OPINION | IDIOCRACY*

Of Hyperbole, Sensationalism and Self defeatism

If ever there were loud-mouthed armchair warriors anywhere, we, the Pakistanis would definitely take place of state. We take glowing pride in having a (re)sound(ing) opinion about everything under the sun. From the state of our own politics (our most favourite Topic of Rants) to how India should conduct itself within and without its borders, right down to how the emancipated Pakistani female should laugh in public – they’ve already unashamedly ripped through the first part of the sacred social canon of “not being seen, nor being heard” and now to actually hear them having a good time publicly! Qiyamat ki nishani hai bhaiyon! (1)

But i digress, as i tend to do when the feminist within kicks in. The point is that in our closeted but unceasing admiration of the West, we have taken to exercising their First Amendment rights to a whole new local level; Article 19, its Pakistani constitutional counterpart with its myriad crippling pre conditions, be damned! We have, over time, and encouraged by consecutive unscrupulous, corrupt governments, made voicing any kind of an opinion, synonymous with unrelenting whinging and griping. This antagonistic view has also been sublimely perpetuated by our overly-seasoned politicos. This intrepid lot, in their unrelenting efforts at survival, have about-faced so many times keeping with the widely opposing mandates of varied administrations, that to transform a previously defended sacramental truth into current State treason, takes but a heartbeat….and of course the quintessential quality of passionate gloom. This has unerringly and copiously helped to paint an overall negative picture of the Republic, many times less maligning facts notwithstanding.

Our elected leaders are like the communal Fathers of the State (if you see an insidious pun in that, i rest my case). And to emulate ones paternal elders especially, is considered a righteous duty in our part of the world. So it is quite unremarkable that the Pakistani body politic following their administrative patriarchs, regurgitates as terrifying a mix of factual and concocted postulations as their varied and many social interactions allow.

A recent example is the PIA pilots’ fake licenses issue that has blown up not only on our own beleagured soil but indeed globally. (As of now, our national carrier has been banned from a number of international destinations for at least the next 6 months). The truth of the matter is far from what meets the eye or what has made the news. Pakistani pilots traditionally, have been some of the best internationally and have not only trained their foreign counterparts but have also served to defend allied states through skilful aeronautical strikes (PAF pilots led successful, course-altering air strikes against LTTE* bases in 2008 during the Sri Lankan civil war).

The current May 2020 tragedy, while definitely requiring its own very comprehensive accountability and remedial measures, has been wrongfully used to malign the entire Pakistani commercial pilots’ fraternity. All based on erroneous hyperbole in the constant battle of our inept administration to pass on the buck. Political knee jerk, self preservation tactics have always included gross exaggeration of our shortcomings, and in this particular case that penchant has exploded in the most self defeating manner on the international stage when Pakistan is already grappling with copious other negative press.

We may be a nation weighed down by the cumulative incompetence of decades of self serving administrations, but in the larger picture, we are still an independent nation that has survived the turbulence of wars, refugees, lost opportunities and foreign right wing religious subterfuge. There are nations, at least as beset by fate and circumstance if you will; but there is an unwritten national ethical code that the last man on the street follows – in some books it is referred to as Basic Patriotism. We, the Pakistanis have it all backwards: we will always criticise our own when we can; we will dutifully pull the carpet from under our brethrens’ feet if it served to make our individual purpose minutely better; we will glorify heresay and hyperbole if it meant even slightly stirring up our otherwise mundane lives. We will shamelessly, consistently antagonise, sensationalise, politicise and demonise.

The truth of the matter is that the global community is not in the mood to give magnanimous benefits of the doubt or even indulgent hoists up from the knotty quagmires created by incompetent domestic governments and juvenile societies. A rap on the knuckles is swiftly followed by a myriad organised aggravations that the whole nation is then subjected to from the international collective. These range from crippling trade and travel bans, to the as yet unrecognised psychological effects of being “eternally vilified”.

The pithy lesson here is that we, the Pakistani citizenry, need to exercise a little more pride or even just forbearance vis a vis our collective nationhood, and indulge in just a little less irresponsible State related defamation and slander. We are already sliding down the slippery sluiceway of “black-listed/ high risk” nations. We then, as the body politic can and must do our part even if it is simply to make overall discretion the better part of valor in our daily social interactions.

The ask is considerable, agreed, as we sit comfortably ensconced in our living room sofas, probably suffused in a euphoric post-Nihari* stupor, when the tongue is loose and morals looser. But we owe that bit of restraint to our much bedevilled country and the few cogs of our unwieldy administrative wheel that are still trundling away in honest enterprise.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Idiocracy: title taken from a 1996 dystopic movie directed by Mike Judge

(1) – “An indication that the end of the world is nigh, my brothers!”

*LTTE: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a Tamil militant organisation that was based in northeastern Sri Lanka.

*Nihari: A stew from the Indian subcontinent consisting of slow-cooked meat, along with the bone marrow; mainly the shank meat of beef, lamb or mutton.

VERSE|I Am Dystopia!

