Sunday night HUM TV play shows a man abducting a woman who rejected his brother and, about to force her to marry his brother (who apparently wanted to commit suicide because the girl rejected him). Talk about openly showing violence against women on prime time! In a society, country and region where women have been known to suffer acid attacks by jealous men, it's shocking to see that such a scenario is shown as entertainment in TV play. HUM TV is one misogynist media outlet. 

It turns out (you can tell the whole damn story in a single episode) that the fellow who got rejected by the girl only met her once and once again at tea when he came with him his elders to seek her hand in marriage. Apparently, they used to talk for hours on the phone. This again shows love and relationships in a twisted, unhealthy manner - romantic relationships cannot be honourable or dishonourable. They cannot be obsessions or polite telephone conversations. Extremely unhealthy way to depict love. 
I watch HUM TV plays now and then, and, almost every single one is extremely problematic in how it depicts women.