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Civil society speaks

Zinda dilaan-e-Lahore say no to Talibanisation, reports Raza Rumi

Never before have we citizens been traumatised with an uncertain future and the knocks of destruction at our door as is the case in the year 2009. The celebrated twenty first century has, if nothing else, blown the contradictions of Pakistani society and state right into our faces. One hundred and eighty million people cannot be spectators to the imperial great games and a callous state that gropes in the dark trying to locate the ‘enemy’ outside, instead of looking into its own crevices and cracks.

Not that Lahore has been a haven of peace in recent years – the inequities, the crime levels have been on the rise. However, March 2009 witnessed two full-scale terror attacks in the city of gardens, shrines and a centuries-old tolerant culture. Media gurus were quick to involve India, RAW, the Americans, everyone under the sun except the enemy within. First the friends of Pakistan – the Sri Lankans and then the ill-equipped and vulnerable Police Academy at Manawan, were attacked by trained assassins who espouse a version of Islam that no sane Muslim can ever live with.The panic and fear generated by these two incidents had not ended when the brutal video of Chand Bibi getting lashed on the streets of Swat was released. […]

April 14th, 2009|Islam, Personal, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism|4 Comments

The pampered Islamabadites

My piece published by Himal Southasian

Mahboob Ali

Islamabad is a very peculiar urban space. Though no longer a town, it is still struggling to become a city. Arguably, it is the most ‘inhabitable’ place in Pakistan, and ranks far ahead of several other capitals in Asia and Southasia, nearly all of which are plagued by pollution, traffic jams, crime cartels and civil strife. Islamabad, despite the disturbances and security threats that became endemic during 2007, remains largely aloof from this pattern – at least for now.

Located in the foothills of the Margallas, and boasting green spaces and forests intertwined among the folds of the city, Islamabad appears almost surreal against the densely populated rest of Pakistan. Built during the early 1960s by Pakistan’s developmentalist dictator, General Ayub Khan, Islamabad was seen as an antidote to politicised Karachi – which, in any case, was a bit too far from the Punjab and the NWFP, the popular bases for Pakistan’s powerful military. Laid out as a model city with the help of Greek architects, this city of the exclusive was formally born in 1965. Nearby Rawalpindi was already the seat of the army’s headquarters, and its proximity to the new capital was certainly intentional.

The new city’s layout was divided into sectors, numbered streets and broad avenues that are called ramna, using the Bengali term. The civil bureaucracy of federal united Pakistan moved here, and thus the sleepy town suddenly emerged as a new urban settlement in line with the earlier planned emergence of Chandigarh. In Islamabad, roads would empty out after sunset, and the national capital would be oddly deserted on all public holidays. After all, for decades none of the residents actually belonged to this city. […]

October 17th, 2008|Personal, Published in Himal Magazine|5 Comments

Living Lohawarana – a Lahori rambling

My piece for Himal Magazine’s October issue

LahoreThere was a Lahore that I grew up in, and then there is the Lahore that I live in now. Recovering from an exile status for two decades, I find myself today turning into something of a clichéd grump, hanging desperately on to the past. Yet I resist that. Writing about Lahore is a sensation that lies beyond the folklore – Jine Lahore nai wakhaya o janmia nai (The one who has not seen Lahore has never lived). It has to do with an inexplicable bonding and oneness with the past, and yet a contradictory and not-so-glorious interface with the present.

Lahore is now the second largest city in Pakistan, with a population that has crossed the 10 million mark. It is turning into a monstropolis. Had it not been for Lahore’s intimacy with Pakistan’s power base – the Punjab-dominated national establishment – this would be just another massive, unmanageable city, regurgitating all the urban clichés of the Global South. But Lahore retains a definite soul; it is comfortable with modernity and globalisation, and continues to provide inspiration for visitors and residents alike.

Over the last millennium, Lahore has been the traditional capital of Punjab in its various permutations. A cultural centre of North India extending from Peshawar to New Delhi, it has historically been open to visitors, invaders and Sufi saints alike. Several accounts tell how Lahore emerged as a town between the 6th and 16th centuries BC. According to commonly accepted myth, Lahore’s ancient provenance, Lohawarana, was founded by the two sons of Lord Ram some 4000 years ago. One of these sons, Loh (or Luv), gave his name to this timeless city. A deserted temple in Lahore Fort is ostensibly a tribute to Loh, located near the Alamgiri gate, next to the fort’s old jails. Under the regime of Zia ul-Haq, Loh’s divine space was closed and used as a dungeon in which to punish political activists. […]

October 7th, 2008|History, Lahore, Published in Himal Magazine, SouthAsia|4 Comments

Opium City:The Making of Early Victorian Bombay

Courtesy Three Essays Collective, I found this book review on an important yet less known facet of South Asian History:

Opium City
The Making of Early Victorian Bombay

By Amar Farooqui

REVIEW in ‘Mid-Day’

by Mahmood Farooqui
December 23, 2005

It sometimes appears, from the nature of current historical debates, as if the British empire in India was purely an orientalising mission whose discourses generated a politics of identity but that it was little more than an ideological apparatus that hegemonised us. It is difficult therefore to connect back to the earliest nationalists who decried the drain of wealth from India, who lamented India’s deindustrialisation and the economic exploitation of our people by foreign occupiers.

It is easy, in the miasma of post-colonialisms emanating from American universities, to forget that the Empire came into being and remained in force as an economic entity, that it was instituted by traders, that there was also something called economic imperialism.

Amar Farooqui’s Opium City — The Making of Colonial Bombay is welcome because it reorients us to the fundamentals of how and why we were colonised by the East India Company. It is a new title by the Three Essays Press, a Delhi-based outfit, which has been publishing tracts in the form, as its name implies, of three essays in slim volumes by renowned and radical academics in a style and on subjects that are of general interest. […]

August 28th, 2008|Arts & Culture, books, History, India|2 Comments

Capital shock

My op-ed published in the NEWS. This was also posted at ATP and a robust discussion took place there.

A week long sojourn in Islamabad just came to an end. It was not the Islamabad that I had lived in or the one that my memory was intimate with. It has changed and perhaps forever.

I have been an accidental resident of Islamabad as I was thrown into the sleepy folds of the capital by imperatives of securing a livelihood. Lahoris can never be content with any other city. But Islamabad’s serenity as a stark contrast to the urban mess of Pakistan was most endearing to say the least. Even its cultural wastelands were forgivable for the communion with Nature was a splendid alternative to civilisation. Thus the sprawling greenbelts of Islamabad and its wild foliage became a source of inspiration and muse. I left the city three years ago with fond memories. […]

August 27th, 2008|Published in the NEWS|1 Comment

Delhi and Lahore – globalised fads and trends

This piece of mine appeared in the Hindustan Times yesterday. An accidental piece it was, written on the request of a friend during my recent stopover in Delhi.

Delhi-Lahore hip factor

Be it Khan Market or MM Alam Road,  life for young guns in both Delhi and Lahore is a blend of cafe culture, cool music and retail […]

June 3rd, 2008|India, Journalism, Published in HT, Travel|7 Comments

Jal gaya tha ik roshniyon ka shaher

Aggrieved by the recent sinister, senseless violence and brutal murders in Pakistan, this is my feeble attempt at poetic expression. I have also trans-created this Urdu poem below titled Adrift.

Jal gaya […]