No Culture in Dubai? Come to Emirates Lit Fest. For Ben Okri.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve been a bit starved for intellectual conversation in Dubai.

Since moving back here 7 months ago, I’ve been on the lookout for anything that can get me cerebrally turned on.  There are some great folks in the city, certainly, but most events in Dubai labelled as ‘cultural’ or ‘artistic’ attract the same type of footfall.  There are only so many vapid, self-involved people you can meet before you decide to give up and just stay in and watch re-runs of Friends.

All hope, however, is not lost. Lo and behold the Emirates Lit Fest!

Granted, I don’t think all the authors invited for it (and the list is rather long) are the cat’s pajamas but I’ll stop nitpicking long enough to rejoice that YES, THERE IS CULTURE IN DUBAI (…only when it is imported, but it’s a start).

Today was the 4th day of the festival.  The venue was crowded, lots of bookworms milling about, hoping to find a last-minute ticket to the Jeffrey Archer session, which was sold out soon after it went on sale. Thankfully, I didn’t even dream of wanting to attend that one.

What I was looking forward to was catching the talk and reading by Ben Okri, and oh, what a delight it was!  The man is a wonderful speaker: soft, thoughtful, and eloquent with words that seem to just glide into the ether and linger there for a while so you can savour them before digesting what they are trying to convey.

His bio is impressive: a Booker prize, novels, short-story/poetry collections, books of essays, even a comparison that denotes him the African counterpart of Marquez and Rushdie.  His demeanor, however, was absent of any grandeur and he spoke about some truly wonderful notions surrounding literature.  From five pages of notes that I was compulsively scribbling down, there are a plethora of things that really stuck with me.

Okri, Ben.jpg

On being called an ‘African’ writer, Okri shook his head and commented that a people and what they mean cannot be confined to simply one place. With literature, geography becomes transnational.  As a teenager, he would devour Plato while his father would often gesture around him with his hands and comment ‘We have our own Platos.’ (Isn’t that just the loveliest image/line?)

The African (and here I could easily insert Pakistani or South Asian, and it would make just as much sense) philosophy and way of seeing reality are in the air.  The spirit of a place and its people are not separate from the way in which we live our lives.  Thus, writers who write only of where they are from, or who are labelled as where they are from, pose a severe limitation to the scope of what is being written.  Where you are from is already implied in your writing as a default, there is no need to make a deliberate effort.

This particular idea really resonated with me.  It’s something we often debated in Bilal Tanweer’s workshops at LUMS, the concept of writing ‘ethnic lit’ and representing Pakistan. Making an effort gives you prose that is exoticizing and simply trying too hard, with long English descriptions of the simplest of things such as a paratha (“round, flat bread, fried to a rich golden brown”?) sounding like a justification or an over-explanation for what is normally just a part of your culture that you don’t think twice about. A paratha is a paratha.

Expanding on the burden of representing Africa in his writing, Okri used a great little analogy.  We do not find Shakespeare interesting because of his English-ness, we read him because of his humanity.  When you read a writer, think beyond their identity and their labels. To approach a piece of writing with a set prejudice in mind is to do it a great disservice.  “One of the most effective ways of overcoming prejudice is to write well.  Conflicts of the world would be so much easier to deal with if we just read each other.”

Okri also spoke at length about childhood.  He described that phase of time as an unusual way of seeing significance in insignificance, a teacher of openness. “If you want to know what a nation is like, look at how they treat their children.”  As we grow older, this is what we lose. It becomes difficult to see.

This reminded me a lot of what William Wordsworth puts forth in his poems (Tintern Abbey, and Ode to Intimations of Immortality).  He explores childhood as a time when our connection to nature is at its most pristine.  Equating Nature with the divine also implies that in childhood, our connection to that which is beyond us is unblemished.  Childhood is that idealized state in which a simple sight such as that of a rainbow can excite the mind in wondrous ways.  We lose that sense of awe and wonder as we grow older.  There was this beautiful moment in the Q&A after the talk when a young girl asked Okri, “What advice would you give to children about writing?”  He was flummoxed into silence fro a few minutes before thoughtfully responding, “Read.  Read as much and as often as you can. Write, of course, write but read because that comes first.” He paused to ponder before continuing on, “There are moments when Mom or Dad say something amazing. Remember them.” He settled back in his seat and the audience began to applaud.  He sat up again and interrupted the moderator to continue, with widened eyes and a feigned look of wonder, “You know that feeling when you see something or someone for the first time? Never lose that.”  Needless to say, the entire audience aww-ed and sighed in pleasure.

