Posted by Mahim Maher
Updates: Saturday 8:44am - Army chief votes
It has never been seen on TV before: the chief of Pakistan's army, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, has just come to an ordinary polling station NA 54 and cast his vote. He could have done it by postal ballot, but as Geo TV reported, he chose to come out in public to do his duty. He was the first to do it at this polling station.
This sends the clear message that the army wants to see the democratic process continue smoothly. It is to President Asif Ali Zardari's credit that he kept his government together for five years. After being dismissed before it completed its term twice before, the PPP, Benazir Bhutto's party, wrapped up its five year tenure a month or so ago.
America and indeed the world is expected to closely watch the Pakistani elections today, May 11, 2013 Saturday. For me this is the biggest election yet simply because of the difference Twitter, Facebook and text messaging has been making in the run-up. As I write this Geo TV, a major Urdu news channel, has started its all-night transmission. Analysts and reporters are talking about what they think will happen. The buzz word this year is Naya Pakistan or New Pakistan.
If I were to tell you about the single most important and visible change I would have to mention Imran Khan. He was our face of cricket on the world stage and has returned to the public sphere with his political party - Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (The Pakistan Movement for Justice). The ladies love him and from what little I've been hearing, they are all getting dressed up to go out and vote for him. I expect the PTI to win big for two reasons. Imran has been talking about people voting for candidates who make sense and not, as has been the tradition, voting for your feudal landlord, your clansmen/tribe or your ethnic or religious group. Imran has also harnessed Pakistan's youth.
Just to give you a little idea. There are 86m voters out of which about 16m are between 18 and 25 years of age. If you take it to 35 years, the number grows to 40m. The election campaigning has not, however, been as robust as one would have hoped simply because the Taliban have been bombing everyone. Just a day ago the former prime minister's son was kidnapped at a corner meeting in Multan. News has just rolled in that the elections have been postponed in one constituency up north as militants just launched an attack. Benazir's son Bilawal has been forced to give video addresses because of security fears and a string of daily bombings in Karachi meant that no party really held the kind of rallies that usually colour a campaign.
The people have so far been disillusioned by the PPP, the party Benazir Bhutto brought to power through a largely sympathy vote in 2008. The party was led by her husband and had five years to prove itself. But given unemployment, inflation and terrorism, people are not likely to give them as much of a mandate. It is worth noting, as my friend Gulraiz Khan pointed out, no one has been campaigning on an outward-looking tack as such. Kashmir has hardly been mentioned. Neither has India. Forget Afghanistan. Politicians have been focused on domestic issues by and large.
These are the 10th parliamentary elections in Pakistan's 65-year history, half of which was dominated by the military in the driving seat while the rest of the country fell by the wayside. Still, people are feeling hopeful after a decade of bloodshed post-9/11. Pakistanis have paid a price for their own interpretation of the events of that day and the way the world wanted it to act. Still, the good news is that Pew did some research and this is what they found: "For the first time since the Pew Research Centre began polling on these issues, the Taliban is essentially considered as big a threat to Pakistan as longtime rival India."
Voting will be challenging for many areas. In the more conservative parts of the country, women can forget about it. Many more people simply don't have the ID cards to do it. In other places there will be corruption and violence. One of the tricks is to scare of voters as they approach the polling station by firing at them. Usually works. Other more devious types will cast your vote for you ahead of time. You arrive at the polling station only to be told that you shouldn't have bothered.
However, the good news is that the Election Commission of Pakistan is headed by one of our most honest retired judges. Also, they have been trying their best to get the message out, use technology to do it and ensure that there is as little fraud as possible. So, Pakistanis could text in to the number 8300 their computerised national identity card number and the ECP would text back the constituency and location of the polling station. It also has a mechanism in place to deal with fake votes. If you arrive and find that your vote has already been cast you can complain, put your fresh ballot in an envelope that will be sealed and cast it. All of this will be noted down.
Exit polls will also be conducted by Gallup. But after polling ends, we are expecting rough results by about 7pm. Official results come much later.
If you want to follow the updates here are a few websites that are recommended:
http://dawn.com/elections-2013/ (very jazzy, chock full of info/background)
http://elections.tribune.com.pk/ (my newspaper's clean guide)
http://www.ptvworldnews.com.pk/livestreaming.asp (if you can get it, PTV World is our only channel in English)
http://www.pakvotes.com/ (excellent map and breakdown) live.geo.tv/ (In Urdu, but will give you an idea of what it is looking like)
I will be filing tomorrow as many updates as possible...
