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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Dreams from Balochistan: A garbage picker from Quetta makes a movie, tells his tale

Published: June 28, 2015
Budding filmmaker Ali Ahmed (left) dreams of one day making a film that will be shown in a cinema, while young Ashraf Khan (right) has overcome poverty, an acid injury and drug addiction to produce a documentary on the plight of garbage pickers. PHOTOS COURTESY: ALI AHMED (LEFT) AND ASHRAF KHAN (RIGHT)

Budding filmmaker Ali Ahmed (left) dreams of one day making a film that will be shown in a cinema, while young Ashraf Khan (right) has overcome poverty, an acid injury and drug addiction to produce a documentary on the plight of garbage pickers. PHOTOS COURTESY: ALI AHMED (LEFT) AND ASHRAF KHAN (RIGHT)

KARACHI: A part of his face may still be scarred but this strapping young 18-year-old man from Quetta has eyes full of dreams, and some of these dreams have begun to come true.

Life changed for Ashraf Khan since people from Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP)-Pakistan stumbled upon him. The teenager has learnt lessons beyond his years. By the age of 15, he had already experienced poverty, an acid injury, garbage picking as a profession, and drug addiction as an escape.

Read: Balochistan unrest: FC nails six alleged insurgents in separate raids

“It was Ramazan and I was seven years old,” recalled Ashraf. “We put slabs of wood on the wall as makeshift cupboards and one of them carried a bottle of acid. I was sleeping on the floor. It was dark. My mother came to pick something and dropped the acid on me by mistake.”

His handsome features, once ravaged by acid burns, have now begun to emerge again, thanks to the treatment for which IDSP and Indus Hospital have helped him. Ashraf became a garbage picker around the same time he had the accident. With nine siblings and a father too old and sick to work, child labour was inevitable, that too the worst kind as a scavenger of waste.

“I would earn Rs200 to Rs300 a day, and would spend it mostly on my treatment,” he said. “I used to get two injections a day. My face used to bleed and I would smell of and ooze pus. People could not sit with me and have food.”

Finding a guiding hand from IDSP, he was brought to Karachi some two and a half years ago when he was operated on at Indus Hospital. “I cannot express how happy I was. My Ammi could not believe it when my brother sent her my picture. I had a face once again.” Ashraf has never been to school and talks in Urdu with difficulty, but has already produced a documentary film on the plight of garbage pickers and it has been well-received.

Read: Balochistan govt announces general amnesty for militants who lay down their arms

Budding filmmaker Ali Ahmed (left) dreams of one day making a film that will be shown in a cinema, while young Ashraf Khan (right) has overcome poverty, an acid injury and drug addiction to produce a documentary on the plight of garbage pickers.


Ashraf is one of the 30 students who exhibited their short films and documentaries at the Pak-American Cultural Center under the IDSP Film Festival, 2015. Sensitive subjects, such as target killing, violence, human rights, living in conflict zones, sectarian violence and social marginalisation were tackled deftly in these films. “All the funding to make these films was provided by IDSP,” said Asma Zafar, IDSP’s institutional support manager, who is a mentor to many young people from Balochistan.

Read: In session: Balochistan Assembly debates power shortage

Ashraf admitted the idea to make a film came to his heart. “I want more and more people to see it so that people understand what garbage pickers go through,” he said about his production and directorial debut in which he dabbled with a little bit of acting too.

Today, Ashraf has started reading and writing, and he guides other young garbage pickers in Karachi. “Only a garbage picker can understand the problem of another one,” he said, sharing his dream of setting up a centre for garbage pickers. “When young people do not get mentors and guidance, they can get lost. If I had not gotten guidance, I would be just another druggy lost on the streets and life would have left me behind.”

Pursuing his passion: Two goats for a film

Another budding filmmaker, Ali Ahmed, 23, is ready to pay any price to pursue his passion for film making. “I had to sell two of my goats to make the film and come to Karachi for the screening,” he said. “My family thinks all films are vulgar like the Bollywood ones. I want to make films that remove their misconception.”

Read: Water for all: Gwadar desalination plant ready after probe

Ahmed’s father wants him to go to Dubai instead to make some money but he insisted on pursuing his passion for filmmaking. “I have started a small production concern in Quetta and I dream that one day I will make a film that will be showed in a cinema.”

His 20-minute-long film, called ‘Dhutuk’ meaning doll in Brahwi, comments on the devastating effects of terrorism on families. “I want to show that when one person dies in an act of terrorism, an entire family dies with him or her.” After coming to IDSP, Ali feels he has found his calling and knows what to work towards.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2015.

The sin of being a widow in this world

Hamida (R), widow of Pakistani fisherman Nawaz who died in an Indian jail, sitting at her house in Rerhy in the outskirts of Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

We live in a country where, when a journalist calls the Chief Minister House and asks if they have any special events for International Widows’ Day, the reply you get from the concerned person is,

“Widows’ Day? Is there one?”

But then, considering two things, Pakistan might not be the only country.

