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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Shards of Memory

Among the books that I almost always have at hand - copies of a couple of them are occasionally spotted in the office, in the car, in the loo, even in my travel bag on long trips - is one called Sarodé Ghalib, a collection of Mirza Sahab's couplets compiled by Yusuf Bukhari Dehlavi. It is indexed by theme/topic - a tricky and never totally 'complete-able' task as people continue to find new meanings and shades in his verses that existing indexes have not considered. Such re-interpretations are natural for a work about which many concur with a thought expressed by Ghalib himself - Aatay haeñ ghaeb say yeh mazaameeñ khayaal mayñ -  a view that adds even more dimensions to each phrase and reference.

Along with Aziz-ur-Rahman Sahab's 8-volume(!) Ilmé Majlisee (my 12th birthday gift from Ummi, who purchased it from Kitab Mahal - Qizilibash Chacha's unforgettable bookshop that was an institution in Karachi), it serves well as a reference book when one needs a shayree quotation, specially in these days of rapidly failing memory.

Today, as I mourn with many of you the passing of Ahmad Faraz, Sarodé Ghalib takes on a special significance as it was given to me by him in 1969 - on the occasion of Ghalib's 100th death anniversary - and bears on its first page, at my request, the 3 shayrs that I had first heard Faraz recite. (The reference in the couplets is to the 'de-throning' of the great dictator, Ayub Khan.)

Rest in Peace, Faraz. I can only modify your words and say: Ham ko ghamé hastee bhi gavaara tha keh tüm thay ...

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And now hear this ...

A couple of years ago a visiting friend (who has asked to remain anonymous) played me a 'boot-leg' copy of a speech. As far as I could make out - the recording was an excerpt that was missing the beginning an the ending - the theme was was Liberal Education . It was a delightful lecture and I always wished we could have heard the whole thing. Unfortunately, we knew not where the speech was given nor, even more of a plight, who the speaker was ... such is the tragedy of poorly pirated material ;-) I even took a sentence or two from the speech, at random, and tried to Google it ... but nothing was found at that time.

Last week I was gifted "The Philosophy of Religion", a course recorded by Professor John Hall for The Teaching Company (TTC). Impressed by the simple lucidity and tone of the very first of the 36 lectures), I searched for him on the internet and was delighted to be led to his homepage, which, in turn, led me to the Convocation Address delivered by him at The University of Richmond in 2005. And that's the one we'd heard!

While I suggest that you download and read the entire lecture (it's only 3 pages long), along with the Collegian piece, I would like to quote one of its sections here with permission from Professor Hall.
Liberal Education and Impracticality

One of the hallmarks of liberal education is that it is does not have immediate applications, results, or investment returns. This is what people mean when they say that it is impractical. But is liberal education really impractical?

If the desired outcome of schooling is job-skill, then Strayer would be the model school. My wrestling with the ambiguities of Ionesco, studying the complexities of natural selection, trying to figure out what the American Civil War was really about, and exploring the mathematics of musical key transposition, are not likely to increase the GNP or lower the CPI overnight, if at all. On the other hand, my learning to keyboard data into a computer, take accurate telephone messages, keep a double-entry ledger, and figure profit margins, might. Indeed, I could measurably increase my disposable income simply by addressing envelopes at home in my spare time. (Many matchbook covers tell me so, and I believe them.) But who will write the programs for me to keyboard? Who will leave a message worth my taking down? Who will create the business that needs me to keep its books? Who will invent a product that will generate profits for me to calculate? Indeed, who will create something worthwhile to put in the envelopes I address?

For individuals and their communities to thrive, people need to know more than the answers to familiar questions. They need to know what questions to ask, and that means that they need to be inventive enough to come up with new ones. They need to be able to make judgments without bright-line criteria, and that means that they must be able to wrestle with ambiguity without having a panic attack. They need to be able to make informed political decisions, and that means that they need to understand historical connections and the difference between appearance and reality. And they need to be able to function in a complex society that divides its labor, which means that they need to have some understanding of what everyone else is doing, even if they don’t have to do everything everyone else does themselves.

