Who’s Saving Pakistan?

Saving the environment may not be one of the top priorities for many of those who are fueled with the drive to do something for the country. After all, why worry about water shortages and carbon footprints when sporadic violence and senseless killings dull major cities and the majority of the population doesn’t have enough food to live on or shelter to stay warm under? Contrary to popular belief, however, there are quite a few great organisations in the country that, in their own way, are doing what they can to raise awareness about the environmental catastrophe in Pakistan.

Hisaar Foundation is non-profit organisation whose mission is simple yet impactful: Balancing environment with development through innovation. From all the information provided on their website, it is evident that those leading Hisaar are fully aware of the criticism that might come their way if they focus solely on saving the environment. Thus, they have combined their mission of environmental conservation with development, placing specific emphasis on the importance on preventing water contamination and seeking out and implementing cost-effective solutions to desalinate seawater. Hisaar has a two-fold agenda: deal with the inevitable water shortage in Pakistan and how it will affect livelihoods, and promote policies that encourage conservation and protection of water resources in the country. They have many initiatives and programmes that are Sindh-based, and it seems evident that though it may just be the tip of the iceberg, they are an organisation with plenty of gravitas to move forward.

Sustainable Pakistan, or Pakistan Sustainability Network (PSN), is another terrific organisation. Their website is extremely user-friendly and interactive, with a blog that has plenty of articles by an eloquent team of regular writers who provide insights on recent environmental concerns and events. PSN also has a range of programmes that anyone can get involved in, especially the younger generation. They also have a ‘Green Directory’ to which one can add their organisation, given that it follows methods and policies that are eco-friendly. An individual can also become a member of PSN, and the fee to do so is quite minimal while the benfits appear to be more than a few. PSN seems new and young, but given that they have a lot of appeal to the youth, they can easily become the driving force to saving the environment in Pakistan.

Perhaps one of my favorite green organisations is Waste Busters. With a name that’s reminiscent of the childhood beloved ‘Ghostbusters’ and a mission that is simple, to reduce and manage waste and promote recycling, Waste Busters is energetic and has already received a lot of well-deserved praise and accolades. Led by Kurt Archer, who is also a managing member at PSN, WB is active in major cities such as Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Quetta. WB provides services such as door-to-door waste collection for households and companies, as well as recycling options and solutions. A wide array of corporations such as Shell, Tetra Pak, PTC, Mitchell’s have affiliations with WB and even international organisations like the World Bank, UNDP, UNEP and WWF have collaborated with WB. The UNDP, Dubai Municipality and Lahore Chamber of Commerce have also awarded WB for its plentiful contributions and unending efforts. An impressive organisation that is doing a lot to curb the problems of waste disposal and sanitation, Waste Busters has already achieved quite a bit in Pakistan, with plenty of progress still to be achieved.

These are three impressive organisations in Pakistan that are, in their own way, doing what they can to deal with issues of the environment in Pakistan. There are a myriad more, and each requires support, encouragement and aid in order to move forward. Whether its a monetary donation, volunteer work or even just word of mouth awareness, each one of us, as citizens of Pakistan, are responsible for the country. The ridiculed leadership may be handicap and indifferent, but must we follow suit?

Hisaar Foundation: http://www.hisaar.org/
PSN: http://www.sustainablepakistan.org/
Waste Busters: http://www.wastebusters.com.pk

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The Curse of Fashion

As published in the first issue of ‘Smudge- The Social Nudge’

Today, I stepped out wearing a men’s pinstripe dress shirt tucked into high-waisted ankle trousers, underneath which fierce purple gladiators stood their ground. A pair of oversized shades reminiscent of the 70s and a canvas Louis Vuitton tote acted as loyal companions while a single white champa flower added that extra oomph to my updo. Even just visualizing this outfit gives me the warm fuzzies but for most people, it makes them want to scratch their heads and wonder if I dressed in the dark today. They say that being a woman in Pakistan is one of the toughest things to be, I am here to tell you that being a fashionista is even harder.

