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

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

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.

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 Intervention.

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.

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”

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.

REFLECTION|The New Superhero: Your Inner Voice

Is it just me or is the universe really trying to say something to this little blue planet, the size of a pin point in the gigantism of the cosmos? Is it me or is nature needling us with just a little more force than it’s usual maternal nudge for us to finally awaken? Is it only me or is there something prognostic, sobering and depressing when we do “awaken” every so often and see what we’ve become? If it’s really only me feeling this sense of urgency to get the plot right on our Humanity; this sense of impending doom and gloom if we tarry longer; and this looming finality, good or bad, to life as we’ve known it, then I’m definitely a stray time traveller who’s arrived in the wrong alternate earth reality. In that case, woe is me because I’ll be carrying the burden of conscience for the entire planet while the rest of the 7.5 billion laugh all the way to their Corona-stupefied finales (or indeed fueled by any of it’s gamut of equally virulent cousins).

But that’s drama – for effect; I’m hardly Osho or any of the other spiritual giants that have come and gone, with their Third Eye* as wide open as the big blue sky. So it’s safe to presume that i echo the sentiments of many, many more when i say:

Look within you; stronger and more powerful than any religious doctrine or traditional wisdom, is your own Inner Voice. It has undergone 200,000 years of evolvement to be honed to this apex. Yet, it has stayed prodigally disregarded and has with time, become mute. Look within; teach it to speak to you again. Listen to its sage common sense, its intuitive compassion and its innate nobility. Let it flow through your senses; let it touch your heart, let it course through your very core.

Don’t be afraid to let your mind inquire; don’t be afraid to let it wander into secret passages that have been walled off by archaic conventions, rites and rituals. Don’t be afraid to take down those walls, stone by stone, rite by rite, ritual by ritual. Don’t be afraid to see; don’t be afraid to feel. Don’t be afraid to revel in the universal truths of equality, empathy and respect for all; and through it all, let your Inner Voice be your biggest cheerleader and champion.

Change your thinking; change your attitude; change your sense of self; change the way you interact with the world. Change the old ways that have sown strife, discord and division; be an Agent of Change, and let your Inner Voice be the brightest star in the firmament that lights up your path ahead.

Reach out. Reach out to your neighbour; reach out to your community; reach out to the shop assistant who’s been bagging your groceries for years; reach out to the municipal worker who’s been sweeping your streets for decades; reach out to the doorman whose ready smile has lifted your spirits more than once; reach out to the good, the bad and the ugly. Reach out to the world, and let your Inner Voice be your loudest megaphone.

It is time to meditate, ruminate and contemplate on all that makes us Human. It is time now to face up to the emergent truths, and indeed to exemplify and embody those truths with the fervour and passion of a tsunami. We are at the cusp, indeed at the crossroads, of the spiritual, cognitive and ethical evolution/ devolution of our species. Now more than ever, we need to think beyond our individual selves and look past the myopic lens of our self serving ideologies. Now more than ever, we need to define and embrace a new shared philosophy that is in line with everything that makes Humankind the most intelligent, aware, humane and beneficent super-species of our planet.

It is time to rouse from our stupor, dust ourselves off and take the ‘other’ fork in the road; the baton is in your hands and your guide is your Inner Voice.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Third Eye: the eye of insight; the ability to see beyond the obvious and the mundane.

OPINION|Where (Sh)eagles Dare*

As this pandemic rages on, gleefully rubbing together it’s glycoprotein-encrusted club-claws, we are absolutely befuddled, divided and overcome. As it continues to decimate our cities and our people, we watch on in demented awe, the dubious badge of honour of the Intelligent Species clinging comically to our faded lapels.

The Novel Coronavirus has blithely continued to wreak carnage in the face of every strategic, scientific, political and economic spear our male-dominated civilization has thrown in its path. It continues to ravage and plunder as entire nations are being brought to their already arthritic knees. It really does feel like we’re all part of an intensely immersive, exceedingly painful virtual reality game. And the “Strongman” here has no resemblance to the Homosapien Male: the ultimate distillation of millions of years of evolution, or God’s most pithy creation, depending on which philosophy you subscribe to. No indeed! The Big cheese here, is a Tiny terror with an insatiable appetite for human life- and it appears to be a gourmand of the male specimens of our species.

Enter: Women; the Grande Dames of Substance. So where have they been during this great blight? Where have they been wielding their sage influence from when everywhere else has been caught in the perfect storm of crippling economics, toxic male egos and a cataclysmic contagion?

