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Aao Blasphemy Blasphemy Khelain – Hunger Games, Pakistan Edition

Do you know what is the most popular sports in Pakistan these days? If your answer is cricket, you are way off the mark. The most popular sport in Pakistan is called “Aao Blasphemy Blasphemy khelain” and it is more lethal than most blood sports out there.

There are no rules to this game. Any random person can get up and blame the other one of blasphemy and before you can ask them to spell blasphemy, the whole country gets involved in it. TV anchors conduct shows discussing that, regular folks like you and I share such text and videos on social media and feel smug about them no matter what their ideological stances are. Most people in Pakistan cannot even spell ideology because they are overwhelmed with “idiology” that surrounds their lives which is rather ironic considering the country was created on ideological grounds, but I digress.

While people in Pakistan continue to play their favourite sport called “Aao Blasphemy Blasphemy Khelain,” they fail to realize that unlike other sports, this one has real victims. There are people who have died because someone decided to play ‘blasphemy blasphemy’. Forget future dystopian literature where people play ‘Hunger Games,’for survival. In Pakistan, human rights defenders like Rashid Rehman play this game every day and pay the ultimate price – their lives. Rashid Rehman was killed for taking up the case of a young man Junaid Hafiz who somehow angered Jamat-e-Islami’s goons in Bahauddin Zakariya University and they blamed him for running a blasphemous page on facebook. I have a feeling that Junaid too will soon be killed by a defender of faith who wants a huge mansion on a corner plot in jannat that is promised to him for killing a blasphemer – evidence against it be damned.

Junaid’s case gives me jitters every time I think about it because it could very easily have been me. Back in 2010, I was teaching a Gender 101 class in a private university and one make student got up and said “men are superior and whatever you are teaching us about physiological differences and psycho-social differences and how one is physical and the other is constructed is wrong.” When I asked him how he came to this conclusion, he said that Islam taught him that and any man made theory is wrong in comparison to what the religion has taught him and whatever I am teaching in the class is incorrect and blasphemous.

It was a three hour long class and I had a lot to cover in those three hours so I told him that he had every right to disagree with me, but I would go ahead with the class because what I was teaching was part of the curriculum and if he had issues with that, he was most welcome to drop the class, it was not like it was a compulsory course.

Just to be on the safe side, I registered that incident with the Dean’s office and forgot all about it. I left Karachi soon after that. One year later, Salmaan Taseer was killed because he too was accused of blasphemy and that was the day I realized how lucky I was that I was actually teaching in a private university with no Muslim Students or Jamat-e-Islami presence on the campus. Had it been Punjab University or Karachi University, I would probably have not survived to tell this tale. So when people go ahead and post news about how Rashid Rehman had it coming or how Junaid deserves to die, I feel like someone is actually writing my own death sentence again and again and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I was lucky that I escaped that but Junaid most probably will not and that survivor’s guilt will hound me for the rest of my life.

The latest entrant in the blasphemy game is Mubashir Lucman who accused Geo Entertainment of blasphemy because the TV channel played a wedding song where the bride and groom are likened to the daughter of Prophet Bibi Fatima Zehra and Ali Ibn-e-Talib.  Had Mubashir Lucman ever been to s Shia wedding, he would have known that Shias like to immortalize the family of the prophet and it is quite a common occurrence at Shia weddings.

Funnily enough another video popped up where ARY, the channel that Mubashir Lucman works for, has played the same song/qawwali at another wedding (It is another debate why every goddamned morning show in Pakistan is hell bent on broadcasting live weddings at 9.00 am every other day). Ironically, the debate in Pakistan is not about how ridiculous this blasphemy game is but about how they both have committed blasphemy. It is not just Shia weddings; even Sunni weddings have wedding songs   about presence of Rasool-e-Pak at the event so anyone who sings those songs can also be called a blasphemer. The day is not far when Pakistan would become a country of blasphemers because everyone would accuse the other of blasphemy to out moralize everyone around them.

The blasphelmy fatwa games started with individuals and have now reached organizations; it is only logical that inanimate objects would be issued fatwas for committing blasphemy in near future. Forget Mullahs and Sunni Ittehad Council and all the other councils who vow to defend the honour of the people who are long gone by killing the living breathing ones because it is their raison d’être. It is the regular folks who are partaking in this game as they are complicit in those murders by sharing the beliefs perpetuated by the Mullahs and by sharing those news items on social media and by not questioning the goons who use blasphemy law as a murder weapon because blasphemy law is a murder weapon – the safest ultimate murder weapon out there. If you kill someone inciting blasphemy, chances are that you will never be held responsible and if you do get apprehended on an off chance, you are guaranteed free legal services and would be garlanded on every court appearance you make and no judge in the land of pure would dare to sentence you because at the end of the day, survival instincts trumps everything else.

