Tuesday, December 23, 2008

'Tis the Season of...Domestication


Where did my first Christmas in Maryland go?

I do remember being here. I arrived in October, visited NY for a few days, and then I was here...getting to know the man I'd married, searching for a job, learning to cook, learning to operate the DVR, and reveling in an odd sort of nostalgia for things I used to despise but missed. So it seems amidst all the life-altering cooking and speculating, I completely missed out on my first winter and my first Christmas in Maryland.

As self-involved as that sounds, it's not every year you get a second chance at any of life's firsts.

Anyhoo, so technically this really is my first feel of December's icy winds ruthlessly slapping my numb face as I rush to 19th and L St., late as usual for work. I wasn't working last year at this time so I didn't get to enjoy it as much as I am now, every good morning. God bless them winds, they never fail me.

But hold it, my ode to winter will not be complete without my love for all things Christmas. Notwithstanding my utter dismay at not having a Muslim holiday that necessitates giving gifts, I do love peeping shamelessly into random strangers' homes to gaze wistfully at their ostentatious Christmas displays and brightly lit trees...oh, the trees! To have the license to squander your hard-earned cash on quirky ornaments and tacky red bows, to hang hundreds of multi-colored lights on a hundred dollar tree in your living room and risk burning your house down, and to stand in a mall trying really hard to recall a forgotten memory of a cranky old uncle/sibling desperately needing something...Christmas kicks ass! And then there is the month-long period of perfectly accepted inefficiency that is a delightful shout-out to Muslim countries during Ramadan. We're all just so much more similar than we realize.

And finally, to end on a note that makes a connection with this post's title--you can release your bated breath now--I have been domesticated, I learn, and slightly artisticated (not a real word). At least to the extent of taking a wire of white and gold beads and entwining it with my very depressing looking autumnsy wreath, and turning the autumnsy wreath festive! And putting some house plants generously donated by my mother-in-law around the house (to clean some of that toxic, over-heated Qureshi household air). And making a slightly tacky wedding pictures collage and sticking it to the wall. If only I would learn how to drill a hole in the wall now and put up my cheap photo prints.

Happy holidays :-)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kobe Bryant Scores 25 In Holy Shit We Elected A Black President


The Onion

November 06, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant had a typically solid performance from the field last night, scoring 25 points to propel his team to a holy shit, it's hard to believe these words are even gracing this page, but on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, the American people elected a black man to the office of the President of the United States.

Words really can't describe how…or what, or…. Wow.

Bryant, who got off to a slow start early, but managed to find his touch late in the third, incredible. A black president for a nation whose entire history has been haunted by the specter of slavery and plagued by racism since before its inception. That this happened in our lifetime is remarkable; that it happened within 50 years of a time when segregation was still considered an acceptable institution is astonishing. Absolutely astonishing. This is an achievement on par with the moon landing.

Bryant closed out the fourth quarter with eight points in five minutes.

"It was just a question of finding my rhythm, not forcing it, and playing within the offense," said Bryant, who also...a black man. President. Not the president of a community board, or the president of a business, but the president of the United States of America—the highest office in the land, the commander in chief, the de facto leader of the free world—is a black man chosen by a majority of his fellow citizens.

"This game shows you that free throws really do matter and [the great American Paradox—that is, the conflicting notion that a nation could be founded on the guiding principle that all men are created equal, but be built upon the backs of slaves—may not have been completely resolved on Tuesday night, but it was certainly resolved to an extent that would have been unimaginable to Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and most certainly Thomas Jefferson, and it was resolved by the combined will of the American people]."

"You also have to give the bench a lot of credit," Bryant added.

Lakers forward Lamar Odom also chipped in with 16 points and eight boards in the historic 349-162 Electoral College victory over the slumping Clippers, who are clearly missing the presence of former power forward Elton Brand—a Democrat, let alone a black Democrat, winning Indiana for the first time in 44 years? Florida? Ohio? Maybe even North goddamned Carolina? Are you fucking kidding? Is it absolutely confirmed that he won Virginia? Virginia, for crying out loud. Fucking crazy is what that is.

The 2008 league MVP was solid on the defensive end of the court as well, holding Clippers guard Baron Davis to just 12 points and when they called Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida for Obama, basically ensuring victory, that was a moment in which all Americans, regardless of race, creed, color, or party affiliation had to stand back and say, "Holy shit, this is actually going to happen. Holy shit.... Holy shit. Holy shit! Holy shit!"

The undefeated Lakers came into Wednesday night's game against the Clippers with a 3-0 record, and looked to continue their dominance in states like New York, California, and Massachusetts, but Bryant looked to get Lakers center Virginia involved early, and as recently as four years ago, it would have been unfathomable that citizens there would vote for a Democrat, let alone an African-American.

"We see the election of a black president, and Pau Gasol's good shooting night, as a positive sign of things to come," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said. "It's still early in the season, and there are a lot of things we need to work on, but I'm a product of the '60s, a baby boomer, so I'll blame our lull in the third quarter on me thinking back to the race riots during the civil rights movement, the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the separate but equal laws that plagued this nation, and how I thought then that in a million years we would never elect a black president. The fact that I am even saying these words is pretty fucking incredible."

"Kobe works well when he remains poised and trusts the triangle offense," Jackson added.

Two hundred thousand people of different races and ages—some crying, some cheering, all overjoyed because of the racial barrier they helped break down—were in attendance at Chicago's Grant Park for Wednesday's game, and stayed through the night, laughing, singing, cheering, and high-fiving even after the Lakers game was over and they won Colorado and the election was officially in garbage time.

Said Lakers forward Barack Obama to the entire world on his team's victory: "Yes, we can."

Fucking right we can. We did! We really did! I don't mind telling you I spilled out into the street along with all my joyfully screaming neighbors and danced right there to whatever songs anybody wanted to sing, including—and I can't believe we actually did this, but compared to electing a black man to the presidency, absolutely nothing is unbelievable anymore—an impromptu version of "God Bless America," which is the least danceable song in the world, but fuck it, we sang and danced to "God Bless America," and I'll bet you anything that no one there ever meant it more.

"I just wish that my mother, father, and grandfather could have seen this," said 52-year-old African-American Mark Booker, a Lakers fan who called this the single greatest moment of his entire life. "We won. We won. We won."

Still Alive and Kicking

After a dream vacation (where you have your mom worrying about what you had for breakfast and don't have to do your own laundry) I am back. The end of the elections; Ohio going for Obama; MQ and TQ killing a half-dead mouse from above the couch; lots and lots of Pakistan-made prettiness for our house; and beautiful, beautiful fall. There is too much to talk about, too little time. Too many pictures to upload, too.

And I finally voted. Yes, I am ashamed of my 26 years of not voting (to be fair, I only had once chance to vote in the eight years of Musharraf, as I turned eighteen in 2000. I blew it by not having a National ID). But how often do you get your first vote so, so right:)?

Okay more when I am not at work.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Obamanomics Vs. McCain

Did this for NGLCC BIZ -- a comparison between the two candidates' policies on four internal issues: taxes, health, energy and foreign trade. Broken into four parts, below is the first installment, on taxes.

