Faiz Ahmed Faiz: A window to what could have been

14 November 2015
NEW YORK: Most of us recognise Faiz Ahmad Faiz for his immortal poetry. Few are aware that Faiz was also a prolific prose writer and that too in English. In 1947, he was asked by the great progressive of his times, Mian Iftikharuddin, to edit The Pakistan Times. In addition, Faiz was made the head of the editorial board of the Urdu daily Imroze and was also associated with the literary weekly Lail-o-Nahar.

This foray into journalism came after a five-year stint with the welfare department of the British Army that hired Faiz in 1942 for its publicity wing. This decision to join the army was made due to his clear stance against fascism.

After Independence, Faiz wrote for The Pakistan Times for four years until 1951, when he was arrested for supporting the Rawalpindi Conspiracy. Faiz wrote extensively on a variety of issues in the voice of a conscientious commentator. The writer was less of a revolutionary and more of a journalist trying to pursue a balance.

In an editorial dated September 13, 1948, Faiz paid rich tributes to Jinnah, the founder of the nation. He also added how India and Pakistan in quick succession lost two great leaders — Jinnah and Gandhi. Faiz had termed Gandhi’s assassination in an earlier editorial as “one of the darkest crimes in history” and “comparable only to the crucifixion of Jesus.”


Blasphemy it was not

30 October 2015
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri – the policeman who murdered former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for an alleged act of ‘blasphemy’. I analysed the implications
Salman Taseer with Aasia bibi

Salman Taseer with Aasia bibi

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on 7 October upheld the decision of the trial court and the Islamabad High Court and rejected the appeal against Qadri’s death sentence. The defence lawyers had argued that because the slain governor termed the blasphemy laws as “black laws”, Qadri had the right to kill him.

The obiter dicta from the bench, as reported in the press, were also encouraging. Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while discussing the case, remarked that “criticizing blasphemy laws does not amount to committing blasphemy” and that Qadri had no legal grounds to take the law into his own hands. The fact that such a remark clarifying that “questioning the blasphemy law is not blasphemy” becomes a cause for celebration says quite a lot about the socio-cultural milieu of Pakistan. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that the apex court would have actually bought into the sham arguments presented by the defence lawyers and overlooked the rather clear admission of the accused.

Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed

Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed

The idea of committing violence as a religious obligation is neither alien nor criminal for a sizeable number of people

However, the temporary euphoria after this judgment must not conceal the fact that a former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court and a former judge of the same court were defending the accused largely on theological grounds. In fact the former judge, Justice Mian Nazir Akhtar, in an interview declared that disliking kadoo (pumpkin) was akin to committing blasphemy, since that was a vegetable preferred by our Holy Prophet (PBUH).  While the verdict is an important step to establish rule of law, the lawyers who showered rose petals on Qadri will not disappear nor will young students who vandalized a vigil for Salman Taseer earlier this year.


Dear Infidel: The Dilemma of British Muslims

28 October 2015

I was a student in the United Kingdom when The Satanic Verses – the controversial novel by Salman Rushdie – created pandemonium across the globe. Images of the book being burnt were flashed across the television screens. My British Muslim friends were divided – some passionate about the issue of blasphemy, others unconcerned or detached from the divide. However, this moment marked a moment of imagination of a “new Islam.” Author Sadia Abbas has delineated this construction of the “violent” versus the “civilised” (Western world) in a new book entitled: At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament (Fordham University Press). With the “defeat” of Communism and move to “liberate” Kuwait in 1991, a new kind of sensibility was brewing. The September 11 attacks a decade later cemented this construction and today the Muslim, especially in the West is a loaded term open to multiple interpretations; and a new imagination of Islam rules the public mind.

It is in this context that a recent novel Dear Infidel by Tamim Sadikali is an important work of fiction emanating from the United Kingdom where new Islam is also under heavy scrutiny. Sadikali, an authentic voice from the “hood” has both the panache and punch to weave a story around issues of “British Muslim” identity and how it is informed by race, ethnicity, dilemmas of assimilation. Dear Infidel is a story of disparate lives of young Brits negotiating multiple identities in a post-9/11 world. (more…)

A Young Pakistani Physicist Who Loves Nuclear Reactors

26 October 2015

Last week, I was in Dallas, Texas to speak on a panel regarding the elusive peace between India and Pakistan – two neighbors that have yet to acquire the ability of living as responsible adults. The event was organized by Project Pakistan – a budding network, which aims to work on peace-building between communities and nations. It was during this hullabaloo that I met a young Pakistani student Ahmad Shabbar who is currently studying Mechanical and Energy Engineering at the University of North Texas.


