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Making Pakistan proud: In conversation with Wajiha Pervez

Making Pakistan proud: In conversation with interdisciplinary designer Wajiha Pervez

 Published: July 15, 2019

Wajiha Pervez is a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler.PHOTO: VCUarts

Pakistan has an abundance of talent, and young Pakistanis continue to make their homeland proud internationally. One such Pakistani is Wajiha Pervez, a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler.

Qatar Foundation (QF), a conglomerate of academic institutions including campuses of many international universities, houses the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts (VCUQ). The university hosts a high-profile event, Tasmeem Doha, which hosts renowned artists and speakers from all over the world. Up until now, the board of the event only consisted of either key faculty members from the parent campus in Richmond or top local faculty. However, this year, for the first time, Wajiha has been added to the board as a co-chair of the prestigious Tasmeem, the first entirely student-led edition of the event. She is the first Pakistani to have achieved this honour.

Born in Karachi, Wajiha received her BFA degree from the University College of Art and Design, Lahore, with a specialisation in textile design. Currently living in Doha, this 29-year-old achiever went on to acquire her MFA in Design from VCUarts Qatar in 2017.

In this exclusive interview, she talks to ET Blogs about her life, her journey, and her achievements.

Why did you opt for studying design at the university level?

Growing up, I was surrounded by family members and friends who were creative. I used to watch my grandmother’s stitching and was struck at how a piece of cloth, a few strands of thread – and skill – could create something beautiful. My mom has always been my biggest support and cheerleader. I get my energy and drive from her.

Besides, I felt it was the right time – Pakistan’s fashion and design sector was coming alive. We had our own design institutes.

Also, design suits my personality. Everything is fluid and evolving in design, which means that it’s unpredictable. As a person, I’m quite comfortable with that element of unpredictability, with allowing things to evolve in their own time.

Design is not merely about clothes and accessories; there isn’t a facet of life that is not touched by design. Even the most sophisticated technology needs an element of design to make it appealing and marketable; from forks and forklifts, to hospitals and homes, a designer’s fingerprint is on almost everything you use.

In the subcontinent, high-achieving students often choose a science stream. How did you take a different path?

There is still a degree of uncertainty in Pakistan when it comes to studying anything that does not lead to a ‘prescribed path’. And my case was no exception. It took quite a bit of persuasion and arguments with my family, to convince them of my decision.

Do you feel that attitudes in Pakistan have changed for youth and women?

As a millennial from Pakistan, I would say that things have changed a lot. The youth of Pakistan doesn’t accept answers blindly; we want to know the reasons behind a decision.

As a woman from Pakistan, I feel empowered because I have been raised by women who were independent and strong; never in my family have I seen a woman not being given an equal voice as her male counterparts.

I know that there are other women who may not be as fortunate as me. But then again, I’ve also been inspired by women who have faced their circumstances and gone on to achieve what they set out to. So I think women in Pakistan are in a far better place than their mothers and grandmothers were, and they know that.

How has the fashion and design scene in Pakistan evolved?

An appreciation of the finer elements of fashion and design has always existed in Pakistan. But it wasn’t given a voice and projected out onto a platform. We didn’t give it the sort of publicity that we do now. Compared to the fashion scenes in other countries, we’re still in our infancy. We are a regional contender, but we have yet to mature, or be elevated to a position where we are a global leader. I see this as an advantage – especially for people like me. It gives us more room to explore and establish our own styles.

When it comes to design, what do you focus on?        

My special interests are in material innovation. Now I make footwear and active wear mostly and consult companies on patents for sustainable materials and technologies. I also like to explore globally-endangered textiles through contemporary materials and techniques, so that traditional textiles continue to live on. I want to continue my research in the circular economy, sustainable fashion and ethically-produced textiles. I’m also keen to put together more conferences, events and festivals like Tasmeem.

Having co-chaired an international art and design event as a Pakistani, what does it mean to you?

