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Monthly Archives: December 2012

No longer the best of times

The Tanhaiyan sequel has fallen flat, simply. The initial curiosity sale is over. Streets are not deserted when it’s on air.

Most of it is the same, isn’t it? Many familiar faces. Same soothing background score. It’s based on the same mould, which is why we were all so excited initially. For those of us who have seen Tanhaiyan — the legendary original PTV drama which the current sequel is based on — it was more than just a TV serial. It was not just because Shehzad Khalil’s direction was unmatchable. It was not just because it was Haseena Moin’s Midas touch behind the pen that wrote it. Tanhaiyan became a part of who we are.

Yes, the remake’s direction is weak, the screenplay lacks originality and there is a desperation lurking beneath each move and each tonal improvisation of each character to re-enact the glory of the original. But to me, the reason for its lacklustre response is really quite simple. We, as a nation, have changed.

We have changed because a lot has happened in the last 27 years. Especially post 9/11. Ever since, our vocabulary has changed and expanded. Tanhaiyan, back then, could not have had the words and phrases and references we use now. Back then, we did not know what terrorism was. Or suicide bombings. Or banned outfits. Or drone strikes. We were also less aware, because it was, if I were to borrow from Charles Dickens, “the age of innocence”.

We were also less conscious of what is politically correct and what is not. In one episode, as a very lame joke, they refer to the murder of New York Times journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by extremists. The person I am today does not find a reference to Pearl’s murder funny. This is serious stuff. I also no longer find funny characters on TV serials or advertisements who stutter funny. To me, this is a severe and worrisome dearth of creativity.Stuttering is usually the sign of emotional trauma. Laughing about it is just dim-witted.

But then, our sense of humour has changed, too, hasn’t it? A darker but more witty, quick and street-smart sense of humour has replaced the comedy-of-errors kind of humour of yesteryear Pakistan. But then, we do see genuine signs and symbols of hope. People who are actually making the world better. That is the Pakistan of today.

The fact is, the Tanhaiyan sequel is making a desperate attempt to carry us back to where we once were, while we have moved on. We are more jaded, more aware, a wee bit more awake. We may be politically downtrodden but the average Pakistani can surely spot where something’s wrong.

It would be a naïve hope that Tanhaiyan would catapult us back into our spring of hope. If we see the original even today, we will still be in emotional throngs. It’s also because one thing that is available free of cost in this age of inflation and falling human index levels in Pakistan is emotions. Escapism. Convenient and satisfying. But the sequel is made in today. So, it doesn’t get the same concessions as its original counterpart.

Back then, we had everything before us; today, we don’t have much before us. Back then, we were all going directly to Heaven; today, we are all going directly the other way. I am sure Dickens wrote those lines for the Pakistan of yesterday and today.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2012.

My political leanings may have changed, but I still love you BB

December 27, 2012

For me, she is forever loved, forever missed.. PHOTO: REUTERS

For me, she is forever loved, forever missed.. PHOTO: REUTERSFor me, she is forever loved, forever missed.. PHOTO: REUTERS

Maybe it has to do with the fact that she was a woman. She was a flame snuffed out much before it’s time….an everlasting Shakespearean tragedy. Perhaps, the candle in the wind. Maybe it is because I am a Sindhi, and somewhere it is in my blood and bones to have a soft corner for the Bhuttos (please leave the Zardari clan out of that allegiance).

Maybe it was her grace and eloquence. Maybe she was the rebel against forces of oppression that I wanted to be when I grew up.

She was my hero when I was an emotional little school girl with a scrap book of photographs that had cut-outs of BB’s pictures from various newspapers. Benazir Bhutto was a thin, frail, lone crusader who was fighting a battle against the formidable Zia. She won over the hearts and minds of people by the millions. That is when I fell in love with BB.

