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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Being Members of “CLUBS” in Pakistan – Elitism at it’s best!

Clubs, as they are called, are for the elite. For those who can afford to be members. They should either be able to buy the memberships worth hundreds of thousands of rupees. Or, they should be spoilt rotten by multi-national companies who are willing to give them these memberships as the ultimate status symbols. Depending on the person’s financial standing, he has a membership in the upper rung elite clubs. And even among these elite clubs, there are levels and rankings. To attend the Annual Ball of the top most club, or to be able to mention that “I go to such and such club’s gym” is a social statement in itself. One has to go through a rigorous process of interviews and recommendations and what not to get admitted into these cliques.


Acceptable, somewhat, to this point. Go ahead and enjoy what you have earned, and flaunt it if you must. That, though, would be another debate as to what this flaunting does to the collective psyche of a nation that already grapples with economic disparity that is unprecedented in its own history.


So to this point, ok. People have to live with certain facts of life. Elitist mentality is one of those facts of life. But to everything, there have to be limits. And the list of rules outside certain clubs and specially their dining areas go beyond these limits.


To begin with, the dress codes. While women can come in any shabby unkempt state wearing the national dress (which, I think, is good because who can forever look like the Kardashians). But the men cannot come wearing a Kurta Shalwar unless they are wearing a waistcoat over it. So if you happen to go to this club, they will politely tell you to leave or lend you an over-sized waistcoat worn by countless other unfortunate souls who have found themselves in a similar predicament. A casual polo tee is apparently more “respectable” compared to the national dress. Sneakers are accepted in a certain club, but not Kolhapuri chappals or sandals without straps. In a nutshell, if you MUST wear the desi garb, take those stiff-collared waistcoats out of the closet (pun intended). Also, jeans are not allowed, but a dilapidated pant might be allowed.


Some might argue that the dress coding is indicative of simply the fact the clubs want to maintain certain decorum and a certain ambience. But the whole exercise reeks of a psyche not so simplistic. If something wildly provocative that might be offensive to certain sensibilities is prohibited, it would be understandable. But shalwar kameez and Kolhapuris? This is our indigenous dress that we are talking about. And this attitude of the clubs goes towards reinforcing the “gora complex” that has inherently been passed down in generations as a cultural aftermath of the Colonial era.


The rules like not smoking or not using mobile phone are still acceptable. But when it writes, specifically, that “maid servants are not allowed”, I inwardly cringe each time at this blatant show of imperialism in our society where a social hierarchy is carefully maintained. Any change that threatens to topple elitism is not welcomed by the crème de la crème of the social pyramid.


Whom are we to blame for this? The administrations of certain clubs that were formed in the Colonial era are milking the exclusivity they offer. This benefits the market value of the clubs. So it is not just the food and the sports facilities they are offering. What they are offering is that sense of smug satisfaction which people get when they announce which club they are a member of. I have personally had an educated girl say to me “what is wrong with these clubs? They are giving memberships to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Why, now even Sindhis get memberships! Har kisee ko de dete hain.” I cannot forget the look on her face when I casually mentioned that I am, in fact, a Sindhi.


Clubs, per se, are great facilities. Particularly in an unsafe city like Karachi where our children can no longer safely play on the roadside, clubs offer these safe havens. Food is good and reasonable. Sports facilities and other services are all available within the walls of the clubs. It is a luxury that is a need.


The problem begins when the acquisition of this luxury (or need) becomes a reason for us to look down upon others or to marginalize certain parts of society. It is time we rose above such complexes. The dress that is a distinctive sign of being Pakistani is acceptable and honorable. And the woman who is good enough to cook my bread and take care of my child surely deserves more respect than being categorically forbidden from entering an elite ghetto. The clubs will change their rules according to my and your attitudes. It is time.

Published in the News Blogs: 

Loving Your Man To Death?

The day starts by observing his mood. The night falls by making sure that he has a smug and satisfied look on his face. His bout of sneezing is more important than her osteoporosis. The daily menu revolves around his and the children’s likes and dislikes.

He is the centre of her universe. She circumambulates around him. And to keep him happy and satisfied, she will not only do what it takes but she will grossly overdo it. She makes herself the last priority, in every way. And, strangely, in all of this, she gets a sense of being wanted, and perverse pleasure when she says, “he can’t do without me.”

This is every other woman’s story. And this seems almost universal, albeit a bit more in certain parts of the world like ours. We live in a society where a woman making herself a priority almost translates into selfishness. Women let their goals and ambitions take a back seat and lose their sense of self. By ambition or goal, I do not necessarily mean being ruthlessly career-oriented. The goal could simply be weight loss, raising a targeted amount of money for a charity, reading a new book, or, more simply, to be happy. But when compared to HIS goals and ambitions, a woman’s seem inconsequential and secondary.

Are the men to be blamed for that? Not always, I believe, for we, the women, allow for this to happen. Men are not always patriarchal, selfish and chauvinistic. They have to be taught and reminded of both their rights and duties in a relationship, just like women. Then why do women allow this to happen, when they also simultaneously crib about it?

Psychotherapist Anees Fatima Hakeem, analysing this phenomenon from a psychological viewpoint, calls it “co-dependence.

It’s a blind spot for many women, even confident and successful ones. It happens when one partner feeds off the needs of the other. It’s really just a huge manipulation or game with payoffs for both partners. The payoff could be negative or positive.”

