How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

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As a reader, I am not particularly fond of the term ‘coming of age’. As a writer, I try not to use it at all because what can be more clichéd than using the phrase ‘coming of age’, but if one reads Mohsin Hamid’s latest book “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” one is forced to use a term as corny as this.

Let me start by saying that there is no love lost between the author and I. I found his first book rather ordinary. Hamid was descriptive in Moth Smoke and his protagonist was odious, obsessive and had no redeeming qualities. He became introspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist; the tone was improved greatly and the monologue in which the novella was written dominated the reader in such a way that it required great effort to see beyond the protagonist’s point of view. With ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ Hamid presented his readers with a prose that is beautiful, lyrical and profound.

Guardian called him Pakistani Fitzgerald – I would not call him that because the respect I have for Fitzgerald is the kind that is reserved for dead people who are way out of your league. Mohsin Hamid is not that – for starter, he is alive, a fellow countryman and much closer to me in age. But he sure is in a league of his own – heads and shoulders above most other sub continental writers who put far too much emphasis on the story and a lot less on nuance, tone and style.

The book is about an unnamed character that moves from an unnamed village to an unnamed city, attends an unnamed university and falls in love with another unnamed character in Rising Asia. The defining feature of this book perhaps is the fact that it is written in second person.  The writer talks to ‘You’ in the book and you are not really sure if he is talking to ‘You’ the protagonist or ‘You’ – the reader. It engages the reader in a way that they feel like a part of the narration – at times even a character.

The appeal of the book lies in its style for its story is fairly common – there is rural urban migration, boy meets girls, boy falls for girl and of course there is that rags to riches element as well. The style transcends the story, its characters, its period and its location. The characters did not have names or addresses which gave the text a whimsical feel and brought the reader – no matter what their age, location or the reality is – closer to the protagonist.

The characters are believable, relatable and it was perhaps the only book I have read where I – the reader – had empathy for each and every character of the book for there were no heroes or villains. The woman who wanted to be with her husband in the city, the boy who was sent to work as an apprentice at a spray paint shop to supplement the family income, the girl who escaped her family, the boy who understood the loneliness of his widowed father, the widowed father who did not know what to do with all the spare time he had and the woman who wanted to win the affection of her husband and then completely lost interest in him are all real people – even the minor characters are dynamic and have many sides to them.

There are three main female characters in the book and though they all belonged to different generations and approached life differently, the common factor was that they were braver and ballsier than a lot of men around them. Women in Hamid’s book are such amazingly fierce and independent characters that you cant help but root for them – even when you do not agree with their course of action.

The book is more enjoyable because of its contradictions. This is a novel but it is written like a self-help book with appropriately titled chapters such as “Move to the City”, “Don’t fall in Love” and “Have an exit strategy” and it does not let go of any opportunity to mock the self help genre. It praises the vitality of youth but has just as tenderly dealt with old age, frailty and mortality. There is a subdued longing for a love that got away and admiration for a spouse in a marriage of convenience. There are dreams tinged with pragmatism and practicality laced with romance.  It values the connection that a person has with his clansmen and with his land but it also appreciates the anonymity that comes with abandoning the roots and relocation to a bigger city.

Some books start well but loose the plot later, some peak in the middle and some have great ending. This one starts with a promise, maintains the momentum throughout and ends just as well as it started. Last paragraph of the last chapter has dealt with death not as something morose or romantic but as a transition that is keenly anticipated because the life before that death was well lived.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia satisfies a reader like very few books do. It is a love story; it has action, drama and elements of political thriller. Most refreshing is its moral ambiguity, everything that is produced in Pakistan is sermonized to the extent that all joy flies out of it, Hamid’s characters are as free of such restraints as they can be in Rising Asia.

The first lecture of Creative Writing 101 would tell you to write about what you know best. Most writers do that and excel, they deviate from what they know and do not do too well. For instance, Afghan American writer Khaled Hosseini was in great form in The Kite Runner because the book had traces of a life he has lived but he fell flat in A Thousand Splendid Suns and his characters became a sad combination of cliché and caricature – if that is even possible. Hamid is amazing because he is at his best when he writes about something that is quite far removed from his own life experiences. His background is urban and cosmopolitan – unlike his nameless protagonist – and he probably has never set a foot inside a public university in Pakistan where getting a room in the boys hostel means bowing down to the student wings of the political parties yet he nailed the details, the aspirations, the fears and the emotions perfectly.