Firstly, it was just four years ago that the United Nations General Assembly declared June 23, 2011, as the first-ever International Widows’ Day, so it is a relatively new event. Secondly, the women being celebrated are on the lowest tier of the social pyramid, and their problems are not given the importance they should get.

There are some 258 million widows across the world. Of these, at least 115 million live in dire poverty and 86 million have been physically abused. If a widow has an average of three children and six other family members, this is an issue that affects nearly one billion people – a seventh of the world’s population.

But how does one even calculate the figures for Pakistan, where a big chunk of the population is not even registered? Registering widows is an even more neglected priority.

So when a woman’s husband dies, what is life like for her? Hellish, in the experience of most widows. There are two major issues that widows face – the falling from grace in terms of social status and inclusion, and economic vulnerability and poverty.

Widows are often considered bad omens and are excluded from all auspicious events. A classic example is only the saat suhaganain (seven married women) being allowed to put henna on the bride’s hands. While things may have started changing in more educated or aware social setups, women still confess that they would not like their sons or brothers to marry widows. Even if the superstition is ignored, another major issue is that widows are flung out by in-laws and they land back in the homes of their fathers or brothers.

If it is married brothers, they are not given the respect and support they deserve. If the widowed woman is not economically empowered or educated, she is in for trouble. Poverty and economic struggles await her. And if she decides to step out to earn for herself and her children as she must, a big bad world awaits her. She remains an easier target of sexual harassment without the proverbial roof over her head, and is often considered easy prey for the predator.

It is not just the widow but also her children and dependents who are affected. The fact that1.5 million children whose mothers are widowed are expected to die before reaching the age of five says enough. Whatever the husband left behind for her, whether he officially transferred the property in her possession or left behind in the form of inheritance, is often not given to her and the orphan children. Children of widows often have to forgo their education to earn for their families. They are more vulnerable to child labour and human trafficking.

The UN publication Women 2000: Widowhood: Invisible Women, Secluded or Excludedstates that,

“In Pakistan, destitute widows are reported to be supported by a small pension or zakat. But, as in India, the allocation system is often corrupt, and the many needy widows are frequently neglected.”

The publication rightly points out that Pakistani widows are often deprived of their rightful inheritance by a male relative.

A major chunk of widows remain elderly. A visit to the Edhi home or any centre for homeless women shows how these elder women are ostracised from society. However, increasing incidence of armed conflict and acts of terrorism in Pakistan have resulted in many young women also being widowed and displaced. Many security personnel lose their lives owing to the violence and strife. While they are promised compensation, it is not enough.

On one hand, rights of widows need to be brought to the fore on all forums. Awareness needs to be raised regarding their plight. But most importantly, the young women of this nation need to be self-empowered enough to be able to support themselves and command the respect they deserve if they find themselves in such a situation.

Nature to nurture? Why are Pakistani women rethinking motherhood?

Published: June 22, 2015


Can women lead a successful life sans maternal instincts?

I’d rather not be a mother than be a bad one,” claims 28-year-old Zainab Imam, highlighting a rather common tilt among the affluent and educated women of Pakistan. In a time where ‘making informed decisions’ is a definite requirement for every crossroad in life, an increasing number of Pakistani women like Imam are redefining gender roles and questioning whether they are ready for marriage, let alone a family. “I don’t want children because I will not have the time to be a good mother,” adds Imam.

This change is not just specific to Pakistan. Across the border, India shares a somewhat similar social landscape. Twenty-six-year-old journalist Indrani Basu echoes Imam’s concerns. Even though Basu is fond of babies, she is reluctant to undergo the physical experience of producing one. “I don’t mind doing everything else, whether it is staying up, changing diapers, potty training, massaging and bathing, etc,” says Basu. “I guess I don’t mind being the dad!”

Keeping women like Imam and Basu in consideration, a pertinent question comes to mind: is intellectual stimulus and empowerment stifling the maternal instinct in today’s women? Or is it that they are simply unwilling to take on the responsibility that comes with motherhood because they are more aware of it? Women like 21-years-old student Samia Ansari, it is clearly a case of not wanting to take on more than one can handle. “I fear having children. I do love children of others but the idea of having my own is very scary. Taking care of babies and playing with them looks good for a while. But being responsible for another being is a very scary thing. I don’t think I can [do it],” says Ansari.

Are women born to be mothers? 

We often hear people say that women are born to be mothers but whether the maternal instinct is something we are born with or acquire still remains debatable. Renowned psychologist Nasim Mughal feels that women are indeed born with the instinct to nurture. “It’s a biological and genetic template; like an inbuilt disposition within women that interacts with the environment,” she explains. Mughal further adds that nurturing is largely the outcome of socialisation an individual goes through which ultimately determines their characteristics. “Healthy, grounded socialisation helps actualise innate human abilities while dysfunctional experiences tear down the basic fabric of who we are.”