And this is where a liberal education is most liberating. By freeing us from the expectation of an immediate payoff for each thing we learn or do, it opens us up to learn and do things that, while they may lack an immediate payoff, may have long-term potentials that we cannot even imagine in advance. This is why a highly placed corporate officer once told me “when we want worker bees, send us trained technicians; but when we want leadership send us people who have studied history and literature and science. We can train new hires to run the machinery if we need to; but we are not equipped to teach them how to use their minds.” So the “impracticality” of liberal education is not necessarily impractical at all. By allowing students to go beyond job training, it encourages them to stretch themselves to the absolute limit of their potentials and, unhampered by external or artificial constraints, to be flexible and to grow.

[I am not sure if the good professor will be willing to talk to a T2F audience in far away Pakistan via Skype - but I'd love for him to spend a few minutes with us during a Science Ka Adda evening on another topic he enjoys: Pseudoscience and the Paranormal.]

I had, very recently, finished listening on my iPod - overflowing with several audiobooks and brilliant podcasts - to Professor Esposito delivering his balanced and very informative TTC lectures on Islam (as a part of The World's Great Religions series). The Philosophy of Religion course promises to be an even more enjoyable learning experience.

The range of subjects that TTC courses cover is extremely vast. I wish Dr Atta ur Rahman (HEC) or Dr Naveed Malik (VU) would strike a deal with those guys and make several of these courses available locally at subsidized rates. I'd be willing to enroll, even at my age (and with the way I feel about educational institutions), in a college to take advantage of such a deal, if it was required.

Postscript: Lest some of you worry, no, I am not about to be 'born again'. Religion has always been a subject of great interest to me and the current revival (in its worst forms, I might add) and its political impact, globally, has just re-kindled that. But next on my course list - if I can raise the money (HEC/VU are unlikely to even consider this one) - is Professor Greenberg's How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. 48 lectures of 45 minutes each. I can't stop drooling.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who will we be defending ourselves from on THIS September 6th?

For many years Pakistanis have observed September 6th as the National Defense Day (also dubbed Army Day), albeit with decreasing fervour. The decline in excitement, other than one that any joyous escape from school a holiday brings, has been caused, partially, from the passage of time from the 1965 war: most of the readers of this blog had not even been born then, while others now have a better understanding of the misadventure. Another factor, however, is also the growing disenchantment with, and opposition to, the political role of the Army.

This September 6th, again, if the Presidential Election takes place, the Army may be on many minds - or at least in the warped minds of those who continue to look upon it as the only possible political saviour. Let us hope, however, that politics is not on the Army's mind - an oxymoron, some would argue - and General Kiyani (despite the warning bells that the letter quoted Ardeshir's column today echoes) will continue to depoliticize the Army.

But, hey, there is such a thing as pushing someone too far! And we may be leaning too hard on him already.

President Zardari? asks the headline in today's Dawn, announcing the acceptance of the proposal (to contest the presidential election) by arguably the most controversial figure Pakistan's politics has ever seen.
Sunday, August 24, 2008

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Saturday formally named its Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari as its candidate for the office of the president.

“Being the party’s deputy secretary-general, I am pleased to announce that PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has accepted the will of the party to become Pakistan’s next president,” said the Leader of the House in the Senate, Mian Raza Rabbani, while announcing the decision of naming Zardari as the candidate for the office of the president.

The News, another national newspaper, featured a story yesterday, spelling out why many are afraid of such a possibility. Here's how it ends:
Zardari’s nomination has generated a stir among the political, social, bureaucratic, and security circles of the capital. It would be for the first time that a single person would run the state, the government and all its organs, as well as the country’s biggest political party.

If elected, president Asif Ali Zardari will also be Chairman National Security Council, who will be armed with the authority to appoint the Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, provincial governors, Chief Election Commissioner, Attorney General, and the powers to dissolve the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies under Article 58-2(b).

Compared to Musharraf, Zardari as president will be much more powerful as he will also control Pakistan’s biggest political party bequeathed to him by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto along with all her political and monetary assets.

After having a hand-picked, “yes” prime minister, compliant judiciary, presidential powers under 17th Amendment and the biggest political party which would wait for his nod for any action, Zardari is set to become more powerful than Musharraf or any politician in Pakistan would ever have dreamt of.
[Aside: Does no one at The News know that a preposition is not something you end a sentence with?]

