RSS Feed

Political Conspiracy Theories – Are they true?

Who is adding fuel to the gossip fire by leaking out snippets of news…

Conspiracy theories keep surfacing

“Tabdeeli” till now connoted “change” – change from corruption to transparency, from failure of governance to success of governance, from the rule of chosen ones in power to rule of law. But in the recent past, the word has begun implying major changes that may potentially change the very face of how the Islamic Republic of Pakistan functions.

Search for the hashtag #PresidentialSystem and thousands of social media shares will pop up. Try and google “18th Amendment” and impending volte-face seems to be the hottest topic, online and off. There are theories, and then there are conspiracy theories. Pakistan, meanwhile, seems to be sitting on a ticking time bomb, waiting for “Change”, all owing to political hearsay.

Everyone seems so sure of what is going to happen, but no one knows where these whispers are originating from. Perhaps from Pakistan’s sugar daddies belonging to echelons of power talking in upper tier clubs over rounds of hors d’oeuvres and Cuban cigars. The words uttered by them may have been taken as the gospel truth by overhearers, or over-zealous political analysts and media persons may have taken on the mantle of “sources” and begun tweeting about it or taking polls on it. Trust Pakistan’s penchant for fake news.

The news has spread. And everyone seems sure that Islamic Presidential System is deemed to happen, whether they are for it or against it. But is Imran Khan ready to go through the grueling processes that would be required to actually become the President? The legislation, the referendum, getting a two-thirds majority – is this all even doable?

Overlapping with the issue of the Presidential System is the question of the 18th Amendment which would have to be rolled back if, and that is a big if, the Presidential System is to move past tweets and table talk and become a reality.

Since 2010, with the advent of the 18th Amendment, Pakistan’s Parliamentary System is showing, if nothing else, the benefit that elected governments have been able to complete their term. Getting rid of the 18th Amendment may ensure more power to the President and more transparency with the federal government at the helm of decision-making, but it will have the side-effect of perpetuating a sense of victimhood and being wronged, particularly in Sindh, where the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leadership will use it for political traction to the maximum.

Search for the hashtag #PresidentialSystem and thousands of social media shares will pop up. Google “18th Amendment” and impending volte-face seems to be the hottest topic.

But are all conspiracy theories just conspiracy theories? Does the political grapevine actually have some substance as the fuel of the rumours it is churning out? The stepping down of one of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) key figures, Asad Umar, from the position of Finance Minister on April 18th, has rattled the political equilibrium. More so because the tittle-tattle seems to have some truth to it. With more reshuffling expected in Khan’s cabinet, one cannot any more ignore political speculations, even if one does not believe them all.

Whoever is adding fuel to the gossip fire by leaking out snippets of news that are meant to stay under cover is achieving the possible purpose — that an air of uncertainty and a feeling of political instability should linger in the air. What will happen next, and how shall it affect the average Pakistani? The questions are pertinent. Meanwhile, conspiracy theories keep surfacing. And Pakistan waits with baited breath.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/conspiracy-theories-keep-surfacing/#.XMAsQ-gzbIU

Civic sense of Pakistanis – It’s a 360 degrees circle

What you do WILL come back to you. It has to be considered “why” they are doing it and you are not? What made the difference?

It’s a 360 degrees circle

Poetic much? Borderline Rumi-esque? No, this is not Rumi. This is the scribe of this write-up who is frustrated every day at the gross violations of social ethics, but unknowingly might have many a time committed the same violations in less aware days of her life. She may have driven ahead on a red traffic signal, and may have thrown a plastic wrapper on the street, and may have not gone to exercise her right to vote, and may have not closed the unnecessarily running water tap, and may have gone ahead of her place in a queue. The writer of this write-up is a tad bit more “civil” now, because she is more aware about what entails civic sense.

This is why such write-ups are important. This is why we must speak up about these things. But kindly so, because all of us have at some stage in our lives been less civil.

The concept of having civic sense is both simple and ancient. The biblical Golden Rule and the well-known Prophetic tradition in Islam say, in essence, the same thing: do as you would be done by, and do not wish for others what you would not wish for yourself.

