Saturday, October 04, 2008

Turn me to stone...

There are spiders spinning silver webs of artificiality around the corners of everything I see around me. I am a useless, idle witness to this seemingly endless quest to divide and distinguish amongst people who were supposedly the same. Nothing seems to be more important than egos and short-term happiness, and little useless jokes that will be forgotten with the people who made them. Sometimes I feel something really important is missing, like water from an Arab's backpack. And yet the Arab gets ridiculed when he panics. Something has changed though, I don't remember names anymore. I forget routes and places, people and faces. I look beyond them instead of looking 'through' them as if my memory has had enough. I've lost my ability to smile when I don't mean to, and laugh when I should only be smiling, and crack little useless jokes. And yet, I miss all that. Why miss out on happiness?...even if it's short-term. Or maybe it's just another the notion of a "best friend" that I used to have, an idea for which I could have argued and fought in my days of naïvety, and many others still do. Tonight is special and has brought a hidden passageway with it that leads back to a warm yet cloudy afternoon in 2003. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion that day and had a certain sense of calmness and the sort of beauty that can only be painted through violin notes on the stuff that clouds are made of. I close me eyes and feel it all over again and don't want to come back to this place...this very moment. And I thank you again for giving me a dream to hold on to for so long, it feels like another life now that I think about it. And no matter how trivial and insignificant it may seem to another person now, it meant the world to me and will always remain in my secret closet of forgotten, quiet mistakes.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Two Nations, Two Choices

There's been a lot about Pakistan in the Indian media over the last 10 days: obituaries of Benazir Bhutto; predictions about the forthcoming election; attacks on General Musharraf; and conspiracy theories about the assassination.
I have no problems with much of the coverage, but I am disappointed by the unwillingness of most commentators to go further back in history After all, Pakistan was once a part of India. Both countries secured independence within a day of each other in 1947. And both made many important choices in the decades that followed: choices that explain why Pakistan and India have developed so differently.
And yet, there was a complete absence of historical perspective in much of the analysis.

Even a decade ago, I suspect that we would have covered Pakistan's tragic slide into anarchy very differently.
It's still fashionable for a certain kind of north Indian to say about Pakistan and Pakistanis, 'we are the same country divided by politicians. And we are the same people.' But as the years go by and new generations take over, this sentiment is fading. Punjabis may feel a kinship with Pakistan — many belong to families divided by Partition — but the rest of India seems much less empathetic.
I've been in Bombay and Bangalore since Benazir's assassination and it was interesting to note how little people cared about events in Pakistan and how quickly even that interest has begun to fade.

And if you follow the international press, you'll note that the old equivalence, where India and Pakistan were always talked about in the same breath, has now vanished. If Pakistan is compared to any country, it is to Afghanistan . India, on the other hand, tends increasingly to be compared to China. Few foreign journos even bother with the clichés they once used when they referred to Pakistan — such as, for instance: 'compared to its democratic neighbour India'. And rarely does the prospect of another India-Pakistan war (a traditional obsession with Western journalists) intrude into their analysis of events in that troubled country.

I remind you of all this to make two separate points.

One: we must not let the largely Delhi- and north Indian-dominated 'national' media blind us to the increasing irrelevance of Pakistan as a factor in determining India's future. Punjabi journos may be fascinated by Pakistan; the rest of us are merely curious.

But it is the second point that I regard as more significant . In the 1950s and in the 1960s, when India was ruled by a Nehruvian consensus, there were many critics — usually on the political right — who thought we had got it badly wrong. How did it benefit India , they asked, to follow some crackpot policy of non-alignment which involved a surreptitious tilt to the Soviet Bloc when we could so easily be friends with the US , the world's most powerful democracy?

There were only two major Asian countries that rejected the US prescription for development and foreign policy: India and China. And look where they are today.

Look at Pakistan, they said. Its rulers recognised that there was much to be gained from linking up with Washington and enjoying the benefits of American patronage. A steady stream of American aid dollars flowed into Pakistan . The armed forces had access to the latest weaponry. The streets of Karachi and Lahore were full of imported cars — not a Landmaster or an Ambassador in sight. Nor did Pakistanis have to put up with all this socialist nonsense. They valued free enterprise and were proud to say so.

