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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Naya Pakistan: Revitalised


Published: March 8, 2013

Years have passed since their iconic debut album rocked staid and straight-laced Pakistan. Now the Vital Signs are back with an offering for our times.

On the 14th of August 1987, from among a people exhausted by an oppressive and stifling dictatorship, rose four young men with one simple song that revitalised the dwindling hopes of a nation. Hailed as the ‘second national anthem’, Dil Dil Pakistan (DDP) gave the nation a new lease of life. While it was that very dictatorship that gave DDP unprecedented airtime, a year later the long-awaited spring of democracy followed. Pakistan’s vital signs were stabilised. Or so it seemed.

Twenty-five years later, those vital signs have virtually flat-lined. Democratically ruled yet lacking peace, security and justice, the nation has been pushed well past the brink of despair.

At this juncture, when we collectively stare into the abyss, Naya Pakistan, it seems, was destined to happen. It began as a casual reunion of old friends at Shahi Hasan’s studio, a bit of jamming over Salman Ahmed’s idea for this song, a common cause, a shared vision, and voila! The four prodigal members of the legendary pop musical band Vital Signs decided some Vital Junoon was required to give the nation hope through the medium they knew best — music. Thus was born Naya Pakistan — Inshallah.

Within 2 hours of its release on February 2013, it had clocked sixty thousand unique hit on the music sharing website Soundcloud. In twenty-four hours it had been googled 2.5 million times, with thousands sharing it on Facebook and Twitter. Despite having no Bollywood movie, TV channel or corporate sponsorship to support it, Naya Pakistan went viral in the true sense of the word.

Enthusiastic fans may call it the new national anthem, but Naya Pakistan is no Pak Sar Zameen, and it’s no DDP either. The latter is almost a part of Pakistani folklore, a timeless message to be handed down generation after generation.

Naya Pakistan is a metaphor for unity. In this polarised country, acceptance and tolerance for viewpoints other than one’s own is rare. At this point, these men have, while respecting each other’s values but maintaining their own, become part of a joint venture for a common cause. If they could peacefully set aside their ideological differences and work around them to unite for a common cause, why can’t the nation do the same? This underlying message is more powerful and important than the medium used to convey it.

The four men are no longer the young and the restless. Much has happened and much has changed. They have evolved. Their once youthful faces are now marked by laugh lines and crow’s feet. Their impulsiveness has been replaced by thoughtfulness. They have come of age.

But a few things have, luckily, remained the same. Like their idealism. Like their hope for better days for Pakistan. Like their sincerity and candidness.

Most importantly, their bond of friendship has not changed. As they sit together and share jokes about the days gone by, it’s clear that they are not mere celebrities or former band mates, but friends.

Here they talk about then and now, about the purana and naya Pakistan. And how they still believe that Aitebaar bhi aa hi jayega, chalo to sahee.

Salman Ahmed : In First Person


Photo: Chris Ramirez

“It was the spring of 1988. I was a medical student whose only dream was playing cricket for Pakistan. Our cricket team’s success was the only happiness I felt during General Zia’s oppressive military dictatorship. People back then mainly listened to pirated western songs or Bollywood music, and thought Pakistani music was uncool. I was made fun of for following my junoon of music and giving up a serious and noble profession like medicine.

Then Dil Dil happened. The success of Vital Signs coincided with a spectacular cultural and political revolution in the country. Democracy returned as a young 35 year old woman, Benazir Bhutto, became prime minister while Dil Dil Pakistan became the soundtrack to change.

If I compare Pakistan yesterday and today, this is what I see: The Pakistan of today has a robust, noisy press and a vibrant social media; back then, we only had a bureaucratic PTV and Radio Pakistan. Today, we have an Oscar winning woman; back then our women only dreamt of winning. Back then we had a corrupt, incompetent dictatorship, while today we have a corrupt, incompetent democracy. Back then, Nawaz Sharif was a chief minister who aspired to become a cricketer. Today a cricketer, Imran Khan, has the chance of becoming a prime minister. The Pakistan of today is attacked by killer US drones and dengue fever; back then there were Soviet Kalashnikovs & Vital-mania.

A lot has happened since then. My wife Samina and I are building model villages in Pakistan. I’ve been a UN goodwill ambassador for 10 years. I have had the good fortune to have recorded with international artists such as Peter Gabriel and Melissa Etheridge and have performed at the Nobel peace prize ceremony. I am also a music professor at Queens College in NY.