Though a novel, ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ did become a self help book for me for it tells me how to write a poignant story and how to be ruthless with one’s own work because it is fairly obvious that the writer has written a lot more but chose to present his readers with this edited version. Such restraint is admirable in anyone but more so in a writer. I was a reluctant reader and read Mohsin Hamid’s first book three years after it came. He got me interested in his work with the second one and completely won me over with the latest offering. Needless to say, this one comes highly recommended.

Originally written for The Friday Times, this is the unedited version

 

Apr 28, 2013 - PPP, PTI, Punjab, religion, terrorism    2 Comments

NOT the victims of a drone attack

This is a request to those who are free to conduct election campaign for their political parties before the country goes to poll on May 11 2013. Most of you are lamenting the drone attacks on Pakistani soil and vow to change the situation as soon as you assume power. Some of you are outright Taliban sympathizers and believe that a dialogue with them would yield desired results. A few of you have openly associated with terrorist outfits and have even sought their blessing before the elections. Even though it pains me to see you succumb to them, I wont criticize your diplomacy because a country like this indeed ask for the survival of the fittest and pragmatism demands that you maintain cordial relations with those obscurantist forces if you want to survive.

However, I would request you guys – the leaders of the political parties who are not under attack and are free to run their election campaigns – to take a few minutes out during the many jalsas and corner meetings that you address and show some empathy with the Pakistanis who are under attack from Taliban. They might not have been victims of a drone attack but they too have lost their loved ones, livelihoods and limbs in similarly gruesome acts of violence. The tragedy is that they are attacked by their countrymen hence rhetoric against their killers may not win you votes, television slot and space in international media. You might also be afraid of the Taliban and wonder that if you voice grievance against their ways, you may join these parties who are under attack. Your reluctance makes sense in the short run but what if they come after you once they get rid of these heathens? Fear that future when you may need help but there won’t be anyone left to stand beside you.

Think about your countrymen who may or may not vote for you and have an ideology which is different from yours but they are a part of this country that you call home and they contribute to its society and economy as much as you do, if not more. They need your support to survive right now, who knows they might end up voting for you in future elections if they manage to stay alive. Think about them, because if they perish, you may not even get to enjoy the election process in future.

Regards,

A concerned citizen

 

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These children have lost their father on a bomb attack on MQM’s election office in Bufferzone Karachi. – Photo taken from Twitter TL

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Another kid mourning the loss of his father after attacks on MQM election offices. Photo – AFP

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A victim of bomb attack on ANP’s election office in Orangi Town, Karachi. Photo – AP

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Another family has lost a loved one after the Orangi Town attack on ANP’s election office. Photo – AP

 

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A young victim of terrorist attack in Abbas Town last month – Photo credit AP

 

Residents stand among rubble and debris at the site of April 24th bomb attack in Quetta, the blast was one of the series of attack on Hazara Community. Photo – Reuters

PS: There are far more gruesome photographs of children who have lost their eyes & limbs and dismembered torsos of men who have lost their lives. I did not post those picture because the point here is to invoke empathy for those who are fighting this war against TTP and nothing else.

 

Apr 27, 2013 - Media    19 Comments

The ultimate beyghairti

 

No matter what part of the world you are in, you wake up to the news of your home courtesy your smart phone. I woke up this morning and saw the FB status update of a friend who lives in Garden Karachi about a bomb blast near her home. A quick look at the news websites revealed that it was an Awami National Party (ANP) election office in Orangi Town that was bombed.  Before this, two other election offices of Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) were attacked in Karachi and other election related activities of ANP in KPK. According to Kamran Khan’s program on Geo, ANP has been attacked 10 times during 2013 election campaign in KPK and Karachi while MQM is attacked thrice, all incidences took place in Karachi. For almost all the incidences of violence against these two relatively secular parties, Tehreek-e-Talibaan Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility.