The America-Pakistan equation frequently annoyed Indians. It sent us into paroxysms of rage when Richard Nixon and Harry Kissinger backed Pakistan 's whisky-sodden General Yahya Khan while his troops were committing genocide in Bangladesh . And anti-Americanism reached a peak when Nixon sent the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. (He wanted to warn us off invading West Pakistan).

During the Zia-ul-Haq era, when Pakistan 's economy seemed robust and billions of dollars were pumped into the state treasury while we struggled to make ends meet, many educated Indians sincerely wondered whether we were paying the price for Pandit Nehru's mistaken choices. Hadn't Mohammed Ali Jinnah's heirs got it right while we floundered? Wouldn't India have been better off on America 's side?

There was a corollary to all this. In the 1960s, the Jan Sangh and Swatantra parties, which wanted us to renounce Nehruvian non-alignment and rush into Washington's embrace , also made the point that there was no harm in declaring that Hinduism was India 's state religion. If Pakistan could flourish as a Muslim country, then why should India be shy of owning up to its Hindu heritage?

With the benefit of hindsight, we can today safely say that every single one of those propositions was flawed .

The case of Pakistan is especially instructive. Because it believed all the American dogma about free trade, it never built for itself the kind of industrial base that India constructed at such huge sacrifice in the name of self-reliance. Because it tied itself so closely to US foreign policy, its diplomats did whatever America wanted, even helping pimp the first assignation between Kissinger and the Chinese in 1971. There's no denying that Pakistan got many Sabre jets and Patton tanks (remember the 1965 War?) along with billions of dollars in aid. It also got away with genocide in 1971. And the US turned a blind eye while its scientists ran a nuclear black market.

Treat those benefits as rent paid by America . Because Washington turned Pakistan into its largest military base , an entire country at the service of Uncle Sam.

In the 1960s , it was used to keep a watch on Russia (the U2 spy planes took off from there); in the 1970s, it served as a back channel for China-US diplomacy; in the 1980s, it was used for the Afghan 'jehad'; and now, it is a launch pad for a crucial part of the 'War on Terror'.

The Americans had no interest in developing Pakistan's economy or in promoting the institutions of democracy . They preferred to deal with a succession of military dictators (Ayub Khan, Yahya, Zia and now Musharraf) because it was both easier and quicker. And they actively exploited Pakistan's lack of secularism — its very raison d'être was its status as an Islamic nation — to launch the world's first high-tech jehad , thereby unleashing the fundamentalist and terrorist forces that are tearing Pakistan apart today. Looking back, it is hard to see how any country could have got it more wrong than Pakistan did. Every single choice it made — foreign policy, economic, religious, political etc — seems, in retrospect, to have been a disastrous mistake. In contrast, Nehru created the modern Indian republic, one of 21st century's potential superpowers. The same Americans who once dismissed India as a Russian lackey now throng our airports looking for investment opportunities .

When their President comes to India , he talks to our Prime Minister on equal terms and discusses foreign policy. When he goes to Pakistan on the other hand, he merely instructs their President on which terrorists to hand over to US authorities. Of course, Nehru made mistakes. But can anybody really deny that the principal reason why India and Pakistan , once part of the same country, have followed such divergent paths is because of the choices both countries made in the years following independence?

At first, India's priorities may have seemed (from a middle-class perspective) wrong-headed and muddled. Pakistan 's may have seemed glamorous and instantly gratifying. But, in the long run, we ended up as the superpower. And Pakistan as the failed state.
The divergent paths we have taken and the different destinations we have reached explain why, outside of the north, Pakistan seems no more than a curiosity to most Indians. There is a historical legacy, but our presents are very different, and our futures have nothing in common.

I respect Punjabi sentimentality about Lahore with its filmi notion of brothers separated by circumstances. But, Punjabi sentimentality and Bollywood aside , how can one not feel sorry for the people of Pakistan, betrayed by a succession of incompetent leaders, seduced by a superpower concerned only with its own interests, and bewildered by the tricks that fate has played on their beleaguered country?

History is full of ifs and buts. So who knows how things would have turned out? But just suppose there had been no Partition . Would these same people have lived a very different life? Would they have been part of the Indian success story?

That's a question for the ghost of Mohammed Ali Jinnah to answer.

