Queen – ruling hearts

Queen-Hindi-Movie-Hd-Wallpapers

More often than not, Bollywood fare comes with masala entertainment, paisa vasool hilarity and a ‘leave-your-brains-at-home’ kind of fun. I decided to give a slew of such recent releases a miss, but ended up checking out Queen on the insistence of a friend. And am I glad I did.

Queen’s storyline may not seem much on the surface: it is essentially a coming of age story where the protagonist overcomes adversity by the end of the film, but what makes it unique is its refusal to tie up all loose ends neatly. It takes the bold step of leaving viewers with a sense of freedom seldom associated with Bollywood.

Queen is the story of Rani, superbly played by Kangna Ranaut, a young girl who is looking forward to her big Punjabi wedding in Delhi to her engineer fiancé. Her monologue voiceover, a peek into Rani’s head before her big day, retrospectively turns into a commentary on marriage in desi culture, where the wedding itself becomes the be-all and end-all of the process. The innuendo-laden pre-shadi hilarity along with Queen’s breakout hit song ‘London Thumukda’ nudge and wink at the impossibly glamorous idea of the ‘honeymoon’ with all its attendant promise of exposure to a world of sexual intimacy and travel. But before Rani can taste any of these hitherto forbidden fruits she is jilted by her fiancé two days before the wedding day. In her first flush of deep despair she decides to leave for her ‘honeymoon’ on her own. Thus begins, not just Rani’s journey of self-discovery, but a new-age alternative to the honeymoon, the single woman traveller who can taste both physical pleasures (within bounds acceptable to an Indian audience, of course) and the pulse of the outside world all on her own.

In Paris, she learns how to pronounce ‘Champs Elysses’ correctly but much more importantly manages to outlast a bag thief by tapping into deeper reserves of courage the pre-jilted Rani would never have dreamed possible. Outside of her comfort zone she makes friends with people who are superficially different but so alike when you peel the upper layers. Lisa Haydon, who plays Vijay Laxmi, a free spirited Parisian woman Rani befriends in France, is a lot of fun to watch. Not only she is beautiful and glamorous, she walks off with her head held high in a supporting role.

After a few days in Paris, Rani catches a train to Amsterdam and bids adieu to her friend. What Paris did not teach her, Amsterdam does. She ends up in a youth hostel with a bunch of racially diverse men as her roommates and after a hiccup or two she became really good friends with them.

As a South Asian woman, I hardly ever come across fictional characters I can relate to. The Western characters belong too obviously to a different cultural framework while the characters produced by our entertainment industries seem stuck in time. Rani is unique in the sense that I could relate to so many of her fears, heck I have even lived some of them. Even though the first time I stayed in a youth hostel, I shared my room with girls, but it was no less traumatic for me because of my sheltered upbringing and a very private life. I could relate to her hesitation in trying new food or going to places that she had never been before. Even when you leave your restrictive environment behind, you take your cultural baggage with you even when you are in a city like Amsterdam.

As a long time consumer of Pakistani television dramas and Bollywood, my biggest grouse against both is that most female characters either annoy me to hell and back or make me feel sympathy for them. Queen did neither.

The end cements the rest of the movie’s good sense by refusing to indulge in chest beating histrionics or loud declarations of independence from patriarchy. It just leaves the audience with a subtle awareness that Rani’s life is her own as viewers partake in the joy she experiences when she realizes that she is truly free at that moment.

There is no masala here, no copying of formulaic romantic comedies (Had it been one, she would have found a Raj, Rahul or Prem by the end). It is honest storytelling around a major life changing incident in a girl’s life and how just one decision – of not wallowing in self pity and going ahead with the plan – turns her into a much braver person.

Kangna Ranaut delievers a top notch performance. Her Rani is endearing. She changes, but the change is subtle and intangible. She does not turn into a drastically different person but a more open and courageous version of herself who is ready to embrace life at her own terms. Her changes are not validated by her finding romance with a new man or even the old one.

The film could’ve done with some serious editing in the first half and the characters of Taka, the vertically challenged Japanese roommate and Rukhsar/Roxette, the Muslim stripper with a heart of gold, were clichéd and reminiscent of less subtle cinema of the 1980s, but I could not find fault with much else.

I am a sucker for coming of age films that reaffirm my faith in life, people and humanity in general, so I had the biggest grin on my face when I came out of the cinema. Five stars for honest storytelling with a lot of heart and some stellar performances.