As I walked across campus, a score of varying reactions greeted me. Puzzled, bewildered looks accompanied by a slight tilt of the head was the most common one; some looked at me with curiousity and intrigue, while most just seemed confused. It was only a rare few who expressed appreciation and a hint of admiration. I was used to such feedback, it was not unusual for me, and I actually enjoy it for the most part. Fashion comprises a huge chunk of my life, I love looking at clothes and imagining different combinations with them. I could spend hours going through collections online and probably about a week in just one shop. I change my outfits around 4 times everyday before finally settling on one, and I have a habit of making sure nothing I wear looks too ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’. It sounds crazy to a lot of people, and maybe it is, but looking good is directly related to feeling good. I dress the way I want to, in the fashion I prefer, because it’s a passion I like to indulge in. I enjoy the creative process involved, but for the majority of people, being ‘fashionable’ means to ‘fit in’. In salons all across Pakistan, aunties flock in for their weekly manicures, monthly botox shots, and almost daily blow dries. I doubt this happens because Nabila’s is suddenly charging cheap-as-chips rates, but more likely because that is just what they need to do to be able to host next month’s much-awaited kitty party.

Women throughout the ages have rallied for more rights, greater recognition and fair treatment irrespective of their gender. They have fought to escape from the cage of a patriarchal society, such as that of Pakistan, yet by their very need to belong and fit in, they chain themselves to a stereotype. The Islamization ruling that women must always have their heads covered on television has simply transformed into another one which dictates that women must always look glamorous, meticulous and gorgeous. Women’s empowerment seems to now be coming from the prestige of the spa they go to and the designer they prefer rather than the university degree they hold or the career goals they have accomplished. Fashion is just another platform now for women to grapple over, rather than one which they can use to further express their independence. I suppose I am not an exception to this rule. On the ‘liberal’ campus of LUMS, I feel relatively comfortable walking around with my calves bare, and my waist heavily emphasized with a cinch belt, but if I were to roam around the streets of Liberty market in the very same outfit, my comfort level would be decimated. I would think twice, not about the fact that I should be able to wear what I want despite being a woman, but that perhaps because I am a woman, I am required to be demure and modest.

We live in an age that thrives on an obsession with perfection. It is fueled by a game of perception and perspective, where the former almost always supersedes the latter. I started expressing myself through the clothes I wear, but in doing so, I’ve created an image for myself that I sometimes feel forced to follow. I adore couture and all its bizarre trends, but sometimes I just want to go out wearing granny slacks and my brother’s old t-shirt. But that nagging idea of perception comes into play, and my perspective shifts so that I start rummaging through my closet for vintage wear again. Similarly, a person often just follow trends and adopt fads because it’s the ‘in’ thing to do; fashion is about communicating your distinct personality, but in following it, many people just end up looking the same. Fashion is not about doing what everyone else is, it is about wearing and liking what appeals just to your own eclectic soul. So go ahead, banish those long, flowing kameezes from your wardrobe which you’ve been wearing even though you hate the expansive hemline, and wear the knee-length shirts again which you’ve been craving for.

Aunties at the gym: a terror worse than the terrorists!

I love working out.  If I’ve had a bad day, if I’m upset about something retarded or if I’ve just had one too many cookies, then there’s really nothing more I like to do than changing into workout gear and hitting the gym.  It’s such a huge part of my routine, that I don’t know what I’d do if there wasn’t one around.

To be fair, the girls gym at LUMS is pretty equivalent to there not being one at all.  To my despair, the equipment is old and creaky, there is just ONE treadmill that’s been around for a while and has scars to prove it, and there’s really not much else it has to offer.  It’s a far cry from the facilities of Fitness First but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.  The summer is an especially bad time to go to the gym here, its stuffy and moldy and it definitely tests my lung capacity but thats still not the worse part of it all.  What I hate and absolutely CANNOT stand are the AUNTIES that descend upon the tiny, under-equipped gym, dressed in their shalwar kameeses, which they see as perfectly acceptable workout gear.  Dupattas fluttering by, they’ll hog the treadmill in an effort to lose the post-natal flab they put on about a decade ago, not realising that chappals and flip-flops are actually not effective footwear for the gym!

