Tuesday, December 26, 2017



  • Let us usher in the New Year soberly
The usual upheavals took place all over the world this year, natural disasters, terrorist attacks in which hundreds of people died, and agitation to protest various things.
Some of the largest protests the world has seen took place when women marched in many different countries including the United States, to protest against the election of Donald Trump as president. They were also marching in support of women’s rights, immigration, healthcare reform, the environment, LGBTQ rights, and freedom of religion, because Donald Trump in his various incoherent statements yet managed to make it abundantly clear that his stand on women’s rights and these other issues is wrong, and offensive.
In February North Korea fired a test ballistic missile resulting in worldwide condemnation, and afterwards Britain triggered Article 50, launching negotiations to discuss Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Also this year, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on an ISIL base in Afghanistan. It also announced its decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
In February North Korea fired a test ballistic missile resulting in worldwide condemnation, and afterwards Britain triggered Article 50, launching negotiations to discuss Britain’s exit from the European Union
In an ongoing crisis that began many years ago, the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar were targeted by the army of that country in a process of ethnic cleansing that led to mass migration of that community, mostly to Bangladesh. This has now created a refugee crisis, the seriousness of which was highlighted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Earthquakes and hurricanes struck Mexico and the US causing extensive damage to life and property. Later in the year the US and Israel announced their decision to withdraw from UNESCO.
In Pakistan the prime minister was removed, yet another elected leader unable to complete his tenure.
And this month the US announced it was formally recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The announcement led to widespread condemnation of the decision all over the world, including in a formal vote in the United Nations.
In March of 2017, the UN warned of a massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the biggest such crisis since World War II. More than seven million people are at risk of starvation predominantly in Yemen, and also its neighbouring countries in Africa, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.
All that is most cruel is exposed in this crisis in Yemen, caused by a naval blockade put in place in 2015 by a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia that aims to prevent the Houthi Rebels in Yemen from gaining power. Mercifully Pakistan, that was invited to join the coalition declined when its Parliament did not sanction it. The blockade has left most of the population of Yemen deprived of sufficient food, water and medical aid. The economy has obviously suffered because the blockade prevents the movement of commercial ships as well as aid supplies.
The United Kingdom and the United States have been accused of supplying arms to this coalition.
Sunni/Wahabi Saudi Arabia fears that the rebels are supported by Iran, a Shia country. The starvation of millions of people can therefore be laid at the door of something as irrational as sectarian differences.
In Yemen, the parents of children such as two year old Shohud who weighs a mere 11lb, the four year old who weighs 16lbs, and Ayesha who weighed 7lbs at 21 months are not likely to care if a concert is bombed in Manchester killing several people. Government workers in Yemen who have not been paid for more than a year are not likely to give a second thought to the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. How would they, when they are in the midst of starvation, a dangerous exposure to cholera, and the resultant misery of deprivation and death?
To feel critical, angry, or else pleased at events not immediately affecting oneself is a luxury. It means you have the education, the awareness, the information and the leisure to feel dismay at Donald Trump’s election. You possess a modicum of security yourself if you feel sorry for the plight of the Rohingya, and you worry about losing that security by the ballistic missile fired by North Korea and the escalation of tensions between North Korea and the US. Such acts after all are in the interests of no one. If you feel that the leaders of a country need to display greater diplomacy and sense than that displayed the leaders of North Korea and the US, it is because you have the intelligence to understand this. You feel concern for those who lost their homes in the earthquakes and hurricanes because you yourself possess homes. If you are critical of the tax reforms in the US it is because you have the basic intelligence to perceive that its current government cares much more if not only for the wealthy than for the poor.
Therefore let us usher in the New Year soberly, giving a thought to those starving millions in Yemen, grateful for even our shambolic government and pathetic leadership. Let us feel grateful for the fact that we can condemn something that happens elsewhere in the world because it means we have the leisure to do so. May that condemnation and that gratitude lead us to do right by ourselves, and by everyone else in the coming year.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017



  • There is no reason the standard of education cannot be improved
In the wake of Faizabad, the PTA — in its wisdom — shut down news channels on television, as well as social media such as Facebook. It was as if they wanted to ensure that members of the public not knowing which streets to avoid were caught in the violence that our people had unleashed upon themselves. Which is why, since they were not on air, I decided to phone one of those television channels that reports on Lahore alone, to see if they knew whether routes to the airport were safe and accessible.
“Salam alaikum,” I said when a female operator picked up my call. “Bibi, could you please put me through to someone who can tell me if the road to the airport is clear?”
“I will,” the lady responded. “But first, I would like to point out to you that it is rude to call anyone ‘Bibi’. If you talk to a lady in an office. You should call her ‘Madam’ or ‘Miss’.
I would have reminded the ‘Madam’/‘Miss’ of certain respected personalities whose names are preceded with Bibi, but she had robbed me of my breath, and I thought it better to save what was left.
That incident well illustrates the national disease called ‘Acute Identity Crisis’, the one that has penetrated every muscle and bone of the nation.
I wrote last week of madressahs that fell far short of being schools because they taught nothing but religion and that too of a certain brand, a system of ‘education’ that created graduates unfit for jobs other than teachers and Imams in madressahs and mosques, or else as terrorists.  But this now is a system of education that has wrecked this country by carefully nourishing a social divide, and by hacking away at the identity of the nation.
A social divide as stark as the one that exists in Pakistan is like words on the screen picked out in distinctly different fonts and colours, some visibly placed in the centre of the page, others crowded together in the margins, like the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of society. Together, the two prevent the formation of a coherent society
A social divide as stark as the one that exists in Pakistan is like words on the screen picked out in distinctly different fonts and colours, some visibly placed in the centre of the page, others crowded together in the margins, like the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of society. Together, the two prevent the formation of a coherent society.
A society in which a divide is reflected right from the start in schools is headed for trouble, and yet there is no apparent effort to unify the English and Urdu medium schools in Pakistan, the first associated with the haves of society, the second with the have nots. There is no effort to level the playing field to ensure that in terms of education at the end of the day both sets of students graduate with similar advantages. Instead, the two languages are used as weapons rather than rich sources of literature and separate doorways to the world. It has resulted in the creation of Urdish, a bastardised collection of words that make little sense and less beauty, and in silly perceptions such as the one held by the operator whose yearning for a highfalutin persona led her to ignore the existence of the ‘Bibi Fatimas,’ and ‘Bibi Khadijas’ of her life. Such a system of education does that, it keeps facts and practicalities out of sight by replacing them with mindless aspirations.
Our cook’s son now apologises by saying “shit!” but he has no ambition to learn the alphabet, English or Urdu. You hear mothers tell their children “washroom ja kay hand-wash karo,” and people rolling their R-s for some reason, and saying ‘jeera’ rather than ‘zeera’ like their favourite Bollywood celebrity. The word waqt has gone out the window with the concept of time itself, and ‘sho-ping’ is the national pastime for women. Such things will happen when education fails to present any intelligent goals. The maulvis at Faizabad might have been dislodged from the roads (although they ain’t gone nowhere), but this loss of identity has created a drifting nation that is not likely to discover its foundations without a lot more work. What those foundations are is a contentious issue. It’s best to start with giving everyone the capacity to answer that question for themselves.
There is no reason the standard of education cannot be improved. The only things standing in the way are apathy and corruption. And of course the misconception that sees education as a threat. Well it is a threat, but only to the things that should be threatened, such as power in the wrong, few hands. To the nation as a whole it is a source of strength and progress.

