OPINION|Enter The Dragon!

Why another 4 years of a Trump administration will be the likely impetus for China to dominate the world

As the 2020 US Presidential election looms largely ahead, I’m feeling increasingly ambivalent about the preferable outcome. Plain old gut-impelled common sense dictates that a Trump/ Pence-less administration is what the country is in dire need of. But a more cogent analysis shows that there is definitely more to it than just extricating the US and even the world from the incessant cringe-worthy mire of Trump gaffes and laughs.

Here’s why.

The Biden/Harris duo may be optically appealing and indeed, stalwart creationists of pithy political sound bites, but on a practical, foreign policy level their ideology brings nothing cohesive or constructive to the Developing World table. The last 60 years have shown a lot of well-intended global alliances and organisations take on barely veiled male fide overtones serving the cause of only a chosen few. The rest of the world has continued to be trapped in abject, desperate poverty or firmly shackled in the ceaseless chains of debt and “corporate debenture”*.

With the Trump administration, we at least know where we stand. His unapologetic Exclusionary Nationalism bordering on an almost totatlitarian inward focus has meant that much less interference in world affairs; and by extension probably that much less devastating employment/ manipulation globally of the US war machinery.

At this juncture in our planetary politics, we can definitely do with a break in the poorly disguised fossil fuel wars and the not so covertly executed ethnic annihilation campaigns – all ruthlessly wrought for the unchallenged endurance of the unipolar world of the 21st century.

Another 4 years of the Trump administration will also most probably mean the invariable rise of the Middle Kingdom given that global political tipping points continue to respond as they have post World War II. Many countries in South Asia (which at almost 2 billion people, accounts for 25% of the world population) are already in various phases of “cooperative economic alliances” with China, mostly through the BRI (Belt and Road Initiaiative). Beijing, many say, wields a finely tailored approach towards each south Asian country to achieve its national interests, whether it is counterterrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, port access in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, or brewing agitation and discomfiture in and around its primary regional rival, India. The naysayers who are also the beneficiaries of the current unipolar world, have a lot to say about a planet dominated by China. But it is pertinent to note that the last 250 years haven’t exactly been the most favourable for our region either. We have been caught in economically and psychologically devastating proxy wars, become the unwitting co-creators of Islamic militarism/ terrorism and have in fact for most of our independent existence, continued to inextricably slide into the abyss of socioeconomic and ideological regression. This has resulted in punishing repercussions from many formerly friendly countries. So a world where Beijing is at the helm of affairs can only be a step up for the otherwise beleaguered region.

As Wade Davis, writer and anthropologist, has so succinctly put it, “No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. [By the 20th century], the torch had long passed into the hands of America”. And now, in the third decade of the 21st century, it is yet again that epochally perfect inflection point where the real and conceptual Crown of the 7 Continents passes on to a new victor.

And even though I and many more half way contemplative global news watchers may tire of the mindless rhetoric emanating from the White House, higher purposes must take precedence. And so, it is indeed with reluctant ambivalence that I am rooting for the Idiocracy to continue to beat the US drum for the next 4 years too.

A 2020-2024 Trump administration will be the perfect timeline impetus for the Wuhan Spirit to really take root not only in the region, but to also quite solidly infuse the rest of the world with its distinct politics of Courteous Hegemony.

Enter, The Dragon!

De Khudai pe aman.

*Enter The Dragon: Title inspired from a 1973 Robert Clouse movie.

*POTUS: President of the United States

*Corporate Debenture: the vortex of debt and the accompanying debilitating/ coercive actions nations are subjected to by the international funding agencies

VERSE|The Lady with the Mona Lisa Smile

For the gracious Padmini Pelpola – the lady who lit up the porch every evening at number 12 Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha.

We were in the throes of the affliction, all lives tossed quite asunder,
Everyone struggling with their own version of their worlds-turned-upside-down.
I too was grappling with the changes
In a curfew-riddled cocoon of my own.
There was a painful psychosis that had swept over the city
And it was all we could do to hold on to little glimmers of patience, resilience and hope.

It was in this atmosphere, saturated as I was with pandemic fatigue
Holding onto the one thing i knew that helped me to center
To fight off the depression for one more day - my evening walk;
It was then that I saw her sitting in that little porch near the car park of the apartment building.
A vision of serenity, grace and beauty, borne of a life well-lived.

