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Monthly Archives: March 2014

I miss the things that were never meant to be

An attempt at Spoken Word poetry… a beginning.

I miss the things that never came into being.
Sunrise in your arms,
the aroma of baking bread in that little house with a red tiled roof…our home,
the tug of little hands at my apron…you looking up from your book and smiling at that sight,
that evening when you cooked for me and waited for me to come home from work,
you saying my beauty still left you speechless…you said this the day I gave up on dyeing my hair because it was almost all white.
I miss our growing old together…
and feeling a current even at that age…a current of passion still alive,
and the joy of each other’s company.
Oh I miss the laughter we were supposed to share each night after dinner.
I miss the quilt you never tucked me in in winter nights.
I miss your first pair of reading glasses.
And I miss that walk in New England we were meant to take.
I miss the things that were never meant to be.

I carry your heart with me

One of the prettiest love poems ever…This is E E Cummings for all those who carry hearts of their beloved in their heart.

snuggle barca
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart)
i am never without it
(anywhere i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)
i want no world (for beautiful, you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)

Treating tuberculosis with the food basket incentive

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: March 23, 2014

world tb day

A day ahead of the World TB Day, we look at the difficulty level of treating the disease.
Faces all around you are covered by masks, even your own, because the moment you enter the area you are handed a mask.
All you can see is eyes. Some red and tired, swollen after hours of coughing and staying awake. Others more hopeful and healthier, obviously recuperating from a disease that can kill but can be easily avoided. One way of avoiding it is this simple face mask that wards off communicable diseases like tuberculosis (TB).
The environment is airy and sunny. It has been designed in a way that germs will have a tough time surviving here. Scores of patients are waiting for their turn. Some are seen standing in queues and others napping on benches.
This is the TB clinic at Indus Hospital Karachi. Muhammad Zaheer is currently under treatment for DR-TB here (drug-resistant TB). Despite months of treatment and counselling, he still repeats out loud the myth he believes in. “Ye hamari khandani beemari hai. It is a familial disease. My father died of it. Lots of my relatives have it,” he says in a matter-of-fact way. The middle-aged carpenter knew he had TB even before he got married, but never exercised any precaution. His wife’s family never thought it dangerous she would be marrying someone who has TB. His four children have never been tested for TB.
Thus, lack of awareness remains a major challenge in the treatment of TB. “There are an estimated 300,000 cases of TB detected in Pakistan every year. Almost 20 per cent (58,000-60,000 kids) are children under the age of 15,” says Dr Ghulam Nabi Qazi, a public health scientist from WHO.
The WHO website cites a higher number, stating that approximately 420, 000 new TB cases emerge every year and half of these are sputum smear positive. Pakistan is also estimated to have the fourth highest prevalence of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) globally. Pakistan ranks fifth amongst TB high-burden countries worldwide.
“TB is common in both rural and urban areas, as it is a communicable airborne disease. Urban areas are crowded, leading to spread of TB. In rural areas there is more poverty; people can’t afford timely medical checkups and medicines and end up becoming victims of the disease,” says Dr Qazi.
Clinical psychologist Zainab Bari is one of the first people TB patients meet at the Indus Hospital’s TB clinic. “Lack of awareness is a major problem. Unless people understand their disease, controlling it becomes very difficult,” says Bari. At the clinic she sensitises patients about how to avoid catching the TB germs. TB, contrary to myth, is not a genetic disease. It is an airborne, highly contagious droplet infection. Bari informs patients about facts like mothers with TB can breastfeed their babies, so long as their faces are covered by masks to avoid infecting the children.
The same holds true for physical contact between couples, because TB is not a sexually transmitted disease. Counselling is also needed because of the stigma and discrimination against people with TB. People avoid TB patients, and sometimes the stigma leads to severe consequences like isolation and divorce.
Encouraging results
Yet, Pakistan’s progress in the control of DR-TB in particular is seen as something of a success story compared to many other regions of the world.
Over the six years that the TB programme has been running at the Indus Hospital, a cumulative number of approximately 10,000 patients have registered for treatment here, of which 8,000 have been treated, shares research associate Rubab Batool of the Indus Hospital. “We have treated around 600 patients successfully for DR-TB until now. Currently, 264 patients are enrolled with us for DR-TB.”
The food factor
“We somehow see a lot of female patients here,” says Dr Sana Adnan, who is one of the doctors at Indus Hospital treating TB patients. In Dr Adnan’s opinion, the reason is that women are generally not nutritionally well-fed in our patriarchal set-up and are hence more susceptible to catching TB due to low resistance. “TB is very directly related to food and a strong immune system. The doctors working with TB patients are advised not to come in contact with patients on an empty stomach, because if they have been eating enough, their chances of catching the germs are reduced.” The doctors here call it an informed decision to work with patients of this highly infectious disease. “At least we are aware of what we are working with and can take precautions. One could catch the TB germ anywhere in an enclosed space where people come in close contact, even at a shop you go to for shopping,” says Dr Adnan from behind her mask.
Doctors estimate that most Pakistanis have been exposed to TB germs, but our immune system stops it from becoming full-blown TB.
TB remains more common in the lower socio-economic groups. In easier words, it is a disease of the poor, very directly related to malnutrition and food insecurity. “One reason why patients willingly keep coming to us for regular treatment is because we provide food baskets to many of them, as well as vouchers for transport so that they can come to us even from far flung areas. This acts as an incentive. They are getting treated and their families are not going hungry,” says Dr Maria Jaswal, assistant clinical coordinator of the Susceptible TB Programme at Indus Hospital.
Missed cases
Dr Amanullah Ansari, provincial technical officer for TB Control, Global Fund, shows guarded optimism when it comes to MDR TB in Pakistan. “Some 200,000 cases of MDR TB are still not in our fold and are undiagnosed in Pakistan; there are an estimated 55,000 in Sindh alone. But yes, there is success, because we have begun detaining MDR TB cases, and treating them. But till people keep going to quacks for treatment due to lack of awareness, our challenge remains,” says Dr Ansari.
More than 30 per cent which is a whopping three million cases of TB remain undiagnosed worldwide. The WHO’s slogan currently is to reach these missed cases.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2014.

