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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The post I wish I hadn't had to write

Being in Dhaka for an FK Partnership meeting provided me with a chance to spend time with Ragni, now at her first job (at Drik) after graduation. Except for the two meeting days, for which I moved into the hotel where the event was held, I am living in a room next to her, provided to me courtesy Pathshala.

The post I'd planned to write was going to be gossipy and funny ... but that will have to wait, now.

For almost 4 days I have watched Ragni bravely handle the suspense of her college friend, Dora Magrath, missing from her home. Dora and Ragni had lived in the same house at Hampshire College and were good friends.

Ragni kept logging on to all the sites that could possibly provide any updates ... but little was heard. I watched Dora's YouTube videos - especially the one of her singing Amazing Grace - marveling at her wonderful voice and adoring her sweet smile.

My heart went out to Linda, Dora's mom about whom Ragni had spoken to us. I spoke to Nuzhat about Dora and we both hoped and prayed that Dora would be home, safe and sound, soon. Tonight we returned after dinner and, exhausted, Ragni fell asleep in my room. I wrote the post about Pakistan's YouTube fiasco and then searched on the Net for Dora again.

No news. Five days! The car she was in hadn't been found. That gave us hope and, as many felt, reduced the chances of foul play.

I read and re-read Dora's words on her MySpace page:
I do not want to be a product. I do not want to sell my pretty face to sell a record. I want to play my music, to be a constant student, to live my life the way I want. And if that means that I need to have a day job, and maybe a high-paying night job a couple nights a week, then so be it. I’m tired of seeing every musician turn themselves into a product, into something smooth and glossy that everyone will automatically “love.” I don’t want to smooth out the rough edges, I don’t want to make myself into something or some one that moves with the tide. I want to own one wave, own the bubbles and the rough edges and the swooshing of that one wave and know that I move with it, move like it, because I wish, not because I can gain the whole ocean from it.
I found a CD of hers on a website. Downloadable ... but through PayPal, a sevice not accessible from here. Among her musical influences, she'd cited my favourite jazz singer of all time: Billie Holiday. Yes, I thought. Dora would ...

Once again I logged on to Steve Huff's Dora Magrath page for updates, more links, and another run of the Amazing Grace video, which I downloaded to play for Ragni when she wakes up. At midnite, just as I was considering going to sleep, Ragni woke up. She logged on to search again, without luck. After all, I'd searched only moments ago.

And, quite suddenly, there it was: Dora was dead!

Dead! An awfully difficult word to speak or write about a 22-year-old. A little kid about whom, only a couple of days ago, I had read this:
Dora Magrath has a superpower. No, she can’t shoot deathrays from her eyes or lead North Korea. She has the ability of making everything disappear around you when she starts singing. This singer-songwriter sounds like a Regina Spektor fed with jazz records. Her amazing voice barely covered by a shy piano just gives me shivers.
It was good that I was with Ragni ... although I am sure I could offer her no real consolation. But loneliness would have made it much worse for her, I guess. It's been over 2 hours since we read the news of Dora's death. While I sit and write this, Ragni is visiting all her old web spaces and talking to friends and reliving those wonderful days and memories of Dora. My mind goes back to the loss of a friend, through suicide, when I was just 16 ... and I realize how inexplicable and confusing life must seem to my daughter.

Dora, I wish I had met you in person. Yet, strangely, you now seem much more than just a collection of photographs and videos and a beautiful voice to me. R.I.P., child!

Finally, here's Dora ... in her own words.


Update March 3, 2008:

I am leaving Dhaka today, for home. Being with Ragni - free of most interferences - has been an experience quite different from what I had imagined.

Over the last few days, despite the fact that at my age I have had to deal with many deaths before, I am trying to come to terms - not just with Dora's death but the inexplicable closeness I feel with her. The more I read about her at various websites and obituaries, the more I hear about her from Ragni and from Dora's friends, the more I realize how special this very wonderful person was IS!