She was holding court as I came to see she would, every evening
Equally at ease with her solitude, as with the conversational company of those that sought her out;
She was scintillating, she was vibrant, she was calm and she was kind.
I watched in awe and then through occasional glances.
For i was mesmerised and yet I was aware that I might spook her -
Spook the perfection of those two blissfully normal hours of which she was the gracious alchemist.

So I looked forward to my evening walk in the apartment parking lot,
For that was the extent of our locked-down freedom.
And i looked forward to saying hello to her and to receiving in return, her lovely smile every time.
I fed off the revitalizing energy of that precious little exchange for the next six weeks.
And then things returned to normal and I didn’t see her for a while.
But the memory of those heart-warming little interactions stayed with me like the glow of a just-settled sunset.

And then I heard that she’d passed on. Suddenly. Just like that.
And the news hit me in a strange, inexplicably sad manner.
And I realised that I didn’t know her at all, and yet, for me and a handful of others,
She had been the unwavering harbinger of a wonderful, uplifting calmness at a time of great disquietude.

And so I write this little eulogy, a remembrance if you will
Of a life well-lived, and I am sure, a soul well-loved;
Of the lady with the Mona Lisa Smile.

De Khudai pe aman

FEATURE|My Balcony and Other Creatures

Of glimmering balconies, frolicking flora and organized murders

This pandemic has changed a lot of elements including the manner of things usually relegated to the realms of the mundane. And that is exactly what has happened in the microcosm of my balcony. A whole new world within has come alive, as the world without has slowed down to a pandemic-induced comatose crawl. From donning a shimmering garb in the fiery evening twilight, to gleaming with raindrops when a tropical storm bursts forth, to mischievously inviting the entire motely flock of city birds to perch on its sun-lit circuit a while, to socialize and then depart in the wake of dubious farewell gifts deposited on its glass exterior. Indeed, the little overhang outside my apartment has morphed into a whole new creature.

And in its tiled embrace are smaller microcosms of both flora and fauna. While the potted plants were just that pre-pandemic, plants that had become a part of the background in my balcony, they have now become an eclectic community of leafy denizens living, loving, parenting, mostly thriving, sometimes grieving, sometimes euphoric, at other times scheming in distinct cliques as they bloom in explicit sets of only 3 and only 4 at a time. The 2 groups never disbanding, and never harmonising outside of their own green universes. So my bright pink bougainvillea, the red-hearted hibiscus, the scarlet geranium and the flame violet will bloom for a month, colouring the balcony with their reds, pinks and fuschias. They will then cease and desist from their joyful cavorting and pass on the Baton of Blooms to the next group, the white bougainvillea, the sweet Jasmin and the pale pink ixora. (Obviously there is such a thing as Potted Plant Politics!)

The flying fauna is almost entirely comprised of crows and mynahs with the odd dragonfly or monarch butterfly that have somehow found a precocious air current to carry them from their usual low flying social activities, all the way to the 9th floor of a high rise apartment building. These perplexed visitors usually move on after a vertigo-filled glance or two down from the balcony.

The crows, those keen eyed A-list city scavengers are definitely at the top of the heap when it comes to reading balcony visitor protocols. If you’re a “Feeder” as i am, they will very soon discern that unique food source (for the Feeder venues are as diverse as are the many murders* across the city!) They will sit in orderly rows along the balcony railing, heads cocked, beady eyes shining in anticipation as they spy Feeder movement on the other side of the closed balcony doors. They are also hugely territorial and one gets to witness epic Corvus battles as the various murders engage in all out “Feeder-Fending”. I have, however, learnt with time and my own manner of aviculture, to cease being a source of cookie manna for this visitor. They WILL take over your balcony and even your home. I have had the more intrepid hop into my lounge, pick up a bag of crisps from the table, take it politely out onto the balcony and go at it with that monster beak until they’ve made holes big enough to get at the contents. In the wake of a visit from the murder that has claimed you as their own, the balcony glass exterior looks more like the floor of a well fed aviary rather than the facade of a luxury apartment. And so it has been with a twinge of guilt and a lot of determination that i am presenting myself, armed as i am now with a spray water bottle, as persona non grata to all the Colombo black birds.

