Post-election ramblings

Everything is busy falling apart.

I love the concept of Wabi-sabi, according to which nothing is permanent, nothing is complete, nothing is perfect, and what’s more, there is beauty in this. But this has limited ability to give solace when it comes to teeth. Or the electoral system.

Also when there are two spots on your kitchen ceiling that drip every few seconds due to a leak in someone’s bathroom upstairs, forcing you to place tubs underneath which you must skirt to avoid drips on your head as you try to make coffee or reach for an onion, turning your little kitchen into an obstacle course.

Seepage. The scourge of apartment living.

Amu wanders up to me to complain about being hungry and needing breakfast before setting off to take her last examination for the year. I immediately put down my book (Pakistan: A Hard Country), take off my glasses and relinquish my breezy spot on the sofa to ask her what she would like, so as to deflect that what-kind-of-mommy-are-you-who-doesn’t-feed-her-only-child gaze. I open the fridge door as I suggest scrambled eggs and sausages which she rejects with a twitch of her little nose and a ‘I’m not THAT hungry’…..so I offered her tea and buttered toast…much simpler and met with an immediate ‘yes!’.

Huz wanders into the kitchen as I settle down with my book again, this time at the kitchen table, determined to finish at least one chapter today. His expression says ‘I could do with some breakfast too’, but as I glower at him and ask what he’d like, he quickly says he’ll have the leftover chulao kabab and afghani tikka we ordered last night…..no one can say he doesn’t encourage me to read.

He contemplates the spots as they drip.

Falling asleep while studying..
Falling asleep while studying..

Amu abandons her second toast and half her tea, so I finish them both, even though I don’t really feel like chewing anything, for which I hold the chulao kabab responsible. There was a tiny hard object, perhaps a bit of bone, who really knows, and the weakest filling in the array in my mouth was unfortunate enough to have encountered it. This resulted in a rather jarring jolt, the effects of which are intensely felt but hardly visible to anyone around me save for the appearance of a sudden frown on my face. And it’s good that no one heard the string of expletives in my head.

me

Yes I know I must visit the dentist. I will put it off as long as I can, and suffer the consequences miserably and silently in the meantime, because yes, I’m pigheaded.

There is ink on my thumb from when I went to vote on 11th May, proof that I have a say in who I want to botch things for the next five years. Carried away by a skewed, misrepresentative media, most of us urban educated lot voted for PTI. It hasn’t been easy deciding on the lesser evil this time around, nevertheless I figured Imran would be easier on the eye as PM than Nawaz. So much for that.

IMAG2105

Things may be far from perfect, but the ECP proved to be unusually ineffective, and the laxness of security in some constituencies, the most hyped being NA-250 (the one we voted for), meant that the biggest thugs in Karachi managed to get away with massive rigging attempts…..not.

The ECP has called for re-election in 43 polling stations in this constituency on the 19th, but I don’t think Huz and I will bother to vote again. I doubt anyone will be as enthusiastic as they were on the 11th, now that the ground reality has been driven home. PML-N is in, PPP is marginalised everywhere except Sindh, and PTI may or may not form a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the most Taliban-ridden province of Pakistan.

Well, at least Mr Khan succeeded in galvanizing those most lethargic of all voters, the urban elite, as a result of which the Election 2013 can boast of the highest turnout since 1970. I really, really enjoyed Mohammad Hanif’s take on the whole debacle in The Guardian…..it was absolutely brilliant, true to his singular style.

Huz left the house at quarter to nine in the morning in his zeal to vote and came back four hours later, sunburnt but triumphant, as if he’d achieved a huge accomplishment, which I think he did, considering what he went through.

First he stood in line at a government boys school near a katchi abadi (low income locality) next to a garbage dump and a couple of cows (with their accompanying smells and poop) tied up behind one wall of the school.

After an hour and a half when he finally reached the desk he was informed that he was at the wrong polling station and he needed to go to the neighbouring girls school. So he did, after verifying his information at a nearby help tent, and got in yet another long line under the scorching sun.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…..I was in my pj’s, busily cutting up images from magazines in a frenzy of post-social-media-unplug-excessive-energy. There was absolutely no desire in me to wake up early and go stand in line in the sun just to cast my vote for a government I really had no hopes from, despite all the clamour for ‘A New Pakistan’.….especially after Huz came home and told me his stories of heat and smells and mismanagement. Also, even though my Facebook stood deactivated (in an effort to reduce the noise) I still had an eye on Twitter….so I was aware of all the s*** going on.

The polling timings were from 8 am to 5 pm, and at 3 pm I was still putting together a collage from some of the images I had cut out, when the phone rang. It was my mother. She had just come back home from the polling station close to their place and insisted I go and vote too.

I felt more loser-ish than ever, but not enough to make me want to go off on my own and subject myself to dubious voting conditions, but I promised her I’d go, and got back to my cutting and gluing.

Then my sister Fatu whatsapped me to ask if I voted…..she had just come back after FIVE hours of standing in a queue and was full of stories about how social and fun the whole experience was. When I told her (without much conviction) my reasons for boycotting the elections, she was genuinely aghast.

