Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Delicious rainy days

Monday, 24 March 2014

Pakistan Day

To believe in Pakistan, you need to believe that Muslims are a nation and, therefore needed a separate homeland. You need to believe that religious identity of Indians was more important than any other cultural, ethnic or political identity.  

Sunday was 23 March, Pakistan Day. It is commemorates the Lahore Resolution, when the All India Muslim League called for a separate state for the Muslims of India. 

It was a rainy and wet day and, I had got up a bit earlier than usual since I was going to meet a friend for lunch. My mother was enjoying the special morning shows devoted to "milli naghmey," viewing of the parade, and the sense of celebration. We flipped through the channels hoping to catch some of our favourite "naghmey" but in vain! 

I caught some of the sentiments and expressions of patriotism either by the anchors or interviewees who were on TV. "What does your country mean to you?" "What does Pakistan stand for?" Everyone gushed and waxed lyrical about how lucky Pakistanis were to have a country, a homeland of their own and how much they believed in Pakistan. 

Do I believe in Pakistan, I asked myself, anymore? What does it mean to believe in Pakistan? 

It is funny to be asking these questions to myself. Almost shocking. I grew up as a Pakistani diplomat's child and, although lived abroad almost of my childhood and adolescent years, being Pakistani was the strongest part of my identity almost right from the start. 

I remember arriving late to a rehearsal for singing "milli naghmey" in Bonn, Germany at the Pakistan Embassy. My brother and I were 7 or 8 years old.  I remember mingling with other Embassy kids at birthday parties at their houses and Eid parties at the Ambassador's house. 

When my father became an Ambassador himself, the sense of identity and a sense of duty to represent Pakistan was even stronger.  We were proud that our father was the representative of his country, directly mandated by the President. Pride automatically solidifies your identity. It creates a positive relationship to your country.  

Not only was my identity as a Pakistani quite strong but also what Pakistan stood for, its history,  and its treacherous relationship with India. I sometimes marvel at how national narratives and  a collective emotional fabric can still be inculcated into someone's mind even if they haven't actually been schooled or lived in that particular country. Our links to Pakistan were deep and actively kept alive through our parents' stories and, a regular supply of Pakistani television programmes and Pakistani newspapers. Pakistani Embassies were also well stocked with books and promotion materials. 

For instance, I remember leafing through pamphlets which showed pictures of Kashmiri babies killed by Indian soldiers. These were on display at one of our Embassies. 

My first best friend in life was Ritu Bakhtiani. She and I were inseparable and often used to call each other up the night before to make sure we colour coordinated our frocks the next day in school. We did everything together in fourth and fifth grades. Her father worked at the Indian Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. I used to be at her house all the time and, often borrowed movies from her parents' collection. For some reason, I loved borrowing Dilip Kumar's black and white movies like "Ram Aur Sham" and "Kohinoor." 

We had a great friendship and, made my childhood years even more special. But even as little kids, barely 10 or 11 years old, we somehow knew about the problems between our two countries. During a field trip, I remember she and I were arguing about who Kashmir belonged to! 

From an early age, we were taught why Pakistan had to be created, about the treachery of the Hindus, the hypocrisy of Gandhi, and how over and over again, and Pakistan was the victim of aggression and unfairness. There was no way Muslims would have been equal citizens once the British because the Hindus had cozied up to the British and were now the dominant group. We had to separate. We were completely different. And, so a great idea, a great dream was born and, many sacrifices were made to create this new homeland. Pakistan was born but amidst great deception: many of the Muslim-majority areas of India were usurped, including the greatest prize of all, Kashmir. We didn't get any resources to build a new country and, pretty much started from scratch. And, we had to go to war over that and, at least 3 times after that too. We lost East Paksitan too, thanks to India. Our own friends and allies betrayed us and, let us lose it. 

These are but some of the stories that form the Pakistani narrative about its birth and history which as good citizens you do not question until you start thinking for yourself. 

All my years, not only we as a family but individually too, we got on famously with Indians. We socialised with Indian members of the diplomatic community. We had Indian friends at school. We exchanged Indian movies for Pakistan TV plays. We felt comfortable chatting in Urdu - as we say - or Hindi - as they say. But, things were fine as they were. We were both separate countries and, clearly there was a reason for the status quo. Nations do no just split up for no rhyme or reason.