In the case of Sameena Bibi*, dysfunctional conditioning appears to have made her dislike motherhood. Hailing from a rural village in Multan, Bibi’s family believes that a woman’s worth comes from producing children although Bibi herself feels differently. “I am currently expecting my first child but feel no love towards it as I never wanted to be a mother,” she admits. Bibi’s predicament can be attributed to her experience of witnessing her mother being abused during pregnancy and after delivering a daughter. The lack of love received from her father has caused Bibi to believe she will fail as a parent as well. Despite this, Mughal reiterates that the need to have children is present in all humans. “It is the glue that bonds two people together, providing them with a common purpose.”

At the other end of the spectrum is psychotherapist Asma Pal who feels that the reasoning behind maternal instincts is not a simple one. “It is more a learnt behaviour than an instinct. Others may disagree but I think bonding begins once the baby is born,” says Pal. She also shares the story of her gynecologist telling her that the reason women feel nauseous in the early stages of pregnancy is because the embryo attaches itself to the uterus but the body rejects it. “It is the natural reaction of the human body to fight outside influences. While the validity of this statement needs to be checked, it makes sense to me,” says Pal.

Interestingly, some women find it difficult to bond with their baby even after birth. “I was expecting to fall in love immediately with them at birth but I just didn’t feel much,” says 34-year-old Ayesha Zubair. “I breastfed both of them as my mother pressured me to. But I hated doing it and sort of felt trapped with the kids,” confesses Zubair, adding that it took close to four to six months for the maternal instinct to kick in. Therapist Shazia Khan says that this could have been a case of perinatal or postnatal depression, something most mothers don’t recognise. “My interest as a psychotherapist is more towards what are we doing for women who are expecting but are simply not aware of these disorders,” states Khan.

The intelligence quotient

According to Satoshi Kanazawa, a researcher from the London School of Economics, the smarter the woman, the less likely she is to want children. In his book The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn’t Always the Smarter One, Kanazawa suggests that for every 15 IQ points a woman earns, her maternal urges drop by 25%. Similarly, a study titled Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degree, conducted by the Pew Research Centre in 2008, confirmed that most educated women are still among the least likely to reproduce in the United States of America. Although, statistically some prefer motherhood, the study states “there has been a general trend toward delayed marriage and childbearing, especially among highly educated women.”

Based on the findings, women who have dedicated their lives towards achieving a degree or career feel an inner pressure upon having to take a long hiatus like a maternity leave. However, according to Kanazawa, the more worrisome aspect is that if the upper tier of intelligent women reproduces fewer females, the genetic intelligence which is supposed to trickle down to future generations will be hindered. Thus, there is a high probability that the world will miss out on smarter humans.

Moreover, women like Mumbai-based writer and media trainer Shai Venkatraman believe that there is more than just a woman’s intellectual status at play here: the practicalities of being a professional need to be considered too. “I never had doubts that I wanted to be a mom. But I delayed it because at that stage in my life, work was taking off. Also the organisation I was working for wasn’t welcoming towards pregnant employees, despite being women-friendly,” explains Venkatraman. She also adds that even though her company offered six months of maternity leave, female employees were made to work like slaves once they returned.

In Venkatraman’s experience, some professions are more unfriendly to the idea of working mothers who aspire to make it to the top. “If you look at women who have made it big in the news and television industry here in India, most are unmarried or childless by choice.”  In situations like these, a family support system helps immensely. “I always tell younger women that they must ensure a support system for themselves, such as staying close to their children’s grandparents, if they want to reach the top,” she adds.

Societal pressure towards childrearing

Cultural experts feel that in many progressive setups, the social pressure on women to bear children has decreased considerably and what was once considered necessary for a woman’s social survival is now seen as an individual choice.

However, such a mindset is rare, especially in our part of the world where a woman’s are primary role is as a vessel for childbirth. Many young women like Imam are still subjected to intense coercion to reproduce. “Not a single day passes by without someone reminding me that the proverbial biological clock is ticking away,” says Imam. Yet, the pressure isn’t enough to make her jump into motherhood without careful deliberation. “It still doesn’t change the fact that I continue to be undecided about whether I want to have children or not,” she says. For Imam, it isn’t about being too career-oriented or intelligent but instead, being a responsible parent. Imam, in fact, likes the idea of being a mother and would be perfectly happy to take a break from work to give her child full attention. She is simply unsure about when to take a break.

One can’t deny the fact that today’s progressive women are under a lot of economic pressure. “It’s becoming more and more obvious that the women of the current generation – often called millennials – are reluctant to have children because of the financial restraints placed on us, thanks to the political decisions the boomers made before us,” says Mehreen Kasana, writer and academic. Kasana says that today’s woman knows what poverty or being on the brink of poverty is like and they are, as a result, unwilling to put a young life in the same precarity. “It’s a class-based choice. Many of us women are keener on acting on our autonomy and economic issues rather than just producing for the sake of producing.”

Today’s women have to acquire sound education, have a thriving career, build a good life with a compatible partner, raise children, socialise and also maintain themselves, physically and emotionally. As a result, motherhood in this list of priorities may be sliding down a rung or two. Mother of two, Zaib Kamran, still feels unsure. “It’s too complicated for me, I am still figuring it out,” she says. Raising two girls, just 11 months apart, and trying to balance that with everything else makes Kamran feel like her life is too mechanical to be classified as the love of a mother. “Perhaps this is love? Maybe. I don’t know.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, June 21st, 2015.

