Tagged with " literature"
Oct 16, 2008 - Society    21 Comments

Theatre in times of jihad

Last night I went to see a play titled Hotel Moenjodaro which was presented by Ajoka Theatre. It was based on a story written by Ghulam Abbas, who foresaw in 1959 what has happened in Afghanistan in the late 90s and have started happening in parts of Pakistan. According to the director of the play Shahid Nadeem, Ghulam Abbas first read the story at a literary gathering in Karachi but the reaction was so hostile that he withheld its publication until 1969. Ghulam Abbas foresaw the rise of fundamentalist Islam is Pakistan decades ago but no one paid head to it back then.

The story as translated by Khaled Ahmed goes like this:

The story begins on the 71st floor of Hotel Moenjodaro, where an international assemblage of glitterati is waiting for the first broadcast from the surface of the moon (the first moon landing had yet to take place when the story was written) by Capt. Adam Khan, a Pakistani. The magic moment finally arrives and Adam Khan announces to the world that he, a Pakistani from Jhang, has landed on the moon. As the invited guests burst into applause, the strains of the Pakistani national anthem rise in the night air. It is a moving moment. Adam Khan announces that he has just planted Pakistan’s flag on the moon.
The scene changes. In a small town in Sindh, a mullah tells his morning congregation, “I have just heard on my transistor radio that some Pakistani, may there be a curse on him, has landed on the moon. May God destroy him! My brothers in Islam, it is apostasy to expose to view in the name of science and so-called progress, things across whose face our Master and Sustainer has drawn a veil of mystery and secrecy. Brothers, because of this vile and disgusting act, we have been guilty of a grave sin in the eyes of God and my heart tells me that a most terrible punishment awaits us from the Great Avenger. And let me warn you, it won’t be long in coming.”
The unrest that begins in that remote village, soon sweeps the entire country. In the beginning, the government pays no attention but the agitation grows in ferocity every day with mullahs big and small denouncing Pakistan’s “godless rulers” who have committed a grave sin in the name of progress. They are accused of violating the Shari’a for which they deserve to die. One Mullah declares, “O Muslims, you are surrounded by atheism, shamelessness, dishonour, pornography, lechery, apostasy and wickedness. God’s word has been disregarded and mocked and the True Faith stands rejected. Adultery, drinking and gambling are being promoted openly. Instruments of carnal pleasure abound, and singing and dancing have become a popular pastime. Modesty has disappeared from the female eye and the woman’s soul and body have been divested of the raiment of virtue and decency. Verily, these are signs that the Day of Judgment is at hand.”
The mullahs summon a convention and call for the government’s overthrow and promise to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Declaring themselves the soldiers of God, they launch a countrywide movement that finally brings down the government. As long as the mullahs were agitating, they were united, but the moment they take power, they become divided into six parties which are known by the colours their followers wear. Elections take place and an Amir is chosen from the Green party who declares himself God’s deputy on earth. He invites the losing parties to join his Majlis-e-Shura. The Jamia Mosque becomes both the Amir’s home and his secretariat.

