Tagged with " Pakistan"
Sep 11, 2012 - published work    2 Comments

No planning for natural disasters

After being hit by torrential rains and consequent floods that devastated the country in 2010 and 2011, one would have thought that the government of Pakistan and its people would be better prepared to deal with the rains with the arrival of monsoon this year. Considering that the monsoon hit us a little later than usual, one would have expected a better level of preparedness. Unfortunately, we see our provincial governments and municipalities still floundering and at a loss about the responses.
The extra time provided to us by Mother Nature — instead of the usual July, the rains hit us in the month of September — has not made much of a difference and if news reports are to be believed, as many as 69 rain-related deaths have been reported so far. Many more can be expected to die in the coming weeks as the critically injured will succumb to their injuries and more will perish in the rains that have been forecast for the next couple of weeks.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has stated, as late as September 9 that rivers are not expected to flood but, inland flooding can and already has, wreaked enough havoc in some areas. Cases of roofs collapsing because of rains and electrocution in urban centres have already been reported. The deaths may not be directly caused by the flooding but it is directly related to poor preparedness for a natural calamity. Similarly, landslides in the mountainous areas also cause rain-related accidents. We may not have experienced river flooding as yet but cases of inland flooding have been reported in Lahore, Rahimyar Khan, Hyderabad and Quetta. Inland flooding occurs when rain in an urban area exceeds the sewer system’s drainage capacity, as a result of which, water accumulates in the surrounding areas causing flooding.
Many canal breaches have also been reported. The provincial governments need to take their irrigation departments to task and ask them about the status and schedule of canal cleaning and fortification of embankments that is usually due before the rainy season.
The problem with Pakistan’s disaster management programmes is that there is more emphasis on disaster relief and disaster response and a lot less emphasis on disaster prevention measures. Countries that are more prone to natural disasters have only been able to minimise this problem by aggressively pursuing the prevention path over the years. Japan, Australia and the Philippines have amazing disaster prevention and disaster mapping programmes. Every major city in Japan has a city specific prevention and relief programme which is stated on their metropolitan websites. These projects detail everything from weather outlook to flood maps to evacuation routes and other services for the general public. If similar plans are to be replicated in Pakistan, it is necessary that flood-prone areas should have a disaster prevention map to identify the flood risk, the nearest safe areas and probable evacuation routes beforehand.
Those who would argue that Japan is a rich country and can set aside a vast sum for prevention should note that other impoverished countries have faced disasters better than the likes of the US. In 2001, a devastating hurricane hit Cuba but the people and the government were prepared. The death toll was limited to just five people, while more than 700,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters.
It is not just money that is required for disaster prevention and preparedness; it requires planning, long-term commitment and political will and vision to bring about sustained changes in the way we view problems and disasters.

First published in The Express Tribune

Social media and humanitarian assistance

The Arab Spring has forever changed the way people will view social media in the context of political change and citizens’ active participation in bringing about that change. But politics is not the only arena where social media has made its presence felt. It can and has been used by a lot of humanitarian aid organisations and UN agencies in garnering support, as well as rallying people, securing funding and creating buzz for work that is helping millions across the world.

Last year, Doctors Without Borders launched an online application on the World Food Day that enabled supporters to donate their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for 24 hours to help the organisation in its fight against malnutrition in children. Back in 2010, a single tweet from a television host in the US, which was re-tweeted a few thousand times, made it possible for the US air force to work with Doctors without Borders and land its planes in earthquake-hit Haiti. Twitter deemed it the most powerful tweet of that year. Other organisations that have a huge social media presence and actively engage with people across the world everyday include the Red Cross, the World Food Programme, the UNHCR and Islamic Relief USA, among others.

There is no disputing the role of social media in promoting social development and humanitarian aid, but it is also very important to know how to use it to serve the cause best. Social media teams do not work in isolation and must always be integrated with the press and public outreach programmes. It is also very important to strategise the use of various social media forums and decide which information goes where and why. For instance, Twitter, the microblogging site, is more useful if the idea is to get a lot of people talking about something and creating a buzz for it, but Facebook is more suitable for long-term engagement to a cause or an aid organisation. It is imperative that people working in the field understand their communication objectives and use appropriate platforms to spread their word, engage the public and influence policy.

