Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Letters from Pakistan: "I" The grown up "Misfit Modern Muslim" woman : HUKM-E-HAKIM... the order of the almighty ruler

Letters from Pakistan: "I" The grown up "Misfit Modern Muslim" woman : HUKM-E-HAKIM... the order of the almighty ruler: torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world...this makes it hard to plan the day... E.B. White its intere...

HUKM-E-HAKIM... the order of the almighty ruler

torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world...this makes it hard to plan the day... E.B. White
its interesting once you get focused on something , the whole universe seems to be helping you to find the clues... Amber. H. Hammad
no no, this is not about sayings by others and me but its about changing weathers today. its all about FALL. autumn has stepped in, and finally the days of worrying over electricity load shedding are over. now we'll worry about the gas and cooking and heating our cold homes. i came home the other day to find no electricity, no water and no gas supply. if you get used to a luxury, it becomes a necessity and the constant dependency on the providers pulls you away from the ability to provide for it yourself. now i cannot imagine going to a well or canal to fetch water for my household chores, and i don't think it is possible that i can consume that water (particularly Lahori underground water) and survive, as my digestive system has forgotten how to fight all those live bacteria. just like i have gotten used to a life where i have a mobile phone, internet and cable TV service, car, fast food, medicine and now tab and i pod etc. up to a few years back i was pretty much used to celebrating Basant every coming of spring, just like i am used to celebrating Eid twice every year. somehow Basant was my favorite indigenous festival, as it involved fun and frolic as well as food and family. but the establishment could not contain the joy of people and the few black sheep made the whole flock of these dumb sheep suffer. instead of controlling the chemicals used on the kite strings, they simply banned the whole festival. Intizar Hussain writes in Bandagi Nama about this whole situation, and his title can tear those apart who feel; its called "HUKM-E-HAKIM, MARG-E-BASANT"  which means "the order of the ruler, the death of Basant" . the intensity of this phrase is literally lost here in translation though. 
so reverting to the begining , in a country like ours, being in a position like this where you are delerious that you might be able to bring a change in the society and perhaps try to make some efforts, and at the same time understand that your time on this earth is short so you must take life as it presents it to you each day.... it does get hard. when i plan to visit a sick relative with a homemade bowl of soup , and leave home with a feeling that it might make somebody a little happy , and spill some soup on the pit in the road that wasnt there the day before, and get stuck in a trafic for an hour because a new bridge is being constructed, i can only curse the Hakim-e-Ala under the mask of Khadim-e-Ala, that he gets to drive on the roads which are alreay built and not maintained, so he realizes that there is not much point in constructing new ones with bridges , as they might all just spill soup after a few months. 
this fall , i cant help but worry about the fall of this nation, into the abys of  numbness.i recieved an SMS recently which was forwarded as a joke. somehow it gave me goosebumps , and i m sharing it here:
A Raja once decided to check the limits of patience of his people. so he asked his Vizirs to put tax on the bridge that the people used everyday to go to work. noone protested. the raja double the tax and triplled in the following weeks. noone uttered a word. the raja added a condition that they had to pay tax daily for using the bridge as well as bring wheat to pay. people still obeyed silently. pushing his own limits, the Raja asked his ministers to also give a beating to the people at the entrance of the bridge. the very next day ther were people outside the palace demanding to protest to the Raja. so he summoned them, feeling kind of relieved that finally somone has made the effort to stand up. when he asked those people what bothered them they requested the raja to increase the number of the people who gave them the beating on the bridge because there were too many people and only 2 men to beat them , and they had to wait in long queues waiting to cross the bridge.
i feel like part of that kind of a flock, getting ready for the new elections, waiting to support our torturers...being so comfortably numb.
"mujhay dar yeh nahi keh yeh mulk kaisay chalay ga? mujhay fikar yeh hay kay yeh kahin aisay hi na chalta rahay" Shahzad Roy