So here goes — I’m going to use a list of strong words I don’t usually use, like hate, loathe, detest, etc. I hate the polythene bags that drift in the breeze and gather in front of my gate every evening. I detest the sound of the water suction pump from neighbouring homes that suck away the little water that comes in the waterline for Karachiites, and I hate that we have to keep replacing the no-return valve in the underground water tank to ensure this little water stays in my tank.

I loathe the squirts of reddish brown saliva mixed with paan ka katha which I have to endure on streets, or when climbing up a flight of stairs on government offices. I feel revolted by the carelessness with which young boys on motorcycles crisscross through traffic jams without helmets, and I feel even more revolted when I see a man wearing a helmet on a motorbike, but his family — the pillion riders — sitting behind him with no protection for their skulls. I am unable to stomach the attitude of entitlement that the rich and famous have when they break queues at the bank or at the airport. I feel annoyed when people come too close in public spaces and do not respect proximity. And I despise the fact that people try to justify systemic corruption in governance, and feel it is okay to have political apathy and not exercise their right of casting a vote at the ballot.

Civic sense is one of the most important part of ethics and set of life skills we need to learn and teach. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a 360 degrees circle in society.

Yet, again, I wonder how many times I have been the one others may have hated, loathed, detested or despised. How many times I may have instantaneously become an emblem of civility the moment I landed at a country other than Pakistan where the rule of law, especially laws pertaining to shared spaces and existences, are respected more.

Also read: If everybody is doing it, why can’t we?

Civic sense is one of the most important part of ethics and set of life skills we need to learn and teach. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a 360 degrees circle in society. What you do WILL come back to you. So it may not be enough to just look down at those who are abusing out loud or leaving offal on the road after ritual animal slaughter on Eid-ul-Azha or urinating near the wall. It has to be considered “why” they are doing it and you are not? What made the difference? I think we all know the answer. And in that answer lies the solution.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/360-degrees-circle/#.XMArcugzbIU

Not enough daycare facilities

The need is real but compared with population increase and urbanisation, there are not enough daycare centres

Not enough daycare facilities

A half of Pakistan’s population is female. An increasing number of females, especially in urban Pakistan, are working professionally as the second earner, and even sometimes the first, whether it is in the formal or informal sector.

Women also are the ones who bear children breastfeed them, and wean them off to solid food. The initial years in particular are the years in which children need constant monitoring and vigilant care. This is where the need for daycare centres comes in.

By law, all organisations across the board in Pakistan are supposed to have daycare arrangements to enable working mothers, and even fathers, to join work after maternity and paternity leave, but very few abide by the laws.

Farhat Parveen, Executive Director at National Organisation for Working Communities (NOWCommunities), explains how the provision for a nursery or daycare for children in law has been there since long in the Factories Act 1934 (now the Act of 2018).

This provision should be there for children as young as infants to the age of six years. “While things are getting better and some public educational institutes like Karachi University and some private organisations like Aga Khan University (AKU), PILER, HANDS, and many corporate organisations have some facilities in this regard, it is not enough,” says Parveen.

With not enough daycare facilities available in-house in organisations, the centres in the private sector are most sought after. Ayesha Amin, a working mother of a four-year-old, has had a good experience with them and has utilised these facilities, especially for summer camps, but regrets that in Pakistan there aren’t enough daycare facilities, especially in urban areas. “There are not enough options for lower income groups from what I know; but then there may be more family support in joint family systems. The more affluent the grandparents and family are, the busier and more social they are too.”

In less affluent areas, working mothers are not less in number, whether they go out to work as salesperson or domestic house help. In the absence of any proper daycare centres, women in these localities leave their children with relatives or neighbours who can keep an eye on the children till they come back from work, and pay them agreed upon sums as remuneration. Others bring back teenage siblings or cousins from villages for a few months, giving them food, lodging and some pocket money to see over their children.

In Amin’s opinion, there is a greater need for in-house daycares which Pakistani organisations lack. “If they really want women to work, then it is pretty inconvenient for a parent to first drop a child to a school and go to their own workplace, pick the child from school and then drop to daycare and collect again in the evening, especially in a city like Karachi where commute and traffic is a huge factor in planning anything,” she says, speaking for many working parents.

