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Monthly Archives: June 2012

I Don’t Care About No Raja Rental

Published in The News Blog:

I am an average Pakistani. I work hard for a living. And God Knows that’s not easy. I have many faces. I could be the woman who lives in Korangi, Karachi, and travels to I I Chundrigar road to work in a secretarial capacity in a bank every day in an over-crowded bus. I could be the man who is an industrial labourer in Faisalabad, has 5 kids and not enough money to feed them. I could be the so-called well-to-do marketer working in a multi-national, who has a car with an air-conditioner, a good life style, loans that keep me sleepless at night and growing frustration at the situation in the country.

I have heard about the old wine in a new bottle. I have recently heard about a man called “Raja” something being sworn in as Prime Minister. I saw the oath taking ceremony on tv. Why are they calling him Raja Rental exactly? I don’t know. I just pick up cues from the more aware people around me, and then when the Raja topic comes up, I pretend I know a lot about it and say a few things like “He was involved in the $5 billion rental power scam!” As if I have any idea what the details of that are. But you know how it is. Always in your circle there will those know-it-alls who read the newspaper religiously in the morning or watch current affairs’ shows, and they know what they’re talking about. They irritate me because I don’t know much. Anyways they are in a minority. Majority, blissfully ignorant and asleep as it is, rules.

Once upon a time I was more aware. No kidding. When things were relatively better in this country. When I did not know the meaning of bad words like “terrorism” and “inflation” and “power cuts”. When I could give a lift to someone without fear of being blown up. When the liberals didn’t hate the religious people so much and vice versa. When traffic was lesser and time was slower. When even the not-so-street-smart could ACTUALLY make a living on the basis of sheer hardwork. When matriculate system was not looked down upon. When Pakistanis could get visas easily. Back then, life was simpler and I was more awake and more aware.

Now? I think I have chosen to go to sleep about life’s bigger questions. Every now and then when an activist singer or actor or writer jeers at me, the common Pakistani, being asleep, I justify it by saying “What do they know what it feels like to be me!”

Fact remains too much is going on in my life to REALLY worry and think and contemplate about Raja Rental and the likes. It doesn’t matter to me who comes into power. All I wanna know is will it make MY life better or worse? Once upon a time I used to care about the general situation in my country and who ruled. Now, all I care about is making my ends meet.

Will CNG get available more regularly? Will fuel prices go down? Will 18 hours of load shedding remain a norm? Will my kids be able to go to a good school? And will that school continue to have bomb threats? Will people start observing the sanctity of the red light at the signal? What will be the price of cooking oil, rice and sugar? Will more jobs be created? Could it be that Karachi and Lahore will one day have under or over ground train service? If I am that Pakistani who has meager means, will the government hospital where my wife is taken for delivery be clean and will the medicines be for free? If I am that Pakistani  who lives in Karachi, will the riots ever stop and just in case there is rain in Karachi will the city stop flooding? If I am that Pakistani who is a woman who is discriminated at work or whose illiterate husband beats her up, could Raja Rental make sure that women-friendly legislations fix men right and could he please help educated the people of this country so that the men realize that beating a woman is not acceptable? Could the roads that are under construction since ages finally be constructed? Could there actually be a time when the average Pakistani like me can afford to eat mutton apart from Eid-ul-Adha? Could the police be paid so well that they stop taking bribes?

Could the promises be kept?

Could they?

I am an average Pakistani. I work hard for a living. I have chosen blissful slumber. And so, to me it seriously does not matter whether it’s any Rental or Mental who rules me. As long as life becomes more livable for me in this country, may they rule over me for eternity.

If not, I will continue to be angry. And do senseless things like break shops and burn busses and light effigies and use curses and basically do NOTHING about anything. And yes, I will hate Raja Rental if he does not keep his part of the deal.

Something sadly tells me he will not.

Time to go back to sleep.

The symbolic death of Pakistan’s mastermind


The show that was to make unparalleled history. The show of 20 questions that gained such mass appeal that it redefined the word Kasauti in the Urdu lughat (dictionary). The show that started off in the Radio Pakistan building with three friends with beautiful minds teeming with information quizzing each other with 20 questions about any and every topic under the sun. Kasauti is part of our national heritage. As was Obaidullah Baig whom we lost on June 22, 2012.

The genius of Baig lies in a number of facts. The fact that he did not have scholarly education and was actually the product of Maktab based education in UP, yet so accepted was his status as a man of knowledge that a majority not just assumed that he was a trained scholar but revered him as one.