”You can’t not vote Mun! The Goons will steal it! You can’t let them do that! Go vote!”

She even offered to come with me, tireless in her patriotism and righteous anger, but I began to ignore her messages after that. Never said I wasn’t pigheaded.

So I finished my collage, re-assembled a frame I had taken apart to showcase my new handiwork and wandered over to watch a bit of news on some of the hundreds of news channels on TV. Turned out that there were so many reports of delays in many polling stations (mostly caused by the handiwork of the Goons) that the ECP announced a time extension of 3 hours.

Something in me switched gears and I texted Fatu to come over. I couldn’t not be a part of this historic event.

So I quickly showered, wore a nice shalwar qamiz, spritzed on a nice perfume, and marched out to vote at 6 pm. At the polling station, I was greeted by a bunch of female polling agents one of whom commented with good-humored sarcasm that it was about time I showed up. Another one noticed that I was all fresh as a daisy, while she had been cloistered in a stuffy room in her black burqa since 6 am. I was duly chastised, handed two sheets of paper covered in symbols, located the one I wanted to stamp on and folded it up to stick into the ballot box. I was outta there in all of five minutes, home by 6:30.

Huz hates me. 😀

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Two takes on Karachi

Steve Inskeep,  born June 16, 1968 (age 44)) is one of the current hosts of Morning Edition on National Public Radio. He, along with co-host Renée Montagne, were assigned as interim hosts to succeed Bob Edwards after NPR reassigned Edwards to Senior Correspondent after April 30, 2004. Inskeep and Montagne were officially named hosts of Morning Edition in December 2004. Prior to being host of Morning Edition, he was NPR’s transportation correspondent and the host of Weekend All Things Considered.

Inskeep is the author of Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi published in October 2011. The book looks at changes in Karachi, Pakistan as it grew dramatically in the second half of the Twentieth Century. Inskeep has made several trips to Pakistan in his role at NPR.[1]

Inskeep was raised in CarmelIndiana, and graduated from Morehead State University in MoreheadKentucky, in 1990. His first professional experience in radio was a stint as a sportscaster at WMKY-FM in Morehead.

(from Wikipedia)

What follows is a transcript of ‘Two takes on Karachi from Leading Citizens’, originally published on June 3, 2008. I came across this on Twitter today and thought it was in keeping with the current bunch of posts I’ve been putting up here.

To give you a clue, Fatima Bhutto is the daughter of (late) Murtaza Bhutto and Afghan-Pashtun Fauzia Fasihuddin Bhutto, who divorced when she was three. Later, Murtaza Bhutto married Ghinwa, a Lebanese ballet teacher, whom Fatima considers to be her real mother and political mentor. She made a name for herself over the years, but shot to fame after penning ‘Songs of Sword and Blood’. Belonging to the Bhutto clan, being extremely pretty and dating George Clooney didn’t hurt either.

(photo credit Amean J.)

Ardeshir Cowasjee passed away a few days ago, if you happened to glance at my previous post. Fellow Pakistanis need no further introduction. He was a fun guy and his death feels like a real loss somehow. Sadly, there may not be many patrons of the city who were as devoted as Cowasjee. “He was a man of means and he wasn’t greedy. Most people don’t have the time for public interest – becoming richer than they already are.”

(photo from Dawn.com)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I’m Renee Montagne at NPR West.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I’m Steve Inskeep in one of the largest cities in the world. We’re reporting this week from Karachi, Pakistan. It’s part of the Urban Frontier, the name we’ve given our series on changing cities, and we’re about to see that change at it looks to two of Karachi’s leading citizens.

Both have found ways to speak out, even in times of military rule and political violence. One of them bears Pakistan’s most famous last name. She’s Fatima Bhutto.

Ms. FATIMA BHUTTO (Writer, Columnist): Karachi is a city unlike any other I’ve ever visited. This is a city of immense importance, but it’s also a very sad city because of what’s happened here, because of what continues to happen here.

INSKEEP: Fatima Bhutto met us in the home office that her late Aunt Benazir once used. Her grandfather, another prime minister, used the same office until he was hanged. Her grandfather appears in a huge painting on the wall, shouting to a crowd. His granddaughter does her shouting in print. She’s a writer. Read some of her newspaper columns, and it becomes clear that she was a vocal opponent of her own aunt’s government. She says the reason was a series of killings here in Karachi.

The other column that struck me may be difficult to talk about, but it was the one that you wrote after your aunt Benazir Bhutto was killed, in which you attempted to remember her fondly but made it clear, as I recall, from the first line, you never agreed, or you did not agree with her policies.

Ms. BHUTTO: No. Benazir Bhutto’s interior minister, a man named Nassir Lababer(ph), who most notably heralded the Taliban in Afghanistan as my boys, launched, really, I mean, an operation of ethnic cleansing against this city, against a city that through troubles, through violence and through danger, has always managed to survive, has always coexisted with its differences.