WHEN NATURE ROARS

2020 dawned on us, full of the goodness of even numbers,
Of existential vision perfection, insight, wisdom; all symbolic rumbles,
Of good things to come, of new beginnings and of blithesome continuity,
Of travel and adventure, of togetherness and sunny opportunity.

Just when the new year smile from our lips spread,
To brighten the providential gleam in our eyes,
Mother Nature stepped out of her wooded grove
And resolved to cut all 7 billion of us down to size.
She waved her hoary Staff of Life and brought it down hard to the ground,
And created a little critter amongst us, virile and ergonomically sound.

And then around the globe it traipsed as gleeful as a clam,
Across hills and valleys, fields and plains, aeroplanes and trams;
It skipped across the hot asphalt, into neighbourhood grocery stores;
Hopping along trolley handles, even dancing across binned apple cores;
Nestling onto careless hands, touching sun-kissed faces,
The Covid critter had VOA* for a whole gamut of places.

And then it was a few weeks on, late March, early April
That the malignant, morbid pong arose from the places it had traveled.
Sick and sicker people got, with the older crowd being hit the hardest,
It picked at folks everywhere, taking the killing-spree route that was fastest.
It advanced, armed with its axe and it’s murdering scythe as it went for the weakest,
Ravaging not only bodies, but spirits and souls at its absolute bleakest.

The Covid death knell continued to be tolled as the weeks turned into months;
On and on it butchered and killed on copious, disparate fronts.
They say there’s an existential kind of omen in the raging of this pandemic,
Like a paradoxical panacea for even worse killers that are fundamentally systemic.
Like racial biases, climactic atrocities and economic ills,
They say the Covid has descended upon us to collect on Mothers Nature’s bills.

We owe her for the oceans that are perishing by the hour,
For the dwindling woodland space and the forest fires,
For tearing into her lungs with each metric tonne of co2 emission,
For killing and maiming and cruelly placing her creatures in wretched submission,
For all the unkindness, the hypocrisy and the bigoted beliefs,
She finally stepped in from the depth of the earth to deliver some relief.

While she’s imperceptibly taking back the reigns of this planet we call home,
We continue to be caught in the toxic harvest of what we’ve already sown.
She’s spreading her roots like gnarled old ivy across our cities and towns,
Reclaiming, repairing, reviving reforming the blues, the greens and the browns.
Soon her deep dark tendrils will wind around our greed-beleaguered throats,
Choking out the poison, the malady of the spirit that has taken such firm root.

It will be the end of an epoch, but also the start of something new;
An honesty, a tenderness, a Oneness with Nature will slowly start to brew.
For Humanity to thrive again, a death of The Now is essential;
The dreams and motivations caught up in that Now will also become inconsequential.
As Nature beckons us closer to her, one lesson at a time,
The world will poise on a transformational brink while she scours off the grime.

2020 will indeed be the year when Humanity attained perfect vision,
When Mother Nature drew copious blood to finally change our Human Condition.

De Khudai pe aman.

*VoA: Visa on Arrival

OPINION |The Age of Stupid*

Why Donald Trump will likely win a second term in office

Or maybe, it’s just a very enhanced sense of the paradoxical irony that is our world today. Maybe what appears ridiculous is quite likely, the secret panacea for all our global pains. But I’m going to go with my basic instinct; rooted as it is in somber reality and devoid of any Third Eye insightfulness into capricious cure-alls. So here’s why i think that the 45th POTUS will actually get to spend another 4 years behind the Resolute Desk while he entertains dictators, despots and autocrats with the occasional sheikh, king and queen.

His unashamed doltishness: It is indeed rare to see a world leader appear to be so overtly and consistently idiotic. So rare indeed that it raises doubts in the hithertofore wise and mature global political fraternity if indeed they have had it wrong all along. From wondering if Finland is a part of Russia, to the ingestion of general disinfectants as a viral cure-all, the POTUS Experiential Spectrum has been rife with bizarre sound-bytes. And yet, he continues to dominate and conquer. His electorate, previously disinterested and marginalised amidst all that rocket-science like nationhood that had been touted as the American Way, now finally able to relate to the basal knee jerks of the president elect. Here is a man finally, that seems human rather than a robot on steroids in Washington.

His majestically delusional sense of self: The American presidential incumbents of the past have, despite their variably chaotic attempts at portraying themselves as the most powerful men on the planet, shown a fallibility. They have demonstrated the occasional need to apologize for a whole gamut of things, from war crimes to racial biases. As the current popular mindset goes, that is not the way of the American presidency. When you occupy that coveted seat, equalising/ harmonising words and phrases like “sorry” and “what are your views?” automatically get thrown out of the executive vocabulary. In fact, POTUS-Speak is supposed to lose all semantic nuance so there isn’t even a stealthy or covert hint of contrition; Ever. And Donald J Trump is that perfect cocktail of awe-inspiring lexical limitation coupled with the superhero confidence of a badass. All paradoxes reign supreme when you’re the POTUS.