5.10.13 at 12:52 pm | These elections are important for Americans too
3.29.13 at 7:51 am | It's known as a violent city - but that isn't the. . .
3.25.13 at 12:49 am | The first democratically elected govt hands over. . .
2.23.13 at 12:36 am | Banned outfit takes responsibility for bombings
1.6.13 at 6:32 am | The Express Tribune looks at the synagogues and. . .
12.26.12 at 10:21 pm | And we still don’t know who killed her
7.9.11 at 6:39 pm | The journey of belief (38)
3.18.12 at 3:19 am | Much more binds Jews and Muslims than they think (16)
5.10.13 at 12:52 pm | These elections are important for Americans too (15)
March 29, 2013 | 7:51 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
At the Quetta Press Club's cavernous general secretary's room a relaxed senior reporter SZ explains how they actually like to kill people there:
"You see, we have a counter at the airport arrivals lounge," he says with a twinkle in his eye. "And as soon as you enter we check out if you LOOK Punjabi, pull the gun out of the drawer and... " He cocks his thumb and fires his index finger.
"No... no... wait!" interjects another senior reporter SS. "We don't wait till they come into the arrival lounge, we pick them off as soon as they get OFF the plane."
A round of guffaws circles the room.
I am more than familiar with the dark humour that develops over time in a city that the outside world has given a reputation more soiled than a brothel bed sheet. (Please note that I did not say 'earned' a reputation). The jokes highlight the absurdity of the way Quetta is perceived.
SZ had launched into the airport joke as he was telling us about an outsider Punjabi reporter who had refused to come to Quetta for a meeting of journalists because he thought that he would be instantly killed. As someone from Karachi, which has a reputation that competes with Quetta's as a bloody city, I am more than familiar with people's irrational fears about their security.
It was thus with great pleasure that I went on a romp to discover the real Quetta this Wednesday and Thursday.
Women, what women?
I was invited by the Women Media Center's Fauzia Shaheen to help give young Quetta women journalists and mass communication students some tips on how to cover an election. Yes, I know what you are thinking: women journalists and Balochistan cannot be used in the same sentence. Indeed, there are only two women reporters working in television channels in all of Balochistan: Seema Kanwal (Dunya) and Saadia Jehangir (SAMAA TV). But there are plenty of other women in print and many aspiring reporters. The only problem is that they are not necessarily that visible as they work in the Urdu or vernacular press, which excludes them from the mainstream English-medium visibility. Indeed as we got into our session I had invited reporter ZB from my newspaper, The Express Tribune, to come have a chat with them and Hashim Kakar from The News was also present. Both men remarked that they had never seen so many women journalists and mass communication students in one place before.
And thus it was delightful for me to be able to go around the city and actually get a first person feel for the place. I went with an open mind and was rewarded. Naturally, just like any city in the world Quetta has its troubled spots and yes, I do not want to suggest for a second that it is not faced with some extreme challenges from terrorists and death squads. I do not want to belittle the grief of the Hazaras of Quetta. That is a reality and sadly now a part of the city's history, but so is Abbas Town in Karachi. But living in Karachi has taught me one thing: you cannot and should not write off an entire city, its history, culture and people because of the small groups that want to destroy precisely that - its spirit.
And so, I thought I would write about what I saw and heard in Quetta to tell you of the absolutely wonderful time I had there in two days and that I would return there whenever I get a chance and no matter how dangerous it becomes.
Quetta is a 1.5-hour tiny plane ride from Karachi and the service is kind of erratic. As soon as I landed and walked out of the small terminal I was stunned by the quiet peacefulness of the airport that is ringed on one side by the hills. When you exit the Karachi airport, for example, you are instantly hit by the frenzy of the city at the intersection on to Shahrah-e-Faisal. But in Quetta as we trundled down airport road and turned on to Shahrah-e-Zarghun all I could see were dreamy hills in the distance, mud walls the colour of crème caramel and men whizzing by on motorcycles with mittens (more on that later).
Two check posts later I was deposited at the Serena Hotel, which is built like a mud fortress (no large windows) and gives you an unnatural insulation from the outside world. I was warned that it was haunted and should not take a room that overlooks the swimming pool. Fortunately I was on the ground floor.