I started to have doubts when I learned about the criminalisation of Ahamdis by the Pakistan state since I come from an Ahamdi family. In many ways, our upbringing was a little contradictory in terms of where our allegiances lied. We were devout Pakistanis but our country considered our fait
heretical. In fact, we could be arrested if we practiced the simplest of Muslim gestures like saying "Asalamo alaikum." Apparently, Ahamdis also played a great role in the creation of Pakistan. Jinnah apparently gave up and went back to London. It was the Ahamdis who convinced him to go back to India and, keep trying to create a separate homeland for Muslims. The first Foreign Minister was the distinguished Chaudhry Zafrullah Khan who also served as Chief Justice at the International Criminal Court. The one and only Pakistani Nobel Prize winner is an Ahamdi. But alas, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gave into the mullahs' demands to declare Ahamdis as non-Muslims. Ahamdis over night turned into a heretical and demonised group. The head of the Ahamdi Community had to flee to the UK and, the headquarters of the world-wide Community were established in London. Meanwhile, Ahamdis, their mosques and even their dead are frequently victims of violence. Even now, most Ahamdis talk about their identity and Jamaat in hushed tones in public.  Recently during Musharraf's era, the religion column was added in the Pakistani passports. I was shocked at having to declare whether or not I believed in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad when renewing my passport back in 2005.

How could a state go around deciding which sect was Islamic and which one was not? Wasn't Pakistan created as a safe haven for all Muslim and minorities?  How could a group under mortal danger be turning in on itself? This was a significant clue for me. I embarked on a fervent mission to understand, promote and analyse Pakistan that may have been created as a safe haven for Muslims but was actually intended to be a progressive, modern and even secular state. 

I came back to Pakistan after completing my undergraduate studies in London. This was the start of the 9-11 decade. Musharraff was ruling Pakistan. I was living and working in Islamabad for a year. In my free time, I used to write impassioned letters to Editors of Dawn and The News. I used to write to my favourite famous columnists. I was quite obsessed about raising the Ahamdi issue. I would rant about our Foreign Policy adventures. I would protest military rule. It was great. 

I left Pakistan in 2003 thanks to a few stints with the UN that took me to Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia. I left the UN in 2008 and started working in the private sector in Liberia. I met and fell in love with an Indian and the rest is history. 

Not that falling in love and choosing your own life partner from whichever country is easy for a Pakistani woman but the logistics of a Pakistani-Indian match are impossible. Obtaining visas for each other's countries are fraught with bureaucratic hurdles. Faces sort of start withering when you tell them your husband and father of your child is from the other side of the border. 

I started thinking earnestly about the Partition. The numbers and facts started feeling more real. One million lost their lives in mindless religious riots. Train loads of people were murdered en routes. Women were raped in thousands. This all really happened! Was it necessary? Are we really different nations? 

Why can't people from two religions marry each other? And, if they can, why can't two nations live together?

And, then, Kavia arrived. We decided to skip the bureaucracy and, had her in the US. 

You know how humiliated and invaded you feel when try to get a visa for the UK or EU? The process is tediously long and, applicants have to submit a mountain-load of paperwork. Those long queues and exorbitant visa fees don't help either. You start thinking about the colonial legacy and, how ironic it is that you have to go through all this where once we were conquered and dominated by these former colonial masters who now masquerade themselves as democratic and civilised nations in every sense.  Well, you feel the same humiliation but also a great sense of sadness for the line that was drawn to separate people, families and friends in the subcontinent

I'm getting misty. I'm getting emotional. This kind of talk doesn't fit into the rhetoric of nation states and real politik. 

Sure, it would be naive to think of everything being hunky and dory before the British arriving on the scene. Muslims had ruled the majority of India for hundreds of years. Islam was a conquering religion. This history of Muslim dominance has likewise been used by the Indian politicians, too. 

Coming back to the question, do I believe in Pakistan? To ask that question, I would have to ask, do I believe Muslims are a separate nation? Did they really need a a separate homeland? Absolutely not. Do I, then, believe in Pakistan? No, not really. 

You also start thinking about the wider world. Can people of different religions live together? YES.

I do not know what the future is because since relations between Pakistan and India are not getting any better, it is going to be virtually impossible to live in either of these two countries. My husband and I will have to settle elsewhere. 