His childlike bullying tactics: Modern man is only about 200,000 years old on a planet that has been around for billions of years. Why then don the mantle of maturity and sagacity when we as a species are clearly just babes in the galactic woods. And so, keeping true to this undeniable science, the 45th POTUS has fine-tuned the skill of schoolyard bullying into a political art-form. From belligerently sticking out his tongue at the WHO and the UN, to teaming up with the rowdy truants from Russia and North Korea, he’s kicking ahead with the bull-headedness of the class ruffian. And slowly but surely, the rest of the world, only just holding onto some semblance of human sophistication, are following suit amidst a general crumbling of globally shared values, ethics and ideologies. India with its aggressive anti-Muslim manifesto; China with its ethnic internment camps; the European Union with its not so united pandemic front, to name just a few of the recently untethered, taking their cues from the new Trump dominion.

His glorious capacity to lie unblinkingly, consistently: From lying about his bunker hunkering amidst a rabble of BLM* protestors, to promoting a motley, unsubstantiated array of cures for Covid19, he continues to gleefully spout fallacy after fallacy. For the stat moles out there, during the last 3 and a half years, he has apparently told close to 20,000 lies from various platforms. The lies are like an avalanche, a new one pitching forward to cover the ever-burgeoning fact-hole left by the previous untruth. The critical accomplishment here is the total absence of any kind of moral dithering; no uncomfortable whatcha-may-call-it holes left unfilled. This also ties in beautifully to the aforementioned POTUS fan base expectation of never having to say you’re sorry. And the good news for him is that his supporters (including the silent majority of Trump voters who will vehemently deny their closeted bromance with the POTUS) love that he has an unapologetic answer for everything, cloaked as it may be in outlandish lies at worst, and oddball science fiction during some of his more shining moments.

His naively overt biases: Let’s face it, 500 years of hierarchical racial setups can play havoc with even the most equitable-minded amongst us. And DT* brings a fresh faced honesty of expression to the table, which while being completely at odds with all the lies he tells, is still fundamentally appealing to the 72% of Americans who are white. He appears to have effortlessly transcended that bothersome ethical block of appearing racially correct. He is comfortable with people of his original colour (although how pasty that actually is, is now relegated to history books since orange has become the new white); and he makes no qualms about the innate preference for his own kind. In an almost innocent break-away with propriety, he vigorously stokes racial discord while not fully understanding the blow-back. His genuinely perplexed, almost hurt expressions are dead giveaways of the similarly endearing visceral quality of his politics; and that has been like a magic wand with both, his silent and vocal body politic.

The complete mental and ideological retardation of the Republican Party: This will perhaps be the primary clincher for DT’s second term in office. Despite the 45th POTUS transcending whole new horizons of constitutional and executive irregularities, he has not only survived, but thrived. While the mentally doddering party incumbents continue to lethargically flounder in Right Wing waters, DT does exactly as he wishes. So much so, that the Republicans have now taken on the full time role of preparing arduous defences to make the POTUS appear sane and reasonable in the aftermath of his copious bloopers and distortions. They are completely subservient to the oddball behaviour of their president elect and their constituents absolutely love the all powerful vibe of this brand of executive process.

It was on one such peculiar day 4 years ago that I predicted the coming of age of American politics in the wake of a reality TV star at the helm of affairs. I am now again hazarding a presumption, a crackling gut feel about November 2020. I think DT, with his luck of the devil and his finger on the pulse of a world-weary nation, will prevail; despite all the nay sayers and the pundits of doom, there are many more who see aspirational “order” in the chaos he wreaks. And so, in this age of the sublimely ridiculous, I see the current POTUS golfing and gaffing his way, for another 1,460 days, right back to the White House.

De Khudai pe aman

*The Age of Stupid: Title inspired from a namesake 2009 dystopian movie

*BLM: Black Lives Matter

*DT: Donald Trump

VERSE|Our Little Girl With Rosy Cheeks

Our very own little girl, my niece, is all grown up now! Wrote this poem for her on the eve of her high school graduation. As she heads into another chapter of her life, a beautiful, young girl, we her family given to copious nostalgia as we are, will always remember our little girl with her rosy cheeks.

Here’s to you my dearest Maheen gul ❤️

I remember, i remember, our little girl with the rosy cheeks
Our little girl with the silken hair like a gleaming waterfall.
I remember, i still so vividly recall
From your very first day you held us in thrall.
With those big bright eyes and that soul full of pluck,
Yes, we'd been kissed on the forehead by gracious Lady Luck.
Your joyful energy, your skips, leaps and bounds
And your blitheful grin, Maheen gul, made our world go around.

And then you were suddenly 10 years old; our stalwart little rock
Buffeted too early by the rapacious winds of life,
You were pitched things to deal with far more than your share
But you dear girl, displayed a strength that was precious and rare.
And so you bounded on, with a heart big and strong,
With your eyes full of dreams and your soul full of song.
You were a powerhouse of fortitude for so many around you
Your infectious laughter, Maheen gul chased away all manner of blues.

