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The battle to save the Bagh

The story of Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim’s slow deterioration — the price Karachi’s green spaces have paid for development

The battle to save the Bagh

The reactions against the idea of the Bagh being taken over were mostly emotional. Yet, few noticed that the park had been dying since the last few years, bit by bit, with every fading tree and plant, and especially with the closing of the main entrance. One year ago, even the battery and UPS of the big clock in the Bagh were stolen. The number of those frequenting it dwindled over the years. Whether Bahria Town takes it over or not, the fact is that Karachiites are paying a price for the ‘development’ in the megacity with the shrinkage of public places.

Worse still is the Karachiites’ aching nostalgia that comes with it. Where once there was Playland, Aquarium, and the main entrance of the Bagh, is now a void.

A resident of this area says that he has seen the so-called development happen overnight as the entire area was well and truly encroached upon. “In the evenings, the Bagh used to be packed with youth, children and families. This park was the most well-lit part of the entire Clifton area. It used to be open almost till midnight,” he says, echoing the memories of many city-dwellers. “The weather would be cool in the evenings close to Karachi’s famous seafront. Standing in the bandstand and looking out at the sea was a fantastic experience,” he reminisces about the evenings spent at the park with his family.

Trees would provide shade to people and encourage them to flock to it even during daytime – the footfall was in the thousands. There was a mosque where visitors could go to pray, and there were foodstalls outside.

“The park had nice horticulture. Plants were shaped as animals. All of that faded. The grass used to be green; now it’s just barren sand over there,” he regrets.

Many public events, such as the centennial celebrations for the renowned poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz in 2011, were held there as the huge park grounds could accommodate large numbers of visitors.

Few noticed that the park had been dying since the last few years, bit by bit, with every fading tree and plant, and especially with the closing of the main entrance. One year ago, even the battery and UPS of the big clock in the Bagh were stolen.

The park has seen better days.

For columnist Nadeem Farooq Paracha, however, this sudden wave of emotions seems too little too late. “Many folks don’t say or do anything about a problem, but suddenly spring to action if that problem is being solved through means they do not agree with.”

He thinks the Bagh has been in doldrums for quite a while now. “Yet, none of the politicos or members of the civil society making such a hue and cry of it being handed over to Malik Riaz did anything whatsoever to better the plight of this once spectacular park”.

Qasim Bagh in the glory days.

Qasim Bagh in the glory days.

The deterioration of the park did not happen overnight. For years, its main entrance was adjacent to where the Bahria Icon Tower looms today. When the construction of the skyscraper began, the main gate of the park became the entrance point for the site office. As a result, the gate was closed down. With the construction of an underpass, the Kothari Parade access points changed as well.

The resident, disgruntled at how the limited accessibility restricted visitors, holds the alteration responsible for changing the traffic flow: “Public transport could no longer collect passengers because the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazaar entrance was also changed to the side.”

Karachi - Bagh-e-Ibne Qasim - 055

“Now a majority of the buses pass by the mazaar’s new entrance, which is in the side lanes,” he explains. “Once this happened, the government failed to maintain the park.”

The other entrance to the park is the one which faces the sea. There is very limited public transport on that route and since a vast majority of visitors were ordinary people travelling in buses, the numbers began to drop. Having to walk long distances, and parking problems for those using personal vehicles made it more discouraging.

One of Karachi’s most diehard chroniclers, Ghazi Salahuddin, says he had been observing the deterioration of the Bagh, and feels this was neglect with an agenda. “It’s not just about this Park; it’s about Karachi as a whole. This city’s civic life has been plundered. From public spaces to transport to garbage collection – the government is not performing its civic responsibilities,” says Ghazi, dismayed at the bad condition of places such as Qasim Bagh. “These shared spaces are so precious. Karachi’s cultural life has also been effected by neglecting them,” he says, and adds that whenever he visits Lahore, he feels Karachi is no longer the city of lights, but it is Lahore now.

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Whether this disrepair is because the inflow of visitors decreased or was it done by design is debatable, the resident thinks. “It would be silly to assume that residents of the high-rise would want a view of a park in shambles. When the entrance of the mazaar and park was changed, it warded away ordinary people. Who would want ordinary people around such prime, expensive real estate property?” he asks.

Journalist and tv show host, Zarrar Khuhro feels that Karachi does have precedents of public-private partnerships, and that is not always a bad thing. “An example is how Asim Jofa has used the Do Talwar roundabout for his advertisements, but then he has also maintained that area well and in fact improved it.”

His worry, however, is deeper than just one park. “Public spaces are shrinking in Karachi, especially for the lower and lower-middle class. A city is held together by public spaces.”

