Tagged with " Islamabad"
Sep 14, 2012 - published work, Satire, Society    6 Comments

A liberal arts degree or a foreign nanny are the new status symbols

Throughout the history of mankind, there have been certain things that were considered socially desirable, hence much sought after. Acquisition of land has always been a way to show and wield power, being hefty was considered a status symbol as late as early 20th century. The desire for lean and healthy bodies is a relatively new phenomenon as is revealed by the paintings of all the grand masters and their not so thin subjects. 
Like elsewhere, status symbols have undergone a massive change in recent time. Gone are the days when having a huge house and decent cars were enough to impress neighbours, relatives and acquaintances. The modern demands on rich and well off are too many and oh so varied. For instance, if you happen to live in Islamabad, an enormous car with special number plates tells everyone that you have arrived. In Karachi, people are not that taken in with giant modes of transportation, the must have accessory is a foreign nanny for the young ones. If you want proof, just crash any kitty party at a local club and you will find more than half the ladies who will be accompanied by the maids from The Philippines or Sri Lanka. If you are rich enough hire maids from countries other than Sri Lanka or Phillipines, your social stock will rise phenomenally. A friend’s sister in law recently visited from Dubai and along with her came her one year old daughter and her Georgian maid. Imagine how she was looked up by the ladies of luncheons in Lahore (though there were a few snide remarks about her husband wanting to have a few private moments with this bombshell of a nanny) sporting a blonde nanny who was singing lullabies in a foreign language.
Once upon a time, a visit to your uncle’s home in London or a trip to Chicago to attend cousin’s wedding would grant you legitimate bragging rights but not anymore. Trips have to be exotic and out of ordinary if you really want to boast about them. Traveling to London or New York is is passé, vacations to Turkey and Malaysia – in fact anywhere in Asia barring Japan, Korea, Bali and Mongolia – are downright middle class. If you are doing Asia then it has to be something extra ordinary and very special, like staying in cave hotels in Cappadocia, going snorkeling in Maldives or saving a rain forest in Indonesia. Adventure trips in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam and Thailand can also get you some brownie points if your social set is young, courageous and daring. 
If you plan to travel to Europe, then visiting Disney Land in Paris just won’t cut it anymore. The travel has to include off beat places like Bucharest and it has to be eco friendly. It does not matter that you have installed 20 air conditioners in your home in Lahore and have massive carbon foot prints by flying to Dubai to attend the premier of latest Shahrukh Khan blockbuster, but if you are touring Europe, it has to be a eco friendly trip. The top destinations that the well heeled are cooing about are Machu Pichu, Galapagos and Angkor Wat. If you go to Machu Pichu and camp, you will not only be exotic but it will also be a socially acceptable way of slumming it.
The affluent people in Pakistan also think that traveling is a privilege that is reserved for them. I have actually overheard an old lady in Islamabad Club who wondered if they give passport to people living in G-9!
Another must have accessory – if you are young, hip and ‘liberal’ is a gay friend. Perhaps people have seen too many reruns of Sex and the City or they find the likes of Ali Saleem charming or they have genuinely embraced the alternative life choices but I have heard ladies boasting about having a gay best friend. If you are the religious type and having a gay best friend clashes with your religious beliefs then having a spiritual leader in another country is also considered very desirable. Going to your village peer is something that your dadi used to do; things are a tad different in 21st century and you owe your spirituality to a dervish in Turkey, a scholar in Jamia Azhar or a Mufti in Malaysia.
Gone are the days when you boast about getting your child into Economics program in University of Chicago or Electrical Engineering in Cal Tech (rich people do not boast about getting their children admitted to local schools, sending a child to LUMS is like committing social hara-kiri, the LUMS students who think they are cool just live with the illusion of cooldom)), the new black among the academic types is a small liberal arts college on east coast. Of course it is still prestigious if you can get into an Ivy League college but a degree in cultural symbolism (is it really a discipline) from The New School in New York is like ultra cool.
Wanting to be musician to be cool is so last century; dudes likes Junaid Jamshed and Ali Haider  have been there and done that. In any case, every kid has a guitar strapped to his shoulder these days. If you really want to stand out among your crowd the new way to do so is to become a published author. Being a writer can give you unassailable superiority over your peers and even if you happen to publish your own book about your cat ten years ago, reminiscing about your book signing tour to three Liberty stores remains a valid point of discussion.
If you really want to reach the heights of social ladder, it is advisable to get a massive – preferably the military type – vehicle, hire a Russian maid, go to Machu Pichu and camp, have a gay best friend or a foreign spiritual guide, get yourself or your child – depending upon your age – into those tiny schools and get a useless degree in ancient Greek linguistics and write a book about either camping in Machu Pichu or learning ancient Greek and you will be fine – for life.