Monday, December 11, 2017



  • A haunting question
“What will they become, maulvis or terrorists?”
That question posed by General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s chief of army staff last week in Quetta at a seminar about human resources development, has to be the question of the year. Speaking of the vast number of graduates being produced by madrassahs he pointed out that at the end of the day these students still did not possess an education and were therefore unfit to work. It is one of the major problems in the field of human resources in Pakistan.
The numbers are staggering. Of a country of over 207 million people, it seems that two and a half million are students at madrassahs across the country. Not taught mathematics or geography, or any of the mainstream subjects except religion, students at madrassahs are studying at a kind of Hogwarts. What are they to work at once they graduate? The COAS observed that it is not possible to build enough mosques to accommodate them if all they can do is become maulvis.
Well said Gen Bajwa, and thank you for bringing such a crucial point into the open for discussion.
General Bajwa’s question however produces a string of other questions, such as: why must a chief of army staff have to be the one to ask this question? In fact, should he ask such questions at a public forum which he is addressing as the COAS when it does not fall within the remit of his position?
Madrassahs can be brought into the mainstream if regulations are passed making it mandatory for these thousands of institutes that at present cater to the underprivileged segment of society, to teach mainstream subjects along with religious education
And, what is the civilian government of the country, and more specifically the government’s department of education doing to allow such a situation to develop, where a multitude of uneducated graduates is produced only to join the ranks of the unemployed and or terrorists, and the matter is not addressed?
The armed forces of Pakistan are no doubt composed of several well intentioned and talented persons. But it is at the end of the day exactly that, an armed force whose job it is to defend the country from physical attack. They are not meant to indulge in education, except for military schools. But that is a futile observation, since the armed forces of Pakistan appear to find the civilian arena tantalisingly attractive, as we have seen.
Regardless, should a person desist from making such observations about a particular field even if he or she finds that that field is of crucial importance, yet it is not receiving the attention it deserves? If he or she feels that he or she has something to offer in that field, something that would make a difference? What should he or she do then?
You have to admit that the temptation is great, to meddle in civilian government matters, when the civilian government is as disorganised as it is, and as inept.
It has to be conceded that the chief of the armed forces in this country has some right to comment on the matter, given that it is his troops that are called upon to combat the results in the shape of terrorism.
Madrassahs can be brought into the mainstream if regulations are passed making it mandatory for these thousands of institutes that at present cater to the underprivileged segment of society, to teach mainstream subjects along with religious education. Even then, they can be brought into the mainstream only if that regulation is enforced. This would not just provide jobs for thousands of teachers but a more rounded education for the students. Such an education would result in more jobs being open to madrassah graduates. Not to make this move is a clear sign of apathy and short sightedness.
The citizens of a country should all be given the same opportunities as far as possible. It is unfair to throw substandard education in the path of students just because they are unable to pay for a better one. It is also unfair to give children a specialised education right from the start. If they are started off with a mainstream education and then they chose to teach religion, so be it.
The reason madrassahs survive is that mosques and schools affiliated with them receive so many donations in the shape of money and food, particularly the latter. This feeds the staff and students at the madrassahs, something that neither would be able to do adequately otherwise. It indicates a level of poverty which is of crucial importance to note.
Civilian governments need to deserve the trust placed in them. Unless they do they will always be overridden by those who observe the void.
Poverty too needs to be addressed and eliminated. Unless it is, it will be used by those who observe the desperation and use it.

Monday, December 4, 2017



  • The stomach cannot
Demonstrations and sit-ins were staged by various ‘religious’ groups across the country recently. These demonstrations were suspended by the leaders of these groups when the government caved in to their demands, but only after the law Minister, Zahid Hamid, was forced to resign, barely escaping with his life and that of his family. A demonstration in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore staged by the TLY carried on. That too has finally ended, with the government managing to save the Punjab Law Minister Sanaullah’s job. Mr. Sanaullah’s reprieve though is only temporary, since Maulana Asif Jalali of the TLY, the person who now dictates to the government, has clearly stated that although he is not taking back his demand for the minister’s resignation, he will kindly allow the government to carry on doing what it wants for a period of one month.
The government has had to agree to the other demands.
You’re strongly reminded of the recent news in the BBC about a zoo in China where people turned up to see exotic animals, and were instead confronted with air-filled toy penguins, and a handful of roosters and geese. To spell it out, just so did the public in Pakistan hope for a government and were met instead with inflated dummies and a handful of fowl persons with a predominance of geese.
The policy of not negotiating with terrorists has a contentious history but it makes sense and still exists. Whether a country agrees with the policy or not, even if it is a signatory to the agreement that prohibits payment of ransom and negotiating with terrorists, some governments have caved in, and secretly or quite openly given in to demands. Each government of Pakistan has, of course, firmly adhered to the policy of having none but the knee jerk policy, which says ‘do whatever you need to do to keep ‘em quiet, keep yourselves in power, and to hell with the people’. You have to give it to each successive government for living up to this on every occasion.
It has now agreed that the report compiled by Raja Zafarul Haq’s committee regarding events that led up to the demonstrations is to be made public later this month by the 20th. Meantime the government is to pay reparation (with tax payers’ money) for the people killed during operations to remove protestors from around Islamabad recently, never mind that these operations were conducted because these people had hijacked the capital of the country and were forcing the government to accede to their demands… or else.
The policy of not negotiating with terrorists has a contentious history but it makes sense and still exists. Whether a country agrees with the policy or not, even if it is a signatory to the agreement that prohibits payment of ransom and negotiating with terrorists, some governments have caved in, and secretly or quite openly given in to demands
Also agreed upon is that yet another commission is to be set up to decide how many loudspeakers each mosque is to be allowed in the province. It is infuriating, since the said loudspeakers are used not just to relay the call to prayer, but also to pander to the sitting mullahs’ yearning for an audience and predilection for Bollywood tunes. They are also used to rally people to protests such as these recent ones across the country.
What is probably most terrifying is that the ulema are to review the religious views contained within the curriculum of schools in the province.
Not the smallest organisation can be run much less an entire country without first deciding where the country stands on certain crucial matters. Pakistan, unfortunately, has the reputation of agreeing with the loudest speaker, or doing whatever is demanded when its arm is twisted, and/or its leaders are offered the appropriate incentives.
When the US Defense Secretary arrived in Islamabad to discuss Pakistan’s support in defeating the Taliban, Pakistan’s representatives course presented a cooperative front, with $$$ in mind. How they can maintain even that farce is another matter, keeping in mind the government’s caving in to the demands of a group of persons with much the same agenda as the Taliban. It is after all because of the TYL that PEMRA recently shut down social media for a couple of days throughout the country, since the group was using that platform to ‘incite hatred’. It is as a direct result of this group’s appeal to the baser instincts of the public that several persons died, and the government and people of the country suffered economic losses in the billions.
The ultimate measure of satisfaction is peace and at least a basic level of material satisfaction: sufficient food, access to housing, education and water, healthcare and transport. Neither the so called religious parties nor the government can draw wool over the public’s eyes for very long when both fail to deliver in this matter, since for the living houris can wait but an empty stomach cannot. A limp government that can be dictated to leads only to chaos. Neither these parties nor such a government fulfil the public’s longing for prosperity. Instead both pander only to the avariciousness of people in power on either side which is a desire that can never be satisfied.

