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 Californian wildfires 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, socio-economic or ideological 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 revolution – 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, wildfires 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
….. when the going gets mean.

I said if you’re thinkin’ of being my brother
It don’t matter if you’re black or white“.*

So the fairytale goes. But even the utterer of these oft repeated cogent, brave words had very tenacious White aspirations. That in itself i don’t hold against him; with him being a part of a 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 supposed to be 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, indignity and inequality is Colourism. A God given feature is stigmatised to serve a basal, profane need to bully, subjugate and marginalise. 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 supremacy 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 committing emotional terrorism, disinheriting people 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 still not be seen for what they are. The hierarchy of ethnic superiority thus created on the basis of colour, has blighted our societies with racial fear-mongering, antipathy and an almost genetic preponderance for inflicting injustice and cruelty.

At the end of the day, the Jallianwala bagh massacre* and others like it that have been perpetrated around the world for eons, are brutalities conducted with an impunity born of being on the right side of the colour spectrum.

Neither time nor any subsequent moral and social evolution have been able to wash off the scourge 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 Jallianwala bagh incidences, no more George Floyds, no more Abduls, no more Abukcheechs, 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

*Lyrics from Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” song released in 1991.

*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.

OPINION|The Covid Stigma

Of Humanity, Dignity and Collectiveness

Of late, I have found myself thinking, contemplating and ruminating on our general state of being human. And i can only put down the uncomfortable confusion i feel to my obstinate tendency to see the glass half full. Because had i been a realist, I’d probably see our current humanity for what it is: shallow, empty and decaying; echoing with the many ironies of how it should be, but stridently, mockingly, isn’t. The insulating layers of apathy and lassitude have further made our human connections tenuous and encumbered. But again, the knee jerk reactions of the eternal optimist still kick in to make me believe in our collective human community. Our journey as a species thus far has to count for something. And so I think, i hope, that it’s more like being somewhat lost in translation, where humankind “has not [really] ceased to love each other but an accumulation of disappointment and past anger [has] burdened them like underwater insects and made their progress towards each other clumsy and impractical”*.

My oft repeated refrain above is meant to serve as a background to yet another deviation from our humanity. The rising Covid Stigma. It is fast becoming a state of mind, forming its very own stereotypes with continually expanding horizons of censure. In our overriding fear of the unknown, we forget that this is not an affliction of the sinful or the undutiful, nor is it the genetic scourge of the brown, the white or the black – we as a planetary collective are undergoing this blight. Six months down the road, chances also are that you or your loved ones have undergone some form of the infection; the very virulence of the bacillus warrants that probability. Six months on, even more harrowing than the lives lost, is the colossal emotional devastation and heartbreak it has wreaked across the planet; the everlasting emotional scars it has left in its wake. And yet, we have managed, with all the force of our individuality, to the exclusion of all that is communal, collective and shared, to shamelessly repudiate and exclude our neighbours and our fellow city dwellers who have or may have convalesced through the disease.

I have been witness to an occasion where an entire residential complex rose up in belligerent revolt to bar entry to a recovered Covid-19 community member, armed as he was with a clean bill of health from the local infectious diseases centre where he was quarantined for 3 weeks.

These actions wrongfully, cruelly stigmatise and disenfranchise people. We need to be better than that; we need to be more self aware as the intelligent species; we need to stop responding to our basal knee jerk reactions of misplaced fear, anger and self-centredness.

The Novel Corona is here to stay. The lockdowns and curfews are easing up. People are getting back to work. People will begin to travel again. There will be interactions and even disease communication.

There will also at some point, be another wave. There will at some point, be a close friend or family member who will get infected. You will, at some point, then also feel the pain of a stigma that you helped to create, that will by then have taken unyielding root in the fabric of our society.

Now therefore, is the time to break this abhorrent cycle of ostracising people who are infected and being treated or are quarantined for the Novel Corona. Now is the time to resist the primitive urge of blacklisting people who have as socially conscious, responsible citizens, followed treatment and isolation protocols and have recovered from the disease.