That love has not fizzled out. Today, it is five years since that horrific day when we lost her at the hands of a shocking act of cowardice. And it still slows down my inner pace and I have inward moments of silence when I think of her. Benazir Bhutto is still important to me. In my heart, I have a maternal sense of protection when her children are criticised. A voice inside me thinks of her children who do not have a normal life, they did not choose to be the children of their parents, and did not choose to be placed on alters either.

Just like BB once wrote:

“….This is not the life I chose; it chose me.”

While my love for BB has not changed, my political leanings have. In her life and times, before she actually came into power in particular, I, as a childish and myopic idealist, believed that everything should be painted red.

I thought that PPP’s brand of politics was the answer to the woes of the Pakistanis.

I thought that BB’s coming into power would mean everything restrictive this nation had suffered at the hands of dictatorship would be washed away. A new tomorrow. As a school girl, I knew too little and dreamt too much.

BB, beauty and grace in a female form with a signature white scarf covering her head, as she was sworn in. I won’t forget that day. I don’t wish to. But I wish to God I could forget the many disappointments that followed; the corruption, the scandals, and her inability to live up to the dreams of those who were responsible for bringing her into power. The disillusionment that our BB, an emblem of courage, would cave into forces that pressured her — forces known but not named.

I watched out hawkishly at her political graph throughout those years, wishing I could be apathetic, but was unable to be so. The first tenure, power snatched away; the second tenure, her time away from home.

What about her growing children?

BB in the UK, BB in Dubai.

Like millions of those who loved her, I waited and watched, breath abated, hoping one day she would fight all forces of evil and be the answer to our prayers once again. That if she got another chance, she would have learnt her lesson. That she was still a better option compared to the others. For no matter what, BB stood for democracy. Her tenures, despite the disappointments, had shown considerable improvements in certain areas that were close to her heart – health, education, and more women-friendly legislations and development work.

Through it all, BB remains BB for me. I cringe when her name is taken disrespectfully. The day of her death is a slow and sad day for me.

When I look back at the last three months of 2007, I remember her return to Karachi with Imam Zamin tied to her arm on one side and her tear-filled eyes on the other. Her hands were raised towards the skies, in what I believe was a genuine, earnest dua (prayer) thanking God for her return home. When I reminisce, my heart becomes sore, as grief overcomes and a sort of sadness completes me.

A resplendent looking BB, a bit heavy-set, ready to take on the mantle again, in a purple dress, garlanded, climbing the rickety stairs leading to the stage, shouting hoarsely, snuffed out moments later.


Killed…BB becoming yet another name in the list of unfortunate young dynastic politicians gone too soon.

I still believe in democracy, though I may not have blind faith in her party anymore. And when I speak in the first person, I speak for many Pakistanis who I know have gone through the same metamorphosis. Allegiances and loyalties can be diehard but only up to a point. After that, sensibility and the inherent human mechanism of self-defence take over.

BB has gone. My love for her has not. For even though now I will vote not for the arrow but will vote for “change” as they are calling it, I know that when we lost her, we lost one of Pakistan’s most beautiful minds. She meant well. For me, she is not the saint they are making out of her at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh.

For me, it is a woman who tried to make this country better, and was sincere for the most part, but maybe did not succeed too well. For me, she is forever loved, forever missed.

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter@FarahnazZahidi

Sonia Nazario – Not your average storyteller

TrustMedia Alumni Blog – Sonia Nazario – Not your average storyteller [Reporting on Women’s Issues, Nov. 2012, Barcelona]

By Farahnaz Zahidi | Wednesday at 4:47 PM

Participants gather around a table during the Reporting on Women's Issues course in Barcelona this November.Participants gather around a table during the Reporting on Women’s Issues course in Barcelona this November.

NewsXchange 2012, a gathering of journalists and executives from the media world, started with a hit by American singer Kelly Clarkson, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Moments later, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Sonia Nazario is invited to take to the stage. Clarkson’s song could not have been more apt. It celebrates strength, resilience, falling down and getting up again. Nazario has done all of this – all for the love of journalism.

