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?