If selecting the right social media platform for your communication need is most important, selecting the right tone for your message according to your platform is the next most important thing. A sharp and witty tweet can work wonders in getting the message across but it will require more nuanced interaction with the audience on your website or Facebook page to keep them engaged. How YouTube channels and Flickr accounts are used and integrated with other social media tools also determines the success of a cause, campaign or humanitarian intervention. I was part of the education emergency campaign last year. With the help of sharp tweets that tied the cricket World Cup and Shahid Afridi to education needs in the country, we managed to create quite a lot of Twitter buzz, which was backed with an interactive website, an active Facebook page along with a very informative YouTube channel. This year, during Ramazan, the World Food Programme in Pakistan launched the #fightinghungerRMZ campaign on Twitter and sent 30 bloggers to spend a day in one of its camps, which helped in the generation of locally-raised funds for the cause.

It must be noted that a social media campaign is only as good as the work done on the ground. A successful social media campaign does not guarantee success in the real world; it only supports the people who are actually providing help and assistance to those in need of it.

Originally written for The Express Tribune

Aug 31, 2012 - RAW, Salman Khan, Turkey    12 Comments

Romance of a Ballerina and Tiger Balm

Contrary to my earlier plan of watching Ek Tha Tiger in Cinepax during Eid holidays with the boys and girls of Rawalpindi, I ended up watching Ek Tha Tiger on my computer with a copy downloaded via torrent because the film was not officially released in Pakistan. It was no HD, but was still good enough to see that Katrina Kaif has increased the amount of collagen she injects in her lips to an alarming proportion and now lives with a permanent pout. It was actually quite painful to see her delivering longer dialogues, her lips must be hurting like crazy.
The film opens in Iraq where Salman Khan was busy jumping off buildings and killing people with guns, sharp objects, blunt objects,  with hands and a scarf (Yes, a man jumped after him from one building to another, while the hero landed perfectly on his feet, he rolled a scarf and threw it on the face of the goon following him, the scarf conveniently opened when it landed on the goon’s face, blinded him for a moment, he couldn’t jump neatly and fell to the ground and died, so yes, that was death by a scarf). Oh and he is also a nameless agent who goes by the name Tiger (I wondered through half of the film why a self respecting adult man would respond to a name like Tiger, Salman Khan also realized that in the latter half of the film and said, “yeh tau kuttay ka naam hota hai”.)

Tiger Bhaijan beating up an ISI agent


To cut a long and totally unnecessary story short, Tiger goes to Dublin, meets Katrina Kaif, a Dancer/Ballerina/choreographer/stage manager/ lighting director who also moonlights as a maid and dances with a vacuum cleaner. Before you can say something like ‘meteor shower’ our Tiger Balm and Katrina Ballerina are in love and before you can say ‘Abay kya bakwas hai yaar’ Tiger Balm aka deadly RAW agent finds out that Katrina Ballerina is not the sweet simple girl he thought she was (what’s with the desi dudes wanting simple girls, they do know that in English language simple also passes for a simpleton, right?) but an ISI agent! Hai Allah Mian Ji!

They part ways, Tiger Balm is back in the mother ship (that is Delhi and his sarkari daftar) and is kinda miserable. He finds out that there is some foreign ministers’ conference happening in Istanbul and Katrina Ballerina would be there. Tiger Balm suits up and goes as a member of the Indian delegation. Katrina Ballerina too is removed from active duty to become part of the Pakistani diplomatic entourage and though some sherwani wearing dude played the role of the Pakistani foreign minister, the film director paid a fitting tribute to our fashionista Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar by making Katrina Ballerina wearing clothes that look straight out of Ms. Khar’s closet, complete with blow dried hair, duppata pinned to her hair and small studs in her ear lobes – the only item missing was a Berkin Bag in her hand.

Katrina Ballerina in her HRK avatar

At this point, things got intense; kinda sad and very emotional, but I could not get invested. As I recently came back from Istanbul, afterbeing royally robbed, I was busy figuring out the exact spot where my bag got stolen. While Katrina Ballerina confessed her love for Tiger Balm and saying poignant words about tragic love between hostile spies and how they can never get together, I was busy telling my cousin that it was probably shot on one of the bridges in Eminönü and it was Süleymaniye Mosque in the background with our jasoos Romeo and Juliet.