Today, the experience seems surreal. I met so many incredibly talented people. Incidentally, the theme of this year’s Tasmeem was Hekayat (stories) and that was apt. The participants were a combination of rising and famous designers and artists, but they were also people who had struggled to reach where they are now; to get things done, to get their voices heard. It was inspiring to learn about what it took for each person to reach where they are now. For me, that was the biggest take-away of my experience – that I helped bring these inspiring designers to Qatar, and, in turn, inspire those in Qatar.

As a Pakistani, and as a woman, what has your experience in Qatar been like?

As a woman, what has struck me as amazing was the female leadership in Qatar and the QF. Nowhere else have I seen such remarkable female leaders as I have in QF’s Education City. I have always looked up to amazing women back in Pakistan, but in Qatar, the level of female-led leadership is something else; every big institution or organisation has a female in one of the topmost positions.

In Qatar, another factor that stands out is the multiculturalism. I’m blessed to have chosen a country that respects and values people from Pakistan. And not just to me, this country gives a voice and place to people from other countries also who call Qatar their home.

What would you tell your peer group – especially women – in Pakistan?

I would say the very first thing is to define yourself to yourself; you cannot move a step forward unless you know what your heart wants. Secondly, make sure you don’t take up anything that you don’t feel really strongly about. Then, step out. Because once you know the reason, the motivation and direction finds its way and then nothing can stop you.

God doesn’t give you a challenge if He feels that you don’t have what it takes to overcome it. You need to hold firmly on to that belief, because there will be times when that will be the only thing that stops you from giving up and going back.

Any immediate future plans that you’d like to share with us?

After Tasmeem 2019, for the first time since the biennale was staged, we are taking it out onto an international platform. The Tasmeem space will be set up as part of the upcoming London Design Festival in London Design Week. I’m in the process of putting together the exhibits and merchandise for that. After that, we plan to present a talk about it in Amman in Jordan. As for my personal circular fashion research, I am devoting more time to it now and we will see where it takes me.

(All photos: VCUarts Qatar)

Farahnaz Zahidi

A writer and editor, who has worked as a Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works as a media trainer and communications practitioner. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (twitter.com/farahnazzahidi?lang=en).

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

https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/85335/making-pakistan-proud-in-conversation-with-interdisciplinary-designer-wajiha-pervez/?fbclid=IwAR0pw_veB6I18bwkE1CIAGT4jz-ezY36vYKm5I1fp0tdHhwogIS8f2QS8sY

Civic sense of Pakistanis – It’s a 360 degrees circle

What you do WILL come back to you. It has to be considered “why” they are doing it and you are not? What made the difference?

It’s a 360 degrees circle

Poetic much? Borderline Rumi-esque? No, this is not Rumi. This is the scribe of this write-up who is frustrated every day at the gross violations of social ethics, but unknowingly might have many a time committed the same violations in less aware days of her life. She may have driven ahead on a red traffic signal, and may have thrown a plastic wrapper on the street, and may have not gone to exercise her right to vote, and may have not closed the unnecessarily running water tap, and may have gone ahead of her place in a queue. The writer of this write-up is a tad bit more “civil” now, because she is more aware about what entails civic sense.

This is why such write-ups are important. This is why we must speak up about these things. But kindly so, because all of us have at some stage in our lives been less civil.

The concept of having civic sense is both simple and ancient. The biblical Golden Rule and the well-known Prophetic tradition in Islam say, in essence, the same thing: do as you would be done by, and do not wish for others what you would not wish for yourself.

So here goes — I’m going to use a list of strong words I don’t usually use, like hate, loathe, detest, etc. I hate the polythene bags that drift in the breeze and gather in front of my gate every evening. I detest the sound of the water suction pump from neighbouring homes that suck away the little water that comes in the waterline for Karachiites, and I hate that we have to keep replacing the no-return valve in the underground water tank to ensure this little water stays in my tank.