The world has not been able to rob me of my idealism. I am motivated to help bring change to Pakistan in the fields of culture, education, health and diplomacy. Pakistan’s wealth is its youth and women. I have had the support of three very strong women in my life: my grandmother Aziza, my mother Shahine and my wife Samina.

It is an amazing feeling recording this song with my four friends, almost as if the Divine power of “Kun Fa Ya Kun” brought us together. God is Great. He has shown me that no amount of money, fame or power can equal the blessing of having great friends.

It’s always darkest just before dawn. Hope is a game changer and this song provides hope for a revolutionary change. The new generation is starving for peace, love and happiness. I have deep faith that with sincere, honest leadership, Pakistan will develop into a first world nation in my life time and our children will see a Naya Pakistan, Inshallah!”

Junaid Jamshed : The more things change


Photo: Aania Shah

A conversation with Junaid Jamshed may be many things, but it’s never boring. The formerVital Signs frontman remains a charmer despite the obvious changes he has gone through. JJ, as he is popularly known, is easy to talk to and seems to be at peace despite an inner struggle.

Yet, beneath the casual demeanour, Junaid is guarded around the media. Hawk-like, we wait for him to slip or err, and scrutinize everything right from his family life and business to his inner dilemmas. Of all the former band mates his transformation has been the most sweeping, and the one most people still can’t seem to come to grips with. “He was ours! Such a good-looking man! Such a soulful voice! Why can’t he be the person he was?” This is a common refrain from many of his long-time fans, but Junaid feels he is still the same person, as are Shahi, Salman or Nusrat. But he admits his focus and lifestyle have changed. “Meri zindigi abb woh naheen rahi,” he says.

While he is a part of this venture, he just sung a couple of lines at the beginning of the song without any musical accompaniments. That’s a point he would not compromise on, and made his feeling clear politely but firmly. As Salman said in a recent interview, “Junaid did not break his vow [to not get back into music]”. Yet, as critics of the song also agree, his vocals set the pace and are, perhaps, the best part of Naya Pakistan, in addition to Salman’s electrifying guitar solo.

“Why do I get the feeling that people want me to start singing again?” is Junaid’s question, one that has an obvious answer. However, his decision of renouncing music is almost a decade old and still remains strong.

He chuckles with Shahi the way only old friends can, and Junaid, in that moment, seems to have turned the clock back two decades. “We were all yaars. We still are”

“Junaid is the most level headed out of all of us,” says Shahi. But Junaid interjects, saying, “Shahi is the coolest. He’s the anchor of the band. I am not as moody but I am impulsive.”

He goes on to say, “I miss the thumbs up from Rohail and Shahi when I record now. I crave their feedback. We were friends first and band mates later. That’s why, even when we stopped making music together, the friendship never ended.” He expresses his wish that Rohail could have been part of the project too. He and Shahi both confirm that this song was an unplanned venture, and Coke Studio keeps Rohail very busy.

When it comes to Pakistan, his optimism is tempered by realism. “Things will get better for Pakistan. But if each one us doesn’t do our bit, it’s not just the country that will suffer … the ‘I’, the individual, will suffer. We have to go beyond the psyche of selfishness and narcissism and must think of collective benefit. We have gotten so much from this country. It is time to give back.”

Shahzad Hasan : People use Inshallah for all the wrong purposes. This song uses it for the right ones.


Photo: Aania Shah

The startling green eyes, the signature cap perched on his head, the soft voice. Shahzad Hasan aka Shahi takes time to warm up. But once he does, he talks passionately, and makes perfect sense.

“We didn’t do this song for personal fame. We did this because as educated Pakistanis it’s our responsibility to spread positivity,” he says. “My, Rohail and Junaid’s fathers are from the armed forces. Love for this country is instilled in us. My father fought two wars and was injured in them. But it’s sad that as a nation, we no longer feel that Pakistanis are a family and there is a sense of disconnect. We do not know our own neighbours. It’s time to stop criticising each other. Each Pakistani is part of a larger machine … each one of us is important.”

Shahi always stays in the background. “Because I love what I do. Junaid was always the front man. And I loved his being the front man because he was best suited for it. There was no jealousy because when you love somebody, you are only happy when that person is in the front,” says the diehard friend.