They have been wisely, quietly insulating little geographical pockets around our planet; little precincts of peace, wellness and normalcy when all about them is pandemonium. Small havens to remind us of what we as intellectually advanced, emotionally intelligent creatures should be bringing to the human equation after 200,000 years of evolutionary bumbling about. From New Zealand to Taiwan; from Singapore to Denmark, Germany and Belgium; from Greece to Namibia; from Nepal to Norway – the pandemic charge is being led by women. These countries are faring markedly better than their male-run counterparts, on all fronts in the fight against the Bacillus Extremis. It therefore, doesn’t take a rocket scientist of the ilk of Mary Sherman Morgan, brilliant as she was even without a formal university degree in the 1950s, or the more recent millennial prodigy, Tiera Guinn, to see which gender is faring better against the unique and indeed formidable challenges of our current world.

The prescription for a more robust, mature, equitable, empathetic world order is clear as day: let the women take their turn at the helm of global affairs. Let them bring their innate competencies of generosity, community nurturing, compassion and good old common sense to the woefully beleaguered socio-political and economic realms of our lives. Give them the opportunity to lead from the front, hand in hand, in equal measure, if you will, with their male counterparts. Let them pilot us out of the choppy seas of national isolationism, divisiveness and war.

In the sedately glorious traditions of Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Mother Teresa, Emilia Earhart, Razia Sultana, Florence Nightingale, Malala Yousafzai, and so many countless others, it is time for the women of the post pandemic world to stake their claim on our wounded planet and make it healthy, joyful and whole again.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Title inspired by a similarly named 1968 Richard Burton/ Clint Eastwood movie, of courage and gumption displayed in the face of extraordinary odds.

SHORT STORY|Days of Purgatory – (Part 4)

Sabeen was reflective. Her life was on the verge of a vital transformation; for the better, she fervently hoped. Because despite her single status, she still enjoyed the infatuation of her niche coterie of admirers: A couple of feudal landlords with American college degrees, and a few doctors who had had short but sprightly stints working in the western hemisphere before returning homewards; both sets of suitors armed thus, with not only a foreign specialization but also, in their minds, a marvelously rejuvenated world view. This meant that they now felt abundantly persuadable to breaking with the weighty bonds of age old tradition for the spousal company of a mature (but delectable!) woman who knew her mind. And Sabeen, in her archetypal off-hand way, reveled in all this motely adoration.

She was shrewd enough, however, to slide off her otherwise frequently-worn rose coloured glasses when ruminating on important life issues. And so she found herself thoughtfully weighing the singular glory of being Nawabzadi* Sabeen against the more mundane exorbitance of being another gilded begum* in yet another one of the elite Punjabi families. Despite the former fortuity weighing down the scales in majestic excess, the toss up was bothering her. She was familiar with the lifestyles of her privileged friends and indeed, she herself hailed from much the same lineage. That fact in itself guaranteed financial security, social status of the general-privileged variety, plenty of personal space and… Boredom. The titled position, on the other hand, was replete with exciting new promises of grandeur and glory. She’d be the only one amongst her friends and cousins who would have conquered this new social apex.

Yet…. there was something she wasn’t quite sure of; and the burnish of vestigial royalty had a bit of a tarnished quality to it too…. She shook her head decidedly, repelling all these unpropitious notions. She was in fact, expecting to blithely deflect these very same protestations from other quarters, stemming as they would be from both, envy and concern. She was going to be one of the entitled few who would be written about in history books as Subcontinental Royalty!

A slow smile spread across her face, reaching her eyes and making her skin glow delicately. In that moment, she looked quite majestically beautiful!

The evening at Farzana’s last week had been enjoyable, despite the somewhat bizarre ending. She’d had to sit Fara down and explain to her through succinct, gentle, repeated statements that she was going to be married soon. Farzana had taken it in slowly and had finally smiled. Although the wide wide smile was contrived, she also knew that it was Fara’s way of coping with the news. Of coming to terms with her banner of singledom now doing it’s solitary undulation in No Man’s Land; treaded only by the wearisome few that Farzana had already done her courtship dance with. But no matter, she was going to make sure Fara was a part of everything now – there had to be some universal meaning, some karmic context to why she’d felt so impelled to share her secret with Fara…. even if it was in a gluttonously benumbed state of mind.

And so, this evening there was to be another soiree at Farzana’s, for the pure benefit of introducing to her friend, Sahibzada Saif Muzammil Shah, Heir Apparent to the Royal Takht* of Bahawalpur, and also her paramour. He’d said he was in town for some work with his lawyer and was staying overnight; and that he would be delighted to spend the evening with the ladies.

