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Friday, January 15, 2010

Asim Butt - What have you done?

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

T2F 2.0 is back!

Science Ka Adda — Salman Hameed, from Hampshire College, is here to start the days off with a new lecture on "Humans in the Cosmos: How 400 Years Of Telescopes Have Changed The Way We Look at Ourselves!" … Don't forget to see this startling talk (on December 22nd at 6.30 pm) by a brilliant young man.

Not into Science? Hmmm ... take a trip and see what you'd been missing! There's an exhibit of some of Pedro Meyer's beautiful work. And brilliant Coffee and other stuff. Books to buy … and many even to read at the studio upstairs. Music, too: It's soft and does not hurt your years. Urdu (and English) poetry, literature and more stuff to go. Coming to you soon.

Ohhh … if you are an Entrepreneur, there are seats for you, too, on a short/long term basis (just 5, though). A sponsor? A quick event? There's more … you know!

Drop in …

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Bertrand Russell … Mathemagical!

Wow! What a treat!
Delightful drawings. Great backgrounds.

I thought the whole concept
was stupendous.

So were the little images.

Thanks, a lot, Kove!

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

For Neda …

Download a Graphic Novel based on Satrapi's
Persepolis and pass this link to others, please

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

FeelGood Product of the Year

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Tale of Two Anthems

Aé sarzameené paak
Zarray teray haéñ aaj sitaaroñ se taabnaak
Roshan haé kehkashaañ se kaheeñ aaj tayree khaak
Aé sarzameené paak

اے سرزمینِ پاك
ذرّے ترے ہیں آج ستاروں سے تابناك
روشن ہے كہكشاں سے كہیں آج تیری خاك
اے سرزمینِ پاك

O' pure land,
your every particle is more luminous than the stars.
Your dust is brighter than the Milky Way.
O' Pure Land

These are the only lines I can recall from Pakistan's FIRST National Anthem. It was written by the then Lahore-based poet, Jagannath Azad, in response to the Quaid's wish that our Anthem be written by a non-Muslim to underscore the vision of a secular Pakistan. The current Anthem (which includes the phrase Saayaé Khüdaaé Züljalaal that, now, apparently bristles some) was adopted just a few years later.

Can anyone help dig up the rest of the original?

While on the subject of the Anthem, people around my age may remember its majestic sound from the days of our youth. The richness of the band due so much, I guess, to the sounds of the instruments of that time - as well as the chorus version - has long disappeared, to be replaced by a relatively uninspiring re-recorded sound that leaves me cold.

Thanks to our finest composer-arranger-musician Arshad Mahmood's direction, and a brilliant recreation by the children of Karachi High School, you can download and hear that majesty again in this recording. 

I'd like to direct you to two of my earlier posts (this and this) that are linked to this topic.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Iqbal Bano: You will be greatly missed!


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shanaakht Revisited

So much has been said in the last few days about the events that led to the closure of one of the festivals that promised to add more zest to a Karachi that is just beginning to be itself again.

With a couple of exceptions, everyone has condemned the violence that endangered attendees, participants, and organizers alike. Some have condemned, rightly, all violent protests, bemoaning the fact that our intolerant times have made this the most common form of protest. Others have drawn some fuzzy lines, one commentor on some site even stating that such protests are "kinda acceptable because they are inevitable - such as when they hurt religious sentiment".

That's BS. Violence is violence.

Is what happened in Lahore, when the Danish Cartoon protests took place, not condemnable? It destroyed the property, in some cases even the livelihood, of people who were as hurt by the cartoons as presumably the protesters were.

On blogs and Facebook people continue to debate, defend, and deride the art, or the artist, or the decision to display it. Even on Twitter, when the issue isn't so small as to fit into 140 characters. Discussions like this are invaluable in helping us understand other views, other sentiments, other ideas. My own blog post, too, and my comments elsewhere, came under criticism, and in some cases, I understood and even partially agreed that there were aspects I may not have considered when penning my thoughts.

All I can say in my defense is that I was still reeling from being present on the spot, dazed by the gun-slinging unruly anfd threatening mob's disregard for any civilized negotiations or discussions. My critics, some of them, had read detached (and often distorted) reports in the media and had had the luxury of a lot of varied inputs before they made their worthy analyses. Too, I was privy to more conversations and discussions, some overheard, than were people who were not there.

The arguments, from both sides, are as old as Creativity itself and, once knee-jerk reactions fade, deserve a great deal more serious thought and discussions - hardly possible in an atmosphere of FIRs, threats, and other pressures.

If you are genuinely interested in the larger issue of an artist's responsibility, take time out to read this piece of writing from over half a century ago and form your arguments for either side.

By allowing such sad incidents to be used for the imposition of censorship, by handing over the control of what we read or view, even think, to individuals who, for the most part engage in none of these activities, or to groups of people who would allow or disallow art and books on the basis of personal - often fascistic - views would be to condemn this society to ignominy.

I, for one, am unwilling to make members of any group - themselves guilty or suspected, of bribery, corruption, lies, fraud, and much higher crimes - the guardians of my morality.

... please don't let the Shanaakht aftermath be used for other agenda!

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sensitivities and Sensibilities: Moving Beyond The Festival

As it became apparent once again, Art - like most creative forms of expression, is often debatable or debated. But ads?

A girl student has mailed me to ask "If an image has to help in trying to sell products to women, why do ad agencies use one that men are more likely to find exciting? Are bare shoulders necessary to sell something worn on the wrist?" (Italics mine - Z)

She sent me this as one example and has asked where she could protest about advertisers who use women's sexuality to market goods.

Answers, anyone?

Just to put things into a global perspective: "Today, the media industry is worth billions of dollars. DirecTV, a subsidiary of General Motors Corporation, the world’s largest company, now sells more graphic sex films every year than Larry Flynt, owner of the Hustler empire", says C. J. Onyejekwe (Sociologist).

Much of this has to do with the male myth of being superior - a myth, supported through years of patriarchy, if not originating in then certainly being strengthened by religious views. wtf!

