the great escape

I look around and eye the **exit** my great escape, the red flashing sign, the word EXIT, written up, loud and clear, I eye it. And I make a run for it. The two hosts grab me before I even take a step, each with one arm locked into mine, they **crack a joke** about me, the audience laughs. They hand me a metal statuette, I hold it --the heaviest thing I’ve ever held on to-- it falls through the stage, through the wooden floor, with me holding tightly onto it, through and through. “Ladies and gentlemen we just witnessed **a great escape** for the first time in the history of this event, has the winner escaped in such a dramatic fashion, and without giving a speech either.”

Sunday, June 26

What Happens in A-Bot-A-Bad Stays in A-Bot-A-Bad

--> So a lot has happened recently, it appears. Shaykh Osama, the Chief Terrorism Officer of the venture formally known as Al-Qaeda is no more and has left us to wallow alone in this post-apocalyptic pit of our sins. Meanwhile, the US is using the 'pull-out technique' as the alliance dwindles into the diplomatic rupture of the coitus-interuptus of the cozy relations the foreign offices of the two countries had seen over the past decade. If you think about it, it only took one day to change the face of everything as we knew it.
 What happened?

Well one thing's for sure, it must have been a highly undramatic event, otherwise its official narrative would have appeared in a little more sensational fashion. However, the shrouded secrecy of the whole affair casts the entire operation which was at the center stage of what can be known as the Anti-9-11 .. no where near as spectacular as its countervalent at the other end of the decade, but certainly no less controversial.

Just like 9-11 this happened on an unsuspecting day in the United States (night in Pakistan), and just like 9-11 immediately there was a sleuth of stories, an explosion of explanations and implications in the media. Within minutes the compound turned into a luxury mansion turned into a rickety hideout. One minute Osama was watching videos of himself, the other he was watching porn. One minute he was hiding behind his wife using her as a human shield, the other he was unleashing a barrage of bullets at the intruding Navy Seals, and then he seemed to be unarmed. And the next minute he gets a shot in the head?
And then the infamous "Sea Burial" did its part to unleash a cloud of speculation over the whole deal. Unlike the old Saddam days where we would get pictures of his cavity searches on repeat at all hours, there were no pictures of the Shaykh, no embarrassing videos, and supposedly his body was mercilessly thrown into the sea.. I mean even Hitler was allowed to rest in peace for a couple of decades before his remains were thrown into a river. Alas they didn't want to create a terrorist shrine to kick off the new religion.. but little do they know the spirit they unleashed into the sea was so damn evil that the next Mega Tsunami is headed for the US West Coast  with the face of Osama imbued in the tidal wave that’s going to destroy all US costal cities in the radius. Then they'll say we should've launched his remains off into outer space or something...

Anyway, I digress.. so what really happened that night in Abbottabad, or as Obama would say A-Bot-A-Bad.. to which I would say You Bought A Bad? I Bought A Bad Too.. But You Fo Got A-Bot A-Bot-A-Bad? Too-Botta-Bad! Ab0tabAd is an interesting town to say the least, well saying the least would be that nothing really happens there, I've spent a total of two days there period.. and it doesn't seem the town has any swinging night-life where the Shaykh would be partying it up.. so it was a quiet night the international media tells us.. No Shit! It better be a quiet night in Abb0ttabAd because if it isn't a quiet night that means the day of reckoning must be upon us. That’s probably that one twiterer must have thought when he started twitering .. trust Twitter to mess things up for the element of surprise.. @TheRealOBL was probably also on Twitter checking his updates where he found out that there was a chopper (or two) up in the Abbottabad skies..

So What "Really" happened in Abb0ttabAd? 
Of course like the famous assassinations, Lincoln, Kennedy, Lennon, Morrisson, Cobain etc. we'll never find out what "Really" happened. We might still be able to reconstruct the event as it must have happened...

So we have two helicopters with Navy Seals in them hovering around over a dingy "hideout" in Bilal Town, Abbottabad. One of them lands near by fluttering subtly in the blackness of the night, the other hovers above in a loose circle. A handful of professional looking Navy Seals disembark the Gunship and secure the outside premises and give cover to the few who proceed inside. There is a slight altercation and some gunshots are heard as weapons fire but it quickly implodes back into the silence of the night. Soon the Navy Seals emerge from inside with a tall skinny figure, struggling under restraint, being transported in cuffs. They all re-embark the chopper with their single high-value asset. Approximately 5-7 seconds later the Gunship explodes to smithereens with the other still hovering above watching the night engulf the explosion suffocating the burning embers of a helicopter carcass...

What happened??

Wait lets rewind a bit. Now Shaykh Bin-Laden was no simple idiot. He is the alleged mastermind of the 9-11 attacks, so he must have something in his oversized noggin. He had to have foreseen this day long before, every high-value target knows that its better to bite the bullet, slit the throat, tie the noose than to become hostage to the assailants. Anyway, so Osama must have had the R&D team at Al-Qaeda Inc. to design an Improvised Explosive Device (the infamous IED.. not to be confused with EID which is a Muslim Holiday), but not just any Improvised Explosive Device, it would be a rectal device installed in the anal cavity. The device wouldn't be triggered through a button or a wireless signal (you don't want to put the dignity of  your hole in someone else’s hands after all) so it would be triggered through a complex sequence of sphincter muscle motions known exclusively to the Shaykh himself. It had to have been a complex sequence because a simple one might have the risk of 'going off' while asleep.
So when you see Osama struggling with the Navy Seals, he isn't actually struggling at all, he's just pretending to struggle while going through the motions of an intricate sequence of up-down, contraction-relaxation motions to time it just right. He might have messed it up a couple of times of course, having to restart the process all over again, but he must have gotten it right the last try...
And Ka-Boom the chopper explodes, fuel-tank, motor, and that infamous rudder all together in one big blitz.. gone up in smoke.. no remains.. no heroes.. nothing.. its like it never even happened. But here's the tricky part.. If he did pull it off, then that means Shaykh Osama died by the bullet.. he blew himself up killing everyone around him suicide-blast style. Now that creates some complications, not only has the operation been robbed of its seamless success, but also instead of dampening young terrorist enthusiasm all over the world, this would spark more Jihadism in their blood than ever so that the many headed hydra can start growing more of its multiplying heads...