I loathe the squirts of reddish brown saliva mixed with paan ka katha which I have to endure on streets, or when climbing up a flight of stairs on government offices. I feel revolted by the carelessness with which young boys on motorcycles crisscross through traffic jams without helmets, and I feel even more revolted when I see a man wearing a helmet on a motorbike, but his family — the pillion riders — sitting behind him with no protection for their skulls. I am unable to stomach the attitude of entitlement that the rich and famous have when they break queues at the bank or at the airport. I feel annoyed when people come too close in public spaces and do not respect proximity. And I despise the fact that people try to justify systemic corruption in governance, and feel it is okay to have political apathy and not exercise their right of casting a vote at the ballot.

Civic sense is one of the most important part of ethics and set of life skills we need to learn and teach. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a 360 degrees circle in society.

Yet, again, I wonder how many times I have been the one others may have hated, loathed, detested or despised. How many times I may have instantaneously become an emblem of civility the moment I landed at a country other than Pakistan where the rule of law, especially laws pertaining to shared spaces and existences, are respected more.

Also read: If everybody is doing it, why can’t we?

Civic sense is one of the most important part of ethics and set of life skills we need to learn and teach. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a 360 degrees circle in society. What you do WILL come back to you. So it may not be enough to just look down at those who are abusing out loud or leaving offal on the road after ritual animal slaughter on Eid-ul-Azha or urinating near the wall. It has to be considered “why” they are doing it and you are not? What made the difference? I think we all know the answer. And in that answer lies the solution.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/360-degrees-circle/#.XMArcugzbIU

Not enough daycare facilities

The need is real but compared with population increase and urbanisation, there are not enough daycare centres

Not enough daycare facilities

A half of Pakistan’s population is female. An increasing number of females, especially in urban Pakistan, are working professionally as the second earner, and even sometimes the first, whether it is in the formal or informal sector.

Women also are the ones who bear children breastfeed them, and wean them off to solid food. The initial years in particular are the years in which children need constant monitoring and vigilant care. This is where the need for daycare centres comes in.

By law, all organisations across the board in Pakistan are supposed to have daycare arrangements to enable working mothers, and even fathers, to join work after maternity and paternity leave, but very few abide by the laws.

Farhat Parveen, Executive Director at National Organisation for Working Communities (NOWCommunities), explains how the provision for a nursery or daycare for children in law has been there since long in the Factories Act 1934 (now the Act of 2018).

This provision should be there for children as young as infants to the age of six years. “While things are getting better and some public educational institutes like Karachi University and some private organisations like Aga Khan University (AKU), PILER, HANDS, and many corporate organisations have some facilities in this regard, it is not enough,” says Parveen.

With not enough daycare facilities available in-house in organisations, the centres in the private sector are most sought after. Ayesha Amin, a working mother of a four-year-old, has had a good experience with them and has utilised these facilities, especially for summer camps, but regrets that in Pakistan there aren’t enough daycare facilities, especially in urban areas. “There are not enough options for lower income groups from what I know; but then there may be more family support in joint family systems. The more affluent the grandparents and family are, the busier and more social they are too.”

In less affluent areas, working mothers are not less in number, whether they go out to work as salesperson or domestic house help. In the absence of any proper daycare centres, women in these localities leave their children with relatives or neighbours who can keep an eye on the children till they come back from work, and pay them agreed upon sums as remuneration. Others bring back teenage siblings or cousins from villages for a few months, giving them food, lodging and some pocket money to see over their children.

In Amin’s opinion, there is a greater need for in-house daycares which Pakistani organisations lack. “If they really want women to work, then it is pretty inconvenient for a parent to first drop a child to a school and go to their own workplace, pick the child from school and then drop to daycare and collect again in the evening, especially in a city like Karachi where commute and traffic is a huge factor in planning anything,” she says, speaking for many working parents.

Fariduddin Siddique, an engineer by training, established “Bright Minds Learning Hub and Daycare,” along with his wife, some two years ago in the upscale Clifton locality of Karachi. They accept children from ages four months to six years. “Me and my wife were both working parents, and we realised the need for centres that provide quality daycare facilities,” he says. In Siddique’s experience, couples in Pakistan usually have support from their families, but that is not always the case.