Khuhro also says that in Karachi, the rise of gated communities and the disappearance of shared spaces is resulting in social silos. “Playland, Aquarium – that’s all gone. Development should be done, but must be done responsibly, keeping the character of the city in mind.”

He also comments that the stake of Bahria properties in Karachi raises questions, “considering that regulations have been circumvented and even broken to facilitate these properties”.

If Karachiites are getting another chance at utilising this park for the benefit of citizens, then as Paracha suggests, more should be done to maintain Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim while it’s still there.

This is an updated version of the article that was published in The News on Sunday on April 09, 2017

Immunization – Right of children

Unimmunised children continue to pose a challenge to health authorities

Right of children
Awareness needs to be raised among parents.

Like millions of mothers of Pakistan, it did not seem worth it to her to get her children vaccinated as that would make them temporarily sick. “Bacha beemaar ho jata hai; bukhaar charh jaata hai teekay se (The child becomes sick and develops a fever after vaccination).”

However, illiteracy is not the only factor that holds back Pakistani mothers from getting their children vaccinated. A lack of awareness about the importance of Routine Immunization (RI), and an absence of sensitisation regarding facts that dispel myths, seem to be present across the board. Across the road, there are children in upper tier homes in Karachi that have also not been vaccinated, or have not received follow-ups.

Marvi Junaid, a teacher, is an urban mother who, in her own words, is “confused” about vaccination. “I was stopped from getting my sons vaccinated after the initial shots; my husband studied it in detail and was convinced that this could be detrimental to the child’s immunity, and felt it was more of a money-making scheme,” says Marvi. She feels that religious notions also have a role in discouraging people against vaccination. “Even in the upper strata, people believe vaccinations adversely affect children. Once you sense that there is a possible harm of a medicine, you can’t help but stay away from it. I think we need more awareness so that we can make informed decisions.”

Mothers remain the central piece of this jigsaw puzzle, and convincing them of the benefits of immunisation seems to be one of the key factors. Dr Asad Ali, Associate Professor of Paediatric Infectious Diseases at the Aga Khan University, with a research focus on vaccine-preventable infectious diseases and malnutrition, says that the role of mothers in this regard is critically important. “Research shows that many a times, mothers are discouraged by the common side effect of short-time fever and local injection site discomfort after the vaccination of their baby. So they do not complete the series and also don’t get other children vaccinated. What they do not realise is that these transient side effects are a small price to pay for the critical protection their baby will get by receiving the full course of vaccines,” he says.

Dr. Ali adds that awareness needs to be raised among parents that vaccination is a right of their children. “Even if vaccinators are not coming to your house, parents must take their children to local governmental vaccination centers.”

Immunisation of children under the age of one-year against major vaccine-preventable diseases (tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza type B [Hib], poliomyelitis, and measles) is one of the most cost-effective means of reducing infant and child morbidity and mortality. The government of Pakistan initiated the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) three decades ago to save Pakistani children from these diseases. All vaccines in the RI schedule are provided free of cost in all public health facilities in Pakistan. Even then, the children are not given the coverage they deserve.

The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2012-2013 sheds important light on some facts regarding the state of RI in Pakistan. Gender preference is seen even in RI. Boys are more likely than girls to be fully immunised — 56 per cent versus 52 per cent. Children’s birth order varies inversely with immunisation coverage — as birth order increases, immunisation coverage generally decreases. 64 per cent of first-born children have been fully immunised, in contrast to 39 per cent of children of birth order six and above.

“When I first became a mom, vaccination was a given; we diligently set reminders for our daughter’s appointments. It seemed as natural as buying diapers. Within the next three years, and with the transition from new mom to an experienced one, I began to read into everything from how the body has a natural mechanism for fighting fever to how to send more probiotics naturally to the gut. With the virals on the rise and doctors liberally prescribing steroids even for a blocked nose, I began to feel that there was too much of unnatural intervention,” says Nida Raza, a working mother of two and a resident of Karachi, who became lax regarding vaccination of her second child. “The anti-vaccination rhetoric on the internet and around didn’t help much and somehow my trust flew out of the window. I have been reading it and discussing it and yet I’m not convinced anymore; I’m confused about its benefits and authenticity.”

Urban-rural differences in immunisation coverage are clear. 66 per cent of children residing in urban areas are more likely to be fully immunised, compared to 48 per cent in rural areas, according to PDHS. There are wide differences in coverage by region. Islamabad has the highest percentage of children who are fully immunised (74 per cent), followed by Punjab (66 per cent) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (53 per cent); immunisation coverage remains lowest in Sindh (29 per cent) and Balochistan (16 per cent), as per PDHS findings.

