The Turkish Invasion


I thought I was keeping abreast with what is happening in the entertainment world by downloading the latest episodes of Homeland and American Horror Story and listening to the Top 40s on the radio but I found out that I was wrong.

My bubble burst during a trip to Karachi in December where I realized that I have been practically living under a rock in Islamabad and had no idea that we were facing what is now called Turkish invasion. 

Nope, the Turks are not attacking us — they are one of the few countries who still tolerate us — it was the Turkish soap that everyone was watching, talking about and obsessing over. From my sister’s maid to my friend’s teenaged sister to my adult male cousin, Ishq-e-Mamnoon (or Aşk-ı Memnu as it is written in Turkish) was all the rage with everyone.

My sister’s maid wanted to know if the characters on the soap are Muslims and if they will burn in the eternal hell fire for drinking, wearing western clothes and for their permissive attitude towards pre- and extramarital sex.

My friend’s sister was obsessing over the hotness of the male lead and had his face on her desktop which was a vast improvement on her previous crush (Justin Beiber hogged the screen the last time I visited their house).  

My adult male cousin who markets television software for a TV channel was also talking about it. He sat me down and ran through the economics — like how the first channel bought the soap for just $900 per episode and how the copycats are forking $5,000 per episode after the first one turned out to be an off-the-chart hit.  

As if that was not all, I ended up witnessing a protest by Television Producers Association in front of Karachi Press Club against foreign content. 

Things went crazy during the telecast of the final episode and my timeline — both on facebook and twitter — was so full of Ishq-e-Mamnoon, I ended up googling Turkish soaps that are or will be aired in Pakistan and it turned out that most of them have the same actor. 

He is that guy.

Till now, my experience with Turkish television was limited to watching some of it on long bus rides from Istanbul to Izmir and then from Seljuk to Konya – that, too, without subtitles — during a visit to Turkey. My friend Sam and I made a guessing game of the dialogues and storyline. The one we watched was the Turkish version of Grey’s Anatomy and yes, Turkish doctors were way hotter than anyone on the American series, but I digress. 

When I came back from Turkey, no-one asked me much about the people — it was always about the places — but ever since Behlul (the male lead of Ishq-e-Mamnoon played by Turkish actor Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ) graced our television screens, every woman who is hooked onto Ishq-e-Mamnoonwants to know if Behlul was a fluke or do other Turkish men look like him.

It is not just the young ones; aunties who were in love with Ashar of Hamsafar just a few months ago have now forsaken their affections for him and have moved on to the taller and blonder Behlul.

If a man can capture the fantasy of an entire nation with a name as ridiculous sounding as Behlul — it rhymes with mehlool — then he should be commended for pulling it off. 

If you thought that it was only women who were watching it, you had it all wrong. This Turkish soap was just as popular among men and I have actually heard a few of them discussing the ladies of the cast with as much gusto as teenage girls reserve for boys of One Direction.

The Turkish beauties

When I asked a socialite why she is obsessed with Ishq-e-Mamnoon— I only caught part of the last episode and the dubbing was a major letdown — she retorted, “What’s not to like?”

When I asked her to elaborate, she went on, “There is a gorgeous man torn between what is right and who he loves, he is conflicted and in pain, what can be more engaging than that.”

I agreed with her, a distressed good looking man is television gold because every woman who watches him wants things to go right for him. “And if the male lead was not enough of a reason, I watched it for clothes and accessories,” she added.

I have been told that ladies with disposable income have planned shopping trips to Istanbul to buy baubles by the designers featured in this soap, many a fashion blogger from Pakistan have even listed the names of the designers that Pakistani buyers should look for when they are in Turkey.

A web designer who does not watch anything else on the local television but watches Ishq-e-Mamnoon thinks the reason the Turkish soap broke all ratings record is because it had fresh faces. “I have been watching the same actors doing the exact same sh*t since I was in diapers. Back then, they used to romance the ladies with their real hair, now they do it after getting follicle implants.”

