Nov 2, 2012 - Snooki    1 Comment

If only Hamid Mir was a Snooki fan ….

or attended college regularly when he was a student, he would’ve known how to spell “New Jersey.”

Yes, even Jersey Shore can teach you things, like spellings and stuff.

Nov 1, 2012 - religion    5 Comments

Celestial sex bombs and Mujahideen

Those who know me know that I don’t have a life, and because I don’t have a life, I spend an inordinate amount of time trolling my friends’ FB pages looking for goofy photos that can be mocked. While I was on this holy quest, I stumbled upon this gem of a photo that my friend A shared. The photo was part of Ulma e Deoband’s facebook time line and came with the caption of ‘Islamic Art’.

The photohas a few studly mujahedeen brothers with a couplet that roughly translates to:

The world does not know us (the mujahedeen); we are not interested in the girls of this worldBut our names are inscribed on the hearts of hoors in heaven.

Now if you are living under a rock or have no familiarity with either Islam or Mujahedeen literature, you would not know what Hoor/hoors/hoorain are. According to Islam, Hoors are heavenly creatures provided as companions for pious Muslim men in the afterlife. Mujahedeen literature tries to sell them as celestial sex bombs (I swear I am not making it up, this maulana has already tried it) making the female earthling not worthy of the companionship of the pious brothers.

What this poster trying to do is show a very ‘healthy’ lack of interest among the mujahid brothers for women of this world (the implication is that they will deviate the righteous men from the virtuous path, indirectly substantiating the theory of original sin) but the celestial ones are like desperately waiting for them because the brothers are waging this holy war. Whattay an innovative way to perpetuate violence and misogyny in one little piece of Islamic art!

Hats off to Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan. 

The Jerry Springer-ization of Pakistani talk shows

Reality TV is big business in the West and audiences tune in to watch traditional Reality TV (competition or game shows, voyeuristic shows, makeovers or self improvement shows, social experiment shows or shows on paranormal or supernatural phenomenon) in big numbers. Reality television stars like Kim Kardashian make more money by just tweeting about the events they have been to and products they use than most folks do by working forty hours a week after at least 4 years of college education (some of us are stupid enough to get a masters degree or two)
In Pakistan what has surpassed the traditional Reality TV and other forms of entertainment is the genre and sub genres of talk shows. On paper, an ideal talk show should have the right balance between spontaneity in and control over interactions of its participants, between realism and representation, the gendered dimensions of the programs and the role of the hosts and the quality of arguments on the shows. The reason a talk show should be cognizant of all these factors is because a talk show is fast emerging as a mediated space for public participation and debate. Not only that, it also provides an opportunity for the expression of voices that are otherwise excluded from the media. Whether it is through live audience sitting in the studio, telephone call ins, emails and opinions on the social media forums, audiences are participating in television content like never before.

A quick look at the talk shows produced in Pakistan reveals that most of them – news, current affairs or entertainment variety – tend to ignore the factors they should be mindful about and are turning into trash reality TV. Talk shows generally fall in the categories of public discussions, therapeutic and conflict talk shows. However, we in Pakistan have political talk shows where instead of keeping a balance between spontaneity and managing the control over program, a host actually encourages the conflict between the participants to garner more eye balls. Morning shows that specifically target female audience perpetuate misogynist stereotypes with impunity. There is hardly any significant representation of marginalized groups – most participants and hosts regularly use the line “Akhir ko hum sab Muslaman hain” (After all we are all Muslims) which not only negates the existence of the religious minorities in the country but also encourages homogeneity of the society as a desired goal. We have early and mid morning shows that telecast live exorcisms turning a talk show into Reality TV – of the worst variety.
Those of us old enough to remember The Jerry Springer Show from 1990s and 2000s recall it as the lowest form of Reality TV which seemed to count on the stupidity of it audience for high ratings. Unfortunately most of the Pakistani TV content in general and talk shows in particular are copying the formula of creating brash, in-your-face and emotionally excitable content. While Jerry Springer was flagrantly and self-consciously trash television, Pakistani talk shows still believe in their righteousness and suffer from an acute case of a sense of self aggrandizement.
As a country where other forums of public discourse are severely lacking, the important of public debate in the media assumes more significance. Unfortunately, commercialization and need for higher ratings has resulted not only in subliminally low brow television but it has also begun to represent public opinion rather than to provide public space for the emergence and creation of diverse public opinion. It is high time the creators and producers of talk shows become aware of their responsibility, it is not just television for ratings, it is shaping the public and private discourse on matters relating to politics, society, gender and rights of the marginalized. 
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version. 

