Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This article was printed in the Friday Times on the 10th December 2010
I will survive
Rabia Ahmed 
meets a man who takes ‘self-help’ to a whole other level

Adjust Font Size  The Friday Times The Friday Times
Tony and his family in Florida
Tony at his home in Lahore
Tony and daughter Alysha
Tony (2nd from left) talking to a spinal injury group at home
Tony with the mayor of London
He was pulled out and taken to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) at Sialkot on a flatbed truck next to the scalding silencer, which burned him. But CMH Sialkot was unable to treat him. When he was lifted out of the hospital bed (so an ambulance could take him to Lahore), his skin, burned on the truck, remained on the bedsheet. His mother passed out at the sight
And then came Ruth, “a vicious tigress of a physiotherapist. She bullied me into rehab. It took me a while to get used to her. I hated her for a month, before realising what she was trying to do. It was she who gave me hope. She would come on her days off and order the nurses around. ‘Let him go thirsty until he learns to pick up that glass,’” she told them
ony, a strapping young man who excelled in every sport from track to wrestling, fulfilled his mother’s ambition of ‘mera beta engineer banay ga’ by getting a diploma in Civil Engineering. He was employed by the Pakistan Rangers as a sub-inspector.

In 1986, while diving at the Marala Headworks near Sialkot, he hurt himself. He didn’t know it then, but he had broken his neck at C5 and 6. He was 22 years old.

Swallowing water and sand, he thought as he blacked out, “I hope they find my body.”

He was pulled out and taken to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) at Sialkot on a flatbed truck next to the scalding silencer, which burned him.

CMH Sialkot was unable to treat him. When he was lifted out of the hospital bed (so an ambulance could take him to Lahore), his skin, burned on the truck, remained on the bedsheet. His mother passed out at the sight.

En route to Lahore, the ambulance overturned on some large speed breakers on the Ravi Bridge, and Tony was thrown from his stretcher. There was severe pain in his neck and what little movement he had in his limbs ceased.

“I woke packed in ice. My whole family was present.”

He was in the CMH for almost seven months and then at the Services Hospital.

Tony’s older brother Faisal went into a depression, isolating himself in a dark room. His younger brother Imtiaz left college to look after him. Nothing can describe what his parents went through.

Terrible pressure sores developed after months in bed; but all Tony says about his life then is, “I found angels everywhere I went.”

Surgeons at the hospital worked to heal his sores. His cousin Dr Waseem supervised his treatment, and his whole family was very supportive.

Tony belongs to a middle class family that couldn’t afford to pay his medical bills. Tony’s mother tried to get funding for her son’s treatment. Because Tony was an employee, the Government of Pakistan gave him £10,000 for treatment abroad. Eighteen months after his accident Tony, his mother and Imtiaz left for England.

They stayed with a cousin, and Tony was taken to Cromwell, a private hospital in London where he twice endured spinal fusion, a procedure that involves the placing of bone grafts around broken vertebrae, but it didn’t help his spinal cord.

Dr Amir Aziz (now in Lahore) had Tony’s bed sores treated at Mount Vernon Hospital where the surgeon charged nothing. Dr Aziz was present at all of Tony’s surgeries, and visited him in hospital and at home.

Tony also went to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital for Occupational and Physiotherapy, where surgeons did not charge a fee, and also managed to get the hospital fees reduced. More angels.

A further £15,000 was needed for Rehabilitation. Tony’s mother applied to what was then the prestigious BCCI bank for help, and Mr Agha Hassan Abidi approved the grant.

“That money saved my life,” says Tony. In 1988 at the International Spinal Injuries and Rehabilitation Centre in Aylesbury, Diane, a nurse, helped him out of the car.

His doctor then insisted that Tony’s mother return to Pakistan because, he said, rehab was impossible with her around; she was “mothering him too much.”

Tony’s mother wept but did finally leave; and the doctor said, “You’re on your own now, Mister.”

“It broke my heart when she left,” said Tony. It was his mother who, in his state of incapacitation, had done everything for him. He knew little English and was scared of ringing the bell and irritating the nurses.

“It was the best rehab anyone could have,” says Tony. He had a lot to learn, and he did.

“So many things worked out,” Tony says. “People turned up and helped one after another, as though God was putting everything in place for me, and holding my hand while I took one baby step at a time.”

A Palestinian doctor gave Tony a rudimentary mattress in the form of three strips of foam, which served to keep pressure off the heavier parts of his body.

And then Ruth, “a vicious tigress of a physiotherapist. She bullied me into rehab. It took me a while to get used to her. I hated her for a month, before realising what she was trying to do. It was she who gave me hope. She would come on her days off and order the nurses around. ‘Let him go thirsty until he learns to pick up that glass,’” she told them.

“The first day in a chair, I fainted. I would feel dizzy and shout ‘I’m dying!’ They would tip my chair back but I stayed in that chair. Eventually, I didn’t want to go back to bed. A week later I was fine, kidding around with everyone although still shy of speaking English. It took me weeks to get used to the constant ‘Thank yous’ and ‘Pleases’, but I got there.”

Three months later, when his family returned, he told them he’d “had a blast”.

Diane and Tony became friends, and a year later when he asked her to marry him, she agreed. Their valima was held in Lahore in 1989.

Diane was older than Tony, had been married before, and had four children.

He says, “I thought my life was over until I met Diane.”

Nancy Reagan said that a woman is like a tea bag: it is only when she is in hot water that you realise how strong she is; and it was Confucius who said that a gentleman can withstand hardships; it is only the small man who, when subjected to them, is swept off his feet.

Diane was 45 years old and Tony quadriplegic, and this was a marriage between a strong tea bag and a large gentleman.