Serious pontification and discussion with a friend who is pursuing a doctorate degree in England on Pakistani television content validated this claim. From Noman Aijaz to Faisal Qureshi, from Shahood Alvi to Aijaz Aslam, they have either been under the knife for follicle implants or sport a toupee. The only people who still have all their hair are Adnan Siddiqui and Humayun Saeed but they, too, have been at it since I was in grade school and that happened in last century — like literally.

The best bit that I heard was when a friend who is pursuing PhD in Canada (yes, I have very learned friends; they all either have doctorate degrees or are pursuing them, I am considered barely literate amongst my friends) was cornered by a Hijabi lady at a dinner.

She was asked about her plans of finding matrimonial bliss with a suitable partner and her prospects of landing one in Canada — she is over 30 and according to most married women with children in Pakistan, ovaries of every unmarried woman over the age of 30 are dying a lonely miserable death.

As the lady knew that Pakistani men would not want anyone over the age of thirty — unless she happens to be Mahnoor Baloch — she was persistent in her queries about the suitable men for her in the frozen land of Canada.

My friend who was a little perturbed by the inquisition tried to put a stop to it by telling her that there are no desi men where she lives and obviously, the Hijabi lady would not want her to end up with a gora

The aunty thought for a while and said that after watching the Turkish soap, she has realized that there are other kinds of Muslims out there and as long as my friend ends up with a Muslim — even if he happens to be a sharabi kababi Turkish or Algerian man — she is okay with it.

Who would’ve thought Turkish invasion would bring a change of heart and an overall acceptance for bad boys among ladies of Hijab. If airing just one soap has done this, imagine the hell that will break loose if they start airing two or four of them simultaneously!
This picture is added solely for the benefit of female readers and has absolutely nothing to do with the text



PS:This was written sometime last month, now there are three Turkish soaps that are being aired from three different channels. We don’t know if they are as popular as Ishq-e-Mamnoon or will impact the hijabi ladies as strongly as Behlul did. I did manage to catch the first episode of Manahil and Khalil and though the play was a bit of a meh, I found the tickers with text messages sent to the TV channel about the Turkish Hottie most hilarious. Azra from Lyari wanted Behlul’s phone number and Zareena from Khushab wanted to have dinner with him. The boys in Lyari and Khushab will have to up their game if they want to have a chance with either Azra or Zareena. 

Originally written for Monthly Pique, I like them Pique people, not only because they pay on time and well, they call me a major league blogger.

The misogynist narrative on Hum TV



The gender-based discourses on Pakistani television may not be very dynamic but the way they are discussed leaves one to ponder if those who are at the helm of the affairs have any idea about the impact of their careless deliberations on the subject.

Take the case in point of a television serial ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ airing on Hum TV these days. Only last week, the male protagonist of the story picked a fight with his girlfriend about her clothing and a direct quote from the play said, “if you had seen her clothes, you would have known that she was a walking invitation for harassment”. In times like these, where there is global protest about women’s clothing and how it has no relevance to the sexual violence they face, here is a drama where a protagonist — who is extremely popular among women — is telling women that yes, their clothing invites men to harass them. In case anyone is wondering, the woman was wearing a sleeveless top with a shawl draped around her shoulders.

This was not the lone case of misogyny in that particular play. The protagonist also had issues with the mobility of his female family members. He wanted to impose a curfew for his sister and wanted his mother to seek the permission and approval of his father before she could leave the city on a work assignment. He said repeatedly that “he is a man and can go wherever he wants and whenever he wants and women cannot do the same”. While it may be a reality in our society, reinforcing such ideas in the guise of propriety and religiosity is shoddy and has consequences for the audience. What disappointed this scribe even more is the fact that both the writer and the producer were women and that the producer has a personal history of struggling for her rights.

Our television plays seem to glorify the role of women who are situated within the four walls of their homes, sacrifice their happiness for their families and do not complain if their husbands beat them or take second wives or are just really horrible to them. Those who are financially independent, situated outside their homes and interact with men who they are not related to are the bad ones. This does not only judge all women who choose to interact with others in the public sphere, but also presents a distorted version of reality to women who stay at home, that all those who do step out in the public sphere do so after compromising their morality.