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While comparing both the candidates’ economic agendas, one thing is quickly made clear – both have retained the basic economic thrust of their parties. That said, both claim to have tinkered where they can to add their own touches.

Obama, for instance, has admitted to being more accommodating of free market principles than many of his fellow democrats are, even publicly appreciating some of Reagan-era policies. His idea of solving an economic crisis may be setting up a government program to address a market failure, but then he’d also like to exploit market dynamics to drive that program in long-term. Also, in an interview with The New York Times, he proposes what he calls a more ‘moral’ capitalism. The best example of this ideology would be his proposal for a windfall profits tax on oil companies. It defies everything that free market economics teaches, and yet, according to his campaign, makes up for the unjustifiable tax breaks the energy industry has received in the past.

McCain on the other hand has tried to reaffirm his reputation as a reformer, by declaring an ambitious agenda to combat federal corruption and discourage corporate lobbying for incentives and tax breaks. Simultaneously, his plan has also retained the traditional republican thrust on cutting taxes and providing the largest investors the largest incentives, promoting the same economic trickle down formula made popular by Reagan – where the effects of reducing taxes on corporate investors are expected to trickle down to the entire economy and fund the budget deficit.

In this series of articles, I've looked at certain elements of the candidates’ economic policy from a business perspective – taxes, health care, energy and trade. This is the first installment, on their tax policies.



Taxes - Reading Between the Lines

Income Tax

Obama seeks to propose a tax-cut program that is friendlier to the lower-income families, but not so much to the wealthier class making more than $250,000 a year. Interestingly, despite not cutting taxes for the entire population like McCain will, Obama’s tax plan will produce annual net savings of $900 for the population on average, as compared to McCain’s $200. Research by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center (TPC) shows how traditional big tax breaks given by Republican governments in the past haven’t always benefited lower and middle families. A major reason for this is the fact that for lower and middle-income families, it is the payroll tax – and not the income tax – which takes the most away from them. Obama’s other major cut is a $500 credit applied toward income taxes based on payroll taxes already paid.

Although unsympathetic to the top income earners when put in context with McCain’s plan, whose biggest tax reduction is for those with incomes above $2.87 million, Obama’s tax increases don’t overburden the segment. They do take away Bush’s tax cuts, but still do not entirely reverse the huge pre-tax gains made by the top 1 per cent earners whose incomes have nearly doubled in the past decade.

McCain’s campaign has promised to permanently extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, increase deductions for taxpayers supporting dependents, reduce the corporate income tax rate, and allow immediate deductions for investments in certain capital equipment. His greatest tax cuts – nearly 5% - are for those making above $2.87 million. His remaining tax cuts range from 1 to 3 per cent, applicable to those making between $66,000 and $227,000.

Corporate Income Tax

One of the key emphases of McCain’s tax policy has been how it benefits the business sector. McCain has promised to cut the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, which will indeed result in a significant tax break for the C Corporations. For the small business sector though, this may not be as beneficial as a majority of small corporations are S Corporations, partnerships, limited liability corporations (LLCs), or sole proprietorships, none of which pay taxes at the corporate rate. In fact, the tax rate applicable to them is the owner’s individual tax rate.

Capital Gains Tax

Obama plans to raise the tax rate on dividends to 20 percent from the current 15% for those making over $250,000. McCain supports maintaining the current rate, set by Bush, and argues that higher capital gains taxes affect millions of middle-income Americans.

For small business owners, again, it is first important to consider that as all S Corporations and LLCs are prohibited from paying dividends, a business would have to have investment income or be a "C" corporation to be affected. That way only the very high-income taxpayers who report the most capital gains will benefit. Many more Americans make capital gains on corporate shares they hold within tax-deferred employer-sponsored retirement plans, on which they don’t need to pay capital gains taxes. Accruals within those accounts are tax free until distributed and then are taxed as ordinary income. Hence it is likely that the 5 per cent tax hike will not affect a majority of small business owners.

The Estate Tax

Both candidates have proposed to increase the estate tax exemption and reduce the estate tax rate compared with current law in 2011 and beyond. But McCain has shown a greater opposition for the estate tax, and would cut the tax much more than Obama. Under Senator McCain’s proposal, just about 4,000 estates would be subject to tax in 2011 - less than 0.2 percent of the 2.5 million adult decedents. Under Senator Obama’s proposal for estate taxes, about 8,000 estates would be taxable in 2011.

A near repeal of the tax revenue as suggested in the McCain proposal will primarily benefit a very small group of extremely affluent families, which is a less progressive tax structure. Also, it is undecided though just how much the estate tax affects the economy, as its effects on working and saving are not clear. TPC reports that where the tax may discourage some wealthy people from saving or working by reducing the size of their after-tax bequests, it may influence others who have a fixed target amount of wealth they want to transfer to save more, in order to make up for the expected tax liability. The tax may also encourage some potential heirs to work and save more because they are less able to live well off the proceeds of their inherited estate. Statistics show though that reducing the tax doesn’t greatly influence the overall economic activity.

Tax Cuts and the Budget Deficit

Economists have stated that both candidates’ tax plans will cause huge budget deficits. Both have promised to offset the deficit with spending cuts. For instance McCain emphasizes cutting down on earmarks and federal corruption; Obama wants to cut down on war spending and call the troops home. But both candidates sorely lack key details about all the measures they will take to stop the federal deficit from ballooning in the next five years.

TPC has found that Obama's tax-reduction plan would increase the national debt by $3.5 trillion by 2018. McCain’s plan to leave existing tax cuts in place rather than let them expire would add $5 trillion to the debt.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also offers a dismal forecast, projecting a record deficit of $438 billion in the coming year due to the slowing economy, which would decrease tax receipts to the Treasury. CBO has said that the deficit is a result of decrease in tax revenues and increase in federal spending in the past years. How do the candidates then plan to sustain the huge tax cuts each has promised?

The reason for their elusiveness, apart from election politics, may be that every action they take with regards to tax credits or other spending ultimately depends on the actual budget realities they inherit once they come into office.

Lastly, it is also important to consider that each candidate’s plan stand much greater chance of implementation if the candidate’s party controls part (or all) of congress – an advantage that Obama clearly has over McCain at this point.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stop ignoring Kucinich!


I don't care if most of America and all of television media consider Dennish Kucinich a nutjob -- his speech at the DNC deserved at least a few minutes of airtime on cable TV, so joyfully dedicated to 'election historians' and coverage of sullen Hillary supporters.


Instead of sticking with good old CSPAN that broadcast the convention SANS the historians and commentators, we decided to support the usually wonderful PBS which, sadly, turned out to be way too dedicated to David Brook's analysis of whatever it is that he thinks he's analyzing. When it wasn't letting David Brooks analyze whatever it is that he thinks he's analyzing, its anchors imitated their more glamorous peers at other cable TV networks in incessantly theorizing about what Hillary will say and how Hillary's supporters will feel and what Hillary supporters needed to feel. As much as I love Lehrer and Ifill and Woodruff, they can't just talk over the entire ten/fifteen minute speech of a recent presidential candidate getting the crowd on its feet right behind them, right as they speak.

