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Cover Story 18 The Road Less Travelled Naveen Naqvi visits India, and goes off the beaten track to find a treasure nestled in the hills 28 Mines, Misery and a Miracle Tree Sorrow and Silicosis are all Rajasthan’s mine workers have to look forward to

Feature 32 A Fistful of Spice Sheetal Gandhi’s solo dance show blends the traditional with the modern



38 Craving Middleness One country, two completely different worlds


Regulars 6 People & Parties: Out and about with Pakistan’s beautiful people 40 Reviews: Hunger games rocked our world 42 End Of The Line: Hungama moms rule!



Magazine Editor: Zarrar Khuhro, Senior Sub-Editor: Batool Zehra, Sub-Editors: Ameer Hamza and Dilaira Mondegarian. Creative Team: Amna Iqbal, Jamal Khurshid, Essa Malik, Maha Haider, Faizan Dawood, Sanober Ahmed and S Asif Ali. Publisher: Bilal A Lakhani. Executive Editor: Muhammad Ziauddin. Editor: Kamal Siddiqi. For feedback and submissions:



Raza and Maria Saad and Natasha

Ambreen and Nida

Chinyere Couture launches in Lahore

Bilal Mukhtar and Humera

Sahar and Wajid

6 APRIL 1-7 2012

Kuki and Fia

Amna Babar and Rizwan Baig

Alyzeh, Saim and Nishi Khan


Hassan, Maliha and Moeeza

APRIL 1-7 2012


Fatima and Mahreen

Attiya Rashid and Sara Cybil

Kamal Lawn launches in Lahore

Erum Ahmed with Amber Gohar

Naila, Deena and Sana

Nadia Ali

8 APRIL 1-7 2012

Aaminah Sheikh and Khadijah Shah



Zainab and Sehr

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Nazneen Tariq

Noor Majid, Fatima Ahmad Khan and Umair Tabani

Asma and Ahsan


Mausummery exhibits its 2012 lawn collection in Karachi

Huma Ahmad

Soha and Iqra

Asra and Aqsa

10 APRIL 1-7 2012

Sumeha Khalid

Tara Uzra Dawood

Amna and Henna

APRIL 1-7 2012


Paulsha Lawn exhibits its 2012 collection in Karachi

Adnan Siddiqui


Raheel and Faiza

Saba Ansari

Palwasha Ayesha Omar


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Momal Sheikh

Iraj Mansoor

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Saba Hussain with a guest

Neshmia and Jimmy Engineer


Yasmin Hyder and Cyra Anklesaria APRIL 1-7 2012

New World Concepts and Grandeur Art Gallery organise an International Women’s Day art exhibition in Karachi

Asad Tareen and Shavez Ahmad

Murat Onart

Shammi Ahmad, Khurshid Hyder and Nazneen


Riffat Alvi and Omar Farid

Sabiha Chugtai

APRIL 1-7 2012


with a friend

Amber Khan

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Rubya Chaudhry and Sunita Marshall

Ayesha Omer

Meera Ansari with a friend

Asif Nicky and Gia Ali


es its newhi h c n u la p o Body Sh agrances in Karac r range of f Kiran Khan

Anita Ali

Munna Mushtaq and Samar Mehdi

APRIL 1-7 2012


The author goes to India, and finds a hidden sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of urban Delhi. BY NAVEEN NAQVI

18 APRIL 1-7 2012

Once you have been to Two Chimneys, the otherworldly boutique hotel, designed and run by Geetan Batra, and set in Gethia, a hill station in India’s Uttarakhand’s Nainital district, it will live in your heart forever. Ever since we had first met, my friend Geetan and I had

talked about the prospect of visiting Gethia and staying at Two Chimneys, her mountain resort. When she heard that I was traveling to India for a month of business, she demanded that I add Naini-

tal to my ‘cities to visit list’ when applying for my Indian visa. One of the tit-for-tat diplomatic absurdities between the Pakistani and Indian states is the requirement of city-specific visas.

Before work could begin, two days after I landed in Delhi, Geetan

and I jumped into her red four-wheel-drive with destination Gethia

on our minds. As I left the capital city, I had no sense of what was to come ahead.

While Delhi is historic, rich in culture and lush with foliage, it

is also continually being reshaped, its bowels distending, rending,

to reveal new bridges, buildings and subways. In the city, shopping

malls and subway stations stand beside colonial architecture. The

pace of development was more obvious in the outskirts as the haze of pollution from too many cars cleared from the midday sun to ex-

pose the scars and stains of progress in the shape of tenements, silos

and factories. It looked like Karachi’s industrial area at first glance, but there was no Urdu script on the walls declaring political slogans,

upcoming rallies or the ubiquitous deterrent to public urination in

19 APRIL 1-7 2012

COVER STORY a country where there are no public toilets, “Dekho Kutta Paishaab Kar Raha Hai (Look, a dog is peeing here).” Squat mud houses in fragrant, yellow mustard fields replaced high-rise homes. I

was reminded of the Grand Trunk Road cutting across Pakistan’s Punjab, but here, the steel struc-

tures expelling ribbons of grey into the sky were unrelenting for the first half of the five-hour car journey. The traffic was constant, consisting largely of trucks, the back of each reading two words, Horn Please, which is what they did incessantly, calling to mind a gaggle of honking geese.