In less affluent areas, working mothers are not less in number, whether they go out to work as salesperson or domestic house help. In the absence of any proper daycare centres, women in these localities leave their children with relatives or neighbours.

He adds that for a mother to leave her career for an extended period of time creates a gap in her work trajectory which is not good for her career prospects. “The key priorities at daycare centres for children are giving them a hygienic environment, a healthy routine, extreme care and love, as well as opportunities for learning and development according to the child’s age.”.

For Siddiqui and his team, it has been a journey of learning. At this centre, parents have to send food from home. The fee structure is the same for all age groups, and parents have to pay based on whether they leave the child for half a day or full day.

For summer camps, upscale daycare centres charge anywhere between Rs12-18000 a month. A well-known daycare centre (name withheld) charges Rs19000 per month, and this includes a lunch meal, while their hourly rates are Rs350 for the first hour and Rs300 for each subsequent hour.

For parents working in the corporate or business sector, with both husband and wife working, this might be affordable. But for lower income or lower middle income groups, this might be too steep. Prices get steeper depending on the area where the daycare centre is based.

Running since 2007 with three successful branches, Dr Sofia’s Daycare & Learning School charges between rupees eight to ten thousand for a full day and four to six thousand for half day. “Dr Sofia Rahman, the founder, felt an urgent need of a daycare when she herself faced difficulty in raising her kids while doing a job. Her main idea was to help working women so that they could pursue their dreams,” says Hina Fahd from the daycare management. They accept children from age brackets three months to ten years. “The older children usually come to us after having attended school in the morning,” she says, adding that daycares are a better option than leaving children with grandparents as with grandparents children may not be as disciplined in terms of routine and learning reinforcement.

The need for daycare centres is real, and is on its way up, but when compared with population increase and urbanisation, they are simply not enough. Parveen shares that the very government departments in Sindh that are responsible for making sure these facilities exist, like the Labour Department, do not generally have nurseries or facilities for children of employees, and are also ineffective in terms of fulfilling duties of inspection. “The laws are all there, but there is no implementation.”

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/enough-daycare-facilities/#.XKW9EJgzbIU

Millenials vs Us – How weddings in Pakistan have changed

Without over-spending and showing off, one can still have a fun, festive, joyous wedding

Millenials and us

There is always a level of naivety at a young age. The stars in our eyes cloud our vision. Yet today’s generation is smarter in some ways, if not all, than us. For starters, they know that after the “wedding” there is something called “marriage”. Back then, we had one single word for both very different concepts — shaadi.

For us, shaadi meant the rasoomaat (traditional wedding rituals), the dresses, the jahez and bari (yes, we come from that stone age era where jahez was not a bad word and was politically correct, and bari was a given). Our focus was the wedding and not so much the marriage as we set off on our, perhaps, most important journey that was to change the course of our lives.

So here are the pros and cons — on a comparative level — between the age of innocence (or stupidity) and the age of the so-called Generation Y (our smarter counterparts).

The Net Generation knows, for the most part, what it wants out of life. They have definitive goals, and marriage is, for most if not all of them, ONE of their many goals. For us, it was THE most important goal. This is why the wedding hype in our over-dramatic times was emotionally exaggerated. The crying at the time of rukhsati was a given. It’s not that brides today won’t miss their folks but the make-up is a result of either parents or the by-now-earning bride working hard to pay the make-up artist loads of money. Loads are always relative, of course. Today’s bride cannot afford to faint in sadness at rukhsati time. She knows that some 20k went just into her dupatta fixing and jewellery setting. She got the appointment a year in advance. It’s not worth it to get the mascara to flow. Besides, crying can be done on another day.

The millenials are also very clear in terms of who they want present on the wedding. Their “friends” are key. It’s ok upto phuphichachimaami and khala. And cousins are always good fun. But they don’t want distant relatives or neighbours of an area the parents left 20 years ago. They want smaller but “classier” weddings. They’d rather spend on the flowers than on people who don’t mean much.

