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International day to end obstetric fistula: ‘Help me stay dry’

Dr Saboohi Mehdi is one of Pakistan’s 38 surgeons who are trained to repair fistulas, but few of these 38 surgeons work in this field. “It pays no money, so most don’t want to pursue this. But I can’t do anything but this.”

Dr Saboohi Mehdi is one of Pakistan’s 38 surgeons who are
trained to repair fistulas, but few of these 38 surgeons work in this
field. “It pays no money, so most don’t want to pursue this. But I
can’t do anything but this.”

KARACHI: 

She wept inconsolably, and the doctors at Koohi Goth Hospital Karachi could not understand why. They had treated this young woman in her 20s already, and they were ready to discharge her so that she could go back to her family near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

A translator was brought in who told them the real problem. “My first born is with the money-lenders as girwi (mortgage). I developed the fistula during his birth. But I was so desperate to be healed of this constant leaking that I took the chance. I needed money to reach here to get treatment.” Doctors at the hospital raised the money and sent her home. One life saved out of the nearly 5,000 women that develop the fistula every year in Pakistan. But thousands await treatment.

For fistulas, precaution is the best cure. And the cure is simple: Women of Pakistan need to deliver babies into trained hands and with basic health care facilities. This cure is still a distant dream.

Snuggled away in the outskirts of busy Karachi, Koohi Goth Hospital is Pakistan’s only hospital exclusively built to end the scourge of this preventable disease. Only, there should be not even one fistula hospital in Pakistan, because fistulas should no longer exist. “The last fistula case in England was in the 1920s. Here we are with 5,000 new cases every year,” says Dr Shershah Syed, founder of this hospital.

“If the labour is prolonged, the baby’s head can get stuck in the birth canal. If it keeps pushing against the thin wall between the bladder or rectum and the wall of the birth canal, thereby causing strain,” says Dr Suboohi Mehdi, one of the surgeons at Koohi Goth Hospital.

Another way a fistula may be formed is if, by mistake of an unskilled surgeon, a cut is caused in the bladder or rectum during surgery. “We are able to treat just 500—600 every year. Lack of awareness and no accessibility to treatment facilities is the reason,” says Dr Sajjad Ahmed, project manager Fistula Project. The project, run by Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health (PNFWH) and UNFPA, has treated some 3,400 women since it started off in 2006.

Women suffering from fistulas leak urine or stool uncontrollably. Because of this, they are socially ostracised and lead isolated lives. The fear of leaking leads to them starving themselves, which in turn leads to malnourishment-related problems. They miss basic joys like socializing and traveling by public transport.

“I have forgotten what a normal life is. All I have done the last four lives is wash clothes,” says 40-year-old Rihana from interior Sindh. Rihana cries easily; she knows her case is a complicated one. “I don’t know how I will fix her. Sometimes, the cases are so messed up by the time they come to us that there is little we can do,” says Dr Mehdi.

“The first thing we do when a lot of them reach here is give them a shower,” says the dedicated Noor Gul, a senior nurse at the hospital. Gul is now a trainer, helping train young girls who come to the Koohi Goth Midwifery School and Hostel. Once trained, these girls will go back to their communities and be able to help deliver babies safely, so that more women do not develop this disease.

In a message on this day, the President Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan (SOGP), Dr Tasneem Ashraf correctly points out that doctors must identify high risk patients for fistula development, especially pregnant women below the age of 20 years or above the age of 40 years, women who have given birth to many children, those suffering from obesity or Anemia, or having larger than normal babies.

Husbands on Board

Naz Bibi is tiny in stature but gives a resolute smile. Suffering from a fistula since the last nine years, this woman in her 40s has come to Karachi all the way from Goth Dera Bugti. She lies on a plastic sheet spread out under her, and can’t wait for the day when she will be dry once more. “Every one left me. Family, friends. I smelled all the time. I leaked non-stop. Yet, my husband was the only one in my life. He brought me here,” she says.

Naz Bibi from Dera Bugti, Balochistan, has been suffering from the condition for nine years. “Everyone left me but my husband. On way to Karachi, travelling was tough in the bus because fellow passengers were disgusted with my stench. I hope that will be over soon.”

Naz Bibi from Dera Bugti, Balochistan, has been suffering from
the condition for nine years. “Everyone left me but my husband. On way
to Karachi, travelling was tough in the bus because fellow passengers
were disgusted with my stench. I hope that will be over soon.”

“We are seeing a definite positive change in the trend. More and more husbands now support their wives through the ordeal,” says Dr Ahmed.

“My husband brought me here all the way from Sialkot,” says Fozia, who developed a fistula during the birth of her first child. “I am so excited! Once I heal, I will be able to say my namaz. I have not been able to pray for the last seven years”.