Ours is a society that is used to either lecture or indoctrination. It is a society where powerful forces indulge in monologues and there is hardly any room for dialogue. We do not open up conversation on gender; we tell people what is appropriate through Islamic programmes, television dramas and literature and expect them to follow what is told.

It is about time we challenge the television narrative that focuses on taming female sexuality and identity, and glorifies the sacrificial women whose ideal sphere of activity is the private space and is critical of those who venture out in the public space and implies that they do it at the cost of compromising their morality and roles assigned by religion. In any case, the concept of a stay-at-home woman is a very urban middle class one and if half the population had stayed at home, the economy would have collapsed a long time back.

First published in Express Tribune
Jan 7, 2013 - published work, women    19 Comments

The importance of sisterhood



Last week, I wrote an op-ed for Express Tribune on what needs to be done in the aftermath of Delhi gang rape. I wanted to write a lot more but was constrained by space I am allotted in the newspaper.  The piece did not receive many comments either on the Tribune’s website or my personal blog where I cross post my work, but I got a lot of emails. Some from regular readers who liked my ideas, one from an Indian grandfather who wanted a safer Delhi for his two young granddaughters. Some emails from women in Pakistan saying that things are worse in Pakistan and that at least Indians are protesting and have taken to streets and had this incident happened in Lahore, we would not have even known about it. A few emails came from sisters from across the border appreciating the support and concern from their neighbours. I want to thank you all for reading it and feel humbled by your responses. 
While people generally appreciated what I wrote, I got a few emails and tweets (all from Indian men) saying that I should focus on women rights violations in Pakistan and leave India to Indians. One even pointed out that I have never written about the plight of Hindu girls like Rinkle Kumari and chose to write about Jyoti Singh Pandey. Another likened me to Ajmal Kasab and said some choice words about Pakistanis butting in their noses where they are not needed.
Indians with narrow nationalism are not the only one who question what I write. I get asked by Baloch dissidents why do I not write about them, I get asked by the pan Islamic zealots why do I not write about atrocities in Gaza and American aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I do respect anyone fighting for liberty and dignity, I am not a professional bleeding heart and would not write about everything that is the hot topic of the day. I don’t touch Baloch issues because I feel I am not equipped enough to write about them and there are far better writers who take on that cause in a much more effective manner. I don’t write about struggles in Bahrain and Palestine because they are far removed from my reality and writing about them just for the sake of writing about them is kind of pointless. Honestly, I feel flattered when people tell me or expect me to write on issues that matter to them – as if me writing about them would make a difference – but it is impossible for anyone (unless that person is Ansar Abbasi) to write about everything under the sun so I refrain from doing that. 

As for the Indians who believe I should first write about the Rinkle Kumaris of Pakistan, I do feel very strongly about the minority rights and have written about them repeatedly, but Jyoti’s plight moved me like Rinkle’s couldn’t. Probably because as an urban resident of a big city who has used public transport and faced threats like harassment, insecurity, robbery day in, day out  on the streets of Karachi, I empathize more with Jyoti than with Rinkle and feel strongly about it. It may not be correct and perhaps Rinkle deserves the same attention but as a writer, I feel more confident when I write about things I strongly believe in or empathize with. Perhaps it is my inability to transcend the personal but that is who I am and that is how I write. 

I also want to point out the importance of sisterhood to those who are willing to understand that women draw strength from each other and if one of them stands up to reclaim their space or seek their rights, others also stand up either in support or to claim their respective rights. I may not benefit directly from the rights movement in India right now, but if the rape laws get amended in India, I would be cheering up for my sisters there and will try to campaign for similar change here in Pakistan.