An open letter to the Sindh Chief Minister: Tharparkar needs you, Sir

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: March 12, 2014

Thar babies

Politicians will go back to their comfortable homes and mothers in Thar will continue to mourn over their dead babies. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

Dear Sir,

I wonder how you sleep at night, because I am, honestly, having a tough time sleeping peacefully these days.

I have visited Tharparkar a few times. And every time I came back, it took me a long time to get the images of Tharparkar out of my system. You and your government, Sir, have visited one too many times. These people have voted for you and trusted you. I wonder how you get those images out of your system.

I will not be unfair. So I have to say that visits to interior Sindh have told me enough to say that yes, you and your government did try to make things better for these people at some levels. There is the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), the Lady Health Workers (LHW) program, a more women-friendly legislation and a few scattered silver linings. But were they really enough? And in particular, for Tharparkar which was already a ticking time bomb of impending doom due to food insecurity and lack of water, did you all do enough?

Travelling to Tharparkar, one sight that was amazing was seeing flags of the political party they all love on their small, circular homes. Inside the circular homes, there would mostly be pictures of their local leaders from the same party, bleached out due to the intense Thari heat.

Last year, before the May 11, 2013 elections, in a small village near Islamkot, I asked a few of the women whom they would vote for. They giggled, covering their beautiful but weather-beaten faces with colourful chunnis (dupatta), and replied

“For the same people.”

“But are you satisfied with the work they have done?” I had asked.

“No. Not really. Par Adi, aseen ghareeb marhoon aahiyoon. Hee asaan ja wadda aahin. We cannot vote for anyone else.”

(But sister, we are poor people. They are our elders.)

The loyalty was something I couldn’t fathom with my city-centric sensibilities. But they did vote for their elders. Are their children paying a price for that loyalty? Perhaps the answer is, yes.

Listening to the breaking news about the many lives of little children snuffed out before their time, I have those images in my head again. Because I know that these children did not die in a day… they were dying all along. Even the new born ones.

They were dying because their mothers have a history of weak bones and malnourishment, because they get to drink brackish water laden with fluoride and their average meal is sun-dried red chillies crushed to a paste with roti that is not enough.

