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Monthly Archives: February 2012

So The Kids In The Park Maya Caught On Tape Were Paid Actors? That Still Doesn’t Make It Ok!

Today, Maya Khan broke her silence.

And much as I want to do away with even the unpleasant memories of that whole saga, a follow-up seemed in order, saying “Maya, it’s still not ok.”

For those of you who missed it (as the said show’s timings coincided with the repeat of the Red Carpet event of the Oscars), Maya Khan was on Express News TV’s show “Frontline” hosted by Kamran Shahid. A weepy, washed out Maya vehemently protected her stance. She alleged that all the people she raided in the park were “paid actors” and that the entire episode was scripted. And that it was done in good faith to highlight a growing social evil. And to support her “facts”, she had some of those paid actors on the show with her.

Frankly, this is even more worrisome! I would totally be ok with it if that show had disclaimers saying “re-enactments” or “professional actors are playing the part”. But to sell this as reality was an act of deceiving the viewership, and yet again proved that it was not just Maya at fault, but the entire crew of the show and the tv channel as well.

What this has done is horrendous! I and anyone watching this show will not know whom and what to believe in the media any more. A friend skeptically said that maybe the channel on which this rebuttal was aired is now hiring Maya and so wants to clear her name before that. Other theories are also surfacing.

Personally, I don’t know what to believe . And I wish I could say I don’t care, but I do. Bluffing with the audience is against the basic most ethic of media reporting – honesty. If disillusionment permanently creeps in, the audiences will be cynical even about the truth. That will be a permanent collateral damage.

This nasty cut-throat game of competing for ratings is a whirlpool. Maya Khan was unfortunate that she took so much heat for it. Other anchors, hosts and channels do similar things. Maya’s case was a classic example of what needs to be remembered – do not underestimate your viewership! They have a brain, and know the difference between right and wrong, and can take the media to task.

But the silver lining, I believe, is that through this example of Maya, the other shows will in the future be very scared of over-stepping certain boundaries.

As for what Maya did, whether was scripted or not, was simply wrong. But what was equally wrong was people in a reactionary state of mind plastering pictures of Maya Khan’s personal life all over the internet, and indulging in character assassination and mud-slinging, thus repeating more or less the same mistake she committed, albeit in a different way – of encroaching another person’s privacy which needs to be treated with sanctity. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Pakistan’s media has gotten too much freedom way too soon – from a press in chains to a press with no brakes and just an accelerator paddle! This, and similar incidences, are classic examples of the fact that we are unable to contain ourselves in the given freedom. In Maya’s incidence, there are great lessons for all of us who claim to be media persons. That we need to be both more cautious and conscientious when it comes to making decisions on what to share with the public, and what not, and how. If we don’t do that, this will backfire against us, as it did in Maya’s case.

Diary Diary – What Did I Do At The Karachi Literature Festival

This year the festival was discussions, author signings, film screenings a mushaaira, a concert and more
By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

Entering the first session I attend at the Karachi Literature Festival 2012 (KLF) titled “Changing Paradigms of Literature: Urdu and Beyond”, Shobhaa De is tugging at my heart strings as I know she is in another part of the lit fest, adding the glam quotient to the festival and saying it like it is.

The session starts late like most of the sessions at the festival. In my hand is the programme of the two day festival that has just kick-started, promising 50 plus enlightening sessions. Talks, a mushaaira, a concert, film screenings (at another venue), author signings and more. As I skim through the programme, the session begins. KLF has arrived!

Bilal Tanweer, one of Pakistan’s young writers making waves, is the moderator. He is trying to make an excited audience settle down and signalling the hotel employees to not disrupt the session by stacking chairs that should have been stacked the evening before.

