LAHORE: About 40,000 people rallied in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on Sunday in the latest protest against proposed reforms of a controversial blasphemy law, police said.
Religious groups have held protests in several Pakistani cities since former Punjab governor Salman Taseer vowed to amend the law, that was recently used to sentence a Christian woman to death
Taseer’s stance enraged the country’s increasingly conservative religious base and he was assassinated on January 4 by his own security guard, who has said he killed the governor over his support for reform.
Under intense pressure from religious parties, Pakistan’s government has since said it had no intentions to amend the law.
Demonstrators from religious parties Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Jamaat-ud-Dawa held banners in support of Mumtaz Qadri – the police commando who shot dead Taseer.
Participants chanted slogans including “Free Mumtaz Qadri”, “We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the honour of Prophet Mohammad” and “Changes in blasphemy law not accepted.”
An AFP reporter saw activists carrying effigies of Pope Benedict XVI and Pakistani minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti shouting slogans “Allah-o-Akbar.”
Local government official Tariq Zaman put the overall number of protesters at 40,000.
Leaders of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and Quaid-i-Azam group also addressed the rally.
Event organisers called the brothers of two Pakistani men shot dead by a US national in Lahore on Thursday to the stage and pledged their support for the victims’ families in pursuing a murder case.
The US man, named as Raymond Davis, is being held at a police station on double murder charges over the shooting of the two motorcyclists.
The US embassy had claimed diplomatic immunity on his behalf while Davis, who has been held at a Lahore police station since the incident, told a magistrate’s court Friday that he had fired in self-defence.
ISLAMABAD: The spectacular week-long skiing competition held at the picturesque Malam Jabba Ski resort marked the revival of tourism in the scenic valley of Swat that was once termed the ‘Switzerland of Pakistan’ but fell into the hands of militants, thus damaging its trade and travel activity for a couple of years.
Swat’s Pioneer Skiing School, Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and the Provincial Relief, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (Parrsa) jointly organized the Peace Ski Gala 2011, which concluded today.
Eight teams, including Swat Red Club, Swat Green Club, Swat Tiger Club, Malakand Division Club, Hazara Division Club, Swat Blue Club, and Swat Shaheen Club participated in the event which was attended by hundreds of skiing enthusiasts.
The event organizers hoped the successful completion of the gala would once again bring the focus back on Swat as it dusts its self off and looks ahead to a future without the bombings and the threat of militancy.
“We have organised this event to let the world know that the situation has come back to normal with peace prevailing in Swat. Swat is no longer off-limits,” said president of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Ski Association Mateeullah Khan.
The Malam Jabba resort, which was captured by militants in 2006 and later destroyed, has now been rebuilt by the Pakistan army and is fully operational. But the damaged chairlifts, installed by the Austrian government in 1988, are yet to be fixed and caused some discomfort to participants.
“I feel very good but it is very hard this time. There is no chairlift to take up the players or hotel to accommodate participants,” Zafar Ali Shah, who won a gold medal in Piece Downhill Senior, told Central Asia Online.
But all in all, it seemed locals and foreigners alike were pleased to see the steady stream of activity that the gala brought to the tourism hub of Pakistan.
Tourism constitutes a significant source of income for Swat and its residents. Prior to activities being interrupted by militancy, Swat and its environs attracted a good number of visitors from across the world as well as other parts of Pakistan. The area was in particular favoured by trekkers and mountaineers.
January 28, 2011 (3 days ago)
The musical Bombay Dreams opened this week in a riot of lights and color on January 27 in Karachi.
The play – that will run till February 20 – is directed by Shah Sharahbeel who previously produced versions of Moulin Rouge and Phantom of the Opera. It is a local rendition of an Andrew Loyd Webber production that opened in 2002 and ran for two years in London, followed by a Broadway production in 2004.