Sometimes, the payoff is the joy of self-pity we get out of being walked all over and over doing it. Or it simply becomes a habit. It is similar to how we sometimes keep peeling the skin of our lips or the sides of our nails. It’s cruel. It’s painful. But it becomes a habit.

“An example of standing on her head to please him could be that she spends hours making dinner but at the last minute he tells her that he is eating out with friends. The wife feels resentful and goes into her victim mode. Becoming a victim is a payoff for her in order to manage her anger and resentment. This could become a pattern for her,” says Hakeem, explaining how being a victim and indulging in self-pity becomes a habit.

What, then, ends up happening as a result of this behaviour? “The woman doesn’t know what her feelings are any more. She loses her ‘self’. She doesn’t know where ‘he’ ends and ‘she’ begins. You can notice a change in her choice of words. Instead of saying, ‘I like biryani’, she’ll say ‘it’s great to eat biryani’. Instead of saying, ‘I feel angry’, she’ll say ‘you make me feel angry’ or ‘I have PMS and that is why I am angry’. Worse yet, she’ll even stop being angry because she is too busy cooking, and will take a sleeping pill to handle her insomnia,” says Hakeem, sharing her observations about how, in the victim mode, we stop taking responsibility for our actions.

Naghmana Khan, an economist, feels that religious misinformation and cultural bias force women to overdo and go out of their way to the point of losing their self-esteem in the process. Men are kept on a high pedestal, which conditions women to start believing that their purpose of life is to please him. “Suppose her husband is stressed out about work. Wrongfully conditioned to believe that she is the antagonist, she bends over backwards to please him,” says Khan, pointing out that any and everything that may go wrong with the man, from his health to his career, is supposed to be the wife’s fault. A typical scenario, then, is when the mother-in-law finds out that the son has high cholesterol, and instead of talking to the son about how he can have a healthier lifestyle, she will inquire why the daughter-in-law is not taking care of his diet.

Educationist Afshan Zahoor Jahania feels that realistically “The woman has to be the one to compromise and make a house a home. The man can create a balance by appreciating and helping the woman do this, but he cannot do the balancing act as fairly as a woman does.” In Jahania’s opinion, the solution lies here: “The conservative lot has to identify limits of ‘giving’ and ‘compromising’ , whereas the modern educated liberal woman has to jog her memories and appreciate what her mother did to make the house a home.”

Zoha Anees, finance professional, shares how she used to “go out of my way. Then he chose to step away all together, and I didn’t follow. Now, I have learnt to keep myself happy with or without him. I am the centre of my universe, as are the people I love.”

In essence, someone will treat you the way you allow them and train them to treat you. If you play victim, the person in front of you will play the persecutor. The answer, then lies in balance. Love him, but not to death. Do what you have to do to keep your man happy, but not at the cost of stifling your own soul, or else the hidden resentment will come out in the form of a woman becoming exploitative and manipulating. Love him, but also love yourself. Therein lies the key to a happy partnership.

Published in Dawn:

Charity 101

I love the word “Zakat”. This Arabic word’s root shoots off many words that give a meaning of purification. The often used beautiful word “Tazkiyah” is from the same root word, which means purification of the soul. In the process of Tazkiyah (for Tazkiyah is a life-long journey, not a destination) we are advised to think of our heart and soul as a barren piece of land. We pull out the unwanted weeds and shrubs of hatred, rancor, arrogance, pride and selfishness, and we plant on this newly cleaned soil the seeds of good deeds and qualities like love, forgiveness, humility and generosity.

Zakat, the obligatory charity in Islam, precisely does that. It purifies our wealth as well as our souls.

In addition to this 2.5 % of obligatory charity we are strongly motivated to give more and more and more. For our own good. Because humans are a meaning-seeking species. We need to feel good about ourselves. Just like we have an inherent need to worship a Divine Being, we also have an inherent need to be beneficial to others, unless our souls get corrupted. The act of giving is beautiful. We end up getting more than we give. And the act of hoarding, or holding back, ironically, takes away a lot.

Today, as I came home after a fruitful and in-depth discussion pertaining to charity in an Islamic learning forum, so many thoughts about charity are overflowing in my head and heart. These are some practical tips and thoughts and things I have learnt over time, and I hope to practice. Whatever I forget, I would love for you to add in the form of comments.

So here goes:

  • Give for the sake of giving. For the seeking of the pleasure of Allah. Without expectation of thanks or gratitude. Without the expectation that now your maid will do your work more obediently and more readily. Without the expectation that the poor relatives that you are giving charity to will sing your praises or do your odd jobs. For when we give charity with the expectation of return, it is not really pure… is not really Zakat. It is being given for the sake of vanity, and not in the spirit of giving.
  • We usually are the closest to God when we are in pain or fear. A bad dream. An accident. An illness. Financial turmoil. All these make us “givers” overnight. Out comes the money and the food in charity. But as a hadith of The Prophet (saw) rightly points out, the best charity is that which you give not when the going gets tough but when it is all smooth. So give charity also in your happiest days. As a form of gratitude.
  • Charity should not be just money. It should include your time and effort. When God has given us enough, one of the easiest things is to hand over an envelope to someone. Very few of us take ownership of what we are spending our charity on. We sometimes sponsor a child’s education but do not even know the name of that child or her progress. Which is why then our charity has no soul….no human-centredness. It is important that we spent time and energy finding out where and on whom to spend charity. And use some physical labour as a form of charity. Zaynab bint Jahash (ra) wife of The Prophet (saw), a woman from a noble lineage, specially use to work at tanning leather and the money she earned, she gave away in charity. There is a certain joy in physically or mentally working at earning what you give in charity. Also, visit the people you give the charity to. See their lives. Share their insecurities. Tire yourself in the pursuit of the pleasure of Allah. The joy shall be multiplied, as will be the reward.
  • The forms of charity can be multiple. Ahadith tell us that even a smile is sadaqa. Helping someone lift a heavy load is sadaqa. Removing a harmful thing such as thorns (or plastic bags today) is sadqa. Every time, at a wedding reception, I see the carpet gathered in a way that someone might trip over it, I think to myself “Rasool Ullah (saw) would have straightened this, and this would be sadaqa”. Dropping off someone in your car is sadaqa. Offering someone your seat is sadaqa.
  • Talking of the word “sadaqa”, well, it is more than something that wards off evils and bad omens. It is anything that you do with “Sidq”…..with the truest intention……to please Allah. It can be obligatory Sadaqa like Zakaat, and it can be voluntary Sadaqa which you give in addition to your Zakaat. It is not just kaala bakra (Black sacrificial goat) and the meat trimmings on the roof for the vultures. It is any and everything you spend or do to make Allah happy.
  • The biggest loss and waste is when we DO give charity but we waste it away. We waste it by reminding the person we give it to of our favour Ehsaan jitaana…..kills the whole purpose doesn’t it? Or we show-off our charity. Or we do follow it with harsh behaviour towards the person we gave it to. If we do that, we are the biggest losers.
  • Start by giving charity in your closest circles. Look around for close relatives and people working for you. Special reward is mentioned for spending on those relatives who are never thankful, for they are a real test of our ego. Our ego holds us back from spending on people close to us. So spend on them, specially the rude or political ones. Even though you can see their true colours and even if they don’t deserve it, spend on them. For Allah spends on us and gives us even though we do not deserve all the blessings that He showers us with.
  • Involve your family and friends. Moms, specially, can do a great job at this. Encourage kids to give and share. Make your child give charity instead of you giving it yourself. Make sure your child and spouse and family see you giving, and let them participate in that. Let your kids give tiny bits out of their pocket money and share their doughnuts with street children. Families that collectively give more charity are happier families. And it is a great bonding experience.
  • Don’t just give food left overs and used clothes. Give, also, the best out of what God has given you. This helps lessen greed and increases reliance on Allah. And Allah, in some form, returns to you better than what you gave.
  • Give charity even when you are financially in a bit of a slump. Even small amounts and acts of charity are necessary for our self-esteem. Also, have faith. You will get it all back. Remember how Aisha (ra) gave away all her food in charity and Allah returned to her a meat platter by the evening.
  • DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT scold beggars, even if you decide to not give them anything. You do not have the right to be rude to them.
  • Be thankful, inwardly at least, to people who are needy. They are your gateway to heaven and are giving you easy chances at good deeds.
  • If you cannot give too much charity yourself, be a collector, a fund raiser. Spread goodness and aid good causes. Ahadith tell us that even the collector or storekeeper of the charity gets reward as if he spent that money in charity himself, and the donor’s reward is not decreased either. Allah is Ar-Rahman…..He is looking for excuses to forgive and reward us. Use those excuses.

Charity is something we do for ourselves, not for the poor and the needy only. We benefit from it in many ways. A society in which economic disparity is under check and money is not stagnant in the hands of a few rich people is a happier and less evil society, with less crime rates. On a personal level, our soul is nourished by giving charity, and Allah’s blessings shower upon us in unseen ways.

May Allah’s Blessings and Mercy be on all of us.

You’re So Sensitive

“Farahnaz, you are too sensitive!” I have grown up listening to this sentence. I took it as a criticism but today I take it as a compliment. People have told me, all my life, that I am too sensitive for my own good. That my eye for detail and my noticing subtleties is not a good thing. That I need to be more practical. That I have more than 6 senses and that I read into things too deeply. I have wished for a huge part of my life to simply “STOP” being sensitive. I have fought with myself and tried to become something I am not. And eventually, I have stopped marginalizing myself for being so sensitive an individual. I have embraced myself for experiencing the gentle evening breeze or a hug or the tears of a street child or a piece of literature or poetry at a much enhanced level than many. It is not easy. It is exhausting at times. But I believe that those of us who have this “gift” also have the emotional stamina and strength to explore it and use to their own benefit, and that of others.

So there. I am out of the closet. Farahnaz IS sensitive. As are so many of my wonderful friends whom I naturally gravitate towards. Like my amazing, compassionate, warm childhood friend Uzma who shared the write-up by coach Cheryl Richardson I am pasting below. 

So stop judging and marginalizing yourself. Accept yourself for who you are, whether pragmatic or not. God created you the way you are for a reason. Enjoy who you are.

 “You’re So Sensitive” By Cheryl Richardson

When I was a little girl my dad used to call me Sarah Heartburn – a funny twist on the French movie actress Sarah Bernhardt – because I had a tendency to be a bit dramatic when things didn’t go my way. The truth was that I was a highly sensitive child. I cried easily, felt deeply hurt when kids called me names or made fun of me, and was prone to bouts of loneliness and a kind of sadness that I didn’t understand. It wasn’t until I read “The Highly Sensitive Person,” by Elaine Aron, as an adult, that I understood what was going on. It was one of those rare experiences when a book seems to put your whole life into perspective and you suddenly understand yourself in a brand new way.