As far as significance of sisterhood is concerned, let me share a recent example. A fortnight ago, my elder sister and I were flying to Karachi. The plane was packed and the flight attendants were busy serving the passengers. My sister pointed out that a man sitting in the lane in front of us is trying to get fresh with one of the flight attendants. I too started following their conversation. Initially it sounded like a bit of harmless chit chat, then he started asking inappropriate questions and the flight attendant became uncomfortable. She moved away quickly but then every time that girl would pass our section, he would stop her and ask her for something. When she went back to the galley, he followed her and said something to her after which her facial expressions changed and we gathered that it must have been something very improper. Let me also point out that she was very young and probably joined the airline recently and was not sure how to approach the matter. I was quite incensed and wanted to take up the matter but my sister said that we should not intervene and let the flight attendant handle it. Though I was not too happy with it, I said okay.
A couple of minutes later the man who was harassing the flight attendant started chatting with his family member on the other side of the aisle with their bodies hanging out making it almost impossible for the flight attendant to move without touching them or addressing them to move. My sister who asked me to practice restrain lost it at the temerity of those two Lotharios, and asked them if they can stay seated properly so that the others can move freely. The main aggressor turned to my sister and asked her to stay out of it at which I too lost my cool and told him in no uncertain term what kind of a creep he is preying on a young girl who cannot tell him off because of her professional duties and just because she is serving him tea and coffee does not make her his personal chattel and how any woman who works in public space is not there for his unwanted advances. When he said that I am insulting him, I said, even more loudly, that yes, I am publicly humiliating him so that other women should also see how one should deal with a cretin like him and everyone on the plane should know what a miserable excuse of a human being he was. At this point, his mother who was traveling with him but was sitting separately went up to him and asked him to be quiet. A senior citizen suggested that he should be handed over to the airport security. Most encouraging was the fact that no one including the man’s family stopped us from standing up for the flight attendant.  
A few minutes later the senior flight attendant who was at the other end of the plane came up and asked him if he was harassing the junior flight attendant and told him off that he may have bought a ticket but that does not give him license to misbehave with the staff.
When the flight landed in Karachi, it took a little bit longer than usual for the doors to open and for the passengers to disembark. We found out that the senior flight attendant had called the ground security staff who detained the harasser from getting off the plane. The senior flight attendant at the gate who was seeing the passengers off thanked me for standing up for the junior flight attendant. My sister and I don’t know what happened to that guy after we left the aircraft but what I do know is that incident helped a lot of women.
All the flight attendants got to know that passengers barring one view them as individuals with right to dignity at work. The junior flight attendant drew strength from the incident and I am sure that if anything inappropriate will happen to her in future, she is now better equipped to deal with it. Other women who witnessed the incident learned that keeping quiet is NOT the answer and when you raise your voice, things change. My sister who has lead a very sheltered life stood up for someone else. Not only she felt great about that afterwards and had a sense of accomplishment, she understands me better and respects my need for this crusade. That man and others who witnessed the incident will think twice before doing something like that because they know that someone might retaliate and tell them off. All in all, one stood up and other sisters drew strength, lessons and understanding from it all. 
Sisterhood is important and I dedicate this post to all who understand it and stand for it. Misogyny is best fought in company of the sisters who are fighting it out on their own turfs no matter what part of the world they live in. 
PS: This is a rather long personal rant, apologies if you did not know what you were getting into before you started reading it.  

PPS: Express Tribune Blogs took this one after it was published here with a couple of additions. It can be viewed here.

Dec 31, 2012 - published work, women    5 Comments

Death of a woman

The gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi and her subsequent death is a horrific reminder of how women are treated in this part of the world. Though the appalling incident happened in India, it made all the women in Pakistan empathize with their sisters in the neighbouring country because it could very easily be one of them. Things are just as bad, if not worst, for the women in our society and we realize that it is not just the six men who had committed that heinous act are the criminals. The societies that perpetuate the archaic notions of misogyny and make excuses for such acts by pointing towards a woman’s mobility or clothing are responsible for it.  

That rape incident did not happen in isolation. The crimes against women are on the rise, especially in our part of the world — be it rape, domestic violence, mental, physical or sexual abuse, threats of such abuse, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty to move around, to choose a life partner or to seek education or health care. Women are generally viewed as secondary citizens, incapable of making decisions for themselves. Women who dare to exercise that right are judged and at times punished by society for doing so. A fundamental attitudinal change in the way women are viewed by society is required. They are not viewed as active, smart, thinking individuals but as vessels that carry future generations during the gestation period, objects of desire or derision and the carriers of honour of the male members of their families.