The original score by A. R. Rahman was used rather than live music or singing and the elaborate sets had to be scaled down for the smaller Arts Council Stage. The considerable effort and enthusiasm of the young team however, made-up for these shortcomings and succeeded in recreating the flamboyant and entertaining experience that characterises the play’s strong earthy flavor. (Photos by Eefa Khalid & Text by Nadir Siddiqui)
Images from the second and third day of the Islamabad Fashion Week where some 90 models, mostly newcomers, are participating in the four-day event which aims to promote Pakistan’s textile industry. – AFP photos
To make the on-screen character a realistic portrayal, Sheikh watched footage and interviews of Naseem Hamid.- Photo courtesy: Aamina Sheikh KARACHI: Some stories should be told again and again … especially this one. This story revolves around Amina, a girl coming from a low-income background but having great aspirations and larger-than-life dreams, aching to do something big in her life.
“Bhaag Amina Bhaag” is a commendable effort by our entertainment industry, a telefilm based on an untold real life story of Naseem Hamid – a female Pakistani athlete, who became the fastest woman in South Asia when she won a gold medal in the 100-metre sprint at the 11th South Asian Games in Bangladesh.
Amina, impersonating Hamid’s character, is bold, brave and a complete tomboy. She lives with her parents, three brothers and a physically-disabled neighbour, who is also her childhood friend.
Confidence is not her problem but right direction and guidance is something which she needs. One day her childhood friend, Haris (who lives with her) takes her to participate in a school’s sports event. This opportunity boosts her confidence and makes her realise what wonders she can do with her capability to run fast. However, the typically-conservative surrounding does not encourage the girl to take part in activities outside the home and kitchen, let alone traveling abroad to take part in athletic competitions.
A well-written script with wit and humour knitted in the dialogues along with the thrill and seriousness of the subject gave a great boost to the dynamics of the film. To deliver a successful telefilm, the project took on board a talented team comprising Aamina Sheikh who played the character of Amina, Shehroze Subzawari (Haris), Lubna Asalam (mother), Rashid Farooqi (father) and a very egoistic elder brother well-played by Paras Masroor.
The film draws out an objective message of a girl who wants to live her dreams and aspirations despite the difficult situation she has to go through to get them, a story which is deeply rooted in our society.
Speaking to Aamina Sheikh about how strong a message the film delivered, the actress said, “I felt very strongly while doing this film and after viewing it, (I realised) this piece of work truly defines the identity that Pakistani cinema should signify. Not only did this film have a progressive plot and encouraging message but more importantly it was rooted and very relevant to us as a nation.”
Talking about the technicalities of the project Sheikh added that the film was shot on a camera (RED) that is being used in film industries as a substitute for film. Its visual quality and depth matches that of a 35mm projection reel. Along with that, the audio design/film score of this project was executed like that of a feature film. As an industry, we have what it takes to revive our cinema and after doing this film, Sheikh stated that she strongly believed that like the Iranian cinema, which has emerged with an identity of its own, “Bhag Amina Bhag” is just a glimpse of the kind of cinematic identity that we can and should continue to develop in our country.
To make the on-screen character a realistic portrayal, Sheikh watched footage and interviews of Naseem Hamid. “I had already been following Hamid’s progress ever since she had emerged in to the limelight. I remember whenever I read up on her, or saw her performances and interviews, I would wish that I could get a chance to re-enact a character like her. So this project is literally a dream come true for me!” said Sheikh.
Plays like “Bhaag Amina Bhag” are a source of inspiration for all of us; they should be done more often for the audiences so that we can get a taste of positivity in all this gloom around us. With many heroes in all walks of life and numerous untold stories around us, all we need is to put them together and bring it to the masses.
As Amos Bronson said, “Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats.”
Nadeem F. Paracha Yesterday
For long, many Pakistanis have wondered just how do certain Pakistani media men and religious leaders who have turned the obsessive act of badmouthing the US, Jews and liberals into a robust cottage industry, manage to travel so frequently to the US. Well, it seems the days of curiosity in this respect may be coming to an end. According to a front-page story in Dawn last Friday, four US Congressmen have asked Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to refuse visas to those Pakistanis who are on record praising the killer of former Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer.
There are reports that the US government is now seriously contemplating refusing visas to a number of Pakistani media personnel, lawyers and religious leaders who have been reported to have condoned the ghastly murder. These also include TV and print journalists and religious leaders who travel regularly to the US (and Europe). Most Pakistanis who were shocked by the jubilant reactions of certain people at Taseer’s assassination have squarely hailed the report of a possible US visa ban on these men and women.