However, the latter two provinces are seeing a thrust in the efforts for reaching out to children who are not vaccinated. For Sindh, fresh research shows that the numbers of covered children are rising, thanks to efforts of EPI Sindh, yet much remains to be done, and unimmunised children continue to pose a challenge.

EPI Sindh’s Project Director Dr Agha Ashfaq, recently giving an overview of the programme to members of the media, said coverage of RI in Sindh has increased to 45 per cent. In view of the loss of lives of children because of Diarrhea, the Rotavirus vaccine is also being included in the RI in Sindh. Success in Sindh is being seen, for example no stock outs of vaccines were reported in 2015-16 in the province.

Vaccine Logistics Management Information System (VLMIS) is being set up in all districts of Sindh. Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) and Sindh EPI are working in collaboration. Increased mapping of urban slums is being done. There is also newfound emphasis on the monitoring, evaluation and accountability framework. However, more emphasis is needed in raising awareness among parents, especially mothers, because eventually the decision to get one’s child vaccinated or not remains pre-dominantly with them.

Measles remains one of the key indicators of immunisation programmes in any country. Some 20 million infants missed their measles shots world over in 2015, and an estimated 134,000 children died from the disease. Half of the unvaccinated infants and 75 per cent of the measles deaths are in six countries; Pakistan is one of them. “The frequent outbreaks of measles in our country are a clear reminder that should convince parents about the need for vaccines for their children,” says Dr. Ali.

“Mothers in Tharparkar are very cooperative when it comes to their children’s health but they need to be convinced. We have not reached out enough to create awareness among the mothers,” says Dr. Aziz Kunbhar, former District Health Officer in Tharparkar.

Dr. Ali adds that awareness needs to be raised among parents that vaccination is a right of their children. “Even if vaccinators are not coming to your house, parents must take their children to local governmental vaccination centers.”

Spaces and moments of leisure

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/spaces-moments-leisure/#.WPMZEsZRU1k

 

The project used a rickshaw powered projector to show cell phone videos in diverse neighbourhoods where the videos were made. Basheer was the community coordinator for the screenings at Seaview. For Basheer who makes a living by photographing tourists along the Seaview beach, being part of a video project was something that left not just fond memories but a sense of ownership about his city. These outdoor screenings were free of cost and were held in various parts of Karachi, thereby creating an archive of cell phone videos about everyday life of Karachiites.

“This project was not a political reportage. We were not trying to be native informants. This project gathered Karachiite’s spaces and moments of leisure in the city,” says Yaminay Nasir Chaudhri, the key person behind MKMC. Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema was a way of engaging with different publics, explains Chaudhri. “We wanted to change the relationship of people to media. Normally the people we met and worked with were consumers of the media, but did not get to produce it themselves. In MKMC, they had a chance to make media and if they wanted to, to represent themselves.” The approach was participatory.

The MKMC team would teach basic video making and editing techniques using cell phones. Members of the community became collaborators and a part of the creative process. They could, for example, express their choice for music or particular scenes they liked in the videos they made, and want the MKMC team to fine tune that. “We would work on it together. It was a very important aspect of the project to create a sense of ownership and agency over the images we put out in the world,” says Chaudhri.

Karachi is a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultures. This series of videos, though limited in number, were aimed at being snapshots into life of Karachiites from all walks of life. They were produced in response to the question “Home: What did you do last Sunday?” A Mobile Cinema Rickshaw carried around the projector that projected these videos on walls of houses, railway bogies and buildings, added another dimension to it that is typical to life in Karachi.

Karachi is a melting pot of different ethnicities, languages and cultures. This series of videos, though limited in number, were aimed at being snapshots into life of Karachiites from all walks of life. They were produced in response to the question “Home: What did you do last Sunday?”

The project celebrated the life and times of Karachiites, and created a new use of public spaces. This was a use of art that was not a luxury for the elite – it was by the people and for the people.

The MKMC team was headed by Yaminay Chaudhri. Other team members included Cyrus Viccaji, Sadia Khatri, Mohammad Saddique Khan, Khadija Abdul Lateef, Krishna Raju and Farhad Mirza.

Areas that were covered included Ibrahim Haidery, Lyari, Cantt Station and Seaview. Karachi’s migrant communities were also focused upon. Some of them have been living in the city since decades but still do not have legal status here. The videos, simple at a glance, were conceptually layered, tapping into complex themes like identity and ownership. Both regular and irregular settlements were tapped into.