The entire day was spent with the young women at the Lourdes Hotel on Staff College Road (built by a Britisher, owned once by a Parsi and named after the French, according to the man at the front desk). They still use an old black telephone in the reception area and the tea is cardamom-laced and soul stirring.
Once free from work, my newspaper's reporter ZB took me around to see Quetta. I was told that the Yaseenzais, Kasis and Kurds and Shahwanis were the original tribes of the city and that Quetta - the name - is, according to Robert Jackson, a variation of the Afghan word kot, meaning court-house or fort. I think that Sir Charles Napier was a scoundrel and a racist and ethnicist and imperialist but it was interesting to read that he once bitterly said that when God made the world He shot all the rubbish into Balochistan because the landscape is wild, stony and infertile.
Liaquat bazaar: earthquakes and mandirs
We started in Liaquat bazaar, which is a delightful area because you park your car and walk around in streets built exactly for walking. We dropped in to Arya Samaj mandir, chatted with Ravi Kumar there who showed us around inside. There is a spectacular wall of deities and the Shiva Linga (mark or symbol of the Lord Shiva) on the regenerative properties of Nature. I was struck how, unlike the Swami Narayan Mandir in Karachi, this one was closed. A new community hall is being built in the centre and to the left there is also a space for the Sikhs. We chatted with Rana Singh, a severe-looking Sikh devotee, with a theatric turban and lean frame. The general consensus was that there were about 500 Hindu families in Quetta and there was a slow drip of exits to India.
Back outside in Liaquat bazaar we wove in and out of the streets. It is here that you can see the old houses of Quetta with their clever ventilation systems. "They help with the smell from the gas heaters as well," ZB explained. "But a lot of these old houses are empty now and this is prime property." Negotiations are going on these days between the owners and shopping plaza builders. Soon this heritage will disappear.
For the most part in this area the old houses are limited to the ground floor. This rule was made after the 1935 earthquake which has been written about in detail by Robert Jackson in his book 'Thirty Seconds at Quetta; the story of an earthquake' (published by Sohail Ahmad and Rohail Ahmad, 2002). Thirty thousand people died that day in what was then the largest garrison town in India with 12,000 soldiers.
Later in the Express News office, which is also old style, the reporters joked about how if there were an earthquake again they would all die because the old style of architecture has gone. "The houses used to be made of gatta and teen," said senior reporter IR. "So if there was a quake and the roof fell it wouldn't crush you." Not like the anti-seismic cement and concrete and girder system used today.
I didn’t notice them at first, but as ZB and I walked around Liaquat bazaar I started doing double takes on the motorcycles. “Oh, those,” said ZB. “They are dastanay.” Gloves. The ingenious Quetta residents have attached mittens, often felt lined, to their motorcycle handlebars to protect their hands against the cold. They cost about Rs120 a piece.
It was poetically ironic that I came across Shinney in the bazaar. I dare you to try and eat them if you go to Quetta. The tiny alien-green coloured balls are sold on thellas in the market. They are stored in glass aquariums and big glass jars. They cost about Rs80 a pao and come from Afghanistan and are cultivated locally too. You don't eat the green surface but crack the 'nut' to get to the meat inside which is sweet. But I gotta say, while it tasted great, it was too much hard work. How ironic, I thought, so much like Quetta, hard on the outside but sweet on the inside.
I was told that Quetta was built for 50,000 people but now has 2.5 million inhabitants. The 1980s brought an influx of Afghan refugees and that put pressure on the housing market. The telltale signs of a city straining at the seams are beginning to show - the first being its car population. There is no proper parking system in Quetta.
But I was delighted to note that whoever built its footpaths knew what they were talking about. On main Jinnah Road especially, I noticed that they were just the right height and sloped at the end to enable wheelchair access. And just in case you were wondering, of whatever I saw of Quetta, I have to say it is a superbly clean city. I didn't see a lot of people wearing trousers but I have to say the men look much more handsome in their full-pleated shalwars and headgear; it gives them much more character.
Dinner - the Lehri magic
It takes 3.5 hours for Sajji to cook and damn it tastes fine afterwards. Meet Kamran Lehri, one of the brothers Lehri, who own Quetta's best Sajji joint. His father Haji Amanullah Lehri started the business in 1973 and they are looking to expand today. "We just rub salt in," he told me in the Prince Road original outlet when I asked him what made their sajji the best.