Why my instagram account sucks?

I was at work when this kid  – at my age all fresh faced recent graduates seem like kids – asks, “Is anybody on Facebook these days?” Before any of us uncool (read old) people could’ve confessed to having an active FB account, he went, “Only women in their fifties are using Facebook, and Twitter is for attention seeking celebrities and bitter politicians; people who matter are on Instagram and snapchat.”

Now I don’t even want to know what snapchat is (okay I know what it is but I never ever want to go there, like ever!) but I do have an Instagram so I reassured myself that I may not yet be a relic from days past. I must confess that I only made an account because my phone was acting weird and every picture I took came out with a bluish hue, and unless I filtered the hell outta all the pictures they looked like they belonged in smurf world. That is how my Instagram account was born. But one look at my follower count and you would know it hasn’t seen much success since its arrival into the world. Even people who are my FB friends do not follow me on Instagram. For a while I was hurt by this cyber neglect from friends but then realized there are reasons why my Instagram sucks:

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No panoramic views with positive gyan

No kidding, but there are people out there who wake up in the morning, take amazing panoramic shots from their windows, perhaps a selfie while contorting their bodies into some yoga asana and spread a positive message about winning the day, capturing the moment or something equally cheesy. I, on the other hand, wake up with just enough time to make myself presentable before I hop on the subway to get to work. I also do not live in a posh building overlooking a lake or an idyllic park. How many photographs can a person take of their backyard? Hence no early morning images to make my fellow Instagrammers hit that follow button.

No brunching with ‘my girls’

I work from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm. It is humanly impossible for me to do brunch. I eat granola bars or random bananas and yogurt on the subway and grab my caffeine of choice on my way to work. Secondly, a lack of ‘my girls’ in Toronto (where I live these days) is a bit of a hindrance in taking glam shots over a meal that didn’t even exist when I was young. My girls with whom I would love to brunch (yes, brunch is so cool, it is practically a verb now) live in places far far away, like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Mumbai, Chennai, London, The Hague, Los Angeles and New York (okay New York is not that far away, I concede).

My office is not cool (neither am I)

Yes, offices in chic post-industrial loft style buildings with brick walls, exposed beams, high ceilings and cute cacti on desks where hipsters and cool people work do exist outside Indie films. I have been to at least three to know it’s true, but I do not work in a place like that. My workplace is a windowless, doorless cubicle and I am a human drone barley existing in that corporate environment. All I can do is post photos of a whiteboard where someone has written something illegible. The most excitement I can do is post a picture of the coffee machine. Plus, I work on an old-fashioned Dell desktop, not the latest gizmo from the Apple stable. In all honestly, even if I had a Macbook Air, I could not post a selfie with a line like “Getting my workaholic on.” I mean, seriously?!

No selfies!

Selfie might have been the word of 2013 and everyone from Kim Kardashain to Barak Obama is taking one – or one thousand – but I have never taken a selfie. Yes, not even a single one. Nor do I plan to start now, unless someone is offering me money to do it. I mean I can only embarrass myself for money, as one should, but so far, no one is biting, so I am living with my ‘no selfie’ rule. When you do not take a selfie every third hour of the day, what are you gonna post on Instagram? Your food?

No exotic meals

For Cybergods, the only meals worth Instagramming are Kale salads and Kiwi cleanse juice, with captions that go: “Rushing to Whole Foods before it closes for the night”. Unfortunately, I do not eat alluring exotic food because I am poor, and pretty food costs a lot of money. I also feel quite out of place at Whole Foods because I am always the only brown person there. No matter how creative I try to be, I know I will never get followers if I post my food that consists of frozen pizza, dal chawal and aloo gosht. I also do not understand why people hashtag their food with #FoodPorn. I mean why?

I do not hashtag my life

#FoodPorn brings us to the fact that I do not hashtag my life. I do not post a selfie with a pout and a million hashtags that go something like #bored #WhatToDoWithMyLife #TwentiesAreFunk #SomebodyGetMeOutOfMyOffice #MissMyBoo among others. I also do not post photos of funky shoes and hashtag them #ShoePorn. I also wonder about the lack of profundity that comes with various hashtags that use the word porn which makes me decidedly uncool, hence not follow worthy.

