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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Who gets the job? The fairest of them all!

Published: January 26, 2013

Good looks do make life simpler and popularity easier. PHOTO: FILE

Good looks do make life simpler and popularity easier. PHOTO: FILEThe writer works as a senior sub-editor at The Express Tribune and tweets @FarahnazZahidi
KARACHI: If you are good-looking, chances are that this write-up will not make a whole lot of sense to you. Even if you get it, it won’t really stay in your system for too long, because you’ve got it easy in many ways.

Think about this: at the workplace, do people open doors for you more than your other counterparts who are plainer Janes? Does your boss make you stay in his room a wee bit longer for a work-related tete-a-tete, not because he or she is necessarily lecherous, but because you just bring a certain light to the room? More importantly, did you being a looker have a little bit to do with you getting the job more easily?

Good looks do make life simpler and popularity easier. Undeniably, cricketer Shahid Afridi and cricketer-politician Imran Khan have more than good looks to their credit. However, the fact remains that Afridi’s TV endorsements and Khan’s female vote bank do have something to do with their looks. Our hearts went out to Princess Diana but never Duchess Camilla Parker Bowles. Is that just because Diana was (undoubtedly) a good human being, or did Diana’s being stunning have something to do with being the people’s princess? Why do women who, at the hands of some callous remark of a man in their lives, feel less than beautiful and struggle with self-esteem issues decades later?

Good looks come in handy especially in the service industry, and by that I don’t just mean models or airhostesses, but even bankers and other professions pertaining to public relations. Even the girl who collects parking fees at Jinnah International Airport should be presentable, as should my maid. My point, however, is: where, then, do the non-lookers go and what do they go through?

Move over, racism. The latest kind of discrimination is here; it has always existed, but now they actually have a term for it — lookism.

Our inherent adoration of beauty is not a problem that should be blamed on society; it is our problem as a species. Some of us are, by no merit of our own, what American educator and activist Warren Farrell describes as “genetic celebrities”. This preferential treatment was once limited to the rishta bazaar, but with more women venturing into the workplace realm, this “body fascism” enters the work place too. Beautiful people have one less barrier at the workplace when it comes to success.

This does translate into a discrimination of sorts and many of us end up being discriminatory without even realising it. People guilty of this kind of discrimination may generally be socially aware and ethically correct. Yet, they end up doing things that may dampen someone’s prospects and shatter someone’s confidence — someone who falls short of the typical social notions of beauty.

How many times have you whispered “poor her, she’s ugly as hell” or “I don’t really blame her husband for his infidelity. I mean firstly, she’s tacky and secondly, she has horrible skin and bad teeth” to your attractive colleague as someone leaves the room. This doesn’t just stay limited to gossip. The ugly truth is that a better looking candidate may have secured a job instead of an equally or more qualified candidate with weight issues or severe acne.

In a so-called civilised society, even people who always stand up for the underdog and detest marginalisation on the basis of race or creed, end up discriminating on the basis of physical appearances. It is common that an obese person or a woman with unkempt hair may not get an opportunity in which her work involves socialising and networking. The discrimination, while mostly women-centric, can at times affect men too. Not only did Snow White have to be the fairest, the prince also had to be unarguably handsome.

It is natural to be attracted to all things beautiful. But at the workplace, in particular, partiality is not a favour; it is a responsibility.

The writer works as a senior sub-editor at The Express Tribune and tweets @FarahnazZahidi

Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/499057/who-gets-the-job-the-fairest-of-them-all/

Does it now rest on the shoulders of the dead?

 

Does it now rest on the shoulders of the dead?

January 16, 2013

This photo shows Bara tribesmen, social activists carrying casket of a deceased during a sit-in outside Governor House in Peshawar. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE

When the living stop speaking up, the dead lead protests in Pakistan.

Two days ago, the Hazaras laid to rest the 87 bodies of their loved ones, while some 25 still waited to be identified in mortuaries across hospitals in Quetta. The dead watched and waited, anticipating a change, some sanity and a semblance of justice, as did the Hazaras and the whole nation. For that, they were made to wait for four days, while their loved ones could not even grieve as they were meant to because they were too invested in the hope that this sacrifice would result in a safer future for the community.

The Hazaras were laid to rest, as were some of their demands which the government dealt with deftly, diplomatically and well -politically.

Two days later, some 5,000 tribesmen are protesting outside the governor house in Peshawer, against the killing of the 18 people whose mutilated bodies were recovered from the Bara area of Khyber Agency on January 15.