Dr Syed Nomanul Haq, a historian and academic, and main speaker for this session starts slow, unlike the festival which is off to jumpstarts from the word go. He picks up pace as he embarks on an engaging talk about how literature has to be more than activism. His words about how Faiz’s centenary ended up celebrating the “message” of jab taaj uchaalay jayein ge rather than Faiz’s poetics and the “silk” in Faiz’s poetry resonate inside me for the coming two days at the festival. While the KLF is certainly a promise to revival of the arts and literature and has become a hub of thinking minds, I personally felt it reeked too much of activism. Literature and that too in the current situational context of Pakistan cannot be separated from highlighting social issues. But blatant activism has found its way into the KLF. Perhaps KLF is juggling too many roles at the same time. What needs to be understood is that letting literature take its natural course would in fact highlight Pakistan’s issues in a more subtle but impactful way. Reintroduce literature and reading, and a society will progress effortlessly. For activism, other forums can and should be used.

In and out of about a dozen sessions over the two days, I am window shopping in a galore of inviting options. Even the purposeful walk from one session to another is a joy. People seem excited, and are talking in positive tones — about ideas and solutions, about writers of yesteryear and those of today. Writers, journalists, activists, literary critics are all in a single venue. The sight is almost pristine. How often do you see this in Pakistan?

This year’s festival had rare gems on book stalls. I found Al-Ghazali’s “Wonders of the Heart” and works of Sant Kabeer and Meera Bai translated in Urdu. Best buy for me was De’s “Shobhaa at Sixty” which I got signed by the diva in a star-struck moment.

Highlights of a few sessions that left me craving for more are in order. In “A Conversation with Hanif Kuresihi”, the writer lived up to my expectations — brilliant, witty and every bit as sarcastic and impatient as expected. “The process of writing is chaos. It’s boring. If only people knew how I suffer,” shared Kureishi. He made up for his acerbic words by reading an excerpt from his novel “The Buddha of Suburbia” and saying “If people read me, I am still very grateful”.

A delightful session was “The Re-birth of Ibn-e-Safi”, the prolific fictional writer who thought of themes much ahead of time. It was refreshing how his son Ahmad Safi, himself a short story writer, took ownership and pride in his father’s work. He revealed that a compilation of his father’s poetry was underway. Another session of the same genre was chaired by renowned Urdu novelist Intizar Husain. Titled “Reading Urdu Classics Today”, the session boasted of Iftikhar Arif, Zehra Nigah, Syed Nomanul Haq, Khalid Jawed and Asif Farrukhi, names that make literature buffs sit up. The dwindling number of people who today read Urdu literature and classics in particular, is dismally low. Re-introducing Urdu literature is a real challenge.

The session on “Kashmir”, though energised through heart-felt interjections by writer Mirza Waheed and the able moderation of Victoria Schofield among other panelists, had less attendance, as it coincided with the session called “Satire/Comedy”. But what left a mark on the audience was Waheed’s (himself a Kashmiri) comment, the gist of which was that Kashmir is always seen as a territory. Where is the human-centred angle when we discuss the solution to the Kashmir issue?

As for the “Satire/Comedy” session, it had to be one of the highlights of the festival. Nadeem Farooq Paracha, the witty left-winger columnist, found more than his match in the brilliant wit of both stand-up comedian Saad Haroon and Ali Aftab Saeed of Beygairat Brigade. Punch-lines like Haroon saying, “”Maya Khan is the best investigative reporter in relationships after Sex and the City” provided all of political catharsis and comic relief to the attendees.

Literature’s power was at its peak in the session “Pakistani Contemporary Fiction Writings”. Transporting the intently engaged audience to another world were Mohsin Hamid, H M Naqvi, Shehryar Fazli and Ayesha Salman, reading out excerpts from their books. The former two, in the deep and baritone voices, left an indelible mark. It took time to snap out of that session.

“Writing about Pakistan through a Foreign Perspective” was a session which literally had a near-stampede situation as so many people were trying to cram into a tiny room. Moderated by Raza Rumi, it had a sizable panel of foreign journalists. While the earnest sincerity of reporters like Declan Walsh touched a chord, it was the brazen comments of the Indian journalists that gave it an energetic luster. Alhok Bhalla, for example, said: “Indian media is both schizophrenic and hysteric when it comes to Pakistan.”