Diane worked full time while Tony passed High School. He also did a counselling course with a scholarship from the British Government, and began counselling people on disability and later fertility issues.

Rehab had taught Tony many life skills, but it was Diane who helped Tony in every way, day and night.

In 1992 when Diane was 46, a son, Ismet, was born to the couple by IVF.

In 1993, Tony and Imtiaz decided to buy the local video store, but their bank refused them a loan. The banker they were dealing with, Brett Chown, apologised, saying that if he were the Manager, he would have granted the loan. He suggested another bank.

Barclays gave them the money, with the Manager saying, “I’m going to give you a break.” He asked them to match whatever he gave, and they did, with their joint credit cards.

A few years later, Chown became the Corporate Manager and a personal friend and helped Tony with all his ventures.

The store did well and brought in more money than expected, and two years later the family bought a house.

Was Tony ‘freaked out’ with all these new responsibilities of family and work?

“I live in country where I know that even if I lose everything, I will have a place to live and food for myself and my family,” he says. “So I was happy to try new ventures, and I worked hard. At the worst I’d have to return my business to the bank.”

In 2000 Tony bought another store and two cottages next to it and in 2001, Tony and Diane had their second child, Alysha (aka Biscuit), also by IVF.

In 2003, Tony, unable to buy a locally made muffler for his car decided to start fabricating and manufacturing car parts, and created ‘Top Gear’ to supply just that. However, his main source of income remains an insurance business that he set up a few years later.

We visited Tony at his home in 2005, when Diane cooked us an excellent dal gosht . She has managed to integrate with Tony’s cultural expectations without losing her own identity. Their place is home to all four of her children now grown up, and both of theirs.

Tony says the key to his and Diane’s marriage is that neither makes unreasonable demands, religious or cultural, on the other. He says he never pushes his children to be what they’re not. “If someone wants something, they will get it somehow. The world consists of all kinds of people who are all essential.”

“My mother tried to make doctors and engineers of us. Faisal went into the army, and Imtiaz was bright and studied. I was ‘nobody’, yet now I am better off than all of them put together. I’m not bragging, just saying that being a decent person matters too, and people should do what they want.”

Tony’s biggest support after his wife is the British Government, which provides him with free medical care. He drives a car for which he paid neither sales nor road tax, and in the shape of the mobility allowance paid to him every week by the government, fuel is paid for as well.

Tony’s parents died some years ago, as also, tragically, did his brother Imtiaz in 2003.

Tony visits Pakistan every year. It is not easy for him to visit, and it is impossible for him to live here permanently, given the absence of facilities for people with disabilities.

In Pakistan Tony can only be a passenger in a normal car. A specially adapted car such as the one he owns in the UK costs at least £50,000. When importing such a car into Pakistan the Government of Pakistan levies import tax, which is calculated at a higher rate than on normal cars, that is at 100% of the cost. A £50,000 car therefore costs at least £100,000.

Pakistani roads have few pavements and are hazardous. In public, people stare and pass comments. As for facilities in public places:

The Business Lounge at the Allama Iqbal Airport in Lahore is not accessible to persons on wheel chairs. Neither was Tony’s apartment in Lahore, and a friend had a ramp built there.

One of the largest banks in the Pakistani city where Tony holds his account has no wheelchair access whatsoever.

Most incredible, however, is the fact that his hospital in Lahore is not wheelchair accessible. The clinic of Tony’s ophthalmologist in Lahore has wheelchair access but the machines inside are inaccessible to a person in a wheelchair.

Tony would like us, the people of Pakistan, to give just a bit of thought to the problems faced by the countless disabled persons in our midst, to try to help them in even a small way. (We could start with ramps, for example, and make a significant difference to the life of a person who is already facing so many challenges.)

Tony’s motor and sensory abilities were destroyed after his accident. Because he has workable muscles in his shoulders, he can move his arms. He exercises these precious muscles constantly. He says using them day after day makes a bigger difference than going to the gym.

He can jam an object such as his phone in his permanently clawed hands and use it all by himself. He can eat, and use the computer by himself. He turns himself in bed by using a ‘monkey pole’ over his bed from which hangs a bar that he hooks with his arm. He also exercises his lungs by blowing balloons.

Tony uses a battery-powered wheelchair all by himself, and in England his car, which he can drive on his own. The car is adapted for him, with a ‘push and pull’ control instead of a steering wheel. Tony’s own chair swoops up a ramp into the driving side, and away he goes, music and all.

Drop the image of a decrepit man weeping into his soup: Tony is often the best-looking man in the room. He takes charge in a way that others ought to envy and, at the very least, think about very seriously.

Rabia Ahmed lives in Lahore


By Rabia Ahmed

The Scarlet Pimpernel
Really, Pakistan can also be the most entertaining place to live in! Where else does the Governor of a province disappear, missing sessions of the Provincial Legislative body without informing anyone of his intentions or whereabouts? It’s all very exciting and makes you feel almost French as in the Scarlet Pimpernel madrigal: “We seek him here, we seek him there, we Pakis seek him everywhere; is he in heaven or is he in hell, that demmed elusive...”  Sacre bleu!

When the Punjab Assembly met on Wednesday 8 December, the Governor, who would normally be part of the session was discovered to be absent. What’s more it was discovered that he had been ‘missing’ for the past 72 hours.

There was debate as to where Mr Taseer was: Was he in Colombo as reported by a television channel? Was he in Karachi, as also reported by a television channel, or in Sukkur, as a spokesperson of the Governor’s House has been quoted as saying he was? The DCO of Sukkur was however reportedly not aware of Mr Taseer’s presence in that town. Given our politicians’ predilection for sirens, bells, bajas and every other kind of fanfare such as halting traffic, it is not likely that his presence there would have gone unnoticed by the DCO of all persons, that is if the DCO really did say what has been attributed to him.