A writer with more than 20 years’ experience under her belt, her heart lies in social issues, many of which are complicated, tricky and risky – the lives of illegal migrants and drug addicts, among others. Her interest lies not in superficial collections of data with jargon punched in, but features and stories for which she has risked her life.

Nazario won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2003, after an earlier nomination for the same category in 1998. She won it for series called Enrique’s Journey, which became a book and a national bestseller that won two book awards and was published in 8 languages. That’s enough to make her special. But after listening to her talk, her audience knows there’s more to her than this list of achievements.

Nazario’s real achievement is the stories she has told, stories of ordinary people which became real to her readers. Stories of pain and resilience. Stories like that of Enrique, a boy from Honduras who makes a perilous journey in search of his mother in the United States.

Nazario’s beginning, or childhood, was tumultuous in some ways. As she told those of us in the audience: “I learnt early on in life that journalism does matter.”

She was born in Wisconsin to Argentinean immigrants, which is why a part of her always related to immigrants. She grew up in the U.S. and Argentina. At 13, she knew fear. Fear made sure that she walked to school in pairs. Fear – a by-product of her seeing blood on the streets, and knowing that journalists could be killed for telling the truth.

In her words, “a certain kind of journalism matters. Stories that show complexity and a certain shade of grey.”

“Migration is in my blood. I understand what it’s like to have a foot in two worlds,” Nazario said.

In documenting Enrique’s story, Nazario documents how migrants suffer. Poverty forced Enrique’s mother Lourdes to leave Honduras, leaving behind her children including 5-year-old Enrique, whose quest to find an answer to the question “¿Donde esta mi mami?”  (Where is my mum?) is what the story of is all about.

“I look for stories that move me,” Nazario said. “If they move me, maybe they’ll move you.”

In order to truly capture Enrique’s story, Nazario went through some very perilous situations, travelling on top of a train like one of an estimated 48,000 children who enter the United States from Central America and Mexico each year. Illegally. Without parents. On these journeys, Nazario says she experienced “moments of cruelty and kindness”.

She wants to make her readers feel they are on top of that train to the U.S. with Enrique.

Nazario is still in touch with Enrique and his mother. Follow-up journalism is a dying art.

One writer’s story, written with a heart, helped humanize the faceless and nameless migrants in the US. They became more than numbers and data.

In an age where successful journalism has begun to be gauged by the number of blogs churned out daily or weekly, Nazario continues to set an example for journalists who want to tell stories, move hearts and make a difference through this powerful tool. “Doing this kind of story telling is important,” she said. “Don’t we have an obligation to tell people what’s what?”

Is being unemployed better than being employed?

December 2, 2012

I think I prefer being employed. DESIGN: ZAHRA PEER MOHAMMED

My life has taken a 360 degree turn and I am still grappling with huge adjustments – adjustments like the fact that I cannot stay logged onto Facebook incessantly or the centre of the universe for me is no longer my mood.

After aeons of freelance work, where I could shuffle and manage work according to my own whims and desires, I am now working full-time.

Regular eight hours a day, six days a week.

Strangely enough, I am surviving.

Not only am I surviving, the fact that my body clock had to re-start to a new schedule, I now find myself dosing off at midnight as opposed to my routine of staying awake till three am, watching re-runs of Ishq-e-Mamnoo, I am also surviving social attacks.

In the last one week since I have joined the grind, an easy three to four aunties have come up and exclaimed with strange mix of expressions ranging between remorse and shock that I will be ‘neglecting my daughter’ and most importantly, ‘who will cook?’.

I would love to retort with something spritely, witty and maybe even half-nasty, but then the ‘this too shall pass’ mode sets in. I bite my lip and fight the impulse to say ‘what’s it to you?’ and instead move on to plan what I will use as a filling for my sandwich for work the next day – cheese and tomato or roast beef?

Which reminds me of what else has changed.

At work, now, I cannot heat and re-heat my big mug of chai three times and I can’t drift to the fridge every now and then. There is a time for everything. Not that there is a regimental routine which says dopeher ka khana teen baj kar paanch minute par (lunch will be served at 3:05pm sharp). But yeah, yesterday I went to the cafeteria thrice at odd times in hopes of a snack, but those were ‘off times’.

