Sunday, December 10, 2017

A subdued festival of lights

Krishna Mandir, Lahore
Lahore’s Diwali ceremony this year was a dismal affair – one that symbolises the struggle of Pakistan’s minorities.

It's Not Funny

Sexual harassment is so common in Pakistan that it is hardly a laughing matter. The Pakistani male is exceptionally privileged in this legal system and our society when it comes to sexual crimes against women. He is also free from the notions of shame and honour that bog women down.

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Scent of the modern woman

The stage play Mushk, presented by Olomopolo Media, is an ode to the modern woman, her newly discovered freedom and her complex take on relationships.

Monday, December 4, 2017

India-Pakistan need a treaty on air pollution

Smog cover Jamia Masjid in Delhi

Lahore is covered in smog — though probably not as much as Delhi — but still extreme enough to cause an increase in road accidents, delay a cricket series with West Indies, shut down schools and stir a storm on social media.

But the Pakistani Punjab government’s explanation for this environmental hazard which is not uncommon in developed and developing countries is very frustrating.  Almost everyone on this side of the border believes the stubble burning in Indian Punjab alone caused this smog.

Yes, NASA images confirm that the recent smog covers in northern India and Pakistan correlated with the burning of the paddy crop in late October.

This explanation hides a policy failure, is simplistic, disempowering and also reeks of a victimhood narrative not uncommon in Pakistan’s establishment.

This isn’t the first time Lahore has had a smog crisis. There was a milder though alarming enough version of it last year around this time. The Lahore High Court asked the Environmental Protection Department to attain air quality monitors and make policy. There is a policy, and the meters for measuring the air quality are also available, but the EPD’s response was slow, not timely.

Hence, blaming a neighboring country and injecting falsities in the popular narrative is as unhealthy as the smog itself.

Why has the Punjab government not focused on green technologies, taxes, incentives, and policies? Did the government make buying or parking cars more expensive while providing cheap and safe public transport available as in the case in the West? Are the emissions from industries, vehicles and rural sites monitored, reported and controlled?

There has to be scientific analysis into how much the crop-burning and coal power plant emissions from India compromise the air in Pakistan. Other factors like deforestation and sand storms from the Middle East may also play a role.

The government in Delhi tried the even-odd policy — a short-term measure, which cannot resolve the smog problem. Similarly, the Pakistan’s Punjab government has made crop and garbage burning illegal now that the province is nearly choked.

Pakistan is also the fastest urbanizsing country in South Asia — with an annual urbanising rate of 3 per cent. UN Population Division estimated that half the country would be living in cities by 2025. Lahore’s population, which is now at seven million, will exceed 10 million by then. Smog has already sabotaged north India and Pakistan, and long-term policies are needed. No city in the world can sustain itself without formulating a clean air policy.
Lahore's iconic Badshahi mosque covered in smog

Lahore’s Orange Line Metro — a mass transit train line that will run across Lahore in 2018 is said to have caused the loss of 2,200 trees in the EIA report. Governments take pride in economic growth, not environmental preservation. Any long-term solution will require development projects to place the environmentalists next to, not far behind, the economists and financial experts.

Pakistani Punjab’s chief minister is the younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who prides himself in good governance, development, and wants to turn Lahore into a modern infrastructural marvel and make Pakistan an ‘Asian Tiger’.

But why does it wait for Allah or India to fix the air pollution caused by this economic growth and industrialisation? Ultimately poor air or water quality and the consequent health emergencies will sabotage the GDP, and the public image of the country.

India and Pakistan should consider signing a new bilateral agreement like the ‘Indus Water Treaty’ but, this time, for air pollution control. One wonderful example of such a treaty is the ‘US-Canada Air Quality Agreement’. This treaty was initially meant to control “transboundary air pollution” and included “emissions limitations” and “reduction of pollutants”.  The two countries were required to cut down sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides to control acid rain. The US has a similar treaty with Mexico since 2012 to reduce the pollution in the borderland.

Lastly, there is a need to empower the farmers in both the countries with the latest technology to stop them from burning the stubble to prepare the lands for the next crop.

India and Pakistan are always at odds with each other. The smog has reminded us that the two countries are connected in more ways than one. Any issues faced by one will spill over into the next quickly. We need to move on from this adolescent stage of blame game and come back to the table.