No famous friends

I have no famous friends. No one will follow me to get glimpses of my life with my cool celeb ‘hangs’. My friends are like me – ordinary folks – who eat non-fancy food, take non-exotic vacations, pick twitter fights with people professing love for Tasleema Nasreen (no substance, just nuisance value) or Jennifer Lawrence (forced adult cutesiness makes me throw up in my mouth) or Paulo Coelho (because sane people do not quote Paulo Coelho). Lack of overtly cutesy friends with no nuisance value and no pop philosophy are just another reason for my shameful number of Instagram followers.

Last but not the least, I am not a millionaire poker player

Yes, there is a guy out there with millions of followers because he is rich, posts photos of guns, really fancy cars and not so fancy women. Sometimes he kills it by posting photos of bundles of $100 bills. As I have no access to fancy cars (I use public transport), guns or scantily clad women, my Instagram account shall remain forever unpopular.

Hmm…I think I can live with that. Hey look, Facebook just revamped its interface again!

 

 

First published in The Friday Times

Photo credit: _minabelle_ and this particular photo

Apr 22, 2014 - Bollywood, Books, rant, romance    No Comments

The Taliban Cricket Club – a book that ticks every Bollywood cliche known

Life in Kabul has become a sellable literary genre of its own. The success of hauntingly beautiful The Kite Runner opened the flood gates and there is no stopping since then. From fiction to nonfiction to memoirs, if the book mentions Kabul, women abuse and Taliban, chances are that it will get a publisher or two with some decent marketing budget. If a book as shoddily written as Kabul Beauty School can triumph at international best seller lists, then The Taliban Cricket Club should be considered a master piece but boy, is it a bad book or what!

I generally have no love lost for all things Afghanistan and Kabul, probably because I have lived too close to most things described in those books and also because I have been to Afghanistan and I always find the book version of Kabul very unreal and caricature like. I picked up The Taliban Cricket Club at the local library during the T20 World Cup when I was feeling homesick and missing cricket and live tweeting and cursing with my friends and fellow compatriots because that’s always so much fun (and heartache when your team lose). The book, however, turned out to be a major disappointment.

For starters, the introduction of Rukhsana as a spirited young journalist ticked just about every cliché that ever existed about spirited young female journalist. For a person who has been that spirited young female journalist, I found it to be majorly yawn inducing. When we are young and spirited, we do not think everything through like Rukhsana, we do things because we believe in ourselves and the power of written word and the naivety that it can bring about the desired change, but I digress.

The plot is simple. Taliban are ruling Afghanistan and things are awful. One day, they call all journalists, including our brave protagonist Rukhsana, to announce that they are keen on developing an Afghan cricket team. There would be a local tournament with local teams and the best of the best would make up for a national team which will first travel to Pakistan to get trained and would then tour the rest of the world. According to the book, no one in Kabul knew how to play cricket except for Rukhsana, which is the biggest bull shit ever because Pathans from both sides of the border have been mingling each other for long to not know about cricket.

How does our heroine know so much about cricket if she grew up in Afghanistan and living under Taliban? Well, for starters, her childhood friend and betrothed had friends in Lahore who taught him how to play cricket and he in turn taught Rukhsana and then played with her in their compound. Secondly, she went to college in India and played for her college team in Delhi which apparently made her an expert on the game. Rukhsana comes up with the plan to teach her teenage brother and her cousins to play cricket so that they can escape Afghanistan and brutal Taliban regime.

Apart from the rather weak story line, there are things that irritated me to no end about the book. One was this four page long tirade about how cricket is a genteel game that epitomizes fair play and equality. I wonder if the writer is not familiar with competitive sport that is cricket these days. What he wrote about is an afternoon friendly match in a rural England after Sunday lunch where everyone is bit mellow after food and a pint or two of beer. It is not the game where Hansie Cronje lost his life, Mohammed Azharuddin lost his reputation and young Mohammed Amir lost his career but I digress again.

The other thing that got my beef (no pun intended) was Rukhsana’s mother asking her to get vegetables for ‘quorma’. As a person who has cooked ‘quorma’ innumerable times, the only vegetable used in that dish is onion and that too to make gravy. The writer should’ve checked quorma recipe if he really wanted to include that in his book, it would have been better if he had not named the dish or just called it a stew. I know it has absolutely nothing to do with the plot but I do get irritated with lazy writing like that.  Is it too much to run a google search when you are writing a book?

