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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Me and my DSLR – A not-so-secret love affair

Somewhere in the ’90s:
I have begun working as a journalist at a magazine. I know by now that my calling is not business studies, & my degree which I got with honours will hardly ever be utilized. I am drawn towards not just writing, but all forms of art and literature, and what interests me most is a fusion of these. I love coordinating photo shoots. I know I have a good eye for detail. I don’t just marvel at the model and her oomph, but more so at the locations where the shoots are taking place. I love best the shoots at Hindu Gymkhana and Chowkandi tombs. I pore over the films with an eye glass. Computers are still too young, too experimental. We send the x-ray like films of the magazine pages to the press after assembling them painstakingly for hours.

I meet a photographer, and she is brilliant. We embark on a series of pictorial features in which I am writing the script for her wondrous clicks….my favourite of these is a feature I title “Hands that weave dreams”……we are in kaarkhanas of men who work on hand-embroidered wedding dresses…..she clicks at their hands, at their faces, at their half-burnt stubs of cigarettes, at their needles and threads, at their laugh-lines and their brow-frowns…..I love her art. “I have to learn this”, I say to myself.

Somewhere in the 2000s:
Married. I have a daughter. I am on a hiatus from journalism for God alone Knows what reason. Complacency I suspect. I am not so happy inside. I miss writing. I have a computer now but do nothing much with it except emailing. I have a mediocre camera. I still get spellbound by good photographs. My clouded passion for photography goes into clicking my daughter endlessly, but photo rolls are not so cheap and just have 38 exposures to 1. I ignore the desire and go back to cooking aloo gosht and replenishing groceries and joining a “Committee” of ladies and making dresses that have gravitated towards embellishments like “laces” for some reason……my original style of pure cottons, plain solid colours and kolhapuri chappals is diminishing. I still read.

A few years later:
The computer has made a huge entry in my life. And writing has made a re-entry. I am so much happier. But it’s taking me time to get back into the flow. I hate some of my initial write-ups. It takes me too much time to write even a small piece and I am relying too much on the thesaurus. I am reconnecting with journalism friends and luckily have a readership soon again. Its tedious to get back into the flow, but I feel alive. Photography is slowly creeping back into my life….I have an insignificant camera, but its a digital, so I am allowed countless mistakes, unlike life. But my photography doesn’t have any zing to it. In spare time, I am online seeing photography of others and loving the good work, and my new aim in life is to get a camera that makes a certain “click” sound, and is huge, and manual, and looks all professional. I know it will be expensive. I have no clue what I will do with it. I don’t know the word DSLR as yet.

December 2009:
I announce to my family that I need no other gift for 3 years. All I want is for them to save up and buy me “one of those cool cameras”. I get a promise in return. Writing has gained momentum. Life is more than aloo gosht. I am happy.

February 2011:
I am in Tharparkar with an NGO on a work-related trip. Tharparkar has mesmerized me. I can’t stop clicking with my tiny phone camera. I feel handicapped. My colleague, a professional photographer, clicks non-stop. We talk about photography and cameras and human expressions and what it means to be able to photograph.  He guides me about lenses and kinds of cameras and that magic word – DSLR. I have an awe-struck teenager’s expression when he fits a HUGE lens over his camera. I want to capture the colours of the peacocks and the Thari women’s colourful dresses and the desert sunsets and the camels. On return, I publish my tiny camera’s pix alongwith my feature for women’s day. The pictures get encouraging feedback. I know I can do this.
Round about the same time, I meet an intriguing woman from Russia, one of the best photographers I have witnessed. We become friends. Her work is a bit off-centre, at times dark, but has a profound effect on me. Her pictures of Benaras in India leave me more in love with this art.

May 2011:
I have to travel to Ethiopia in early June. I get my long-awaited gift. I am speechless and thankful. I cannot believe once I have it in my hands. It is a beauty. I touch it in disbelief. I play with it. I trace each part of it with my fingers to get familiar with it. I carry it around in the house to get used to the weight of it in my hands. I take pictures of inanimate objects constantly……my jar of chillies, my window, my door knob. DSLR – those words are sweet! I know I will enjoy Ethiopia much more now.