Thursday, October 4, 2012

OMG = Oh My Allah

OMG (Oh My God) is a new Indian film being shown at various cinemas across Pakistan. we downloaded a pirated version and watched it the other night. very interesting and entertaining flick. like most successful Indian movies its ending is audience friendly. but what hit me really hard was not its take on religious practices, but the fact that IT IS BEING SHOWN IN CINEMAS ALL OVER PAKISTAN. that too right after the whole incident of the making of a blasphemous movie about our Prophet, and the globe wide protests and riots against it!
I will just brief you about the movie.
Oh My God is a recent 2012 Bollywood comedy movie satirical towards organized religions. It is based on a Gujrati play( Kanji Virudh) and apparently also is quite similar to the Australian film called The Man Who Sued God. It is the story of a middle-class Hindu athiest shop keeper named "Kanji", who sells Hindu Idols and statues and encounters misfortunes coninciding with his blasphemous behavior. one thing leads to another and he ends up filing a case againts God in the high court. and somehow God appears personified as a handsome man and helps him out in friendly yet abstract ways.while Kanji is busy fighting the case againts Acts of God,God tells Kanji to read the Hindu Gita, Muslim Quran and Christian Bible. in the movie God also implies that He created man, and man created religions, and of those religious customs He seems not too happy about.

anyways, tons of books have been written, movies have been made and talks have taken place ( Small Gods, Sophie's World, Matrix, are few) regarding the subject of God, Man and Creation. but the interesting thing for me about them all is their place in the current religio- political environment of Pakistan. we as a nation are showing the world that if they try to hurt our religious pride , we have the ability to completly destory ourselves. self destructive behaviour.. is it? now if (God forbid) the main content of this film was about our religion, i really dont think that they would have allowed the Pakistani cinemas to play it here. but why then are they ok with it , if its about some other religion? If we demand respect for our religion , is the respect of other religions not our concern? is it not about coexistance and harmony , but only about i am right and you are wrong?
Or is that i am reading into it incorrectly. maybe, perhaps, possibly,in some weird way, the acceptance of this particular film signifies our slowly increasing tolerance?

just a thought .... when you say Oh My God, what do you really mean?

(P:S; now i don't want this movie to be banned here!! instead i want the prevalence of coexistence and tolerance. )

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The phenomenon of your birth was not your choice?

how strange is the phenomenon of birth. we don't have a say in it. where and when we are born is the most important step of our whole existence, and we don't get to make a choice. it shapes us, makes us and eventually breaks us. all the while we are alive, we torture ourselves over petty choices ; what to eat, what to wear, where to study, who to marry, how many kids to have, bla bla. and we don't remember that the most important decision of our lives was totally inconsiderate of our desire and choice. what if i could choose the time and place of my birth. would i choose the royal bedrooms of the Mughal era? hmm.. well i am not sure. there was too much sickness, no TV, no internet, no airplanes, and no pizzas.there weren't too many books either. on top of that there were lots of wars and royalty often died for just being royalty. Ok so perhaps i sould have liked to be born in Venice during the renaissance period. maybe i had a chance to meet Da Vinci and all those mega minds... No i would have like to be there perhaps during Ice Age, or the time of Prophets... Nah. the more i think about it the more i realize that in the whole of this amazing history of mankind, now is the best time to be an human being. we have ruinced the environment, sucked on earth's resources, teared the Ozone, killed millions of humans and other species, but to be born in any time of human history, this is the best. well what is there not to like? Readily available food without hunting? being vaccinated in childhood to be protected against horrible diseases? education of all sorts available? communication with people far far away instantly?a blast of knowledge, entertainment and choices? to sum up all that mankind has been working towards through last million years or so, has almost come true. with of course its pros and cons.
now imagine if you had another choice. To be born at all! now i dont know what that would mean. i read somewhere that "you dont have a soul. you are one". so perhaps i could go on living as a soul? floating in the universe (or MULTIVERSE as Michio Kaku puts it.). or in heaven? none of us have a memory from the times when we were not born. we dont know if we existed in any kind of form before that ( are you also thinking about post death existance now?) well, there are lost of way to think about this phenomenon, religiously, spiritually, scientifically etc. but how i want to see it , is as a blessing. i see the world created for me. i see myself having a special place in it and i feel that i have a right to enjoy it, feel it, live it. the beuty and significance of life is beyond words , only if you see it . yet the hum drum of daily existence, survival and intellectual masterbation fogs our vision to "look beyond what you see" (as Rafiqi puts it in Lion King).
"Before my birth there was infinite time, and after my death, inexhaustible time. i never thought of it before: i'd been living luminously between two eternities of darkness."  from the first chapter ("I Am A Corpse" ) of the book My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk.