Monday, November 27, 2017



There were serious doubts concerning several accusations of blasphemy, quite a strong sense that other, unrelated motives triggered the accusations. In the case of Sawan Masih and the Christian Joseph colony, Sawan denied he had made blasphemous statements. He said that a business concern had its eyes on the land occupied by the colony and they had triggered the events that led to the accusations.
After the accusations against Masih many of the houses in Joseph colony were burnt and the residents fled. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is a serious matter that such allegations can be used to ‘settle personal scores’.
There is a Latin expression: Ei incumbet probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. It means that ‘the burden of proof is upon the one who declares, not upon one who denies.’ This is behind the principle that a person is considered innocent unless proven guilty. Most systems of law agree with this principle, including the Islamic. In fact under the Islamic concept of justice even casting suspicion on a person is highly condemned as per hadith documented by Imams Nawawi, Bukhari and Muslim. Hazrat Ali has also been cited as saying, ‘Avert the prescribed punishment by rejecting doubtful evidence’. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights also incorporates this principle as do civilian codes of law in many countries.
An accusation that defames an individual, group, organisation or an ideology is called ‘slander’ if verbal, or libel if written and used in media. In ancient England, slander was punished by cutting off the slanderer’s tongue. In modern times defamation is punishable in various ways prescribed by the code of many countries. Many celebrities including Sean Penn, Tom Cruise and Scarlett Johanssen have successfully sued in such cases.
So, although this equally applies to finger wagging rants against their opponents by politicians, in light of what has suddenly taken centre stage these days, what about allegations of sexual harassment?
  • For the media, which is responsible for bringing issues to light and carrying them around the world, there exists a code of ethics. Whether it is taken seriously is debatable
While it would be insane to doubt that sexual harassment occurs, and occurs very frequently indeed, could it not be that allegations of sexual harassment are also at times used to ‘settle personal scores’? It is certainly not out of the question. And if so, how should these be handled?
It is slander in itself to cast a general doubt on such accusations. In fact it would be very wrong, since very many of those accusations are founded in truth, and in fact women are being encouraged to speak up against such abuse. But what of the cases where there is no way to prove the accuser right?
There is almost no woman who has not undergone some form of sexual harassment, small or large. On the other hand it is equally true that men are vulnerable to sexual allegations, because they are so easy to make, so difficult to disprove, and so often true. Their mere presence can ruin a man, personally as well as professionally, and unless they possess a skin as thick as the POTUS, it spells the end of the accused’s credibility. It is all the more important, then, that such accusations should be verified.
There is no way to verify the truth of sexual accusations made years after the event, and some very public accusations were made decades after a supposed event. Unless these are verifiable, surely it is best in such cases for the accuser to stay away from the person she accuses and carry on maintaining the silence she has for so many years, unless the accused still has access to her.
Accusations by and against well-known persons include the public and the media, neither of whom are without certain obligations. The public is of course under various personal, societal and religious obligations.
For the media, which is responsible for bringing issues to light and carrying them around the world, there exists a code of ethics. Whether it is taken seriously is debatable.
I quote Wikipedia: ‘The Society of Professional Journalists created a code of ethics in use today. The main mantra of the code is to ‘seek truth and report it’.
The code says that journalists should: “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.”(Straubhaar, LaRose and Davenport).
That journalists should show good taste, and avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.” (Straubhaar, LaRose and Davenport).
Which of these factors have been adhered to in reporting the sexual harassment allegations that sprouted so suddenly like mushrooms in the wake of the allegations against Weinstein?
What’s more, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, which recently sent around a notice to all cell phones warning that ‘Uploading, downloading and sharing of any blasphemous content on the internet is a punishable offence under the law’, needs to understand that to accuse someone of blasphemy lays the accuser, including the state of Pakistan as represented by the PTA open to an accusation of slander, which is as serious an accusation as any other. Unless they can manage to prove their allegation, which in such cases has very often been impossible.
But no one seems to care about that.

Monday, November 20, 2017



  • A nuclear confrontation is after all not simply a confrontation, it is an annihilation

The American senate actually held a congressional enquiry recently to debate Donald Trump’s capability of being entrusted with the codes that could trigger nuclear war. In questioning this capability it has only echoed the doubt that exists in the minds of people all over the world: is the man who tweets like a twit capable of judging how, when and if to call for nuclear confrontation?
Donald Trump, after all, is a man who has traded personal insults with the leader of North Korea in much the same way as children do in kindergarten playgrounds, and threatened the Korean regime with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” That sounds uncannily like Harry Truman’s threat against Japan towards the end of the Second World War, when, after the US bombed Hiroshima (that bomb was called ‘Little Boy’) Truman warned Japan to expect “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” Three days after this threat another bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki. This bomb was called ‘Fat Man’.
“We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear strike that is wildly out of step with US interests,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.
It isn’t just Democrats who are worried. Bob Corker, a Republican senator from Tennessee, warned that Trump’s reckless threats could put the country on a “path to World War III.”
With repercussions, as the title ‘world war’ indicates, for the entire world.
Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University, was questioned about whether Donald Trump can actually launch such a nuclear attack by himself, and if so, what checks are in place to prevent his doing so arbitrarily. His response was printed in Vox, in which he said: The president of the United States “requires other people to carry out an order, so he can’t just lean on a button and automatically the missiles fly. But he has the legal and political authority on his own to give an order that would cause other people to take steps which would result in a nuclear strike.”
About checks on the POTUS’s authority, Feaver’s response was that there were more checks in place than people realise. “It would raise lots of alarms throughout the system,” he said. “So the chief of staff of the White House, the national security adviser, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — they would all ask, ‘What’s happening? We just got this crazy order. What’s going on?’”
“If they were given reliable information that we’re really under attack, that something is really happening, then you would expect the order to be carried out. But if they’re saying, ‘We don’t know what’s going on. No one’s alerted us,’ they would likely halt the process and get some clarity.”
It is a relief to know that, although if the president’s suitability for such as assessment is questionable, what guarantee the suitability of anyone else? Besides, the real question is — as it should be — whether anyone at all is capable of making this decision?
A nuclear confrontation is after all not simply a confrontation, it is an annihilation. Who, if anyone is entitled, or capable, or should be entitled or can be capable of making a call for the annihilation of a large segment of the human race, and the world it lives in?
This, briefly, is what happened on August 6 and 9, 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the consent of the United Kingdom: Within the first two to four months 90,000 to 14,000 people died in Hiroshima, and 39,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki. Most of these people were civilians. In the following months a huge number of people died of radiation sickness, burns and other injuries, as well as malnutrition. In addition, about 650,000 survivors are officially recognised as ‘explosion-affected people’. Some of these suffer from radiation sickness, others from psychological trauma. Many of them still suffer from discrimination since people tend to think radiation sickness is contagious.
In today’s setting, any such possibility as a nuclear strike by one nation is not the business of that nation and its victim alone. The extent of destruction and the fall-out in terms of radioactivity has far reaching effects, both with regards to physical space, and time, given that nuclear weapons these days are far larger and more powerful than those dropped on Japan after the Second World War. Therefore a strike in one country would have consequences for neighbouring countries as well, perhaps an entire region. The question of who has access to nuclear arms, and what checks exist on the capacity of persons with that access is therefore a matter of concern for the entire world, in which the entire world has a say.