Facts in numbers

Fistula is a poor women’s disease, and the patients are 99 per cent poor women who cannot afford to get their child delivered under proper medical care.

Every year, Pakistan has 4,500—5,000 new cases of fistula. Out of these, only 500—600 reach doctors for treatment.

Pakistan has an estimated 38 surgeons who can perform fistula repair surgeries, but because this is not a lucrative line of medicine, only an estimated 15 are regularly working in this field.

Life saving info:

For information, call 0800-76200

Pakistan National Forum on Women Health

PMA House, Sir Aga Khan III Road, Karachi.

Office number: 021-32231534

Karachi:

Dr Sher Shah Syed

Koohi Goth Hospital

0315-8230856

0333-3026437

Islamabad:

Maternal and Child Care Centre (Professor Dr Ghazala Mehmood, Dr Kausar Tasneem Bangash)

Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS)

Phone: 051-9260450   Mobile: 0300-5510525

Lahore:

Professor Yasmeen Rashid, Dr Tayyaba Majeed

Gynecology ward, Lady Willingdon Hospital

Mobile: 0300-9487305

Multan:

Dr Rafeeq Anjum

Urology Ward

Mobile: 0300-6303574

Peshawar:

Professor Nasreen Ruby and Dr Tanveer Shafqat

Gynecology ward, Lady Reading Hospital

Phone: 091-5810779  Mobile: 0300-6303574

Quetta:

Dr Sadrak Jalal

Christian Hospital, Mission Road.

Mobile: 0300-8381724

Professor Saadat Khan, Dr Haq Nawaz, Dr Masha Khan

Sandeman Civil Hospital.

Mobile: 0321-8198024

Larkana:

Professor Rafi Baloch, Dr Shaista Abro

Gynecology ward, Shaikh Zayed Women Hospital

Chandka Medical College

Mobile: 0300-3415322

Fistula relief centres

Karachi:

Professor Dr Nargis Soomro, Civil Hospital

Dr Azra Jameel, Sindh Government Qatar Hospital

Orangi Town, Karachi.

Hyderabad:

Professor Dr Pushpa Sri Chand

Isra University Hospital

Dr Nabeela Hassan

Liaquat University of Medical Health Sciences

Abbottabad:

Dr Rahat Ansa

Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Women and Children Health Centre

Nawabshah:

Dr Razia Bahadur

Peoples Medical College, Civil Hospital

0345-2750470; 0300-2162392

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2014.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/712365/international-day-to-end-obstetric-fistula-help-me-stay-dry/

Slide show: http://tribune.com.pk/multimedia/slideshows/712507/

Help me stay dry – Stories of hope in pictures (Photo credits: Faisal Sayani)

Hits and misses: Developments indicate better days for women’s rights

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: February 23, 2014

http://tribune.com.pk/story/675083/hits-and-misses-developments-indicate-better-days-for-womens-rights/

hits n

Discussing Sindh, experts shared that enrolment of girls in schools is going up and there is an increased focus on funding female literacy projects. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI:
Somewhere in Pakistan, a woman is struggling to get a CNIC, but NADRA only accepts a biometric system of identification whereby her thumb must be scanned. Her thumbs are too chafed due to constant work in agricultural fields with sickles.
Another woman in Pakistan is sucked into an armed conflict situation. Her son is taken away at a tender age by people she knows will misuse him, but when it comes to the peace process, her opinion is not taken into account. At another location in Pakistan, a jirga of men sits and decides a woman’s fate, while other women who are members of the community cannot share their perspective
The questions and issues are multiple. The achievements, challenges and opportunities in this regard were discussed recently at the one-day Provincial Consultation of Sindh for the State Report on Beijing+20. Held on February 21, it was organised by the National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW), Shirkatgah and Rozan. It aimed at involving all stakeholders including NGOs, parliamentarians and activists.
NCSW is leading the process of compiling the State Report on Beijing Plan for Action, which is an agenda for women’s empowerment. In this, NCSW is being co-facilitated by Shirkatgah and Rozan.
Beneath a whole lot of jargon that development sector professionals typically use, the underlying idea was resounding: what will it take for humanity to realise that salvation, progress and development are all clutched tight in the fist of one single solution – empowering the mother, the daughter, the wife, the sister. It is a little difficult for a journalist to understand what it exactly means by “best practice” and how can a 100 plus people know all the UN resolutions and Pakistan’s legislations regarding women by heart. Yet, the sincerity is obvious in such meets. And a lot of good is coming out of them.
Just talking of Sindh, experts shared that girl-child enrolment in schools is going up. There is an increased focus on funding for female literacy projects, including women with minor disabilities. The Domestic Violence Act and laws pertaining to acid burning, as well as the anti-women practices acts are promising. There is increasing talk of involving women in peace processes as equal stakeholders, even if they are unaware that UN Resolution 1325 requires us to do it. Land allotment schemes are tilting towards including female peasants as small land-holders.
Yet, as discussed in presentations given by the many groups that had been given different topics pertaining to women’s empowerment, there are many ifs and buts. For example, when talking of the encouraging presence of women in the field of media, it was pointed out that the growth of women in this field should not be only horizontal but also vertical, whereby more women in media should be in decision-making key positions. It was discussed that the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women stated 20 years ago that “violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace”. Much remains to be achieved but it appears that Pakistan is at least on the journey towards a better future for its women.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2014.