July 2011:
Ethiopia was much more enjoyable thanks to my camera. But I know that I am not doing justice to this camera’s capabilities. I am mostly on auto. My indoor pictures are still awful. I know nothing except that I want to learn this, but don’t know how. I am checking out the internet for photography courses. They are not fitting into my schedule. They are either too basic or too advanced.
A friend has returned from a vacation in Europe. He puts up his pictures on Flickr. They are splendid! I enjoy his take on lights and shadows and human faces and window sills and doors and hands and feet. We talk about his work. I learn a lot. I still don’t know how to put this knowledge into action.

December 2011:
I have just returned from a trip of sunny, splendid Senegal. I have tried and captured Africa’s glory with my lens. I know I am getting better, but still not good enough. I want to support my write-ups with good photos and want to capture the wrinkles on my mother’s face with enough aesthetic beauty that satisfies me. I am still not there.
Another friend has the same camera as me. And his work keeps getting better. He tells me about his investment in a new camera, a new lens, his equipment, and keeps repeating one mantra to me: “Get to know your machine”.
I want to learn more from him. We meet up for coffee. The coffee house is a mad house, with people talking non-stop on tables too close for comfort. We yell across the table to hear each other. He has his laptop and a whole backpack full of stuff that helps his pictures get so magical. I get a full one hour plus class on a lot of details about my camera…..I never knew all this about it. The guru is telling me to remember 4 basic things: Aperture, Shutter Speed, White Balance and ISO. His eyes are glinting with excitement as he tries to teach someone who has just discovered that she knows nothing much about this stuff. He gives me an assignment to practice all this and show him my work in a months time. The coffee is cold. We gulp it down. I am excited.
I am home. I am telling my family about what all I learnt today.
My new year resolution has a new flavour this year.

"Religion is not against Family Planning in Totality"

Fall In Love With A Man Who Reads. And Hold On To Him

Like a man. Fall in love with a man. And hold on to man who reads. 

Because the way he looks at life is different! He is a man who dares to dream, and is a man who has remnants of idealism left in him which the world has not been able to rob him of. His thoughts revolve not just around the stock market, the corporate ladder and the rate of the dollar. Rather, he dares to think also of ideas, philosophy, art and history. He has sensitivity. 

Sensitivity! Love a man who reads, and hold on to him, because he is sensitive. The hundreds of characters that he has witnessed in books have made him understand the black and the white and the grey of human nature. He has emoted with those characters, and lived with them through works of fiction. Thus, he has lived many lives in this one life of his. He will understand the millions of shades in you because he has experienced many a woman and many an emotion through the books he has read. He uses his imagination.

Imagination! Love a man who reads, and hold on to him, because he is imaginative. Because he knows of million ways to love and does not get stuck in mundanities, but rather knows how to re-invent the mundane. Thus, everyday you may visit a new parallel universe with him. You can travel to medieval times with him or visit the life of a courtesan in the Mughal era with him. Or you may catapult into the future with him. And you both make conversation about your voyages together.

Conversation! Love a man who reads, and hold on to him, because then your conversation would be about more than facile chitchat and your life with him will be more than a superficial soiree. You will talk about more than dinner menu, the grocery list, the payment of bills and politics and the plight of the property market. Because you will have so much more to talk about. And even when you do talk about the mundane, you will link it to a dialogue, a quote, a stimulating part of a book.

Read a book to him while his head is in your lap. Read to each other in the park or on the beach or at a hilly resort. Read out together to your children. Or read your own books, the two of you, while you sit side by side on a couch snuggling under a single quilt, sharing excitedly every now and then what your book is saying to you……a thought…..a feel…..or a single word that the author has used so beautifully that it fills your senses and you want to share it with each other, knowing the other will understand your joy. And in moments you read together, you find moments of union.

But watch out! Do not fall for a man who fakes the love of reading, and impresses you with forcibly memorized couplets of Faiz or lines of Shakespeare. Rather, gauge by the way his fingers touch a book. And look into his eyes and see whether they sparkle or stay listless when you read out something from a book to him.

Hold on to a man whose bedside has books, some finished and others scanned through. A man who highlights or circles words in a book. A man who likes to sit in the open air on a Sunday morning and read. A man about whom you know that if he disappears for hours at a stretch, it is in the sanctuary of a library.