These children, who are dying, are born to mothers who have mostly lost more than one baby because they have to travel on camel backs in full term pregnancy if they need a caesarean section delivery. The nearest hospitals, Sir, are too far.

The vaccinators who are unsung heroes carry the vaccines on foot in the unbearable heat, but mostly the ice that keeps the vaccines fresh melts by the time they reach their destination. So the mothers mostly do not get tetanus vaccines on time and die from septicaemia because they have contracted infections by delivering children on the sand which is a Thari tradition. The children do not get vaccinated for deadly but preventable diseases.

The NGOs struggle to make things better in Tharparkar but they do not have enough support from the government.

You, Sir, and your government have known this all along, haven’t you?

This wave of donations is only reaching Mithi which is like a model town at the minute. The real issues are still prevalent in the small villages. Who will solve their problems, Sir? Visiting politicians in Mithi for whom lavish meals are lined up do not know the pain of someone in small villages like Maghoo Bheel where donations may never reach. These politicians also do not know how those standing in queues for hours to be handed a bag of grains are beaten with sticks or ridiculed by those distributing the donations.

You do know that what is being called a ‘drought’ or ‘famine’ is no doubt a natural calamity. But it is not like the floods or an earthquake. This is a natural disaster of which the death toll can be mitigated. But sadly no one takes notice. This disaster is related to lack of clean drinking water, Sir. I wrote a story last year about just one such village where the entire population walks with spines bent or crawls on the floor because the water they consume is too little and unfit for human consumption.

Without a word of exaggeration Sir, I called your office every day for months to get a single 15 minute appointment with you, so that this issue could be brought to your notice; all that village needed was an electricity line that could run a water filtration plant that someone had donated to them. The people of the village kept writing to you. Promises were made. In protests. On Twitter. But it was not taken seriously enough.

You must have seen Thari children, Sir, running barefoot in the desert sand or sitting in a weak looking mother’s lap. They are stunted, mostly, and look much younger than their years. Their Body Mass Index (BMI) is clearly under the required level. Their hair is brittle and their skin is parched. They cry in weak voices for no reason. Their bellies are too large for their body. Their Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) when measured tells health officials they are at a risk of dying.

The NGOs give the extremely malnourished ones high-energy food supplement biscuits. But because the entire family is so poor and food insecure, they all end up sharing it. And so, that malnourished child never regains health because his supplement is shared, morsel by morsel, by the entire famished family.

Some of these malnourished children will grow up to be mothers. They will give birth to weak, sick children. And unless someone steps up, this cycle will go on. The donors who are donating excitedly right now will soon get exhausted after media stories die out. Donor fatigue will set in. Politicians will go back to their comfortable homes. And mothers in Tharparkar will continue to mourn over their dead babies.

Just this once, can we do something lasting, Sir?

Pakistan’s women journalists: ‘We want our voice heard’

Why are more and more women joining the media sector in Pakistan?
Last updated: 08 Mar 2014 11:56–20143717951496363.html

women pak

Farahnaz Zahidi
Farahnaz Zahidi is a Pakistani writer and editor who currently works for The Express Tribune.

Female journalist can tell the stories of women whose voices are rarely heard, argues Zahidi [AP]
On this International Women’s day, Google two words: “Pakistan” and “Women”. The results will show pages and pages with headlines about girl-child marriages, honour killings, acid attacks, sexual harassment, not enough women-friendly legislation passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan, patriarchy, preference for male child, alarming maternal mortality rates, and the list goes on.

A recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) shows that Pakistan ranks as the fourth most dangerous country in terms of journalists killed in the line of duty. And yes, Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for women.

Some of the search results would be articles written by female Pakistani journalists – including myself – who focus on gender issues. I recall reporting on the gender gap in employment in Pakistan, when the country was ranked 2nd from the bottom in a study of 135 countries (World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report).

What is encouraging is that Pakistan has a vibrant and growing regional language media, often braver than mainstream media. Women from conservative, under-privileged or rural backgrounds are also venturing into it.

