Series 2: “Checkmate” Part 6 Shhh… No one needs to know anything

It wasn’t long before we got serious enough to talk about getting engaged. We planned on going to the same college and then getting married after four years of undergraduate studies. We didn’t tell anyone and continued spending a lot of time together; more than we should have.

Then Usman started hearing back from the colleges to which he had applied. As expected, he had been accepted into some of the very good ones like the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of Southern California (USC) in California, New York University (NYU) in New York, and Brown University in Rhode Island. He was elated. It was while he and his family had gone to take a tour of the colleges he was seriously considering that Ammi jee decided to take me to a doctor.

I remember arguing with her vehemently.

Ammi jee I’m fine and you know it,” I told her. “You know I hate doctors.”

“I don’t care if you hate them or like them,” she replied. “You’re studying too hard. You’re pale and your stomach is always upset.”

What the doctor told her was enough to open the ground right beneath her feet. As for me, I thought I had died and gone to hell. For surely, this is what hell must feel like. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I would choke.

She didn’t say a word to me on the way home. Ammi jee was a strong woman and had faced many adversities in her life. But she had probably never counted upon a catastrophe as malicious and evil as the one she was facing now. She was strangely quiet, probably trying to figure out where she had gone wrong. Her silence was hugely disconcerting. I wished she would yell and scream at me.

But no, Ammi jee wasn’t a person to bemoan the reasons behind the problem. She was a person who immediately started thinking of a way out.

“Is it Usman?” she asked me in an emotionless voice, staring straight ahead, as soon the car stopped in the driveway. These were her first words since the doctor’s office.

“Yes,” I uttered in a hoarse voice.

I could barely talk. I was surprised I could talk at all because dead people don’t talk. And I was sure I was dead.

“Go to you room,” she said, still looking ahead. “I’ll talk to you later.”

I wished she would curse me. Anything would have been better than this. I knew why she never did any of those things. It was because she blamed herself equally. She was the mother and she had failed to protect me. Therefore she was to blame too.

That day from my first floor window, I seriously contemplated jumping out and ending the intense misery which I was experiencing and putting my parents through. It probably wouldn’t have ended my life, but it might have ended one of the two lives that jumped out that window. But I was a coward. I knew I was a coward otherwise I would have had the courage to stop Usman. I would have had the courage to say ‘no’ when I should have. It was too late to prove my gallantry now.

Abba jee told Ammi jee that he didn’t want to see me or talk to me at all. The next visit to the gynaecologist three days later confirmed Ammi jee’s worst fears. I was too far along to do anything about it. Given my age, it was too great a risk to take. Even if something could be done, Ammi jee and Abba jee had decided by then that they couldn’t abort a baby deliberately, regardless of the consequences. I was devastated. I had stopped going to school and answered no phone calls. I awaited Ammi jee’s verdict on the case.

A week later, Ammi jee had a short, serious talk with me.

“You are to tell no one about this, especially Usman,” her tone was business-like.

It was like she was telling the gardener how to trim the hedges in our front yard.

“I don’t want anyone to find out.”

“But Ammi jee… shouldn’t I call Usman?” I stammered, eyes down.

I still couldn’t face her.

“Why,” she demanded.

“So that you can blame him? So that you can tell him how he ruined your life?”

She was letting out her rage and frustration for the first time.

“No, Marium, it is not his fault. It is your fault. And it is my fault. We’d be fools to blame anyone else.”

She stopped to catch her breath.

“And even greater fools to allow the world to point fingers at us and judge us.”

“But what do I do now?” I was aghast.

My dark mind was groping at some semblance of hope.

“You have done what you had to do,” she was in a cold fury. “We are going to clean up the mess now.”

She paused for a minute before continuing,

“Your Abba jee and I have decided that I will move with you to River Ridge in Louisiana. It’s a small city. You and I will rent an apartment till the baby is born, put it up for an anonymous adoption and return.”

“But how can Abba jee live here alone?” I asked.

I was more concerned for the disruption of family harmony than for the storm forthcoming in my own life. I was subconsciously shutting out reality.

“If he can live through the pain of watching the life of his only daughter go to ashes, he can live alone too,” she answered.

She had switched back to her emotionless voice, again devoid of anger or frustration.

Abba jee will tell everyone we have to go to Canada to be with Khala jaan for a while. You will take a long break from school. Start packing.”