Predictably, Hillary's speech was the only uninterrupted one throughout the day other than keynote speaker Mark Warner's speech. Poor Mark Warner, who made a pretty decent speech, was ignored largely by the commentators who even then just couldn't finish analyzing what Hillary will say and what Hillary's supporters will feel.

BOO! Watch Kucinich's speech here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Eighteenth Century Toilets and Writing for No Reason

So there were no desi food stalls to stuff my face at, no green flags, no national songs. Just my crystal clear memory of torn little paper flags kissing the ground, and buildings wasting electricity in the name of celebration. But looking so criminally beautiful in the process.

Instead, over the weekend, there was my family (insert smiley here) and George Washington's darkly sparse mansion: gaudy paint, thousands of acres of beautiful slave-grown plantations, unmarked graves of the slaves who had toiled at them, and eighteenth century toilet drawers. Literally drawers actually, removable and all.

Also, the incredibly dull air and space museum...how does aviation history manage to be so supremely fascinating and supremely dull at the same time? I figure it's punishment for not getting in line for the simulator rides and relying on the engines for entertainment instead.

I suppose you could call that a rather productive weekend. And today, I'm home with the rare chance to sign in here and write aimlessly for a change, without feeling once that my sole prowess (?) should be contributing toward my economic progress at this time of the day.

It hasn't come to this yet, but for certain types of flighty individuals, the best way to end up hating the things they love to do most, is to acquire them as a profession.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Happy independence day

August 14, 2008 -- Happy independence day to all Pakistanis (and to all Indians who celebrate their independence tomorrow).

So I'm trying to find out what homesick Pakistani-Americans in DC are doing this weekend to celebrate, it being my first independence day as one. I need something to anchor my once-a-year patriotism with -- basically stuff my face with food at desi stalls blasting forgotten national songs and forget that really, there is way too much to feel cynical than optimistic about this independence day. As it's been for a long, long time.

Monday, August 4, 2008

World's Worst Person Decides to Go into Marketing

'I'm Thinking...Marketing,' Says Horrible, Horrible Man

New York, July 31, 2008 — Twenty three year old Louis Deenan, undeniably the most detestable, loathsome individual ever to walk the earth, willfully decided Monday to devote his miserable life and all of its awful ambitions to the field of marketing. "I think it's the career path that will best utilize my networking skills and my ability to think outside the box," said Deenan, whose smug, gloating tone and shit-eating smile just make you want to punch his goddamn teeth in. "So I'm definitely thinking marketing. Either that, or PR." Deenan's mother refused to comment on why she didn't abort the despicable pile of human excrement when she had the chance.

Reported by The Onion

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mamma Mia: Good for Laughs, Chest Hair


So Mamma Mia!...was an unlikely choice for a movie I'd go to the theatre to watch. Not just because it's a bag of sap and some seriously over-the-top acting (although that should be my prime reason) but because it's a musical. Musicals and Madiha don't go together, not even when they're oscar-nominated, artistically gory ones like Sweeney Todd. But I gave in to the secret, appropriately-ashamed Abba lover sitting inside me. Who knew? (I didn't, for one)

Ironically, I hadn't heard more than three or four of Abba's songs before watching the movie with both of my sisters in law this Sunday. I'd only heard a few: Thank You for the Music, Mamma Mia!, and I fail to remember the third one. But I always hummed along them whenever I heard them. In all of the bubblegum pop I've had the fortune to hear in my life, their brand was definitely the hummy-ist (Most hummable? Hummy-ist sounds better). And then I saw that gynormous advertisement in Times Square a few weeks ago and felt the silliest and strongest urge to go watch. Some advertising.

Anyhoo, so I saw the movie, not the advertised broadway musical because I love Meryl Streep more. It's silly as hell, contrived as a twenty year old musical usually will be, and plus it's poorly directed. But listen, those songs...they make you want to get up on your seat and dance. Or at least sing along under your breath and shake a little if you're in a movie theatre (recommended). And a couple of hours of mindless laughter, watching Collin Firth pull another man into his arms and Pierce Brosnan tear off his shirt (and then dance in a chest-open spandex suit) is worth the ten bucks.

At all other times though, you find yourself marveling at the nerve of the film-makers casting a male lead in a musical who cannot sing to save his life. Which also made me think of the following points:

1. Why can't the prime difference between a movie musical and a broadway musical be having the option of casting non-singing actors solely based on their acting/dancing/box-office value? And giving a job to a lesser known voice-over singer. After all, Broadway actors won't carry a Hollywood movie, Hollywood stars will. Why be a stickler for a rule that can ruin the musical aspect of your musical? There's too much to lose!

2. Is Pierce Brosnan the only hot 55 year old in Hollywood with the full chest of hair defining the Abba-era? (Maybe, which explains why he was cast despite his pain inducing singing)

Oh whatever. PASSED, for guilty pleasures are the most fun:)

P.S. Warning: The writer's perception of the musical might be seriously flawed, since she was laughing throughout the movie, even through the mother-daughter weepie scenes. Serious Abba fans and moms with daughters might not want to use this review as a fair valuation of the movie.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dancing Fool

Don't know much about dancin'
Thats why I write this song
One of my legs is shorter than the other is
'nd both my feets too long

-Frank Zappa in "Dancing Fool"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Cartoon Mocking the Cartoon


Now here's protesting done in style:). Gotta love Tom Toles.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Much ado about nothing


So there's the expected hue and cry over the latest cover of The New Yorker which shows a cartoon depicting Obama in the oval office, dressed in the republican-fantasized MuslimTerroristAttire (good detail. The shalwar is just a tad above the ankle). Bumping fists with him is an angry Michelle Obama with a menacing afro, touting a machine gun and caustic smirk that seems to transmit a call for the white man's blood. Burning in the fireplace beside them is the American flag.

I personally thought the cartoon was funny when I first saw it. It isn't much of a work of art really, that should even warrant the disussion that it has sparked. In fact the joke's rather simplistic. A no-brainer for the average reader of the sophisticated magazine; just poking a bit of fun at the the outrageous Obama rumor-brigade run by the right-wing media and politicians throughout the country.

The cartoon would have made no story if it had in fact been limited to the eyes of the readers of The New Yorker which, incidentally, is not even usually available at your average newsstand, especially not to the innocent, easily-led sheep in the rural heartlands of America.

But as it goes, it's four months to the election and anything smelling of Obama controversy is tasty meat for the media at this time. Obama campaign issued a hurt, angry response; Obama supporters called for an apology and rejected the 'satire' arguement. Some furiously explained why an exaggeration of untruths about Obama does not compare up to older cartoonic depictions of exaggerated truths about Bush and Cheney that have graced the magazine's covers in the past.

Of course, many left-wingers are less perturbed. That's The New Yorker for you, they say. They're just making a joke which isn't even very new.

Here's what I think: I understand the fears of Obama supporters, that the monstrous Fox News and its followers won't get the satire and instead probably end up using the cartoon as their desktop backgrounds to remind them of Obama's general badness.

Yes, they will.