Last but not least, the delightful Mynah! These cocky little creatures will whistle and warble their way right into your heart … and into your lounge. And again, with a twinge of Corvus guilt, i admit that i have continued to feed and indulge these happy balcony transients while i have gently sprayed away the other crowing, cawing visitors. There is one mynah in particular whom i have in a fit of creativity called … Mynah! She too has claimed my balcony as her own little paradise of free food. She will visit me daily, making her entrance not from over the railing, but by walking jauntily through an opening at the far side of it, traipse through the plants and up to the balcony door. There she will warble her distinct call now reserved for me I fondly imagine (or it could just be balcony romanticism on my part!). In case i don’t respond, she will hop right up to my couch and look at me askance, chirp a little “get off your behind” ditty and when she knows I’ve seen her, she’ll hop right back outside to await a generous helping of Chesma’s jaggery cookies* – her ultimate soul food! I am not ashamed to admit that Mynah has me pulled quite completely by my balcony creature heart strings. Every afternoon I wait for her to make her appearance. And the day she finds her daily succour elsewhere, i’m also not ashamed to admit that i feel a palpable wash of disappointment!

Maybe my balcony fever is a post pandemic psychosis, or if I’m to be positive, a keener opening of my Third Eye to the many joys of nature. In any case, i am convinced that in some peculiar manner, i am on my way to becoming a resident bird and plant whisperer as I wield my strategic ammunition of jaggery cookies and Baby-bird/ Potted-plant Talk, while occasionally with chastened fervor, brandishing my green spray water bottle.

Mynah hanging out on my iPad

De Khudai pe aman

Feature Title inspiration from Gerald Durrell’s 1956 semi-autobiographical novel “My Family and Other Animals”
Murder: term used for groups/ flocks of crows
Jaggery: A traditional cane sugar concoction consumed in Asia. It is a concentrated product of cane juice and often date or palm sap without separation of the molasses and crystals, and can vary from golden brown to dark brown in colour, and is similar to the Latin American panela.
Chesma’s Jaggery cookies: artisanal cookies created by the gracious Chesma; and tradition carried on by her enterprising progeny.
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FEATURE| The Call of the Wild

I’d been hearing its haunting whispers for a while, and so there was a sense of urgency of the spirit if you will, to go off into some wilderness sunset somewhere. It was in this chakras-in-a-flux kind of state then that the opportunity to soulfully recoup befell me. And so it was at the tail end of a tropically balmy July that i found myself taking the scenic route to Habarana – home to a number of national parks, eclectic wildlife and the majestic pachyderm, the Asian elephant.

We (my travel adventures partner in crime and I), drove to Habarana which is located in the Anuradhapura district of Sri Lanka. It is ideally situated as the departure point for safaris in the Habarana jungle and a throng of nearby wildlife sanctuaries. It is also home to a number of beautiful hotels one of which is the Cinnamon Habarana Lodge. Boasting sprawling grounds alive with the sounds, sights and smells of nature, the Lodge offers fabulous walkways replete with forest trail-like pathways; water bodies straight out of a Monet painting; and a profusion of chittering, chattering birds and primates. Nature truly is free and floating at the Lodge, dancing in a mesmeric carnival of greens, browns, blues and reds. Needless to say, we walked off many a lavish meal in the midst of this resplendent profusion.

Our first deep-dive into nature was a trip to the Minneriya National park situated a half an hour drive away from the Habarana Lodge. Close to the culturally historic city of Polonnaruwa, it is home to 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies. The park offers majestic views of wild elephants foraging in the shrub. The famous Gathering of the Wild Elephants occurs at this meeting place, also known for the largest gathering of Asian Elephants at one place anywhere in the world. During the dry season of August and September each year, herds of up to 300 elephants are seen within a few square kilometers of the vast Minneriya Reservoir.
The whole experience is almost meditative as these gentle giants go about their foraging activities while the calves romp, play and trunk-wrestle one another. We also had the unique good fortune to see 1-month old twins born in the wild – a fabulous rarity in the pachyderm species. The day of our visit, there were only 5 other jeeps at Minneriya, where there are usually over a 100 on any given day. The pandemic has definitely put a spanner in the wilderness works at Habarana! In an ironic way, as is true for so much in our lives, this break from the human horde has been greatly psychologically salubrious for the resident elephants, who have been known to occasionally charge at the safari jeeps. Not in any harmful way but in more of a display of self preservation as they protect the herd, especially their juveniles and infants.

