Tag Archives: Pakistan

Smiles in Cracked Ice – Dedicated to Parveen Rehman (architect, selfless humanitarian and social scientist who lost her life in a brutal target killing on 13/03/2013 in Karachi, Pakistan)


(The brutal and cold blooded murder of architect Parveen Rehman today has most of us in a state of shock. That smiling face and graceful aura is gone forever and in what a way! From earliest days as a child listening to her discussion of her work with my father to later days seeing her as a spirited, animated individual exuding her usual warmth and smilng demeanour… she was… undoubtedly a model of selfless determination. Death is inevitable but when it is the result of violence it hits emotionally and it hits hard. I feel completely stunned and angry at the murder of a lady who gave her whole life quite literally for the welfare of the poor, the needy and the helpless. Today we look on – each of us as helpless and as poor as the ones she worked for – as we watch yet another humane soul succumb to the madness that surrounds this once peaceful city of Karachi. May Allah raise her to her heavenly abode where she truly belongs and bring her killers to justice. Parveen aunty, you stood up for what you believed in and brought light to the lives of several who were a part of the Orangi Pilot Project. I can hardly bring myself to believe that such efforts, tremendous as they are, go in vain in the end – the light, hope and courage along with selfless determination must and shall live on in other forms come what may. You will truly be missed. Inna lillah e wa inna ilaehe raajeoon.)

 

Blood buckets to wash the road

the earth to sketch the sky

eyes that tearless stare

and bullets endless supply.

 

It was another city in that lifeless book

where roses blooming grew

now the red velvet drapes luscious dew

on selfless souls. The look

still haunts – that glassy stare

of wide eyed wonder evermore

and destiny weaves its untold plot

 while we all count the score.

One, two, a thousand pleading eyes

beseech through tomorrow’s door

but drool frames what it loves the best,

Greed’s open corridor.

 

Love to mask the hate

soft voices to dim the noise

irony moves the cattle herd

and idiocy rules the wise.

 

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Ink in Progress…


You think I’ll retire at 65.

Does passion have a curtain call?

I have plans, ardour, fervour, zest

and hope that flutters flag-like in the wind,

I will resist downfall.

 

For the child of red dawn and burning heart,

knows marching strides from the cradle’s arms,

yet still you turn around and ask

if the tides of faith and caste and creed

will turn me back or will I go on?

 

I am the rolling plains of green

with a wild-flower crown of white –

If benign images are what you want, stop here –

I am the outstretched hand for truth but they grope me for my treasure chests,

while here in the dark I wait, I hope, I pray – for your love, loyalty and light.

 

Will you get up and hand me that torch

or will you a bonfire make?

I bide earth time to see a nation’s will, but so do the nations all.

And a good show they get from us I know,

you give Prime Time my heart, my soul… while they wait for the break.

 

Signed: Pakistan… (Diary entry no. 65)

National Anthem versus the National Spirit. Whither Nationalism?


Question: How many of us can remember our country’s national anthem? Another question: How many of us can claim to know the philosophy behind each verse? Yet another question: How many of us can proudly state that we live each day full of that philosophy?

Point made.

A week back media reports and the press, the public, members of political parties were agog with anticipation over the outcome of the so-called ban  over the singing of the National Anthem in the elite schools of Pakistan. Endless debate, arguments and counterarguments later, an independent observer would witness every verse of the National Anthem in question, being sadly torn to shreds in spirit in any such ‘discussion’. The public in general feels strongly about the National Anthem and rightly so. However, more importantly, what is it that makes an anthem an anthem? What does an anthem even stand for? These are the questions that need to be answered before we start repeating parrot-like statements about the National Anthem being our pride and spirit and being ‘very important’. The question is, WHY?

The answer: simply because an anthem reflects the ideals of a nation – state and the foundations on which it stands and that is why it is important to know and understand it. Remember – know AND UNDERSTAND it, not rote learn it. And I’ll connect this factor later in this text.

Today I attended a discussion related to the issue of banning the National Anthem in the city’s elite schools at a cafe in Karachi, Pakistan. Here are a few of the salient features of that discussion that I found interesting. Almost all the participants of the discussion were unanimous in saying that the National Anthem being sung every day was not as important as following the ideals of what has actually been mentioned in the Anthem. The fact that the only word in the Anthem ‘ka’ (of) is in Urdu and the rest is actually in Persian, was also brought forward. There was also some amount of debate over the fact that this is not the original Anthem that was approved by Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the original was written by a Hindu Poet from Lahore: Jagan Nath Azad. One senior participant went as far as to say that she could take up to a month to just teach the philosophical aspects behind the verses and lamented the fact that schools barely teach our children ethical ideals nowadays. Another participant – a young mother, mentioned how she had been educated in an elite school and how her school mates were now not even in Pakistan and remained barely connected to the place in spite of having sung the National Anthem every day for the whole of their school lives. A point was also raised for the behaviour of people during the recital of the Anthem and how in cinema halls many are too busy to even stand up or how naughty young children are involved in their own pranks and begin to take the recital as something of a bore. The discussion ended with a strong vote in favour of promulgating a movement to include the National Anthem as part of the syllabus and teach it in the light of its philosophy.

Continuing the point I had made earlier at the start of this write up, what exactly is the philosophy behind the singing of National Anthem every day? Revival of the Nationalistic Spirit? Drilling the National Anthem into the head so it can be repeated as and when needed?

Irrespective of who wrote the National Anthem, which one should or should not have been selected and what people do with their lives once they grow up and decide of a place to settle down, the focus needs to be on what we glean from the Anthem in the first place. There is no formula to ensure that people will stay or not stay on in Pakistan after learning or not learning the National Anthem or even understanding its philosophy in a month or a year. And even if people decide to stay on after acquiring an education here, it is entirely a different debate on how ethically they will lead their lives. Personal life, family, society, their own perspective have an immense influence on it all, that cannot ever be attributed only to the words of the Anthem.