How do you cover up such a huge blunder? no body .. no nothing...poof .. gone.
No wonder Obama pronounced it the way he did .. A-Butt-A-Bad.. he obviously knows how to pronounce Abbottabad (look at his precise pronunciation of Paakistan).. and Abbott is a British name to begin with.. It had to have been those weary details from the CIA intel wire that were still hovering around in his head impeding him from the smoothness of his delivery with which he would have everyone think that it was a clean deal. It was the butt that messed things up in Abb0ttabAd...
Of course it happened in Abb0ttabAd .. and only the dark silence of the night knows the secrets of Bilal Town...

Sunday, May 29

Turning On .. Tuning In

So I've been sloppy about posting again.. but I have a good excuse! I was caught with finals at the end of the semester right? and I was just too swamped writing all sorts of stuff for school that I couldn't concentrate on coming up with good nonsense to blurt out here. That doesn't mean that I haven't had nonsensical ideas.. Oh I get ideas all the time.. trust me its not a case of writers block (no siree! I trust myself, don't you?) In fact, a few months ago when I  slacked off the last time I gave a list of so-called coming attractions.. which sadly was a mandate I unfortunately could not come to par with:
apart from some posting some previously written material, topics i'll be exploring include:**the lotta/toilet paper litmus/acid test: how to measure how desi you really are****something on the halal/haram toleration of interest in financial systems of Islamic republics****something about how liberalism sucks as a political discourse and how i hate being called a "liberal" (yukh!)****other goodies that i can't think of right now but they're there in the back of my head or my hard-drive i promise!

**so stay tuned..  Stay tuned.. my ass! None of the above three and a half topics did I broach after posting up older material.. and other goodies.. **wooh** yeah right! So since I have such a horrible backlog, here's what I'm going to do. Coagulation is a skill that I have honed over the past and utilize it precisely when I find myself in jams like this one so.. here goes.. the next blog I post is going to be a **mash-up** of all three ideas glued and fused into each other in strange ways...

So this is to announce that I will soon present to you an Haram/Halal Usury/Profit Lotta/Toilet-Paper Litmus/Acid-Test Blog About Why Liberalism Sucks!

... Wait.. did I just say all that? That's a mouth-full isn't it? Try saying it dragging each syllable a little and you'll see.. the.. Ha-ra-m/Ha-la-l U-s-u-ry/Pr-of-it Lo-tta/T-o-il-et-Pa-pe-r Lit-mus/A-cid-T-es-t B-lo-g A-bo-u-t W-h-y Lib-er-al-is-m S-uc-k-s! Wow thats a lot of syllables  .. phew.. but more than the syllables.. what kind of monstrosity will this absurd topic .. how can I even think of writing about this? How can I.. How can.. How.. how...

**To Be Continued**

Tuesday, January 25

The Emergence of the Jamaican Taliban !!!

A new episode of Talibanization has begun to sweep the Caribbean taking root in the Jamaican Island. The Jamiacan Taliban have begun imposing a strict morality regime across the countryside.

The new Taliban inspired movement in Jamaica is driven by rebellious Rastafari dissidents who want to take over the Island.

In the latest spate of Talibanization, it has been learnt that the Caribbean has given way to its own indigenous spin-off movement known as the Jamaican Rasta-Khowaraian Taliban. This most recent Taliban movement is said to have no significant organizational or strategic linkages with the deeper entrenched Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or the original Taliban of Afghanistan. Rather, these inspired counter-movement within Rastafarianism is believed to be more thematically inspired from the other Taliban variants, baring certain core similarities with certain significant divergences.

The group that calls itself the Jamaican Rasta-Khowari Taliban is a sort of revisionist orthodox insurgent backlash within the Rastafari movement. The main premise of their still unwritten mainfesto is that the integrity of the original Rasta culture has been corrupted by "evil" (read: commercial) influences from "Babylon" (read: The West). In this they echo the hatered of the West always underscored by their Taliban counterparts in the east. Shunning the loose and disorganized structure of the existing Rastafarian tradition, this inspired band of armed hoodlums has theologically reinvented itself in the form of a strictly organized and well regulated militarized operation. In vigor and recklessness this newly bred "homegrown" brand of Taliban is no less than the ferocious militants of Afghanistan and Pakistan that inspired them.

Some thematic linkages also exist, not only do they want to wipe present-day Israel off the face of the earth in order to declare Ethiopia as the "True Zion", the recent surge of Jamaican Taliban and linked militant Rasta outfits has imposed a strict morality campaign on parts of the island.

The Kh in the Rasta-Khwari has special significance as a lingual reinvention that immediately differentiates the group from other Rasta variants. Some claim that its a recognition of their Arab cultural heritage, by enounciating the KH they pay homage to the Arab traders who introduced them to their holy sacrement the herb they called Ganja. Some adherents of the Jamiacan Taliban also go as far as to claim that the fact that the herb was originally brought from parts of northern India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan, where the Taliban are at large, signifies that it was probably hashish smoking Taliban who were the first ones to introduce Jamicans to the herb. Like the word "Ganja" the word "Khowari" is also incorporated from north Indian language, where the word implies an aggravating boredom, restlessness, and lack of sexual possibilities.

The murderous gang of unruly Jamaican Taliban roaming the Jamaican badlands, has taken the Island nation by storm, over-running a few small towns, also claim that the second half of the Bible that was stolen from them by the "White Man" (read: colonizers) were actually the scriptures upheld by the other major Taliban movements. Consequently they have imposed a strict morality regiem in the territories they have so far occupied. A few local homosexuals were hung as an exemplary punishment for moral deviance and their bodies left dangling in the main square of Lucea, a town in Jamaica.

The Jamaican Taliban are as strict on recreational uses of Ganja as they are on sexual deviance. The terrorist organization claims that the sacrament has been corrupted by commercial interests, and only their orthodox clergy has the divine right to administer ganja for spiritual purposes only where necesary. However, reports of Jamican Taliban roaming the streets with blood-shot eyes and vacant gazes contradict their own strict doctrine. "We will smoke all da herb on da island", bragged one Jamaican Taliban patrolling the streets, "we da Jamaican Talibaan maan .. we are da ONLY chosaan pepaal of Jah". The movement continues to maintain that only they as the chosen people have the exclusive right to spiritual enlightenment from cannabis.