Before I left Quetta I blew a month's salary on a Balochi frock and embroidered neck pieces. Much of my enthusiasm can be misplaced, I understand, for I am not that stupid to assume that I can know Quetta in just 24 hours. But doesn't it say something about the city that it won me over in less than a day despite everything I had heard and read about it?
March 25, 2013 | 12:49 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Elections are scheduled to take place in Pakistan - one of the world's most troubled democracies - on May 11.
A little over 85 million people are registered to vote. The largest chunk, 20%, is the 31-40 year group.
The world is watching.
On Sunday, the caretaker prime minister's name was announced: a retired judge, Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. This choice is significant because the politicians could not agree on it unanimously and had to give the list of nominees to the election commission to finalise. Khoso is from our most ignored province/state, Balochistan.
Khoso will, as my newspaper The Express Tribune put it, over see "the first democratic transition of power in a country which has seen three military coups and four military rulers" in its 66-year history.
Indeed, the day the caretaker PM was announced, a former military dictator, former president General (retired) Pervez Musharraf, arrived in Karachi to hold a rally. Barely anyone turned up.
It promises to be an exciting time for journalists. We are all waiting to see how the new election rules will benefit the country. Our chief election commissioner, Justice (retired) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim is an honest man who has battled through to maintain the commission integrity.
The most interesting changes have been made to the nomination papers. Anyone hoping to stand as a candidate has to give their financial history, which will be cross checked by the Federal Board of Revenue, State Bank of Pakistan and National Database and Registration Authority. They will see if the candidate or their dependents has defaulted on loans, taxes or other government dues. Given that corruption has plagued the country and the same faces keep returning, it will be interesting to see how many names are discarded and potential candidates fall by the wayside.
Security is a huge concern for everyone during this election. There are several areas where it is not clear how people will be able to cast their vote. One of them is the southern province of Balochistan where I have heard women's identity cards are kept by their men and they aren't allowed to cast their vote themselves. Similarly, there is my city, Karachi, where spasms of violence run through it depending on which political party is upset. We are also worried about Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where the Taliban are active. Will they let people vote?
The old faces are around but there are new faces too. Here are just a few of the parties to watch (I will be updating this list):
The others are:
I am also worried about how extremist outfits will figure as characters in this election. In particular, I am watching the area in southern Punjab called Jhang. It is from here that Sipah-Sahaba founder Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi's emerged. The Sipah is a militant outfit that targets the Shia minority. It was banned in 2012 but re-emerged under a new name: Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Its new chief Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi may stand this time round.
Reuters has pointed out something important worth mentioning here. "Government finances may also be approaching crisis point," the news agency said on March 18. "In March, the Asian Development Bank said Pakistan has reached a critical balance of payments situation and will need another package from the International Monetary Fund, this time of up to $9 billion, before the end of the year."
February 23, 2013 | 12:36 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
I try not to write about these things because I'm not on the ground reporting. But the news is important for Pakistan and well, for reasons I cannot explain, it was played down in my newspaper and others.
The big news is that the chief of the most violent Sunni outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was detained from his home in Punjab on Feb23. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or Army of Jhangvi takes its name from Haq Nawaz Jhang from Jhang in Punjab. This outfit is linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban. It has been blamed for the kidnapping and beheading of US Journalist Daniel Pearl.
Malik Ishaq is the chief of this outfit that has claimed responsibility for two recent deadly bombings in the city of Quetta (province of Balochistan). Nearly 200 Shia Hazaras died in those attacks. The Hazaras are a minority ethnic group.
After the first bombing, the Shias refused to bury their dead. Social media and the news networks exploded with anger over the government's callousness in dealing with the problem. The provincial or state government was dismissed and Governor Rule was imposed.
But that didn't make any difference as a second bombing took place weeks later, specifically on the 40th day after the first one. Muslims commemorate a death on the 40th day with prayers. It is called the Chehlum.
Balochistan province has long been troubled by a secessionist movement of the indigenous Baloch. The sectarian war in its capital of Quetta is an additional problem. My city of Karachi also suffers from extreme sectarian violence. The two militant outfits are fighting a bloody war of attrition in the south of Pakistan. The Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is pitted against the Shia militant outfits.