”We, the Vital Signs, never wanted to be in the limelight without each other. I think Allah gave us that success because we were not selfish,” says Shahi and goes on to praise Junaid in that same unselfish spirit. “They say a singer is at his best as he ages. Junaid’s voice has a lot more body now. He sang in an era when voices could not be technically altered in a studio, and he was still very good,” comments Shahi.

A patriot to the core, Shahi feels that, “Pakistan ka wohi ho ga jo hum is ka karain gay. It’s time to give back to the country. This country has given me an identity. Sadly, an entire generation of children growing up in affluent backgrounds and elite schools are growing up with an inferiority complex, thinking that our country is less than others. The country is a mess? Clean it up!”

Nusrat Hussain : Flight to a better Pakistan


Photo: Aania Shah

For high-flying Nusrat Hussain, music isn’t just a medium, it’s a lifelong passion. “Music is not a passing phase for me. I can never be detached from it.”

This airline pilot has to juggle his two loves: music and flying, while also working on his second album. His first album, ‘Amrit’, was released in early 1990s.

“I have been working on my album ‘Kaho’ all this time. I had gone to Shahi to get some final work done on it, and ended up doing Naya Pakistan!” says Nusrat who has worked as a pilot for more than 20 years and is currently based in the Middle East.

“It felt as if we were never away for this long after all; such has been our bond that it felt like coming home,” he says.

An idealist like his friends, Nusrat echoes Salman’s sentiments as he compares the Pakistan of yesterday and today: “Pakistan was under a morbid dictatorship with little freedom of expression. Now we are free but facing a multitude of other problems like terrorism, corruption, sectarianism, the energy crisis, and inflation,” he says. “And last but not the least, brain drain,” he adds, commenting on the ongoing exodus that is the direct result of the chaos prevailing in Pakistan.

“I have always been politically aware and had the desire to bring about a change in society through my music,” says the ex-Vital Signs key board player-cum-guitarist-cum vocalist.

“I dream of a better world … a better Pakistan. Sadly, at times, like everyone else, I feel I am losing hope. With time, I have grown more practical and pragmatic, but the response that this song has generated shows how desperately we need a change in Pakistan,”  ” But that has not taken away his desire to give back to Pakistan. “I am even more geared up to do something for my country.”

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 10th, 2013.

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Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan….

Pakistan: In pain. Bleeding. Insecurity and injustice. Lack of peace. Polarization. Corruption. Poverty. Illiteracy. And a disconnect with the Creator.
On the verge of giving up, these precious words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz tell me to hang on to hope.
Chand roz aur, Meri Jaan! Faqat chand hi roz,
Zulm ki chaaon me dum lene pe majboor hain hum,
Aur kuch der sitam seh lein, Tadap lein, Ro lein,
Apne ajdaad ki miraas hai, M’aazoor hain hum,
Jism par qaid hai, Jazbaat pe zanjeerein hain,
Fikr mahboos hai, Guftaar pe t’aazirein hain,
Apni himmat hai keh hum phir bhi jiye jaate hain,
Zindagi kya kisi muflis ki qaba hai jis mein,
Har ghadi dard ke paivand lage jaate hain,
Lekin ab zulm ki mai’aad ke din thode hain,
Ik zara sabr ke faryaad ke din thode hain,
Arsa-e-dehr ki jhulsi hui weeraani mein,
Hum ko rehna hai par yoon hi toh nahi rehna,
Ajnabi haathon ka benaam garaan-baar sitam,
Aaj sehna hai, Hamesha toh nahin sehna hai,
Yeh tere husn se lipti hui aalaam ki gard,
Apni do roza jawaani ki shekaston ka shumaar,
Chaandni raaton ka bekaar dehekta hua dard,
Dil ki besood tadap, Jism ki maayoos pukaar,
Chand roz aur, Meri Jaan! Faqat chand hi roz………..
A few more days, my Love!
A few more days, my Love! Merely a handful more,
Condemned to exist, you and I, Eclipsed in tyranny,
Bear with me the cruel winds, smart and weep,
My inheritance, My lineage demands, I’m but a mere cripple,
My shackled extremities, My manacled spirits,
Imprisoned my every thought, Every word restrained,
All that remains is courage, And hence I persist,
The drapery, My life, A tatterdemalion’s flowing robe,
Patched, In tatters, With fragments of pain,
But the times of oppression would soon cease,
Persevere, Our laments would soon cease,
In this desolate, parched desert sands,
We must now last, But not forever stand,
This crushing weight of an alien conjuring,
We must now endure, But not forever withstand,
The air of distress that tenderly envelops thy form,
The numerous gashes of our deficient youth,
Moonlit nights, Fruitless pangs of throbbing pain,
Unanswered cries of the poor heart, The body’s melancholic strain,
A few more days, my Love! Merely a handful more………..