His first edict says that the body politic should be free of the poison of Westernisation. A new dress code is imposed and the English language is declared illegal. The old administrative structure is dismantled and all old records burnt. Universities and colleges are closed and madrassas with religious syllabi set up. Arabic is declared the national language. Women are banned from leaving their homes unless they are properly covered. Their education now consists of the ability to count, and read and write just enough to maintain household accounts. Courts are reformed and lawyers are declared illegal. Men are obligated to grow beards, pray five times a day and abide by other injunctions. Non-Muslims are declared ‘zimmis’ and made to pay ‘jazia.’ Cinemas and theatres are turned into madrassas and orphanages.
All sports are banned except riding, archery and lancing as they are “Islamic.” Wrestling is revived. Every Muslim adult is told to carry a sword, while women are allowed to be armed with a dagger. Love poetry is abolished, as are novels and stories. Newspapers are forbidden to print pictures. Medicine and surgery are also abolished since the medicines prescribed by doctors are suspected of containing alcohol. Barbers are now the only surgeons. Everyone is told to dress in Arab clothes. China, glassware and home appliances are banned and electric power is declared haram. Radios, TVs and cameras are confiscated and their use forbidden. Foreign embassies are told to pack up as they spread alien ideas and their women go barelegged. Banks are shut down and foreign trade forbidden.
Doctrinal differences now begin to surface between the six parties and there are frequent arguments and fights. The real breakdown occurs when the government tries to write a history of Islam. No two mullahs are found in agreement on anything. One day the Amir is found murdered in his mosque. A fratricidal civil war breaks out. One night Pakistan is invaded by enemy armour and aircraft.
The last scene shows us a party of tourists riding on camels through a vast desert. Their guide stops suddenly, points to some ruins and says, “And that is the spot where, before the enemy struck, stood the Hotel Moenjodaro with its seventy-one storeys. It was there that the first Pakistani astronaut’s voice from the surface of the moon was heard.”

My personal favourite part of the play was when after forming their government, Mullahs were deciding what is Halal and what is haram and all the mullahs and their followers break into a dance over a poem that goes something like this;

Khana Halal hai, peena haram hai
Sona halal hai, jagna haram hai
Marna halal hai, jeena haram hai
Husn halal hai, haseena haram hai,
Rubina halal hai, Rozina haram hai
Tangain halal hai, seena haram hai

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Aug 20, 2008 - romance, women    No Comments

BBC gone bonkers

Any girl who has ever read English romantic novels is guilty of reading Mills & Boons. In fact I knew at least one boy in my undergrad class who used to read Mills & Boons. I too have been guilty of reading them in high school and before you go and start mocking my literary taste (or lack thereof), let me tell you that literary giants such as P G Wodehouse and Jack London have also written for the publishing house. Yes, we have seen first, second, third and fourth wave of feminism, but Mills & Boons stays firmly entrenched in the 19th century when men were masterful and stern. The stories are all the same. The couples are passionately in love but would never utter the “L” word before page 177. The first kiss would probably be featured on page 56 and the first sexual encounter begins on page 99. The heroes are all strong and silent types – modern day Mr. Darcy reincarnation – and the heroine is always overwhelmed by her lover’s masculinity.

According to Independent, Mills & Boon is celebrating its 100th year in style – by launching the romantic series on television produced by nothing less than BBC. Now one would be able to see heaving bosoms, foreign filthy rich and brooding heroes and virginal heroines (ironic, isn’t it as teenage pregnancy is highest in UK – the home of Mills & Boon – in the whole of Europe) on TV.

As if it was not enough, BBC has also produced a documentary, How to Write a Mills & Boon, based on the guides the publisher itself produces, offering advice to would-be novelists.

I mean what the hell is happening to this world, I mean seriously!

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Jun 23, 2008 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Unexploded … or unsigned mangoes


The writer

I was halfway through “A case of exploding mangoes” when I got the chance to attend a reading by the writer Muhammed Hanif. He turned out to be a breath of fresh air. He read really well and did justice to his words. For a story teller and reporter who has an understated but sharp wit and knows how to put it in words, he was humble, self effacing and very matter of fact about the fact that he is the author of a book that is selling like hot cakes (Ok, I have no official sales figures of the book, but my friends in UK, US and Canada are also reading it and no, not all of them are desis). After the reading, he answered a few questions. Variations of one question that was asked many times was if he faced any threats from the all knowing agencies of Pakistan (The novel mentions ISI and war in Afghanistan, General Zia graces the cover and the version that is being sold in Pakistan is published by Indian publishers). Unlike any two bit journalist in Pakistan who claims to be chased and harassed by nothing less than ISI or the President’s office, he repeatedly told us all that nobody bothered him at all.

By the way, I went to the reading to get my copy signed by the writer, but those who know me know how terribly spaced out I am, and forgot to take my copy of the book and it remains unsigned lying on my book shelf.