Shabbar is a mild-mannered young man of immense talents. As a student of Physics at Reed College, Portland, Oregon he became an ardent student of the science behind nuclear reactors. By a stroke of luck, and obviously academic performance, he worked at the Reed Research Reactor. It is a small reactor facility that caters to various thesis needs of science students, and can tell what a substance is made up of by using a technique called Neutron Activation Analysis. This facility is run entirely by undergraduate students, and it trains young scientists on how to move forward with their careers. (more…)

Exile for me and others

25 October 2015

Pakistan needs to remember those who wanted to but could not stay back


Little did I know that a sojourn to recover from a trauma would turn into exile for me. Exile — forced, self-adopted or incidental — is banishment from your context. Almost a liminal space; where you suddenly know no belonging.

In the discourses of diaspora, the exiles are a marginal story. The ‘diaspora’ for a middle-income country like Pakistan is a source of remittance, a vehicle of transferring jobs, knowledge and skills. The exile is an odd feature of the story — a continuous affront to the nationalistic pride, contrary to the ‘image’ that states want to project and diplomats to peddle.

For decades now, a good number of Pakistanis have lived in such a state of being. Under the various military regimes — especially in the 1960s, 1980s and 2000s — several political activists, writers and even high profile politicians had to be away from their countries.

Intellectuals such as Prof Fazalur Rahman and Daud Rahbar who were the rationalists that our society needed, spent their lives in academia abroad. Their works are cited globally but have limited or virtually no traction within Pakistan. (more…)

Sticky wicket: Why cricket is a lot like sex

20 October 2015

Something primal and deep is at work. And could be linked to the most cherished South Asian male sexual fantasies.


Many years ago, Dr D Pressed, a senior Pakistani psychologist, told me: “Basically a good cricketer is judged by his ca­pacities in two areas: How hard he can hit and how long he can play.” Was this not similar to what men con­sider the key elements of being great lovers?, she added. Locker room talk in India, Pakistan and possibly the world over literally glorifies such techniques when men boast of their sexual exploits. Whereas one stud tells of how many hours he could perform – literally echoing the goal of every cricketer: “Mein ney uskay chackay churaa diye (I scored many ‘sixes’)”.

Over time, I have learnt more from the Jungian practitioner, and to clarify, how to deconstruct the game of cricket and its enduring popularity in South Asia. Something primal and deep is at work. And could be linked to the most cherished South Asian male sexual fantasies. And more so about how men think women could be “satisfied” with their performance. Male fantasies tend to revolve around the vital organ, which according to lots of current research, in the words of Dr D “is the great redunda for many women”. This is why cricket is an extension of this syndrome. (more…)

Pakistani Artist Animates the Times Square

13 October 2015


This October, the electronic billboards at the maddening Times Square in New York City will display the creative prowess of Shahzia Sikander, an artist of Pakistani descent who lives and works in NYC. Public art involves space, memory and an aesthetic that travels beyond studios and carefully curated museum ethers. It is also a vehicle whereby an artist speaks to, absorbs the milieu, and even reinvents it.

For any artist, this is a moment of fruition and splendor. Every night, from October 1-31, at 11:57 p.m. sharp, Sikander’s animation entitled Gopi-Contagion will add another powerful layer to the skyline of New York City. Not unlike the briskly unfolding stories of the city, the Gopi-Contagion takes the viewer through a fantastic motion of hundreds of digitally animated drawings that swarm and turn into a metaphor for collective performance. There could not be a more befitting tribute to NYC nor a more apt symbol of the energy and undecipherable movement of the urban space.

Midnight Moment: Shahzia Sikander, Gopi-Contagion October 1, 2015 - October 31, 2015 every night from 11:57pm-midnight Photograph by Ka-Man Tse for @TSqArts. Midnight Moment is a presentation of the Times Square Advertising Coalition (TSAC) and Times Square Arts. Midnight Moment: A Digital Gallery is the largest coordinated effort in history by the sign operators in Times Square to display synchronized, cutting-edge creative content at the same time every day. Gopi-Contagion consists of flocking particles made up of the silhouettes of hair from the Gopi, female worshipers of the Hindu god, Krishna. Hair from the female figures is then isolated to cultivate new associations. When in motion, the silhouettes looks like insects, birds, bats, or can translate as particles. The flocking reflects behavior of cellular forms that have reached self-organized criticality, resulting in a redistribution of both visual information and experiential memory.(Image credit: Ka-Man Tse for @TSqArts)
Sikander was born and educated in Pakistan. She was trend setter as an undergraduate at Pakistan’s best known art school — the National College of Arts. In early 1990s, she arrived in the United States to pursue an MFA at Rhode Island School of Design. Since 1997, New York is her adopted home like millions of other migrants who delineate the abundance and contradictions of American life. (more…)

Next Page »