But, as Taimoor pointed out to me earlier this morning, the publicizing of the cartoon keeps Obama on the cover and for most part, does make everyone who might have forwarded an Obama rumor email in the past look like an idiot. At least to the others, if not themselves. Unfortunately though, satire is not the most popular medium of information and most popular media like Fox News are very literal and easy on intellectual stimulus. So for all those who watch Fox News for News, nothing much will change. The cartoon will just be a minor reinforcement of beliefs which weren't going anywhere anyway.

For those who don't watch Fox News for their news though, one look at the cartoon should just make them smile derisively and consider the ridiculous in the Anti-Obama rumor machine. Again, a minor reinforcement of an opinion they probably already had.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In the Blood

I was searching for an old cover story I did for the Kolachi pages to use as a writing sample, and found this instead (why is Yahoo! search suddenly more effective than Google? This is highly disturbing). I think I wrote this after a visit to Macchar Colony in July last year, during the shooting of a documentary with some friends. This forgotten piece is making me a little nostalgic, and a little amused by my own reluctant love for the city of candle lights (courtesy Tazeen):


In the Blood

By Madiha Waris

A recent cartoon in a local daily depicted a man's family drenched in unspeakable gloom because he had just been posted to the city of Karachi. Very funny, you'd say, if you didn't yourself happen to be a resident of 'the city of candle lights', as a friend refers to it. Although we have been used to being an object of fear and wariness for the world for decades, it seems like derision and ridicule are the latest emotion our city evokes in the hearts of the world. No worries -- we shall take that, too, in a rain-sodden stride.

Someone said the other day, and this is no science but purely an individual's own philosophy, that when things can't get any worse, there's only one way to go from there: to get better. You can easily counter that by saying they could also remain where they are and not get better at all. However, despite cynicism pouring in like the cyclone that just touched the coast, I'm going to stick with that lone ranger's philosophy and be optimistic. Things can't get any worse for Karachi right now, they can only get better.

Last week, my family finally suffered the 'real' thing, which (as we had always assumed earlier) only happened to the less privileged. We had no electricity for 32 hours. Things weren't all dark -- thank God for generators. However, as the hours slipped by and the generator threatened to die, a strong premonition gripped us. Have they forgotten us? Did they really just switch our power off and go off on a vacation? Where the heck are 'they'? This was the real thing. That feeling of abandonment that most Karachiites have experienced at some point of their lives: we finally felt as if we had really crossed the hallowed gates to the land of the forsaken.

Make no mistake: I have been through adversities that only happen to Karachi residents before. I've been abandoned at Numaish Chowk by my rickshaw driver amidst burning tires and petrol pumps following a bomb blast; I have suffered with millions others through the man-killing rollercoaster that is this city's public transport system. I've even taken up a futile fight outside my house with a long haired MQM worker who led a slogan-painting drive on our freshly painted wall in broad daylight. The phrases 'only in Karachi could this go unchecked' and 'only in Karachi could this idiot drive' have graced my mind more times than I can count. The only number that exceeds that is the times I have planned to escape this city forever and never come back.

However, I am astonished and a little betrayed by own sense of justice to find, that like some of your blood relations who annoy, degrade and hurt you again and again and yet find a place in your heart, I can't shun Karachi. Karachi is, alas, in my blood. With its screaming bus horns, pain-in-the-butt motorcyclists, silencer free rickshaws, ubiquitous potholes, waterless tanks, ugly as hell apartment complexes and countless other vices, this city is a permanent splotch on my life that I cannot remove.

It may sound naïve, but each time an outsider condemns, ridicules or dismisses Karachi my dormant patriotism comes into action and I become the optimist that I don't really feel like being most of the time. I think it's the same feeling that engulfs a lot of Pakistanis when Pakistan is dismissed as a failed nation -- which is often. It's a mulish disregard for intelligent forecasts of doom by the global pundits that is shared by the light sufferers to the worst inflicted in this country, and most of all by the often forsaken Karachiites.

Some friends and I got a chance to speak to a few groups of children living in several shanty towns in Karachi lately, during the making of a documentary. These children, all studying in schools run by different non-profit organizations, were refreshingly articulate, intelligent and ambitious. They all wanted to do great things in life, and they all had a unanimous agreement on the fact that Karachi, and by association Pakistan, was a difficult place to live in. They named a host of problems to prove this, ranging from poorly made roads to load-shedding, water shortages, and nobody ever cleaning the streets. Most were especially sick of the frequent strikes (which force their schools to close), and people burning tires and blocking the roads all the time. One of them especially hated the fact that people are not 'nice and respectful' to each other and are always fighting in the streets.

However, when asked if they would like to move out of Pakistan and live somewhere else in the future, surprisingly, only two raised their hands. They all wanted to travel of course; see new places, sit in (and preferably fly) a plane. Popular places to visit included Saudi Arab (where some of the children had relatives living) and the U.S. -- but then they wanted to come back and live here. When we wondered why, one of them, 11 year old Habib, smiled and answered sagely, "Yehan sab apney hain. Bahir waley kabhi apnon jaisay tou nahin hosaktey na."

And that, fellow Karachiite, is about the only explanation I can think of for this wretched city having forced its way into my once happily unpatriotic mind. There is no explanation this article can offer for the KESC's uselessness, for the murderous falls of the city's hoardings, for the hundreds of deaths in the past week, for the lawlessness and despair that rules this city right now. Affinity to lost causes, rooting for the underdog or idealism -- call it what you may -- but we all need something to get by.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Yet Another Immigrant Story

I arrived in the US about eight months ago, to get married in Houston and move to Maryland, where I live now. My last visit had been less than a year ago, during which I met my husband. The one before that was when I was seven years old. My memories of that visit constitute mainly of Disney Land and my first snow outside the tiny New York apartment belonging to my dad's friend, where we stayed for a week.

I didn't have to go through the usual hassles of visa because about 17 years ago, I had become a US Citizen courtesy of my father, who lived in America during the eighties but later chose to settle in Karachi. But the hassle-free traveling was perhaps the only real advantage I gained from my citizenship in the soon to come adjustment process. Among all the 'real' American citizens who've either lived here all or at least a greater part of their lives, here I was, with my American passport, Pakistani National ID, and a bit of irony. My 22 years of Karachi-based education, my proudly displayed IBA degree and occasional use of the expression 'Kia Scene hai' were in stark contrast to others with that claim.

I experienced pretty much the same learning curve as any other freshly arrived immigrant would have. Self-checkout at supermarkets, recognizing the pedestrian crossing signal on the road, the works. And so, as I think of what to write about my transition from Technically American-but-Really-Just-Pakistani to plain old Pakistani-American, so many things rush to mind that my mind is rapidly going blank (a predicament I’m commonly inflicted with). Let me just pick at random.

I'm still referring to that neat row house in Askari that I left in October, for example, when I say the word Home and Missing in the same sentence - but home in the real --brick, mortar and heart-- sense of the word now is the Silver Spring condo which I can’t wait to reach every evening when standing outside the Metro Station, waiting to cross the road. For all the jokes my boss, Travis, makes to me about my being too suspiciously well-adjusted in the American society for him to believe that I didn’t just land here less than a year ago, I still might pronounce words like Thirty like...well, like a full-blown desi would pronounce. And having lived in the dusty, smoky desert of Karachi has given me what can only be called a perverse sensitivity to trees, cleaner air and prolonged air-conditioning. Henceforth, I am wheezing and sneezing as I write and have been for the past several months.