So what can be a better alternative? Is the daily recital of the Anthem a must? What exactly do we achieve or hope to achieve by this? There cannot be just one right answer to this. Patriotism is not a variable directly proportional to the amount of times one recites the National Anthem.

That being said, it is the prerogative of the schools to decide what their policy should be. I am proud to have studied in a school (termed as non-elitist) where not only was the National Anthem recited daily but we recited our school’s own Anthem as well, yet it is not the recital that makes me proud. Many of the students would not be able to recite more than a few lines of it at this point in their lives in spite of having recited it daily for ten years. However what will remain with many of us for most of our lives was the manner in which it was explained to us by our teachers through relevant examples from life. They taught us not only the philosophy behind the verses, but through their own behaviour showed us the dedication, the hard work and the spirit that goes into the making of an institution and a country. These are the values that we need to reflect and focus on.

The sparks of the debate over the National Anthem may now be dying down but they have nevertheless triggered an important knee jerk in the public consciousness. There is need yet to re-examine the manner in which our current syllabus is being taught. Our children learn Pakistan Studies and the fourteen points of Jinnah diligently yet barely know what each stands for. We rote learn the Anthem, stand up slackly when it is played, get Goosebumps at the tune and feel our spirit soar – but it all becomes as momentary as an autumn leaf each time we throw that wrapper up in the air into the arms of the kishwar e haseen, when we let the tap run dry in the arz e Pakistan, when we break the rules and regulations and slip that bank note under the table to the man on the opposite end breaking the Paak sarzameen ka nizaam and when we kill our brothers and ruin the quwwat e akhuwwat e awam.

May we all collectively reach our desired destination, our manzil e murad and may the road be one of peace, not the rocky one towards which we now seem headed where words become more important than deeds.

Elegy for the Victims of Bhoja Air Plane Crash


What tree, what lightning, what bloody ground,

all on board are dead.

What lament for the bloody crown,

for all on board are dead.

 

Fantasies may take wings and fly,

Wright brothers did not just dream,

Icarus was no Peter Pan,

Fate’s cards cannot be read.

 

Pine tree in Margalla’s ground,

you saw the bashful couple stroll

in shroud of white, then light, then shade

then fade… as all on board are dead.

 

An arm, a limb, torn from silken skin,

does it matter now what its colour was?

The hues of sunset mirror the loamy soil,

each tone a shade of red.

 

Grieve, the forlorn souls of yesterday,

tomorrow and then day after will come,

but never the smile, the pat, the hug,

now all on board are dead.

Dolphins of the Indus – Is it that time of year again?


Think of a doll with a fin – doesn’t sound quite right, does it? Rather mermaid – like. Still, thats the first thing that came to my mind when I first mouthed the word. It was much later that I would glimpse just a flapper through the murky waters and forever be drawn to the playful enigma that is the ‘dolphin’.

Dolphins, often depicted as intelligent, playful creatures in films are found in both oceans and rivers. Due to the murky environment in which the freshwater dolphins live, their ability to see has been impaired to the extent that they are only able to distinguish between light and dark and the direction from where the light is coming, earning them the title of ‘blind’. In its place they have developed a sophisticated echolocation system which helps them navigate and alerts them to the possibility of food.

Pakistan is host to the grey – brown blind Indus river dolphin or Platanista Minor named Bhulhan by the Sindhi people meaning a tall, voluptuous woman. This species is unique to Pakistan while its close relative is the Platanista Gangetica or Susu of the Meghna, Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers in Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

Another cousin, the Boto, resides in the Amazon and Orinoco rivers in South America. According to the International Union for the Consevation of nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red Data list, the Bhulhan is second on the list of endangered species after the Baiji of the Yagtze river in China, for which the last verified blind dolphin sighting was way back in September 2004.

Originally said to be a shy dweller of the ancient Tethys sea about 50 million years ago, the Indus river dolphin was forced to migrate when the sea began to dry up. The Indus river dolphin enjoyed a peaceful existence until the 1930s when the construction of barrages and dams impeded its migration, split it into small groups and degraded its habitat. Since then, the dolphins have been forced to remain confined to certain areas – definitely not a natural occurence.

The majority of the dwindling population of about 600 dolphins currently resides in the shadowlands – the waters between the Sukkur and Guddu barrages; an area declared as the Indus river dolphin reserve since 1974.

While different agencies such as the WWF – Pakistan in its  Indus River Dolphin Conservation project. Man made perils still await the dolphins of the Indus in the form of industrial waste spewing into rivers, water scarcity in the Indus, construction of dams and barrages, fishing nets and hunting by the locals for its meat, oil and fins.

It seemx Pakistan has been a far from friendly environment for the dolphin. While 2012 remains free of any reports of dead dolphins so far, it was around this time last year in 2011 that reports were received of nearly 6 dolphins, lost forever to the chemical filled waters between Guddu and Sukkur. One can only imagine what this 200 metre expanse of water may have done to the area and later to those eating the fish in these waters. Ironically, the impatience of fisherfolk may shoulder much of this blame. Dumping in chemicals for quick results may prove more addictive than not.

One can only hope that the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum in sync with the environmental agencies operating in the area sustain and balance sanity, patience and livelihoods.

Lit Fest Thumb Roll


White wings flap and shelter many a breeze

Above the chairs blinking at the sun

And thoughts bestir their heavy forms

In the city by the crags of roughened shore

While heads nod and silent drums roll

In carpeted corridors; awe rears its shapely head.

If a book is measure of a writer’s skill

Let the written word a drum beat be,

That for each drum beat along the walk of fame

Awe may accompany, the life that seems a mile above;

The charlatan of time and world

In glorious pen to sword structure seek

And bide clockwork like the chance

That robes kings of book-dom from dusty nooks

As picked out from the riotous rabble

They stand timorous till that purveyor of corridors

Snare drums each page, each word, each phrase

Drum,drum, drum.

