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Monday, October 13, 2008

Sheer Magic

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

The Saturday T2F session by Jahanzeb Sherwani was a bit like its Science Ka Adda evenings. Despite the apparent geekishness of the topic, the non-techs who were there - because they owned an iPhone or iPod Touch - enjoyed it thoroughly, thanks to the lucid, layperson-friendly, informal style of the presenter who understood something most do not: he - not the Powerpoint or Keynote thing on the screen behind him - was the presentation.

The story of the development of Jaadu, the first iPhone/iPod application by a Pakistani, was almost as magical as the software itself. The timeline from the first 'proof of concept' to what it now is - an application that was selected by Apple for its What's Hot section at the App Store - was amazingly short. Equally fascinating was the way the business itself developed for his company - Jugaari

I really wish that more young people would realize what Jahanzeb did: You could be sitting in any remote corner of the world today and, like him, and many others - singly or in very small groups - have access to the markets of the world. All the opportunities are there and, generally, barring the cost of a computer, they are all FREE (rhymes with "Wheeeeee!"): Free wifi and a working table with an electrical outlet nearby { if you are in Karachi, come to T2F :-) }, free access to information, free-of-postage email, free voice calls and video conferences via iChat or Skype, free access to other developers and techie support groups ... what more can you ask for? And remember, developing a product with a coffeehouse space as your 'office' has some advantages: Caffeine Boosts Creativity ;-) as Delicious Library shows.

On the geekier side, of interest to many was the comparison between the development platforms under different OSs. Jahanzeb had been using Windows for a long while and even developed the first versions of his iPhone application using that environment but has now switched to a Mac ... so his comments on the development and usage sides for both platforms was informative.

The discussion on comparative use of Apple's App Store to market an application versus direct sales to the consumer was interesting, too, since most had felt that Apple retaining 30% of the sale price and giving the developer only 70% was a bit unfair. The argument for it, as enunciated by Jahanzeb - who made the switch to Apple's way after being on the other side (distributing the precursors to Jaadu through other sources) - rested on the number of people Apple gave him exposure to. Everyone with the iPhone or an iPod Touch was certain to visit the App Store, making for an outreach to several million potential customers. The fact that Apple also took care of several other factors that indie developers would rather not have to bothered by was a bonus. We also learnt from a member of the audience who had the experience of developing for two other mobile phone brands, that the others paid developers a much lesser %age because they had a larger market share.

Thank you, Jahanzeb, for a lovely evening. Hope to see more apps from you soon.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Is it in the initials?

A few days ago I received an article (Two Nations, Two Choices by Vir Sanghvi, written sometimes in January 2008). Forwarded by an expat friend in the US, the Subject line of the mail was "Sad, but worth reading".

The same evening I received another copy from Australia, with the subject line changed to "Vir Sanghvi hits it on the head". I don't know why I am on the second mailing list ... I know no-one named Naseem F Mujtaba. (While I am glad, Naseem, that you F Mujtaba, please take me off the list. Thanks.)

Since NFM had committed the common but heinous crime of putting all 118 recipients in the "To:" field, as had the previous 3 FWDers, I know that in this particular chain, alone, 591 people had received the piece.

Why had this old piece begun to do the rounds suddenly, I have no idea. But I read it and passed it in on to 27 people, being careful to put all their addresses in the "Bcc:" field as courtesy, decency, and common sense demand.

The first of the 17 responses I have received so far (a response-rate marketers would die for!) came quickly. Only one other article I have ever forwarded has been commented upon by so many. Anyway, this is what I was asked in the very first message:

Hmmm... I can see why he's hitting it on the head - since he's Indian - but why are u forwarding this rather obnoxious article....?

My answer, since others, too, may have wondered but not asked: I forwarded the piece to 3 journalist/columnists and 4 members of my extended family. From the journos I had hoped for some cool, intelligent feedback. I then, on the spur of the moment, added 20 other names. (Sorry, folks!)

Now to the responses:

Quite a few felt that parts of it are true. Some wrote that it was 'depressing' to read this. A few pointed out that the tone was off-putting. One pointed out that Nehru was a crook and a bastard and slept with Lord and Lady Mountbatten to get Kashmir. (This knowledge will, of course, help cure all our ills!). One said our FO should protest to the Editor of HT, which published it. (I suspect if it does, HT will tell our FO to FO!)

The one Indian I passed it on to was splutteringly apologetic and said that while the article was 'perhaps true in some ways, it's just a point of view after all, and every developing country has made mistakes'. She pointed out that the author showed an anti-Punjabi bias, and was 'possibly an RSS agent.' ... (Hmmm, I thought, as I re- read this looking for clues).

She also went on to soothe me by saying that "no one takes him seriously, anyway." ... "Not taken seriously? That's carrying your peace-forum apologist attitude too far", I wrote back, and quoted an Indian Muslim's response to another piece by Vir Sanghvi.

Chastizing him in he above-mentioned rejoinder to Mr Sanghvi's Counterpoint piece on the Muslim response - or the alleged lack of it - to fundamentalism, someone said:
Many Muslims have been surprised and even hurt at the article written by Vir Sanghvi in the Counterpoint column of Hindustan Times on Sunday, which is without doubt the most read column of any editor in India. The reason is obvious. Had it been written by any other person it would not have mattered that much but Vir Sanghvi is one of the best editors, an erudite and highly respected journalist. Like many others he also puts the onus on Muslims for not condemning fundamentalism of Muslims ... Muslims don’t remain silent and do condemn but our voices don’t reach you. The Delhi-centric (Delhi/Haryana/Punjab) papers never carry these stories. In small cities all over Northen India Muslims protest and raise voice, but who takes notice!

Only the 2 gora non-Pakistanis I shared it with asked for the author's or the newspaper's email address and wanted to write back counters to this in the light of their experiences. (Vir Sanghvi can be emailed here.)

The absence of any journos' response means that they are mulling over it and either busy writing counters or waiting for it to be erased from memory before plagiarizing from it.

I agree with the 2 firangees. The article has been published in well-circulated Indian daily. If there are parts of the analysis (or the entire piece) that one disagrees with - and there are some I do not subscribe to while accepting the truths I cannot deny - it should be countered with facts and opinions. I know too little about the political history of Pakistan to write such a piece - even on my informal blog. My knowledge is based merely on having lived through the mess - with 25 years at sea at a time when access to information was poor, to begin with. So my writing could only result in an emotional, rather than a knowledgeable or analytical, response. That is if I felt any emotion (other than a personal grief) on the subject at all.