Originally published in The Friday Times

Mar 27, 2014 - Personal, Toronto    2 Comments

Spring in Toronto – or lack thereof

 

Like every other city, Toronto has its own set of peculiarities and oddities. The biggest and most well-known oddity is of course election of Mayor Ford because Torontonians – in general – are gracious, open minded, left leaning, liberal and polite and Mayor Ford is anything but; yet he got elected and there is a very clear and present fear that he may get elected again this fall.

The other oddity is spring. Officially, March 22 is the first day of spring but unfortunately, Mother Nature did not receive the memo and it was something around -4 degree Celsius on March 22 and –12 degrees yesterday and about -1 right now, so yes, it seems that the weather gods are fickle and the jury is still out whether spring will make its appearance this month. I just want to be clear that by spring we do not mean spring like they do in other parts of the world, people in Toronto would be glad to have a no snow no subzero temperature for start and will patiently wait for May to actual spring to descend.

People cannot control weather but what they can and do control is their wardrobe. They say power of positive thinking can change anything  in the world. Does it extend to weather? I don’t know, but some Torontonians are beckoning spring – by shedding warm clothing. I mean it is still cold and windy enough to warrant a warm jacket with a thick scarf if not gloves and toque, but some brave souls – or people who are in denial about spring – have decided to shun their woolies and have decided to parade around in – gasp – dress shirts!

Hat’s off to you guys. I hope your positive outlook – at least about spring – can consciously uncouple the city with this winter. It has been relentless this year.

Mar 26, 2014 - Celebrities, rant    No Comments

Hashtag conscious uncoupling

 

Last evening on my way back home, I overheard two very stylish girls in the subway discussing Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s divorce. Celebrity gossip is something I am not interested in (unless someone is bitching about Angelina Jolie and as I am kind of a fan girl, I usually jump in to defend her, but I digress) so I could not muster enough enthusiasm to be really sad or outraged about it. All I did was wonder if Chris Martin would write some good songs inspired by divorce, loneliness, happiness (I would be happy if I don’t have to see Paltrow everyday) or hopes of finding new love. The other two very personable girls were outraged at the instability or fleetingness of the ephemeral emotion called love. Honestly, they were married for like ten years which is a really long time, I would not call that fleeting or ephemeral but I digress again.

Like any urban dweller with a smart phone, I updated my facebook status saying that the only thing I could care about is future song writing of Chris Martin and if it makes me a terrible person.

My friend AK, who lives in England and is probably more exposed to them commented with “I am more interested in what self-help crap she will write in Goop. I am guessing the next issue will carry posts like ‘How veganism and personalised napkins helped me cope with divorce’.”

Goop!

I googled that because I had no idea what goop was and boy, was I in for something or what. I realized that there was a reason why I’ve always hated Gwenyth and I kinda felt validated. Her divorce announcement on goop was titled ‘conscious uncoupling’ along with a 2k word thing interspersed with words like esoteric, self love, self forgiveness and wholeness by two doctors on conscious coupling. I think I barf a little in my mouth at that ‘oh so conscious pretentiousness’. Is there an uncoupling that is unconscious – unless you are divorced by your spouse in absentia or while you were comatose – most people go through the uncoupling process rather consciously and carefully, with paying lawyers fee and dividing their assets and children and dogs and whatnot! AK found it funny and thought it should be a hashtag.

I literally spent my evening going through random shit (mostly her journal) on goop. I mean I ate frozen pizza instead of cooking fresh food because it was so bad that I just could not get away and actually risked my health by this constant spike in my blood pressure. In one post she talked about hating London winters and how she wanted to be in California and in another she bitched about lack of culture in USA and how she longed to be back in Europe where people talk about art, history and culture. As someone who has actually lived in three European countries and has friends who are fairly intelligent and talk about philosophy just for kicks, this is pure bull crap. People in Europe, just like everywhere else in the world mostly talk about things like workplace woes, their mothers-in-law, Beyoncé, football (real football, not the North American version), cheap booze and where to get cheap booze and of course tinder dates. Yes, people talk about art, history and culture but then people do that in USA, China and every other goddamned country, it is NOT exclusive to Europe. (I would have been even more pissed had I been a European, I mean lumping all the countries in one big dump – as if Lithuanians, Hungarians, Italians and Dutch can be lumped together as one group of people). There are a million other such gems on goop, check them out at your own risk – or don’t if you value your sanity.