For years I used to beat myself up for being sensitive. Like the little girl who felt too much, as a woman, I still cried easily, felt bowled over by too much stimulation – the kind that came from big crowds, bright lights and loud noises, and was deeply hurt by criticism and mean-spirited remarks. I hated being sensitive – loathed it, in fact, until a conversation with Thomas, my coach at the time, changed everything.

I had given one of my first speeches on coaching and had received criticism on an evaluation for how I presented my ideas. The review was harsh and the pain of it stayed with me for days. During our call, I described the feedback to Thomas, saying, “I hate that I’m so affected by this stuff. You can’t believe what’s gone on in my head since I read that review – ’I suck as a speaker, forget about doing this for a living, stick to being a coach, kid.’ I’m just too sensitive and I hate it!” Thomas listened thoughtfully as I continued on about how upset I was and when I finished, he delivered one of his classic one-liners that shifted my perspective. “You know, Cheryl,” he said, “the way I see it, your sensitivity is your greatest gift. It’s gotten you to where you are today and it’s what makes you a great coach. If I were you I’d protect this gift rather than hate it.”

Protect my sensitivity? Now there was a concept I never considered before. The idea that my sensitivity might be a blessing rather than a curse encouraged me to think about it in a new way. There certainly were benefits. As a child and as an adult, my sensitivity translated into a keenly perceptive ability to read people. With a tilt of the head, a blink of an eye, or a slight shift in tone of voice, I often knew what someone was thinking or feeling. This ability developed over time into a finely tuned intuitive knowing that allowed me to be quite effective as a coach and teacher. I could anticipate people’s needs. I often knew what a student needed before they knew themselves. As I listened carefully to a client who was trying to find his or her way, I could see a path form in front of them showing us both which direction to go in. And I often found myself choosing – with my heart, not my head – the exact words someone needed to hear.

My sensitive side also caused me to feel deeply connected to nature, animals, birds, music, and art. These qualities and experiences of sensitivity are certainly not unique to me. We all possess a level of sensitivity that, when taken seriously and protected, can open us to a rich and satisfying experience of life. When we’re sensitive, we’re better able to see beauty everywhere and in everything – from flowers to weeds, in joyous experiences and in the poignantly sad ones as well. Sensitive people also tend to be empathetic – kind and compassionate people who can easily put themselves in the shoes of another. They naturally become sensitive to the feelings of others and, as a result, care about how their actions affect the world.

My decision to protect my sensitivity rather than disown it, was one of the most influential acts of Extreme Self-Care I’ve ever taken in my life. It gave me permission to be myself – on a soul level – in spite of what the world around me said I should be. And here’s an interesting thing: As I learned to protect my sensitivity, it did the opposite of what I expected. Rather than leave me feeling like a pincushion in a world full of pins, it actually made me stronger and better able to use my gifts. Becoming aware of what I needed to safeguard this gift allowed me to take it out of the box when I wanted so I could use it to my advantage. When you begin making choices that support your sensitive, feeling side, you create the sensory safety you need to open more fully to rich experiences and the beautiful nuances of life. You allow your creativity to flourish, your intuitive muscles to kick in, and you gain access to your heart, connecting you with humanity in a deeper, more intimate way.

Stop Raping Karachi!!

22nd May:

10.30 am: It’s a regular day. My daughter has gone to take an exam. My maid has arrived by public transport which means the city is functional. I know what has been happening in Lyari but for me it’s a regular day. However, Lyari is a splinter in my conscience. I know I must, if nothing else, write about it. Things, they say, are a wee bit better. I make up my mind to call up this person who lives in Lyari and set up an appointment to meet her for an interview. There is so much violence in that area, and life has come to such a stand still, and so many people are dead or injured, that the people of Lyari don’t even have enough food. They are mostly daily wage earners. They have no money and no work. They are confined to their homes, hungry and scared. This woman from Lyari? Her story must be told.

4 pm: A relaxed afternoon. I have run my errands for the day. A longish siesta should help beat the May heat.

7 pm: Siesta over. A cup of tea in hand. Channel flicking begins as I sip tea in my safe haven. News flashes appear. On Facebook, a friend’s status says “Karachi phir karrah raha hai” (Karachi moans in pain again). I quickly move to Twitter. Karachi is, sadly, trending.

7.25 pm: More news on all tv channels. About how this started in a rally of a nationalist party which was being supported by other parties as well. Marvi Memon was there too. The rally was in protest of the proposed Mohajir province and the recent operation in Lyari. Ironically, the rally was called “Muhabbat e Sindh Rally” (Love of Sindh Rally). But hatred takes over. Unidentified armed assailants open indiscriminate fire as the rally reached close to Juna Market. Initial dead are counted as 11. More than 30 wounded.

A young man, who is bleeding apparently due to gunshot wounds, runs for his life after unknown assailants opened fire at a rally in Karachi on Tuesday, May 22, 2012.—Photo by Faysal Mujeeb/Whitestar

7.45 pm: Angry political talk shows are being aired. They are all talking about Karachi but not about Karachi. They are angrily attacking each other. They are fighting over who loves Pakistan and Sindh and Lyari more. I am a common citizen. I am hurt and angry and confused – Why are they not talking about what happened? Why are they still selling their party, instead of worrying about those innocent lives?