Finally, pointing out that there is an Indian/Hindu bias, as some did, is stating the pointless obvious. Many of the responses contained a Pakistani/Muslim bias, too. So what's new? Unbiased opinions, anywhere, are hard to come by. Indoctrination from childhood - at home and in schools - nurtures nothing as strongly as biases. 'Religious' leaders and Nationalists (and their inevitable combo-product, the Fascist) continue to fan the flames throughout life. Mr Sanghvi, himself, shows off his unbridled nationalism through his 'need' to compare and compete.

Here's one example from a response sent in by someone who, in turn, quoted an unnamed source. I found it funny (though some of you probably will not).

Writings like these just reinforce my belief that the majority of Indians out there (and by Indians I mean Hindus more or less) are nursing a deep and ancient inferiority complex.

Apart from the give-away word 'belief', the phrase "more or less' had me ROTFL ...


(And don't worry if you can't figure out why this post is titled what it is).

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

If Apostasy didn't carry a (disputed) Death Penalty

... I'd have switched to FSMism and become a Pastafarian. Yes, that's not a typo. I said Pastafarian!

Who, after all, can resist such clear-headed thinking as that of Bobby Henderson, Founder and Prophet of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Gospel of FSM, which Bobby also authored at the peak of the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debates, is one of the most hilarious spoofs of the generally unspoofable. Here's an excerpt from the section Towards a New Science:
... [S]houldn't we endeavor to give scientists the largest collection of tools possible? No one is saying that they have to apply a supernatural explanation to any particular phenomenon. Only that the supernatural be available if nothing else works, or if it is convenient for deceptive political purposes. And remember, this is not a radical new idea. In terms of years in use, supernatural science - SuperScience if you will - has the edge on conventional science. Conventional, or empirical, science has been in use for only a few hundred years. Obviously there must be a reason supernatural science lasted so long, before this empirical-science fad began. Could it be that supernatural science is more productive than empirical science?
For those skeptics demanding evidence in support of such a seemingly outlandish assumption, the Gospel offers many examples. Here's one!

The book is hilarious - but, not too deep under the surface, it offers a scathing criticism of the kind of crap that the ID proponents resort to. What else, after all, would you expect from a book that starts with this disclaimer:

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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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Saturday, August 02, 2008

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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Sunday, July 20, 2008

I am a trifle old-fashioned, I guess ...

While I sort of pride myself on not just how accepting I am of change but on how much I try and do to add to its pace, I admit to being guilty of conservatism when it comes to certain matters.  Among them, are the writing standards that I expect from newspapers. Lately, the quality of writing, as of everything else, has become so bad that it has added to the reasons which have weaned me away from the habit of starting the day with the morning edition of The Daily Yawn.

I agree with some of my friends that desi English (though it occasionally grates my sensibilities) is as legit as, say, American English, but I do believe that neither should be considered acceptable when poorly used in professional work.

Had bad writing been a crime, time was when the correspondent who filed the following (and who calls himself a scribe. How quaint!) would have been 'held' instead of the concert he reported upon.

This excerpt is from a business paper and probably speaks the language the majority of its readers do  ... but, to be fair, it deserves to be thanked that it reports on such matters at all in its effort to forge some links between Cents and Sensibility

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Looking Back / Looking Ahead

Prof. Niaz Zaman (of Dhaka) and the multifaceted Asif Farrukhi (of Karachi) have jointly edited Fault Lines, a book of excellent short stories centred around 1971. Many of these stories were translated from Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu into English for this publication from Bangladesh, now available at T2F courtesy OUP.

Along with respected Urdu writer Intizar Husain - flown in from Lahore by T2F to attend the launch of the book in Pakistan and a later evening to be devoted to his writings, alone - both Editors, whose own stories also appear in the collection, were present on the evening of the 11th May for an event that was the first of a series of happenings to celebrate T2F's birthday. 

Reading Fault Lines was not easy for me, partly because it brought back so much to mind. Actually, the very first time I opened it to a page at random, I was confronted by a few lines that made me put the book down, numbed.
"Baby, there's blood on your finger. Did you hurt yourself?"
"No ... I did not hurt myself", the little girl says.
"Okay, but let me wash it away."
"NO! I won't let you wash it! It's my mother's blood."
It took me a few days to muster enough courage to start reading it again. And those opening lines from Masood Ashar's Versions of Truth still haunt me.

While Bangladeshi writing is full of references, in works of fact and fiction, to those horrible days Pakistani prose has been very skimpy on the subject - with the occasional story sometimes being treated allegorically (e.g., Forklift 352 by Asad Mohammad Khan - included in this book and read out in the original Urdu by him at the launch). Admittedly, references in poetry from Faiz, Jalib, Faraz and others have been more direct.

The question that is often asked - and was brought up again that evening - is how/why did people in 'West' Pakistan "let it happen" and "not raise a voice". The stock answer has been "We did not know..." (an answer that was also partly supported by Shuja Nawaz during my interview of him about his intriguing book, more about which later in this post). So, Muneeza Shamsie's statement "We knew - and said so to others. But nobody wanted to hear..." came as a twist that led to numerous discussions within smaller groups after the event. (One of many interesting discussions on 1971 by today's youth has been also triggered through Jamash's coverage of the launch.)

There were, as was to be expected, conflicting views. While most of the audience generally felt that the Army had been brutal, there were still a few - including a conscientious objector from the armed forces who had refused to fight and returned to 'West' Pakistan - who believed that events before the 'army action' (what a mild euphemism for a bloody genocide!) had reached a pinnacle with the merciless killings of Biharis (someone suggesting a figure of ten thousand in a single incident). It was this, they held, that had resulted in the violent (though regrettable) reaction of the Army. Khalid Ahmad, of stage and TV fame, was not willing to buy this and countered with an argument: If the lives of Biharis were so important, why has Pakistan not ever considered accepting their repatriation? The reasons, he felt, were entirely different and pre-planned. This view was partially reinforced when Prof. Niaz - a Punjabi who lives in Dhaka with her Bengali husband and, thus, with access to the thinking of both sides - said that contacts in the army had told her, well before that tragic March, that war was on the cards and preparation were in full swing.