Stakeholders in peace

On the surface, it looks like it is all bad news, especially for female journalists. Despite the harsh working conditiones (low salaries, stress, violence), the fact remains that more and more women are joining media in Pakistan. And for a good reason. This is a country that has a story in every corner, waiting to be told. And women, by default, are great story-tellers. They also have so much to say, and are natural born “fixers”. Journalism is thus a great career choice for us.

Pakistan’s situation, of late has unearthed some new fields and exposed some voids waiting to be filled by reporters, who can choose them as their niches in the world of journalism. With the risk of sounding cliche, there are the proverbial “silver linings” to this mayhem.

Here’s an example of one of the new beats opening up before women journalists: If earlier I was writing features just focusing on reproductive health and family planning, I now focus on how the security crises have affected women in conflict-ridden parts of the country. If roads are blown up and the infrastructure is damaged, women end up paying the highest price. For example, women in such areas would not be able to access hospitals for childbirth, and female doctors, for safety reasons, cannot travel to conflict zones. All this needs to be highlighted. And women reporters do that well.

Inside Story – Who in Pakistan should have protected Malala?
In times of conflict, the vulnerable sections of society like women and children, are most impacted by displacement and losing the men in their lives. Women, as stakeholders in peace processes at any level, are often ignored. Their voice needs to be heard. Over time, the importance of this particular “beat” or focus as a journalist became obvious to me.

It was important that I was there at Peshawer’s Lady Reading Hospital to talk to Fatima Bibi (not her real name) whose 14-year-old son had lost his limbs in a blast. She wanted to do something about it more than just weep. She went on to become a peace-builder in her own town. Her story needed to be told. And it was.

Defining factors

The good part, however, is that it doesn’t really matter if you were a male or a female journalist in Pakistan. Media in this country is quickly becoming a sphere where the man-woman dynamic is not necessarily the defining factor. We are not second-guessed because we are women. We are treated as equals to our male colleagues. There is a definite air of synergy which is conducive to the nature of this craft.

Yes, we want to see even more women in key leadership positions in media houses, even right at the top. Indeed, many have gotten there, while others are on their way up.

The professional hazards, like being stared at or harassed, are not specific to journalism or Pakistan. If, as women we ask for equality, we have to handle these hiccups, although this does not mean staying silent about it. Over time, we learn to handle it. There may be a few “boys’ clubs” that are a tad bit over-protective about their female counterparts, but generally, Pakistan’s female journalists are a strong voice in the country’s overall narrative.

What is encouraging is that Pakistan has a vibrant and growing regional language media, often braver than mainstream media. Women from conservative, under-privileged or rural backgrounds are also venturing into it.

A proactive female journalist from South Punjab was asked recently why she is doing this job that is risky and not so lucrative. Her answer had great clarity: “Sharing this table with 20 male journalists and being able to find a space where my voice is being heard. What more does one need?”

Farahnaz Zahidi is a Pakistani writer and editor who chose quality journalism as her chosen path for telling stories that need to be told and contributing towards a better Pakistan, a better world. Her areas of focus include human rights, gender, peace-building and Islam. She currently works for The Express Tribune. You can find her blog here and her photo-journalism here.

Follow her on Twitter: @FarahnazZahidi.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Tharparkar – Dying a slow, painful death