So I have to plan my cravings a bit more carefully.

As a people’s person, a huge advantage in having a work life is the interaction with different people. The nod of the guard and the salamof the chai wala canteen boy. The animated discussions in the newsroom where people are fighting over whether CNG prices will go up or down and what the future looks like for Sri Devi after English Vinglish.

The energy is palpable.

The brain stimulus is worth leaving the bed in the morning. Inspirations and energies are infectious things. You catch them, literally, from each other; you use each other’s energy and also give off some.

Besides, interaction teaches you so much! Like what’s in when it comes to clothes and which is the newest café to go to etcetera. I am working among energetic, charged and very ‘cool’ young adults who are teaching me a lot about life unknowingly.

As a freelancer, I was on my own.

My faults were my own as were my accolades including lacking a back-up plan, a support system, a fall back. If my ‘mood’ or writer’s block caught me off guard, no one could coerce me into writing. But now I must do my share of work. Whether I want to or not. But when you are part of a team, just like a family support system, your team backs you up. Division of labour, if done with egos set aside, can result in an increase in both the volume and quality of work.

Freelancing, of course, had its own perks. As a freelance writer, I had to have no loyalties. I was my own master. Free love for all publication houses. But now, it’s like being in a sustained, committed relationship – a pain and annoying at times.

The electronic scanner in front of which I swipe my attendance card is an invisible chaperone asking me when I come and when I go. And that’s just like a relationship, isn’t it?


Kab aayee? Kab gayee? (When did you come? when did you leave?)

That drift.

But at the end of the day, I am a sustained relationship person. You see, in freelance work, the comfort cushion of a regular pay cheque sorely lacks. Also, exactly like a commitment, this has certain social perks. A certain taika as they call it in Punjabi. You tell people your organisation’s name and your status and voila! They take you more seriously! A certain respect. And a fall back plan for rainy days, for tough times.

But writers are moody people, and are proudly eccentric. Their feelings evolve and fluctuate. So I don’t know how the future will be.

Will the lure of ‘freedom’ and the thrill and excitement of a ‘no strings attached’ work space pull me back?

Or will I choose to stay in a ‘committed relationship’ – answerable and taken. This only time will tell.

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter@FarahnazZahidi

Pakistani media: Public health a blip on the media radar

ByFarahnaz Zahidi

Published: November 28, 2012

In the relentless war of ratings, media ignores health care in the country.

KARACHI: A staggering 54% of the most serious crises and shocks Pakistan has suffered in the last three years have been health-related, while only 3% have been law and order related.

This came up in a meeting on Tuesday organised by John Snow, Inc. (JSI), a public health research and consulting firm that has worked in Pakistan for over two decades to improve the quality of and access to health care systems. More than 20 hosts of morning shows and current affairs programmes sat alongside journalists on Tuesday to discuss the relationship between public health and the media.

The focus of the meet was to discuss why public health is not on the Pakistani media’s radar despite its importance. Annually, around 22,000 women die because of entirely preventable causes linked with maternal mortality and 423,000 children under the age of five die, with 100,000 deaths attributed to pneumonia alone. The dialogue led by Dr Ali and Dr Moeed Pirzada focused on ways  the media can foster debate and raise awareness about issues of public health. An anchor-person of a regional language television channel admitted that in his four years on the job, he has only hosted two programmes related to health.

“Pakistan has 60,000 villages, roughly, and only 6,000 skilled birth attendants. Do the maternal mortality rates surprise us, then?” asked Dr Nabeela Ali, chief of Party of JSI’s Technical Assistance Unit for Health (TAUH).

The participants discussed that in the relentless war of ratings, television channels and newspapers are unwilling to devote adequate space to public health. When juxtaposed with stories of celebrities going across the border or political heirs caught in scandals, the story of a woman dying in childbirth is simply not snazzy enough.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2012.