Will the truth ever be known? The question falsely assumes that there is one single truth. There are, always, several truths - and glimpses of them are found in books safely labeled as Fiction. Truths are rarely, if ever, found in History, which, as Will Durant (and who can be considered more qualified to make a statement on the subject?) says, is 9/10th conjecture and 1/10th bias.

Having very close contacts in the army is one of the advantages that Shuja Nawaz holds over many others. His easy access to the military top brass adds dimensions to his research generally not found in other analyses.

A seasoned journalist and member of several Think Tanks in the USA, where he lives, Shuja Nawaz has recently authored Crossed Swords — Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within, a book that is making waves everywhere even before the launch. Internationally, leading publications are showing exceptional interest in talking to him and in reprinting extracts from the book. A big launch is scheduled in Delhi soon. In Pakistan, the media is battling for time with him to conduct one-to-one interviews during the 2 days he is in Karachi.

OUP is holding a large launch on the 15th - which is also T2F's birthday and where we hope you'll join us on one or more of the sessions scheduled - but, for a more intimate (albeit brief) conversation with Shuja, you can come to T2F on the 16th. If you buy a copy of the book at T2F you will also get a free Audio CD of an interview I conducted with him over Skype.

I am not usually interested in reading books about the Army but, I admit, I couldn't put this one down. The breadth of its scope is matched by its depth - a rare occurrence, indeed. To younger readers I would certainly recommend it strongly since it spans the entire history of the country and is filled with 'inner' anecdotes. You can hear two clips from the interview here: One deals with the MQM and General Asif Nawaz (Shuja's brother, whose controversial death - or was it murder? - is also dealt with in the book). The other shows his current state of optimism.

Excerpts from my interview on other topics, including Kargil, can be heard on the OUP website. Such additions make the book much more interesting than the drab text books that turn Pakistan Studies into an almost detestable subject for many.

On a related note, Shuja Nawaz has been following the dynamic blogging community in Pakistan and has expressed a desire to meet some of its members during his visit. So, fellow Karachi bloggers, do come! 16th / 7 PM. Be on time ... he only has an hour in his very hectic schedule.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Khoda pahaa∂ - Nikla chooha

... aur voh bhee mara hua!

Fitna turned out to be what we once used to call a 'chüzzzz' ... a kind of anti-climax.

To be fair, it really did make me angry. How dare Wilders call this tired product a film? Put together and presented PowerPoint style, Fitna is merely the stringing together of a bunch of videos easily available all over the net, some other pre-existing footage from archives, newspaper shots, and some stills. Background music comes from Tchaikovsky and Grieg who would have been as angered at this association as is the Danish cartoonist (though the latter is upset - in a twist of decency - about 'copyrights'). Suprimposed over an image of the Qurãn there are some comments/subtitles, but no original footage, no interviews, no revelations, nothing! Director Scarlet Pimpernel, too, offers little I would call 'Direction'. The credit - if any - must go to the Editor.

Both Jehan Ara and I (we watched the film together) were bored and upset at the time wasted. She, fortunately, was able to go back to reading and answering her eMail around 6 minutes into the movie. I had to force myself to see the whole thing because someone from France was going to call and get my views for a Web site to which some of us bloggers from Pakistan contribute occasionally. (I know of Teeth Maestro - who has blogged about this movie, too - and Jamash, but there may be others from here).

The short [non]film says nothing that hasn't been said before. Admittedly there are some horrifying and gory scenes that violence-voyeurs may have missed. "Yes," I told my French caller, later, "it will lead to protests, some violent, others not. And it could further put anyone who even faintly represents the West* at risk in some troubled parts of the world." ... After all, chootia provocations will draw chootia responses.
* ("Don't they all look so-o-o alike? How can one tell?" - a Chinese shipmate had once asked me when I had pointed out the the 'Englishman' he was talking to was, in fact, a Yugoslav and understood no English!)
Even the peaceful among Muslims who are angered by this film - and there is reason enough for many to be angered by the intent if not the content - could respond by putting up links to videos related to Jesus Camp - now there's a frightening scenario to match our choice madrassahs. But what would such mud-slinging achieve, other than further dividing people from each other? Some globalization!

Wilders is not the first politician to choose his path to fame by fanning the flames of hatred, although that role is far better served by the many priests of all religions. It is served most effectively, of course, when the role of politician and priest are combined in one person (as we see frequently in our own country and elsewhere). (Fortunately Wilders will not be accessing my blog or he could get an idea from this and join a Holy Order).

My verdict: I am inclined to agree with the friend quoted at the end of Ali Eteraz's post. (For those unfamiliar with AE's writings, a good place to start would be his Muslamism piece.)


An hour later: Have just seen that a German Web site has placed a WARNING screen before the actual video. I can't translate the rest of paragraph but the large warning in red and black says: ACHTÜNG! Have requested the webmaster to change that to ACHTHÜ!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Jalib Session at T2F

The Habib Jalib evening at T2F was not quite what I'd expected it to be. No, it wasn't bad. Everyone else seems to have enjoyed it a lot, with many people discovering him anew and suddenly wanting to get hold of ATJ (to use Adil Najam's tarkeeb).

The kulliyaat has been ordered by some, and everyone wants a CD or two with his recitations (the CDs will be available at T2F after Eed, folks!) ... Surprisingly, many have also asked for a copy of the video that was shown that evening.

From my point of view there were two problems: I felt a bit unsatiated at the end - since very little was really said about him that we did not all know: He was honest. He was committed. He recited well. He had a lovely voice. The few anecdotes that were recounted were the best part and provided greater insight into the man who was - though in a very different manner - the avaamiest poet after Nazeer Akbarabaadi.

The crowd, too, was not as large as it usually is at such events - but that's because NAPA (Is the 'K' silent?) was staging a play, there were two political meetings the same evening, and APMC was screening Dilli-based Yusuf Saeed's Khayal Darpan --- a well-made documentary on Pakistan's Classical Music performers.

I wish a representative of WAF had been there to talk about his strong and encouraging presence at the protests in Lahore during the dark Zia days.