Considering that elections are just a couple of weeks away, one would think that the security apparatus of the country would be after these TTP terrorists who are not only committing heinous acts of violence against civilians engaging in perfectly legal political activity but are also obstructing the democratic process by attacking and hindering political campaign of the aforementioned political parties. These two parties are major political forces in two of the provinces of the country.

But no, the security forces of the country are busy ensuring that no one dares to utter a word against them. First victim of censorship was the newly launched Capital TV, when a former aide of Zaid Hamid, one Mr Emad Khalid committed the gustakhana act of voicing his uncensored opinion about the COAS Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the channel was taken off the airs for a couple of days and only reopened after a written apology was submitted to PEMRA. Major newspapers did not carry this story and a quick web survey reveals that it was only some blogs and Pakistan Press Foundation’s website that carried this incident.  Curiously, elected Head of the state is the butt of all the jokes on every TV channel but no directives were ever issued by PEMRA to the TV channels to respect the august office of the head of the state.

That incident happened last week.

Earlier today, Beygairat Brigade’s third song Dhinak Dhinak was blocked by PTA. Dhinak Dhinak is a satirical song about the continued power that the top brass of army enjoys in Pakistan. Beygairat Brigade – or Shameless Brigade – is a Lahore based band which uses political and social satire in music. Their previous songs Alu Anday and Paisay ki game were not banned probably because they attacked the political leadership of the country, this time around Dhinak Dhinak focused on “Jernailan da jadu” and raised points like how the army generals never contest contest elections but always enjoy absolute power. Though the lead singer of the band, Ali Aftab Saeed was quoted in Telegraph  after the song was released online (no TV channel was willing to air it) that he has no issues with the institution of army but with the attitude of a few generals, the song was blocked by PTA on the eve of April 26th. When asked, Ali Aftab Saeed said that the band was not informed about the ban on the video by the authorities. They just found out about it when they tried to access the video on Vimeo.

Considering what happened to people who were called in for a reprimand – people like Late Syed Saleem Shehzad who succumbed to  torture endured during one such meeting – it’s may be a blessing that the video was just blocked by PTA and no one was called for a meeting.

The Dhinak Dhinak video came back online after a few hours of ban. May be it was the cheeky message at the end of the video where the band asked their fans to not like the song – “No need to like the video, we will be dead any way” – that saved them.

Beygairat Brigade is probably happy that their song is back for the world to see (I am told that it is still blocked by some ISPs), investors of Capital TV must have sighed with relief when their channel went on air after the hiatus of two days. People will soon forget about these imagined or real slights on the forces that don’t want to be named or discussed objectively, but what people will never forget is the ultimate beyghairti which is letting the TTP terrorists roam free and attack the forces that dare to raise voice against them. This is what future generations of Pakistanis will remember about our times and we will be considered the ultimate beygherats who not only let these terrorists burn down our cities, many amongst us found justifications for their acts and provided them political cover and the security forces failed to do their only job which provision of security for its people. If this is not beyghairti, then nothing is.

Apr 25, 2013 - Bollywood    3 Comments

If ‘Ek Thi Daayan’ does not make the Daayans angry, then nothing ever will

Once upon a time, a friend and I had a late night profound discussion on movies in general and Emraan Hashmi and his sleaze factor in particular. Back then the two of us used to live in two different continents but we made a pact that whenever we meet next, we will watch an Emraan Hashmi film together.  We ended up in the same city a few weeks back and when ‘Ek Thee Daayan’ premiered, I reminded E that we must honour that old pact and watch this film. We dragged another friend –who we shall call A here – along with us because not only E and I value his company and but also the fact that we are poor people with no mode of transportation to call our own. So eager were we to watch the film that none of us bothered to either see the trailer or check out the reviews. All we saw was a poster of Emraan Hashmi with three women and thought it would be a regular slutty Emraan Hashmi fare. Little did we know that we will end up watching a film which is neither horror nor psycho thriller, but pure bullshit.

