Sunday, 31 May 2015

Fifty Shades of Light

It seems most of our existence is consumed by anxiety over light and water. "LEC on hai?" "Pani hai?"
"LEC on hai?" "Pani hai?" 
Last weekend, our back up battery bank and then generator gave up. We decided to treat purselves to a weekend at the Kendeja. We had a ball. 
The following Monday, Haresh fixed us up with a brand new 7.5 KVA generator. A team of techniciand and helpers spent the better part of an afternoon installing it. And, it works great and we can turn on many more appliances when the LEC is out. 
Tonight, Haresh and I decided to stay in after a long evening walk. We had home cooked food and were just about to watch the rest of Fifty Shades of Grey from the night before when the wires in the kitchen started sparking. It turns out the cable leading to the generator was burning. Haresh disconnected the generator. 
Haresh managed to get our electrician (the one who installed our battery bank and has done some contracts for us on site) on the phone. Miracle! He picked up Prince from 12th, Street Sinkor and also managed to buy some new cable at 10 pm. Kavita and I were at home, in candle light, fanning ourselves with newspapers. 
Haresh and Prince started the work. I resigned to waiting for a couple of hours, if at all. Haresh had to go into the yard to the generator room while Prince dropped the new cable from the kitchen window. They worked together for about 20 minutes. Lo and behold, the generator was reconnected and light was back on. 
Prince truly is a Prince. Haresh dropped Prince back and as soon as he entered the apartment, the LEC came back on. Albeit, it was erratic and did not stabilise until 2 am. 
What an evening.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Cuba Taken Off Terrorism List

One becomes so used to headlines, the manner in which they are delivered, their content and, their manufacture of public opinion as per the ideology of the ruling class and powers that be. 
While cooking in the kitchen last night, I heard one of the main headlines blaring from the TV in the living room: "Cuba Taken Off Terrorism List." At first I laughed sarcastically and then got quite angry. I came to the living room to yell at the TV. 
But who has taken off Cuba off this list of states who sponsor terrorism? Who controls this list? What is the point of this list? 
But of course, it is the US which makes these lists and, of course, mainstream Western media reports this. 
I condemn this headline for its misleading propaganda. 
United States of America, put yourself first on this list of state sponsored terrorism and then, do something to take yourself off it.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Mausam dilkash aur sohana hai

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Weekly Round Up

Duniya ke logo, this is the highly anticipated Weekly Round Up. 

Angrezi ki kya baat hai

I like how the author says English in India is a class of its own. Because it is.

One of the few intelligent things Imran Khan ever said was along the same lines: that there is an apartheid in the education system in Pakistan. There are two Pakistan's: one speaks English and the other does not.

Read How English Ruined Indian Literature:
“English is not a language in India,” a friend once told me. “It is a class.”  
India has had languages of the elite in the past — Sanskrit was one, Persian another. They were needed to unite an entity more linguistically diverse than Europe. But there was perhaps never one that bore such an uneasy relationship to the languages operating beneath it, a relationship the Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock has described as “a scorched-earth policy,” as English. 
India, if it is to speak to itself, will always need a lingua franca. But English, which re-enacts the colonial relationship, placing certain Indians in a position the British once occupied, does more than that. It has created a linguistic line as unbreachable as the color line once was in the United States.
100 years of beauty

See this video.


Guess who was in town?

Post Colonial Feminism 

I believe this piece " Who’s saving whom?: postcolonialism and feminism " was published around the time of the Oscars and the Patricia Arquette slip:
Postcolonial feminism helps to identify and correct the blind spots of Western feminist theory which, according to Chandra Talpade Mohanty, often produces a “singular ‘Third World woman’” as a byword for “underdevelopment, oppressive traditions, high illiteracy, rural and urban poverty, religious fanaticism and overpopulation”. Mohanty argues that such negative assumptions about the Third World woman do not capture the complexity and fluidity of the lives of these women, plural. A ‘Third World woman’ isn’t automatically oppressed. If she is from a powerful class or family, she may have more power and agency than a working-class woman or even a man in ‘the West’.
Are you an expat or an immigrant 

Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants? is very bold and, I completely agree. I hope this also makes so called expats working in the aid industry think about their identity. They are not saving the world, they are pursuing careers which pay their bills and much more. 

Habib Jalib

Habib Jalib: The Man and the Movement (Dr. Taimur Rahman)

Who was Habib Jalib and why does he continue to evoke such a passionate response more than two decades after his death? Shair e awam has not been credited as a great literary genius, mainly because he did not use too many Arabic and Persian metaphors, nor can he be thought of as a great philosopher such as Iqbal. And yet he towers, in many respects, above those make claims to either. It is perhaps because he expresses in the language of the common people the aspirations, hopes, and dreams that continue to be felt right down to the the soul of our people.