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: March 9, 2014
Malnutrition is common in Thar with many children displaying classic signs of undernourishment. PHOTO: INP/FILE
One hundred and twenty-two children do not die from drought in a day. They die a slow, painful death when the symptomatic effects of three years of drought in a parched arid area like Tharparkar reach a stage that it becomes a full-blown famine. As the world looks on in amazement how this “breaking news” was hitherto not paid attention to, what must be understood is that this was happening all along, slowly and gradually.
Officially, however, some 122 child deaths were recorded in Thar since December 2013. Local experts are concerned that this could only get worse unless drastic measures are adopted. Tharparkar district, with an estimated population of 1.5 million, is ranked by the World Food Programme as the most food insecure of Pakistan’s 120 districts.
Rukaiyya, a seven-day-old baby from Adam Rind village lost her battle for life. She was one of the casualties of the dire situation in Tharparkar. “My wife Zeenat herself is so weak. We are very poor people. I used to rely on some basic agriculture which is no longer there due to lack of rain. This was my first child,” said Ghulam Hussain, the father of the child. This desperate father took the sick baby to a private doctor in Umerkot. He chose not to go to the nearest public hospital in Umerkot, some 50 km away from their village. “We are too poor. The doctors there would not pay attention to us.” Hussain is convinced that lack of proper food and nutrition is the reason behind this tragedy.
In the Drought Bulletin of Pakistan July-September 2013, released by Pakistan Meteorological Department, a drought is described as a “creeping phenomena”. The bulletin states that “Drought differs from other natural disaster (for instance, flood, tropical cyclones, tornadoes and earthquakes etc) in the sense that the effects of drought often accumulate slowly over a considerable period of time and may linger for years even after the termination of the event.”
There are many overlapping factors that are at play behind the recent acceleration in deaths in Tharparkar. More than 90 per cent of the district’s population relies on underground water they get through dug wells. In the absence of rain when this water is not recharged, the water levels go down. If at all water is available, the concentration of salt in it reaches high levels which makes the water unfit for consumption. The people of Tharparkar rely heavily on cattle for their livelihood. Cattle gives them food and money, both. Absence of fodder forces them to migrate. Partial migration trends show that often the men migrate along with their cattle. The women, children and family members left behind are thus deprived of the little protein they usually get from the dairy products. The impact of the drought is thus exacerbated and malnutrition becomes even more serious.
The cause of the famine in Tharparkar is both a decline in the availability of food as well as a reduction in people’s access to, or their ability to acquire food.
Malnutrition is a common problem in Tharparkar, with many children in particular displaying classic signs of malnourishment at the first glance. Bleached out hair, thin upper arms and disproportionately enlarged bellies are common sights.
According to the National Nutrition Survey, more than 70 per cent of mothers in Sindh are deficient in vitamin D. Nearly half of the children under five years old suffer from stunting and around 40 per cent of children are underweight.
“When there was no rain till the 15th of August, a drought should have been declared. If it is declared a drought, the government can even ask the international community for help. Muhammad Khan Junejo, the then prime minister, had done this in when a similar situation happened in Tharparkar in the 1980s,” says a disgruntled Ali Akbar, executive director, Association for Water Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE), Tharparkar. “This is nothing new for Tharparkar. The same happened in 2001 under General Musharraf’s dictatorship regime, and people woke up to the disaster back then only after 27 deaths. We all waited for democracy and hoped that it would bring us better days. But nothing has really changed.”
Children born to malnourished mothers and suffering from malnourishment over long periods of time have severely compromised immune systems. Thus even a bout of cough or cold will be enough to kill such a child, which explains why the cause of death in the records of many of these children will be reasons like Pneumonia, diarrhea and infections.
The newly appointed District Health Officer (DHO) Tharparkar, Dr Abdul Jalil Bhurgri, told The Express Tribune that media should base their reporting on facts. “The way it is being reported will spread a wave of panic among the people. It is partially incorrect that these children died due to hunger and malnourishment. There are other reasons too like unskilled birth attendants and child delivery in unhygienic conditions due to which mother and child can both contract infections.” Dr Bhurgri invited expressed willingness to share their official data with anyone interested to set the record straight. While he agreed that there are not enough doctors and health facilities in the district, he denied that all these deaths are famine related.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2014.

The killjoys who won’t celebrate Boom Boom

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: March 6, 2014

Okay, so maybe it was not THE best cricket match in the world which we recently won against India, but it made the nation happy and proud. Looking at the amazing similarities between the historic match of 1985-86 when Miandad’s six made us win against India by one wicket, history seemed to be repeating itself. Those matches are part of Pakistan’s folklore now… we celebrate those legendary sixes in unanimity.
But a lot has changed between 1985-86 and 2014… not so much the cricket as us… we have changed. After the match, a lot of us celebrated like crazy, from the security guard to the corporate CEO, and from the housewife to the doctor doing his evening shift. Yet, maybe with good reason, such moments show that we have a growing breed of cynics and killjoys, who cannot even empathise with the enthusiasm of others, leave alone share their excitement. Objectivity and so-called ‘Critical Thinking’ robs us of simple joys like being happy over Afridi’s sixes. Not only that some of us can’t be happy ourselves, we also want to kill it for the others. We have become a people of extremely strong likes and dislikes. And so many called all those celebrating as non-serious, not deep enough, too quick to celebrate, fickle or showering exaggerated praise on Afridi.
I am not a huge cricket fan but I am happy that my country got a reason to celebrate.
Yesterday’s spectacular win against Bangladesh had the whole nation smiling ear to ear. Is that a bad thing?
Yes, tomorrow if Boom Boom makes us lose a match, some of us will be quick to hurl angry insults at him. I wouldn’t but many would. And that is how some of us process success and failure. That is how we make sense of insanity. That’s who we are…a nation rich in contradictions. That is what makes us interesting in many ways.
So killjoys, if you don’t want to celebrate, feel free to indulge in catharsis on your timelines. But don’t call us ‘less’ for celebrating and don’t look down upon emotional waves disdainfully… this is this nation’s defence mechanism. Koi shak?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2014.