Book review: Street Smart

Published: June 21, 2015

Rumana Husain’s Street Smart is a photo essay appreciating Karachi’s days of yore.

Rumana Husain’s Street Smart is a photo essay appreciating Karachi’s days of yore.

KARACHI: Over 20 million people in Pakistan warrant 20 million plus stories. In Karachi, the world’s third most populous city, there is never a moment of stagnation. The city grows and evolves as we talk. There is the heritage of the past with nostalgic remains in the form of colonial buildings and tales of simpler, safer times and a futuristic side to the city where buildings are being torn down and electronics replace tender connections. For instance, the quintessential 5:00pm tea with family is being replaced with fast-paced techno music on radio stations as one gets caught in heavy traffic jams during the evening rush hour. Therefore, in her new book Street Smart, Rumana Husain does what a true lover of this city must. She builds a bridge between the Karachi of yesterday and today. And for this, the artist-cum-author uses the lives of 60 people on the streets of the city as her canvas.

In Husain’s signature style, which made her previous offeringKarachiwala a favourite coffee table book among Karachiites, Street Smart is a 160-page long photo essay. The language is simple but the subjects are not. Flipping through the pages of Street Smart is like listening to the untold story of what Karachi has been through. The city has been ravaged by violence, while also facing problems every megacity faces; yet, its beautiful diversity continues to thrive.

The book’s component, which has a touch of romanticism and nostalgia, is the profiles of people in professions that have begun to fade. The roadside ear cleaner, the roaming tinsmith (kalai wala), the handcart puller (haath gari walla), the ferris wheel operator, the typist and the knives sharpener. In the future, our children may not even know they existed. Documentation of the lives of people like Khadija Bai, a poppadum hawker, and Mariam Ahmed, a female potter, is thus invaluable. The book also includes some new professions like a guard and a food delivery man, including peculiar ones like a vendor selling fried liver. However, some new street ‘workers’ have deftly been left out on purpose, such as the mobile snatcher and the stalker.

The most ironic selection would have to be that of a water carrier, also known as bahishti (person of Paradise), who has a newly-found importance in this water-starved city. It is also interesting to note how the book features some very similar, yet different street professions. These include the oil grinder and the masseur, the scavenger and the junk dealer and the peanut hawker and the dried fruit seller. A critical look, however, reveals that some of these come across as repetitive and unnecessarily take up pages. Other professions could have been included instead, such as a gajra seller, children who wash windscreens at signals or even the entertaining and engaging transgender.

Author Rumana Husain

The book’s photography captures the correct sentiments and freezes the right moments. The cover, instead of using the fortune teller with the parrot, could have perhaps featured one of the better photographs in the book, for instance the photograph of a Sindhi cap seller. But the overall impact is nevertheless delightful and moving.

Farahnaz Zahidi works as a senior subeditor at The Express Tribune. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 21st, 2015.

15 types of food and drinks that will help Pakistanis get through this hot Ramazan

Published: June 19, 2015


KARACHI: Brace yourselves, Pakistanis. If Nasa reports are to be believed, this will be one of the hottest, driest Ramazan the country has ever seen. This means you need to be well hydrated, and eat a balanced nutritious Sehri and Iftar so that your energy levels do not sink and make you dysfunctional during your fast. A well rounded diet is needed. Instead of a table laden with less nutritious food choices, let us try and opt for quality rather than quantity…lesser but tastier and more nutritious dishes.

So even if you continue with a bit of the samosa pakora binges, here are 15 suggestions from The Express Tribune that will give you considerable energy boosts. Happy Fasting!

1. Lassi or Chaach

Yogurt will be your saviour so add it to your diet in every possible form. Lassi is the thicker, often sweet version of our yogurt based favourite drink. Sweet Lassi can have different flavours with adding in fruits, specially delicious mangoes. But Chaach, thinner in consistency and seasoned with a little salt, is actually a great choice at Iftar, as it replenishes the body’s lost salts.

2. Haleem, Hareesa or Shola

These all-in-ones have ingredients from all food groups. Haleem is most popular, with protein of meat and pulses. But Hareesa is also an amazing option. It basically omits the pulses and uses boiled, cracked or ground wheat and meat as the main ingredients. Shola is a similar mix of mince meat, spinach, lentils and rice. At Iftar, these are excellent options.

3. Mewa (Dried fruit and nuts)

We normally associate dried fruit and nuts with winter, but while fasting we need the rich nutrition they provide. Other than the usual almonds, peanuts and walnuts, also go for dried apricots, plums, prunes, kishmish (raisins) and figs for much needed fibre. You need the Vitamin E, Calcium, minerals, Omega-3 and protein they provide.

4. Yogurt smoothies and home-made fruit yogurt

Yes, yoghurt makes a re-entry on the list. This season has the biggest variety of fruits. So go for yogurt-based smoothies with peaches, mangoes, cherries and apricots. Chop the same fruits for a healthier variety and whip them into some sweetened yogurt.