Despite the fact that everyone wanted a copy, it was the video really put me off. The TV channel 'edit' that the co-host, Mujahid Barelvi, had brought along must be among the worst examples of editing I have seen lately. The DVD contained all the broadcast material (badvertisements and that overwhelming Mujahid bit that appears far too frequently in his Doosra Pehlu) - with (aaaargh!) the permissions to FF or REW removed. The main documentary shows extracts from Faris Kermani's documentary, made for BBC's Channel 4 TV. Aitzaz Ahsan and Tariq Ali are among those who appear in it. (I have seen the Faris film, before it was hacked into this gruesome shape. Titled 'Habib Jalib - Poetry of Defiance', it is well worth seeing and appears in various net searches.)

To be fair, the 'mauled' video does feature a sprinkling of choice Jalib pieces recorded at a London gathering, with Zehra [Nigah] Apa presiding. Reciting to a theatre-style seated audience was not Jalib's style. It seemed too formal and incongruous to those of us who have heard him at his best when he recited at the Karachi Press Club, or at mushaeraas and protests that had thousands of attendees, many only coming to the event because he was going to be there.

One of my favourite pieces, Musheer, is included in the video - but I much prefer his very first recitation of it at a mushaaerah held in remembrance of poet Nazar Hyderabadi, with Faiz sahab presiding, while Ayub Khan was lording over Pakistan. My recording, made at that event - on a small portable spool recorder (remember those?) - may not be as good in quality as the professionally recorded version in London, but it does capture the electric atmosphere that Jalib always created with his presence. Incidently, the musheer in question is none other than Ayub's adviser (and author of our National Anthem), poet Hafeez Jalandhari - a loathsome man - who had threatened to 'report' Jalib to the authorities if he did not stop his critical writings against that Dictator-President.

The session ended with Shaeri's answer to Zakir Naik - Wajid Jawad, blogger Jamash (left), and myself reciting selections.

Come March 2008 I will organize another event around Habib Jalib's death anniversary at T2F. If any of you knew him well and can be present to share some insights and stories (or even email them to me - with a short audio/video bit, if possible - it'd be just great!).

Meanwhile, if you wish to hear another great Jalib piece - one that is probably the nazm he was most asked to recite - visit an earlier post of mine where I have begun to add the promised links for some of the poets mentioned in it.

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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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Thursday, October 04, 2007


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Friday, September 21, 2007

Creative Thinking and The Creation

You may believe that the present is the key to the past, but what if The Present has been 'created' as is, and there is no such thing as The Past?

For those of you who need a nudge from your science-infested arrogance, to return to belief, the Institute for Creation Research offers a great deal of information to counter the propaganda spread by such ignoramuses as Charles Darwin, Julian Huxley, and the evil-mouthed Richard Dawkins. Here's an extract from an article by Andrew A. Snelling, Ph.D., of ICR, that finally trumps all the fallacious logic which has resulted in conclusions based on faulty extrapolation of evidence.
The Appearance of Age at Creation

At the marriage feast in Cana (John 2:1-11) Jesus commanded servants to take huge water pots and fill them with water. He then told the servants to draw from the pots and take it to the Ruler of the Feast, who deemed it excellent wine. However, the Ruler of the Feast had used the assumption that the present is the key to the past! He used his own reasoning based on what he knew happens in the present. He assumed, based on everyday experience, this wine had come from grapes grown on vines, grapes that had been harvested and crushed, fermented, and bottled. He thought it had taken a long period of time, but he was wrong. Jesus had, in fact, created this wine. This then is the characteristic of anything God does in creation. From our experience it has an apparent age, an appearance of a non-existent history. And why did Jesus do this? He did it to meet an immediate need.

When God commanded the fruit trees into existence He created them already bearing fruit. If we went back in time, we would have looked at those trees and would have said that they had taken years to grow and mature. But God created a mature, fully-developed creation, because it was meant to be in existence immediately so that when Adam and Eve walked the earth three days later, their food needs would be met.

What do many people say today? They say the world "looks old," therefore the Bible is wrong or God has deceived us. No, God has not deceived us, because He told us what happened in His eyewitness account in Genesis 1. God saw what He made and said it was very good. He was present. He was fully capable of recording and preserving for us His eyewitness account so we would know what happened at creation with absolute certainty. The Gospel accounts give Jesus' stamp of approval on Genesis 1 as the historical record of the earth's beginning. God's timetable for the creation was that He spoke the earth into existence.

Yes, the earth has an appearance of age. But if we use the wrong assumptions to interpret the evidence, we come to the wrong conclusion that the earth is very old, when God clearly says it isn't.
Evolution is not the only misleading theory under attack by the people at ICR, which claims that its "articles are written by top professionals in the fields of geology and biology."

"Global Warming may affect some parts of our society negatively ... but would likely benefit others. In fact, the current warming trend may be returning our global climate closer to that prevalent in the Garden of Eden...", says Larry Vardiman, Ph.D., also of ICR.

Hmmm ...

Dr. Snelling bases his conclusions on the Bible, but what about Dr. Vardiman? I searched and searched ... and finally found the book from where he got his great insight.


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Friday, July 06, 2007

A T2F Events recap (as promised/threatened)

Don't blame me. YOU asked for it!

The Second Floor began its Events run with the first of its Mixed Bag series, hosting Saad Haroon's "Open Mic Night", an amalgam of standup-comedy, music, reading, music, and more music. It brought in an energetic young crowd for the most part, mainly friends and fans of Saad and the others who were performing. That's certainly more than T2F can seat. There were 90+ people at one point --- more than double its café style seating capacity --- which made the event more intimate and fun, as concerts should be. Some sat on the floor, some on hastily added chairs pulled in from neighbouring b.i.t.s., while some remained standing. A fun evening, for young and old alike, it opened with Saad's own hilariouspiece, Welcome to Dubai. He really is a brilliant performer and has a great presence. Here's the opening verse that should ensure your requesting him to perform it the next time you catch him onstage.

The crowd enjoyed every bit of the evening that featured a whole lot of young artists: Hassan Fancy, Khizer Diwan & Saad Choudhry, Maaz, Ali Alam & Miqdad Mohammad (from names list provided by Saad). Here are brief snatches from Auntie Disco Project and Humaira & Kenan, my favourites from that evening.