Ragni and her friends have put together a website featuring posts and reminiscences by friends and family as well as links to other sites and blogs that mention Dora. Read her mother's letter and you will be truly inspired by this amazing 22-year-old who has taught me much in this short space of a week.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Apnay hee paer par külhaa∂ee maarna ham say seekho

Here's what one site has to say about the Pak-YouTube Fiasco:

Pakistan removed from the Internet
Posted by Richard Stiennon
Categories: State Sponsored Hacking
Tags: YouTube Inc., Pakistan, Internet, Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

The telecom company that carries most of Pakistan’s traffic, PCCW, has found it necessary to shut Pakistan off from the Internet while they filter out the malicious routes that a Pakistani ISP, PieNet, announced earlier today. Evidently PieNet took this step to enforce a decree from the Pakistani government that ISP’s must block access to YouTube because it was a source of blasphemous content.

I cannot let the irony pass with out commenting. A religious state, Pakistan, identifies a content provider, YouTube, as the source of blasphemous, seditious content and orders, King Canute style, that the Internet tides be stopped. A zealous ISP ignorantly decides the best way to comply with the decree is to re-route all of YouTube’s IP addresses to whatever site they thought was more appropriate. The first repercussion was that YouTube disappeared from the Internet for almost an hour. I suspect the second repercussion was that Pakistan’s Internet access crawled to a halt as all of a sudden they were handling IP requests for one of the busiest sites in the world. As of this writing YouTube has announced more granular routes so that at least in the US they supercede the routes announced by PieNet. The rest of the world is still struggling. So, while working on a fix that will filter out the spurious route announcements, PCCW has found it necessary to shut down Pakistan’s Internet access. The leadership of Pakistan just created a massive Denial of Service on their own country.

I could say: “be careful what you wish for” to those elements that object to free and open access to information and expression of ideas. But to put it in terms they might understand better: Do not anger the Internet gods or you will suffer their wrath!


Many many years ago Aslam Azhar - a friend I admire and respect - as head of PTV, 'allowed' the broadcast of a music show that showed a pop concert and taubah, taubah an audience in which boys and girls actually performed obscene gestures, such as sitting on their seats and waving their arms in the air, in full view of the public. The pure in the land were horrified. After all, this was no simple prank, like the abduction of political opponents, or jirga-ordered rape, or the naked parading of women on the streets by feudal enemies, or enhancing political power and personal wealth by supporting the USA's outsourced torture program whose victims were from countries including Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, and included children as young as seven!!!

'What next?', everyone wondered, with their twin virtues of nationalism and religiosity simultaneously under threat by bared wrists.

A few days later I happened to be visiting Lahore and heard that Aslam was going to be 'put in the docks' by people during a discussion forum at Jang's office. Off I went to hear him defend his promotion of such lewd actions. I shall always remember what he said at one point, rather coolly, during the other side's display of hotness: "In years to come, if we go down the path some people are suggesting," he predicted, "we will not just be a nation that chose a different track, we will be considered - and become - a different species!"

That time, dear Aslam, is fast approaching!!!


30 minutes later

Update and Clarification: PCCW has been identified by Richard Stiennon, above, as "The telecom company that carries most of Pakistan’s traffic". This indicates that other telecom routes may still have remained operative and Pakistan not entirely cut off. While one friend reports successfully accessing the 'Net from his Blackberry from Lahore, a techie from Pakistan has responded to Stiennon's article stating that he is being able to access not just the Internet but, surprisingly, also YouTube from his computer.

That's really confusing.

Can someone put the entire episode into a non-techie jargon and provide a link here?

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Friday, February 22, 2008

The last laugh?

Just got this from a friend in Isloo:

Dear Internet Users

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ( directed all ISPs of the country to block access
to web site for containing blasphemous web content/movies.

The site would remain blocked till further orders from PTA. Meanwhile, Internet users can write to to remove the objectionable web content/movies because this removal would enable
the authorities to order un-blocking of this web site.

Best Regards

Technical Assistance Center
Micronet Broadband Pvt. Ltd.


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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Quo Vadis?