8.10 pm: I am texting people I care for to make sure they are home and safe. A brilliant idea comes to my mind – cellular phones sold in Karachi should have inbuilt template messages that go something like: Unrest in city. Many killed. Are you alive? Are you safe? Are you home? Don’t move out; stay indoors.

8.30: A city of 18 million reacts in different ways. Some are what we call the “Infuriated mob”. The “Miscreants”. God alone knows who they are. All I know is that they are burning down vehicles and closing down shops. Violence has now spread to all areas. And people like me, in frustration, are tweeting feverishly. What else can we do? Well, we can ignore that this ever happened. But that would be simply signalling that we are zombies. So we tweet. And talk. And vent our anger.

A fellow tweeter’s tweet says everything I want to: Karachi belongs to? A) Muhajjirs B) Sindhis C) Pashtun D) Others E) Karachi kisi key baap ki jageer nahi hai sabka hai. I chose (E). You?

12.30 pm: I am still flicking channels and looking at tweets about Karachi. It is like a compulsion. An obligation. How can I be heartless and not even do this. I blog. And I go to sleep.

As for the woman on Lyari, and her story? For that, I will have to wait till the blood in Lyari dries up a bit. I am praying to God that more blood is not spilled on the same streets.

And for us Karachiites, tomorrow is a nother day. Call us brave, or resilient, or dheet, if you must. As if we have a choice.

Seeing Children Off – What Happens When Your Kids Go Away To Study

Seeing children off

How do parents, especially mothers, cope with the situation when their children leave home for studies or work

By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

We have grown up seeing dramatic clips in movies where the mere thought of a daughter leaving home after marriage makes an otherwise brave mom sniffle, and a father turn away to hide his moist eyes. Today, there is something other than marriage that takes them away from us and way too soon. What’s more, it is us as parents who facilitate this separation. That, of course, is our children leaving home for better education – abroad or to another city.

The mass exodus of youth phenomenon that our country is witnessing today has its plus points no doubt. Exposure, confidence, better education, promise of better lives for our children than we had – we know it’s worth it for the good of our children. But everything comes with a price. It is not easy for a parent to let go.

Saima Rauf, an artist and a mother of two, recently experienced this as her son left home for higher education. “It is very tough,” says Rauf, obviously grappling with the sense of missing her son. “You feel empty inside knowing that now they have left home and would only come for a few days as guests. But you have to let them go for their own good and have to deal with the emptiness. For that you must remain busy, like I have again started giving my drawing more time.”

The first time is the worst, as are the initial days and months, shares Tazeen Ahmed, home-maker and mother. “When they go for the first time you feel lonely, depressed and stressed out because you are not sure whether they will achieve the goal or the purpose they are being sent for, but then with the lapse of time you get used to it,” says Ahmed’s voice of experience.

It is not just emotionally difficult, but parents have very real fears about their children once they are away. Sadia Agha, a philanthropist, describes how she felt when her children left home for greener pastures. “As a mother, I am scared everyday of so many things. What if the kids get on to a bad track; I trust them and have taught them the basic values, but it’s a big bad world out there. Youth is a time when emotions are running high; girls and boys being together unattended, western influence, the threat of alcohol, them all alone out there,” says Agha, sharing her fears – fears which every parent faces but does not always voice.

This is doubly difficult as, today, many of us are prone to over-parenting. We have become “helicopter parents” hovering closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether our children need us or not. Parents try to resolve their child’s problems, and try to stop them from coming to harm by keeping them out of dangerous situations.

Hina Ansari, mother of three boys, is a self-proclaimed “reformed helicopter parent”. “Now if my son is unable to call for a week or two, I do not have the urge to die like I used to! It is a matter of adjusting to a new lifestyle. And the earlier you let go of the apron string the better for both. It is easier said than done though. But you have to accept that you have trained them well, and you have to leave them in God’s care. If you don’t have faith in your children, how will they have faith in themselves?” Ansari is now using the time she has on hand well by going back to school and pursuing a degree.

Thus, even after they have left home, many parents know of every activity of their child, or think they do. Dr Tarannum Ahmed, mother of two, has both her children studying abroad. Thanks to information technology and phone packages, Ahmed talks to her children several times a day. They still have to ask her when they decide to go to a friend’s for a day-spend. But this constant long-distance monitoring has taken its toll on her. She has to go and live with her children every time they move to a new dormitory, and shuttles between home and the US. Her son recently had a minor car accident. “It was the worst day for me; sitting thousands of miles away, helpless, not being able to be there. It’s not easy…That is all I can say,” says Ahmed, moved to tears by simply re-living that day.

Re-thinking, this monitoring is worth it, as the kids may have left the nest but the sense of belonging continues. And so it goes….their rooms remain intact, as they left them. The parents are always there for them in times of dire need. They come home for vacations and homes, once again albeit temporarily, are filled with laughter and chaos. Moms busily cook their children’s favourite meals. Dads come home early from work. Children have the best of both worlds – they get a taste of independent living and gain confidence needed to face the world, but always have a place to come back to.