KLF 2014: Identity & literature

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: February 8, 2014

http://tribune.com.pk/story/668919/klf-2014-identity-literature/

668919-thKarachiliteraturefestival-1391808671-464-640x480

In a country where maybe just three per cent of the population can truly read, reflect upon and understand literature written in English, is it worrisome that the best minds of the country are increasingly tilting towards writing in English.
KARACHI: Intelligent looking men engrossed in animated conversations with women clad in crisp pure cottons with motifs inspired by Pakistan’s traditional arts, wearing kolhapuri chappals and sporting white stylised hair, the venue is teeming with Pakistan’s intelligentsia. For once, even if for a short three days, the topics of discussion here are education, language, literature and the arts.
But the bigger issues Pakistan is plagued with, like security and sectarianism, have a way of sneaking into the books being sold and the conversations taking place. For Pakistanis, there is no escape from certain acetone realities.
Inside the room labeled “007” at the Beach Luxury Hotel, the answers to some tricky questions are being handled by the participants. And why not. This particular session at the 5th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF 2014) is titled “Identity and literature: New trends in Pakistani writing in English”.
Pakistani writers writing in English are making a mark globally. Books from the most beautiful minds of Pakistan, arguably, are from names like Muhammad Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid. A concerned member of the audience says that these books talk about a girl slapping her grandmother, a woman having a full-fledged extra marital affair and detailed accounts of a rape. Are these books depicting the average Pakistani’s thought process? Are the characters of these books ones the average Pakistani can identify with? Are Pakistan’s cultural sensibilities being taken into account here or are we seeing the emergence of literature targeted at a specific readership?
Pakistanis realities are fast changing. This is reflected in the works of its writers. Participant Claire Chambers whose expertise is in Pakistani writing in English, talked briefly about how 1971 onwards, Pakistan saw a surge of literature inspired by the Fall of Dacca, and later by the Zia regime. Not long after came what Chambers explained as being literary works that were pre-cursors to 9/11. These are interesting times for writers, it was discussed, with genre-blending being done.
In a country where maybe just three per cent of the population can truly read, reflect upon and understand literature written in English, is it worrisome that the best minds of the country are increasingly tilting towards writing in English, asks a concerned member of the audience. The moderator, writer Bilal Tanweer, and speaker, writer Rukhsana Ahmed, tend to disagree, debating that some of the best literary work in Pakistan is probably being produced in Urdu and regional languages but the money is in works produced in English, and works in English end up bagging the spotlight.
In the words of Ahmed, writing in English has grown exponentially and these works are not disconnected from the identity and realities of Pakistanis, with young writers like Tanweer handling tough subjects like violence in a visceral manner. There is palpable optimism about works of these writers. But the optimism remains cautious.
Read more: KLF2014

A nasty, brutish and short life in a Hobbesian Karachi

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: January 11, 2014

http://tribune.com.pk/story/657569/a-nasty-brutish-and-short-life-in-a-hobbesian-karachi/

khi hobbesian

“Karachi is going back to tribalism,” said Dr Irsan. PHOTO MOHAMMAD SAQIB/EXPRESS/FILE
Karachi’s is a “Hobbesian society” declared Dr Manzoor Irsan of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology at the South Asian Cities Conference on Friday.
“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” This terribly apt reference to philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the architect of social contract theory, surely carried a double meaning for the academics and their audience as it came a day after one of Karachi’s toughest crime-fighters was killed in a bomb attack. Indeed, crime was on their minds as the thinkers also pored over demographic transitions, bulging populations and infrastructure solutions for the throbbing metropolis that is Karachi.
The session titled “Urban Institutional Development & Governance” kicked off with Peter Ellis, a lead economist at the World Bank, sharing his experience of Indonesia’s urbanization and its implications for Pakistan. With 54 per cent of Indonesia’s population now in urban areas, the similarities between Karachi and Jakarta are jarring. But there are lessons to learn as well, as Indonesia has seen that districts with better connectivity show higher income growth.