Too often, in speaking about individuals that tower in history scholars and historians are principally interested in their individual traits, their talents, their creativity, their genius. Little emphasis, in such instances, is paid to the fundamental ideas and movements that form those towering figures of history. And so when people ask, “why are Habib Jalib’s not born today?” they are arguably simultaneously asking what were the historical and intellectual conditions that formed and inspired individuals like Habib Jalib.

Jalib, who did so much to shape the popular imagination of those aspiring for a more egalitarian society, was really the product of two epoch making simultaneous movements of the 20th century. The first of which was an intellectual movement, namely, the intellectual dynamism of Marxism. And the second, were the mass movements that erupted all throughout the 20th century for liberation from class oppression, racial oppression, sexist oppression, and colonial/neocolonial oppression. I end this short tribute to Jalib on his death anniversary with his poem Nazr e Karl Marx:

Published in Frontier Post 13 March 2015

Remembering Jalib is a good tribute by Shahram Azhar:
Unfortunately, we live in a time when most of Jalib’s fears have become an experiential reality: religious bigotry, the curtailment of free thought, mindless nationalism, poverty, and the perpetual loss of economic and political sovereignty to foreign powers and agendas are some of Pakistan’s defining characteristics today. Consequently, it has become even more urgent for young people who wish to change these miserable outcomes to revisit Jalib, to understand what he stood for and retrace his footsteps. Today, 22 years after his death, it is important to understand his life and the set of historical and personal circumstances that made him who he was: a rebel, an iconoclast, and a communist in the spirit of Mansoor Hallaj. 


That we are still reading about the overwhelming social changes wreaked by information and communication technology tells us that hardly an older generation is witnessing this history. Many many of us remember writing letters and post cards, the time before Facebook and e-mail and meeting up with friends in a public place using an agreed time and place. 

First westernisation, now techlienation can be added to the pile of nostalgic-ridden notes reminding us how much has changed: 
When was the last time you really anticipated seeing someone: sorely, achingly yearned for them? 
Or that nervousness while waiting for someone who didn't arrive? The exhilaration when they finally came, sharpened by the earlier impossibility of contacting them? 
Those long stretches of solitude during which experiences were processed, follow-up plans formed, and thoughts had the luxury of maturing into minor eurekas, have not been around for a while. 
These states, all by-products of seclusion, seem almost relics of a past preceding the second-by-second frenzy of live videoconferencing, vibrating alerts, scrolling information streams, and the harvesting of likes by a distance-annulling digital multitude. 
With our new lifestyles now half-lived online, there is less time for real life to occur. Even when it happens, it's at a weaker emotional intensity that what those older than 25, or who still don't inhabit a digital society, recall. But though our new normal may feel novel, this isn't the first time in history that dislocating change replaced one state of being with an anxiety-inducing other. 
With our new lifestyles now half-lived online, there is less time for real life to occur. Even when it happens, it's at a weaker emotional intensity that what those older than 25, or who still don't inhabit a digital society, recall. But though our new normal may feel novel, this isn't the first time in history that dislocating change replaced one state of being with an anxiety-inducing other.
News from Pakistan

General Sharif and Mr Sharif is a The Friday Times editorial talking about a possible shift in the Pakistan Army's 'foreign policy':

Now the Indian foreign secretary is scheduled to visit Islamabad; Pakistan’s DG-ISI has gone to Washington; China’s President has confirmed he will visit Pakistan soon. The Army Chief, DG-ISI and Foreign Minister have all made trips to Kabul. The Afghan President has parleyed in Islamabad. Top American officials come and go routinely. All the regional players are busy talking to one another instead of squabbling. What is going on? Has Pakistan’s military establishment finally woken up to hard new realities that have isolated Pakistan and eroded its state, civil society and economy?

Salman Taseer's murderer's conviction has been upheld by the Islamabad high Court but not under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 "A debatable judgment":
The court appears to have unnecessarily embarked on a slippery slope with all manner of unpredictable consequences. Has, for example, the court unwittingly provided a ‘Qadri defence’ to religiously inspired terrorists who have so blighted this country in recent decades? 
Finally, in unnecessarily tampering with the original judgment in such a high-profile case, has the court not reinforced the perception that the criminal justice system favours the accused over the victims? The original conviction should have been allowed to stand in its entirety.
Blaming Israel

Read the Israeli Ambassador's Blaming Israel for Gaza’s reconstruction delays is wilful ignorance to understand why we must not blame Israel for anything. No comments!