The most titillating bit of course was the speculation that Mr Taseer was in Dubai conducting secret errands for Mr Zardari (ooh!) as our Law Minister Rana Sanaullah says he was, but Mr Taseer says emphatically that he was not in Dubai.  Well it’s a wide world, and a very exciting one, with the prospect of our Governor lurking around anywhere out there.

The fact that Mr. Taseer is now back in the seat, and was apparently in Sri Lanka for three days is beside the point. Also beside the point is that either his people were unwilling to say where he was, in which case one wonders why, or they simply did not know either. In which case one wonders why again.

The point is that the constitution appears to have become a pocket tissue for our politicians: they take it out only to blow their noses with a loud trumpeting sound. For all other purposes it is useless, discarded and trampled on at will.

In Pakistan, constitutions, amendments to constitutions and other rules come and go with the frequency of governments, and none of them seem to apply to the governments themselves.

According to Mr S.M. Zafar, this event has led to a violation of Article 104 of our Constitution. I presume he means that since the absence from the province of the Governor (the constitutional head of the province) was not disclosed, his office lay vacant for a period of time, which is a violation of this Act.

Also, given the absence of the Governor from the province, the Speaker of the Assembly takes over his position, which means that he is for the period of his custodianship, ineligible to act as Speaker. However, since Mr Taseer had neglected to inform the Assembly of his inability to attend the session (the neglect in itself an unconstitutional act), the Speaker carried on as Speaker, while all the while he ought to have been in position as acting Governor.

It’s all very complicated. What stands out clearly is the fact that the Governor by virtue of his prolonged absence and failure to inform relevant persons of the fact has demonstrated his disdain of the law.

 Is such a person eligible for the high office of Governorship of a province?

It was Albert Einstein who said that ‘Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.’ Or are not enforced, which is one way of not only a government losing respect, but of demonstrating its lack of respect for itself, not to mention the law of the land they are supposed to be governing.

 Is such a government eligible to be in the position it holds?

Thursday, December 9, 2010


By Rabia Ahmed

Ever since WikiLeaks started figuring big in the news here, people have been getting really indignant about the King of Saudi Arabia criticising the President of Pakistan by calling him (Mr Zardari) ‘corrupt’ and ‘an obstacle to the progress of Pakistan.’

There were angry comments on Facebook and in the papers about the matter.  A letter to the Editor in today’s ‘The News’ has a retired colonel of the Pakistan Army saying that he feels ‘hurt’ by the monarch’s remarks.  He says that seeing as Mr Zardari is the elected President of this country the King’s remarks are an insult to the people of Pakistan. He says that it is our right to question and criticise him, not anyone else’s, and that if they do so it is interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country.

Dear Mr Colonel Sir, I would normally feel the same way myself, particularly since the rulers of Saudi Arabia are, as you point out, not elected, nor (as I add) of clean repute, which makes them somewhat like Mr Zardari, on the latter account. There are other similarities too, one a picture of King Abdullah kissing Mr Bush on the lips, whereas Mr Zardari prefers other ends to achieve his means.

However, this is not a normal situation, and while neither protagonist is what would normally be called an acceptable Head of State, elected or otherwise, it is more to the point what we are, or are not, and that includes our Head of State and his buddies, and if you please, the King was only telling the truth.

Yes we have the right to question and criticise our leaders, and we have been doing so, but questions without answers or results are no use. What’s more, elected representatives are meant to, you know, represent, or respond to the interests of those who elected them. It’s what the deal was.  But I see no representation here, no response to the needs of the people of Pakistan. Did we, for example, really need two more ministers in our already large federal cabinet? It appears we have the pleasure of supporting the lavish needs of two more such officials, as of last Tuesday. There is such a thing as eating a people out of house and home, and I thought we were being asked to downsize? Indeed our Prime Minister had proclaimed that this would be done. So what have they done, stopped putting almonds in their gajjar ka halwa or something? Goodness no! That would be too much to expect of our elected representatives.

 As far as the bit about ‘internal affairs’ and ‘sovereignty’ is concerned, in today’s day and age, no country leads quite the isolated existence it did once upon a delightful time. Certainly Pakistan does not. How internal are our affairs, do you suppose, when we breed and foster the likes of the Taliban who spread out into the wide, wide world and bomb the people of other countries? And how sovereign is our country when it goes around begging bowl in hand to every country in the world, asking for aid every time the wolf is at the door and also otherwise? I think the ruddy wolf has taken up residence there, frankly, in fact it seems to be breeding even as fast as the Taliban themselves.  

Mr Zardari, and Mr Sharif, if they pooled their money stored in safer places and/or if they tried to govern as they ought, could prevent this from happening. But do they? They procure more expensive cars for themselves, spend millions on their official and personal residences, make useless ‘tours’ when they spend billions on their accommodation and expenses, all on the tab of the country that’s standing by begging for help.

How sovereign are you if you owe the very clothes on your back to someone else? I reckon every man and his grandmother anywhere in the world has a right to a say in our affairs, when they are forever obliged to feel sorry for ‘those poor people in Pakistan’, and to give, forever give donations from their wallets against disasters that take place here. Ugh.