We were also able to spot wild Axis deer, Jungle fowl, Peacocks and wild hare. Curious troops of Toque Macaque monkeys and Tufted Grey Langurs greeted us at almost every bend in the road, sitting on their haunches like so many subcontinental men who, done with their daily toils, congregate on sidewalks to watch the world go by, while also wishing for some serendipitously divine change in their fortunes. Many are carrying cute as button infants who are chips right off the old blocks – inquisitive, sociable and perpetually waiting for divine (or homosapien) manna.

Wild elephants at the Minneriya National Park

With the copiously tranquil vibe of Minneriya still reverberating in our city-wearied bones, we were hooked. So on the morrow, we embarked on yet another safari, this time to the undulating plains of the Kaudulla National Park. Situated about 40 minutes away from the Lodge, the park is known for sightings of leopards, fishing cats, sambar deer, endangered rusty spotted cats and sloth bears. On a typical trip, one is guaranteed enthralling views of a variety of birds including resplendent junglefowl, peacocks, ibis, egrets, hornbills and rain quails. The piece de resistance again however, are the herds of wild elephants and their calves, observable in their wild habitat; and of course the habitat itself. Lush greenery amidst undulating plains meets the eye for miles. Kaudulla Park is yet another close up zen experience with Nature and her great and small beasts.

Wild elephants at the Kaudulla National Park

The national park sojourns are as much journeys into the great outdoors, as they are into contemplative/ meditative spaces replete with the sounds and smells of the peaceful wild. I came away from the Habarana trip revived, rejuvenated and rested. It was like the spiritual letting down of my hair while walking barefoot on rain-moistened grass. Indeed, it was like living, for a few delightful days, in a Khalil Jibran quote: Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

De Khudai pe aman

OPINION|Farenheit 786*

Eenie meenie miny mo, Catch a nig** by his toe, If he screams let him go, Eenie meenie miny mo

A lilting rhyme from our childhood, that is as replete with racial nuance as ever there was any prescript especially formulated for a far right enthusiast. Imprinted on impressionable minds around the world; imparted in the hallowed sanctums of colonial missionary schools. And that racial/ ethnic/ religious bias is the normalcy that we have all grown up with in the west and in the colonies influenced by the west.

At the end of the day, our mindsets are the same: the belief that some of us are more superior than the others and that White, and in our case, Muslim Privilege is as real as the afterlife. This fact, even for the most liberal minded of the said demographic, and despite vehement naysings to the contrary, is hard-coded into our very DNA. (You can read this as Hindu, Christian or Buddhist privilege really depending on which religious majority space you occupy).

Let’s take a little traipse back in time, to just before the East India Company set down its roots of Western imperialism and indeed, the rigours of ethnic division into motion in South Asia. Circa 1600.

The region, while having seen its fair share of invasions and dominions, both overt and covert, was a fairly harmonious, prosperous melting pot of cultures and religions. In the early 17th century in fact, the combined GDP of the Indian subcontinent made up 20% of the global economic output. It was also the richest nation on earth at the time, followed closely by China. (Four centuries hence and in the current world scenario, the George Santayana* adage in one of its many variations comes to mind, “history tends to repeat itself”).