I also really liked what Okri had to say on ideas.  He likened an idea to a seed, it may be small but it contains the potential to be an oak tree. (A lot like Shariati’s idea of the 0 and the 1.) The logic of your idea pours out once you start writing and that is the best kind of writing, that which calls forth out of your soul.  A novel doesn’t just happen all at once.  “A novel visits you, in a glimpse.  Maybe it’s just a glimpse of a woman walking down the street, but what a woman and what a street!”

He described himself as an obsessive re-writer.  You cannot know, he said, if a sentence works unless you literally and with full consciousness go over every single word.  “The process is sickening.” It requires what Chekhov called the “coldness of the eye”, a sort of distancing yourself from your creation in order to critique it.  But this is far from easy.

Personally, I abhor going back to stuff I’ve written in order to edit or re-write.  What you write is like your baby, you;re protective of it, you’re halfway in love with it, and incredibly resistant to altering it in any way but it’s necessary.  Being secure as a writer is impossible. How can you be secure in a way of being that deals with the most intangible of things? As Okri put it, “Insecurity is a punishment from the gods for the effrontery you commit for wanting to create.”

How gorgeous is that line? Soak it in.

Needless to say, the session was exactly what my soul needed.  There are not a whole of other writers I’m particularly looking forward to meeting and hearing, but Ben Okri was definitely one of the highlights.  Here are a few bit from some of his poems:

We have broken the night.

The night yields in the rock.

Night leaps out from our hands.

The night has left the sky

As fire and power in our hands.

As a strong shape.

The world is ours at last.

 

We are as the gods dream.

Haven’t we broken the mountain

And shaped the world

In our own hands, to bend and crack

And change it into form and dream?

 

We have become more than we seem.

 

Not sure which poem this was from, but I loved this particular stanza.  Made me think of Karachi:

Our future.

Who can read it,

save the Gods.

But they are quiet now.

They are quiet

now.

 

And this one:

I held you in the square

and felt the evening

re-order itself around

your smile.

 

I could keep gushing about Okri. So I’ll stop now and start reading the collection of his essays that I bought today, ‘A Time for New Dreams’. Indeed.

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News, Views and End of Semester Blues

I would say that I haven’t had time to blog recently but in all honesty, I’ve had all the time in the world. I just haven’t had the will to blog. There is just so much crazy stuff happening recently that it really made me wonder why we bother with anything at all.

Let’s start with the pink elephant in the room. Osama bin Laden. So, allegedly, he was discovered to be living in Pakistan. As much as the news reporters like to emphasize that Abbottabad is some luxurious city and the house he was living in was a mansion of grandeur and opulence, I’d like to disagree. Certainly, Abbottabad is a military city and it is indeed 35-40 miles from Islamabad, and if it is indeed true that the US found OBL there then its pretty shameful for Pakistan: a) because maybe the military and civilian leaders knew about this all along and were part of the great deceit involved in hiding away the most wanted man on Earth b) they had no idea and were really stupid c)they didn’t act before the US did and thus looked ridiculous. emphasized by the fact that Pakistan’s military radars could not detect the US helicopters closing in. OBL’s place was not a ‘mansion’ by any standards, it was a compound home, one of many found in this country. Sure, it had high walls and a security system but what house in Pakistan DOESN’T? For further reference, Declan Walsh’s article in The Guardian is a great read: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/03/osama-bin-laden-death-raid

Also, for more on the ‘his home wasn’t really a mansion’ debate: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/5752/media-madness-revisiting-osamas-fortress-mansion/

insensitive, I know, but still funny

What kind of Islamic ritual is it to be buried at sea? I hadn’t heard of it before so if anyone knows, an explanation would really help. Otherwise, I am gonna stick to my own gut feeling that the ‘burial at sea’ is just another cover up and that either OBL was never really caught or that he died a long time ago and the US just used this entire fiasco to look heroic (plus, Obama does need these brownie points for re-election).