The brides today are also smarter in that they are not big on gold jewellery because prices of gold have skyrocketed. So they are smart enough to use silver that is gold-plated. They also wear one carefully selected set. ONE. As opposed to brides of my generation wearing like 5 necklaces on any given shaadi.

The brides today are decidedly more elegant. The groom is more well-groomed, really. The couple portraits are more picturesque at smartly chosen locations. Their invitees are more select. They know that weddings lead to marriage. They are simply smarter. Or are they?

While the weddings of millenials are smarter, the old world charm has been lost in some aspects. Just take the excessively choreographed mehndis for one that seem more for Instagram and snapchat and less for the simple joy of unrehearsed celebration that came out of spontaneous luddi and singing tappay. The dholkis have everything but a dholak.

While smaller weddings are a great idea, they would truly be great only if they are less ostentatious and lighter on the pocket. We invite less people but end up spending more money. The event management, flowers and elaborate menus from upper tier caterers are a huge burden on the families. Even if one can afford it all, is it a must that we spend not lacs but millions? Also, there was a certain warmth in inviting relatives and old neighbours. One can and may limit the number of people, but why leave out those who have been a part of the lives of these families? The rasoomaat are debatable for many reasons — religious, cultural or due to social evolution. But the joy of sharing this momentous occasion is a pre-requisite.

While we laud the weddings of today on account of some smarter choices, are these choices really pragmatic, or has our extravagance simply changed forms? The jewellery may now be gold-plated silver, and it may be a single set the bride wears, but what about the wedding dress that takes years to plan and order, and costs a fortune, and is so heavily full of work that it provides no visual relief, yet is something we don’t seem to mind.

Earlier it was jahez. Now it is expensive wedding dresses by designers and elaborate wedding events. Have we actually had a paradigm shift socially? Look closely and nothing has really changed. Weddings are a pricier affair than ever.

And while the millenials are smarter in their life choices, they are sometimes so smart that leave alone wedding, they doubt if even marriage is a good idea, because it has simply too many strings attached, and is too much commitment.

The wedding is a special occasion. It opens the door to a new and special journey. But our society is sitting on the crux of change. As families and as a country, can we afford such extravagance? Without over-spending and showing off, one can still have a fun, festive, joyous wedding. The money one saves can help so many others. If no one else, it can help the couple settle in life.

Time to re-think weddings.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/millenials-us/#.XKW3p5gzbIU

King of Sweets – Gulab Jamun is now Pakistan’s National Sweet

A perfect gulab jamun, not hard at the core, not mushy and soft to break down, is now Pakistan’s national sweet

King of sweets
In the midst of macabre headline news, Pakistan’s favourite comfort food made it big. The nayi government of naya Pakistan ran a poll on Twitter as the naya saal (New Year) ushered in: “Which should be the National Sweet of Pakistan?” There were three options: jalebi, gulab jamun, and barfi. More than 15,000 people voted, and gulab jamun won with 47 percent votes.

The poll I subsequently run on my facebook page had just two options: gulab jamun contended only by barfi. Gulab jamun won by a whopping 79 percent votes.

However, are polls on social media enough to decipher what is Pakistan’s favourite indulgence when it comes to a sweet tooth? There has been an uproar among social media users who complain that there was no national consultation in this important existential debate. However, at grassroots level, gulab jamun does seem to have tugged at the nation’s heartstrings. Mithai sellers and caterers confirm that gulab jamun is indeed the hottest selling item [pun intended] as they taste best when warm, bordering on hot.

The historical origins of gullus, as gulab jamuns are often fondly called, are often traced back to the times of Mughal emperors, particularly Shah Jahan. Folklore has it that Shah Jahan’s royal chef accidentally fused elements and by a stroke of fate, a sweet from heaven found its way on earth. Other food historians claim that its origins are Turkish or Persian. As diverse as the language in which its name is taken, which is Urdu, gulab jamun seems to be wrapped in layers of culture and history. Whatever its trajectory may have been, it is part of the very essence of happiness in the subcontinent.