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As soon as the credits start rolling at the beginning we saw names like Vishal Bhardwaj and Gulzar, A, who was the reluctant viewer thought that it might turn out to be a decent film but precisely thirty seconds into the film we knew that it would be as crappy a film as we expected it to be when Emraan Hashmi made his appearance in a cage with a hoody as the master magician – a cross between David Blaine and David Copperfield perhaps? Another 10 seconds and we knew that this one is a goner because the master magician was called “Bobo the baffler”. I mean WTF? I wondered throughout Ek Tha Tiger why a self respecting adult man would respond to a name like Tiger, but in comparison with Bobo the baffler, Tiger was a very sane choice.

Bobo is magician who is troubled by his past and his dead sister. At times he hallucinates during his acts and injures his assistants but because it is India, no one sues him for negligence at work. Bobo seeks help from a psychiatrist who hypnotizes him back to the time when he was kid and encountered daayans for the first time. As a kid, Bobo was a pesky bugger who was into books on witchcraft, old elevators and sported the hair do which can pass as a Jew fro but I digress. One fine day, he was fiddling with his building’s elevator and pressed for the sixth floor thrice which took him to an underground hell. Then a Daayan makes her appearance through that same elevator and before you can say Bobo – the baffler, Bobo’s daddy marries the daayan which results in an unfortunate series of events involving dayaans, pitchal pairy, churails and what not.  The child actor who played Bobo was so freaking annoying that I ended up rooting for the daayans to beat the crap outta him. My friend A, who is not too fond of Emraan Hashmi hated the kid so much that he ended up rooting for Emraan Hashmi.

There is more confusion, more dayaans, a couple of songs and some more magic tricks. The ending of the film should make you happy if you are rooting for diminutive Bobo to triumph over the daayans. But if you are anything like me and were rooting for the daayans (how can you root for a guy who looks like Emraan Hashmi and is named Bobo) you totally want your money back.

Lessons I learned while watching Ek Thee Daayan

  • If you live in an old building with a rickety elevator and if you press for the sixth floor thrice, chances are that you will end up glimpsing hell. In order to see hell, you must reside in a building with at least six floors. How else will you press for the sixth floor, if your building does not have it.
  • One should never let one’s 11 yr old kid buy old books on witchcraft from an old book vendor; it makes them total psychos who spend way too much time loitering around faulty elevators.
  • Bobo’s magic trick with a phallic rope has probably inspired someone somewhere to plan a porn scene along those lines.
  • Emraan Hashmi should stick to the slutty roles he was famous for. He is good at running after babes, running after Daayans is clearly not his forte.
  • Daayans are generally born on February 29th because that’s when they sacrifice little children for their eternal lives. If you happen to know anyone who’s born on February 29th, beware. Just saying.
  • Emraan Hashmi is a tiger in bed and he roars. Nops, I am not making this shit up, it was an actual dialogue in the film.
  • Emraan Hashmi is such a stud that a woman dreams about him in Canada, ditches her boy friend of four years, comes to India and wants to hang out with him even when she finds out that he is married. Not only that, she is rich and buys his old haunted apartment for 2 crore Indian rupees and is so fearless that she sings romantic songs for him in front of his wife.
  • If you really want to freak out your friends, order a set of those huge eye ball covering black lenses that the dayaans wore during sacrificial ceremonies and sing them a birthday song. If they have seen this film, they might get scared, otherwise they will think that you have completely lost your shit and will probably call someone to put you in a straight jacket, or a padded room or both.
  • A daayan’s shakti (power) is hidden in her long braid so women with short hair can’t really be the daayans.  Most daayans have really long swinging braids which makes me think that they go through the shampoo bottles like an average alcoholic goes through bottles of Jack Daniels.
  • A daayan can turn into ashes if someone hacks off her hair – preferably with a dagger.  But the daayans can only be killed if the braid is cut off by someone pure of heart.  Emraan Hashmi can pull off anything but purity of heart!
  • Daayans randomly throw lines like “Shaitan ki qasam” in the middle of conversations. I mean like seriously? Next thing you know, they will start banging their heads to death metal and will make it totally uncool for the rest of the world.
  • Once you do it with a daayan, mortal ladies just don’t cut it for you. Looks like Bollywood is trying to sell Daayan sex like folks in True Blood sell vampire sex. Unfortunately the daayans were not as hot as the vampires in True Blood.
  • Last but not the least; I am the bravest amongst my friends. If we ever encounter any Daayan or even a ghunda  mawali for that matter, I will probably end up saving their asses.

