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Mohsin Hamid: ‘It’s important not to live one’s life gazing towards the future’

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete interview given below)

Mohsin Hamid appears to have a preternatural ability to summon up the spirits of his time. He finished writing his latest novel, Exit West, which was published early last year and shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, well before Trump and Brexit brought questions of borders and national identity to the forefront of the global narrative. The novel was in part a response to the migrant crisis that was unfolding in various corners of the world as Hamid was writing, but it also predicted with almost uncanny prescience the rise of nativist paranoia and racial intolerance, which have become such features of life in 2018.

The novelist Kamila Shamsie, a friend of Hamid, told me another story about his proleptic powers. “On September 9 or 10, 2001, I was having dinner with Mohsin in London and he told me about the book he was working on,” Shamsie said. “It was about a young Pakistani man doing very well in the corporate world in New York. Despite all his success, one day he found himself listening closely to a speech by an extremist Muslim – it wasn’t the religious content of the man’s words that caught his attention, but the political content. I saw Mohsin again on September 12, 2001. ‘Mohsin, your novel… ?’ I said. ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘I think I have to go on writing it.’ ‘Of course you do,’ I said.”

That novel, Hamid’s second book, became The Reluctant Fundamentalist and was seen by many as the definitive literary response to 9/11. Certainly it was far more successful both critically and commercially than the attempts of more established authors to address the twin towers. John Updike, Martin Amis, Don DeLillo – the great and good of Anglo-American letters queued up to respond to the attacks, but it was Hamid’s protagonist Changez, bursting with charisma and ambition, who spoke with the greatest clarity and authority about what might have driven the terrorists to act.

Read more at The Guardian link here

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Book Excerpt: The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Maher

Qandeel Baloch

Bold’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Siren’ were just some of the (kinder) words used to describe Qandeel Baloch. She embraced these labels and played the coquette, yet dished out biting critiques of some of Pakistan’s most holy cows. Pakistanis snickered at her fake American accent, but marvelled at her gumption. She was the stuff of a hundred memes and Pakistan’s first celebrity-by-social media.

Qandeel first captured the nation’s attention on Pakistan Idol with a failed audition and tearful outburst. But it was in February 2016, when she uploaded a Facebook video mocking a presidential ‘warning’ not to celebrate Valentine’s Day, that she went ‘viral’. In the video, which racked up nearly a million views, she lies in bed, in a low-cut red dress, and says in broken English, ‘They can stop to people go out…but they can’t stop to people love.’ The video shows us everything that Pakistanis loved—and loved to hate—about Qandeel, ‘Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian’. Five months later, she would be dead. In July 2016, Qandeel’s brother would strangle her in their family home, in what was described as an ‘honour killing’—a punishment for the ‘shame’ her online behaviour had brought to the family.

Scores of young women and men are killed in the name of honour every year in Pakistan. Many cases are never reported, and of the ones that are, murderers are often ‘forgiven’ by the surviving family members and do not face charges. However, just six days after Qandeel’s death, the Anti-Honour Killings Laws Bill was fast-tracked in parliament, and in October 2016, the loophole allowing families to pardon perpetrators of ‘honour killings’ was closed. What spurred the change? Was it the murder of Qandeel Baloch? And how did she come to represent the clash between rigid conservatism and a secular, liberal vision for Pakistan? Through dozens of interviews—with aspiring models, managers, university students, activists, lawyers, police officers and journalists, among them—Sanam Maher gives us a portrait of a woman and a nation.

 

Excerpt

The video from Murree has been viewed thousands of times. By the end of the year, the words ‘How I’m looking?’ would be the first phrase mentioned in an article about ‘10 notable quotes that defined Pakistan’s entertainment scene in 2015’. Qandeel would be called an ‘insta-celeb’. People are turning to Facebook and Twitter to find the ‘How I’m looking’ girl and they want more and more of her videos. They like to laugh at her.

Mec says he has never seen anything like it in all the years he has been in the industry. He would think about that video when she was no longer around and would wonder what people had seen in it. He would remember that Afghan woman who had been on the cover of a magazine in America and then became famous all over the world. ‘It was her eyes,’ he would say. That was it. ‘That’s what got everyone. Show people something different. They don’t want to see the same old stuff.’