Gulab jamuns are like all good thing in life. It has to be just right, and one mistake can be unforgiving. A perfect gulab jamun requires technique, skill, precision, accuracy, and above all patience. They cannot afford to be hard at the core, but also cannot be so mushy and soft that they break down — just like a well-rounded person [pun again intended]. The reduced milk — khoya — which forms the basic ingredient of the dough of the tempting dessert, is derived after painstakingly cooking milk till it evaporates, leaving behind khoya. Once these dough balls are fried and are light brown, or blackish if it is a kala jamun, they are then soaked in sugar syrup. The syrup was originally rose-flavoured, which gives it the suffix “gulab”.

Now, the rose essence is optional. But the sugar syrup or “sheera” as we Pakistanis lovingly call it, is a must. As an avid gulab jamun fan said when asked why she loves, “the sheera drips into my soul… it makes everything seem alright”. Warm it a bit and it melts in the mouth. Put it in zarda (sweet saffron rice) and a bite with tiny gulab jamun makes you thank God for the good life. Have it after dinner or compliment it with chai. Gulab jamuns allure you. It is perhaps these enchanting qualities of the gulab jamun that make it the popular choice.

As a barfi lover, it is not easy for me to accept the supremacy of this King of Mithai. But one has to accept that gulab jamun has a more comforting and satisfying feel to it.

Gulab jamun being crowned as Pakistan’s national sweet has led to debates across borders. Nations across the subcontinent — India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and of course Pakistan — are claiming that it belongs to them. The debates on social media are often divisive. Everyone wants to establish that the home of the gulab jamun is their country. The gulab jamun smiles on, basking in its golden glory, while its lovers’ squabble like the “raqeeb” (adversary) in Urdu love poetry of yore would fight for a claim to the beloved.

Fact remains that Pakistan has taken the lead and gulab jamun is now, officially or semi-officially, Pakistan’s national sweet. But looking at the glass half full, here’s what is great about this phenomenon: If in nothing else, Pakistan and India may find themselves on the same page, for once, when it comes to the love of gulab jamun. When all else may have failed to build bridges, this gastronomic delight may do the trick. How sweet!

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/king-sweets/#.XDxKp7hS81k

A packed December – When Non-Resident Pakistanis Flock to Pakistan

A month of homecoming, packed with weddings and socialising, can be overwhelming for the visitors and the hosts

A packed December

Pakistan is living with a big hole in its heart. That hole in its heart is Pakistanis who have left for greener or richer pastures, grazing in the economically lucrative lands in Europe, USA, the Middle East, or even down under. With each person who leaves, this hole widens. Rarely do you come across a Pakistani family that is still “whole’. At the hands of this exodus, we have missed out on our best.

Fragmented families suffice with Whatsapp calls and Facetime connections. Most of our friends of school and college are somewhere far away. Every other home has children who have left for better education and exposure, with parents very aware that once they go, they might make new homes in faraway lands. Yet we are making these choices, every day, seeing this migration as the chance at better lives and better futures.

Yes, Pakistan is indeed living with a big hole in its heart.

But come December and that hole starts to fill up — unnaturally and temporarily.

Birds, mammals, fish — the animal kingdom is full of examples of seasonal migrations. Humans have a history of doing it too — for agricultural harvesting, for grazing their cattle, for finding summer or winter jobs.

But what is happening in urban Pakistan is unprecedented. December is the month that non-resident Pakistanis choose collectively to visit their birthland. This includes our children who are studying in universities abroad or offspring who are working abroad — they get their winter break in December. While this should mean a time for families spending time together and re-bonding, it often does not end up being so, as social commitments seem to multiply by a hundred, if not a thousand, in December.

On an average December weekend, people are invited to anywhere between two to four weddings a day. With weddings come preceding or subsequent shopping sprees. The fact that Pakistanis who are now used to cooler climates request that relatives in Pakistan keep weddings in winters, and want to visit a city like Karachi not when it is 40 degrees Celsius but a milder 15 degrees is understandable. And so it is.