TIP: Add a dash of jelly powder and jelly cubes and see the result.

5. Filled parathas

This is the complete meal, delicious with chutney, achar and kachoomar (finely chopped onions and tomatoes with lemon juice). Fillings can be any and many. Qeema, mashed potatoes, cooked gobhi (cauliflower), or even channa daal. For a healthier variety, make them with whole whaet four and  replace regular oil or ghee with olive oil.

6. Kabab Shabab

Different kinds are life saviours for people on the go. So stock up! Shaami kababs, chapli kababs, potato cutlets, finger kababs or those made with dum ka qeema….any and every variety is great for both Sehri and Iftar. They provide the much needed meat quotient to your diet in Ramazan and blend well with anything.

7. Laal sharbat concoctions

A Pakistanis Ramazan without Rooh Afza and all its sister brands is incomplete. Refreshing and light, it is known to have herbal ingredients that fight the effects of hot winds that can cause a heat stroke. Have it as is or add it to your Limo Paani (lemonade). A great idea is to have it with milk and slivered nuts for Sehri.

8. Chaat variations

This is a no-brainer and a given, and perhaps THE healthiest and most sensible choice when it comes to our traditional Pakistani Iftar. One can go all creative with it. Separate the fruit chaat, dahi baray and Cholay (chick peas) or mix them all up for a more Anaarkali variety, its yummy and filling, and gives you a balanced meal.

9. Raita Salaad

Even regular salad eaters somehow take a hiatus from salads in Ramazan, and that is a big mistake. Keep crunchy cucumbers and chopped veggies on the side. To make it yummier, have mint raita. For a more filling variety, cucumber or baingan (eggplant) raita can be mixed to anything, like daal and salad. Remember, your body needs the greens.

10. The vital Anday

You cannot take away the eggs from a Pakistanis Sehri. So go ahead. Enjoy the khaaqina, the Pakistani omelette, the more international cheese and mushroom omelette, or boiled eggs if your health conscious. Even eggnog is a good idea for a boost. If the smell of raw egg offends you, add a few drops of Rooh Afza.

PS: Dont forget the meetha toast (French toast).

11. Sandwiches and wraps from around the world


Think outside the box. Why just go for fried stuff, that too in this heat? Go for sandwiches and wraps. Healthier ones can be in multi-grain breads and whole wheat pita. It can be wholesome if you add in greens and veggies, and you can experiment with different kinds of meats. Add feta cheese instead of cheddar if you want it to be even yummier and healthier.

12. Soups and yakhnis

You are not going to drink these outdoors under the glaring sun. So to ease your parched throat, get the much needed liquid intake, and fill yourself up, continue with soups and yakhnis if you are a soup person. They are filling and give us the salts and proteins. If vegetables and lentils are added to them, even better.

13. Kheer with sheermaal OR Jalebi, Phainee with milk

You don’t want to go so low on sugar that you are fainting away. So specially for Sehri or that midnight snack after you come home from taraweeh, these two options are hot favourites.

14. Shorbay aur salan

Again, do something off beat. You don’t have to stick to just dry qeema and bhunna gosht. Do keep at the aloo gosht and qorma. Have them with boiled rice or pulao, or even chapaati, for a complete Iftar come dinner or Sehri.

15. Bun kabab

Last but not the last, this is good at any time for any reason. Fill it with kabab, anda, chutney, cutlet or even daal. This is the ideal food that will ward away those hunger pangs.

PS: Remember, a burger can never be a bun kabab!

A pure word is charity….a smile is charity…

We cannot get unless we learn to give… Give love, care, service….give a part of ourselves to get. This is the teaching of our beloved Prophet (saw). This nasheed is special for me as in the month of Ramadan this is a beautiful reminder. Here, as a fan of Sami Yusuf’s work, I share one of his most beautiful Nasheeds, called “Healing” that talks about how only in giving can we get….and only by healing others can we heal ourselves. Sami Yusuf’s nasheeds touch the hurt. He has given the Islamic ideals of love of the Prophet (saw), humanity, service to Allah’s creation and appreciating relationships a new surge with his tender beautiful vocals and touching lyrics. He is a British Nasheed artist, songwriter, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist musician of Azerbaijani descent. SamiYusuf-webopener02 I personally love the Arabic version. Here is the English version with a bit of Arabic.

The most beautiful part of this rendition is the end….for those who know, the joy is even more, listening to the hadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw) that explains how every good word is charity (Sadaqa); a smile is charity; every good good deed is charity. Happy listening and understanding. And thank you Sami Yusuf. I pray more people understand this.