Qandeel disagrees with him on how her career can progress. He takes her to every single event, books her for any show he can and introduces her to everyone they meet. Sometimes she complains that all of it is a waste of time. People take photos with her at these events, but she isn’t getting paid for that. She doesn’t just want to make friends—she is looking for connections.

She stumbles across the Facebook profile of a man in Karachi, Mansoor, who had been a model when she was just a girl in Shah Sadar Din. His Facebook feed is full of photographs taken at dinners and parties with girls Qandeel has seen on TV. She recognizes some of the names from his friends’ list. He seems to have the connections she needs. She sends him a friend request. He is used to these requests from strangers, usually women, who hope that he knows all the right people and will be able to help them break into the fashion industry. In fact, it happens so often that he now has a policy of asking any girl who sends him a friend request on Facebook for her phone number to confirm whether she is indeed an aspiring model or an actress, and not some man who is trying to fool him. The ones who willingly give their phone numbers are legitimate. Qandeel sends him her phone number.

‘Hi must talk to you,’ he texts Qandeel. ‘Call now.’

She is travelling. She is unable to speak with him then. ‘Let me come too then I talk.’ He notes that her English is not very good. ‘Take care.’

They continue to exchange messages and soon she is affectionately calling him ‘baby’ and ‘jaan’. When she tells him she is back in Karachi and feeling lonely, they meet for the first time and he takes her to a friend’s house so she can have some company. She messages him on WhatsApp late at night and asks, ‘What are you doing?’ He is usually fast asleep. She likes Dubsmash, an app that lets users lip sync phrases or songs, and sees that the video from Murree has also become popular there. She sees actresses and singers mimic her words in videos that they post to their social media feeds.

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Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi: The man who taught us humour

(From Herald. Link to the complete article given below)

Baba was behind the steering wheel. I was sitting right behind him beside ammi and my younger brother, peeking out of the window with an inquisitive gaze. Our car was briskly negotiating a road in Buffer Zone, a predominantly Urdu-speaking neighbourhood of Karachi. We were headed to a mushaira that baba had put together. There, I was finally going to see this Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi that he always spoke about.

A taped tennis ball came flying in through the open window and smashed baba’s spectacles. He fell on his side from the impact and the car screeched to a halt. A shard of glass tore into his right eye and as he lay cupping it with his hands, blood trickled down from between his fingers.

Across the street, a group of boys was playing cricket. The bowler had delivered the ball so quick that both the batsman and the keeper missed it and it traveled all the way to baba’s window. As we got out of the car panicking, the boys came running to apologise. Baba was taken to the hospital and we were taken home. I didn’t see Yusufi that day, but baba did. He managed to convince the doctors to delay the surgery to remove the shard until the next morning; they washed out his eye and fixed him up with bandages. The mushaira was saved and so was baba’s eye. I got busy growing up and we soon stopped telling the horrific tale at family get-togethers. I didn’t revisit the incident for over a decade — until 2014. Yusufi hadn’t forgotten it. He recalled it years later at an event of Anjuman-e-Sadat-e-Amroha, and the speech made it to the book, Sham-e-Sher-e-Yaraan.

Baba didn’t stop talking about Yusufi. As a child, all I knew was that Yusufi was a funny man who he would quote often and everyone would chuckle. His frequently employed superlatives filled me with enough envy to steal Zarguzasht from his room. Yusufi’s language was beyond comprehension and my mental faculties failed to process the humour. However, I compensated by expressing unnecessary amusement at the few sentences that I understood. I was engaged in an activity of a higher order and felt important.

Zarguzasht fulfilled my pubescent longing for refinement. I would take special care in casually slipping it into everyday conversations with friends. I was automatically better than them because I knew Yusufi and they didn’t. It was a great feeling to have.

In Pakistan, anything upcoming is either seen with disinterest or dread. This, however, was not the case when, in 2014, word went around that Yusufi is ready with his fifth book, Sham-e-Sher-e-Yaraan. The excitement was evident. Even President Mamnoon Hussain flew in to inquire about his health and tell him that the work is eagerly awaited. It was as if the moribund Urdu literary milieu was being brought back to life against its wishes. Yusufi hadn’t published in 24 years. Urdu humour was bereft of vitality and Yusufi was willing to once again breathe life into it.