And now, darling girl, as you conquer yet another milestone in life
I am awed by the lovely young woman that you have become
Funny and loving, compassionate and wise
You're every inch a chip of the old block, which is not a surprise.
I pray that the universe continues to open all doors
For you to go after your dreams, your joys and so much more.
May you continue to grow and prosper in glory and grace
May the gods of good fortune forever hold you in their embrace.

I will always remember our little girl with her rosy cheeks
Now a young woman of substance in her own right.
May you carry your parents’ legacy in all its warm goodness replete
May you thrive; may you always shine with your special light.

OPINION|The Consciously Blazing World*

A Post-Colonial/ Post Abolition Prescription for Healing and Moving On

2020 has become the proverbial skeleton in our collective human closet that has been, quite clamorously, wanting out. From the Australian bushfires to the south Asian locust infestation, to flash floods, to the still raging Pandemic, Nature has been rapping her well worn knuckles at us. The seeds that we have sown ourselves, such as they are, in our socio-economic evolution of the past 500 years, are finally also bearing insidious fruit. And some of us are being plated out with that toxic “manna” much more generously than others. The world is in a peculiar state of flux as systemic and institutionalised biases and inequities raise their ugly heads, demanding attention and exacting blood.

With the Northern hemisphere facing its most vocal and vehement push-back yet of institutionalised racism, it seems apt to look into the whys and wherefores of how this monster is still not only alive and well, but traipsing around the globe. The dubious start-up credit, of course, rests with the two most notorious schemes employed by the West to own, manage and use entire swathes of humanity: Colonisation and Slavery.

While the colonists eventually exited their colonised domains (for the most part), it is compelling to note that the enslaved were never repatriated or given a homeland to call their own. Most notably, post the American civil war, they were clumsily declared “free men” (the “free women” movement is, arguably, still a work in progress around the world) and left largely to their own devices and spirit of enterprise to assimilate into society. There was no state-sponsored Integration Scheme, no Reparation Act, no real organised effort made by the enslavers to economically lift and psychologically release tens of thousands of men and women from over two centuries of being treated like chattel. Fast forward 200 years and the vestiges of that national lethargy has taken on an even more insidious anatomy in the form of systemic racism and marginalisation. This scarlet thread has woven its treacherous way through every aspect of the fabric of society, leaving citizens feeling like illegal aliens in their own country. This is being exemplified loud and clear in the current state of world affairs, and so effectively described by the black American actor Will Smith when he said “Racism has always been around. Now it’s being filmed for all to see.”

The colonisers departed from their dominions after demarcating entire continents with the assiduity of a baker cutting a cake with the straightest edges possible. There was almost no political, social-economic or religious science applied to demarcating borders. Nations were cut up overnight changing not only the cartography of the world but also the lives of millions of people. Thus seeding a post colonial wave of civic and religious unrest that has continued to simmer and boil over between previously congenial neighbours. Case in point: the Indian subcontinent. With its current combined population of 1.7 billion, 40% or 680 million of which comprises the middle class or the engines of economic growth of a country, the south Asian collective would have been a global force to contend with. The Durand Line and the Radcliffe Award ignited fires that are being stoked to this day in the form of radical religious militarisation and exclusionary nationalism.

So where do we go from here?

There is a critical healing/ advancement process that is integral to moving forward from the grass root levels.

  • Accept that it happened: Currently, the baseline of “popular history” is all wrong. There is an almost smug evasion of the truth; smug, because the pall of racial ignorance and apathy has been allowed to thrive for the past couple of centuries. It is time to come face to face with the reality of what happened, starting from the highest government platforms right down to the man on the street. The facts need to be overtly stated and accepted so that the collective social conscience can finally start kicking in.
  • Embed an ethical awareness: Once the truth has been told and confronted, the moral dialogue needs to start, spearheaded by the nation’s academicians and legislators. A Code of Race Ethics needs to be formulated for the body politic at large, to systemically unlearn and then relearn their moral sense around the subject. Building grit and gumption around commemorative events like Juneteenth* in the United States and probably the Amritsar tragedy* in the United Kingdom, will help to embed the mindset. In the spirit of Veterans’ Day, these memorialisations too will serve as a reminder of the courage to have overcome, safeguarded and progressed, while also ensuring the keen cognisance of the atrocities of the past. The goal being to ultimately bring about a sea change in the “racio-moral”* compass of the world.
  • Make Colonial/ Slavery studies a compulsory part of the school curriculum: This is fundamental for both, the colonised/ the enslaved, and the West. For a systemic national mindset change, race related instruction and knowledge sharing has to begin in the impressionable years. Together with the many glorious battle wins vanquishing sundry foes being featured in History books, a thoughtful, insightful study into their dark historical pasts by the largely western/ white nations is essential to methodically build universal understanding, acceptance and empathy.
  • Encourage ongoing dialogue: This is critical to ensure that the mindset change that has begun, is made permanent. Discourse is important on every aspect ranging from the moral issues inherent in the concepts of the “Colonial Imperialists” and “Slave Masters”, to reparation, to active assimilation and advancement of the affected populations in the 21st century.