Fariduddin Siddique, an engineer by training, established “Bright Minds Learning Hub and Daycare,” along with his wife, some two years ago in the upscale Clifton locality of Karachi. They accept children from ages four months to six years. “Me and my wife were both working parents, and we realised the need for centres that provide quality daycare facilities,” he says. In Siddique’s experience, couples in Pakistan usually have support from their families, but that is not always the case.

In less affluent areas, working mothers are not less in number, whether they go out to work as salesperson or domestic house help. In the absence of any proper daycare centres, women in these localities leave their children with relatives or neighbours.

He adds that for a mother to leave her career for an extended period of time creates a gap in her work trajectory which is not good for her career prospects. “The key priorities at daycare centres for children are giving them a hygienic environment, a healthy routine, extreme care and love, as well as opportunities for learning and development according to the child’s age.”.

For Siddiqui and his team, it has been a journey of learning. At this centre, parents have to send food from home. The fee structure is the same for all age groups, and parents have to pay based on whether they leave the child for half a day or full day.

For summer camps, upscale daycare centres charge anywhere between Rs12-18000 a month. A well-known daycare centre (name withheld) charges Rs19000 per month, and this includes a lunch meal, while their hourly rates are Rs350 for the first hour and Rs300 for each subsequent hour.

For parents working in the corporate or business sector, with both husband and wife working, this might be affordable. But for lower income or lower middle income groups, this might be too steep. Prices get steeper depending on the area where the daycare centre is based.

Running since 2007 with three successful branches, Dr Sofia’s Daycare & Learning School charges between rupees eight to ten thousand for a full day and four to six thousand for half day. “Dr Sofia Rahman, the founder, felt an urgent need of a daycare when she herself faced difficulty in raising her kids while doing a job. Her main idea was to help working women so that they could pursue their dreams,” says Hina Fahd from the daycare management. They accept children from age brackets three months to ten years. “The older children usually come to us after having attended school in the morning,” she says, adding that daycares are a better option than leaving children with grandparents as with grandparents children may not be as disciplined in terms of routine and learning reinforcement.

The need for daycare centres is real, and is on its way up, but when compared with population increase and urbanisation, they are simply not enough. Parveen shares that the very government departments in Sindh that are responsible for making sure these facilities exist, like the Labour Department, do not generally have nurseries or facilities for children of employees, and are also ineffective in terms of fulfilling duties of inspection. “The laws are all there, but there is no implementation.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/enough-daycare-facilities/#.XKW9EJgzbIU

#MeToo, #JahezKhoriBandKaro, #NotFunny: Lifting the curtain of sexism in Pakistan

 Published: March 8, 2019
SHARES

  EMAIL

Jokes that demean women, perpetuate stereotypes about women, and degrade women, are just not funny.

Hashtags make a difference, and for campaigns regarding the rights of women, the last one year has seen some important hashtags that made us sit up straight. The most recent one is #NotFunny, an awareness campaign launched on National Women’s Day by the Uks Research Centre, pointing out aptly that enough is enough – that jokes that demean women, perpetuate stereotypes about women and degrade women, are just not funny.

S☆S 🇵🇰🇹🇷@jiyyah_shaah

Yes Absolutely 🖒

See S☆S 🇵🇰🇹🇷‘s other Tweets

For those who consider themselves more ‘evolved’ or ‘aware’, the litmus test can be something as seemingly small as the jokes men keep forwarding on chat groups – ‘guy jokes’ that talk of women as objects of desire and reek of in-built sexism and misogyny. This would importantly also include women rejecting the idea that such jokes are ‘normal’.

Another hashtag emerged towards the tail end of 2018 – #JahezKhoriBandKaro, shedding light on the issue of jahez/dowry, a menace that may have reduced slightly or may have changed forms and names, but still very much exists in society.  

The most popular hashtag globally has been #MeToo, of course. It took women like me almost a year to understand what a big deal the #MeToo movement is. Women like myself comprise of relatively educated, aware, self-proclaimed and empowered women and even journalists who have been writing on gender issues, ensuring that the voices of women are heard.

As the #MeToo movement started trending globally, journalists in Pakistan also took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the movement:

Reham Khan

@RehamKhan1

Sexual harassment is not understood. Both men & women need to be educated about what constitutes harassment based on gender.