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Shanaakht Fiasco

{I started writing this post before the [heart]Breaking News of the cancellation of the festival hit me. Despite my criticism of some of it's flaws, I think that nurturing it would, over time, have had it evolve into something more sensible and sensitive. The closing down bodes badly for art and many other activities ... but the organizers were left with no options, given the to-ing & fro-ing of the PPP and governmental commitments.}

The incident at CAP's Shanakht Festival yesterday should convince people that all 17 crore hearts do not beat as one all the time. Oh, of course they do, sometimes. But NOT when an identity is being forced, instead of being allowed to develop.

The event - despite my personal objections to some aspects of it - is an effort that needs to be encouraged and guided. The very important and noble task that CAP (The Citizen's Archive of Pakistan - or The Citizens Archive of Pakisan) has undertaken, of gathering oral, textual, and image-based histories of Pakistan,is commendable. Yet, IMHO, the organization should be an archiver, not a view-point creator. Its archives should be resources for some to find their roots, others to understand individual or collective identities, for some to comprehend even the opposing views on numerous topics through the years, and yet others to use excerpts in whatever form of research they are undertaking (and for whatever cause).

In and of itself an archive is not meant to offer a slanted stance, though nuanced interpretations may be derived from it for diverse purposes. For example, a WWII Archive would not be the same as that of the Holocaust Museum, though images from the latter would certainly be part of the former. At least that is how I have viewed CAP's project.

Last year, too, I had questioned the reasoning about the CAP festival focusing on shanaakht and was told that it was "because the young are trying to find their identity". Being not-so-young, I felt that my criticism would be viewed as just another old-person's usual censure of the young, so I backed off … recalling in the process that one of the slogans I shouted in my visible hippie days was 'Never Trust Anyone Over Forty!' (With age, contrary to expectations, I have altered the 'Forty' to 'Thirty-Five' for my occasional talks.)

The festival's opening day - yesterday - had a successful start - 1500 children came for the festival and also participated in art activities organized by T2F. The evening offered some interesting and nostalgic moments for me. Listening, once again, to The Little Master was certainly one that brought tears to my eyes as he recalled the old matches and the tutoring he received from Master Abdul Aziz. He shared the evening with the wonderful commentator, Jamshed Marker, talking about his involvement with our sports and politics. Meeting Lutfullah Khan Sahab, was, as usual a delight. Photographs and images from his vast collection were on display and this energetic young man of 93(!) was there to be part of the festivities. His legendary music collection is now being digitized and, perfectionist that he is, the process will take 3 lifetimes - by his own reckoning - to be completed. Can't wait ;-)

As the evening moved on, the crowd swelled. Numerous strands - exhibitions, chats, speeches - attracted people differently.

The atmosphere was truly festive. Ethan Casey who seems to have a special relationship with our country was there to talk of his last and next book. And he was going to speak at T2F. Yessss! T2F, now. between its own old and new venues, was looking gorgeously cute (if you'll pardon my use of a word that I have all but expunged from my vocabulary since I heard a lady say she thought Zakir Naek was cute) in its little stall and the adjacent speaker's area.

It was during Ethan's talk that we suddenly became aware of a disturbance, followed almost immediately by an aggressive crowd screamin blue murder and ordering us all to close down and get away "before we burn the place down". Soon this led to sounds of firing and some people moving out quickly while others, almost led by Beena Sarwar, trying to 'talk' to the mob to get to the root of the problem.

We soon discovered that the crowd was PPP supporters—  (someone later said it was the PSF but, to me, the two main people were too old to be students. One, in fact, was a journalist I have encountered before) — who were expressing their anger at an obnoxious and meaningless piece of drivel passing off as art. Mind you, all art is subjective and it's drivel-ness (to me) may be challenged by a number of people, just as my disgust at Adnan Sami Khan's music usually is. On the other hand, even if my greatest favorite exponent of Classical Music, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, decided to sing a piece full of obscenities at the APMC, I'd certainly not support it.

The image in question, now sadly all over the internet (and I beseech those bloggers whom I count among my friends to remove it), was extremely offensive to me and objectionable at several levels. I am NOT a Benazir supporter, however immensely pained I was at her death. I am not a member of the PPP, nor have I ever voted for them (or for anyone else from among the menu of crooks, extortionists, rapists, kidnappers, fundos, and murderers offered to us by various parties). 

I will not reproduce the image here to give it further currency, but it is now common knowledge that it portrayed BB sitting in the evil and mal'oon Zia's lap. My reaction was that this was ridiculously meaningless.
We have seen 'photoons' - photo cartoons - of her being married to Nawaz and Altaf on the net before. I did not take offense to them because they were satirical comments on real alliances. After all, even the textual statements in the press referred to these, at times, as 'marriages of convenience' or 'an unholy political matrimony'. The images only carried the representation further. I admit that I, too, on hearing that JI chief Qazi Husain Ahmad had tried to prevent Mian Nawaz Sharif from forming an alliance with BB, had passed around (among friends) a photoshopped image of the two newlyweds - with Husain Ahmad looking sullen - and captioned it Jab Mian-BB raazi to kyaa karay ga Qazi.
BB & Zia? That cockeyed asshole had murdered her father! She had never ever negotiated any 'deal' with him. So just what DID this image represent? I mean merely the ability to manipulate images doesn't always produce art, does it? And what did the term Stiff Competition  - the title given to the image, signify? I will not repeat the remarks that brought out. 

Several posts/blogs hastily commented on the matter, one 'toning down' the image's offensiveness (and sexual connotation) by stating that it showed an infant Benazir. Not only was this untrue, but even in that case it would have been more suitable to show, as infants, those leaders of today who were nurtured through their political infancy by that bloody dictator. Would that have been acceptable to their followers? I suspect not. I assure you that at least one party would have burnt down the entire area had their leader been shown, even with justifiable sarcasm, in the lap of one of his several mentors. 