We left that week before Usman and his family returned. In my absence, I found out that Usman had selected to go to Brown University and his family too had decided to move to Rhode Island.

I spent the worst five months of my life in Louisiana, hating not the child inside me but myself. My youth suddenly vanished. I didn’t grow wise, I grew ‘old’ and tired. I spent nearly all my time indoors reading, studying and contemplating. Ammi jee and I spoke very little. I knew she was making a supreme effort to heal. I made no effort to make her feel better. There was nothing I could do. I had done enough damage already.

The child was born two weeks early. It was a very difficult birth. Whoever said that a mother never forgets her child regardless of circumstances of birth must have been a mother who had lost her child. Because she was right. I might have been able to put the child out of my mind, but I hadn’t been able to get it out of my heart. My parents preferred to forget, and perhaps they had.

I understood that talking about the adoption agency brought back memories for Ali. But it brought back memories for me too. Memories I didn’t want to share with anyone and which were as dear to me as life itself. How could I not wish to know where she was and what she looked like? This desire had only grown stronger over the years. Working at the agency was also a very fledgling of an effort to try to locate her, even if it meant just looking at her from a distance.

Enjoyed this? You will not believe what happens in the Part 7 of this eight part series! Stay tuned!

from The Express Tribune Blog


Yes, adult colouring books do help

If you’re like most civilised people of contemporary times, the first thing you do upon waking up is check your phone to log onto Facebook. This means that by the time you’ve scrolled to the end of your newsfeed, your mind has a book worth of stimuli to process.

These stimuli would typically include, several of your acquaintances getting hitched, a friends enrollment at a decent university overseas, a few gory pictures of a terrorist attack in some part of the world and if you’re lucky, a video of somebody yelling “Bright Karein”.

By the time you’ve reached the bathroom to brush your teeth, you have a ton of emotions to process. You bemuse at the video, you sigh at the graphic images of war shoved in your face before even having breakfast and then wonder when you’ll get married because even Sarah’s married, whose last memory you have is of a toddler learning to ride a tricycle. You comfort yourself by shrugging Sarah off as someone without ambition and say that you would rather go abroad and study first like Hassan, but Hassan’s dad owns half of Islamabad, so you better go the scholars4dev website and check out scholarship updates.

As your mind whirlpools in ponder, a zit stares right back at you from the mirror.

Welcome to the age of anxiety, where an average person’s mind is filled with more information than it can process. It is enough to interfere with one’s endless to-do lists. Other than the information overload, one can attribute modern-day anxiety to coming of age, desire of perfectionism, disturbances in the economy, long working hours, societal pressures and future uncertainties, etc.

It is no secret that modern life begs the proper management of one’s stress levels. While we all have unique ways of managing stress, some are universal and then some are packaged and presented to us with a price tag. These include yoga, meditation, and the latest stress-relieving tool: “Adult Colouring Books”. Yes you heard it right.

Adult colouring books!

Photo: AFP

These products are flying off the shelves quicker than you could have your next panic attack.

The first time I became acquainted with these books was through an online video advertisement. I would have dismissed the idea as a consumerist gimmick if I hadn’t seen the book. I was intrigued by the genuinely beautiful, intricately drawn patterns of flora and fauna that were challenging enough for an adult. The books, namely Enchanted Forest, Secret Garden, Animal Kingdom and Lost Garden are marketed as “Anti-Stress” and “Stress-relieving” exercises for adults.

Photo: Reuters

One does not have to be artistically inclined to colour into colouring books and unlike meditation, colouring easily enables us to stop that train of thought and do something fun and creative. Simply put, it is easier to alleviate stress with colouring than with meditation, as meditation requires months of religious practice in order for it to alleviate anxiety.

I do not have a personal experience with adult colouring books but I have studied illustration. I can draw and paint so I can vouch for the therapeutic effects of colouring. I enjoy the whole process of drawing figures, choosing a specific colour combination to paint, and sharing the final result with my friends on Facebook, so that they can enjoy the artwork too (and hit like). This activity is very satisfying for me.

Anybody who has coloured in their lives would know that it is impossible for the mind to simultaneously worry and colour. It is the same kind of zen-like state that one attains when one sings, dances, or does any other activity that is enjoyable to them. Colouring in an adult colouring book is no different in terms of the positive effects on the mind.