-Vir Sanghvi

Worth the read -- Second article and its response

Very weighty analysis, and regretably true. I think we Pakis will emerge from our present predicament wiser and stronger, even if economically far behind India. In every American there is an air of incorrigible innocence, which seems to conceal a diabolical cunning, said A. E. Housman. I am afriad we fell for the American air of incorrigible innocence in the early days, and are only just beginning to discover its diabolical cunning. The lessons we have learnt first hand no leadership school anywhere could have taught us. I hope we dont wind up paying too steep a price for these tutorials, though it appears we may already have. The 7th Fleet merely added salt to open wounds.

The problem has been that most Pakis have a very high threshold for pain and general inconvenience. They are seized with the 'messiah syndrome' and waiting patiently for someone to come and fix their wagon. Well, for all one knows, someone may actually turn up and fix the Paki wagon, though it appears improbable. Hence the journey, if there is one, must be completed on foot. That is just fine, because under the present adverse circumstances regarding fossil fuel emissions, pedestrians and cyclists are to be encouraged in every respect. It makes for healthier bodies as well! My apologies if I appear to trifle with serious issues. But what else can one do when faced with 'irrefutable' evidence that we are up the creek and the paddle's gone missing? Or is this all a big charade? A grand conspiracy to drive the complacency out of the rank and file, and break it out of its slumber? Scare the bejezzuz out of the populace and force it 'out of the box' and into a state of mental agility?

Paki military dictators have treated the Paki populace as an extension of the regulars in uniform. This could never have been possible in a country the size of India. 160 million people lend themselves to marshalling more easily than 1 billion. The Paki civil society has never been more alive in its history than at the present moment, and the fundos are an integral part of this civil society whether we like it or not. The fundos are pushing their agenda and the much larger moderate body is pushing its agenda. Social justice and equity are the common objectives of both agendas, though the routes taken do differ, specially when talking of the lunatic fringe. Prevailing circumstances have forced the moderates to take to the streets in large numbers, and if the silver lining is to be seen, then the lawyers, media and political parties have given the lie in no uncertain terms to the stereotype that Paki streets are crawling with fundos.

While Uncle Sam may have our head honcho in uniform by the short and curlies, the same cannot be said about the Paki civil society. The dilution of the writ of the state, witnessed specially in the meagre number of tax payers and the huge informal economy cited by some at 11 times the size of the formal economy, is testimony that the Paki populace is nobody's fool, and understands the very tightrope that our formal leadership has to tread in its dealings with its 'unholy masters'. An old management axiom says that one cannot manage what one cannot measure, and Uncle Sam has no idea about the extent of the Paki curry!

India and Pakistan post 1947 have developed along two radically different models. The only way India could have functioned given its vast and differing population was through a system of strong institutions and self-reliance. Pakistan, with its much smaller population, had the luxury of adopting an inter-dependent model which, for all practical purposes, made us the 53rd American state The fact that we were far removed in geographical terms helped us both have the cake and eat it too, up to a point. America prided itself as a melting pot of cultures, and so did Pakistan, a common religion being no bar for different cultures. America, with its gospel of conspicuous consumption, was fascinating to a people whose belief structure mandated a Spartan life style. Hence we gorged on the American offerings, as and when they were made available, with little or no attention paid to developing our own industrial base. Whether gorging is permitted in our belief structure is another matter. So while today India aspires to be like China, we Pakis merely aspire to be ourselves, and in that regard we are trying to establish who we really are with a vigour unheard of and unseen in the past.

Would the territories comprising present day Pakistan and Bangladesh have been better off had Partition not taken place in 1947 at enormous sacrifice of human lives? Would we have been part of Shining India? Or would we have been part of the the huge Indian underbelly living below the poverty line, estimated by some at over 600 million? I really cant say. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel there would have been far less soul searching on both sides. We would also not have attained the levels of societal maturity had there not existed two antagonists in the Subcontinent. India has been likened to a Boeing 747 with a full load constrained by its construct to seek a predictable, straight and level flight. Pakistan, on the other hand, is often compared with the F-16 Fighting Falcon, 'condemned' by its construct to pull 'Gs' in the seeking of satisfaction. The question that goes abegging is, do we have our 'G' suits on?