Humankind appears to be on the brink of another evolution – this time, a moral and ethical one. This modification/ re-formulation of our global conscience will affect how we survive and indeed, thrive in the 21st century.

The question is, are we up for this challenge of an epoch, or are these difficult high-minded decisions best left to God and the Trumps and Johnsons of the world?

De Khudai pe aman.

*The Consciously Blazing World: Title adapted from a 1666 work of utopian fiction titled “The Blazing World” by Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle.

*Juneteenth: A holiday celebrated on June 19th to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the USA.

*Amritsar Tragedy: Also called the Jhallianwala bagh massacre took place on April 13th, 1919, when Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered British Indian army troops to fire their rifles into a crowd of unarmed Indian civilians in Jhallianwala Bagh, killing at least 379 people and injuring over 1,000 others.

*Racio-moral: the global ethics of race and morality

OPINION|A Clockwork Digital*

A Socio-Political Media Conundrum

You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” – On the Waterfront, 1954

This unenvious state, this pixelated warfront, is true in fact for both, our Prime Minister, Imran Khan and the American President, Donald Trump. In this highly digitised world of communication, facts and fiction are often blurred in favour of the more digitally savvy. It matters little on the Information Super Highway, that you bring laboriously vetted facts and present them with the articulate pen of a scholar. What matters most is how quickly, succinctly, convincingly and doggedly you present your version of the truth. And therein lies the enigma for both these similarly beleaguered leaders. Their social media channels are rife with loud clamours from both sides of the political divide as the body politic takes, like soldiers to battle, to deftly repel all opposing views.

While DT’s* digital media director brings with himself the comforting ethnic sameness that has been at the bleeding heart of American politics lately, IK’s* focal digital media person is a medical doctor happily grinding out quite heavily sedated statements and responses to Pakistan’s social media electorate. Suffice to say that the boisterous digital armchair warriors on both continents, sign into a no-holds-barred online party everyday. The resulting cacaophony is a sight for sore eyes as caution, care and ethics are thrown to the ethereal winds.

Let me dig a little deeper into the particular case of each electronically-bedevilled incumbent.

DT is probably experiencing the least loved moment in his presidency yet. And the surprising truth is that it’s not entirely the fault of his dubious character. There have been moments in his media awkwardness, crassness and downright churlishness where he’s appeared absolutely bewildered by the barrage of negativity he has attracted. His almost wounded perplexity means that he is probably not as complete a write-off as a sizeable denominator now thinks. So it’s time to, at least in part, shift the blame to his media managers. From his twitter handle manager to his White House press secretary, a sea change is required. Or at the very least, a refinement of the media handling process, from start of an issue to the presidential weigh-in of the same; embedding a critical on-the-spot Presidential crash course on the subject before DT is permitted to fumble out a tweet or a statement. Just that small enterprise comprising of mostly keypad forbearance, will do much for the agitated, stressed out and increasingly insane sounding POTUS to skip back over to the side of some semblance of reason and positive poll-rankings.

IK is not too far behind his American counterpart on the (dis)likeability quotient. His once resoundingly mesmeric features of charm and political freshness, now appear quite anaemic and diluted. His media superintendents are even more belaboured and disconnected in portraying his political agility and civic common sense. Add to that, the enduring thrall for the Pakistani political trifecta of the Army meeting a Civilian meeting a Technocrat, being the panacea for all manner of national grimness and incapacity. The Captain has shown an almost loving tendency to not break with a lot of the mouldering 75 year old political tradition of our country and has even installed the said trifecta* to manage his burgeoning media publicity woes. In this case, the technocrat is a medical doctor (employed quite reasonably, as the vernacular mindset goes, in an area completely at odds with his professional training). The goal is to phrase all messages with peculiar medical undertones, then couch in paternalistic diplomacy and finally, deliver with the force of a nuclear bomb. Needless to say that an outright overhaul is required here too, breaking completely for starters, with the trifecta tradition. This should be followed by the installation of a populist-savvy, on the ball, relatable media ‘machine’ that can deliver a proletarian blow for blow in the social media jungle, keeping just a step ahead of the keyboard crusaders and naysayers.

Both leaders are currently caught in a media blitzkrieg intent on portraying them as… bums. And as the digital clock ticks on without any overt correction, it is very likely that the Captain will be clean bowled out and Black* will become the new Orange.

De Khudai pe aman.

*A Clockwork Digital: title adaptation from the original 1971 Stanley Kubrick film “A Clockwork Orange”

*DT: Donald Trump

*IK: Imran Khan

*The Pakistani Media Management Trifecta: Focal person on digital media- Dr. Arslan Khalid; Information Minister- Shibli Faraz (son of the renowned Urdu poet, Ahmad Faraz); Special Assistant to the PM for Information and Broadcasting- Lt. General (Retd.) Asim Saleem Bajwa

*Black: from the mushrooming “Black Lives Matter” protests and demonstrations in the USA that are also sweeping across the globe in various minority-fuelled nuances.