PS: Because the name Bobo baffled me to no end, I managed to catch Bobo’s real name on his wedding register. It was Bijoy which is no great shakes but anything is better than Bobo the baffler.

 

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.

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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

 

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Summaiya during Summer camp at a Zindagi Trust school

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Albert Einstein by Summaiya Jillani

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

 

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The T shirt with the authorized image & signature

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

 

Hopping over – from one channel to the other

During a journalism course that I was teaching to undergrad freshmen, they asked me which TV anchor I consider most respect worthy. I thought about it for a minute and named people like Iftikhar Ahmed & Hamid Mir of Geo. The students were probably intrigued and asked me why. My response was quite straightforward: for starters, they are proper journalists who have been practicing their craft throughout their professional careers and did not switch to television journalism from filmmaking, practicing medicine and selling used cars. Secondly, they have not jumped ship at any given opportunity and stayed with the same organization for most of their careers. It may not be as important in other professions but building a trust worthy brand is of utmost important for a TV anchor.

Why do TV anchors and presenters switch from one channel to another? Some say they do it because they want more editorial freedom, some say they move to bigger channels because they want their voice to get to more people but the sticking factor — though most would not admit to it — is a fatter paycheck.

There is one TV anchor who has probably broken all records by working in five different channels — Geo, ARY, Express, Dunya, Waqt TV and is now almost a done deal at a new one — in the last seven years (I wrote this piece way back in January, that guy is now with a brand new channel – the person who will guess the name will win a watercooler).behind-the-frontline-1360574117-5161

Generally, people who stick to a channel are respected more than those who hop from one channel to the other. Sticking to one channel also helps the anchor build a programme and a brand which is built upon both the anchor and the channel’s reputation. For instance, the audience knows that it is Hamid Mir who does Capital Talk but if you ask them about the programme that Dr. Shahid Masood is doing, they probably will not even know what channel he is on these days. There are other anchors, who have stayed with the same channel like Kashif Abbasi but he may not enjoy the same pull for other reasons.

A journalist associated with print media says she has stopped watching current affairs programmes because the anchors keep switching from one channel to the other and she finds it unnerving. She is not in a club of one; one of the regular complaints that people in the media industry have about these changes is that they are superficial and almost always about money. They never bring any noticeable change to the content of the programme; at times, they would even put up the same set and even the exact replica of their old programme. Such anchors enjoy the same respect among their audience as politicians switching loyalties before election time.

According to Munira Cheema, a media analyst based in London, politicians may change their political affiliations out of change in their ideologies or because of the clan pressure but anchors who lynch these politicians for switching sides do it for money alone.

Experts also say TV anchors should not even be called journalists because most did not cut it in their field. They were doctors, practicing advertising and were running businesses before the electronic media boom hit Pakistan and they seized that opportunity to build their personal clout. One even had the dubious honor of directing Meera in a Lollywood film. Now, they may have journalists working in their teams but most of us know that they are not journalists themselves and would probably move on to more lucrative opportunities. Nusrat Javeed who hosts Bolta Pakistan at Aaj news calls them showbiz personalities because calling them journalists would be factually incorrect.

There are anchors, who think that they are more important than their message and believe their viewers would remain loyal to them and simply switch with them to their new programme/channel. Perhaps, they could do with a reality check: most people who enjoyed success in one channel could not repeat it in other channels. Asma Shirazi’s programme enjoyed much higher ratings in Samaa but things have changed for her since she moved to Dawn News and her programme does not enjoy the same ratings as it did with Samaa although she did recently win an award for the best female anchor.

Talat Hussein was a name to be reckoned with when he was with Aaj News. Who can forget his back bending heroics in the newsroom when he tried to dodge the bullets — those who have seen AAJ Tv’s Karachi office would know that a bullet would have to ricochet around thirteen walls before it can reach the recording studio but I digress — and emerged a hero. He moved onto Dawn News and then to Express News but people still associate him with AAJ because of his award worthy performance on May 12, 2007 where he conducted a live transmission from underneath the desk.