Women in royal blue, fuchsia pink and acid green worked the fields; I noticed that they were not

singing like they do in the movies. There was another commonality — while the women tilled, the men sat in lazy circles, playing cards and smoking beedi. It may have been familiar, but it was not

particularly reassuring. And then, just as the Dev Anand CD came to an end and we slipped in Geeta

Dutt, the poplar plantations came into sight. Human beings have a knack for debasing the most sublime things and the poplar tree exemplifies this. When I saw the rows of spindly trunks rising out of clouds of mist hovering over the wintry soil, bare branches as frail as whiffs of smoke against

the setting sun, I could not imagine that these statuesque trees were used mostly for plywood and boxes for packaging.

A railroad crossing allowed us to stretch our legs. The crawling blue (not green like the ones at

Karachi Cantt Station) train crammed with people made me lament the state of Pakistan Railways.

I wondered at the seemingly inconceivable prospect of the Pakistan Railways shutting down; luckily a few days later, it pulled back from the edge of ruin to drag its tired old bogeys along.

The next hour was spent passing through more towns before we hit the forest reserve where the

temperature dropped by ten degrees. All eyes were intent upon spotting the elusive leopard that at least one person in the car claimed to have seen. But the shimmering spots across us were those of

a deer, and my gaze was locked with its shining eyes until the car swerved, and the animal leapt

into the trees. The forest gave way to a winding road that revealed hills dotted with lights, a cluster of which at the highest point marked Nainital. Some distance below that, two warm yellow lights that are the beacons of Two Chimneys beckoned, making me sit at the edge of my seat in anticipation. I almost fell off it as we came face to face with a gigantic, garishly painted Hanuman placed incongruously in the midst of all that natural beauty by an ashram. To me, it didn’t seem very

far from the Tariq Road roundabout and its centrepiece of a 20-foot-high, white, Pepsi-sponsored concrete monument that spells Allah — its hay pointing in a last flourish to one of the oldest and

greenest graveyards in Karachi. However, both are dwarfed in comparison to the 120-foot-high Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro. Ironically, the decidedly un-spiritual Pak-India border grows

increasingly harder and much more militarised, and is now so brightly lit that it can be seen from space. The path we were on was, given the frequency of travel on it, remarkably smooth and flat,

even if it was spiralling in a (to me) particularly stomach-churning way. Geetan quietly rolled down her window a sliver out of consideration for my susceptibility to carsickness, claiming she needed the fresh air. Given that it was a chilly six degrees, I recognised the little white lie, and my faith

in humanity was restored. A few minutes later, it was positively revivified. For the moment that you see Two Chimneys, it fills you with a sense of the profound. It is the silence. Coming from the city, I’ll admit that my craving for quietude is in equal measure to my fear of it. It could go either

way. Here, it embraced me, and unquestioning, I gave myself to it. It is the setting. At the edge of a cliff in the lower Himalayas, the property looks majestically down on valleys, slopes and steps cut out in mountains. The night sky was so thickly covered in stars that I could scarcely see the black;

it was silver and aglow, shifting and expanding, pulling you in. Looking up at the constellations from a balcony at Two Chimneys, I had never been more acutely aware of my physical self as in that moment while also longing more than ever to be lifted out of myself.

It is the space. The window walls draw you into the liquid gold warmth of gleaming wood floors,

lights and log fires without breaking the thread that binds you to the mountains, the night. You


become a microcosm of your surroundings as they evoke a similar interiority in you — though my (Continued on page 26) APRIL 1-7 2012

There was another commonality — while the women tilled, the men sat in lazy circles, playing cards and smoking beedi. It may have been familiar, but it was not particularly reassuring

21 APRIL 1-7 2012


As the tale goes, resentful of the new occupants, she beset renovation and construction with various obstacles until her name was engraved on a wooden plaque — Mme Durel’s Lodge, 1899 — and hung over the entrance

26 APRIL 1-7 2012

inner self may not have been quite so serene — while making you want to open yourself to the potentiality of the outside. Meta-conversations come easier in Gethia. It is the story. If you have

read Tarun Tejpal’s The Alchemy of Desire set in Two Chimneys, the story may precede the space for you, although the space is what greets you from the cover of the book. Unknowingly, I chose the Willow Suite for its loft, its wide windows that face the fountain below and the swimming pool

above, its door that opens onto the deck and the skylight over the bed. Each of the seven rooms has a wonderful view and, what is more difficult to achieve, its own distinctive character.