POLITICAL FARCE|Gone With the ‘Tind’*

The “Brown Man” Aspirations of the 45th POTUS

Until very recently, i thought that the Brown Sahib* state of mind was the social cross borne by certain privileged denominators of the previously colonised and the enslaved. After 500 years of seeing the White Man do his thing, while ruling and owning large swathes of humanity, even the most tenaciously dogmatic among the brown and the black populations learnt to emulate their white coercers to survive, and in fact thrive. Over the ages, this brand of social exposure to both, the colonially enforced ways of the West and the doggedly defiant cultural elements of the East produced a quite unique post colonial urbanity, exclusive to the 1.5 billion indigenous people of the Indian subcontinent.

But turns out, mindsets are fickle things in our current bizarre, variously beleaguered world. The character and cultural traits that have been the sole tokens of the Brown Man for the past few hundred years, are now raising their sun-kissed heads in the pale white hearts of the colonists and the enslavers. Or at least one. And so, we bear bemused witness to an almost karmically apologetic social course correction, as the most powerful man on earth decides to make unwitting amends for his colonial predecessors, through personal example.

The Foreign Bahu*: If you’re a progressive and privileged brown person, you’ll do your Western Hemisphere stint and come back home, armed with not only a foreign degree but possibly a foreign wife too (Caucasian of course). Mixed race children, we believe, are known to better the family prospects in an ethnically and racially divided world. And so, if we give him the benefit of the doubt, the 45th POTUS married an Eastern European woman to even out the playing field for the rest of the world to aspire to greatness by association. And if we go with just our good old gut instinct on this POTUS, because eastern exoticism is a thing.

Misogynistic Ambitions: If you’re a Brown Man anywhere, you’ve been raised to believe that you’re the centre of everyone’s universe, especially all women within a 200 km radius of you. The cumbrously paternalistic environment (from archaic Panchayat* codes to the gender despotism inherent in the Hudood Ordinance) has been carefully maintained to consistently fuel that ego. And so, marvelling at the subcontinental man for knowing and showing what a tremendously huge gift from God he is, the 45th POTUS has frequently and passionately tried to put women “in their place”. From sexual misconduct to name calling, he continues to frenziedly negotiate his way through all his political and social interactions with the opposite gender.

Brown skin complex: 500 years of the White Man’s dominion has understandably wrought some social psychosis in its wake. One among them is the Brown man’s continued, thriving quest for white skin – literally. It may have started off as “if you can’t beat them, join them”, but over the ages, this ardour has taken on a life of its own. From the multibillion dollar fairness cream industry, to the “fair bahu*” syndrome, a laundry list of overt and covert skin colour stigmas has taken root and spread like gnarled old ivy over our social fabric. And so, the 45th POTUS, since he can’t get any paler, and deciding that racial irony is the best form of praise, has embodied a bullheaded brownness that is both unprecedented and harrowing. The resultant orangeness in fact, rivals a fiery tropical sunset during a sandstorm.

Hirsute Motivations: We are a race that is (mostly!) endowed with and proud of an abundance of dark luxurious hair. So when we do experience a dearth in the follicular territory, we jump right on to the bandwagon of toupees, transplants and wigs. The resulting downiness ranges from the barely perceptible, all the way to the absurd and the ridiculous. And so the 45th POTUS has with all his heart, embraced the Brown Man’s tenacious hair love affair, and taken it into realms of comb-over inventiveness that no modern day tempest can rip asunder.

Despotic Tendencies: The urge and capacity to rule with an iron hand has traditionally been the way of the South, Central, Pacific and Middle Eastern blocs. With many countries having the dubious honour of martial law as state administration for more than half their independent existence. It is a not so great secret and opinion, that the Eastern and Southern hemispheres just do better with a hybrid democracy/ autocracy approach. And so the 45th POTUS, in his most outstanding tribute to the Brown and Black Man yet, has in the course of 3 years, established a unique First World dictatorship that is setting global despotic standards. Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and even Kim Jong-un seem lumbering and lethargic in the wake of the autocratic inclinations and machinations of the current POTUS.

To the (predominantly white) American populace at large we say a big Thank you for this peculiar apology in the shape of Donald J. Trump, for all the centuries of Black and Brown skinned subjugation. For providing so much comic relief when the world needed it most. For mortally endangering your nationhood and your political and economic progress built over hundreds of years. For racing, like sporting martyrs, to relinquish your identity as the leaders of the Free World.

But even we, the historically conquered and crushed, feel it’s a bit much. So please feel free to abandon any more such zealous, self defeating presidential level attempts at reparation. We will be happy with anyone sane, reasonable, half way eloquent and racially colour blind. Scratch the last; even the most delusional of us know it’s a big ask.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Brown Sahib: a colloquialism meaning brown master in the nature of his white predecessor. Now used farcically to define people from the subcontinent who behave like white people trapped in brown bodies.

*A wordplay on the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, set amidst the American civil war and reconstruction period, entitled “Gone with the Wind”. (Screen-adapted in 1939).