Overcrowded shopping malls and eateries, breakfasts, brunches, lunches and dinners. Traffic on the streets. Late nights. On the peripheries there are the day trips to beaches, farmhouses, or even the occasional trip to a village or a smaller town, because we love to romanticise villages, poverty, and the ‘colourful culture of small towns’. Even Karachi’s infamous viral fevers, cough and flu cannot deter the incomers nor their hosts.

What does this mean for us the resident Pakistanis? Put in simple words, we have to put our lives on hold. While we continue going to work or running everyday errands, we have to accommodate a lot more and wish that each day was not 24 but 48 hours.

As Pakistanis, our most important and unavoidable way of showing affection is feeding people. The stomachs of our guests from abroad go into culture shocks as instead of soups, salads, sandwiches, less spicy and less oily food, they are offered nothing less than nihari, qorma and katakat, dripping in oil and followed by halwas in desi ghee. No amount of antibiotics they may have taken in precaution helps. It is tough on the tummies, but saying no is difficult to the overzealous resident Pakistanis. But it is not really anyone’s fault. This is our way, as a nation, that we show love and care — we feed people. Also, if we don’t offer a meal or go to meet our guests, it will be said “yeh log buhut badal gaye hain” (they have changed).

There are, you see, dynamics of Pakistanis who live abroad. If they left Pakistan 30 years ago, they have an image of Pakistan frozen in time. Their relatives who were young teenagers listening to George Michael and Madonna when they left are now gray-haired and popping blood thinners into their system, parenting children who are millenials. Of course Pakistan has changed, and yes the people have changed, because societies are fluid and not static. But there is an unsaid pressure on those still living in Pakistan to pretend that we are still the same.

It is also not easy for those visiting Pakistan. Too many people to visit, to meet, to give gifts, to stay connected with. Too many obligations. And at times, if not always, the pressure to pretend that they are still connected to these people in terms of culture, whereas the reality is that exposure and life experiences change us. We evolve.

While this December influx of people means an air of festivity and excitement, more money coming into Pakistani economy, and lots of feasting and meeting-up, it can be overwhelming for both the visitors and the hosts. Why not have weddings in March or September? Or visits to Pakistan in February or October? Too much of a good thing dilutes the effect. Let’s space it out, shall we?

PS: Relatives, siblings and friends visiting Pakistan in December, please don’t write me off after reading this, and believe me when I say I love you all visiting. Promise.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/packed-december/#.XDxJpbhS81k

No time to sensationalise – How Media Reports Suicide

The journalists reporting on suicide in Pakistan are not really trained to do so. They are learning as they go along by trial and error

No time to sensationalise

Death induced by suicide is a life cut short by self-directed violence. It finds its way in the newspapers and news TV channel segments readily. Often mediapersons reporting it do not know what an important part of the equation they are: With every suicide, there is an unfortunate but important duty laid on the shoulders of the mediaperson working on that news story. Will this opportunity be used to raise awareness, and perhaps help save lives from a similar fate? Or will it be just another sensationalised bit of news?

The choice is ours. We, the journalists, have important work to do in society as relayers of information. This must be done carefully, consciously, and sincerely.

But when it comes to mental health issues, particularly suicide, is it really the fault of the journalist, when he or she has never been trained in the subject?

Journalists have “beats” to report on; health is an important beat — public health, sexual and reproductive health, maternal and child health, and other sub-specialties under the health beat.

However, there has been no formal training of Pakistani journalists to date on how to have mental health as a beat, and how to report on it. If a journalist has organically acquired a certain sensitivity to report on delicate issues, then he or she will apply it when reporting on suicide as well. Yet journalists may often get lost in the quagmire of details when reporting on a suicide. Details like the where, when and how. The opportunity of raising awareness on the issue is often lost in such reporting.