And then there was Bina Shah. There were doubts in some minds whether (because of the otherwise heavily music-laden evening) people would enjoy listening to a piece of prose. But, wow! She brought the house down with an excellent piece on getting a US Visa, written specially for the event. Her funny-dramatic delivery - she's a natural - added to the pleasure. In fact, T2F immediately decided to book her for an event of her own.

Following this kind of evening, what was planned next - an Urdu poetry reading in the series In Their Own Voice - raised several questions. Who would come to this venue for such an event? Is Urdu poetry (and, specifically, our first guest Zeeshan Sahil's) popular in the areas from where T2F is more easily accessible? Would people travel from the remoter parts of Karachi to attend this, something those associated with T2F really wanted to encourage?

We were sure that we'd get 40, anyway ... so packing in close to 75 on the actual day was a really pleasant surprise, as was the rapid sale of Zeeshan's books at the signing session that followed. Surprisingly delightful, too, was the fact that more Urdu editions were sold than the bi-lingual one with Tehmina's Ahmad's translations. Many buyers commented that they were glad to see the Urdu books section at T2F's small but thoughtfully stocked bookshop, without having to go all the way to Urdu Bazaar. The Urdu pre-selections, mainly by writers Asif Farrukhi and Ajmal Kamal, have helped a lot, as have later suggestions from visitors.

What can one say of Zeeshan and his poetry? Both exude sensitivity, affection, warmth. His poem, Jahaaz, as one member of the audience said, "imbues a machine with human emotions in an age where humans are becoming more like machines." For those who missed out on the evening: Do get a copy of one of his many books on your next visit to T2F. You'll love it. My recommendation: Try Email Aur Doosree Nazmayñ or Karachi Aur Doosree Nazmayñ for starters. We cannot thank him enough to travel so far and sit through such a long evening, in his wheelchair-ridden condition. He closed with a poem called Taliban.

In a complete shift of mood and tempo once again, T2F hosted an evening of Tee-M (Tariq Mirza) on tour of his hometown all the way from the USA. Held - coincidentally - on his birthday, it was nostalgic fun for me and a joy to meet a couple of old friends who turned up and thoroughly enjoyed the music. I discovered, too, that Tariq was the younger brother of two very old friends/classmates of mine: Farhat & Shahid - the latter, sadly, no longer with us. Obviously, Tariq was so much younger - he was probably born when I had nearly left school - that I have no recollection of him from back then. This discovery, in turn, led to a further interesting twist for me: Shahid's son, Taymur - who runs an IB school in Karachi - has been interacting with me without either of us being aware of our 'connection'. Only the most common of all clichés comes to mind, so I won't repeat it.

While I enjoyed Tee-M's evening overall, for me the peak fun moment was seeing Tee-M's elder cousin, Naeem Mirza, join in for an informal and rendition of Jamaica Farewell.
Read only if you're past 60:

Naeem - an old schoolmate - used to be among the best voices of our younger days and I still recall him and Adlynne Afzal's duet of A- You're Adorable on a Radio Pakistan(!) Show, where another friend, Ifti, also sang Granada in his beautiful baritone the same evening. (Bet you, Naeem, that you'd forgotten this yourself!).

Those were the days of Western Music programmes on Radio Pakistan! Hit Parades in the afternoons. Music Requests at night, with 'dedications' that often led to disasters - as Dr Irfan Mirza would know if he reads this. Still ringing in my mind are the popular voices of announcers-cum-newsreaders, Edward Carapiett and Khadija Naqvi.

Wonder if we can get some of the old folks together at T2F: Louis D'Cruz - known for his Country & Western bits - and Austin Freitas for some Operatic arias. Can anyone recall others and help?
Tammy Haq of Business Plus was, obviously, bowled over by Tee-M's performance (which, by the way, is part of T2F's Visitor's Nights, an occasional event that will host interesting people dropping into Karachi). So, Tammy decided to hold a TV Special that was shot at T2F, soon after. Sabeen was interviewed on the program, too. While the evening was enjoyable, the 'shoot' certainly took away from the spontaneity of Tee-M's first performance and those who only caught the latter on TV have no idea what fun his first T2F night was like.

Bina Shah's session was held next and drew a good-sized audience. She read out a poignant tale about the evil practice of Kari from her latest book - Blessings - a collection of short stories. The reading had a couple of members of the audience in near-tears.
Following up on the story, someone has suggested a whole evening dedicated to discussing the Kari scourge, its origins, and what can be done to stop it. Is anyone interested in taking this up and organising it at T2F???
On request, Bina next read her recent US Visa piece and, once again, had the audience in stitches. There's a review on KMB of her evening by Jamash (whose lovely photo of Bina is worth a dekko).

Oh ... I plead guilty to the less-than-great sound quality that evening. Sorry Bina. The usuual music system is not wired for mics and live feed, and the lo-fi PA equipment - obviously designed for roadside weddings, as we learnt the hard way - was hastily borrowed from (wait for it... ) Kauser Tent House, whom people now mockingly refer to as Zak's Media Partners. Alas, it did not do too well :-( but, I am afraid, it was all that a poor NGO could be expected to afford and muster in a last minute rush. T2F's own PA system was delayed and arrived just a day later. That's life! A simple but more than adequate dedicated sound system - put together by an old friend and hi-fi service wiz, Mohd. Mamsa* - worked very well at Pervez's event! So, folks, the next time Bina reads, she'll sound even better!

Pervez Hoodbhoy's presentation at the first Science Ka Adda has already been covered in the previous post, so there's no need to go into it, except to note that it has led to some exciting debates currently raging at T2F.

*Tracking Mamsa down on 92-320-509-4651 is a chore-&-a-half, but he certainly knows his onions (and Quads, Revoxes, Thorens and other esoteric equipment). So if you want to get that old turntable out of the dusty cupboard and revive it for the sudden resurrecton of vinyl we are witnessing, he's your man. Now THIS is what I call a PLUG!

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Monday, December 04, 2006

On "The Trouble With Islam Today"

Keeping this promise hasn't been easy. And I may not have done so at all, except for Ajmal Kamal's having placed the following comment in one of my subsequent posts: "I am keenly awaiting your review of the book which you promised to post in a fortnight or so." AK had, until recently, not read the English version of the book (far more readable than the Urdu translation) ... and I hope that, having done so, he will write a review that would counter or support some of my statements. Either way, it would offer a fresh look.