What does this have in common with the Hazara protest?

Yes, the dead bodies.

Peaceful but not inactive, they sit with the caskets housing the bullet-riddled bodies of their family members, chanting slogans and asking for the army to leave. According to the tribesmen of Bara, these were ordinary citizens, not militants, killed by security agencies before they even got a chance to advocate their innocence.

What new levels of desperation are the people of this country reaching that no other form of protest seems to work anymore?

What extreme measures does a family have to go to in order to get people to notice their plight?

This, I assure you, is not done with ease. Family members of those whom we are calling “dead bodies” were changing the shrouds of those bleeding bodies of slain Hazaras sometimes more than once a day, carrying slabs of ice to avoid decomposition.

Too gory, these details?

Imagine having to live through that! Imagine a mother deciding that her son’s burial needs to wait. Imagine a son delaying giving a shoulder to his father’s funeral.

Too emotional, these details – I agree. And why relive them in these already morbid times, we may think.

Now that the almost-ex-Prime Minister has handed over the ‘lollipop’ to the Hazaras, the media attention is safely focused on theLong March.

The Hazaras are old news and the tribesmen in Peshawar sitting-in with those caskets are peripheral small news – really.

I mean, just look at what they are competing against. Tahirul Quadri’s blood-boiling use of rhetoric and promises, coupled with his interesting get-up. Peaceful protests hardly stand a chance when juxtaposed against the Long March that ironically threatens to destroy the very concept Quadri is repeatedly talking about – Jamhuriyat (democracy).

The Pied Piper pipes away. The awaam follows in throngs.

But let’s not blame the media only. The media gives you, pre-dominantly, what the awaam wants to read, see and hear.

A crowd that is accusedly a million strong gets attention like nothing else does – attention of a nation that has extremely short attention spans and no concept of following up on a cause.

The Hazara and Balochistan issue woke us up from our apathetic slumber for a bit. Once the dead were buried, we are focused on more glamorous issues.

The Shahzeb Khan issue is yester news. The tribesmen are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). We are desensitised to KP happenings in any case.

We are an emotional lot. All we have for free in this country starved of food, clothing and shelter (along with power and gas) is emotions. The good side of this is that if and when we wake up to a legitimate cause, we can make real change and ruffle just the right feathers.

But we lose that passion way too soon and get distracted way too easily. Sustained focus on causes challenges the status quo, else headlines come and go.

The political circus of this country shall continue, and will continue to get its share of attention. However, it is up to the people and the media to keep alive other issues that matter – like health, education, food-security and safety for the people of this country.

I pray that the Hazaras did not keep their loved ones waiting to reach their final destination in vain.

I also pray that no one, again, has to reach that level of frantic desperation that the only way they can draw attention to their cause is the coffins of their dead.

Too idealistic a hope, perhaps.

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

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15666/does-it-now-rest-on-the-shoulders-of-the-dead-2/

The Weightiest Loss: Triumph of a courageous heart

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: January 15, 2013

Irfan Ali’s death impacted countless lives and gave a face to the tragedy.

QUETTA: After a wait of four days, Irfan Ali, 33, has reached his final resting place after leading a life of struggle and triumph – the struggle of a community member wronged; the triumph of a courageous heart that served selflessly despite threats.

Irfan was buried on January 14 along with more than a 100 members of the Shia Hazara community who lost their lives in a series of bomb blasts on January 10 in Quetta. Though the dead were mostly unknown to most apart from their friends and family, Irfan Ali’s death impacted countless lives and gave a face to the tragedy.

A human rights and peace activist from the Hazara community, Irfan’s zeal was infectious. He was able to inspire every colleague and acquaintance with effortless ease. The brave man’s only aim was to salvage innocent lives from the clutches of tyranny and injustice. The irony of his death in the Quetta blasts can therefore not be emphasised enough.

It was after the first blast that he, along with several other young men of the Hazara community, fled to the carnage site to rescue people – only to add to the number of casualties as another blast rocked the area. Irfan died saving lives, literally.

In losing him, it wasn’t just the fraternity of peace activists that lost a salient member: his young wife lost a husband, his parents lost a son, his younger brother, who is battling injuries received at the blast, lost a brother. An entire family is grieving, as is a community, as is a nation.

