Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Down Low on the Facebook Ban – Updated.

Last Update: 4.44 pm Eastern Time May 21st.

Media organizations all over the world are having a field day with the recently imposed ban on Facebook in Pakistan. News reports I find are often confusing things and missing out important details. Here are 10 things you need to know.

1. The ban is not permanent, it lasts to 31 May.

2. The ban was imposed by the Lahore High Court in retaliation to a group that invites users to take part in Draw Muhammad Day. Pictures of Prophet Muhammad are prohibited in most Islamic belief systems. The reasons for this include the possibility of the pictures being worshipped as well, which would be against the Islamic doctrine of worshiping only God. Caricatures/Cartoons etc. are also considered disrespectful.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

What to Make of the Pakistani Media.

The Musharraf era brought the Pakistani media into a whole new age. I just finished reading Salman Ahmad’s autobiography Rock and Roll Jihad, and it mentions Salman’s first meeting with PM (as Musharraf now goes by on his Facebook page). He talk’s of PM as someone fresh, this was early in his tenure. He saw a friendly man, one that was committed fighting corruption and the like that had plagued the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif before him. Musharraf’s last few years ended in a series of controversies, from dismissing the Chief Justice (that lost him Salman’s support), to imposing emergency rule to messing with the media which he himself had helped rise.

A little ironic yes, call it what you will. I remember watching Musharraf’s resignation speech in a crowded McDonald’s which usually favors cricket matches over politicians in its TV priorities. To say Musharraf was a great orator can be an understatement at times. You’d hardly run into a mockery of him as we did when we saw Prime Minister Gillani with George Bush at Camp David. I’ve had the honor of being in the same room as Gillani sahib, and he seemed a nice guy. He’s also much more imposing in his physical stature than I assumed from the telly. Our team’s conversation with him didn’t go quite as planned considering we had no idea how to tell him the debate he thought our debate team was going to have about Benazir Bhutto’s murder was not going to happen. We still debate amongst ourselves how the semantics of that debate would pan out but then realize we have work to do.

Back to the point.

The media is back in a little mess now. Journalists are again fighting for survival, as reported in this Dawn Editorial by Syed Irfan Ashraf, from the Department of Journalism at the University of Peshawar. Journalists are frequently caught in crossfire. from Daniel Pearl to the Long March in well, March 2009. Governments have been busy trying to figure out who does what in the parliament, and have been unable to figure out a common ground as to what sort of free speech they would like to see in Pakistan. As a result journalists can say or do only as the current government pleases.


Friday, 14 May 2010

Junoon – What You Need to Know.

Why a Pakistani Identity is Irrelevant.

Courtesy Dawn

“The problem with Pakistan isn’t our national identity. The problem is that we have allowed ourselves to be distracted and bogged down in the name of national identity for too long.

I am Pakistani. Surely that should be enough.”

Says Mohsin Hamid. The whole article gives you a glimpse into what could be a secular, purely democratic, non-ideological Pakistan. It sounds almost blasphemous. I’m sure it was or will be called that some time. But it is worth reading.

What’s your take?

Source: Dawn
Via: Yoon He

Burqas and Conservatives – Let it Be.

This Dawn Article is raising one of those existential questions that make me want to run. I’m too lazy to run so I just sit around and watch a TV show, but its the thought that counts.

So the column criticizes the Pakistan National Council of Arts for disallowing the production of Burqavaganza on Ajoka premises. I think the name says it all about the play.

The column’s main resting point being that the Council is not in a position to decide what is or against cultural norms because who’s to say what is and is not our culture. And then goes on to argue that anything that offends/is against the beliefs of conservatives should not automatically be disallowed. Note that the article uses the word ‘offends’, but I think the author meant it to mean anything that questions and not necessarily offends conservative sensibilities.

If it means offend then I’m not sure what to say.

Anyway, here’s my two cents (or should I say paanch rupay – to avoid accusations of becoming to American from my friends).

The Burqa itself being called conservative is an iffy for me. Sure not wearing one might be considered liberal, along with other things, but wearing one is a whole other matter. Who are conservatives in modern Pakistan? Are the Taliban conservative? Yes. Are they the conservatives? I don’t know. But they might be.

And this isn’t politically conservative, that too, but more socially here, even religiously.

And then again, this isn’t just any other conservative point of view.