Vernacular aesthetics and tools were used in this project. The rhythm of the city was important. These videos were not made for an international audience, which helped deliver a more fluid and organic narrative. “Often when films or documentaries are made for a global audience, producers end up orientalising, objectifying and exoticising Pakistan, resorting to stereotypes about terrorism, and over simplification of people based on ethnicities,” explains Chaudhri.

“MKMC is an incredibly diverse and inclusive project. It’s so beautiful how it’s rooted deeply in Karachi and its inhabitants, building a poignant and personal archive of all the vulnerable and aspirational relationships we have with the city, its public spaces and communities,” says Abeera Kamran, a graphic designer and web developer who worked on the website of Tentative Collective. She adds that it’s so rare to find artists that are committed to such collaborative intersectional work.

The screening of videos in MKMC created an alternative narrative in public spaces. The screenings fostered new kinds of conviviality in these neighbourhoods and leftover spaces of the city. In Lyari, in one screening, some 300 people, mostly women and children, came together on an empty parking lot and street in the middle of Baghdadi. “Our gatherings never used security apparatus and we never had any problems. The feeling of community and desire to be in a public space together doing something fun was a kind of organiser in itself,” says Chaudhri.

MKMC made an effort to hire a few people from each neighbourhood they engaged with as community leaders. They offered salaries to the ones who wanted salaries and support in other ways to those who were insulted by the offer of money. The project took one year to plan and ran for three years. It involved applying for grants, crowd sourcing, personal savings and getting funding from friends.

The second phase of the project, still underway, involves the showing of previously unshared parts of MKMC, a documentation of the process, and analysing what the team learnt from it. According to Chaudhri, the MKMC team wants to look at what gets deleted, what is deemed screen worthy and what is not. As artists working with new collaborators, they also want to decipher what it was that they saw in these engagements with unlikely friends.

As often happens, lack of funds eventually became a reason why the project had to be discontinued. “We got offers to turn this project into a brand, and were offered funding from dubious sources, but we turned it down. It was important to us that the agendas of funding bodies were not reflected in the outcomes of our project. That would defeat the purpose of making a project like this with its open-ended outcomes and flexibility of programming,” says Chaudhri, adding that by the end of the project, the structure of the videos had changed dramatically based on the groups they met and their desire to make media a certain way. “The project went in all of those directions happily. With big funding, branding, and foreign agendas, none of that would have been possible.”

MKMC was a project of the “Tentative Collective” — a collective of people who share resources to create critical works of art in public places. The Tentative Collective is currently working on a project exploring some of the outcomes of modernity and development, working with literal and metaphorical notions of waste and wasted lives.

Celebrating the life of the mind

The 8th Karachi Literary Festival saw an increased footfall and as ever became the most happening event in the city by the sea

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  • Over three days, everyone who is anyone flocked to the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) 2017. Crisp starched saris, Kolhapuri chappals, white hair and white chooridars, pure leather-bound notebooks, endless rounds of tea serving as the fuel for animated conversations about existentialism, philosophy, politics, the arts, and the role literature plays for all of these. The 8th KLF saw an increased footfall and as ever became the most happening event in the city by the sea.

“The KLF has busted many myths that existed about Karachi and its people. This festival has now successfully added ‘literary tradition’ to the list of things Karachi is known for. The literary tradition that is the legacy of our elders has been rekindled in our youth and we at the Oxford University Press (OUP) Pakistan are extremely proud to be the flag bearers of literary festivals in Pakistan,” says Saadia Mirza, Rights Manager at OUP.

The KLF was launched in March 2010, and is directed by Ameena Saiyid, founded by Ameena Saiyid and Asif Farrukhi, and produced by OUP. It is open to all and the entry is free. It features debates, discussions, talks, English poetry readings and Urdu mushaira, a book fair, book launches, readings, signings, satire, theatre, film screenings, music, and dance.

KLF has grown — from an attendance of roughly 5,000 in 2010 to 175,000 in 2016. In 2010 it had 34 sessions with 58 speakers/performers. This year, the 8th KLF featured close to 200 speakers and performers in around 76 sessions.

This year, a recurrent theme that surfaced in many talks was Pakistan’s economic challenges, and how they are affecting society and culture as a whole.

The important issue of gender was brought up in many a panel. Feminist activists and writers like Fahmida Riaz, Sheema Kirmani, Zehra Nigah and Sania Saeed were seen prominently participating. One unique book that was launched was Interpreting Islam, Modernity and Women’s Rights in Pakistan by Dr Anita Weiss, Professor at the University of Oregon. It was her second time at the KLF.