And so together with the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha* (aka the British Royal family!) mandated material exploitation of the continent, self-righteous, self-serving religious machinations were also mobilised with the fire and passion of the Chosen Ones. Missionary schools, by the dozens were set up all over the continent from Kolkata to Murree, from Simla to Karachi, and the mental conditioning of the societal creme de la creme aka the future leaders of the dynastic empire, was set in motion. With the impressionable minds of consequence now squarely under the colonial anvil, focused efforts were put into rending asunder adult mindsets. The flames were insidiously and feverishly fanned on previously immaterial religious differences. Being a Hindu or a Muslim or a new Christian convert, depending purely on what was circumstantially advantageous for the colonists at any given time, meant preferential treatment being meted out ranging from critical day to day conveniences to career breakthroughs and ultimately an overall dominant position in society. By the end of it, the hyper-fuelled differences were so all-consuming, that they became the catalysts for one of the most brutal annihilations of an empire; leading also to the largest mass migration in human history.**

The takeaway from the brief history revisit above is the concept of a religious hierarchy that was instilled and has doggedly survived and indeed thrived to this day. 73 years post colonial rule, and the legacy of deistic superiority still lives on. We behave like the religion of 97% of the 220 million strong Pakistani citizenry (and indeed of the 2 billion strong globally), is under threat of obliteration because of the 3% theistic diversity. If ever there was a chronically suspicious, dogmatic, mired in religio-cultural backwardness and quick-to-judge society, we, the Pakistanis gloriously lead the charge. In fact we have proven time and again that our custodianship of the religion is not only divinely passionate but lurking quite bizzarely on the lunatic fringe. A recent case in point is the righteous trepidation and knee jerk opposition by the Islamists, to the construction of a lone, singular Hindu temple in Islamabad, the capital city, and obvious global showcase of our diversity, inclusion and equality. The only rationale being that the one temple could apparently subvert an entire majority religion, or at least its Pakistani version with its warped ideology, immoral patriarchy and all.

The Islamic State of Mind is indeed a thing. And the lines between it and the Pakistani state of mind have with time become a blurred mess. The disgracefully prejudiced Blasphemy law and the criminally right wing Hudood Ordinance are living vestiges of a society set on the path to a holy implosion.

While the silent majority may disagree with the religious fascists, our silence is compelling of our complicity with the fringe.

In the name of all that is civilised, humane and even remotely religious, it is time to at least break the silence.

Eenie meenie miny mo

Let’s catch these bigots by their toes!

De Khudai pe aman.

*Title adaptiation from the original 1953 dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. The numbers 786 are significant in Islam, denoting the number of letters in “Bismillah…” the opening phrase of the Quran.

*George Santayana: A Spanish philosopher, poet and novelist

*Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: Now called the House of Windsor of the British royal family. The original name was changed in the early 20th century to make it sound less German/ foreign.

**UNHCR estimates that 20 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced during the partition of United India in 1947. Compare with the largest documented voluntary emigration in history – the Italian diaspora, which migrated from Italy between 1861 and 1970, with 13 million people leaving the country.

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VERSE|Thank you for the Joy – Part 2

For my beautiful, wise mother on what would have been her 72nd birthday on the 8th of July 2020. And to all the other wonderful mothers who have left us too soon ❤️🌺

Sometimes I wake up in the morning
Feeling a little less vibrant, a little more melancholy...
I get dressed, and I look in the mirror
My hairbrush poised in my hand...
And I see a flash of someone familiar
A fleeting gesture, a nuance, an expression,
And I smile, a gentle joy touching my cheeks.
And then I look into my eyes
And I clearly see the lingering glimmer of someone resting in my heart
And my heart bursts, my throat chokes up and my eyes twinkle
And I know that I have shared
A special mother-daughter moment in my dressing table mirror.

OPINION | IDIOCRACY*

If ever there were loud-mouthed arm chair 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 indeed, also been sublimely perpetuated by our overly-seasoned politicos. This intrepid lot, in their unceasing 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 to be passionately gloomy. 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 surgical 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 set of accountability and remedial measures, has been wrongfully used to malign the entire Pakistani commercial pilots’ fraternity 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 gross tradition and quell any semblance of social advancement; 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 marginalised”.

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 societal 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 the ethics 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 dystopia 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 raging 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 reins 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* – (Part One)

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-bites. 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, in the hallowed halls of 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

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 Sahib” 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 demographics 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, 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 45th POTUS (once the most powerful man on earth – makes the mind reel!) decided 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 world, especially all the women that wittingly and unwittingly occupy your universe. The gruellingly 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 scary. The resultant orangeness in fact, rivals a fiery tropical sunset during a duststorm.

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 not so great a 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, established a unique First World dictatorship that set new 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 Trumpian zeal.

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 that’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.