One thing that comes to the fore in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape case is the need to make ethics a part of school curricula everywhere and a part of a massive media campaign because we desperately need it. We teach useless skills in schools all over the world but what about the behavioural codes regarding women in public and private spaces? What constitutes acceptable behaviour and what is deemed inappropriate? Are they taught about the consequences of inappropriate behaviour or do they believe that they will be not be apprehended because society is permissive of their misdeeds and will let them go with the attitude that “boys will be boys?” Are they taught how to approach women, which should be a taught skill in societies as segregated as ours. Laws ensuring women’s rights and safety are necessary and should be strictly implemented but they can only work when society in general changes its attitude.

It is sickening to live in a world where a medical student is gang raped because she dared to step out in the evening and wanted to use public transport or a teenage girl, Malala Yousufzai, is shot in the head because she just wanted to go to school. They shouldn’t have to become either a victim or a hero; the Delhi girl should have remained a carefree medical student and Malala should have stayed the student whose biggest problem should have been acing her calculus exam. Instead, they have turned into symbols of courage and valour. At state level, we need legislation to be amended and better implemented to ensure the safety and participation of women in society. Collectively we need rule of law to ensure safety of all citizens, esp women. Individually, the least we can do is raise the next generation of men to respect women and accord them the same dignity that they seek as human beings.

First published in The Express Tribune

I did not want the first post of the year to be this grim and sombre but I guess we live in times when we are capable of being just that – grim, sombre and insipid. 

Dec 22, 2012 - Salman Khan    2 Comments

From Robinhood Pandey to Kungfu Pandey – the Dabangg journey


One of the reasons I write film reviews is that it gives me an opportunity to mock the actors, the director, the story and the plot. It is almost impossible to do that with Dabangg2 not because it is a great piece of cinema with gripping plot, great direction or stupendous acting display, it is because the film mocks itself and its characters to no end, which does not leave me with much. 
Let me start with the confession that I am fan of bhaiyya speak. Whether it is Arjun Rampal in Rajneeti,  Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs of Wasseypur, our apna Salman Khan in his Chulbul Pandey avatar, bhaiyya speak always wins it for me. May be it is my bhaiyya roots – I am from Karachi – or my bhaiyya pedigree – my grandparents were from the Ganga Jamuna land – but I always fall for characters from the Indian heartland and Chulbul Pandey is no exception. He is hilarious when he insults the goons in the respectful bhaiyya speak ‘kar deejiye, beth jaiyee, naha leejiye’ – it just makes everything all the more comical. 

There is no storyline or plot per se in Dabangg2, there are a lot of scenes – some funny, some over the top and some downright ridiculous – and the only common thread among them all is Chulbul Pandey and his histrionics. One never expected Dabangg2 to make much sense but the minute you find out that the trio of villains is named Baccha Bhaiyya, Gainda and Chunni (there was a whole sequence where Chulbul discusses it with his minions whether Chunni is a feminine name or a masculine one) you know that film is all about Salman Khan and it actually works for the film.

This film has taken product placement to the next level.Not only the characters were using a phone/cellular service brand, Chulbul Pandey tried to sell it with a spiel about its worthiness. Similarly, a money transfer service was not just in the background, the viewers were told that it works within 24 hours. The viewers wanted to tell Arbaz Khan the producer in the film’s lingo “ke bhaiyya, zara shant ho jao.”

Sonakshi Sinha is yawn inducing and it was evident from the number of ceetees that came in the wake of Kareena’s entry with her item song. In fact public was so enamored with the latest Mrs Khan that it was almost impossible to listen to the song amidst whistles, claps and shouts of appreciation. She did look quite stunning though but then she always looks pretty special.

