Wednesday, July 22, 2015



Many times we hear about people who inspire others to be better...not by preaching the words, but by the virtue of their own actions. These are the people who are spoken of in awe, in wonder, as you would of a rare breed not often seen--almost an intangible, somewhat angelic entity. In our family we were lucky because we were blessed with Saghir Mamoo.

My first memories of Saghir Mamoo are of a giant of a man, impeccably dressed, cell phone in hand, striding from one end of the day to the other. At work he was an important man with an important job, but at home he was like the Sun to our family planet. His house was our home. We lived here, we died here. We were born here and we gave birth here. We were educated here and we got married here and nothing was ever asked of us in return. We owed, at times, our existence to this institution of a man and he acted as if we were doing him a favor. He would constantly talk about his family with stories revolving around how he benefited from his experiences but never about how he was the catalyst for so much good in our lives. That level of selflessness is beyond human capacity and borders on the celestial.

But there was more to him than a benevolent patriarch. He loved to sing and I loved hearing him hum while lost in thought. He found beauty and wonder in the most mundane of situations and was often unmoved by what fascinated the world. He found comfort in order and monotony preferring to have a set schedule and the same cup for his tea. He was a simple man who maneuvered a complicated world like a pilot of the F-18 Super Hornet.

He enjoyed watching a good movie! We shared a love for old English movies and I cherished those discussions. He could talk for hours of the comedic timing of Doris Day in “Pillow Talk” or how handsome Cary Grant was in “An Affair to Remember”, one of his favorite films. He appreciated DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond” and Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”.

And he could play cards! The man was a superb card counter. I wish I could have taken him with me to Vegas. He would have wiped up the town! We played Rummy for hours with him beating me mercilessly in every game. The best part was that I had a dry-erase board where he ceremoniously wrote our initials and would diligently keep score. One of my fondest memories of him is when he would get up after every game and gleefully update the scoreboard--which was usually along the lines of me losing by thousands of points!

We all have our memories of him--some more personal than others. To us his passing is greater than the loss of a person, a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle. We have lost a piece of our being and the world is sadder for this loss. For me personally, I lost a kindred spirit. If I have one complaint it is that in his leaving he has shattered my heart into a million pieces.

My loving Uncle, my beloved friend--it was indeed an affair to remember!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Shared Planet


 International Women’s Day was celebrated on the 8th of March. Organizations around the world hosted programs showcasing efforts towards achieving gender equality. Cities like New York and London observed the day with marches along main avenues led by actors and activists. To an observer from outer space, it would be concluded that although women do not have equal rights on this planet, everyone seems to agree that they should and is working diligently towards that goal. That, however, would be far from the truth.

For the two weeks following the International Women’s Day, the United Nations is hosting more than 6000 delegates from around the world for its 59th session of the Commission of the Status of Women. These are men and women from around the world, in different capacities, trying desperately to work towards a planet shared equally. But when you ask their opinion on a personal level, their frustration at the futility of their task is evident.

The roadblocks to their efforts are varied--politics, customs, traditions, mind-set, etc.. There were certain common threads that ran through all the conversations. One important aspect is finances! Most, if not all, blamed those in power for not letting the available funds filter through. Another huge hurdle is the safety of those involved in the projects-- both the workers and the targeted demographic are usually at great risk and could not be protected in most cases. In short, there is very little that can be done within the available resources.

One of the panels, which comprised of the Vice President of Zambia and the Foreign Minister of Sweden, among other esteemed guests, were voicing their frustrations at the slow pace of any progress. It was when the panelist from Egypt implored the organizations present to do more that it struck me--this was not a job for governments and organizations. This was also not a situation where, if you threw enough money at it, it would go away. This unfair distribution of assets and tragic inequality can only be fixed by us, the common people and work needs to start at home.

We, as a culture, raise our girls to be wives. That is it! Even if they are allowed a professional education, their future is at the discretion of the husband. We raise our boys to expect subservient wives, to be molded as they choose. We feel that if we raise strong, independent women, they will make bad wives and if we raise boys who are secure enough in their own skin to view their wives as equals, they will make weak husbands. There are no organizations or NGO’s that can reach deep within the psyche of a nation and rewire. This vicious cycle can only be broken at home.