This year in June, fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died by suicide just days apart. There have been relatively well known Pakistanis who died after committing suicide. This has shed media light on the subject. A study on ‘Newspaper Coverage of Suicide‘ done at Sindh University by Mahesar RA states that “One person, after every 16 minutes, dies not merely because of accident or any other disease but intentionally because of suicide [sic]”.

However, the journalists reporting on it in Pakistan are not really trained to do so. They are learning as they go along by trial and error. The subject of “suicide” — and mental health on the macro level — is staring at us in the face as an unavoidable news beat. But the lack of training leaves means we are making mistakes.

Reporting on suicide, and mental health issues, is a huge responsibility, as well as an opportunity to make a difference. These are not stories to be sensationalised. These are not lifestyle or entertainment stories.

One of the most common mistakes is extreme positions taken by the media when reporting on suicide. One extreme is stigmatising and re-stigmatising both the person who committed suicide as well as the family. The sad music while reporting on suicide on tv, the hackneyed jargon, the nuanced but audible judgment in the news report — it all shows a lack of objectivity.

However, the other dangerous extreme is romanticising the act of suicide — of glorifying it, and instead of presenting facts about this act of extreme self-directed violence, perpetuating myths about it and calling it a “choice.” With the suicides of the aforementioned celebrities (Spade and Bourdain) experts began talking about the risk of triggering what is called the “Suicide Contagion.”

Experts of mental health affirm that suicide (of one or multiple well-known people), can lead to an increase in suicidal behaviour among people who are already at a risk of it. Thus, it is important that these news reports do not just mull over details and allude to it as a heroic act, but present the fact, which is that suicide is, in a majority of cases, linked to mental health issues.

Suicide almost always is not something that happens suddenly out of the blue. It has been considered by the person earlier. There may have been warning signs which people close to the person may have missed. An article published by International Journalists Network titled, Guidelines for Reporting about Suicide, aptly suggests to journalists that they must not suggest that a suicide was caused by a single event. “Suicide is complex, and is often the outcome of different causes, including mental illness — whether recognised and treated or not,” says the article.

Giving details of the method employed for the suicide may also contribute to the suicide contagion. Graphic details and photographs are not only disrespectful and insensitive to the deceased and the bereaved family, but also end up giving ideas to those who may be thinking on the same lines.

Care must be exercised even when writing an obituary for the person who left this world — whether as a journalist on a news platform or as a friend or peer on the many social media platforms. Be careful of the language you use. And most importantly, focus objectively on that person’s life instead of the methodology of death.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s then presidential nominee, Arif Alvi, had publicly suggested a readily available 24/7 psychiatric helpline in September 2018. In November 2018, the President, while addressing the 22nd International Psychiatric Conference organised by Pakistan Psychiatric Society (PPS) said that everyone should play his role for establishing a healthier society in the country. The government can and must play its role too in this regard, and the media can play its role by reminding policymakers and those in positions of power to recognise that mental health must be put on the forefront of the list of priorities when it comes to public health.

WHO’s 2014 report, “Preventing suicide: a global imperative” estimates that for every suicide there are at least 10–20 acts of Deliberate Self Harm (DSH). By this estimate, there may be between 130,000 to 270,000 acts of DSH in Pakistan annually. This means that there are signs before the actual act of suicide is completed. Journalists must include then, after consulting a mental health doctor or therapist, some points about how to recognise the signs that a person may be inching towards suicide, and what can be done to help such a person. The reader can also be directed towards Suicide Prevention Helplines.

Reporting on suicide, and mental health issues, is a huge responsibility, as well as an opportunity to make a difference. These are not stories to be sensationalised. These are not lifestyle or entertainment stories. These are stories that come under the beat of “health”. Once journalists recognise this, the reporting will become more responsible. Most importantly, out of these dark and seemingly hopeless news stories, there can emerge a ray of hope — the hope that if reporting is done intelligently and carefully, it may help spread much needed awareness. It may help someone out there. It may help save a life.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/time-sensationalise/#.XDxIJbhS81k