Photo: Reuters

According to psychologist Carl Jung, colouring books can help with a number of emotional and mental health issues such as boredom, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Colouring channels your mental focus onto something productive, diverting it from the negative thinking patterns that you may have formed. Colouring further helps calm the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight response and keeps individuals in a heightened state of worry and panic. Focusing on a calming activity like colouring turns down that panic-mode response and puts the brain in a much needed relaxed mode.

Photo: Reuters

You can opt from colour pencils, markers, water colours, and water colour pencils or even get creative by sticking sequins and other embellishments on top of the patterns. Since the patterns are complex, it will take time for you to get done with them, keeping you away from the stress-inducing technologies. Once you’ coloured inside the patterns, you can stick them onto your refrigerator and feel good about your achievements.

On Amazon they cost from $4 to $7 (PKR 400-700) and in local shops they average between Rs1000 to Rs1100. Users’ reviews on Amazon are positive, confirming the adult colouring books’ efficacy in alleviating stress.

One woman in her review writes that it helped her get out of depths of severe depression. Paraplegic artist Muniba Mazari has spoken publicly about how the act of painting enabled her to escape the pits of despair after she had lost her legs in an accident. Also, displaying her artwork in public got her the appreciation and monetary return helping her experience self-actualisation.

While colouring may not abate all of your worries, I believe that art in general is an excellent tool to relieve stress and achieve a state of happiness. Whether it is something that you draw from scratch or whether it is the more convenient use of colouring books. The process is meditative without being boring. In my experience art liberates the soul.

Perhaps you can try this new stress relieving tool and achieve tranquility, an alien feeling in our stressful gadget laden world.

Photo: Reuters

from The Express Tribune Blog

Karachi will, for time and memoriam, be divided along lines of cast and ethnicity

find it rather problematic to fashion a semblance of a concrete structure from the conundrum that is Karachi’s metropolis. The metropolis I speak of comprises not of sky-scrapers and high-rise buildings that brush against the clouds and billboards lit with neon lights. On the contrary, the metropolis that harbours the heart of Pakistan lives and breathes, just like you and I.

She breathes with the quivering, ragged gasps of an invalid. She inhales mouthfuls of air contaminated by generations of ignorance and growing dissent, and punctuated by the overpowering stench of rotting human remains. The city that once stood as the jewel in the crown of a nascent country – a beacon of hope, of growth, of a united mass of young men and women dissolving the divisions of ethnicity, caste, and creed for the purpose of striving towards building the foundations of a nation – now gazes at the smog filled sky in despair, watches the blurry outlines of the setting sun sink into the blue sea and braces herself for showers of bullets and rivers of blood.

This piece shall be based upon patterns of identity and discourse within Karachi, how these patterns have evolved over the course of the past few years with respect to Karachi’s rapidly burgeoning and vastly diverse demographic and why, amidst clouds of chaos and escalating civil strife, Karachiites find themselves struggling to identify themselves as citizens of a nation of 180 million individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, I shall broadly divide this troubled city not along a geographical context but along the lines of the paths and rifts that have been erected betwixt the city’s burgeoning populace. Mohammad Waseem, in his working paper for the Saban Centre at Brookings titled Patterns of Conflict in Pakistan: Implications for Policy, states that,

“Every fifth household in Pakistan, every fourth in Punjab and Sindh provinces, and more than half in Karachi are ‘migrant’.”

By ‘migrant’, Waseem is referring to the Urdu-speaking migrants or the mohajirs from North India that settled primarily in Karachi following Partition. The other half of Karachi’s demographic comprises of a lethal cocktail: a mixture of four different ethnicities, a rallying cry against suppression at the hands of a dominant majority, a far cry from the cosmopolitan melting-pot of cultures and faiths that Karachi once was.

An article published by the New York Times in November 2010 for instance, very blatantly claimed that Karachi was Pakistan’s “most deadly place” after its actual war zones. But, the threat Karachi faces is starkly different from the Taliban insurgency being battled by the Pakistani army up north. On the contrary, the article claimed,

“Far more common [in Karachi] have been killing by gangs affiliated with ethnic-based political parties hunting for turf in a city undergoing seismic demographic change.”

Three years forward, Karachi’s woes have not dissipated.