It is fascinating that a single man could have tapped into so many areas of his brain that he had simultaneous grip over subjects as varied as wildlife, ancient mythology, anthropology, scientific discoveries or simply the people of the world. And was also a writer, a prolific documentary film maker and one of the most well-known faces of the Pakistani intelligentsia. The fact that he did this in an era when search engines did not exist, he could have easily put many a google to shame. And most importantly, that Baig did this all in the most pleasant of ways. Winning humility, undisputed finesse, articulate speech and that amiable smile. It is no small wonder that there was no street of Pakistan on which he would walk and go unrecognised.

Rumana Husain, an artist, says, “We knew him as a living encyclopedia but his other loves were nature, the environment, heritage. He had the answers on his finger tips for such diverse subjects, and that never ceased to amaze me. He was such a gentle and patient listener too. In my opinion he connected well with the masses because of his humility.”

Kasauti had a monumental and lasting impact on the nation. It was a program that was intellectually stimulating, yet had mass appeal. Usually, the packaging of intelligent information in media lacks the quality that makes people relate to it. Brainy shows for thinkers are always a bit boring to the average person. Too academic, lacking the outreach quality. Often, if not always, the best brains are happy in their comfort zone bubbles of academia, research and like-minded people. They’d rather not venture into the common-brain zone. And the common man is happy not having to tax their brains too much. Polarisation in effect.  But Obaidullah Baig, Iftikhar Arif and Quraishpur’s trio changed all of that with this show that started in 1967. They made knowledge trendy. They made history, literature and the effects of these on society interesting. In a country that has sadly maintained its dismal rate of literacy; the show not only educated the masses but got the common man thinking.

Ghazi Salahuddin, Baig’s friend and comrade of 55 years and renowned journalist, anchored the second phase of Kasauti in the ‘90s. He thinks the same Kasauti would be obsolete today. “People’s attention spans are much shorter. Their interests have moved on to sports, technology and fashion. If today a quiz show like Kasauti were to be produced, the questions would be different, as would be the audience,” says Salahuddin, with a hint of disillusionment in his words.

Baig’s loss becomes much more profound when we realise the truth in Salahuddin’s words when he says’ “the real crisis in this country is the intellectual and moral decline.” With fewer and fewer people reading books in Pakistan, Baig as an archetypical role model becomes even rarer. With lesser people like him being churned out with each subsequent generation, his shadow looms large over the world of knowledge in Pakistan – an irreplaceable shadow. Here was a man who taught by example that even without formal higher education, a person could develop his mental faculties and build his reservoir of knowledge if he chooses to. Baig set precedents; precedents that need to be followed if we want a better society of thinking, well-rounded individuals.

Digressing a little, when I asked Salahuddin on what he blames this love lost for reading in Pakistan, he vehemently rejects the theory that it is due to the internet. “World over, people have access to the net. More than Pakistan. They tweet and facebook and still read. The bookshops maybe in danger, as is the romance of the hard copy of books with the advent of Amazon and the Kindle. But fact remains that more books are being authored globally than ever before,” he says. In his eyes, Pakistan’s reasons are illiteracy, the loss of our grip over both Urdu and English languages and misunderstood religiosity that discourages free thought.

In losing the man called Obaidullah Baig, Pakistan lost more than a beautiful mind. The juncture at which we have lost him is ironic. His death, in the words of Salahuddin, is “symbolic”. Symbolic of a nation’s intellectual decline.

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A Morning in Bali

It is a clear, bright and sunny morning in Bali. The sky is clearer than I have seen in ages….a crisp blue. I am sitting in the balcony of a resort in Sanur Beach area in Bali. A friendly little bird is chirping away on the palm tree stem….a tree whose leaves touch the railing of my balcony. I am inspired to write, but time is short. Time is always short. Especially in Bali.

The sand under the feet is grainy. The water is inviting.

Me and my daughter have accepted the invitation. We are tanned to a nice honey brown by the time we come out. We forgot the sunblock and forgot that we are Asians and do not need the tan! But the golden ripples, a pristine quiet beach….Worth it.

People are perpetually in a holiday mood…..people from all over the world. It is interesting when THEY look at me interestedly. My looks are unique here I guess. I see no Pakistanis here. They think I am either Arab or Indian. I enjoy observing them. Whether it is the Australian couple on the pool side….the man has thick well-built arms laden with tattoos and the woman is a pretty blond. Or whether its that nimble petite Balinese girl in the balcony opposite me, from house keeping.
Art oozes out from the pores of Bali. Every wall. Every wall hang. Intricate, complicated, magnificent art, sculpted to perfection.
The weather is just about….perfect . The breeze surprises every time. Very few things in life surprise you every time. And Bali breeze does that.
Days can include anything from marveling at nature, having quiet Zen moments on the beach, water sports, cycling around the small but resplendent Sanur village, interacting with the locals, experimenting with truly exotic cuisine or getting a reflexology massage.
But the best part is that in Bali, time slows down. I am enjoying meeting myself again.