Whether or not the news is actually true, it’s going to lead to some major crises in Pakistan. This could be in the form of local al-Qaeda revolting and planting bombs in all the major cities and maybe using this “capture” as a way to gain more support in the rural outskirts and thus recruiting more militants. In the international arena, Pakistan is screwed. A superpower has announced that Pakistan is where OBL was, and now as if there wasn’t already enough heat on the country, there’s a whole damn conflagration and the only thing going up in flames will be the country. (But then again, that superpower keeps changing its story so authenticity isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind) Again, the question emerges, what will become of Pakistan? And again, the only answer is a shake of the head accompanied by a resigned sigh.

Change of topic. I now own a kitten! He’s white and fluffy and just a handful of weeks old. He loves shoes, and has slept in or tried to wear every single pair I own and thus I have named him Jimmy Choo. It’s fitting, I think. Taking care of him is really not as easy as I had though it would be, especially is a tiny dorm room. But it’s been a strange anthropological study of sorts and I’ve realised that men are not all that different from cats! A friend of mine tells me there are quite a few scientific studies out there that assert this same fact and I really don’t doubt it now. Jimmy wakes up, meows for some loving and I oblige him by rubbing his belly, then he nibbles my fingers to indicate he’s hungry. I set out some food and milk which he slurps up and then he saunters away to scratch at a carton or play with a belt thats lying around. That’s a cat’s idea of a days work. Soon he;s napping and wants his tummy rubbed again or his head scratched and then chow time again. At night, he curls up next to me but by morning he ends up taking more of the bed space up than me. So you see, not that far off from a man.

isn't he adorable!

The semester’s ending in a couple of weeks and although this brings the horrific realisation that final exams are just around the corner, it also means that in two weeks, we’ll all be seniors! It’s depressing and exhilirating at the same time. You want to graduate and get on with changing the world but at the same time, you want to stay sheltered and coccooned and within the great big bubble of LUMS. I’ve gotten through thsi semester okay, I think, as best as I could have. My fiction writing course was a great help, pretty much the equivalent of therapy and the only class that I could actually be bothered to attend regularly. Other than that, I’ll pull through somehow. And for the graduating seniors this year, we’ll miss you!

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.

A Coke Studio Inspiration: Satwa Sessions!

Almost everyone I know has heard about Coke Studio. Pakistanis living in the country, or as far away as the outback of Australia have either heard of or know about the music that Coke Studio produces. It’s a diverse fusion of typically ethnic, groovy Western, and locally inspired music, that showcases the awe-inspiring talent of the music industry of Pakistan. From maestros like Saeein Zahoor and Abida Parveen, and classical cult members such as Tina Sani to the pioneers of pop and rock like Ali Azmat and Strings, it is a platform that uses music in order to promote unity and tolerance and instill into Pakistanis a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Coke Studio also serves as an inspiration for many. Some prefer to make home videos parodying the performances (‘Alif Allah home version’ is a classic now!), while others become motivated to finally follow their dreams. One example is Satwa Sessions, a Dubai-based group of professionals who come together with one thing in mind: the enjoyment of music. They are men and women involved in all sectors of the corporate world, who take out the time from their tangled, material lives to jam together. My brother, Jawad Sakrani, happens to be one of the vocalists part of this eclectic group.

He’s been singing for as long as I can remember, whether its covers of Vital Signs and Junoon or original stuff. He’s also been playing the guitar for many years, both acoustic and electric, and has also learned how to play the harmonium recently. He is a music buff and it’s been a regret of his that he could never get completely involved in it, but now he’s found a way to give in to his passion without overdosing our eardrums at home. Satwa Sessions is unique, it’s where you can go to relax from the otherwise frantic pace of Dubai life without worrying about how you look, how much you earn, what car you drive, etc. You can play any instrument and sing in any language, be it Arabic, Urdu, English or even Swahili. Satwa itself is one of the most non-pretentious neighborhoods in the city; free of dizzyingly tall skyscrapers or gigantic malls, it’s a cul-de-sac reminiscent of the old, more traditional Dubai lifestyle.

Satwa Sessions is more than a month into its inception, and it’s already churned out some great covers, such as Vital Signs’ ‘Tere Liye’. Each session is recorded and the video displays how much harmony is present, it gives off a vibe of camaraderie, a vibe of happiness. And this is precisely what the point of music is, to allow you to escape into a realm of dreams where nothing is impossible.

To listen to some of their stuff, search for ‘Satwa Sessions’, they have a profile on Facebook, and many of their videos are posted on the wall.