Süleymaniye Mosque , Tiger Bhaijan and Baji ISI – Love in Istanbul

Tiger Balm and Katrina Ballerina duped everyone in their respective organizations, ran away from Istanbul and ended up in Havana where they lived like ordinary folks, or as ordinary as a balm and ballerina can get. Tiger Balm painted at night and sold his art on the streets of Havana during the day and Katrina Ballerina became a Ballet teacher, until one fine day someone tried to snatch Katrina Ballerina’s purse and being the agents that our love birds were, they ended up killing a bunch of low level criminals in front of an ATM machine with a camera. That image got transported back to Islamabad and Delhi and by defying all travel related logic; the agents from both the agencies reached Havana in just few hours.
No matter how modern Bollywood gets, there is always a lecture about the values and morality of Bhartiye  naari, this time because the naari in question was a Pakistani, there was a lecture about the izzat and abroo of a Pakistani dosheeza. What makes this lecture most distinctive is that it was not delivered by some Ammi, Baji type but by the guy who played Katrina Ballerina’s ISI boss! Katrina’s ISI boss, Capt. Abrar, was a very shareef pappu type boi who respected her so much that he used to call her Bibi. I have spent enough time in Islamabad to know that no one calls anyone bibi in any of the sarkari offices and they would never call a girl bibi who look anything even remotely like Katrina Kaif.
Among other things, there was a car chase in Havana where both ISI and RAW dudes were chasing the spies who loved each other and one of the cars was a brand new Range Rover! A shiny black range rover! Now I have not been to Cuba but I know that Fidel Castro is still alive and they would not start importing shiny new Range Rovers while Fidel still breathes and his brother heads the government.

Tiger Bhaijan romancing an ISI agent in a bed sheet

Btw, if Katrina Ballerina is an example of how ISI trains its agents, they are certainly top notch. If ISI puts it out in their recruitment brochures that their training includes ballet, Spanish language, jumping off the buildings, flying small planes, killing random men and pataofying the likes of Salman Khan, a lot more women would join the organization instead of all the shalwar qameez wearing uncles with handlebar mustaches and pot bellies.
Both RAW and ISI failed in catching the love birds, they are still on the run and my young cousin who was watching the film with me thought that it was sweet that they defied such odds for love but it would have been great if they were not living in sin. I am still trying to tell her that finding a maulvi who would agree to a nikah between a Zoya and an Avinash – the names that Tiger Balm and Katrina Ballerina were given in the film, would be a tad difficult, especially when they are on the run but she still insists on legal matrimony. Ah these children, they want this, that and the other!

PS: That checkered black and white gamcha that Tiger Balm sported in the opening sequence may be all the rage in India now, but we in Pakistan have been wearing it for quite some time. 🙂 

Aug 28, 2012 - published work, religion    1 Comment

Who gets to define the Muslim way?

Pakistan has many kinds of Muslims; not only there are many sects but there are also multiple factions within these sects. Though not many but some have started to question the Wahabi ideology in connection with the rise of the militant Islam, however, not many people are questioning the social impact of such an ideology and how it is affecting our collective behavior.
The past couple of decade has witnessed an increasing number of middle-class and upper class urban Pakistani women actively turning towards this brand of Islam – through schools like Al Huda – and they influence their families and their circle of friends to this particular religious framework that they work towards actively constructing a particular kind of culture in Pakistan which they say is the pure Islam – free of all the foreign influences or bida’at. The bida’at could range from wedding festivities to Sufism to co-education among other things.
The question that should become part of popular discourse in Pakistan but has not been given due attention is who gets to define what is local and organic and what is foreign and intrusive?
The Wahabi interpretation shuns something as simple as a birthday celebration as foreign concept or a mehndi function which is deemed un Islamic and bida’at and a legacy of living with Hindus.  Basant is a festival indigenous to Punjab marking the advent of spring. It dates back 3,000 years and has traditionally been celebrated by people of all the religions in Punjab. Though local and organic, it is erroneously linked with Hinduism, and disowned as both un Islamic and foreign. However, adoption of abaya, which is clearly a Saudi import, is not considered foreign at all. Sub continental women observing purdah have traditionally used a big chador, in fact women in urban Khyber Pakhtunkhwah still prefer a chador over an abaya, however an abaya never faced the same hostility as that of the festival of basant.