Vikram Seth from India was candid, relatable and pleasant. Seth’s session was a huge hit, as was the one with Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who hopefully shall bring the Oscar home for her documentary film “Saving Face”.

All through the festival, I enjoyed observing the potpourri of people. The white-haired literati in pure cottons and kolhapuris stand along socialite glamorous women of Pakistan with streaked, re-bonded hair in gliterrati chappals. Media persons, politicians who for once are lost in the crowds, children and the elderly that are here walking slowly with the help of sticks, they were all here. But perhaps the most encouraging to me are the families that are visiting the festival. In 7 series cars or on rickshaws, they are here to give their children a taste of literature and books. For unless literature trickles down to the masses (and I use the terms “down” and “masses” squirmishly for a lack of better words), desired change through literature will remain a dream. In the years to come, the biggest challenge I foresee for the KLF is to make it more than an elitist soiree where everyone who is anyone wants to be seen.


Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy Won The Oscar. So What’s The Big Deal?

Euphoria. Excitement. Waking up at wee hours of the morning, and an excited nation praying with baited breaths waited hopefully for what was an expected and well-deserved win.

And it finally happened! Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s documentary “Saving Face” has won the Oscar.

And the euphoria is now viral. On Twitter, Facebook, blogs…..and that’s what we all are talking about, incessantly. Especially the Pakistani women.

Agreed that this is a great honour, but is it such a big deal as we are making it out to be? Turns out it is!!!

To begin with, the first reason is simply that Pakistan and Pakistanis are sick of all the “bad news” about them, both locally and internationally. Pakistan makes headlines, for sure. But mostly for a suicide bombing, for a drone attack, for an earth quake or a flood, for an air hostess trying to take with her dozens of cell phones at JFK Airport, for honour killings and violated women and extremism and radicalization. I can never forget how a fellow female journalist from Africa, in the course of a seminar I was attending in Washington DC in December of 2010, kept observing me for a while, then made the first move and came and said Hi and then said,”you smile a lot. You seem normal. How can anyone be normal in Pakistan?”. Well, Sharmeen’s win is an answer to that. Not only are we normal…..we are alive and throbbing and kicking! It is refreshing and replenishing to know that for every bomb blast and hate campaign news bulletin, there also comes along a Naseem Hameed, an Irfah Kareem, a Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. The inherent human spirit is celebratory in nature, not morbid, I believe. There is only so much one can mope and cry about. Good news like this gives us a breather. So yes, this is a big deal.

It is also a big deal because Chinoy is a woman. Contrary to popular belief, Pakistan is not THE most woman-unfriendly country in the world, but is not the friendliest either. We have our issues when it comes to women. Pre-dominantly, it still is a patriarchal society. Domestic violence, rape, acid throwing still happen. Women face both harassment and discrimination at work place. Men (not all, of course), still are the spoilt brats in a lot of cases. This is February 2012, and in Mianwali’s by-elections, women are still being barred from voting. But even then, we’re not so badly off. We’ve had the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world, the first female speaker of the National Assembly. We have an Asma Jehangir who scares the hell out of persecutor-type men. We have formidable talents in the likes of Mehreen Jabbar. We have women politicians who do us proud with some, if not all, of their feats – Marvi Memon, Nafisa Shah, Shazia Murree to name a few. And now we have a Chinoy who, being a woman, brings home the Oscar for the first time. In Chinoy, the woman who works her way up on the corporate ladder among sleazy flirts and the female activist who struggles to highlight women’s issues finds hope. So yes, it is a big deal. Though I must add here that not all men are patriarchal, chauvinistic sleaze-balls. We are blessed, as a nation, with an increasing number of level-headed, emotionally secure men who are the back bone for our success stories. I do believe that behind every successful woman, there is a man who believed in her.

Chinoy’s success is a big deal also to those wonderful, strong, resilient and “beautiful” women who are victims of the horrendous atrocity called “acid throwing” which is one of the cruelest forms of evil a human can inflict on another. It is a big deal to people who fight against these crimes – people like Dr Mohammad Jawad, the reconstructive surgeon from UK who comes back to homeland for “payback time” and does what he can to make a a few lives better. For activists, this documentary’s success is more than just an Oscar. It is something that pulls one back from disillusionment when one works day after day to make lives better with no apparent result in sight at times.