Professors, Politics and Pakistan

For some reason, WordPress has been at odds with my browser and internet settings recently so I haven’t been able to blog as much as I wanted to.  This post is going to be an amalgamation of everything I wanted to say all month!

So I am taking a course on democratic theory this summer and its turning out to be more entertaining than I thought.  I actually wanted to drop it, mostly because I wanted to continue being a bum and taking just ONE course the entire summer semester; BUT that was before I actually attended one of the lectures.  It’s being taught by Howard Schweber (his profile: http://law.wisc.edu/profiles/index.php?iEmployeeID=278 ) and it’s become one of my favourites so far. 

Now, normally, when you imagine a course on political theory, you reckon it will be dry, dull, dreary and full of thinkers you’ve always heard of but never really understood.  Certainly, this course features Locke, and Rousseau and all the other political aficianados but with this specific professor, they’ve been brought to life!  He knows his stuff but doesn’t come across as intimidating and is super-duper capable of teaching the material in a way that makes it relatively easier to understand; he contextualizes it well.  To top it all off, he’s hilarious!  Sure, the course only has a handful of students in it, but hey, who needs a big class anyway? 

So anyways, we were studying Robert Dahl today (who is just WAY too theoretical about democracy for my liking) and Dr Schweber made an interesting remark that really took my by surprise and made me think.  Robert Dahl wrote in the late 50’s and in his text, he makes references to Germany and England as being weakened states.  Now obviously, since he was writing just about a decade after the second world war ended, it makes sense.  But compare this to Dahl making the same references in 1990; it would seem ridiculous for anyone to think of England and Germany as ‘weak’ in the 90’s, which is FIFTY YEARS after the war ended.  It would be just as ludicrous if, in 1990,  the leaders of England or France refuse to trade with Germany or join any UN agreements that include Germany by saying ‘No way, that country invaded us and killed our people andruined our economy and is still a threat to us.’  It’s just not very likely to happen.

Yet, in Pakistan, people constantly and consistently refer to the India-Pakistan war of 1965 and use it as a basis for distrust and disagreement.  The governement of both countries are STILL at odds with each other and on extremely precarious grounds when it comes to diplomatic relations.   And this is FIFTY YEARS after the end of the ’65 war.  Funny, isn’t it?

Certainly, many people can claim that the two examples aren’t fair to relate because India and Pakistan also had military confrontations in 1971 and 1998, but, as Dr Scweber pointed out, they were both without ACTUAL invasion of one country by another.  Either way, I still found it to be an extremely relevant and thought-provoking analogy.  If nothing else, it certainly says alot about how long the poeple of South Asia can bear a grudge.

I find alot of the matierial covered in class to be really insightful and the professor asks alot of questions and personal opinions, which I never actually knew I had about the subject.  But this also becomes a complication, because I feel like I can’t really say anything meaningful about democracy or the process involved in the set-up of a representative gov’t while sitting in Pakistan.  I just feel like I am being naive if I say ‘oh, it should be like this’ or ‘it should follow the model of so and so’ because the history of the country displays the exact opposite.  Turmoil, take-overs, martial law, rigged polls: it’s not what ‘democracy’ entails.  At the same time, what all thinkers and theorists write about democracy also sounds really idealised and phantasmal.  Can any state actually ever be truly DEMOCRATIC?

I don’t really know if or when Pakistan will ever become democratic enough for it to be credibly labeled as a democratic country and I don’t want to get into the specifics of it either because it’s a discussion that’s too long and frustrating to have with myself on this blog.

Oh and here’s an article by Dr Schweber about his experience in Lahore so far and what his thoughts are on how Pakistan is viewed by the outside world and what its ACTUALLY like: http://worldnews.hometips4u.com/howard-schweber-pakistans-contradictions-the-view-from-lahore

Pakistan loses and a million hearts shatter.

Today was an important day.  Today was a disappointing day.  Today was a memorable day.  Today was the day that Pakistan lost against Australia in the T20 Cricket World.

As the defenders of the cup, it was a test to see whether the greens could, once again, show their magic and perform at a level of utmost brilliance to qualify for the finals.  Perform they did, but it was all in vain; the Aussies fought back and fought back hard enough to beat Pakistan.