So far the Jamaican Taliban have taken over vast reserves of marijuana in certain parts of the island. With local residents complaining of the drop in supplies, these resurging Taliban seem to give no signs of respite. Rumors floating in the marketplace suggests that the movement bares its origins in a group of ganja fiends who decided to capitalize on the political situation. Unnamed sources within the organization hinted at prospects of international recognition by strictly following the model of the major Taliban movements, some sects of the organization consider the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to be a more authentic model of Talibanization to follow than the more organically driven Afghan variant. When questioned about whether they're afraid of fizzling out as a media phenomenon like the Indian Taliban, the source remained silent. Neither Pakistani nor Afghan Taliban officials could be reached for comment.

Tuesday, January 11

A How-To Guide for the Weak-Stomached on Building Tolerance

Suddenly there’s a lot of debate over tolerance and engendering some sort of empathy and understanding in Pakistani society. For a society that’s seen random spurts of violent urban attacks, sensational acts of terrorism, ethnic violence, and even a spate of target killings to have some sort of identity crisis is perfectly normal. However, this time it seems to be a severe reaction pointing to the fact that perhaps we somehow haven’t managed to come to terms with who we are.

The recent attack on the "liberal" community, especially, sparked a lot of controversy over whether those whose beliefs don’t coincide with the social mean should be respected or simply eradicated. Most people really wouldn't give a damn either way, but nowadays everyone seems to be caught up in the crossfire between the ultra-radical hyper conservatives, and the flip-flopish moderate supporters of a semblance of liberalism.

Besides the sensational coverage of all the Television news channels, Other than newspaper editorials repeatedly asking “Why we are the way we are?”, or disgustingly lukewarm apologetic sonatas declaring “Today I too am a minority” (for one day only), the average person these days is brought into the center of the debate through cutting edge social media, like Facebook. There have been several instances of people blocking or “de-friending” their Facebook friends upon finding out that hey were either blasphemous, supported blasphemy, or supported the violence against those who supported blasphemy. This has resulted in a massive social reorganization of Pakistani Facebook networks based on what side of the debate the person’s Facebook status took.

Many people are simply in shock over the flaring up of the recent issue, and have simply failed to get a grip on reality. Where social tolerance is concerned, I think being tolerant is one thing, and pretending to be tolerant is a whole different thing. For me tolerance and intolerance within society is like having tolerance or intolerance for certain substances, for instance lactose intolerance (or other forms of tolerance), if you have a certain threshold of tolerance and you know it all is well, but if you have relatively low tolerance, and you pretend to be highly tolerant then things can get very risky. Things can take a turn for the worse quite quickly, since you wouldn’t know your own threshold, you might end up throwing your guts out at the end of the night.

Which is precisely the predicament I find our society to be in right now: hunched up over the bowl going through the all-too-familiar gagging motions as vomit spews out of the mouth while uttering the words “never again” in-between mouthfuls of gastric juices and semi-processed morsels of food. The “never again” is the most important epiphany as this whole episode runs on to its usual conclusion, because it implies that never again will you cross that threshold as you go on pretending to be tolerant.

For one, I think we need to come to terms with the fact that as a society we’re highly intolerant and that there’s no way we can stomach all that cultural diversity. So expecting ourselves to be tolerant about the views and opinions of others is a little too much to expect from such weak-in-the-stomach people. Then rather than making a show out of how tolerant and accepting we are on the outside, I think we need to be more in touch with the reality of how insecure, and complex we are on the inside.

We can hardly stand diversity, and whenever one social group treads a marginally different line from the mean they are immediately identified, excluded, harassed , and targeted. I mean forget crumbling Jain temples, and ravaged Hindu communities, last year over two hundred people were arrested for violence against Christians in Gojra, from our very own ‘brotherhood of the books’.

When such overpowering facts are staring pretty much in your face, then how can you go on pretending to be a tolerant society which respects fundamental human rights, and believe in equality and liberty for all. We really don’t. And if you don’t happen to agree with that, then let me tell you that you too are a vast minority in the face of the intolerant masses, and that you’re lucky that you blend well with
the intolerant ones, because if there was a way to single you out, you wouldn’t be reading this article— you’d be dead.

Grim endings aside, I think its important for us to know our own egalitarian limitations. Because really, every time we pretend that we can get up and stagger our own merry way home, and to never re-visit the ugly stomach-churning episode again, the withdrawal symptoms of our own addiction to hate-spewing rhetoric and extreme firebrand ideals brings us back to our knees in prostration in front of the toilet bowl once more, to partake yet again in the ritual of coming to terms with ourselves, and whispering “never again” quietly underneath our vomit-ridden breaths.

catching up/update/getting upto speed blasphemous (read: dangerous) times like these..

apologies to anyone who actually reads this for not posting in the past 3..4? however many months. moving out of lahore and into new york caught me off guard, as did the demands of an academically intensive graduate program. regardless.. now that i've managed to acclimatize, i wish to inform you actual readers, that i will be posting regularly from here on in.. this haloed eleventh day of the first month of the year of our lord, two thousand and eleven 1/11/11 or 11/1/11 depending on what part of the world you're in. it should be evident that i have a slight fetish for 1s and 11s wherever they appear together esp. in dates and times.

anyway, just because i haven't updated this thing does in no way mean that i haven't been thinking strange and deep thoughts. just so you know, i have been thinking a lot of those, and more importantly, i've been building them up for one big motherload thats coming your way very soon!

apart from some posting some previously written material, topics i'll be exploring include:

* the lotta/toilet paper litmus/acid test: how to measure how desi you really are

* something on the halal/haram toleration of interest in financial systems of Islamic republics

* something about how liberalism sucks as a political discourse and how i hate being called a "liberal" (yukh!)

* other goodies that i can't think of right now but they're there in the back of my head or my hard-drive i promise!

so stay tuned..

Wednesday, May 12

Load-Shedding Re-Dux (a supplement for Dawn Blog readers)

Alright so this is a supplemental reprise to the post on the Dawn Blog for all you people reading it till the end and going like.. 'Hmm I wonder what this Asif Akhtar blogs about at'. So here's the whole deal with this capitalizing on load-shedding business proposition for all you entrepreneurial types, and anyone else questioning the logic of a post-electric world where Pakistanis rid of their dependence on electricity would rise to the challenge of leading the world into a self-sufficient existence as a global human society.