In contrast was Dr Irsan’s presentation whose disgruntled tone was obvious from its title: “Karachi: The administrative black hole of Pakistan”. In his opinion, politics shape institutions, and unless the politics of any city is cleansed of ethnicity and sectarianism, cities and life in them cannot improve. “Karachi is going back to tribalism. If this continues, people like you and me will escape, because humans need peace to thrive,” he said. “Extractive societies like Karachi’s don’t grow. Karachi is stuck in a Malthusian trap.” (Roughly put, it is the idea that gains in income per person through technological advances are inevitably lost through subsequent population growth.)
Other speakers such as Shahnaz Arshad, a senior urban specialist with the World Bank, focused on incentives to improve local governance performance for municipal service delivery. Urban planner Farhan Anwar spoke of “Visioning a sustainable City Karachi: Landmarks for a new urban governance construct”.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the session came from research associate Adil Sohail from Iqra University who talked about E-governance through enterprise resource planning. He explained ‘electronic governance’ as the use of information and communication technologies to enhance governance. His solution-oriented approach described phases of implementing E-governance models and ways in which they can facilitate local bodies in particular.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2014.

A few good “F” words for the new year

By Farahnaz Zahidi

new year fireworks

Last year sped by just like all the years before it. Glorious on many counts, it also had its downsides that come with the package of any given chunk of time. Standing in my balcony, braving the rare chilly Karachi winds against my face, I am taking inventory of the year gone by. Some unresolved resolutions are jumbled up in the knapsack of my mind while some new resolutions have also found their way in.

‘What are going to be my focal points in the year to come?’ I wonder.

Somehow, a lot of ‘F’ words spring up in my mind – good ones, I must add.

Family: They may be irritating, annoying and an eternal encroachment on my personal space, but they are what makes life worth living for me. They demand a lot, but also give much more in return. If there is anything that is the ‘real’ thing in life, it’s your family; and if the real stuff sucks out the best out of you, it also gives you the best life has to offer.

So in the coming year, more cooking for my daughter; more walks (and simultaneous talks) in the park with my partner in crime; more evening tea trysts with my mother, whose eyes light up when she sees me; more patient time-spending with my sisters, who feel I ‘need to be more available on Skype and phone’ ; more brainless laughter over childhood jokes and discussions about Pakistani politics with my brothers; more hanging out with my nieces and nephews (a price one pays for being the youngest aunt); more one-dish dinners with relatives, and lastly, more visits to the distant aunts and cousins.

I mention all these people because they will be the first to arrive if I am in trouble. I know for a fact that they will stand by me even when I have a runny nose and a swollen face owing to allergies.

Friends: What could make life more enjoyable than the company of a good friend? As the years speed by, friends become even more important than before, and here I mean all kinds of friends; the ones who pump up my ego by giving me a healthy dose of compliments on how I look and how well I write; the ones who can say anything directly to my face when I need to hear it because they have known me since I couldn’t even tie my shoe laces; the ones who will swing by my house uninformed, plop themselves on the jhoola (swing) in my lounge and tell me their sob stories till my head spins; the ones who will go all motherly on me and make me tea and kebabs when I go to them in need of a pep-talk; the just-for-fun friends with whom I go out to share crazy laughter over coffee; those who are ready to mentor me in unsaid ways; the ones who will accompany me to the Imran Khan jalsa; the ones who call me a day before the jalsa, worried sick that I am going to a public place, and tell me ‘it’s so dangerous, you idiot’.

So in the coming year, more time-spending with my besties, if that’s possible, because they are already a major time-drain – one that is so worth it.

Food: Being a hardcore foodie, this one should actually top the list, but this year I plan to have yummier but healthier food. More concentration on fish, fruit, figs, and fresh greens instead of the regular doses of nihari, garlic-mayo fries, cheese dripping pasta and cheesecakes that all go and deposit themselves straight on the ‘troubled zones’.

So food, my first love, you are (still) on top of my priority list, baby. I am going to relish your each morsel and not gulp you down in a hurry. I will enjoy my cups of tea steaming hot and not let them get cold while other things, like phone calls and door bells, get in the way and destroy the taste of my chai because I have to micro-wave it endless times. I will also not serve food in pots, pans and degchis. I will make an effort to garnish it with ginger, coriander, parmesan, and fresh cream. Food will be a work of art and a sinless joy this year (ok family, don’t get your hopes high!).