I have liked Coldplay most of the times but I am so judging Chris Martin now for sticking to THAT for ten long years. I would also judge Paltrow for naming her website goop but I won’t because it is so appropriate.

Goop!

Yikes!

Yikes indeed.

PS: Yes, I abused exclamation marks but hey, it is that kind of post. Judge me if you must, my twitter bio is very clear about my tendency to abuse punctuation marks.

Mar 25, 2014 - Books, Humour, published work    1 Comment

Little pleasures in little failures

I have never been an ardent fan of memoirs. I find most of them to be either ostentatious tales of a grandiosity that look suspiciously unreal; or very depressing accounts of a miserable life. I’m even less fond of memoirs about an immigrant family adjusting to life in a Western country because they tend to be both fantastical tales of overcoming adversity and depressing accounts of a miserable life. But then, every reader is fickle and so am I. Picking up Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure was a no-brainer because I really liked all his previous work and thought if he could inject some of that levity in his memoir, it would not be half bad. I am glad to say that I was right.

Little Failure is everything I wanted it to be and more. It was insightful; at times funny, at times sad, at times poignant and nostalgic, and at times all of that. Yes, it has both the elements that I don’t like in memoirs – the overcoming adversity and the fantastical – but Shteyngart make them work with his self deprecating humor and honesty. So while you want to wonder about how many crazy girl friends a man can have in one lifetime, the absurdity of it all and his perfect prose would not let you wonder for long and you stay immersed in the story unfolding on the pages.

The book is not just an account of Gary Shteyngart’s life; it is also an ode to his relationship with Russia, his motherland. Most immigrants have this strange relationship with their home countries where nostalgia plays a great part in coloring the memories in certain — at times unrealistic — ways. Shteyngart the writer seems very conscious of that nostalgia and has managed to be both detached and engaged when he writes about Russia. For instance, he writes about his seven-year-old self who was obsessed with Stalin and the Red Army with the indulgent tone that an adult reserves for a child. But when he writes about the Russia that he visited as an adult or the Russia his parents remembered, his connection with his roots cannot be severed, despite his affection for his adopted country.

Though the book is about Shteyngart’s life, his parents feature rather heavily in it and he writes them as multi-layered characters; another rarity, I feel, among memoirs. Yes, they are Gary’s parents but they are also people, with their own sets of qualities and flaws. The distinction that Shteyngart makes in the book between his mother’s and grand mother’s love — one was conditional and the other was unconditional — also indicates his honesty as a writer. If Shteyngart had been more conscious about his public persona — he teaches at Columbia — a lot of things in this book would not have made the final cut. He is either not really concerned about preserving the façade of a serious writer and teacher, or perhaps he is too concerned with creating the image of an unconcerned writer who is not concerned with his image at all. Whatever the case may be, it works for him and this book.

The book is honest and there was no self censor at work, probably because he is a satire writer and for a true satirist, nothing is off limits, not even his own life, especially his own life. Reading his biography would make it abundantly clear how heavily he borrowed from his own life when he wrote his earlier novels.

A particularly beautiful and poignant account is his first visit to a psychiatrist. Shteyngart is certain that therapy does not work. His utter resistance to getting help, despite knowing that he needed that help, is rather magnificent and oh-so-human.

Other memorable vignettes include his struggle with the new languages he had to learn as a kid (English to survive in USA and Hebrew to survive Jewish school), his relationship with his religion, and his substance abuse problems. His parents make a few misguided attempts to make him sophisticated — once it involved a trip to a local theatre to watch a French film, because his father thought it would make him cultured; as it turned out, the film was a pornographic one. His mother has nagging doubts about his career choice; her exact words are: “But what kind of profession is this, writer?” Shteyngart is careful not to overwhelm the reader with details, letting her take the journey along with him, employing prose laced with humility.

Another striking quality of Shteyngart was his detachment with his life. He is an insider to both the countries and cultures after having lived there but he writes about both with a certain degree of detachment – as if he was looking at his life from some vantage point and knew where he was going even though we – the readers know he was floundering and confused at that stage of his life. I guess that comes with having lived that part of life and becoming successful afterwards but not many develop that at any stage of their life and Shteyngart deserves all the kudos for that.

Little Failure is also the story of how U.S.A has moved forward as a country, from the McCarthy era, where expressing left-leaning views could land a person in jail, to 2014 where a Russian Jew immigrant is one of the most celebrated writers in the country; despite having professed his childhood love for Lenin, the Red Army and all things Soviet.