But while we are relishing this happy moment for Pakistan, exchanging mithaai and muabarakbaad and excitedly seeing Chinoy and “Saving Face” trend on Twitter, my inward hope is that the documentary which will now make people sit up and watch it, does not become a mere “tsk tsk, poor Pakistan” to the audience in the West. I hope it will be seen as an emblem of resilience, and not another addition in Pakistan’s list of problems. See it as a sign of the better days to come in the life of this brave, proud nation, who can and will have better tomorrows. We don’t need sympathy. We need hope.

Saving Face Trailer:

Life of A Fauji Wife

Baji aap ke liye chaai mein kitnee cheeni daaloon?” (ma’m how much sugar do I put in your tea?), he asks me. More than the question, his body language is intriguing to me. He does not make eye contact. His shoulders are slightly bent in respect. He is prompt. He reminds me of stories of jinns in human control… hukm ho mere aaqa type!

The person I am dissecting here is a domestic helper at a friend’s house. I am visiting my old (not as in age!) friend in Islamabad on a work trip. It is is winters and sitting by the gas heater snuggling in my soft woolen wrap, all I had to do was utter the word “chaai” which this man heard and voila! Tea has arrived. This gentlemen is standing in front of me submissively, with a tray in his hand. And I am not used to this for many reasons! For starters, I am not used to full time servants. I make my own tea. Why, even my friends know the drill – that there is a tea station and they can either help themselves to an open kitchen or sit in my kitchen while I make tea for them. No complains. This is how I like it. And it’s not like I am not blessed with domestic help and this is a blog about deprivations. No. But in Karachi, the helpers are in any case more street smart, defiant and aware of their rights – something I actually like. They make sure we don’t become bullies!

I have seen obedient helpers but the “batman” variety is another ball game, as is being the wife of a fauji. Over the days that we are together after what seems like centuries, me and my friend talk about the dynamics. Its a different culture altogether. For starters, all of your husband’s colleagues call you either “behen” or “bhabi”. “But what if I prefer to be addressed by my name?”, I ask my friend. “Naheen yaar, this comes with the package,” she quips back.

What also comes with the package is a highly, highly, highly disciplined life! Teen baj kar chaar minute par qayloola. 9.30 pm is snuggle time and 10 pm is the time for the first dream. Everything is done by a routine. Predictable and mundane maybe, but a fresh change from my erratic schedule in which I sleep at ungodly hours at times because I am in the mood to write, or where me & my family can decide to go on a drive at 17 minutes past 11 pm because there is no dabal roti in the house!

The cool stuff is very cool in fauji wife’s life. Perhaps the best part is the “taika“…..the authority one enjoys. It was amazing how my friend just had to take out her forces identification card, flash it at the guards at the airport or anywhere where security checks were being carried out, and not have to waste time.

It is a different culture, altogether. My friend, basically a typical Karachiite at heart like myself, shares the transition. Words and names like Pannu Aqil, chaaoni, cantt and sir jee have found way into her life. The humour is different. The socializing is not so “multi-cultural”. An army, navy or air force wife has to maintain a certain decorum, and live in a certain way.

But the plusses have to make it glass half full. For one, your husband comes home in time to have a cup of tea with you. You live in serene and safe areas. The armed forces community is like a big family which is a nice feeling (even though the hierarchies are too defined for my taste). You ALWAYS have domestic help, and will get a substitute if one falls ill or goes to his village. You get free flights within Pakistan on ugly armed forces’ cargo planes. And in all probability, your husband is physically fit, and has not developed a pot belly.