Fitness: Looking good, feeling that extra spring in your step, experiencing that non-lazy bouncy feeling that makes you upbeat every morning – that’s what fitness gives you. And this poor ‘F’ was so neglected last year. So here is a solemn resolve; more healthy food, more walks and aerobics, less stressing, and most importantly more sleeping on time. Intermittently, let me enjoy a few last days of couch-potatoing, brooding over useless stuff, and sleeping at 2 am.

Fun: Being a serious-about-life and I-will-make-a-difference kind of person has a downside; you become too purposeful for your own good and at times forget to do brainless stuff just for fun. Things like watching an old Govinda movie, going out impulsively to have chaat, sleeping in late and buying yourself an extra pair of shoes just take a back seat.

So, I plan to have more fun next year, which would incorporate all the above mentioned ‘Fs’ but also include writing just for fun; some frivolous blogging, not merely journalistic endeavours that reek of activism, but also stuff like food blogging and a bit of dabbling with utterly emotional romantic poetry that makes my heart sing. Sounds like a plan!

Faith: My mainstay, my anchor, which sometimes gets buried under endless chores and to-dos. I feel that my time has drifted away with nothing actually useful done when I spend less time in prayer and a strange weariness clouds my happiness when I talk less to Allah (on the prayer mat or otherwise). So more of prayers and zikr in the coming year, and of doing things that will please God, which will definitely entail making His creations happy; serving, loving and spending (both money and time) on people I come across in my life.

Hence, my ‘F’ list comes to an end with Faith, and my faith says that I do not know for sure if I even have the next 24 hours to live. However, I have hope in His Mercy, and I will strive to live a life of better quality in the days and years to come, and leave the rest to Allah.

New Year – Bring it on.

Published here: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/9618/a-few-good-%E2%80%9Cf%E2%80%9D-words-for-the-new-year/
Published: December 31, 2011

Winters – Bluesy, Stingy and Oh-So-Karachi

Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam on 20, Jan 2012

http://blogs.thenews.com.pk/blogs/2012/01/winters-%E2%80%93-bluesy-stingy-and-oh-so-karachi/

Early morning. The sunshine is cold but warm. The streets are slightly foggy……not heavily laden like Lahore’s…..not piercingly clear like Quetta. Just slightly foggy. KESC has forgotten to shut off the street lights. A few people on bikes are whizzing past in worn out woolen caps, wearing flimsy jackets or without-sleeves sweaters. Some are even, shockingly, in just a tee shirt, somehow surviving. I am driving past the Defence Golf Club. At the side of the road, a group of six labourers is sitting, basking in the sun, sharing a joke as a chaai wala on a cycle hands them tiny cups of tea. As my car moves towards Sea View, the breathtaking beach of Karachi steals my heart yet again. Early in the morning, it is not crowded. I park the car, with a take-away chaai in a disposable cup from the infamous Café Clifton. A lone camel trudges along in a melancholy manner, looking bored. A number of people are taking a walk or a run along the beach. The breeze against my face is cold…..bearably cold….and beautiful. In a mysterious way, no other city I have experienced changes in terms of what it feels and looks like in winter, compared to Karachi. Winters a la Karachi – short, unpredictable and utterly beautiful.

Good things come in small packages. Just like the winters in Karachi. They last hardly a month, which is why Karachiites celebrate and relish them. Ever after is boring, as are the almost never-ending winters in other cities. Karachi winters show you a jhalak, have you pining for more, and stay in your system.

Good things are also spontaneous and unpredictable. Just like the winters in Karachi. For on one day, we might write off winters and say winter is over and the springy mid-summer feel is back in our city, but the very next day, or hour, the “Quetta winds” may lash back at you. You know that from the sudden crackle of dryness on your skin and the parched feeling in your throat in the middle of the night.

Good things are also politically correct – they are anti-extremism. Which is why I love Karachi’s winters. Moderate. Bearable. Agreeable. Comfortable. You can use your winter wardrobe, shawls and light sweaters, but only in Karachi will you find a woman surviving in a lawn ka jora with a shawl in December. You can wear your boots and coat shoes, but you can also survive in your sandals from Charles & Keith or studded chappals from Zamzama. And we Karachiites are so cute…..those of us who have a decent winter wardrobe will wear it even if it’s 15 degrees outside. Whatever we do, we do it in style.

The new food haven of Pakistan in terms of variety (with the debatable dethroning of Lahore as THE food-lovers’ paradise), winter brings a new zing to the culinary experience of Karachi. You will see inexpensive munchies like roasted peanuts and steamed shaqarkandi and karari gajjak and dry fruits. And you will see thailaas of coffee and soap. Hot nihari and gola kababs are eaten in a jiffy, lest the ghee on top freezes to a crust. A rise in the sales of paye on meat shops is seen. Barbeque is being done on terraces. Halwaas make life a sensory joy. Dinners and socializing reaches a crescendo, which means more food in every possible way. Breakfasts, brunches, lunches, high-teas, dinners…..and the in-between and after dinner coffee sessions, with finger food on the side. Bliss!