I think it’s time we figure out what our biggest disaster is, please, and deal with it, and once we do that, then we have the right to get tetchy about what anyone else says about us.  Not before.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


What a nag!                
December 5, 2010
I can see right through him; I know he thinks I’m too efficient. And he’s right; I am, because I have to be. After all, my eyes may be sharp enough to see through him, but his are so dull he sees himself in a mirror and thinks everything’s perfect on him; perfect clothes, perfect briefcase, best haircut in town.
Well here’s how it is: I ironed those clothes; I won’t allow anyone else to, so the trousers are perfectly creased; I never allow him to lie down wearing them, or squat or sit with his legs all bent. And I choose his ties (and all his clothes, actually) and I hang the right tie with each shirt. Otherwise, monsieur actually wore a green tie with a pink shirt once.
As for his hair, I came back from holiday once and he had a neat little comb-over, like a desi Donald Trump. I chopped that ridiculous lock off and made him have a cut from a proper place, not one of those two-bit places he seems to think are good enough.
And that’s another thing: how come everything is ‘good enough’ and that is just fine by him? I didn’t marry Mr Good Enough, my parents didn’t marry me to a Mr Good Enough.  We married him, because Good Enough was not good enough for us.
My mother was an army wife, and I learnt all about a wife’s duty from her. ‘Make sure you remember who we are,’ she always said, and I always do.
It’s not a coincidence that my father is a four-star General. My mother had a lot to do with his rank than anyone knows. Come to think of it she too was particular about his clothes, and she also…yes I learnt quite a bit from her without realising it. I too make sure my husband eats the right things. He loves garlic, but I never give him any because it would make him and all his clothes stink.
He always tells me he’d like chopped garlic with dinner, and because it’s never there, he complains that I never listen to him. Well he’s right. I don’t, because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so what’s the point? Even though I make him go for a jog every morning, he’s put on weight, and you should hear him snore.
I found very early on that if I look at him a certain way, (just the way my mother looks at my father, it makes me feel so sentimental), he doesn’t argue. And so I look at him like that whenever he’s being extra-immature or silly, and that’s all I do. Thank God no one can call me a nag. I hear they’re very dominating, those women. —Rabia Ahmed

This article was printed in the Dawn on the 05 December 2010 


By Rabia Ahmed

Most of the time, when in Rome, it is prudent to ‘Do as the Romans do’.  Most times, that is, until you find yourself spending your life doing the silliest things;  because even though the Romans were good at making aqua ducts and roads like the A1 doesn’t mean they were all that smart every time. Like most of us.  And once you realise that, should you still follow the guy in the toga everywhere he goes, or should you hold up your hand occasionally and say ‘enough!’?

There is such a thing as not allowing yourself to be pressured. Remember the scene about the Imperius Curse in J.K Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’? Let me paraphrase that bit:

As Moody put his students under the Imperius Curse, they all did the strangest things: hopped around the room singing the national anthem, imitated animals, and performed extraordinary gymnastics.  When it was Harry’s turn, he felt a floating sensation as every thought and worry in his head was wiped away.  He heard his teacher’s voice commanding him to jump onto the desk.  He bent his knees preparing to jump, when suddenly another voice spoke in his head:

‘Why though?’ it said. ‘Stupid thing to do, really.’

And Harry felt his knees hurt as he stopped in mid jump and fell against the hard stone floor.

We always have a choice: to do what everyone else is doing, regardless whether you like it or not, or to hold back and do your own thing.

It is never easy to say ‘no’, but whether you say ‘no’ or not, your choices disturb those around you, so there is invariably an outcry against your stance. So really, you may as well do what you think is best, hadn’t you, instead of following everyone else?

 It is best to be prepared for criticism, by cultivating a skin that’s thicker than usual.  J.K Rowling had a magic charm for that as well, the ‘Impervius Charm’, which makes the charmed person impervious to any outside influence. We need this in Pakistan if we’re to say ‘no’ now and then, so we can be impervious to protest. As it is, only our politicians seem to have used it upon themselves.

Here’s a short list of some choices you may have to make living in Pakistan:

Arriving late at weddings:
In spite of it being clearly stated on a card that the Mehendi will start at 7pm sharp, no one arrives before nine, and the majority put in an appearance around ten, or later.

You may decide to go with the flow and turn up at the function around midnight, in which case you’ll be classed with the decadent at-parties-all-night lot.
Or, you may try to take your hosts at their word, and arrive on time. In which case all hell will break lose with ‘This is Pakistan! Learn to be late!’

And of course there are those who protest whatever you do.

Dressing extravagantly:
Life in Pakistan is at the stage when one has to choose between one’s daily bread and another new jora.  People however, will spend the cost of five lunches, three dinners and a lavish high tea on a new something to wear every other week.

If you decide to cut down on your meals and go with the designers, so be it. If however you chose to wear the same dress a few times running, be prepared for the comments, such as, ‘You really like this dress, don’t you?’.

Of course, there are those who protest whatever you wear!

Loans to servants:
Living in Pakistan, employing a servant or two, you take on a corporate image. You are the sleek new Visa card, or an American Express credit card, and people never leave home without you, in a figurative sense of course. Your cook wants you in his wallet, and so does your driver, your cleaning lady, gardener, newspaper wallah, and so on. There is the wedding to finance, the ‘fautgi’, or a house.

You sympathise. How, after all, can people survive in this place on the salaries they get? So you allow them to swipe you from time to time, and even to swipe from you at times while you turn a blind eye.

Which all means of course that you will be known as the worst manager of finances in the world.

On the other hand, if you become Scrooge, you will be...Scrooge.

But naturally, there are those who will protest whatever you do, and make you into a kind of Scrooge Express.

Menu at parties:
The Last Supper takes place every weekend in Lahore homes. People serve the most lavish meals, and people eat as though they will never eat again. No one really cares for anything except where the boti is. In this poor country where people are dying for want of a basic meal, it is imperative to serve a beef dish, a chicken dish and two mutton dishes at the table in addition to seven others and something with prawns.