Even though the first half could do with some serious editing, the book is highly recommended for readers who must have their sentences crisp and perfectly formed; anything else that you take from the book — the humour, the poignancy, the nostalgia, the issues with identity and self- actualisation — is a bonus.

PS: His book trailer — yes that is a thing in publishing world these days — was hilarious. It featured James Franco, Rashida Jones, and Jonathan Franzen and mocked everything; the publishing industry – including his own publisher, hipsters in New York, free trade coffee and the judgment that comes with ordering non-free trade coffee in a hipster café, the angst of a college-educated white man, the use or abuse of the word zeitgeist in literary criticism, Canadians and of course James Franco. I am impressed that he managed to get hold of Jonathan Franzen to play his therapist. I mean, Franco would do anything, but to get Franzen on board was rather impressive — almost as impressive as writing this book.

First published in Sunday Guardian 

Mar 8, 2014 - Books, Media, Pakistan, Writing    4 Comments

Urdu literature and regressive thought

A few weeks ago The Friday Times published a profile on Abdullah Hussein, the writer of Udaas Naslain and several other critically acclaimed novels. The interview was refreshingly candid, perhaps because people of my generation associate Urdu language with regressive thought, the fear of the unknown other and a very strict code of religious morality. We are aware of the whole Progressive Writers’ Movement and have read progressive texts produced before our times but it is something of a historical footnote in our lives and less of a reality.

The reality that we grew up with is that Deputy Nazir Ahmed’s Mirat-ul-Uroos is part of our school curriculum and Umera Ahmed’s Peer-e-Kamil is the undisputed best seller in contemporary fiction. One basically is a manual on how a shareef Muslim woman should behave at all times and the other is a woman’s rebellion from her family so that she can become a more pious and shareef Muslim! There is something oxymoronic in the rebellion to follow a religion more strictly but then Urdu literature is replete with oxymoronic expressions.

The non-fiction best sellers in Urdu are many volumes of Javed Chaudhry’s collection of newspaper columns and Qudratullah Shahab’s autobiography Shahaabnama. I personally think that they should be considered fiction as Chaudhry borrow heavily from fictional tales of kingdoms that never existed and Shahab’s life sound like a fantastical journey, complete with travels to the west and religious discovery, but I digress.

The gist is that contemporary popular Urdu writing is laden with overt religiosity, regressive thought and a tunnel vision of the world. To read an interview of a novelist of renown who so casually shuns what is supposedly “correct” and “moral” is almost as uplifting and energizing as seeing Urdu literature that is modern and progressive.

“A shareef admi cannot become a real writer. Philandering is one of the virtues of great minds, not because it is a virtue in itself but in the sense that it breaks taboos and to be a good writer you need to break social taboos. To create is to negate the existing order.”

This liberating statement runs contrary to all the exorbitant stress on sharafat in our society, especially in Urdu culture. Punjabi pop culture has icons like Maula Jatt and Noori Natt, the Gujjars that grace cinema posters on Lakshmi Chowk and the hefty women who unabashedly seduce men in fields. In Sindhi literature an abstract spirituality reigns supreme. People who talk and write in English are less obsessed with straitlaced thought, but when it comes to Urdu even its prostitutes (Umrao Jaan) are full of rakh-rakhaao and tehzeeb.

For me and a lot of people like me, Urdu has become synonymous with Iqbal’s mard-e-momin or Nazir Ahmed’s Asghari leaping out of the pages and telling us what it is like to be a morally upright person. Yes, there are Manto, Kishwar Naheed and Ismat Chughtai, but their text does not direct the norm. It is in this context that I was quite surprised to read Altaf Hussain’s (MQM leader) Falsafa-e-Muhabbat that actually dared to suggest that homosexuality is not an aberration, and that society should accept the LGBT community because everyone has the right to love.

To see Abdullah Hussain declare that “he is free of organized social and religious values” is refreshing because we are used to censoring ourselves rather diligently and rightly so. After all, in a country where any lunatic can come up and gun you down for expressing solidarity with a poor woman facing trial on blasphemy charges and be considered a hero, declarations such as this can label you a murtid and you may end up with a bullet – or 36 – in your chest.

First published in The Friday Times

The amazing escapades of a “dreadful human being”

Marketed as “a deeply unworthy book about a dreadful human being”, Worst.Person.Ever. is actually not that unworthy. Written by Douglas Coupland, a very prolific Canadian writer and visual artist, this is a book that is written in the Biji style; a genre of classical Chinese literature that reads like a notebook of a person recording incidents of the believe-it-or-not variety.