It’s so hard to explain
قد يصعب عليّ أن أعبر

What I’m feeling
عمّا يختلج في قلبي

But I guess it’s ok
لكن اعتقادي

Cause I’ll keep believing
ينبع من إيماني

There’s something deep inside
هناك شيء في الأعماق

Something that’s calling

It’s calling you and I
يناديني ويناديك

It’s taking us up high
يرتقي بنا إلى الأعلى


Healing, a simple act of kindness brings such meaning
الشفاء … قد يتجسّد في عمل بسيط لطيف

A smile can change a life let’s start believing
بسمة قد تغير حياة الإنسان

And feeling, let’s start healing
فلنبدأ بعمل يكون فيه شفاء


Heal and you will be healed
شفاء بشفاء .. ومع كل شفاء شفاء

Break every border
اكسر القيود والحدود

Give and you will receive
اعط تُعطى .. فالعطاء يوجب عطاء

It’s Nature’s order
نظام كوني رباني

There is a hidden force
هناك قوى خفية

Pulling us closer
تجذب بعضنا لبعض

It’s pulling you and I
تجذبني أنا وأنت

It’s pulling us up high
تجذبنا للأعلى


Healing, a simple act of kindness brings such meaning
الشفاء … قد يتجسّد في عمل بسيط لطيف

A Smile can change a life let’s start believing
بسمة قد تغير حياة الإنسان

And feeling, let’s start healing
فلنبدأ بعمل يكون فيه شفاء


Hearts in the hand of another heart and in God’s hand are all hearts
قلب بين يدي قلب و بيد الله كل قلب

An eye takes care of another eye and from God’s eye nothing hides
عين ترعى عينا .. وعين الله ترعى، و لا شيء عنه يخفى

Seek only to give and you’ll receive
إسع نحوالعطاء… و ستلقى و تعطى

So, heal and you will be healed
إشف.. و سوف تشفى

OUTRO (x2):

قلب بين يدي قلب و بيد الله كل قلب

عين ترعى عينا، وعين الله ترعى

كلمة طيبة صدقة

A pure word is charity (Hadith)

تبسمك لأخيك صدقه

To smile at your brother is charity (Hadith – Tirmidhi)

كل معروف صدقة

Every good deed is charity (Hadith)

اللهم اشف شفاءً لا يغادر سقماً

“O Allah,


A healing that leaves no sickness.”

[Part of a Hadith: Bukhari, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, and others]

Miracle milk – The Camel Milk Diaries
Pakistan experiences a boost in sale of camel milk, hailed as an elixir of health. PHOTOS : FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

Pakistan experiences a boost in sale of camel milk, hailed as an elixir of health. PHOTOS : FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

A few yards short of the very busy Korangi crossing in Karachi, a series of makeshift settlements set up by nomadic clans is attracting a lot of attention. The family profile of these matriarchal clans is almost identical. Headed by a woman, they comprise of one or two men, children and a few camels with their calves. Their main source of income is the sale of camel milk. People stop their cars, motorbikes and bicycles and form queues to buy this nutritious milk, which has recently gained popularity in Pakistan.

The most sought-after property in camel’s milk is freshness. Cynical buyers, therefore, insist that the camel be milked in front of them. The technique is simple. Calves are brought close to the mother’s udders and when they begin to nudge her to be fed, milk starts flowing into the udders. At that moment, calves are harshly pulled away and their share of milk is taken out by skilled hands into stainless steel buckets or in a thermos or utensil provided by the more hygiene-conscious buyers.

But hygiene, in most cases, is less than satisfactory. These families, living in the open, lack proper facilities of sanitation. While the milk has no impurities, their hands and utensils are often not clean. And with the common belief that one must never boil camel’s milk, the bacteria transferred from unwashed utensils remain alive. “We don’t boil camel’s milk. It should never be boiled. I buy it every week for my wife who complains of lethargy, weakness, aches and pains,” says a regular buyer, who almost walked away empty-handed when he saw a girl adulterate the milk with water.

A matter of preference

Within the last few years, camel milk patrons are increasing in number. Despite having a thin consistency, salty taste and slight odour, the milk has created a market for itself in the country due to its potential medicinal benefits. The imported version, bottled with preservatives, is commonly available in high-end grocery store chillers.

But street vendors continue to present an appealing option to consumers who want the satisfaction of purchasing organic milk. Nusrat Ahmed, who works at Adeela Camel Milk, however, does not approve of the practice. “These camel herders are unfair to the calves. They pull the calf away from the mother and they do not get enough milk. Also, how do their camels produce so much milk on a daily basis? It is possible that they inject hormones into the animal,” he says. Camel milk is not a food product, it is a medicine, vouches Ahmed, and warns that the milk should not be boiled. “If you boil it, camel milk will still be nutritious, but will no longer be a medicine. It has certain natural ingredients that fight disease and they perish once you boil it.”

Many rural families have moved to cities to sell camel milk. PHOTOS : FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

From virility in males to obesity control, the benefits of camel milk as a form of treatment are many. Wali Muhammad Akhtar, one of the most senior staff members at Dawakhana Hakeem Ajmal Khan in Saddar, Karachi, confirms that camel milk is beneficial for health. “It is Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). How can it not be beneficial?” he says. “It has less fat content so we use it in medicines to cure obesity. It is also the main ingredient of a popular herbal product called Labub Kabir Ajmali (an aphrodisiac for men),” says Akhtar, adding that the medicine’s recommended dose is half a teaspoon before breakfast. While assessing the product in light of the Avicennian alternative branch of medicine, commonly known as hikmat, Hakeem Ajmal, named after his great grandfather, confirms that camel’s milk is used in some of the Dawakhana’s 350 plus products. According to him, the ingredient is used in its original form instead of an extract or essence. “Camel milk is hot and dry in temperament,” explains Ajmal, referring to Avicenna’s theory of humours.