If the menu at your party is a simple one, those who live in Lahore will be vociferous in their protest (Scrooge again).

If it is a lavish one, your guests from Karachi will be equally vocal (Show off).

And then of course there are those who protest whatever you serve.

That isn’t the end of the list by any means, but I invite you to add to it as you wish, and then when you’re done with it, to examine it carefully. Maybe then you will also say, ‘Why though?’ and make your choice: to jump like everyone else, or to stand peacefully aside, and watch everyone else jump, moo, or tap dance their way through a life that they think is their own, but is it though?!

Its all about choice, having a very thick skin, and doing what you think is best!

This article was printed in the Dawn on the 05 December 2010 with certain changes by the editor. It may be viewed at the following link:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010



By Rabia Ahmed | Published: November 30, 2010
Asia Bibi’s case is one such example of the above.
Rampant ignorance in this country has led to poverty, deprivation, misery, anger, and misinformed bearded persons carrying that baggage becoming accepted as the religious voice of the community.
My beloved Prophet (PBUH), for whom I am willing to lay down my life, was extremely persecuted during his lifetime; yet when asked to curse those who persecuted him, he refused to do so, saying that he had been sent as a blessing for mankind, not as a curse. So how can we sentence a person to death because he/she has supposedly, or even actually, said something against him?
If we believe in the Shariah, then does not this in itself prevent such a sentence? Would Mohammad (PBUH), given the example above, have passed that sentence? If not, then how can we? And that too, on a poor woman humiliated when her peers refused to drink the water she served them, because they said she was unclean. I would probably have overturned the whole bucket on their heads, and called them many names. Being Muslim I would naturally have not gone where Asia reportedly did, but many other places, yes.
We flawed puny beings impute our own frailty to people who are neither puny nor frail, nor as flawed. It is we little people who are easily hurt. Towering personalities such as Mohammad (PBUH) can withstand sticks and stones, derogatory remarks, and anything else that is hurled at them. If we truly love him, we will feel anger if anyone maligns him, but then we will immediately look inwards to discover where we went wrong, and why people say such things about him. Is our example weak? Have we shown the world what a true Muslim is?
Praise has to be earned, not obtained by beating it out of people.
Is blasphemy the real issue here, or is it us, our corruption, ignorance and beard bristling fury that leads us to offload our frustration on the heads of anyone but the deserving.
It is easier to quote from large tomes and denounce one poor woman, or twenty poor women and men, than it is to be courageous and make an effort to deal with the actual issues that brought matters to this head.
Here’s a little exercise... in the Google search bar enter: blasphemy against other religions.
You’ll find blasphemy because someone denied that the Jewish holocaust occurred. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against Dhan Sri Guru Garanth Sahib Ji Maharaj. And, blasphemy initially being a criminal offence in every state of the USA.
In Maryland a law was passed in 1723 which prohibited any person from denying that Jesus was the Son of God. The first offence was punishable by a fine of £20, the second by the letter ‘B’ being burnt onto the offender’s forehead. And the third time around, the punishment was death.
We all blaspheme somehow against someone or the other. I do not believe that Jesus was the son of God. But I accept that the Jewish holocaust took place, so I suppose that lot will let me live. As for Dhan Sri Guru Garanth Sahib Ji Maharaj, I’m not quite sure who he was or is, and that in itself is probably blasphemy somewhere or the other.
Someone called Ophelia Benson said: Religion is exactly the kind of institution that should be exposed to
criticism, not exempted from it.
Whatever Ms Benson meant when she said this, I personally agree that something as important as religion can either be the best thing that happened to humanity or else its worst curse. In the case of Islam, I am staunch in believing that it is not the religion that is at fault, it is those who use it to rant. And so every day, before we spread what they say on our toast with the marmalade and eat it, we need to examine their dictums for little stones and dispose of them, not gather them and throw them at others who have no clue what they did to deserve such treatment.
That, in fact, is blasphemy because it flies in the face of all that our Prophet taught.