Hold on to him because life will never be boring with such a man, even though it may be challenging. For such a man will continue to evolve, and grow, and will help you grow in the process. Such a man may be a challenge, so do not go for him if you want a life that is complacent and predictable. But go for him if you have ever asked God for a life less ordinary.

Love a man and hold on to man who looks at you with admiring eyes and longing love not just when you are looking hot, but also when you have a James Joyce book in your hands, and when you animatedly discuss Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” with him. Who gifts you a faded book a 100 years old of Keats’ Odes, and who reads a poem of Neruda to you in moments that are tender. Who loves your beautiful mind and knows your value because you are a reader too. Don’t let him go, for such a man is a gift and a joy.

Of Tweeting, Facebooking & Self-Love – Column on Digital Narcissism in PakTea House

"Do It Yourself" Experiences – Fun Times

Unsafe abortions – The Silent Epidemic

Life sentence 
Unsafe abortions are akin to a silent epidemic that claims lives of many women each year in Pakistan

By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

In the heart of the bustling city of Lahore, on Temple Road, is a small clinic, infamous for being one of the quickest ways to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy. This is one of the many such clinics on the street. The clinic’s doors are open to any woman who comes for an abortion. While its staff promises to do the procedure safely and hygienically, its claim to fame is quite the opposite: Horrendous tales of incomplete body parts and remains of aborted foetuses floating past the open drains that run through the area are well-known.

As one enters, they welcome you warmly. A nurse introduces the patient to a lady who “claims” to be the doctor, who is lying on a bench and resting till the next patient strolls in. There is no way of confirming if the woman is a doctor or not. The first question they ask is which residential area the patient has come from. If the patient says she has come from an upscale area, the rates are threefold — Rs12,000 in the first month and Rs25,000 in the second month… and the rates keep escalating depending on how far the pregnancy has progressed.

“It is not my concern whether a patient wants to get it done because she made a mistake with a lover, or wants to abort a female foetus, or uses abortion as a form of family planning, or is healthy enough to carry the child to term or not. My job is to clean out her uterus within hours and send her home. That is all,” says the alleged doctor.

But don’t they know that for an abortion to be legal in Pakistan, the condition is “necessary treatment” which the health provider has to decide? Will they not check the woman’s health status? Her blood counts? And does it matter to them how far the pregnancy has progressed? The questions are dodged. They say they use “the vacuum method and other methods” for abortions.

The clinic is definitely not equipped to handle any post-abortion complication. And this is one of the relatively better clandestine abortion clinics that carry on with their business quite openly.

In another part of Lahore, the situation is bleaker. This is Shahi Mohalla, also known as Heera Mandi. Some 1,500 female sex workers inhabit this area. Contraceptives are not always accepted by their male clients, resulting often in unwanted pregnancies. Already poor, vulnerable to HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and exhausted, these women may call for Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) or “dais” for deliveries and abortions. But small abortion clinics are a more popular choice.

“Many of them lose the battle of life due to post-abortion complications. The methods used in these abortion clinics of the area are old-fashioned and invasive and often harsh methods that result in complications,” says Lubna Tayyab, founder of the NGO called SHEED (Strengthening Health, Education, Environment, Development) Society that is working for the betterment of sex workers and their children in the area.

Abortions in Pakistan are mostly obtained in clandestine clinics. Very few of these clinics are properly equipped to carry out abortions safely. Providers typically perform dilation and curettage procedures. They almost never used manual vacuum aspiration, a less invasive and safer procedure.

According to a report by National Committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health (NCMNH) and the Guttmacher Institute (Ref:, a nationwide study estimated that 890,000 induced abortions took place in Pakistan in the year 2002. This amounts to 29 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. Of every 100 pregnancies, 14 ended in induced abortion.

Deaths, long-term disabilities, health complications and a messed up reproductive system — these are just some of the side effects of an unsafe abortion. Complications can be incomplete abortion, hemorrhage or excessive bleeding, trauma to the reproductive tract or adjacent anatomical areas, sepsis (bacterial infection) and a combination of these complications. Excessive bleeding may have life-threatening consequences, such as anemia or shock. Perforations and lacerations may occur to the vagina, cervix or uterus and may involve injury to adjacent areas, such as the intestines, requiring surgery with full anesthesia. Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) may be required, leaving the woman permanently infertile. If not treated in time, sepsis can lead to peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining), septicemia (blood poisoning), kidney failure and septic shock, all of which can be life-threatening.