Of course, there are more thought provoking consequences to migration. It’s surprising how little effort it really takes for a person to readjust, make daily compromises and adapt to new situations if the person isn’t change-averse and just lets nature take its course. It definitely makes the transition much easier if the person has been brought up in an environment more connected to the rest of the world. Being city-educated and media savvy helps undeniably. But still, here’s my theory: Post-migration happiness is directly proportional to pre-migration dissatisfaction with your previous environment in one way or another. Factors that sway this equation include one’s perception of personal growth and success in previous environment and relationships, and in some cases... the highly significant phenomenon of Domestic Help(!).

My pseudo-philosophizing aside, the reason for mentioning the adaptability of the human nature is to counter the myth that for someone born and bred in a wildly different and restrictive culture like Pakistan’s, it is hard to adapt well to the freedom-loving American culture. It’s actually a little uncomfortable to see how fast the un-learning process is for cultural notions and traditions that took years and years of instilling and breeding. Unless you live in desi paradises like Edison (NJ) or Sugarland (Houston), holding on to what are now seemingly-archaic notions such as shunning anyone who drinks alcohol or half-naked women (and men depending on your location) seem so, so very hard.

And yet some people do hold on. For all those who succumb to the temptation of non-halal beef and chicken, there are still those who don’t. How do they do it? Perhaps because I am no longer surrounded by parents who would serve as stern reminders, and have too much resting on my own free will, I feel it harder to not succumb to what I consider lesser vices. I don’t drink, for instance, but I wouldn’t avoid someone drinking anymore. I always cook Halal meat in my own home, but every now and then I’d eat chicken or beef outside. I still pray as regularly as I used to and try to do good in all the ways I tried to back in Pakistan, but occasionally, I would wear the sleeves shorter than I would ever have worn just a year ago (because I feel the skin on my arms gets rather buried in the sheer abundance).

And it’s happened so fast, my un-learning, that it's unnerving. On the other hand, I feel more responsible for my choices, and can’t blame my parents or environment anymore for the person I am (shoot). We all grow as individuals all our lives, after all – not just in certain formative years as the myth goes. We reinvent ourselves again and again based on our experiences so this person I am today, is most probably not the person I am going to be for the rest of my life.

Yet I do think that being in a less restrictive society is a good start for the person that I’m going to be as time goes. Why? Because I can finally challenge myself with this lack of cultural and traditional restrictions and act on my free will -- whether I want to or not. And this I can do while taking into account the values that have been instilled into me, weighing them, analyzing them as I have never had to before for lack of stimulus or need, and then embrace them as I grow. Perhaps it may mean discarding some of them along the way, but it will also mean maintaining the rest not because I have to, but because I want to.

Of course, not everyone goes through some sort of hardcore self-discovery each time they make a move. Many of them may just resort to two common paths: blocking outside influence and staying in a cocoon (note the article on living in Bradford below), or finding a complete, no-return escape from the past. Once again, this varies from person to person based on factors of pre and post migration happiness (refer to my lame philosophizing above). So much is the variation that I must refrain from any generalization, and describe this as solely my own experience, my own transition, and my very own moral to a really ordinary story of migration.

An abridged version of this was printed on Chowk and Dawn

Friday, June 27, 2008

A leaf from the Rich List of Pakistan (as of 2008)

And the Second Richest Pakistani Man in the World is:

Asif Ali Zardari
Co-chairperson, Pakistan People's Party
Worth: £900m ($1.8billion)
Industry: Eh...Politics

Asif Zardari, famously dubbed “Mr 10%”, is the previously unknown, partying son of a small-time politician and landowner who struck gold by marrying the country's most strikingly prominent female politician, former Prime Minister Benzair Bhutto. Taking advantage of his late wife’s authority, Zardari took kickbacks from many business deals conducted inside and outside of Pakistan. The most famous was a $4 billion deal to buy 32 Mirage jets from the French company Dassault. Documents referring to this deal include letters from Dassault executives indicating that an agreement was reached to pay a 5% “remuneration” - about $200m - to Marleton Business, a BVI company controlled by Zardari. Besides these, many more kickback deals were taken up with companies such as ARY Gold, Social de Surveillance (SGS), Cotecna, and ZPC Ursus, a Polish tractor company.

Zardari's asset holdings easily amount to hundreds of millions of dollars today, with 8 prime real estate properties in the UK, one of which was the notorious Rockwood Estate (365 acres in Surrey, worth £4.35m), now sold with the money sent back to the Government of Pakistan. Zardari also owns 14 multi-million dollar mansions in the USA, and the Holiday Inn hotel, Houston, Texas which he co-owns with Iqbal Memon and Sadar-ud-Din Hashwani of the Hashwani Group.

Zardari and Bhutto also owned huge business ventures in the Middle East. Zardari has huge stakes in sugar mills all over Pakistan, including Sakrand Sugar Mills, Nawabshah, Ansari Sugar Mills, Hyderabad, Mirza Sugar Mills, Badin, Pangrio Sugar Mills, Thatta and Bachani Sugar Mills, Sanghar.

In addition:

Zardari was arrested by the Pakistan Police for the first time in 1993 on charges of extortion and blackmailing of a local Businessman. The charges were dropped after his wife came into power. He was kept in custody from 1997 to 2004 on charges ranging from corruption to murder. He was granted bail and released in November 2004 when a judge said the cases were all false, although allegations of pressure on the judge have also been made. However, he was re-arrested on 21 December 2004 after his failure to attend a hearing in a murder trial in Karachi. He was released shortly after.

After Bhutto's assasination, Zardari produced a will that called for their 19 year old son to inherit the Party's chairmanship. Zardari has since been selected as co-Chairman with his son and is to preside over the Party until Bilawal Bhutto comes of age.

The much-maligned and parasitic former First Husband is today unopposed kingmaker and second richest man in Pakistan. For all those who dismissed him during his long prison term, subsequent rumors of separation from his wife after his release, and repeated stories of a failing heart - Asif Ali Zardari is the new ugly face of Pakistani politics.

First three paragraphs excerpted and edited from Pakistan's Rich List 2008
Additional information excerpted and edited from Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Two news items

In Dawn, today:

Arms worth $6bn bought in five years, says report

By M. Ziauddin

LONDON, June 18: Pakistan purchased arms worth $6 billion in the last five years, according to a report put out by the UK’s Defence and Security Organisation.

Saudi Arabia was the largest importer over the period with $31bn, followed by India with $18bn and the US $17bn. Three countries — Australia ($11bn), Canada ($10bn) and Pakistan ($6bn) — moved up the rankings, the report published in the Financial Times on Tuesday said.

The 2007 figures were helped by a large order from Saudi Arabia for the Typhoon aircraft, valued initially at £4.3bn. They were further aided by orders from Oman and Trinidad and Tobago for offshore patrol vessels.

Orders from North America were also significant — the US imported more weapons from the UK than from any other country, the DSO said.

Also on that page:

Wheat subsidy may go, Senate told

By Sher Baz Khan

ISLAMABAD, June 18: The government on Wednesday informed the Senate that it wanted to completely eliminate consumer subsidy on wheat as, according to Finance Minister Naveed Qamar, the subsidy had never benefited Pakistani farmers.