When I said in my blog on Dawn that we need to start getting used to no power, I really wasn't joking. If we take things seriously, we can develop an acoustic-lifestyle-rehab industry which could well become our leading national export in the post-energy world of the future. We could set up lifestyle re-hab clincs in all parts of the world. Think of all those extremely wired people out there and the withdrawal symptoms they'll experience once the electricity runs out. They'll be running around bumping in walls without their iPhones and their fancy gadgets, no longer able to find the number of the Pizza place down the street, or update their status on social networking sites at a whim. Chaos will be everywhere, like one of those end of the world movies.

It will be our job as well adjusted Pakistanis to tell the world that its okay to be unplugged (post-rehab services will be offered at an additional charge). And of course at that point things couldn't be better for us. There will be new markets for adaptation culture forming all around the world. For a change people will be looking at our model of retrograde development. We will be the next big thing that hit the world since the toaster! And while the rest of the world is out looking for a solution to the power problem, we'd be light-years ahead with our cultural adaptation to life without energy and electronics. We'd have innovations like cooling our walls with dung chapatis, and the cooling effects of lassi or the herbal calmness of falsa juice on our side.

Now don't go around thinking this cultural adaptation nonsense is some kind of quippy joke put in to temporarily amuse your bored internet-ridden minds. This is serious stuff. Why would someone even think that the idea of living without electricity is absurd. Its not like people haven't been doing it for millennias prior to our sorry modern technological existence. Our ancestors in the subcontinent used to live without home appliances or air-conditioning. Its a shame we never bothered to preserve the architectural wonder which made buildings cool during the day time and warm at night. Of course after bearing centuries of heat we'd culturally adapted to doing things a certain way. Even the British were quick to realize the effectiveness of these cultural norms so they adapted their own administrational architecture to that aesthetic bringing you places like the GPO in Lahore. Sadly though your average Defence villa would suffocate without electricity in the summer and would spew out a mass of sweat and flesh if left un-airconditioned for a little over an hour.

This is the time to think out of the box. Instead of cursing and moaning about there being no light, maybe we should take a more constructive approach to our problems and try to come up with solutions that are socially viable ways of dealing with the issue. Airconditioning and the luxuries of modern technological life are for suckers. Time to turn your computer off, clear your head of all the televison commercials that are jarring up your consciousness and go for a nice long relaxing stroll to think about things a little more deeply. One thing's for sure. The future is straight ahead.

This is a supplemental reprise to the blog posted on titled Moving Beyond the Megawatt

Friday, April 16

Two Poems

The By-Election

Hear-ye! Hear-ye!
Extra! Extra!
The news is out there
for all to wear
like a sweaty revelation
an almost sudden realization
like a seething ejaculation:
La-dies and Gen-ital-men!
..Satan has won.. 
the by-election!
a land slide ride
to cease all authority
with an absolute majority
in a silent auction..
all the blue votes lay
ratteling in a red box. 
 Prophets and pundits
complain and speculate
arch-angles resign enmass
in a flush of roaring outrage!
Campaign groupies celebrate
and decorate the stage
as God auto-self-destructs
imploding in an aweful bout 
of ironically vainful vain
and eternal emphatic shame..

Joining us today..
Live! from J-Day..
our Correspondent:
"Thank you transpondent,
the jury is out today
and faithful all despondent
as the Lord quips
in a short-but-sweet
victory speech,
'Wh-at is tha po-int
of staging a battle
of Goood v. Ev-il?
Wh-a-t is the poi-nt!?
of right, wrong, pleasure, and sin
if bo-oring were always to win??'
Crowd bursts out into laughter,
masses cheer in vileful rapture... 
- texts to be subjugated
- commandments subverted
- values all inverted
- new clauses to be insterted
- all apostles terminated
- the obedient excommunicated
- scoundrels to be cannonized
- and faithful all deamonized 
Parliment and cabintets 
lay dead and disolved
as a new day has dawned
another old chapter 
finally re-opened
and politikal future
has changed forever
history to be rewritten
and repeatedly overwritten,
with bottles of red ink,
provided by our sponsor,
and major campaign funder,
The Everlasting Ink Drink..
Your correspondent,
reporting live, today
from the scene at J-Day..
Back to you Transpondent?"

Stay tuned now,
and hang around
for a fresh round
of devlishly seductive,
and completley addictive
refreshing and entertaining
**A Mellenia-Long Commercial-Break**
inducing you to buy more
of all the stuff 
we've sold you before
followed (if you survive)
by Larry King Live!
where joining us
is a pannel of experts
of Good-Bad, Good-Evil,
welcoming you all to 
this fair festival called "Hell"
with an engaging discussion 
on the future of Divinity
for the rest of eternity...
Thank you for staying and watching,
and don't even think of switching
...this is of course...
Your One And Only Source
of News, Views, and Information
--Your Favorite Transmission--
--On All of Hell-a-Vision--

in this
and completely
mass of the prevalent,
ever-slow lengthening of the
s h a d o w  o f   t h e   f u t u r e
further into that eternal dusk of days
days, brutal, senseless days to come forever...

Grips your gaze as it succumbs to that mouth
of the cave of the old man of the mountain--
mouth-wide-open in awe-gripping-encaptivation
flashes of debaucherous pleasures of all flavors
allure of that sinful pit of all those lesser gods
gaping deep into the realm of the fantastical
in a haze of smoke, the eternity of the moment  
careless words softly whispered into the mind
always around to envelop entice and remind
deceptive embraces of bodily fragrances--
memory-flashbacks from countless unlived lives 
switch it on with a smile
live a little, breathe a little
The blue flame of life blinks on in a flash of all colors!
The box sits and emits.. an absurd pandemonium
transmissions of wavelengths, and frequencies
tuning in and out of each other, streaming
into the mass of nerves inside my head
coming together in images, sounds
-- immediately recognizable
shapes and syllables --
deep into the voids of
of imagery woven through
words, words draped in images
brilliant visages of endless carnage
having to want -salacious--dreaming-
wanting to have and wanting some more.
mindless impulses filled with carnal cravings
broadcast LIVE from the gutters of man-made filth..
seeping deeper and deeper into the layers of thought. 