In a recent press conference, the leader of a Pakhtun political party claimed that leaders of his party were receiving death threats and that “extremist elements” were still operative within Karachi’s Pakhtun-dominated areas.

Karachi is a city that struggles to thrive and survive amidst barbed wires and makeshift battlefields littered with shoes and stones and streaks of blood. But, why do Karachiites seem acquiescent of the fact that Karachi will, for time and memoriam, be divided along the lines of cast and ethnicity?

I answer this pressing matter of concern via research that I based upon the aim of unearthing the state of mind of the average citizen of Karachi in order to understand and comprehend the divisions that exist betwixt a sample size of eight Karachiites and how these divisions translate to ethno-political rivalries in a larger sphere. My sample size comprised of affluent members of society between the ages of eighteen and twenty one. The reasons behind choosing this particular sample size are two-fold: Karachi’s affluent civil society is a) devoid of the passionate class-based ethnic rivalry that exists amongst members of Karachi’s working classes and is more likely to look upon Karachi’s growing instability and political strife with an objective view and B) responsible for the mass political movement that sprung up before the 2013 General Elections and was geared towards alleviating Karachi from the stronghold demagogic influences.

Karachiites struggle to identify themselves as citizens because the problems that plague them on a daily basis are several steps away from those that the rest of Pakistan faces. My sample size unanimously agreed upon a focal factor responsible for Karachi’s woe: Politicisation of the masses, from university based student unions to workers unions to politicised police and law enforcement agencies. The desire for self-fulfilment overpowers the need to recognise and work towards the greater good of society.

But what makes Karachi significantly different?

The overwhelming difference between the proportions of people involved directly into politics and the common citizenry that is influenced into pledging allegiance. In order to reinforce my claim, I spoke to Chambeli*, a Hindu resident of Karachi’s Shireen Jinnah Colony, who very vociferously claimed that political workers showed up during Diwali and Holi festivities close to elections in order to win hearts and minds and votes. And although every five years, members of predominant parties have promised and pledged to provide water and sanitation to members of the locality, their words are always in vain. Most of Chambelis’ family and friends have stopped exercising their right to vote because they claim that political workers “can speak but can’t act upon their words”.

I shall close this article not with a fervent repetition of what has been said time and time again, but with a journey. Bus M4 travels from Hyderi to North Nazimabad to Gurumandir to Shahra-e-Faisal’s wide boulevard to Defence’s repertoire of bungalows and neat picket fences and perfectly manicured gardens. It stops at rickety excuses for bus stands, weaving through honking cars and bumper-to-bumper traffic, picks-up the maid that toils away in House 23/A each day, the factory worker, the clerk, the young student with the unkempt hair and the furrowed brow, the mochi with calloused fingers and clothes that smell faintly of leather, the mother whose laden with groceries bought from Sabzi Mandi and carries a young child in the crook of her arm, the poet lost in thoughts that float back to a time of idyll and peace and harmony. The bus stops at its final destination and the passengers disembark – the maid, the factory worker, the student, the mochi, the mother and her child, the poet – and turn their frenzied eyes towards the horizon. In the backdrop of the setting sun casting rays of gold across the clear sky, they assimilate with the masses. They let their feet sink into the soft sand as the roaring waves crash against their forms and they sway, only to be held firmly by those behind them. A binding, strengthening chain of humans. And in that moment, the disparities that threaten to overpower and separate Karachi into a million fragments fade away.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of people interviewed.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Are we losing our T20 matches due to Shahid Afridi’s captaincy?

Pakistan’s T20 Captain, Shahid Afridi, has decided to retire from international cricket altogether after the T20 World Cup in March 2016. All he wants as his retirement present is a win for his team.

But from the looks of things, Afridi’s retirement present seems like quite a feat to achieve. With an overall winning percentage of 47 per cent, Afridi should count himself lucky to be leading a team which has played more T20 internationals than any other team in the world.

With these statistics in mind, it can be said that things do not seem to be looking up for our team.

Over the past 12 months, Pakistan has lost T20 series against giant opponents such as England and New Zealand and has won four out of seven games against Zimbabwe. The only win Pakistan managed to achieve was against Sri Lanka, where they won the series 2-0. Let’s not forget to add a staggering loss against Bangladesh as well.