The film belongs to Salman Khan the star with minimal contribution from anyone else. The rest of the actors were there to make him shine bright. The cameraman was there to make him look larger than life. The writer and director did not do much in the sequel and let him loose on the set. They replicated everything Abhinav Kashyap – creator of Chulbul Pandey and writer & director of the first installment – did in Dabangg. They did not bother to add anything fresh and copied the tried and tested formula. 
They were so lazy that they even lifted the narrative off the first one in almost the same sequence. A fight scene in a warehouse, check;  Salman Khan’s dance number with extras dressed in police khakis, check. Salman Khan’s romantic song in a bazaar with the heroine, check. Introductions of the villain/s following that, check. Salman Khan’s action sequences in the slo mo with the gravel/wood/dirt flying, check followed by some sentimental scenes with family (daddy and goof of a bro), check. Salman Khan’s second romantic song in the deserts of Arabian Peninsula, check. Salman Khan’s item number with a hottie, check. Salman Khan bashing up a villain, who is much younger, taller and more muscular than him in a shirtless fight scene, check. If anything, Chulbul Pandey seemed more brazen and in your face than the previous chapter and Salman Khan wore this character like a second skin. At times, it felt that he is just given situations and is acting out the scenes the way he wanted– with minimum guidance from the writer and director.  

Just when you think that Sallu is not gonna take his shirt off – he did not even take it off during a love making scene and before you run off thinking it’s a racy film, it is not, it is given U certification – it gets off, miraculously. Pandey ji only pulls his shirt out of his trousers and it gets removed by a touch from the villain’s hands. It appears that even villains want to have a dekho of Sallu’s body which I believe should now get a separate billing in the end credits. The applause for Sallu’s bare torso was even more thunderous than the ceetees and taalis for kareena’s item song and no, they did not come from the ladies, a good 70 percent of the film goers in the packed hall were men. 

My sister who feared that Sallu Bhai might have lost his mojo and his physique due to old age was relieved at the disappearance of that shirt. She thought that the order in the universe was restored with a glimpse of that shirtless body.

Oh and in case anyone failed to notice, I should point out that I quite like Salman Khan – not because he is a great actor – because he is called bhai and he always reminds me of Karachi – my hometown  – the city of the ultimate bhai, Altaf Bhai. 
بس ذرا گردن کی کمی ہے ورنہ اپنے الطاف بھائی بھی کسی چلبل پانڈے سے کم ہیں کیا ؟ 

Dec 17, 2012 - published work, religion, TTP    7 Comments

How to stop worrying [about tattoos] and start [allowing more people to continue] living



If Pakistanis are good at anything, it is forgetting the core of a problem and going in pursuit of the frivolous. The recent case of this inanity followed after the weekend attack on Peshawar airport and the PAF airbase adjoining it.

The attack on the airport killed around ten people, including five of the attackers, and wounded dozens. It should have forced us to rethink the possibility of coming up with the alternative counter terrorism, counter-insurgency and intelligence strategies because the ones that are at present in operation are clearly not working.

One would have thought, or rather hoped, that the politicians, policymakers and defence strategists would sit down and try to come up with a long-lasting effective solution but no tragedy in this country is big enough to make us do that. However, a tattoo on the body of one of the slain terrorists has made every politically religious-minded person come out in defence of the TTP (which has already claimed the responsibility for the attack). It clearly indicates that our priority lies not in making the country secure for its citizens but in coming up with excuses that Muslims cannot kill Muslims and in justifying that members of the TTP cannot sport tattoos of fantasy and erotica genres.

From Mufti Naeem of Karachi’s Jamia Binoria to Professor Khursheed Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami to Tahir Ashrafi of the Pakistan Ulema Council, everyone has come out and said that a practising Muslim cannot have such demonic images on his body.

Their argument is fallacious and we know that Muslims kill Muslims all the time; they did that during the Iran-Iraq War, they have been at it since the Soviets left Afghanistan and they are doing it every day in Pakistan. Muslims can and do have tattoos — and with a 97 per cent Muslim population, the tattoo business is on the rise in Pakistan’s big cities. One must ask these gentlemen about the non-practising Muslims or those who probably dabbled in Goth rock previously and then were recruited by the Taliban. We know that nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

This is not the first time we have deviated from what is important and focused on the peripheral. The current adviser to the prime minister on interior has likened attackers in the past — in the case of the PAF Mehran Base — to characters out of Star Wars. Most of us joked about Darth Vader attacking the base but let us pause and pontificate about the feelings of the families of those who perished in the attacks and had to listen to supposedly responsible officials making a mockery of their loss by giving such statements.