Originally published in the September Issue of monthly magazine Pique

Sep 4, 2012 - religion, women    19 Comments

Women in the mosques and khutbas

We had a few relatives over during this Eid and post lunch discussion veered towards eid khutbas that my relatives attended. Someone I know was singing praises of a certain maulana sahib who delivered an awesome khutba during the Eid namaz. As a rule, I have not seen people getting this excited over a khutba so I asked my cousin what it was all about. I was quite taken aback when I heard what the topic was. 

Considering we have had that awful incident where Shiaswere taken off the bus and brutally killed just a week before the Eid, I thought the khutba must have denounced that heinous act and had something about Muslim unity and how shedding the blood of another brother would earn the killers a spot in hell. Turned out that the khutba was about women’s place in the society, how important a woman’s piety is to the fabric of society, how important it is for future generations that they are raised by stay at home moms and how important purdah is to avoid fitna and fasad (chaos) in this society. He also said that women should be kept busy (by keeping them pregnant or lactating) so that they would not stray. There was a lot more to it but I don’t want to repeat it here. I want this blog to be a misogyny free space.

Not only was I flabbergasted that my vilayat educated cousin was mesmerized by the profundity of an obviously misogynist khutba which doubted women’s ability to either earn or make any independent decisions or remain faithful to their husbands but I was also lost in the peculiarity of it all.

For starters, a khutba like this on Eid!!! It was Eid, not a bloody women’s day when men feel threatened! Secondly, it was unnecessary because I have not seen any women leaving their husbands and children and running  away with hot lovers who look like Abercrombie and Fitch models and last but most important point to be pondered  was why the maulvi was giving a khutba about women when he had none in his audience? Women are not allowed to attend prayers in the mosques and their absence makes it impossible for them question any such pearls of wisdom which basically deny their right to movement, education, employment and family planning.  Looks like misogyny is so rampant that women are not even worth preaching directly, they are given sermons indirectly through their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers about the virtues of a pious Muslim woman. There is no public space for women to speak out in any case, looks like it will soon shrink into nothing. 

PS: Everyone who is sending me threatening messages, leaving abusive comments here (I moderate them so they will never be published here, this blog is PG 13) and on twitter saying that there are some mosques in Pakistan where women are “allowed” to attend prayers, I just want to say that yes, there are exceptions to the rule but that does not mean that we stop questioning the questionable norms because of those few exceptions.

Dec 14, 2011 - Society    4 Comments

Quote of the day

There was an impromptu get together last night for some live music and drinks. A few Europeans were also invited. One Nordic man was lost in contemplation after attending the event, when asked why so serious, he said:
I have been coming to Pakistan for quite some time now, I see all these men get together, drink and sing longingly about women and love; why don’t they invite any women to such events?

PS: In case anyone is wondering, I was NOT there. 

Dec 1, 2011 - USA    6 Comments

So this is how they are spending the Kerry-Lugar Money

Every pole on the Constitution Avenue is sporting this banner announcing a conference by Competition Commission of Pakistan (weirdest government body name ever ). I have a message for whosoever is at the helm of affairs at this competition commission: If you had so much money to burn, you should have done something else, like take a ride in a hot air balloon. You do not announce a conference on every nook and cranny of the city as if it is a fair with clowns and a big fat Ferris wheel, it is in extremely bad taste. 
PS: The USAID should take the tagline “From the American People” off as soon as they can; I have a feeling that American people will not to be too happy donating money for useless banners in a country where most people can’t read.