Two great poets

Pablo Neruda and Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sochi, 1962.

Did you know who Henritta Lacks was?

Happy Women's Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, Activestills pays tribute to more than a quarter century of anti-occupation activism by the ‘Women in Black’ group in Israel. Every Friday since 1988, the women have stood in the main squares of cities or at highway junctions with signs calling to end the Israeli occupation. Often spat at, cursed or violently harassed by passersby, they have become, for us, a symbol of persistence. See PHOTOS: Israeli women who have stood up to the occupation for 26 years

Afghan artist dons armour to protest street harassment 

This reminded me of Europe's days of chivalry when knights went around wearing armour and being nice to women. Now, you have to put on the armour yourself. 

The First Slavery Museum in America

Read Building the First Slavery Museum in America and this excerpt:
A nation builds museums to understand its own history and to have its history understood by others, to create a common space and language to address collectively what is too difficult to process individually. Forty-eight years after World War II, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington. A museum dedicated to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks opened its doors in Lower Manhattan less than 13 years after they occurred. One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, however, no federally funded museum dedicated to slavery exists, no monument honoring America’s slaves. “It’s something I bring up all the time in my lectures,” says Eric Foner, a Columbia University historian and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.” “If the Germans built a museum dedicated to American slavery before one about their own Holocaust, you’d think they were trying to hide something. As Americans, we haven’t yet figured out how to come to terms with slavery. To some, it’s ancient history. To others, it’s history that isn’t quite history.”
I had no idea that the Germans built a museum for American slavery before the Americans did. 

Response to India's Daughter

This is a great article Wishing away India’s culture of rape written by my good friend Rukmini in response to the controversy over "India's Daughter."

Issues of freedom of expression apart, the documentary, including its interviews with convicted rapists, needs to be aired and watched so that we do not continue to misdiagnose the roots of sexual violence in India and focus on fixing the wrong things.
In excerpts released from an interview from jail that forms part of the documentary, Mukesh Singh, who has been convicted of the December 16 2012 gang rape, says that the deceased victim was to blame for her rape for wearing the “wrong clothes” and being out with a boy late at night. Mukesh’s repugnant comments are echoed by one of the defence lawyers, A.P. Singh, who tells Ms. Udwin that he would set ablaze his sister or daughter if she “engaged in premarital activities.” Another lawyer M.L. Sharma is a step worse. “If you keep sweets on the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did [her] parents send her with anyone that late at night?” he says. Another man convicted of raping a ten-year-old tells Ms. Udwin, “she was a beggar child. Her life had no value.”
Statements such as these, which separate the ‘good’ girl from the ‘bad’ girl, are not rare, and have been made repeatedly by leading politicians of the country such as Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Mr. Khattar said during his election campaign that “if a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way.” Nationalist Congress Party leader Asha Mirje said in early 2014, “Did Nirbhaya really have to go to watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend? Take the Shakti Mills gang-rape case. Why did the (victim) go to such an isolated spot at 6 p.m.?” A couple of days back, a video of a right-wing leader saying in the presence of Bharatiya Janata Party MP Yogi Adityanath that Muslim women’s corpses should be dug up and raped resurfaced.
Liberia has much to learn from Singapore

Singapore at 50: From swamp to skyscrapers is an inspiring read. Liberia's own trajectory could have followed that of Singapore because it is too made up of entrepreneurs who came for opportunity. I suppose the missing ingredient in Liberia has been leadership. 

Thank you, Partition

I never knew I would ever feel the burden of history in my own personal life. But I did after shacking up with an Indian. We face ridiculous hurdles in visiting each other's countries. In fact, I still haven't been granted a visa. 

Who do you blame? Politicians? Ideology? The British? Religion? Communalism? 

Remnants of a separation: An alternative history of Partition is a good read:

For most people who survived Partition, talking about their experiences of that period is traumatic. They do not want to open old wounds. Yet while talking about objects from their pre-Partition days, their inhibitions often seem to fade away. People I interviewed spoke with greater ease about everyday objects from that time ‒ how the objects had survived, why those were the only ones they had chosen to take along, and what they meant to them. The objects' very mundaneness allowed people to talk in an ordinary way about their extraordinary and disturbing experiences.
Sarfraz Ahmed has ‘mamu’ in tears in Etawah is a moving moment from the recent World Cup. It was shared by my friend Rukmini on my Facebook. 

