Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grief-stricken countrymen to pay London hotel rent

Last week was one of the worst for the people of Pakistan. 152 people died in an unfortunate plane crash at the Margalla Hills just as the plane was about to land at Islamabad airport. The shock and grief of losing loved ones wasn't even over when the country got hit by the worst monsoon rains and floods, breaking a 90 year old record. So far 400-500 people have lost their lives, and around 600,000 are displaced/injured.

On top of that, the British PM made some controversial and unsettling remarks about the war on terror and Pakistan's role in "exporting terrorism" while on his visit to India. Some of his words are actually insulting to the efforts of the Pakistan Army, and the sacrifice of the civilians of Swat and Waziristan region who have suffered for years due to the armed conflict between the army and the militants, and also US drone attacks.

What's worst is that our dear President is due to visit the same British PM in a couple of days in the UK, where- according to news reports, suites in the most expensive hotel have been booked for his stay. And who pays for his air-fare, and his luxurious suites? Why, the grief-stricken, flood-affected, homeless, distressed people of his poor third-world country of course! I mean, why not? He's our Mr. President, right? He's upholding our "democracy", right?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Synonyms for chaos

I think the word "chaos" occurs quite a lot in my posts. I'm trying to analyse why.

I often have this nagging feeling inside, as if things are happening too fast, too slow, too randomly, to make any sense. Being so connected with the multimedia has lead to this sort of ... overwhelming amount of information, and I wonder if one brain just gives up? And what about information that has an effect on how one feels? Information that is emotionally charged, and higher than normal doses of such, will be bad for mental health. This much I know. But I still can not distance myself from the various sources with such info. Where can I go, o modern world...with the cell phones, the internet, the satellite televisions...?

When these things seem to rush at me all at once, and I can't even catch my breath, I often ask myself...what does it feel like right now? Answer: Chaos.

Everything is chaotic. From the weather, to family, to life, to television, to news, to political conferences that make my heart beat 10 times faster with the implied threats, to health issues, to emotions, to the flooding in some areas of my country, to the people who make random narrow-minded remarks, to the ever-growing religious fundamentalism everywhere. So right now, it is chaos. Utter confusion. Bedlam. Turmoil. Unrest. Lawlessness. Disorder.

I pray for some peace and quiet. For the sake of sanity.

Friday, July 23, 2010


It's strange how in my country, it only takes 2 rainy days to kill 43 people.
It only takes one storm to flood the plains in Punjab, leading to a significant crop destruction = hunger and starvation = more deaths that are too unimportant to report.
It only takes a handful of evil motorbikers to kill more than 200 people in about 2 months in target killings across Karachi.
It only takes 2 people with weapons to close down shops and businesses, and to create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion throughout the area.
Strange how we haven't ever been struck by war or occupation, but our people suffer day and night.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Samad et son pousse pousse

I know the title sounds funny. Although 'pousse pousse', in my opinion, seems a more befitting name for the atomizer attached to some luxueus perfume bottle, in French it actually refers to our very own "Rickshaw". 'Pappu' with his pousse pousse anyone?

Today I was watching an entertaining documentary on a cable channel from back home, which was documenting and appreciating the amount of rickshaw and truck "art" and "poetry" that we take for granted in our society. I had a really good time reminiscing about blue rickshaws thuk-thukking about the busy (and hot) streets, trying to squeeze into the smallest area available between two cars, and their dire warning for those driving behind them "pass kar, warna bardasht kar" (something like: either pass me, or bear me thuk-thukking in front of you) in flowery script atop a thickly kohl-lined painted eye (kajrare naina). Aah! rickshaw art, and their amusing attempts at poetry.... "Kabhi aao na Sargodha, surma lagakey!" (not translating this :P)

I was reminded of a very strange occurrence one hot day, several years ago, when my mother and I had decided to go to a market nearby to get something. My mother was having a hard time maneuvering the car among the collective chaos of rickshaws, motorbikes and random people, when a blue rickshaw suddenly decided to block our path head-on. Mother's instinctive reaction: angry outburst at the driver for not noticing this big red car in front of you, daring to drive on the wrong side of the road...are you really blind, rickshaw-walah?

The rickshaw driver caught my eye and gave me a big boyish smile. I recognized him instantly. His rickshaw wasn't overly decorated (as is the norm), it was quite used, with peeling blue paint, and the rickshaw-walah was thinner and shabbier than I'd last seen him. But he had the same smile, and the same nod, and the same wave. He grinned at my mom and me, and then backed his rickshaw into the chaos, and was lost amongst it.