I later discovered that my room was the one in which the author had created night after night of

erotic pleasure between the character, Catherine and her lover, Gaj Singh. There is also the other ‘true’ story of the European woman who built the original structure and, apparently, inhabited

it even in death. As the tale goes, resentful of the new occupants, she beset renovation and construction with various obstacles until her name was engraved on a wooden plaque — Mme Durel’s

Lodge, 1899 — and hung over the entrance. Her proprietary rights established, the spirit was ap-

peased. I can tell you that my sleep in the bed of Mme Durel/Catherine was filled with dream, and I awoke with a sense of restless urgency. And then there was the day. Geetan’s design of Two Chimneys with its decks, terraces, balconies, perches, levels, nooks, water bodies (swimming pool, fountain and pond), gardens and trees is ingenious. It reflects the landscape in its organic

growth and preserves the integrity of the setting in ways that I did not immediately absorb — as layered as the place is — but discovered turn by turn, with every step I took. As the mountains took

on ever-changing facades — splendid in sunbeam, shrouded in mist, rugged when overcast — so too did Two Chimneys offer itself anew in exploration.

All sections of Two Chimneys’ exterior are named — every name, each area worthy of comment.

I later discovered that my room was the one in which the author had created night after night of erotic pleasure between the character, Catherine and her lover, Gaj Singh

Watching the sun come up from the highest point, named the ‘Machaan’, the sky reddening, then

paling, the silence filling with birdsong, a lone tractor ploughing the earth of the valley, the silver

oak shimmering, true to its name, I felt overwhelmed. I was also inexplicably nostalgic — my ears

searched for a familiar song, I was gripped by a longing for my parents, past and present loves drifted through my mind.

At the farthest point is ‘Land’s End’. I was told that during the monsoon months, you can see the

mist rolling in as the bowl below fills to form a lake. On this winter’s day, I saw the young men of

the town playing cricket. The words ‘Shabash, Shabash’ traveled up the mountainside much the same way they would have climed up the two floors of my seaside apartment back in Karachi. The

front upper terrace named Charbagh has a fountain in its centre, a cosy sitting area and lush green trees — most planted personally by Geetan. Watching her plant a cluster of tomato saplings with tender yet strong hands, patting away at the soil with a kind of tough love, I was not surprised at how tall and firm those trees stand.

There are always levels at the lodge, and a few steps up from the terrace took me to an herb gar-

den and a surface perfectly sized for two. The owners fondly refer to this nook as ‘Majnu ka Teela’ (Majnu’s Mound) for the pinkish light that slants across it at sunset, making it the perfect kissing

spot. The counterpart of Charbagh at the opposing end is The Deck, a large terrace split in two with table settings, spectacular views of the mountains all around, a swimming pool running through

it, and the sound of water falling from a fountain into a pond accentuating the serenity of the spot.

In the day, this sound mingles with the chirping of birds and at night with the chirring of cicadas. The day flows into night and night into day at Two Chimneys, and I floated along for the two days

and three nights that I was there. On the third morning as the sun was coming up over Gethia, Delhi and Karachi too, the sky bringing in the blue, the birds beginning to sing, Kishore Kumar

writing letters of love, I breathed in great big gulps partly out of sentimentality for the clean air and in some part to keep the carsickness down as we made our way down the winding road back to the city.

27 APRIL 1-7 2012



If India is shining, it’s in no small part due to people like 38-year-old Ranjeet Mehta. Mehta lives in a

small village called Sursagar, some 154 km from the city of Jodhpur in the Indian state of Rajasthan. He spends his days in the

claustrophobic mines that dot this state, digging out the minerals that fuel India’s industry. But while the fruits of his labours

enrich the country, his life has only changed for the worse. “I

work in mines full of precious minerals, but I can’t even afford to

feed my children,” says a gloomy Mehta as he stands flanked by his eleven children and three wives. “My children will never go

to school. They, like us, can only go look forward to working for the mine owners.” The owners say they are like our godparents,

but they have never paid us enough to improve our lives, he adds. Mining is one of the major sources of income for the 66 mil-

lion people who call Rajasthan home, and there are some 11,000

mines in this state alone. Drawn by the prospect of regular work, thousands of people in and around Rajasthan have migrated to

Jodhpur, hoping to earn a living by working in the mines. But in

a situation where the supply of workers far outstrips demand, all the power lies with the mine owners.

28 APRIL 1-7 2012

According to labour rights groups, miners work an average of

twelve hours a day in extremely dangerous conditions, sometimes even without access to drinking water and basic equipment like boots and helmets.