Pakistan, as part of a world community, and as a state with nuclear capability, as well as a neighbour to another state with a similar capability, should give at least this matter some very serious thought. In this matter, without any doubt at all, we cannot afford the disorganisation and discord that appears to be a major factor in every sphere of life in this country.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017



And Pakistan’s priorities

The unrest turned sectarian in 2004 when the Shia led Houthis staged an uprising against the Sunni government. They’re trying to take over the government, said the government; we’re trying to protect the Shia against discrimination, said the Houthis

With food running out and oil wells drying up, the only way out of Yemen’s dilemma is if the blockade imposed by its neighbours is lifted. That is for starters, but it would be a crucial start that would prevent millions of deaths by starvation and disease such as cholera

The southwestern tip of Yemen juts into where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. Across the water, on the coast of Africa, lies Djibouti. On its north, Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia. Yemen has the added misfortune of being the poorest country in the Middle East, the reason behind its unrest. The country has been the scene of riots due to shortage of food in 1992. On that occasion people died. By now the shortage has assumed famine proportions and the stage is set for the worst humanitarian crisis of recent times.
The unrest turned sectarian in 2004 when the Shia led Houthis staged an uprising against the Sunni government. They’re trying to take over the government, said the government; we’re trying to protect the Shia against discrimination, said the Houthis. In reality, the Houthis have the support of many among the Sunnis as well, given conditions in the country.
The BBC reports that more than 7,600 people were killed in Yemen since this civil war started, and 42,000 were injured, ‘the majority in air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition.’ That is a coalition of nine countries formed in 2015 by the Saudis with American support to intervene in the Yemeni civil war. In one of its few displays of sense, Pakistan turned down an invitation to form part of this coalition. One of the ‘achievements’ of the coalition has been to close all routes into the country, resulting in the humanitarian crisis mentioned above. Aid agencies are unable to access recipients at a time when 70pc of the population of Yemen is in need of aid.
More than half the people of Yemen is said to be ‘food insecure’, almost half of those ‘severely food insecure’. More than half the country lacks safe drinking water, and almost a quarter of the children are malnourished.
Despite this injustice, death and tragedy, the people of Pakistan remain focused on little other than the inadequacies of India and its people.
What of the inadequacies of a country that is silent when the rulers of a country we like to call a friend commit a holocaust against the people of another Muslim country? Not that it matters whether the victims are Muslim or not. It is enough that they are human, innocent, and helpless.
It comes of being a weak country dependent on handouts that one is silent when such things happen, when children die for lack of nourishment, and adults, who are short of food themselves, are forced to watch because forces beyond their power are strangling their country, forces that like to call themselves ‘keepers of the keys to holy places’.
Come December, Pakistan will be festive with wedding illuminations, and the greatest worry to furrow our brow will be the one-dish restriction at wedding functions. Enough food will be wasted to feed Yemen for a day, and women will wear garish clothes worth lacs of rupees. And any political conscience that exists will be focused on the freedom of Kashmir.
There are many forces operating in Yemen at present, although famine and death are the biggest. Al Qaeda and ISIL are among them. The Houthis are fighting against both of these, as well as against Saudi Arabia and its powerful allies. Yemen is after all an oil rich country, although probably not for long.
Yemen’s oil reserves are dwindling, and although oil is still one of its major exports, more and more of what it earns from petroleum is consumed by the civil war against the Houthis. Besides, the country is riddled with corruption and shoddy organisation, and spends more than six percent of its GDP on its military. Pakistan, which (officially) spends almost half, is not behind for want of trying.
With food running out and oil wells drying up, the only way out of Yemen’s dilemma is if the blockade imposed by its neighbours is lifted. That is for starters, but it would be a crucial start that would prevent millions of deaths by starvation and disease such as cholera.
Whatever other axes there are to grind, the reason behind the blockade boils down to sectarian egos, Shia versus Sunni, in other words the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region. Pakistan need support neither, but as in within its own borders, it finds it impossible to avoid partisanship.
Religion ought to be a source of unity rather than discord. Pakistan needs to get its priorities right even though it did not join the alliance.

