VERSE | ANOTHER TIK IN THE WALL – Part Two

A tribute to all the young women who are constantly attempting to be bigger than the patriarchal shadows cast upon them. (This is in specific response to the most recent mauling by hundreds of men, of a girl who was making a video on Independence Day at Minar-e-Pakistan – a monument ironically, symbolising freedom and self determination).

There was once an average girl
Average I use to disclaim
That she was your happy gal next door
Not your wild and sassy dame

Not that there’s much wrong with that
It’s for those who tend to decry
The women greater than their veil
Behind which they ought to hide

Hide away from prying eyes
Hide away from sin
Hide their bodies, hands and feet
Hide their existence

The Sin that marches all about
Ready to be employed
In the lawless caveman hands
Of any man or boy

She decided she was bigger than
The shadows that cloaked her being
She was going to live her life
She would do so many things

She already had a fan base
She was a minor TikTok star
She would post quirky things
Of her adventures near and far

And so it was on Freedom Day
Full of patriotic zeal
That she went to the Minar*
To capture the national feel

And there is when it happened
The Sin awaiting its Amen
Was pulled to its fruition
By hundreds of stir-crazed men

Mauled and savaged was that girl
Because she had essayed
To be more than the sum of her
Shadows and opaque veils

And that’s the ominous legacy
Our nation tends to bestow
On any woman who attempts
To spread her wings, to grow.

There was once an average girl
She’s as average as she seems
In the Rank and file of nameless girls
Who’s dreams have been “washed clean”
* Minar: Means “Tower” in Urdu. Here it refers to Minar-e-Pakistan

Read Part One here:
https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/04/15/tiktok/

OPINION|In God we Trust, But Our Morals are Negotiable

US Hegemony, Its Lingering Pakistan/ Afghanistan Embarrassment and Media Morality

It was the early 80s. I still vividly remember as a child, standing on the side of the iconic Mall road in Murree (a mountain resort town situated about 30kms northeast of Islamabad in Punjab, Pakistan, and also home to a number of missionary boarding schools) with compatriots from my school and others, waving little Pakistani and American flags as President Zia ul Haq accompanied by the then US Vice President, George H. W. Bush (Bush Senior) drove by in their endless cavalcade of black luxury sedans. For us it was a joyous day out of the regular rigour of boarding school life; for Pakistan it was the beginning of the end of its Rising Star status in the region.

Pakistan, so geostrategically well situated to catalyse the downfall of the Soviet empire- the one thorn in the side of the Americans and the only obstacle to an all out USA dominated planet- was requested to become Ally Numero Uno. And we complied in the then considered most shrewd and cunning manner – through religiously radicalising, arming and mobilising an entire nation in a war that was to turn in on itself for decades after the USSR fell. By God, did we comply! And for very little in return. A statesman at the helm of affairs at the time (or even a half-way successful businessman like Donald Trump armed as he is with his career collage of bankruptcies), rather than a religiously devout military man, would have at least got us better trade deals to help shore up the economy once the dust of battle settled. But these are wishful conjectures…and the rest as they say, is history.

Soviet Russia sputtered and fell and the USA couldn’t get out of the region fast enough, leaving two countries with populations in the area of 130 million (circa 1992) to clean up the mess. But radical religion has a way of festering, sometimes out of sight, and emerging multiplied, more virulent, more destructive and deadlier than before. And that has been the dubious Vestige of Alliance bestowed on the two countries, the “rewards” of which we are continuing to grimly reap. Kabul, once considered the Paris of the East, is now a wraith of its former self, and the country has been declared a failed state. Pakistan itself has been teetering on the edge of the abyss of Pariah States. It’s people have undergone decades of global dismissal at best and damnation at worst. Despite being the fifth most populous country in the world and a nuclear power, it has fallen behind all its compatriots on almost every index of progress, prosperity and nationhood. The war on terror in fact, has purportedly cost the Pakistani economy a total of almost USD 130 billion since 2001.

Ironies and hypocrisies are rife as the countries in the West continue to strengthen themselves in nuclear armament while using every tactic in the book and outside of the realms of international law to bully the weaker/ developing nations into maintaining their globally vulnerable positions. The touted purpose: because these countries cannot be trusted with independent nuclear arms for they may wage globally destructive wars. The ironic truth: almost all the wars of the 20th century and the 2 decades of the 21st century have been initiated or aggressively intervened in by the USA, whether it was Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria; or Cuba, Panama, Kenya and Yemen. We, the developing nations, have sat on the sidelines, watched our economies bled dry, our social systems dragged into the Middle Ages and our international reputations ripped to tatters. The 20th century has indeed been a bloody epoch despite all the noble peace-promoting intentions of the victors of the 2 world wars. We as the human species have remained true to our baser instincts: power has tended to corrupt; and absolute power has corrupted absolutely.

And now enter the new devil! The mainstream digital and broadcast American media which in the blink of an eye can school millions of viewers around the world onto any hypothesis, conspiracy theory and interpretation of facts…and fiction. For the Global Village such as it is, besides making the world that much smaller and more accessible for its citizens, also ensures that current affairs are copiously and constantly coloured only with the pens of the victors of the 20th century, the USA.

Case in point: A few months ago, Pakistan displayed quite remarkable success in not only reining in the Covid-19 pandemic in the country while the wheels of economy continued to turn; but it was also reported to currently have the best performing stock market in Asia. Hot on the heels of this positive press, the major American media conglomerates began blitzing their screens with how Pakistan and Afghanistan are still the only countries in the world which still had rampant wild strains of polio. And so there it was again – the habitually insidious carpet-pulls from under our beleagured feet….

The Avengers of the Digital Age then, are not the politicians nor the military Strongmen. They are the Media. And granted that on the Information Super Highway, it requires great ethical tenacity and character to claw through the putrefying onslaught of political bias, power and oneupmanship. But never have the stakes for the preservation and endurance of our collective ethics and morality been higher than at the present time. Now more than ever, this fraternity needs to people itself with the most courageous visionaries, opinion makers and informers who bring an unwavering moral predisposition/ force to the sacrosanct task of building a higher globally shared ethical instinct and awareness.

God save the Queen, the USA, the Sheikhs, the Despots and the Champions of our collective moral integrity!

De Khudai pe aman.

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|Our Little Girl With Rosy Cheeks

Our very own little girl, my niece, is all grown up now! I 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;
May you thrive; may you always shine with your special light.

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.

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