Farzana sat on her bed, staring into space. Desultorily she picked up the mug of coffee set there by Shabana and took a tentative sip of the sweet, milky liquid. Farzana’s reunion with her absconding maid the day after Sabeen’s visit had been fiery, teary and then affectionate, in a dizzying sequence of emotions as their post-spat reconciliations tended to be. All was well with her domestic world. But something else had fallen apart….Farzana felt isolated and even betrayed. In the wake of this impending betrothal, her best friend, her partner in crime and her cherished arch nemesis who at the end of the day, like Farzana, had unwaveringly maintained the Ms. In her title, was reneging on their shared conundrum. But it had been a happy conundrum full of the heady highs of new love and the showy shenanigans of early courtship, as each tried to out-do the other. Now, she was going to be alone; and her past liaisons suddenly flitted before her like stark, monumental failures.

“Hai Allah! Ab kya karoon”(1) she sighed despondently.

It wasn’t fair. Sabi was not only getting married, she was going to be the Nawabzadi of Bahawalpur! And with acquiescing to host the reception this evening, she genuinely felt like a lamb leading itself to the slaughter. Her absolute selflessness, she thought, and thus her duty to her best friend was complete with this generosity of spirit. She sighed again, delicately, misplacedly, clutching the right side of her chest.

And so despite wishing Sabi the worst of luck and resenting her with every breath in her body, Farzana was convinced she had taken the high road with this show of solidarity with her best friend. Her feelings of martyrdom grew and she felt saintly and ethereal, much like Mother Mary in all those nativity scenes, she thought in momentary awe of the ensuing mental image.

Her thoughts then wandered as they tend to when the heart is caught in purgatorial limbo, and she frowned slightly. She suddenly felt an onrush of unkind thoughts: had it been any of Sabi’s other friends, they’d have picked her to pieces with jealousy. She, Farzana, was always the large hearted, gracious one in matters of the heart she thought with the dramatic flair of a celluloid saint. At some point, the genuine despair had blended with high drama and Farzana, even with all her accumulated affliction, was now feeling quite fortified to charm and conquer. Her intended conquests of the evening had hazy outlines but her very nature compelled her towards a social horizon where she would, at the very least, stand shoulder to shoulder with Sabeen again.

She looked at the old Champion clock on the wall; it was just past 3pm. She got up blinking brightly; she had to look her best. She walked towards her teeming wardrobe, its ancient depths waiting faithfully to bedeck her yet again in all their idiosyncratic glory.

Nawabzadi: princess or lady of a royal house/ lineage

Begum: matriarch of the house; a term used generally by the privileged classes in the subcontinent.

Royal Takht: Royal seat/ throne

(1) – “Oh God! What do I do now!”

De Khudai pe aman.

SHORT STORY|Days of Purgatory – (Part 2)

“….. If you change your mind, I’m the first in line, Honey I’m still free, Take a chance on me!” Farzana hummed along to ABBA’s whimsical lyrics as she sat in the lounge, clumsily dabbing on the 4th layer of metallic silver nail polish on her fingernails. The two battery operated tealites were already dancing a merry jig on the wall from where Farzana’s grandfather’s portrait, enshrined in a gilt-edged frame, looked on in grim reproach. It was just a little past 8pm and house no. 64 in GOR* was buzzing with high spirited energy and excitement. The evening looked very promising indeed, in the wake of juicy gossip to share and sultry confidences to bestow and receive.

Finally there was the grating squeal of the gate being opened and the crunch of the driveway gravel underfoot – both sounds now almost subliminal nuances of incoming visitors who were still 10 feet or so away from the main door. A little window of opportunity which Farzana always utilised to look herself dead in the eye in the lounge mirror, followed by a quick all over glance ending (most times!) in a final pleased pout.

“Sabi jaan!(1) It’s been too long!, exclaimed Farzana giving Sabeen a quick hug and two airy kisses in the relative proximity of her cheeks, while she ushered her in. Sabeen smiled broadly, looking in turn, at Farzana’s face and then at the fat golden brown braid of hair perched precariously on top of her head.

“It’s always fabulous to see you, babe! Sabeen said laughing exultantly.

“I’ve ordered your favourite dish from the club and your favourite dessert. You’re not still dieting are you? Aaj tau na kar yaar!(2)” Farzana pleaded cajolingly, taking her friend’s hand.