But perhaps the best part of winters in Karachi is that people, in addition to the temperature, seem to cool down. Faces on the street somehow smile more, as does the face looking at me in the mirror. Less agitated, less heated are the temperaments. It goes without saying that winters are Karachi’s honeymoon period. The mercury will climb higher in the months to come. We all know it. That’s the reality. But when have reality checks ever stopped anyone from enjoying the moment? So sip that coffee, drape that shawl tight, bask in the soft wintry sunshine and enjoy it while it lasts.

In conversation with Bilal Tanweer: Between literature and life, he’d choose life any day

By Farahnaz Zahidi

bt

KARACHI:
When I met Bilal Tanweer for the first time a few years ago, the soft-spoken writer left me a bit nervous. Now, as I read through his brilliant debut novel The scatter here is too great, I know it was his deep observation that intimidated me back then. He doesn’t miss a thing. Having gotten to know him better, Bilal no longer daunts me. His writing still does.
He takes time to open up in an interview. In that sense, the 30-year-old author is a bit like the city of lights itself. His debut novel is Karachi-centric. In the midst of multiple characters leading inter-connected lives, Bilal is the qissa-goh — the storyteller who tells stories that are usually mired in the debris of bomb blasts.
The scatter here is too great shows a love-hate relationship of the characters with Karachi. They accept Karachi with all its battle scars. For Bilal, this city is still home, even though he has been living in the bubble of academic campuses for many years. “I am from Karachi. This book is an outcome of my engagement with the city. It speaks to me, resonates with me. The characters, their languages — all are from Karachi.”
In his words, Karachi is a hard city which has violence and fear but there is a flip side to it. “Because of the large number of migrants, it affords a certain freedom, a certain anonymity. Karachi is a city of contrasts.”
The scenes where the characters travel by bus in Karachi, have clandestine meetings in a Suzuki FX, or go spend holidays with their naani, will speak to every Karachiite. “I am from a middle-class background. That’s the world I’ve known. So it is a conscious decision that I have worded it in this way.”
Launched recently, the book is being received very well. Some of the best publishers in the world have agreed to take on this Pakistani writer’s first literary effort. “My best hopes for this book have been met. I am deeply grateful. Anything more that comes my way would be a bonus,” Tanweer says with humility.
The book comes at a time when anything with the hashtag of Pakistan and terrorism quickly catapults to global attention, yet the book is clearly honest and is not aimed at a particular readership. One can clearly foresee that this novel has the potential to be adapted into a screenplay for a feature film.
“The first reader is the writer himself. As long as my writing is honest to my experience of the world, I am satisfied,” says Tanweer. Almost offended by the idea that someone who writes about the problems of Pakistan may be doing it for instant success, he remarks, “Fiction writers may use these events, but that just means this is a part of their experience, which comes into their work. I don’t think any of them is writing for an imaginary reader in NYC. I am certainly not.”
Bilal does not deny the autobiographical touches in the book. “One big reason I write is so that I can give away a part of myself.”Pouring a lot of one’s self into a work of literature is not easy. “It took me five years to write this novel. The nature of the craft of fiction writing is different from journalism,” shares the writer. Tanweer, who has tried his hand at the latter, and has used that experience to write soliloquies of ‘the writer’ who is one of the key characters in the book. “In journalism, the events are important. But in fiction writing, the writer uses the events to show how they affect the characters. It’s hard but I quite love it. “
Bilal, who is currently teaching fiction writing at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, agrees that this is, in some ways, a good time for Pakistani writers. Apart from international attention which helps get better publishers, there are other benefits. “There is so much up in the air. As writers, we resultantly have a lot more to play around with.”
The book’s treatment of violence and how it affects people’s lives is powerful.
“In times of crisis, we are faced with the possibility of death. That helps us filter the essential from the non-essential. Artists and writers are supposed to take on subjects like war, death and the fragility of the human body.”
While writing is everything to him, Bilal has no ambiguity that living is a far more complex thing than reflection and writing. “The really hard thing is living as a good person. Inside, most of us are petty and insecure. It is far harder to lead a decent life than to write a great book.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2013.

Photo: Aurangzeb Haneef

http://tribune.com.pk/story/646216/the-storyteller-between-literature-and-life-hed-choose-life-any-day/#.Uq_uE0tdUho.facebook

Book review: The Scatter Here Is Too Great – of guns and roses
By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: December 15, 2013
Available at Liberty Books for Rs795.