He said that instead of paying subsidy on wheat, the government wanted to reduce the cost of agricultural inputs by doubling the subsidy on DAP fertiliser and removing sales tax.

Officials at the ministry of food and agriculture told Dawn that the government should not withdraw the consumer subsidy on wheat before introducing a ration system for the poor.

Besides, the government should increase the present minimum wage to Rs10,000, they added.

They said the withdrawal of subsidy on wheat might increase the flour price to Rs50-60 a kg from the present Rs25-30. This would force domestic consumers to buy flour at the international market rate, they added.

“Pakistan will be the first country to withdraw the consumer subsidy on food,” a senior official at the food and agriculture ministry told Dawn.

He said that even the US and India had food stamp systems that enabled the poor to get food on subsidised rates.

Official figures showed that from September last year till April this year, the government had provided about 50,000 tons of wheat to flour mills on a daily basis on a subsidised rate of Rs465 per 40kg. This subsidy kept the ex-mill price of wheat around Rs380 per 20kg and cost the government Rs45 billion.

Before the start of the wheat crisis in November last year, the government had followed a quota system under which 30 per cent of wheat the mills ground had come from the government’s storages and 70pc from millers’ own godowns. But during the flour crisis, majority of the mills totally depended on government’s subsidised wheat. Agricultural experts believe that the Benazir Package providing Rs1,000 monthly support to a poor family needed to be increased to Rs3,000-4,000.

Bravo. Way to go everybody, third ranking amongst the world's top weapon importers...i-m-p-r-e-s-s-i-v-e!

Also way to go on your plans to take away the wheat subsidy. Kill those leeches preying on your subsidies! No such thing as a free lunch in this world, and definitely no free Rotis! Good job!

a rumour that you should forward about Barack Obama RIGHT NOW

The REAL SHOCKING TRUTH about Barack Obama:

Barack Obama is a DEVOUT CHRISTIAN. His favorite book is the BIBLE, which he has memorized. His name means HE WHO LOVES JESUS in the ancient language of Aramaic. He is PROUD that Jesus was an American.

Courtesy: One of many more here

Monday, June 16, 2008

bradistan, karachi, khajoor and aasman

After a week’s hiatus I opened the Dawn website and went straight to The Review pages, deliberately avoiding reading about the Afghanistan threats, Asif Zardari and the price hikes. I like to think when you’re feeling feverish God’s okay with the escapism.

The first article I came across was written by an acquaintance who recently, like me, got married and moved abroad (Bradford in her case).

The article was funny, ironic – you’re probably familiar with Bradford’s status as mini-Pakistan or something like that. So more about desi aunties parading in their eighties style shalwar kameez, chandelier earrings, golden heeled Chappals; stores named after Kashmir, and bridal stores called Ladli and Dulhan ka Raj. I can picture a hapless Karachi-born and bred young woman who’s probably never even visited rural Punjab in her life, feeling like she’s flown into Chakwal instead of the United Kingdom.

It’s ironic also because my acquaintance’s consolation for having to leave her family and friends behind, as she says, was a projected freedom from the cultural strains she faced while living in Karachi. Karachi, though probably the least typical city in terms of cultural strains placed on women after the diplomatic hub of Islamabad, is obviously suffocating when compared to the typical western city – which Bradford is oh-so-not. That’s when you use the Urdu adage: Aasman se gira, Khajoor mai atka (atkee in the case of Amna). Bradford may be the closest thing to Pakistan – but it definitely isn’t the closest thing to Karachi.

Here’s the thing: most Americans too often mistake Karachi as the rest of Pakistan. More importantly, as part of the tribal no-man-lands in the videos they keep showing on TV every time they do a story about Pakistan. And then you have to launch into explanations of how you went to a school that forced you to speak in English, you didn’t have to wear Hijab, you Googled, and you watched Lost, too.

Fortunately for me, such interactions have been limited. Although most people whom I do interact with just cannot believe yet that I can speak grammatically correct English within one year of migrating. Maybe after I’ve lived here for a couple of years they’ll just start assuming I came here and learnt it. Maybe.

You can read Amna's article here

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Nothing

My throat feels like tied down to a few bags of wet cement. I hate thunderstorms and wet weather, and my feelings of uncertainty and insecurity somehow always coincide with the disappearance of the sun.

At the Metro today, I saw a family today. Four people with that distinct Punjabi nose that I'm way too familiar with. For the first time in life seeing the familiar Punjabi nose made me happy; nostalgia I suppose. Punjabi uncle with his new handycam, recording each train that arrived on the platform; inside the trains, disheveled and tired men and women, staring. Well-groomed Punjabi twenty something daughter with her permed, dyed hair and flat stomach, excitedly recounting her day to her mother--a beautiful Punjabi matron, with heavy eyeliner and round, gold earrings. And hovering over them all, the tall, bear-like son of the family, holding them together so they wouldn't miss their train.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Complications, complications

You know you’re getting old when you stop enjoying the roller coasters.

Last year, while in Houston, we went to an amusement park called Keema (tee hee). While in Keema, I went on a ride that I can now only remember as waahiyaat –loosely translated as ‘outstandingly awful’. Basically the thing suddenly flips upside down a few seconds after going up in the air, and then stays there. For an alarmingly long period of time. That’s it. That’s the ride. It (and you) stay suspended upside down in the air for several excruciating minutes in which you hold on to your seat belt and your legs hold on to nothing. According to my ten year cousin, it was AAWWWe-some (in a way only a ten year old Houstonian can say it).

Anyhoo, I realized that day that I wasn’t the same person who could enjoy unlimited roller coaster rides, monster trains and pirate ships without ever feeling the need to stop or puke. Even that crazy ride at the now defunct Karachi Funland which would go on full speed in the opposite direction after completing a cycle going forward. There isn't a time I can remember ever feeling I had had enough of the Funlands and Disney Lands of the world. Now though, it’s not the same with anything involving speed and adrenaline. I still want to do all of that and more, but only because I'm used to wanting to do it. I mean, how bad is it when you start driving the first round of your go-cart really fast and then wish for it to end just a few minutes later, can’t stop worrying about crashing into an invisible boundary when you’re riding a jet ski (which is really divine regardless of everything), and start having a heart attack every time your husband drives slightly maniacally to cross a signal before it turns red.

The more I live, the more beautiful life becomes. Somebody famous said that. I saw it yesterday, displayed on my Gmail page, and happily discovered that I agree. But, as life becomes more beautiful every day, I also become older, less exciting, less adventurous, more afraid to break my neck, more finicky, more obsessive compulsive, and more likely to grow old sooner than I thought I would. Oh, the complications of being...just human.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Obama's burden

Dana Milbank, in his column ‘Washington Sketch’ in the Post writes today:
"Here are some things we can look forward to learning about Barack Obama:
• That he was mentored in high school by a member of the Soviet-controlled Communist Party.
• That he launched his Illinois state Senate campaign in the home of a terrorist and a killer.
• That while serving as a state senator, he was a member of a socialist front group.
• That his affiliations are so dodgy that he would have trouble getting a government security clearance.
• That there is reason to doubt his "loyalty to the United States."
The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy took a blow with Hillary Clinton's collapse. But it is regrouping, and finding plenty of sinister things to say about Obama -- even if he didn't trade cattle futures.”