This hailing has nothing to do with some Pakistanis’ resentment of not being able to visit Disneyland the way all these so-called anti-West media folks, lawyers, politicians or religious leaders have been doing for many years. Instead, the welcoming gesture by them is more about the rather concrete perception that surrounds the ways of these obsessive anti-US charlatans in which they are seen as spreading political and religious hatred and arousing populist political chaos under the cover of being gung-ho patriots and people of faith who are out to warn the Islamic republic of the nefarious designs of Americans, Jews and Hindus.
But, of course, unknown to most Pakistanis is the startling fact that many such fiery journalists and men/women of faith are regular visitors to the US and European countries. Also, for long, a number of Pakistan’s staunch anti-West defenders of the faith and sovereignty have had close relatives, children and siblings settled in various western countries, while they urge Pakistanis to rise against ‘US slavery’ and to ‘crush America.’
The question always was, for how long could Pakistanis go on loudly supporting the rising and now almost entirely knee-jerk and rhetorical tide of anti-Americanism while at the same time be the first to join the long queues seen outside American and European visa offices? It is a bizarre sight, but come to think of it, the bizarre, especially in matters of faith and ideology, has certainly become the norm in this country.
We are quick to use terms like munafiq (hypocrite) for others, but we conveniently refuse to see that each one of us has become a raving, ranting hypocrite — a double-faced act that we then explain away as a reaction against corruption and ‘US imperialism.’ It’s a vicious cycle that denies us the patience and logic to reflect upon our own doings instead of always being on the look out for ‘bad Muslims’, ‘heretics’, foreign agents and media-made punching bags to blame our economic miseries, political chaos and moral confusion on. Worse are those who do so simply to bag cheap and instant applause from morally and intellectually bankrupt sections of society, or from a populace frustrated by living under the booming hammer of economic downturns, wobbly regimes and terrorist attacks. So much change (in the mindset and not just faces) has to be allowed and worked for if this unfortunate country is ever to finally take that turn towards some sort of salvation. And mind you, like it or not, this turn may also mean us having to embrace certain economic, social and political ideas and policies which, today, we are mindlessly rejecting as being western, Orientalist, secular or liberal.
I just cannot understand why so many Pakistanis clamp up when anyone suggests such ideas as solutions in Pakistan, whereas the same Pakistanis are okay living among these same ideas in western countries. But then, are they, really? For example, forget about nuts like Faisal Shahzad or prying puritans like Farhat Hashmi — their topsy-turvy ways are all too obvious — what about those Pakistanis who keep posting hate comments and speeches on the internet from various US cities? How did they get the US visa?
Ardeshir Cowasjee Yesterday
THIS country, having developed double-standards into a fine art for almost 64 years, has gradually realised that hypocrisy wastes time.
After doing wrong, we spent ages attempting to conceal it, pretending we were genuinely interested in human welfare and compliance with law.
We have now decided to throw caution to the winds, and do whatever we want, no matter who is watching. After all, what can anyone do about it?
In 2006, Pakistan`s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Policy was floated, outlining a strategy for the development of the energy sector, the optimisation of the energy-mix, the maximisation of indigenous energy, regulatory/institutional private sector capacity-strengthening, the development of infrastructure and the improvement of technical expertise. The conservation of gas was ignored.
The policy stated that gas then accounted for more than 50 per cent of the country`s energy supplies, and that accelerating economic growth would spawn gas shortages by 2010/11. This, it said, would increase substantially in subsequent years if imports did not supplement indigenous supply. After five years of thumb-twiddling, escalating `shortages` have now peaked with the shutdown of industries and power-plants and increased load-shedding.
Aside from dicey overland pipelines through unstable regions (from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan, from Iran through Balochistan), the alternative solution is LNG import. As proposed by Pakistan Gasport Ltd (PGL), gas-tankers will sail past residential localities, fishing villages and port/fishing traffic to a floating re-gasification vessel (berthed near Karachi`s Korangi Fish Harbour, flanking the approach channel to Port Qasim), which will convert liquefied gas to high-pressure fuel for injection into the SSGC network.