Mother parked the car, and tried to find him among the other blue rickshaws, but we never did.
We didn't speak about it until we were driving home. "It was Samad, can you believe it? Driving a rickshaw?"

Many years ago, for some strange reason, or most probably because my Mother wanted me to, I was enrolled in French classes for the summer at the Alliance Francaise institute. Our teacher was amazing, I made great friends, one of them actually got married soon after and we even got invited, we played table-tennis endlessly during those days, and Samad was our favourite guy. He'd come from a small town near Peshawar (northern province of Khyber) after completing his 10th grade, to look for work in Karachi. A French lady, working as the director of the Alliance Francaise in those days, had taken him in as a doorman and assistant, and Samad had consequently picked up fluent French and broken English, without paying a cent. He was our "Guard" (in Karachi, almost all official buildings and even residences have such guards who own Kalashnikovs for safety purposes), our table-tennis tutor, our unofficial French tutor, and our very own tea-maker. Also, a gardener and the sole caretaker of the 30+ Australian parrots that were living as decorative pets at the institute. Samad and his parrots entertained the staff, the students, the parents, and the members. Occassionally, university students dropped by for a game or two and to chat with Samad, the French pathan of Karachi.

He was quite young, as my mother often said, and quite intelligent. Which was why he picked up the language so fast, he could even read the French magazines, while we would stare at pages trying to make sense of the headings and captions. In his spare time, Samad liked to sing songs in Pushto and French (which he had learned from the French tv in the AF lounge), cook in his kitchenette, and then clean his Kalashnikov. He was quite an interesting person, and a great friend to all. He was highly in-demand around exam-time, as he could help out with almost all the pronunciations and the grammar, not to mention his free tea was a great refreshment.

One day, some religious fundamentalists went on a rampage around the area, burning and attacking buildings they considered were "Western" influences - or maybe they were trying to pretentiously protest yet another something, and the AF building was obviously targeted. I had finished my course a long time ago, and hardly visited the area, and it was quite some time before I realized that the AF institute had closed down (and that it's windows were smashed, and the main-gate was charred). I wondered where everyone might have gone. I thought about Samad sometimes, when I really missed French songs and early morning table-tennis.

Never did I imagine that Samad, our French pathan of Karachi, would be forced to become just another rickshaw-walah roaming the hot and humid streets. When people would wave his rickshaw down for hire, and tell him where to go, they wouldn't even have an inkling about what this ordinary rickshaw-walah sweating in the heat with flushed cheeks actually was: a brilliant table-tennis player, an excellent gardener, and a most amazing French-speaker. Has he forgotten his earlier life? Or maybe, he entertains his passengers still, by singing in french, and writing amusing statements in french on his rickshaw? I honestly hope, that Samad chose the latter outcome.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The dream

One early morning,

A dream knocked on my door,

And opening it, I saw...

Some guests had come from across the border.

They looked very familiar,

Their words were well-known, and their voices heard before,

I lead them inside to wash away the dirt from their travel,

And made them sit in my orchard,

I offered them some corn bread, fresh from my oven,

And they had brought me some molasses,

Made from last-year's sugarcane crop.

And then as I woke up, I saw...

There was no one at home.

When I touched the oven, it was still warm,

And the sweetness of the molasses,

Was still there upon my lips.

Must be a dream, must have been a dream,

At the border last night, I've heard there was some cross-fire.

At the border last night, I've heard some dreams were killed.

By: S. Gulzar

Translated by me.

Original urdu:

...صبح صبح، اِک خواب کی دستک پر دروازہ کھولا، دیکھا

صرحد کے پار سے کچھ مہمان آئے تھے

آنکھوں سے مانوس تھے سارے چہرے سارے سُنے سُنائے

پاؤں دھوئے، ہاتھ دھُلائے، آنگن میں آسن لگوائے

اور تندوُر پہ مکئ کے کچھ موٹے موٹے روٹ پکوائے

پوٹلی میں مہمان میرے پچھلے سالوں کی فصلوں کا گُڑ لائے تھے

...آنکھ کھُلی تو دیکھا گھر میں کوئ نہیں تھا

ہاتھ لگا کے دیکھا تو تندوُر ابھی تک بُجھا نہیں تھا

!اور ہونٹوں پہ میٹھے گُڑ کا ذائقہ اب تک چپک رہا تھا

خواب تھا شاید، خواب ہی ہو گا

صرحد پر کَل رات سُنا ہے چلی تھی گولی

...صرحد پر کَل رات سُنا ہے کچھ خوابوں کا خون ہوا

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A poem by Faiz

I translated this piece by the famous poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and shared it with my friends on Facebook (around November last year) on his death anniversary. I would like to re-post it here too:

We will see,
certainly, we will also see,
that Day which is promised,
the Day that is written in the book of Eternity.