Add to this the fact that the Bhuttos bring out emotions far stronger - and the issue is not whether such emotions are wrong or right - among their supporters who have consistently laid down their lives for these symbols and icons. Yesterday one of those leading the mob was in tears as he said he'd spent 11 years in jail protecting the dignity of this woman who was being insulted. You may find such emotional outbursts, and the violent reactions that inevitably follow, condemnable but the problem is that we are a nation among which a large population is easily aroused to such acts. So, a little judiciousness and caution would make sense, too, specially when the creator and the curators of the image are risking the lives and properties of others.

I was mainly offended by it as a feminist. What gives anyone the liberty to do this and display it publicly, inviting the wrath and endangering the safety of others. Would the artist - a woman, herself, I was shocked to learn - be ok if someone put up an image of hers in some insinuating position with any man? (BTW, Insiya also raises similar questions in a piece that presents the views of someone a generation apart. And the comments provide even greater insight into what the younger generation thinks.)

I realize that celebrities are fair game but only if the game is fair! And how far can this go? What if the pose or postures represented become more obscene - never mind whatever that means to different people? Isn't there a self-censorship or restraint that one is supposed to excercise? Do all of those who use a zillion swear words a day use them indiscriminately before their parents/children? Do we walk around naked on the streets because we believe that God created us naked and, therefore, clothes are the work of the devil? Do we shit in public? That IS self-censorship and respect for our surroundings.

Defenders of the terms, 'artistic license' and 'freedom of expression', may insist that there's nothing wrong and the reactions are stupid. I'd like to dare them to display some of the works from an international museum in their own open-to-public galleries. Not that I disagree with them that both freedoms must exist. It's just that there is a time and place for everything. (Pornography is available, including the kind that features hardcore images, in most book and video stores in the liberal West. But it is confined to a separate corner or a high bookshelf, out of the immediate sight of any other than those looking for it.)

None of this is meant to condone the aggressiveness and violence, threatened and carried out (at least to property) by the PPP jiyaalaas. Although they were clearly not acting on official PPP orders, I do suspect that there were other games at play. What was strangely obvious was the absence of the Arts Council biggies making any effort to tone things down. In fact some people among the mob said that they had received calls from the venue officials, asking them to come and see this image - and many felt that the members of the Arts Council were complicit in the planning, since they are having internal political struggles. Another rioter, obviously up in the hierarchy, claimed that they had been told (by whom, was not clear!) that the army had funded the exhibition and 'some Major' had instructed CAP to display the image. Bull!!! We shall, of course, never get to the truth.

Finally, it was the media that - as usual - sensationalized the story. By using phrases such as 'objectionable art' in their headlines they only help the fundamentalists and spineless moderates - both for different reasons - find excuses for not displaying art. DAWN reports PPP Leader Mr Mehdi as saying "controversial art should not be displayed publicly". This kind of statement will promote censorship and, sooner or later, art exhibitions will be asked, to 'clear' their works in advance with 'the authorities'. Following that, we will have nincompoops, with no understanding of art, 'failing' works at whim or 'passing' them against bribes. This is not a fantasy - it has happened before and will happen again.

And, remember, this leads to nothing but fascism in the long run.

Mr Mehdi went on to say, “The sympathisers protested to the Arts Council representatives and the organisers (the Citizens Archive of Pakistan) and asked them to remove the offensive picture. However, they refused. It was a peaceful protest, but there was some tension because of the refusal. People got emotional as the organisers refused to take down the picture.” If that absolute lie is what was conveyed to him, his statement should have begun: The sympathisers 'claimed' to have protested ...

I decided to withdraw from my sessions at T2F - scheduled for the 9th & 11th - in protest at the insensitivity of the organizers in including such an image. Despite being opposed to accepting the artificiality of the identity the festival was bent on creating, I had felt that such festivals and events would familiarize the younger audiences with various aspects of their free-flowing identities. So, I was there as a T2F board member and had planned a tribute to Urdu prose and poetry (under the title of Sheereenié Güftaar) and was, in the second session, to join Asif Farrukhi in a romp through Pakistan's history through Urdu shaaeri

Guess that'll now have to wait until T2F re-opens. (A small selection from what was going to be played will be on this blog by Sunday.)

A sad end to a great opening day … but, "We are like that only!"

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Monday, February 23, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog For Some Breaking News ...

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Hey folks. Sorry for the disappearance ...

... assuming you missed me at all.

Ups. Downs. Events. Crises. The usual fortnight: SNAFU! (If you are too young to know what that stands for, go look the abbreviation up. Err ... not if you are too, too young, though. In which case you shouldn't even be on my blog.)

Through all this, several posts have been brewing, too. Some are still in my mind, some on my trusty old MacBook Pro. But there just hasn't been time.

Anyway. Starting with a brief post tonite - just an image (not that it took less time than writing a post would have) - I hope to work on a couple of posts over the weekend to conjoin and share some of the more pleasant experiences I've had. Those interested in Urdu will find them of greater interest, since two of the three events (and the memories they brought back) are centered around that language. And I promise some delicious --- brief but appetite-whetting --- audio clips. Soon.

Meanwhile, here's a sneak-peak at the cover of the sequel to our favorite bad boy's album, Clash Ka Khauf, released earlier this month.

Keep on the lookout for the songs on your usual piracy websites. Two of my fave tracks are: Bum Maaro, Bum and Zabaané Yaaré Mann Tharkee.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Word Clouds

This is just a "yooñhee" post, so skip it if you wish.

I was woken up - at just past 4AM!!! - by the sounds of some guys emptying their guns (hopefully [not] into each other ... I am feeling ambivalent!) and decided to while away the time doing something that didn't require much thinking.

Choosing the last couple of posts of the three bloggers I follow regularly (though, sadly, only one of them is prolific), plus an older one of my own, I decided to generate "word clouds", using Wordle. In all four cases, I used the very first option presented by the application after hitting the 'Randomize' button. Here are the results:

Waste of time? I think I've found a couple of interesting ideas about using these in classrooms. Maybe I'll share them here some day, once they've taken better shape. Feel free to suggest some that come to your mind.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hitting the ground running ...