Impressions from the Karachi Literature Festival 2012

Dementia-ville – Shades of the Past ?


As a child it was fascinating yet quite a bit disturbing to be with certain old people at times. They would ask you your name over and over again or their hands would tremble so much that it was scary to be near them. Yet the way they smiled and their love and care cannot be denied. For the young child who has yet to see and know much of disease and despair, the revelation can be disturbing, yet growing up with it can teach a lot in the name of patience and humility.

Years later after a sojourn into the sketchy roads psychology can take us along; I have a name for the various issues caused by this condition. Dementia – or the cognitive decline in daily life functioning is a term that has both the aforementioned scenarios attached to it and more.

When I was younger, I grew up in a family where it was obvious that older parents and grandparents would be taken care of by their relatives. Not doing so was unthinkable and inexplicable. Tempers flared, grievances were common on both sides of the generational divide and one learned that this is how things moved on. Age brought on various issues and life had to move on accordingly. In my clinic now, I notice a change that has hit our conservative collectivistic culture several years after it was already an established ‘western’ tradition. The younger generation has a greater tendency to have both genders working long hours. Taking care of the elderly is no longer considered a first priority in many cases as it used to be earlier. Consequently the concept of old people’s homes is talked about in hushed tones but nevertheless – talked about.

Each story can have several angles and so does this one. One may argue that better nursing care is available at old people’s homes or centres such as this – an extremely derogatory name of a proposed dementia-ville of sorts that has health care professionals divided in opinion http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/switzerlands-dementiaville-designed-to-mirror-the-past-6293712.html . On the other hand there is much to be said for old fashioned home care. While round the clock health care facilities are provided at such spaces they are no replacement for the ease of living if provided in one’s own home in familiar surroundings. I have seen several instances where those with a moderate degree of dementia do very well when under the supervision of health care practitioners who may also train the caregivers to create cues for the patient. While the facility such as the one mentioned here may be an open door facility that would help in a rather advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, there are people doing extremely well in the home with nursing attendants or family members. Surely it is difficult, but not impossible. At the same time, even those suffering from dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease need a change and day long facilities may be just the right amount of change. Family members need to take care of their own health as well and providing round the clock nursing to an often irritable person can be a heavy task unless one is blessed with a rather large family with someone there to cater to various needs round the clock. Some respite may be provided by day care facilities which would go a long way towards keeping things harmonious at home. Younger children can learn from the patience and sacrifice invested in the process of home care and the family system can develop beautifully. There is after all, a lot to be said for the value system of taking care of elders in the circle of life just as they once did when we were young.

Karachi Rain – Lessons to Gain


storm clouds...

Good old rainy ‘moonsoon’ or ‘MANsoon’ season courtesy the creative tongues of our media wallahs, is here again in Karachi. After a dry spell of several years and the last memorable drown-the-roads rain in 1992, we seem to be getting it all back again. While no animals or male species can be seen pouring from the heavens, the ones on the street are a sorry sight. Stranded on the roads, stuck in jams of their own making, the people of Karachi face their biggest friend turned enemy – water. The city infrastructure just can’t digest any more rain and there may just be a guttery Venice in the making.

Grumble or rumble, this is the Karachi of my childhood, the roads where I have steered that ‘kaghaz ki kishti’ (paper boat), splashed in puddles, got drenched in the rain and smelt the earth together with crispy fried goodies, heard the buzz in the air of happy sounds of laughter, shrieks of joy on spotting a rainbow in the sky and got stuck in HUGE adventures being stuck in the middle of water with open manholes dotting the way; not knowing which step would take me down under and these are the lessons I’ve learnt:

1. When it rains it pours, see one drop and run.

2. Necessity is the mother of all, if you don’t have a raincoat, wear a ‘shaaper’ (shopping bag) on your head.

3. All that is water, may not be water – watch your step!

4. Make hay while the sun shines, have a bath while it rains.

5. If someone splashes you from one side, splash him on the other.

6. When life gives you lemons make lemonade, when it gives you rain in Karachi, make pakoras, mosquito repellents and generators.

7. It doesn’t matter if you’re revealingly wet all over, all your ‘izzat’ (dignity) happens to be atop your head, which MUST be covered on a priority basis.

8. Look before you leap, you may just find an open manhole hidden beneath.

9. Every cloud has a silver lining, make sure your clothes do too!

10. Every dancer has her days, and sometimes they lead to rain.

11. Avoid air and water like the dengue, wear a tent!

12. There is water at the end of every tunnel, learn to swim!

Pakistan Zindabad!


Torrential downpour in the country, emergency situation due to floods in Badin, earthquake of 5.7 magnitude in Karachi and Balochistan and the Anthem record of 5000 plus enthusiastic people braving the lashing rain and wind in a stadium in Defence, Karachi – we finally usher in Pakistan’s 64th anniversary celebrations.

image courtesy Google.com

The land of green and the sea of blue,

The Quaid had thought it a dream come true,

Freedom from injustice and every kind of harm,

It would provide the muslims with a much needed balm…

A much younger version Kiran had written these lines on the occasion of Pakistan’s 50th anniversary. 14 years later, the idea of ‘freedom from injustice and every kind of harm’ rings in my ears. Negative portrayals have far overtaken the positive aspects in media reports.

Think positive we are told, and then the buzz dies down after 14th August as the days pass. There are those silent workers who continue their work… the Edhis of the age who never even solicit limelight while their worldly counterparts aka politicians light up million dollar smiles while doling out ration and supplies to the poor.

Google doodles have finally given in to repeated demands and come up with a suitable portrayal of the 23rd March monument of the famous Pakistan resolution monument and the crescent and star symbol replete with green and white colour.

Green for the muslim masses and white for the minorities – or the sum total for the ideals of purity. A secular state? Iqbal’s dream or Quaid e Azams? Changing of the guards ceremony at the mazaar – the Navy taking over as guards in the wake of the PNS Mehran incident; are they worthy or not? The debatable issues are endless, but is it even worthwhile getting into these debates?