Let us start dignifying our humanity.

De Khudai pe aman

*Quote from Phillip Oakes‘ “A Lion in the House”

FICTION|Days of Purgatory – (Part 5)

A slate grey Mercedes S-class stopped at the traffic light near Kalma Chowk*. Its single occupant engaged in meditative contemplation, seemingly unaware of the myriad admiring, envious and studiedly indifferent glances directed towards his carriage. At that moment, Saif too was thinking of how like Cinder-fella* he felt, enroute to the reception of his lady love in his modern day coach; this time, the Prince was going to be on social display. He looked at himself briefly in the rear view mirror and brushed back an invisible strand of hair. He was nervous… Saif was actually feeling those “monarchs dancing in his gut” like his best friend and customary partner in crime, Zainab liked saying every time a new paramour sauntered into her life. They both knew it was more for the drama of it all, than any actual feeling of apprehension or distress. Together, they had triumphed over many a glitzy evening and had walked away effortlessly with all those tacit, transcendental laurels of a socially relevant affair. The pair had been the talk of the town for 5 years before the prurient coterie of the Lahore party scene accepted that this was indeed just a friendship that was not going to go into any tantalising realms of couple-hood.

Sabeen was immersed in her own thoughts while she luxuriated in a bubble bath, languidly, delicately caressing the foamy peaks like so many fledgling dreams. She was already thinking of how she was going to be dividing her time between the largely unglamorous, small-town venue of All Things Princely, and the urban lavishness of her beloved city, Lahore. Saif had said they’d build a house, a mansion in fact, in the city. But that meant more time away from her urban roots, and the thought made her quite decidedly claustrophobic. They would have to rent…she shuddered at the bourgeois ring to that word. It would be very discreetly done and to everyone that mattered, they would own the place. She thought ahead to their very first party which they would host as a couple; and generations of matriarchal planning, organising and embellishing skills kicked in as she flash-imagined the affair right down to the white carnations arranged elegantly around the house, and the special bergamot incense from Harrods wafting in fragrant wreaths around the gracious company. She smiled widely, held up her head regally and then in a coquettish moment of elation, lifted a shapely leg and an arm in a comical, semi-submerged arabesque.

“Shabana! Mairay kapray lay ao!”(1), Farzana said loudly, wrapped in a towel, head bobbing like a chicken’s outside her bedroom door, while she tried to catch a glimspse of the madly elusive girl.

Aur teen samosay bhi thal lo(2), she added with a cheery lilt in her voice. She needed her fried food euphoria as she navigated through the laborious but much adored exercise of getting dressed for the evening. She had a plan. She had invited Farrukh over to even out the group this evening. The essential fourth person to help break awkward silences and to more essentially, balance out the conversation if the love birds got too chatty among themselves. That too had happened with Sabeen’s sometimes bossy love interests, leaving the loquacious Farzana wondering where her tongue had got to. Farrukh, Farzana’s eternal suitor, was one of those not so rare individuals who was infinitely endowed with the power of speech but lacked woefully in the power of conversation. And sometimes, the ensuing gibberish was Farzana’s soul food as she happily spaced out, while the targets of the verbal onslaught were stunned into stupefied silence.

She had decided to wear a pale pink, diamanté encrusted chiffon sari this evening. It was the very same one worn by her mother when she had first been introduced to Farzana’s father 60 years ago. The diamantés had sparkled, the pink had glowed, the voluminous beehive bouffant had held and within 20 minutes, the conquest was complete, so it was said. And thus the ensemble was subsequently, reverently recruited from time to time to wield the same age old coupling alchemy.

Sabeen walked in first, resplendent in a peach and cream silk outfit. She tossed her bag on the sofa and walked towards the kitchen.