So to each their own. I am happy for the fauji wives. And with that, I go back to my civilian life and make my own chaai. 🙂

Bullet Points: A session with Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy at the Karachi Literature Festival 2012

  • 12th February 2012. Carlton Hotel, Karachi. Day 2 of the Karachi Literature Festival 2012 (KLF)
  • The announced event with Sharmeen is supposed to start at 5 pm. I go to a volunteer at 4 pm to confirm that it is on. She tells me with surety that all sessions in the Theatre have been cancelled.
  • The skeptic in me always needs a second opinion. I ask another volunteer. He tells me it is very much on.
  • I reach the stairs leading to the theatre at around 5 minutes to 5. Many people are returning. “It’s packed. They are not letting anyone in,” they say.
  • Not giving up so easily, I climb up to the door, tell at least 6 people I am a journalist, reach the door, am relieved to find someone I know volunteering (yes, contacts work in Pakistan) who lets me in, and am inside the packed auditorium. I sit on the floor near the stage with many others. I am perhaps the last person, almost, to come in. The doors are shut.
  • Unlike most sessions at KLF, this one starts on time. Moderator Bilal Tanweer and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy are already on the stage.
  • The tone of the moderator’s questions and Sharmeen’s answers is candid. Sharmeen sounds unrehearsed. Spontaneous. But some of her answers remind one of recent stuff about her in print media. Well, it IS the same person. How much novelty can one expect?
  • Clips from 5 of her documentaries, including the Oscar-nominated “Saving Face” have a powerful impact on the audience.
  • Disfigured at the hands of war, the children of Iraq; acid victims of Pakistan; the feminist movement in Saudi Arabia; bombed girls’ schools in Swat; the plight of the transgender community in Pakistan – powerful themes in each of the clips has the audience emoting and engaged. Sharmeen is very obviously pleased at the crowds’ engagement.
  • The tone of the session is succinct. The Q & A session with the audience is interesting. The best question, to me, is the last one, from an ex-pat Pakistani woman, who after expressing admiration for Sharmeen’s work, asks aren’t such documentaries that show the “real but ugly” scars of Pakistani society going to leave a negative impact and promote stereo-typical images of Pakistan, specially to the global audience? I crave to add this to that question: The documentaries are well-made, yes, but should it not be more than the “tsk tsk factor aka sympathy vote” for Pakistan that we need? Shouldn’t the media create global empathy for Pakistan, rather than sympathy? Sharmeen vehemently explains her stance, and talks about how “Saving Face” is not just about acid victims but how real people like a doctor, a lawyer and parliamentarians came forth to help these women, as a community, and how Pakistan can together fight back these problems.

I hope her desired intent comes true, and her documentaries leave the impact that is intended. And I pray she brings home the Oscar.

Here are some of her quotes from the session that were the highlight of the session:

  • “I have no formal training in documentary film making.”
  • “You cannot be taught film-making in a class room. You have to go out there.”
  • “It is important to tell stories.”
  • (When asked why her stories are often told by children as central characters): “Children tell stories without any filters. Children connect to a global audience and break barriers.”
  • “I am an angry person. When I am angry about something I know this will make a really good film.”
  • “We need to cultivate film makers in Pakistan.”
  • (When asked is she ever afraid for her life, as she touches dangerous subjects): “I believe very strongly in fate. One should not take unnecessary risks. But I don’t believe I should stop telling the kind of stories I tell for fear of my life. So yes, I am fatalistic in that sense.”

Female Genital Cutting in Pakistan – It’s Time We Talked About It

The first time I heard from Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs that FGC (Female Genital Cutting) is practiced in Pakistan was in the December of 2010. I was in Washington DC to attend the first seminar as part of the Women’s Edition program, which is a program of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) that helps train, educate and facilitate chosen female journalists from developing countries regarding reproductive health issues, gender, population and other similar fields.

“Do you know that it is done in Pakistan?” Charlotte asked me, and as Program Director, Gender for PRB, I knew that she knew what she was talking about. As a journalist who had been working in the field of journalism for more than fifteen years, my reaction was one of denial for two reasons. Firstly, because I did not want to believe that it was happening in my country. And secondly, I could not fathom how come I, who works in this field of reproductive health and knows about FGC being done in African countries specially Egypt, does not know about this. Perhaps I was not a well-informed enough journalist. Or perhaps, and most probably, because this is one of the country’s best kept secrets.