Monday, November 6, 2017



To her father Pakistan would be unrecognisable today
Dina Wadia who looked remarkably like her father, died on the 2nd of November this year at the age of ninety-eight. She lived in New York, far away from the country founded by Jinnah. She was never able to take possession of her father’s house in Bombay, and visited Pakistan just twice, never making it her home.
You wonder if her father would have made it his home either, if he had seen it as it is now. Definitely he would not recognise himself if he heard himself spoken of today. Even less than the previous generation does the present one know the man they call the Father of the Nation, and very little about what he stood for. For them he is yet another almost saintly two dimensional historical figure presented in text books, a fictitious litany starting from Mohammad bin Qasim, all of them cut from the same mold.
You wonder what would have gone through Jinnah’s mind if he had seen his country today. To start with he would have been startled to see just half, after he had said “there is no power on earth that can undo Pakistan.” Lo and behold, it undid itself.
He would have also have been rather taken aback to hear one of its ‘Presidents’ Pervez Musharraf insist that his dream for Pakistan was the same as Jinnah’s, particularly since that President had just imposed martial law in the country. It is doubtful if Jinnah had ever considered martial law and Pakistan in the same breath.
Instead he spoke of the oath taken by troops, and read it out too at an address to the Staff College in Quetta: ‘“I solemnly affirm, in the presence of Alimighty God, that I owe allegiance to the Constitution and the Dominion of Pakistan…” He also reminded them on another occasion that “Do not forget that the armed forces are the servants of the people and you do not make national policy; it is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted”. Martial law of course is the suspension of law in a country in which the armed forces have deposed the civilian government to take control.
And yet there have been three martial laws in this country, the same that claims the Quaid-e-Azam Rehmatullah Alaih as its leader, incidentally the man who said that “I have lived as plain Mr. Jinnah and I hope to die as plain Mr. Jinnah. I am very much averse to any title or honours and I will be more than happy if there was no prefix to my name.”
Three actually imposed martial laws, that is. There were others but they did not succeed. Or, as is rather more chilling, that are not visible. But of those the less said the better.
Maybe though the most startlingly distressing thing for Jinnah would be that he might stand in imminent danger of his life if he ever stepped foot in the country he founded, given that he came from a Gujrati family, and was born a Shia. Along with him, in much greater danger, would be the man who actually wrote the proposal for the partition of India, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan who, being a member of the Ahmadiyya sect, would be even more damned than the Founder.
“I told you,” Jinnah would cry, “The idea was that we should have a State in which we could live and breathe as free men and which we could develop according to our own rights and culture and where principle of Islamic social justice could find free play!” And then when people still did not understand he would repeat the famous words from his Presidential address to the Constituent Assembly in 1947: “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed –that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
So what should be done about this state of affairs?
In a country with several sects, each of them intolerant of the others’ existence, the rational thing would be to choose a ‘neutral umpire’.
Jinnah, although he belonged to one of those several sects was as neutral is it gets. His views are well placed for being observed and implemented if the will for progress and peace genuinely exists. The death of his daughter is an occasion to remember the ideals of the father, ideals that are the easiest, maybe the only path to well-being, particularly since they do not conflict with anything rational we believe in.

Monday, October 30, 2017



The People of Balochistan should feel the advantages from CPEC rather than feeling cheated

Movements for separation to gain autonomy from a larger whole are on the increase, with the USSR, Scotland, and others in the past, to Brexit, and now Catalonia. It is in the interests of governments around the world to study these cases and either work towards keeping the disparate segments of their population happy, or figure out how best to allow them to separate if required; that is of course if they are interested in peace.
Has Pakistan, which has gone through two major and bloody separatist events, one which gave birth to the country, and the other that split it into half, learnt from any of these events given that there is a thriving separatist movement in Baluchistan that has existed ever since the country came into being?
Baluchistan makes up almost half of Pakistan, although population wise it is only almost 4 percent of the whole. But far from its people benefiting from the mineral wealth the province has contributed to the country’s economy, the Baluch are among the poorest and most marginalized, the majority of them living in abject poverty without the basic necessities of life, clean water and electricity.
Baluch dissatisfaction with this and the manner in which it became part of Pakistan took the form of rebellion, which, rather than being addressed at the roots has always been dealt with aggressively.
With the separatist movement in Scotland, the government wisely allowed the Scots the democratic route, to choose whether to stay or leave by means of a referendum. The poll was held and they chose to stay. It was the same with French speaking Quebec in Canada.
The idea of such a referendum in Baluchistan is a pie in the sky.
Catalonia, like Baluchistan has long had a vigorous freedom movement. Like Baluchistan, Catalonia is a sparsely populated region. Its population accounts for just 19 percent of the whole of Spain. Unlike impoverished Baluchistan however, the people of Catalonia make up the wealthiest segment of Spain, although their wealth is more industrial (textiles, and a growing chemical and service industry) than mineral. But as in the case of Baluchistan where its secession would spell economic disaster for Pakistan since Baluchistan is one of the richest provinces of the country in terms of natural resources, the loss of Catalonia would mean a vital loss for Spain in terms of the Spanish economy.
In the early days of the Spanish Republic, Catalonia was granted a large degree of autonomy. This autonomy was revoked with the coming into power of General Franco, who also came down heavily on the distinctive Catalonian identity. The people of Catalonia were not allowed to use their language and other political and cultural restrictions were imposed upon them.
Franco’s dictatorship fed the already strong separatist sentiment in Catalonia, as bans, prohibitions and suppression invariably do, but dictators rarely understand this, and military dictators – never. In Catalonia, a poll was recently held to determine if its people want independence from Spain. Without taking into account the large number of abstentions, the result was pro-independence, and controversial.
After invoking article 155 of the Spanish constitution by means of which the center takes direct control of the largely autonomous province of Catalonia, the government of Spain declared the referendum for independence invalid, dissolved the Catalonian regional parliament, and ‘fired’ the Catalan leader, Mr. Puigdemont. The central government has ordered fresh elections in December, but in a refreshing contrast to the scenario in Pakistan, it has invited Mr. Puigdemont to stand in these elections if he wishes. There has been violence as a result of the Catalonian separatist movement, but this violence has been open.
The first act of aggression against Baluchistan was way back in 1948, right after Pakistan came into being. Then the army moved into the province, to ‘persuade’ a reluctant Kalat to join Pakistan. Kalat became part of Pakistan but the fact has never been accepted by Baluch Nationalists, who called the annexation a forced, unconstitutional move, as it was.
This was followed by resort to other violence, such as the killing by the Pakistan army of Akbar Bugti and several of his men in 2006. There have been other operations, covert ones, kidnappings, and ‘disappearances,’ and it is alleged that around 4000 Baluch have been either detained without trial or determined missing.
But now another factor has entered the field, namely CPEC (the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) which is likely to play a crucial role in the economy and society of Pakistan and the region.  It will certainly play an important role in Baluchistan seeing the layout of the corridor which stretches from Gwadar a port in Baluchistan in the south up to Kashgar, a Muslim province of China which is already a scene of unrest. It is a volatile setting. Surely on this occasion and in the light of changing times, the powers that be would do well to re-evaluate their relations with this province.
CPEC includes many transport and energy projects, and since Baluchistan contains the bulk of Pakistan’s gas and oil reserves, this marginalized, angry province will play a major role in this venture. You wonder what lies in store for the people of Baluchistan and the country as a result.
The results of CPEC are as yet uncertain.  If one can be certain of one thing it is that a lot depends on whether the people of Baluchistan feel they have gained by means of the project, or whether they feel cheated as they do at present. The track record of successive government of Pakistan, and of its intelligence services has not been good in this matter. One can only hope that sense will prevail, and with it chances of prosperity and peace.