It's pretty simple. I don't understand why the government, law enforcement agencies and the courts cannot just convict these terrorists once and for all. The politicians are so scared of them and indeed so are the police that no one takes action against them, writes against them or convicts them. Even the judges are afraid because these killers never forget and never forgive. No one has the courage to deal with this problem. And all those mothers and wives who lost their loved ones, those children who lost their fathers will not forgive us for it.
January 6, 2013 | 6:32 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
My newspaper in Pakistan, The Express Tribune, published this Sunday, Jan 6, 2013, a stellar piece on the Jews of Mumbai. T magazine's editor Zarrar Khuhro commissioned the story 'Where the Crescent meets the Star' that was written by Shai Venkatraman and included some beautiful photographs of Shaare Raason syngagogue and Gates of Mercy syngagogue.
I am sharing here their work, but would urge you to read the whole story online here.
Where the Crescent meets the Star
by Shai Venkatraman for The Express Tribune
With a green kippah, the traditional Jewish cap, on his head, Isaac Talkar cuts a striking figure as he winds his way through the crowded by-lanes of Dongri in the heart of Mumbai city.
Most of Mumbai’s eight Jewish synagogues are located in the Muslim neighbourhoods of Byculla, Mazgaon and Dongri
Eighty-year-old Talkar, a Bene Israeli Jew is heading to the local synagogue, a daily ritual. Dongri, a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in south Mumbai, has been his home from birth.
“I have lived here all my life,” says the retired bank manager.
“My entire family, including my parents and siblings, migrated to Israel thirty-five ago. I have no relatives left here. They kept calling me for a long time but some sort of attachment keeps me here. I want to die in India and be buried here.” (The rest of the story is on the newspaper's website)
December 26, 2012 | 10:21 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
Today all eyes in Pakistan are on Bilawal Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s son, who is expected to launch his political career at a massive gathering in Garhi Khuda Bux – the place where his mother was buried five years ago.
December 27 marks Benazir’s death anniversary. Slowly, as the date approached, billboards started going up across Karachi and wherever I drove BB, as we all refer to her, looked down on us. It still seems unreal.
She was killed shortly after her triumphant return from self-exile in London to Pakistan in 2007. Her homecoming parade from Karachi airport was targeted by twin bomb blasts. Three months later they assassinated her in Liaquat Bagh in the city of Rawalpindi up north.
This time, at least I had thought, after being prime minister twice, BB would have been different. She returned a seasoned politician with a different agenda. But the gun-and-bomb combination ended that speculation.
Given the tide of sentiment over her death – and almost every Pakistani mourned her in some way - her political party swept the 2008 elections soon after and her husband, Asif Zardari, was made president. Bilawal was put in charge of the party, even though he was still in university. Zardari chaired the meetings in his absence. And while it was clarified yesterday that Bilawal would be too young the contest the elections that are around the corner in 2013, he is expected to make some kind of announcements today at the gathering.
Bilawal has spent most of his life outside Pakistan and I hear that his Urdu speech has been written in English lettering. I’m not sure he speaks Sindhi and will be watching to see if he ventures into this linguistic territory.
Benazir Bhutto’s party, the PPP, has for the first time completed a full term in office running the government. It was not as lucky before. In 1986 she returned from exile to lead the PPP in a campaign for fresh elections. In 1988 the PPP won the elections, but she was dismissed as PM by 1990. In 1993, the president and PM at the time resigned under pressure from the military. General elections brought Benazir Bhutto back to power but for a second time her government was dismissed in 1996.
Much of the talk today is about Bilawal’s speech, but I do not expect him to say much aside from some emotional recall of his mother’s sacrifice. He may go over the ‘achievements’ of the PPP government at the federal and provincial levels.
What would have really made an impression and indeed given Bilawal’s career a real ‘debut’ is the disclosure of who killed BB. There have been investigations but till today no one has clarified to the country who was behind her murder. For the PPP government there has been little excuse insofar as they have been in power and could have pursued the matter properly and made it public.
All I can assume from the lack of disclosure is that either the information implicates people/entities they cannot disclose for security reasons or they simply don’t know. I find both scenarios hard to believe. I don’t feel we will ever gain closure until we actually know.
As for the men, women and children on the street and in the neighbourhoods of Pakistan’s cities and villages, conspiracy theory is all they have to go by.
