Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Monday, 19 July 2010

Thank You, My Inspirations.

Above is a graphic showing the hits this blog got. So I guess the interview really got people intrigued. I found the graph both hysterical and humbling at the same time. So this is a thank you note, and a progress report.

I depart from Karachi now for a little internet-less retreat, before I return in a few days and then fly back to Lahore for TEDxLahore 2010, both the rehearsal and the real thing. It has been a great trip, meeting family, weddings as usual, and now with fresh eyes looking at Karachi.

Just before I left Lahore, a partly disillusioned friend expressed his woes. He said he hoped he would find something in Pakistan to save, something great that made the dream believable in our heads. But after he came, it was just a country, with its problems. Just another country. I smiled and said he was right. But I am here and enjoying myself. I have lived here all my life, and wish to return back after getting necessary my necessary experience. This is however, not everyone’s land. But it is my home, it is the mitti (soil) I am made of. It is where I know the people’s smile and no road is alien. It is the home of the cricket team I so adore, the music I couldn’t live without, the buildings that have been my childhood and adolescent inspirations & the responsibility that makes it all mine. My education might make me partly foreign here, but this land is not foreign to me, and I will be here to let it do so.

I leave Karachi thinking these thoughts. Thinking of the live Qawwali I just heard a couple of days ago, that I must write about soon after I am back (with a writing mode inspired by Mohsin Hamid, whose The Reluctant Fundamentalist I just read). I think of the Aunty Crowd that so amuses me, and which I shall also write about. I think of Noori and Hor Vi Neevan Ho, which I am listening to now and which will make my all time favorites.

I am working with Shahzad Hameed for a little discussion, in touch with Shehzad Roy, and working myself on a post on my meeting with Muhammad Jawwad, and more.

Thank you all.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

My Thoughts On Pakistani Blogging.

Haneya Zuberi has a Special Report on blogs and Pakistani bloggers in The News on Sunday. Read the whole story, Blog it out. Here is a little quote from me in the story.

According to Zeerak Ahmed, a sophomore at Princeton University who made a blog to fill in a requirement for his journalism class and has now become a regular blogger, says that “some bloggers are hired by larger parent companies to publish their material, at times even unedited and uncensored, that’s perhaps hitting gold. But, otherwise I think blogs will mostly be just a way to get exposure to find something that actually pays. I thought that people who do get picked up don’t lose the freedom of their blog that got them there.”

He speculates that in the future “a lot more blogs will probably pop up. But mostly I’ve noticed that bloggers hang out in cliques, everyone knows everyone in certain groups. What you might get is pockets of bloggers that think similarly and readers choosing to follow a particular pack. As more ideas pop up more bloggers that share the same ideas or know each other anyway will also pop up, and these sorts of divisions might occur. For everyone’s sake I hope it doesn’t become this almost politicised battle of sorts. But otherwise things seem great!”

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Tayyara Bus – A Photo.

The famous Tayyara Bus. Tayyara is the local word for vessel (think transport vessel), and so will be used for ships or airplanes. This sort of traditional, signature painted bus, in a bright pop-artish sort of way is also known by that name, for what reason I’m not sure.

The art on the bus is a Pakistani artifact, and is often referred to as truck art, because of its prevalence on, you guessed it, trucks. This sort of bus, is unfortunately, known nut just for characteristic aesthetic but ridiculous driving and no standardisation. It has hence seen a demise in Lahore, where private companies with newer buses and paid advertisements now rule, but that sort of move toward civilization is yet to reach heavily politicized, ethnically charged Karachi. Karachi is known as the more progressive of the two cities though. I don’t believe in irony.

The photo unfortunately is a bit grainy. These are my experiments with a simple point and shoot that gives me the luxury of a High ISO setting, but it is after all,a point and shoot. But I liked the photo, so a little Photoshop brings it here. Nothing too big, just a few minor filters to make the detail more visible and easy to digest.