As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), FGC “includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

Today, as I sit down to write this blog, the date is Feb. 6, 2012, and today marks the ninth commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Worldover, an estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), and more than 3 million girls are at risk for cutting each year on the African continent alone.

On my return from USA, I wanted to find out more about FGC. I discovered, upon research, that it is a custom carried out by the Dawoodi Bohra community and some other isolated communities in Pakistan. The Bohra community, some 100,000 strong in Pakistan according to official figures, are an extremely civil and respected community. Some tribal communities in Southern Pakistan are also known to practice FGC. Among these is the ethnic Sheedi community as well.

Even upon much research, I did not find out a whole lot about FGC practice in Pakistan, specially in the said community. What I did found out, though, is that it is something that was not talked about even among the family’s where it was practiced. What I did find out was that they considered it obligatory according to their faith. What I did find out was that since recent times, the trend to have a less invasive procedure (in which only a bit of the skin is snipped off symbolically) had caught on in the community. What I did find out was that an increasing number of women, today, do not want their daughters to undergo what they had gone through.

The idea behind FGC is to contain a woman’s sexual drive to ensure that she is not “promiscuous”, and for some it is considered a part of faith. Interestingly, it is not isolated to Muslims only.

It is done in more ways than one. In 2007, the World Health Organization classified FGM into four broad categories:

  1. Clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the clitoral hood.
  2. Excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
  3. Infibulation: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and placing together the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris.
  4. Unclassified: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. (Source: World Health Organization, Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, An Interagency Statement, Geneva: WHO, 2008: 23)

FGM is generally performed on girls between ages 4 and 12, although it is practiced in some cultures as early as a few days after birth or as late as just prior to marriage. It is practiced in at least 28 African countries, and a few others in Middle East and Asia. Some 17 countries have laws that specifically prohibit FGM. Since the early 1990s, FGM/C has gained recognition as a health and human rights issue among African governments, the international community, women’s organizations, and professional associations.

A majority of Muslim scholars world over agree that it is not an obligatory custom in Islam. Mufti Muhammad Afzal Asari whom I interviewed for my story, says, “It is one of those customs that existed in Arab culture prior to the coming of Islam. Leave alone Fardh (obligatory), it is not even Sunnah. It is neither advised nor recommended. At the most we can call it a custom the doing of which will neither give us a reward nor be counted as a sin by Allah. It is a cultural thing.”

Yet, it is a custom still carried out in many Muslim countries. Closer to home is Indonesia, where the custom is observed fervently in rural communities, in spite the government’s ban on FGC.

It is important to remember that Islam does not deny the right to sexual pleasure for women. Yet, generations of women globally (and not just Muslim women) have been denied this right at the hands of this custom.

Months of research and hard work led me to a written piece of work which was in my hands, but which nobody was ready to publish as it is a subject shrouded in mystery. Finally, the story got published in August 2011. The link is as follows:

Our third of the series of Women’s Edition conferences led us to Senegal, an African country, where we got a chance to visit rural communities who are now FGC free, thanks to the efforts of Tostan. Tostan’s mission is to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights. Tostan means “breakthrough” in the West African language of Wolof. And a breakthrough it indeed is. With the motivating and undefeatable Molly Melching at the helm of affairs, Tostan’s work has resulted in over 5,000 communities having declared abandonment of FGC. Senegal is on track for complete FGC abandonment by 2015 and the movement has taken root in seven additional countries.

In the village of Keur Siambara, we met Village Chief and Imam Demba Diawara, who according to Molly Melching is “a PhD in wisdom”! The one mantra Demba kept repeating that had much to be learnt, especially for activists, was: “Beautify Your Words.”

As we sat under a huge Neem tree in that village in Senegal, little girls sang a touching song for us in which they expressed joy at not being cut like their mothers and showed awareness of their basic human rights like education, respect and not being violated, physically or otherwise.

FGC may result in complications like urinary tract infections, infertility and scarring. Cysts may also develop, and the World Health Organisation has found that the practice increases the risk of infant mortality. Also significant is the reduction in how much sexual pleasure circumcised women can experience.