Too young to wed

United Nations (UN) agencies are generally criticized for not doing enough but they should be commended for coming up with quality research from time to time, which can and should serve as harsh reminders to governments across the world that they need to get their acts together. The UN Population Fund recently released a report titled “Too Young to Wed” on child marriage, which should alarm all governments in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The two regions have the highest and second-highest percentage of women, respectively, who are married off before they turn 18 years of age.

International conventions declare that child marriage is a violation of human rights because it denies children the right to decide when and who to marry. A country like Pakistan, which is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), needs to align its local laws regarding child marriage, as both conventions categorically state that appropriate measures will be taken to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children, such as child marriage.

The evils of child marriage are many. For starters, it cruelly snatches the childhood away and thrusts a child into adulthood well before her time. It directly threatens the health and well being of young girls as complications from pregnancy and childbirth are cited as the main cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19. As the numbers of girls who are married as children grows, the numbers of children bearing children will increase and deaths among young girls will rise, further deteriorating the child and maternal mortality rates.

In the case of Pakistan, religion is also cited as a reason for child marriages as it is considered advisable to marry girls off soon after they reach puberty. This, however, is just an excuse. Medical science tells us that puberty only marks the beginning of a gradual transition into adulthood. Religion also asks its followers to educate their children and to follow the path of moderation and if any attention is paid to these other two recommendations, child marriage would become a distant dream.
Girls’ vulnerability to child marriage increases during humanitarian crises when family and social structures are disrupted and many parents marry off their daughters to bring the family some income or to offer the girl some sort of protection. Humanitarian workers noticed a surge in child marriages during the internally displaced persons crisis brought on by the floods of 2010 and 2011.

The child marriage issue is central to many development goals. By dealing with just the child marriage issue, governments can work towards closing the gap in the Millennium Development Goals of eradication of extreme poverty, achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality, reduction in child mortality, improvement in maternal health and better ways to combat HIV/AIDS.

Our own government needs to start a multi-pronged strategy to deal with this issue. First, all provincial governments need to be fully committed to criminalising child marriage and streamlining local laws according to the CEDAW and the CRC. They not only need to invest in female child education but also must invest in campaigns to encourage the maximum number of parents to enroll their children in schools. Contraceptives should be easily and readily available and most importantly, decent employment opportunities should be made available for both parents. A family that can feed and educate its children is less likely to marry them off.