I watched the match in the Student Lounge.  Even half an hour before the match started, the place was jam-packed, without even a single seat left.  This, of course, was not a matter of hindrance for the true patriot that awakens and roars in all of us whenever there is a cricket match involving Pakistan, so many chose to either sit in a cramped spot on the dirty, Coke-covered floor or not sit at all and remain standing for the entire duration of the match.

Pakistan batted first.  This seemed like a good idea because everyone concurred that, when it comes to chasing an established score, we’re nothing to write home about.  When it comes to cricket, everyone in Pakistan is a self-taught self-proclaimed expert.  The first over passed by without a single run being made, then a second with just one run; nonetheless, a cheer rose up at every ball.  We looked around, having second thoughts about batting first but these thoughts were soon banished to the very back of our minds, as the openers, Kamran Akmal and Salmat Butt, began to do their job.  They started hitting.  We were already cheering when no runs were being made but at every 4,we screamed; at every 6, we jumped out of our seats, and shouted ecstatically.

It was funny too, because whenever a ball would be hit high, a cheer would start but stop momentarily until it was known for sure that the ball was NOT, in fact, caught.  Of course, the Aussies had come to play too, and they did get our batsmen out but not before each of the Akmal brothers had made a fifty.  Our hearts brimmed with adoration as the camera showed Kamran Akmal cheering on his brother Umar Akmal, who was on strike, and using the power of his neon-green lipstick to hit 4 after 4 after 4.  The captain came to bat soon and we all cheered wildly for the man whose reputation was defined withing two poignant words: BOOM BOOM.

Sadly, he didn’t do what he hoped he would and was soon out but still, the flame of hope in our hearts did not die down.  By the end of the first innings, we had made a grand total of 191 runs, an unthinkable score, one that we had not even dared to imagine.  Many of us had assumed 160 would be a competitive enough score, and the highest that Pakistan could make but they surprised us all.  The flame was now a conflagration, deadly and contagious, and subconsciously, we all imagined victory to be close.

With every ball served by Muhammad Amir and Saeed Ajmal, our hearts raced, and we expected a wicket at least every over if not with every ball.  Sure, it wasn’t realistic thinking, but the heart wants what the heart wants.  And we wanted to win.  With every 4 or 6 the Aussies hit (and they actually hit A LOT), a somber silence would descend upon the lounge, its decibel the exact opposite of the roar that would erupt at a dot ball.  To watch Afridi take a wicket and do his customary pose with both arms in the air was to catch a glimpse of the heavens above.  Cheers would come and go, and everything from cans, bottles and hands were used to drum a frenzied beat on the tables, the chairs and even the ceiling.  We sang  ‘Dil dil Pakistan’ with more passion that JJ had probably ever imagined, and made Jinnah proud with our rendition of the anthem, interspersing it with ‘Pakistan…Zindabad!’

But though we were the champions of T20, Australia is the champion of the world, and they proved that once again tonight.  That is not to say that Pakistan did not play well or did not perform; in fact, we did better than we had ever thought possible.  It just wasn’t enough.

Towards the end, the Aussies had 18 runs to make out of 6 balls.  It was a very easy target and subconsciously, I am sure we were all thinking that we would lose but to come this far and play so amazingly well in this match and not have a vistory to show for it was an idea none of us wanted to entertain.  A few fumbles and some misfielding on the Pakistani front led the Aussies to require only 1 run off the last 2 balls.  They got that one run, and they hit a 6 for it just because they could.

Darkness.  The TV was switched off immediately and the raving mass of people left as if time was being fast-forwarded.  No one could look at each other, eyes were misty and tears were quickly blicked away and there was not a single heart that didn’t sink as if a 5-tonne boulder had been placed on it.  To say we were disappointed would be an insane understatement, what we felt was beyond that.  All the cheers, the chants, the screams and the shouts, they were all without glory now.  The fight was over and we walked away, hats in hand, heads hung in shame.  Grown men sobbed and hugs were distributed a dime a dozen but the comfort of a shoulder didn’t come close to the elation of qualifying for the finals.

We lost. They won.  In the world of sports, its as clear-cut as the difference between black and white.  We just wished it would always be green.

A Few Objections

So I have been feeling a lot of indignation lately.  There are things and people that have pissed me off recently so considering the fact that this is MY blog and I can write whatever I want on it, I shall rant today and vent out my vexations for all the virtual world to read.  Keep that popcorn ready.