There are a few enlightened voices that are being raised and we are seeing more and more young men and women who are embracing this new reality. They also realize that “together” is so much more productive than “alone”. This “new world order” does not necessarily mean that men and women both work outside the home. It goes much deeper than that.  It is about respect and validation that goes both ways. It is about giving women the right to choose whether they want to work outside the home or within. Whether they want children now or would like to space them out. In essence it allows a woman to be in control of decisions that affect her and ultimately those around her.

This is the most tragic example of losing sight of the forest for the trees. A gender equal world benefits everybody. The world cannot move forward if we hobble and bind one half of the workforce. Women need to be seen as an asset, rather than a liability in all facets of their lives. We need more authors like Ayesha Tariq (The Suppressed Anger of the Pakistani Obedient Daughter) to voice their feeling in a way that hit home with mothers and fathers, with brothers and husbands and sons. We, as people, should take this problem as our own and resolve it in our own home and then watch as it grows and enhances our lives. We cannot delegate that to outside organizations which we can alleviate ourselves. All we need is the desire to better ourselves and those we love and ensure a bright future for both our daughters and our sons.

Love, in Actuality


Recently, a devastated friend told me how her husband, of twenty-seven years, decided to end their relationship on Valentine’s Day. He cited that he was not in love with her. When she demanded him to elaborate on that pearl of insight, he said that the passion between them was gone and that he needed to be “in love” to be part of any relationship!

While she was whirling from the “What the heck just happened?” Syndrome, and I was  thinking about what an absolute moron the gentleman was, I started to wonder why someone would give up a seasoned and tried relationship for something as elusive, intangible and fleeting as being in love.

Being in love! Ahh!! We have all been there (don't lie to yourself). It is a roller-coaster ride. It is exhilarating and breathtaking. Here, there are mysteries and myths. The experience is full of expectations, mostly from the other person. But it also forces you to be better than yourself, almost like a super-self - a version 2.0, if you will. This, mind you, is hard work but who cares? You are in love!! You are exhilarated by the highs and devastated by the lows. But, hey! Reality check! Once the journey of discovery is over...that feeling is gone too.

Falling in love, in my opinion, can be compared to visiting an exotic and foreign land. It is fascinating and the journey stimulates the senses to a point of overload. You are enthralled by the novelty, by the unfamiliar uniqueness. You want to somehow absorb every detail and to envelop yourself in the scent. But as the patina wears off you realize that the enchantment wears off too and what was once fascinating becomes mundane and, at times, tiresome and monotonous.

Loving, on the other hand is what home is. It is warm and comfortable. Here you can be yourself without fear of judgment. With loving comes a promise and a deep dedication. When you feel as if you have arrived and are no longer a wanderer. It is the culmination of all trials and tribulations, when all the monsters are slain and all dragons chased away. Here you can hang up your armor and let your guard down - you are accepted as-is, all dents and dings included. Here is a place where you do not have to be at your best behavior to impress but rather a place where you, with all your faults and imperfections, are accepted and appreciated. And unconditional acceptance is what every heart craves.

Relationships are tricky. Teenagers wish for certain attributes in their (hopefully future) partners. There is a desire for people who are spontaneous, who are ready for any adventure at any time, A certain disdain for authority, a disregard for the sanctity of the status quo seems so attractive. With age comes the realization that the qualities that were so attractive and made us swoon in our youth are not the ones that will sustain a long-term, sane, loving relationship. An adult person, man or woman, who is self-obsessed, defies authority and is ready to leave everything (job, family) for an adventure would make a crappy spouse not to mention be annoying as heck.

So the lesson, boys and girls, is that falling in love is like an explosion of fireworks! All noise and heat and whirling colors, and it just happens--no effort required. There for a flash and then gone. To sustain that love you need to keep the fires burning, and that doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.. with actual hard work. Staying for the long haul, that’s where the promise of happiness ever after lies.  You may fall in and out of love but you will never desert or betray true love!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Who Takes Care of the Caretakers


After the December 16th apocalypse in Peshawar I wanted to write something that would somehow organize my thoughts and make me capable of wrapping my head around the chaos. I tried, but I couldn't find the words. News reports kept coming in. Conspiracies, inadequacies, incompetence, insecurity and, then, even more conspiracies.

My thoughts kept getting hijacked by my emotions because all I could think of were those left shattered in the aftermath, the families of the ones who lost their lives to the whim of lunatics. The mothers and fathers who were left with only memories of those they cherished the most. The whole world was brutally shocked into momentary stillness, it seemed

One burning question took root in my mind and grew until I couldn't ignore it any more: who takes care of the caretakers, the protectors and the first-responders? I cannot imagine the impacts of the carnage upon the soldiers who had to wade through the dead and dying children to get to the murderers. The first responders who had to check every little body for signs of life. The hospital workers who received the battered bodies and pronounced them gone forever. Those who bathed them, who led the final prayers and those who lowered them into their final resting places.