Please pass on the url of this post to your friends - Zak

A direct message from Sabeen Mahmud

17th January 2009

Dear PeaceNiche and T2F Community,

612 days ago T2F opened its doors to you. Our vision was lofty, and frankly, a bit mad. Who would walk up to the second floor of an office building on Khayaban-e-Ittehad to listen to a poet rambling on about revolution, or a scientist arguing in favour of evolution, or some kids playing drums? Well, as it turns out, thousands of people ...

In these 612 days minus Mondays, our tiny space has hosted over 150 events featuring thought leaders, artists, poets, musicians, scientists, magicians, writers, philosophers, dancers, actors, lawyers, and activists. Hundreds of you have written in to tell us how much T2F means to you and to the city of Karachi. Every e-mail, snail mail, text message, and Facebook Wall post that you have sent has given us the strength to carry on. Many of you have supported us through your donations and even helped us replace our stolen Mac. We can't thank you enough.

By now you are probably thinking that we're closing down and that this is a goodbye note. No such luck :D But there is some critical news that we need to share with you.

We called our landlord the day-before-yesterday, to ask him when he was going to get the lift fixed. He was non-committal and then said he wanted us to vacate the premises. The initial shock was soon replaced by calm determination and optimism.

At yesterday's literary event, we broke the news. Practically everyone came forward to express solidarity and support. Some of you graciously volunteered your offices, houses, gardens, and basements for us to conduct our events till we find our own space. And one of you, a volunteer/student/journalist, kick-started the donation drive with a contribution of Rs. 5,000. Thank you Batool.

So, here's the plan:

We plan to vacate the current premises by early February 2009. We have already been offered several temporary spaces to conduct our events until such time that we find a permanent venue. We would like to move to a new space - a home we can call our own - as soon as possible. It's going to be tough and we can't do it alone. We simply don't have the funds. As you know, PeaceNiche is a non-profit organization and we have meagre funding. We are reaching out to you to help us in any way that you can. We will be writing to you again with specific requirements, but in the meanwhile, please spread the word about our need for a permanent, rent-free space so that we can get up and running without losing momentum.

Over the next few days, please come to T2F as often as possible - we'll recreate the magic wherever we go but this is where it all started. Thank you Karachi for believing in us.



Sabeen Mahmud

PeaceNiche / The Second Floor
Phone: (92-300) 823-0276 |

About Us

The Second Floor (T2F) is a project of PeaceNiche, a not-for-profit NGO committed to becoming a vibrant centre of Pakistan’s developing civil society. T2F is a community platform for open dialogue and features a coffeehouse, bookshop, and exhibition gallery.

Only around 10 days ago I had spoken with the landlord regarding the elevator that has been out of commission for a while, as a result of vandalism, and during promising to arrangethe repairs soon he had mentioned how much - with our association of several years (he was also the landlord of our office,  b.i.t.s., in the same building for years) - he would like us to stay on in the present space "for 10 years if you like". Now he was suddenly asking us to vacate and, while there was no direct threat that he was making, he certainly wasn't dropping big names, from A to Z, needlessly and without rhyme or reason during his conversation ...

باغباں نے آگ دی جب آشیانے كو مرے
جن پہ تكیہ تھا وہی پتّے ہوا دینے لگے

All my friends had told me not to be hopeful about there ever being any changes in the way this country runs. Being the optimist I am, I chose to not lose hope ... a hope that was bolstered further by one particularly important person in our politics, who had expressed over several mail exchanges that "this time it will be very different". HaaH! 


Sunday Update: Dawn Metropolitan carried this piece today. Thanks a million, Bina.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 'Other' Heresies

Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer is as renowned for his powerful and provocative photographs as he is for his pioneering work with digital imaging. Meyer’s photographs consistently test the limits of truth, fiction and reality. With the advent of digital photography in the early 1990s, Meyer evolved from a documentary photographer who created so-called “straight photographs” into a digital-documentarian who often combines photographic elements from disparate times and places to arrive at a different or higher truth. Pedro's oft-expressed contention that all photographs — digitally manipulated or not — are equally “true” and “untrue” has been labeled “heretical” in the orthodox documentary photography community.

While fellow Apple-user Pedro Meyer (one of the first to adopt this platform and launch the very first intearactive CD-ROM!) may have his exhibition - Heresies - opening in 60 museums in almost as many countries (we are thrilled that T2F, where the exhibition opens on 21st October, has been selected as the Pakistani venue) there are others, like me, whose photographs have also made it to some of the greatest (virtual!) halls in the world. Here are just 4 examples.

"Happy viewing", as the Senator said!



Jehan Ara


See you at the real Heresies, where a selection of large original museum quality prints of Pedro's works will be displayed and changed almost weekly!

Please do keep checking out the schedule at T2F's website for the exciting related events, like workshops, talks, discussions, and presentations during the weeks that this unique exhibition is on, unless you're on FB and already visit T2F Pages for updates.

Oh ... did you know that you can also subscribe to T2F's Events RSS Feed so you get the news automatically? And, as the icing on the cake, sign up for SMS alerts and get timely reminders too. This saves you the task of 'remembering to remember' to go to the website and saves me answering calls - usually when an event is actually happening - Maddy, please note ;-) - about when and what time it's happening.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Absolut Joy!

You deserve a really big round of



Also, a big
who helped

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Howe to Mayke Bukkenade ...

(whatever in hell that is).

Since love is purely an emotion, it isn't really difficult to figure out which of Shakespeare's plays I love the most: Richard II. (No ... that's not a typo. I mean Richard the Second, not the more commonly performed Richard the Third, now forever and completely associated with Sir Laurence Olivier's controversial version featuring the unforgettably haunting "Now is the Winter of our discontent ...")

Less often performed, for many reasons, R-II brings together a host of characters whose traits I can recognize among those around me. And it has some of the most memorable lines, too. But, I guess, that holds good for most of Shakespeare. So why R-II?

For the oddest of reasons: It was in my High School course (SC '56).