There's stuff in Manji's book (The Trouble With Islam Today) that's worth paying serious attention to. It makes a good case for Ijtihad. It demonstrates amply that Muslim leaders, both political and religious, have failed their people miserably. It holds a mirror to the Ummah and calls for reform. It points out, correctly, that literalism is going mainstream among Muslims. It speaks out against the deplorable lot of women in Muslim countries - a matter that needs far more attention by the 'moderately enlightened' than their bellowing about the so-called hijacking of Islam by the Fundamentalists.

On the other hand, there's also plenty in it to want to just cast the book away as her personal diatribe that, at best, has resulted from a specific upbringing and environment coupled with the reaction of other Muslims to her own beliefs and way of life. At worst, however, it sounds like the work of a publicity-seeking opportunist, cashing in on the Islamophobia of today. The long sections on her Israeli trip and the comparisons of Jews with Muslims, with the former being held in high regard - even when the point being made is a bit of a stretch - is hardly likely to convince her opposition of any other viewpoint.

Much has already been written about her book, which has received lavish praise - often quite a bit over the top, such as Charles Hill's quote: "Some of the greatest world-historical changes have been sparked by one person with a love of humanity, a big idea and a commitment to see it take hold. That describes Irshad Manji." It is obvious that despite his vast experience, his view of 'big ideas' seems rather myopic. Then, there's criticism - overwhelmingly by Muslims - a lot of which seems aimed more at her person than at the contents of this bestseller. In view of this, I would only wish to reiterate what I have said elsewhere: She has lost an opportunity -- through a very confrontational approach and, frequently, through dishing out misinformation -- to communicate to the audience that most needs to understand the justifiable parts of her criticism. Of course, that's assuming that she genuinely wanted that audience to understand and engage with her views and was not merely after cheap publicity and book-sales.

The book can roughly be divided into three themes. The first part of the book is mainly a critique of the absence of Ijtihad from the currently dominant Sunni Wahabi Islam that is (rightly) blamed for a major part of the mess that Muslims find themselves in. That is not to say that things are any better in the Shia lands, despite the presence of Mujtahids. The third is dedicated to her philosophy and activism focusing upon Operation Ijtihad - a commendable but, IMO, not-yet-well-thought-out idea that, one hopes, people will help her flesh out.

The second (or middle) part is rather ill-conceived. It reads at times like the literature El-Al could do with to promote tourism in Israel. Although I may not subscribe to such an idea, I would not be surprised if Muslims, ready at the drop of a praying-cap to pin everything on a Zionist Conspiracy, don't start alleging that this portion was added at the behest of the Jewish Lobby or suggested by Jewish Publishers to guarantee higher return on investment. I shall not go into this tedious middle portion at all - with its fallacious logic and a decidedly anti-Palestinian bias - for fear of being billed, at the slightest slip of pen, a typical Muslim anti-Semite, which I am decidedly not. In fact, I am as happy about my Turkish-Jewish ancestry (my Muslim ancestors had to convert into Islam from something!) as others are of their Rajput origins or the Syeds of theirs. And, unlike the latter's, mine's not even manipulated. ;-)
Before approaching the contents of the book, itself, I need to take one paragraph to point out that the absence of an Index in such a work (or the absence of Footnotes on the poor excuse of their being disruptive in the flow of the narrative) makes citation or quoting, and the verifications of 'facts', very difficult. Although there is a printer-friendly notes section, divided by chapters, on the net, there is no way to find out whether the specific portion one wishes to check up on has been addressed through a notation or not. For example, in the prologue Prophet Mohammad is quoted as having defined religion as 'the way we conduct ourselves towards others'. I wanted to know which Hadith or source Ms Manji got this from (I was sure she did not make this up - but I needed a reference for some other reason). So: shut the book; get up from the chair I am cuddled in; get to the computer in another room; open Browser; get to her website (luckily bookmarked); link to the 'sources' section; click 'Prologue'. Oops! No references. The 3 that are there, deal with matters I would have found no reason to check up on. Even armed for the future, with printouts that avoid the 'delay', this kind of referencing is a poor, if not outright useless idea. And what do the numbers in these reference sections denote, anyway, since no corresponding numbers are found in the text?
To begin with, it is clear that Irshad Manji's view of Islam and the Muslims she grew up with - some in Africa - is based (naturally) on an amalgam of life within her own home and (not so naturally) on a rather simplistic assessment of local conditions. Citing her father's penchant for beating the local servant as an example, Manji concludes, "The Muslims of East Africa treated Blacks like slaves". While I agree that her father was not unique in his attitude or behaviour, this was not necessarily a Muslim-only trait. Reading the sentence again, one wonders, "Were there no Muslims among Blacks?" I knew a few. "Did the Hindus treat Blacks as equals?" Many did not. I knew a few of those too. "Did White Christians?" Errr - next question!

This reaching of broad conclusions, based purely on personal experiences or flimsy evidence, persists throughout. Islamic Society is portrayed as anti-curiosity and development, as opposed to Christian Society. I agree with her wholeheartedly ... that is the fact when one looks at most Muslim-majority countries as opposed to most Christiain-majority countries. But to reach this conclusion because her Madressah didn't allow questioning and her Convent did is hardly worth a consideration. I studied in a Convent school, as did many others who have had to stand in corners, or on benches, or had our backs whacked, if the questions were the kind we were not supposed to ask. Specially in relation to the Holy Scriptures.
An aside: My own encounter with a priest's wrath came after I brought up the likelihood of the Bible being written by polytheists and mythologists as I felt by reading this:
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4)
I got hit even before I had time to question why most humans did not (despite God's promise or intent) live to be 'an hundred and twenty years'. (Those of you looking for possible explanations to that inexplicable verse may want to visit a site that claims to offer God's POV.)
Back to Ms Manji's book. One of the biggest problems - and I offer it not as a criticism of her view but an explanation of why an overwhelming majority of Muslims disagree with her vehemently - stems from her claiming to be a Muslim but wanting to define 'true' Islam as she wishes. There's no doubt that there need be no mulla to define the Truth for a people who are being addressed by a Divine Being, via a Messenger. The Divine Being has sanctioned no other intermediary (although where Ms Manji places her Shia Imams is unclear). But there are certain basic tenets, such as the Oneness of Allah (Tauheed), and recognition of the Prophethood (as embodied in the Kalimah or Shahaadah) that cannot be denied if one wishes to remain in the Muslim fold. Among other, generally accepted, beliefs is also one that holds that the Qur'an has not been altered (and that other religious books have been tampered with). Ms Manji's disputing this (and stating the possibility that, perhaps, not all of the Qur'an is of Divine Origin or has been altered, since) casts her outside the pale of Islam in the eyes of almost all Muslims.