INSKEEP: Because you wrote about your unhappiness while she was alive, I wonder, did you ever talk with her about that?

Ms. BHUTTO: Well my father, my father Mir Murtaza Bhutto, was killed during her last government. On his way home from a public meeting, his car was stopped. There were 70 to 100 policemen outside out house. Some were in trees in sniper positions. They fired. They fired at the men. Seven men died that night – two, including my father, from point-blank injuries. My father was shot on the side of his face besides receiving other injuries.

By the time my mother and I left the house to go look for him in the hospital -we left about 45 minutes later because the police didn’t let us leave earlier -the streets were clean. You know, we didn’t see any glass on the roads. We didn’t see any blood because they’d washed it up. You know, the police were not arrested. The police were, they were cleared, honorably cleared in an internal review and restored to their posts, whereas the witnesses were all arrested and spent several months in jail.

And I did – I mean, I last spoke to my aunt about that. I called her when I found out that the witnesses had been arrested and the police reinstated, and I asked her why that was. And she told me – I was 14 at the time. She told me that I was very young and I didn’t understand the intricacies of the law, and it’s not like the movies. We do things differently here.

So I don’t feel really that she answered my questions in any way that was meaningful. I wish she had, because they are questions – these are questions that resurfaced after she was killed.

INSKEEP: That’s Fatima Bhutto, one of the leading citizens of Karachi, Pakistan. She is often asked if she’ll follow her famous relatives into public office. She’s dismissed the idea so often that when we visited, we didn’t even bother to ask. And then we got to wondering if that was a mistake. The local newspaper showed her working a rope line of admirers as her mother talked about placing her in the National Assembly. It was Fatima Bhutto’s birthday party. She’s 26.

That same day, we listened to a very different independent voice in Karachi. He’s a man who’s been involved in Pakistan’s politics for decades. In fact, he was briefly imprisoned in the 1970s by Fatima Bhutto’s grandfather. You reach him by crossing a brilliant green lawn. It’s surrounded by trees and a stone wall. Then you step into a cool, stone house where you meet a white-bearded man.

Without so much as a hello, he leads you directly to the bar.

Mr. ARDESHIR COWASJEE (Columnist, Dawn Newspaper): (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: The man pours himself a glass of orange juice and quinine. His name is Ardeshir Cowasjee. He’s a columnist for the newspaper Dawn. He recently referred to Pakistan’s founder as that man of great perception, and then added there were no others to follow him.

When you were born? Where you born? And say your name.

Mr. COWASJEE: Karachi, 1926. I was born here, I lived here, I grew up here.

INSKEEP: You must remember a very different, much smaller city.

Mr. COWASJEE: Oh, yes, a very nice city. There was discipline. There was law and order. Nobody would kill. I mean, a chap got killed once in two years.

INSKEEP: Cowasjee is 82. He grew up in this port city. His family owned cargo ships. He still keeps paintings of two ships on his wall.

Unlike other non-Muslims, Cowasjee stayed in Pakistan after it was formed as an Islamic state. He stayed even after the government nationalized his family’s shipping firm.

Why did you decide that?

Mr. COWASJEE: Where you want – why should I leave my home? Who the hell are you?

INSKEEP: Is there something that you love about this city?

Mr. COWASJEE: I’m 82. Where do you want me to end up, in an old people’s home in America?

INSKEEP: I would like to tell you that Cowasjee is as elegant in person as he is in print. It’s better to say that he’s the keeper of his own style. He greeted us at the door wearing shorts and a bathrobe. He invited our producer to remove her scarf – and also, if she wanted, her shirt.

People in Karachi know that he acts as he wants, but they take his columns seriously. He’s the kind of writer who’s willing to compare some provincial official to an out-of-touch French king. He’s also become involved in one of Karachi’s central issues: the use of land. He joins lawsuits to stop developers from misusing land. He fights to preserve open space, though he says he wins no more than one time in 10.

In spite of losing nine out of 10 cases in your view, is there something essential about this city that is left to save, that is worthwhile?

Mr. COWASJEE: You see the trees in my garden? You see the little plot outside my garden? It’s constant war all the time for the last 50 years.

INSKEEP: Constant war over his garden. He is gesturing toward a strip of land just outside his wall. It was marked off years ago for development, but Cowasjee planted trees there and has managed to keep it green ever since.

Is there a way, then, that all this time that you’ve been writing about this city and its development and its government or mis-government, that you’ve been basically defending your own yard?

Mr. COWASJEE: My own bottom. What sort people don’t understand about that? I’m looking after my own backside.

INSKEEP: Well, thank you very much for taking the time to speak.

Mr. COWASJEE: Have lunch and get out.

INSKEEP: Ardeshir Cowasjee stands up, he gestures into the next room and says that’s my library. He’s looking at a floor-to-ceiling window that shows his lawn and those trees. His dining-room chair is positioned so that he can look out of that window whenever he takes his meals alone.