Sabeen: “Fara jaan*, do you have an apple? I’m starving”

Farzana: “I have qeemay walay samosay yaar; woh khao”(3)

Sabeen: “Chalo lay ao (4). Ive been good this past fortnight”

Farrukh: “Hello! Hello Ladies! I’m here!”

Sabeen: “Oh hello Farrukh, we’re kind of busy tonight….”

Farrukh: “I know! What fun! I’m here to meet and greet Shahzada Gulfaam* too!”

Farzana: “I invited him Sabi; four is a lucky number. [In a whisper]: “He can get the Rasmalai* from the Club later”.

Saif: “Hello ladies…”

Sabeen: “Saif! We didn’t hear you come in…”

Saif: “I saw the front door open so i let myself in”. [Smiling at Farzana]: “I hope it’s ok”

Farzana: “Yes yes! Please come in. I’m Fara… Farzana. Sabeen’s best friend”

Saif: “Yes I’ve heard a lot”. [Still smiling]: “Charmed”

Farzana: “And this is our friend Farrukh ____”

Farrukh: “YOU! What the hell is he doing here?”

Sabeen: “You know each other….? What’s going on?”

Farrukh: “This is the ass**** who ran off with my sister 20 years ago. She was all of 17 years old, you sick bas***d!”

Farzana: “Hai!* Sidra eloped with him?!”

Sabeen: “Saif….”

Farrukh: “We had to give him 5 crores* to keep his mouth shut. Bloody swine…. I’ll bet you that car outside isn’t his either!”

Sabeen: “Saif… is this ….” [sitting down slowly] “is this true?”

Saif: “Sabeen… it was 15 years ago. It was a crazy time….. ”

Sabeen: “But you’re the Nawab of Bahawalpur! You’re Royalty…”

Saif: “Yes! Yes….. I’m the Nawabzada’s nephew…..he’s my uncle…

Sabeen: Nephew?

Farzana: Uncle?

Farrukh: Royalty my foot! He’s some far off orphan cousin of the Nawabzada. Spent so much time in the royal household, he’s lost his head!

Saif: [chuckling sheepishly] “Still… the 25th in line to the takht*…”

Farrukh: “Babe, I’m off. Can’t handle this. Sabeen, bhagao is beghairat ko”(5)

Sabeen sat still, an odd calm enveloping her. She felt almost disembodied as she leaned back slowly and looked straight ahead through half closed lids. She noticed a gecko on the wall opposite with a strangely twisted tail…. it was in agile readiness to attack something she couldn’t quite see. Something else was happening too…. another twisted tale…. the details were hazy…. lurking somewhere on the periphery of her mind….

Farzana stuffed an entire samosa into her mouth as she gawped from Sabeen to Saif and back to Sabeen. She was in social scandal heaven as she absorbed every concrete and intangible detail with the tenacity of a widow spider. The indefatigable Gossip Chronicler was in prime form! This had turned out to be the best evening in a long, long time. With barely concealed delight, her face shining, she decided it was now up to her largesse yet again to salvage an awkward situation.

“Chalo*….it was a long time ago. And Sidra is married now. And you never know, in villages life expectancy is not that long; loag jaldi mar khap jaatay hain(6)….. who knows Sabi love, Saif could still become Prince!”

Bibi, chai….”(7), Tehseen the old family retainer hobbled in with the groaning tea trolley.

She gave Saif a myopically appreciative glance, and then grinning conspiratorially, toothlessly at Sabeen and Farzana, she crowed delightedly:

Hai! Kinna sonra munda ai!”(8)

*Chowk: intersection

*Cinder-fella: the male version of Cinderella; also a 1960 Jerry Lewis film

(1): “Shabana! Bring me my clothes!”