“You know i don’t have carbs at night; it’s always just a salad and some fruit. How do you think i maintain this body, meri jaan(3)? But I will have copious cups of tea”, Sabeen responded while looking around her.

The house was looking shabbier, dowdier and sadder. Over the years, the sparkle and gleam facilitated by copious government contracts accorded in the 60s and 70s to Mohammad Iftikhar Buksh, (Farzana’s father, who was also Sabeen’s father’s childhood friend) had waned with the timorous finality of the end of an epoch. Farzana remained an odd spectre of that era, languishing absurdly in the throes of practical everyday life.

Sabeen looked at Farzana with an almost tender look and then sighed. Farzana was a difficult person to be nice to, and Sabeen accepted that she herself wasn’t a saint either. So for the past 50 years, the affiliation between the two was generally that of strained congeniality, sugar-coated with exaggerated shows of affection. Occasional verbal sparring sessions helped to balance out the sugary sweetness.

Anyhow, thought Sabeen, it had been six months since she had last seen Fara. Having known this childhood friend since they were toddlers, she could easily read Farzana’s excitement and genuine pleasure to see her. Sabeen’s heart too, was feeling light and yielding. Today, they’d chat, they’d laugh, they’d connect, and then there would be the blithesome physical and material dissection of all the eligible men in town, and the happy prospecting of new beaus on the urban horizon. In all the discordant milieu of their association, she stolidly shared her involuntary single status with her friend. A shared nemesis, which had been the dubious trigger for more than a few misunderstandings between the two, she thought wryly. All in all though, Fara wasn’t a bad sort; she was just plagued by her own demons as were most people including herself, she thought in that charitable moment of reflection.

Sabeen leaned back in the sofa with a satisfied sigh. She’d probably peg today down as a cheat day – that fettuccine looked just like the mouth-watering curry hybrid we desis* love so much, and were so spectacular at concocting around every cuisine. The light trundle of the tea trolley propelled her hollow gut into a tentative rumbling dance.

She smiled to herself ….Princess Sabeen! Maybe…. probably… hopefully! She laughed at her own childlike excitement, while a delightful little secret flitted around the periphery of her present elation.

De Khudai pe aman

*GOR: Government Officers Residence – an elite neighbourhood in Lahore where the privileged segment of the bureaucracy resides

(1) – “love

(2) –“my friend, at least today, don’t!”

(3) – “my love”

*Desi: a colloquial term used to define the residents of the larger subcontinent comprising of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

SHORT STORY|Days of Purgatory – (Part 1)

“Kya museebat hai! Aa rahi hoon na!”(1), came the plaintive screech from the inner sanctum of the house. With A fleeting look of trepidation on her face, Shabana the part-time domestic hesitated momentarily outside her querulous employer’s bedroom door. Then with a toss of her well oiled head, she turned back towards the kitchen. She’d show her!

Within the slumbersome recesses of the room, Farzana was lounging in bed, kohl-lined green eyes closed, a smear of red lipstick on her chin and a bandana tying back unwashed hair. It was a sunday evening; tomorrow was office again. The relentless ghosts of Weekend-Past had always sung their doleful dirge to her for as long as she could remember. But Farzana was nothing if not ardently buoyant and had always held these phantoms at bay with dogged contrivance. This usually meant a longer than usual afternoon nap suffused with soulful visions of luxurious foreign trips for two, extravagant parties on the arm of some Mr. Delicious and generally canoodling with all manner of knights in shining armour while being delightfully enagaged in a variety of high society shenanigans. Her enduring adage: If one dreams hard enough, dreams do come true. And so Farzana had spent the last 20 years in the protracted throes of Sunday afternoon REMs* that could brimmeth a romantic sea or two over.

The ringing of her mobile phone put a definitive end to her already waning weekend stupor. She picked it up with the jaded weariness of a finch in a cage. It was a friend who was visiting from Faisalabad and with whom she had a complicated relationship as relationships go between two world-weary, yet desperately optimistic females of a certain age. She was coming over for dinner. The typical Sunday evening dullness started to fade in the burgeoning glow of anticipation and excitement, and Farzana almost smiled. She got up languorously as she contemplated her overflowing wardrobe, replete with fashion assurances spanning at least three riotous decades.

Farzana walked to her bedroom door, with a skip in her step. She was almost decided on what she was going to wear, including the hair piece which made her look like royalty; well, political royalty at least. She had always liked Yulia Tymoshenko’s* thick plaited hair that she wore like a tiara; and she’d been practising her faux braid-atop-the-head look for just such an occasion. She was going to dazzle tonight!