Jul 3, 2011 - USA    16 Comments

LGBT rights, brought to you by Uncle Sam

So the United States Embassy hosted first ever LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual &transgender) Pride Celebration in Islamabad last week and somehow it ended up being the front page news in Jang’s Rawalpindi edition. 
According to the press release issued by the embassy, the event demonstrated continued U.S. Embassy support for human rights, including LGBT rights, in Pakistan at a time when those rights are increasingly under attack from extremist elements throughout Pakistani society.  
Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against LGBT people and I truly believe everyone has the right to live according to their own wishes but something does not feel right with US embassy hosting this event. For starters, LGBT rights are one of the most divisive and hotly debated issues in US. There is no recognition of same-sex unions and no laws forbidding employment discrimination against LGBT persons at the federal level. Yes, some states have enacted laws for LGBT persons and same sex marriages conducted in those states are recognized in other states, but there is no uniform federal policy. I personally know a few American LGBT citizens who have moved to Canada, Belgium and Netherlands for more personal freedom.
I find it kind of ironic that a country which cannot assure equal rights to its own LGBT citizens and where Christian Right is getting increasingly aggressive against civil privileges of LGBT persons and a woman’s right to abortion is showing support to LGBT movement against the religious right in another country.
I also find it odd that an event that took place on June 26th 2011 gets reported a week later on July 3rd on the front page of the largest selling Urdu newspaper. Does it not raise too many questions? Is it not inviting trouble for the LGBT persons in the country? I mean everyone gets labeled US agent in a jiffy and declaring LGBT persons US agents can kind of legitimize their persecution. Is it not stirring things up on purpose? Do people think LGBT movement (if we have any) in Pakistan would be better off without foreign support or do they think foreign donors are the only way LGBT persons can gain acceptance? 
Does it all look fishy or am I a paranoid psycho who, after living in Pakistan for so long, cannot take anything like it seems any more.
PS: For a newspaper that uses the term liberal fascists against progressive folks a little too liberally; this news report is remarkably neutral. 
PPS: Jang wrote ‘bisexual’ in Urdu letters as ‘high sexual’ which I found rather entertaining. 
Feb 23, 2011 - Uncategorized    8 Comments

Things I see in Islamabad …

If you happen to be/live in Islamabad, you will see banners thanking PM Yousuf Raza Gillani for retaining Senator Babar Awan (of Monticello University fame) as a federal minister.

A couple of days later, you see more banners thanking the PM for retaining Aapa Firdous as a minister and these banners are from PPP, Islamabad.

But if these are banners from PPP Islamabad, why are they just favouring the two Awans and not other PPP stalwarts?

PS: Reading the word “Sher Jawan” with Senator Babar Awan’s name makes one wary of both the “shers” and “jawani”. 