Monday, August 18, 2008

My Dear President Musharraf

17th August 2008

Dear President Musharraf,

I am one of those Pakistanis who love Pakistan and as such consider myself one of a minority. I do not expect you to pay any heed to this letter of mine nevertheless whatever is going on has forced me to pen a few words to you.

Mr. President, with a literacy rate of less than 60%, we are a nation at the lowest rung of the international literacy ladder. Before holding the latest fateful elections you ought to have known that our votes belong to people who promise us , ‘bread, clothes and shelter’, good jobs or to those whom we fear. Some of us vote just because we consider elections and rallies, a welcome break in the monotony of deprivation, a sort of prolonged party. We do not vote because we love Pakistan and wish the best for it. We think as families, clans, regions and ethnic groups. We could not quite place you in any of these groups so we could not possibly vote for you. Moreover, you did not make the usual speeches and promises to feed us, clothe us and house us.

Mr. President, you are a man of honour and character. We do not appreciate such men. You were trying to force us into loving Pakistan while we are fond of loving ourselves. What kind of a naïve person are you?

Mr. President, please resign. We do not deserve you. Facing the impeachment is another naivete you will commit as the people who have already bought our votes will spend some more and buy some more. They will make it sure that you regret the vision of a strong Pakistan. True, we will call you a coward for opting to resign/flee instead of challenging the charges against you but then what else do you expect from us? We love mistaking dignified silence as cowardly paralysis or proof of guilt.

In short, Mr. President, let us destroy Pakistan because it’s something we love doing and will never quit doing! Save yourself instead of trying to save Pakistan!''

18th August 2008

My Dear President Musharraf,

You have done what thousands of true Pakistanis were praying for you to do. You have resigned.

It remains to be seen if the pack of jackals will continue hunting you down or stop crying blood after your resignation. You will always stay our president no matter what these dirty politicians say.

Let's see what becomes of the bone, err, Pakistan now.

Our prayers with you,
Saima Noreen


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Half -asleep- stupor

Its moments like these that I live for. For that tear that rolls down my cheek when the happiness is overwhelming and I know that no one knows. And when I can justify my madness, my passion, my energy and every moment of sheer, brutal hard work I put in...for moments like these. Overcoming the odds and defying fate, I have come back from behind to win this battle. Only to find what I always was meant to be. I have learned to like this feeling...this way of life. And I know I will look back to this day, this moment, this place...and I will miss it. I have become so used to this. Sitting here in the dark, humming to classical music or screaming to rock... till I see light from the bottom of the doors to my left or right. I prefer the light from the right cuz it means my dad who asked me to go to sleep early tonight, like every night, has come out for a drink. I love the thrill of quickly jumping into bed and pretending to sleep. Sometimes it's okay to be childish and immature, I amuse myself with the thought. When the light comes from the left, its just the Sun doing its work, waking normal people up...and I chuckle thinking about how I'm sitting in the middle of East and the South....which makes no sense to normal people, of course. I often think about those whose lives I have touched. I never delete the "thank you" texts. I like to collect them...they are one of my most precious intangible collections. I try to make at least one person feel special every day, cuz it makes me feel special. I'm not sure what I really seek...but at the end of the day, its moments like these that I live for.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


It is extremely annoying when we are left to rot in the dark or on the limited amount of backup power an above average Pakistani household maintains. I got a couple of extra sockets connected to the U.P.S so that I can stay online. I plan to make arrangements next month to go wireless and move to a 1 mbps connection. And finally we'll stop fighting over who gets to use which computer and which computer gets access to the internet. When the U.P.S runs out of battery, I usually go out for a walk under the night sky and it feels great. I amuse myself with how the sky above me is a picture of the past and some of the stars we see might not even exist today. An exploding star that is a 100 light years away will only be seen exploding a 100 years later on Earth. Speaking of Earth, I want to come back down to it now.

To my right is my dad's new work table and other office related furniture with lots of files and dust. Its funny I still call this table "new". It has been there for 7 years now (and that explains the dust I guess, yes we do have maids but dust accumulates fast when you live on a ground floor apartment). Maybe because it has taken place of where me and Amma used to sleep on her wooden bed that she used to call "takhat" in her Rampuri Urdu. Its been 12 years since she passed away. She was the first of my grandparents to pass away in my presence. They're all gone now. Sometimes I wonder why death comes to all of us. Why is it greater than all great men?