Dawn's headline proved really disturbing for a dear friend, Tony Afzal, living in the USA. He was horrified enough to write a letter to the newspaper's editor, suggesting things I wouldn't suggest. I cannot quote it in full, since it has not yet been published - though he did send me a copy. This is what he asks all of us: As a people, have we now come to this? Are we all collectively deranged?

My short answer: Yes! (Based on my conviction that the majority is always wrong. After all, when everyone thinks the same, no one really thinks. And those that try to do so, loudly, get shafted!)

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Friday, August 22, 2008

A treat for Karachiites on August 23rd

If you are a Qavvaali lover, or looking for an introduction to the genre, call Abu Muhammad at 0300-210-5393 and ask for a FREE invitation to what will be a fabulous event at the Pearl Continental.

(Invitation Cards will need to be presented at the entrance).

This is the 5th in a series of memorial farshi nashists, held annually in honour of the great Ustad Munshi Raziuddin sahab. These tribute sessions have become one of the most awaited in the city because they offer one opportunity, outside of the homes where a Mahfilé Sama' still means what it once implied, at which the audience is treated to glimpses of the purist qavvaali tradition.

See you there ...

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Telling & Chilling!

So what do all these guys have in common?

They are Sponsors of the 17th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference. Now I am REALLY worried!

(Thanks for the poster, Isa)

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

India 2: Getting there ... "The Prequel"

(Well, if George Lucas can do it, so can I. Only, he claims to have had a plan, while I have to admit the truth: I just plain forgot to write about this in the excitement of coming home.)

First, an apology is in order to those who may have been encouraged by my implying that the visa is, generally, easy to get and ventured forth themselves. No, I am not backing out of the earlier statement. It IS easy to 'get' the visa ... but I realize I should have been clearer about how complex it is to apply for one!

First off, the old visa forms have changed but are still available through touts and the new breed of electronically-equipped munshis who sit near various key points (e.g., passport/visa offices). Don't go there! You'll get your form back from the embassy because it's the wrong form!

Secondly, our neighbouring country - the well-known IT giant - does not provide visa forms electronically (online). Not for Pakistanis, anyway. Not even instructions on what other documentation we need to send with the forms, such as the official translation in English, notarized, of the applicant's NIC card.

(Karachiites - this is best done at one of the desks near the Soddy Embassy. There may be other spots, but that's the one I know. Stand there, yourself, to get it done (unless your driver is literate enough), or you'll have errors on several lines, specially in terms of names being spelled wrong. They go by phonetics and believe in the entirely misunderstood concept of spelling proper nouns any which way.)

Thirdly - and the most important matter. Throwing all progress to the wind, the Indian Embasy wants the forms typed. YES. You heard right. Not 'typed' as in the way some forms in the USA state, where "Type your name clearly" is accepted to imply that you need to write it clearly in block capitals. But "typed", as in through the use af a device some of you may be old enough to remember: A Typewriter!

This is the honest truth: A whole bunch of 6-7 year olds in one of Karachi's schools in Clifton could not recognize the above piece of equipment (an old Remington) I showed to them. I got comments from "It's a real old keyboard" to questions like "Where do you connect the Monitor?"

Unable to locate a typewriter and in order to save time, we (=Sabeen!) had to reconstruct all of it at a stationery shop, using a PC and CorelDraw!!! The air was blue with her cusses, causing some customers to ask if she was related to Ardeshir Cowasjee (a whole lot better than thinking she was Ardeshir, in drag) ... but, eventually, it was done in a jiffy (if you look at time from the point of view of Allah). Oh alright, it took ~3 hours!

Don't tell me there are easier ways in which we could have tackled it at home, using basic IT gear. Let me explain. Scanning was made difficult by the fact that my home scanner does A4, max. And the forms are Legal Size. I know I can use Photoshop to join partial scans and then buy the right sized paper and print on both sides, using manual feed (the auto-trays in mine are also A4!). Actually, someone had kindly sent us a scanned form, but in a damned format that lost in translation across applications and operating systems.