As I picked up Bilal Tanweer’s much-anticipated debut novel, each page left me searching for a breather. A break from the profundity. From the cluster of sentences that make one stop, breathe deeper, look away from the book, come back to the page and dog-ear it. Parts that one knows will come up as quotes when one searches for the author’s name on the internet.
But then isn’t that the nature of the city in which his stories are set? Karachi never gives one a break. In one word it is ‘intense’. The Scatter Here Is Too Great, similarly, is not light reading.
The novel reads like a collection of short stories, in which different characters have interconnected experiences — experiences that are born out of the city and an event that affects everyone: a bomb blast. One special treat of the book is that each story has a unique voice and the reader moves from a four-year-old to a romantic teenager to a grieving father to other characters and back.

One cannot help but imagine these stories like the scattered fragments of a car’s shattered windscreen, a metaphor for this city.
Nothing that Tanweer is telling us is new. From Cantt station to Lyari to Clifton Beach, everything is familiar but told in a way which exposes the city to the reader in a new and meaningful manner. One almost wants to take the mini-bus all over again and have chai at a café outside Cantt station. The descriptions are real.
The first chapter in the voice of a small boy captures you instantly, also because of the jarringly simple language, like “I also left school because we had become poor. Baba lost his job at the office where they printed children’s storybooks… The old uncle Baba worked for was shot while walking out of a bank. Two people on a motorcycle tried to snatch his money. When he refused, they shot him.” The writer has not relied on heavy language anywhere. The themes are complex but the language is colloquial, which gives it a human feel.
It tells you the difficulties of young romance which raises its invincible head even in the most difficult of backdrops like an ever-vigilant nani and a lower middle-class setting in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It displays a myriad of relationships. Particularly noteworthy is the difficult relationship of a father and son, when for the father, his ‘purpose’ becomes more important than his family.

Handling the subjects of violence and sectarianism intelligently, the author has not used the predictable method of using imagery that relies on the ethnic or sect-wise description of the characters. There is, thus, a subtle but strong message that the human experience is a shared one, especially in dark times, irrespective of where one’s family trees find roots.
In a time when violence in Pakistan gets global attention, it is a relief that the book does not seem to be targeted at a certain kind of readership. Tanweer is writing for himself and for Karachi. It is, thus, an honest book which makes the reader connect to it instantly.
The novel cannot be reduced to being labeled as just about Karachi. It tells stories that allow the reader to look beyond the headlines. Tanweer has managed to make us look at what we already know in a new way: “These stories, I realised, were lost. Nobody was going to know that part of the city but as a place where a bomb went off. The bomb was going to become the story of this city.” The Scatter Here Is Too Great is telling these untold and real stories. And we are listening.
Farahnaz Zahidi heads the Features desk at The Express Tribune. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 15th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/644606/book-review-the-scatter-here-is-too-great-of-guns-and-roses/

The danger of being a journalist in Pakistan

Published: August 17, 2013

Express Media employees and security personnel gather at the entrance of the office after the attack. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

My biggest high as a journalist is my byline. Having been a journalist for a fairly long time, the excitement has not lessened.

The day I know a story of mine will be published there is a wave of anticipation from the night before. With half-open eyes, I snap off the rubber band holding the rolled up newspaper in the morning, search for my story, and revisit it many times a day.

It is not simply narcissism, though every journo and writer is a bit of a self-centred narcissist inside. George Orwell got it right when he laid down the four motives to write in his essay “Why I write” and placed sheer egoism at the top because as he said “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

I will not digress into a debate about the difference between a journalist and a writer here. Somewhere, the lines are diffused and they tend to overlap.

But in a country like Pakistan and the times we live in, the joy of seeing one’s name in print becomes even more profound. Journalists of both print media and broadcast risk their lives, literally, and get not much money in return.

It is an underpaid profession at the end of the day. Only people with an insatiable desire to speak out are good reporters.

In a nutshell, the byline or the name of the journalists means everything to them.

Only yesterday, at work, I was talking to a colleague who just wrote a daring piece. “I was told I shouldn’t put in my name in this write-up,” she said. “But of course you did,” I said. We smiled at each other. We all have been there.

But today’s (Friday’s) attack on the office of Express Media is more than 24 bullets, two injured people and an act of cowardice. It is something, I fear, which will lessen the number of bylines even further.

It will not just be the attackers who will be unnamed persons. Very soon, the people who dig out the stories that tell you what’s happening in the world around us will be veiled, shrouded and stacked up under umbrella terms like “media” and “correspondent”.

I fear, very soon, the perilous nature of the Pakistani journalism will rob us of the one satisfaction we have.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/591368/when-journalists-become-unknown-people/

 

Where are you, Mister Prime Minister, when your people need you?