I have finally found a couple of silver linings about Hillary Clinton staying longer in this race.

a: No matter how harmful the aspersions cast on Obama by the Clinton campaign were to the now presumptive Democratic nominee, they couldn’t have beaten what the Republican Party would do to him in the general. But they were good practice to prepare him for the future.

And b: Hillary’s staying in the race actually lengthened the time where Obama had to mostly contend with the Clinton Camp and not the much more vicious Republican camp. That of course ended with the arrival of Reverend Wright at the party. If he had become the nominee earlier on, they (the republicans) would have had much more time to denigrate him.

Well hello denigration.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

a mundane thought

We usually wait most of our lives for a grand finale of some sort...what would be the happiest day of our lives; what it would feel like, what it would take. The happiest days of our lives, it seems, usually come by when we're not looking, and shockingly, more than once. Like just a random, ordinary day when you didn't happen to get sad even once, didn't lose your temper at any family member or inanimate object even once, and didn't panic/hyperventilate/felt inadequate or alone even once. And just happened to laugh a lot with someone you love for the most mundane reasons in the world.

So right was John Lennon: Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.

Friday, May 9, 2008

TQ and MQ go to Turkey Run Park

Several years ago, I made a memorable trip to Nathiagali (hill station, Pakistan) with my friends. The trip included a seven kilometer hike in the precarious woods near our hotel, which was right at the top of the mountain that is home to Nathiagali. Our guide was a thirteen year old valley native who assured us that we were taking a road not taken (it was, not because of the mind-blowing beauty of the view it contained, but because it was frikkin dangerous.)

So anyway, bolstered by that invigorating experience, proudly accomplished by a group of women who had never in their lives hiked before, I recently goaded my nature-averse husband into a hiking included picnic in one of the parks by the Potomac.

Armed with our Chicken tikka rolls and smoked turkey and omelette sandwiches we set out to the Turkey Run Park, and within an hour, got hopelessly lost. Note: The preperations for the picnic were more fun than the actual eating, which had to be done during the hike and not on the pretty spread that I had packed.

Not surprisingly, my body gave up first and each muddy slope managed to killed me a little before we finally found a way back (absolutely no thanks to the park's map). Witnessing the punishment meted out to me already in shape of acute physical pain, my husband did not complain once and even repeated the experience as 'pretty good' to the family the next day.

And as for me, Nathiagali is a bygone memory to my ageing bones. Sigh.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Uncomfortable Comparisons

It feels strange, somehow not right, to be so out of touch with news you once devoured, and almost militantly kept up to date with. I learn my news about Pakistani politics now from my mom (carefully chosen snippets), my friend Tazeen's blog (frustrated forecasts for impending doom) and from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn's website (never replaces reading the actual paper, never satisfies).

American political commentaries (these days broadcast ad nauseum since tis the election season)- fit easily into the gap, and are definitely more entertaining than vomit inducing as was the case with Pakistani politics. Plus politics here comes with its own shock stock – the prostitution rings, the random gay governor, the resident pothead ex-mayor, the increasingly frightening ambition of Hillary Clinton...

In short, there is plenty to enjoy and learn an odd lesson from.

However, what's more interesting is the comparison of perspectives that this naturally brings. As a former resident of a third world nation, I had wildly different notions of what was 'hopeless' before, or what was considered extreme corruption, injustice, economic downturn, and so on. It is certainly the media's job to report on these, and here it does so with a flourish that is so unguarded and seemingly all-powerful...that it is a stark comparison to the 'unnamed perpetrators of injustice' carefully reported (protected) in Pakistani media's investigative reports. Granted much of the empowered American media is owned by corporations which render them pretty impotent, but Still, it is hard to turn up your nose at freedom of media in America if you've moved from Pakistan. Especially if you are aware that there is always going to be a Progressive Talk Radio for every Fox News, and a Moveon.org for every neo-con puppet.

Then, you will come across complaints about the system which sound rather similar in words to the stuff back home---about the public school system, the homeless, the corrupt politicians, the overcrowded prisons, the healthcare system. And yet, apart from seeing how different definitions of a truly 'bad' state of affairs can be in two countries, and I say this without undermining in any way the ills of the American healthcare system and public schools, there is always a hint of optimism. You know, the kind associated with the 'next government'. The next leader still brings hope to Americans, who can not only afford to have hope, but also avail the opportunities literally thrown their way to make intelligent comparisons between the policies of their candidates in tens of publicly broadcast debates.

It is such a terrible shame then that most Americans would not give up watching American Idol for a Presidential Primary debate. How wonderful would just ONE such debate be among the politicians of Pakistan...who are never really asked any hard questions at all. How ironic it is that despite the privileges of information that it enjoys, American public would rather read the emails proclaiming the black guy in the running is a secret Muslim. Nothing can replace the surreal feeling every time I see two solemn looking news anchors discussing why it is important to the 'average Americans' to think of their President as someone they could have a beer with...or that the people in Ohio really did vote for Hillary Clinton because they thought Obama was a secret Muslim.

These comparisons are just too discomforting to my re-sensitized brain that had not long ago become the exact opposite solely by reading the Pakistani newspapers each day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

memory

Raat youn dil mein teri khoi hui yaad aai
Jaise weeranay mein chupke se bahar aa jayee
Jaise sehraoon mein holay se chalay bad-e-naseem
Jaise beemar ko bewajah qarar ajayee

-Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Also at the cherry blossom festival...some flowers



magnolias, cherry blossoms and then some. spring is beautiful.

at the cherry blossom festival...



"Alright, smile..."
*smiles*
"Say I love youuuu..."
"bakwas na kerr.."
*Click*

:)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

alzheimers

Today, my friend Tazeen (http://tazeen-tazeen.blogspot.com/)wrote:

"Just because najam sethi is not brimming with love and praise for the cross eyed CJ, the so called united students movement calls him 'master of yellow journalism'! What they forgot was that Najam Sethi was beaten up and paraded naked by the police when a certain mr nawaz sharif was PM with a very heavy mandate because The Friday Times was the only publication that published the pictures of Mr Saif ur Rehman (Nawaz Sharif's close confidante and head of NAB) running to Dubai with suitcases full of foreign currency when Mr Sharif froze all foreign currency accounts in Pakistan following the 'wada dhamaka'. The man who stole 11 billion dollars (biggest robbery to date) from the common people by freezing the foreign currency accounts is now whiter than white and Najam Sethi is the bad guy. Perhaps this is the best example of collective amnesia.
Even the united students movement is behaving like lawyers movement and the lame duck BUSH. You are either with us or against us, there is absolutely no room for dissent."
--
Collective Amnesia? Sounds more like Alzheimers. The day the people of Pakistan even entertained the thought that a man like Asif Zardari could be their leader, they moved into the final stages of the disease, when it only grows worse with time, and ultimately decays your brain into nothingness.