We printed all the sheets out. Photopcopied them and sent them off to hte courier services, only to be told that (well we should have seen that coming) that the front and back of the forms could not be on separate stapled sheets. So that part was rectified through a photocopier close to the courier service and the papers re-signed and sent off the next day. Whew.

To end on a pleasant note: The visa fee is a very affordable Rs 15 only. Peanuts. 23 of them, to be specific. (That's how many I got for 15-bucks at the Lahore Airport recently.)

(Postscript: I have discovered, now, when helping Nuzhat fill in her forms, that the guy who does the NIC thingy outside the Soddy Embassy, also types in Indian Visa forms and, in 2-3 iterations, gets everything right! I am hoping, of course, that by the time I head that way again the senior citizen's facilities will have been implemented and I will be able to get my visa on arrival. I just hope I am not expected to carry my own typewriter along.)

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008


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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Your brave smile will always be with us ...

Nazo Jamil

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Haeraañ hooñ dil ko ro-ooñ ...

Taking time off from the back-breaking work I was engaged in (see previous post), I switched on the TV. Begum Nawazish Ali flashed (well, not quite) on the screen, extolling the qualities of her guest in her usual risqué manner. I am not a regular TV watcher and, so, have missed out on how the BNA Show has developed over the years. There didn't seem to be a change in format but I found that her tongue-in-cheekisms were nearer the bone now.

Not a problem.

The guest was Shehzad Roy - a young singer who has begun to devote his energies to Education.

Not a problem, at all. Until the young man decided to inform us of the sorry state of Urdu. He was shocked, he told us, to find that there was no Urdu word for 'kick', having decided that 'laat' and 'thokar' could not be used (though he offered no explanation why). He pleaded with language specialists to take note, add new words to the language, make sure it remains alive by keeping it progressive. And to produce a suitable word for 'kick'!

BNA mischievously added that there was no Urdu word for 'cake', either, but SR took the bait seriously, going on to say that while we could call it 'meetha', that really was not 'precise'. Urdu so needed attention.

Dear Shehzad: I have before me 3 dictionaries open. Sangaji (1899) Platts (1930) and the more recent Shan-ul-Haq Haqqi tome from the Oxford University Press. And it is my mother tongue. Trust me - 'laat' and 'thokar' are alright, depending upon context. Football khayltay vaqt gaind ko laat maari jaatee hae aur raah chaltay huay theekree ko thokar say hataaya jaata hae.

(Oh ... and will the English Language world please find words for 'Barfi' and 'Gulaab Jaamun' while the Muqtadirah and the Text Book Boards work on our most important needs of the hour).

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This is a bit of a cheat ...

I've been tied up with a Spring-cleaning job in my Library, home to my books and audio-visual collections. (OK ... OK ... it's not Spring. But, then, in Karachi it never is, except on special occasions!) This massive task has been undertaken to meet a deadline: Nuzhat returns from her Isloo/Lhr trip tonight and I think she deserves to see a cleaner space (though, to really make her happy, I'll need to do similar things in 5 other spaces :-( There was another incentive, too. I've wired up new speakers (nothing special ... just a small surround set-up to go with the new DVD player) and the sound-colouration caused by the stuff lying all over the space was bugging me.

This 'detour' from my planned tasks for the weekend means I have had to postpone the post(s) I was supposed to put up today. Maybe by tomorrow night, if I haven't collapsed in a heap (probably indistinguishable from the one that's getting built up with the junk I am throwing away) I shall add one or two of the 4 pieces I have simultaneously started. So much has happened that I want to rave/rant about ...

Anyway, among the piles of unsorted papers I found a little thaéla containing cartoons I'd clipped from magazines and papers --- and was immediately distracted from the task at hand. There are 2 - both by that absolute genius, Schulz - that I wish I'd found just a few days earlier, since they'd have made apt inserts into recent posts. However, I am so bent upon sharing them with you that I am reproducing both below, with links to the originally blogged bits. This way, I also get to lure those of you who cruelly ignored my earlier posts to take a look at them, too. (I warned you this post was a bit of a cheat!)

The first cartoon makes a great companion to the Giles Coren post:

And if anyone like the reporter mentioned in this post ever submits anything to you for publication, I suggest your response be based on:

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

An exhilarating leap ahead ...