In addition to the risk of injury, these workers also face the risk

of contracting silicosis, an incurable and potentially fatal lung condition caused by years of breathing in silica dust — an unavoidable consequence of drilling into sandstone.

Unfortunately for the workers, silicosis is hard to diagnose

with the kind of medical equipment available in the state. “Most patients end up being diagnosed with tuberculosis,” says Dr Ramesh Singh who works with a local NGO. “The reason for this is

that the symptoms of silicosis are exactly the same as those of

TB,” he says. This ambiguity means that those suffering from silicosis face an uphill task in getting compensation for their condition, and have to take loans from the mine owners in order to pay for treatment. The result is that entire generations are then forced to work in the mines in order to pay off family debts, thus perpetuating the vicious circle.

Several activists and NGOs have taken up the fight to get work-

ers their due compensation. Gravis, a Jodhpur-based NGO has filed several suits on behalf of the workers, demanding that silicosis be recognised as an occupational disease related to working in the mines. Several protests have also been held demanding

compensation from the state and mine owners, but the response from the Rajasthan government has been sluggish at best.

“The state government is in no mood to recognise silicosis as

a disease caused by the working conditions in the mines,” complains silicosis patient Omar Osmani. “Their apathy is killing hundreds of labourers,” he claims.

According to Indian Supreme Court advocate Ritwick Dutta,

even the legal system is stacked against the workers. “A para-

digm shift is needed to amend laws to provide justice to labour-

ers in India,” he says. “The current laws only protect the rights of mine owners and exist to promote their interests.”

Around 930 cases filed by or on behalf of labourers are pending

with various courts in Jodhpur alone, claims Dr Radhesham of Gravis Hospital in Jodhpur district’s Tinwari village. But despite

protests and various promises, the pleas of the workers fall on

(Top) Fighting for their rights: mine workers hold a protest camp demanding better working conditions. (Bottom) Fuelling India’s economy: An open cast mine in Rajasthan.

deaf ears.

“Rajasthan’s government has only paid INR100,000 to the

families of 22 labourers who lost their lives due to silicosis,” he

says. This is despite the fact that India’s national human rights

commission fixed a compensation of INR300,000 for the families of silicosis victims.

Yet despite the harsh conditions, there seems to be no shortage

of labourers willing to risk their lives and health in the mines.

Much of this is due to the devastating effects that successive droughts have had on this desert region’s fragile ecosystem. APRIL 1-7 2012



“If a person has to cut down a Khejri tree he has to plant two new saplings in its place and donate grain and food to the community to compensate for the loss.” “People in southern Rajasthan can no longer make ends meet

through herding goats, camels and cows,” says Sansthan, a local

villager. “The poorer families do not even dare to rear animals simply because they cannot find pastures for them.”

But even in the best of times, the water situation in Rajasthan

remains dire. Except for a very few areas, the groundwater is saline, but luckier villages can access water from the Indira Gandhi

canal once every three days at a cost of Rs1,000 an hour. Others use community tubewells, while the less fortunate are forced to rely solely on rain-fed agriculture.

“The lack of water is a huge stumbling block in this wasteland,”

says Dr Satish Lodha, a scientist who specialises in plant pathology. The irony is that tree plantation is one of the only means

for the villagers to combat desertification, but large-scale planta-

tion is only possible if enough water is available. This means that

locals have to turn to age-old methods, such as planting Khejri trees. Known as the ‘King of the Desert’, this drought-resistant tree is looked at with a near-religious reverence by the locals.

In 1730, a prince of Marwar sent his soldiers to cut down these

trees in order to build a fort. Horrified, the local villagers wrapped themselves around the trees in order to prevent the wholesale

felling of the Khejris. Legend has it that over 363 villagers were cut in half before the prince’s men finally gave up.

“The person who cuts down a Khejri tree is considered the

greatest kind of sinner,” says local resident Beni Ram Beniwal. “If a person has to cut down a Khejri tree, he has to plant two

new saplings in its place and donate grain and food to the community to compensate for the loss.”

As with many local traditions, there is almost always a practi-

cal basis for long-held beliefs. The Khejri tree is not only drought resistant, but also acts as a natural barrier to desertification and possesses a variety of medicinal properties.

Still, the scale of the problem is such that traditional methods

may no longer be able to stem the tide. Professor SM Monhot of

the School of Desert Sciences warns that “local struggles for water conservation have yet to overcome the problem of water scarcity.”