Raymond Gunt, our protagonist (who, for the most part, acts like an antagonist) has enough incidents of the believe-it-or-not kind around him. He is an unemployed, middle-aged, B-unit cameraman who is about to be kicked out of his apartment when he is offered a job; to shoot a Survivor-styled reality show in Kiribati. Not only is he offered a job, he is given the option to bring in his own minions. As none of his acquaintances would have agreed to play his minions, he chooses a homeless person with whom he was in an altercation a few days earlier. Here enters Neal, a homeless man who lives in a Samsung cardboard — he is impressed with the quality of Samsung TV boxes and considers them the best form of shelter for homeless — on the streets outside a Russian massage parlour. He always carries a valid passport, though, for a chance like this. Despite being dirty and homeless, Neal is a bit of a ladies’ man and a diehard The Clash fan. Together, they board the flight from London to L.A. and then on to Honolulu and Kiribati for a journey filled with one spectacular misadventure after another.

Gunt is quite horrid; he kills a man — albeit accidently — by calling him fat multiple times and offering him his share of food, causing his blood pressure to hike during a flight. He is also the only literate man on the planet who misspells Harry Potter’s name and writes it with an ‘e’. He is not too big on tipping waitresses either. Though he does not seem like a godly creature, he writes letters to “The Gods” in his head, often complaining about the things that are happening to him.

It is evident from the very first chapter that in addition to being the “worst person ever” Gunt is also the most politically incorrect person and mocks everything from Duran Duran to reality TV to Billy Elliot to vitamin supplements and airline food. In addition, he hates hybrid cutlery and would rather stay hungry than use a sporf (sporf = spoon + fork + knife), a knork (knorf = knife + fork) or a spork (spork = spoon + fork ).

cutlery

yups, the book came with illustrations and captions

For a presumably polite Canadian, Coupland has written Raymond Gunt, a potty-mouthed Brit with enough mastery. Critics may say that this brand of irreverence is not new; after all we are living in the age of Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy and The Hangover’s many child-like men. I find this book and its characters a lot more endearing, however. Despite being a jerk, Raymond Gunt suffers from healthy doses of self-doubt, which make him more real and relatable. Neal has absolutely nothing but his confidence makes him almost fantastical.

The novel comes with neat little boxes throughout the text, explaining people, things, countries and music bands to the uninitiated, in a mix of Wikipedia-style language with a touch of sarcasm. There is really not much to the plot. The novel is more about the narrative, the dialogue and Raymond and Neal’s escapades along the way. Those who liked the British film Withnail & I and would understand this kind of storytelling, though it is a lot more lewd than Withnail & I.

Though the book is a fun read, it is a little too packed. There is so much happening at such an alarming speed that if you put the book away for a couple of days, going back to it and recalling everything that has happened before would be a tad difficult for some readers. Perhaps I am easily entertained or partial to typically profane British witticisms (I have spent far too much time admiring Malcolm Tucker and his inventive insults in TV serial Thick of It and the film In the Loop), but I find this book funny. I believe most readers will find it funny if they can disregard the gratuitously vulgar language. Funnily, I am not the type who normally overlooks linguistic vulgarity but everything that Raymond and Neal said did sound funny enough to ignore the expletive-laden language. In any case, flawed characters with their own sets of peculiarities — though Gunt has more peculiarities than Sachin Tendulkar has centuries — are a lot of fun to read.

Most of us, though familiar with our idiosyncrasies and nasty habits, make excuses for ourselves and think that we’re not all that bad. We always blame our road rage on other incompetent drivers. We blame laxity at work on bad bosses or unimaginative work (surely one must not seek creativity in a profession like accounting; creative accounting can land one in jail) and justify reciprocating with cheap gifts because that particular aunt was stingy when she bought our wedding gift 15 years ago. Raymond Gunt, the protagonist of Worst.Person.Ever, is genuinely unaware of any such flaws and firmly believes that he is a nice person. A massively flawed person so honestly unaware of those flaws is actually quite refreshing.