Feb 10, 2011 - published work    15 Comments

From the French Beach to the foothills of Margalla


When I first went to college abroad, I was quite often asked if I find it difficult to get adjusted coming from a vastly different background and how “shocking” was the culture shock. Honestly, I never really had any trouble in getting adjusted to life in North West England. I was young, was acquainted with British sense of humour through television, knew the language, made friends very easily and was very keen to learn the slang so that I too can converse in local speak. Slipping into the life of a student was quite easy, especially when everyone else was as unfamiliar with the place as I was. No shock was shocking enough to merit anything more than a raised eye brow. 
After having recently relocated to Islamabad from Karachi, where I have spent most of my life, I am reminded of all those conversations about culture shocks and differences. Islamabad is neat, has a clean crisp air and a relaxed atmosphere bordering on lethargic. Karachi is chaotic with its salty sultry air and boasts of people that are always on the go. Although I just moved cities in the same country, I am more astounded by the differences now than I was back in my college days. 
Before I moved up north, I have been told by all and sundry about the laid back culture of Islamabad but you gotta be part of it to actually know how it works – or not. For instance gentle, reminders like emails are generally ignored, if you want to get things rolling, telephone calls, physical presence or best of all a telephone call from people who ‘matter’ would do the trick . If you are dealing with the bureaucracy, be ready to mouth the word ‘Sir’ at least a dozen times in a single conversation to get to them. If you are from Karachi, you would know how difficult it is to repeatedly say that word.    
In Islamabad, people, at least the ones that I come across to, generally assume that you have a driver and a cook and if you happen to mention that you have neither, they don’t know how to respond Another thing that I have noticed is that domestic help is much more obsequious in the cooler climes of Islamabad than in the coastal shores of Karachi. If we ever had to ask our driver to stay after hours or call him on his day off, we had to tread very carefully to make sure that we do not offend him in any way before we ask for the favour. Here in Islamabad, they throw ma’ams and begum sahibas left, right and centre. After 3 months, I have finally stopped looking over my shoulder every time someone address to me as ma’am.
Another thing I found quite shocking was that there are gyms in Islamabad that are not only exorbitantly priced, some of them like to be paid in Benjamins (that’s 100 dollar bills for the uninitiated) and they charge more than my monthly salary to make sure that their clients stay fit. Honestly, if someone is paying that amount of money, they would think at least thrice before putting a morsel of food in their mouth. 
Islamabad is beautiful, and all the more beautiful when it rains. It is quite possible to go out, enjoy the weather and have fun when it is raining, unlike Karachi where everyone rushes to home at the first hint of rain causing crazy traffic jams for the fear of water logged streets. Every generator owning Karachiite also head to the nearest pump to store petrol or diesel to bear the imminent long hours of electricity break downs that follow the first rain drop. But all is not hunky dory in the tree lined lanes of Islamabad. When you go home and you want to enjoy a hot bath and a hot meal, you realize you have to make do without them as gas supply is erratic, at best, during the winters. One is always found choosing between a hot meal or a hot bath. Running heaters before 10 o’ clock is out of question so hiding under the duvets is the general recreation during the long evenings of winter. 
Karachi is probably more overtly religious than Islamabad as one get to see more girls in hijabs/burqas and a lot more men in beards than in Islamabad perhaps because of greater class and ethnic diversity in Karachi.  Something else worth noticing is that more men dye their hair in the capital than they do it in Karachi. If one is perceptive, there is a pattern to be observed. On Monday mornings, men would be sporting jet black moustaches but as the week progresses, their white roots would start peeking and by Friday evening, they would be quite visible, come Monday morning and all the mustaches would be miraculously black again. 
Unlike Karachi, people in Islamabad actually follow traffic rules (though over speeding is quite common) and actually wait for the traffic signal to turn green before they push their foot down the accelerator.  Karachiites, unlike people in the sanitized capital, take pride in breaking the traffic signal and unless a traffic police constable is physically standing in their way, they would not stop when the light turns red. 
Islamabad perhaps boasts the maximum number of four wheel drives and expensive cars for a city that size in the entire region. One run from Kohsar Market to Fatima Jinnah Park and you would get to drive next to one massive expensive vehicle after another.  Karachi though has its fair share of mean machines on the road, is also the city of colorful rickshaws and minibuses. I quite miss checking out rickshaws with funny one liners or poetry over their tail lights. 
Anyone who has ever lived in Karachi would be familiar with flags of various political parties vying for your attention from the maze of electrical wires along with Free Afia Siddiqqi banners. Islamabad, on the other hand, has hoardings with pictures of the Prime Minister and the President along with the recent visiting dignitaries from our friendly neighbours – be it Turkish President or the Chinese premier. Karachiites are used to staying at home because of violent strikes whereas people in Islamabad get a day off when Chinese head of the government address the joint session of the Parliament. 
Islamabad is serene in comparison to Karachi’s commotion. No quacks are selling you quick solutions to regain your manhood or to get back the love of your life. Despite all its greenery and rose and jasmine garden, it is insipid for someone who has lived in Karachi.
View of Islamabad from Peer Sohawa
Rainy roads of Islamabad

Film hoardings at the cinema in Saddar  makes Karachi all the more rangeen

The regular rallies in front of Karachi Press Club

The most awesome rickshaws dot the streets of Karachi

Originally published in The Friday Times.

This screen shot of the page is duly provided by Abid Hussain of The Friday Times