Our stories from the urban frontier are collected at npr.org, and you can find some of Cowasjee’s columns there, as well. We are reporting all week from Karachi, one of the world’s largest cities, on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

And this is how it goes

The birthday party that was postponed last week due to chances of rain was rescheduled to yesterday, after the monsoons blew over. It was the first birthday of the second child of my eldest niece.

To get to the venue (a club by an inlet very close to a shipping harbour) we took the scenic route….a road named after Mai Kolachi, an old fisherwoman who settled near the Indus River delta and built the foundation of what is now known as Karachi.

Once upon a time, the US Consulate in Karachi used to be located on a beautiful, tree-lined road that connects Clifton with the rest of the city, right next to the Marriot hotel, bang opposite Frere Hall and the Sind Club, both old and well-preserved remnants of colonial times.

Frere Hall housed a library and gardens, both of which were closed to the public for a long time due to security concerns for the US Consulate.

Once upon a time when the word ‘terrorist’ was not a part of our dictionary, the US Consulate was an interesting place where cultural events happened, and their library was open to the students of Karachi.

After a series of threats and attacks, when the walls of the consulate were fortified and made ugly with barbed wire and concrete blocks, it finally became evident that they would have to shift their premises to a less busy, less central road.

So the city government in its infinite wisdom, gave the Americans a spot at the juncture of Mai Kolachi and Queens Road, a main thoroughfare connecting the city to the harbour, which is where the consulate is now located.

On Friday, the entire road had been blocked on both ends with huge shipping containers, to try and prevent protesters from marching towards the ‘red zone’.

Mai Kolachi is a wide, relatively new double road, and has been a welcome addition to this traffic-riddled port city, solving a big problem for commuters and heavy goods-laden vehicles alike.

But as we drove by yesterday, the side of the road adjacent to the consulate had been cordoned off the whole length of the huge space it occupies, and traffic had been diverted to the other side, meaning the side we were on, going towards Queens Road.

Poor US. They just can’t seem to find a place where they can’t inconvenience the citizens of Karachi. Massive traffic jams seem to have become a norm since last week, as the police cordon off roads and place obstructions in a bid to protect the Consulate and of course, the people inside….understandably so.

I tried taking a pic as we drove by, but I was too slow, and Huz was too fast.

Anyways, we were amongst the first few people to reach the birthday party, but that was okay. It was a lovely, breezy evening by the inlet and we took loads of pictures, had a great time with the whole family (once they arrived) ate some delicious party food and birthday cake, and drove back home the way we came.

Being the owl that I am, I stayed up till 5 am, responding to comments on the previous blog post and reading articles and blogs, natural consequence being yours truly finally got out of bed around 11.

(Nope, six hours are definitely not enough. Must sleep earlier tonight)

Huz reminded me that we had to attend a PTM at the school at 4:30 in the afternoon, and we debated whether we should both go or just one of us. Meaning me, of course. 😛

At around one pm, I reluctantly changed out of my pj’s to go pick up Amu from school, which is just a two-minute drive away from where we live. As I was changing, I got a phone call from her (she keeps her cell phone in a pocket in her uniform, so we can communicate easily at home time) asking me to come quick as the school was urging all the kids to hurry up and leave.

Panicked, I grabbed my bag, ran downstairs, jumped in the car and hurtled towards school. What could possibly be happening now?

Amu’s school is situated at the mouth of Mai Kolachi, the other end of which is now home to the US Consulate.

When I neared the school, I saw an unusual amount of uniformed policemen and gun-carrying anti-terrorist personnel urging the cars along. I called Amu as I inched towards the gate and soon she emerged from the heavily guarded gates and walked towards me.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked as soon as she got in and I moved off.

‘We had a drill in school today, in case we had to evacuate unexpectedly. It just so happens that there actually IS an emergency all of a sudden…..apparently there’s going to be a rally soon close by….and the PTM is postponed.’

(all pics taken with my phone camera)

As I drove home, I couldn’t decide whether I was worried about the proximity of the school campus to the US presence in the city, or glad that I didn’t have to attend the PTM after all.

 

One of the proposed locations for the new US consulate was next to the Karachi Grammar School, but this plan was met with protests by concerned parents and was subsequently scrapped.

(From an Express Tribune blog by Saba Imtiaz)

Later, I received an official message from the school, informing me:

We have reports of uncertain conditions in the area, therefore Class X PTM (today – 25/9/12) has been postponed. New date to be announced later.

All kinds of madness

After a very weird and violent Friday, ‘resilient’ Karachi is back to ‘normal’.

Karachi has no choice but to do so. Ordinary people have to go to work and life must go on, despite the colossal damage to so many lives and property.

Much has been said in the papers, local as well as international, about blasphemy, the film that mocks Islam and the Prophet Muhammed, the protests that have ensued, the demands for a worldwide ban and censorship on anything that ridicules any religion, so I won’t go into any of that.

Suffice it to say that we, along with the majority of Pakistanis, stayed at home and watched helplessly on tv, as mobs gathered after Friday prayers and proceeded to break, burn, hurl stones. The police, outnumbered as they were, tried valiantly to bring the situation under control, but the mobs were too caught up in their own frenzy.