Will I still visit Pakistan? Yes. Will I still love Pakistan? Yes. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sunday in Islamabad

had Sunday lunch with a dear friend an ex-colleague who I met after more than 10 years. Thanks to Facebook, though, we have been able to keep in touch. 

I was able to see her daughter who is slightly older than Kavita. Since there were two toddlers with us, we decided to go to McDonalds for lunch. 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Weekly Round Up

I haven't updated my Weekly Round Up in a while since I've been traveling. So, here are some of the articles that have caught my attention and interest recently. 

Annexation of Crimea

So, it looks like Russia has annexed Crimea and it has something to do with Ukraine since it was a part of Ukraine. Do I even know anything about Crimea? Did I even ever hear of Crimea? Maybe all I have heard of is the Crimean War. Between the missing Malaysian plane and the Crimean crisis, it seems not much else is in the news. Is it a new Cold War? Are we going to have World War 3? What's going to happen to the financial markets? This is what the international news channels are asking. 

I looked up some opinion pieces on Al Jazeera, my current go-to site for interesting commentary. And, I found a 2-part exploration of who Crimea belongs to. Yes, it is pro-Russia but why not?

Crimea: Whose land is this? Part 1 The tagline is: "In order to understand the conflict in Crimea, one has to know the history of the peninsula."

And, here is an excerpt: "And now how did it end? By the end of 1991 in the Soviet Union there was a revolutionary atmosphere. The Soviet republics, including Ukraine, started talking about independence. They weren't just talking about it, in fact they decided to act, even if it were against the constitution. Three presidents got together in the Bialowieza Forest: Boris Yeltsin (Russia), Leonid Kravchuk (Ukraine) and Stanislav Shushkevich (Belarus). They agreed on the fact that the then president of the Soviet Union, Michail Gorbachev was wearing them down and they needed to get rid of him and the Soviet Union."

Crimea: Whose land is this? Part 2 The tagline is:  "Is it fair for the US to expect unconditional obedience from Russia against its own national interests?"

I love this bit: "In 1991, in spite of the Soviet constitution, Ukraine itself acquired its independence. The list goes on and it is a natural process within the dynamic development of the world, when some announce independence and others lose their colonial territories and subordinate lands. It is a painful process, but we've gotten used to it. As the international scandal around Crimea erupted, it sucked into its orbit countries which until 2014 knew almost nothing about the peninsula."

The game, the politics, the drama that is cricket

A sort of national, regional, emotional and religious frenzy overcomes Pakistanis and, I imagine it is the same for Indians when the two nations meet each other on a cricket ground. But for all the melodrama on the TV channels, there was some good cricket commentary going on. This one particular interviewee was saying that Pakistan didn't stand a good chance because Pakistan doesn't play as much 20-20 cricket while India's got their IPL. Moreover, they have a better line up than ours. 

And, then there's this lady cricket expert who I keep seeing on TV. Does anyone know her name?

I found this article online a few minutes before the Pakistan-India match was about to begin: "Who would have Gandhi cheered for?": "When India and Pakistan play in the ‘real’ curtain raiser of the ICC World Twenty20 on Friday, the two countries will typically come to a standstill, with about 20% of the world's population eyeing the extravaganza in Dhaka, incidentally a city that was first part of British India and then was Pakistan’s largest city until the war of 1971. Bangladesh will celebrate its 43rd year of independence from Pakistan on 25th March, freedom that might not have been possible without the support of India.

The crowd at Sher-e-Bangla will constitute of an interesting blend of people supporting the two countries Bangladesh itself was a part of and both teams find ample passionate local support. The outpouring of this extreme human sentiment epitomises their inseparable affiliation. The fiercest feuds are often between those who are intertwined at their roots and there is no shortage of theatrics or melodrama when kin aspire for the same crown and fight it out for the throne."

The Islamabad Airport

When I landed in Islamabad this time around, I really couldn't get over what a bus stop it feels like. For years, we have been hearing rumours of a new airport being built while we have had to endure taking international flights from what seems like a pen pen stand on Old Road in Monrovia. 

I was delighted to read that the PM, good old Shere Punjab, is trying to move the project along! See: "PM wants new Islamabad airport ready by March 2015."

From Love Birds to Angry Birds

What's Love and Choice Got To Do With It?

One of my good friends from SOAS is a journalist at The Hindu and, one of her latest pieces is research on marriage stats in India in terms of women's say in their own marriages. 

