RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: August 2012

“Hey, how old are you?” Is Age Just A Number?

The younger we are, the older we want to appear. And it is vice versa as we grow older. At the age of 12, one loves being considered 13. At the age of 37, it is wonderful to be seen as 32. At this stage in life, with my daughter Mashallah almost my height, I have gotten over wanting to be seen as older, or younger than what I truly am.

If one is lucky, a time comes when one becomes totally comfortable with announcing one’s age to the world. But a friend on the condition of anonymity shared, “The journey from being called baby to baji to aunty to khala by shop keepers has not been easy.” What’s more, it is not just the women who suffer from this hang up. It is also uncles and chachas. But yes, women suffer from age discrimination, and consequently, the “age defying” complex much more than men.

The age factor or the complex to appear younger is something that we are conditioned into. For evolutionary reasons, it makes sense that nature programmed men into gravitating towards younger women. But the cosmetic industry, plastic surgeons and botox proponents, all promise one thing and one thing alone…you can defy age, or at least appear to look younger. Add to it the unrelenting efforts of the advertisement industry and voila! We have humanity scrambling to appear younger than they are. But the insecurity about looking older already existed in society…sellers of the “cheat about your age” just used it to their optimum advantage.

We are made to believe that the prime of a person begins at twenty and ends at forty. Stories about showbiz people simply refusing to age beyond twenty-five are legendary. Up until NADRA came into picture, people would conveniently hide five to 10 years off their date of birth. You must know a few couples who will leave their 20 year old eldest at home and let the eight-year-old youngest child tag along everywhere so that people assume that they are a young couple.

Many are actually known to report identity cards missing and remove several years off their age. Grey hair is considered a sin, and any man who sports salt ‘n pepper hair, has to hear a lot of comments from old friends who say “what happened to you man?” as they smugly run their fingers through their oh-so-obviously dyed hair.

Why do women lie about their age? Or are they coming of age and gaining courage to say it out loud? Shai Venkataraman, a health reporter at NDTV India and a mom of two, says, “I am open about my age. Although in my profession women are getting younger and younger, I refuse to be fazed! I really don’t know why women would want to hide it. I also don’t think age difference between spouses matters. I have friends married to younger men and they are very happy. It’s finally about how you connect mentally.”

But what about the age difference between a couple? Hamid Saleem, 31, a marketing manager and a bachelor, says, “If she is attractive, makes intelligent conversation, adds value to my life, I have no problems with her being older. However there’s a problem if women have a been-there-done-that attitude. A man needs playfulness in his life. Men at 40 wanna act like they are in the 20s. If he doesn’t get the playfulness at home, he looks for it outside his home.”

Sarah Ather, an HR consultant and mother of three, feels comfortable sharing her true age, but understands why women generally hesitate sharing their true age. “Living in a patriarchal society and being women, we are bound by cultural traditions and mentality. Announcing your age has become taboo. On top of it, advertisement commercials lead us to believe that age is the factor determining how we are to act.” Athar has hit the nail on the head here, as even the choice of colours we wear and our personal attitude towards life is expected to change once we hit the middle ages.

Mahgul Fatima, an artist and a mother of three seems to have analysed this hang up to some extent. “I guess people hide their age as they usually think they look a lot younger than they actually are. We can usually hide the wrinkles and aging signs with makeup, but the candles on our birthday cake remind us of every passing year, so now everyone has stopped putting candles on birthday cakes! Fibbing about our age by a few years helps us feel younger …it’s all in our head.” Why do women prefer men older to them? Mahgul feels the reason is that “older men are more emotionally settled, mature and financially stable.”

An edited version of this article was published in Dawn’s Sunday Images in March 2011

Naveen Waqar Weds Azfar Ali!! And that’s none of my business

Naveen Waqar – the femme fatale, gorgeous villain of the tele serial “Humsafar” that broke all success records and became a legend of Pakistani tv. Naveen left a mark as the ballistic, obsessed-with-Ashaar “Sarah”. But the delicate Naveen in interviews came across as quite the opposite of the psychotic Sarah……calm, elegant, pleasant. the proverbial “nice girl”.

She was next seen in Geo’s “Annie ki aayegi baraat” and the recent episodes showed her as the bashful bride.