Five famous cinema houses were gutted, and a couple of banks burnt down too. Not sure about the exact number of people who lost their lives, but hundreds of people were injured.

Amidst the pall of gloom and the outrage at being held hostage at the hands of a few and at the State’s complicitness in furthering the aims of the miscreants/protesters, a bunch of people came out of their homes on Sunday and set themselves to cleaning up the mess in the aftermath of what can only be called a storm. Here’s a glimpse of what they did.

And while Pakistan busily loses points in the world in so many different ways, I thought I’d share with you one Pakistani who ploughs on with his brilliant music. Dubbed ‘the guitar prodigy from Karachi’, Usman Riaz began playing classical piano at the age of 6, and took up the guitar at age 16. Now, at 21, he has two albums under his belt, the first being ‘Flashes and Sparks’, and the latest being ‘Circus in the Sky’.

It was his video ‘Firefly’ that caught my attention sometime last year. Unfortunately, since Youtube is banned in my country since last week (a genius move by the government to stop people from watching the idiotic blasphemous film) I cannot link you to it, but if you search for it and have a listen, I promise you a fascinating few minutes.

I also cannot link you to his solo performance at the TEDGlobal 2012 where he got a standing ovation, and where he finally got to jam with Preston Reed, one of the guitarists whose work he learnt from while watching him play on Youtube.

But what I CAN link you to is this very uplifting video of Usman at a Walmart in Florida. I watched this today. Such fun. Take a look at a different kind of mob altogether.

My Top 5 from Coke Studio Season 4….so far.

Season 4 of Coke Studio is proving to be as much fun as the previous one, and I have an urge to share the performances that I REALLY enjoyed. But for the record, I’d just like to say that I love Rohail Hayat. He is quite awesome in my books, and has come a looooong way from his gangly, awkward days as a keyboardist for the Vital Signs.

Junaid Jamshed may be remembered as the lead singer of the most popular, the most phenomenal, the very FIRST pop band in Pakistan, but what the hell has he done to himself??

Sigh.

Rohail on the other hand has forever made his mark on the music scene as the producer of Coke Studio. The others just…faded away.

So yes, Rohail is now my favourite Vital Signs group member. Long may he live. He has succeeded in presenting obscure artists and musicians to us, as well as re-introducing established singers with a fresh sound.

The following videos are not in any order as such, as each one is so very different in terms of genre and calibre. They’re a mix of modern and traditional, and what I like about the ‘traditional’ performances is the way they have been fused with more western instruments and produced a sound that is a wonderful blend of both East and West.

So here goes.

Mizraab

Mizraab is a band I didn’t know anything about until now. This is one of the songs from the first episode I think, I can’t remember for sure, but it doesn’t matter. It got stuck in my head for some reason, so it must be good. Hope you enjoy it too. (you can stop watching when it gets too dramatic towards the end)

The lead singer, Faraz, is great with that guitar. And Rachel and Zoe add a nice touch with their voices to accompany Faraz’s singing.

Sanam Marvi

I admit I didn’t much like Sanam Marvi at first. She was introduced in the last season I think, and at the risk of incurring the wrath of Abida Parveen lovers, Sanam Marvi sounded a bit too much like a young version of her for me to like her. (Never been much of an Abida Parveen fan)

But she has grown on me since then, perhaps because of the glimpses we get of her humble personality, and earnestness. She once said, ‘Agar mujh mein mosiqi na hoti, tou shayed mai bhi na hoti.’  (if I had no music in me, I wouldn’t exist)

She sings  Sufi ‘kalaam’ (verses) with verve, passion and sensitivity. I think I REALLY like her very much now.

This is her singing ‘Ith Naheen’ by Baba Bulleh Shah. It means, if not here, then nowhere.

Ataullah Khan Isakhelvi

Isakhelvi needs absolutely no introduction. He is a phenomenon. I think Rohail must be over the moon with joy that he managed to rope him in!

For those who know nothing about him though, Ataullah Khan Isakhelvi, or Khan saheb as he is known on the sets of Coke Studio is a Punjabi folk singer, crooning songs of love in his instantly recognisable gritty voice. There’s something about it and his songs that I find incredibly sexy.

This is the Coke Studio version of a song from a Punjabi movie, very romantic. ‘Pyar Nal na sahi, ghussay naal vekh liya kar…beemaaraan noo shifa mil jaandi ay’, which means, literally, ‘look at me with anger, if not love…that would be enough….this sick person would be cured’ 🙂

But first, a peek at what goes on behind the scenes…..(love the deference with which Rohail speaks to Isakhelvi, and the various artists goofing off with each other)  🙂

Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad

I don’t even know if this is classical or if it’s qawwali, but it’s sixteen and a half minutes of pure entertainment. I’m amazed at how Fareed Ayaz can belt this out with a mouth stuffed with paan! And the body language of the singers, the way they move their hands and seem to put their entire bodies into their performance is just great to watch. I don’t even know what it is they’re singing so passionately about….but I can feel it. And it’s great fun to see the head-bobbing and the smiles on the faces of the guitarists and Gumby the drummer….they just look like they’re enjoying it immensely and that is fun to watch too. I think it’s called synergy. And pure artistry. Fantastic.