Our society is unique. It is not based on debate between lines of argument, it is not based on purely rational/logical influences. Its philosophy lies in faith, and that is apparent everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, not to say that faith is not logical, by logical I mean here something like say the American or British Constitution; a set of rules that is based on strict guidelines. Points of view are held below in stature to those guidelines. In Pakistan on the other hand, points of view originate from faith and religion many times, and that is something people hold very dear to themselves. With a majority that lives such faith-based lives, it becomes more complicated to just deal with things such as the Burqa in a purely logical manner. All beliefs come with a certain inertia as I call it, a discomfort about change. That means people will not always be good humored about it, and its not their fault. While the private school generation of the 90s and the new millennium grows up watching satirical news shows, exposed to poke fun at society, others are in different states.

The Western model worked in the west, but dare I say they didn’t have as much to deal with. A solution here will be more complicated, definitely more ingenious. Boxes of liberal and conservative misrepresent the Pakistani people, and are reducing their argument to something simpler, which it unfortunately, is not.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Bulleh Shah: Ik Nukde Wich Gal Mukdi Ae.

Courtesy Sufi PoetryTranslation:
by Kartar Singh Duggal
Credit : Sufi Poetry []

It’s all in One contained.
Understand the One and forge the rest.
Shake off your ways of an apostate pest
Leading to the grave to hell and to torture
Rid your mind of dreams of disaster
This is how is the argument maintained
It’s all in One contained.

What use is it bowing one’s head?
To what avail has prostrating led?
Reading Kalma you make them laugh
Absorbing not a word while the Quran you quaff
The truth must be here and there sustained
It’s all in One contained.

Some retire to the jungles in vain
Others restrict their meals to a grain
Misled they waste away unfed
And come back home half-alive, half-dead
Emaciated in the ascetic postures feigned
It’s all in One contained

Seek your master, say your prayers and
surrender to God.

It will lead you to mystic abandon
And help you to get attuned to the Lord
It’s the truth that Bulleh has gained
It’s all in One contained

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

‘Love, Life, Junoon’ – To Sufi Night, with Love.

On Thursday the 29th of April, Pehchaan held ‘The Sufi Night’. Pehchaan is a student organization at Princeton, we describe ourselves as ‘Pakistanis and Friends of Pakistan at Princeton’.

In common terms, it is a PSA (read: Pakistani Students Association), but it is much more. Pehchaan is Urdu for identity, and the members of this group at Princeton are looking for just that, identity.

As Pakistanis, we look for our own identities, like everything else in college. We look for a national identity, or a lack thereof, and perhaps an identity for a country so strongly based in ideals that it forgot what it was. Everybody else, as the name suggests, are our close friends. Some personal, some just people supportive of the cause. All held together by a common appreciation of delicious Pakistani food served at Pehchaan Study Breaks, and also by the desire to integrate Pakistan into the world. They see Pakistan through Pakistanis at Princeton, and a gate is opened.

But last Thursday, things changed. For once, the food was not the highlight of a Pehchaan event. Shocking, but not terrifying by any means. A healthy sign (literally and figuratively).

As we explored ways to explore more Pakistani identity, we thought of rediscovering Sufism. While none of us are Sufis per se, Sufism is an established identity, that developed in Pakistan, of many places, and we thought we’d use this as our entry into some enlightenment, some academic discussion.

We struggled behind the scenes, with class schedules and tantrums, but things happened.

Suddenly Sufi Night was quite a lineup. We hosted Arjun Baba of Arjun and Guardians and now of Fanaa fi Allah (an American Qawwali group) and also Salman Ahmad of Junoon. The night was dotted with some Bulleh Shah, a talk on the religious aspect of Sufism by Sohaib Sultan, our Muslim Chaplain and author of The Koran for Dummies, some beautiful Sitar music by our friend Ahsan Cheema from UPenn, and some live Sufi Pop from Pehchaan.

The audience gathered into Rocky Common Room: majestic room mostly recognized by its starring in A Beautiful Mind. We started things off with Gal ik nukde wich mukdi ae (It all ends with one point), a Bulleh Shah classic. People listened intently as I spoke in an unconventional Punjabi accent, unconventional being an understatement, my English perhaps more Punjabi sounding than mu Punjabi itself.

Sohaib took the floor after, talking about ihsan, love and beauty. He explained while Sufi art and music blossomed, because Sufism encourages love for the world, and appreciates those that beautify the world, and we were all there that night, to celebrate that beauty.