KLF has grown — from an attendance of roughly 5,000 in 2010 to 175,000 in 2016. In 2010 it had 34 sessions with 58 speakers/performers. This year, the 8th KLF featured close to 200 speakers and performers in around 76 sessions.

“The first time was in 2012. I’ve seen a few important changes. First, there is a lot more emphasis on books now. Previously there were a lot of talks, but not necessarily connected to explicit things people had written. Second, the audience now seems even more diverse than in 2012, with people coming from all walks of life,” says Dr Weiss.

However, the diversity she sees as positive is seen by some as a recession in the exclusivity of the KLF. The elite ownership and intellectual regality seems to be diluting. Some see this as a positive; others don’t. Many visitors were overheard commenting that the standard of the KLF is going down, referring to the fact that it is becoming more awaami which is resulting in a deconstruction of some of the carefully constructed social silos.

However, people like journalist and documentary filmmaker Faisal Sayani feel the opposite to be true. “The selection process seems flawed and nepotism-based, and KLF has become commercialised. But the festival is not, in essence, designed in a way that would deprive or bar masses from it. I find it to be pretty inclusive,” says Sayani.

KLF 5

He praised how many sessions dealt with important aspects of history, and praised in particular the session of screening of the documentary of slain activist Parween Rehman. But not everyone, according to him, visits the KLF for the love of the written word. “I believe hoards of people are just there socialise and take selfies with intellectual celebs.”

In a city like Karachi, a diverse crowd is but natural. “Karachi is a melting pot of so many ethnic and linguistic traditions that it is not easy to define the culture and tradition of this city — the Karachi experience is an intense experience. And that intensity is reflected in the sessions of the KLF. Any visitors will vouch for the palpable energy in the atmosphere of the KLF as writers, readers, politicians, actors, musicians, students, poets, academics and journalists all come together to celebrate the literary achievements and discuss the issues faced by Pakistan today,” says Mirza.

One of the most important sessions was about the city, titled “‘Karachi: Is Pakistan’s Boom Town still Booming?”, with a panel of people who know Karachi, especially the unparalleled Arif Hasan who knows the city better than anyone else.

KLF 1

“In 2015, 902 cars were registered daily in Karachi; during the last six months 800 motorbikes were registered daily. This city cannot accommodate it,” says Hasan. He raised brave questions about where the money being invested into Karachi’s real estate is coming from. Answering a question, he said that the main issue with Karachi is the tension that exists because it is the capital of a Sindhi-speaking province being dominated by a non-Sindhi speaking minority of the province.

The panel included stalwarts of Karachi, namely Aquila Ismail who is writer, activist and sister of Parween Rehman, Najmuddin Shaikh who is a distinguished diplomat, and Haris Gazdar who is a renowned researcher. Ismail compared Karachi to the mythical city of El Dorado, and said the gold of this city is in the hearts of its residents.

The crowd-pullers in the open air garden were more than just literary. One such popular celebrity session was the former celluloid queen Shabnam in conversation with Bushra Ansari. Shabnam brought back memories of a Pakistan before the fall of Dacca, and spoke about the best of times and the worst of times. Stand-up comedian Shafaat Ali provided the comic relief at the same venue, while the legendary Zia Mohyeddin’s reading session titled “Memories and Reflections” gave the KLF what completed it.

While many visitors observed that the number of sessions in Urdu and especially vernacular languages has decreased, Dr Weiss says that the writers were very diverse. But she adds that “There should be an effort to have greater regional distribution of authors, such as some coming from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or from Balochistan. There are important works coming out of those provinces, and effort should be made to include them.”

When asked why KLF and such festivals are important, Dr Weiss summed it up. “This is a celebration of the life of the mind.”

True to the KLF tradition, five literary prizes were awarded this year too at the festival.

These were awarded to the following winners:

· 2017 Winner of the Karachi Literature Festival Infaq Foundation Urdu Prize
Nasir Abbas Nayyar for Urdu Adab Ki Tashkeel-e-Jadeed· 2017 Winner of the Karachi Literature Festival Pepsi Prize
Yasmin Khan for The Raj at War· Winner of the 2017 The Italy Reads Pakistan Award
Omar S. Hamid for The Spinner’s Tale

· 2017 Getz Pharma Fiction Prize Winner
Omar Shahid Hamid for The Spinner’s Tale

· 2017 Karachi Literature Festival German Peace Prize Winners
Anam Zakaria for The Footprints of Partition (1st prize)
Farahnaz Ispahani for Purifying the Land of the Pure (2nd prize)
Ali Nobil Ahmad for Masculinity, Sexuality, and Illegal Migration (3rd prize)

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/celebrating-life-mind/#.WKl8tq1vrIU

Karachi Literature Festival: Will the real liberal please stand up?