If there is a protagonist in the story, there has got to be an antagonist. Zorak Wahidi was that villain – at times so cartoonish that I ended up picturing Teja and Crime Master GoGo instead of this fearsome bearded Taliban minister. When summoned, Rukhsana went to see this minister of vice and virtue with her teenage brother and her cousins. The whole scene where he killed a couple for adultery in front of them and how some other Talib dudes ogled at her brother had me rolling my eyes instead of feeling the terror and muster sympathy for them. As if random killing was not enough, the villain had to seek our heroine’s hand in marriage because that’s what evil villains do, seek hand of fair maidens in marriage when they get a break from killing random people.

Like a true heroine, Rukhsana is not without her share of better suitors. There is Shaheen, her well mannered, well educated, banker childhood betrothed living in USA. He is perfect on paper and Rukhsana kind of knew that she would end up with him but she declined a formal engagement not one but four times because her heart belonged to someone else – an Indian dude – a documentary film maker named Veer. I mean seriously? Have we not all seen Veer Zara already?

The chapters about her learning cricket and them dating in India were meh! Their first kiss was bleh! There was a page long text about Rukhsana’s awakened sexuality and maturity with that one single kiss in the back seat of a cinema in Delhi at the ripe old age of 17 and it was so corny that I wanted to scream like a banshee. I mean Hello! That Veer guy missed an opportunity to bottle and sell the essence of his kiss and becoming the next Ambani.

Among other things, the book tells us that Pakistanis are generally bad people. I know that there is not a lot of love lost between Afghans and Pakistanis but the way it was written, it was clear that it was not written with an Afghan perspective but an obviously Indian one. A good writer needs to find a voice for his or her characters, not force his own voice onto them. Mr Murari – the writer – obviously failed to do that.

In the end, it was the Indian love interest Veer – the man with magical kisses – who came to Kabul to save the day and win Rukhsana’s  team the cricket tournament which enabled them to get to Pakistan and then run away to other parts of the world. As he was an NRI, he had a wad of Benjamins to help the poor Afghan cousins of the heroine to get them to their desired parts of the world. The fact that the captain of the opposing cricket team was named Waseem (the bad guy of course) and had played for a club in Rawalpindi was not lost on the readers.

The writer Timeri N. Murari is apparently a big writer in India but this book was absolute shit. I can totally picture how he came about the plot. It must have been one long weekend when he watched both Lagaan and Veer Zara on TV and then some news about Talibaan and had some bad idli and sambar and thought, I too can write a saga comprising of various countries and escape from Afghanistan and become next Khaled Hoseini. I mean it has cricket, inter faith cross border romance, Taliban and a feisty heroine, what else would the public want? Errr how about some originality, research and some heart. Honestly, it was one of those stories where you end up rooting for the villain which in this case was the Taliban minister for vice and virtue. Yes, this book made me root for a Talib and that is quite a feat.

I would give this book half a star for the effort it must have taken the writer to sit down and write all 336 pages. The story is clichéd and predictable with boring uni dimensional characters ad really bad narrative. You want to slap the hell outta the protagonist by the end of it.

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.

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.

Email encounters of the other kind!

I get emails – almost anyone who exists in the virtual world gets emails – even if when they do not share that email address with anyone, they still get emails from Nigerian investor wanting to invest in their business and their email provider’s admin. I, unlike other people, get weird emails and I am not talking about spam here.

The emails I get are all not just weird, they cover a very broad range of spectrum. They could be people asking me to give them Urdu language tuition (never taught Urdu in any of my lives and though I speak it fluently and enjoy Urdu literature like any other enthusiast, I cannot teach Urdu Grammar to save my life – sarf-o-nahu anyone?), people sending marriage proposals after reading my articles (they are almost always men from India with a couple of random rishtas from Middle East but I have a feeling that they too would be Indian men), aunties seeking education advice for their sons and daughters (I am supposed to be awesome at fooling universities into providing grants and waiving fees – which I am obviously not – otherwise I would be enrolled in some kind of doctoral program instead of working and dreaming about a life where I would be rich enough to be idle) and people inviting me to expensive “Lawn” exhibitions (people in Pakistan would know what that phenomenon is, the rest don’t need to worry about that and those who know me must wonder why I get those invites considering how sartorially challenged I am).

The point of this whole tirade is that I get weird emails and should not be shocked when I get offers of digital qurbani (slaughtering your goat via skype) and “exclusive” dating services specializing in highly qualified brown people, but nothing prepared me for the email that was waiting for me this morning in my inbox. I actually went WTF out loud on my morning commute – much to the chagrin of an Asian lady sitting next to me at my very unladylike language.