Karachi's long-lost "Musicals" scene is finally back. And how! Director/Choreographer Nida Butt - and everyone else behind the scenes - must be thanked profusely for the Herculean effort Chicago must have taken to provide us with the kind of delightful evening it turned out to be.

The sounds of genuine old-time Jazz in Karachi, alone, would have made my evening. But the talent. Wow. What a delightful surprise to see the songs and the music being actually performed on stage and not the lipsync and miming that some other productions have so far made do with. Here's to the band! You rocked, guys! The choir - so easily overlooked because of its lack of visibility - needs a special mention. You were great!

The cast was brilliant I wonder how many rehearsals and time it took to get the essential 'timing' - so crucial to the deliveries - just right. But you did it. (The little extra pause by Momin, before his last line in Mr. Cellophane was better than in the movie. I just replayed the recording to check!) Nida, Faraz, and Ahmed Ali did full justice to their parts and Omar's dual responsibilities of conducting and delivering the chorus-like announcements were handled perfectly. 

Sanam Saeed: You deserve a line just for yourself, which is why you are not in the above paragraph. You stole the show and, if the buzz in the intermission is to be taken at face value, several hearts, too!

The limitations of putting up anything like this are colossal: Sound Engineers who do not treat every event as if it were a mehndi celebration, or a political rally, are hard to find. When coupled with architecture that considers the aural experience secondary to the visuals on stage, things really get bad. The Arts Council Auditorium, presumably designed for the performing arts, is acoustically awful at the best of times unless one has choice seats. I did not :~( (having gotten the tickets at the last minute with great difficulty and string-pulling) and, so, was unable to hear some of the dialogue and the vocals, unless they were on my side of the theatre. I say this not to knock or fault the production in any way. If economics would permit such ventures, ideally (impractical though the suggestion is) several seats would be blocked off as being detrimental to the experience.

Perhaps, having imported an energetic dance troupé from India, the sound set-up, too, should have been left to the pros from across the border. (Hint: Maybe that's what the Lahore production should do ... and, while I am at it, one request: Leave the stupid smoke machine back in Karachi. It adds nothing.)

There was some talk of the tickets being a bit pricey at a thousand bucks, not that it stopped people, at every performance, from lining up for hours to get them. Given that, these days, a straight-forward play, amateurishly performed, with a fairly bare stage-setting at the PACC, is charging 500 bucks, I think that, relatively speaking, this was fine ... even without part of the proceeds that, I believe, are going to a hospice. Sure, not everyone can afford to pay that much ... but why assume that such plays are for 'everybody', anyway?Entertainment, good live entertainment, costs! Everywhere.

Among the many things, other than the sound quality, that need to develop around our performing arts culture are Reviews. C'mon guys/gals. Your access to writing in the skills-starved popular press does not take away from you the onus of responsibility you have towards your readers for providing them with a review. Don't pass the blame to equally clueless, editors. It's YOUR review. YOU have to get it right. First off, remember, it's not meant to be an article padded with internet extracts. Of course that may have something to do with being paid by the word if that's what your arrangements are. Secondly, 'spoilers' - revelations that give away the plot or ruin surprises, as did the mention of "the twist in the end" in one review - ensure that people will not read your review before watching plays again (I won't!) ... and who reads your reviews after seeing the plays, anyway! Thirdly, get the basic lingo right: Sanam Saeed did not play the "title role", dear reviewers. That would have happened only if either the play was called Roxie or the character she played been named Chicago. To be fair, all of these things are interdependent and will get better with time and more exposure.

Once again, thank you Made for Stage Productions! Good luck in Lahore and India!!! (Oh ... I now anxiously await your production of Hair ... if anyone can do it, you guys can!)

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

I tried, but it was hard to not post this

I swear I am not well enough to post as frequently as I seem to be doing. I had promised myself some rest after the two previous posts - written in fairly quick succession despite some decidedly 'off' Lebanese Lamb Kebabs laying me low, but I opened today's morning paper and am now not sure about which session of my gripes was worse.