But the psychological trauma a little girl may go through when she is violated and taken by surprise when she is often too young to realize what is happening to her may be even more traumatic than the physical side-effects.

On this February the 6th, it is time, yet again, to bring this subject out of the closet and at least think over it, for awareness means informed decisions.

For More Information on FGC:




Of Humsafar’s Repeated Episode…….Who Was Behind This Act of Terror?

It is 8 pm and the fateful date is the 4th of February 2012. It’s a Saturday evening, but the streets of Karachi are unusually empty. The air is heavy with anticipation. Tick tock tick tock. Moments slide lazily. Finally, the moment arrives. The moment for which millions across Pakistan waited the whole week. Quratulain Baloch croons, yet again, “Who Humsafar tha”. Mahira Khan, or Khirad, smiles bashfully as Fawad Afzal Khan, better known now as Ashaar, smiles his way into our hearts with understated passion. Any and every program for the weekend has been put on hold. The women of Pakistan, and even the men under influence of the women in their lives, are having that crescendo moment of the week. Humsafar is about to begin. Will Khizar spill the beans to Ashaar? Will Sara commit suicide? Will Hareem survive the open heart surgery? Will Ashaar finally develop a spine and see reality? The questions are so many and so important.

I am sitting with my cup of tea which I specially held on to, to watch it with “Humsafar”. I am enjoying the scenes unfold till the phone rings. I refuse to take it. It is my cousin. I plan to call her after the episode is over. But her calls gain frantic pace. I pick up. She is screaming in disbelief. “They are repeating the episode!” she says, amidst tears. “What? Let me confirm it,” I say. Another friend confirms it. I open my facebook page. Yes, it’s true. My home page is flooded with status updates full of anger, disillusionment, disbelief and denial.

Some of these (and these are real ones) are:

  • “Ok Hum tv, this is not on! You can’t show a repeat of Humsafar’s previous episode at prime time….. :(”
  • “Not fair…waiting one whole week and they repeat the humsafar episode :(”
  •  “Not fair! I had my dinner table set in front of the tv. It was like pura taraddud kiya and last week’s episode? Grrrr!”
  • “What is going on hamsafar is repeated??????? Why? :(”
  • “They can’t do this to us …. Humsafar :(“

But perhaps the best one was this, from a friend in USA:

  • “Humsafar buddies hosla karain. Kaheen yeh bhi Amreeka ki koi sazish to naheen??”

As people start waking up to the horrible reality, one of them calls the collective suffering “HUM SUFFER!!!”

I realize my good fortune! I had missed the last episode due to a doctor’s appointment. I am enjoying sadistic pleasure out of it, feigning sympathy for my friends. Well, a part of me actually feels for them. But I am relishing the moment. I grab a kinnoo and some chilly chips from the kitchen in celebration, just as the last commercial break approaches. The doctor’s visit saved me the pain.

A running strip on the bottom of the tv screen announces that the channel is apologizing that the episode could not be aired due to “technical difficulties”.

And the stream of conspiracy theories begins flowing. Animated discussions begin. Was this to increase ratings? Is Humsafar playing hard to get to keep the spark alive? Were there issues with the sponsors? Is this a chaal of the extremists? The Talibaan? Are the free masons behind this, if not the US of A?

The official facebook page of Humsafar makes a lame attempt at trying to “make up” by writing “Bicharnay waale mein sub kuch tha, bewafaai na thee”. But no amount of pledges of loyalty and sweet kootchie-cooing is apparently enough to make up for the pain the fans went through.

So the classic stages of grief are in play: Denial, anger and finally resigned acceptance.

What can we do but Sabr. So we all start the waiting game yet again. Once more, we are waiting for next Saturday……for a new glimpse of the intense and dashing Fawad and the stunning miss-goodie-two-shoes Mahira.

Hang in there friends. Next Saturday you will all hopefully sleep happier and more fulfilled. Till then, here is to all the Humsafar fans (all genders included).