Read the complete article at this Herald link


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Book Excerpt: Do We Not Bleed: Reflections of a 21st Century Pakistani by Mehr Tarar

Do we not bleed

 

The Story of Shazia Mustaq

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, education in Pakistan faces a catastrophe of unparalleled proportions. According to a 2015 UNESCO report, Pakistan has nearly 5.5 million children who are out of school, the second highest number in the world after Nigeria. Pakistan also has the highest number of illiterate adults in the world, after India and China.

According to the Pakistan Education Statistics Report, 2013–2014, the total number of out-of-school children at primary level in the country has dropped from 6.7 million in 2012–2013 to 6.2 million.

An October 2014 report by Alif Alaan, a campaign to end Pakistan’s education emergency pointed that there are 25 million boys and girls out of school—that’s nearly half of all children in the country. In relative terms, most out-of-school children are in Balochistan. More than half of the country’s out-of-school children live in Punjab. Across the country, it was harder for girls to go to school. Girls made up more than half of all out-of-school children. A majority of the parents of girls did not allow them to study, while boys were mostly unwilling to go to school. Older children are more likely to be out of school. Around 70 per cent of out-of-school children have never been to one before. Girls mostly drop out of school to help with household work. Children from poor families are far more likely to be out of school. The education system is unable to retain enrolled students

Said Shazia Mustaq, ‘My siblings didn’t get a chance to study, and that caused me immense pain. I think that is what got me thinking about education. Sometimes, I wish there was some magic wand that all illiterate people, out-of-school children become educated. I wish it for the whole world, and especially for Pakistan. Bas paadh jaiyan sab. Because of lack of education, Pakistan, my homeland, has divided into all these classes.’

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The Karachi Literature Festival heads to London to celebrate Pakistan’s 70th birthday

The famous literature festival will take place at Southbank Centre on 20th May in celebration of Pakistan’s 70th birthday, states KLF’s website.

Mohammed Hanif will kickstart the event with unique insights into Pakistan’s history, hopes, and dilemmas. The extensive list of speakers includes designer Maheen Khan, writers Kamila Shamsie and H M Naqvi, PPP member Sherry Rehman, actor Nimra Bucha, among others.

Khumariyaan, Saif Samejo, lead vocalist and founder of the band The Sketches and Lahooti Melo will be performing at the festival.

This is the first time the KLF will be taking place outside of Pakistan. Read more

Source: DAWN


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Author Amardeep Singh clarifies that ‘Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan’ is devoid of any political agenda

This is with regard to our story titled “Khalistan could only exist in Pakistan” carried by ANI on April 18, 2017.

The said story was carried out on the basis of public domain inputs of discussion on a book titled “Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan” by author Amardeep Singh during its presentation at the fifth Islamabad Literature Festival in Pakistan.

In his book, the author has pointed out that 80 percent of the Sikh empire existed in what is Pakistan today. On the basis of the facts of history stated by the author, the article offered a counter narrative of the concept of Khalistan by interpreting the book against the basis of the Khalistan movement.

 The author has clarified that the book is purely historical in nature and context, written against the backdrop of humanity and heritage. It is devoid of any political agenda. Read more


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The Karachi Literature Festival needs disruption to win back Pakistan’s literary heart

By 

Harris Khalique verbalised my thoughts at the eighth edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) exactly when, during the launch of his book Crimson Papers, he mused, “Why do I write? And what difference will it make?”

He revealed this as the question he struggles with endlessly, and it occurred to me how this is what literature festivals ought to examine today. Because as borders become impermeable, as walls go up between people and as bans become common, a conversation about the limits of literature and language to bridge divides — or the new ways in which writing must be appropriated to effect change — becomes essential.

This year’s KLF felt smaller and more subdued than its predecessor. The festival clearly suffered from tensions between India and Pakistan as only a handful of Indian authors made it across the border. Read more

Source: Images


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The dark side of Karachi and its violent politics

Title: The Party Worker; Author: Omar Shahid Hamid; Publisher: Pan Macmillan India; Pages: 336; Price: Rs 399

Of all vendettas, the most vicious centre on politics, where they can encompass some of the strongest motives — pride, honour, power, money and sex. The high-flyers not only forget those who have helped them but, with more adverse consequences, those they have offended and are hiding massive grudges under outward obsequiousness. These unexpected assailants can wait years for their chance — as we find here.