My grandmother told me just yesterday that she was convinced it was an American plot with Jewish/Israeli undertones. I didn’t really have much to counter her theories because no hard facts have been properly brought to light.
I would have hoped that as the PPP government wrapped up its tenure for the first time in history, they would have commemorated her sacrifice by naming her killers.
December 25, 2012 | 12:24 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
My three nephews, aged 1.4, 3 and 5 years, are on school break. Their mother is going out of her mind. “I’ve got to get them out into a green space to run around till they drop,” she said. And then, before I could even perish the thought, she added in a stiff voice: “I don’t want to take them to a mall.”
I started thinking, green spaces, green spaces, green spaces in Karachi. There is a beautiful small park near my house, in fact just a stone’s throw from Benazir Bhutto’s residence, 70 Clifton. I had noticed that its boundary wall had been pulled down and some kind of reconstruction was going on. But every time I passed I couldn’t help but think it was so much better just borderless. A boundary wall and gate deterred people from thinking of entering. And it seemed closed all the time. With nothing between it and the pavement, it was just a lush green expanse. I decided I couldn’t take them there with all the construction material spilling over.
A few weeks ago a non-profit in Karachi that works to save its environment, Shehri-CBE, published an 11kg two-volume exhaustive listing of Karachi’s parks and how they have been taken over the land mafia. Take the example of Huzuri Bagh (bagh being garden), which was six acres in the late 1960s.
Satellite images prove how it was completely constructed over by 2010. “Can you imagine the Central Park in New York allowing citizens build houses over it?” asked Shehri’s Roland deSouza at the launch of the book which was covered by The Express Tribune reporter Rabia Ali on my desk.
To give you an idea of how parks have shrunk I’ll give you the example of the neighbourhood of North Nazimabad that is one of Karachi’s few well-planned schemes, dating to 1953. Five decades have passed but the proportion of parks to layout has not gone up in line with the population growth. It has dropped from 4.48% to 4.26%. This area was meant to accommodate a population of 71,244 people but now has 0.2 million people. (Classification and Standardization of Parks North Nazimabad Town - Karachi, Pakistan in the Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 3(2): 853-865, 2009).
I was in London over the summer with my sister and she kept exclaiming in amazement how there was a park every two blocks or so. There was no entry fee either. And they were kept clean and green by municipal staff.
But it would be unfair not to mention one park in Karachi. Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim near the sea front and Lady Lloyd Pier in Karachi is still a good space. It is spread over 130 acres and is beautifully landscaped but every time I’ve gone there it has felt kind of fake. I suppose I like rough, overgrown and natural greenery. Still, this park is amazing for the inner city kids and large families who can’t afford to pay to enter other entertainment spaces like the cinema. They often head there in the hot summer nights to catch a bit of the sea breeze. It’s a safe space and only families or couples are allowed to enter, no stags. But it’s not enough.
Neighbourhood parks just don’t have enough for children. They are not well maintained and in some cases have been taken over by drug users, rag pickers and the homeless.
But I had to take my nephews somewhere. A little research revealed the University of Karachi botanical garden. My sister’s face lit up. Biscuits were packed, water bottles filled and mosquito repellent was applied. The botanical garden is open for vistiors 4pm to 7pm Mondays and Thursdays. It is located off university road just after NED university and has a gate of its own. There isn’t much parking space, but as we discovered, not a lot of people actually go there. Aside from one decent greenhouse, the rest of the botanical garden was quite disappointing. A broken air conditioner wheezed in the alpine house where a few weeds straggled. I couldn’t find the pond the man at the gate had pointed to vaguely.
Still, my nephews had a good romp. They rolled down the hill, which amused them to no end. They had to be wrenched away from the cactus. They drew a few fronds much to the delight of their mother. Next we plan to take them to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum, which is set in a huge space in the center of the city. Safari Park offers a train ride to a zoo enclosure. The Karachi Zoo is also on the list. There might not be enough out there but for whatever it is worth, we’re going to hit them all.
October 13, 2012 | 2:02 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
This year I paid tribute to Daniel Pearl by simply putting my pen down and listening to the music.
Arieb Azhar and Noori came to perform for the annual Daniel Pearl Music Day at the US consulate in Karachi and as usual, I was invited, not just because of my special connection as a Daniel Pearl fellow from 2008 but also because I am the city editor of The Express Tribune in Karachi. We cover the event each year.