A full 2-page 'Special Supplement' (which is a misleading euphemism for an advertisement) glared at me and, given how venomous I feel about the way the school system is taking people for a ride, I just had to rush to my Mac.

How confident would you feel sending your child to a school that claims it will help her achieve "Excellence in English Language" when its own ad is full of errors of spelling and grammar. And the offender is not a new fly-by-nighter but a school that has been around for years.

In addition to being unable (or, infinitely worse, not caring) to spell or write correctly, my dear "Experienced AMI directresses", school-owners and administrators, you also have the temerity to make meaningless claims. Your ad states, for example, that "ONLY [your school] has ... ONE OF THE most spacious ... etc., etc.", which is kinda absurd. ONLY means ONLY!

As for the other ONLYs, I am sure that many schools could challenge the statements if they'd just take time off from doing much the same. For crying out loud, how can you be the only school that has 'an extensive library'? Or any of other things you claim uniqueness about?

I sincerely suggest that, unless it's a Boarding School, you get rid of the "24 hour doctor" you have and invest in a simple Grammar and Spelling Checker if your computer did not come loaded with one.

One humble request, though: In a society where nothing seems to have remained sacred, I would plead with you to not invoke in future ads - merely for adding credibility to your school - the names of the great institutions that your community has bequeathed to my city. (And, in any case, pidaram sültaan bood has no real substance.)

In closing, I apologize if this feels like a personal vendetta ... but it's not about you. You just happened to have been the straw that broke the camel's back (one that was already aching from the after effects of food-poisoning). It's about what has become of all schools today. When announcements for admission dates (and even that was not a practice that good institutions followed) become competitive 2-page ads (and even radio-spots), when more money is spent on advertising 'fully carpeted, computerized and airconditined' premises - a common sight on hoardings today - than on the quality of education and staff development, hype and drivel will obviously become the norm.

If, as you claim, yours was a great school once (though I am unable to guess from the ad who its 'deliveries' were), perhaps you should re-visit that time and see what put your institution in a league that was, then, "synonimus" with good education. We could do with a good school, here and there ...

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

India 1: Getting there...

Part of the pleasures of a Drik Partnership are the meetings held twice a year in a South Asian country where everyone gathers to discuss the plans and the future of this interesting concept. The meetings, themselves, take up the days, but the evenings are what provide an opportunity to mingle, make friends, take in the social life, and relax - away from one's work at home. The meeting that Sabeen and I attended last week was in Calcutta (now Kolkata), about which Ghalib eulogized and from where my mother and I had begun our long journey to Pakistan in 1947 - a tale that will also feature, for other reasons, in this series.

I have visited India (read Delhi) several times in the past few years as a member of SAF and SAHR, as well as under the b.i.t.s. banner  in the role of New Media consultants to Tehelka, whose courageous exposé of the Gujarat massacres has been a landmark in journalism. (I have even been to India for medical treatment - a trip full of anxiety and worse, as you can read in my Archives.)

Each trip, India has been a breath of fresh air (however hackneyed and clichéd that sounds). This time, though, I noticed a few differences from the past trip, but more about them later.

Since the first question I get asked most often by my friends in Pakistan is "How easy or difficult is it to get a Visa?" ... I thought I'd start this multi-part series by a post on travel to India and what precedes it.

I shall leave aside the Diplomatic & Government visas, with which none of us are really concerned - since our only link to those is what we pay for some rectoid to take a free, meaningless drinking and shopping trip at our expense. Business visas, with proper invitations from those you are going to meet, as well as Conference visas (for most legit conferences) are not a problem. Courier them your visa application and in a week or two you should be ready to go. Even genuine multiple entry visa requests are entertained without a hassle as are Medical Treatment related ones. I say all this from personal experience. But YMMV.

I am told that visas for visiting blood-relations are not difficult to obtain, especially if the request involves a death, near-death, or marriage --- and reasonable documentary evidence supports it. From talking to an Immigration Official (who was over the moon at the fact that he and I shared a birthplace, Aligarh) I learnt that this category is a dwindling phenomenon as the partition generation on both sides dies out.

