Monday, May 31, 2010

The unsightly, filthy and unhealthy corners

I have often wondered why in Pakistan, the corners of transitional spaces, especially, landings, entrances and gates of not just government offices, but even residential apartments are almost obscene. I cannot fathom, what prompts people to choose particularly the corner for all their venting, whether it is emotional spitting or merely spitting. What is the affinity with the corner? Why do they feel compelled to spit, or throw garbage, or carve their name along with their lover while entering or exiting a building, or while going up or down the stairs.

From graffiti, to red-spits (a gift of gutka and betel leaf) and scraps of garbage, these corners are atrociously hideous. This phenomenon is most prominent in government buildings like Civic Centre, City Courts, High Court, KMC building and most glaringly even at the Sindh Health ministry offices. No wonder the health sector is all in shambles among all this, as people have not left corners in even hospitals alone, and it not just counts for the public sector hospitals, the same attitude goes for the private ones.

The walls of these corners are mostly red along with the floor, and they stink, and buzz with flies and mosquitoes, most prominently on staircase landings. One would be ascending or descending the staircase with this pugnacious sight right in front, as if reminding one of the conditions in Pakistan.

Perhaps it is a symbolic representation of our dilapidated system, which tries to bog down every person who wants to transition to a better place. The filth of the corners metaphorically describes the pathways littered with red-tapism and anarchism present in each decrepit institute.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Preserving traditional techniques

The onslaught of globalization along with several other factors is responsible for a loss of many traditional construction techniques that had been passed on from one generation to another by word of mouth. People, who had been living in rural areas for generations, had their own way of constructing and designing their houses with indigenous materials. But gradually that art is dying as more and more people are resorting to cement and concrete block construction. In view of the changing trends, perhaps it would not be wrong to admit the need for archiving those traditions in books, as well as museums.

Moreover, insufficient livelihood opportunities are a cause of huge migration to the urban centers that also results in many traditions, tangible and intangible both, getting lost in the dusts of time. Thus, this dependency of the rural populace on urban resources results in a loss of cultural heritage within the rural premise.

Zahir, a taxi driver in Karachi, explained the stone and timber construction at his village in Shangla, Swat that is at the end finished off with mud plaster. Just like it is done in Kashmir, women are responsible for carrying out the finishing, from the wall plaster, to the floor, as well as the partitioning cupboards. The roof in that area is made out of wooden slats, covered with mud, than a plastic sheet for waterproofing and another layer of mud on top that is at the end covered with almost sand-like salt, to seal the remaining holes for leak proofing, as well as insulation. This method of construction is pretty similar to Bagh, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, however, instead of using salt, the Kashmiri’s use tar coal (Luk as they call it) for the same purpose.

Interestingly, Kashmiri people use a mud plaster mixed with straw to increase the resilience of the structure, and when Zahir was asked if they do the same, he informed, “There’s only one old man in the village who knows this technique, but we don’t use it any more.”

This is the exact case referred before, a local technique that would ultimately get lost in time, as artisans who know how to mix that particular plaster, would no longer be alive. Moreover, just like in the rest of the rural areas of the country, prosperity means having a concrete block house, with cement plaster and all the modern paraphernalia. Therefore who cares about the old uncle, who only knows some dumb trick of mixing straw with mud to plaster a wall?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The ban is more of a necessity…. Perhaps?

The general populace, namely the ‘Ziafied’ fundoos are always ready to go out and resort to hooliganism, whether it is a protest regarding some incident in Palestine, or a horrific incident or crises within Pakistan or the most touching and emotional for them, blasphemy. Although there are those as well, who in order to escape the shenanigans, simply refuse to get out of their houses in the name of any protest or demonstration.

Nonetheless, it should be common knowledge by now that any untoward incident, especially related to blasphemy is going to result in massive loss because of the ones who find it their duty to go about the country wielding a stick and bringing any ‘infidel’ on the true path. (Even if that infidel is thousands of miles away…)

Here… Let us not forget the Danish cartoon incident.

Also let us remember that we are mostly uneducated, and have no control over our religious sentiments. The ‘we’ here is not personal, but encompasses the masses. After keeping the majority of the masses, uneducated and deprived of basic necessities we must not expect them to behave rationally. (And no I do not find it only the States duty to do everything… we do take an oath when we sign our Matric and Inter forms, that we will make sure to educate at least one person… and yes I find there is a difference between educated and literate….)

So, coming back to the blasphemy issue, the enlightened must rationalize the issue in light of the conditions within our country. The matter has to be looked at contextually, rather then myopically and as per the standards of a first world country. The differences between the developed and the developing countries are thousands of miles apart, therefore the problem of ‘banning facebook’ if looked within the Pakistani paradigm, and the precedent blasphemy cases would make far more sense, then it does while analyzing it according to the western context.

However, having said this, it is also necessary that such steps are imposed after taking the general public into confidence. It would have been far saner to inform the public that the reason such steps are being taken was to keep everybody out of mischief, and also to save the national exchequer as well as the people themselves from losing thousands of rupees, in case their cars got burnt or their houses broken into or their businesses attacked.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Facebook fiasco...

The recent hullabaloo between the extreme right and the centre as well as left of centre regarding the blockade of the most favourite social networking site, along with others like Flickr (Althought Webshots is still working, so it does not make much sense…) has turned a petty matter, compared to the human rights violations that are often committed in the country into a full-fledged online assault between the religious and non-religious.

It leaves ones mind boggled at the instigator of this charade, who was smart enough to put two main factions of the country at loggerheads. And why I say two is, if one looks at the ideological differences, broadly speaking the country mainly has only two factions; the zealots and the seculars; or the religious and the not so or moderately religious.