Hits and misses: Developments indicate better days for women’s rights

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: February 23, 2014

hits n

Discussing Sindh, experts shared that enrolment of girls in schools is going up and there is an increased focus on funding female literacy projects. PHOTO: FILE

Somewhere in Pakistan, a woman is struggling to get a CNIC, but NADRA only accepts a biometric system of identification whereby her thumb must be scanned. Her thumbs are too chafed due to constant work in agricultural fields with sickles.
Another woman in Pakistan is sucked into an armed conflict situation. Her son is taken away at a tender age by people she knows will misuse him, but when it comes to the peace process, her opinion is not taken into account. At another location in Pakistan, a jirga of men sits and decides a woman’s fate, while other women who are members of the community cannot share their perspective
The questions and issues are multiple. The achievements, challenges and opportunities in this regard were discussed recently at the one-day Provincial Consultation of Sindh for the State Report on Beijing+20. Held on February 21, it was organised by the National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW), Shirkatgah and Rozan. It aimed at involving all stakeholders including NGOs, parliamentarians and activists.
NCSW is leading the process of compiling the State Report on Beijing Plan for Action, which is an agenda for women’s empowerment. In this, NCSW is being co-facilitated by Shirkatgah and Rozan.
Beneath a whole lot of jargon that development sector professionals typically use, the underlying idea was resounding: what will it take for humanity to realise that salvation, progress and development are all clutched tight in the fist of one single solution – empowering the mother, the daughter, the wife, the sister. It is a little difficult for a journalist to understand what it exactly means by “best practice” and how can a 100 plus people know all the UN resolutions and Pakistan’s legislations regarding women by heart. Yet, the sincerity is obvious in such meets. And a lot of good is coming out of them.
Just talking of Sindh, experts shared that girl-child enrolment in schools is going up. There is an increased focus on funding for female literacy projects, including women with minor disabilities. The Domestic Violence Act and laws pertaining to acid burning, as well as the anti-women practices acts are promising. There is increasing talk of involving women in peace processes as equal stakeholders, even if they are unaware that UN Resolution 1325 requires us to do it. Land allotment schemes are tilting towards including female peasants as small land-holders.
Yet, as discussed in presentations given by the many groups that had been given different topics pertaining to women’s empowerment, there are many ifs and buts. For example, when talking of the encouraging presence of women in the field of media, it was pointed out that the growth of women in this field should not be only horizontal but also vertical, whereby more women in media should be in decision-making key positions. It was discussed that the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women stated 20 years ago that “violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace”. Much remains to be achieved but it appears that Pakistan is at least on the journey towards a better future for its women.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2014.