Odd, because I'll be the first to admit that books (in fact, entire subjects) taught at school - however wonderful they may be - can be (and, generally, are) ruined for life! This is because they are taught not for giving you pleasure but to be tested and examined in, tortured by, paraphrased, memorised, referenced, and contextualized in a non-contextual kind of way. Finally, subjected to the mind/language/annotations of a teacher who has had her/his (shouldn't 'hir' do for such cases?) fill of it for years and has ceased to see any joy in it (and we are only talking about 'good' teachers, here), they become things to fear and even hate. Pummelled into a shape that the teacher has wrought - rather than letting your own imagination shape things as you'd like or can comprehend - most great texts are never picked up again for pleasure.

I was among those who had the good fortune of being taught this play by a Mr. Stanley D'Souza (nicknamed 'Gunboat' by students well before my time). Here was a man who loved language and made the most mundane of lines come alive. (Strangely, he was also 'used' by the school to teach Geography but could instill no life into that subject. Chirapoonji's annual rainfall figures can't really hold a candle to to good old Will, even when he is just going "hey Nonny...".)

In a senior class, the year before, I'd witnessed Mr. D'Souza (I wonder if today he'd be called 'Gunboat Sir' in this era of artficial camaraderie among the old and young) walk into class, cover the windows with newspapers and - in the dim light - transform into Lady Macbeth right before my eyes. (Fortunately 'beauty' was not a prerequisite for that role.)

That scene remains etched in my mind almost as vividly as the Romeo & Juliet balcony scene that Henry Fonda and the vivacious, sparkling Susan Strasberg (daughter of Lee Strasberg) played out in Sydney Lumet's Stage Struck, a film that also features a young Christopher Plummer, whom many will remember from The Sound of Music and more. (I adore most of Lumet's work, so I may be prejudiced ... but I'd suggest you see the film.)

'WTF', you must be thinking by now - and rightly so - 'has all this got to do with the strange title of this meandering post?' Aah. Not much, really. Except that among my crazy interests are old non-fiction texts, especially those that provide fun views of the days gone by. Recently the search led me to a cook book, "The Forme of Cury", compiled, about A.D. 1390, by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II. In that book I came across the following delightful recipe (quoted verbatim).

(Lunacy isn't easy to explain, but there is a method to my madness. Or maybe it's just I who think so.)


Take Hennes o˛er Conynges o˛er Veel o˛er o˛er Flessh an hewe hem to gobettes waische it and hit well. grynde Almandes unblaunched. and drawe hem up with ˛e broth cast o˛er inne raysons of Corance. Sugur. Powdour gyngur erbes ystewed in grees. Oynouns and Salt. If it is to to thynne. alye it up with flour of ryse o˛er with o˛er thyng and colour it with Safroun.

( The 'to to' isn't a 'mistayke'. It's the old form of 'too' ... See how much you learn on this blog? ;-) )

By the way, one film version of R-II featured Sir John Gielgud (more about this favourite of mine in another post) in the role of Richard's uncle, John of Gaunt. What a performance!

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

International Women's Day @ T2F

From 2 PM to midnight, T2F had loads of acivities, long and short, with intervals for coffee and change of audience (many were rushing between the numerous other events marking the day in the city).

The afternoon started with the screening of the 2001 telefilm, When Billie Beat Bobby. A turning point in the business side of tennis and a delightful strike for feminism, the match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was termed The Battle of the Sexes.

The film is often repeated on TV channels and is well worth watching, if you have not seen it already. Billie is played by Holly Hunter, whom many will recall from her Oscar-winning performance in The Piano and also for her role, the same year, in The Firm.

The next session, Sex Sells, was well-attended and attracted many media & advertising personalities and feminists (some were all three!) discussing the exploitation and stereo-typing of women in ads. A short excerpt from Jean Kilbourne's Killing Me Softly 3 (short clips from which can be seen on YouTube) was followed by a few local tv commercials. Fair & Lovely ads seemed to be the most reviled by those present, almost everyone finding the 'fairness meter' a really obnoxious idea. On the other hand, senior ad execs told us that the product was the largest selling one. Not only did it respond to the inner desires of the majority of our females - as discovered by various focus groups - it's biggest buyers are those not seen recently, by many, as being Fair or Lovely: The Pakistan Army! No, no, these guys are not cross-dressers or make-up freaks. The product, apparently, is also an effective sun-block cream.

The session covered many aspects of the MNC/Advertising/Media approach as a whole, rather than focus just on the women's issues, since the latter is part of a greater malaise.
(For more on how ads use 'sex associations', watch a couple of Psychology with Sandy segments on the subject. Also, read this blog entry from South India for other misappropriate elements, such as - in this case - subtle elements of racism, in ads by even the most powerful vendors.)
War Against Rape - one of the most commendable NGOs in Karachi, with chapters in other cities - held a session, next, to introduce its work. What made this session powerful and different from the usual presentations was the presence of Medical and Legal experts discussing the difficulties in supporting the victims. We learnt of the numerous hurdles, irregularities, and prejudices that make justice or help near impossible. The in-house lawyer at WAR has received death-threats as well as being told that she would soon face the same fate her client-victim had to undergo.

The audience sat spellbound, some moved beyond tears, while listening to a brave poor couple who had come to share with us the difficulties they have encountered since the rape of their 8-year old daughter two years ago and the child's continuing ordeal. As expected, the various authorities, bribed by the rapist's side, have made the case proceedings difficult. Far worse, the neighbours have pushed the family out of the area because they are ashamed by the victim's presence! The fact that the rapist lived in their neighbourhood has not been a source of anger or shame. The couple's parents and other members of the family have also cut off ties with them as they feel that the family name has been brought to shame by their reporting the case to the police and making it public. How does one change such mindsets? Where does one begin? How does one tackle the combined effects of feudalism, superstition, false sense of honour and shame, corruption, poverty, unbelievably stupid laws and rules, male-bonding and chauvinism - all of which are at work in such instances?

The mother of the child has suffered a heart attack and minor attacks of paralysis, depleting all the funds that the family had gathered. Her husband has lost his job - the employers held that they were unable to deal with his frequent leave-taking to attend courts. He has been living on an occasional day-wage stint and, mentally, becoming less able by the day to cope with this state. He is hoping to collect the grand sum of Rs 30,000 as a down-payment for an auto-rickshaw that he can use to earn. He knows that that path, too, will be paved with extortion money, police corruption and more, but says he has no other choices.