Social activist Anthony Permal, a close friend of Irfan, still can’t get himself to talk about the loss. After mustering some courage, he only managed to repeat some words said to him by Irfan: “Thank you for your work, brother Anthony. People like us can only find support in each other when everyone else decides it’s too dangerous for them to raise their voices. It is unbelievable how people are turning a blind eye. But brother, we have to keep talking about it. If I go silent, then what will be the point of being alive?”

His Twitter followers mostly knew him as Khudi Ali. Iqbal’s philosophy of Khudi resonated with the young man – he wanted the self to rise above the pettiness and ego that results in human violence, which explains why he added the word “Khudi” as a middle name.

In compliance with strong implications of his middle name, Irfan’s work was not Hazara-specific. The man fought for peace and justice for all communities. With this in mind, he formed, in early 2011, the ‘Human Rights Commission for Social Justice and Peace’. With this he wanted to increase awareness about human rights violations, the causes and solutions.

Journalist Shiraz Hassan, who had worked with Khudi Ali, is still in denial. “This is heart-wrenching. I cannot forget the smiling face of Irfan Ali. He gave a voice to his voiceless community and his words are still echoing in this gloomy atmosphere and asking the government and security agencies to protect its citizens.” To Hassan, Irfan’s tweets “continue to haunt us”. Irfan had tweeted shortly before his death, some of the last words he left behind. The words were, of course, about the struggle of the Hazara community.

Huma Fouladi, a human rights activist from the Hazara community, lost a fellow comrade and friend when she lost Irfan, and is still grieving. “I have lost my strongest ally. He was like my family,” said Fauladi, hours after Irfan was finally laid to rest.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/494169/the-weightiest-loss-triumph-of-a-courageous-heart/

Four days on, 87 Hazaras finally find resting place

By Our Correspondents
Published: January 15, 2013

Members of the Hazara community shout slogans during the Quetta blasts’ victims’ funeral ceremony. PHOTO: AFP

QUETTA: The bodies of 87 slain Hazaras, which had been accompanied by thousands of mourners from the Shia Hazara community on Alamdar Road for a full four days, were finally laid to rest on Monday.

Some 17 bodies, unidentifiable due to the impact of the blast, wait for their families to recognise and bury them.

The Hazara Town graveyard, Barory, and Ganje Shuhada graveyard, Alamdar Road, receivedthe victims of the January 10 bomb blasts that claimed more than a 100 lives, only after the community’s elders announced that the protest was officially over. Their decision followed Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s announcement that some of the community’s demands would be met, including the dismissal of the provincial assembly and the imposition of governor rule.

The struggle for the community, however, is far from over – this may very well just be the beginning.

“We trust the decision of the elders of our tribe. However, we are wary of trusting the government’s promises. It may be just a pacifier … We have some degree of satisfaction over governor rule in the province, and (the fact that) false cases against our Hazara brothers in police stations and courts (are) being withdrawn, along with release of those Hazaras who are in prisons,” said a Hazara community member who returned home for the first time since the blast, while talking to The Express Tribune. Yet, he shared, his community was not happy with how “giving more power to Frontier Corps (FC) is being dealt with. It reeks of deception. Only time will tell”.

Another member of the community pointed out that most who had lost their lives on that fateful day were young boys volunteering to save those who were injured in the initial explosion. “The first blast had fewer casualties. That was actually bait to draw as many men as possible to the site, so that a maximum number of men lose their lives in the attack,” he said.

The man told about how he lost his 23-year-old cousin who was about to get married soon. “He called us after the second blast saying ‘I have lost one arm and one leg, and I am bleeding too much. Come soon. There are others here who are in worse condition than me’. By the time we covered the 45 minute distance from Barory to Alamdar road, he was gone. We have been through hell. We are still living it.”

Sitting out in the freezing cold for days has left the Hazara community physically exhausted. There has been a spread of respiratory and chest infections, as well as joint aches and pains. Emotionally too, the deaths and protests have taken their toll. Yet, their resolve is unwavering.

“We are not going to give up the struggle. But from the government and the people of Pakistan, all we can request is, ‘bring the culprits to task’. You all know who they are. And if you cannot do that, at least stop supporting them,” said a female Hazara activist, adding that death does not scare her any more.

What has driven the besieged minority is a wave of support which brought several parts of the country to a standstill over the last few days, leaving a fearful government resorting to jamming mobile phone networks once again.

“It is heartening to see how people all over Pakistan and in fact all over the world have woken up to the cause of Hazaras. The turnout of women at the sit-in is no small feat, considering how protective and conservative Hazaras and generally the people of the province are when it comes to their women,” a Hazara activist said. The campaigner added, “It was excruciatingly painful to make our dead wait to be buried. But I think the sacrifice of those who died will not have gone in vain.”