Such a practice has numerous environmental downsides, being fraught with the hazard of LNG escape (accident or sabotage) and of forming a vapour cloud whose heat and fire (and asphyxiation properties) that could devastate shipping, small-craft, habitations and structures miles away.
The Institute for Analysis of Global Security highlighted the energy-security link: “When LNG tankers approach a port in the US, six tugboats direct the ship`s movements while two others provide state-of-the-art fire-fighting equipment. Coast Guard crews board and inspect the ship before it enters the harbour. As many as half a dozen armed Coast Guard vessels accompany the ship through the harbour. Also present are state and local police boats. The restrictions remain in force during the 12-hour unloading process.”
A 2004 Congressional Research Service report to US Congress warns: “Proposals for new LNG import terminals are numerous, but LNG imports pose significant safety challenges. LNG is inherently hazardous and its infrastructure is potentially attractive to terrorists.”
Pakistan`s LNG Policy mandates compliance with World Bank guidelines, Pakistan`s Environmental Protection Act 1997, “and consistency with the best international LNG industry practices”. Further, “LNG-terminals shall be surrounded by safety-zones … to ensure protection of neighbouring communities and shipping traffic.”
Additionally, the “government may also specify the requirement of a security escort through Coast Guards at the expense of the [proponent].” The terminal operator must conduct site-specific hazard and risk-analyses based on population/demography, land-use, medical, law-enforcement and fire-protection capabilities, exclusion-zone distances, the need for remote siting, significant community concerns and environmental considerations.
At the end of 2008, Sindh`s environmental protection authority conducted an environmental impact assessment (EIA) hearing for PGL`s terminal. Concerned citizens and NGOs complained about inadequate information in the report (no technical evaluation of adverse effects of the re-gasification process on seawater or marine flora/fauna, no details of international safety studies, no location alternatives, etc), and were perturbed that the terminal would perilously be sited at the main channel, adjacent to major shipping and fishing vessels, within two and a half miles of human habitation. Additionally, an LPG-extraction plant was dangerously placed on the beach/reclaimed tidal-flats in violation of the public trust doctrine.
Against its better judgment and under political pressure, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) issued a no-objection certificate in July 2009, using its standard impotent, meaningless, generalised terminology, vaguely requesting the proponent to `do good and avoid evil`. Sepa disregarded the concerns and intelligence reports of the Sindh administration regarding aborted terrorist attacks and beefed-up security in recent years at oil-terminals at Karachi Port.
On Oct 5, 2010, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) issued a controversial `conditional license` to PGL and earlier this month, on a 10-day notice, held a public-hearing in Islamabad on the final grant of the terminal license. As the procedure was not well-advertised, interested groups could not participate. However, apprehensions and objections were subsequently sent to the chairman. A decision is awaited.
The press recently reported that the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Petroleum & Natural Resources detected the presence of “foul play” and “violation of rules, underhand dealings and corruption” in the award (by SSGC) of an LPG-extraction contract to PGL`s sister-firm, Jamshoro Joint Venture Ltd (JJVL), and (by OGDC) of LPG quotas to the friends and relatives of JJVL`s managing director. A year ago, the federal Public Accounts Committee exposed JJVL`s largesse (the granting of lucrative LPG quotas) to heavyweights in the corridors of power. Press people have also benefited from the gifting of `JJVL/LPG laptops`.
The intrinsic problem is that despite expert studies on the safety implications of LNG, too many unidentified variables and unanswered questions remain. Remote siting is the primary safety factor. By placing such facilities away from dense populations, superior protection is obtained against the inevitable uncertainties inherent in large-scale use of technologies and the vulnerability of LNG facilities to natural disasters and terrorism.
Such situations attract the 1992 Earth Summit`s Principle 15: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” Our Supreme Court upheld this `precautionary principle` of the Rio Declaration in the 1994 landmark Shehla Zia judgment.
Karachi needs no more danger. Ogra: exercise prudence and relocate the LNG terminal far from the city and the shipping channel.
Cyril Almeida January 28, 2011 (3 days ago) THE culture warriors, of the kinder variety, have struck back. Anchors sacked, mullahs barracked by entertainers, the fight is on, at least on television.
Enjoy it while it lasts. It won’t last very long.