Next: Sheema Kermani - activist, feminist, dancer, actor - presented a very brief video and then joined two members of her theatrical team in presenting the enjoyable Voh Naak Say Boltay Haeñ, a short one-act play.
The next session was a 10-minute reading by Nuzhat. She chose Bayvah - a story about widowhood - written by my father in the late 1920s. While his story is set among a Hindu home, where the traditional attitudes about widowhood were extraordinarly bad, the fact is that a number of Muslims in India, perhaps because of their Hindu ancestry, share almost the same negative views, thankfully stopping short of suttee - the cruel practice of burning widows at the husband's funeral pyre, of which a recent example can be seen in Anand Patwardhan's superb must-see documentary, Father, Son & Holy War.

The story was a great preamble to the screening of Shaali by its author - well-known feminist poet Attiya Dawood.  The story of a tragic child marriage, sadly still a common practice in our villages, had everyone in tears at the end. The young Director, who has treated the subject with great sensitivity, was there to talk about how moved he was during the making and had often wept. The irrepressible little star of the film whose appearance in each scene won the audience's heart afresh, is Attiya and Abro's daughter, Suhaee. She was there, too, and deserved the thunderous applause she received. The tele-film is part of a Hum TV series, Aseer Shahzadi, based on stories by Attiya on women's issues.

The session was followed by a long break, during which, at the request of some audience members, Nuzhat read two of Kishwar Naheed's poems from Beyond Belief - ASR's excellent bi-lingual (Urdu, with English translations) anthology of feminist poetry. (C'mon, ASR, we are waiting for reprints ... but please, please, please skip the crazy Urdu formatting, it's a strain to read.)

After the break the final session of the evening ended on a celebratory note with a gentle musical performance that seemed apt after a day filled with so much. Tp, you have a lovely voice! Hope to keep having you back at T2F often!


Slightly unrelated footnote: An organization called Ladies Fund held an event at Karachi's Mohatta Palace to award some women for their diverse contributions to society. This is to congratulate the three I know well: Tehrik-e-Niswan's Sheema Kermani, School of Leadership's Shireen Naqvi (who, to celebrate, brought me freshly baked bread from Bakerei, an initiative for the deaf and dumb that she has helped set up in Karachi), and PeaceNiche/T2F's very own Sabeen Mahmud :-)

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Monday, December 31, 2007

Reaction ...

One of the few characteristics that differentiates us humans from other animals, psychologists say, is our sense of humour. Perhaps this is what keeps us going through life, in the face of many tragedies.

I apologize to those who may be offended, but I'd like to close the year with an image that, despite the ever-present and haunting memory of the terrible death of BB, cannot but bring a momentary smile to our faces.

This image, taken from the Internet, shows the reaction of two great leaders, after a third had - in their opinion - gone overboard in his speech eulogizing Ms Bhutto.

May we all have a peaceful 2008!

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Season's Greetings

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sharing some treats and tidbits

The last two or three performances by Farida Khanum that I attended had saddened me at the rapid downhill slide in this great artiste's abilities. Shortness of breath - and the unusual brevity of the pieces she sang - left me wondering whether one should continue attending her performances as a respectful duty of an old fan or stop and remember her only as she was at her peak. At the last APMC Annual Conference in Karachi I recall saying to Khalid Ahmad: yaar - lütf haasil karnay kay liyay quvvaté sama'at say ziyaadah to müjhay yaad-daasht say kaam layna pa∂ rahaa haé! So, when someone invited Nuzhat and me to a concert by her last night, I admit to accepting it with some trepidation.

As the evening began, the fear of what could turn out to be a horrible night - and from which one could not escape, because our hostess (Ameena Saiyid) was sitting right behind us - began to be exemplified, given that the huge and impressive-looking sound system turned out to be faulty. A short test-run by brothers Ustad Idrees Hussain (harmonium) and the scintillating Ustad Khursheed Hussain (tabla), had gone well (despite the high audience-noise) ... so who was to guess that the microphone for one of our most respectable artistes would have been left unchecked and necessitate three replacements during the course of her performance. Maybe the recording team thought the hosts were called Saaz OR Awaz!

I can recall a couple o considerably younger performers who, under far less trying circumstances at two of the APMC Karachi concerts, had either walked off or given performances that were filled with equal parts of skill and irritability. It is to FK's temperament that the audience owes thanks. She made light-hearted comments on the mike situation on several occasions and, undaunted, moved ahead, perhaps having braved the fiasco of an evening in India.

Her first piece, an uninspiring but mercifully short Pürya Dhanãsri, fell far short of what one would want from someone of her stature. Shivers! Looks of disappointment and worry from Nuzhat. My face expressionless as my eyes and ears took in the not-surprising applause from an auntie-ful house.

Then, something started to happen and, soon, inspired by some inner muse, Farida Khanum began to become her wonderful self again, bringing to mind a piece of writing about her that described an earlier concert scene: That all-too-familiar coil and quiver of the lips, the relentless twinkle in the eyes, the poise and aplomb that can still send many-a-hearts reeling.

It has been years since I have heard her in such voice. With each piece (though many remained much shorter than what we have been used to from her - but, c'mon, she's 72!) she went a little way further until she became, in voice and gestures, almost indistinguishable at some point from the Farida I had always known and loved.

My earliest memory is of listening to her at the house of her amazing sister[?] Mukhtar Begum, whom my father - with me in tow - had gone to visit professionally. His profession, not hers! (He was a medical doctor and a tremendous lover of poetry and classical music). I recall him saying to MB that he loved (who didn't?) her rendition, in Raag Darbaari, of Agha Hashr's Choree Kaheen Khulay Na Naseemé Bahaar Kee --- and a live performance of the ghazal was the visiting fee he'd collect when she was back on her feet again. MB laughed and said, "Agar trailer (which she pronounced 'tayler') daykhna hae to iss bachchee ko suniyay, daaktar saaheb!" And, so, Abi and I were treated to the voice of young Farida. Unplugged!!! Beautiful. Haunting. Seductive. Especially because it was without the clatter of musicians - the best way to truly gauge a voice. To this day, whenever I hear her sing that ghazal, as I did yesterday, I am reminded of that first unique introduction to her singing.