Some even provide major comic relief with their constant hopping. Back in the day when I was working for Geo, a news reader who moved in from another channel asked his audience to continue watching AAJ News — his old channel — while he was reading news at Geo. He did not stay there for long and is now onto his fourth channel as a newscaster.

A former journalist and media enthusiast Zeenia Shaukat believes that the corporate set-up of our news organizations is hurting the news business. “Pakistan is following the global media regime where rather than presenting content to the audience; the media presents audience to advertisers. So it is natural for corporate media to make an effort to attract top presenters to make their content more competitive not for the audience but for the advertisers,” Zeenia Shaukat says.

Pakistan’s media channels function as corporates and ‘switching jobs’ of talent/human resource is a normal part of a corporate culture. What really needs to be debated is that if media should actually act like a corporate entity treating and promoting information as a “product” and if journalists should see their job as merely that of “producers of information”. This is important because information is a public good and not a product!

Seeing the work of the existing TV channels, it appears apart from their logos and graphic designing, there isn’t much difference amongst these channels in terms of the content being offered.

All current affairs shows, mostly led by well known anchors, follow the same line, present the same range of opinions, invite the same range of guests, and their take on issues is more or less similar.

Besides, there is heavy emphasis on presenting sound bytes and quotes that create a buzz so people are running after that instead of going after content that is informative and coherent.

As far as channel hopping is concerned, anchors do take the lead from politicians in the quest for plots and other financial gains; they are also changing loyalties like them and have it much better than the politicians as no-one calls them lota like the politicians. Let’s see for how long will it last.

Originally written for Monthly Pique. The image is also taken from the magazine.

Mar 26, 2013 - Media, rant    7 Comments

A list of not so eligible and not so Pakistani bachelors

 

At times I wonder why Hello Pakistan is called Hello PAKISTAN at all. I mean they generally feature seriously loaded people of Pakistani descent living it up in other continents and try to pass them off as Pakistanis. The magazine cannot be called Hello Pakistan for being sold in Pakistan only, it should feature Pakistanis who actually live in the country.

Recently, they published a list of eligible Pakistani bachelors on their blog which was total bollocks. For starters, most of the people listed in the list do not even live in Pakistan; London and Dubai are their preferred cities.

Secondly, the list was all about Son of this rich guy, and grandson of that nawab dude. I mean seriously? The editorial team at Hello cannot find ONE self made man to put on the list which basically reads like whose daddy is rich enough to pop 50,000 dollars or 20,000 pounds per annum in college fees, hand out a platinum card – or five – to their progeny, buy a penthouse for them to party and top it off with a Ferrari or Lamborghini on the side and then hand over the reigns of family business to them as well. What happened to making it on your own? Is that not cool anymore? Oh I forgot; Pakistan is generally not a country of ‘becoming’ anything or anyone, you have got to be born into it.

I have no shame in saying that a ghareeb awam type person like me has absolutely nothing to do with rich, famous and eligible people mentioned in the list so I don’t even know who most of these gentlemen are, however I have interacted with one on twitter and found him publicly humiliating his employees which was distasteful to say the least and is even more unbecoming for a man who is supposedly 34 years old. Oh and I have also trolled Sheheryar Taseer repeatedly on the cyberspace for being a bad employer and not paying the salaries to the employees who have worked for his publications. I personally know at least 5 Daily Times former employees who are still owed a lot of money while Mr. Eligible Bachelor lives the high life. They should all band together and sue him for whatever he is worth. The funny thing is that he has retweeted my work repeatedly when I wrote about his father’s murder so he knows who I am, but he is quiet when anyone mentions anything about payment of salaries to DT employees.

I know Hello Pakistan is a fluffy life style & fashion magazine and they want things to be flashy and glamorous and what not but please, do not put people like Taseer on any ‘eligible’ lists. His company flouts labour laws with impunity. It’s about time people in general and publications in particular should call out people who do not pay taxes or break labour laws as what they are: criminals who should be persecuted for their crimes.

rich boiz

 

PS: The kid who posed with his Ferrari badly needs to grow up. He should not be in the list on account of juvenile behavior.