Ever since this hashtag started trending on Twitter in 2017, thanks to the American actress Alyssa Milano, many of us began to rethink and question our understanding of so many concepts. Some of us, for instance, began to wonder what exactly constitutes as sexual harassment, if we experienced it, should we say it out loud, and if yes, then why?

As female journalists, many of us have come across instances, not necessarily as subjects but even as bystanders, where we may have felt uncomfortable by a gesture, a sentence or a physical nuance of a man. We were encouraged, even less than a decade ago, to not “overthink” because “that’s just how men are”.

For women who chose to work in professional spheres, the situation was far worse  a compliment that was not welcome, a handshake that bordered on being forced, an insistence for company over coffee, a stare across the room in a meeting or an unsolicited text message or phone call, were all a part of our daily work routine.

Back then, we did not consider any of these things to be harassment, and even if this thought did occur to us, these were just other things to be brushed under the carpet.

But this carpet has now been lifted.

For far too long women have been bearing with this, speaking out only if something crossed the ‘upper limits’ of their threshold, and then living with the consequences in both their work and private lives.

While laws and hashtags are important, they are not enough, and can only take us so far. Sensitising both men and women is perhaps the first step, and this process has to start early. Young girls must be taught to say ‘no’, and young boys must be taught to accept ‘no’ instead of considering it their right as part of  ‘male entitlement ’. Parents, schools, and even society will have to play a role in teaching these things.

Jokes about women being money-hungry bimbos, dependent drama queens, or simply even sexual objects, will have to be especially discouraged.

#MeToo has become a space for women to air their grievances, and for catharsis of unpleasant experiences they have remained silent about. A woman may choose not to use the hashtag #MeToo, and has the right to not disclose anything.

However, this movement allowed those who want to say it out loud/speak out against their harassers, to go ahead and say it/do it and this in itself is progress. Acknowledgment and validation of the fact that sexual harassment or sexist jokes and misogyny exist is definitely a step in the right direction.

A narrative is steadily building around it, and the most unexpected of people now at least know what this means. In spite of the debate and controversy that the movement has generated-added, the conversation has at least begun, and the debate has at least started to gain momentum.

Consent has been central to our understanding of women, yet it has not been delved into enough. The idea of consent needs to be dissected and understood, and in this context, ‘touch’ is very important.

Should men be careful before extending their hand for a handshake? Does close proximity make the other person uncomfortable? Do male doctors or medical technicians need to ask the female patient before they touch her for medical reasons?

Is casual flirtation okay? Can we get away with telling our colleague “I was just giving you a compliment” or “I was just kidding”, when we have in fact made her visibly uncomfortable?

Are there boundaries and limits that can co-exist alongside the ideal of a comfortable workplace environment for both sexes? Questions are being raised. Answers may not have been established yet but the conversation has begun.

That being said, many people still don’t agree with the stance of these movements. On social media, insensitive attitudes can be seen in comments and tweets from both males and females. Often these tweets reek of a lack of understanding of the issue.

Those who are generally more conservative in terms of thinking look at it as ‘an issue being made out of nothing’ and raise the insensitive question of: “why did she complain now after all these years?”

What needs to be understood is that the idea behind saying it out loud is not just to punish men. It is in fact a means of providing catharsis and healing, and setting precedents for women faced with similar situations.

Much remains to be done, especially in terms of social attitudes. Seemingly small reactions from society discourage women to voice that they have felt harassed at some point in their lives.

I remember a colleague talking to me once about how she had been harassed, and what was shocking for me was that she was almost apologetic while saying,

“I don’t know why he would harass me, I am not even good looking”.

Others are too afraid to talk about it or do not want to talk about it because of the common responses: “It is never one-sided”, “she must have done something to provoke him” or “she seems like modern woman”. Sadly, the onus is placed mostly on the woman to ensure that the man keeps himself in check.

Awareness does make a difference, and we may be inching towards better times, but we still have a long way to go.

Happy Women’s Day!

https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/79435/metoo-jahezkhoribandkaro-notfunny-lifting-the-curtain-of-sexism-in-pakistan/

Cost for consumers – Inflation in Pakistan effects wants or needs?