ANP ministers in KPK celebrate Dileep Kumar’s birthday in Peshawar and Sind Assembly passed resolutions on Michael Jackson’s death. Parliamentarians in the Punjab assembly do not care about going after the religious extremists and terrorists present in the province, instead preferring to go after tax-paying cellular companies, their customers and their late-night telephone habits. If our parliamentarians cannot discern between the importance of a few hundred thousand teenagers indulging in late-night romance and terrorists involved in heinous sectarian killings and suicide bombings, then they perhaps should not be sitting in the august assemblies lording over our fates.

Tattoos on the bodies of terrorists, late-night phone packages and Dilip Kumar’s 90th birthday are not our concerns; the security of citizens and creating an environment that encourages healthy economic activity are. It is about time we focus on the fundamentals and ignore the frivolous.

First Published in The Express Tribune 

The dead terrorist with the “demonic” tattoo – photo courtesy Reuters

Here are some examples of shariah compliant tattoos

 

Dec 14, 2012 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

After halal erotica comes halal housing …

As a cataloger of all things Halal, this blog has discussed everything from halal banking & halal wine, halal gripe water to halal kink. In fact this blog has the dubious honor of coming up with the idea of a halal search engine which was stolen by some dude in Netherlands who came up with imhalal but I digress. 

Anyways, it seems that Dutch are the market leaders when it comes to selling all things halal, they designed the halal search engine, sell halal erotica to Muslim brothers and sisters and now came up with halal housing. I was most impressed with this and wanted to research it some more but I was most disappointed when I found out that these halal houses are pretty much the same as other houses save some muslim showers and sliding doors that turn your living room into separate zanankhana and mardankhana. They have not mentioned if they will provide lotas with Muslim housing or if the residents will have to bring in their own when they move in. I actually do see it as a deal breaker. 

People like us have been living in halal housing all our lives without ever knowing it. 

Halal marketing FTW

Dec 14, 2012 - Uncategorized    4 Comments

The gems at Khajoor Bazaar

During my last visit to Karachi, I wanted to buy some fabric favoured by Balochi women and for that I went to Khajoor Bazaar. While I met some very interesting characters there, I spotted a couple of items that were hilarious and chances are that you will not find them in the bazaars that you regularly visit. 

The first couple of photos are of T shirts with romantic slogans in Urdu and last but definitely not the least, third picture is of the wedding gift that rivals only Bahishti Zevar (apologies to readers outside Pakistan – if I have any – you just wont get the reference). 

Hum do dil
Do dil, ek dosray se duur huay, milnay se majboor huay

Dil diya, bhool huee Saajan

Best wedding gift ever. A rolling pin set that says “Shadi Mubarak”

PS: h/t to Summaiya Jillani for spotting the rolling pin set, I was busy listening to the song a sharbat wala was singing. 

PPS: Picture quality is not good because I took them with my sasta phone.

Dec 13, 2012 - published work    1 Comment

All is fair — when there is money to be made

The lives of the minority groups have been under attack in Pakistan for quite some time. Whether they are ethnic minority groups or sectarian, linguistic minorities or religious ones, everyone lives in the Land of Pure at their own risk, as the state has refused to shoulder the responsibility of protecting its citizens. Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias and Hazaras have all been killed in the past and are still being killed. The latest is that now their properties are also under attack.

Last week, two such incidents have been reported. In Karachi, the Military Estate Office assisted a private builder in the demolition of a Hindu temple and adjacent houses in Soldier Bazaar on the pretext that the Hindu community has encroached upon land which does not belong to them. In Lahore, 15 gunmen attacked an Ahmadi graveyard in Model Town and desecrated more than 120 graves in the process. The community has been under attack for quite some time now but the mass desecration of graves with shattered tombstones and dug-up graves was a first. The watchman and caretakers were also tortured when they resisted this barbarity against the dead. According to the Asian Human Rights website, the attackers identified themselves as members of a banned religious organisation.