First published in The Express Tribune

Social networking is a bitch

Social networking is a bitch. There, I said it.
Let’s admit it. Most of us have a facebook account with around a couple of hundred friends, but we interact with very few of them on a regular basis. The rest are just there to remind us that we have miserable existence; our paychecks are tiny, our lives are grey and our love lives are insipid. 
I don’t know about others, but I have people on my “friend’s list” who are constantly vacationing in exotic locations, land high flying jobs with Fortune 500 companies even in the times of recession, attend exclusive fashion galas, are part of peace keeping missions in remote war torn areas and have flings with extra ordinary and interesting people while they are stationed in those remote war torn areas and … wait for it … walk the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival.
You know what is most ironic? The last status update was from a masochist whose sole aim in life was to get married to a heroin addict and get beaten by him every day when she was 19!
I am sure that I lead the most boring, soul less and miserable life among all the people I know where the most exciting part of my day is watching videos of Faisal Raza Abdi and cats playing with babies on YouTube (at least that’s what I used to do when we had YouTube, I now stare at the computer screen and think about those cat and baby videos). 
At times I yearn for good old days when we had limited access to the web were not constantly trying to prove to others that we matter. The competition between friends and family may remain gentle but social networking at workplace is brutal.
When I started working for a newspaper, we only had access to office email system and no web browsing on our office computers, before anyone screams how we used to get anything done without the internet, I would say the old fashioned way. We would get off our chairs, step out and gather info on spot to write our stories or we do that via phone if we are too lazy or pressed for time. Fast forward a decade and it is unheard of that a decent workplace would be without high speed internet. What’s more, most allow access to all kinds of social networking websites for their employees. 
It’s not that most employers are bursting with goodwill for their employees and want them to have fun posting on wrestle mania’s facebook page or tweeting about the aloo gosht they just had. I have a strong suspicion that the employers are onto something and they want their employees to feel miserable about the better lives of other people, fear impending unemployment and even more misery if they fail to do their jobs. This will keep them in line without using any untoward strategies and ensure productivity. 
In my previous workplace, we had a guy who was supposed to assist us with IT related stuff but whenever you would call him, he would not pick up his phone. When you go to his desk, he would be half lying on the chair with thick head phones on and would be watching something, if not that, he would be chatting with his girl friend. One day I wondered aloud why can’t he do that at home, another colleague told me that his wife and two kids (he had a third kid later) would probably cramp his style. I think employers also allow social networking at work to ensure loyalty and uninterrupted employment of the workers who are cheating on their wives. 
Another reason why employers allow you access to social networking site is that people think that if you are not on facebook, you must be at least anti social or at worst a batshit crazy person. You need proof of that; the dude who shot people after The Dark Knight Rises viewing in Colorado or the Norway mass murderer Anders Breivik, both did not have facebook profiles. 
It is ironic that now both of them have Wikipedia pages and its content cannot be controlled by them. A cousin who wanted to bolster his intellectual credentials by not using any of the social networking websites was told to sign up asap while applying for an FMGC firm in Singapore, they do not hire people without facebook accounts and the HR manager is supposed to have full access to the employees’ facebook pages.
Apart from official prying that HR does on behalf of the employers, colleagues too snoop through social networking websites. Back when I used to work for an international organization, the pay slip for the month of August was the most anticipated pay slip of the year. Out annual increments used to be announced through August pay slip and we would get to know if our increment would be a measly 3 per cent, a respectable 10 per cent or a whopping 18 per cent. We were also advised to not share our financial details with other colleagues but everyone would soon gather all the details. How would they find out; through facebook updates of course.  If the status update is gloomy, it’s likely that the person got the derisory 2 per cent raise and if the person is splurging on a sushi dinner with the spouse, chances are that he is the lucky one who got the 18 per cent increase. 
Some employers discourage the use of social networking websites during work hours, their reasoning is simple. They don’t want people getting wishful and dreamy eyed looking at the photos taken at those exotic vacations by the facebook friend on company’s time. Personally, I would love that, why because slacking is our national method of whiling the days away and social networking just makes it just easier. I want people to make an effort to be slackers, if they cannot put time and energy at their work, the least they can do is make an effort to slack. Secondly, I would love it if people like that IT guy would be caught by their wives.  In any case, with smart phones starting from Rs 9000 and cheapest possible internet rates, slacking  sorry, social networking on your own dime would not you cost you much. 
Originally written for monthly news magazine Pique 
Oct 11, 2012 - PTI, Society    3 Comments

The zeal for rhetoric

Pakistanis are quite good at being critical, whether it is our personal lives or collective, we criticise with impunity and aplomb. However, some people and institutions, no matter how reprehensible and opprobrious their behaviour is, remain above question and mockery. Imran Khan is also turning into such an individual with perhaps, the most vocal supporters of them all.

The best thing that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in general, and its peace march in particular, has done is that it provided us with an insight into people’s minds (using social networking websites as a medium to gauge public reaction). It has always been a taboo of sorts to question the actions of the great Khan. Now, however, it has become impossible to make harmless jokes at his expense because “he is that man who is doing something while people like me who dare to question, mock or laugh at him, are merely sitting in front of our computers busy ‘facebooking’ or tweeting about it”. It’s as though until and unless you have accomplished twice as many feats as Imran Khan, the person (not the politician), you have no right to either question or mock his politics. Why must one be chastised or trolled for not liking a particular political figure or joking about him?

What is most ironic is that the people, who jump to defend the honour of the great Khan, fail to realize that they are doing exactly the same — judging someone while sitting in front of their computers — as they accuse others of.

It’s amazing how, by just supporting a politician — we still don’t know how many of them will actually get up and go out to cast their votes come election day — the fans of the PTI think they have done something worthwhile, which makes them more morally correct than other mortals for they have the foresight to pick the right candidate. Even when you feel like mocking them for their fervent zeal, you are told that you should not do that because at least the PTI is different from other political parties and Khan is the messiah.