This year I was worried about the headline because I didn’t feel I could possibly top ‘Music circles the earth one more time for Daniel Pearl’ from last year. The setting was the same too, at the residence of the consul general, a wide colonial estate off millionaire’s row. I did not want to watch the photo-op unfold with the consul general, listen to the banal questions. I wanted to feel something.
The evening started with the usual security checks that make airport security look like cake. It always saddens me that the Daniel Pearl Music Days have to be held on an invite-only basis. A small group of select school children are brought in their Sunday best. There is stiff talk for a bit because of the awkwardness of interacting with the Americans (there aren’t many white people left in Karachi). There always seem to be more journalists than young kids who should be the ones to remember Daniel Pearl.
(It seemed really odd when a few journalists posed with Consul General Michael Dodman, even though they didn’t even ask him any questions. That seemed to completely defeat the purpose of the evening). I understand the security concerns because really, the conditions out there are not good and I’ll be the first one to be honest about it. But I hope I see in my lifetime a day when the Daniel Pearl Music Day concert is open to the young people of Karachi, in National Stadium. It should be one of the events of the year and something that all young people, rich or poor, look forward to. It should be a day to reflect and renew vows.
So, it is usually with a heavy heart that I go to the music days. Tonight was no exception. I had heard Arieb Azhar sing before and indeed, him and Noori were really good choices for this year. Arieb has soul, he tinkers with folk classics. His work has the flavour of his travels. Noori I had not heard live before, but I knew from some songs that they had that sexy, soulful, rock feel to them. When it all looked the same, except of course for the new faces at the consulate which has a high turnover, I decided that the best thing to do was just listen. And listen I did.
I tried to hear for something imperceptible, the feeling perhaps of sitting with a soul long gone. What is that thing that falls between mourning and memory – we mourn a loss, but if I did not know Daniel Pearl what kind of mourning is that, if I did not ‘have’ him in my life? What if his arrival in my life came after his death; it is as if you mourn an entity that hovers as a spirit. I’m aware that this may sound wrought but since 2008 I have been trying to give a name to my fluid relationship with Daniel Pearl. It changes each year as the music plays.
This year, the music did something. Almost. The Sufi songs that Arieb chose, Dam mast Qalandar in particular, is one of my favourites because it invokes Ali (RA), the reason for that ecstatic (ekstasis as in out-of-body) form of Islam that is Shi’ism. I associate Ali with love and pain together – he was slain too. He is remembered too each year.
As the music warmed up and Arieb got a dhammal-esque reaction from the crowd of youngsters, I began to see glimmers of what I wanted from the evening. I wanted to see the young people enjoy themselves in Daniel Pearl’s name. We have such few live acts in Karachi that an entire generation has been deprived of a really simple joy in life: to enjoy music and dance with each other. (Yes, it happens at weddings, but that is mostly choreographed)
I was disappointed that Danny’s face was nowhere to be seen this evening. Last year they had put up a wall of all the photos of journalists who had been killed in Pakistan along with his. They had also played a video message from Ruth and Judea Pearl, which I felt was extremely important. Knowing his parents, seeing them, makes their son more real for us. By the time Noori made it to the stage the crowd had been warmed up. And the kids love Noori. Hell, I have a crush on one of their singers now (I don’t know his name or really care for it). They really rocked the stage, strutted about, sweated out the songs. Arms were in the air, the consulate’s Richard Silver was gyrating, the ladies were swaying. The kids were calling back, shouting out for more numbers. I could feel the bass and drums thump, thump through the speakers. Everyone was laughing, cheering, you couldn’t tell the Americans from the Pakistanis as their bodies blurred.
And just as I began to really love the music, that part where it hits the sweet spot and makes everything alright in the world, Daniel Pearl came back to me. The memory surfaced there, a non-memory of a memory, forged out of nothingness. A sliver of pain that I can’t even call my own. There, just a stone’s throw from the Sheraton hotel, that place where he was being kept, I think. I keep going back to that in my imagination. It confuses me because I keep thinking about Karachi, which I love so much and how his history is inextricably tied to its. So many Americans just know this city because of him. To pour music into it, even if just for a few hours, makes me wonder. Can the beat, the heartbeat, echo?