so live and let live :)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Post-Nationalism, Sub-Continent and the Cricket

one world, post nationalism, beyond borders, diaspora, are terms that give me hope for peace somewhere in human future.
the 20-20 cricket series is on and we all await days when Pakistani team will be playing. the height of cricket fever is on the days when Pakistan is to play against India. yes, that is the match that thrills people all over the sub-continent. people make their kids take school days off, shops are closed earlier , market places go quiet and women fry goodies to serve the families and friends getting together to watch the match. you can hear screams of joy or loud uncensored punjabi abuses blurting out from the rooms where tv is being watched while the electricity is still on.Miraculously if Pakistan wins, there is a celebration truer than the celebrations of Eid. and God forbid if we loose , then people go back to their normal every day sulking and feeling like a crappy nation. for a day or two we blame Afridi, or the cricket board or the match fixers, then we blame America (for unknown reasons) , and then are eventually distracted by news of a bomb blast, fire , kidnapping or some natural disaster occurring at one or other part of Pakistan. if nothing goes wrong tangibly we can find catharsis in the political statements of our leaders or the petrol prices rising again.
interestingly i have been coming across these thought provoking talks lately about the truth of the indo-pak partition. was it supposed to happen at all, or be divided this way? or not? whatever and however it came to happen , we all know it was painful for a hell lot of people of more than 2 religious groups. now after more than 60 years, still when common people go visit the other side of border, here to there, or there to here, an explosion of emotions and love is carried back home. my family migrated from Amritsar to Lahore and both my parents always cherished their love for their childhood's homeland. their parents had immigrated from Kashmir to Amritsar in the 19th century and my parents had inherited the love of Kashmir as well. now i am loaded with all this love of lands that i have not ever seen but i happened to visit India a few times in the last couple of years. South India is beautiful, Pondicherry and Kerela have their own charm. But the connection i felt with Northern India, and by that i basically mean Delhi, is remarkable. i literally had to remind myself many times "hello! you are not in Pakistan. so behave!" and i kept forgetting, because not just visually, architecturally or climatically, it is so similar to here. But the people, the language, the behaviors, the the food, and the smells are extremely alike. perhaps the only 2 differences were the presence of Hindu temples and the option of alcohol on restaurants menus. and the love and affection i received for being a Pakistani / Lahori was quite something. interestingly all the people i came across had some kind of connection to this part of late-India, i mean now- Pakistan. but our armed forces make sure that the people do not thrive these feeling too far. and it makes sense. if people don't want war or the fear of war why would they want the armed forces right! but perhaps i am wrong. my sarcasm here probably amuse a few , but the majority out there, that comprises the main population of our country, that has not been blessed with the right kind of education, awareness, thinking and also the opportunity to believe in the power of peace and harmony , will not agree or understand the fact that we are all very similar kind of people who follow different religions. well, people here are not ready to accept shias and sunnis as equal Muslims, so how can we expect them to accept non-Muslims to be any better. i feel that the nature of these nations is still the same, and it is based on the structure of of "otherness". we the Muslims, they the Hindus. we the Hindustanis , they the British. we the Pakistanis, they the Indians. we the Sunnis, they the Shias. we the Lahoris, they the Karachi'ites. there is an inherent gene here that forces the people to groups up and detest the others. Therefore perhaps these cricket matches beautifully bring our innate desire to fight come out. not with bombs but with bats and balls. well i prefer these fights over "those" fights at any given time. even if we loose the match, well so what. we can play again.  akhir baray baray deshon main aisi choti choti batain to hoti rehti hain ;)