For the bourgeois and the patricians of Pakistan, their reaction to inflation is as different as is their lifestyle

The cost for consumer

“What has hit me and my family most is the price of milk and sugar going up in the last two years,” says Zainab Bibi who hails from Mailsi district in South of Punjab. She and her husband moved to Karachi a few years ago in search of a better standard of living. But for Zainab, an avid tea drinker whose staple diet continues to be chaai paratha, it is not easy surviving in Karachi as items that make up her sticky sweet tea are pricier than in her village. “One reason I came here is that I want to save enough to build two rooms in my village, my own home. But the price per 1000 red bricks has risen from Rs5000 to Rs8000 within two years.”

In contrast to Zainab’s economic challenges, the challenge of Samiya Khan (name changed), a resident of the uptown Defence area in Karachi is different. “You are asking the wrong person. I honestly have not felt the pinch as my husband just gives me his card; I go to the supermarket and swipe it to pay without even checking the prices minutely. But if at all, I would say the prices of imported food items have gone up. The chocolate spread my children love eating and I use for baking cupcakes has gone up from Rs280 to Rs450. However, I don’t think prices have gone up that much. Have they?” she says.

Prices of consumer goods, utilities and luxury items going up is never taken lightly. But which prices affect which strata of society is the key to understanding how closely linked income inequality and inflation are.

Pakistan’s annual inflation rate rose to 7.2 percent in January of 2019 from 6.17 percent in the previous month. It was the highest inflation rate since September of 2014, as shared by Trading Economics. According to the State Bank of Pakistan’s website, Headline CPI (Consumer Price Index) inflation (2007-08=100) was recorded at a level of 6.2 percent on year-on-year basis in December 2018 as compared to 4.6 percent during corresponding month of last year.

According to data shared by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), January 2019 saw an increase in prices of items like sugar, fresh fruits, pulses and tomatoes, but also saw a decrease in the prices of chicken (by 18.06 percent), eggs, onions and potatoes.

But for Zainab Bibi, all this does not translate into a major change, and the one underlying take home message she has in her mind is simple — A good life in Naya Pakistan is as unaffordable as purana Pakistan, even though fuel prices have gone down although electricity prices have gone up if compared between December 2018 and January 2019.

For the bourgeois and the patricians of Pakistan, their reaction to inflation is as different as is their lifestyle when compared to the struggling lower middle class or the yet lower strata on the economic ladder. When asked which household needs had taken a dent due to inflation in Pakistan, the elite is often found themselves confused between needs and wants, and often complain of how luxury spending has been affected.

It is not that the well-off people do not get impacted by inflation. The price of fuel affects the prices of water tankers for the upper tier. When this happens, their lush lawns become parched, they stop washing their car porches frequently.

Over lavish high-teas, the conversations often include how the price of air travel has gone up, and vacations are becoming pricier. Delve deeper and the falling rate of the Pak rupee has affected how they will pay the fee of their children studying abroad in dollars and pounds. “I am very happy actually; my children’s school fee has been considerably reduced since the new government came in,” says a young mother whose two children are students at an upper tier school in Karachi.

What varies is the pinch someone feels when prices go up, depending on affordability. The theory of relativity may then not be applicable only to laws of physics, neutrons and black holes. How every Pakistani experiences inflation is in relation with how much they can afford, their spending habits, and their bank statement, if they have a bank account, that is.

Yet one strata feeling the hit of inflation does spill over to the other strata as well. When a darzi (tailor) increases the rate of a female shalwar kameez, the pinch is felt by all, but few join the dots that the cost of commute of the tailor and his assistants has gone up because petrol is pricey. The ticket for a bus traveller, the fare for a rikshaw commuter, or the cost of fuel for someone who goes on a motorbike — all go up. Consequently, so do the prices of general household items.

It is not that the well-off people do not get impacted by inflation. The price of fuel affects the prices of water tankers for the upper tier. When this happens, their lush lawns become comparatively parched, they stop washing their car porches frequently, and they opt for ‘made in Pakistan’ semi-automatic washing machines to save water. If fuel is pricier, one thinks twice before opting for the generator during long sultry hours of load shedding, and opts for the UPS. And if electricity rates climb up, the use of air conditioners has to be well thought-out. Last if not the least, climbing rates of gas means affluent Pakistanis are actually considering opting for smaller water-heater geysers that can be easily put on and off as and when needed.