The list of losses doesn’t seem to end. If we add it up, Pakistan has played eight T20 matches against participating countries, out of which we have succeeded in winning only three. That’s a 38 per cent winning percentage.

Not a figure to be proud of.

We lost by 95 runs against New Zealand in the final T20 a few days back, which cast a dampening spirit over cricket fans and I am sure it must have demotivated most players on our team as well.


Is there a fault in Afridi’s captaincy? Or can other factors, such as coaching and the lack of teamwork be blamed for the dismal performances?

Was the reporter right in cornering Afridi regarding his captaincy?


But keeping in mind his previous performances, the reporter’s question may not have been fully justified.

I feel Afridi, without a doubt, is the most passionate captain Pakistan has ever had. He will, however, have to lead from the front this time around and behave responsibly rather than impulsively with the bat when he’s at the crease.

This may be asking for too much, but it’s not like he hasn’t led Pakistan to victory before. No one can deny his all-round match winning performances which were quite evident during the ODI World Cup in 2011. During this series, he led Pakistan to the semi-finals and we went down fighting.


In 2009, during the T20 World Cup we saw a completely different Afridi. He showed tremendous skill with the bat and ball. He has shown glimpses of his previous form during the New Zealand series as well, which will serve as an encouragement for the rest of the team. Lala has all the skills one demands from an aggressive leader and all the flamboyance one can expect from a match winner. The team however, need to pull their socks up if they wish to make it to the semi-finals or finals (I hope so) of the World Cup this time around.

As far as the team management is concerned, Waqar Younis needs to strategise and draw up a winning unit. He should definitely utilise Sarfraz Ahmed, since he is an extremely talented player. Believe it or not, Sarfraz is a match winner. He has proven his worth during Test’s and ODI’s and I am pretty sure he could prove his worth during the shorter format, if only he is given a chance. His effectiveness can only be utilised if he bats in the top order. If he’s sent towards the lower order, as we had witnessed in the series against New Zealand, we won’t see him perform up to mark.


Waqar Younis needs to make his presence felt in all the right ways. He needs to prove that he isn’t just an effective Test coach, and that too may have a lot to do with Misbahul Haq’s captaincy rather than Waqar Younis’ coaching.

I still believe that the current team (apart from maybe just a couple of changes) with which the Pakistani cricket team went into the series against New Zealand, is pretty balanced and is capable of achieving great results.

Our team has all the talent in the world, but somehow the basics of teamwork are missing. Here’s to hoping our stars regain their lost forms in the Pakistan Super League and head to the World T20 World Cup as a strong and unified team.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Yes, President Obama, Pakistan will remain in turmoil thanks to you guys

Most analysts explain politics through the chessboard analogy. Let’s delve into it for a basic understanding, even though the analogy is self-explanatory. The chessboard lays out 16 pieces, eight special and eight simple (read infantry/grunts/poor youth from rural backgrounds/cannon fodder – take your pick). The aim of the game is to save your king and kill the opponent’s king and the analogy is that all politics is akin to the moves played out on a chessboard.

I am, however, inclined to believe that this analogy no longer holds true, even though it still does give us a rudimentary idea of what we understand of political strategy. The most glaring omissions are of course alliances and drones (akin to a child stealing a piece from your opponent). However, there is one phenomenon in realistic politics which does not and perhaps cannot be played out on a chessboard and that is the creation of our own boogeymen.

No matter how good you are at it, one would never allow their opponent to spawn grey coloured knights or start off with 24 pieces.

The Boogeymen

After reading a news piece on Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address, I began to wonder why he was asking congress for authorisation to use military force against ISIS. Maybe he needs to kill his boogeymen, much like George Bush did after 9/11 and the senior Bush did in 1991. (It was Saddam Hussain who was shaking hands with Donald Rumsfeld in 1983 during the Iran-Iraq war. Just in case people don’t remember Rumsfeld said Saddam was ‘our kind of guy’). Obama also mentioned that Pakistan and Afghanistan would face decades of turmoil.

Thank you for telling that to a Karachiite Mr Obama, as if we bloody well didn’t know it already.

I thoroughly enjoy it when world leaders nonchalantly talk about Pakistan. How they feign understanding the dynamics of our country and the region when they really don’t know much about it. And of course when they ominously foretell our future, while being delusional about their own.