*Tind: Punjabi/ Urdu colloquialism for ‘noggin’ or head or baldness.

*Bahu: Urdu/ Hindi for Bride.

*Panchayat: A village council of elders

*Hudood Ordinance: Gender-biased laws enacted in Pakistan in 1979 by the military ruler, General Zia ul Haq as part of an overall Islamization process. This was done, with American support as a part of a larger focused Islamic militarisation strategy to help fight the USA’s proxy war against Russia.

OPINION|The Year (or 4) of Scholastic Irrelevance

The more I’ve thought about this phenomenon, the more convinced i have become of its current urgent relevance. And the more i have marvelled at yet another capitalist economic powerhouse that is the traditional university/ college degree for all manner of non technical accreditation. Here’s a not-so-hidden secret folks: It’s a convoluted plot to bankroll a few and encumber a host of others as they pass out, armed with not only a humanities degree but also a formidable college tuition debt. And thus begins the spiral downwards into living paycheque to paycheque, paying off money you could have nest-egged, into a system propping up the very same cycle of academic debt accrual, masquerading as vital subsistence training.

But those are the tangled economics, made thus so I’m sure, for us to lose the plot on their inherent Gangster capitalism. Had to get them past the Muses of Controversial Opinions before i dived into why, now more than ever, is the right time for you/ your child to consider boycotting the hallowed halls of higher education. A bit of a sweeping statement, but I’m getting to the specifics; just a flash in the sensationalist pan, thank you.

It doesn’t take a sage or a twice tenured professor to tell you that it is the glorious age of the Gap Year(s). With the universe and its myriad of events too conspiring to make it so, the time has never been more right for on-location academia to take a back seat. The penny has dropped on a lot of critical thought and ideology spaces in the recent months and the quest for academic enlightenment is not excluded.

It is also a fabulous time for the ambiguous amongst us to explore our future livelihood options by participating in the practical arena. Get an internship, an apprenticeship, a shadow-ship if you will, with people who are ostensibly living your dream jobs. Absorb the work environment, read the professional vibe, be cognisant of the not so professional machinations, be sensitive to the ethics, be aware of the deviations thereof, all the while, soaking up the full gamut of the workplace experience.

We are now living, nay quite firmly entrenched, in the digital age as we rapidly shift from traditional industry to economies based on Information Technology. The resultant information super highway has changed everything about how we access knowledge – facts, fiction, statistics, controversies, conspiracies and also (and here’s another not-so-hidden secret), entire cornucopias of erudition imparted across a 4 year liberal arts degree. From Shakespeare to the Cosmos; from critical race theories to the question of God and morality; from colonialism to capitalism to socialism to despotism; from the geography of K2 to the Diplodocus habitat; from political science philosophies to socio-religious studies. The World Wide Web is now replete with enough credible, encyclopaedic information to arm a would-be scholar of the Humanities to source, procure and do well at a job of their liking. Even some technical savants pursuing careers in Health care administration, Criminal justice, Animation and graphic design, Engineering and Business administration to name a few, can adequately equip themselves for the job market. The requirements: personal drive and energy, a perseverance to see the online learning through, aided by a robust ISP*.

Maybe together with all the other puzzles and predicaments of life that have of late created a holy clamour for change, the current mainstream institution of academic advancement has also seen its day. Maybe a revolution is needed here too, to re-sanctify the cause of learning and remove it from the realm of capitalist profiteering. And the will and ability to bring about that metamorphosis lies yet again with the young populace at large. You can lead the charge – Gerontocracies* are as bound for oblivion as picture tube televisions.

So, to the Class of 2020 (and to the intrepid adult scholars) i say: don’t be afraid to break with tradition. No equitable, ethical system meant to provide the inalienable right to education is meant to encumber you in your pursuit of joy, health and prosperity. Put on your digital super hero mantles and go against the grain, because you triumphantly can. Embrace the hallowed halls of your public libraries, your homes and your neighbourhood coffee shops and learn. And maybe, in a couple of generations, mercenary educational institutions would be as offensive a concept as ethnic bias and colonialism.

I leave you with these words from Mahatma Gandhi: Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

De Khudai pe aman.

*ISP: Internet Service Provider

*Gerontocracy: a society where the young do as the old say.

REFLECTION|Something’s Gotta Give

“Now is the winter of our discontent, Made more [in]glorious by this son of [New]York”* or by the son of any other metropolis anywhere else in the world really. The onset of the third decade of the 21st century has become a tipping point for humanity on so many fronts. All grim reminders of where we have chosen to be in our social, spiritual and ideological journeys. And our reflections in the grand old cosmic mirror are far from being reassuring, appealing or inspiring. We have insensibly, doggedly stretched the limits of our humanity and one can’t help but wonder that something’s gotta give.