Kaavish

Another band I know nothing about, but I just fell in love with the softness of this song. It’s more a lullaby, really. And another song I couldn’t stop singing to myself….

Beautifully rendered. Here’s ‘Nindiya re’….

Hope you enjoyed the various sounds folks. That’s a wrap 🙂

p.s Would love to hear from you and know which songs you enjoyed so far this season….

A trip to the North (part-2)

I didn’t divulge too many details in my previous post about the Shigar Fort Residence, where we stayed for the three memorable days we spent in Shigar, because I was saving them for this piece that I’m setting out to write/showcase. The photos should speak for themselves as far as the guesthouse is concerned, but the picture wouldn’t be complete without a historical perspective. So here goes…

”The original Shigar Fort Palace was known as Fong-Khar, which in the local Balti language means, ‘Palace on the Rock’. Raised on a rocky pinnacle at the foot of the Karakoram Mountains, a part of the Himalaya, it was built in the early 17th century by Raja Hassan Khan, the 20th ruler of the Amacha Dynasty. It remained the home for 33 generations of the Amacha Dynasty until the latter day Rajas lost their wealth and grandeur and the Palace started to fall into disrepair.

pictures on a wall of restorative work in progress…

It was not until the mid 20th century that the Amacha family finally abandoned their ancient home, electing to build a modern palace in a more accessible position. In 1999, the reigning Raja of Shigar, Sahib Mohammad Ali Shah Saba, bequeathed the Fort to the people of Baltistan, while the Aga Khan Trust for Culture undertook the daunting task of restoring it. After five years of painstakingly researched traditional construction and embellishment, and at a cost of $1.4 million USD, the Fort was finally restored to its former glory; every detail of its architecture and decoration having been reconstructed as an exact copy of the original.

 

the main building

 

Thanks to the AKTC, the local community only stands to gain from the promotion of tourism. Using local labour and skills generates income within the people of Shigar and facilitates their training and education in the tourism industry.

But the best thing that could happen is that the reincarnated hotel has set an example for a novel form of tourism (in Pakistan at least) where the appreciation for a living culture has been beautifully juxtaposed with the preservation of an ancient heritage, since it doubles as both a museum AND a luxury hotel. Past meets present amid the creature comforts of a modern world.

 

the entrance area with the souvenir shop

 

 

the facade

 

 

The rock on which Fong Khar is based...it goes down 50 feet into the ground. Massive.

 

 

Huz and Shabbir, the Karachi-educated, Balti Sufi tour guide (on the right)

 

We were given a grand tour by a polite and friendly guide by the name of Shabbir. He was a local Balti, but we were surprised to learn that we had something in common with him as he had lived in Karachi for some time when he went to college there. His job here was to show us around the main heritage building and talk to us about history, religion, the architecture of Fong-Khar and the art and craft that embellished it. Huz was fascinated to learn that Shabbir was a practising Sufi, and that most of the local people upheld a Naqshbandi Sufic belief system.

 

the outdoor barbecue area, with seating under grapevines

 

 

inside the heritage building

 

 

the museum part of the heritage building

 

 

 

detail of some fine wood carving on a beam

 

 

a room fit for a Raja

 

 

a royal view...from the palace balcony.

 

 

Amu reported a significant drop in temperature after entering the massive trunk of this 400-yr old maple tree, one of the main features of the garden. there are 4 people standing inside!

 

 

the kids (and the grownups) had a BRILLIANT time picking cherries in the palace cherry orchard!

 

 

Poplars....they were everywhere!

 

 

clover shelves...

 

 

Amu and the...lilies..?..irises..? Anyways, they matched beautifully 🙂

 

 

the converted barn/stable...now a quaint restaurant

 

 

we explored every inch of the place, and as you can probably tell, we THRIVED in this idyll 🙂

 

 

...and welcomed the surprise evening drizzle and accompanying chill with the joy experienced only by those who have escaped the brutal summer of Karachi....:)

 

(All the pictures have been taken by me, the author of this blog)

A trip to the North (part-1)

Last summer(May-June ’09) we took a trip up north with my cousin Sheroo+hubby and kids. First stop was Islamabad, and from there onwards to the Shigar valley in Baltistan (Land of Mountains)

But first we had to cross the ruggedly majestic mountain ranges, in the little PIA plane….

eye level with the Karakoram Range, an arm extension of the Himalayan mountains
the roof of the world!

 

finally some green amidst the gray and brown-ness...

 

can you see the runway?

..until we arrived at the valley of Skardu.

We got off the plane awe-struck. Coming from the flat coastal plain of Sindh, mountainous landscape such as we had just witnessed made Sheroo and I a tad weepy at the sheer glory of it all. The Karakoram was, after all, just a stone’s throw away, and we DID happen to be in the neighbourhood of some of the highest peaks of the world.