Obama needs to be asked why his country keeps clandestinely supporting the terrorists it claims to be fighting. The Soviet-Afghan war and the subsequent aftermath is an example and now Syria is the latest. The US has been covertly and overtly funding, training and arming terrorists around the world for decades (Hillary Clinton’s interview). When these mercenaries stopped receiving funds, they turned on their masters and of course the War on Terror (terror to stop all terror) narrative ensues.

Let’s face it, if you keep ‘Black Mambas’ as pets and then stop feeding them, you ought to own a fridge full of anti-venom.

Just a few days ago, The New York Times ran a long piece on the ‘special relationship’ between the CIA and Saudi Arabia, and how they created the world’s worst nemesis, the ISIS. The article also outlines how other countries including Qatar, Jordan and Turkey were also actively involved in this process, all in the name of removing Bashar al Assad from power. Fast forward a couple of years and now Obama is asking congress for troops and Saudi Arabia has formed a coalition to fight terrorism.

Well if these countries were so wary of terrorism and cared about the world so much, they should not have set up the largest factories of terrorism churning out pseudo-religious mercenaries by the hour.

The Soviet-Afghan War

Since we, as Pakistanis, are more concerned with our territory, let’s discuss our American jihadi history and its fallout.

The Soviet-Afghan war is a prime example of creating demons and trying to kill them once they have grown too big to handle. The war had started on a simple enough premise – the Soviets had entered Afghanistan to help Afghan communists in their struggle for power. I think everyone above the age of 25 knows what followed.

The world showered Afghan mujahideen with money, high-tech weaponry, training and logistical support only to create an elusive and dangerous enemy for themselves. Pakistan was at the forefront of this cooperation as it spearheaded the operations within Afghanistan by smuggling every item on the wish list through their lengthy and porous border. Pakistan not only supplied them every material support possible, but also provided highly motivated fighters for the cause.

These fighters were recruited through rigorous preaching and indoctrination and the most obvious targets were the students of various madrassas spread all over the country. With the influx of millions of dollars, the propaganda machine spewed a twisted version of political Islam to the youth geared towards motivating them to fight the Soviets.

The religious clique was the most mobilised and viewed the situation in Afghanistan as a holy war pitting the ill-equipped but brave mujahideen against the mighty Godless soviet superpower. Western interest, most predominantly American interest, was aroused due to the psychology and politics of the Cold War which was catalysed by their defeat at the hands of the communists in Vietnam and the capitulation of the Shah of Iran to the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini.

With funding from the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE along with the US, the religious parties propagandised the war not only for a heavenly motive but also for a substantial payday. CIA’s Operation Cyclone, aimed at funding and arming the mujahideen remains one of its most costly and lengthy operations to date where the funding began with $20-30 million per year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year in 1987.

This figure doubled as the amount was being matched dollar for dollar by Saudi Arabia. The influence of extremist religious parties rose to an all-time high within Pakistan as they partnered with the Pakistani military establishment under the leadership of the zealous General Ziaul Haq.

To top it off, the Americans colluded with some of the most vicious and bloodthirsty groups they could find to fight the Soviets. There have been several analyses by journalists and academics alike, who have highlighted this simple but devastating fact.

I don’t think we really need to discuss ‘Tim Osman’ or Osama bin Laden and his relationship with the CIA. You can of course watch Charlie Wilson’s War for some insight and see Tom Hanks in action.

The problem of course was taking care of these motivated and battle hardened militants after the war was over (not to mention the three million refugees). We were dumped high and dry by the US as soon as the Soviets packed for home.

Hillary Clinton owned up to this,

According to some estimates, we were leftover with 100,000 fully armed and functional ‘jihadis’ at the end of the war. With nowhere left to go, the fight came home.

Our Kashmir experiments provided a brief engagement to the jihadis but they proved to be short lived as the world shunned us for the same reasons it loved us for, during the 80s. With drugs and Kalashnikovs in our streets, we were now stuck in our own hell.

Pakistan’s security future

Frankly speaking, Obama is right in one aspect. We are going to be stuck in this mess for years, no thanks to the American establishment and our very own Ziaul Haq. How long we choose to stay in this purgatory phase is up to us.

The Pakistani ‘establishment’ has finally realised two things and has decided to act upon them (thank God).