And boy did we celebrate.

Arjun Baba (who was Sufi-christened Jehangir) took us all by storm. We were introduces to him by our Hindu Chaplain, who had previously been in touch with him for Sacred Sounds, where Arjun Baba performed his Bhajans. He is a fascinating performer. I wiki-ed him afterward, to find the most interesting stuff. His style, with his band is mostly western music, mostly reggae fused with eastern vocals. His vocal training ranging from the Bhajans deep in India, to performing at an Urs in Pakistan. He has been to Pakistan many times, and so has his tablanawaz (Tabla player), both big fans of the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Party and his tablanawaz Ustaad Dildar Hussain. (For once party in an article about Pakistan refers not to corruption or bootleggers, but to Sufi musicians) He is a worthy Youtube target while you procrastinate I must say.

On Sufi Night, Arjun let go of his guitar and took up his other persona, the harmonium accompanied by a Tabla. He started of with Allah Hu, trying to explain to the crowd the clapping rhythm custom of Qawwalis. I am no Qawwali connoisseur, but I found a lead. Salman Ahmad, seated humbly on the floor in front of the performers led with the clap. Everybody else followed. The audience was not a Pakistani one, it had all backgrounds. Many Arab friends, Indians, Caucasians, East Asians (which for some reason are just called Asian in the US, I really don’t get where the rest of Asia goes, but that for another time): students, guests, staff and faculty alike. Allah Hu was even better considering Salman had done a Rock version of the Nusrat classic a few years ago at Central Park, one of the most played on my iPod still.

About 200 people from all over clapping to the rhythm of a Pakistani Qawwali sung by a New Yorker at Princeton is something I will never forget.

Ahsan took the stage, unfortunately he could not find a tablanawaz, but his performance was stellar none the less. All sat intently listening to the painful, at times hopeful notes off the Sitar strings, perhaps reminiscing, perhaps just floating in the atmosphere of the night.

We were stupid enough to schedule our own performance after two stellar performances. But Hamza, Faaez and Waqas’s rendition of Husn e Haqiqi by Arieb Azhar did not go unnoticed. I was proudly manning the translation slideshow and was therefore able to snatch myself a picture as part of the band.

Salman Ahmad came on to close the night. We had heard he was going to read from his new book Rock and Roll Jihad, an autobiography, apparently so had he, but in the spirit of the night he said, plans changed.

Salman went impromptu. He talked about his life, his return to Pakistan, his forming of Junoon, his performances with Nusrat. All with an unexpected sense of humor, light, refreshing, thoughtful and kind. Every now and then he would start strumming on his twelve string. His whole talk was held together by the chant of Ghoom Toom Tana Na Nana. Every song he sang, he would bring it back to this. From a free style vocal yelp (I am out of words here, clearly), to Bulleya, to John Lennon’s You May Say I’m A Dreamer (in which by the way, he cleverly replaced religion with terrorism). The whole talk was about finding common ground, about appreciating what we have, about sitting together and chanting Ghoom Toom Tana Na Nana.

And he sung it all amazingly well. The sound system was no beast, I would know, I was running the volume switch. But Salman took us all by storm. His vocals have clearly come a long way, and I would go to any concert of the new re-incarnated Junoon.

I am a fan, a big fan. (And as me and Hamza realized the album Salman was signing for us was still not in stores yet, we ran over excitedly to the ATM to pay for it, gladly realizing we were over excited but enjoying it. We also realised we were two Pakistanis, slightly unshaven, running toward an ATM in the dark in dark colored shalwar kameez, something was just not right. As it goes, two Pakistanis walk into an ATM…)

Pehchaan stayed back for an after party of sorts, for pictures of “Sufi Grungism” and discussion with Salman and his wife Samina over Sufism, music and Pakistan.

Some things you never forget. I for one won’t forget Samina telling us that our generation was hope for Pakistan because we did not harbor resentment, and telling us to volunteer with SSGWI, their new charity organization.

It was a wonderful night. I can proudly say we opened for Arjun Baba and Salman Ahmad, would have made my night any day. But it was all about something much bigger than ourselves. Nothing described it better than what Salman signed our CDs and books with, ‘Love, Life, Junoon’.

Event Photos Courtesy my friend Ammar Ahmed