Numbs the body, numbs the mind, gobbled in haste
and swallowed down, the chains of endless excess
rung-by-rung, blood-sweat-toil-sweat-blood-toil--
all the fetters of bleeding-killing-sweating-drilling
excreting out my remains and all else that is left-
all gulped up, washed down with a sweet flood of oil 
a synapses suddenly snaps
an axon cracks open
"You were waiting for this all along, weren't you?"
slip into me now.. a slip of the mind like a slip of
the donge... slide into me.. deep down into me
so I can be torn apart and be bled away utterly
in peace, because the lights are out and I am 
sweating beads that trickle down the lids and
sting my eyes. I am only alive, I will leave politely...  
I promise. Just wait a while, let the mahogany
night fill up within me, and all around me..
(only a meager part of it), simply able to
completely be drowned in perception
awe-stricken in its entirety
appreciating all of it
as it ever-so-slowly
all of

Friday, November 20

Thus Churns the Revolving Door Soap Opera of Politics

Over the recent past I've noticed an interesting trend in this newly freed media of ours, where the media as a conjoined entity seems to float new issues every now and then which are suspiciously reflective of the mood in the parliament, the military establishment, and other high echelons of power.

If we just go back a few weeks we find that the media had been railing and ranting about how the Kerry Lugar Bill puts the country's sovereignty at stake, about how our politicians are in cahoots with the US, and how the military wants the KLB, but without conditionality. If I were to pick a source for the views that seemed to be emanating from our media establishment, then my best guess would be that this was the military's take on the KLB, and an effort to build public consensus against the bill.

Well the buzz hyped up to a climax as Hillary Clinton came and went (pun not intended!). The US State Department essentially asserted that no changes needed to be made to the bill even before Hillaria had broadcast her hillariaty into the airwaves. And less than a week later.. **poof** no more whining over the KLB, the issue went to rest all of a sudden, almost magically.

Now the TV channels obviously need to sell airtime to their much loved corporate sponsors so they need viewers like you and me, and since lounge-room politics bashing is pretty much our national sport, they can't really afford (in the strictest sense of the word) to have an issue-less vacuum suffocating the longish sets of their talk-show hosts; so what do they do?

The issue factory churns and grinds, and **boom** a new issue is produced for the masses to lament on, curse at the government, and whine at their dismay: Behold the NRO!

(continue reading...)

Saturday, October 31

Culture Survives in Nooks and Crannies

Cultural expression seems to be the ultimate quagmire-- even when its very existence is threatened it seems to craft itself anew. While cultural activity has been at a down low in Lahore of late, it seems artistic expression is managing to adapt to this new climate, and evolve.

Last week I attended an art exhibit of some of Lahore's younger and upcoming artists, marketed as a presentation on affordable art and aptly titled "OMG I Can Buy Art!". Hosted by a local gallery called Grey Noise, the exhibition was confined to a small but happening room which allowed the those considered whose-who of art along with the would-be's to scuttle through.

A couple of weeks ago I witnessed a small rock gig in someone's backyard, while you would expect only novice bands to be playing such a venue, the veteran rock band co-Ven nefarious for their politically laced songs, and experimental music were headlining the show while giving some newer acts a platform to perform. As a surprise addition, the famed pop singer Ali Azmat showed up and even did an impromptu performance with one of the newer bands. Despite being a small-scale event, it was a pleasant gathering, layed back and chilled out.

These cultural events arn't just restricted to the elite of the city, a very popular and age old cultural event around the weekly mystic beating of a drum at a locally revered Sufi saint's shrine was recently resumed audaciously at a different location for a more toned down atmosphere after receiving bomb threats.

Culture doesn't merely dissipate when faced with threats on the surface, it merely reorganizes itself, while also capturing and expressing those very developments which threatened it in the first place. Even if it is restricted to small rooms and backyards, the important part is that it is still there allowing people to partake.

Saturday, October 17

What Does Televized Terror Accomplish?

Yesterday a string of terrorist attacks ripped through Lahore, the attacks were all aimed at security infrastructure and personnel. Lahoris woke up to the news of the attacks, which started as early as 9 AM, blaring all over the airwaves. While five civilians, and twelve security personnel are reported to have been killed in the violence propagated by ten attackers who were also eventually slain, the casualties from the attack seemed to have been kept at bay. Reports suggest that the attackers were bent on creating a hostage situation involving the families of police officers, probably as a bargaining chip either to get concessions, prisoner exchange, or manipulate government policy in some way. The only good news is that the outcome wasn't half as bad as it could have turned out to be.

Attacking security infrastructure marks a shift in insurgent strategy, as their leadership seems to have realized that only targeting civilians is somewhat counterproductive as it gives them bad press. The end outcome hoped for by these outfits is clearly to create a media spectacle, using the many television news channels across the country to broadcast their gruesome message to a captive audience, of late however, it seems that these attacks are counterproductive with respect to these terror outfits' designs as they only serve to mobilize public opinion against them as was evident during the military operation in Swat.

Intelligence sources have reported that media infrastructure, and posh co-educational institutions might be the next targets of these attacks. It seems that these efforts are only ways to come up with a crude and unplanned enforcement of shariah by hook or by crook. At the end of the day, mounting an attack on police training centers would probably not deter the impending military operation in South Waziristan, and attacking civilian targets would certainly not generate public sympathies for the insurgents' cause. It is all but unclear then, what exactly such attacks accomplish other than unsettling people, and destabilizing the state.

Friday, September 11

The Mass Media Billboard Frenzy and the Urban Scape

It is true that all cities have a unique character; in Lahore that character has almost become synonymous with expansive billboards jutting out of the infrastructure in all different directions: calligraphy running down the walls, English written in Urdu, and Urdu transliterated in English, together with huge spelling faux pas proudly held up to unimaginable heights, and, of course, images ranging from families and cooking oils to women on mattresses in sultry poses. We have free markets, deregulation, and rent-seeking behaviour to thank for this boisterous explosion of urban infrastructural mass media that some would argue quite aptly represents what Lahore and Lahoris are all about.