The unrelenting sequence of chaotic events that has befallen our little blue planet in the last six months has been almost eerie in its timing, tenacity and reach: From the bacillus extremis doing its plunderous tread around the globe, to inexplicable, calamitous plane crashes, to catastrophic bushfires and devastating floods, to the snarling, salivating maws of colourism, racism and ethnicism finally distending wide enough to drag entire nations into their ugly depths. The annihilation of our collective psyche such as it is, continues unabated as our benumbed, handicapped spirits slowly awaken to the fact that there may be a deeper essential meaning to all this disruption and carnage. But Existential perspectives can also go two ways; a pawn-in-the-hands-of-fate approach where we remain gripped in our current status quo, or to take that leap of faith and hold up a mirror to ourselves to see the mere wraiths of humanity that we have become. It is a difficult choice, because “better the illusions that exalt us than ten thousand truths”.*

The way i see it though, (and the cringe-worthiness of cliches be damned!) is that the truth shall set us free! We are arguably at the end of an epoch; in fact by most counts, we’ve overstayed our welcome. If this then, is the beginning of the end, let us make it count. Let us listen to the voice of our collective humanity and do what we instinctively know to be right. Let us do away with the concept of the “Billionnaire” – the person who cannot possibly spend his fortune in his lifetime. Let us do away with Monopolies which bolster a few by disenfranchising a million others. Let us do away with Unhindered Profitability which bankrolls some and indentures/ encumbers a billion others. Let us do away with divisive religion, pernicious doctrines and archaic institutions. Let us rip asunder everything we have known to be “true” for the last 5 centuries.

I have a funny feeling in my bones, and it has nothing to do with the weather or the inept clairvoyance born of our disenchanting world. It is like the low frothing of a tsunami, the premonition of something big and dangerous just over the horizon, the portentousness of being changed forever.

Yes, it feels very much like something’s gotta give.

It feels very much like it’s time to start over.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Quote adapted from Shakespeare’s play “Richard III”

*Quote from Alexander Pushkin.

OPINION|The Not So Amazing Racists

“I am tired of this devil
I am tired of this stuff
I am tired of this business
So when the going gets rough
I ain’t scared of your brother
I ain’t scared of no sheets
I ain’t scared of nobody
Girl, when the going gets mean.

I said if you’re thinking of being my brother It don’t matter if you’re black or white(1)

So the fairytale goes. But even the utterer of these oft repeated cogent, brave words had very focused White aspirations. That in itself i don’t hold against him; with him being a part of the community that has shouldered the cumbersome legacy of overt systemic racism for centuries, the mere utterance of such self actualized wisdom was commendable. The qualifying word, however, being “Was”. The resounding response now is “No More”.

We are the enlightened, progressive generations of the 21st century, but on certain facts of life, doctrines and ideologies, we continue to fester in the 1600s. One of the more profound life facts that is inextricably linked with deep seated prejudice, incivility and inequality is Colourism. A God given feature stigmatised to serve the more basal, profane purposes of subjugation, despotism and power mongering. The irony of it all is that these biases were unashamedly nurtured and grandly perpetuated under the auspices of organised religion; from the conception of White superiority to colonialism to the thriving slave trade. The White man was put upon the earth to tame (read: conquer) and civilise (read: crush) the “natives”. From the African grasslands to the Indian Subcontinental shores, it was all as God had ordained. Whiteness became a passport for emotional terrorism, disinheriting of all dignity and putting into motion a harrowing cycle of human rights violations that boggle the mind in their steadfastness and their relentless cunning to not be seen for what they are. The hierarchy of superiority thus created on the basis of colour has ingrained in our societies a blight of racial fear, antipathy and an almost genetic preponderance for injustice and cruelty.

At the end of the day, the Jhallianwala bagh massacre* was also a brutality conducted with an impunity born of being on the right side of the colour spectrum.

Neither Time nor the subsequent moral and social evolution have been able to wash off the scourage of racism. It is thriving and well. It is overt and covert. It is rampant across geographies, cultures and belief systems. It flourishes among our friends and families. It is rooted so deep that it requires another Genesis Flood to wash away all the spiritual grime that has bulwarked it over the ages. To uproot it, requires a Divine Miracle.

Or we as a human collective can say “No more!”. Mindset by mindset, we can begin to pull asunder the edifice of racial prejudice. We can all unmute our voices to speak as one. We can let our narrative flow through our neighbourhoods, our cities and our legal systems. And finally, we can march, we can protest and we can stand our ground. The “Colour Spring” is over; We are now at the threshold of a new age – the “Age of Colour Blindness”. We can refuse to see the brown, the black, the yellow and the white in one another. We will only see the brownness of the earth, the blackness of the cosmos, the yellowness of the sun and the whiteness of the snow. The baton is in our hands.

NO MORE. No more Jhallianwala bagh incidences, no more George Floyds, no more Abduls, no more Antonio Joses.

It is time to integrate and evolve as humankind. It is time for an epochal Interracial Human Event Horizon.

De khudai pe aman

(1) – A 1991 Michael Jackson song entitled “Black or White”

*Jallianwala Bagh massacre:Also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place on April 13th 1919, when Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered troops of the British Indian Army to fire their rifles into a crowd of unarmed Indian civilians in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar in Punjab, killing at least 400 people and injuring over a 1000.