There is mass consensus among health practitioners regarding the potential health benefits of camel milk. Nutritionist Tayyaba Khan says that the milk is nutritionally very rich. “It has Vitamin C which helps boost immunity. It is also rich in iron and Vitamin B. It helps with diabetes management and is fortified with minerals.” Diabetics are therefore leaning towards camel milk as a possible course of treatment with no side effects. According to reports, camel milk has about a quart of insulin in each litre, making it a potential treatment option for diabetics. India’s Bikaner Diabetes Care Research Center conducted a study on the effects of camel milk on type 1 diabetes, determining that consuming camel milk significantly reduces insulin doses required to maintain long-term glycemic or blood sugar levels. Zahida, a 50-year-old diabetic, has just begun using camel milk as a form of alternative therapy. When asked who prescribed it to her, she says, “Suna hai logon se (I have heard about it from people),” and feels that since it has no harm if no benefits, then why not give it a try. But according to Akhtar, to reap those benefits, one should first boil camel milk.

Future demand

With proven benefits, it is hard to determine why camel milk is still not a common or popular choice and has a growing, but niche market. One of the reasons could be an inherent social prejudice against the animal which is associated with low economic value and underdevelopment, herded by the Bedouins and nomads. There seems to be a social hierarchy in animals as well: The camel is a symbol of the working class while a horse represents grandeur and status. Mules and donkeys rank even lower on the social ladder, although donkey’s milk has been used since centuries as a beauty product, especially an anti-aging agent, with tales of Cleopatra bathing in it. “We buy camel milk for Rs40 per kg. We don’t drink camel milk commonly despite its easy availability in Rohi (Cholistan Desert). We just use it to make kheer,” says Nazeeran Bibi, who lives in a village near Bahawalpur.

Ali Raza takes great care of his camel named baby as the animal is his family’s main source of income.  PHOTOS : FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI

Despite the milk’s low price, as confirmed by Dr Ghulam Ahmed, a field operations manager for Engro Foods Limited, Bahawalpur, it is not popular. Ghulam is actively involved with the company’s milk collection and animal farming projects, which contributes to the supply of camel milk throughout Pakistan. “After May, supply becomes limited, so, the price is raised slightly, starting at Rs45,” says Ghulam, adding that it will still always be cheaper than cow’s milk. “Camel milk will be more readily available in the calving and the rainy season when more fodder is available for the animal.”

In urban centres, however, prices are expectedly higher, and online sellers have cropped up to meet the increasing demand. “We have camel milk which is very suitable for hepatitis, cancer, sugar and liver disease,” claims a Karachi-based website for camel milk that offers door-to-door delivery service.

With the emergence of a new market for camel milk, further urbanisation of families like that of Goshi, in her late 40s, who has moved to Karachi from Jhang, Punjab, is expected. Unlike others who claim that they have borrowed their camels for a period of four months from camel farmers, Goshi says that she owns the animals. Her nine-year-old son, Ali Raza, plays with a calf and kisses it affectionately. “His name is Baby. He is one month old.” Ali does not go to school and spends his time herding camels, relying on the sale of the animal’s milk for a livelihood till the season comes to a close.

Farahnaz Zahidi works as a senior subeditor at The Express Tribune.

She tweets @FarahnazZahidi

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 31st, 2015.

Pakistani women are neglecting their lung health: World No Tobacco Day

Published: May 31, 2015


“I will break my children’s bones if they ever try to smoke,” says 27-years-old Sana (name changed). She tried her first cigarette at the age of 15 and was hooked onto the habit by the age of 17. Since then, except the one year where she quit, this young female journalist has been addicted. From regular to light, from non-menthol to menthol, from blue packs to green ones, and from cigarettes to sheesha and even electronic cigarettes, she has tried it all, but is unable to give up her reliance on one of the most addictive substances in the world.

Research shows that the gender gap between smokers is narrowing, and while smoking among females is on a decline in the developed world, it is on the rise in developing countries. A change in the traditionally defined gender roles has a correlation here, as do the marketing strategies. Use of coined terms like ‘light’ and ‘menthol’ make it more acceptable to women. Sheesha cafes have also made use of this psyche. Fruity smells and seemingly harmless flavours, such as green apple andpaan mint make the choice seem more aesthetic and less hardcore. Before one knows it, one is hooked.

Socio-economic reasons seem to have a definite influence. The study “Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General” states that women whose parents have been to college are more likely to have tried a hand at smoking. “The school one goes to has an impact for sure,” says Sana, adding that certain professions attract the habit, especially among females. The study also shows that women with stronger links with religion are more likely to avoid or discontinue smoking.