The really sad/bad part is that Tourist Visas are O-U-T ... so we cannot really experience India's vastness and variety to which some of us have deep links and others are constantly lured by Bollywood's on-location shoots. There are numerous promises of liberalizing these arrangements between the two countries. In fact, I have been waiting, ever since I became a Senior Citizen, to be able to arrive and get a landing permit at an Indian airport, as promised. 

Speaking of airports, let me be clear about one thing, though: Unless things really change radically, it cannot be just any Indian airport! The visa application form states that the only points of entry permitted are Delhi and Mumbai. The chatty Immigration Official also informed informed me that Bangalore had now been added and would be reflected in the new forms "as soon as we finish the old stock. But we still have lots of them left, I think. Heehee".
Detour: Reminded me of my visit to Pakistan's Embassy in the UAE, when a cousin of the Late and Unlamented General Zia was the Ambassador. It was way after we'd "recognized" Bangladesh and, yet, there - glaring at visitors from behind the Ambassador's desk - was a map of 'East Pakistan' on the wall. The Ambassador's assistant told me that they were waiting for the arrival, "any day", of a "replacement frame with coloured pictures" ('coloured' highlighted by a toothy beaming smile), leaving me looking as dumb as my Islamic Republic's Ambassador who arrived, just slightly tipsy, to start his workday. But I digress.
With our meeting - this one was being held in Kolkata (the city that was home to Mother Teresa) - scheduled to begin on a Friday, it meant: (A) We had to travel via Mumbai or Delhi; (B) We had to travel on a Monday, since the only other flight out of Karachi was on a Saturday (not an option, unless we missed the important opening day). Considering that Drik was unlikely to be able to support our 4-day sabbatical by landing earlier at Kolkata and pay for 2 hotel rooms, this meant a lay-over at one of the two cities. Choosing Dilli was easy: Friends! Family! Familiarity!

I do not know about the arrangements at the two other airports (or, for that matter, in Pakistan with regard to Indians landing here - since we compete heavily in the idiocy department), but if you are traveling to Dilli for the first time, when you hit the Immigration Hall, do not head for any of the counters in a rush to get out soon! Take a look towards a line that's forming on the extreme left side (comprising mainly of those who've been stung before). There's no sign that tells you what it is, so ask the guy ahead. This is where you pick up an additional form that you are to fill in triplicate before you present yourself before a not-so-foreign-looking official behind the desk. The first time I encountered this, a few years ago, they'd run out of 'carbon paper' (anyone remember those things?) so I had to fill 3 different copies, while I wondered why I was going through this older-than-analogue routine in a country well-known for its IT prowess. That aside, it still stumps me as to why they do not hand these forms out, along with the landing card, on the flight itself. (Two trips ago I did make the mistake of suggesting this at the desk and was met by this Socratic response: And what we should do on this desk after?)

Note: "Assistance" in filling the forms is now available. Just a Tip ;-)

OK ... that hurdle crossed, you are now at The Immigration Desk. Breathe a sigh of relief. Like most immigration officials - barring a few nasties at some Western airports, particularly post-9/11 - you are generally met politely. And, if your accent reasonably matches that of the person behind the desk - or if, perchance, you are someone returning to visit your ancestral home (or the official happened to have migrated from Pakistan) - you could be there for minutes on end exchanging niceties and memories of where each of you lived before partition while the people in the line behind you cursed 1947 under their breaths.

One final word of information: I am sure this holds good for both sides of the border (I request any Indians who have travelled to Pakistan and - are reading this - to write in the Comments box and confirm or deny this for the benefit of readers): You can only exit from the point of entry (a law that may make sense in some acts but not necessarily in one relating to travel). This meant, in my particular case, that having arrived by way of Dilli, I could not leave India from Kolkata - a really annoying matter, because on my way back home I would have loved to have flown out via nearby Dhaka and met my daughter there. In fact, had Kolkata been a 'point of entry' option, the Karachi-Dhaka-Kolkata return journey would have saved almost 1/3rd of the airfare and four days!

Try as I might, I see no method in this madness. Will it ever end? Who knows? Hopes rise and fall each day.

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Subs and Eds (& Contributors): Take note!