But for those who have to start worrying about the prices of potatoes and ghee, and have far too many mouths to feed but way too less earning hands, inflation is a bad word. It is time those on top of the food chain let some resources trickle down to make life easier for all. We may not be able to reduce inflation, but maybe we can somewhat reduce the widening economic inequality.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/cost-consumer/#.XKW4wZgzbIU

Millenials vs Us – How weddings in Pakistan have changed

Without over-spending and showing off, one can still have a fun, festive, joyous wedding

Millenials and us

There is always a level of naivety at a young age. The stars in our eyes cloud our vision. Yet today’s generation is smarter in some ways, if not all, than us. For starters, they know that after the “wedding” there is something called “marriage”. Back then, we had one single word for both very different concepts — shaadi.

For us, shaadi meant the rasoomaat (traditional wedding rituals), the dresses, the jahez and bari (yes, we come from that stone age era where jahez was not a bad word and was politically correct, and bari was a given). Our focus was the wedding and not so much the marriage as we set off on our, perhaps, most important journey that was to change the course of our lives.

So here are the pros and cons — on a comparative level — between the age of innocence (or stupidity) and the age of the so-called Generation Y (our smarter counterparts).

The Net Generation knows, for the most part, what it wants out of life. They have definitive goals, and marriage is, for most if not all of them, ONE of their many goals. For us, it was THE most important goal. This is why the wedding hype in our over-dramatic times was emotionally exaggerated. The crying at the time of rukhsati was a given. It’s not that brides today won’t miss their folks but the make-up is a result of either parents or the by-now-earning bride working hard to pay the make-up artist loads of money. Loads are always relative, of course. Today’s bride cannot afford to faint in sadness at rukhsati time. She knows that some 20k went just into her dupatta fixing and jewellery setting. She got the appointment a year in advance. It’s not worth it to get the mascara to flow. Besides, crying can be done on another day.

The millenials are also very clear in terms of who they want present on the wedding. Their “friends” are key. It’s ok upto phuphichachimaami and khala. And cousins are always good fun. But they don’t want distant relatives or neighbours of an area the parents left 20 years ago. They want smaller but “classier” weddings. They’d rather spend on the flowers than on people who don’t mean much.

The brides today are also smarter in that they are not big on gold jewellery because prices of gold have skyrocketed. So they are smart enough to use silver that is gold-plated. They also wear one carefully selected set. ONE. As opposed to brides of my generation wearing like 5 necklaces on any given shaadi.

The brides today are decidedly more elegant. The groom is more well-groomed, really. The couple portraits are more picturesque at smartly chosen locations. Their invitees are more select. They know that weddings lead to marriage. They are simply smarter. Or are they?

While the weddings of millenials are smarter, the old world charm has been lost in some aspects. Just take the excessively choreographed mehndis for one that seem more for Instagram and snapchat and less for the simple joy of unrehearsed celebration that came out of spontaneous luddi and singing tappay. The dholkis have everything but a dholak.

While smaller weddings are a great idea, they would truly be great only if they are less ostentatious and lighter on the pocket. We invite less people but end up spending more money. The event management, flowers and elaborate menus from upper tier caterers are a huge burden on the families. Even if one can afford it all, is it a must that we spend not lacs but millions? Also, there was a certain warmth in inviting relatives and old neighbours. One can and may limit the number of people, but why leave out those who have been a part of the lives of these families? The rasoomaat are debatable for many reasons — religious, cultural or due to social evolution. But the joy of sharing this momentous occasion is a pre-requisite.

While we laud the weddings of today on account of some smarter choices, are these choices really pragmatic, or has our extravagance simply changed forms? The jewellery may now be gold-plated silver, and it may be a single set the bride wears, but what about the wedding dress that takes years to plan and order, and costs a fortune, and is so heavily full of work that it provides no visual relief, yet is something we don’t seem to mind.

Earlier it was jahez. Now it is expensive wedding dresses by designers and elaborate wedding events. Have we actually had a paradigm shift socially? Look closely and nothing has really changed. Weddings are a pricier affair than ever.

And while the millenials are smarter in their life choices, they are sometimes so smart that leave alone wedding, they doubt if even marriage is a good idea, because it has simply too many strings attached, and is too much commitment.