The ones who want to work do not need to have every little detail cited and clarified, before starting their work. While the time for action bit may be a cliche’ , it stands before us clearer than ever today.

64 years have passed since Pakistan’s freedom. What freedom you ask? The freedom of choice.

In our lives each one of us has boundaries. In the true sense, none of us is ever or ever can ever be completely ‘free’. The bonds of religion may restrict one, the bonds of family may restrict another and so on.

Freedom of choice is the only idea that allows us to move in the little squares we step on in our daily lives. Today, if you decide to use this freedom of choice to do a good deed, howsoever small it may seem, who can stop you? And if we all decide to use our time and endeavour to do something good, the ripple effects will surely grow.

So, go and give someone the gift of your time; talk to a person who is ill, handicapped, facing life’s troubles and heal the pain. Go and give someone the gift of hope. Show someone that you care, be it human, animal or plant life. Live within that square you have been boxed into… Its the message in the lights of those mobiles that came on at the National Anthem record when there was no light…

Where there is a will, there is a way and today will be a new day if you make it different in some way… Will you?

Plans in Pink


Ahmad, K.B. (2007). Plans in Pink published in Neither Night Nor Day, 13 stories by women writers from Pakistan. HarperCollins Publishers, New Delhi, India.

(I am posting this story here at the insistence of my friends who will just not stir themselves to buy the book and yet keep asking me about when it will be available online. Finally, I’ve given in.) Plans in Pink is the story that was revised and rerevised to suit the ideals of a few Pakistani editors and publishers and even then did not get published. After multiple rejections on this side of the border, I decided to leave it almost to its second draft format – stubbornness of a mother denying the flaws of a newborn child. Providing it space, I call it now and have never had reason to regret it. It was in this ‘almost 2nd draft’ form that it was discovered first by an Indian website hosting prominent writers from the subcontinent

https://kiranba.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/kiranba-gallery0001.jpg

and then later was picked up by Rakhshanda Jalil for publication in a book edited by her. I consider this story to be one of the major landmarks in my writing life as far as learning the ropes of the writing business is concerned. I hope you enjoy the delicate web as much as I enjoyed spinning it.

Do leave your comments,

Kiran Bashir Ahmad

Heaven apartments were pink in colour. Perhaps the builder had the pale tints of sunrise in mind when he built it, but no matter what rationale one chose to give it, the fact remained there that standing tall, stark and solid through three years of the glaring sun, the lashing rain, the smoking vehicles of one of Karachi’s major arteries and numerous leaking bathrooms of their own design – they were now a bright, gaudy pink in colour rather closely resembling the hues of a tomboyish girl’s kameez which had remained unwashed for over a week. The girl – she had a definite role or rather would have a definite role but for now – the colour…

On a more positive note, the colour did distinguish the long line of apartments from the other grey, brown or white structures in the vicinity, which was exactly what Samina had in mind while explaining the address somewhat hurriedly to her daughter’s tutoress. What could a workingwoman do when literally everything had to be done on a Sunday, cooking for the week, doing the previous week’s laundry and the list went on…

“Its pink!” she had been forced to scream into the receiver through the increasing noise of the static.

“What stink?” came through the rather confused voice of Valerie.

The message had finally got through after a moment of sheepish embarrassment on either ends of the line and now Valerie was putting down the receiver, chewing on her stub of pencil like a meditative calf as her eyes took in the litter of the once neat and tidy room where numerous students had diligently learnt their ‘oh so difficult English lessons’. She could almost picture Ali and Mishal, or Al and Mish as her mother had liked to call the twins, sitting together on the cushy sofa below the window and reciting Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”. It was a poem usually reserved for the 10th graders at which level it was taught in their school but Valerie chose to make an exception in this case, as the twins proved to be an exceptionally bright pair, who, at their twelve years of age understood the various nuances of rhyme as well, if not better than the dull 9th and 10th grader lot she usually tutored.

It was their mother Mrs Samina Tariq she had been talking to. A good natured, helpful and inordinately stupid woman was Valerie’s first impression of her and now as she again surveyed her flight schedule, she smiled and hummed to herself happy that her guess had been correct. Though how on earth her mother would manage to stay on in Samina’s house for a whole year was a mystery Valerie chose not to dwell on. It was causing her a headache and plus the thought – the very thought of finally being independent was overwhelming. “Yes, better not think about it.” She chose instead to think of Sam…Sam – Samina, back to Samina… Valerie could remember the look on Samina’s face when her mother had tried to call Samina ‘Sam’. She laughed to herself. Apart from that first blunder things had gone on smoothly.

Samina had been a gem. “Of course!” she had gushed, “I can understand how difficult it is for you now that you are going to Australia. Don’t you worry. She can stay with me till she sets things in order here and joins you.”

“It’ll only take around two or three weeks I’m sure,” Valerie had beamed at her.

“Oh she’s more than welcome! I will look after your mother like my own. The children can sleep with me…so much the better since Tariq isn’t here…” but that was all that Valerie had heard or had needed to hear, she was already far away, blissful in her thoughts of Australia where somewhere sunnysam, as his nickname on the net proclaimed, was waiting for her as he himself put it, “as breathlessly as if on the edge of a diving board.” Valerie could almost picture his muscular and fully toned body in the pair of swimming trunks along with a few other toiletries she had sent him a month after their online relationship had commenced, thanks to one of the more popular Christian dating websites, and a week after he had told her he was serious in his intentions and wanted to marry her. She had sent him the trunks and had in return received a box of twelve long stemmed roses; white with a blush of crimson at the edges. Mrs D’ Souza had been unexpectedly encouraging. Valerie again looked at the ticket – Valerie D’ Souza was printed neatly at the top – a one-way ticket to the land down under…and with luck she would never have to bear with her mother’s foibles again, not for a year at least till when she would have to arrange for her to come to Australia…that was her mother’s plan, but in the meantime Valerie hoped she would be able to locate a comfortable old people’s home…