Yet another problem is created by the fact that Muslims view the similarities in the Old Testament and the Quran (and, thus, between Judaism and Islam) as being a result of emanating from the same Divine Source. Ms Manji's statement that much of Islam is "a gift of the Jews" and that "the biggies of monotheism came to Muslims via Judaism" has very different connotations.

The book is also sprinkled with 'observations' that state the obvious, leaving one looking for a deeper meaning or conclusion to be derived from their inclusion. Take, for example, "Most of us Muslims aren't Muslims because we think about it, but rather because we're born that way." --- Not profound, by any measure. So, upon reading this, are we to conclude that it's different in the case of people of other faiths?

Though there is much to dispute, in closing I shall confine myself to just 2 examples of misrepresentation and misinformation, which I earnestly wish had not been part of the book, for they have taken away from what - despite its tone and anger - could have been a text demanding attention of the younger and more liberal Muslims who do not share the prejudices of their elders. However, just as a confirmed perjurer is not really acceptable as a witness again, her subsequent claims begin to sound suspicious, even if true, and her credibility sinks.

(The page numbers refer to the Indian imprintOne Edition of 2005)

(1) Page 73: "In the Hadiths...nearly all mentions of black dogs appear alongside degrading references to women and Jews."

An extreme case of exaggeration: Googling 'hadiths black dogs' didn't turn up several such instances. In fact not even one turned up on the first few of the sites that Google threw at me. I gave up after that, since if it were 'almost all', surely some would have turned up in the first 4 pages.

This is not to deny that a Hadith of such nature will be found among the thousands of the ridiculous ones that have been collected (Read 'made up'! Some, even in the sources considered genuine, such as Saheeh Bukhaari, are so peculiar as to be absolutely unbelievable. Additionally, many not only frequently negate each other, some even negate the Qur'an!)

(2) Page 139 presents a modern day item and, therefore, easily verfiable. Referring to Prof Abdul Salam's Nobel Prize in Physics, she writes: "You'd think his country would have feted him. Instead rioters tried to prevent him from reentering Pakistan. An act of parliament even took away his citizenship."

Stuff and nonsense. True that - mainly as a result of Mr Bhutto trying to save his political power and position by bowing to the wishes of the murderous mullas - the treatment of Ahmadis in this country is disgusting and, shamefully, has legal cover. Also true: no official welcome or acknowledgement was made, nor the great professor officially feted, although private institutional meetings were held to honour him. The press carried the news with a mixture of pride, embarrassment, and fear (one Urdu paper even finding it necessary to save its ass by including the statement that Prof Salam was born into a Sunni family).

However, contrary to Ms Manji's misstatement, designed to raise the worst reaction from her gullible readers, no riots occurred to prevent him from reentering! No such act of Parliament was passed! Professor Salam remained a 'dedicated Pakistani' (his own words to me at one of the celebratory functions) to the very end. Think: Had his citizenship been taken away, why would a controversial non-citizen's body have been allowed to be flown in for burial in this country? Surely the bloody mullas would have tried to use legal pressure and their nuisance value (all they had, prior to Musharraf) to prevent this.

Just to make sure that memory was not playing tricks on me, I cross-checked this with Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, a student and close associate of Dr Salam. His response: "No, its absolute bullshit!".

Chalo. Qarz to utar gayaa ... Vaadah khilaafee naheen kee. The ball is in your court, Ajmal!

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Friday, December 01, 2006


Salma Warraich (aka Sam to blogger friends) has reviewed Tarun Tejpal's Alchemy of Desire in this week's Friday Times. Though she may lay claim to reading it after being nudged by me, I had no part in the views she holds, except being pleasantly surprised by them. This disclaimer is mainly to ward off lovers of Vikram Seth (author of An Unsuitable Book and other tree-destroying tomes) who may make the wrong link. Sam & I have never discussed Seth and my nudging her to read TT was only because she said she had it on her list of books to read and I said I'd love to hear her views.

Oh, and, "Congrats, Sam!"

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

From Zakir Naik to Irshad Manji

Much as I want, I can no longer avoid blogging this ... my jaamé sabr runneth over. Someone who wore a Hijab during the days she was my student, has just sent me a long email from Canada about her "journey from the strengthening of blind faith under evangelists like Mr. Zakir Naik to an enlightened modern view of Islam, partially through reading Ms. Manji's excellent book." She has requested anonymity, while becoming less 'anonymous' in real life: She's dropped her Hijab!

My reaction, of course, was 'Khajoor say giree, Babool mayñ atkee!' (The equivalent phrase in English is 'From the Frying Pan into the Fire'). Much as both these names have become well-known and have attracted large followings, one reason for the attraction lies in the right mix of truth with fiction and the scholarly image they project to their audiences who, for the most part, are not knowledgeable enough to challenge what are often ignorant remarks, at best.

Mr. Zakir Naik has managed very successfully to exploit the fallacious connection - one not incredibly difficult among products of an education system that teaches people to value memory over understanding - between scholarship and his truly amazing ability to quote verbatim, off the cuff and with equal ease, from the holy books of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism.

Here is how a website about Famous Muslims describes him:
A medical doctor by degree, Dr. Zakir Naik is renowned as a dynamic international orator on Islam and Comparative Religion. Any Person who listens to his question and answers session is going to be astonished and overwhelmed as he clarifies Islamic viewpoints and clears misconceptions about Islam, using the Quran, authentic Hadith reciting each and giving each Surat, Ayat number (by heart) and he has not only learned Quran and Hadith by heart but has also learned several Bibles, the Talmud and the Torah (the Jewish scriptures), the Mahabharata and the Bhagvad Gita (the Hindu holy books), and other scriptures and gives very satisfying answer in conjunction with reason, logic and scientific facts. He has learned hundred and thousands of pages from different books by heart and has the knowledge of scientific and mathematical facts and theories. Dr. Zakir is popular for his critical analysis and convincing answers to challenging questions posed by audiences specially non-muslims, after his public lecture.
With such a stunning photographic memory, in another day and age, when what The Bushtard has called The Third Awakening was not the primary concern of large masses, he would probably have been part of Ripley's Wonders or P T Barnum's entourage. To his credit is the fact that he is no loony fundo, inciting murder and mayhem unlike many of his extremist counterparts in all religions, and that his TV Channel is promoting Interfaith Dialogue (a tricky matter) and Peace, (Amen!)