Aunty on the left, suspect 1

They’ll stroll on the treadmill for a handful of minutes, huffing and puffing, holding on to the sidebars as if their lives depended on it.  Clearly no one’s ever told them that letting go of the sidebars and using your arms actually helps burn 30% more fat, and no, walking at the same pace as a languishing tortoise does NOT count as ‘brisk walking’, aunty jee.  And can someone please tell me how it helps to bring your kids along to the gym?  All they do is run around as if on steroids, shrieking and shouting, being annoying little brats and fiddling with the equipment while their mothers ignore them.  You go to the gym to focus on yourself and work on getting better, and when there are little pip squeaks all over the place, all I can focus on is resisting the urge to strangle them.  Not only is it irritating for everyone else, it’s also pretty stupid, considering the lack of safety involved but honestly, that was the last thing on my mind the other day when there was this little 4-year old girl at the gym with her mommy.  There I was, out of breath and just off the treadmill, about to stretch my quads and suddenly this THING appears right next to me out of nowhere and wouldn’t move! I was accidentally about to kick her (or at least, I would have called it an accident LATER) because it was as if one of the girls from ‘The Shining’ randomly turned up next to me!

Completely exhausted from their 5-minute routine on the treadmill, they’ll fall on the floor mat as if they’ve just run a marathon…twice.  I’ve even seen some that don’t bother with the walking at all and just come to the gym to fling down on the mats and start doing crunches like crazy, as if they get paid a dollar for every single one they do.  I’ve always wanted to make them stop, give them a good shake and tell them there is NO SUCH THING as spot reduction!  The belly flab you have for the past 15 years after having 4 kids is NOT going to go away only if you keep doing sit ups!  It’s especially not going to work when your technique is all wrong and no, the point is not to lift your neck up, its to list your abdomen.  Yet they’ll go on nonetheless, all the while complaining and whining about how its just SO hard to lose the tummy and, oh my god, you MUST try out this new recipe for butter chicken that I found on Masala TV.

Oh and let’s not forget the ‘stretching’ some of them like to do.  Self-proclaimed Jane Fondas, these hefty aunties will come to the gym all pumped up with adrenaline (or parathas) and start moving about in strange ways that would probably even surprise the cast of Cirque du Soleil.  Thy’ll raise their arms, only to drop them again ath the blink of an eye, and repeat the sequence over and over again, mixing in a little windmill movement here and there.  Yes, because acting like an air-traffic controller will definitely help tone your arms better than a few sets of bicep curls and tricep dips, right?  Apparently so, because these aunties go wild with his thing, and with the loud palette of their shalwar kameeses, even the neon jackets of actual air traffic controllers pale in comparison.

No Aunties at the Gym: If I could, I would totally put this sign on the door

What’s even funnier than aunties at the gym are aunties trying to do aerobics!  I agree, some of them can give Shakira a run for her money but that ould be the mod-squad yummy mummies who have too much cash to burn and time to spare with their kids at boarding school.  What I am talking about are the PROPER aunties, the ones who squawk over paying 15 rupees per kilo for aaloo and who rummage around in their outdated bags for all the coins to get rid of while at the cash counter, and of course the ones who think they live for the sole purpose of fixing up Shaheena’s cousin’s daughter with Ghazala’s green-card-holding brother-in-law’s daughter’s friend’s neighbour.  These aunties are a laugh and a half when it comes to synchronised exercise, feet stomping and hands flailing, they’ll think they’re doing it just right when in fact, they missed every beat and oh yea, the song ended about a minute ago.