Ultimately, without a major effort from the Indian government,

the marginalised resident of Rajasthan will have no choice but to


turn to the tender mercies of the mine owners. APRIL 1-7 2012

(Top) Laying down their lives: The Khejri tree is firmly embedded in the mythology of Rajasthan. (Right) Sins of the fathers: Both father and daughter suffer from silicosis, an incurable lung condition. (Bottom) The King of the Desert: The Khejri tree.


a fistful of


I will grind red chillies fine With my new pestle And throw them in my father-in-law’s eyes So that I won’t have to cover my face In his presence. -Translated from a Punjabi folk song BY AMINA AGHA

The woman dutifully grinds red chillies on stage wearing a tank top and shorts, her face hidden behind a black veil. Her movements become intense as she

shared stories about the trials of being newly married. “What also

matic as she throws the bright red powder on the stage. Suddenly

have to go through so many things. The modern woman still has

rocks back and forth, her gestures becoming increasingly drathe audience realise, that the woman intends to blind her fatherin-law so that she doesn’t have to wear a veil.

Choreographed, written, directed and performed by Sheetal

Gandhi, Bahu-Beti-Biwi (daughter-in-law, daughter, wife) is a solo contemporary dance performance which premiered in Phil-

adelphia in February of this year. Sheetal explores her cultural

heritage as a 21st-century Californian whose life is still shaped by

express themselves so it comes out in songs,” she says, “My character has a choice but even if you have the power of choice, you the burden of making choices. In my performance, the modern

woman thinks about the boyfriend she broke up with because

he loved his cat more than he loved her. On the other hand, the woman from the village does not have so many choices. But look

at the similarity between both of them. We are all trying to find a way to feel free.”

The performance is a hybrid of many forms. While the foot-

age-old Indian traditions.

work is from north India, Sheetal also incorporates jazz, ballet,

National Dance Ensemble of Ghana, and acted on Broadway. She

ferent motifs and symbols into her performance. “The move-

Sheetal has toured with Cirque du Soleil, performed with the

completed graduate school in 2009, where she came across the ‘grinding song’, an English translation of a Punjabi folk song and started toying with the idea for this performance.

Growing up in the San Francisco bay area, Sheetal would visit


interested me were the women’s folk songs. Women can’t openly

Rajasthan and part of the inspiration for this performance was

shaped by her visit to India at the age of 17 years when her relatives APRIL 1-7 2012

West African and modern dance, purposefully assimilating dif-

ment is dependent on the character and what serves the narra-

tive,” she explains, “while telling the story of my aunty, I make a bee with my hands, symbolising freedom but then pulling it in by the constraints.”

Sheetal assumes various identities in the performance, while

all of them are different, she presents them with a comic and

“If you understand one person’s pain and struggle, you can understand the pain and struggle of others. The human spirit must not be suppressed,” says Sheetal Gandhi.

sometimes a bizarre twist, with one merging into the other

wearing a tank top and shorts. As she stumbles around on stage,

sings — that too live and in two languages: English and Marwadi

own. “As I was practicing my dance, the fabric wrapped around

through her dance movements. Sheetal not only dances but also (from the northwestern state of Rajasthan). Her performance of the daughter in law is the most powerful one. The character

has very strong feelings about not being able to show her face and she struggles with not being allowed to wear the clothes she

wants to wear. “In Rajasthan you have to wear a sari and the hu-

she complains how her daughter’s modern ideas clash with her and got caught in my feet and I felt I became an older woman

with a hunched back,” Sheetal explains, “the sari also becomes

a symbol, when my feet are bunched together; it is the trapping of tradition.”

The character of the grandmother is based on what Sheetal’s

man spirit is being confined! It is heartbreaking to see women

mother said to her over the years but when her mother watched the

starts by questioning her mother. “Why can’t I Ma? Why can’t I

“She is amazed at how this performance moves people the way it

who can reveal only their eyes in public,” she says. The daughter wear a tank top?” As she sings these lyrics she removes the blouse

of her sari to reveal a white tank top. She continues. “It is just an

armpit! Tank top. Why not?” Thus the audience watches a transformed Sheetal in a white tank top and shorts while the black

performance, she didn’t know where Sheetal got her inspiration. does. The specific stories that touch people are all connected to me.

I have experienced these stories sometimes through my own experiences and sometimes through other people,” Sheetal explains.

Sheetal says that her performance tries to explain the similari-

sari lays cast aside on the ground. “My mom used to tell me. You

ties between people. “If you understand one person’s pain and

same time, my brother was getting teased in India for wearing

The human spirit must not be suppressed,” she says, “Being a

cannot wear a tank top in my house,” she explains “While at the tiny shorts, and was called jadiwala.”

Next Sheetal transforms herself into the grandmother by wear-

ing a sari wrapped around her head and tying her feet while still

struggle, you can understand the pain and struggle of others. modern woman, and having my roots from Rajasthan. These are

the struggles I encounter; it is neither good nor bad but just a part of my reality.”