From the airport we were driven in a small coaster past Skardu, which is the capital of Baltistan, and a major hub for mountaineers on their way to climb K-2 or the Gasherbrums. The road was long, but the landscape was breathtaking and the air was fragrant with the scent of trees. We absorbed everything, while chatting with a Canadian couple and an Austrian man who travelled to Shigar with us.

ta-da! landed safely at Skardu airport.

Huz, just outside the gate of the Shigar fort Hotel.

 

the reception area is a quaint balcony that overlooks some spectacular scenery. we were served a refreshing red sherbet upon arrival.

 

the facade of the main palace building, that houses the heritage rooms (the king, the queen, the princes and the princesses) and the museum of artefacts

the view from our rooms; a 'bara-dari' with marble bases dating back to a long time ago. so peaceful.

 

The Shigar Fort Hotel turned out to be as beautiful as we had expected, but eager to start exploring the surroundings, we walked down to the village to see for ourselves the girls school set up by Greg Mortensen (of ‘Three Cups of Tea’ fame). We were followed by little local kids. They were beautiful and rosy-cheeked, an endearing combination of friendly yet shy.

cute lil Balti girl, who was jogging downhill with her brother on her back 🙂 i asked if i could take her picture and she smiled shyly and agreed, but then asked for some money! "paisa de do" she said. so i gave her 5 rupees.

 

marching down to the village...
some of the village girls, giggling at us, wondering what we were doing in their school
in the wheatfields of the valley of Shigar..

 

When we returned, it was too dark to really explore the hotel, so we freshened up, had a nice dinner in the quaint hotel restaurant (a converted horse stable), absorbed the refreshing chill of our first night in Shigar, and went to bed soon after.

The next day we walked down to the river. It was a good long walk, but the kids were sporty about it. Over the bridge….

Gulabpur bridge. (yes! it had a name!)
Amu and Sal walking carefully down to the water's edge.

 

….and under the bridge ran the silt-laden river, glacial water straight off the surrounding mountains. Painfully cold.

The expedition was followed up by lunch in a village restaurant that was largely non-operational due to the fact that it wasn’t tourist season yet. But they managed to conjure up some chicken curry and daal and mixed vegetables for us. We munched cookies while we waited, and didn’t forget to share some with the little village kids who seemed to have adopted us for the day.

It can’t go on…but it does.

Around three and a half years ago, we moved out of a densely populated apartment building near a road that was rapidly becoming a major thoroughfare, into a building with far fewer apartments and in an area which (at the time we were house-hunting) seemed relatively far more peaceful. There was a park with a decent walking track close by, and more wonderfully, a cricket stadium bang in front that afforded not just a verdant view, but also a feeling of expansiveness in a city fast losing its open spaces.

the view from the balcony.

The only jarring element in an otherwise tolerable landscape was the presence of the Mazaar on the other side of the stadium, the final resting place of Abdullah Shah Ghazi and the scene of much frenetic activity. Considering that it is a landmark of our city-by-the-sea, a foreign visitor might be surprised that it isn’t…well…prettier. Let’s just face it, shall we? A squarish building atop a small hill, covered in geometrically placed blue and white tiles, topped by a pistachio green dome and a fibreglass-awning covered flight of steps leading up to it, isn’t what you’d call aesthetically pleasing. Especially when compared to the more magnificent Mughal-era monuments gracing old Lahore. Would a discreet face-lift hurt anyone?

the Mazaar, post suicide bombing, still intact.

The first night we spent after moving in unfortunately coincided with the Urs of Abdullah Shah, and we found ourselves unable to sleep till around four a.m due to the raucuousness of devotional songs blaring out over the loudspeakers and the beating of clamorous dhols all night long, and we couldn’t help wondering what we had let ourselves in for. The area didn’t seem all that peaceful after all.

the yellow-clad drum beaters.

But the next day was much quieter, and we gradually got used to the Thursday and Friday night crowds and noise and the visitors from far-off rural areas camping out on the sidewalks around the park with their portable stoves and babies, giving us a glimpse of the masses who came to pray fervently at the shrine in their hordes, within the precincts of posh Karachi.

Every day I work in my kitchen (the balcony of which overlooks the Mazaar) to the lively sounds emanating from there. Until we install sound-proof windows, we might as well live with this background music in our lives, occasionally drowning it out with some of our own playlists of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Norah Jones, Dire Straits or Chris Rea.

Over the course of the last few years, when homegrown terrorism has swallowed up people and regurgitated suicide bombers, we have as a nation witnessed innumerable terrorist attacks, whether it was girls schools being blown up, religious processions, military or police infrastructure, political rallies, and most astoundingly (in an Islamic Republic) mosques and shrines. The Data Darbar incident was shocking and appalling, but ultimately not very surprising if we stop to think about the growing intolerance within the ranks of the more fundamentalist amongst us (and I do mean the T-word).