Quo Vadis - the name of one my all-time favourite films - is a Latin term, meaning 'Where are you going?'

The Pakistani nation had, over the years, offered no real answer to this question and was beginning to look more and more like the personification of the title of Wynford Vaughan-Thomas's 'Madly In All Directions' - a delightful phrase that often triggers the image of Escher's famous, albeit totally unconnected, work ('Relativity') reproduced below.

Mirza Ghalib - always a great resource for an apt shayr - gives us one possible reason for this by stating:

Along comes Election 2008 and, suddenly, the nation finds a voice (except where party-hired goondas or the comperes of the show I am now watching on Business Update choose to throttle it). 

Some election! Some result!

However, while it is difficult enough to reach a goal, when the direction is lacking, it is infinitely more difficult if the goal itself has not been identified before starting off. 60+ years have passed and we have yet to reach a consensus on the basic nature of the country. Democratic? Theocratic? Secular? Ideologically an Islamic Republic? Or a Republic that is a homeland for Muslims? All Muslims?

A shayr of my father comes to mind:

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Voting: A Right or A Duty?

"There is no Compulsion in Religion", says the Qur'an ... so should there be one in Voting?

One reason why I have waited until the end of the Election Day to write this is that the responses, if any, will hopefully not be emotionally charged after the event. Another is that the matter has been already discussed in several other fora, including the popular ATP.

Well, I did not vote!

There. I've said it. And with no idiots screaming at me without even listening to my views. (Yes, I do have a point of view!). As I write down my thoughts on the subject, I am aware that some are probably a little more than loud-thinking. A few are well-formed; others continue to hang before me as questions that, perhaps, some of you will help me answer. So, please do comment. A request: Don't just tell me I am wrong, tell me why and where.

The first problem I faced when trying to make up my mind about voting or not was to understand why I was voting. I mean it's not an act in itself that has to be done (unlike defecating) but what the process leads to, na?

So I needed to analyse what the criteria would be for my giving my vote to someone, if I were to cast it at all. It was obvious that it was not the person whose picture appeared on the posters: after all in the case of some of the images on the banners, they were not even of the people who were standing ... for example, MQM's Altaf Hussain ... or PPP's Benazir ... or PML(N)'s Nawaz Sharif).

This meant that I would eventually be casting my vote for the symbol that was assigned to a party or to an independent candidate. Naturally it did not depend upon whether I liked the Icon, itself, but what the party stood for. In other words, I needed to check out their manisfestos. Never mind whether they stood by these in practice; that's another track. At least I wasn't going to vote for someone whose very vision of Pakistan or the shrinking world was the antithesis of mine! So the manifestos, specially in some of the key areas - and on issues important to me - had to be clearly different among the parties.

(When buying a house, one tries to choose the one that most closely meets one's needs ... which is not the same as 'choosing the lesser of the evils', a really stupid idea that seems to have been promoted by idiots! You can alter the house to some extent, later, but what do you do to the corrupt political rep you've placed in power? To use another analogy, when you marry, do you choose a person because s/he is the lesser evil or the best possible match? Is there no difference?)

The manifestos (not all were easily available or, when found, even readable) had to be abandoned for another reason: They were being abandoned by the parties themselves! While coalitions between parties that think somewhat alike are fairly normal in politics, to see almost all the parties align themselves with any and everyone is nothing if not making a mockery of the voters. The PPP strikes a deal with PML(N) nationwide, but supports a PML(Q) candidate in Karachi. PML(N) - despite the ads put into newspapers today by PML(Q)'s Dirty Tricks Department - has decided to go with PPP, but how far? Asif Z has shown his willingness to work with Musharraf (who has been pointed more than one PPP finger at for possible complicity in Benazir's murder) and is anathema to Nawaz and company.

Even more confusing was the course MQM took: Having conveyed the impression, only a couple of days earlier, that they could be allied to the PPP - that's how the press interpreted the MQM statement that it could strike a deal with any secular party - chose to team up with Maulana Fazl-or-Rahman and his obviously secularly named Jamiaté Ulemaé Islam. So whose manifesto would I be voting for, regardless of which candidate I chose? A secular, working, middle class party or a Taleban-supporting mulla and his insatiable greed?