And then, simultaneously, it happened! Firstly, hushed and cautious rumours and then full-fledged breaking news all over town.

Naveen had tied the knot with the known tv-anchor, actor and director Azfar Ali. What shocked the wits out of people was the fact that Azfar was already married to Salma Azfar, also a tv actress, for almost a decade, and has apparently divorced her before saying “I do” to the resplendent Naveen.

What followed was a frenzy of animated, passionate, fiery discussions over social networking sites, comment-wars under blogs and discussions over coffee. And essentially, everyone was and is saying the same things: That Naveen is a home breaker. That she has destroyed the life of Azfar’s children. Comments like “We will never forgive her” and “how could she do this?” flooded the blogs. Naveen had overnight become the “other woman”.

To me, this was a surprising bit of news and that’s about it. I have never been an Azfar fan but I rather like his (ex)wife Salma. She had a sweet, likable quality to her. I can empathize and feel for the children, as a home breaking is never easy for any party involved , specially the kids.

But with all the charged-up opinionated friends who are calling Naveen and Azfar names, I beg to differ. Agreed it is sad. But hello, do we really know the reality? Have we walked in the shoes of any party involved here?  In any case, whenever an engagement or a marriage break, why do we ask the inevitable “magar hua kya?”. Is it really our business and position to judge and belittle someone’s choices? What if his first marriage was already a bad marriage behind the smilie photographs? And yes, there is a very real possibility that leaving Salma is a mistake he is committing. But hey, it is HIS life and his mistake. And it is Naveen’s choice. My heart goes out to Salma, but I cannot judge without knowing details.

And the golden rule of course is to leave alone matters that we don’t concern us. There is so much more we can do with our precious time. Sign a petition in favour of the Shia Hazara. Read a good book. Read the great articles always available on the net that add value to your life. Bake something and have it with tea. Better still, have that cup of tea with your mom. Write. Pray. Walk. Love. Care………..

Why bicker and argue over what she and he did with their lives? Wish them the best, say “Shadee Mubarak” and move on. In short, get a life. After all, it’s known that gossipers don’t have much of a life of their own.

Choice is yours.

Salma, sending you strength and good vibes. May your tomorrows be much much better.

Naveen, you are no evil witch to me and your personal life is your business. So Shadee Mubarak.

And Azfar, could you improve the quality of your shows? The wit is a little run-down these days.

Dil dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din….

Sampooran Singh Kalra, better known as Gulzar, was born eons ago on the 18th of August. Today, on his birthday, I wonder if I could felt so much in depth the many emotions he has voiced for me.

“Tere bina zindigi se shikwa to naheen….Tere bina zindigi bhi lekin zindigi to naheen”…..moments in which love was lost but life drudged along, aimlessly, lovelessly, he said what everyone who has known that heartache felt.

“Tujh se naraaz naheen zindigi hairaan hoon mein”…..whenever life did not make sense, but acceptance was required nevertheless, these words carried me through…and somehow helped make some sense of the complexity of human relationships when he said “zindigi tere gham ne humain rishtay naye samjhaye”. And hearing this, I knew that life is never simplistic, but life goes on.

“Mera kuch samaan tumharay paas para hai”. How can one go through heart-breaks and break ups and not have heard this? Gulzar Sahab’s imagery in this one makes abstract memories palpable. One can literally touch those memories when you hear these words….feel the velvet of yesterdays with one’s fingertips when he says: “Aik sau sola chaand kee raatein, aik tumharay kaandhay ka til, Geeli mehndi ki khushboo, jhoot moot ke shikway kuch, jhoot moot ke waadey bi sab yaad kara do…..sub bhijwa do, mera woh saman lota do”!!!

His poetry is so relatable because the words are easily understandable and complex emotions are packed in tender every day words. He can slide from the classic, pristine romantic poetry in “Aap ki aankhon mein kuch mehke huey se raaz hain” to the deliciously raunchy “kajra re, kajra re, tere kaare kaare naina”, maintaining a class of his own in each situation.