A spokesperson on behalf of Shia Hazara activists gave this statement of gratitude: “To all our honourable brothers and sisters who joined hands with us in these painful moments – We are thankful to those mothers the world over who have trained their children to support the oppressed when in pain …”

It went on to add: “We pray to Allah that you all never have to suffer how we have suffered. Rest assured, if ever a time comes when God forbid you all need support, the Shia Hazaras will be by your side, and will not hesitate from giving any sacrifice to safeguard you. May God be with you. From the Shia Hazara community.”

Demand for army

Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen Central Secretary Raja Nasir Abbas demanded of Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi to call in the army for security in Quetta.

FC and police personnel, along with volunteers of the Hazara Community, were on alert as the burials took place.

Later, addressing a joint press conference, Abbas along with leader of Yakjehti Council Qayyum Nazar Changezi and the head of the Hazara tribe Sardar Saadat Ali Hazara expressed gratitude towards Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. At the same time, they demanded that Quetta be handed over to the army, since the FC had not proved effective in the past.

The speakers said they shared equally the grief of the journalists martyred in the bomb blast.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/494149/four-days-on-87-hazaras-finally-find-resting-place/

Quetta sit-in: Sublime patience in sub-zero temperature

Published: January 14, 2013

Sources in the Hazara community claim the injured are not being given the medical care and attention they deserve. PHOTO: AFP

QUETTA: The Hazara community has announced that it will wait for the notification of governor’s rule in Balochistan on Monday before ending their nationwide sit-ins.

Before the late-night development, the entire Shia Hazara community in Quetta was out in the merciless sub-zero temperatures of winter, away from the comfort of their homes, for the fourth straight day. Thousands of people from all walks of life, ethnicity and religious background were also continuing their sit-ins elsewhere in the country to press for their demands.

Till this story went into print, the number of dead bodies the Hazaras had been refusing to bury as part of a peaceful but powerful protest is 114, with more being added every day as the injured of the blasts continue to succumb to their injuries. Sources in the Hazara community claim the injured are not being given the medical care and attention they deserve.

A visual scan of the crowd at the protest revealed both men and women, of all age groups. Grandmothers were protesting alongside newborn babies as young as 10 days old, out in the cold.

“We have not gone home even once in these four days. We are not willing to leave our dead all alone. They are not being buried for a reason. They are waking up the numb conscience of many, something even alive Hazaras have not been able to,” said an unnamed female Hazara activist at the occasion before the late-night clamping of governor’s rule in Balochistan.

According to the Human Rights Commission for Social Justice & Peace, in Pakistan there are an estimated 956,000 people belonging to this community, of which 600,000 live in Quetta city alone.

“Mainstream media has not given this protest the coverage it deserved. It was only after we had incessantly tweeted and created at least 250 Facebook pages, that people became aware of our plight as we sat waiting alongside our martyrs,” said another Hazara activist.

The haunting photographs of grieving Hazaras sitting alongside an array of coffins with eyes searching for justice became viral on social media and finally woke up the media in general.

“Everybody is saying we should bury our dead because Islamic tradition demands the dead be buried at the earliest. We are Muslims. We know that. But people have to understand that this is an exceptional situation.

“Political forces are pressurising us to give up on our demands and keep saying ‘bury the dead and then we’ll talk’. But we know that once the dead are buried, there will be no pressure. More Hazaras will continue to be slaughtered. It’s better to go through this pain today than having to bury our loved ones month after month,” said the female Hazara activist on Sunday evening.

According to her, they have had to change the shrouds of the martyrs frequently as the bleeding from the bodies continued, and it was not easy, but even in their death, the dead were helping potentially towards saving lives.

A wave of support in the last 4 days has highlighted the plight of the Hazaras. Hazara activists expressed satisfaction and gratitude over the support the common people have shown.

“We thank you for standing up for our community. Rest assured, if tomorrow something happens to your communities, God Forbids, the Hazaras will stand up for what is right,” said a Hazara community elder.