However, these were events unfolding in the newspapers and the tv screen, remote events, happening in some other part of the country, some other part of the city. So when the first blast reverberated with a frightening loudness on that fateful 7th October Thursday evening, I jumped out of my skin thinking maybe the building roof just caved in. We stumbled out of various rooms, Huz, Amu and I, bewildered, and more than a little scared. We headed for the balcony door, dragged it open and looked out for clues to what might have transpired outside. Nothing was immediately visible, except a bit of smoke near the Mazaar and the loudspeaker noise seemed to be replaced by muffled sounds of wailing and fear. Within a couple of minutes, as we stared at the area in front of the shrine, there was a strange flash of light followed by a tremendous second explosion, that shook us to the core and made Fuzzy dash for cover under the bed. That was when we realised this was definitely not a transformer explosion or an unusually loud truck tyre bursting.

Miraculously, the doors and windows survived the bombs. No such luck, unfortunately, for the swarm of people gathered at the Mazaar to pray to the saint who preached love and peace and tolerance fourteen hundred years ago in Raja Dahir’s Sind.

Ironically, though merely yards away from the scene of the crime, we relied on television and the news networks to show us what was happening just outside. At the same time, concerned messages were pouring in on our cell phones (and our Facebook walls) and friends and family tried frantically to get through to see if we were okay and safe. We often use the Mazaar-route to come home, and I had been planning a grocery trip in the evening that would have required me to drive by that road. Later we learned that at least eight people had lost their lives and many others had been injured.

Soon enough, the immediate shock wore itself out, the dead and injured were carted away, the entire area was cordoned off, traffic was diverted, and all fell eerily silent around the Mazaar. No drums, and no more devotional music tonight. It had never been this quiet in all the years that we have lived here and it felt surreal to be standing in my  kitchen, chopping onions to cook something for dinner, when just a few turns of the clock earlier there had been decapitated bodies and limbs strewn over the streets…so very close to home.

the view from my kitchen.

But that, my friend, is how life moves on in our violent city, where the next day the maid turns up to inform us that two children from the eight people that were killed in the suicide attack, were in fact, her next door neighbours in Neelum Colony, a ghetto of Seraiki-speakers, a large number of whom can count on a free meal that is a regular feature of the nearby shrine.

Flooded!

You’d think I’d have more serious things on my mind than what to do with my hair. As if Pakistan isn’t going through a worse disaster than the 2005 tsunami and the Kashmir and Haiti earthquakes all put together. As if millions of people haven’t been displaced, rendered homeless, and left to the mercy of nature….and the government.

Muzaffargarh

The thing is, we’re staggered by the scale of this new devastation, now that the truth has hit home, and we’re at a loss and feeling puny. Disbelief has been replaced by despair, a feeling acutely compounded by the mis-actions of our president. Much has been said about his jaunt abroad, Cheshire cat grin in place. I for one, am dumbfounded by his speeches and his behaviour. His bereavement over Benazir has always seemed disingenuous, and so now does his concern for the well-being of his countrymen. He is a liar and a joker. Perhaps a clever joker. After all, he has amassed wealth that has not even been assessed. It infuriates me that he owns a chateau in Normandy. He should be made to sell it, and all his other homes, and use the money to help the people of his country.

As if that’ll happen.

Anyways, there seem to be a lot of organisations working towards getting relief supplies across to the flood affectees. Huz and I donated some money to my neighbour, who was collecting along with a bunch of friends, though I felt it wasn’t enough, we definitely need to do more, and surely enough, more independent groups are presenting themselves as trustworthy avenues for getting help across directly to the affected. The trouble is, it is the month of Ramazan, when communal dues and zakat must be given, not to mention help those of the poor in direct connection to us….like my maid Zahooran. So there’s only so much that can go around. Rising inflation has hit us all, but especially the poor, who struggle to make ends meet as it is, and I know Zahooran waits all year for this time when she can count on me being more generous than usual.

But after reading the papers today, another horrifying scenario is rearing its head. Famine.

They’re saying prices of fresh produce are going to go through the roof, as supply starts dwindling. And of course it will…..huge swathes of standing crops and farmland have been inundated.

Zahooran tells me worriedly, that even after the water recedes, the land will be waterlogged and rendered useless for a long time. It will be uncultivable and she knows this because her family back home does ‘khaiti bari’ in Riyasat Bahawalpur. And I cannot even begin to comprehend how the farmers and their families are going to deal with something like this, let alone us city people who depend on the rural people to provide us with what they grow. What the f*** are we going to do??

For now I intend to gather together another carton of rations to donate to the flood relief effort organised by KGS middle school. It seems some of the staff is going to go along with the donated goods in a big truck and distribute the food and medicines themselves, which is just great. But at the end of the day, I know I’ll be sleeping in a dry comfy bed, and my heart goes out to those millions of people for whom even the basics of human living are now an unimaginable luxury…

If prayers would work I’d pray, but I think what is called for now is extreme generosity. To hell with donor fatigue. We can’t just sit around and feel horrified and helpless. We have to help as much as we can! And we have to keep helping relentlessly.

the displaced.