I was looking into the strip of mirror embedded on my cupboard and only Valerie’s sheet of shiny black hair was visible to me, yet I knew she was thinking about the future. The future – the word came fully loaded – expectations, responsibilities and desires, but above all, uncertainty. I wondered whether I had done the right thing in allowing her to dream, then shrugged the troubling thought out of my mind. Had I ever been wrong? And Valerie after all was my daughter. She could take care of herself. I was sure of that. Hadn’t she twisted Samina round her little finger? Granted, that I had guided her but she had managed the last part quite well. I was sure that she would be able to do the same with Sam. Once she had the nationality, there would be no need of him. There was one problem though. She said she loved him. Love over what? A computer? I was sure, as I pinned up my grey hair in the pink butterfly clip I reserved for that purpose, that all the love would go right out the swimming pool once Valerie had a chance to compare a Pakistani-Australian banker’s lifestyle with that of her beloved swimmer. That the said banker, James, was also from our community made the package more attractive.

One part of my plan was complete. The house was sold, I had a place to stay and Valerie had her ticket. Now I only had to see off Valerie and then land up two weeks later in Australia myself, unknown to any but James and of course Samina. “Come to think of it, the only one, who did not know that my so-called lie to Samina was actually the truth, was Valerie!” She would thank me later. Plus I could always say that I meant it to be a surprise. Did she think I was actually going to stay on here like the rest of them – the greying old wives of greying old remnants of the 60’s? An unsightly lot I found them, ambling forward wearily like turtles, poking their sticks here and there nervously like mice scuttling the ground as they walked up the drive of the Grand Club periodically to play the same old Mah-jong or chess or bridge – oh they were all alike! Dull people with dull lives. The Lord alone knew how long I would live and as long as I did I wanted to see the world and secure my youngest daughter a good future as I had done with Melanie. Wasn’t Melanie now living securely in Canada where her husband – also one of my findings in the community – worked in the oil fields? The thought was intensely comforting; like a woolly blanket on this cold December night. She had also considered herself to be smitten by that fellow…what-was-his-name-now…It would be history repeating itself, nothing more.

 * * *

The scrawny ginger and black speckled cat arched its back and tried to dive in deeper into the rotting rubbish pile beside a wall from which the pink paint was slowly peeling away. Its tail lashed out against the brutality of this cold December day. That its nameless and homeless existence would soon be changed by the arrival of a burly middle-aged female dressed also in a similarly shaded pink dress, was a matter far beyond its comprehension – for the moment at least.

 

Peering out the window of her third floor apartment in anticipation of her guest, Samina had a much better idea, that’s what she thought in any case, of the road on which things were to proceed. She had met Valerie’s mother – Mrs D’ Souza …come to think of it, she did not even know her first name – on two occasions only and had summed her up as a sweet old thing. A bit batty surely, but no harm in her. Her arrival would create quite a stir in the neighbourhood, but for her own purposes Mrs D’ Souza was the ideal person. After all, where else could she find someone who could manage her children in these winter vacations while she went out to work? She was sure that Valerie’s mother would prove to be an excellent housekeeper as well. Her first aim surely was to make her delay her flight and if that failed then a delay could always be caused…

 

The group of rag pickers stood staring at the gate – looks of mingled shock and awe writ large on their grimy faces. They stood staring for a minute and then as if on cue started sniggering at the sight of an old woman wearing… Could it be? A dress! They moved over gingerly to the boundary wall of the rubbish dump outlining the apartment blocks for a closer look.

“She’s a Mem Sahib!” said one in an awe struck tone, slipping over the stinking mound barefooted in his hurry to see a glimpse of her legs.

“You’re an idiot!” said one of the older boys cuffing him on the head with the younger one’s rubber slipper, which had fallen at his feet. He pulled him up. “Look at her face!” he said knowingly. “She can’t be one. Get back to work now.” The younger one was silenced and an assortment of cuffs and blows was enough to persuade the rest to resume their work. It would be much later in the evening when they would all be sitting on their haunches in front of Qalandar’s restaurant waiting for someone to donate food, that he would find out from the cart pushers of the area that she indeed was a foreigner by heritage and a non Muslim too!

For the time being he stole fervent side-glances at this new finding as the group rummaged in the dump for paper, broken shards of glass and even edible titbits for a change of taste.

“Meow!” the speckled cat was sniffing expectantly at his gunny bag.

He threw a stone at it, which caught it on the leg, and it meowed loudly and piteously.

It was this movement and then the meow that followed it, which drew my attention to the park beside the gate. Before this, I had been surveying the line of apartments in front of me while the taxi driver removed my luggage.

“Yes, they are pink,” I was thinking, “and yes, there is a stink too!” The pink heaven was standing tall before me, made more colourful by the washing that billowed gently from almost all the balconies.

Heaven apartments indeed! The rotting rubbish in front of it, the ragged little boys playing cricket on the rest of the land, the rag pickers sifting through the dump and the peeling paint outlined by yellowing pipes, made it look more like something out of a ‘Reality Bites’ TV Show! I nostalgically thought of my own comfortable flat, which had been sold off by now, and of Valerie’s tears when I had stopped her from going up the lift to see it one more time. That girl did have a tendency to get emotional. Just like her father, God bless him.

“Let bygones be bygones,” I had told her as I held her back. “Look towards the future!”

I had led her to the radio cab and we said our goodbyes at the airport – Valerie’s teary and mine, calm. Couldn’t really blame her for that of course. She had no idea that she would be seeing me sooner than she expected to.

I had spent the last few days in packing my stuff and the morning in handing over the keys of the apartment to the new owners. Now I smiled at my own joke as I stood outside my temporary ‘heaven-cum-haven’. This would be the final goodbye to my numbered days in Karachi.