The wedding is a special occasion. It opens the door to a new and special journey. But our society is sitting on the crux of change. As families and as a country, can we afford such extravagance? Without over-spending and showing off, one can still have a fun, festive, joyous wedding. The money one saves can help so many others. If no one else, it can help the couple settle in life.

Time to re-think weddings.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/millenials-us/#.XKW3p5gzbIU

King of Sweets – Gulab Jamun is now Pakistan’s National Sweet

A perfect gulab jamun, not hard at the core, not mushy and soft to break down, is now Pakistan’s national sweet

King of sweets
In the midst of macabre headline news, Pakistan’s favourite comfort food made it big. The nayi government of naya Pakistan ran a poll on Twitter as the naya saal (New Year) ushered in: “Which should be the National Sweet of Pakistan?” There were three options: jalebi, gulab jamun, and barfi. More than 15,000 people voted, and gulab jamun won with 47 percent votes.

The poll I subsequently run on my facebook page had just two options: gulab jamun contended only by barfi. Gulab jamun won by a whopping 79 percent votes.

However, are polls on social media enough to decipher what is Pakistan’s favourite indulgence when it comes to a sweet tooth? There has been an uproar among social media users who complain that there was no national consultation in this important existential debate. However, at grassroots level, gulab jamun does seem to have tugged at the nation’s heartstrings. Mithai sellers and caterers confirm that gulab jamun is indeed the hottest selling item [pun intended] as they taste best when warm, bordering on hot.

The historical origins of gullus, as gulab jamuns are often fondly called, are often traced back to the times of Mughal emperors, particularly Shah Jahan. Folklore has it that Shah Jahan’s royal chef accidentally fused elements and by a stroke of fate, a sweet from heaven found its way on earth. Other food historians claim that its origins are Turkish or Persian. As diverse as the language in which its name is taken, which is Urdu, gulab jamun seems to be wrapped in layers of culture and history. Whatever its trajectory may have been, it is part of the very essence of happiness in the subcontinent.

Gulab jamuns are like all good thing in life. It has to be just right, and one mistake can be unforgiving. A perfect gulab jamun requires technique, skill, precision, accuracy, and above all patience. They cannot afford to be hard at the core, but also cannot be so mushy and soft that they break down — just like a well-rounded person [pun again intended]. The reduced milk — khoya — which forms the basic ingredient of the dough of the tempting dessert, is derived after painstakingly cooking milk till it evaporates, leaving behind khoya. Once these dough balls are fried and are light brown, or blackish if it is a kala jamun, they are then soaked in sugar syrup. The syrup was originally rose-flavoured, which gives it the suffix “gulab”.

Now, the rose essence is optional. But the sugar syrup or “sheera” as we Pakistanis lovingly call it, is a must. As an avid gulab jamun fan said when asked why she loves, “the sheera drips into my soul… it makes everything seem alright”. Warm it a bit and it melts in the mouth. Put it in zarda (sweet saffron rice) and a bite with tiny gulab jamun makes you thank God for the good life. Have it after dinner or compliment it with chai. Gulab jamuns allure you. It is perhaps these enchanting qualities of the gulab jamun that make it the popular choice.

As a barfi lover, it is not easy for me to accept the supremacy of this King of Mithai. But one has to accept that gulab jamun has a more comforting and satisfying feel to it.

Gulab jamun being crowned as Pakistan’s national sweet has led to debates across borders. Nations across the subcontinent — India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and of course Pakistan — are claiming that it belongs to them. The debates on social media are often divisive. Everyone wants to establish that the home of the gulab jamun is their country. The gulab jamun smiles on, basking in its golden glory, while its lovers’ squabble like the “raqeeb” (adversary) in Urdu love poetry of yore would fight for a claim to the beloved.

Fact remains that Pakistan has taken the lead and gulab jamun is now, officially or semi-officially, Pakistan’s national sweet. But looking at the glass half full, here’s what is great about this phenomenon: If in nothing else, Pakistan and India may find themselves on the same page, for once, when it comes to the love of gulab jamun. When all else may have failed to build bridges, this gastronomic delight may do the trick. How sweet!

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/king-sweets/#.XDxKp7hS81k