You will either love it or hate it; a middle ground is unlikely here. The book will probably not win any awards, but it will make you laugh out loud if dark comedy is your thing. As a pop culture enthusiast with an appreciation for English absurdity, I loved this book. The text is hilarious, wicked and oh-so-terribly English. What else can you ask from an unworthy book?worst-person

PS: If you wanted something more, there is a nuclear explosion in the mix to get rid of a Pacific Trash Vortex in the middle of that ocean. Yes, that is the American way of dealing with garbage.

PPS: When the book came out last year, someone (probably or a marketing staff minion) came up with a twitter handle of Raymond Gunt but it died an early death when they forgot about its existence after 16 measly tweets.

PPPS: Pacific Trash Vortex is actually a thing. It exists. It is about the size of Texas and some of the plastics in the trash vortex are so sturdy, they will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who threw that trash.

First published in Sunday Guardian

Iqbal’s Muslim Superman

In the past 65 years, the idea of Pakistan has been academically and dispassionately discussed many times. Unfortunately, it has happened elsewhere, not in the country; which is kind of ironic, considering that it is one of the only two countries of the world that were created on the basis of ideology. Bearing in mind that the idea of Pakistan is not a popular topic of debate in the country, Rubina Saigol’s The Pakistan Project: A Feminist perspective on Nation and Identity is commendable, for it not only discusses the idea of Pakistan, but it does so from a feminist perspective, which is even rarer.

The book details historical perspectives on the cultural nationalism of Pakistan. What makes this analysis different from other such endeavours is that it examines the body of work of four pre-partition Muslim scholars who tried to come up with the idea of Muslim womanhood and Muslim manhood, following the anarchy and upheaval caused by the war of 1857 and the loss of the Mughal throne.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, though considered an advocate of women’s education in present-day Pakistan, was of the view that women should not be taught “geography” as they are not active in public spaces in any capacity (economic, political or social) in a non-familial way. The emphasis was on containment of women to the more traditional roles of mothers, wives and daughters.

The other writer whose writing Saigol deconstructs is Deputy Nazeer Ahmed. His novel Mirat-ul-Uroos is considered a guide on “how to be a good Muslim woman” for over a century and if its status in Pakistani pop culture is any indication (it gets remade every few years in a television serial and is part of secondary school curriculums), it remains extremely relevant. Saigol states that unlike Syed Ahmed Khan, Nazeer Ahmed believed that women should be taught secular subjects, because a well-rounded education makes them outstanding mothers and good administrators who run their homes smoothly. But he too believed in keeping Muslim women away from the public sphere. His book states many times that a good Muslim woman must never consider herself equal to a man.

Saigol concludes this section by discussing Muslim manhood, as imagined by Akbar Allahabadi and Allama Iqbal. Both consider Muslim nationalism rooted in past glories, machismo and conquest. Akbar Allahabadi blamed all the social and economic evils on women shunning purdah and entering public spaces, and linked nationalism with controlling women’s mobility.

Just like Allahabadi, Allama Iqbal’s poetry also glorifies the distant past of Muslim colonialism. For him, the idea of nationalism was rooted in the exploits of “mard-e-momin” — a Muslim man, or a Muslim Superman as Saigol likes to call him — of the past who conquered lands and had control over women’s sexuality. With British colonisation of South Asia, that masculinity was lost and could only be regained by reviving the glory of past Muslims; rediscovering faith and regaining control over sections of society that are not mard-e-momin, i.e. women  and children. Saigol firmly believes that these ideas of masculinity and femininity espoused in the poetry of Iqbal and Allahabadi have greatly impacted the gendered consciousness of Pakistan.

Saigol cites examples from Pakistani text books about how women have been viewed; not as direct citizens, but as subordinates to men who enjoy primary citizenship rights. As state and nationalism are both very masculine in the Pakistani context, men are its natural citizens who mediate relations between state and women. Saigol points out that in Pakistani curricula; citizenship is constructed around the concept of masculinity. The father is the head of the family; he brings home the disposable income, pays taxes and makes economic decisions. There is mention of respect accorded to mothers, wives, sisters and daughters in the society, but not to women in general. Male identity has rights; female identity is defined in terms of duties, to ensure that they stay confined to traditional roles that enable social and sexual regulation.

No piece of academic literature that discusses feminist perspective on Pakistani nationhood and identity would be complete without a mention of how the constitution categorically denies its female citizenry some basic rights. Saigol cites the usual pieces of legislations like the law of evidence, Qisas & Diyat. Law of evidence considers the value of a woman’s testimony in a court of law half in comparison to that of a man. Qisas & Diyat also diminish the value of a woman’s life by half. Naturalised citizenship is also shackled with constraints of gender. A male Pakistani can marry a woman from any part of the world, and she would be granted naturalised citizenship. A foreigner married to a Pakistani woman would not be accorded the same right.