This article was first published in The Print

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Interview: Kanishka Gupta


“Pakistani writers have come of age”
Kanishka Gupta

Kanishka Gupta is an Indian literary agent who has launched over two dozen Pakistani authors.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Don’t just blame India for the Lahore smog, create India-Pak treaty on air pollution

The smog has reminded us that India and Pakistan are connected in more ways than one.
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“Pakistani writers have come of age”

Kanishka Gupta
Kanishka Gupta is an Indian literary agent who has launched over two dozen Pakistani authors. He talks to me about the publishing world and (of course) Pakistani authors
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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Women in South Asia: United By Harassment

Gurmehar Kaur
If you talk to people from Right-wing parties in Pakistan about Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's first female Prime Minister, chances are they'll have plenty of stories to tell. Most of these stories will be unflattering — centering on her ‘sex life’ from her time at Oxford or on the ‘half-a-dozen men she's had affairs with’. All Bhutto had done to attract this sort of slander was to challenge Islamist military dictator Zia ul-Haq. And as it is with such smear campaigns, there’s little proof or even a loose link to support the claims.

Indeed women in Pakistan are vulnerable to similar kind of threats and slandering as Gurmehar Kaur witnessed recently in India.

Interview: ‘The war on terror hasn’t affected Urdu writing yet’

Musharraf Ali Farooqi
How did the Partition impact you and your family?
The Partition called into question a whole set of values, and the societal consensus among our elders that we could live together and have a normal relationship with people of another faith; a consensus that Hindus and Muslims and people of other religions had for a long time. Once you unlearn the idea on which you formulated society, many other ideas also fall apart. We are paying the price for that in Pakistan today. Its impact will be felt for decades to come.

Tell us something about your Urdu Project.

The Urdu Project is an online project. It is an effort to build basic resources like dictionaries and a thesaurus for proverbs, dictions and idioms in the Urdu language and linking them with classical texts like Dastaan-e-Amir Hamza or Tilism-e-Hoshruba or classical poetry. Parts of Urdu literature have become inaccessible because we cannot understand the language. If you link each word or phrase with a reference link, then it becomes easier to read the text.

Why do you write in English?

Publishing is not a big, flourishing industry when it comes to Urdu literature. If I wrote in Urdu, I wouldn’t be able to sell many books and write fulltime. Also, when I was reading literature very seriously I didn’t have access to Urdu writers. Most of what I read was in English or was translated into English. A certain structure started forming in my mind and sentences would automatically form in English. So, when I sat down to write, I wrote in English.

How has the war on terror affected Urdu literature in Pakistan?
It has not come up that much in Urdu writings and this is something I mentioned at the Lahore Literary Festival. The Urdu language writers and the English language writers are on different tracks. The former write about the concerns of the society and the latter on what has a niche market in the West. If some are interested in writing about the war, fine, but we must ask why it’s not prevalent in Urdu literature.
This interview was first published in Tehelka

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Women in South Asia: United By Harassment

Gurmehar Kaur
If you talk to people from Right-wing parties in Pakistan about Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's first female Prime Minister, chances are they'll have plenty of stories to tell. Most of these stories will be unflattering — centering on her ‘sex life’ from her time at Oxford or on the ‘half-a-dozen men she's had affairs with’. All Bhutto had done to attract this sort of slander was to challenge Islamist military dictator Zia ul-Haq. And as it is with such smear campaigns, there’s little proof or even a loose link to support the claims.


Indeed women in Pakistan are vulnerable to similar kind of threats and slandering as Gurmehar Kaur witnessed recently in India.

Was Benazir Bhutto a victim of the system?

Benazir Bhutto during the 1986 rally in Lahore
Benazir Bhutto was arguably one of the most powerful people in Pakistan. She was Pakistan’s first woman prime minister and the head of its largest political party gunned down by extremists in 2007.

As the world mourned the fifth anniversary of her death yesterday, we look back at her tremendous journey, the successes and failures.

Replug: Hide your condoms Dr Maria Khan is coming

My name is Dr. Khan and I am a morality terrorist. I drop into massage centers with a microphone and the police following me like a puppy. I am so convinced in my pants that I can single-handedly interrogate people who are apparently running a “sex” centre. Don’t you dare tell me that you don’t know what a pregnancy test is because I am a medical doctor, certified to be rude!

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