Maybe I am being a bit harsh, but I have suffered silently for far too long.  This ends now!  No longer shall I remain silent, waiting for the treadmill to be free, while the aunty on it dilly-dallies on it while talking to her husband’s sister on the phone about last night’s episode of Malaal.  No longer will I just watch and wince while so many of them cramp their necks and injure their back muscles while doing rapid-fire crunches.  No longer will I simply shake my head and wish I were at my old gym again when I see a herd of aunties trying to do whacked-out acrobatic moves because they heard from someone’s someone that it really helps.  Last but not least, next time there’s a kid at the gym or even a suspicious looking youthful midget, I am so going to tell it to go play outside!

Bomb blast in Lahore, but it’s no big deal, happens all the time!

I was sitting in the common room this morning, reading one of the many insightful works of al-Ghazali.  It was a quiet time, around 8:20 am, and there wasn’t much activity going on in the hostel building, most of the girls were asleep or already in class.  The only sound I could hear was the rhythmic swoosh swoosh of the maids’ brooms on the pavement outside,  strangely soothing and far more effective than Britney in getting me to concentrate on the reading.  I would read a paragraph and jot down anything useful my sleep-deprived mind could derive from it; and so it went, as I read and jotted, read and jotted, until I was almost at the end of the reading.

All of a sudden, 2 things happened at once.  I heard a discernable yet muted sound of a loud crash.  Simultaneously, the building shook and the windows in the room rattled momentarily.  Had I shut my eyes for even a second, I probably would not have even noticed it.  It sounded as if it had happened just behind our building yet when I got up to look outside, nothing seemed any different from the way it had been just a minute ago.  I didn’t really know what to make of it.  I first thought it might’ve have been a tremor, since those are common in thsi region but a mini-earthquake doesn’t make that sort of sound, its usually silent unless a building collapses, in which case it would’ve been a stronger movement that more people would’ve felt.  Subconsciously, the thought that it could have been a bomb blast popped into my head, yet there was nothing to prove that anything of the sort had really happened.  Had I just imagined the sound of an explosion?  Was I hallucinating when I saw the windows vibrating?

Apparently not.  That was 4 hours ago.  I just received frantic phone calls from my mom and my brother asking me if I was alright because, guess what?  That nagging suspicion at the back of my mind was right!  There was yet again another bomb blast in Lahore today.  The target was a gov’t office, or a ‘secret agency’ and Geo reports on its website ( http://geo.tv/3-8-2010/60629.htm ), that was functioning out of the residential neighbourhood of Model Town.  Yup, the location’s definitely not so secretive anymore, especially since there’s an 8-feet deep crater at the site of the blast, caused by the car that exploded with the 800 kg of C4 explosives it was packed with. 

Around 60 people have been injured, and approximately a dozen have died, one of the casualties being a guy in a building down the road from the site whose ears couldn’t handle the decibel-level of the blast.  Bummer.  It’s strange though.  A week ago, my dad was down here for a visit and he marvelled at how efficient and severe the security situation has become in the city; we would literally drive down a road and see a uniformed rifle-bearing officer at every corner.  So I do wonder how it is that a car filled to the teeth with 800 kilos of C4 managed to roam about the city as if it’s completely not dubious or alarming at all?  But then again, given the frequency of bomb blasts in this city, maybe it’s become a norm by now.  I jest…I hope.

I guess the terrorists decided that the short time period they’d given this city between this and the previous blast was long enough for some quiet time and self-reflection.  Co-incidentally, they also managed to make this blowup happen on the same day Gossip Girl resumes after its mid-season hiatus.  If this doesn’t mean it’ll be an explosive few episodes, I don’t know what will.  Way to welcome back the Upper East Siders with a bang, eh?

The predicament of Pakistan

So I have a friend who has suddenly become infused with a lot of patriotic zeal and wants to “do something” for Pakistan.