The curriculum has helped this discourse in Pakistan, the history books that say “when we came or ruled the subcontinent,” they provide factually incorrect information. Barring a few who are the descendents of the armies of Mohammed Bin Qasim or the Mughals, most of the people of Pakistan are descendants of those who were already living in the subcontinent. Negating centuries old civilization for an identity that is still in evolution is not only untrue, but can have catastrophic consequences for the society.  The elimination of local practices on the basis of their being un Islamic and foreign reflects the adherence to a particular interpretation of Islam and people upholding this interpretation as the truth are not only negating the religious experiences of different kinds of Muslims, but also the history of the land, creating a culture based on beliefs and practices that originate from outside the land.

Another term that needs to be academically and socially questioned is the use of the term ‘Muslim way’. Can there be just one way to be a Muslim when Muslims are as geographically diverse as they are – from Indonesia to Nigeria and beyond? Can one live with a sole primary identity? Is the primary identity of being a Muslim is so exclusionary that it leaves no space for other competing identities, be they region based or ethnicity based? Must a cultural identity be mutually exclusive with that of a religious identity?  Aren’t human beings complex beings who are supposed to have layered identities? 
Originally written for Express Tribune, though they chopped the last paragraph away. 
Aug 14, 2012 - published work, women    4 Comments

The overwhelmingly male story of Pakistan

The story of Pakistan is overwhelmingly male. Whether we discuss politics, economics, history, literature or entertainment, we tell the stories of men and we tell them with a dominant male perspective. Take Independence Day celebrations in the media for instance; there are stories of valour of our soldiers, fighter pilots are glamorized, farmers are shown driving a tractor tilling the land, male welders are working on a construction sites and boys playing cricket in the grounds of Minar-e-Pakistan. If we are lucky there are a couple of mentions of women; usually an elderly maternal type is shown who is praying either for the country or its soldiers defending the borders or perhaps a teacher or nurse.
If such a representation is to be believed, then a very small percentage of our population is female and this is the country of men. Those who do get the representation are the chador clad virtuous women who either pray for the men who are out living their lives or are in care giving roles, the rest do not count.
The concept of chardeewari and women staying inside is a very urban middle class notion and a considerably small percentage of our population falls under this category. The fact that our national narrative is designed accordingly and has no place for women who do not cement the patriarchal notion that only a woman who is covered in a chador is virtuous and worthy of respect and can be the face of a Pakistani woman is mind boggling. A visit to any village in most parts of the country would discredit this notion. Women work in their homes, outside their homes, they work long hours in the barns and the farms and contribute significantly to the economy. Their contributions may not formally be acknowledged in the GDP but their productivity is part of the society and economy.
The popular model of women that gets space in the national narrative is not only misogynist — showing women in supporting roles only, as if they are not capable of living a full life — but is also very classist. Most women cannot afford to stay at home and thus must work — at times, harder and for longer hours than men, in order to make ends meet. If the chador clad stay-at-home woman is peddled as a socially desirable model that receives representation in the national narrative, then the country is doing utmost injustice to the majority of women who cannot afford this way of life.
What about the contributions of urban women who do not abide by the chador and char deewari philosophy? Should they be excluded from the national narrative because they do not conform to the popular idea of what is considered appropriate for women? They live and work in Pakistan, contribute to the economy, pay taxes and are waiting for the day when they, too, will get their rightful space in the national narrative, right beside the soldier, the doctor and the farmer — and not in the role of a caregiver. By default, women are caregivers; if she is a mother, then she is the primary caregiver. However, defining her by just that one aspect of her life and ignoring others is tantamount to making her half a person.
This Independence Day, let’s pledge to make an effort to provide space to everyone who is a part of this country and have them become a part of the national narrative. That is the only way forward. The women are half of the story of this country, let the other half be heard.

Originally written for The Express Tribune
Jul 30, 2012 - published work, religion    4 Comments