Published in The News:

Sex Education in Pakistan – Yes or No

The question is not just whether there should be sex education for adolescents or not, but HOW

What does an 11 year old go through when one fine day, she starts bleeding in school, and she was never forewarned by her mother about menstruation? In a highly guarded and conservative setup, what does a 16 year old girl go through on the night she gets married, if she was not told even the basics? Imagine the regret of a 27 year old man who, after marriage, finds out that his reckless sexual adventures and lack of awareness about safe sex have left not just him but his unassuming wife carriers of HIV.

These are common scenarios. Time and again, incidents such as these make us realize that Reproductive Health Education is necessary. But it is an issue that remains controversial.

In a society where a girl going and buying sanitary napkins for herself or a boy asking his father about the changes he notices in himself as he comes of age might be deemed inappropriate, cultural norms make this a sensitive topic. The rampant upsurge of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), Pakistan being a low-prevalence high-risk country when it comes to HIV, and commonly known incidences of sexual harassment and rape: these factors make it important for young adults know details to protect themselves against potential dangers. The question then remains how.

Dr Azra Ahsan of NCMNH (National Council for Maternal and Neonatal Health) is clear that we DO need to educate adolescents about it, and feels that the bigger question is how. “To begin with, the term ‘sex education’ should be replaced by the term ‘reproductive health education’. Using acceptable terminology, talking in a non-controversial way and using the right approach is very important,” says Ahsan. She feels it is a necessity. “It is about growing up. It is about how to deal with the changes in your body both physically and emotionally.” In Ahsan’s opinion, prominent people of society who have an impact on people as well as religious leadership should step forth and talk about it. “I have seen morning shows in Saudi Arabia that talk about these issues in a very candid manner. Why can’t we?”

It is rare that young adults are taught these facts of life by parents. It is usually a cousin, a friend or someone who is equally clueless. We may argue that children today know everything they need to through the internet, but what percentage of the children in Pakistan have access to the internet? Moreover, how reliable are the sources of information on the internet, and how equipped are young adults to discern among this plethora of information and figure out which information is accurate or not?

Iqra Amin, 17, feels that “Children in cities are much more aware. Our Biology course in O levels includes all this. It is the children and teenagers my age in rural areas and from under-privileged backgrounds I worry about. Their sources of information should be better. Parents need to step up their game and firstly get more well-informed themselves and then talk it over with their children for their safety.”

When asked whether this should be taught in school or not, Faisal Naveed, 17, has a different reason for why he thinks it should not. “In school when this subject is approached in class, it becomes a laughing matter. Cheesy jokes follow and no one takes this important matter seriously. Also, when society talks about these issues openly, it may become more acceptable to indulge in reckless sexual behaviour,” says Naveed.

For the same reason, parents and many people resist the idea of teaching sex-ed in schools. Earlier in 2009, a controversy arose when Dawood Public School for Girls, Karachi, introduced reproductive health education in a science text book which was included in its curriculum. The parents protested vehemently. “The reproduction process is something natural and children should learn it,” argued the school’s administration in face of criticism.

This incident elicited different responses. Sindh Assembly member Humera Alwani is on record supporting reproductive health education, saying “We cannot leave our children in darkness anymore.” But commenting on the incident, Naveed Zuberi, adviser to Education Minister Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq, had said that they would not allow any school to teach such courses, saying: “This is not USA or Europe, this is Pakistan and our culture does not allow us to teach these things at school”.

But experts feel that discussing in class might actually be a good idea, under guidance of a teacher or counselor, as all the students are the same age bracket and are going through the same. Therefore it makes it easier for them to digest the often tricky subjects.

Dr Badr Dhanani, dermatologist, has studied in-depth about the spread of HIV and STIs in Pakistan. He supports the idea of teaching reproductive health in schools. “The increased usage of the internet has opened avenues for mis-information.and pop up ads create sexual curiosity. Thus, in the absence of sound knowledge about sex, curious adolescents commit mistakes. Teaching children about sex in classroom would encourage them to view it as a natural, normal and healthy part of life. If youngsters learn about sex in a scientific and objective way, they would be more careful before indulging in sex secretly,” says Dhanani.

Tackling the concern that openly talking about these issues may increase promiscuity, Dhanani feels that “although we profess an orthodox society, the ground reality is different.” Thus, we assume an ostrich-like attitude and pretend these things do not happen.

Saima Rauf, an artist and a mother of two teenagers is of the opinion that “In a society that is largely not literate or aware, health workers can play an important role in increasing awareness.”

Often, people assume the umbrella term “sex education” to include limited topics. However it includes not only the basics about the male and female reproductive system, but also topics like menstruation, the physical and emotional changes of adolescence, the growing up process, sexuality, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and the avoidance of acquiring these infectious diseases by means of safe sex and use of condoms. Taboo subjects like masturbation are also touched upon.

“Child abuse (sexual) is increasing. Sex education can supply our young people  the tools to report and resist abusive behaviors, and provide them with a forum for expressing their fears openly. This will help forestall it,” believes Dr Dhanani.

Awareness about the sexual process, pregnancy, and contraception helps young people avoid getting into unwanted situations.

In 2011, Psychiatrist Dr Mobin Akhtar’s book that equated sex education with the Islamic perspective, using Quranic verses and ahadith for evidential support, was criticized. But Dr Akhtar stayed firm on his opinion that not informing young people about these issues can leave negative psychological impacts and in fact hinder them from practicing Islam correctly. His book quotes examples of how the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was open to answering questions pertaining to what Islam permits and what it doesn’t when it comes to sexuality.