Now I am not saying that’s a bad thing but I just can’t help being sceptical about it.  Scepticism (regarding Pakistan, the nature of its gov’t, the way its been carried out) is a common feeling for all Pakistanis.  We all feel cheated, in a way, out of having a real democracy, we laugh bitterly every time the ‘representative’ gov’t gets overthrown by the military and we brood in anger and contempt whenever a new President is ‘elected’.  Yet, if anyone says anything offensive about all of it, we become defensive and start quoting statistics and relaying the history of the country, out hot-blooded heads bursting with information and indignation.

Before coming to LUMS, I had never lived in Pakistan, nor had I ever studied the history of the country.  I was forced to take Pakistan Studies at LUMS since it’s a core course, and I am glad I did (and not just because I got an A on it).  I learned about the tumultuous history of the region, from the time of the Mughal rule and British imperialism to Partition and the succeeding 60 years after it.  I realised that whatever I had known before (thanks to Geo News and ARY) was a bunch of crap, because I also learned that the media isn’t always reliable or objective.

I know our country has got problems, massive ones.  But I also think they all take their root from the time of British colonialism and Partition itself.  Every issue emerges from there.  The excessive expenditure on military and defense at the cost of hardly any on education and health sectors became a trend after Partition because of the ever-present (and sometimes imaginary) threat of India looming over us; and the colonial practice of alotting land to the Punjabi-dominated military doesn’t exactly help either because it mostly just leads to the exploitation of poor peasants and landless tenants.  The Muslim League was comprised of elites, and wasn’t representative of the masses, which were a melting-pot of subcultures post-Partition, and it didnt have a support base of rural inhabitants and therefore only catered to the upper stratum of society.  The idea of constructing a political process that would take account the cultural and linguistic diversities in Pakistan was put on the backburner as the requirement for revenue extraction and the establishment of a centralised government structure were given more priority.  So the concept of having a governement that is truly representative of all the heterogenous ethnicities of Pakistan has never actually materialised, which led to resentment and nationalistic uprisings from areas like Baluchistan and NWFP.

That’s just a couple of the big issues.  I don’t want to get into the other ones because I’ll just end up re-writing my thesis for Pakistan Studies.  But the point I am trying to make is that a lot of the problems that Pakistan faces are rooted in its history.  So how then is it possible for one person or a group of people to eradicate or correct them or even THINK of reforming them?  Every Pakistani knows what the solution is:
the poor man knows he’s at a disadvantage and is being ripped off by the landlord, his kids know they wont grow up to be educated because there’s no school in the village, and his wife thinks its ridiculous to send any of them to the city because thats where they’ll be corrupted by ‘Western’ thoughts. Meanwhile, the elites in society all know the ‘system’ is wrong and skewed, yet they know they can make it work to their advantage, and it doesn’t matter what happens next because their kids aren’t going to stick around and will just run away to the States to be educated and then settle down in the Middle East to earn some real money. Life will go on as usual, generation after generation, regardless of Pakistan’s political meltdown.

So as great as I think it is that people want to ‘make a difference’ and ‘do something’, I just don’t think it’s that easy or simple.  I don’t even know if it’s possible.  None of us want Pakistan to simply be known as the breeding ground for terrorists or the little miserable excuse for a country that only exists because of foreign aid.  We all dream of betterment for our country but we all know that whether or not it’ll ever happen is a huge question mark.

On teaching and preaching

I had a very interesting class today.  The course is called Foundations of Liberal Arts and its a philosophy course in the sense that we’ll be studying various renowned philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, al-Ghazali and Descartes to name a few) in order to learn and analyse what makes up “the true, the good and the beautiful.”

So anyways, we started off with along discussion about how nothing in this universe, including the universe itself, is necessary at all.  In fact, the universe was a mere POTENTIALITY that turned into ACTUALITY because of some sort of NECESSARY CONDITION.  This condition, we concluded, could either be pure chance, some necessary law/creator/force or the desire/will of the potentiality to grow into an actuality.  It must seem confusing right now but it was actuallyreally interesting.  This went on for a while, and we even got into alot of nitty gritties of science and physics and what all of it has to say about this.  Science, apparently, advcates that the universe was created due to pure chance.  In fact there’s even some really famous science-ish guy called Roger Penrose who calculated that the mathematical likelihood of the universe being created by pure chance is 1:10(to the power of)10(to the power of)123.  Its a really TINY number, very close to 0 but NOT 0.  Infact, I was taught today that the distance between this number and 0 is INFINITY. HOW? No idea!