You Know You’re in Karachi When…

This could be some exotic location, minus the electricity poles of course, but then you see…
Sure the traffic is bad. But you can’t always blame drivers like me.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Noori’s Third Album (Rahi Yahan Kay). Preview/Guesstimates.

Noori yesterday announced their 3rd studio album for release this September to many fan girl shrieks from men and women aptly labelled noori nuts by another US based Pakistani (and Lahori) blogger who blogs at Dishoom Dishoom. For all my efforts I cannot find the name/identity of said blogger. Mystery to be solved some other time I am not being lazy (so maybe not).

Back to Noori. The album, which was previously rumored to be called Begum Gul Baqoli Sarfarosh (as caught on tape in a rather amateur Noori interview on YouTube, see below) is now reportedly called Rahi Yahan Kay. The band is yet to announce this on their website but my trusted music news source Koolmuzone reports this, so in high likelihood it is legit information. (Koolmuzone is another great story I need to find out more about, one of the main guys, Faiz Dar is apparently just 16 (as seen from Twitter bio) and the website has grown beyond its awkward naming into quite possible the best entertainment reporting in the country.) So it seems that Noori has let go of its long, funky album naming. But have they let go of more? (That last line is such an American journalist phrase)


Noori’s first two records, Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan and Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani Ki Gol Dunya, were famously part of a trilogy on the human journey. The former being anthems of hope, drive, energy and passion and the latter a tale of when life goes astray. If Rahi Yahan Kay is the third part to this series, the question remains, what is it about? Love as a general theme, not necessarily romantic love, is a guess, but that’s about it.

Noori came on to an ailing Pakistani music scene with a bang. They had their bad fashion moments, but overall the band gained the status of the leaders of the revival of desi rock after the demise of Junoon (Entity Paradigm, or simple EP, were also huge, also had a cult following but were perhaps more niche as their rock was harder, stronger sounding and much more conceptual. That said they too perhaps deserve the same status). In one of these moments, Noori proclaim their songs are not love songs as they made their mark straying from the norm (see embedded video below, look for part with Noor’s sunglasses to a black backdrop). As their metal proved itself by 2005 though, and the continuing cult following after, the band revealed some of its earlier works that were still unreleased. In came Do Dil, Noori’s first composition, and first (yes) love song. The band then went on to redo Sari Raat Jaga as a ballad at Coke Studio 2 to resounding success. At Coke Studio 3 they presented Tann Dolay, to much criticism for its incompleteness, only for the studio version to be announced soon after and then released with announcement of the new album.


Along with promising a studio version of Tann Dolay featuring my other favorites Zeb & Haniya, the band also accomplished another milestone, answering criticism directly (really really directly). The band often remains absent from the mainstream for long periods at a time, and don’t regularly feature in interviews or news stories as regularly as other stars of the industry. This unique sort of press involvement with their video blog was a start.

Tann Dolay also presents insights into the new album. Off the mark it sounds groovier and funkier than Noori’s previous efforts. The sound is somewhat reminiscent of Mujhay Roko, one of the band’s underground hits of yore, in the days of Noori’s internet mania. Mujhay Roko has also been rumored to be part of this third record, though nothing concrete is available yet. The new Tann Dolay sees a stronger sound from Ali Hamza’s bass. One would expect he’s getting more and more comfortable with it since he picked it up after Peeli Patti. Hamza’s vocals also take front seat, and that’s been expected since his coming of age on Coke Studio 2, strumming to his banjo and claiming his trademark baritone.

Gumby (John Louis Pinto) will be a notable absence from this Noori album, which unlike the others will not rely on Gumby’s innovation and ability as a signature sound. With no full time drummer as part of the band the guitars may take centre stage, but you never know. Also absent it seems, is Mekaal Hasan, who recorded, mixed and mastered the first two albums. Mekaal himself has also recently taken a break from production and Noori has been partnering with Shiraz Uppal on releases since Do Dil. The band has been all praise for the veteran through all their work with him.