This Ramazan everyone is a beggar

Religion dominates airwaves all year round in Pakistan. If it is not programs of religious variety offering religious advice on food, matrimony and Halal banking, then someone would be offering Istekhara services to those who seek divine guidance. If it is not the theological debates, then it would be programs targeting women telling them how to be good Muslim wives and daughters, tv serials telling women how to be submissive and regressive in name of religion, morning show hosts censoriously telling young men and women not to venture into parks and indulge in un-Islamic acts of sitting on the benches. If this is how things go all year around, the religiosity of the TV content goes up considerably during Ramazan. 
The TV channels with more moolah put up huge sets, get hoards of people to come in, and cram in everything in those few hours: real life tragedies, sob stories, hyper religiosity, overt piety, a lot of charity, a bit of drama with a dash of emotions and tears, cooking shows, many give aways and gifts for the audience present in the studios and the audience glued to their TV sets in their homes, naats and religious sermons and last but not the least would be the transmission show hosts’ claims of grandiosity that they cook the best kebabs, give away most money to the needy on their show, get the best ratings and convert, or revert if you prefer that, people of other faiths to Islam – live on TV. It is reality TV with a hint of religion to make it palatable for most.
All that is fine because it is TV and at the end of the day, it’s a business and everyone wants to make some money. What gets my goat is that they are perpetuating a culture where people think asking others for money or begging is fine. In one example, a man who earns Rs8,000 per month came in and asked for half a million rupees to pay for his wife’s medical bills. One of his excuses was that he has four kids that he cannot afford to feed. The wife probably fell ill by bearing children after children when she was obviously physically weak and anemic. The host’s reaction was not only to sympathise with him but to urge his viewers to donate money to him. I, on the other hand, wanted the host to ask this man why he procreated four times when he knew he was earning just Rs. 8,000 a month. Was he expecting a miracle or did he think his financial conditions would change all of a sudden?
By offering him and the likes of him the money, aren’t TV channel being irresponsible and giving the message that it is ok to not plan your life or be responsible for your choices, we will guilt others with more money into giving it you. Lines like “Yeh bachi namaz parhtee hai, iskay ilaaj ke liye paisay dain” are also discriminatory. If a person is regular with his namaz, he or she deserves a greater chunk of the charity than the heathen who do not pray 5 times a day, no matter how grave their need is. Financial assistance is fine but it would be better if it comes with a bit counseling about family planning and life choices. 
Instead of urging people to give away for charity, why don’t we urge the audience to give decent wages to the people who work for them so they do not need to be supplanted with charity? If you really want to make a lasting more dignified difference, how about vowing to pay decent wages to everyone who works for you –at your workplace, at your home and around you – and getting others around you to do the same. 
Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the longer version. 

Though this is a serious piece but if you want to be entertained by the sheer stupidity of my countrymen, please go to the ET website and read comments.

The frivolous and the inane

If someone was handing out awards to legislative assemblies for coming up with the most bizarre legislation and the most frivolous debates, chances are that the Punjab Assembly — the largest legislative house of the country — would win. The house has turned into such a joke of late that one wonders about the ability of most of its members to just be rational, let alone their ability to make laws.
Every other day, members of this supposedly august house are reported in the media about their involvement in verbal spats, at times, on the assembly floor, calling each other name that are so impolite that they often need to be taken off the records of assembly proceedings.  From trying to pass legislation against mobile phone packages to legislation encouraging polygamy and shout fests, from calling names to throwing shoes and chairs at people, members of Punjab assembly have indulged in just about everything – at times repeatedly so.
Instead of taking up issues that adversely affect the performance of the province – such as high number of children outside the schools, the recent young doctor’s strike, increasing unemployment in the province or increase in beggary – the members discuss matter that are irrelevant and can no way be passed as matters of government interest or political debate, legislation or attempts at legislation which is their raison d’être. Latest in the long line of inane debates is discussion over Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s promise to pay Rs 3 million to acid burn victim Rukhsana. Instead of discussing and strengthening laws on domestic violence, acid throwing and police reforms, they decided to go after the film maker who highlighted this issue through her work. It was quite ironic that the motion to ‘help this poor woman’ was moved by Shaikh Alauddin who is quite well known for his misogynyand has harassed his co workers in assembly on camera.
When the members of the assembly do work on issues of importance, they do not do so with the required diligence and care. According to a PILDAT report, it took the provincial assembly only 21 hours and 56 minutes to pass the annual budget for the fiscal year 2012-13 which was around Rs 782 billion. In comparison budget debate 2011-2012 consumed approximately 39 hours. Hence a decline of55% was witnessed this year in the actual time devoted for Budget debate. They pass multiple bills which had been returned to the assembly secretariat from the governor’s office with objections and reservations, without making any changes in the text or the context of the bills. The provincial law minister disregarded the governor’s reservations by saying that the “governor has hired a team of English-writers, who write the same type of objections on every bill.”
Perhaps, the Darwin Award for the most incredible legislation goes to Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan who moved a motion to remove the ostrich from the bird category and place it in the same category of animals as goats and sheep, in order to meet the increasing demand for meat in the province. One wonders why the poor birds had to be removed from their rightful place in the animal kingdom; if the reason was to encourage people to eat them, they could have done it without the hyperbole of legislation. After all we, as a nation, eat poultry like there is no tomorrow.
Going by the performance of this house, the election commission should be advised to start testing candidates on basic IQ tests before approving their nomination papers for the next elections. Who knows, the next assembly might want to declare elephants as fish.
Originally written for The Express Tribune
Jul 19, 2012 - rant    3 Comments

The dystopian heaven called Pakistan.