That’s because the cast of characters involved is a bunch of jokers, puppets on strings, twirling and twisting in fervent obeisance before the only god that matters in such affairs: ratings.
Look carefully, though, and you’ll see the real heavyweights — the ideologues, the big-picture-small-mind guys, the sophisticated manipulators — are quiet.
They’ve figured out that further sparring isn’t such a good idea right now. Which is why they are off talking about PPP-PML-N confabs and musing about corruption and governance and other ‘safe’ stuff.
The funny thing about ugliness is that it doesn’t like to look ugly.
Since Taseer’s assassination, Pakistan has looked pretty ugly. And it’s looked ugly in full view of a horrified global audience.
That’s the kind of backlash that will scythe through the naïve.
But keep your head down, hold your tongue, avoid talking about what you really feel, no sudden or silly moves that give the other side an opening, and you’ll live to fight another day.
Which is what the real big boys are doing at the moment.
The reticence is rooted in certain realities of the media here.
In the quest to shape public opinion, there are two basic lines of attack. One is the day-to-day fare. Pandering to populist lines and downplaying certain perspectives, by unobtrusively tweaking the balance of the images, sounds and words the audience is presented with, a particular kind of worldview is projected.
It’s done in the name of the target audience, the ‘awam’, but it’s really about shaping the public rather than informing it.
The other line of attack is the black-swan event. Musharraf’s sacking of the chief justice, Lal Masjid, BB’s assassination and now Taseer’s killing — these are your unexpected, high-impact, high-possibility events. These can be tricky if not handled properly.
Lal Masjid was the ultimate godsend for the right wing in the media.
A ‘liberal’ dictator in bed with the Americans had ordered an assault on a place of worship full of people trying to rid Pakistan of bad moral and social influences.
And the bungled military operation and scores of civilians killed made it utterly indefensible, even at the level of idea.
The right-wing media went to town over Lal Masjid because they thoroughly understood its potential for sowing certain perceptions. And they could do it with impunity because of the military’s epic cock-up. Dead bodies are hard to argue against.
Taseer’s killing, though, was different. The ‘awam’, led by the mullahs, immediately showed what it thought of the murder and the wider issue.
No indoctrination necessary here, because the message had already been absorbed.As the saying goes, Pakistan ka matlab kya?
Since the days of Zia, everyone knows the answer to that.
In fact, the Taseer slaying opened a door for the other side. The crime and the aftermath had rightly stirred up passions, and anyone in the media naïve enough to flirt with or engage the hate on the right would become vulnerable to a ritual sacrifice.
Here’s another little-known truth about the media: it isn’t entirely as crazy or right-wing as the loudest voices and most obnoxious opinions in prime-time slots and op-ed pages suggest.
There’s actually some introspection, common sense and commitment to certain ideas, however vague. Of course much of that tends to be ex post — after the event — and therefore is reactionary in nature.
X writes Y during a black-swan event or P says Q, something particularly egregious, during regular fare, which then creates an opening to push back, reprimand, censure or even fire for a catalogue of previous outrageous sins that have been mentally bookmarked and indexed for future action.
Timing is everything.
And much of it tends to come from powerful figures inside the media establishment. People the viewer or the reader has probably never heard of. Channel bosses, news directors, editors, bureau chiefs, people who understand the nature of the beast they are straddling and seek to restrain its worst impulses.
Of course, the majority of the time the advantage lies with the right. Which is why silence is useful sometimes.
Wait out the awkward moments and resume your ideological war when the threat has abated. The paroxysms of the ‘liberals’ are only rarely threatening and subside quickly enough.
What comes next isn’t hard to fathom. Soon enough, it will be business as usual.
A combination of a population raised on a diet of hate, mistrust and distorted beliefs; a state system that is invested in perpetuating certain kinds of mindsets; a political class that is too self-absorbed to think about overhauling state and society; and the imperatives of ratings, subscriptions and ad revenue — all these
factors combine to ensure a certain kind of media output, the dominance of a particular kind of worldview.
Therein lies the problem: part cheerleader, part follower of societal trends, the media is both hostage to, and trying to shape, society here.
Extracting the poison from one without extracting it from the other is a non-starter.