Saigol’s book is praiseworthy for many reasons. It not only critically examines the poetry of Iqbal — the national poet, hence an untouchable figure — but also quotes Azad’s prediction about Pakistan’s future Balkanisation. It raises questions that many in a religiously conformist state like Pakistan are afraid to ask. It questions the standard feminist perspective of viewing everything with a secular lens, and points out instances where women are trying to forge an identity within the religious framework — at times supporting patriarchy — but creating a space for themselves nonetheless. It questions if women should give up the idea of citizenship in a state that views citizenship in terms of masculinity. It questions the idea of creating a hostile Other in the curricula — usually a religious minority or ethnic minority — which gives rise to further masculation of the idea of state. She tackles a tricky subject without drama and comes out with an academically sound, cogent and coherent feminist perspective on Pakistani nation and identity. This book is recommended to everyone who is curious about Pakistani ideology, the role gender plays in the construction of that ideology, its historical roots and how that ideology came out of disorder and is creating more chaos.

But if The Pakistan Project should be admired for just one reason, in my opinion it would be coining the term “Iqbal’s Muslim Superman.”

Originally written for The Sunday Guardian

Book Title” The Pakistan Project: A Feminist Perspective on Nation and Identity

Writer: Rubina Saigol

Publishers: Women Unlimited/Kali for Women

Pages: 388 Rs. 650

Jan 14, 2014 - Pakistan, Personal, Politics, rant    No Comments

Things that pissed me off last week

Last week, I wrote a piece called “19 reasons why you should NOT become besties with your BFF’s girlfriend.” Now those of you who have been reading my blog would know that I tend to rant like this occasionally where I try to write in a self-effacing manner to inject some humour without sounding like a patronizing prick but some people just tend to take everything so literally which pisses me off to no end.

Quite obviously, topping the list of things that pissed me off last week are the responses I got on that particular piece.

The first question that I was asked, “Was it biographical?”

If a writer is writing in first person or second person, it does not necessarily mean it is her life story. Sometimes a story sounds better in third person, sometimes it sounds better in first person and the aforementioned story was in second person – a first for me. Yes, I happen to have male friends and I do get along very well with their significant others. I may have borrowed something from one or two of them but it was not my life story, nor was it theirs. It did not say that it was autobiographical.

The second question was, “If you love your BFF love so much (my BFF – as mentioned in that article – was a man), why don’t you date him yourself?”

Like I said earlier, it was not an autobiography. Secondly, telling a woman to date a guy whom she called a man-child on a public forum, not the smartest of ideas I am afraid.

Another comment that came after my response to the first question was, “You sure it did not happen? It read like a kinky dystopian triangle.

Dystopian and love triangle!

If there is one thing I hate more than the abuse of word dystopian, it is the whole concept of romantic triangles. Argh!

The other thing that pissed the hell outta me was Jennifer Lawrence being — well Jennifer Lawrence. Back in the day when she started photo bombing people during award shows, people found it endearing. I did not, but I tolerated it. Two years later, she is still photo bombing and people still think it’s cute, I mean WTF? As if that was not enough, she said that she wanted to push Taylor Swift off the red carpet to sound goofy and the world loved it? I mean popularity of reality TV is an indication of general dumbing down of the society but cheering that on did hurt me in my soul.

Wake up people; go read a book (but nothing by Stephanie Meyers and that 50 shades lady) take a walk in the park, think and reflect and you will realize that no one is that cute. It is all orchestrated. Appreciate it for the amazing personal branding but please don’t fall for it.

Colton Haynes has all my respect for trolling Jennifer Lawrence

 

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Imran Khen being the tool that he is

 

Rounding off the things that pissed me off last week was Imran Khan insulting Sindhis by calling Mahmud Ghaznavi the liberator of the land (he never liberated it, only raided it so it was historically incorrect as well). I mean we all know that he is not the sharpest tool around (he is just a tool) but likening yourself to the invader and looter of the land takes a different level of insensitivity. The fact that Imran Khan actually tweeted that did not piss me because I expect that from him. The fact that some people actually cheered that message pissed me off like nothing else.

Wondering when will we get our heads out of our asses, if we ever will, and see the things they are.