The question, then, we can safely assume has somewhat changed. More than whether we need to give adolescents this vital information or not, the question remains how. And this has to be done softly but surely, bearing religious and cultural sensitivities of people in mind.

An edited version of this article was published in “The News on Sunday”:


The New Breed Of Not-So-Evil Stepmoms And Step-Dads

The stern, manipulative, commanding step-mothers of yesterday.

“Once upon a time, in a far away land, lived a sweet and pretty girl named Cinderella. She made her home with her evil stepmother and her two stepsisters, and they made her do all the work in the house.” These initial words of the world’s favourite fairytale have stuck with me. Somewhere, the impact of the story of Cinderella, Snow White and other such stories has stayed with most of us. Real life incidences of battering, abuse and prejudice of step-parents compounded this idea that a step-parent can never be sincere. Period.

Yet, in an ever-evolving world, every decade and every year brings change. We today are living in a time where the family unit is more fragile than before. For various reasons divorce rates have escalated, even in conservative societies like Pakistan where marriage was once the most fiercely guarded institution. The realities are staring us in the face. Moreover, the idea that parents “have a life too” has caught on. Whether separated from a spouse at the hands of death or divorce, the thought that a parent can remarry and thus bring into the lives of his/her children a stepparent is a more real notion.

The recent Bollywood flick which was a remake of the Hollywood movie Stepmom reignited many a debate over dinners and luncheons — can a step-mom be a good influence over her step-kids and actually become a family member over time, as the movie proposed? Asking around to feel the pulse of people revealed mixed feelings on the subject.

The step-mom of today is more like Julia Roberts in this movie – more like a friend or an elder sis, and definitely part of the family

Nadia Wasi, a doctor, shared, “I do know people who live with stepfathers and the situation has worked out very well for the children. I do feel the image of the step-mom is changing as well. With the number of marriages not working out and both women and men remarrying, I think women are more open to marrying men with children and are more accepting towards them.”

However, others, like 37-year-old Zara Shah, confesses that although she is married and settled, she and her siblings have, to date, not been able to accept their father’s remarriage after their mother’s death. “I have to give credit to my dad. He waited a full five years after my mother passed away, and I understand that after we all got busy with our own lives, he needed companionship. Having said that, honestly, I still cannot accept my stepmother living in my mother’s bedroom, cooking in my mother’s kitchen and taking her place in society. My relationship with my father had become numb and cold, but over the years it has thawed a bit and is better.”

Even if the Cinderella effect, as it is called, is not there, there is no doubt that the dynamics of a family undergo change once a parent remarries. The problems can be exacerbated if the family becomes a blended family, with half-siblings belonging to the step-parent in the picture as well. Younger children often adapt to such change more easily compared to adolescent or even adult children who face severe inner strife and identity issues. Often, movies and stories depict the second-time married parent choosing not to have a baby, which seems unfair on the stepmother/father who might not be a parent yet.

The problem perhaps lies in the notion that the step-parent has traditionally been expected to and tried to take the position of a biological parent, which is an impossible task. The new, reinvented and more accepted step-moms or step-fathers perhaps owe their popularity to the fact that, although they are in the position of a guardian, they do not attempt to steal away the memory of the step-children’s biological mother or father.

Also, in a world which is more aware of human emotions and psychology, in all likelihood the step mother or step father understand and can empathize to what that child is going through. They have accepted their spouse, the parent of that child, with this child as part of the package, and are more mature about it, taking the adjustments in their stride.

The step mom of today does not attempt to remove the memoirs and photographs of their mother from their bedside, or shirk at the mere mention of her name. This is a more fun and ‘chilled’ person, as she is in a supervisory position but is not wholly and solely responsible for the child, and the biological parent continues to play an important role. Such a step-parent has hopes of finding a place not only in the home but also the hearts of her newfound family.

A few more tips would be in order for the step-parent. For beginners, one has to remember that a newly found relationship with step-children in the loop will take time to grow, so patience is the key. Pushing for intimacy prematurely is a bad idea. Doing fun things together is excellent for bonding. But too much leniency can be counterproductive, as can be being overly stern. This is a balancing act. In the end, if you intend to make it work, never ever give up. Slowly, you will carve a place in the child’s heart for sure, and prove Cinderella wrong to live happily ever after.

This write-up was published in Dawn with editions:

KSBL – Will It Be All That It Promises To Be?

Move over, LUMS. And IBA, you are so retro. And CBM, you are hardly competition. The newest kid on the block has arrived with huge promises. KSBL – Karachi School for Business & Leadership.

The above words, in bold and italics, are not my words. Neither are they a quote. They are a careful paraphrasing of the impression you get from KSBL supporters who are raving about this new business school to watch out for. The more you read into it, the more you realize that KSBL DOES have potential to be all this.

KSBL stands for Karachi School of Business and Leadership. Established by corporate and business leaders in Pakistan, this school is being set up in the country’s commercial hub Karachi, where business schools do exist but not at the level needed. “LUMS and IBA are good schools but lack the cutting edge expertise that KSBL promises to have” said Humayun Javed Khan, Head of Marketing & Communications at KSBL, at a recent bloggers’ meet organized by the management.

Besides, the more the merrier. With the booming population, especially in Karachi, “there is a need and place for a hundred LUMS in Pakistan” said Rizwan Amin Sheikh, Associate Dean, MBA Program, KSBL. Sheikh is ex-LUMS faculty, as are others, including KSBL’s Acting Dean Dawood N. Ghaznavi. The drain and migration from LUMS to KSBL is an interesting trend.