But there are no real culture warriors on the other, good, side ready to take up that fight.
The ones who do speak up are irrelevant; the ones who could be relevant are quiet.
The heavy hitters on the right in the media know this. Which is why they are quiet right now. The future is theirs.
Pakistani writer H.M Naqvi (C) receives the first DSC Prize for South Asian Literature from H.S Narula (L), Chairman of DSC Limited on the second day of DSC Jaipur Literature Festival on January 22, 2011. - Photo by AFP
‘Home Boy’ by H.M. Naqvi, the critically acclaimed Pakistani author, won the inaugural DSC prize for South Asian literature last night (January 22), at an hour-long ceremony, which included readings from all the short-listed writers at the close of the second day of the Jaipur Literature Festival. The prize at US$50,000 is among the worlds’ richest literary awards and is given for South Asian fiction, including translations.
The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival which is also sponsored by DSC, opened yesterday morning with a simple ceremony which included speeches by the festival directors, Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple and the lighting of candles, in holders draped in marigolds! One of the great things about the literary festival is that the attendance is free. The festival is so popular that an audience of 7,000 people altogether attended the four concurrent sessions at the festival, every hour – compared to 2,000 last year. These sessions were held at different venues, including tents and lawns, in different sections of the Diggi Palace, a pale blue structure with arches and verandahs, built around courtyards and open spaces.
The advantage of the largest venue, the front lawn was that though the stage and seating area was covered by an awning, there was an open air area beyond with tables and chairs, where people could sit, drink tea, chat – and if they preferred, they could listen in to the event: it was there that I settled down for much of that first morning. Among others, I met various judges of the DSC prize, such as the lively and witty Amitava Kumar and the elegant Moni Mohsin – the latter was also in India for the launch of her new novel ‘Tender Hooks’ which revolves around the character of her famous book, ‘Social Butterfly’ and her world.
For the festival’s opening session, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk was interviewed by Chandrahas Choudhuri, author of ‘Arzee the Dwarf’ which was short-listed for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers prize. The discussion revolved largely around Orhan’s novels ‘My Name is Red’ and his more recent work, ‘The Museum of Innocence.’ Pamuk revealed that the former, which tells the story of miniature painters and a murder in the sixteenth century Istanbul, evolved because he once wanted to be a painter – and was also concerned about the disappearing cultural forms and art.
My own session “Two narratives, two nations”, chaired by Urvashi Butalia, revolved around the partition novels of my aunt Attia Hosain and my daughter Kamila Shamsie – Kamila read extracts from both novels followed by a lively Q&A. I was rather overwhelmed to find a packed audience, to the extent that there were people sitting on the floor in the aisles and the front. But it transpired that most sessions were similarly crowded. It was also good to run into an old friend, Martin Pick, an independent British publisher, who had been a popular figure in Karachi during the 1960s and 1970s when he was working with the Oxford University Press. He told me that he had helped set up a competition at the University of East Anglia for an unpublished first novel – the winner received a six-month fellowship at the University of East Anglia to complete the book.
Other sessions that day included Jung Chang and Jon Anderson talking providing a critical appraisal of Mao Tse Tung and I heard much praise of Siddharta Mukherjee’s work of non-fiction ‘The Emperor of Maladies’ – the New York-based surgeon has written a book on the history of cancer. At dinner I discovered he was extremely well-informed about classical sub-continental music too, and listened to him discussing thumri, khayal, gharana and ghazals with Ali Sethi who has a profound love of music and who sang wonderfully, the verses from Bulleh Shah at the close of day.