All this and more was in my mind as my legs carried me easily across the ground to past the little urchins staring at me quite openly to where the rag pickers stood with their sacks over their shoulder also staring unabashedly. Nothing new for me, I knew they had little chances of seeing a woman’s legs and here I was, providing them with every opportunity to do so. The uncouth little brats! I admonished the one before me for hitting the cat and picked up the limping cat using the same handkerchief, which till then I had been holding to my nose. I have always loved animals. At one time I had eight cats and two children all in one flat. Now to see one in pain and move on would have been an anomaly. I carried it away still feeling their eyes at my back.

“No use,” I told myself, “some people never learn.”

 

Samina was watching the entire scene from above with no uncertain amount of trepidation in her heart. She hadn’t bargained on a cat entering the fray! This would have to be dealt with was her foremost thought as she left the window and headed for the door.

 

Flat number 20-C was the second apartment. I gave the rest a cursory look and signalled the driver to bring my luggage. Samina met me at the foot of the stairs. I had been framing the right words for a greeting when her shriek startled me. Her eyes were resting on the cat cradled in my arms. I held out my hand in greeting and she started sneezing and gesturing at the cat, which now showed an inclination to run away. I started to explain but there was a clatter above us and Mish’s braided hair bobbed into view. A moment later she had hugged me, kissed me and taken the cat from me with many ohs and ahs of concern. I smiled at her and felt the tension disappear from the corners of my lips.

“See you and me…same, same Pinky auntie!” she said tugging at her kameez and then my dress and indicating the colour.

Samina had stopped sneezing. I don’t know how else to describe it but when I looked into her eyes, which had a relenting look now, I had the uncanny feeling that I was being judged.

 

It was on the third day of my stay with the family that Samina asked me how long I planned to stay with them. I was surprised at the question but didn’t show it.

“I told you my ticket is booked for the 21st of December. I want to be there with Valerie on Christmas,” I told her.

She looked disappointed. “I’m quite delighted to have you here you know and so are the children and you did say that Valerie is going to meet her fiancé. Don’t you think she could do with a little more time on her own?”

“Good Lord!” I thought to myself, “does she really mean to saddle me with her children and the house while she goes out to work?” This was going beyond anything! My definite refusal was taken quite calmly. A bit too calmly I felt. Samina nodded, pressed my hand gently and expressed her regret.

 My flight was on the 21st of December. A day earlier I had my luggage ready and it was night when I proceeded to check on the time of departure for my flight in order to cal the radio cab for the airport. That’s when I found that the ticket had simply disappeared. The 21st of December – the day I was supposed to leave in a radio cab, I left in an ambulance. I had just had a heart attack.

* * *

Gloria Park. The plaque still adorns the gate of a certain pink boundary wall and the children playing inside, if you bother to ask them about the unusual foreign name in a very close knit and obviously conservative Muslim mohalla, will tell you quite boastfully that it was one of their Pinky auntie’s influential friends who got the rubbish dump converted into a park for the sole purpose of allowing her young and inexperienced teenage attendant to guide her wheelchair in the open for much needed fresh air in the evenings and that Gloria was Pinky auntie’s first name which he put on the plaque as a tribute to her love for gardening. If you ask where you can meet her they will point upwards and say in heaven.

Pinky auntie must have been quite a favourite you will observe, for the children look both eager and bashful when questioned about her. Further questioning will reveal she used to sit with them at night and tell them all stories of Princes and Princesses and far away lands. The flat in which she lived was filled with uncles and aunties all the time and they would have taken her away if Mish baji, as the children call her in respect, had not become so upset at the thought of losing her friend. You will learn that she did lose her ultimately, as Pinky auntie passed away a month after her heart attack.

 

There is a ginger and black speckled cat watching you as you are listening to all this. At night when the children have ceased playing, it goes and looks for scraps under the benches lining the boundary wall. Sometimes it finds something and sometimes it doesn’t, but it simply curls up in either case near the place where the rubbish dump used to be and waits for pink lines to outline the edge of the night – a time when a girl with long plaits swinging behind her as she comes running to the edge of the park, will bring a portion of leftovers and hurriedly run away again with a swift pat to its head. Far away in another land across the oceans, another well fed and similarly speckled cat is sleeping peacefully on a rug as a brown hand strokes it gently and thinks of her mother who loved cats so much.

Of Inattention and Hyperactivity


 Seven years old Ali* was rushing around the school playground pretending to be a rocket. The harassed looking teacher tried to explain to his mother how he never seemed to concentrate in class or sit still, always fidgeting and distracting others. His mother seemed equally helpless and soon after giving Ali a box on the ear, dragged him away, scolding him harshly.

Four years old Shafia* was known to her parents as a stubborn child. They had started despairing of ever getting her into a reputable school. She could not focus on one thing at a time and appeared to get bored of her toys, alphabets, letters and other educational and play material in less than a few seconds. While her mother tried to coach her in remembering colors and letters, she found she could not do so without hitting her daughter after every few minutes. Ultimately she decided to send her to a preparatory centre for getting admission later in the most elite school in Karachi. The headmistress on the first day said that they had special methods for such stubborn kids but they would have to agree for corporal punishment for their child so the centre could ‘mould’ her properly. Soon enough, the centre also gave up as their methods had only succeeded in developing a fear of studies in the little girl who now quaked at the sight of a pencil and a copy, refusing to touch it at all.

IPP. PN Shifa

Quite often many such cases pass by undiagnosed, where inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity are the main symptoms. More often than not, they are dismissed as being just kids, or labeled as naughty and punished accordingly. Parents blame teachers for not making the subjects interesting and teachers blame parents for not handling their offspring in a better manner. At the end of it all, it is the child who suffers.

 ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a disorder characterized by a combination of lack of attention with features of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Psychologists use criteria provided in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM IV TR) to see if a patient fulfils the minimum six symptoms requirement of either inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity or both. In case the latter is missing, the diagnosis may be of ADD or attention deficit disorder only where a child is able to sit in one place for more than a few minutes but is not able to focus on his work continuously, loses necessary work items frequently, fails to carry out instructions and even fails to listen when spoken to directly. The diagnosis of hyperactivity/impulsivity disorder seems imminent when a child is always on the go, fidgets a lot, is unable to sit when situations demand it and interrupts or intrudes or has difficulty awaiting his turn.

 The ‘cure’ for a child with ADHD does not lie in harsh parenting. Correct diagnosis is the key to more than half the problem. Detailed clinical interviews along with certain pen and paper tests taken from the child and the parents help in diagnosis. Psychologists and remedial teachers alike can provide help through structured programs for parents and children. Exercises and games are conducted with children in individual settings that help them in focusing, reducing impulsivity and gaining a greater degree of control on their actions. Psychiatric help is necessary in establishing a correct dosage of methylphenidate (Ritalin) as the growing child requires medical support to help him focus. Controversy surrounds the idea of drug administration to children yet researches suggest that the benefits far outweigh parental concerns of dependency.

 Psychological help can also be provided in cases of ADHD. In fact many psychologists stress on reducing dependency on drugs and on utilizing a behavior based approach to reduce problem behaviors. In Pakistan, Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA is a relatively new phenomenon. This approach involves utilization of behavior principles such as rewards and different types of plans for focusing on different problems. For e.g. with a child who has a mild level of inattention during class, one of the ABA approaches may be to establish a baseline for the number of times he looks up during his work and then applying a reward system for the swiftness with which he manages to complete his work and then allowing him an early break. Eventually, the premise is that he will be able to develop inner controls and a post intervention analysis will reveal a change in behavior when compared to the baseline.

Institutes such as the Institute of Professional Psychology at Bahria University, Karachi, have initiated the teaching of ABA as a subject in Pakistan. The theses and projects produced by the students here show a strong link between the control of symptoms of ADHD and the application of ABA principles. Young patients are treated at the Institute’s PN Shifa outpatient department using behavior principles and parental guidance sessions are carried alongside to ensure the usage of these at home.

Child's play haven at IPP, PN Shifa, Karachi.

*Names and symptoms have been completely changed and adapted to suit the article. Yet, they are based on true accounts and observations of patients at my workplace.

IPP: Contacts: +92-21-99204889 , +92-21-99205065

Gone Fishing!


Tiger skins, antelope heads replete with antlers amongs others have for a long time been considered trophies worthy of drawing-room attention in the homes of
subcontinent big game hunters. Fishing however was a rare sport. The past few
decades have seen a rise in fishing by enthusiasts, firmly putting Pakistan on the map of big gamefishing in the world. The thrill of having hooked a fish once roves adrenaline surging for the many who do venture into this arena and they keep coming back for more. This has in turn resulted in burgeoning of industries most of which are located in Sialkot manufacturing fishing tackle, lead, sinkers, spoons, spinners, pliers, forceps and lines.

PGFA is the Pakistan Gamefishing Association located in Karachi. Its member anglers on the other hand belong to all areas and frequently visit diverse spots from Cape Monz in Karachi to Satpara lake in Skardu in search of fish. The association believes in conservation in heavily fished waters. The Pakistan Whale and Dolphin Group (PWDG) established by PGFA with WWF-Pakistan seeks to raise awareness about cetaceans in this regard. Anglers are encouraged to fish according to the international catch and release system, releasing after weighing and tagging, before the fish is exhausted. A weighstation facility has been provided at Mubarak Village in Karachi.

Pakistan boasts of a variety of both saltwater and freshwater gamefishes. Some better known salt water fishes include:

  • Marlin: It belongs to the category of billfish such as swordfish and is found near Churna island from Septemeber to December.
  • Barracuda is the only fish found all year round while others can be caught in particular seasons with Amberjack, Cobia and Pompano from August to October and Tuna, Shark Trevally and Shark being caught in other months.

Freshwater fishes include:

  • Trout: The Northern areas of Pakistan, especially Naran, Ghizar, Shandur pass, Phander lake, and Chitral are the prime spots for trout. A trout hatchery is located at Chitral which charges Rs 70 – 80 per catch. May to October are the best months for catching trout.
  • Carps and Catfish: Chashma barrage in Mianwali and Kinjhar Lake in Sindh are good spots.
  • Mahseer: Tarbela dam in Rawalpindi boasts of this fish mostly from September to November.
  • Others include the Great Snakehead, Clown Knifefish and various Tilapia found at various locations along the river Indus.

Various fishing techniques are used by anglers like:

  •  Fly Fishing: involves the usage of bits of feather or other artificial material as bait attached to the hook with a string while Dry fly fishing makes use of bait that will float on water. Both involve the angler usually standing in the water.
  • Surf casting has the angler stand on the edge of the water and cast the hook.
  • Trawling is recommended on lakes and big rivers.
  • A ‘Hora’ or stationary boat is also useful among the mangroves and can be boarded from several points in Karachi such as Gharo, Rehri Goth, Ibrahim Hyderi village, Russian Beach, Marina, Club etc.

Ethnic Earthenware


Sindh is a land rich in its share of ethnic handicrafts including the manufacturing of high quality and impressively priced wooden handicrafts, textiles, paintings, handmade paper products, and blue pottery etc.

Lacquered wood works known as jandi, painting on wood, tiles and pottery known as kashi, hand woven textiles including khadi, susi and ajrak are synonymous with Sindhi culture. Hala’s artisans the village potters known as kumhaar across the Indian sub continent are still producing exquisite earthenware.

Kashi, or kas, was formerly the Persian word for all glazed and enamelled pottery irrespectively; now it is the accepted term for certain kinds of enamelled tile-work, including brick-work and tile-mosaic work. In Pakistan the finest examples of kashi work are in the Sindh province. Kashi work consisted of two kinds:

 Enamel-faced tiles and bricks of strongly fired red earthenware, or terracotta; Enamel faced tiles and terracotta of lightly fired lime-mortar, or sandstone.