The text of that email was

“I am working on a fiction book which includes a female character’s experiences with online dating. The woman is in her late 40s. I am soliciting stories from women who have dated online. I need unusual, weird, crazy, scary stories. Your name will not be used. Specifics will be changed to protect your privacy. You will NOT be paid for your story.

If you are a single woman – divorced, widowed or never married – who is 40 or older and have met and dated men via online dating websites, please contact. Since this is a Christian novel, stories have to be clean stories. No sex or deviant behaviour, no use of alcohol or drugs and no bad language please. Like I said earlier, keep it clean.

I mean really?

I tried to muster some outrage because the sender thought I was over 40 and over eager (no disrespect for those who go for online dating) enough to have an okcupid profile but come on! How can one not laugh at the message that is clearly bonkers? You want stories of online dating but no salacious details! Why would anyone want to read a book that has nothing going for it? I mean I am no pervert who would want to know details that should not be shared but if you take the bite out of life then what else is left? Would people actually shell out money to read about the stories of online dating for women over forty if it is going to be about creeps stalking your facebook profile, some hand holding of non-platonic kind and group sessions about Jesus saving your sorry selves? That book sounds like a snoozefest even before it is written.

Is there really a market for Christian romance out there? Probably in the Bible belt. I, for one, never thought there was a market for mommy porn but 50 shades proved me and the rest of the snooty people wrong. Who really knows what people actually want, Christian online romance may turn out to be the next big thing, after all Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember was not only a best seller, it also launched Mindy Moore’s rather tame acting career.

The most screwed up country in the world

I don’t get Pakistan. I really don’t.

And I lived all my life in that country.

After a day reading technical work related documents, I indulged in some random surfing this evening and read this short beautiful piece by Vikram Seth on criminalization of gay sex by the top Indian court. The crux of his piece was that everyone who wishes to ban love between people of different religions and castes and of same sex is basically declaring one thing. “My love is right. Your love is wrong.”

I was quite taken in by that heartfelt piece, but then Vikram Seth is a brilliant writer and has this way with words that makes you think. While browsing through some other links on my facebook feed, I came across this video and am flabbergasted. I mean what is wrong with Pakistan, like seriously?

There is a Z list TV actress who apparently could not find any acting job, so she decided to try her luck at journalism and someone was stupid enough to actually hire her as well. In this clip, she lands in the house of a transvestite/intersex/transgender (because we don’t really know whether people who pose as Khwaja Siras in Pakistan are transvestites, intersex or transgender. They could be anyone of those) person with TV crew, cameras and police.

The Khwaja Sira who goes by the name Naila but is legally named Mohammed Saleem (a man’s name) is at home with another man Nadeem  ul Hassan. The journalist started off in a very patronizing tone   addressing the man as “tum”, a term used either to express familiarity or is for people who are considered inferior rather than a more professional “aap” that most journalists would/should use when interviewing a person. She asked him for how long he has been with Naila/Saleem and Nadeem  said that he has been in that house for over a year. Now we do know that no one who is of sound mind would willingly accept to be in a homosexual relationship in Pakistan – and that too in front of camera and police – because if one is lucky, it is tried as a penal offence and one can end up in jail for at least two years, if one is not lucky, it can be tried under Hadd.

The Khwaja Sira tried to cover that up and told the so called journalist that Nadeem is just staying with him after his parents death and that he is not well. Nadeem himself told her that he is undergoing psychiatric treatment with a doctor in a hospital in Gulshan-e-Iqbal  (a middle class locality in Karachi). She scoffed at that information and said that what kind of mentally ill patient would be aware that he is actually mentally instable. She then proceeded to enter in the inner rooms, checked out the closet as if she had an arrest warrant and pointed out the photos of Saleem/Naila  & Nadeem in wedding finery (they were two separate photo by the way) saying that they were committing sin.

She entered someone’s house without permission with police – I only saw the clip so I don’t know if they even have a court issued warrant to enter into that house but they did so. The local police aided and abetted this travesty passing for journalism. The whole report – if it can be called that – was conducted in a sanctimonious and holier than thou tone. That Z list former actor turned journalist ended her tirade against Nadeem and Saleem/Naila by putting the fear of impending epidemic of homosexuality that will engulf the children of all the viewers if strong measures were not taken against people like Nadeem (a man undergoing psych treatment for heaven knows what?) and  Naila/Saleem a Khwaja Sira. The report ended with Nadeem’s arrest. As a gay man undergoing psych treatment with no relative in the country – his brother lives in Canada – I fear what will happen to Nadeem in the police station.