Monday, October 23, 2017



By exposing the extent of the problem, the ‘Me Too’ campaign has made it impossible to ignore the subject of sexual abuse of women. It should not have been ignored in the first place but it was. That was because in this country, we like to imagine that such things as sexual abuse do not take place here, in the Land of the Pure.
If ever there is a misconception, it is this.
The sexual abuse of women, as well as the sexual abuse of minors of either gender takes place here as much as anywhere else, and with for example the marriage of girls while they are still minors, also has social sanction.
To help create a safer environment for children, the NGO Sahil works to combat such abuse, and Sahil’s annual publication ‘Cruel Numbers’ provides some damning statistics. But what, as always, of women?
Women everywhere, and very much so in Pakistan, are subjected to abuse and harassment on the street and at home. It would be hard to find a woman, whether in a rural or urban setting, liberal or conservative, who has not been subjected to it. Which is interesting, given that the conservative segment of society, both here and elsewhere such as the Republican Congresswoman from Texas Eddie Bernice Johnson, thinks that women invite abuse, and advises them to dress to avoid it. Yet it would be impossible to find anyone dressing more to dispel such things than the unfortunate burqa clad, gloved and socked women in this country of temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius.
So what is the solution? Is it to keep women from interacting with anyone outside of home?
Twenty years ago it was estimated that the majority of murders of women in this country were committed by family members. ‘According to a study carried out by Human Rights Watch, an estimated 70-90 percent of women in Pakistan have suffered some form of abuse of which an estimated 5000 women are killed as a result of domestic violence every year, with thousands others maimed or disabled.’ A survey carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found Pakistan to be the third most dangerous country in the world for women.
So no, there is no point keeping women confined to the house, or keeping them covered from head to foot since studies show that abuse takes place whether women cover themselves excessively, or not.
Since it is not possible to eliminate the female of the species although that is often tried, we are left with a problem. The first thing that comes to mind, is that perhaps the problem lies with men.
To imply that the problem lies with the biological make up of men is to cast aspersions on divine engineering, yet, that is what conservatives say, that ‘men can’t help it, that’s how they are.’ Taking that as the usual throwing the blame elsewhere statement that comes from such quarters, could it be that there is something lacking or undesirable about the education (taaleem) of men, and their upbringing (tarbiyat)? At least that would be something one could do something about, if one tried.
School and home. These are the two places responsible for education and upbringing respectively, with a substantial overlap. If schools are monitored, homes are likely to improve in their role of imparting attitudes which influence an adult’s behavior.
Pakistan has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world. And it has hundreds of thousands of madressahs, schools teaching so called ‘religion’ and very little else. Although attempts have been made to monitor these madressahs, the syllabus and the teachers of these madressahs are pretty much allowed to remain as they are and do as they wish. These institutions are very often funded by ‘foreign’ donors, and the brand of Islam taught here does not include rights for women, an irony since Islam was responsible for some of the first rights given to women, ever. Not believing in rights for women is indicated by the disparity in numbers between education among men and women in the poorer class of society from which madressahs draw their clientele. Madressahs also often stress things like jehad, the violent sort, and sectarian divisions.
It is hard to blame families for enrolling their children in madressahs. Often illiterate themselves, and almost always poor, these families see madressahs as free institutions that (claim to) impart literacy and religion to their children, children who would otherwise not receive either. In many of these madressahs, students also receive boarding, lodging and food free of cost.
The solution is to a) monitor madressahs if they must exist, b) to overhaul their curriculum to include mainstream subjects, and a better quality of education c) to improve the quality of mainstream government schools d) alleviate poverty so that families do not feel constrained to send their children to whichever institute feeds them.
For this the person in charge of the Ministry of Education needs to be a person of dedication, vision, and education. We might well have this in the person of the current incumbent, but it has been impossible to discover his educational credentials online, where one can generally discover anything, down to what the latest celebrity ate for breakfast.

Monday, October 16, 2017



“…statements ‘distancing themselves’ from Captain Safdar’s views
came several days too late for decency,
and much too late for  a family belonging to the Ahmadi faith
that was shot to death in Sheikupura
a day after Captain Safdar’s speech
in the National Assembly.”

 The similarities never cease to amaze. There’s Donald Trump and his equally unfortunate son in law, and there’s the not very different family in Pakistan that harbours Captain Safdar, who more than unfortunate, is a danger to the society that he imagines has granted him permission to spout his sectarian views. Mr. Kushner’s dealings with Russia might well be on a similar plane, but it is the wellbeing of Pakistan that concerns us.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan Khaqan Abbasi, and the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statements ‘distancing themselves’ from Captain Safdar’s views came several days too late for decency, and much too late for  a family belonging to the Ahmadi faith that was shot to death in Sheikupura a day after Captain Safdar’s speech in the National Assembly. The husband, wife, and their two year old son were murdered in their home by ‘unidentified gunmen’, while their five year old son who hid under the bed in terror escaped being killed. The heart of each and every person calling himself human must bleed for this family, and for the little boy so brutally deprived of his loved ones, and who witnessed their murders. If Captain Safdar thinks for a single split second that the Prophet of Islam Muhammad (PBUH), a man who loved his grandsons and all humanity so tenderly would condone any such thing, any such thing at all, he is supremely deluded, and commits the greatest blasphemy of all by saying so.
It is no coincidence that the US has seen a sharp rise in racist incidents since Mr. Trump succeeded to the Presidency, and it is no surprise that such an incident as the murder in Sheikhupura took place in Pakistan right after the Captain’s speech in the National Assembly.  Views do filter down from the top and attitudes are given legitimacy when they are supported by people in power, however flawed, feeble and ill their minds may be.
There is a reason for the existence of the constitution of the country which is formulated after much deliberation by some of the best minds the country can afford. The constitution is meant to guide laws and to protect people from just such views as the Captain claims were the driving force behind his entering politics.
There is something seriously wrong with the state of a country if people can openly profess that they entered politics with views such as Captain Safdar’s. You wonder how Captain Safdar means to protect anyone by means of ideas that, as stated by himself, are violent, divisive, and selective in their choice of whom to protect.
According to the Constitution of Pakistan a person stands disqualified from the National Assembly if he or she is found to have opposed Pakistan’s ideology. Do we need a reminder that as per that ideology and according to Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan, its citizens are granted the right to profess, propagate and practice their religion? That Article grants every denomination and sect the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions. In which case the Captain stands to be disqualified from his position in the National Assembly, as well as held for incitement to violence and murder, because in his speech he called for ‘action’ against members of the Ahmadiyya community, and praised Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri, remember, is the man who murdered the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer for showing sympathy for a woman of that community condemned to death for blasphemy.
It is hard to imagine why a person or a group of persons should feel inclined to use violence as a first resort, to defend his or her beliefs. Violence, except when resorted to in self-defence, is by its very definition unconstitutional, and not a rational act. It takes place with the view to hurt, damage or kill someone or something.
The first thing anyone who considers himself to be a patriot must do is stand up to any infringement of the constitution. One of those infringements, quite incidentally, is to consider khaki above green. That just needed to be slipped in.
Standing up for the constitution means upholding the law and justice, and does not mean using violent means. That, strangely enough, is not as understood by lawyers in this country, who assaulted security personnel at the doors of a court of law in Islamabad recently, and threatened the judge in the same court.
Defending the constitution also does not mean ‘taking action’ against any community simply because of their views. Especially if those views have not translated to violence, and the only violence surrounding the Ahmadiyya community is that which has been committed against them.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017