immigration and the pakistani nationals

"have you considered immigration? ", "are you guys applying anywhere to immigrate?". Immigration is a topic that often pops up in conversations around me. Reasons are simple, few and very obvious. Security, Political and Economic instability, rise of fundamentalism and the very poor or increasingly expensive education and health system. perhaps for the very rich and the very poor, life seems to be the same. but for those who dwell in the middle , life is getting perpetually difficult. my tutor once told me that all the moralities and cultural values are retained and held together by the middle class in the south east Asia. and i agree with that. people of the middle class seems to be the ones who cant let themselves fall down to the pits of begging or cleaning others houses. and they are the ones who are trying to safe face end up suffering from all kind of psychological and heart diseases. so if you look around you'll observe that there is a big number of young people from this strata of society that are opting for moving to other countries , anticipating to live the American Dream. and ever since the late, sorry "last" (i wish) prime minister of Pakistan , Mr. Gillani outrightly stated in an interview to a foreign tv channel that WHO IS STOPPING THEM? them being the young generation of Pakistan who wants to move out of the country as they don't see a good future here, i have been really doubting my dreams of a revolution bringing about a good change for good in this country! i still can feel goosebumps whenever i think of that rotten interview of his. i mean, how can a person on such an important post not care about keeping the youth of the country stick there. shouldnt the job of these ***holes be to provide an environment of Hope if nothing else, for the young people in the country so they can at least Try to build this a better place? no? i should just Let It Be? i should just sit and keep blaming everything on America? (yeah..America. that is another popular thing going on in the conversations here. people , especially those who trust everything that the media tells them, tend to blame everything on America! i dont understand why. ) i should just keep whining and hope that the next elections are going to bring a change? will Imran Khan actually be able to reform this country ? will he even be able to win the next elections?
i dont have answers to any of these questions and you have no idea how frustrating that is unless you are experiencing this first hand. i remember when i was a kid i could go alone to the grocery store near my house to buy a pack of crisps , but i cannt even imagine sending my daughters out alone to do that. there are no clean play parks near my house where the children can go play on swings or slides without the fear of dengue or security. the chickens are fed with god know what, that from the dermatologist to the gynacologists are all telling the patients to stop consuming chicken and specially not to feed it to young girls. i have stopped watching news channels for almost 6 months now and if by chance i do encounter them they never sieze to depress me.
Depression is another buzz word. it hardly misses a conversation. "i am so depressed these days.", " my mother is going through a depression you know", "how is that friend of yours who looked so depressed in the party?". well i am not saying that depression is something of a speciality here that the rest of the world is not experiencing, but here somehow there are so many agents to trigger off this state that it seems inevitable. the other day my husband asked me to count faces on the road that appeared happy. and i was depressed to find none. No Happy Face on the roads of Lahore! how very sad. In the markets, the buyers and the shop keepers are sternly busy. Behind the driving seat, all the drivers are stressed out because of the crazy traffic. in the cafes most of the people are dicussing politics or the matches we are loosing. at Mcdonalds the mothers are bitching about in-laws and the children are whining for more ice-creams. i looked at my husband and smiled before we go off the car and i said, "here. this smile should mean the world to you love." and he smiled back at me.
and that is how i ignore everything hapenning outside the bubble of my little world and think , "when people immigrate outside Pakistan, do they smile more often?"