Mar 26, 2013 - published work    2 Comments

The trouble with Pakistan

Ask anyone, from your corner paan wala to a TV anchor to the accountant who does your taxes — if you pay any — to the babus who run the bureaucracy to the leaders of political parties; everyone knows what ails Pakistan and they all have their versions of solutions to these problems. The trouble is that no one is willing to implement the solutions they talk about, be it the paan wala, the tax accountant, the bureaucrat or the politician sitting in the legislative assembly.

The list of problems is fairly well-known and well-discussed. It is the security and law and order situation, the dismal economic growth rate, the high unemployment rate, the non-payment of taxes, the energy crisis, the very high population growth rate and the lack of a decent agricultural policy to feed the ever-growing population.

These problems are not new and have been around for most of the country’s population’s lifetime. We know where they have sprung from and where we should start to address them but we still do not do anything about it.

Take the security situation, for example. After every other terrorist attack or target killing, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or other outfits like it, claim responsibility for the act but are never apprehended. The civilian government may make the right noises but the powerful establishment refrains from taking any decisive and long-lasting action against them because it considers some of them as ‘strategic’ assets, which might come in handy when dealing with enemy countries. Some mainstream political parties look to them for political support, votes and organised workers during elections; the courts and the judges fear for their security so not many verdicts are passed against such elements. We know of instances where murderers are let go off on grounds of insufficient evidence by the courts. When the institutions that are supposed to protect the people, end up protecting those who are killing the citizens, the problem is never going to get solved.

Everyone knows that our tax-to-GDP ratio is depressing and direct taxation is one of the lowest for an economy this size. To make up for the lack of direct taxes, the PPP government tried to introduce another indirect tax — the value added tax — a couple of years back but faced opposition from the PML-N and the MQM, the parties with urban voters. The PPP is not too keen on agrarian taxes because these affect its leadership and many do not pay income tax. The PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami talk about a reformed tax system which will remain irrelevant as long as they are not in parliament.

The country is a ticking time bomb with the highest population growth rate outside sub-Saharan Africa but no government seems to be interested in tackling this issue; our main concern remains things like Article 62 of the Constitution and the piety of the prospective election candidates. Even if the economic growth rate miraculously improves and the government starts spending on human development sectors, the population growth will wipe out any gains made unless this problem is addressed as a priority matter.

Some may say that all institutions of the state, including the armed forces, the civilian government, the bureaucracy and the judiciary seem to have priorities that apparently put their own interests above that of ordinary Pakistanis. That remains the biggest problem with the country.

First published in The Express Tribune

Jan 22, 2013 - published work, women    5 Comments

Making informed decisions

The current session of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly has been in session for almost a month; one would think that a lot must have gotten done in the assembly in terms of legislation and discussing matters that affect a large number of people residing in the province. And while a lot did get done, many matters that affected the women of the province were either brushed aside or were not addressed properly.

One case in point is the Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012. The Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012 was presented on the directives of the Peshawar High Court to promulgate a law. Under the custom of ghag, any man can publicly declare a woman to be his and that makes her unmarriageable for other men, restricting her right to choose a life partner. The new law makes the act a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence.

According to the law, the violators can be punished or imprisoned for up to seven years. Though the original text of the legislation called for punishment of seven to 14 years, the punishment was reduced to the maximum of seven years. This is a clear and present problem in the province and constitutional petitions have been filed to stop the practice and criminalise the offence.

The assembly also reneged on another piece of legislation affecting girls. Ministers, who publicly lent support to the cause of elimination of child marriage, opposed the Child Marriage Restraint Amendment Bill when it was introduced. Though it was moved by a member from the treasury benches, MPA Munawar Sulatana, it faced resistance not only from the opposition members but also from the treasury benches.

The bill aimed to increase the legal age of marriage for a girl from 16 to 18 and the punishment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act. Unfortunately, the bill was opposed, citing the reasons as flimsy, since ‘the approval of this bill will create a new debate and more issues in the province’ to the factually incorrect ones such as ‘there is no age limit for marriages in other Islamic countries’ to the evergreen excuse of rejecting anything progressive by calling it a “western agenda”.