I don’t get Pakistan, I really don’t. My heart went out for this man who looked lost and had no idea what happened to him. This woman – the Z list actress – couldn’t have found two more vulnerable people to attack, even if she tried, but no one will step up to support them because why invoke the wrath of mullah’s by supporting a man who has admitted to being with someone who was not a woman. This country is afraid to stand up to people who kill and maim innocent people but it is considered fair game to attack people in their home for their life style choices that do not affect anyone else but themselves. Nadeem was shown affection by a Naila/Saleem when he was apparently abandoned by his own family, but now he is arrested because he was not shown affection by the right gender. The word irony does not even begin cover this situation.

It’s about time we claim the title for being the most screwed up country in the world. I mean there is water shortage, energy crisis, population explosion, inflation and what not. The country is plagued with terrorism and sectarian violence but most important matter that should be reported is two people living in a house minding their own business and the arrest of a man who was clearly not all there. On the other hand, people like Malik Ishaq are allowed to roam free and spew more hatred.

PS: This is not the most coherent post but then I am angry, and anger strips away coherence at times. I apologize for that.

PPS: Watch the video at your risk, you might want to break a glass or two to vent after watching this. Trigger Warning.

PPPS: When will PEMRA wake up and take notice of this crap passing on as journalism.

 

 

Legal Status of LGBT in Pakistan

The Pakistani Constitution does not explicitly make mention of sexual orientation or rights of people of alternate lifestyle, but Article 377 of its penal code criminalized all consensual sexual activity outside marriage. As LGBT people cannot get married, any and all consensual sexual activities would be considered illegal and a person can land in jail for anytime between two to ten years for that. In addition, government appointed Islamic Nazariyati council also get to have a say in all matters as all laws, rules, regulations and other such legislation must be compatible with Islam, the official religion of the state so there is a chance that you can be tried under Hudood Ordinance, then you can be put in jail for life or can get life sentence.

 

Dear Facebook, some of us are more than our biology

Note: This is a rant.

What in the name of internet gods is wrong with FaceBook?

Just because I am a woman of child bearing age who has not disclosed her relationship status, all the suggested likes on my timeline are about dating websites, new moms groups, fertility clinics, potty training, beauty clinics offering to make me smooth and dewy by lasers of all kinds, yoga websites, clothing companies, fashion designers, weight loss website or weight loss website pretending to be women’s health website. I mean seriously?

According to Facebook, people like me have got to be looking for romantic hook ups with other people through dating websites. If they are not looking for their online soul mate, they must either be procreating or trying to procreate through the help of the aforementioned clinics, or trying to potty train their spawn. If you are done with all that, then you must spend a fortune to try and look like teenager with no lines around the forehead and no body hair. You are also suggested to like designers you cannot afford (seriously what percentage of world population can afford Prada or Michael Kors!). If you are done with all that, then it is suggested that you must join yoga or a zumba or an aerobic class because unless you are made to feel horrible about your physique and body type, your internet experience is incomplete.

For the record, I just want to state that I don’t do online dating or speed dating. I am not a mom, young or old. I am currently not potty training anyone and if I ever get down to doing it, I most definitely will do it without plastering it on Faceook. I would also like to state that women are people too and just like their male counterparts, they have body hair. The world will not come to an end if a few women like me refuse to spend $2000 to make their legs smooth and shiny.

Get your act together Facebook, some of us are more than our biology and the identity that is thrust upon us by the society. Some of us take pride in being human beings without predisposed characteristics. It’s about time you realize that women are people too.

 

PS: I live in Canada so this is my personal experience, women living in different parts of the world may have a different facebook targeted marketing experience.

Passing desi-isms as sage advice

Most people think that they have this one major problem and if they could change that about themselves, they believe their lives would improve drastically. Some people think that if they lose weight, or manage their anger or embrace spontaneity, their lives would be better. In my case, it is my lack of ability to say no that always ruins it for me. If I somehow manage to say the golden word NO, I end up with so much guilt that I actually regret making the right decision.

If only someone was teaching a course on how to politely say, “Please God, No”, “Not my problem” and “Whatever!” without losing friends and alienating people, I would jump the queue — and I never jump the queue, despite being Pakistani from all sides of the family — to sign up for that course.