Oh ... one more thing: Boy, was she stunning as a teenager! :-)

Last night's concert, with a break for snacks, lasted over 4 hours. A range of thumrees, ghazals, and her popular and catchy Punjabi numbers (Ballay Ballay and Baajray Di - almost party-anthems for us when we were young) were sprinkled over the evening. The post-interval session was devoted to farmaaishes and she graciously agreed to start with mine, a ghazal by Daagh Dehlavi in chhoti bahr - a form she always sings amazingly well (in contrast to that other marvellous grand old dame, Iqbal Bano, who - generally - excels at longer bahrs). Uff. It sent my heart aflutter again ... though not dangerously loudly enough for Nuzhat to hear ;-)

One piece brought back memories of a different kind, entirely. Movie memories. And memories of a more personal kind: It was the last movie I saw with my father who died later the same year. The film was Baji, directed by Suleman, brother of actors Santosh Kumar and Darpan. I am unable to find a video of the film, so if any of you spot a copy (vhs/vcd/dvd ... anything) , please email me. I just have to own it! Not just for the story, which was of the kind one usually finds in Bengali films (billed as 'social drama' in my childhood), nor for Nayyer Sultana's convincing performance, but for one of the finest musical scenes in the sub-continent's movie history. My memory isn't perfect but, as far as I can recall, the scene was packed with everything I could have wanted. Let me try and recall, as best as I can:
The wedding ceremony shows a spanning shot of the guests. Since the hero is (if I recall right) a character from Lollywood, he has invited hordes of stars as guest. Thus, the shot features a dazzling array of cameo appearances by any stars that were left out of an already star-studded movie. Name him or her - and you could catch a glimpse among the seated guests. (The people in the movie hall were outdoing each other at shouting out the names as the stars appeared.)

Unlike the usual style of movies then (has it changed much, I wonder), where everyone breaks into an aria, or prances about in the mistaken belief that s/he is dancing, at every opportunity - here was an occasion that actually demanded a song and dance sequence. The decorated stage came into view and two of our greatest classical singers, Nazakat & Salamat performed a superb long piece to the accompaniment of India's great Tabla player, Ustad Allah Rakha. Yes, things were different then. But not too different. The authorities decided that they'd not allow the visuals to feature him so (I think) we probably had pans and other shots while he played. EMI did release the brilliant solo, one that seamlessly bridged the Nazakat-Salamat performance and what followed, as a separate recording!

So what did follow? To the brilliant tabla sound that remained after the classical duo had ended was added the sound of ghungroos ... and from the stage wings, to the cheers of the people in the hall, appeared the two most popular dancers of the time, Amy Minwalla (whom I remember as a lissome lil girl - a far cry from her later appearances - at my first Christmas party in Karachi, at Hotel Metrople, where she performed a Ballet!) and the alluring Panna, the real-world wife of Director Sulaiman. In a well-choreographed dance sequence, they lip-sync'd to two playback singers singing Sajan Laagi Toree Lagan Sajna: Farida Khanum and Madam Noor Jehan!

Could any Pakistani filmgoer, then or now, ask for a better treat?
Back to reality!

Farida Khanum is set to perform again in Karachi, for an audience she loves. Don't miss her performance. I am not sure, but I think the date is the 8th of this month ... and the venue is the Karachi Arts Council. Check out Danka closer to the time. And while you are at it, bookmark the site or add it to your RSS feeds.

See you there ...

I apologize for not putting up more than short bits from FK's performance of last night on the 'net. To be fair, Saaz Aur Awaz - the society that hosted her for the evening - will be selling the professionally (:D) recorded CD set. My recordings are from way back, sitting in the audience, so they lack clarity and definition.

But, to make up, here's one more treat:

UPDATE: Adil Najam has posted this also on his very popular ATP blog. The reason I mention this is not because I feel honoured, which I do, but because - given the huge readership of that blog - you will find many more interesting follow-up comments and, hopefully, other people's reminiscences and recommended links, too.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Ghalib: Still creating controversy :-)

The two sessions on Ghalib at T2F had gone delightfully well. A true celebration of that genius, with anecdotes, humour, wit, and song that evoked the spirit of Mirza sahab perfectly. EGO, the boutique on ZamZama (a shopping area in Karachi), decided to join in the fun and commemorate the events with a new tee-shirt, displayed on a mannequin placed just after the entrance. The figure looked kinda irreverently funny, in a white underwear and turquoise tee.

All went well until a local TV channel decided to shoot a talk show series there. After the first couple of episodes were shot, I was surprised to walk into another day of shooting and see a pair of trousers being put on the mannequin. I thought they were just trying to be funny but was taken aback when I was told that their censor-advisor had said they could be contravening some broadcasting code by showing a man in just an underwear.
Man? He's an effing 'Manny', yaar. What's the matter with everyone in this country?

"Hello, world. Er-r ... we're an enlightened and moderate people who, er-r, just happened to get turned on by inanimate plastic figures." Guess if Alan Abel had perpetrated his hoax in Pakistan, he'd have gotten a huge following.

For those who haven't seen the tee, up close, here's what it says (and you can enlarge the thing to a poster-print, if you click on the image):

The tee-shirt passed muster with all who attended the two sessions - and that means a total of over 150 people, among them Ghalib aficionados and lovers, old and young. I'd say the crowd was evenly spread, age-wise, and included - at the extreme ends - a couple of high-school students, O-Level Math books in hand, and an 80-year old educationist who is also a Ghalib scholar.