Not many big names make up Noori’s live band usually, with Ali Noor taking lead vocals and interacting with the crowd, occasionally picking up the guitar, and Hamza singing and strumming on either his bass or guitar. Salman Albert is back working with the band in the studio, and other names are to be revealed in the near future. The album is likely to be self produced, though, like they have been previously, unlike other acts in the industry who work with a seasoned producer separate from the band.

A track list of Kedaar, Tann Dolay, possibly Mujhay Roko and 1947 at once seems mellow and groovy. While Peeli Patti was at times slower than the first album, with Aarzoo, Meray Log, Jo Meray & Mein, it retained Noori’s signature energy. Fans can probably look forward to similar adrenaline levels in this album. Present with Hamza’s spiritual, hopeful, uplifting compositions will be Noor’s seasoned symphonies and angst-ridden genius (as one article called it). Where or how that presents itself is still open.Lyrically the album should be strong, considering Noori’s growing maturity and proximity to Urdu powerhouses in their renowned academic family. Noori’s lyrics, though always meaningful have drawn criticism regularly for often being simplistic and repetitive (mann, tann, re etc. being signature Noori).

Noori has been labelled awami (of the people) by one Pakistani newspaper, and they have shown their patriotic and spiritual sides after Peeli Patti. While their previous patriotism (nation wise per se) was limited to Jana Tha Hum Ne and Meray Log (and perhaps Dil ki Qasam), they really have gone more awami. With the runaway success of Aik Alif with folk troubadour Saeein Zahoor, the relevance of Kedaar, a song for the environment with the UNDP, a drattingly catch Jhoom Lay for the Cornetto Ice Cream Ad and even Madinay Main (embedded below), a naat by Ali Hamza, the band has experimented and shined. This album will be for the Noori cult surely, but is it meant to be awami? What Noori wants its fan base to be, tight and intellectual or a mass market will be an interesting question to pose after the release of the album.


I am a Noori Nut (too the annoyance of some friends and the common happiness of many others), and am very excited.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Match Fixing and the Inshallah Complex.

Was just reading an Osman Samiuddin column on Cricinfo. While the column was on match fixing in Pakistani cricket, Samiuddin has this wonderful way of using cricket as cultural commentary on broader Pakistani society, or even vice versa. The links he draws are what make me a big fan of his writing. I want to quote a relevant part about how Pakistanis deal with everything they can’t explain, including terrorist attacks and match fixing.

Fixing also fits neatly into our thirst for a good ol’ conspiracy theory, and nothing has more currency in Pakistan. Some newspapers and TV channels exist almost entirely on such fuel. Wives conspire against in-laws, employees against bosses, maids against other maids. Banks are, according to TV show kooks like Zaid Hamid, a Zionist conspiracy. The birth of Bangladesh was a vast conspiracy. The USA conspires against us on a daily basis. India is in a perpetual state of conspiracy against us. Attacks within the country’s borders – even some outside it planned by Pakistanis – are a conspiracy against the country. Without such conspiracies, the state will fall down.

It is a convenient and cheap way out, and it suits everyone. There is no need to examine deeper causes because denial and inertia are easier than rational, analytical debate…

The moment I read this it reminded me of a Guardian column I read a while ago by Mustafa Qadri on Pakistan’s inshallah complex. Here are a few relevant parts.

The situation has exacerbated our cultural tendency to avow causation in favour of fate and the rewards of prayer. Whether looking for a job, waiting anxiously for exam results or willing the national cricket team to victory, prayer has become a kneejerk source of solace and comfort in difficult times. Holy men, or pirs, and local soothsayers have for generations made a career out of selling their prayers to those in need.

This mix of uncertainty and superstition puts a fatalistic streak into our national consciousness reflected in what I would call the inshallah complex. “Inshallah” (the Arabic term for “God willing”) is liberally used by Muslims the world over to describe a broad sweep of aspirations including hope and despair. If the handyman wants to avoid promising to fix your broken generator promptly he is bound to say inshallah. Whenever relatives call to ask if my wife’s health has improved, I always say … inshallah.

As useful as the inshallah complex is, however, it does risk lulling us into a false sense of invisibility…

Thursday, 8 July 2010

So My Car is Suspect?