The second day of the festival, “Reporting the occupation” a discourse between three writers Rory Stewart, Jon Lee Anderson and David Finkel, proved to be one of the most interesting and incisive sessions of the day: it revolved around the duty and vision of reporters and writers in bringing a story, from war-riven areas ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, with all its complexities and innuendoes, to the public. After lunch, there was a lively discussion “Imaginary Homelands” in which a panel chaired by Chandrahas Choudhury and consisting of writers who live in the UK or USA but whose families originally belonged to different regions – Ian Jack, (Scotland) Kamila Samsie, (Pakistan) Manjushree Thapa (Nepal), Marina Lewycha (Ukraine), Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic) – discussed literature, migration, and reclamation. There were also lively ‘in conversation’ session with Kiran Desai who talked about her work, her gestation as a writer as well as the difference in approach of her mother, Anita Desai. Kiran talked about how she writes reams and reams before she can ‘needle-pick’ the elements she needs for her story whileher mother writes with carefully thought out precision. Later Kiran Desai, Orhan Pamuk, Leila Abouleila and Nam Le took part in a panel discussion “Out of the West” chaired by Rana Dasgupta, on the relationship between the west and writers belonging to different parts of the world. The whole evening culminated with a musical performance where Ali Sethi and Salman Ahmed left the audience enthralled.
"I never thought I would see in the flesh J.M. Coetzee - that was one of the most important moments for me in the last few days." - File Photo
Well, festival is over and I am headed home with crowded memories, copious notes and a copy of ‘Book Shelf’ by Sunil Sethi, the NDTV host who has collected together his literary interviews in this book, which I am looking forward to reading. He was very much there at the festival, though at that busy, overflowing venue it was not always easy to locate friends and acquaintances.
I finally managed to catch up with H.M. Naqvi, winner of the DSC prize, at the Writers Ball at the close of the festival. The ball was held at a positively spectacular venue: on a series of terraces at the foot of the floodlit Amer Fort with fairy lights illuminating a geometrical Mughal garden, adjoining arched and paved areas where dinner was served. This is my conversation with Naqvi:
Q: How does it feel to have won the DSC Award?
A: It feels fabulous. I have been writing since I was 5 years old and I will continue writing till I am dead. I write because I have an itch which I need to scratch and I also need to earn a living. The prize is a wonderful development. To me it is an acknowledgement of the hard work that went into creating ‘Home Boy’ – the four years I spent under difficult circumstances working on it.
Q: How will it affect you in other ways?
A: I have not had the luxury to dwell on the ramifications of the prize as I yet. I hadn’t been thinking much about the prize when I got to Jaipur, I was just happy to participate in the festival. While I was sitting there [during the announcement ceremony] I felt a palpable anxiety – the award ceremony was dramatic like the Oscars or the Golden Globe Awards – and it was then that I thought about the possibility of being one of six to get this prize.
Q: Have you enjoyed the Festival?
A: I was here last year and I enjoyed myself thoroughly as I did this year. It is a wonderful animate festival and it approaches fiction in a holistic way. Although it has a South Asian character, it also has an international character. I never thought I would see in the flesh J.M. Coetzee – that was one of the most important moments for me in the last few days.
The rich and poor divide, which could be normative in most South Asian countries, attains a dastardly touch to it when hope takes leave of the people. We in Pakistan are victims of this great tragedy
In my article, ‘Pakistan’s strategic roadmap’ (January 17, 2011) on these pages, I had suggested that terrorism and its various manifestations, including extremism and militancy, the economy, Pakistan’s stance on the Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), and societal dissent in the aftermath of Salmaan Taseer’s murder, will impose themselves as Pakistan’s compulsive strategic agenda in the near-term. A failure or success in treating each of these at their respective levels of existence will determine to a very large extent the Pakistan that we might have after these processes have played themselves out. Except for the nuclear-related FMCT pressures that Pakistan is likely to face with increasing persistence, the remaining three have common roots.
The antithesis of life is absence of hope. The Urdu word for it is even more encompassing, mayoosi. Where all has the Pakistani nation lost hope? In its leadership? In its effort to survive in both a physical and economic sense? In hoping for hope — the biggest killer? That is what societies are meant to do — keep hope alive, in the famous words of Martin Luther King. People agree to live together in an accepted arrangement of rights and duties — the most fundamental charter of human existence, because they gain assurance on their right to life, food and survival. They also accept responsibilities: to choose leadership, to follow the law that those leaders will make as an enjoined responsibility, and to contribute to the health of society in making it sustainable and resilient.
