Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Rohtas Fort

My day trip to Rohtas Fort was extremely memorable. I just wished I had set out earlier and, explored more it. I only got there at around 5 PM. 

My Mughal history is nonexistent. It was my brother who actually knew it inside out and, obsessed about it. He even had a calendar of the Forts of Pakistan in his room. 

I did do a bit of reading on Wikipedia the night before to at least get some sense of history and, also to see how long it would take to get there:

The dual-carriage Grand Trunk Road takes you past Gujar Khan and Sohawa, to the small town of Dina 130 km away. Just past Dina you will drive over a railway overpass, stay to the right of the road and take the first U-turn to drive back towards Dina. After about 100 meters to your left you will find a signpost, which indicates the way towards the road leading to Rohtas Fort which is 8 km away, past the small holy village of Muftian home to the Mufti Tribe. Drive on the road to enter into the fort and keep driving till you reach the parking area.

I hired a car with Crown Cabs and we got there in about two and a half hours. I kept telling the driver to put on his seatbelt and he kept trying to wriggle out of it until I gave him a lecture and he put on his belt. On the way back, he let it slip that he was actually the owner of the company and, since there weren't any drivers available, he decided to do this trip himself! He asked me how I liked the service since I have used Crown Cabs countless times and I told him so far so good.

The drive was good and it was good to get away from Islamabad. 

The guide was amazing. He had me enthralled with his very elaborate tour and his fantastic passion. 

Monday, 28 April 2014

The jacarandas are in bloom

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Islamabad Literature Festival 2

These are vintage Pakistani advertisements that were on display at the Islamabad Literature Festival.

Islamabad Literature Festival

I stumbled upon the Islamabad Literature Festival on Facebook. A friend posted that he was going. I only saw the news about it on the first day of the three-day festival. I managed to attend the next two days. I had a great time and I was thoroughly enlightened and inspired. 

On the second day, I was present at three events: one about artists, the other one about the state of art and a preview of the latest movie on Manto. 

The State of Art's talk's panelists included Ilona Yusuf and Jamal Shah. The panelists talked about their personal journeys during the various decades of Pakistan's turbulent political history and the relationship art had had with the state. Where the Zia era was one of the worst, if not the worst, in Pakistan's history, Musharraf's was more liberal although, as pointed out by Jamal Shah, he sold off NAFDEC to a private individual. I came home and googled it and sure enough found a news story about it. See here "A capital without cinema."

One of the audience members asked the panelists what art was and, I really liked Jamal Shah's response which was something like "Art is a celebration of life." He also said that art can never be apolitical. It is not merely a pretty picture to hang on a wall. It has to facilitate change.

"Chashme Badoor" by Imrana Tanveer, an artist from Karachi whose work had a political angle. 
There a very enthusiastic member of the audience who kept interrupting the panelists with questions and, kept them asking to further elaborate their statements like "But what do you mean by that?" 

One of the conclusions of the talk was that the state needed to provide more creative space and to commission art. 

Rahat and Sahira Kazmi were at the Festival. People couldn't get enough photos with them. As graceful as I have always imagined them to be, they happily took photos with all their fans throughout the festival. 
The preview of Manto was spell-binding. It seems like a bold exploration of one of the most famous Urdu writer's life. See an article about it here "Manto, a film on the iconic writer." And even more exciting is the film's director and lead actor are Irfan Khoosat's son, Sarmad Salman Khoosat.

I have to admit that I do not know how to read Urdu beyond a second grade level (I was formally taught Urdu hardly for a year when I was living in Pakistan back in the late 80s). I have to admit that I have not read any Pakistani literature. I need to teach myself Urdu and start reading Urdu literature. It's one of my goals. 

On the third and last day  last day of the Islamabad Literature Festival. I went to four talks:

1) A talk with Jugnu Mohsin
2) From MTV to Mecca
3) The role of music in popularising Urdu poetry
4) Gender Matters

Aliya Iqbal Naqvi's conversation with Jugnu Mohsin, the co-founder and editor of The Friday Times, was hilarious. She regaled us with anecdotes from her college days, when she first met her husband Najam Sethi, encounters with political figures and, day to day life. I was really impressed by her impersonations of Benazir Bhutto, Altaf Hussain, and Nawaz Sharif. Her sense of humour and, ability to really entertain the audience revealed an amazing personality. I also loved how she said that although she had had a miserable wedding, she's had a wonderful marriage. So, she advised all the girls not to put too much stock in the wedding itself. Wise words, indeed!

The older I grow, I learn the value of humour. Humour is vital to survival and, dealing with life's ups and downs. It also helps you not to take anything or yourself too seriously. At least not enough to constantly dwell in the 'depths of sorrow!' I also think that those that do possess a sense of humour have learned how to deal with life.