The problem gets even more intense when you move to a new country. Unless you are moving to Outer Mongolia or Chilean Highlands — and I have my doubts about Chilean Highlands — chances are that you will encounter your fair share of desis, who will try and interfere with your life, dish out counsel when none is sought and try to sell you things and services that you have no use of. Saying no to that is not just difficult, it is almost impossible.

Everyone who has the opportunity to move to a country will probably meet people from the old country who may or may not help them get settled. When someone from our part of the world — I mean South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular — moves to another country there would always be loads of people from the home countries dishing out desi-isms and passing them on as sage advice.

There will always be people around you who would want to guide you in your job search — they probably have moved to that new country 15 years ago when the job market was drastically different — and easier to break into — but they will try and force their opinion on how you should carve out a career in your adopted country and will offer you a ten dollar an hour job at their father-in-law’s super store selling biryani masala and Bollywood DVDs to bored desi housewives.

It does not really matter that you are trained as a lawyer or an IT professional or a speech therapist, they will tell you that everyone goes through this because they have been through this.

Some of them will not only suggest that you take that butchery course from your local community college but will also have the cheek to say that you will enjoy it because it is so different from what you have been doing before – you could be an Economist in your old country but they would not care. You feel like practicing some of those butchery skills on them and ask how in the name of everything that is holy and sacred can a vegetarian with two post grad degrees ever enjoy being a butcher?

Some of them will tell you where to rent an apartment and whom you should rent it from — it would almost always be some relative of their wives trying to con you into getting a smaller/smellier apartment in name of desi camaraderie and brotherhood.

Telling them that you have decided to share an apartment with a Jamaican co-worker close to your workplace will result in high dramatics. From telling you that your mom will be disappointed in you for spurning their amazing offer to making you feel horrible about not renting their space as they kept the apartment vacant for you because they knew your brother’s mother-in-law’s neighbours back in 1980s.

You being the ungrateful FOB not only decided to move in with your co-worker but you choosing a black person to share your living space will be taken as a personal insult. There will be implied or explicit racism — depending upon how integrated they are in the society — and they will regale you with tales of how someone they knew lived next to an apartment where one of the residents — almost always a black person — slit the throat of his/her flat mate and robbed them off their worldly possessions.

You try telling them that your Jamaican friend — a widowed lady of 55 — has only decided to share her apartment because she is suffering from an empty nest syndrome and is a fine upstanding, law abiding taxpaying citizen but they will continue to shake their head and make you feel bad for not taking up their offer.

At times like this, renting the smellier apartment seemed like the easier thing to do. If you happen to take them on their offer of renting an accommodation owned by a desi person, you are in for a treat. For starters, three previous tenants would still be getting their bank statements and phone bills and other assorted mail on that address and would want you to hold onto their mail so that they can pick it up whenever they feel like it.

When you try to tell them that they need to update their contact details with their cell phone service provider and their bank, they would give you the hurt look which basically says, “Et Tu Brutus? Can’t you just pick my mail from the box?” and you who perhaps wanted to scream “Please Gawd, NO!” agree to keep picking up their mail for foreseeable future.

Picking up the mail is less of a hassle because you do it once a day; the bigger threat to sanity is your land line phone. If the phone is registered in your desi landlord/landlady’s name, chances are that you will be inundated with offers of Quran classes for toddlers from dudes who call you behen or baji. When you try to tell the telemarketers that there are no toddlers in the radius of 600 sq yards and you do not wish to avail their services, they will try to get you to buy an online course for yourself so that you are saved from the eternal fires of hell.

This is not all, if your landlord has an Arabic sounding name, telemarketers who do not speak a word of English will call you and try to sell you channels running Turkish soaps dubbed in Arabic and you end up wanting to tear your hair out. As you are not bound by desi code — and the fact that they barely speak any English — you can scream and shout and let it all out at them.

I once spent some time in Slovenia with friends and found the lady working in the kitchen of the hostel where I was staying giving me seriously dirty looks. My Romanian friend and the lady found a common language that they both could speak — Italian — and asked her if she had a problem with me.

The cleaning lady was a Greek woman who assumed that I was Turkish and felt obliged to hate me. When my friends told her that I am from Pakistan, her demeanor changed and she became friendly to the extent that she offered me special hidden jams and freshest fruit for breakfast. You just cannot pull that in an English speaking country where everyone knows Bollywood, chicken tikka masala, our track record with women’s rights and the fact that one Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan for many, many years.

There are times when you get exasperated with all the desiness around you and you wonder about your decision of leaving home because there is no escaping the sights and sounds from home and you yearn to escape it all but that, too, passes away and you learn to coexist with it — at times reluctantly, and at times, wholeheartedly.