Sign of progress? When cities feed whole villages

Published: March 2, 2013

Pakistan’s rapid urbanisation comes at cost of agriculture production. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD

KARACHI: In a cramped two bedroom house in Dalmia, Karachi, Asadullah Sheikh lives with his 5 children, mother and wife. This is his sixth year in Karachi. Previously, Shaikh was a smallholder farmer and owned 11 acres of land in Sajawal.The artificial price hike of agricultural lands between 2005 and 2007 tempted Shaikh – like many other farmers- to move to the city. He sold his land, got enough money to buy a motor cycle, paid his debts, set up a small kiryana store and made Karachi his home. “My 11 acres are lying uncultivated,” he says with a tinge of remorse. Sheikh is one of those who form Pakistan’s growing urban population, making Pakistan a country with a very rapid urbanisation rate.

A 2008 report by UN Population Fund reported that the share of the urban population in Pakistan almost doubled from 17.4 per cent in 1951 to 32.5 per cent in 1998.

More than 60% of the population of urban Sindh lives in Karachi, which according to a “City Mayors 2011 survey” has become one of the largest cities in the world with a population of 15.5 million, with other estimates claiming it may be 18 million.

Karachi is just a case in point. Eight key cities in Pakistan are caving under the burden of high-density concentration of population. At the same time, it is becoming tougher for Pakistan’s farmers to continue to live in rural areas and survive on agriculture. According to Dr Vaqar Ahmed of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, a lot has to do with untargeted government subsidies for products consumed in urban areas such as wheat, sugarcane and rice. “What a farmer produces fetches a low price. But what a worker in an urban area produces fetches better returns. Moving to cities is an attractive option. The urban sprawl is very market driven.”

While city-dwellers complain about how cities are becoming crowded, the reasons for this urbanisation are hardly understood. Tariq Bucha, President of Pakistan Farmer’s Association, while talking to The Express Tribune, says that 85 to 87% farmers of Pakistan live below the subsistence level, which means they own less than 12 and a half acres. “Inheritance laws are an important factor here. Every time a person dies, his lands are divided into smaller shares among his children. Small pieces of land are economically unviable. In an absence of a marketing infrastructure and access for our farmers, the most attractive option for them is to sell the 3 to 4 acres they have, and move,” said Bucha.

In the 36th Governing Council of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), held in Rome in February, agency President Kanayo Nwanze reminded partners that a boom in agriculture can prompt twice more growth in an economy.

“The emergence of higher and more volatile food prices, combined with dramatic droughts, floods, and famines, have concentrated world attention on the question of how to feed a global population that is over 7 billion and growing. Today, agriculture is centre stage,” Nwanze said.

Urban food choices and migration – the missing link

In 2008, the world’s urban population exceeded its rural population for the first time. UN projections suggest that the world’s urban population will grow by more than a billion people between 2010 and 2025, while the rural population will hardly grow at. According to the research paper “Urbanisation and its implications for food and farming” (David Satterthwaite, Gordon McGranahan and Cecilia Tacoli), it is likely that the proportion of the global population not producing food will continue to grow, as will the number of middle and upper income consumers whose dietary choices are more energy- and greenhouse gas emission-intensive (and often more land-intensive) and where such changes in demand also bring major changes in agriculture and in the supply chain.

While urbanisation is seen as a sign of progress, this research says that with urbanization, there will be rising demands for meat, dairy products, vegetable oils and ‘luxury’ foods, and this implies more energy-intensive production and, for many nations, more imports. Also, dietary shifts towards more processed and pre-prepared foods, in part in response to long working hours and, for a proportion of the urban population, with reduced physical activity, affects the agricultural supply chain.

“This trans-shifting has effects on demand of crops. Who eats jawaar (millet) and baajra (sorghum) now? We are moving away from organic food to synthetics,” says Bajwa, commenting on how city dwellers’ food choices indirectly result in mass exodus from villages to cities.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2013.

Where are you, Mister Prime Minister, when your people need you?