When I got back from a week-long trip to India last Monday, I planned to write several posts about the trip, but a bout of food-poisoning (caught here ... and furthering my resolve to stay away from 5-Star Cuisine) has laid me low. So, until I am back in action - in a couple of days at most - I thought I'd share a particularly delightful piece from the Guardian.

While Giles Coren - quoted in full below - makes a solid case (and the response from The Time's subs, imho, is a poor effort at one-upmanship), it is to the credit of The Times to have responded in another newspaper and The Guardian to have published Coren's piece, in the first place. It also highlights the maturity of the press in the UK. I doubt if such an exchange could have been possibly published, in a daily of such a vast readership, in the USA or any other part of the Free[Speech] World.

Several friends and I have been victims of sub-editorial misdemeanors, often at the hands of twerps still unweaned, it seems, from their Radiant Way series. I hope this will help both sides of what should not be a divide to start thinking about the process.

(Subs & Eds have my sympathies, too. To those who submit the trash that these poor guys have to wade through daily, Giles offers one helluva lesson on what good, precise writing requires. Learn from it!)

And now to Giles Coren: frequently controversial, as a quick peek at this Wikipedia entry will show, but, in the true Oxbridge tradition, delightfully witty, barbed, and almost always fun to read. Here’s Giles Coren's letter to Times subs: Caution (or Temptation?): Strong Language Ahead! — ZAK

Wednesday July 23 2008


I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don't know who I am supposed to be pissed off with (I'm assuming Owen, but I filed to Amanda and Ben, so it's only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn't here - if he had been I'm guessing it wouldn't have happened.

I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn't going to happen anymore, so I'm really hoping it wasn't you that fucked up my review on Saturday.

It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

I wrote: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh."

It appeared as: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh."

There is no length issue. This is someone thinking "I'll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and I know best". Well, you fucking don't.

This was shit, shit sub-editing for three reasons.

1) 'Nosh', as I'm sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardization of the German 'naschen'. It is a verb, and can be construed into two distinct nouns. One, 'nosh', means simply 'food'. You have decided that this is what I meant and removed the 'a'. I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun, 'nosh' means "a session of eating" - in this sense you might think of its dual valency as being similar to that of 'scoff'. You can go for a scoff. or you can buy some scoff. The sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what I meant. Why would you change a sentence so that it meant something I didn't mean? I don't know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And the way you avoid this kind of fuck up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? it's easy. Not. A. Word. Ever.

2) I will now explain why your error is even more shit than it looks. You see, I was making a joke. I do that sometimes. I have set up the street as "sexually-charged". I have described the shenanigans across the road at G.A.Y. I have used the word 'gaily' as a gentle nudge. And "looking for a nosh" has a secondary meaning of looking for a blowjob. Not specifically gay, for this is Soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money for noshing boys. "Looking for nosh" does not have that ambiguity. The joke is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you've fucking stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a renaissance fresco and thinking Jesus looks shit with a bear so plastering over it. You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean, fucking christ, don't you read the copy?

3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittiest of all, you have removed the unstressed 'a' so that the stress that should have fallen on "nosh" is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you're winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can't you hear? Can't you hear that it is wrong? It's not fucking rocket science. It's fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and I have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck.

I am sorry if this looks petty (last time I mailed a Times sub about the change of a single word I got in all sorts of trouble) but I care deeply about my work and I hate to have it fucked up by shit subbing. I have been away, you've been subbing Joe and Hugo and maybe they just file and fuck off and think "hey ho, it's tomorrow's fish and chips" - well, not me. I woke up at three in the morning on Sunday and fucking lay there, furious, for two hours. Weird, maybe. But that's how it is. It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No exaggeration. I've got a review to write this morning and I really don't feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from the final line, the pay-off, and I'm going to have another weekend ruined for me.

I've been writing for The Times for 15 years and I have never asked this before - I have never asked it of anyone I have written for - but I must insist, from now on, that I am sent a proof of every review I do, in PDF format, so I can check it for fuck-ups. And I must be sent it in good time in case changes are needed. It is the only way I can carry on in the job.

And, just out of interest, I'd like whoever made that change to email me and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that word from my copy.

Right ... Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger, can make a man verbose.

All the best.

Giles © Guardian News and Media Limited 2000

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