Unsafe abortions are carried out by methods that are a health nightmare. Gulping down large doses of drugs, inserting a sharp object into the uterus, drinking or flushing the reproductive tract with caustic liquids, vigorous movements like jumping or physical abuse, and repeated blows to the stomach are some of them. Incidences have been reported where bowels of the patient are pulled out by mistake, through the reproductive tract.

According to Population Reference Bureau, Women of our World, (2005), the lifetime chances of a Pakistani woman of dying from maternal causes is 1 in 31.

A 1999–2001 university hospital study found that 11 per cent of maternal deaths that occurred in the hospital during this period were caused by complications resulting from unsafe abortion.

However, reliable data on induced abortion is almost impossible to obtain. For something that is done so commonly, it is surprising how well it is hidden. While the evidence is limited, it is clear that post-abortion complications account for a substantial proportion of maternal deaths in Pakistan.

In 1990, the Pakistan government revised the colonial-era Penal Code of 1860 with respect to abortion. Under the 1990 revision, the conditions for legal abortion depend on the developmental stage of the foetus — that is, whether the foetus’s organs are formed or not.

Islamic scholars have usually considered the foetus’s organs to be formed by the fourth month of gestation. Before formation of the organs, abortions are permitted to save the woman’s life or in order to provide “necessary treatment.” After organs are formed, abortions are permitted only to save the woman’s life. (Ref: United Nations Population Division, Abortion Policies: A Global Review, New York: United Nations, 2002). However, generally, this is a debatable issue.

Since 1997, under certain circumstances, abortion is legal in Pakistan, not only to save the woman’s life but also to provide “necessary treatment”.

Most women who have induced abortions in Pakistan are married and already have more children than the average Pakistani woman wants. Thus, abortion is used as a form of family planning.

The average age of the women seeking abortions, reported in several studies, was just under 30. Research provided by NCMNH shows that 96.1 per cent of the women who seek abortions in Pakistan are married. “This shows that it is a misconception that abortions are common in unmarried girls who want to abort an illegitimate child,” says Dr Azra Ahsan of NCMNH.

“Also, female infanticide is not a problem in Pakistan, apart from isolated incidences. In 15 years of medical practice in Pakistan, I have not received a single request for termination of pregnancy on the basis of gender,” says Dr Sadia Ahsan Pal, also of the NCMNH.

Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2007 (PDHS) reveals that 41 per cent of urban married women of Pakistan use contraception, compared with 24 per cent in rural areas, while 25 per cent of Pakistan’s married women have an unmet need for family planning, both for spacing and limiting the number of children. This has a direct bearing on the probability of abortions, which is used as a form of family planning.

Unsafe abortions are a public health issue that needs immediate attention. Timely family planning and awareness about use of contraceptives can be the actual solution to this silent epidemic that claims many lives of women each year in Pakistan.

Older than her years

“I belong to district Lodhran in the Punjab. My father got me married off to my paternal cousin when I was 14 years old. My husband is older to me by some 13 years,” says 23-year old-Sughra, who looks much older than her years. She is a mother of two children.

Dark circles, breathless upon walking, dragging her feet, Sughra is displays the classic signs of anemia.

“A couple of years ago my husband beat me up so severely that I could not even swallow or lift my hand for days. I came to my mother’s house. At that time I was pregnant. I stayed on in my parents’ home and thought about ending the marriage. Having another child in such a marriage seemed like a bad idea. I was hurt, and took my revenge by deciding to abort the baby,” shares Sughra, wiping her eyes with a worn out dupatta.

“My mother took me to this daai who charged us Rs 1000. Her instruments were not clean. I still remember the rusty looking, stained metal probes she used. But what option did I have? I was about four months pregnant when I got it done. The daai had promised I would be on my feet the next day. But I was on bed for two weeks, bleeding profusely,” she recollects.

Sughra was finally taken to the nearest hospital where she ended up getting blood transfusions. “My health has never been the same ever since. The doctors said I could have died because of the bleeding and infection related to my abortion,” she says.

Sughra is now back in her husband’s home. He refuses to use any contraceptives, but Sughra now has started using injectable contraceptives. Her face, though, saddens every time she remembers that abortion.