The MTV to Mecca event was a conversation between Naveed Shahzad and Kristiane Backer who has just published a book with the same name which narrates her journey from a DJ to a Muslim woman. I missed the first part but as I parked Kavita in her stroller at the very back of the room and, sat down, I heard bits about Islamophobia in Europe and, how 4,000 women alone convert to Islam every year. The audience broke into a thunderous applause! She gushed about how much she loved Muslim countries and, especially Pakistan where people were very "loyal." She seems to have been influenced by Imran Khan and his social work. The main reason she was drawn to Islam was to find deeper spiritual meaning in her life. She had done a lot of reading and, her complete conversion was not easy. For instance, her first Ramadan was quite hard. her parents thankfully supported her decision. She also said that her reason for converting to Islam was not obtaining the freedoms it gave to women since as a German woman she already had enough liberties but really for the spirituality and its philosophy. She also said that women had prominent roles in the early Muslim communities.

Kavita was a good sport all along and, did not trouble me.  

I did not have the chance to ask any questions as I wanted to up and close after the end of the talk but if I had, I would have asked her which exactly aspect of Islamic philosophy drew her? Also, if all she was looking for was spirituality and not rights, why not Buddhism? It would have been interesting to hear her elaborate further. And, I am also curious to know her interpretations of Islam in terms of personal freedoms. For instance, is it OK for a woman to marry outside the faith? What about sexual orientation? Will she want her children to also be Muslim? And, I was very curious to know how Imran Khan played a role in her inspiration for Islam.

I guess I need to read her book to better understand a European woman's journey to becoming a Muslim woman.

By the time the next talk had started, Kavita was fast asleep. I wheeled the stroller to the lawn outside where tents had been set up and, fans were spraying cool water everywhere. This talk was wonderful since it was about music and poetry. The panelists were Salman Asif, (who seemed to be the epitome of South Asian grace and eloquence), Asif Noorani, Taimur Rahman (a LUMS professor, a Marxist grassroots activist and the founder of the Laal band), and Rakae Jamil. So, everyone on the panel agreed that music and poetry had an intrinsic relationship. We heard about the time when Faiz reqlinquished ownership of his famous ghazals 'hum dekhain gay' and 'Mujh se Pehli Si Mohabbat' to Iqbal Bano and Noor Jehan respectively since they had these ghazals immortal. We also heard some anecdotes about Bade Ghulam Ali. Taimur Rahman was all nerdy and, had a Power Point presentation explaining how he incorporated elements of both Eastern and Western music. The session ended with a jam session between Taimur Rahman on the guitar and on the sitar!

The last talk "Gender Matters" was, for me, an explosion. It will be a defining moment in my identity as a woman.  It struck me so deeply because it helped me to know and see the South Asian feminist voices who spoke with such passion and eloquence.

The talk started by reading out some figures from the latest Pakistan's  Human Rights Commission report. About 800 "honour killings" happened in 2013 and, thousands of cases of violence against women although of course the majority of the cases never get reported.

The panelists were Feryal Ali-Gahaur, Ritu Menon, Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, and Salman Asif.

I only previously knew Feryal Ali-Gahaur through a couple of Pakistani TV drama performances. I literally did not know much of her before. She was fiddling with her purse and, looking distracted up until she was asked to read a passage from her novel. Novel? I had no idea she was a novelist, an activist and a filmmaker! The passage she read was graphic and powerful. I forget which novel it was from. (I will have to find her novels now and, read them!)  She spoke very passionately and, I loved the anger in voice. She said she was not ashamed to admit that she had suffered violence in her marriage. That most Pakistani men thought it was OK to actually hit their wives as long as it was within the home. They also justified it through religion since Surah An Nisa in the Quran makes hitting a woman admissible. Feryal said that theologians debated the actual meaning of this word but for her there was only one meaning. She spoke about how women are treated like property and, killed off in "honour killings" at key moments in economic cycles such as harvests. She said even a burqa-clad woman is unclothed by leering and lusting men. She said that in our society a girl is no longer considered part of the family once she leaves for her husband's home, making her extremely vulnerable. She also criticsed the TV plays on Pakistani private channels for portraying women in such a negative light which I completely agreed with! I was completely mesmerised by this beautiful, angry and eloquent woman.

This was also an ironic aspect of the festival. The "Gender Matters" talk was in stark contrast to the MTV to Mecca conversation, which celebrated a European woman's conversion to Islam while this event was talking about how men justified beating a woman through Quranic scripture! Islam is not any more of a violent and oppressive religion than let's say Christianity or Hinduism and I am not going to start Islam bashing. In general, I feel all formal religions have upheld patriarchal structures and controlled, oppressed women.