Interestingly, the most support from members of other ethnicities in the Quetta area has been from women. “It’s heartening to see Punjabi and Urdu-speaking women, besides other ethnicities too, slowly trickling in and joining us to support us, even though they know that it’s not the most secure place,” said a grateful Hazara woman.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2013.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/493705/quetta-sit-in-sublime-patience-in-sub-zero-temperature/

Thoughts of a housewife on a Sunday morning

The housewife

2 hours ago

She is a mother of three. She has a comfortable life. But loneliness is a reality she cannot avoid. PHOTO: REUTERS

It is an almost wintry morning in Karachi. There is a nip in the air. Lazily, she switches off the fan. Karachi’s weather is also like Karachi itself – interesting but confusing. Outdoors, it is sunny and warm bordering on hot. A trickle of sweat down one’s back reminds one that this is what Karachi winters are like.

Indoors she needs a shawl in which she wraps herself up tightly. Maybe it makes her feel protected, much like a newborn, who is wrapped tightly in a sheet of cloth, to reassure it that it is safe as it was in it’s mother’s womb. We all have our fake reassuring sheets of cloth….our cocoons….which we keep re-visiting.

The logical thing to do at 9am on a Sunday morning is to get up and make a pot of tea for her family, and then start waking them up…

Her husband who is snoring blissfully, looks innocent- not at all like the man who the night before had yelled at her for their son’s abysmal grades in school.

She observes him for a while. His hair is more salt than pepper now. The crow’s feet are pronounced even when he does not smile. She looks at his hands; she always liked the hands…strong, with long-fingers and a broad palm.

It has been weeks since she really looked at him.

The idea of a tea pot is distant now, although the piercing ray of sunlight coming through the window nudges her to wake up.

“Why don’t I close the curtains properly at night?” she inwardly curses herself.

Pulling up the light feathery quilt she got from the visit to Jaipur, India, over her eyes, she lazes.

The house next door is under renovation. Labourers have arrived. She cannot understand why they would be there on a Sunday morning. As a Pakistani bourgeois, she mostly cannot relate to their misery.

It is tough for her to empathise with someone who will wait for three hours in a CNG line to get gas for his rickshaw or a labourer who has arrived for a daily wage on a site on a splendid Sunday morning. But then, the labourer cannot relate to her voids or her problems either.

I guess it’s a fair deal.

She is a mother of three. She has a comfortable life, but loneliness is a reality she cannot avoid. So, she fills that void by frequenting sales at Zamzama and trying out new dishes and poring over changes in her face and her 37-year-old body and reading socialite pages of magazines.

Life did not start this way. She had dreams, once upon a time. She had once wanted a career as a physio-therapist; of a functional marriage; of children that needed her. Those dreams were now long gone.

In the background, one of the labourers had put on the FM radio on his mobile phone and connected it to one of those cheap Chinese speakers for the benefit of the team. Carrying back-breaking bricks after a customary breakfast of sugar-laden tea and a fried paratha, devoid of the concept of “keep health food groups in mind: Have protein and vitamins”, the FM radio encouraged the labourers to work.

Without any fans and the air-conditioners switched on, the background music was clear.

On the radio the song “Dil dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din, baithay rahein tasawwur e jaanan kiye huey” (The heart once again yearns for those leisurely times, when we could sit back, and let our imagination wander to the beloved) plays. Gulzar’s words shake up something inside her. She is transported to one of her favourite places in the world – Central Park, New York.

She remembers the first time she excitedly went there with her husband, introducing Central Park to him as though she were introducing her inner self to him.

His laughter and mocking words “You’re such a tree-hugger!” echoed in her ears.

She knew then- there were certain parts of her that he would never understand.  Deep inside she knew that she should be satisfied and even excited about their visits to Saks Fifth Avenue, or the less fancier version Macy’s, but not Central Park.

“Jaadon ki narm dhoop aur aangan mein lait kar, aankhon pe kheench kar tere daaman ke saaye ko, aundhe pare rahein kabhi karwat liye huye

(Lying laidback in the courtyard, under the mild winter sun, Covering the face under the shade of your shirt’s lower hem, And alternately turning over or lying on the side).

This dream has pinched her after many years…an unrealistic ideal. Lying in her bed in Karachi, in that moment, she is teleported to Central Park, NYC – her head in the lap of an unknown, unnamed man, who reads his own book with his back against a tree, while she reads hers.

Every few pages, they look at each other and exchange a smile, or share an interesting line in the book.

————————————————————————————-

“Aah. Aaj buhut so gaya. Kyun begum, anda paratha miley ga aaj ya naheen?”

(Ah! I have slept a lot today, wife, will I get some egg and paratha today ?)

The Jaipur quilt is lifted off her face. He gives her a quick peck on the cheek, switches on the lights, and goes out to get the Sunday newspaper.