KLF 2014: Identity & literature

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: February 8, 2014


In a country where maybe just three per cent of the population can truly read, reflect upon and understand literature written in English, is it worrisome that the best minds of the country are increasingly tilting towards writing in English.
KARACHI: Intelligent looking men engrossed in animated conversations with women clad in crisp pure cottons with motifs inspired by Pakistan’s traditional arts, wearing kolhapuri chappals and sporting white stylised hair, the venue is teeming with Pakistan’s intelligentsia. For once, even if for a short three days, the topics of discussion here are education, language, literature and the arts.
But the bigger issues Pakistan is plagued with, like security and sectarianism, have a way of sneaking into the books being sold and the conversations taking place. For Pakistanis, there is no escape from certain acetone realities.
Inside the room labeled “007” at the Beach Luxury Hotel, the answers to some tricky questions are being handled by the participants. And why not. This particular session at the 5th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF 2014) is titled “Identity and literature: New trends in Pakistani writing in English”.
Pakistani writers writing in English are making a mark globally. Books from the most beautiful minds of Pakistan, arguably, are from names like Muhammad Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid. A concerned member of the audience says that these books talk about a girl slapping her grandmother, a woman having a full-fledged extra marital affair and detailed accounts of a rape. Are these books depicting the average Pakistani’s thought process? Are the characters of these books ones the average Pakistani can identify with? Are Pakistan’s cultural sensibilities being taken into account here or are we seeing the emergence of literature targeted at a specific readership?
Pakistanis realities are fast changing. This is reflected in the works of its writers. Participant Claire Chambers whose expertise is in Pakistani writing in English, talked briefly about how 1971 onwards, Pakistan saw a surge of literature inspired by the Fall of Dacca, and later by the Zia regime. Not long after came what Chambers explained as being literary works that were pre-cursors to 9/11. These are interesting times for writers, it was discussed, with genre-blending being done.
In a country where maybe just three per cent of the population can truly read, reflect upon and understand literature written in English, is it worrisome that the best minds of the country are increasingly tilting towards writing in English, asks a concerned member of the audience. The moderator, writer Bilal Tanweer, and speaker, writer Rukhsana Ahmed, tend to disagree, debating that some of the best literary work in Pakistan is probably being produced in Urdu and regional languages but the money is in works produced in English, and works in English end up bagging the spotlight.
In the words of Ahmed, writing in English has grown exponentially and these works are not disconnected from the identity and realities of Pakistanis, with young writers like Tanweer handling tough subjects like violence in a visceral manner. There is palpable optimism about works of these writers. But the optimism remains cautious.
Read more: KLF2014

A nasty, brutish and short life in a Hobbesian Karachi

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: January 11, 2014

khi hobbesian

“Karachi is going back to tribalism,” said Dr Irsan. PHOTO MOHAMMAD SAQIB/EXPRESS/FILE
Karachi’s is a “Hobbesian society” declared Dr Manzoor Irsan of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology at the South Asian Cities Conference on Friday.
“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” This terribly apt reference to philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the architect of social contract theory, surely carried a double meaning for the academics and their audience as it came a day after one of Karachi’s toughest crime-fighters was killed in a bomb attack. Indeed, crime was on their minds as the thinkers also pored over demographic transitions, bulging populations and infrastructure solutions for the throbbing metropolis that is Karachi.
The session titled “Urban Institutional Development & Governance” kicked off with Peter Ellis, a lead economist at the World Bank, sharing his experience of Indonesia’s urbanization and its implications for Pakistan. With 54 per cent of Indonesia’s population now in urban areas, the similarities between Karachi and Jakarta are jarring. But there are lessons to learn as well, as Indonesia has seen that districts with better connectivity show higher income growth.

In contrast was Dr Irsan’s presentation whose disgruntled tone was obvious from its title: “Karachi: The administrative black hole of Pakistan”. In his opinion, politics shape institutions, and unless the politics of any city is cleansed of ethnicity and sectarianism, cities and life in them cannot improve. “Karachi is going back to tribalism. If this continues, people like you and me will escape, because humans need peace to thrive,” he said. “Extractive societies like Karachi’s don’t grow. Karachi is stuck in a Malthusian trap.” (Roughly put, it is the idea that gains in income per person through technological advances are inevitably lost through subsequent population growth.)
Other speakers such as Shahnaz Arshad, a senior urban specialist with the World Bank, focused on incentives to improve local governance performance for municipal service delivery. Urban planner Farhan Anwar spoke of “Visioning a sustainable City Karachi: Landmarks for a new urban governance construct”.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the session came from research associate Adil Sohail from Iqra University who talked about E-governance through enterprise resource planning. He explained ‘electronic governance’ as the use of information and communication technologies to enhance governance. His solution-oriented approach described phases of implementing E-governance models and ways in which they can facilitate local bodies in particular.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2014.