I am baffled to see enlightened, independent women surrender themselves to formal religions. Especially if they had the privilege of having become mothers, too, and realising so clearly that they are life givers, they are life creators. They need to reject religions which instead uphold males over females.  I do not understand how a woman can commit to formal religion with all its male-dominated symbols and structures. Islam gives a man the right to marry four woman at the same time. Islam gives the highest status to all its male prophets, upholds them for their perfect characters and piety, while giving token nods to a couple of women. I mean why, for God's sake, did God choose to communicate with men and, then give them the honour of prophethood and leading humanity? Wouldn't women be better equipped in every sense to lead the way? Are they not closer to God, also the giver of life? Women are not even allowed to pray when they menstruate since they are not clean!  In Christianity, God sent his son, not daughter to save humanity. In Hinduism, a woman is expected to touch her husband's feet and seek his blessings. Sita, despite being a goddess, was asked to walk through fire to prove her innocence to her husband Ram after she was abducted by Ravan. In all religions, the top guy, God, the priest, the Pope, the Caliph, the prophet is a man. Women, despite being life givers and life creators, have subservient positions. 

If you want to find spirituality, why seek formal religion? Celebrate yourself as a woman, nurture yourself, give to others and, enjoy life. Live it to the fullest. Try to find your potential. Start and complete your journey, on your own terms. Try to seek the meaning of life, without any pre-determined ideas. Try to seek a community within the vast sea of humanity. There is spirituality all around us and, in us. 

But coming back to this "Gender Matters" talk, I was also quite moved by Ritu Menon's words. She told us that in India, the women's movement had stopped referring to "honour killings" as "honour killings" because there was nothing honourable about them. They were "dishonourable killings." She also said that violence against women did not surprise her but that it continued. What also really moved me was her saying that she had stopped writing about violence and oppression of women because she simply had no more vocabulary to describe the horror. She also mentioned that in India, there was no law to protect women from violence perpetrated by security forces who had total impunity. 

Salman Asif referenced two most touching poems during this talk: "Ajj akhaan Waris Shah nu" by Amrita Pritam and "Mein Bach Gai Maa" by Zehra Nigah and, read stanzas from both the poems. Thankfully, my Urdu and Punjabi are good enough to understand and appreciate these most powerful laments about what women and girls have suffered in our own beloved subcontinent and, continue to do so. 

I was so very happy to have attended this Festival and look forward to many more. 

I know I can write and, express myself. I have had a personal Diary since I can remember. I have tried to write poems since I was a little girl. I have been a prolific letter writer. I always find peace and contentment with a pen and paper in hand. I have tried to also teach myself political ideas. I have written about myself in my blog. I have tried to capture moments from my day to day to life. I know I have a story to tell since I have lived a life on my own terms. This Festival only intensified my desire to become a writer. I also have a desire to have my voice and my story heard. One day, I hope to be part of a Literature Festival. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

View of Margalla Hills

I took these photos of Margalla Hills on my way back from my visit to the Golra Sharif railway station. This is sector E -11.

Golra Sharif Railway Heritage Museum and Railway Station

I was told by a Pakistani friend (I have so few!) to visit the Golra Sharif Railway Museum. She also lives and works in Liberia. She's an economist and, guess what bother parents are economists. I met the whole family in Monrovia. Her parents were visiting her. Since I've been in Pakistan, I met my friend's parents for lunch. 

So, my friend tells me to visit this museum. It's one of the best recommendations of my life! And, the place was so close to our house, too. 

I can't describe how beautiful the railway station is. Against the backdrop of the Margalla Hills and, the 200-year old bunyan trees which provide a majestic shade over the tracks, and the gas lamps which line the platforms, the station is pretty! 

The museum itself is housed in a couple of Victorian-era stone-building waiting rooms that display all kinds of railway memorabilia. 

I only got there after 4 PM and the museum was closed but the guide was gracious enough to open up the rooms and show me around. He was an excellent guide who patiently explained what each object was. 

One of the contraptions that struck my imagination was a which token instrument. I learned all about it! There's even a whole wikipedia article about it: "Token (railway signalling)." 

The station's claims to fame are a 'rail dabba' gifted by the Maharaja of Jodhpur to his daughter as a wedding gift. There's also a 'rail gari' that was traveled in by the Quaid and Lord Mountbatten. The guide let see them from inside. They were perfectly preserved.  

And, guess what? Apparently there's a train that goes to Taxila from this station. I could hop on and go do some sight seeing there. I haven't been since I was a teenager, years ago and, remember very little! 

A train was pulling in just as I got there

A long view of the main museum, located in a stone building. 

Even my driver got very interested and, asked lots of questions
and, was also baby sitting Kavita! 

Some of the fascinating objets on display, including the token instrument! Can you guess which one it is?

I love these shots of the station. There was another waiting room and, also vintage colonial posters about tea! 

These are the old rail 'dabbas'

Good bye!