Anyway, getting back to the facebook sham, piquing the religious and making them resort to their guerrilla tactics regarding any mundanity is actually a piece of cake, one at times may only need to yell the word US and they would all get on their high-horses. However, this new move has even annoyed the other lot. The one that stays happy within their cocoon of virtual bliss. Angry tirades have been frothing on blogspot and wordpress regarding freedom of speech. Nevertheless, it leaves me quite at my wits end when I realise that in a third world country, the only problem to make the educated (I understand it may be debatable…) unite against the decision taken by their ‘free judiciary’ could be the ban on some websites.

A mere stone that shattered the serene virtual pool to cause this unfolding drama, made to the top of the priority list for all the people, who like to hear and get heard on facebook, to demand freedom of speech or to demand a ban on the said speech..... Interesting... lets see where it all ends.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rantings.... or reality?

Ever wondered why things never improve in Pakistan and why mostly the people willing to live here or currently living here are the ones who can afford to live in a bubble, filled with expensive (owned or not) cars, army of 'servants' and high paying jobs or businesses?

The concept of willing is very important here. Willingness is not that you do not have a choice to leave the country and that is why you are willing to give your best to Pakistan, or take whatever the country has to offer you, but willingness is staying put even when you have the choice of going away.

Actually had been thinking about it from the time I came back to Pakistan, thinking of a myriad ways I may be able to make a positive difference. Gradually I came to realise, there are a million reasons why instead of improving, Pakistan has actually deteriorated over more than 60 years. Nothing ever gets solved here, not because it cannot be solved but because the so-called enlightened and willing, do not want things to change.

I have been thinking if logically it is possible for a country to nosedive at this rate, especially with the number of people who keep on saying, “I have the right ingredients, and right theories to take us to the heights… and I stay here even though I have a choice not to do so, because I want to make a difference…. ” if all those people who say these things are actually being honest, should we actually be nose diving at all?

But it is a harsh truth that we are on a downward trail, have always been going this way, although not quite enough that everything crashes to an end, at least not yet. And I feel there is a very particular reason for it.

The reason is we do not WANT to make a difference; we only want to create this illusion that we do. We have become so used to blaming the government or the ‘establishment’ for everything, that if actually things did improve we would not even know what to do

Although it is relevant to ask at this point, what is government? Is it an abstract, intangible idea? Does it come from outside, rather from within? Who is government? Some chairs and tables perhaps? I fear not. It is the same willing ones, who chose to stay here, not because they can make a difference, but because here they can AFFORD to live in that bubble. Anyway, coming back to the reasons why the willing ones would not want the difference:

The country becomes perfect, or even close to perfect and the government provides equal opportunities to everybody, health, education and employment, and puts an end to corruption.

  • Who will now be our meagrely paid maids, drivers, gardeners, nannies, cooks or tailors? The stress is on meagrely paid. For that is what will happen once everyone has equal opportunities, it would become expensive to afford such luxuries. It would become impossible to exploit labour.
  • How will we mint money by asking for donations for our own private NGO? People would have education and employment both, what would then be the need for establishing NGOs, therefore the system stays bad, the NGOs and the foreign qualified or even local elite school qualified brats mint money.
  • Why would the labourers and workers revere us for our rights slogans? If opportunities are equal, the reason to ask for more would stop to exist. So, anybody with their socialist or communist jargon would have to pack their bags and leave behind their dreams of being the messiah.
  • What would be the advantage of living in Pakistan when one cannot actually get all kinds of things done with a little bit of money? We would not be able to get a driving licence, get away from killing a person while drunk driving, get degrees without studying, use electricity without a bill, basically getting away with anything by paying a bit of cash.
  • Would anybody actually think us as (highly?) intelligent or (well?) informed? (Mostly intelligent and well informed conversations are constituents of some Pakistan bashing, bemoaning the brain-drain, corruption, mass poverty…. Oh but am living here cause I can afford having a maid in this country, which isn’t possible abroad with even a $90k per annum).

Here one, who is intelligent and informed, can sound very intelligent and well-informed because there is less competition. Moreover, one can talk about revolutions and over-hauling the system to bring about a positive change in the lives of the workers/labourers. But does anybody bother to ask how much these people pay their own 'servants' or 'maids'..?.. or even if they should be having such helps....

It is a safe haven for the rich, well paid; so-called secularists along with the stick wielding mullahs.

But here I must say one thing. At least the stick wielding mullahs are less of the hypocrites, for they do not profess of revolutionary Utopian ideals. They belong to the group that had slaves and still have, although sort of refined now. So they are not being hypocrites. They are just being themselves living here.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Fame and glory: Immortality

“While life is with us, we must struggle to make our mark so that death finds little it can wipe away."

This one sentence by Pliny explains the concept of immortality amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans as nothing else could.

Stumbling upon this one line while watching a documentary I found it was stunningly accurate and closer to perhaps the truth then anything else, especially because of the looming threat of suicide-bombers these days.

Interestingly, this also points to the fact that as usual Islam had borrowed freely from the Greco-Roman philosophy when the Quran churned out the idea of Shahadah


YUSUFALI: They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve.

However, the ramifications of such a statement may be difficult to bear. Nonetheless, it must be taken as a metaphorical reference rather then a literal one. It glorifies death, BUT in the name of Allah only. Totally disregarding the fact where it was coming from, interpreted in the current day and age, one must not wonder at the fools who go ahead and blow themselves up to attain this allegory shrouded in the verbosity of the Quran. However much inferior it may sound to the Greeks though.

We strive for some higher objective all the time, and perhaps it is that need to leave our mark in this world that compels us to do so. Like a cat marks its territories with urine, we go a step further and try to leave our mark in our own little way, within our own little world, but with a big boom. Be it by killing others or getting killed in a holy war or in a personal one. We ensure or at least try to ensure immortality one way or another.