Anyways, the discussion then moved on to the reading we had to do of Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and we talked a bit about how it was different from other narrative works mostly because Frankl was actually qualified as a psychiatrist to write about and analyse the concentration camps.  Experience clearly does make big difference when it comes to doing something well.  Which brings me to my main point.  Now I’m quite sure our professor is very well qualified to teach this course.  He has ALOT of degrees and has even written a few scholarly books.  Yet he himself said very straightforwardly that having degrees and such accolades does not give a teacher the right to impose any sort of thought pattern on any student in the class.  It does not make the instructor superior to the student in any way just because the teacher is..well, teaching.  And thus far, he was following his own advice pretty well.  Until today.

Somehow, and I have no idea how, while discussing the Holocaust, he suddenly paused and started talking in very Islamic terms that what happened to the “Bani-Israel” would happen to the Muslims.  In other words, he was saying that the Holocaust that the Jews went through is what Muslims will have to undergo in the future, that there will be a Muslim Holocaust.  Now the professor is a pious man, he dresses modestly, and maintains a long beard which is indicative of his faith and never before has he tried to talk about it to the students.  And, certainly, there ARE definitely signs of a Muslim Holocaust happening, I do not deny it, but what he did next really confused me.  He started to quote Quranic verses to support what he had just said and stated that this was expressly for the Muslims in the class.  Fair enough.  But what I did not understand was how the recitation of Quranic verses and in any way linked to the Holocaust and Victor Frankl’s narration of what he went through.  I do not know if the rest of the class was perplexed as I was, but no one was really saying anything.  So I decided to raise my hand and ask how any of this was relevant to what we had just read.  I was really not expecting the poor reaction I got from the professor.

He responded by getting very worked up and saying that depending on the degree of my faith as a Muslim, it would vary in its relevancy.  That people with high devotion and piety will find the link to the reading more relevant than maybe I would.  First of all, this was insulting.  I may not be as religious as the professor or even some of the hijab-wearing girls in class (whom I have respect for, rather than any sort of negative feelings), but how does that give him the right to say to me that becuase my faith may not be as strong, I may not care about there being a Muslim Holocaust as much.  Furthermore, this is the same professor that vowed to not impose his own beliefs and thoughts in the classroom.  So why and how do the recitation of Quranic verses help anyone else in the class except him?  He would recite the Quranic verse and then translate it and look around the room to see if anyone else understood, repeatedly asking, “Anyone? Really? No one?”  Does that not sort of imply that he is letting his own piety come in the way of his instruction, by expecting a few, even one student to know the translation of the Quran?

I guess he sensed my annoyance and probably found me rude, which is why he asked to speak to me after class.  He spent 5 minutes telling me he couldn’t answer my question properly because it would start off the debate on how many Muslims believe that the Holocaust is just a made up story and never really happened.  Fair enough.  Then he became defensive about quoting the Quranic verses and told me they were probably more relevant scientifically than any Marxist or feminist theory I may have learnt.  Excuse me?  Just because I questioned you in class about your teaching, that makes me a Marxist AND a feminist?  No one has to make any apologies about quoting the Quran and I myself agree it holds alot of scientific value than plenty of other theoretical works but that is no reason to insult a student’s views and theories.

We may not all be as good of Muslims as he is but what right does that give him to judge us, to judge me?  This is just while studying the work of relatively secular Victor Frankl, what happens when we get to the more religiously charged al-Ghazali material?  I was told this course was about learning of “the true, the good, and the beautiful”.  How is predicting a Muslim Holocaust and then telling a student it does not apply to her because she’s not Muslim enough fit that description in any way at all?