If you are a person who is easily appeased by words, it is quite easy to support Imran Khan whole-heartedly, especially when he talks about ambiguous things such as sovereignty. What if he takes a stand on an issue that is polarising? What if, God forbid, Imran Khan opposes the blasphemy ordinance or calls for the declaration of domestic violence as a crime punishable by the local courts? What if Imran Khan declares Federal Shariat Court a superfluous body that should be dissolved? What if he supports the construction of Kalabagh dam? I know it is wishful thinking on my part and being a politician, Imran Khan will do no such thing, but it is something worth pondering over whether he will go against mainstream rhetoric and focus on things that really affect people.

In their heads, people seem to have already turned Imran Khan into this harbinger of change, which is okay, but we also need to question whether we are ready to be confronted by the truth. The public is happy with Khan as long as he is making noise about things we’re all against but we will never indulge in real and open debate about issues that matter because we are either not ready or not willing to tackle them. We are happy in our distraction that at least Imran Khan is talking about them.

First published in The Express Tribune. 

Oct 5, 2012 - Uncategorized    4 Comments

Being a woman means you will never be a nephew

I like being a woman in general, I liked it even more today because being a woman means you can never be someone’s nephew and get blamed for the dubious actions of your uncles.

Granted that all uncles are not douches like Raina but still, it is nice to know that you will NOT be blamed if your uncle broke up with his girlfriend via text, or tagged a friend’s photo during vacations when you know he killed an imaginary aunt to get those 4 days off to go with you.

Its nice being a woman.

Its even better not being a nephew.

The other martyrs

Martyrs are valued anywhere in the world because of their valour, courage and bravery. In Pakistan, they are valued because they help in setting the public image right, secure votes and feed our national sadism that responds only to death, misery and destruction.

Let us start with political parties. Most political parties, barring various factions of the Muslim League, boast about their ‘shaheeds’. Everyone mourns the death of their party members but is perhaps secretly thrilled by it as well because we, as a nation, practice politics on the basis of the number of shaheeds per party. The Pakistan People’s Party, with the ‘shahadat’ of two former heads of the government, is at the top of the food chain and has won elections by asking their voters to atone for their leaders’ death by voting them into the assemblies. Others do it to lesser degrees of success. Case in point: every transgression of the ANP’s leadership is countered by tales of personal losses incurred by people like Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Mian Iftikhar’s loss of his only son and nephew to terrorism is extremely tragic but it cannot counter the irresponsible behavior of people such as Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who announced a bounty for the man behind the anti-Islam video, for short-term political gains.

The armed forces also need martyrs to feed the bogey of the ‘other’ and justify their existence as well as the huge drain they are on the country’s meager resources. Ever since the war against home-grown terrorists began, nothing worked as well for them as coffins shrouded with the national flag, images of children left behind by the fathers, mothers mourning deaths of their sons and father stoically professing that they would be happy and proud if they lose their other son for the country.

One martyr who does not get either the same amount of reverence or the same coverage in our media is the much-maligned policeman; the policeman, who gets killed every time a group of terrorist or miscreants want to play hooky with the security of the country. In the battle for Islamabad’s red zone last week, Islamabad police came out most harmed — apart from the country’s image, that is. Not only did policemen suffer injuries — 55 policemen were wounded on September 20 alone in Islamabad — but the mob also set fire to their check posts and vehicles, destroying their records and valuable public property, which was paid for by taxpayers. The religious parties and organizations that are fed on the populist rhetoric wanted blood and wanted to march all the way to the US consulate, but it was the capital police that stopped them and perhaps helped the government in averting an international crisis. One can only shudder to think what would have happened had the mob reached the consulate. The very next day, three policemen lost their lives in Karachi when a similar mob was busy looting and burning the city, while many others got injured.

Policemen form the first line of defense against terrorism and many have lost their lives or limbs fighting them with old, outdated and inadequate weapons. They are asked to fire tear gas without proper safety equipment, sent to deal with deadly opponents under prepared and paid a lot less than other security agencies with inadequate pension plans and medical insurance. On top of that, they face public ridicule every day. Though their services are generally below par and there is much to be done to improve their performance, it is time we start honoring our police force for doing what they are doing right.

First published in The Express Tribune

Sep 24, 2012 - Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik    4 Comments

Shoaib Malik is one lucky dude!

Shoaib Malik is one lucky guy, he gets to go home to Sania Mirza and this is what he does at work.


The locked stare!
Shahid Afridi, indeed is the most popular man crush icon of Pakistan.

Photo courtesy Express Tribune

Sep 21, 2012 - published work, Satire    3 Comments

Do you have a boss obsessed with dating websites?