March 5, 2013

A family affected by the Abbas Town blasts mourns over their loss, while Mr Prime Minister plans his trip to India. PHOTO: REUTERS

Headlines, juxtaposed, stare back at me in the morning paper. I am reading it, still shaken by the events of the Abbas Town Blasts. The sky on this Tuesday morning is tinted a strange reddish strain. Maybe it’s just in the minds of traumatised Karachiites who cannot get over the blood spilled in Abbas Town– blood that has still not dried.

Fumes of that blood are now being breathed in also by residents of the hitherto protected upscale neighbourhoods of Karachi who live in fear of their daughters and wives being kidnapped. We are talking about the blood of the (at least) 48 dead and 140 injured - shops and homes burnt, families displaced, children lost.

Broken toys and burnt textbooks and scattered around. Glass panes through which they used to see the world are now lying as broken shards. Torn dupattas, molten electric wires, blistered dreams and mangled photographs of families smiling on Eid decorate the ground.

Yes, the sky is a little reddish today, especially after the funeral procession also came under fire. Even the dead can no longer rest in peace, not because of their own sins, but because of the sins of those who are still alive and armed.

And as a resident of this bloody city (literally), I somehow cringed at this headline:

“Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to visit shrine in Ajmer Shareef, India”

Really, PM sahab?

With all due respect, it is not your going to Ajmer Shareef that is the problem, sir. Refreshing spirituality, washing sins and praying is as much your right, sir, as is mine. It is the timing! It is the fact that you never cared to visit the site of the blast. Neither did any other bigwigs, the maai baaps, the rulers and movers and shakers who rule and move while our very fabric is shaken up.

However, enough has been said about that. We, the citizens of Pakistan, know now more than ever that we are on our own – abandoned, unclaimed. We are independently left alone to clean up the mess after every carnage. The message “abb khud kuch karna paray ga” (we must do something now) stares at us in the face.

We really don’t have a choice. We no longer trust the promises of getting Rs 1,500,000 each for the families of the dead and Rs 1,000,000 each for the injured. Even if, as part of a huge hypothesis, the amount reaches the deserving hands, will it bring the dead back to life? And wouldn’t it be a band-aid too late, even if it does arrive?

Meanwhile, emotionally drained and angry Karachiites channelise their anger like they should. They vent on social networking sites and outside dhaabaas incessantly, for the sake of their own sanity.

They agitatedly argue about how to react to this; they debate the “what next”; they talk about the ugly head of civil war expected to raise its head. They talk about how it is finally a sad fact even the most patriotic ones of us have to accept that yes, I’d rather let my child become a part of Pakistan’s brain drain.

Let the mass exodus begin. For it is no longer time to say “kaheen Karachi Beirut na bann jaye”. Guess what. We’re already there, but are in denial.

Still, all is not lost! We, the Karachiites, right from Dalmia to Defence,are doing what should be done, and what little is in our power. We stage peaceful protests and raise awareness and collect donations in cash and kind. Our students are tear-gassed and baton-charged and arrested for protesting because the real criminals are a league above – they cannot be laid a finger upon.

The awaam still continues to be resilient. Within 24 hours, 60 bags of blood are donated just outside the phase IV Imambargah Yasrab. Within 24 hours, one million rupees are collected. Within 24 hours, shelters are set up and food, medicines and clothes are reaching the effected. Expats are desperately trying to wire money across to Pakistan. On Sunday night, I got a call from a friend who was weeping because she, after volunteering all day for the victims, still wanted to do more, and wanted to know how she can do it.

I see friends at work rushing out for an hour between work timings to donate blood. I know of parents who train their young children by making them pack boxes for the effected.

It’s not much, we all know, but this is all we can do.

What is most heart-warming is how the miscreants lost a battle there and then when Sunnis of the area opened their homes for their Shia brothers. Abbas Town blasts may be the worst that has happened top Karachi recently, but may bring out the best!

On Monday night, a friend messaged me, sharing how many members of the Shia community who had saved up money to go for Ziarat to Karbala, have decided to donate the money towards the rebuilding of the damaged homes. There are firstly whispers and then more vocal suggestions that money saved for Umrah could be used for the same – suggestions coming from Sunnis.

Mr Prime Minister, you and your comrades could learn a thing or two here, don’t you think, sir?

For me, the biggest silver lining is this: with each consecutive catastrophe, we become braver and more vocal and fearless.

We no longer speak in hushed tones. We are saying no to silence as a nation.

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter @FarahnazZahidi

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/16342/where-are-you-mister-prime-minister-when-your-people-need-you/

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