Turns out security officials at the check post on Walton Road going towards Polo Ground did stop me. Though they didn’t care who I was, they looked inside the boot of my car, a little glance around the seats and I was off. Hmmm.

Lahore’s Best Chicken Tikka.

Since 1947, The Famous Gawalmandi wale Lahore Tikka Kabab Shop
The Proprietor (or so it seems on the sign) Chaudry Shams ud Din alias Shama Pahelwan (Wrestler)
Like all amazing restaurants, the photos of the family. Family cooks all the way.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Oh Yes.

Boom Boom

Just witnessed Pakistan beat Australia, again!

A large family gathering involved screaming at the television set and Pakistani fielding as we made jokes and prayed for us to win while recovering from gross overeating at Gawalmandi, what used to house the famed Food Street, but alas, it is for Shahbaz Sharif that we do no more.

My father and I watched together today, as we did the World T20 final that we won, and also the one we lost. My best cricket memories always involve him.

Also heard a Pepsi ad more closely today. Its an advert for a cricket talent hunt run by Pepsi and the Pakistan Cricket Board, the stars of the ad being Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. Imran starts off by saying (translated from Urdu):

This is not a game, it is a junoon (passion/obsession – yes same source as name of band Junoon), which flows through our every vein.

I would also like to quote my previous blog post, which mind you, I wrote without paying heed to this ad.

From being the old adage to fight of the British in the field…, to the cricket boys will play on every third street corner and all dusty empty plots in the crackling heat. Cricket is in Pakistani blood.

Yes I’m tooting my own horn, but grant me this. In the words of Porcupine Tree, ‘credit me with some intelligence, if not just credit me’.

Meanwhile I share with you some of my favorite cricket quotes. Some drawn from the posters at Edgbaston.

“Be Afridi, be very Afridi”, spectators playing Boom Boom Pow to welcome Afridi (okay this isn’t a quote but it was hilarious). I am now blank. For some weird reason. I am a huge Afridi fan. Just wanted to make sure you got that if it wasn’t obvious. Huge fan.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The End – On Cricket, Passion, Religion and Tragedy.

After 12 straight losses against Australia, having last beat them in the first half of 2009, Pakistan finally managed to turn up the gas in yesterday’s T20 at Edgbaston, Birmingham. This is Pakistan’s ‘home’ series against Australia, being played at a neutral venue because of security concerns in Pakistan. While Australia has refused to land in Pakistan for more than a decade now, other teams met breaking point when gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009 in an unprecedented, unpredicted, monster of a terrorist attack. That was that for international cricket in Pakistan for a while. The International Cricket Council (ICC) just announced hosts for multilateral events for the next five years and Pakistan is predictably missing from the list. The episode has been a gruesome reminder of the pariah status that Pakistani soil has bought itself.

For now England is our new home ground, thanks largely to the great crowd support the team saw at the World T20 victory in England, June of ’09. Cricinfo writes in their tour diary after yesterday’s game:

It’s sad that Pakistan won’t be hosting any international teams at home for the foreseeable future. But if Monday’s Twenty20 in Birmingham is any indication, they could do worse than making England a de facto base in the next couple of years.

The Edgbaston ground wasn’t quite full – substantial rebuilding works played a part in that – but of the 12,000 or so fans it’s fair to say 80-90% were supporting Pakistan. Birmingham has one of the biggest Pakistani populations in the UK – indeed the previous lord mayor of the city, Abdul Rashid, was originally from Pakistan – and they can expect similar support when they hit Leeds for the second Test.

As is obvious to many, cricket is not just a game in Pakistan, not at all. It has been called religion, and while that’s a metaphor, to say that it is an essential component of Pakistani cultural is as real as you can get. From being the old adage to fight of the British in the field, to being the source of our only modern day heroes, to being our primary source of entertainment, to being the one thing that people say brings Pakistanis together under one flag, to the cricket boys will play on every third street corner and all dusty empty plots in the crackling heat. Cricket is in Pakistani blood.