APRIL 1-7 2012



I travel across two worlds in the 20-minute commute between my two workplaces: a modern religious school and a private grammar school where the scions of Pakistan’s moneyed elite are educated. The mindsets I deal

with make for an interesting comparison. At the religious school, the concepts of the sacred and

the profane as defined by absolute religious morality are the framework for all thought-patterns and behaviour. At the grammar school, the central value is free thinking and critical inquiry

rigorously promoted by the administration. The curriculum disseminates post Enlightenment

Western perspectives and meta-narratives, with the fundamental premise being that of moral-

ity being relative, and of individual liberty being the highest value to be protected. Students are

taught to invariably seek answers and explanations through logic.

This tendency strikes me each time, in my Islamic Studies class, I raise a point that requires

acceptance through faithful submission. While the classes are delightfully interactive, they also afford a glimpse into the baggage of post-Enlightenment thought that this kind of education

I am also very often asked to suggest quick and easy ways to help students get regular with the

Two distinctly different schools give a glimpse into the deep contradictions of Pakistani society

will to express adoration, submission and reverence to God in the daily prayer is engendered by a


carries. I mentioned in a class discussion, the fact that, for men, wearing gold is discouraged in the mainstream Islamic tradition, and was showered with sceptical comments on the rationale of the ruling.

“But guys look so cool with all those accessories, and what about those gorgeous wedding rings? What’s wrong with this? I mean, I don’t see the point,” said a particularly spirited young lady.

daily prayers. And I always find myself unable to provide short and easy solutions, because the deep humbling sentiment within oneself, and there are no shortcuts to that.

The Western logocentric (based on reason) worldview drilled into these young minds does

not help create the sentiment that makes the daily prayer an act of loving labour. Judged and perceived by the logocentric yardstick, worship rituals are reduced to an arduous, necessary

undertaking that don’t quite help in the business of life. Moreover, the prioritisation of indi-

vidual liberty as the core value makes the demands placed by religious belief on personal conduct

confining, to say the least. The ascendancy of Logos over Mythos (myths, whether religious or

not) interprets existential questions as objectively knowable, reducible to ‘facts’ and explainable by ‘empirical evidence’. Religion with its core principle of a Transcendent Unknowable Absolute Truth intuitively experienced is, therefore, unappealing to the highly intellectualised mindset

produced in modern urban schools.

By ignoring the need for religious narrative and myth, our educationists have made young

minds incapable of developing an appreciation of aspects of religion inaccessible through pure Lo-

gos. Iqbal said, “Reason is the lamp that shows the road, but does not mark the destination” — for the destination lies beyond the abyss that is intractable to reason, and requires the ‘leap of faith.’

On the other side, there is a conspicuous absence of religious discourse that can grapple with

this heightened propensity for demanding rational explanations.

And then there is that other world. Although it is inaccurate to say that the Darse Nizami cur-

riculum taught in madrassahs is stuck in the medieval past it originated in, the fact remains that most course content added over time deals largely with the refutation of the concepts of other

religious schools of thought and sects. Many madrassahs also include a heavily lopsided critique and refutation of Western ideas. This threatens to develop exclusivist tendencies and a ‘world-

rejecting’ orientation that pits the religious graduate against a monolithic and ‘otherised’ world full of false, evil and deviant ideas.

38 APRIL 1-7 2012

The other half of my day is spent at a modern Islamic school that struggles in its attempt to

protect values sanctified by religion in the midst of what it sees as an amoral morass in the wider society. Without the necessary educational basis of traditional aqeedah (the Islamic creed/belief/

doctrine/theology) and tazkiyah (ethics, spirituality), these well-intentioned educators’ attempts

to mould Muslim personalities in what is seen as an increasingly valueless society become reduced

to a superficial imposition. There is external emphasis without internal grounding, reflected in the example of the Islamic dress code. Many at the school docilely accept it without understanding

its symbolism, hence taking it as a matter of course. Mushrooming in urban centres, these schools

present, at best, an alternative environment for students to study much the same that they do in

the regular schools, while desperately trying to include religious jargon and uphold religious form and ritual.

To be fair, this kind of school is a response by sincere, educated, religiously inclined novices to

the world-rejecting outlook of traditional madrassas. However, the advantages of the ‘Islamic en-

vironment’ promised by these schools are debatable, given its insular nature in a diverse, jostling external environment that students eventually will have to find space in.

The madrassah-educated Deobandi muqallid (exclusive follower of a school of thought) whose

speech is laced with religious jargon and references to religious authority, and the English-speaking Social Sciences/Humanities student quoting Dawkins and Hitchens represent two ‘worlds’ rubbing shoulders in this society. These two cultures created by two widely differentiated education

systems are all set for a head-on collision course. It is frightening because these ‘cultures’ overlap the stratification of society along the lines of social class. This means that the university graduate possesses the cultural capital that eventually makes him monopolise resources, sit at the helm of

affairs and control policy, ideas, opinion-making even when his value-system is at the fringes of an otherwise deeply conventional religious society.