The more modern equivalent of the fundamental human charter is an individual’s right to opportunity enabled by the leadership structure to better himself with equal stakes in all facets that will constitute progress in a society. Societies in turn progress on the back of sound economies, freedom to think and create, equal opportunity to education, sciences and arts, and the right to associate with freedom with social and cultural activities. Societies need progress for its members to keep their hope in the system that they are a part of. When that does not happen and societies regress, all aspirations of hope for the better evaporate. Not only that such a society crumbles, it takes along with it the refuge and shelter, both psychological and material, that societies offer to their members. There is not a bigger dampener of hope.
Not all societies, or nations in their political manifestation, can grow exceptionally well all the time. Difficulties abound. That is the nature of the modern nation-state and the conflicts that it will need to navigate through in a competitive world. But nations are seen to be fighting, inching forward in the face of great adversity — howsoever slowly — but inch forward, not regress. Nation-states will endeavour to recover and recoup through a collective mindset of tenacity and belief in their ability to overcome. Churchill as a leader stood apart among leaders of his time when in a thoroughly bombed London, he stood amidst the ruins and waste of his beloved London and declared that England was not out. Its courts function and the nation will stand forth against any test to defeat the enemy. Londoners gathered themselves behind their leader and put forth the stout defence that characterises the English will in adversity. England ultimately prevailed.
The seclusion that African Americans faced in the US, more so in the South, is a dark chapter in the world’s history. They were treated poorly, they were perpetually poor, and had a worse social recognition than domesticated pets. Yet, they hauled weight, pulled chores, and served their masters, because one man, Martin Luther King spoke to them and weighed in with them for their cause. They believed in him when he promised them ‘a city on the hill’ that will soon be theirs. They believed in him when he asked them to just keep with him and trudge along despite the arduousness of their daily lives, and he will deliver them from the yoke of the white master’s tyranny. His message to them at all times was ‘to keep hope alive’, for he knew as long as hope sustained he had their collective strength to turn their lives around. Hope sustained and African Americans kept their hopes in Martin Luther King’s ability to provide them their share of justice, peace and opportunity from life and from society. Martin Luther King kept his people out of despair and moved the cycle of time forward for his people. He may have died early but he had formed the critical mass, which subsequently could not be stopped. African Americans got their rights and today can proudly boast of owning the White House.
How does the situation in Pakistan compare? Pakistan has been in difficult conditions, politically and economically. It is staying afloat with handouts from multi-national donors and is mired in a most intractable societal conflict deciding its future. In a stagnated economy, hope tends to evaporate. What may have been only 30 percent of Pakistan below the nominal $ 2 a day poverty datum a couple of years back by some accounts is now at 51 percent according to a recent Oxford survey. At less than $ 2 a day, 75 percent of Pakistanis survive on mere subsistence. In such situations even faith cannot sustain. Or, faith used to exploit tends to wrangle the right to life away from the impoverished. So if we were to only revisit two of the strategic challenges, extremism leading to militancy, which morphs into terrorism, and the societal divide it creates, the largest gaping gash today in society. The rich and poor divide, which could be normative in most South Asian countries, attains a dastardly touch to it when hope takes leave of the people. We in Pakistan are victims of this great tragedy.
Are we as bad as bombed out Londoners, or the Blacks of America? Perhaps not. But the rot is setting in fast. At such times the need is for a Churchill or a Martin Luther who could just shout out to his fellow countrymen to ‘keep hope alive’, for across on the other side of the hill lies in Reagan’s words, ‘a city upon the hill’. Leaders are not meant to manage alone — that systems do — they only ensure fulfilling their enjoined responsibility to provide an enabling environment to their followers to seek from among the common resource of opportunity and empowerment their due right to life, progress and prosperity. Sometimes it is only the hope that if not today, tomorrow will be a better day. But if tomorrow is destined to be worse, the ranks of those who walk across the divide are bolstered and societies decay.
The mother of Pakistan’s ailments is its impoverished economy for which none but the leaders of the day will bear the cross. Just across the border, in India, the poverty figures are equally dismal, somewhere in the 40s percentage points, but what keeps the poor labouring is that great story of how India has revamped itself into an economic powerhouse. They surely hope, if not them their children will soon have a better life. That keeps society more or less integrated. With hope and pride, adversity can be conquered. But where are our Churchills and Martin Luthers?
The writer is a retired air vice marshal and a former ambassador