(Somewhere along the line my mind wandered off and I began wondering how supporters of Jamaaté Islami and Tehreeké Insaaf were supposed to perform their duty to vote, if their parties were boycotting the elections. And, if it is the citizens' duty to vote, shouldn't - by extension - boycotting the election also be considered dereliction of duty by a party?)

The biggest source of grief to me is seeing the ease with which the term "free and fair elections' has become acceptable to people. The election of a candidate, to me, implies a whole process and not just the transaction that takes place on the Election Day in a booth. As Muneer Malik explained clearly to his T2F audience, just yesterday, this involves the right people in positions of relevance (EC and other related institutions), an unbiased government, fair acceptance/rejection of candidates, easy and non-coercive access to voting, correct transmission of untampered ballot-boxes to the counting team, an honest count and announcement of results, and a just response to any objections that opponents may raise. If any of these processes are disrupted by someone with vested interests, it would be done with the intent of placing soeone else in the victor's seat than the person the voters had chosen. So, if the process is not 'free and fair', how is it an 'election', at all, and not a 'selection'?

An observation: Contrary to a view that seems to be popular among many, I believe that Elections are not the pre-cursor to Democracy. Elections have been held here before, and elsewhere, by Dictators and Despots ... with no sign of resulting Democracy except for a sham. It is Democracy that creates an environment which, in turn, makes Elections the method by which to place people's representatives at the helm of affairs.

Finally, I come back to the aspect of Voting being a Duty (Farz). Even assuming it is, there's something else to consider: Do the choices (of candidates) being offered really provide you the opportunity to make a satisfactory and sensible decision? Think: If you had to choose a travel companion and all you had to choose between were a murderer and a dacoit, would you not consider postponing the trip?

When duties are assigned, they are not unconditional. They are expected to be performed only if the conditions necessary for their performance are present ... or they can be safely ignored. After all, this applies even to duties assigned in the Qur'an: Surah 5 Ayat 6, for example, assigns Muslims the 'duty' of washing their 'hands' before prayers. Surely a man without arms (or with just one hand) would not be shunning his duties in not following it to the letter. 


"There is no Compulsion in Religion", says the Qur'an ... so should there be one in Voting?

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? (Slightly Spiced for the Local Palate)

Pervez Musharraf - Egged on by NGOs, I bet! [Cluck, cluck.]

Fakhar Imam - Musharraf probably meant "[Qalaq, Qalaq]"

Chaudhry Qazaa-e-Elahi - Jaae kaheeñ ... aana to üsay yañhee hae!

Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman - The other side must've paid more.

Nawaz Sharif - Oye Shabaaaz - Chhaytee kar. Kukkad pakad, tikka banwaa ...

Peerané Peer - Vaqt aanay par sab vaazeh ho jaaega!

Qazi Husain Ahmad - There is no compulsion and she is not answerable to us. As long as she wore the Hijab when crossing, it is entirely her choice.

Imran Khan - [Sigh] Chicks do that.

Jaahil Online Team - Qaza-o-Raza kay masaael mayñ ülajhna hee baykaar hae.

Asif Zardari - Never mind why! Did we get our 10% from the toll tax?

Kamila Shamsie - Dunno Why ... but do know How: The Bird Flu

Head of ISI ("Name withheld by request") - The chicken did not cross the road. This is a complete fabrication. We do not even have a chicken. Probably happened in a 'neighbouring country'...

Manmohan Singh - We have reason to believe it was a 'halaal' chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road to confirm this.

Atta ur Rahman - It wasn't a road, it was a Highway. An eHighway that I built with my own bare hands. The current Government is helping chickens in all villages cross highways. Leghari sahab has been appointed to figure out what they will do once they get to the other side.

Nawabzaadah Nasrullah - What's a chicken?

Everyone's Daadaa Jaan - In my day, we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us that the chicken had crossed the road, and that was good enough.

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