The article is  "As a woman, do you have a say in your marriage?" Some interesting factoids are: "At the all-India level, just 59% women reported having a say in their own marriage, and 18% knew their husbands before marriage

As one would expect, there is huge inter-state variation, with the southern states in general doing much better. With 94% of women in Tamil Nadu saying they had some say in their marriage, the state is a clear leader.Delhi and Kerala outspend all other states on weddings, 'if you've got it, then flaunt it' being the rough pattern that emerges.The news on dowry is grim. The average Indian family gives over Rs. 30,000 in dowry and 40% also admit to giving large items like cars and TVs as dowry. Moreover, the amount simply rises with income group."

The Tribune re-posted a piece by Kushwant Singh on Zia titled "Zia was all charm": "His 11-year rule was one of tyranny, which left the country in the hands of religious bigots from which Pakistan never recovered. The most damning indictment now comes in the form of a powerfully written novel, A case of exploding mangoes, by a retired Pakistani Air Force officer, now head of the Urdu Service of BBC, Mohammed Hanif.

He portrays General Zia as a frightened little man scared of shadows, constantly consulting the Koran for hidden messages, a sadist who inflicted cruel punishment on anyone he suspected, including blind women, who created a scene when he was distributing cash to widows. He was publicity hungry and tried to get the Nobel Prize for Peace. Despite his religiosity, his eyes sought cleavages in women’s shirts to gape at their bosoms. He was a teetotaller. He justifies the man or men who put a time bomb in the crate of mangoes President Zia was taking with him on the plane. It is all dark fantasy but makes gripping reading."

I bought Train to Pakistan last time I was in Islamabad. Now, that I am married to an Indian, the history of the Partition interests me more than ever. 

This particular piece by Kushwant Singh is a delight to read: "How To Live & Die."

Be F******* Respectful

I love love love this blog post by a friend who also lives and works in Liberia. It's called "On (Some) White Expats and the ‘BFR’ Rule:"But no matter how you want to rationalize or deal with it, the fact is that it looks suspect to someone who just made 5 bucks breaking his back working on decrepit cars for eight hours to see a 27-year old foreigner walk out of a supermarket with 45 dollars worth of imported dinner ingredients.

Rather than feeling guilty about that, a good question to ask is, “how can I try to conduct myself in a way that doesn’t make people hate me?” I propose a starting point: Be Fucking Respectful (BFR)."

As I thought about how much I agreed with my friend, I also thought about how you can see the contrasts over and over again in Islamabad. I see it when I see kids begging when I am in Ami's car, enjoying a ride, eating dahi bhallas and just having spent 5 to 10,000 rupees. I feel incredible guilt and undeserved privilege when I see these old bearded men selling making and selling french fries in Super Market. I feel the contrast when I see common folks walking in chappals and keeping warm with a flimsy shawl while my kid's entire outfit cost more money than that person probably makes in a month. I constantly feel like a foreigner. 

The disaster porn that is the missing Malaysian plane

I love this piece "The media’s shameful Malaysia Airlines coverage: Gawking at a foreign disaster." It is a great critique of American media coverage of the missing plane.

At the same time, it is unbelievable how it has completely overshadowed international news channels. Is nothing else happening in the world? What is going on in South Sudan? Whatever happened to the killings in the Central African Republic? Is the international media following anything else? 

A rant

Aamina, you were raped by the State is a pure rant. I don't think it is mind-blowingly written but it is a pretty decent rant: "And now the State has kicked into vigilante mode. The rough and ready chief minister (CM) of Punjab hopped onto his plane — as he usually does — and did a political para-drop onto Amina’s home. He then sat on the floor with her parents — as he usually does — and consoled their grief. Once satiated, the CM savaged the cops — as he usually does — and bloodied them with his trademark verbal whipping. Venting, arrests, suspensions and transfers done, the CM hopped back onto his plane — as he usually does — and whizzed back to Lahore, flying over flyovers burning bright in the gleaming March sun."