That said, it would be evident that we’ve come a long way from the grandiosity of the Badshahi Masjid, a jewel for the Mughals, or the Mall Road, the pride of the British. Historically, the look and feel of the city would be an expression of the dominant force within that city. Administrators would take pride in giving the city their personal touch. Then how did we get from there to here? Well, if the Emperor was sovereign during Mughal times, and the bureaucratic institution was administrator par excellence during the British Raj, then it is a natural conclusion that the corporation reigns supreme in the times that have happened to grace us. With ever flashier modes of urban display, LED screens, and plasma projection units, and millions and millions in advertising budgets, our cities will indeed become the mass-communication extravaganza that the corporate identity of Lahore would imagine.

Unlike the British, the Mughals and the Sikhs, and whoever else has laid claim to Lahore in the past, the corporations don’t act on a unitary urban aesthetic. Rather, their mode of operation is chaotic at best, as they respond to each other with bigger, more flashy messages to induce those driving by in an instance. Nothing speaks more loudly of our reclaim of British areas of architectural finesse like Tollington and Davis Road than the sprawling colourful signboards, mounted all over shop edifices.

As shop owners and those in possession of lucrative property jump into this frenzy, the city begins to emulate a glamour magazine with a 20:80 content-publicity ratio. Questions of taste and aesthetics then get bundled up with the heavy handed marketing departments’ and ad agencies’ assessment of the mood at large.

Of course, appearances count more than truisms in these parts. At the end of the day, it isn’t accuracy they’re going for, but sensation. One would argue that the two elements unmistakably present at all major traffic signals, i.e. beggars and billboards (the subject of many snapshots clicked by bemused foreigners) represent the huge disconnect between appearance and reality that is being fed to the masses on a daily basis. How does the large shampoo billboard relate to the urban condition of the rickshaw driver? How does the supermodel superimposed on a whitening cream ad relieve the frustrations of the pubescent youth on a disappointingly fruitless prowl? It is quite evident that the publicity billboards that seek to attract all attention at every stoplight and flyover constantly bombard the inhabitants of the city with the chasm that exists between reality and product-oriented idealism.

full version readable at my post on the Dawn Blog

Monday, August 17

A Strange Institution for a Stranger Place

Like any sprawling urban metropolis, Lahore has a rich historical tradition driven by the raids, conquests, and repossessions of many a power-broker reigning supreme over the region. Through the ebb and flow of history, the heart of Punjab has swapped several hands, and has been the jewel of many empires. My cousin who is an architect says, as a city Lahore encompasses layers and layers of history in its architecture. Indeed, if one takes a trip down from the old walled city, one is able to witness all the political-economic changes the city through its history. The Sikh domes of Ranjit Singh's capital morph into Mughal grandiose, immediately differentiable from the high-administrative aesthetic of the British Raj. Going down Mall Road, one notices how, instead of abrupt cultural contours, Lahore has been consistently assimilating nuances and cultural subtitles from whatever it has come in contact with.

One such cultural oddity is the Lahore Gymkhana Club. One out of a set of Gym-Khana institutions originally established by the British as a chain of sporting and social clubs across India, now finds itself on the peripheries of culture. What must have been a truly strange place even before the departure of the British, it seems has only become stranger since. Rather than being abolished soon after the departure of the Britishers --its raison d'etre-- the Gymkhana seems to have been co-opted by the cultural fetishes of an emerging ruling class. The institution now exists as a time warp within the cultural archeology of the city; a place where waiters still dress in British Indian atastire, and doormen sport the huge mustache and turban look. Until recently the dining room menu consisted of the strictly British bland cuisine, long abandoned for more elaborate flavors by the British themselves.

Like other institutions in the country which were inherited from the Raj, the Lahore Gymkhana has gone through many changes, while certain things remain unchanged. The club went dry when Alcohol was banned by Z.A. Bhutto, and the Zia years saw the swing nights turn into “Family Bar B Q”. The existence of the Gymkhana clearly evidences that the culture that was originally imported from the British by those who could afford it, has now gone awry and turned into an anomaly that seems to fit right into the mad mix that is Lahore. Obviously the “Dogs and Indians Not Allowed” sign had to go, but was sheepishly replaced with the “Guest Not Allow” slogan.

Monday, June 22

(a quick jot) On Social Responsibility

While society is responsible for civilizing the individual by engendering such moral values, behavioral norms, culture, and mannerisms, it is in turn the individual's responsibility towards society to uphold and enforce these values. Values, whether presented through cultural tradition, religious dictum, or legal jurisprudence would be irrelevant if they fail to bind individuals in a mutual respect. A society consisting primarily of socially irresponsible individuals would naturally be expected to crumble to its own demise as everyone looks out for their own selfish interest.

Modern societies are obviously much more complex than the simple example undertaken above, and the value sets of moralities extended through culture and tradition are also as intricate. Given a complicated set of social relations and interactions, social responsibility should by no means imply a blind conformity to socially established norms and regulations, a very important facet of social responsibility lies in the individual's own critical assessment of these values in terms of an imagined ideal society in his own mind. It then becomes the individual's responsibility not only to uphold those values which would make this ideal society a real possibility, but also to question those values that contradict the idea of such a society.

Saturday, June 13

Security (in) Security

The number of suicide bombers supposedly loose in the city at a given time are broadcast on news-ticker marquees at traffic lights, fueling a further angst in the hearts of people waiting for the light to turn green. I have often heard people questioning why the security agencies fail to apprehend these individuals despite all the advance intelligence they go around flaunting. It seems right now there are two opposing apparatuses of force operating in and around the cities of Pakistan: one supposed to be providing security, enforcing law, and ensuring order; the other producing insecurity, creating discord, and generating chaos. Ironically it seems the latter is better equipped, more motivated, and with far superior training compared to its sluggish target.

As it stands now, it seems even the providers of security are feeling the chill of insecurity. All the streets leading to the cantonment area of Lahore were barricaded for more than an hour the morning after the attacks on the Rescue 15 building, causing the heavy Monday morning traffic to be piled up all over the main streets. The reason provided for the blockade by police officials was a 'V.V.I.P movement' underway at that time. It was later revealed that this so called 'very, very important person' was none other than General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kaiyani, the Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan Army, who apparently doesn't feel that safe driving down the main streets of Lahore in broad daylight any more.