Here is a small excerpt from the first chapter about what affect does a typical maan behen session has on the main protagonist. Its a gem.


There is something about these bloody squadron leaders that makes them think that if they lock you up in a cell, put their stinking mouth to your ear and shout something about your mother, they will find all the answers …

Does he really think that fuck-your-fucking mother, even when delivered at strength 5, still has any meaning when you are weeks away from becoming a commissioned officer …

I mean when they say that thing about your mother, they have absolutely no intention – and I am certain no desire either – to do what they said they want to do with your mother. They say it because it comes out rapid-fire and sounds cool and requires absolutely no imagination.

Indian and Pakistani Cover (I had taken the jacket off because seeing Gen Zia’s face every time I put the book down was just not worth the irritation)

Original British Cover

North American Cover

May 15, 2008 - quirky, romance    No Comments

The memoirs from hell, yikes!!!

Get ready to laugh your lungs out or cringe with horror (depends on how you see it). Cherie Blair is out with biography which has hysterical romantic details about her life with good ol’ Tony. Here is what a Guardian blog says about it.

“Perhaps it was the smell of his skin … the penetrating blue eyes, penetrating because they seemed to see right through me, to the extent that I could feel a blush rise up from some unchartered part of me …”

This is not, as you could be forgiven for thinking, an extract from a Mills and Boon novel, but the latest snippet from Cherie Blair’s autobiography. And, yes, she is talking about Tony.

The former prime minister’s wife has been dishing the dirt on life at No 10 all week as her memoir is serialised in the ‘Times’ and ‘the Sun’. We’ve learned that Tony used her miscarriage to detract from public panic over Iraq, how she didn’t get on with some of the royals, the extent of her rift with Alastair Campbell and how Tony’s “heart sank” when the two of them learned that George Bush had been elected US president.

But the latest revelations that she had the hots for her husband when they first met have lifted a lid on an area of political life that many of us would rather she had kept shut. It is almost as bad as hearing your own mother discussing her sex life with Dad – we know it goes on, but really, we don’t need to know the details.

“I began to realise that he was a very good-looking young man, tall and slim, yet broad in the shoulders. A really strong body,” she gushes. Breathlessly, no doubt, with a heaving bosom.

Readers of a nervous disposition should look away now: Cherie goes on to tell us that they’ve “done it”, although whether this is on the top deck of a bus unclear.

“Tony and I took the bus … It was a double-decker and we went upstairs. It was completely empty and by the time we got off we knew each other better than when we’d got on. And even better the next morning.”

The words “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” are missing at the end of the last sentence, but we get the idea.

Mrs Blair is unlikely to win the upcoming Orange Prize for her autobiography, but we’d like to suggest she enters for another literary gong: the Bad Sex award.

The Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award is given every winter to the author who produces the worst description of a sex scene in a novel.

Surely Cherie’s a shoo-in with her spreading blushes from unchartered territory? Uncharted, that is, until she jumps on the number 74 with Tony.

Unfortunately, the former PM’s lust-crazed wife doesn’t grow out of her consuming passion as she ages: “I fancied him rotten and still do,” she insists on telling us. But thankfully she has become slightly more demure in her later years.

Her description of Leo’s conception at Balmoral on a royal visit is positively prudish compared to the torrid Tony she describes earlier. “As usual up there, it had been bitterly cold, and what with one thing and another … ”

What? No strong-bodied, slim-hipped night of abandon? Cherie, this is not going to win you the Bad Sex award. No wonder WHSmith is already selling your autobiography at half price only hours after it has gone on sale.

Although for the same price, you could pick up a couple of Mills and Boon novels. Would we really be able to tell the difference?

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Well, if you ask me, one would be able to tell the difference, at least the hero and heroine in Mills and Boon would certainly be better looking and younger than Tony and Cherie. I shudder and cringe and scream for mercy; first it was details of naked younus khan on nadia khan show and now I am regaled with stories of how a slim hipped blue-eyed Tony made Cherie’s knee’s weak? This is definitely the end of the world as we know it.

I shudder some more.

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