On the other hand is the culturally deprived religious seminary graduate whose fewer career

prospects and struggle with poverty reduces him to a social underclass. The resentment this breeds may create a reaction that is not measured and moderated. It leads to the existence of two clashing

cultures and ideologies which are pitted against each other. Often the clash is intellectually played out as hardened, intolerant discourse and rhetoric levelled at each other from both sides.

The madrassaeducated Deobandi muqallid and the English-speaking Social Sciences/Humanities student quoting Dawkins and Hitchens represent two ‘worlds’ rubbing shoulders in this society.

I crave middleness in a society pulled taut at the seams. The poise of ‘middleness’ can be reached

through the understanding that concepts considered ‘secular’ and ‘Western’ and hence diametri-

cally opposed to Islam may not actually be so. Reason and rational thought, democratic values, pluralism and humanism ought not to be pigeonholed as ‘Western’ or Islamic but as shared and

universal. However, given our faith-based demands and cultural-religious context, these values

must be interpreted and understood as distinctly envisaged by the Islamic tradition. This is where the need and role of the ulema (Islamic scholars) comes in.

Nor is it wise to think that ‘progress’ has to ape the ‘Western’ paradigm and jettison religion like

the post-Enlightenment West did — lock, stock and barrel. The panacea seems to lie in a rediscovery and reassertion of the values of social justice and human rights, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, rationalism and egalitarianism as given by Islam. Religious scholars must engage in the

colossal task of reinstating this rather eclipsed Islamic discourse, evidence for which is voluminous in Islamic sources. This must be presented in the language and method that can reach out to the modern mind. Central to a solution is the understanding that answers have to be sought within the religious tradition of this society, and not outside of it. Trying to seek them outside of it is a self-defeating and mislaid endeavour.

39 APRIL 1-7 2012


the house shadid built BY HUMA IMTIAZ

Reading Anthony Shadid’s House of Stone is a truly moving experience. Released a few weeks after the New York Times correspondent’s sudden death, this is an evocative tale that makes one marvel at Shadid’s storytelling skills — before one remembers, with a sigh of despair, that he is no longer amongst us. “There is nothing war cannot crumble in a heartbeat,” writes Shadid, who had been reporting from Syria when he passed away on February 16 this year, after an asthma attack. House of Stone is a moving and, at times, hilarious tale of how Shadid manages to save his great grandfather’s house from nearruin. Recovering from divorce, Shadid seeks to rebuild this house — dealing with construction workers who refuse to show up on time, while living in a town that displays battle-scars of missile assaults by Israel — so that his daughter may one day call it home. His story reminds us of where we come from, our homesickness when we move away, and our quest to find someplace to call home, while remaining conflicted between identities and cities, religions and professions. This is not just his story though — it is a tale of the history of the Shadids and the Samaras, his parents’ families, their struggles in

no bang for the buck BY AMMARA KHAN

When a story originates from a grievous political/social incident, it can either result in a deep investigation into the alternative perspectives associated with the given incident, or it can use that incident to emotionally appeal to the people affected by that calamity. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which deals with 9/11 and its impact on the life of a child, falls under the second category. Compared to director Stephen Dadlry’s previous movie, The Reader, this one pales in comparison. Oskar is an 11-year-old boy of extraordinary intelligence who had to complete various mental tasks that he calls expeditions, designed especially by his father, to save him from social interaction with others. The opening scene of the movie shows a man — later revealed to be Oskar’s father, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) — falling off The World Trade Center on 9/11. At his funeral, Oskar contemplates over the increasing number of dead humans over the large stretches of human history and the absurdity of having a funeral with an empty coffin. The emotional trauma affects Oskar’s relationship with his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock). A year after 9/11, Oskar finds a mysterious key in his father’s closet and, considering it to be the last expedition left for him by his father, he resolves to solve this puzzle.

40 APRIL 1-7 2012

present-day Lebanon and how they moved to the United States over the years to escape the war and build a new life. Shadid’s description of the journey of his family from Marjayoun to Oklohoma is one that evokes not just the strength of determination of his family, but is also a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Shadid, a brilliant war correspondent, also highlights his experiences in covering conflicts in the region. In this era of fast-paced reporting, deadlines, and breaking news, journalists often forget what they are meant to cover in the first place. Shadid writes, “Our tendency is to consider the resolution of the battle of the war or the conflict, not to take in the tragedies that outlast even the most final sort of conclusion. We never find out, or think to ask, whether the village is rebuilt, or what becomes of the dazed woman who, after one strange, endlessly extended moment, is no longer the mother of children.”