She wakes up with a smile, strangely refreshed by that half-dream. Whilst planning breakfast in her mind she ties her hair up in a careless bun and enters the washroom to splash her face with water, till the unknown man and Central Park drown.

Only then does she wonder where her husband drifts to when he is lonely.

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

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15011/the-housewife/

Its elemental my dear Singh

 

By Farahnaz Zahidi / Photo: Myra Iqba

 

Published: December 30, 2012

Saidpur Village exists in present day Pakistan but chunks of it look like they’re straight out of the Mughal era.

Saidpur Village, Islamabad, exists in present day Pakistan, but chunks and parts of it look like they’re straight out of the Mughal era. Nestled among the picturesque Margalla Hills, this tiny village has bits and pieces that are restored remnants from an age gone by. One can picture a bazaar set up by Sultan Said Khan, the Gakhar chief of the region during the reign of Babur, after whom the village was named. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, going about their daily business — buying, selling, co-existing. Peacefully.

20-year-old Suraj Singh would have fit right in that era. A look at him and the time machine seems less of a myth. Basking comfortably in the sunshine of a sunny winter day in Islamabad, Singh looks unfazed by the fast pace of life, as he sits on a chair perched outside his shop on a slope of Saidpur. His flushed, reddish-fair complexion and striking green eyes stand out under a magenta turban, tied on his head in the typical Sikh fashion. The heavy-set young man is almost shy on approach.

“I’ve never thought about doing anything else,” says Singh, who dropped out of school and is now learning the ropes of herbal medicine from his older brother Sardar Amarjeet Singh. It is, after all, a part of his Sikh-Afghan heritage.

Singh tends to his father’s Yoonani dawa khana, which offers traditional herbal medication in the genre of hikmat. His father, a Sikh hakeem called Sardar Rawail Singh, owns three stores: one in Rawalpindi, one in Saidpur Village and the oldest one in G-11 Markaz. Rawail and his three sons shuttle between their home in Hassan Abdal to their shops in the twin cities. “Ask anyone in G-11 where the hakeem sits and they will guide you to my father,” says Singh with pride.

On an average, the Singh family’s shops earn between Rs6,000 to Rs20,000 a day which allows the family a comfortable living. However, business was better when competition was not so tough. The influx of Sikh migrants over the years, and more Sikh hakeems setting up shops, has reduced their clientele.

Some 22 years ago, Suraj’s family migrated from Kunduz, Afghanistan, to Hassan Abdal, a small town in northern Punjab, and made a modest home near the Gurdwara Panja Sahib, one of Sikhism’s holiest sites. Singh and his family live as part of a tightly knit Sikh community, near the revered temple where every year thousands of Sikh devotees gather for pilgrimage.

Sikh 03

PHOTO: AURANGZEB HANEEF

Yoonani, in Arabic, means “Greek.” This very title pays tributes to its origins, as it is said to have been developed by the legendary Greek physician Hippocrates, who expanded on the medical traditions of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia Though it’s been practiced in one form or another for thousands of years, it is now considered a formal branch of what allopaths may term “alternative medicine”. While many still believe staunchly in treatment through hikmatand not allopathy in Pakistan, speculations that steroids are heavily added to it make users skeptical. It makes it therefore imperative that the hakeem they go to is not a quack but a trusted one. Singh’s family seems to have earned that trust over the years.

Hikmat is based on the ancient concept of the four ‘humours’ that exist in the human body, and their corresponding ‘element’. These are Blood (air), Yellow Bile (fire), Black Bile (earth) and Phlegm (water). These elements must be in a state of balance, or else the body can suffer different kinds of ailments.

It occurs to me at this point, that Pakistan’s own elements — the religious majority and minorities — are anything but balanced. Were they to exist in a state of harmony, peace and coexistence, Pakistan would undoubtedly be a happier, healthier and more functional place.

Sikh 01

Luckily, Singh jolts me out of my somewhat depressing reverie by telling me, “I have never suffered any discrimination or persecution in Pakistan. It is my home.”

Above the shop’s door, a signboard hung over baked red clay bricks says, “Dawa hum dete hain. Shifa Allah deta hai (We prescribe medicine. It is Allah who Heals).” Underneath the signboard, Suraj Singh, a follower of Guru Nanak Dev, sees you off with a smile. Here at least, it seems the elements have some together.

(With additional input by Myra Iqbal)

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 30th, 2012.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/485319/its-elemental-my-dear-singh/