Who takes care of them? I cannot sleep at night because of what I imagine the scene to be. My perceptions fade compared to the vivid recall of those present! Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a terrible condition, especially if left unchecked.  We all felt the shock and horror of this tragedy as well as the intense feelings of survivors guilt. All emotions are multiplied manifold in those who were directly exposed to this traumatizing situation! I hope that they can find the help and support they need to get through the most difficult times of their lives or they will be condemned to an existence of re-living the nightmare indefinitely.

Can we hope for any help from a government that takes a week to form a committee which will then proceed to review the situation and formulate a plan of action? From leaders who can find it in their hearts to crack jokes at hastily called press conferences while the bodies of the dead haven’t even gone cold? I feel we might be asking for too much!

So instead I chose to drop down to my knees and pray. I pray for peace and justice. I pray for protection for those who are the most vulnerable, not those who perpetrate violence. I pray for a day in our beautiful country when the names of cities will not be preceded by the prefix “saneha.” I pray for a Pakistan that embodies all our hopes and dreams. I pray for Pakistan!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Little Respect

A few days ago I sat down to watch Zeba Bakhtiar being interviewed on a morning show. The show and the host will remain unnamed as I don't want a storm of misplaced righteous indignation to land at my doorstep... but I really hope that most readers of this blog are able to guess (psst...look up the interview. It’s online!) Anyway, the reason I watched this interview was that I am a fan of Ms. Bakhtiar’s intelligence and achievements. This is a person who is an actor, a writer, a director, a producer,  an activist and a philanthropist. She is well-read and well-spoken and, yes, she is also very pretty!

I watched the interview hoping to gain some insight into the motivations and challenges of an accomplished person, but instead, I saw a cringe-inducing  conversation where the host’s entire existence, it seemed, depended on Ms. Bakhtiar getting married. He pleaded and he cajoled as he coyly looked at her promising to find her the man while she tried to steer the conversation (albeit unsuccessfully) away from the topic. I am sure Ms. Bakhtiar had a lot to say on topics other than the alleged bliss only matrimony could bring. She tried to talk about her battle with diabetes, which would have helped a few viewers in their own lives. She also wanted to talk about the controversial incidents surrounding the release of her movie-- which is information her fan would have appreciated. But we were treated to a scintillating interview showcasing a grown man acting as if he had encountered his first crush!

It might have been an annoyance to Ms. B but I, personally, took it an egregious affront! Is this what the media thinks will appeal to us? Are we considered so imbecilic that we cannot be offered entertainment that does not talk down to us? Please stop treating the morning show demographic with distractingly empty programming, as if the media bosses consider us to be vacant beings who can be distracted by shiny objects. We do not want to watch endless streams of mock-marriages..and we all know how well that turns out!  I understand that we live in the soundbite era. Sensationalism sells, yes, I know! But I also need a little respect for myself from the media.

These shows target a certain audience, and I am sure, in the infinite wisdom of the media bosses they have ascertained that this audience does not deserve worthwhile programming. They cannot be further from the truth!  We need shows where we can come away with something-- some new information, some enlightenment, maybe an insight or two!  An audience deserves programming that challenges their intellect, that teaches as well as entertains. People do need their celebrity fix, that much is true. I would have loved to hear about a celebrity’s beauty regimen..but I would also enjoy hearing about their political views or what charity they support or what personal projects they are working on. Maybe if people can hear what motivates their favorite TV stars or what physical challenges their beloved singer is battling, they, too, can strive to do more, to be better!

Until someone takes a stand for morning show audiences and starts treating us like intelligent, relevant members of society, we are doomed to stare at the TV and watch grown men and women embarrass themselves (and get themselves into a world of trouble) while insulting their viewers.  

Thursday, June 5, 2014


The 70’s and 80’s were a time in Pakistan when towns, neighborhoods and streets still had anglicized names. Lyallpur and Montgomery and Campbellpur were part of our geographical vocabulary, until they were changed . Some names were so integrated into the vernacular that, despite a concentrated effort to rename all such towns, Abbottabad and Jacobabad have escaped change to this day.