And then there is romance and spritely love and excitement and fervour in the poetry of “Saathiya, madham madham teri geeli hansee”. The imagery in this particular set of lyrics is just fabulous……he calls her laughter “Sondhi see hansi teri” and we all know that “Sondhi” is the adjective used for the smell of wet soil after a spray of rain. And he says, as the lover, that the beautiful beloved should not go out into the garden wearing “peeli dhoop” (yellow sunlight) otherwise “bhanwray tum ko sub chairain ge…phoolon mein mat jaana” (the bees will bother you so don’t go near the flowers). So smoothly he alludes towards her beauty and sweetness that it makes one want to meet this beloved.

But to me and so many others, it is this piece of poetry that is the  Pièce de résistance when it comes to contemporary Hindi poetry celebrating that painful, beautiful human emotion we call “nostalgia”. In “Dil dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din”, the first two lines are of course from Ghalib and Gulzar builds it up from there, but in such a way that while he pays a humble tribute to the incomparable Ghalib, he manages to maintain his own distinct style and gives us lasting phrases that resonate inside each one of us: “jaaron ki narm dhoop aur aangan mein lait kar…..aankhon pe kheench kar tere daaman ke saaye ko”……only someone heartless would not melt on these words and someone who cannot relate to the words in this piece of poetry needs to love more and live more.

So here’s to Gulzar. A humble thank you for his words and his genius.

Dil dhoondta hai phir wahi fursat ek raat din
baithhe rahen tasawwur-e-Jaanaa kiye huye

Jaadon ki narm dhoop aur aangan mein let kar
aankhon pe kheench kar tere daaman ke saaye ko
aundhe pade rahen kabhi karwat liye huye…..
dil dhoondtaa hai

Yaa garmiyon ki raat jo purwaayiaan chalein
thhandi safed chaadaron pe jaagen der tak
taaron ko dekhte rahen chhat par pade huye…..
dil dhoondtaa hai

Barfeeli sardiyon mein kisi bhi pahaad par
waadi mein goonjti huyi khaamoshiyaan sunein
aankhon mein bheege bheege se lamhe liye huye….
dil dhoondtaa hai


The heart once again yearns for those leisurely days and nights
When we could just sit back and imagine the beloved

Relaxing, lying down in the backyard, under the mild winter sun,

Shading the eyes with the shade of the hemline of your shirt

Sometimes lying on the side and sometime on the stomach.

Or breezes may be blowing on summer nights
We would be keeping awake late into the night lying on cold white bedsheets,
gazing at the stars lying sprawled on the rooftop

During chilly winter on some mountain,
We may be listening to stillness echoing through valleys
With wet, misty moments in our eyes

14th August – Why Must I Celebrate?

My home, my country is 65 years old today. Come August and we start gearing up to celebrate Pakistan’s birthday, if we can call it that.  The emotional patriot that I am, the whole “green” thing works for me. It is my time to re-visit the qaumi taraanaas (patriotic songs) and hoist a flag on my roof and go all teary when I see Quaid e Azam on the tv screen. In August, basically, I am having a crash course in patriotism. Like a 2nd or 8th or 16th honeymoon of a couple who over the years have forgotten what they mean to each other. So they take a trip down memory lane and sit and watch their shaadee movie and leave the kids with the grandparents and take a trip together to rekindle what’s left.

In most cases, this stuff works. As in the case of me and Pakistan.

But one minor issue. Let’s go back to the weird example about the couple. So imagine this. They have a great “re-kindle the romance” tryst at a far-eastern island resort, have spent a week together, and love is in the air. But then reality sets in once they return. The honeymoon fever starts subsiding. They slide back into the old pattern. The wife nags, the husband is indifferent and insensitive. She’s obsessed with her clothes and her family, he is a workaholic who gives her no time. Honeymoon goes down the drain.

That might be, sadly, the problem with how we look at 14th August, or any ritual in any relationship for that matter, whether it is our relationship with a person, a country, an idea or even God. When we indulge into something without thinking and without reflection and introspection, all that remains is hollow and outward expressions of a love that is shallow.

In a love that is deeper and more real (and most of us claim to love Pakistan), we must give back in return. The truest relationships are those that stand the tests of time. Relationships in which you feel an urge to do for your beloved anything that makes him/her happy. What can I do that would make Pakistan happy, I wonder?