“Shabana! Shabaanaa! Ander aajao. Mehmaan arahay hain aaj raat!”(2), Farzana yelled through the open kitchen door into the falling dusk outside. She had a knotty affiliation with her maid as both faithfully lived out the entirety of the dramatic domestic plots of all the Indian soaps ever aired. The conflict originated from both women artfully and emphatically portraying the insidious role of the mother in law, while neither was capable of personifying the demurely mute bahu*. The resulting sparks were the stuff of Stephen King’s Firestarter* plots – on steroids. For now, the arduously-employed had voluntarily relieved herself of her domestic duties and had gone to her brother’s house on the other side of town. She wouldn’t be back tonight. This act of rebellion still didn’t dampen the zestful spirits of the evening. Farzana would order in from the club – Fettuccine Alfredo and apple pie ala mode. The old family retainer was still around and despite her failing eyesight and an incorrigible disposition for small talk with all and sundry, she’d undertake the making of the tea and the wheeling in of the trolley.

It was 6.30pm. Farzana had an hour and a half to look the part of the pampered, carefree denizen of her abode. She wore leather jeggings and a fuschia satin top that fitted just a tad too snugly around her troublesome middle. Over time, she’d lost the affinity for exercise and also the self consciousness that comes with the somewhat latterly acquired corpulence. Her legs were still her best feature, and she preened in front of the mirror in decades old Guccis that had faithfully withstood the naphthalene-assailed tests of time. The face was then meticulously creamed, powdered and rouged in a timeless regimen that too, had been diligently passed down the line by similarly festooned matriarchs of the family.

She bustled about the house, every so often glancing appreciatively at the image in the cabinet mirror, pouting fish-mouthed, back at her.

Yes, she was consummately primed to be the Queen of the night.

De Khudai pe aman

(1): “What’s the problem! I’m coming out already!”

(2): “Come inside, we have guests coming over tonight!”

*Bahu: daughter in law in Urdu/ Hindi

*REM: Rapid Eye Movement A phase of sleep accompanied by low muscle tone and the propensity to dream vividly

*Yulia Tymoshenko: Former PM of Ukraine (2005- 2010)

*Firestarter: A 1980 Stephen King novel about a lass who is an accomplished arsonist in the tradition of most reviled, ostracised anti heroes

OPINION|What a Wonderful World!

I’m being facetious. It is quite far from being any version of wonderful, cohesive or civilised. As the Novel Corona traipses through our towns and cities like a merciless diabolist, we as humankind, as a planet, could not be rent more asunder.

How did we get here? When did all the values of humankind that stirred the heroic tales of yore become so tenebrous, so archaic? How did we become so divided, so intolerant, so extreme? How, despite belonging to the same species, did we become so “different”? And how did those contrived differences take on such a toxic, pestiferous life of their own?

We, as human beings, have been teetering on the edge of our humanity for some time now. The constant slide towards the precipice of retrogression has been insulated only by the crowdedness of our lives and the increasing obscureness of what we are, at our very core, as civilised beings. Indeed, we have, for quite some time now, been navigating the waters of life with a broken moral compass.

The stark wretchedness of our complete inability to come together as a global collective with a common objective has been grimly parodied by the current pandemic. It has laid bare that which was barely concealed: the self-defeating, meteoric rise in national isolationism and exclusionary economics. It has highlighted the dangerous precedent set by the Post-Trump “America/ My Country First” mantra, while any similitude of a global community ideology/ platform has become a mere spectre in the darkness of the 2020 world stage.

If one steps back to look at where we are after 200,000 years of evolvement, even the most practical and jaded amongst us would cringe at what we bring to the Evolutionary Table. The Novel Corona has struck at the very core of our collective societal and sovereign ethics, morality and probity, exposing them for the tarnished chattels they have become. It has, however, also afforded us the opportunity to visualise the propitious crossroads we are at, as a species.

“The Anthropocentric Age – the first age in which humankind is the dominant species on the planet – cuts both ways: it is up to us to destroy or save the planet. We certainly have the ability”, said Craig Ventor. Can we then, overcome our disparate, divided egos and concertedly embark on an intrepid new philosophy for A Brave New World? Or are we going to wait for that epochally-inevitable “Alien/ Divine” intervention to then put us on the straight and narrow?

In the words of Issac Asimov: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be”.

Right now, viewed from a cosmic lens, Earth appears to be blunderous, sick and unkind. That is not the legacy we want to leave to the universe.

De Khudai pe aman.

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