Some authorities describe tile-mosaic work as the true kashi.

The name kas, by which it is known in Arabic and Hebrew, takes us back to the manufacture of glass and enamels for which great Sidon – a city of Phoenicia – was already famous 1500 years before Christ. The designs used in the decoration of Sind and Punjab glazed pottery also go to prove how much these Sindhi wares have been influenced by Persian examples and the Persian tradition of the much earlier art of Nineveh and Babylon. Hyderabad (Sindh), possesses excellent monuments of the best period viz. Those erected during the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir (A.D. 1556-1628). Tile-mosaic work is described by some authorities as the true kashi. From examination of figured tile-mosaic patterns, it would appear that, in some cases, the shaped terracotta had been cut out of enamelled slabs or tiles after firing; in other examples to have been cut into shape before receiving their facing of coloured enamel.

Conventional representations of foliage, flowers and fruit, intricate geometrical figures, interlacing arabesques, and decorative calligraphy – inscriptions in Arabic and Persian – constitute the ordinary kashi designs. The colours chiefly used were cobalt blue, copper blue (turquoise colour), lead-antimoniate yellow (mustard colour), manganese purple iron brown and tin white. However, blue, white and brown are the primary colours used by potters for making these ethnic tiles.

* Photos by the author

Pakistan Navy / Airforce Under Attack?


A few minutes ago courtesy the twitter brigade and a few who live near the PAF base, I have just been informed of the fifth blast for today inside PNS Mehran on Shahrah e Faisal, one of the major arteries of Karachi city and still the drama continues. (23/05/2011 at 12.30am) . Read on to get a round up of the events till now.

If reports are to be believed, the base was being used to build certain P 3 Orion planes using US army help.  These are highly sensitive and expensive planes that help detect fully submerged submarines at great depths and distances. These reports also state that parts of these planes had been brought in around 18 months ago and the area was known to be quite secure. One fully built plane was destroyed in the attack and tentative estimates reveal, that this has also left at least 5 people dead and  numerous injured. Around 15 terrorists reportedly entered the area and so far 6 have been killed.

Televised images have been horrific indicating a state of siege with ambulances piling up in front of the gates within minutes of the first blast and being kept there due to the continuous firing going on inside. Hats off to the commandos who were sent in to fight amidst pitch darkness as the entire area has been cordoned off by police and rangers to limit the escape routes towards Dalmia cement factory aka Dalmia road and the link route via Karsaz road.

While the controversy theories abound it is interesting to note that most of the world has been interested in how the terrorists got in, in the first place and very few comment on what has been happening in there between the first group of blasts and the second. There was silence in between and then suddenly the firing restarted with people reporting yet another blast, making it the fifth in a series.  The fact is that PNS Mehran covers a huge area and there are several dark spots where people could have gone right over the wall with none being any wiser.  The bhains ka paara (cow and buffalo pen) and pipline / gutter / manholes theories are also coming in focus with a couple of ladders conveniently placed for the world to see. Why such a major operative did not remove the ladders immediately after, is anybody’s guess. Another theory suggests the guise of security personnel for the terrorists who just calmly walked in. Thats something indigestible. In a place where everyone knows the other – especially guards on duty, it is quite difficult to suppose someone just casually walking by unless the identity is not only known but the venture was a joint and collaborative one. Again, we can not possibly blame all and sundry fo this security lapse. Nothing in the world is foolproof, least of all security. Loyalties can be bought, places exchanged and tongues sealed.

As for the manner in which they reached the said area undetected and were not apprehended till the first rocket was fired, the clothes of the men, the tme of night and the fact that they were on foot is self explanatory when put together and highly believable. I have been in the vicinity several times and been stopped for security checks but then I was always in a car, whether day or night. The area is not a flat and barren land but has bushes and adequate vegetation to act as suitable hiding places. Reason suggests that this was not a one time operation but that  a recce of the place had been conducted earlier to make this a possibility by outlining all the ways of getting to their target. Once over the wall, or through the pipeline etc, the gray / black clothing of the men in the dead of night in even a highly patrolled area could have easily gone undetected.

Media coverage lacks incisive and indepth analysis at this time which is not surprising given the current state of affairs and the number of breaking news reports over the past few hours. The International media picked up the thread one hour later than the Indian media which was quite an eyebrow raiser.

While speculations abound on every side, one can not help but feel for the people inside who are dealing with the mayhem on the ground. The bravado of ambulance drivers and volunteers also deserves a mention for being there for their duty at such a time while others sit in their cosy nooks and tweet about how Pakistan is a failed state, how Pakistan deserves all this and worse still how the Navy, Airforce and all armed forces had this coming to them. There is yet another bunch rejoicing that tommorow will be a holiday for educational institutes in the vicinity. Whither humanity?

This is the third incident in a month where the Pakistan Navy has been attacked. The firs two involved Naval buses and led to the deaths of innocent doctors. Healers became the victims and were treated at the same hospitals where they worked. Calling it irony would be an understatement.

The scene is of a battlefield and all the questioning in the world isnt helping
navy personnel at this moment. People are anxious to know exactly how, why ,
when this happened and when it will end. The answer to that can not be given
immediately. This is hardly a cricket match with all the details known. My
friend reports firing at the premises even now after 14 hours have passed since the first rocket was fired before 11 pm on 22 May 2011. Its an area with human lives who are and can be used as shields. The ones who have gone in with the terrorist  agenda have taken in food and water to last them for 3 days. Only 14 hours have passed as yet. It will be a miracle if they can gas and get them out of there for who knows if they have also had the forethought of taking in gas masks. If they had rocket launchers to destroy the P 3 Orion planes then they could well have anything else as well.

As I write this, a part of Karachi is burning. Sirens are blaring and newscasters are struggling to keep up with the onslaught of news coming their way. Its enough to drive an action movie enthusiast mad, thinking movies have come alive. And this is real life.