The Dilbert principle says that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do least damage – management. Scott Adams – the creator of Dilbert – was spot on when he said that anyone who has ever worked in an office has endured a boss or two who made life a tad more difficult for those trying to survive the office without tearing their hair out. If one has lived and worked in Pakistan, the chances of encountering an ego maniacal boss with a wispy comb over and unmistakable god complex are higher than usual.

Like many others, I too have had my share of peculiar supervisors. They were not entirely horrible, and I never harboured a secret desire to bodily harm them, but if someone out there is writing a book about strange bosses, I am quite confident that I will be able to contribute a full chapter on the oddities that I had to endure as a professional minion. Some bosses go from this end of the spectrum to the other in 15 seconds flat, some are slackers, some are narcissistic prima donnas and some are all that and more.

At the beginning of my professional life, I had the misfortune of working under a boss who was quite insecure about her age and beauty. Her day would start with stories about how random men stop and tell her that she is mesmerizingly beautiful, how everyone thinks her daughter is actually her sister and her husband is her dad (major yikes) and how she was a glowing teenage bride who outshone the jewels she wore. She was actually quite a looker, a collection of human colours that have been tweaked and adjusted to present a perfect reflection. (Of what? Of something…) Being a person who would go to work in yellow canvas shoes, her efforts in presentation made me admire her even more and I made it quite obvious to her – at times just to get her to stop going on about her long list of admirers – that she is a walking-talking bombshell, but she never took the hint. I recently ran into her and found out that she has changed her focus and instead of regaling everyone with tales of her beauty, she now churns out stories about her family’s regal nawabi past. I still can’t decide which one is more painful to endure. 

Everybody must have encountered at least one annoying colleague who quotes Dell Carnegie and Stephen Covey. Sadly, I have had a boss who would do it all the time. He was a motivator par excellence who would throw one corporate cliche after another with a smile that can rival a professional toothpaste model. From rolling out the ‘2.0 branding’ for a campaign to giving you a ‘heads up’ to ‘paradigm shift’ to ‘sweating the assets’ to ‘vertical markets’ to ‘SWOT analysis’ to ‘throwing a curve’ to ‘synergy’, he would just never stop. I am willing to bet everything I own (which is not a lot) that synergy is the lamest word ever in the English language and no one, except perhaps Deepak Chopra, has ever used it outside of a corporate conference room. There were times when I wanted to scream that we work in a service industry – a factory of the new millennium – where industrious drones like me brand, market, strategize and make money for other people. Our collars might be white but our paychecks are insipid and our outlook towards life is definitely grey, something that cannot be altered just with corporate speak. I once seriously considered handing over my resignation to this boss, citing abusive usage of corporate speak as a reason. I did leave that job soon afterwards, and I never cited that in my resignation letter, but I think my prime reason for leaving the job was the abuse of jargon and the plastic smile.

Some bosses are into over sharing. One wanted me to know how sloppy her husband is; the other – a divorced man – wanted me to know that he has scored with two girls in a day. However, it is still better than what someone I know had to endure when his boss walked into a weekly meeting wearing a T-shirt that said: “Oh Sh**, I am in Love.”

I also had a boss who preferred 20th century modes of communication. He would never respond to any email, so you would have to call him and tell him that you have written to him and would like some feedback. He would then ask you to read out the e-mail over the phone and would finally give his feedback verbally. Once you went ahead and completed the task at hand and it turned out well, he would kick you off the project and take credit for it, but if there was anything wrong with the turnout, he would go around saying he had nothing to do with it and unless you were a fan of 1980s spy movies and used to record phone conversations just for kicks, you wouldn’t have any proof that he actually gave you the go-ahead in the first place. He now has a super cushy executive post in a multilateral bank and the moral of this episode is that blaming others for botched jobs and taking credit for someone else’s work will take you far ahead in life.

Last but definitely not the least was a boss who was a Carrie Bradshaw wannabe. She would have been an asset to a magazine like Cosmopolitan but was wasted on a mainstream publication in Pakistan. She would discuss relationships, men, hair, hair products, shoes and other accessories in no particular order, which was fine by me. After all, who doesn’t love a boss who gossips with you about men and fashion? What was slightly disturbing, though, was the copious amount of time she would spend on dating websites. She was perhaps the only person I know who had as her homepage. Until recently, I thought she was the strangest boss ever, but then a friend texted me to say that her boss has started singing ‘Sheila ki jawani’ in the office. Can anyone top that? 

First published in The Friday Times