The list of visionaries behind KSBL is impressive, including Hussain Dawood (Chairman, Dawood Hercules Corporation Limited), Asad Umar (ex CEO Engro) and Sarfaraz Rehman (ex-CEO of Engro Foods and the current CEO at Dawood Foundation) – impressive luminaries of the corporate and business world. These are leaders that make the claims of KSBL very credible to a non-partisan blogger like myself.

In addition, the catch lies here: KSBL has a Strategic Collaboration Agreement with the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. Not a cut and paste job. The curriculum would be tailored to suit the Pakistani environment.

The school promises to have the works and has all the catch-phrases one needs to hear like:

  • A need-blind policy for students ( an admission policy in which the admitting institution does not consider an applicant’s financial situation when deciding admission)
  •  A city campus and a main campus. They promise to have a “green campus” good for the environment.
  • Not just a mass production of ruthless business graduates, but ethical values being instilled in them as well. This is encouraging. As Sarfaraz Rehman said: “Young people today from business schools are smart, are worried about money, and love gadgets. But they are not strong in ethics” as he shared his experiences of mentoring exercises with students of LUMS and IBA.
  • The last two semesters will be based on “experiential learning”. This, again is promising, for many business graduates are seen living in corporate bubbles, brilliant but not street smart and equipped to handle the Pakistani business realm.
  • An “entrepreneurship program, unlike LUMS which is a general management program”, as said by the KSBL team.
  • A focus on research.
  • Most importantly, KSBL promises to help and train it’s students fill the gaps in the social and government sectors, by producing technocrats and individuals who want to give back to society and be contributing members, not just money-making machines.
However, while it seems too good to be true, we have to realize that when compared to LUMS (and I cannot help that comparison, considering that most of the conversation in the bloggers’ meet seemed focused on these comparisons), a few things are lacking in KSBL. The scope is limited, for starters, as it does not have an under-grad program.
Secondly, with promises to instill in students ethical values, research skills and simultaneously broaden their horizons to make them well-rounded individuals, I have a problem understanding how that can be done in the absence of programs of Sciences and in particular without any program of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Sheikh did say that “I pray that before I die, KSBL has programs  of engineering, humanities and social sciences, and is more than just a business school.” He said that KSBL will start as a business school but will develop as a school for other sectors like humanities in the course of time.
When compared to IBA, IBA will always retain it’s place as the trail blazer of Pakistani business schools. IBA and other business schools have already proven their mettle. KSBL is yet to do that.
No doubt, KSBL has a promising start. But will it supersede the giants? Only time will tell.

I Am At A Police Station In Karachi

I am at a police station in Karachi.

It is a hot sunny afternoon in April. I am draped in a big black chaadar. I do that usually but specially also because I am at a police station. My car is parked in the street behind the main gate.

I get inside the gate and walk through the courtyard where neem trees are a plenty. The doors, the signs, the placards….they are all rustic, and also rusted. Piercing eyes are around me. I drape the chaadar a bit more tightly, put on my “I am a journalist so don’t mess with me” expression and find my way into the reporting room.

There are queues of people. Sitting and standing. This is a busy area. Cacophony. Women, mostly in abayas, are on chairs, as men in Pakistan have their chivalry still alive (looking at the remnants of silver linings) so they let “ladies” sit on chairs. I am made to sit. When my turn comes, I sit across the officers. One of them looks straight out of that old tv play which revolved around Pakistani police – his expressions are soft. The other one is scrutinizing me. Their stance changes considerably when I tell them I am a journalist. They answer some of my questions but then go abruptly quiet as the elderly officer with the soft face gestures them to stay calm, and say only baray sahab (senior officer) can answer my queries and he is unavailable. A younger police officer insists I give him my phone number. It is against my better judgment so I change the subject. He persists with a cheeky smile and tries to start a conversation. The elderly officer with the soft face chides him and says “bibi abhi aap jaaiye” (Lady, you should go now).

I am again at a police station in Karachi.

This time it is a hot May evening. I want to get a feel of the station in the evening when there is less rush.

The old mosaic floors have layers of grime. An officer is sitting, copying down reports in bad Urdu handwriting, on yellowish newsprint pages and using an Eagle fountain pen. He licks his finger every time he has to turn the pages of a thick journal that is titled “Criminal Records”.  His fingers are stained. On the wooden table, there is a cup of tea. The tea has long been drunk. Dried crusts of milk and sugar are attracting flies. Old fans are whirring on the ceiling noisily. Mosquitoes attack every living thing in sight. The only bright thing in sight in the otherwise almost somber room is the police officer’s badge – red and blue.

The officer is nice. Respectful. Less hassled than the ones I had encountered last time. Also less cheeky. I ask him about a number of criminal offences, their prevalence rate in our areas, and that are the criminals actually ever charged? He says “Ooper ooper wala hai, magar yahan to ooper baray log hain. Woh phone ghuma dete hain to phir hum kya karein. Humaray to haath bandhay huay hain na bibi.” (Above is God. But here, above us are the influential people. If we get a call from a hot shot, what can we do? Our hands are tied).

I am home. Thinking. Blogging. Recollecting memories of the sights and sounds of police stations I visited. I don’t wanna go there again.

PS: This blog has no point that I am trying to prove. It’s a pointless rant. Simple.