1) I hate, hate, HATE people, or rather the habit that people have, of talking about others in their absence. Its cowardly, cunning and pathetic, no matter what your intentions are.  If you have any questions, queries or even just statements to make about me, please, be my guest, do not hesitate, and express them to ME.  Even if I think what you’re asking reflects your intense ignorance and illustrates the tunnel vision your mind seems to adopt, I would still oblige you and answer because it’s a lot better than trying to dig up info about me from others.

I’ve noticed this to be quite common in the Pakistani community, especially among women.  Gossip is, of course, prevalent across the world, but in the desi society, it’s of a more malicious and unforgiving form.  Aunties and muckrakers gather around in their living rooms, spending hours dissecting and tearing apart a certain person or a certain act or event.  Their daughters, impressionable as they are, notice this, and, seeping the environment they are surrounded by, grow up to do exactly the same at school and university.  It is nothing to be proud of; in fact, it is probably one of the greatest failings of our community since it perpetuates so much unnecessary malevolence and it’s just pitiful that anyone would find the need to delve into other people’s lives to find some sort of meaning in their own.

As I’ve said before, this happens everywhere, yet it is so much more frequent in Pakistan.  I knew before I moved here that this would be one of the issues I’d find hard to digest and deal with and I suppose I’ve actually been very lucky to find a small group of close friends who, like me, share this aversion. My message to the bad apples: lay off, grow up, find a hobby that involves more that just finding out how others live their lives, and focus on your own existence.

2)  As much as I agree about the superficiality and utter contructedness of the city of Dubai, I really don’t like the bad rep it so often gets.  Yes, it’s a city that, up until 30 years ago, was nothing but barren desert full of bedouin tribes and maybe just one main road.  Now, its a city of steel and glass, of gravity-defying skyscrapers, and sprawling malls that are a dime a dozen.  It’s built islands where there were none and raised the standards of living so high that to ‘make it in Dubai’ is to ‘make it in New York’.  But is that really something that it should be condemned for?  Does Dubai deserve the negative publicity that it falls victim to so frequently?

This article – http://tribune.com.pk/story/7950/at-least-we-are-not-dubai/ – is one such example.  Although it is well-written and does contain quite a few valid points, I think it falls short of being fair.  It’s heavily bias and not very objective, but tha’s understandable, since it is actually an opinion piece.  Nonetheless, I particularly feel very strongly against the last paragraph:

For all its irresponsibility, at least we have a robust media. For all the police corruption, at least we are not a police state. For all our littering, at least we have paper wallahs. Remind yourself that at least we have a heart. At least we have a soul.

Dubai is NOT a police state; in fact, it’s police force is probably one of the best and most effective in the region.  If there has been a crime, you can be guaranteed the perpetrators WILL be found, without you having to bribe the main man in charge.  The fact that the author is making this assertion while sitting in Karachi is nothing short of absurd, as all of us, even those from the port city itself, know about the civil unrest that stains Karachi.  Furthermore, Dubai too has paper-wallahs; in fact, thats how my family gets its edition of ‘7Days’ everyday.  And, regarding the lack of soul in Dubai, I’ll quote one the readers’ comments that this article got that I think refuted the author’s assertion quite well:

“You talk about Dubai’s love for money and spending habits of its people. Bro, they earn it, its theirs to decide what to do with it! FYI, Dubai has both the worlds in one city. You wanna live like a rockstar, go ahead. You wanna live humbly, that too is available. I think you should have walked out of your prepaid five star hotel in Dubai Marina and taken a ride down to Deira, Hor al anz, Hamriya, , Qusais, etc, etc, and seen for yourself that is possible to live a modest and humble life in Dubai too! But you were probably too busy checking out “flabby cleavages” in the comfort of an air conditioned mall sipping your american coffee to be bothered to take a taxi and walk around those neighborhoods!”

Everything the city has managed to achieve is so short a time is the fruit of its own efforts and that of its leaders.  I think Dubai is the best example of how far you can go if you have the vision to over-achieve and attain a level of excellence that was previously unimaginable.  I won’t comment on the author’s comparison of Dubai to Karachi because I think that would be quite unfair; I don’t possess enough knowledge of Karachi or even enough experience of living there to be able to fairly say anything.  That’s one thing the author of the article should have remembered: write about what you know.  A 10-day visit to Dubai does NOT make you an expert on the city and its ways, or give you the right to simply judge it by what you view externally.