I remember once spending some time in Ukraine without seeing another person of colour and was ecstatic when encountered all things desi at Dubai airport after weeks of not seeing it. No matter how keen we are for integration in the new land or how insulated we want to be, a certain desiness will always stay with us, no matter where we live.

First appeared in June 2013 issue of Monthly Pique

Apr 15, 2013 - Personal, rant, tumblr    13 Comments

Not all imitation flatters, Summaiya knows it best

There are days when you wake up and think that its gonna a be a good day. Today started off as such a day. The temperature was great, there was sunshine out there and I started my day with a near perfect cup of coffee. I had my to-do list with me and was planning to sneak in an hour during the day where I could go out for a walk. As soon as I switched on my computer and went to check facebook, I knew that I will have forego that walk and write this blog.

Those who know me perhaps know Summaiya Jillani as well. Summaiya Jillnai is a Pakistani artist. She is also related to me and like a true Pakistani, I do not let go of any opportunity to promote family members and Summaiya is excellent so everyone – family or otherwise – should sing her praises. Those who follow me on twitter would know that I have urged them in the past to go attend her exhibitions and buy her outstanding work. Last year she painted Marilyn Monroe with a desi look and gained instant fame. Both Summaiya and her painting “Baar Baar Dekho, Hazaar Baar Dekho” were covered by Dawn, Express Tribune, Hello Magazine, Weekly Mag, British website catering to desis The Asians and Huffington Post to name a few. If you go to Tumblr, there is a tag dedicated to her work.

Summaiya Jillani with her painting Baar Baar Dekho, Hazaar Baar Dekho

Summaiya Jillani with her painting Baar Baar Dekho, Hazaar Baar Dekho

The reason I went on this spiel about how great Summaiya’s work is because I came across a photo on Facebook where a Designer Zahra Ahmad has stolen her iconic painting – yes, I just used the word iconic for a family member – and used it on a kurta “designed” by her. Here is a photo of that kurta on display in Tariq Road’s Dolmen Mall, Karachi.

While she was stealing the painting and using it on her design, she did not even respect it enough to put it in its entirety. She cut off part of the image – Monroe’s feet  – to put on super tacky orange and pink stripes. She is that challenged when it comes to aesthetics and she has the gall to call herself a designer. What’s sadder is that this woman has over 342,000 followers on facebook who actually think she is a designer.

zahra ahmed

Zahra Ahmad’s “design” with the stolen image

 

Zahra Ahmad, you are either gallactically stupid or exceptionally shameless that you steal the most famous painting that came out in past one year, use it on one of your tacky joras , display it on bloody Dolmen Mall and then think that no one will notice it!

Seriously, this Zahra Ahmed should be taken to task. I mean all designers seek “inspiration” but to steal someone’s work like this without either seeking their permission to use it or paying them royalty is outright stealing. If we had better copy right laws, that woman Zahra Ahmed – I refuse to call her a designer – should have been sued for everything she is worth. While I am venting can I just go and say, “What a bitch!”

Summaiya Jillani is a conscientious and socially responsible artist. She has volunteered time for students of Zindagi Trust last summer and other schools and has also been involved in campaigns to beautify the city of Karachi.  She has also been part of a theatre festival by The Citizen’s Foundation and performed in a play Aik Se Barh Kar Aik produced by Katha and directed by Shahid Shafaat. She is also a young person who is just starting out as an artist and those who steal her work to make some quick money should be ashamed. The only authorized vendor who can use this image is The Second Layer who produced T shirts with the picture which also bear the artist’s signature.  If you believe in intellectual property rights, you can show solidarity by joining Summaiya Jillani’s facebook page and view her work. You can also order the T shirt with authorized image from The Second Layer. The royalty from the sale of those T shirts will go to the artist. While you are at it, boycott Zahra Ahmad.  There is imitation that flatters and there is imitation that is highway robbery, Zahra Ahmad’s imitation falls into latter.

Summaiya with her teacher & mentor Duriya Kazi

Summaiya with her mentor Duriya Kazi

 

zindagggi trust

Summaiya during Summer camp at a Zindagi Trust school

albert

Albert Einstein by Summaiya Jillani

summaiya teaching young kids at T2F

Summaiya teaching some kids about screen painting at Art Bazaar at T2F

 

TSL marilyn

The T shirt with the authorized image & signature

Sums sunday

Summaiya & her friends, trying to beautify Karachi one graffiti at a time.

 

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