Firstly, we need to dump our pro-American policy and get with the New World Order where predominantly China and partly, a resurgent Russia are calling the shots at the world’s political stage. The Americans and the British have dirtied their hands so much in their own muck that certain countries are literally using hand sanitisers after shaking hands with them.

Europe is still bound by NATO but it will break free or run the risk of being engulfed in flames like Paris was a while back.

Pakistan has, with the signing of the CPEC agreements and not so secretly, handing over Gwadar to the Chinese (from pro-American hands), ushered in a new age of cooperation with China. A Chinese diplomat rightly said that Pakistan has become China’s Israel.

The army has renewed contacts with the Russians and a deal for four ‘Hind’ helicopters is underway. According to some sources, a visit by comrade Vladmir Putin is also on the cards. If he does visit, which is now only a matter of time, another nail will be driven in America’s political coffin.

Given all of this headway the second realisation is only natural. Pakistan needs to get rid of its pet ‘Black Mambas’. Zarb-e-Azb has made great inroads into the lands of the Taliban but it is not the martial front but the political front that needs to be realigned. The politicians who have harboured and used these terrorists are still trying, one way or another, to protect them from annihilation.

Sometimes it is talks, sometimes it is lack of evidence or just a miraculous change of heart, the excuses never cease.

When the political establishment cannot get rid of the Red Mosque cleric, who spews anti-state rhetoric inside the capital city nearly every day, what else do I need to say that we don’t already know or understand?

At the end of it all, Pakistan will have to make the hard choices and take the road never travelled. We will have to destroy these pseudo-religious mercenaries and get rid of all the factories that spawn them. We will have to cull their political representation in our assemblies and resist their religiously worded blackmail. Freedom of speech should not mean freedom to kill. Pakistan’s fight is the not only a country’s fight but is also in a way the fight for the roots of Islam. I guess it is the common people and not anyone else, who will decide what the outcome will be.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Why did my daughter always pick a petite doll with lustrous blonde hair?

It is pertinent for children to grow up with a realistic idea of beauty. I know and support this because being a mother of a five-year-old daughter; I have closely witnessed how the toys we choose and introduce to our children play a huge part in constructing their ideals of beauty.

My daughter always picks a petite doll with blonde lustrous hair, and she roots for Maria Sharapova rather than Serena Williams during a tennis match. Perhaps, inadvertently, the toys I choose for her has begun to limit her idea of beauty and acceptance.

Here, I would like to add another important observation as well. Diversity in toys would not only help in self-acceptance, as the designer in the new Mattel ad says,

“It’s okay to come in all shapes and size”,

But it will also play a vital role in creating tolerance and acceptance in schools, class rooms and amongst friends.

Cases of bullying in school are mostly based on physical appearance. The most stinging abuses hurled at children are ‘chota’ (short), ‘kaala’ (dark)‘mota’ (fat) and a lot more. If we introduce our children to diverse body types and complexions at an early age, it would eventually and definitely pave way for kindness and acceptance towards other children and adults as well. This could be one giant step towards a tolerant society.

The confining and constructed beauty standards in society have been under debate for quite some time now. We have been questioning the ‘the real’ idea of beauty over the ‘architectured one’. Now, we are gradually progressing towards a relatable idea of beauty; beauty which actually exists and is waiting to be recognised instead of a plastic idea of beauty which makes us strive for the impossible and leaves us unhappy for what we really are.

Fortunately, we are witnessing a revolutionary change edging towards realistic beauty standards. A country hosting one of the main centres of fashion, France, has introduced healthy body measurements for models. We have finally started to hear terms such as plus-sized and curvy models.

Big names in the industry have taken great initiatives which back the movement of real beauty such as Jaden smith, who has signed a campaign for gender fluid modelling for Gucci. Serena Williams has proven that strong is the new beautiful. Photographers are travelling the world, searching for diverse and local beauty and trying to prove that beauty isn’t what the media portrays it to be. Beauty has more depth and is more relatable as compared to what we are being fed daily by the consumerism agenda.

Amidst all these positive changes, Mattel has played a vital part as well. It has introduced three new body types and seven complexions for its new Barbie Doll range. This range will be available throughout the year.

Photo: Twitter (@Barbie)

Photo: Twitter (@diariesoflea)

The launch of these Barbie’s is being marketed through a pretty inventive hasthtag #TheDollEvolves, which I feel is worded quite aptly, since the doll has actually evolved by becoming more relatable to every race and body type.