Some individuals in the meantime have the foresight and the nous to seize the opportunity
so obviously presented to them in the Tharparkar district of Sindh,
a large subtropical desert invariably sidelined by the powers that be.
 The CPEC, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, defines itself as ‘a framework of regional connectivity,’ and hopes to provide a ‘better region of the future, with peace, development and growth of the economy.’ sic.
Let’s hope this is so, that CPEC does improve relations and conditions all around. For now, there is an objection from our neighbour to the east, which says that CPEC passes through disputed territory, with the US backing that claim.
There are also other matter that have to do with Pakistan’s past; CPEC tends to raise spectres of the East India Trading Company, and rulers now are no wiser than they were then.
Despite all this it is hoped that the culmination will be somewhat different this time around when once again, another country is allowed in with special concessions. Such tussles are likely to be a feature of this project, and the government would do well to deal with them as carefully and diplomatically as possible. It remains up to Pakistan to steer this venture into safe waters and to use it wisely so it can bring prosperity to its people and the region. Whether or not the government is likely to be able to do this remains to be seen.
Some individuals in the meantime have the foresight and the nous to seize the opportunity so obviously presented to them in the Tharparkar district of Sindh, a large subtropical desert invariably sidelined by the powers that be. Thar has, as a result, the lowest Human Development Index in all of Sindh.  Yet the coalfields of Thar are said to contain the sixteenth largest coal reserves in the world.  According to Wiki ‘a total of 175 billion tons of coal resource potential has been assessed, equivalent to total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Iran combined and can be used to produce 100,000 MW for 300 years.’  Thar is therefore now the site of one of CEPEC’s energy priority projects which involves the establishment of coal fired power plants. It is here in Thar, that some women have made up their minds to use CEPEC to better the lot of their families. Otherwise, women in Pakistan have a tough time, particularly those living in less developed areas.
Pakistan trails behind the world where women’s rights are concerned, with the exception of Saudi Arabia where women have just been ‘allowed’ to get behind the wheel – an infuriating choice of words. Women in Pakistan have never been barred from driving on a national, official scale. Pakistan possesses women’s sports teams, and women are not restricted to a few jobs. Yet there are huge social problems facing women in this country, some of which were very much highlighted by the reaction to Qandeel Baloch, and her murder, by her own brother. The antagonism for the murdered woman from a sizeable chunk of the population speaks volumes for the attitude towards determined women who take their lives into their own hands.
It has been estimated that hundreds of trucks will be needed to service the coal mines once they are established. These are not your ordinary little trucks, but large sixty tonne monsters and Reuters reports that each driver may earn up to Rs.40,000 a month. At present, for the coal mine that is now functioning the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) is already running some trucks, and among the drivers being trained to drive these trucks are thirty female drivers taken from amongst the local population of Thar.
You have to be a woman to fully appreciate the cultural barriers these women are breaking. They are stepping into these jobs in a country where female drivers even on crowded urban streets although they are allowed to drive are invariably harassed. It is a hugely admirable achievement, equal to the conquest of Everest to drive such a large vehicle, in this inhospitable, terrain containing people holding prohibitively conservative views as people do in such uneducated regions. It goes to show the will to survive, and the courage of the people of this country, a will and courage that deserves a leg up.
Pakistan has a lot of catching up to do. The government serves its people only so far. The people go much further to make up the shortfall. There are hospitals in this country run entirely on donations, schools, training institutes and other services. With something like CEPEC coming up, although it lays the country open to many issues, also holds the potential for prosperity. If only those involved are able to bring themselves to look beyond their personal interests and bank accounts, this might be achieved.

Sunday, October 8, 2017



Being in the army is like being caught in a revolving door. You see that settled life you so desperately want on the other side of the glass, just within your reach, but before you can join in, you’re on the move again.

So there we were, posted to yet another place, to a pleasant city but a gloomy cantonment.
I paid no heed to the eerie stories that our cook Abdul told me about the street we lived on. There were banyan trees lining the street, reminiscent of bearded men leaning on their sticks. I was sure the sight was preying on his mind. One evening, however, Abdul came bursting into the dining room and insisted that we follow him to the kitchen.
My husband being male and unable to multitask tried to get Abdul to wait until the korma had been dealt with, but Abdul was insistent.