Had great men been spared, my grandfather would have been one of them. He was almost in his 90s but could recreate all anecdotes from his prime with the most vivid and colorful detail. How he killed that Lion or how he escaped the mad Elephant or how he hunted down that big cursed Peacock worshiped by the Hindus. And how he later fell mysteriously sick for a few years, with half his body paralyzed and then his amazing recovery. A top athlete, a gold medalist all his life at the Aligarh University...he lived the rest of his days in reminiscence. As if nothing else mattered after that. In his final years, his short-term memory left him. He could recall conversations from the 1950s but couldn't ever get enough of the nine o clock news. And to test my theory, I always wanted to ask him who the current prime minister was...and I knew that he didn't know. Partly because he was old and partly because prime ministers come and go fast here so I don't entirely blame him.

Its funny how I came up with names like Amma and Abba for my grandparents. I miss Amma and Abba. Cancer and old age took their lives. I feel sad for my parents sometimes when I empathize. Their parents are gone. My mom never got to see her mom. She passed away when my mom was an infant. And I confess I take my parents for granted sometimes. And I don't say it enough but I love them. And I wish I could say it more often. When I think of my life without them, it brings tears to my eyes. I feel like someone just took the roof away from above my head and I'm walking under the night sky again looking at that picture from the past. Only this time...the feeling isn't great.

And I better click publish now before the lights go out again...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Barson Ke Baad

Barson ke baad
Barson ke baad...

Barson ke baad dekha
Aik shakhs dil-ruba sa

Ab zehen main nahin hai
Per naam tha bhala sa

Barson ke baad
Barson ke baad...

Aabroo khichay khichay se
Aankhein jhuki jhuki si
Baatein ruki ruki si
Lehja thaka thaka sa

Ab zehen mein nahin hai
Per naam tha bhala sa

Barson ke baad
Barson ke baad...

Pehlay bhi loag aey kitnay hi zindagi mein
Wo har tarah se lekin
Auron se tha juda sa

Ab zehen mein nahin hai
Per naam tha bhala sa...

Barson ke baad
Barson ke baad...

-Ahmed Faraz (Ahmed Jehanzeb version)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Athar! Its so hot in here!

Really? I don't think so....I'll just sit here.

No way! Main andar ja rahi hoon.

Andar? Andar where?


No I said Andar? - where?!


*Reading the shocking pink Dawn News - Open Frequency poster*

"Let's Mass Debate!"


What? What's so funny?

Say that again!

I just said, let's mass debate!

HAHAHHAHAHA.....say that again!


NO I did NOT say, let's m@sturbate!

Friday, February 01, 2008


In my state of reclusion, I like to explore dusty shelves full of books that haven't been touched in years. I like the sight of plankton like tiny flying colorless particles visible only in the sunlight filtered through my window, creating a shiny staircase in my room. Relationships are like those friable pieces of paper that turn to powder if handled inappropriately. I take great care of books though. As a child, I despised people who wouldn't treat my books right; people who wrote on the smooth pages, people who wet their fingers with their tongues to turn over with a habit of bending pages, leaving dents. They made simple tasks look very "sophisticated" and I found it funny...not the HA-HA wala funny but the strange wala funny. My old drawer is my little time machine that takes me back to the early days. It's funny how some of those little pieces of paper, birthday cards, eid cards, postcards, notes, chalks and rubbers have survived in that little place for all those years. Its like a little museum in there. There are times when I feel friable too and feel like I'm going nowhere. But I see light at the end of the tunnel and it keeps me going. It's funny again how I end up trusting myself and you time after time. One of my greatest fears is that when we meet, you're gonna cry and I'll hug you...but its only gonna be friendly.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I ran out of credit, battery and memory. Thanks a lot for the calls/sms/walls/scraps and what not you guys. My bday is always a big day for our family cuz it's also my parents' wedding anniversary. I told a kid about this back in school and he stood up immediately and announced "Ma'am, Athar is saying that he was born on the same day his parents got married!". Anyways, this bday makes me feel like I'm a dada to all of you children. So off you go now and I'll see you all on Monday *cough*cough*.

PS: My apologies if I forget to tag anyone on facebook in this.