By the way, I was so  enraged to see that Anoushka Sharma (Bollywood actor and girlfriend of one of the cricketers, Viraat Khohli) is being blamed for India losing. Talk about objectification of women. Blame the girlfriend who came to support you. Nice!
The same chauvinistic pig type of attitudes came to the fore during the previous World Cup before the Pak India match: "Lock up your women, we'll come get them." In what is a male dominated sport, it is pathetic to see that women are cast as distracting objects or prizes to be won, reflecting male dominated politics and culture.


Read all about the history of the East India Company dubbed as the original corporate raiders

Yet, like more recent mega-corporations, the EIC proved at once hugely powerful and oddly vulnerable to economic uncertainty. Only seven years after the granting of the Diwani, when the company’s share price had doubled overnight after it acquired the wealth of the treasury of Bengal, the East India bubble burst after plunder and famine in Bengal led to massive shortfalls in expected land revenues. The EIC was left with debts of £1.5m and a bill of £1m unpaid tax owed to the Crown. When knowledge of this became public, 30 banks collapsed like dominoes across Europe, bringing trade to a standstill. 
In a scene that seems horribly familiar to us today, this hyper-aggressive corporation had to come clean and ask for a massive government bailout. On 15 July 1772, the directors of the East India Company applied to the Bank of England for a loan of £400,000. A fortnight later, they returned, asking for an additional £300,000. The bank raised only £200,000. By August, the directors were whispering to the government that they would actually need an unprecedented sum of a further £1m. The official report the following year, written by Edmund Burke, foresaw that the EIC’s financial problems could potentially “like a mill-stone, drag [the government] down into an unfathomable abyss … This cursed Company would, at last, like a viper, be the destruction of the country which fostered it at its bosom.” 
But unlike Lehman Brothers, the East India Company really was too big to fail. So it was that in 1773, the world’s first aggressive multinational corporation was saved by history’s first mega-bailout – the first example of a nation state extracting, as its price for saving a failing corporation, the right to regulate and severely rein it in.
Quirky habits: The quirky habits of famous Indian writers

According to Manto’s nephew Hamid Jalal: ‘Though an agnostic, Manto would start every story, essay or play by inscribing the number 786 on top of the page, which means “In the Name of Allah”.’ And if he ever forgot to do so, he would discard the paper and start afresh on a new sheet. Commenting on this, Manto once remarked: ‘I who often deny the existence of God in one stroke, become a believer on paper.’

Nutella Wale Parathay? 

Apparently, there is a place in Karachi which does nutella wale parathay. Can't wait to visit it next time I'm in the City of Lights.

New Indian Comic: Rape Survivor as a Super Hero 

I can't gush enough about this new Indian comic. Just look at this mighty cartoon. 

Natenyahu visits the US

This is a funny captioning of Natenyahu's visit with Obama. 

India's First Female Pilot

I love this photograph, especially Sarla Thakral's sari. 

Pakistani Servant Culture

See Image of reportedly mistreated maids in Pakistani restaurant goes viral on the Al Jazeera website. The comments as usual are the most interesting. 

Someone like me definitely struggles with my attitude to the people who work for me. I have to constantly tell myself to have a more respectful, kind and considerate approach. 

What is the right attitude to people who clean our houses, take care of our children, wait on us in countries where the state does not protect peoples' rights?

Spock on God

The beloved Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy for years. Nimoy recently passed away and, the Internet was full of tributes and memes. 

I specially loved this one:

Clicking on Rape

Clicking on rape enraged and disturbed me. This is what I posted when I shared it on my Facebook:

Fucking bastards who did it. Fucking bastards who stood and watched. Fucking bastards who watched it. Fucking bastards who run the system and protect the fucking bastards. Shame on Pakistan, easily one of the worst places to be a woman.

Unfortunately I couldn't find any words to express my rage.

The article is a good but depressing piece by the excellent Rafia Zakaria, who is often featured in Dawn.

Fifty Shades of Grey compared to Pakistani dramas?

Did you ever think Fifty Shades of Grey could be compared to Pakistani dramas?

And, here's why:

1. The man has control issues

2. The man has jealousy issues
3. The woman is a 'good' girl – inexperienced, fairly smart, but not too threatening
4. The woman has to adopt the guy's lifestyle or get lost
5. Both depict unrealistic expectations of sex

The man who rains sixes hit the first World Cup 200

I'm not a cricket or sports fan but this was worth a mention! 

Slumming it

Slumming It is a very good read on how urban slums are projected as the poor peoples' ingenuity, hard work, and struggle to survival. Urban slums are also seen as a proof that capitalism works, that competition engenders creativity, that market forces ultimately prevail. 

Since I've started working in aid again, it also reminded me of how policy makers think about poor people in general. We differentiate between the good and bad poor. 