This article was printed in Pakistan Today on the 29th November 2010 where they appear to have missed out the first line, which was: Behind every issue, there are others that go unchecked.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Senior citizen: The old and the beautiful
November 21, 2010
By Rabia Ahmed
To care for a helpless person is a full time job, even if one is able to employ paid help. After all, a maid also needs constant supervision and time off, so every so often, one has to step in and do everything such as wash, clean, feed, lift, turn, support, medicate and reassure the patient along with managing all the other responsibilities of life.
It is important, therefore, that the primary care giver take as good care of himself/herself as of the patient. If the primary care giver falls ill as a result of her duties, what is to become of both the carer and the patient?
Our society has many admirable qualities, but pragmatism is not one of them. I remarked to a friend, a lovely person, looking after a parent, that I wished we in Pakistan had a system of ‘Respite Care’. I explained that this is an arrangement whereby a carer who has no one else to share her responsibilities, such as another sibling at hand, could take a much needed rest by placing the patient in trained care for a short while. This may be for just a day, a weekend, or even a week or two. Arrangements such as these are an integral part of healthcare in societies that care.
Predictably, the reaction from my friend was a horrified ‘You’re saying that I should place my mother in a Home?’
Well yes, I was. When needed.
Why does the concept of a ‘Home’ scare us so much? It is because we have heard too many stories of the selfishness of children in western societies, who, we believe, place their parents in Homes and forget about them, leaving the hapless parents to dwindle and die of neglect and depression.
So let us look at the issue here, if possible without an emotional blurring of facts. To start with, let me say that I believe that people are best cared for by those they love and who love and care for them in return. Yet, for many reasons, there are exceptions, temporary or permanent.
Yes there are many cases of neglect in the West. However, the majority of children there are just as caring as the best of us here. The parents of both are looked after with love, and every concern for their comfort and happiness.
Having a parent live with us does not automatically mean that the parent is loved and cared for. Let us recollect the innumerable instances to the contrary, within our own circle, of children who are careless and thoughtless of their parents’ comfort.
And what of those people who have no children, in fact or in effect? For every group of our acquaintance there will be some who never married, three or four couples with no children, several with just one child on whom the entire burden of care devolves, and several more with all their children living in other countries, making them, for the purposes of this discussion, no different from couples without any children.
What of these people? Where do they live when they are old if no care is provided? Those of us granted a longer life reach old age, with its attendant problems. We may be blessed and have our children around us.
If we are further blessed, our children will not only love and care for us, but will be able to afford to do so. To relegate the fate of a large section of society to all these ‘maybes’ is a huge gamble.
Aged care by no means takes away the responsibility children bear for their parents, if children there are.
It exists as an aid both for the carers, and those cared for. Aged care also should not mean a depressing institutional life. If well organised, old age can be a beautiful time, in its own way, and organised care can remove the guilt from both the parents’ and the child’s mind, and make old age enjoyable and restful.
There are several levels to aged care. There are retirement communities which are a group of residential units just like the homes you and I live in, where people may live when they reach retirement age. At this stage people are still independent, but find it harder than they once did to handle things such as paying bills, arranging for home help, driving and so on. In such places, these things are taken care of by employees at a central office. People who live here lead a normal life with less stress.
A higher level of care can be incorporated when needed, with the provision of trained carers, as well as facilities such as cooked food, ramps, rails, alarms… and Respite Care.
Every human being is entitled to a dignified old age, where he or she is taken care of in a cheerful, caring environment, at home, or elsewhere. Sadly, in Pakistan the huge gulf between the rich and the poor is so much part of our background that we do not bat an eyelid at the appalling living conditions of an impoverished elderly person, yet the label ‘old people’s home’ for ourselves makes members of our socio-economic ‘class’ blanche and shudder, and immediately point fingers at the West, something we are very good at doing.
A huge section of our society is likely to be left without support in the near future, not just as a result of normal circumstances but because we of this generation of older adults that have taken such pains to send our children away from us. Aged care is not the product of a selfish society. On the contrary, it is a sign of a society that cares enough for its members to leave less to chance and fate.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


By Rabia Ahmed

They say that before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them you're a mile away … and you have their shoes. 

Well, I’m just about to talk about a set of people who leave their shoes at the door, so they’re easy to steal. And I would prefer to walk more than a mile away before criticizing them, because I know that most of them cannot stomach any negative comments.  However, I shall take my life in my hands, not steal anyone’s shoes, nor walk miles away and say what I have to.  I just hope that what I say is taken in the right spirit.

Nothing is more hauntingly beautiful than the Adhan that one hears at Medina, or Mecca. Particularly the Fajr Adhan borne on the morning breeze convinces you that truly Allah is Great (Allahu Akbar!), and there is no God but Allah.  The words ‘Hurry towards prayers!’ (hayya ala-s-salah!) galvanize you into obedience and you know you are going towards your salvation (hayya ala-al falah). You even agree, however sleepy you may be, that prayer is better than sleep (assalatu khairun minan naum).

However, we live in Lahore, not far from a group of four or five mosques.  So help me God, five times a day the Adhan is heard from all these five mosques simultaneously. 

Somewhere behind a pert little rickshaw scuttling around Lahore there is the following couplet:

Ai bulbul tairee kookh say dil narm sa hua jata tha   (oh nightingale, your voice used to thrill me once)
Ab issi kookh say dil dhar say gir jata hai, kyun?       (but now it only scares me, why is that?)

Dare I apply this to the Adhan in our neighbourhood?

I prefer to believe the best about people, because it saves a lot of trouble, so I’m sure our Muezzins (people who issue the call to prayer) are nice men, and like all nice men they mean well.  But these particular nice men do not recite the Adhan nicely, because they have neither nice voices, nor very nice accents.

Abu Said Al-Khudri is quoted as saying: Allah's Apostle said, "Whenever you hear the Adhan, say what the Muezzin is saying.”

But how is one to say what the Muezzen is saying, when you can’t understand what the Muezzin is saying, and when five Muezzin’s are vying with us each to see who can best shout the other down?

Not only is there utter chaos and cacophony, but the mikes squeal.  You are awoken by the sound of a shrill scream followed by the Muezzin clearing his throat, loudly. He then proceeds to bellow his way through the beautiful words of the Adhan in a strong Punjabi accent. You almost hear Sultan Rahi saying ‘Oy’ before the Adhan begins.

This goes on in five different voices, each more unsuitable to the task than the other.  If making enough noise to wake people is what is called for, these Muezzins are doing their job just fine.

Friday mornings is Karaoke time when all the little tots from the local madrassahs have a shot at the mike starting well before Fajr, carrying on until day break. This also happens at every auspicious day on the religious calendar, and throughout Ramadan. They sing naats, hamd and duas, all on the mike, and the tunes are vintage Bollywood. 

I can understand that it must be hard to organize Adhan today.  In the time of the Prophet Mohammad (p b u h), it would have been possible to reach a large segment of the population from a single mosque without a mike.

Now, the population has grown, and so have noise levels. We therefore need to re-organise this tradition of calling people to prayer so that it reaches people over and above other sounds in a befitting manner.