Famines, Sen, and Thar

Since I got back to Pakistan, some of the main stories in the News were protesting (and getting beat up) nurses, talks with the Taliban and the drought in Thar, a part of Sindh. I was watching a very interesting interview on Dawn News or PTV News about the famine one morning. I was completely absorbed by it since the interviewee was speaking in great detail about the academic literature on famines and of course he was talking about Amartya Sen who first proposed that human suffering caused by famine is due to lapses in policy. What an obvious (one would say now) but paradigm-shifting analysis! The interview also talked about the famine that was caused in Bengal during the British Raj because of food exports to feed the fighting soldiers during World War II giving me another reason to curse imperialism. And, on went the interview and the interview said that his research had revealed that Thar was actually the recipient of a massive education project where more than 3,000 public schools were constructed - more than in any major city of Pakistan! I googled the author and found his article on the famine. 

The article by Mosharraf Zaidi is "Drought is not the killer" and here are some excerpts: 

"Tharparkar today has 3,873 government primary schools. To compare, consider this: Lahore has 739, Karachi has 2,530, Multan has 1,300, Shaheed Benazirabad has 1,572 and Larkana has 1,223. Tharparkar, with a much lower population, has a much higher number of schools than both urban and rural districts across the country. In one village named Waori Goth alone, there are 400 households, but 54 schools. How? Why? 

Simple. Building schools allows politicians to hire political workers as teachers and issue construction contracts to favourites. Arbab Ghulam Rahim of Tharparkar was not the Mother Teresa of Tharparkar. He contributed to the destruction of his own people. Children in Tharparkar cannot do math and cannot read. Enrolment rates are lower here than in some of the worst off districts in Balochistan. Thar is an unmitigated human disaster and tragedy even without a famine.Efficiency-hawks love to hate Sen, and no doubt many will cite the various limitations of Sen’s work on famines. But the core argument Sen has made about famine and public policy should resonate deeply in Pakistan. In a famine, people’s hunger is not necessarily a result of the shortage of food, but rather the result of people’s inability to access food.There is no mystery or great drama. Famine is a public policy problem. We already know from the most recent National Nutrition Survey that Sindh is “the most food-deprived province of Pakistan. Only 28 percent of households were food secure.” We already know that Sindh has been ravaged by ecological, demographic and social change and that these changes have been exacerbated by men like Arbab Ghulam Rahim.And now we know that these factors are killing little babies in the Thar Desert. What are we going to do about it?"

What are we going to teach our kids?

Since I'm a mother now, I have lots of parenting stuff on my Facebook newsfeed. I liked this particular article's point of view: "The Meanest Word at Pre-School": "We model friendships for our children. When we leave out a new mom at our child's school because we haven't taken the time to know her yet, we are modeling how to exclude someone. When we whisper on the playground about the bratty kid who no one likes, we are modeling how to shame someone else when we don't know the whole story about why they feel so angry. When we comment on someone's blog that "This is the dumbest thing I've ever read," we're showing our kids that it's OK to be critical for no reason (though I have to admit, reading that on one of my essays made me laugh). We are so far past common decency in our grown-up lives, that it's no wonder our children are coming home with an arsenal of unkind words. We Yelp our frustrations with service providers and restaurants, we lay on the horn because we're too busy to wait for someone, we "hate-read" blogs and "hate-watch" reality TV, because it gives us something to complain about. It takes a lot of energy to be that disagreeable."

And, this here represents a parenting conundrum:

International Women's Day

It took me all of my 20s to figure out why feminism is important. I like the way this article from The Independent puts it. To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists: " International Women’s Day is commemorated because gender inequality still persists. The day this ceases to be a reality is the day we can erase it from our calendars." 

And, don't you love these?

Calvin and Hobbes

I felt pure joy - as I always do - when I saw this trailer "Dear Mr Watterson." It's about the beloved comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes." I grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes and, I feel like a kid again whenever I read it, whenever I snuggle into bed with one of my Calvin and Hobbes collections. 

Largest E-Waste Dump Site

I often wonder what happens with e-waste in Liberia. I know there is a second hard market for used and discarded IT Equipment, Accessories and Consumables. But I don't know what happens when items are finally thrown away. It would be interesting to find out. Meanwhile, this article is a collection of photos of the world's largest e-waste dump site and it happens to be in our own region: Ghana. Interesting. See the article here "Agbogbloshie: the world's largest e-waste dump – in pictures." 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

A visit to Policlinic

These are a few photos of Policlinic in Islamabad where I got my polio vaccination certification so I can apply for the India visa. 

I don't want to write any sarcastic lines about why in the world a fully grown, almost middle aged adult has to prove they were vaccinated against polio to get a visa but check this article out "India seeks oral polio vaccine immunization for travelers".