For sure, Pakistan LOOKS happy today. Celebration’s in the air. Fireworks marked the grand entry of the 65th birthday of my homeland at midnight. Everyone will be dressed in green (yes, me too, I confess!). Flags, songs, chants, slogans of hope, of better tomorrow. Why, even google is all dressed a la Pakistan!

So yeah, sure, Pakistan looks all happy. Just like that couple looks happy in the 2nd honeymoon pix they posted on FB. But are they, really? And is Pakistan happy? Really?

A REGISTERED 23% (almost) living below the poverty line, a dismal literacy rate, a non-existent state emphasis on health and education when compared to what we spend on defence, ethnic prejudice and violence, killing in the name of caste and creed, extremism, huge economic disparity, an increasing tendency of polarization in society….a society divided between liberal extremists and religious extremists, persecution of minorities…..the list is endless. Poverty in the land of the pure forces people to commit suicide. Women are raped and silenced. Our government’s corruption has assumed legendary proportions. While minorities are persecuted, we, the Muslim majority (with all due respect) is essentially clueless about the true nature of Islam….we have not yet met Islam one on one, most of us. A reflection of us not knowing Islam is evident in tiny things like breaking the traffic signal and littering and losing tempers in Ramadan and also in bigger things like killing the Shia Hazaras.

In a nutshell, Pakistan is not happy, really.

Like a cynical but forthright friend’s tweet said, “I am not a proud Pakistani. With this mess I can’t be. Seriously. But I promise to work towards it.”

Yet, I still DO celebrate the 14th of August. Not just because I am an emotionally labile person who reaches out for her tissue to wipe tears when she hears “Khayal Rakhna” by Alamgir and the Benjamin Sisters. Not just because I am in the 14tn August honeymoon zone. No. I have given it careful thought.

And the reason lies in the last part of my friend’s tweet:”….I promise to work towards it”.

With all the mess that it is in, when I look at that white-haired old man called Dr Adeeb Rizvi serving at SIUT, and I see people believing in him, I know there is something worth celebrating. When I look at the work Imran Khan has done at Shaukat Khanum and the work Edhi has done, I know there is hope. And not just the very known heroes. At grass root level, I meet a woman in Heera Mandi Lahore, running a school for literacy of children of commercial sex workers. In the dangerous Lyari, a man is teaching children peace-skills in his school. My nephew is working with his group of friends as a small initiative to spread literacy among under-privileged children. At an even smaller level, my mother always would teach the children of domestic staff to read and write. She was a member of the National Women’s Guard in the years around independence, a fierce patriot, who still in spite of her dementia sings patriotic songs and tells stories of how she saw Quaid e Azam. History repeats itself when my daughter teaches an underprivileged child in her summer holidays. I land at Jinnah International and with all the negatives, the positive is that the chivalrous men of my nation will still help me with my luggage, and the poor fruit vendor may give me an extra banana free of charge. We still cherish good values. We are a poor nation (not talking about the ruling elite right now!) but one of the most charitable nations in the world. We have been through hell and Pakistan is a dangerous country to live in, but we are resilient, and all this “mess” is bringing out the best in us in art, literature, and very importantly in humour – yes, Pakistanis know how to have a good laugh at themselves.

Deep down, somewhere, Pakistan is happy.

But the emotionally charged paragraph I have written above still does not fully justify why I celebrate 14th of August. For me, the reason is multi-fold. Patriotism, unless misfounded and leading to anger and an “us versus them” psyche, can be and is a positive force if used correctly. It re-kindles the spirit of volunteerism, a sense of responsibility towards one’s country and one’s nation. If coupled with a bit of reflection and awareness, it can remind us of important lessons long-forgotten. A small example would be that if we take a careful look at the flag of Pakistan, the white reminds us of the presence of minorities as equal citizens of the state. Disrespecting or persecuting innocent minorities is tantamount to disrespecting the basic ideology on which this nation was formed. Celebrating this day, as my daughter has made me understand, is important to her generation who have sadly grown up in a time where most of what they hear about their country is negative, skeptic and disillusioned. The new generation must thrive on a sense of hope and a sense of pride.

So let’s give a careful thought today, each one of us, to what we are doing to make Pakistan happy. If we are positive contributors to the well-being of this nation, we have every right to celebrate the 14th of August, sing the national anthem and say Pakistan Zindabad.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go iron my green dress for today 🙂