Jan 12, 2014 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Yes, double positives is totally a thing

yeah right

 So basically, this how you beat linguistics – with sarcasm.

Jan 10, 2014 - Humour, Personal, published work    2 Comments

19 reasons why you should NOT become besties with your BFF’s girlfriend

You met her because your BFF was dating her. You end up liking her – partly because she was the love of your BFF’s life and because she was so much fun to bitch with while your BFF was busy doing other stuff – like playing the latest version of Grand Theft Auto and discussing the finer points of La Liga points table with his mates.

You bond over your love of achaar, your hatred for work in development sector and your sartorial choices which range from standard Levi’s to Khaadi, to colorful shoes and eclectic Sunday Bazaar picks. You both think that chai paratha is the best breakfast ever. You both secretly hate the fact that you are adult women who not only listen to Taylor Swift songs but sing them along when appropriate – which is like always. You both agree that no matter how fashionable it is to eat frozen yogurt instead of regular dessert, you will never give in to the fad. You bond over the fact that New Girl is a stupid show and that you loath Zooey Deschanel and her fake lashes with unmitigated gusto and no, her rejection of Jospeh Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer has nothing to do with that hatred, you just hate her for being so overly cutesy and quirky with her bobby collar dresses and hipster eye wear. Real successful adult women cannot be that cutesy and survive to tell the tale. You both agree that while Ryan Gosling is hot, there is something about Bradley Cooper (probably his voice and the fact that he can rock black bin liners) that tilts the scale in his favour.

You both like overpriced coffee and read obscure books that other people have not heard of. In fact you take immense pleasure in introducing such hidden gems to the world and then preen when the world falls in love with those books and writers. You both take immense pride in being the snarkiest girls around and practice your jabs on your BFF for shit and giggles. You help your BFF plan perfect dates and help him buy the most thoughtful gifts because you do not want her to ever leave your BFF.

You love your BFF even more for falling in love with this perfect girl and you are planning their wedding in your head because you know that you will eventually end up alone and you will ask them to let you stay in their guest bedroom when you are all old and frail and need each other to remind which pills to take with your breakfast and which pills to take before you go to bed.

One day, BFF’s girlfriend brought another dude along – some family friend’s son who is living it up in Dubai – and tries to set you up with him. You look at your BFF’s girl and ask if she has lost her mind? It’s not like you have anything in common with the Dubai dude who is a gold trader and wears more jewelry that you would ever wear – and you do wear jewelry. Next thing you know, BFF’s girlfriend got engaged to the gold trader from Dubai and dumped your BFF with a photo of her engagement ring that she sent via MMS. Like all good things, this too was too good to last and your dreams of a blissful old age died before any of you reached the retirement age.

You are in a dilemma – who do you stay friends with and who do you dump? Your BFF is your BFF but he is basically a man child who is keener on gaming than settling down so you do get why your BFF’s girl did what she did. But then you also judged her for not breaking off with your BFF before she decided to let the richie rich from Dubai court her and you judged her for that. You also hated that because you never judged her before; it was always the two of you judging other people, never each other. Luckily, you all dispersed into three different corners of the globe after that and your friendship shrunk to Facebook likes and whatsapp messaging. This breakup happened quite a few months back but it was only recently that she tied the knot with the richie rich from Dubai and posted the photos on facebook which made you relive your pain.

You know it for a fact that your lives are gonna go on divergent paths – you make presentations in Prezi for a living, shovel snow every morning to get to work and use public transport, while BFF’s former girlfriend will probably live in a palatial house, procreate soon and will have Filipino maids raise her brood while Richie rich gets richer in Dubai.

To paraphrase Adele, you could have had it all but then you didn’t. You think this break up was harder on you than your BFF. He has football and Xbox to console him, what do you have? Absolutely nothing. Not even sad songs because Adele has found new love and is blissfully happy.

You realize that you either need a new girlfriend or you should ask your BFF to move near you and start dating another perfect girl but with his track record, chances are that he will lose her to Zelda or GTA IV or some other video game that will leave you just as heartbroken as you are right now. You realize that you should start acting like an adult and invest for your future because obviously, moving in with BFF and his future wife is not the best retirement plan.

 PS: As you can see, there is no listing or actual 19 reasons. I only wanted to sound like a Buzzfeed article. People at  Buzzfeed, please hire me so I can fulfill my dreams of writing about things like – 16 reasons why Harvey Specter’s suits are better tailored that Don Draper’s.

First published in The Friday Times

 

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