Published: February 13, 2017

KLF serves as a hub for Pakistan’s beautiful minds that allow critical thinking and are truly progressive. PHOTO: KARACHI LITERATURE FESTIVAL.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/46117/karachi-literature-festival-will-the-real-liberal-please-stand-up/

The recently held Karachi Literature Festival 2017 was a hub alright. But a hub of what? What it stands for, ideally, is not just celebrating books and authors, but also to serve as a hub for Pakistan’s beautiful minds that allow critical thinking and are truly progressive. Literature and the arts, on such forums, are designed to allow an open inflow and outflow of thoughts and ideas, and an exchange of not just narrative but also counter narrative.

One counterfoil session of the KLF 2017 was introduced as a discussion on conflict-resolution through art and enterprise. One of Pakistan’s well known musicians dared to play a short video as a tribute to the late Pakistani pop icon-turned-evangelist Junaid Jamshed, and went on to talk about how he and Junaid, despite ideological differences, managed to remain lifelong friends, and worked in collaboration on projects pertaining to peace-building. The reaction of a renowned “liberal and progressive” scholar on the panel was perhaps not unexpected but certainly unwarranted. He ridiculed Junaid Jamshed’s long beard and dressing style, and then went on to comment on his alleged misogyny. The comments were not just out of context. They were a giveaway of something that we don’t talk about often enough, which is that when it comes to “liberalism”, Pakistanis seem to have lost the plot.

Most dictionaries define a “liberal” in words as these: Someone who is open to new behaviour or opinions and willing to discard traditional values; lacking moral restraint; tolerant to change; a moderate person or viewpoint that favours a society or social code less restrictive than the current one, and welcomes constructive change in approaches to solving economic, social, and other problems.

The irony of ironies is that the very things liberalism stands against – being judgmental, being inflexible and being rigid – are the very traps we see liberals falling into. Liberal thought is, in essence, the anti-thesis of extremism and fundamentalism. It is the willingness to burst bubbles, push boundaries, and think out of boxes. True liberalism is having the heart to listen open-mindedly to an opposing view point, even though you may disagree vehemently.

Pakistan, today, is in desperate need of truly liberal people who may have their own set of beliefs, yet are willing to hear the other side out, and engage in dialogue. The intelligentsia, as it consists of more evolved people, has on it the responsibility of building bridges. Instead, what we are seeing on both sides is deep intolerance. The religious are seen indulging in feel-good extremism, and write off those who don’t follow religion in exactly the way they interpret it. For that, they get the flack which is perhaps justified. But it is less painful because the right-wingers never really claim to be open-minded. It hits worse when those who claim to be progressive and liberal follow the same patterns. Ironically, many of them, if not all, end up being equally intolerant of dissenting viewpoints, if not more.

Puritanical thinking makes one feel holier-than-thou (and this holds true for both the left and the right, for both the religious and the secular), plugs our ears to voices of those we see as “the others”, and perpetuates a binary world view, leading to the “it is either my way or the high way” attitude.

For cases in point, one should skim through social media websites. The easiest and laziest thing to do is put blanket generalisations on groups of people – something we are becoming very good at. Common assumptions are that a bearded man or a hijabi woman cannot be a human rights activist, a peace-builder or one raising their voice against domestic violence. Equally common are counterpart assumptions that a woman donning a sleeveless shirt or a man who is in the music or showbiz industry lack in faith.

Sneering at the opposite camps might get one some additional readers and followers, or a few guffaws from a chisel-headed audience that wants to enjoy the comfort of collaborative mockery. But what many of our brightest minds end up looking like is eternal teenagers and wandering Peter Pans who imagine the world as a virtual university town where everyone must conform to thinking in a certain way.

This is not to undermine the contributions KLF and similar forums are making. It is just that by default, events that act as magnets to the urban elite seem less welcoming to those who differ socially or ideologically.

We are all living in our ideological silos, comfortable in our respective bubbles with our own sets of designated cheerleaders. No one wants to try understanding another point of view. We sing praises of a word called “empathy” when we have not even arrived at the station of “tolerance”. We spare neither the living, nor the dead. And through it all, we see ourselves as the problem-solvers when we, ourselves, are part of the problem of polarisation. How, then, can any of us claim to be liberal?