(2): “And fry up 3 samosas too”. (a samosa is a fried or baked pastry with a savoury filling)

*Jaan: love

(3) “I have mince filled samosas; have those”

(4): “ok, get them”

*Shahzada Gulfaam: Urdu colloquialism for ‘Prince Charming’

*Rasmalai: a classic subcontinental festive dessert made with milk, sugar and saffron

*Hai!: an exclamation; in this case, of distress

*Takht: princely seat/ throne

*Crore: 10 million

(5): “throw this shameless scoundrel out of the house”

*Chalo: figuratively in Urdu, ‘come on, cheer up!’

(6): “people tend to die off sooner”

(7): “Madam, tea is served”

(8): In Punjabi, “Oh! What a handsome young man!”

OPINION|The Reluctant Martyrs

The “ill-fated” Pakistan International Airlines flight of May, 2020

As this pandemic rages on, the truth of things, the bare bones architecture of our flawed sensibilities and ethics are rattling like so many skeletons in our collective closet. It is almost an embarassemnt to be a part of the human species in this, our very own alternate Earth reality. Yes, it helps to believe that there are other universes where our little blue planet is faring copiously better on all human levels!

And so i feel constrained to give my two bits worth on the tragedy that befell scores of families who lost loved ones in the “ill fated” PIA commercial flight en route from Lahore to Karachi on May 23rd, 2020.

“Ill fated” – words full of the promise of a clean getaway; of insidious lies; of crass insensitivity; of cruel heartlessness; of passing the buck. Words that are used as copiously and as mindlessly as are the sacrosanct verses intoned 5 times every day to the Almighty. Somewhere along the way, our inner voice, our conscience- our very humanity was cast off as a burdensome, inconvenient companion, while the optically grandiose rites and rituals have marched stridently along with us through the ages.

Worse than the Covid 19 pandemic, is the ethical and moral pandemic ravaging our humanity, our sense of community and our work ethic. We have become insensible to all manner of injustice, lack of incumbency and the flagrant flouting of any semblance of a civic sense. We have lost not only our capacity for, but also our moral awareness of what it means to be compassionate, dutiful and responsible.

Worse than the tragedy of the event itself is the tragedy that there will be no definitive, resolute consequences to this incidence. It has already been accredited to fate and martyrdom and therein lies the sum total of the analysis, diagnosis and fix of a catastrophe that killed close to a 100 people, leaving families – children, parents, siblings, friends and relatives, bereft and shattered.

I can’t help but compare the almost negligible call to some kind of answerability in this calamitous incidence to the recent case of Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to the British PM. The man stepped out during the lockdown to seek childcare for his 4 year old son while both he and his wife were displaying Covid symptoms; an act that’s arguably open to some manner of interpretation as per the country’s Lockdown guidelines. And so, they could have/ might have exposed the public to the infection. There was no actual death or destruction wreaked; but the mere probability of harm embodied in the act of leaving his home during lockdown, was a culpable offence. Cummings was consequently subjected to a harrowing series of brutal questions, loud clamours for accountability and insistent calls for justice and even his dishonourable discharge by the state, the media and the body politic at large. While we, the self proclaimed stalwarts of our faith and of its copious prescripts on “Huqooq-ul-Ibad*”, have summarily dismissed a 100 fatalities as yet another act of God. The God that we are so adept at putting front and centre of all our duplicitous, corrupt and brutish actions.

Maybe if the state institutions, our political overlords and the general powers that be, began to think of this nation, first and foremost, as a Republic of Humankind rather than a bubbling, imploding cauldron of divisions and differences, there would be some hope for our humanity. And since we’re all such champions of liturgy, labels and nomenclature, maybe this change in our national identity would also have a more profound impact on how we conduct ourselves socially and morally. And maybe, just maybe, this vicious cycle of ‘copious cause and no personal consequences’ will break to allow just a little more conscience, answerability and justice to pervade the various “ill-fated” streams of our lives.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Huqooq-ul-Ibad: the responsibility/ duty every Muslim owes to the rest of his fellow beings, regardless of the others’ faith or spiritual leaning.