Last weekend the Lahore Police had set up a makeshift check-post on the Main Boulevard of Lahore where I was stopped at 3AM. Instead of being on the lookout for suspicious looking vehicles carrying large amounts of explosives and/or militant operatives, these supposed defenders of justice were stopping the Saturday night post-party crowd hoping to make a few hundred rupees in the form of bribes from young drunk drivers. I asked the officer trying to smell alcohol off my breath while searching for bits of hashish on my person, if there weren't bigger things the police should be concerned about, to which he dutifully replied, “Terrorism isn't the only crime we're supposed to be eradicating”.

Thursday, May 28

No God But God -- a critique

Reza Aslan's book 'No God But God' can, at most, be seen as a feeble attempt to redeem the religion's tattered image in the eyes of the liberal West. Aslan takes the battle for the interpretive cohesion of Islam under a grand unification back to the familiar battle ground of progressivism versus traditionalism. Indeed, the public image of the religion has been dismembered in this post 9/11 climate, and any smear campaign waged by both the left and right quarters of the Western intelligentsia targets the obviously obese sitting duck represented by the oligarchic Islamic clergy the contradictions it disseminates and the shocking contradictions to liberal and modern sensibilities. While the right wing hawks are busy aggravating the masses by dehumanizing the Islamic other, the flaming left is out to show Islam as an archaic and borderline barbarism. Aslan is attempting to turn the tables on this debate by enlightening the liberals and discrediting the conservatives on both sides of the Islamic membrane within organized monotheism.

Although his intentions might be noble, while dissecting his arguments it becomes more obvious that Aslan is trying to dismantle the standardized and regulated Islam while trying to salvage a universally applicable 'Islamicness' from the all the clutter. In order to accomplish this daunting task, Aslan takes a historical approach, where Islam is seen as a phenomenon that is bound within the historical-material course of progress. Aslan seems to imply that the way of life prescribed by Islam for its followers is fundamentally distinguishable from the norms, customs, traditions, language, and culture prevalent in Arabia during the time of Muhammad, and that after the death of Muhammad certain cultural nuances have seeped over time into the religious discourse of Islam.

Continuing the same line of argument, Aslan redefines the sayings and actions of the Prophet from the traditional view of anecdotes and quotes that shed light on the many ambiguities of the Quran to vehicles used by power brokers to garner political and cultural influence at various points in the history of Islam. Aslan goes on to declare the Hadith irrelevant in any interpretive pursuit of what was revealed in the Quran, while citing different examples of how the sayings and actions of the Prophet were used to attain different objectives be it subjugation of women, or reallocation of capital. According to Alsan, the cookie cutter Islam preached by the clerical institutions, the Ulemah, and freelance preachers is nothing but an abstraction motivated by socio-political ends.

Aslan looks towards a pluralistic Islam which is broad enough to accomodate for all the cultural diversity of the area and the historical course it spans, arguing in effect for a cross-board liberalization of the religion's most identifiable tenets. The problem with this approach is that on the one hand it is declaring culture as irrelevant in the formation of a cohesive Islamic thought, while at the same time elevating the importance of a cultural understanding of Islam. If the cultural interpretations presented by post-Muhammadan Arabia are irrelevant, then the Sufic aphorisms must be considered as irrelevant to any understanding of the complexities presented in the Quran as they too are also bound in a cultural-materialism.

Similarly, Aslan's take on the irrelevance of the Hadith is also a tap-dance act where he is discrediting certain accounts of the Prophets life and times based on other accounts of the Prophet provided by those around him. In this approach he is again making a value judgment on the nature of accounts and stories based on their rational value. Essentially he is attempting to remove the mask of conservative traditionalism and replacing it with yet another mask of progressive liberalism. By taking out the Hadith and the cultural aspects of life in the day and age of divine revelation, Aslan is attempting to extract an intrinsic value of Islam. He does not realize that pealing the onion will only result in no onion at all. If Islam is to boil down to a personal assessment of values and morality then one is tempted to ask why Islam is even necessary, and what value does any stand-alone interpretation of the Quran provide us in this day and age where morality, culture, and customs relate to diversity through relativism.

Friday, April 17

Survival of the Purest

Most often the easiest solution to social incongruence surfaces as the most obvious, i.e. social-political segregation. "If these extremists are so hell-bent on building their ideal society dating back to the 6th century, then let them have their own piece of land where they can freely do so without causing any botheration to those who would rather indulge in the many tempting fruits of modernity" is the logic that follows.

Now lets step back for a second and envision what this new order would look like. For one our beloved Land of the Pure would be savagely cut into two parts representing the very extreme minority, and the lukewarm moderate majority. For the sake of convenience lets call these derivative land masses Extremistan and Moderistan respectively. What should we expect from such a division on the basis of religious variance?

Lets look at Extremistan first. The newly formed country would be faced with two possible outcomes. First, more extremes come frothing out from the original extreme, allowing the vetting process to continue unabated until the extremest of the extreme, the purest of the pure is prevalent over this land of the extremely pure. Second, as the enlightened General Musharraf himself once said, 'the extremists are becoming more extreme' -- it is unlikely that any slight variance of thought will be tolerated in the first place, those initially straying from 'the straight path' will be promptly hung in public, allowing the extreme to consolidate further gaining strength into a force to be reckoned with.

Back in Moderistan, everyone will probably be too lazy, disinterested and captivated in a consumerist nirvana of apathy to care about any such trivialities, all they would want would be to finally be left alone to their own devices. But alas! with an increasingly stronger, overzealous, ultimately extra extra extreme neighbour, does anyone think these hopeful moderates will be finally left alone? Being so extreme, the extremists would want nothing less than the total annihilation of these moderate infidels on their way to complete world domination. Tragic.

Friday, February 6

Is India's Hindu-right ready for 'The Taliban Hall of Fame' yet?

According to recent media reports, a new front of Talibanization appears to have opened up. The latest host is none other than emerging superpower India. Several women were attacked in a college pub in the southern city of Mangalore, leading to comments by the Indian Women's minister describing the event as "an attempt to impose Taleban-style values". Sri Ram Sena (The Army of Lord Ram), a reletively unknown right-wing Hindu group is now being dubbed by the media as "India's Taliban".