If Pakistan truly wants to get rid of extremism, there will have to be more open-minded listening, especially listening to those who are not on the same page as you, without jesting about or being dismissive of the other point of view.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The art of storytelling

With dramatic readings, Zambeel is reviving the ancient tradition of ‘dastangoi’

The art of storytelling

Eons ago, people had all the time in the world to nurture the art of listening. Long before the printing press was invented, and later the worldwide web that transmuted into e-books and digital books, narratives were recited and literature was spoken. The Hamzanama, or the Dastan e Ameer Hamza, was one of the many such works of literature that told fantastic tales of the many ventures of Ameer Hamza. Ameer Hamza’s companion Amar Ayyaar (also called Umro Ayyaar) had a bag called a Zambeel that contained all that that is in the world but the Zambeel would never be filled. The magical Zambeel, hence, could produce objects that would be core subjects of many a dastan.

But that was then and this is now. Princess Scherezade could no longer have bartered her life for tales she told as part of her Alif Laila repertoire, for no one has a thousand and one seconds to spare, let alone A Thousand and One Nights. Yet, there is a present day version of the Zambeel that has been successful in its attempts at reviving the tradition of dastangoi, or storytelling as we may call it today. Enter the Zambeel Dramatic Readings, and see a modern day semblance of this ancient art. For even if for a brief period of time, this will take you into a world where Urdu literature is read out to you the way it should be.

Zambeel Dramatic Readings came into being in early 2011 when a group of three friends — Asma Mundrawala, Mahvash Faruqi and Saife Hasan — was requested by a friend to read out a story in a gathering. “We embellished it with music. The response was what made us initiate and realise Zambeel,” says Mundrawala, a visual artist and theatre practitioner who is one of the key people behind this initiative. Zambeel Dramatic Readings was founded with a view to present texts from Urdu literature in a dramatised form to a live audience, and has mainly targeted adult audiences, but has also ventured into readings for children during the last three years.

“We aim to present texts rendered in their dramatised form, to create a dynamic collusion between literature and performance. Referencing traditions of storytelling and the contemporary form of the radio play, our works traverse time and geographical boundaries to interpret and enliven narratives through sound and recitation,” says Mundrawala.

“In an age where the purists were fearful of the fading away of correct pronunciation and nuanced delivery of Urdu, the Zambeel team has bridged the gap between the older generation and younger one by introducing this genre to them.”

Mahvash Faruqi is an educator with a background in theatre, and Saife Hasan is a performing arts practitioner particularly known for his acting.

What begun with writings from Ismat Chughtai’s rich repertoire, the group has since inception presented many projects comprising stories in both English and Urdu by authors that include Quratulain Hyder, Saadat Hasan Manto, Masood Mufti, Afsan Chowdhury, Raihana Hasan, Ashraf Suboohi, Asif Farrukhi, Munshi Premchand, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Naiyer Masud. Of late, more contemporary writers’ works are also being included into the repertoire, like Asad Muhammad Khan, Ghulam Abbas and Zamiruddin Ahmed.

“Zambeel readings have reintroduced the cultural tradition of dastangoi. The selection and the delivery has the audience in raptures,” says journalist and literature aficionado Afia Salam. “In an age where the purists were fearful of the fading away of correct pronunciation and nuanced delivery of Urdu, the Zambeel team has bridged the gap between the older generation and younger one by introducing this genre to them.”

Mundrawala affirms that while initially the audience mainly comprised only of Urdu literature enthusiasts, over time the younger generation has also begun frequenting the readings. “We now have audiences who have read the stories and also those who have not read the stories. The younger lot may not understand Urdu with facility yet they come.”

Fahad Naveed, a visual artist and long form writer, is one of Zambeel’s young audience members. “I’ve been following Zambeel for a few years now and greatly admire their work. Their readings make Urdu literature approachable and exciting for varied audiences. I’m particularly drawn in by the group’s use of sound; often sitting on a table, they are able to transport the audience with just their dialogue delivery and a few sound effects and audio cues,” he says.

Also reviving the tradition initiated by grandmothers of the region to read out stories to children, Zambeel now also caters to a younger audience, enthralling both parents and children. One such fan of these readings is Saima Harris, an optometrist and mother of a seven-year-old.

“Our experience of Zambeel’s dramatic readings was Tipu aur Jaadu ki Bayl, an Urdu narration of my son’s favorite Jack and the Beanstalk. The audience was predominantly the English-speaking ‘Burger’ primary-schoolers of Karachi (who tend to shy away from the Urdu language), and their very keen parents,” she says, adding the dramatic and interactive Urdu narration, interspersed with toe-tapping melodies, brought a traditional English childhood classic to life. “It is a step aside from the all-important but solitary reading from a book or the mind-numbing watching on a screen. There is immeasurable potential here to both entertain and educate.”