Saturday, September 29, 2012

raising the pets of your children

i am a mother of twin 6 year old girls. their birth changed our lives completely. all parents out there understand what i mean. remember those days when you could sleep and wake up as late as you wanted. you didn't have to spell out swear words to your friends. never cleaned up anyone else's room. and aaaah those long uninterrupted showers! this is not whining . NO. its just counting some differences when being alone meant being alone. being a parent of more than one child means that even if you feel lonely, you never are ALONE :) which can be a blessing or a misery depending on how you take it :)
but all jokes aside, parenthood brings joys that re not comparable with anything in this whole world. the smiles, the hugs, the kisses, and the sleepy faces of your children are so much more mushy than the holding hands and hugging your boyfriend  (yeah yeah i am a Muslim woman from Pakistan remember !). well all the parents know that too.
i had heard that the early years of being a mother are the hardest. well my experience says THAT IS SO NOT TRUE! who said that the first few months or years were difficult. Ok, so i was sleep deprived. Yess i didn't find time to shower daily. I fed twins so yeah i felt like a cow feeding one from the right and other from the left.... but that was still easier to what parenting of 6 year olds is now. i mean is it 6 years of sleep depriviation? or last few years of playing a referee for the 2? or just the fact that as kids grow up its not just about changing nappies, feeding and putting them to sleep. it becomes so much more than that! its a mind job 24/ : character development, manners and behavior understanding, desire control, self image, body image, what to watch and not to watch, what to play, when and where. dengue. typhoid. flu. K & N chicken phobia. sleep pattern and don't even get me started with the dinner table. but fine. i find my way to ease through that too. but perhaps the thing that pushes me off the edge is their over the top passion for animals (and birds. and critters !!! )
so when they were young, i got them a handful of those colorful florescent blue and pink chicks. who died within a week and the kids were heart broken. so me and my husband decided to get something that will last longer. stupid enough , we got them goldfish in a bowl. now no one tells you how dirty these fish can get if you don't change the water in the bowl daily! yeah! so apart from changing nappies i was changing the fishbowl water too! somehow in winters the fish died after being with us for 2 months or so. apparently the are sensitive to cold and heat both! and also die of over and under feeding. we killed 3 (unintentionally) with all these methods. well the list of pets giving up on us has just started . so next we got them 2 turtles. our intentions were neat. as its a known fact that turtles live longer than most of the other things on the planet, i anticipated big turtles as we grew older :P sadly the turtles are too stupid and like to hide under ovens in winters. and they can die like that. so that is what happened to them.
then we got a beautiful Persian cat . she was a true beauty and really sweet too. but i felt really bad for her as the kids were pulling her literally. then some pups came to live with us but had to be given away. then some more chicks. turtles again. chicks again. a fruit bug in a glass jar, that they named Toto lasted almost a week. 27 lady bugs in a plastic jar that lasted 3 days. and finally when they turned 5 we got them Desi (organic) chicks and they didn't die till we cooked them and they made delicious Qorma. we got another batch and got a nice shelter made for them. sadly they caught some disease and died in summers one by one. all 25. to deal with the children's emotional trauma we got a pair of was eaten by a cat as the bunny made a hole and cam out of the cage! and now we have 2 kittens; Simba and Tulip. but the story has not ended. AS my husband started showing signs of being allergic to these kittens and now we have to let them go and the bargain with the kids is 25 chicks! yess!!! so the bottom line here is that we are not raising two kids only, but their pets as well! jee! the kids are kids, they'll play , have fun, get scratched or something . but its ME who will be screaming after the kids to wash an sanitize, and also cleaning the mess after the pets, feeding them and cleaning them also, and all just in the name of love.
ah.... the things we do for love.
i hear my girls singing My Little Ponies now all the time as they are in love with the show. and i am dreading their next pet request! farming seems like a good business sometimes, at least there will be an abundance of all kinds of farm animals :P

to know thyself...kee jaana main kaun?

being bilingual in the urban and rapidly modernizing Pakistan is not just fashionable but is a norm now. last week at my daughter's parent-teacher meeting, the topic of Urdu treated as an inferior language in the school was brought up (by me of course). and quickly other parents started bringing in their concerns. ironically most of these parents were like me, who had a good command over English. Those parents who did not say much about the topic were either the ones who were busy texting on their phones OR the ones who secretly want English to be forced upon their kids and regard it as a symbol of success or something. so in my head i had divided the class room of my 1st grader in 3 groups of parents. 1: those who didn't care. 2: those who spoke English well and realized the importance of the mother tongue (or pseudo pretenders and protectors of culture). and 3: those who had a tough time in life because of their lack of command over this other language. my concern of the treatment of Urdu in schools is not just the way they treat the language, or the attitude of  most "madern" people towards it, but its what this attitude and treatment symbolize. i am not a very patriotic, or Urdu speaking, or a purist of any kind. i am perhaps an example of the changing and globalizing world around me. but what i am proud of is the fact that i am who i am . i am proud to be this culturally confused mixture of east and west. my sentences comprise of both English and Urdu ; i am comfortable wearing shalwar kameez dupatta or a swimsuit as required ; i can eat left over paratha and egg in the morning and then go out for Nutella crepes and coffee with my friends; i enjoy the punjabi sleezy comedy stage shows as much as i enjoy How I Met Your Mother or Californication. and i respect each of these beautiful nouns and verbs and various aspects of my life , as much as any other. i dont want my children to associate speaking Urdu with the servants, helpers and uneducated people! i want them to speak, read, write, understand and respect the language as they respect family. in my opinion Urdu, English, pizza, daal roti, and all these miscellaneous multi cultural , bi lingual, co existing elements of this south Asian contemporary urbanized cultural environment , are what shaping us and our children , the way a family shapes a person. you learn your manners from your Dad, the rules from your Mom, the way to secretly get things in the house from your big sister, smoking from your brother, access to porn from cousins and so on and so forth. and all these relations have a special place in your life that is irreplaceable by any other. similarly Urdu symbolizes our heritage, our history and culture. by treating it as just one "subject" in school , and speaking with the staff and maids in this language is the attitude which can bring the value of this beautiful language down . lets not do that . and let this parent of ours live on healthily and with a lot of respect , as it deserves :) .
sochtay raho aur chill kero.

Amber Hammad