I was out of the country for a few days and what happened out there was another horrific tale but when I got back I was reassured that things remained unchanged in my absence and we are still gripped by the same stupendous inanity. One of the two things that assured me of our national ridiculousness was the latest Qarshi Gripe Water advert which markets its product for infants as Halal! It’s a product for kids, chances are that it won’t contain alcohol anywhere in the world. But just to be sure, I asked my friend who happened to be a pediatrician, if there are gripe waters that contain alcohol. 
Her response was laughter and mockery. She laughed at my question and mocked the fact that I skipped Chemistry in high school for Economics. She told me that some products use to contain a very minute amount of alcohol to solubilize and preserve the essential oils of the active ingredients, but that too has been out of practice and most gripe waters are alcohol free. Even back when they used to contain alcohol, the percentage was negligible and as far as adverse effects of alcohol were concerned, there were none because the quantity was insignificant. But in this day and age of televangelists where everything is sold with the tagline of religion, a product for infants also deems it necessary to use religion to increase its sales. Welcome to the dystopian heaven called Pakistan. 
Jul 4, 2012 - Sargodha, Shahid Kapoor    17 Comments

Braving bijli crisis with crap Bollywood

Do you know what is the worst thing ever! Your local cinema not updating their website.
I mean you check the schedule, you go there and you find out that the film you want to see will be screened three hours later! I mean why have a bloody website when you are not going to update it at least 24 hours before the screening.
S and I have been wanting to catch this particular film but when we went to the cinema, we found out that the film we wanted to watch will be screened hours later and the only two films starting within next 45 minutes were Rowdy Rathore and Teri Meri Kahani. As S refused to watch Rowdy Rathore ( I did not probe her deep seated loathing for Akshay Kumar but I am sure she has a good reason for that) the only other option available to us was Teri Meri Kahani. S thought it would be better than Rowdy Rathore, but was she wrong or what! I actually wanted to come back and watch the latest episode of Masterchef (yes, I am obsessed like that) but then realized that there won’t be any electricity at home for a couple of hours so there is no point in coming back. I decided to endure the next two and half hours of misery that passes for a Bollywood film these days for a chilly air conditioned hall (yes, I have my priorities right – mental agony must be endured for bodily comfort – that’s what one has got to do when the mercury hits 46 degree Celsius).
For starters, how in the God’s name can Shahid Kapoor be an A list actor? His teeth are more crooked than my neighbour’s paan eating 80 year old grandfather, what’s the point of making all that money if you cannot invest some of it on decent dental veneers! Would have been better if he had invested money in teeth instead of a chin implant, but I digress.
There are three alternate stories where Shahid Kapoor gets to romance Priyanka Chopra and they are all so lame that I was physically cringing every time he gets amorous. In the first one, Priyanka is a Bollywood actress in the 60s who fell for a struggling musician while bonding over kachay aam! I mean it is just 1960s not dark ages where women would fall for guys who will get them 5 slices of kachay aam! And she was a film actress FFS!
The other story is set in 2012 England where two students fall for each other over BBMs, MMS, tweets and facebook updates because the girl was a student at Nottingham and the guy was going to a university in Stratford-upon-Avon. Wait! Does the town of Stratford-upon-Avon even has one? No, it does not, the nearest university is Warwick but Kunal Kohli – the idiot who wrote this crapfest – was too lazy to google university towns in England and chose Stratford-upon-Avon to use some cheesy lines about Shakespeare and romance and what not! I have a feeling that the Bard must be turning in his grave like crazy over this one.
The last story was set in 1910 Pakistan – or part of Punjab that now constitute Pakistan – and the place they mentioned was “Sargodha, Lahore.” Seriously Mr. Hot shot Bollywood writer, how long does it take to google either Sargodha or Lahore to find out that they are two different cities and were two different cities even back then. I wonder who will take more offense at this, the Lahoris or the Sargodhvis that they were bundled like this! The hero, a Muslim stud muffin who was sleeping with all “alhar mutiyars” (village belles for lack of better translation) of all kinds – Sikh, Hindu and Muslim – fell in love with this girl and joins the protest against evil colonizers to impress her dad. He was jailed and under some really strange law, the village girls were allowed to hang out, make out and sing & dance with the inmates in their finest clothes. Sargodha had some really messed up permissive jail laws back then, I am sure the inmates in 2012 are turning green with envy for the fun those guys had back in 1910. Even though her dad was Sikh, the heroine was referred to as “Yeh Hindu Bewa Aurat” (yes, the stud muffin was the reformist who wanted to get nikah-ofied with the Hindu widow lady)
Oh and someone needs to tell all the Bollywood wallahs that being a Muslim does not turn Punjabis ghabroo jawans from Sargodha and Lahore into paan eating, poetry spewing young men from UP who throw adaabs at every random person, use sentences like ‘Hazoor tabiyat tau nasaaz naheen’, ‘ama apkay kya kehnay’, ‘miyan purzay wurzay tau theek hain na’etc. I am sure India has enough Punjabis that they would know how they behave and Punajbi men speak the same way whether they are Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Hindu, Islam does not turn them into hardcore Lucknow bwoyz!
Did I regret watching the film? Not really, I got to sit in an air conditioned room for two and half hours – something that has become a distant dream with hourly load shedding. Hai Allah Mian ji, bijli ki adam dastiyabi hum se kya kuch karwatee hai!
PS: This post has too many exclamation marks, yes, it was deliberate.