We saw nothing out of the ordinary in the kitchen until the rolling pin began moving around the counter all by itself. It rolled to the right, then to the left and then to the right again. Just when I thought we may have an earthquake on our hands, the rolling pin lifted into the air and fell back to the counter with a thump of wood on marble.
My husband, a veteran of several border skirmishes and a Siachen incident, was rooted to the spot. I had lost my voice, and Abdul stood frozen beside me.
And that is how it began. The next day, the laundry was spread all over the floor from the clothing line. The day after, my daughter’s bed was turned right around as she slept. Aniya was just three at the time, so no, she didn’t move it herself.
After this, my wardrobe burst into flames that extinguished and then re-ignited several times. When the flames subsided, my wardrobe stood unscathed as before.
Abdul voiced what we were all thinking, that the house was haunted. He suggested I call in an ‘aamil’, a man who prays at the djinns until they leave.
I was afraid Abdul would leave if I didn’t do anything, so I was left with no choice. Tahir sahib, the aamil, came to the house that same evening. He was a pleasant, middle-aged man who entered at a slant, as if walking against a high wind, because he declared he felt ‘some resistance’ to his presence. Guilty of reservations regarding his presence, I offered him Rooh Afza, something of a tradition in my family in times of crisis. Thus fortified, he proceeded to poke around the room whispering in such strongly sibilant undertones that I looked with renewed respect at the bottle of mashroob e mashriq on the table.
I trailed the increasingly agitated aamil around the house. The reason for his agitation was not the djinns, it was Aniya who persisted in shooting him dirty looks as she clung to my shoulder. There are times when she reminds me strongly of my father.
At the end of an hour, Tariq sahib looked so unnerved that I straightened my face, because I knew it was skewed into an irritated expression, thanked him, and gave him some money.
Grateful at putting a distance between himself and the disapproving child in my arms, he tried to make friends with her.
“Seeet seeet, baby!” He hissed, bringing his face close to my daughter. It was an unwise move.
Aniya made a sound like an outraged engine, raised her arms on either side of her head, and screamed,
Please let me explain why she did this. My husband’s aged great aunt had a maid, the unfortunate original of that name. Whenever anything went wrong, her employer would yell for her in just that tone of voice. That foible became a family thing, like our Rooh Afza. Long after Durdana died, as a child, my husband was taught to yell ‘Durdana’ instead of a profanity when he was upset. Sadly, Aniya learnt that trick from her father. At the time Tariq sahib had the misfortune to encounter her, Aniya fell into it occasionally, but whenever a delicate moment was at hand, such as once at the crucial point at a nikkah, she screamed that word at the top of her lungs. The poor man, not being privy to this information, recoiled.
“I think I should leave now,” Tahir sahib declared unsteadily and groped his way out of the room.
Any hopes that the exorcism had succeeded were proved wrong. But by then, we were busy preparing for my mother’s visit.
My mother is one of those people who cannot arrive for a weekend without bringing along all their possessions. I cleared a small trunk for her special blankets, “because it may become colder and your blankets are probably not unpacked yet, Maliha”. Then, I located, emptied, cleaned and placed a small cabinet by her bed for her herbal medicines “because those”, with a dirty look at the Ativans and Glucophages on her side table, “I’m stuck with, but these,” with a beatific glance at the Hajmolas and Sualins, “are holistic.”
I made space in the kitchen for her vinegars, honeys and Earl Grey teas, because “I really can’t see how you can have those dreadful teabags, sweetie, but then you were always such a hearty person,” and in the fridge for her particular dishes because “you’re a good cook beta, but you know my stomach.”
By the time I had done all this and arranged a dozen sweaters, seven novels, three pens and two note books, eight pairs of shoes, four saris, eleven shawls, and three and a half pairs of socks that she had sent in advance, she was with us. And along with her came an additional three suitcases, her maid, and an errand boy.
For the past several days, Abdul had gone around in a red betel haze of anticipation, because he knew that with my mother, came her paan daan. Now, with a paan tucked into his cheek and before I could stop him, he gave her a succinct if somewhat incoherent summary of the recent events.
Amma was appalled, particularly when Abdul informed her that Tahir sahib had been unable to get the djinns to leave.
“Didn’t he recite some surahs around the house?” She whispered, horrified.
I made my mother some Rooh Afza, and coldly asked Abdul to clean the red dribble from his chin.
Amma repeated her question. I sighed.
“Those djinns were not affected by our prayers Amma because they don’t believe in them.”
“And how do you know this?” Amma demanded.
“They told me. Because they are Hindu, they said, not Muslim.”
“They told you that?” My mother stared at me.  “You’ve been talking to them!”
“Maliha…djinns are always affected by the Holy Quran, always. There is no such thing as Hindu djinns.”
And suddenly, I remembered the time I was 12 or 13 and had a terrible stomach ache. The memory was so sharp in my mind that I clutched my stomach right there in my own kitchen. We were at my grandmother’s and I’d just eaten the largest ice lolly that my nani had made me. I even recalled that she called it an ‘Ice Kacang’ that she said meant ‘crushed ice’ in Malaysia. This is always why I associate Malaysia with the cold, even until today.
Maybe I ate too fast and froze myself into a cramp, because then I felt as though an invisible string attached to my belly button had been pulled inwards very sharply.
I doubled over with an ‘Ohhh!’ and my grandmother bent over me crying,
“What is it, Mallo? Are you all right?”
She tried to lead me to the couch but I fell to the floor, groaning and clutching my stomach. Nani flapped around, looking for help. I felt her tugging at my arm and placing cushions under whichever part of me she could lift, and heard her shouting for my grandfather who came running into the room, blowing through his moustache as he did during a crisis.
Nani snapped at him to give her the Holy Quran. He handed it to her alertly. Nani later told her friends that she read the first bit of Surah Nisah, the chapter of the Holy Quran titled ‘Women,’ and blew all over me at intervals. She never explained why she chose that particular chapter, it may have been because I was a girl or perhaps because that’s where the page fell open. Either way, I recovered. Nani claimed it was because of her recitation that the djinns causing my pain went away. She and her friends nodded sagely over the incident over cups of tea, and undoubtedly they told their friends about it and they all nodded over the story in succession.
I studied Surah Nisa many years later. It’s a beautiful chapter of the Holy Quran which tells you with inherent compassion and justice how one must treat women and orphans, and how to divide an inheritance amongst heirs. I still don’t understand, even if there was a djinn possessing me, as to why it would leave upon hearing this chapter.
It was certainly not because my grandmother’s recitation was so good. My grandfather used to say, never in front of his wife,
Allah (SWT)  un ko sehhat day, aur un ki awaz may thori see sheerini bhi day.”
(May God grant her health and some sweetness to her voice.)
Getting back to reality, my mother went on claiming that there was no such thing as Hindu djinns.
“There are many humans who are not Muslim, and many who aren’t affected by prayer either,” I said
“Praying around djinns always works!” Amma declared angrily. “They listen, and they leave!”
“If they don’t believe in our prayers, they won’t,” I said. “There are people, and it seems djinns, who pray differently, or not at all. Everyone’s not floored by religion, Amma. It’s not voodoo, it’s meant to be understood before it can be effective.”
As much as I loved my nani and my mother, I’d wanted to say this for years. I did not wish to stand over my daughter one day forcing her to finish her oatmeal, failing to which I might recite the Quranic condemnation of adultery into her outraged ears.
My mother glared at me.
“We must leave this house immediately,” she said in her firmest voice.
“We will not leave this house, because the djinns are not bothering us now,” I said equally firmly. “And I don’t see why they should leave, either. We’re pulling along.”
Amma mouthed my words to herself in disbelief.  “Djinns don’t not bother, Maliha. You can’t pull along with them either. Besides this is your house.”
“They were here first, Amma. We arrived afterwards, it was we that took over. Besides, we now have a pact with them.”
Amma stared as I told her that the djinns had agreed to live upstairs and we downstairs.
“So now, we don’t bother them, and they don’t bother us.”
“Maybe they aren’t there anymore!” I heard the quaver in her voice, so it was with reluctance that I shook my head.
“They’re there,” I said, thinking I’d better get it over with. “We share the entrance. I meet them at the door, sometimes.”
My mother’s eyes widened.
“And when you ‘meet you at the door’, what do you say to each other, Maliha?” she said with awful sarcasm. “Hello, hello!
I shook my head. “Actually, they say salam alaikum.”
She gave a crack of laughter. “And I suppose you say wa-alaikum assalam jinn ji!
“No,” I replied, “I say shanti, in response.” I raised my voice to drown out her angry hiss. “And we have it, Amma, we have both salam and shanti in this house now.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying this, Maliha! I…I just don’t understand you!” I saw tears in her eyes, and my anger disappeared.
“No I don’t believe you do, Amma, but perhaps it is not your fault.”
Suddenly, I felt very tired.  I put my arm around her shoulder.
“It is, after all, the peace that passeth understanding, and we have yet to experience it in this country, haven’t we?”
I took her into the other room, made her a cup of tea, and allowed her to make me a paan. There is something about those two things that sets everything right.