Saturday, September 21, 2013


Express Tribune Published: September 22, 2013

A police officer checks a car at a security check point in Islamabad . PHOTO: AFP
My husband and I had the dubious fortune of visiting a government office recently. Before we entered we were stopped at a security barrier as usual. My husband has a martial air about him, it seems, because they often mistake him for an army officer. In Lahore, that’s useful.  Not one to be left behind, I too can produce my alter ego when required, you know, as though there’s something smelly under my nose, like Mrs Malfoy, and that’s useful too.
The security guard took one look at us two stiff necks in the back seat and his resolution wavered, as did the instrument in his hand, the danda (pole) with the mirror at the end with which they check the underside of a car.  He poked defiantly at the wheel, but without wasting our time further, let us through to our appointment with the big stink at the other end.
We don’t normally terrorise the local populace this way but we just wanted to see how well this security works. As we found out, so much for security at this barrier.
Certain persons in their wisdom from their air conditioned offices have installed security barriers at the entrance to cantonments, hotels, government offices, malls and so forth. These barriers hinder the public as it moves about its business but clearly fail to hinder terrorists as they move about theirs.  Zamurrad Khan comes strongly to mind. What is going wrong?
Security is effective only if the checking is thorough and impartial. But naturally if each person is checked very thoroughly as he/she goes about his daily business life would grind to a halt. Therefore people are checked carelessly, or not at all.
Secondly, as mentioned above, those with presumed clout (such as army officers and Convent school alumni) get waved through, because the guards are worried about repercussions if they fail to oblige. This is not an unfounded fear; they are punished for doing their job. Unfortunately, terrorists can dissemble as well as the next guy, and they never fail to oblige either.
Thirdly, women generally get through without any checks at all.
I fail to understand the attitude towards women in Pakistan. Either, they get acid thrown onto their faces, and their heads blown away, or they are treated as the ‘mothers and sisters of the nation’ – pushed to the front of every queue and allowed unchecked through security barriers.
Well, I have no wish to be either mother or sister to some of the characters around, and I take exception to the presumption that I, as a woman, am incapable of transporting/detonating a bomb. I am not an idiot, ET’s profile photograph not withstanding.
I can pull pins out of my hair, so I am perfectly capable of pulling pins out of a grenade. Let me tell you: in class seven at CJM, it was I who ground that stink bomb under the heel of my foot in Ms Amy King’s English class.  Nobody knew this except my confederates, and now you do, but I still hope Ms King doesn’t read the ET. And you know the time Ms D’Souza (alias Choozi, the teacher who taught art to all of Lahore), was walking down the driveway into Cathedral school, and she did a double take and tripped over her umbrella? Well, it was because I chucked a tiny yellow toy (it was soft, very soft) chicken at her back from the safety of our car.
With that record, I’m a likely candidate for bombing the Parliament house, or throwing my spiky hair curlers at the Prime Minister as he rolls by in his armoured car and cavalcade of seventy. Guy Fawkes probably started just as small, setting little phantom fires at the local boy scout jamboree.  So, never underestimate the power of women. Witness mothers-in-law everywhere, and I am one too! Bwahaha!
Most people have no wish to harm anyone, and I doubt if most of those poor sods who blow themselves up, do either. How can we understand what compulsions force them to do what they do? Little do we know about how children are kidnapped or even otherwise steeped in demonic doctrines; how the lure of financial security for their families is dangled before poverty stricken individuals, in exchange for and skilfully interwoven with visions of security in paradise. Perhaps these thoughts are also present in the minds of the guys at the naqas, who last week checked only the boot of my car, and let me through, when clearly visible on the seat beside me was a large, a very large ice box that could have contained half a grandmother, one bomb a-ticking, and five Kalashnikovs.
Lucky for everyone (and the grandmother), that it didn’t.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


 Published: September 2, 2013  EXPRSS TRIBUNE
Masih, at 28, remains where he started out, a full time cleaner. In the charming words of our brethren, Masih, is a ‘choora’, a dreadful term.
Pakistan’s fertility rate is likely to drop if women marry at an older age: that argument stands on its own considerable merit, because a young woman is likely to conceive more easily and often at this most fertile time of her life, but other factors also contribute to the high fertility rate.
In Pakistan, children are not just a source of joy, but necessary pillars that support parents in the parents’ old age. This is true of all cultures, but it acquires an imperative urgency in societies like ours.
Insaan Masih is a young man of no education but an innate sense of what should be. He has taught himself to read and write to a rudimentary level. His wife, given child bearing and rearing, housework and a job, remains illiterate. They have two children in school. Both parents have made their children’s education their priority in a way that I have rarely witnessed amongst more educated persons, where I have also rarely witnessed Masih’s attention to hygiene and other things, such as punctuality. He rarely takes a day off, always working an alternate day if he cannot make it once.
In spite of these qualities, Masih, at 28, remains where he started out, a full time cleaner. In the charming words of our brethren, Masih, is a choora, a dreadful term.
I began to realise the extent of the problem only when Masih started to work for us and it seemed to me that our then cook had something against him. I could find little wrong with our new employee, unless you call his horror of working in a room containing strangers a problem. He is ashamed of the job he does, and I have learnt never to ask him to ‘quickly dust that corner’ if an outsider is present in the room.
Finally, the cook came out with it. He wanted me to get separate dishes for Masih.
We never, on principle, separate our utensils from our employees, but the problem of course was that Masih is a Masih (a Christian). I refused, and our cook separated his plates from ours.
Several non Muslims have visited our home, but never has our cook objected to sharing the crockery with them. They, of course, are white, so Masih’s was a case of caste racism with which Pakistan is riddled and cursed, nothing to do with religion which condemns such prejudice. Masih possesses a name that identifies him with a minority community. He also possesses dark skin, which to the average racist Pakistani acts the way a red flag apparently does to a bull.
I took Masih for his driving test today upon his request. He is so used to being discriminated against because of his poverty and religion that he wanted me there simply as a shield, which I tried to be. I helped him put together the documents required (the licensing process will be the subject of another blog), and so was able to share, to some miniscule extent, what the Masihs of this country go through every day of their lives. It made me cringe.
‘What is your name?’ the man at the desk barked at the young man at my side.
‘Insaan *masih*,’ the latter in a very small voice.
‘Masih? A Christian?’ the voice dripped with contempt.
‘Yes sir.’
The man at the desk turned to another man at his side, in police uniform. ‘He is a Masih. Where should he go?’
Not even the man in uniform knew how to respond to this question, which is probably why Masih was waved along to stand in line with everyone else. We encountered similar incidents several times.
I left when his documents were made, and later, Masih did not get his license; they failed him for a (very) minor question. He must retake his test.
Masih requires several half days for this process and money for transport, both of which are hard to come by for him. He is trying to better his position, which is possible if God wills it, but never if our countrymen have their way.
Masih’s job does not provide a pension, and one day when he and his wife are old, there will be no savings, given their salaries; the mere idea is ridiculous.
Who will look after them if not their children?  That the State might is an even more laughable expectation, therefore, the more children the better. I would be the same in that position.
This applies to almost all the people in this country, all disadvantaged one way or another, most of all by being subjects of a State which has failed to provide for its people any way you look at it.