I would therefore like to make the following suggestions:

It is important that the Muezzin sound pleasant, and be clear in his enunciation just as it is already recommended that the Imam, who leads our prayers, should be of pleasant appearance, and should speak clearly. 

This means that the Muezzin should have a clear understanding of what he is saying when he enunciates the call to prayer.

A system is required so that in the one neighbourhood there is the least possible overlap of Adhans from separate mosques. Maybe, we could restrict the Adhan to one mosque per every five miles?

Starting this year, the Egyptian government was to implement a plan whereby the Adhan is broadcast in the voice of a single Muezzin from a state radio station to all of the capital’s 4000 mosques via wireless receivers.  We could consider this or other suggestions.

Lastly, let’s reflect on the following Hadith by Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi: “Allah bestows His kindness and affection on those who are kind and considerate to His creatures.”

The mind boggles when you imagine how loud Adhan on a mike must sound in the immediate vicinity of each mosque. For people with babies, sick individuals, or just anyone else, proximity to a mosque precludes sleep, study, or nursing a headache, both before and after they’ve said their prayers, even though Fajr in June is at 3:15am, leaving almost four hours before schools start and longer before people in offices start work for the day.  This is not right, because while prayer might be better than sleep, sleep is also important, and cannot be done away with.

The Adhan must be based on the guidelines that while the Muezzin’s job is to issue the call for prayer it is not his job to keep people awake.  Mikes in mosques should be used strictly for the Adhan, and for the Adhan alone, when they should be in the hands of people able to use them well. 

This article was printed in The Friday Times on the 17th November 2010. The Friday Times is available online only for subscribers. 


By Rabia Ahmed
When making jam, the scum rising to the top needs to be skimmed off. Well we’re in a jam alright, and the scum has risen to the top, but there’s no sign of it being skimmed off, making us the Butt of many jokes, and worse (some situations call for rotten puns. It’s a kind of ‘venting’)

No saints, the British, and one thing is certain, they drew some very iffy lines: the Durand and the Radcliffe lines, and of course the Line of Control as well as the Line of Actual Control; according to Nehru in 1962, he didn’t even know where the Line of Actual Control was (Where? Where?). The Brits made a hash of those, but the lines in cricket were among their better ideas. They’ve been pretty okay, those cricketing outer boundaries, the popping crease, the batting crease, and the return creases.  However, Mr Butt and his uncontrolled verbuse has crossed all boundaries and left all of us shaken as well as stirred. Even the Manager of the Pakistan cricket team was moved to resign. But the big Butt remains firmly in place.

Cricket has not always been cricket, that’s for sure. There’s always a bit of robbin’ going on under the hood, a bit of tampering, many dubious umpiring decision, and almost certainly some match fixing, but by and large, it managed to stay out of the cesspit, until now that is, and it is thanks to the current Chairman of the PCB, Mr Ijaz Butt that it is now head down in the pit.

Imran Khan

I remember the good old days of Pakistani cricket.  It was Tony Greig who said, “You give these Pakistanis a wicket, and boy they love it!” There were the Mohammad brothers who seemed to have learnt to walk on a cricket pitch; the concave Zaheer Abbas with his talent for clinging limpet-like to the wicket, and Wasim Bari who in a series of three tests against England once, never gave away a single bye; the cheeky between-the-wicket partnership of Asif Iqbal and our own Speedy Gonzales, Javed Miandad; the debonair Majid Khan, and of course Imran Khan with his glorious two sixes and a four against India, on the last seven balls!!

I remember Iftikhar Ahmad’s commentaries, particularly when he almost wept along with the rest of us when Imran scored those sixes and a four, and of course Chishti Mujahid’s ‘Down he comes! Up she goes! Six he gets!’

It was still possible to be proud of being Pakistani in those days. And that, more than anything, is what people of the ilk of Mr Butt and his patrons have taken away from us: when he had done with mangling the image of Pakistan during a tour of England, most Pakistanis, cricket followers or not, were looking for the nearest very deep hole to crawl into.

It was Chishti who, when asked if he would ever accept the Chairmanship of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said, “Certainly not, neither for money, nor love, not for a million dollars.  I have observed at the closest range the pressure under which the Chairman works and I will never even come near that hot seat.  It takes a lot of guts, grit, determination, stamina, patience, intellect, administrative abilities, diplomacy and ....need I go on? I have none of these. No thank you. Best of luck to the Chairman.”

Mr Butt of the PCB
So on what basis did the patron of the PCB appoint Mr Butt to the Chairmanship of the Board? If it was on the basis of having played cricket, well so have I, on the lawn of a village pitch somewhere in Sheikhupura, and I assure you that was better cricket.

We all know what happened: following spot fixing allegations against three Pakistani players, Mr Butt responded that bookies were saying that some certain English players had also been paid enormous sums of money to lose the match. Does this remind you of a children’s playground spat? ‘Tu gadha hai!’ ‘Tu hoga gadha!’ and so on. Neither diplomacy nor intellect, then.

Naturally, if he had had any proof to support his allegations, we would all have been more than happy to hear it. But he didn’t, because following very shortly after that we find the Butt retracting his claim that English players were suspected of match fixing. “I wish personally, and on behalf of the PCB to withdraw the comments,” he said, adding that he had never intended to question the behaviour and integrity of the English players, nor the English Cricket Board (ECB).

Well what exactly had he intended to question? Their ability to eat their words? No, that credit remains with him alone. So there go guts and grits both. It appears that only determination remains, to stay where he is not wanted.