Masterfully utilising Karachi as a backdrop, with its chaotic, complicated and (lethally) combative power plays, Pakistani police officer-cum-novelist Omar Shahid Hamid delivers another gritty account of the unprepossessing, unsavoury but undeniable link between politics, crime, law enforcement, (some) media — and terrorism.

But his third novel — after the intricately-plotted hostage drama “The Prisoner” (2013) and the unsettling “jihadi noir” “The Spinner’s Tale” (2015) — takes a wider sweep and a different perspective. Read more

Source: Business Standard


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Pakistan’s literature festivals – elitist and irrelevant?

Literature festivals have become an annual affair in Pakistan for the past seven years. They are held in three to four big cities in February and March and run for several days. Writers and intellectuals from Pakistan, other South Asian countries and the West attend these gatherings and discuss a host of topics ranging from current trends in Pakistani and international literature to social issues such as gender discrimination and urban planning.

In a country where cultural activities have taken a back seat due to a rise of religious intolerance and political and sectarian violence, the “LitFests” are like a breath of fresh air. There is a cultural suffocation in the Muslim-majority country and any liberal activity should be welcomed wholeheartedly.

Although the organizers don’t claim they aspire to counter growing intolerance in Pakistan, it should be expected that such activities do translate into some sort of social action that brings forward a counter-narrative and challenges the forces of retrogression and obscurantism. Yet, many experts argue that Pakistani literature festivals, which generate large funds through corporate and non-profit organizations, have remained an “elitist” affair with writers and intellectuals participating in them remain somewhat detached from the major challenges the South Asian country faces today.

Against this backdrop, the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) kicks off on Friday, February 10, and will run for three days in a luxury hotel in the southern metropolis. Read more

Source: DW


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An Open Letter to the PM of Pakistan

From: Rahman Abbas

Mumbai, India

20/1/2017

 

To,

Mr. Prime Minister of Pakistan

Mian Nawaz Sharif

SUBJECT:  Appeal to ensure the safety and release of missing poet and bloggers.

Dear Sir,

I’m an Indian Urdu novelist and a person who has spoken against fanatic elements of my own country who indulge in activities against the principles of democracy and secularism. I have also protested against groups of fundamentalists accused of killing writers and critics of rotten religious practices in our country. Additionally, I am one among the Indian writers who returned their respective awards as a symbolic protest against fundamentalism and intolerance.

With this brief introduction about my concern for principles of secularism and the creative fraternity, I am drawing your attention towards the missing poet and bloggers in your country. Since Pakistan is a wonderful country that cherishes democracy, a country where human dignity and freedom of thought is revered and valued, it is saddening that poets and writers have been made to disappear. Sir, I needn’t say that it is a serious threat to what you stand for i.e. freedom of thought and freedom of dissent. I have witnessed that you take a stand for rights of minorities in your country and value contribution of writers and poets.

Sir, it is true that one can disagree with someone’s views on social changes and reforms, but in that case, we have laws and legal processes to punish people who hurt the emotions of others or use offensive language. But there is no situation in which silencing of thinkers and disappearance of a person would be acceptable as it is against the basic principles of Islam and democracy. Sir, you must be aware of the “mysteriously” missing poet and academicians Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Samar Abbas, and must have also felt the pain of the families of these young minds.

Sir, on Thursday 19th January, the Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudhury Nisar Ali Khan had also taken note of the matter and stated that there was an ongoing negative propaganda on social media against the bloggers. The Interior Minister has also stated on 10th January that he was in contact with intelligence agencies and was hopeful of finding Salman Haider. However, the disappointment is increasing with every passing day. Hence your intervention is needed in the safe and sound recovery of all human rights and social activists.

Sir, I’m appealing to you to look into this critical matter with personal interest and ensure the safety of people who want Pakistan to be a true democratic and secular nation.

 

14910525_1318428548170182_6247381451463410303_nYours sincerely,

Rahman Abbas

rahmanabbas@gmail.com