There are certain activities that only adults are privileged to participate in. In most countries, the age for obtaining a driving license is 18 — a time when a person is supposed to have finished high school and attains adulthood. Similarly, the right to choose an elected representative is also reserved for people over the age of 18 because anyone under that age is considered to be too young to fully comprehend the responsibility that comes with voting. If people are supposed to wait till they turn 18 for something as simple as driving and voting, then how come they are allowed to get married at younger ages when they are unable to make informed decisions either about choosing their life partner, starting or raising a family or financially supporting it? The medical complications that underage girls face after early marriages and pregnancies are an altogether different spectrum of the story.

It is about time our lawmakers stopped making the same old excuses of the imposition of  ‘western agenda’ and started making laws that affect the well-being of a very large group of young persons who will soon be their voters. This will not only help in increasing female literacy and improving family planning efforts, but there will be long lasting health and well-being benefits for that section of the population.


First published in The Express Tribune.

Jan 15, 2013 - published work    1 Comment

Looking at the bigger picture

Activism in Pakistan is generally inconsistent and sporadic. People stand up and raise their voices after tragedies and calamities have become front page news but very few individuals and groups persevere and continue with their efforts for their chosen cause.

The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) is one such organisation, which has been working for workers’ rights in the country for over 30 years. Many of us were traumatised by the fire that took the lives of 262 workers at Ali Enterprises in Baldia Town last September, and demanded immediate action, like the arrest of the owners of the factory and revamping of the way the labour department works but soon moved on to other issues. PILER, which has been advocating greater investment in terms of interest and stakes in workers’ safety and well-being, sought another solution. While an indifferent state and an employer unconcerned with the safety of its workers bear major responsibility for the tragedy, it also tried to involve international buyers, who were a part of the supply chain and tend to benefit from the cheap labour provided by Pakistani workers.

The German buyer, KiK, was engaged in a dialogue to not only seek compensation for the victims of Ali Enterprises, but was also involved in a plan that worked towards building a long-term workplace safety regime for Pakistani workers. Clean Clothes Campaign, an international workers rights group based in Amsterdam, collaborated with PILER to commit a judicious compensation amount. KiK recently signed an agreement with PILER to make an initial payment to the victims and their families of one million dollars in order to provide immediate relief and to negotiate a long-term compensation package with all other involved stakeholders.

The compensation payment initially seeks to focus on those workers’ families, which have not received any assistance because the victims’ bodies were unidentifiable, and will focus in later phases on those rendered disabled and hence unemployable and others who have received some state compensation. PILER has requested the Sindh High Court to constitute an independent commission to oversee the compensation process and determine all necessary details for the purpose.

KiK’s initiative has helped establish the responsibility of buyers in the production system of Pakistan. This may be the first time that buyers have come forward to take responsibility and made a commitment to ensure future safety of workers. It works to their benefit as well because it makes more sense to invest in a prevention regime rather than participate in fire-fighting at a later stage after their reputation and credibility has suffered.

In addition, PILER has filed a petition, which demands that a judicial commission headed by a high court or a Supreme Court judge be constituted to give its findings on the causes of the industrial fire tragedy; assign responsibility and liability to government officials and departments responsible for negligence, and failure over a timely response to the fire; determine compensation for the families of the victims; and make recommendations for the avoidance of such industrial tragedies.

It takes sustained efforts to keep an issue alive and to ensure that things change. PILER’s effort tells us that we need consistent and continued effort if we want to see things get better and to also look at the bigger picture instead of focusing on narrow and short-term gains. Things will only change when people collectively ask the state to move away from non-issues and demand its attention and focus on the taxpaying, GDP-earning voters.

First published in The Express Tribune

PS: I have had the pleasure of working with Karamat Ali of PILER and believe him to be one of the few good ones. Those of you who live in Karachi and have some extra time, please help the good folks at PILER in whatever way you can. There are not many places where you can work with people who can still inspire you, Karamat Ali and B.M. Kutty at PILER are those rare people who make you believe that you can make a difference.

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