See some excerpts:

Before long, the idea of the market-affirming slum went global. Shantytowns all over the developing world were reconceived as industrious anthills of pluck and ingenuity, places that showed capitalism at its best. It was a stunning feat of intellectual alchemy, like a pundit using Soweto as an illustration of the wisdom of apartheid. 
It caught on because it tapped into one of the most durable fantasies of the business culture—the notion that the poor make better, tougher capitalists than the rich. Durable because it delivers what all such fantasies aim to deliver: a balm for the middle-class conscience and the conviction that the poor enthusiastically support the system that keeps them poor.
And it worked. Soon an expatriate American journalist was pulling together a book of essays under the working title Everybody Loves Dharavi.

Nostalgia for Liberia

See some beautiful old pictures of a by gone picture here. These photos have been fondly shared by the wonderful Bai Wakokai. 

Yanis Varoufakis' piece on why he became a Marxist
Yanis Varoufakis: How I became an erratic Marxist is a good and important read. Not only will it help one understand the crisis in Greece but also how relevant and vital Marxism is as an ideology, as a critique and way of thinking. See some excerpts:

My first encounter with Marx’s writings came very early in life, as a result of the strange times I grew up in, with Greece exiting the nightmare of the neofascist dictatorship of 1967-74. What caught my eye was Marx’s mesmerising gift for writing a dramatic script for human history, indeed for human damnation, that was also laced with the possibility of salvation and authentic spirituality. 
Marx created a narrative populated by workers, capitalists, officials and scientists who were history’s dramatis personae. They struggled to harness reason and science in the context of empowering humanity while, contrary to their intentions, unleashing demonic forces that usurped and subverted their own freedom and humanity. 
Perhaps the most significant dimension of the neoliberal triumph is what has come to be known as the “democratic deficit”. Rivers of crocodile tears have flowed over the decline of our great democracies during the past three decades of financialisation and globalisation. Marx would have laughed long and hard at those who seem surprised, or upset, by the “democratic deficit”. What was the great objective behind 19th-century liberalism? It was, as Marx never tired of pointing out, to separate the economic sphere from the political sphere and to confine politics to the latter while leaving the economic sphere to capital. It is liberalism’s splendid success in achieving this long-held goal that we are now observing. 
Take a look at South Africa today, more than two decades after Nelson Mandela was freed and the political sphere, at long last, embraced the whole population. The ANC’s predicament was that, in order to be allowed to dominate the political sphere, it had to give up power over the economic one. And if you think otherwise, I suggest that you talk to the dozens of miners gunned down by armed guards paid by their employers after they dared demand a wage rise. 
Having explained why I owe whatever understanding of our social world I may possess largely to Karl Marx, I now want to explain why I remain terribly angry with him. In other words, I shall outline why I am by choice an erratic, inconsistent Marxist. Marx committed two spectacular mistakes, one of them an error of omission, the other one of commission. Even today, these mistakes still hamper the left’s effectiveness, especially in Europe.

Yes, I would love to put forward such a radical agenda. But, no, I am not prepared to commit the same error twice. What good did we achieve in Britain in the early 1980s by promoting an agenda of socialist change that British society scorned while falling headlong into Thatcher’s neoliberal trap? Precisely none. What good will it do today to call for a dismantling of the eurozone, of the European Union itself, when European capitalism is doing its utmost to undermine the eurozone, the European Union, indeed itself?

Friday, 15 May 2015

Pieces of Light

Coming home from Mercy Corps and passing by the Executive Mansions is one of my favourite times of the day.

One is lucky enough to experience a glorious sunset almost every day in Liberia during the hot summer months, otherwise known as the dry season.

Making my way home from Congo Town, almost every day I pity the miserable folks who are stuck in the great migration out of town, trying to get home to a warm meal, hot shower, cuddling their toddlers,  catching some DSTV, and settling down to evening domestic routines.

As you pass by the Executive Mansion, past the Temple of Justice, and the beautiful majestic tree on your left and start to slope downwards, you can faintly see the sea and the city line. The shimmery, golden sunlight seems to tinge everything with a warm glow, cast it into beauty and light. 

Why are sunsets so golden and beautiful? They are like ripe fruit, like a content cup of tea. 

Look for that bend next time you pass the Executive Mansion. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Saeed Book Bank

Being at Saeed Book Bank always reminds me of Meg Ryan's rants about the big bad Fox Book Shops in "You've Got Mail." Her competitor Tom Hanks apparently talks about books as if they were "cans of olives." She thinks the staff at the super store don't know anything about books. Same can be said about the biggest book shop in Islamabad. But at least they have a good selection of books. See my recent buys.