In Quetta, my hometown, we had our fair share of streets named after the British. We spent our lives going up and down Anscomb road, McConaughey Road, Mission Road or Ingalls Road. One of the most beautiful thoroughfares in Quetta was named Lytton road. This was the main street that stretched from the Cantonment to Saryab. It was wide and lined with majestic Quetta Ash trees. In local speak we referred to it as “thandi sarak” or the cool road..this was a reference to its temperature and not its pop culture status though, I would argue, that it was a pretty cool road in that aspect too.

We never once questioned the identity of the people who had their names associated with our homes. Were they heroes in our history? Were they valiant warriors who had helped us gain our freedom?  If they were such great figures deserving homage decades after we had won our freedom from their countrymen, why had we not read about them in our history lessons? I decided to start with Lytton. I figured that he must be a great figure in Indo-Pak history to warrant the honor of having our beautiful road named after him. As I researched him I found out that, indeed, he was a prominent figure in the history of our region..just not in the way I had anticipated.

Robert Bulwer-Lytton, the first Earl of Lytton, was the Viceroy of India from 1876-1880. He was in charge during the great famine of 1876 which is said to have claimed 10 million lives, according to some estimates. Lytton, during this trying time, arranged for an Imperial Assemblage which was to proclaim Queen Victoria as the Empress of India. Historians have documented that during these preparations, “nothing was too rich..nothing was too costly.”  At the climax of these celebrations, a feast was arranged for over sixty thousand friends of the Raj. It is estimated that just during the time of this feast, 100,000 Indians died of starvation.  To add to his impressive resume of heartless governance, he also oversaw the export of a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat to England during this time. Some historians have rightfully called Lytton the Nero of India. 

Even though the name “Lytton Road” was eventually changed to “Zarghoon Road”, Lytton was not a man who should have been celebrated for a second let alone decades after we gained independence. We shamed our struggles and our sacrifices because we did not engage in the study of our history. Our curriculum taught us about our heroes but ignored to teach us about the villains of the subcontinents. Instead of reviling them for their atrocities, we celebrated them for years. That, to me, is an egregious insult to every citizen of the subcontinent. We need to rethink our way forward. This is but one example that illustrates the gaps in our education. If we are not aware of our past how can we plan our future? 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Malala: The Forgotten Child

Malala Yousafzai, the precious flower of a child, thrust under the glaring spotlight of meteoric stardom. She has become a study in opposites. The world loves her, the world hates her. There are those who see her as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, the next Nobel laureate,the next world leader-- and then there are those who want her dead. There are those who believe that she is a crusader and there are those who are insulted by her portrayal of Pakistan. But in all this babel we tend to forget the sixteen year old kid who got shot in the head.

If a child is  harmed,  the parent invariably suffers enormous guilt, whether it is their fault or not. This is their burden to bear as parents. But, one would think, any parent, whose child gets hurt spearheading their idea of activism would be besides themselves in grief and remorse.. They would be ready to give up everything if it meant saving their child.
Any parent would have rubbed their knees and forehead raw in supplication thanking Allah that not only had their child been given a second life but also a future. A future that once was too great even to be a dream was now within the grasp of reality. This child, who almost died for her education, now stood at the head of a road where the possibilities were endless.

The biggest revenge against the animals that attacked this innocent child would have been a life sheltered from the media, focused on letting her recover from the trauma and being a kid. Yes, there would be a burden on her shoulder to wage war against illiteracy and inequality--but that would come later. She would step into the role of an activist and warrior after she armed herself with the knowledge and education she needed and then step out as the voice of the oppressed...not before.

In her appearances, Malala oversimplifies matters by repeatedly stating that education will change everything. In fact, education is only one factor in a myriad. If it was the only factor, the highest educated nations would never be a part of any violations of human rights and we all know how much truth there is in that. But the sweeping statements and the repetitious rhetoric shows an innocence that is expected but, also, a naivete that is unacceptable on this platform

In the end of it all, we should always remember that Malala is only a sixteen year old child who is not armed for the battle that she is being tasked to fight. If we strip away the big machinery that surrounds and choreographs her every move., we will find a child who wanted to go to school and claimed that it was every child’s right to play. She should be  playing tag in the playground. stuffing her backpack into a locker, exchanging secrets with her best friend at lunch and sitting in class, while the principles of physics are demystified for her on a smart board. Instead, she has to make endless appearances in a neverending stream of interviews during the school year. If I could talk to Malala’s father, I would ask him, “When does your little angel go to school? When does she play?”