Let us examine the case of the Hindu temple in Karachi first. The temple predates independence and hence, it cannot be a case of encroachment. Secondly, under what law did the directorate of military land and cantonments act to demolish a property in an area that is not even under its jurisdiction? If anything, that piece of land belongs to the Evacuee Property Trust Board which has nothing to do with the directorate of military lands and cantonments. On top of it all, the Sindh High Court had issued a stay order against the demolition of the temple. The fact that no action has been taken against the directorate of military land and cantonments in the past one week points out that some of us are indeed more equal than the others.

It should also be noted that these incidents are slightly different from the regular run-of-the-mill attacks on minorities. Apart from the regular dose of hatred against a particular community, greed for land — which is a limited resource — is at the heart of these incidents. A 99-year lease is the longest possible term of a lease of real property under historic common law. In Karachi, a lot of land that was leased for the 99-year period is either up for renewal or will be soon. Those who deal in real estate have been eyeing the highly prized commercial plots in the densely-populated areas of old Karachi with anticipation. There is an insane amount of money to be made off these properties and if a few people, especially those belonging to minority communities are made homeless, they know that it will not amount to much other than a few headlines in the newspapers.

The desecration of the Ahmadi cemetery is a similar story. Had they been in a Muslim graveyard, desecration of those graves on the grounds that non-Muslims were buried in an area reserved for Muslims would have made some kind of perverse sense (not that I am condoning that behaviour) but to go on and attack a place reserved for the dead of a certain community reeks of plans to take over that property for financial gains.

First published in The Express Tribune

Dec 5, 2012 - published work    No Comments

Why we need Utopia in our dystopian lives

The 21st century society is a dystopian one. No matter what part of the world we live in, our lives are marred by a sense of doom — an apocalyptic foreboding of endings. If one section of the world is threatened by terrorism, be it in schools, workplaces, airports or shopping malls, the other is hyper-aware of political instability; if economy is collapsing somewhere, then the threat of environmental destruction is threatening lives and livelihoods in another. Even aesthetics, arts and culture seem rather tedious and are dominated by the neoliberal bottom line, which insists on dumbing it all down and says that if it doesn’t sell and appeals only to the lowest common denominator of society, it’s not worth anything. Does that mean that the 21st century society is doomed for misery and utopias are a thing of past?

The answer is a resounding no. The biggest problem that lies ahead of us is not the energy crisis or food security — though they are very serious concerns — but getting rid of this dystopian melancholy that permeates every thought and action of ours, hindering our capacity to look for solutions. This fatalism can only be cured by cultural energy which actually helps us in making any sense of the problem and our approaches to dealing with it — sort of creating a utopian escape route. Society in general, and thinkers in particular, need to consciously imagine this.

Thomas More first coined the term in the early 16th century to describe his ‘good place’. Perhaps, the first known example of utopia was Plato’s Republic, which was a social and political manifesto desirous of a perfect state. It is not just Plato but the idea of utopia as the driving force behind any radical social and political ideological change has been here all along. Take the French, Russian, Chinese and Iranian Revolutions or the Taliban takeover in the 1990s of Afghanistan, for example. All these political movements were attempts to radically reconstruct society along lines set out in the ‘utopian’ thought of their thinkers such as Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx and Ruhollah Khomeini, who thought society would benefit from a new, hitherto untried method.

In the present-day world, which is characterized by a sense of impending doom and pessimism, there still are traces of utopia around us, perhaps, because people will never cease to look for ways to run away from misery, poverty, disenfranchisement and apathy. The Islamic fundamentalism, the Christian Revivalism, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the efforts to save the planet, the quest to go back to socialism in Latin America are examples of our utopian desires. However, utopia is not as simple as imagining a good place because the challenge to change the world comes with its own set of risks and unseen scenarios as was witnessed in the case of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan — a nightmarish dystopia which represents the mirror image of the good place.

How does one deal with that? Picasso once said that that everything that you can imagine is real and we, too, can deal with this probability with imagination and idealism. Just because utopia originates in the human imagination does not mean it cannot work in reality. If history has taught something, it is that Utopian thought may have originated in fiction and philosophy but it has always managed to find popularity in the social and political discourse.

First published in The Express Tribune

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