Globally, incidence of lung cancer and heart disease among women has gone up, and experts are searching its links back to an increase in use of tobacco. Smoking, in women, lowers their estrogen and their high-density lipoproteins that prevent arteries from blockage.

Getting it from the men

“We seem to have a unique tuberculosis (TB) epidemiology whereby young females appear to have the highest incidence of TB, and comprise more than a third of all our patients,” says Dr Asad Zaidi, who has been working on health initiatives to promote lung health and fight TB, and is associated with International Research and Development (IRD). The Sehatmand Zindagi Centre is the lunghealth and diabetes initiative established through Community Health Solutions (CHS), a social enterprise, in partnership with IRD, with which Zaidi is involved. Working in the peri-urban areas of Karachi, observation of these experts working for Sehatmand Zindagi reveals a definite trend of young women, aged between 15 and 22 years, having higher incidences of TB. “The exact causes for the high rates of TB amongst young women are poorly understood but we can speculate. We already know that nutritional deficiencies are much more common in girls, including widespread anemia and Vitamin D deficiency, often from a very young age. Stunting is more common in girls, they are less likely to be immunised during childhood or be treated once they fall ill. The high numbers of TB in young women, then, could just be another manifestation of the wider gender inequality plaguing this country,” adds Zaidi.

The connection between smoking and TB cannot be ignored, even though the young women being treated at these centres are from underprivileged backgrounds may not be smokers themselves. “We have a girl under treatment at Indus Hospital Karachi as part of our programme. She got married at the age of 20 to a man much older who already was a patient of TB, and smoked, and she acquired the disease from him. It is a complicated case of multi drug-resistant (MDR) TB, and she is expecting a baby. But she is better in the seventh month of her treatment,” says Sajida Qurban Khan who works as a manager in the Sehatmand Zindagi centres. In most cases, in Khan’s experience, these young girls have acquired the disease from fathers or brothers who were smokers and suffered from TB. “Women are actually more eager to come in for treatment and prove to be cooperative patients. But they also give up treatment midway more readily as they are less likely to be able to sustain the side effects of the medications.”

WHO confirms that TB is one of the major public health problems in Pakistan. Pakistan ranks fifth amongst TB high-burden countries worldwide. Pakistan is also estimated to have the fourth highest prevalence of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) globally.

Sheesha, social smoking and young ladies

“I don’t remember when I started smoking sheesha; I was very young, maybe 15 or 16. I started it because it was really in so I had to try it out. I thought it would make me look cool,” says Khizra Khan, 21-years-old, an undergrad student in Karachi. She says she now knows the health hazards of smoking sheesha or smoking, but defends the habit. “Everyone knows that sheesha and smoking are equally harmful. But you don’t get addicted to sheesha and you can never smoke sheeshaalone. I can go on for a month without smoking it. Plus it’s a good thing to hang out with friends over; it’s cheap and affordable compared to going out for lunch or dinner,” says Khizra, and shares that her parents hate the idea of sheesha smoking.

Waterpipe tobacco smoking, despite bans, has gained momentum among Pakistani youth. Women who hesitate smoking in public feel no hesitation smoking sheesha in public. “It is more socially acceptable compared to smoking. It’s the one fun thing I can do publicly,” says Sumera (name changed) who says she and her husband bond over sheesha smoking.

A research paper presented by Professor Javaid Khan, Aga Khan University, states that “Besides lung cancer, sheesha use is also linked with increased risk of mouth and urinary bladder cancer. There is also some evidence that sheesha use may also decrease the sperm count in men. Regular sheesha users have lung functions approximately 25 per cent lower than those who do not use this. One study has also shown that sheesha use increases the risk of pulmonary tuberculosis. Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effect of the sheesha use”.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sheesha, hookah, goza or hubbly bubbly, is indeed addictive and actually might end up being more harmful than smoking. WHO warns that a one-hour sheesha session can throw in as much nicotine in your system as smoking one hundred cigarettes. While a cigarette smoker typically takes between eight and 12 puffs, inhaling 0.5 to 0.6 litres of smoke, a sheesha smoker during an hour-long session may take up to 200 drags of between 0.15 to 1 litre of smoke each. “Reduced concentration of nicotine in the waterpipe smoke may result in smokers inhaling higher amounts of nicotine,” says the WHO report.

“There is already unequivocal evidence linking tobacco smoke, whether through cigarettes or shisha, to increased risk for TB. The rising trend in smoking then, is clearly a big problem. A lot young people out there don’t know that smoking could give them TB, and because smoking reduces our immunity, the infection is that much harder to cure.”

According to a study called “Prevalence of cigarette smoking among young adults in Pakistan” published in the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association, nicotine addiction and stress were the most common reasons given by students for why they smoked (53 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively). Most of the respondents shared that at least one of their five closest friends smoked cigarettes and more than half mentioned that at least one person in their home smoked cigarettes.

“I wish I had never acquired this habit,” says Sana with regret. For her, it might be too little too late. But creating awareness may potentially save lives of many young Pakistanis, especially women.

Tobacco kills up to half of its users

Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year, according to the World Heath Organisation. More than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030.

Nearly 80 per cent of the world’s one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.