When I met Heeru

While I was standing at the functioning Reverse Osmosis (RO) Plant in Mithi after getting a tour of the area, I was struck by the vastness of the Thar landscape. I wanted to get away from all the technical talk about water and go outside to immerse myself in that great expanse.

It was a sunny Friday morning. I stepped outside to stretch my legs. The blazing sun was decked high in the azure sky. The dessert land was peppered with dusty green shrubs. I saw a couple of young Thari women, clinging to each other, like a flock of birds. One of them saw me looking in their direction and they hurriedly scurried off. The Thari women feel shy in an outsider’s glaring presence.

I directed my gaze elsewhere.

That’s when I saw Heeru – an old woman in a colourful sari and thick white bangles. She was with her husband Rannu, whose frailty made me shudder a little.

I asked my colleague, Zubair Ashraf, who spoke Dhatki, the local language, to facilitate a conversation.

Heeru warmed up to me right away. Her boldness impressed me. After we had exchanged pleasantries she told me what she has to go through every day.

Heeru revealed that her village is located a mile away from the RO plant.

“Come, walk with me. Walk with me in my shoes and you will know how I travel for the sake of water on a daily basis from my home to this place.”

Heeru’s hair had greyed in an odd way. Silver had not seeped into her follicles. Instead the dessert sand had dyed it cinnamon. Rannu’s thick moustache looked like it had had been weaved from his wife’s hair.

She, her husband and the donkey that was acquired on rent stuck out in the bland Thar canvas. The pistachio hue of her sari dulled the green of the shrubs, and my eyes that were in awe of the land could now focus on nothing but her.

Thar has with a population of 1.2 million people and a water shortage so severe that last year 600 people died from it. Women walk great distances to come to the plant to collect water. The government plans on opening up 750 plants in the area to combat the water crisis.

Although the Mithi plant can produce almost eight million litres of drinkable water, these plants will not effectively solve Thar’s water issues, because they are not producing enough water to sufficiently meet the needs of the people.

Heeru told us that her husband had a knee problem so he couldn’t carry the water. The burden had to be borne by the mule. The feeble animal looked as if the dessert had sucked out all moisture from its body through its hooves.

I asked her why most of the people queuing up for water were women.

“Where are the men?” My voice disturbed the dessert air.

“Don’t ask me. They don’t want to work. They never fetch the water. But I am blessed, unlike the rest of the crowd, I have a husband who regularly comes to this place to get water with me.”

Her mouth broke into a wide smile. The sun had dyed her teeth orange.

She told me she lives in the village with her entire family. She has four children; two sons and two daughters. And more than a dozen grandchildren.

“Probably 18,” she said guilelessly.

My eyes traced the creases in her forehead and the wrinkles around her eyes, and I guessed that she must be over 70-years-old.

“Is there no one who can help you?” I asked.

“No. No one picks up the water bucket for me.” She adjusted the caramel coloured plastic container on her head.

“The burden lies with me. Even though I have a daughter-in-law who lives with me. She acts like she’s the mother-in-law!”

She chuckled. The sound of her laugh melted in my ear and stayed with me for a long time.

“Have you heard about Karachi? Have you ever been there?”

She perked up at the mention of the city.

“Yes, I have heard about them, but I have never visited Karachi or Hyderabad.”

She had been so absorbed in our conversation that she hadn’t noticed that her husband had gone off to the other end of the plant. Her eyes darted from side-to-side as she searched for him frantically.

My colleague teased her, “We have taken your husband away.”

Her eyes stopped moving and rested on his face. Calm seeped into her expressions.

“You couldn’t even if you tried. He is a man. He is my man. He must be here somewhere. Your entire group couldn’t take him away from me.”

With those words, she walked off. Her bare feet left impressions in the desert sand. The water container stood firmly on her head. I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by her gait. Her soft, but self-assured stride pierced through the picturesque landscape.

She turned around and asked me if I would write about her.

My thumbs flipped through the pictures I had taken of her. I smiled and replied in broken Dhatki:

“The burden lies with me.”

All Photos: Saadia Qamar

The writer is a staff correspondent who visited Tharparkar as part of a trip organised by Pakistan Council of Media Women.

from The Express Tribune Blog