The man is seventy two, for God’s sake, and a personal friend of our Percentydent. It may just be time to dump him, and those who placed him in a position so embarrassing for us all, and so hurtful to the image of our country and cricket team

This article was printed in Pakistan today on the 17th November 2010.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


By Rabia Ahmed

Our neighbour Mrs X, had ‘billud’. I am not sure which came first, the chicken or the egg but she also had a foul temper. We often heard her screaming in fury from within her house. Following such episodes Mr X would be found standing just outside their gate, puffy eyed and trembling, feverishly smoking cigarettes. After each cigarette was smoked to the quick, he discarded it in the patch of grass outside the gate, covering it with dirt much as a cat covers her leavings.  When he was all smoked out, he crept back indoors and we would hear Mrs X shrieking again, followed by the distinct sound of repeated thwacks.

Other than being a merciless husband beater, Mrs X was a merciless cleaner. She had innumerable little ornaments around the house: the Eiffel tower jostled against ‘A Gift from Lands End’ which in turn vied for space with Nefertiti, Cinderella, a silent crowd of china ducks, shepherdesses, and a plastic Mickey Mouse wearing a sombrero. 

On Mrs X’s dressing table were many bottles of perfume, and as many bottles of medicine, brushes, combs, and at least ten photographs of siblings in ornate frames. Each of these things was dusted twice a day and sometimes thrice. The house was spotless, because every morning Mrs X dusted it herself, after her maid had swept it and thrown the daily bag of trash over the wall onto the road.

It was I who took her trash along with that from my own moderately clean house to the big bin on the main road.  Small children could be found here, picking through the rubbish and I thought of my own two children in their (moderately clean) home, but did nothing.

There are some things in life you just cannot get away from, such as air, water and food. Waste disposal may not be as urgent a requirement in a crisis, but in the long run it is just as important; if you fail to dispose of your waste properly, you will not die right away, but as sure as anything else, the day will come (and it is almost upon us), when our deaths will be a direct consequence of this failure.  What is more, to die of pollution is a worse death than to die of plain starvation or thirst. It is a lot nastier.

It is strange that we do not even begin to solve this problem, given that what mental illness, illiteracy, superstition and pornography are to the mind, a dirty environment is to the body. We work on building schools, look askance at black magic and ban websites, yet we sweep within and defile without. Do you find it as aberrant as I do, that a society that has a nuclear programme has no effective nationwide waste management system?

Solid Waste Management (SWM) has to be one of our priorities.

Solid waste is material that requires disposal such as normal household garbage and the treated product from treatment plants, commercial waste (for example from slaughter houses), and waste from construction sites. It does not include untreated sewage, or hazardous waste, such as certain chemicals, or nuclear waste.

The responsibility for providing facilities for proper waste management rests with local governments, however it is up to the citizens in their capacity as residents, public and private, to use the facilities provided by their government.

In 2007, the World Bank published a report on SWM which pertains only to some cities and areas of the Punjab, and not to the entire province.  It was presented to the World Bank and the Urban Unit, Government of Punjab in 2007.

One of the conclusions of the report was:”There is no comprehensive solid waste management guideline on a national level, addressing all important waste categories. Since the action plan has not yet been developed, the concrete approach with defined steps and milestones are missing. Therefore the basis for implementation, for the allocation of financial and human resources is still to be developed.”

The report goes on to say that according to a rough estimate, since no studies are available, the total household waste for just nine cities of the Punjab is 10,000 tons per day, or 3.3 million tons per year.

At present, waste collection services in Punjab’s cities are responsible for collecting between 40% - 70% of the waste.

Only part of waste collected thus is deposited in official facilities. The rest is simply dumped anywhere, on the street, in empty plots, or into drains, and water courses. “There is no properly designed and operated sanitary landfill in the nine cities – and reportedly not in the whole of Punjab, or Pakistan.”
Improper rubbish disposal
causing choked drainage

There has to be a final disposal of the rubbish collected and dumped at various spots. At present, it is finally dumped mainly into any open space, flood plains, or ponds.

Flooding, anyone?

It isn’t as though Solid Waste Management is a lost cause in Pakistan. All it needs is planning, and the will to make it work. We have a Government whose job, oddly enough, is to do both these things, and once done it is possible to manage waste, as illustrated by this example:

Dhok Munshi
In 2005, an experimental six month project was initiated to implement the report’s initial suggestions. The place chosen for this project was a small area called Dhok Munshi in Chaklala, Rawalpindi, consisting of about 30,000 low income people.

Because the people of Dhok Munshi are neither affluent nor politically critical, it had been completely neglected, and was without any waste management system at all.  Trash was regularly deposited on open plots which were no longer anything but large mounds of waste.

Under this project, social workers were hired to teach the residents of Dhok Munshi the importance of proper waste disposal, and a monthly service charge of Rs 30 was levied on them.  Waste was collected door to door and this collection was monitored by organisers. Once collected it was taken by collection truck to a disposal site. The dump sites were also cleaned on a regular basis.

The waste collected was sorted according to various categories, and sold to relevant buyers.

The community of Dhok Munshi responded to the scheme with enthusiasm. They cooperated throughout, paid their dues, and placed their trash in the required bags and sites.

As soon as the project was over and it was handed over to the local council however, politics took over and it stagnated.

Dhok Munshi is part of Pakistan.

There are two main lessons to be learnt from this experiment: firstly, given a chance and proper information, the people of Pakistan are obviously willing to improve their surroundings. Secondly, the Government of Pakistan needs to look beyond the selfish interests of its individual members and start planning for and implementing policies that are in the interests of the people they supposedly represent.

There is always another option, and that is to ignore our environment. However, if we do that the issues it poses will not die away. We will. 

This article appeared in The Dawn magazine on the 7th of November 2010 where it was called 'What Rubbish'.