The appeal for this Taliban-style has started spreading more rapidly in recent years. The original Taliban (called simply Taliban, not The Original Taliban) derived from way-of-life movements springing up in schools all around Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war. After the many successes and blunders of the infamous "Taliban in Iraq", comes the latest hub of this Taliban groove in the lawless wild-wild-west of northern Pakistan.

Forget that the word "Taliban" means students, Taliban related outfits in Pakistan have perhaps been too preoccupied lately, blowing up girls' schools, NATO supply warehouses, bridges, ammunition depots, killing spies, and mutilating dishonored women's faces with acid in Swat and other tribal regions, to even notice that they have become a growing trend across the border in India where inspired individuals from the Hindu-right have started giving alcohol consuming women quite a thrashing.

Of course the Hindu-right's aspirations to truly be Taliban-style (and not be fakin' it) are still young, only after months of strenuous practice and training will these determined right-wing Hindus acquire the physical skills, mental discipline, and spiritual strength required to successfully apply their vision of moral purity more forcefully. They would best be able to project themselves in the "right" light only through bigger badder operations-- like blowing up pubs, bars, cocktail lounges, waxing salons, and lingere stores. Though this would have quite an impact on the booming urban food, drink, and fashion industries – but isn't ruthless competition what free market capitalism all about anyway?

Talibanization is probably the only industry where Pakistan still seems to maintain a significant comparative advantage over the emerging economic powerhouse that India is becoming. Trade liberalization doctrines would dictate that it would be best for India to outsource its Talibanization logistics to Pakistan, who apparently has significantly advanced training and research capabilities, development infrastructure, as well as the most advanced technology and expertise in the area. India's booming market for Talibanized products and services would provide the booming cash flows neccesary to launch this potential cross-border venture to take global proportions.

The Pakistani Taliban appear to have progressed with leaps and bounds in their quest for universal moral decency. Their latest prize, an agreement with the government of Pakistan, on making parts of Swat an airtight morality zone for the implementation of Shariah Law-- complete with a parallel judicial system, and legislative structures, not to mention their very own rockstar Maulana "Redoo" Fazalullah (the "Redoo" is for the Radio in "Mullah Radio"). This literal state-within-a-state is the fruit of the seeds sown by the hours of tireless training spent jumping through hoops and running through tires in their training camps. If the aspiring members of Sri Ram Sena seek to enjoy similar heights of success, they should expect to put hours of strenuous practice and ingenious plotting into their operations.

So far it seems the Sri Ram Sena has its work cut out for it. Not only is the police cracking down on them to preserve India's liberal image, angry women in Indian cities seem to have organized themseves as "a consortium of pub-going, loose and forward women". This reactionary group of pink panty flaunting women -- reacting to the violence of conservative minded men, who in turn are reacting to the westernization of their ancient culture, which in turn is a reaction to the ancientness of the culture itself-- have already done the first common sense thing any such group would do: start a group on Facebook!

Now this cause is a recognized and trademarked social networking phenomenon, complete with satellite blogs providing minute-to-minute updates. The BBC reports over 5,000 members already. These passionate defenders of life and liberty, it appears, have decided to fight fire with fire, setting the battle stage on Valentine's Day, which, it turns out, comes from a rich tradition of defending values (the word valentine being a term of reverence for a martyred saint in Christianity). Apart from flowers, chocolates, and greeting cards, the days leading to February 14th this year would record a suspicious surge in the quantity of pink underwear purchased by women (and men) inspired by the Facebook driven "Pink Chaddi Campaign". A mail delivery of massive quantities of pink undergarments should be expected any day at the doorstep of Mr. Pramod Mutalk, the head of the infamous outfit.

While Mutalik, had sworn that the group would continue its efforts to thwart any "Western deviations" from Indian culture, in retaliation the Save the Earth Foundation sanctioned the deployment of martial-arts trained volunteers to areas where couples doing couply things might be threatened by these self-appointed defenders of morality. To an outside observer this Valentine's day in Indian urban centers like Mangalore would emulate a fusion between a B-rate kung-fu picture and a Bollywood gang fight sequence complete with damsels in distress, forlorn romeos, bouquets flying, the works.

The mere fact that there is both material and online resistance to the Sri Ram Sena's vision of moral goodness (and all-male pubs) suggests the need for a different strategy than those successfully executed by the Taliban on the Pakistani side of the War on Westernism. The women, for one, seem much more submissive, at times even cooperating to further the materialization of the Taliban's dream-society. This was evidenced by the emergence of the ninja-clad staff hurling ultra-violent band of Jamia Hafsa women in the midst of the Lal Masjid episode in Pakistan's capital of Islamabad. Not only were these women fully cooperative in the efforts to morally cleanse the surrounding areas of the masjid, they proved instrumental in the initial efforts to unsettle the government by kidnapping a sleuth of massage parlor workers, taking a nearby children's school by storm and holding hostages for safe passage guarantees, while zealously guarding moral diktats.

Converse to the "loose" women's reactive response, Taliban related movements currently operating in Swat and other tribal regions of Pakistan have faced absolutely negligible resistance on Facebook, and have certainly not received any pink underwear in the mail. Heaven forbid, if they find out such a thing exists they would be morally obligated to blow up all knitwear and garment factories in the region. Then the women of the region would not only be deprived of primary education, but also essentials of feminine hygiene.

As Talibanization spreads into the cities of Pakistan, it seems that the brunt of the moral cleansing is coming down even stronger on post-pubescent men of all shapes and sizes. A recent report suggests that the Taliban were able to successfully eradicate all pornographic material from a CD/DVD bazaar in Lahore with the mere threat of blowing their haram electronic media sky-high.

Unfortunately for the Talibanized groups on the Indian side of the border, their campaign did not see any pubs shut down, or any Valentine's memorabilia set alight. Only six arrests and minor incidents of socially disruptive behavior were reported in Indian cities this Valentine's day. These unimpressive results suggest that groups like the Sri Ram Sena have to get back to the drawing board and seriously chart out a new plan of action that would win them more support, and possibly even defect some disillusioned women on their side as well. A comment posted on one of the blogs following the Pink Chaddie episode advises the Ram Sena activists to "work through" the public opinion which is "actually on their side". Truly it seems that the decency campaign is yet another battle of hearts and minds, involving lots and lots of training.