There is little to fault him, since much of what his speech contains are just quotations, accurately repeated from the sources. I have no problem, too, with the conclusions that Mr. Naik occasionally draws; like everyone of us, he has the right to be wrong. It is when he chooses to delve into the many areas not obviously within his scope that his ignorance (and that of the mesmerized, nodding audience) stuns me. Since I really find Mr Naik of no particular interest - other than as entertainment (of the Shakuntala Devi kind) or as an occasional measure of a section of the Ummah's pulse - I shall only quote one example from his program that I watched last week on Peace TV.

In response to a question about the calendars in use in Arabia, prior to the Hijri-based calendar being adopted by Muslims, he went on to describe the various Lunar Calendars and the Gregorian Calendar, mocking the amusing and obviously paradoxical sounding statement, that Christ was born in 6 BC, without bothering to explain how this came about and leaving some (like one 'teacher' who discussed this the next day with me) to think that it was part of some strange Christian belief. :-) But that is not which I found ridiculous ... after all, it could be argued that this was not the place or occasion for such details. It was when he spoke of AD that an ignorance - surprising for someone who must have come across this term in many works on Christ and Christianity - showed up.

Having rightly stated that AD stands for Anno Domini, Zakir Naik proceeded to translate this to mean "After Death" - a popular misconception, in the same way as the idea that SOS stands for "Save Our Souls" which, of course, it does not! - and then went further on to make the hilarious observation that Muslims would not follow this, anyway, because they do not believe in Christ's Death. Anno Domini, a Latin phrase, means 'In the Year of Our Lord'. And it starts where BC ends. That is, at the time of Christ's birth, not after his Death (or Disappearance - for those who prefer to subscribe to this view). Just reflect: if what Mr. Naik says is the case, what abbreviation or system would he (or anyone else) use to date an event that took place during the 33 years of Jesus's life on earth? As for its possible prevalence in the Arabia pre-Islam, no such luck. Anno Domini dating was not adopted until the 8th Century CE (CE= Christian Era, a term often used instead of AD for its relative 'neutrality').
As an informational aside, the currently common Gregorian Calendar, was introduced only as late as 1582, by Pope Gregory. Russia adopted it as late as 1918 and countries in Europe adopted it at different periods, with Greece being the last to do so in 1923! Imagine the difficulties of communicating any dates to anyone in the intervening years. And for a bit of fun, try and guess the name of an imprtant person who was born on Oct 9, 1582 ...
Let me now move on to the much more interesting and complex matter of Ms. Irshad Manji. Her name first caught my eye rather late, since her book was not sold in most Pakistani bookstores. Bookshop owners are, naturally, afraid of possible book-burning mobs - not a farfetched fear given the hooliganism previous protestors have displayed. Her comments on the Jalalabad Riots were emailed to me and, if nothing else, since then The Huffington Post has become a regular site to visit.

Intrigued by her, I have occasionally been following many of her articles and interviews with amusement and amazement. While admiring her courage to challenge traditions and ideas forced upon her, to be accepted without question, I increasingly began to feel that she plays to the gallery and, in doing so, fails to pay heed to a wonderful bit of old advice about how to act when confronted with subjects one has little knowledge of: It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.

Unfortunately, her misinterpretations and misunderstanding do more harm than good to her causes (such as Project Ijtihad that, with a little refinement and practicalities, could provide much-needed support to Muslim women). Most times, her genuine, often sensible and well-meaning advice or criticism is lost on Muslims who do not wish to hear anything she says, because of the way she says them. As my friend Isa says in his comment on my post about Pervez Hoodbhoy's recent TV ouburst, "If the idea is to convert people to your way of thinking then it helps to be heard." Were she to just shrug away these people, she'd be left with an audience for whom these issues are of no deep interest.

There are are bound to be people who find some of her ideas and ways of expression downright insulting (and not without reason). Others find her claiming to be a Muslim itself odd, especially when she denies some of the very basics of their beliefs, such as the purity of the Qur'an as an unaltered word of God, as she does in the Jalalabad post mentioned above. Surely, among Muslims there are people who can engage her in a debate and, as always happens in such encounters, provided both sides come with open minds, each could learn much from the other. I am, quite obviously, not talking about those who indulge in vulgarisms and character assassination, on her site and elsewhere, for matters that are not the topic of her writings and lectures on Islam but of her personal concern.

This summer, particularly after a 'nonversation' with 2 young Hijab-clad Pakistani girls, back from their North American colleges, who said many negative things about Ms Manji but had not read a word by her or could even quote anything they had heard, I decided to read the much acclaimed and hated book myself.

The Urdu edition is made available on the website as a FREE download - along with the Arabic and Persian editions - on the reasonable premise that the book is unlikely to be sold openly in countries where these languages are generally spoken. Although the site does show a Pakistan edition under 'Buy the Book', the link leads only to an online version. As for the other versions, it is unclear whether it is to boost sales that some editions conveniently drop the 'Today' - adding a different twist to the title - or whether some add it to tone matters down. I found the Urdu downloadable and online editions difficult to read as the scan resolution was too low to enlarge without horrible jaggies and my eyes can no longer cope with the original size. So I finally obtained an English print edition from India a month ago.

Irshad Manji's The Trouble With Islam Today has been quite a roller-coaster of an experience. I would certainly recommend the book to all but the easily inflamed. But recommendation does not mean approval for all she says. In fact, I will be writing a fuller review of the book in the next fortnight, and taking issue with some of its misrepresentations and falsehoods that mar what could have been a very interesting critique of the Muslim society today. I would have done it in sooner, but an imminent trip to Bangkok, in connection with a Drik Partnership meeting, has me engaged in a host of other activities.

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