When mountains high of cruelty and oppression,
will fly away like wisps of cotton,
when the ground under our feet,
will shudder and shake,
On the heads of the rulers that day,
the thunder shall find its way.

From the Centre of God's land,
every idol will be thrown out,
and we, the faithful, forbidden in "sacred" halls,
shall enter in triumph,
When the crowns will be tossed in air,
and the thrones will sink to dust.

Only the name of God shall remain,
Who is Unseen, yet Omnipresent.
Who is the Beholder, and yet the Beheld.
"I am the Truth!"- shall be the motto,
which is both You as well as Me,
And the People will freely rule this world,
which is both You as well as Me.
~ Original Urdu: Faiz
Translated by: Hareem =)

Original ghazal in Urdu:

Hum dekhenge
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Wo din ke jis ka wada hai
Jo lauh-e-azl mein likha hai

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan
Rooi ki tarah ur jaenge
Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale
Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi
Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar oopar
Jab bijli kar kar karkegi

Jab arz-e-Khuda ke kaabe se
Sab but uthwae jaenge
Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-harm
Masnad pe bethae jaenge
Sab taaj uchale jaenge
Sab takht girae jaenge

Bas naam rahega Allah ka
Jo ghayab bhi hai hazir bhi
Jo manzar bhi hai nazir bhi
Utthega an-al-haq ka nara
Jo mai bhi hoon tum bhi ho
Aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khuda
Jo mai bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho

Friday, July 9, 2010

The death of imagination

I've been trying to re-read the last Harry Potter book, as I've read all the previous 6 of them at least 5 times each, but I didn't have the heart to pick up Deathly Hallows again after the first time I read it. I know several people think HP is a childish read (and maybe surprised by this sudden shift from the usual Sufi to Harry Potter), but I believe it proves to be pure entertainment. Especially for someone who met Harry & co at 11 years of age, and grew up with the series. And also, it fares far far better than the commercial, mindless trash being churned out for our "young readers" now a days... sad indeed.

For example, Hermione Granger, the intelligent, honest and strong-willed protagonist is slowly being replaced by a dull, mumbling paper-doll by the name of "Bella" via modern fiction popular among the female youth (i.e. brains are no longer in vogue, you get the *Sparkling* guy if you act like a dumb damsel in distress, yeah right...)

I'm also furious about the fact that modern media is slowly hacking away at all remnants of "imagination" in our younger generation. Previously, reading a work of fiction provided a rich source of ideas/descriptions with which each reader could imagine and shape the characters/places. This capability of thinking and 'creating' an image on the hypothetical "screen" inside our heads, was crucial for developing and understanding abstract ideas. It was also highly beneficial for the creative power of the brain. This exercise lead to greater potential for creativity in an individual at an early age.

Today, the youth hardly bothers to pick up a book. Why waste days/nights trying to read a book, "think and try to imagine" the scene/characters, when you can buy a $12 ticket to watch everything already done for you on-screen with stereo sound and digital images and the plot compressed in 2 hours or less?

They say... "we live in a fast-paced modern world, everything available at your fingertips!"
I see, and also one in which we spoon-feed our youth using the "screens" at home, and the "screens" at the cinema? oh yeah... surround-sound and 3-d anyone?

But what about that absolutely essential "screen" inside your brain? the screen so important for creativity? for developing ideas, working out solutions, and absolutely indispensable for our cognitive superiority as a species? Bah!... who cares? here we go, Harry Potter coming out in November.

Thousands of screaming fans will flock to the cinema to watch a 2-hours, mashed-up, edited, awkwardly disjointed storyline sadly lacking the wit and passion of the actual thing. I can guarantee a major chunk of these unfortunate souls have never had the delight of reading and imagining the details of the HP world: of meeting Nearly-Headless Nick, the excitement of each goal scored by Gryffindor against Slytherin as announced by Lee Jordan, giggling away at Peeves, or suppressing silent laughter at the outlandish "passwords" for the common rooms at Hogwarts. These poor sad souls, alas... only able to pay up $12 for a two-hour cinematic adventure in 3-D, far less exciting than the free adventure they could create for themselves on their own.

The same trend can be seen in other 'virtual' tech gadgets. E.g., where people were supposed to play- "physically" play- games such as tennis etc... you've got the "Nintendo Wii". So they're "pro" tennis players but only by expertly swinging that white remote. And while children, when visiting family, used to run about and light up the house by their chatter, now they sit quietly in a corner, their eyes glued to the abomination called Nintendo DS...too busy shooting aliens on a double-screen to look up and really live their childhood.