An unrealistic code for elections

Pick up any news item these days and there will be a connection with the Supreme Court in one way or the other. The spine recently developed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also owes its existence to a Supreme Court directive, which resulted in a brand new code limiting the election expenses of a candidate to Rs1.5 million. Election candidates were banned from providing transport facilities to voters on election day and were prohibited from using other promotional tools. The sentiment is noble but the implementation of this code of conduct seems impossible for various reasons.
Given the state of inflation and the size of constituencies — particularly, for the National Assembly — the amount of Rs1.5 million is unrealistic. Well-heeled Pakistanis spend more on a valima; expecting candidates to woo around a hundred thousand voters per constituency on that budget would be a tad unreal. In addition, a lot of services during campaigns are provided without any monetary transaction. One supporter gets the banners printed while another provides tents for the jalsa and a third supporter does the catering for the aforementioned jalsa, free of cost. This makes the process of keeping the tabs very difficult.
The ECP also prohibits the political parties from hoisting party flags on public property or at any public place unless granted permission by the local government for a certain fee. Every city is already flooded with political flags of all colours and hues. The residents of Karachi will vouch that they have seen the political flags of all parties inundating their streets, making the street look like it is in a perpetual state of a campaign of some kind or other. The code of conduct is silent on how the ECP will get rid of the flags and whether is has the authority to order local governments to do so. Further, the removal of party flags is contingent upon local governments having the resources to remove them.
Wall chalking as part of an election campaign is also prohibited by the ECP along with the use of loudspeakers, barring election meetings. Again, controlling wall chalking would be a momentous task and the candidates can always say that their supporters and not their campaign teams are behind it.
Further, the ECP also forbids candidates to affix posters, hoardings or banners larger than the prescribed sizes for the campaign. Most urban centres and highways already sport larger than life hoardings of political leaders; the Sharif brothers in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Gujranwala, Asfandyar Wali in Charsadda and Peshawar, Altaf Hussain in Karachi and Hyderabad, Imran Khan in Lahore and Peshawar and the whole Bhutto clan almost everywhere in Pakistan. These hoardings do not ask voters to vote for any particular candidate during the election period. Hence, they are not related to any election campaign. Yet, they propagate the messages of various political parties and can affect the election process. The ECP’s code of conduct does not say anything about these advertisements.
The ECP also banned candidates from providing transport facilities to voters on election day, which, again, is essential for maintaining neutrality. However, it can adversely impact the percentage of voters, who will actually go out and vote. While limiting election expenses is a very commendable step for which ECP should be congratulated, it needs to make the code of conduct more realistic and must also come up with ways to implement it.

First published in The Express Tribune.