It's a horrible thing to give up hope on people who are supposed to be a part of you, to whom you surely owe more optimism than this. But I feel very traitorish right now. I just cannot get over that man sitting surrounded with fawning jialas, garlands decorating his proud chest, showing his finger to everyone in the world including his dead wife, who for some reason I refuse to believe ever imagined that he would take over her place in the fickle hearts and minds of her people

Friday, March 21, 2008

conversations with the sea



beach in the carribbean, courtesy travis brown

I've never been a beach-person, really. Water and I don't do well together; I can't swim, never tried to learn, and I've often had creepy dreams about drowning which, I think, imply sexual frustration according to Freud.

Anyway, that said, there is something to be said for a brief, quiet moment at the beach...as if you and the eerily calm sea were the only two people on earth and everything else around you had evaporated - as they should every once in a while

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

no other country

"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible".

-Barack Obama on March 18, 2008 in Philadelphia

morning

this is a weird, sad morning. bad dreams just ruin your whole day don't they

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

the spy museum

so while it is good to catch up with the history of spying, the very movie-like real spy stories, see Bond's original Aston Martin in person, and the lipstick shotgun, and the implications of how out of control a monster KGB was but CIA wasn't during the cold war (they didn't say anything, they implied), the spy museum of DC plays a trick on its visitors not many will forgive. It makes them memorize details of random men and women to 'assume' their new identities as spies, hypes it up to be some exciting game in a closed room before letting them out, and then forgets all about it as the giggling crowd leaves. Hasina Mtumbe from Kenya and Assad Sharma from Columbo didn't really get to do anything more exciting than walk up and down the two floors of the museum and fervently wait for someone to quiz them on where they were headed (hasina was going to Munich, pretending it was for 'family' reasons). mmph, dumb

I love walking in DC (when it is 49 degrees).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

half hearted correction

So Aisha says it wasn't a jack, but a spanner

I still think it was a jack...I mean, what does She know, it was Her car after all

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Girls night out

I'd forgotten just how much fun girls-night-out can be. Yesterday night was fun

A year ago, I think, when I was engaged and hence free of my parents' judicious inquiries about every minute spent outside the house after ten pm, Aisha, Nida, Rahma and I took upon a fateful, but the most crazily memorable night out together.

We had dinner, watched a soppy romantic comedy in what is Karachi only theatre friendly to four unmarried girls cruising the city on their own after hours, and around eleven pm headed out to get into Aisha's cultus and hurry home...

The cultus had a flat.

Now, most women in the world don't know how to change a tire. It's OKAY -it's fact of life. There almost always is an eager male passerby to help, teenagers driving by who would forget about where they were heading, park their car and come running to help you. I think it really brings out the best in men and it's just lovely. Unless, of course, you happen to be stranded in the middle of nowhere near the beach, without a jack that works on your particular brand of vehicle.

Of course the theatre guards came to help, random passerby came running too. But to no avail: the jack, and not just any Jack but the cultus jack, it seemed was going to be the only saviour for the haplesss four women.

Anyway, we made our calls for help. Parents weren't an option, didn't want to hear the told-you-nice-girls-don't-go-out-to-the-other-end-of-the-city-ontheirownatnight(yes, we were all in our twenties and had jobs. It's Pakistan.) Unfortunately though, this particular situation called for a Knight, and among the four of us, we have about two and a half male friends who could actually be relied upon to help. One of them doesn't even qualify as male half of the time. But I digress. Our most reliable(?) friend came promptly. However, I still don't know why he really did since he didn't have a jack in his own car (which also wasn't a cultus). He started to make his own calls.

Observation here: You have to love Pakistani men for their healthy, varied and very, very loyal circle of friends...especially so when they are being called to help a bunch of stranded girls.

One of his friends arrived. No cultus jack. Two hours later, it was nearly one that we finally left after one of our friends' friend's friend had dropped by, WITH a CULTUS JACK and saved us. We did our really-genuine-this-time giddy thankful girl routine, he had his reward. By then Nida's mom had threatened to disown her, I fail to remember what my parents' reaction was (thank God for engagements), the other mothers had once again reinstated their beliefs that their daughters were out of control.

The moral of the story is this: girls nights out are the best. Flat tires, cultus jacks and all.

Friday, March 7, 2008

the friendliest strangers in the country

there's a funny contrast among people in the street in this country's cities. A majority are the city stereotype who wouldn't turn around and look even if you stood naked on their way to work/metro/school/wherever else people go to at 8:30 am. And then there are the eager homeless who, it seems, look forward each day to be bumped into.

Yesterday afternoon I was stopped by a wild-haired guy in the street (crazy eyes and all) who said, 'I beg your pardon...how do you do dear?', and waited for my reply. I wasn't sure how an American would respond to that. I was flustered. So I smiled, told him I was well and kept walking. Today, while walking to work, an apparently homeless guy at burger king where I go to get breakfast sometimes, profusely excused himself even though he wasn't really in my way (oh excuse me, sweetie, I'm so sorry...). I tried to say it's okay and for some reason ended up mouthing a hi (?)-- Still trying to develop the American quickness at the etiquette. He was delighted, replied with an enthusiastic hello, waited for perhaps a chat as I politely smiled and scuttered to the door.

On my first time in the metro, I decided to take pride in my absolute ineptness at directions, BE the ignorant fresh off the boat desi. I asked any and everyone for directions within and outside the station (almost everyone in the american public portfolio except the spanish). As it often happens at 12 pm, there was nobody but an old, homeless black guy in my train to wheaton. He was most helpful, avuncular even, and was so dedicated to my making it to Wheaton Mall that he accompanied me to the street in front of it. I was so grateful. I called Taimoor and told him about it.

And of course he told me to be careful that my friend wouldn't follow me home on my way back.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

You say goodbye I say hello

This song keeps going on and on in my mind…I wish I could sing it at the top of my voice and get it out of my system. But I'm at work.

the saga of...want

I've always thought this verse from Urdu poetry so rightly tells the story of our lives.

Hazaron khuwahishen aisee kay her khwahish pey dam niklay
Bohat niklay meray armaa'n, mager phir bhi kam niklay

Yeah I can't translate this without mutilating it. There's probably a translation online...someday I'll look and copy paste

Long or short, every life begins and ends with hopes and dreams which run in a really annoying, never-ending and highly reproductive cycle. Even the most cynical amongst us have a reason to become cynical: unfullfilment. Anyway, perfection and happiness are not only such relative terms but also very short-lived. That seems to be one of the first lessons of life, as soon as you start considering yourself old enough to learn. The wanting Never Stops, and Especially not with getting what you want.

Me, I want as much as the next woman from my life (and the next woman wants a Lot these days), although most of that seems to center rather savagely around my relationships and more mildly around my career. Very banal. But I actually get very tired sometimes of my banal but limitless ambitions. I think I wouldn't have been so tired of them if they had been truly grand. But they're not and in a perverse way they tire me out much more than a grand ambition would have tired a Razia Sultana or a Hillary Clinton.

And then I wonder if there really are any of those quite fictional characters in the world like the man in a story I once read, who left everything in his city life to go live in the country and happily survived on just onions – describing himself to the author as the most contented man on earth. I know there was some deep implication of the onions in the story – but I fail to remember it.