As for the other virtual reality/video games, I hold very similar negative views. I was shocked to see, a couple of days ago, the imagery of games such as Modern Warfare (and whatever-else-they-are-called, I'm not researching their names...such pitiful filth) and I found them to be pretty racist and disgusting. There was even a 'nice' extended scene where you could further destroy a dreary, burning city already in ruins... a city very thoughtfully called "Karachi". The person who uploaded the excellent "scene" from this video game on youtube, wrote in his comments that he wasn't aware that Karachi was an actual place. Another young gentleman replied something along the lines of 'Karachi was bombed by the US during the Afghanistan war 2001 and nothing much remains of the place'. Such pearls of wisdom! I can only stand up and clap with merriment at this feat achieved by 'modern' visual media!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friend, this is the only way...

Here is a letter I received today:

Hi Hareem -

Yesterday, I was driving home from work, listening to BBC news on the radio, and was saddened to hear of a bombing at a shrine dedicated to another Sufi saint in Lahore, Pakistan. More than 40 people were killed and many more badly injured. I haven't heard a definite explanation for why the bombing occurred there, but people are speculating that it was a bombing by an extremist group who object to the inclusive nature of Sufi practice in the region.

Each culture, each tradition has its violent extremists. We have Christian extremists in the West, particularly in the US, where I live. We have Jewish extremists in Israel and other places. Islamic extremists have certainly grabbed headlines in recent years. There are Hindu extremists in India. Extremism is not a problem of a particular religion, it is a disruption in the human psyche in general.

Religious extremism has very little to do with religion, if you think about it. It's partly a reflexive response to the intensely fragmenting nature of the modern world. And it's partly a reaction against the unavoidable, sometimes unsettling encounters with different peoples and cultures and beliefs in our ever-more integrated and multi-layered world. But mostly-- mostly it is an act of desperation when the heart of true religion has been lost. People become violently obsessed with rules and traditions and texts only when they have lost the sense of what they really point to.

If you know where the Beloved lives, you are content, no need to argue with others over street names. Conflict only arises when you aren't so certain you know the way; that's when another person's map threatens your certainty. Fundamentalism and extremism are an admission of that spiritual uncertainty. Absolutism is not an expression of faith, it is a symptom of a lack of faith. It is a symptom of the lack of true spiritual experience and knowledge.

The real long-term solution to the problem of violent religious extremism in the world is to reawaken that sweet, secret, sacred bliss within ourselves, to gently and generously share it with others, to create environments conducive to that continuing quest. The more we fill the world's dry troughs with fresh water, the less likely it is that people will go insane with blind thirst.


So, in affirmation and solidarity with the Sufi community in Pakistan, I thought I'd send out a poem by another Sufi saint from the region today...

The name Sachal Sarmast can be translated as Ecstatic Saint of Truth. He is sometimes called Sachoo, The Truthful.

Sachal Sarmast was born in the Sindh region of what is today Pakistan, and is considered one of the great poets and Sufi mystics to emerge from the region.

Rather than blindly following tradition, Sachal urged people to seek the truth directly. And like ibn Arabi and others, Sachal Sarmast taught a vision of Unity called Wahdat al-Wujud, which others have compared to the great nondualist teachings of Advaita Vedanta within Hinduism and Zen/Chan within Buddhism.

Sachal Sarmast once said, "He (God) is everywhere and in each and every phenomenon. He has come here just to witness His own manifestation."

Sachal Sarmast was born Abdul Wahab in the village of Daraza in the Sindh region. His father died when he was a young child, and Abdul Wahab was raised by his uncle, who also became his spiritual master.

His soul was deeply moved by music. Listening to music, he was often enraptured, tears pouring down his face.

Sachal Sarmast married, but the young woman died two years later. He never remarried.

He took the name Sachal, Truth. Later people added Sarmast, Leader of the Ecstatics, to his name in appreciation of his spiritual poetry.

Sachal Sarmast lived a humble, ascetic life, preferring solitude, simple meals of daal and yogurt. It is said that he never left Daraza, the village of his birth. Yet he composed sacred poetry in seven different languages, poetry that is loved and sung to this day.


Sending much love!

(Poetry Chaikhana)

"Friends, this is the only way" by Sachal Sarmast (1739-1829) ~translated by Ivan Granger

Friend, this is the only way
to learn the secret way:

Ignore the paths of others,
even the saints' steep trails.

Don't follow.
Don't journey at all.

Rip the veil from your face.