March 5, 2013

A family affected by the Abbas Town blasts mourns over their loss, while Mr Prime Minister plans his trip to India. PHOTO: REUTERS

Headlines, juxtaposed, stare back at me in the morning paper. I am reading it, still shaken by the events of the Abbas Town Blasts. The sky on this Tuesday morning is tinted a strange reddish strain. Maybe it’s just in the minds of traumatised Karachiites who cannot get over the blood spilled in Abbas Town– blood that has still not dried.

Fumes of that blood are now being breathed in also by residents of the hitherto protected upscale neighbourhoods of Karachi who live in fear of their daughters and wives being kidnapped. We are talking about the blood of the (at least) 48 dead and 140 injured – shops and homes burnt, families displaced, children lost.

Broken toys and burnt textbooks and scattered around. Glass panes through which they used to see the world are now lying as broken shards. Torn dupattas, molten electric wires, blistered dreams and mangled photographs of families smiling on Eid decorate the ground.

Yes, the sky is a little reddish today, especially after the funeral procession also came under fire. Even the dead can no longer rest in peace, not because of their own sins, but because of the sins of those who are still alive and armed.

And as a resident of this bloody city (literally), I somehow cringed at this headline:

“Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to visit shrine in Ajmer Shareef, India”

Really, PM sahab?

With all due respect, it is not your going to Ajmer Shareef that is the problem, sir. Refreshing spirituality, washing sins and praying is as much your right, sir, as is mine. It is the timing! It is the fact that you never cared to visit the site of the blast. Neither did any other bigwigs, the maai baaps, the rulers and movers and shakers who rule and move while our very fabric is shaken up.

However, enough has been said about that. We, the citizens of Pakistan, know now more than ever that we are on our own – abandoned, unclaimed. We are independently left alone to clean up the mess after every carnage. The message “abb khud kuch karna paray ga” (we must do something now) stares at us in the face.

We really don’t have a choice. We no longer trust the promises of getting Rs 1,500,000 each for the families of the dead and Rs 1,000,000 each for the injured. Even if, as part of a huge hypothesis, the amount reaches the deserving hands, will it bring the dead back to life? And wouldn’t it be a band-aid too late, even if it does arrive?

Meanwhile, emotionally drained and angry Karachiites channelise their anger like they should. They vent on social networking sites and outside dhaabaas incessantly, for the sake of their own sanity.

They agitatedly argue about how to react to this; they debate the “what next”; they talk about the ugly head of civil war expected to raise its head. They talk about how it is finally a sad fact even the most patriotic ones of us have to accept that yes, I’d rather let my child become a part of Pakistan’s brain drain.

Let the mass exodus begin. For it is no longer time to say “kaheen Karachi Beirut na bann jaye”. Guess what. We’re already there, but are in denial.

Still, all is not lost! We, the Karachiites, right from Dalmia to Defence,are doing what should be done, and what little is in our power. We stage peaceful protests and raise awareness and collect donations in cash and kind. Our students are tear-gassed and baton-charged and arrested for protesting because the real criminals are a league above – they cannot be laid a finger upon.

The awaam still continues to be resilient. Within 24 hours, 60 bags of blood are donated just outside the phase IV Imambargah Yasrab. Within 24 hours, one million rupees are collected. Within 24 hours, shelters are set up and food, medicines and clothes are reaching the effected. Expats are desperately trying to wire money across to Pakistan. On Sunday night, I got a call from a friend who was weeping because she, after volunteering all day for the victims, still wanted to do more, and wanted to know how she can do it.

I see friends at work rushing out for an hour between work timings to donate blood. I know of parents who train their young children by making them pack boxes for the effected.

It’s not much, we all know, but this is all we can do.

What is most heart-warming is how the miscreants lost a battle there and then when Sunnis of the area opened their homes for their Shia brothers. Abbas Town blasts may be the worst that has happened top Karachi recently, but may bring out the best!

On Monday night, a friend messaged me, sharing how many members of the Shia community who had saved up money to go for Ziarat to Karbala, have decided to donate the money towards the rebuilding of the damaged homes. There are firstly whispers and then more vocal suggestions that money saved for Umrah could be used for the same – suggestions coming from Sunnis.

Mr Prime Minister, you and your comrades could learn a thing or two here, don’t you think, sir?

For me, the biggest silver lining is this: with each consecutive catastrophe, we become braver and more vocal and fearless.

We no longer speak in hushed tones. We are saying no to silence as a nation.

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