Artist Rumana Husain, who is known for solo readings for children and production of quality Urdu literature for children, says it is rare nowadays to have literary readings in the country read in a dramatic fashion, and is all praise for the initiative.

Zambeel performers imbue texts with a poignant expressive quality and perform narratives that are supported by a soundscape, enriching the aural experience of the audience through sound and recitation, explains Mundrawala. “While we are three core members, we have had many actor friends work with us by lending their voice and acting talents to our projects. Their contributions have enriched our works and we are privileged to have had so many actors, as well as designers, artists, and musicians collaborate with us.”

The team has recently initiated an audio platform of readings once a month on the YouTube channel, Zambeelnaama.

Did Yasra Rizvi deserve to be trolled for her unconventional mehr?

Published: January 7, 2017

Yasra’s unconventional mehr was something many had not heard of. PHOTO: FACEBOOK.

When actress Yasra Rizvi set out to marry Abdul Hadi, little did she know that her claim to fame will be that she married a man 10 years younger and her mehr, which her husband agreed to, is Fajr prayer (obligatory morning prayers for Muslims). The couple was scrutinised harshly through the lens of a magnifying glass, and was trolled on social media for one simple reason – they dared to do something against the norm. And nothing scares us like what we do not understand.

People are still familiar with the older-woman-weds-younger-man scenario, even though they see it as abominable, even those who harp on about how important following the example of the Prophet (pbuh) is, forget that it is also his Sunnah that he married a woman 15 years his senior at the prime of his youth.

But Yasra’s unconventional mehr was something many had not heard of. We, as a nation, have common misconceptions about this Islamic tenet, stemming from a lack of awareness. Yasra, thank you! You taking this step out of the norm may just have triggered a debate that could result in some authentic information regarding the concept of mehr trickling into our collective narrative.

Here are just a few very basic facts about the concept of mehr. While these are just a few pointers, I hope this will encourage us to talk about mehr and help expose some myths:

Mehr (also called haq mehr) is a mandatory payment of tangible assets, currency, property or an intangible, conditional commitment or understanding that both parties agree upon.

Yes, a mehr can be intangible, as is in Yasra Rizvi’s case. The best example of an intangible mehr comes from the Sahabiya Umm Sulaym Bint Milhan al-Ansarriyah (ra) who agreed to marry Abu Talha (ra), and the mehr was him accepting Islam.

Islam has not fixed an upper or lower limit of mehr. It will depend upon the financial standing of both the man and the woman.

While no amount or limit has been prescribed, it shouldn’t be an amount so extravagant that the man cannot afford to pay (and is just fixed to portray financial or social standing). Nor should it be so miniscule that the tenet appears to have been taken lightly. However, once again, no sum or limit has been set, neither upper nor lower.

The amount is to be decided upon after mutual consultation between the man and the woman tying the knot. This is one more reason why the couple entering into the contract read through and understand the clauses of the nikkah nama, and the terms are mutually agreed upon. If elders of the family help with the consultation, it should be made sure that the man and the woman are on the same page and are aware of the agreement.

Mehr is an absolutely obligatory clause of the contract of marriage for Muslims, no matter how big or small the amount.

Mehr is designed as a means of security and protection for the woman. It will be the sole property of the woman and she will have discretion over how and when to spend it. It is therefore a part of the nikkah, and its payment is not conditional with or tied to the incidence of talaaq (divorce). It is therefore strongly recommended that it is paid at the time of the nikkah. However, if there is a genuine reason why it cannot be paid at that time, mawajjal/muakhhar (deferred/promised) rather than mo’ajjal/muqaddam (immediate/prompt), then it should be paid as soon as the man can afford to pay it. Till such time that he pays it to her, it is considered a kind of debt that he owes to his wife. Islam makes clear that if he cannot pay it at that given time, he should intend on paying it at the earliest.

Upon a man’s death, all that he leaves behind as inheritance for his heirs may not be distributed among the inheritors until all payments or debts he owes to anyone are paid off, which includes the mehr.

No man who wishes to marry a woman is exempt from mehr. Thus, the custom of asking the wife to “forgive him the mehr” is not in line with Islamic tenets.

Knowledge gives one the power to make informed decisions. Yasra used that power. Instead of wasting time judging her decision, it’s best to learn more so that we, too, can make informed decisions.

Information shared in this write-up is based on authentic Islamic traditions.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/44707/did-yasra-rizvi-deserve-to-be-trolled-for-her-unconventional-mehr/