The story might sound intriguing but its cinematic adaptation is problematic. While watching the movie, you feel that it’s all a bit overdone and forced, especially the pathos. Employing a singular narrative point-of-view, the movie starts promisingly enough but soon turns into a watery melodrama incapable of appealing to audiences at any level. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close amply illustrates that a famous cast and a script based on a bestseller novel are not the quick recipe for a blockbuster film. This is not to lay the entire blame on screenplay writer Eric Roth, since the original novel itself was not devoid of these faults. Rather, Stephen Daldry and Eric Roth have managed to exacerbate what was already pretty much unbearable to begin with.The performances are also lack-lustre. The only actor who sine is Max von Sydow as the renter. Ironically, the title of the movie gives the impression of a failed attempt at hyperbole which is borne out by the forced story-line and overacting.

the hunger games BY MAHVESH MURAD

Opening day of Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games in Karachi, and there’s a young girl at the cinema wearing what look like homemade mockingjay earrings. For those unfamiliar with Suzanne Collins’ bestselling YA trilogy known mostly as the Hunger Games books, a mockingjay is a genetically modified bird that is the central motif and icon of the entire trilogy, and this young woman’s earrings make me realise the extent of the book’s fan following in Pakistan. Of course, as with any art form being re-imagined into another, the question of whether the film will satisfy the way the books did is present — on the flipside there is the possibility the film will alienate those unfamiliar with the books. The Hunger Games is set in a future dystopic totalitarian version of America, torn asunder and put back together as Panem: a collection of 13 districts ruled by the Capitol, a rich, hedonistic society constantly in need of entertainment. As a punishment for a previous uprising, the Capitol conducts an annual ‘reaping’ in each district, where two young adults are picked by random lottery to participate in the Hunger Games, a gladiatorial battle where these children are forced to kill each other until only one survives. In true Big Brother style, the games are televised live for the entertainment of the Capitol, with rich ‘sponsors’ placing bets on the ‘tributes’. In the destitute coal mining District 12, we meet Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers as a tribute to save her frightened, weaker younger sister from inevitable death in the Games. Jennifer Lawrence (previously nominated for an Oscar for her role in Winter’s Bone) is excellent as Katniss, and she had better be, considering she is the focus of all but a dozen shots in the movie. Ross places her perfectly for a concrete alignment of the audience with Katniss as the central, sympathetic character. It’s important to create sympathy for her visually, as the entire film’s dialogue is mostly explanatory exposition. Dialogue isn’t the film’s strength — but Lawrence’s performance is. In fact, most of the cast manage well with their limited talk and screen time: Elizabeth Banks is brittle and entertaining as the tributes’ chaperone Effie Trinket, Lenny Kravitz with his gold eyeliner is quiet and elegant as stylist Cinna and Stanley Tucci is glorious as the seemingly superficial and effervescent TV show host Caesar Flickerman. The only disappointment is Woody Harrelson, who plays past winner and current drunkard coach Haymitch to the District 12 tributes. It’s possible that the need for a lower rating has forced him to play this role a little more like a comic drunk than a sardonic, massively self-destructive one. In order to achieve a PG-13 rating for the film, Collins’s has toned down a great deal of violence that existed in her books for the screenplay. The scenes of teenage massacre are rapidly edited, jagged and quick with no central focus on each actual killing. The handheld camera/ faux-documentary footage look works for these

scenes, but is fairly overwhelming earlier in the film, with scenes set in District 12 that are just too shaky for too long. Of course, in comparison to these and the depression era look of District 12, the film really establishes its aesthetic once it follows Katniss to the Capitol, which is very much like Dorothy’s arrival to the sudden blinding technicolour of Oz. Each shot becomes static, large and taut, playing up the highly charged emotions that roil under a mostly outwardly stoic protagonist. The Hunger Games is a good movie — whether you’ve read the book or not. It could have been a great movie, had the scriptwriters and director been willing to go as deep and as dark as the book sometimes did. But there will always be a strange lurking emptiness in a film that just simply can not contain all the details of a book. What’s most important about Gary Ross’ film is that it brings to the screen a young female protagonist with agency — one we haven’t seen the likes off since Joss Whedon’s Buffy. Here is a young woman who does not need saving, who saves herself again and again, and others around her too. Katniss is who this story is about — she is hero, saviour, lover, rebel, harbinger of change all rolled into one young woman with a penchant for Diana’s archery, and I promise you, she’s going to knock that Bella off screen and into the medieval 41 pre-feminism gutter where she belongs. APRIL 1-7 2012

Are you capable of drawing a straight line? Do you have a comic or doodle that you think will have us rolling on the floor with laughter? If you’ve answered yes to all those questions then send in your creations to

42 APRIL 1-7 2012

by the secret achaar society



The Express Tribune Magazine - April 1  

The Express Tribune Magazine for April 01st 2012

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