However, last week, as I was settling my bill at the counter, a young man walked up and passed me a small neatly-folded slip of paper and rushed out, without waiting for me to read it, much less respond. I wish he'd stayed - for Sabeen's venture is all about conversation and dialogue. A point of view, however different from mine, would - therefore - have been wonderful to hear and discuss. Anyway, this is what he had written:

Now, of course, he has a right to his view ... and it is, indeed, heartening to see that his objection is to what
he considers 'disrespect' for Mirza Ghalib. Nothing could be further from the minds of those of us who wear the tees, those at T2F who chose to display & sell them, and those at EGO who designed and manufactured them. The 2 sessions - I am not sure if he was among the audience on either - paid Mirza Ghalib much loving respect and made him, as later reactions from many of the younger people indicated, more accessible to many.

The word 'hippie', to this young man, probably has the connotations that the establishment of the time had managed to imbue it with: a good-for-nothing, unkempt, drop-out. Skip Stone's The Way of the Hippie offers this:

"... let’s see what defines a hippie. Some say it’s the way people dress, and behave, a lifestyle. Others classify drug users and rock 'n' roll fans or those with certain radical political views as hippies. The dictionary defines a hippie as one who doesn’t conform to society’s standards and advocates a liberal attitude and lifestyle."
Ghalib was, by all reckoning, a non-conformist ... and as great an advocate of the liberal attitude as any. And so, dear young man, Mirza sahab is truly worthy of being called the original hippie (pre-dating , as he did, the 'movement' by over a century). And I - a very strong believer in the hippie philosophy, myself - am proud of having him linked to the movement that began in the 60s and continues to live - in various forms - even today.

If Ghalib were to hear of all this, he'd just smile and say:
Gar ke hae kis kis buraaee say, valay baa eeñ hamah
Zikr mayraa müjh say behtar hae keh, 'T2F' meñ hae!

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Election Commission issues Guidebook

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

So ... it's final? {aka After the Fatwa!}

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Are we condemned?

After my recent post, featuring MAD, and my modified MAD cover that one reader called 'eerily prophetic', I added a preview of an illutration I had also made around the same time (the link is in the Comments section of that post).

Since then a few people have asked me to produce more such modified covers. Praise feels good, but even if I wanted to repeat the act, I am not sure I am equal to it. And certainly not in the mood I am in, these days.

Meanwhile, since the requests (and some comments) came from young people, a generation or more after mine, I thought I could at least thrill them and others with an un-retouched scan of a MAD cover (soon to be displayed at T2F).

You'll need to click on the image to see it in it's full glory and necessary detail. And to be surprised. (Oh, it's large and may be slow to load. But it's worth it!)

Maybe this cover and reading another recent post of mine will convince you that George Santayana was right when he said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

When I am frustrated, I get MAD ...

From my collection, I mean. Especially one of the old copies from way back when MAD was not a magazine (it became one in 1956, my final year of school) but a good old 10¢ Comic Book. (See if you can find out what a US $ was worth in Pak Rupees then.)

MAD started at the time when that giant of delightful insanity, reponsible more than anyone else for the success of the comics industry - William M Gaines, Jr. - was in charge of Entertaining Comics, notorious for its crime and horror publications that angered many. It was believed (and especially by Gaines) that the Comics Code was aimed, underhandedly, at his publications.

Harvey Kurtzman and, later, Al Feldstein spearheaded MAD, which now boasts a 3-generation old continuing readership. Kurtzman, who - along with the underground artist, Robert Crumb - was one of my great idols, launched a lot of other very interesting and hilarious ventures after leaving MAD. These included the short-lived Help! magazine which, long before the creation of Monty Python, provided a platform for John Cleese and Terry Gilliam.

MAD had, by far, the most amazing cartoonists and illustraters of the time,among them Will Elder, Don Martin, Antonio Prohias, Dave Berg, Al Jafee, Sergio Aragonés, and Mort Drucker. If you are an illustrater or a comics fan, look them up! Primarily a drawing-based publication, MAD's writers, too, were brilliant and far ahead of anything that has existed in the USA since ... with the exception of National Lampoon & The Onion, both of which, I suspect, owe a lot to MAD.

The ultimate example of MAD writers' wit that I can give is that they managed to spoof Ogden Nash. No mean feat, as anyone who has read Nash will tell you. It's like trying to make a slapstick parody of Charlie Chaplin. I mean, what more can you do to the grandmasters of the genres?

Here - if you'll pardon the digression - are a few of examples for those who, unfortunately, missed out on Nash. His rhymes were not merely funny, they were exceedingly clever and contained side-splitting twists and modified spellings that were sure to make you roar. And his lines spoofed the very blank verse in which he wrote his poems in ways that I have rarely seen done elsewhere.

(Urdu readers: The two blank verse pieces - Billiaañ and Kharraatay -by
Shafiqur Rahman are just as good, as is the two-liner on the Camel by S M Jafri. More about them, in another post, some day. I will be quoting them on the Humourous Urdu Verse evening at T2F, soon.)

Haañ ... to Nash ki baat ho rahee thee. From the stark simplicity of
A bit of talcum
Is always walcum
to the twisted complexity of
What would you do if you were up a dark alley with Caesar Borgia
And he was coming torgia...
and back, again, to the simplicity of 7 words, spread over 4 lines, in a poem titled
Breaking the Ice

Is dandy

But liquor

Is quicker
Nash was the king of mad versification ... and MAD spoofed him, in a poem with a wonderfully Ogdenian title:
A Poem That Doesn't Do Anything But Rhyme ... One Time!

Abraham Lincoln really backed himself into a corner for if you begin a speech with "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...",

What do you do for a sequal?


Ok ... Ok ... so what has all this got to do with the my frustration at being locked indoors - as must be a zillion others trying desperately to get to where they need to be (home, workplace, emergency ward)? For those abroad and oblivious to why we are locked in, Ms Benazir Bhutto, has arrived and is now taking the [projected] 18-hour ride from the Airport to Bilawal House (usually a 30-minute route) - a ride that is fraught with dangers for her and the city. Even the president has acknowledged the danger by advising caution - after his initial request to delay her arrival was turned down.

So, as I said, umpteen lines ago, I often fight my frustrations with reading old issues of MAD. Today I went through loads of them to relish my favourite Harvey Kurtzman covers and came across one that I just had to modify! The original classic can be seen at Wikipedia's Kurtzman entry.

Here's mine (you can see a larger version if you click on it):

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