Blood and Tears

This is insane.

I’m sitting in front of the television, one eye on the screen, the other on my laptop, feeling like a hysterical drama-queen because despite everything that I’ve grown up with in Karachi across the years, I don’t know if I can handle this. karachiriots2.jpgAnd I feel a bit stupid for being so affected by it—I’ve seen and lived through worse, and I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of town that will (most likely) not be affected by what is happening, but I can’t help it.

Karachi seems to have gone completely mental. Dozens of cars on fire. Even more people dead and/or injured. And no one knows why.

There are about a hundred different conspiracy theories flying around about what has prompted this day-long blood-bath in Karachi, but from what I’ve managed to glean, the basic story goes something like this: the (fired) Chief Justice of Pakistan was supposed to come to Karachi this morning to address his supporters and the MQM, a political party that has historically controlled Karachi since inception decades ago, and is more of a cult than anything else, decided to hold “rallies” to counter his speeches. The current opposition parties, held rallies in the city to welcome the ousted CJP, and not to be outdone, the MQM decided to support the government.

How they’re managing to support the government by gunning down strangers on the streets, setting fire to vehicles, firing at apartment buildings in which defenceless mothers with six-month-old children cower, and threatening to storm private television channels—well, that’s beyond me. There are over fifty people dead—I have friends who work in the hospitals where people have been taken; the gunmen have fired on ambulances carrying injured people to the hospital and riddled them with bullets; there are snipers atop apartment buildings and lurking in junctions leading off of Shahrah-e-Faisal, which is effectively a transport artery for Karachi and a route that is almost impossible to avoid using if crossing any significant distance in the city, and all through it, the mother-fucking police are lying on benches taking naps, their shoes off, socks rolled down, moving their cars out of the area, and frog-marching unarmed men into the hands of these violent SOBs, standing there and watching as they beat the shit out of some poor guy with the butts of their rifles, and not doing a damn’ thing to stop it. Continue reading

Off we go then


phew There we go, I just had to get that out of my system.

Oh hang on. Gay Pakistani male! Gay Pakistani male!

Right, I think weÂ’re done on that front.

And on this particular front as well. My time at Sepia Mutiny has—at long last—come to an end, and I can say without a single doubt that I’m glad I got to close out 2006 on such a bright note. It has been an experience, tumultuous and otherwise, and at the risk of loading up on the frommage, I think I’d be the poorer without it.

It gives me hope, sometimes. This community—because that’s what it is, a community, not just a place to write about brown-people-stuff—isn’t just dynamic and interesting and occasionally thought-provoking; it’s all of those things AND the whole damn’ bag of chips. It thrives on everything (clusterfucks be damned!—and secretly enjoyed!), and it makes me glad that I was incredibly, incredibly wrong when I thought to myself at its inception, wow, I wonder how long it’ll take for that site to tank, it’s a good idea, but I just don’t think enough people will be interested.

In case you were wondering, itÂ’s taking me a while to write this post because IÂ’m single-finger-typing while trying to get my ankle out past my molars with the other hand.

It was one of the things I felt most keenly while at university in the US. A lot of us homeland desis tend to automatically assume that just because we were born in South Asia, weÂ’re somehow better-informed and more capable of analysing/providing information about the region than people of desi origin who werenÂ’t necessarily raised there. And I canÂ’t speak for everyone, but some of us also felt very marginalised in the sense that we didnÂ’t think or feel that we had enough of a presence to be a viable social group beyond the simple stereotypes (OK well, I like men and make no bones about that so I definitely stood out, but you see where IÂ’m going with this) that everyoneÂ’s so well-aware of.

And once again, I was wonderfully, gloriously, terrifically wrong. The mould has been broken, the restrictions shattered and a bhangra danced all over them while Amitabh comes out of retirement once more to chew the scenery and Nusrat’s voice soars.

ItÂ’s utterly delightful, it really is. Continue reading

Rise up and think

I donÂ’t have a nifty video-clip to embed, but this afternoon, cornered by my mother, I sat down to watch a television show that she swore was essential viewing for anyone who wanted to be a good Muslim.

“But I don’t want to be a good Muslim,” I muttered under my breath, keeping a watchful eye out for potential hurling of chappals. “And I certainly would much rather spend this time playing Final Fantasy XII.” But when I saw that Very Special Look that Mothers Have, I shut up and sat down. An hour later, I was actually rather disappointed to find that the show was over.

Meet Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, described on Wikipedia as “a well-known Pakistani Islamic scholar, exegete, and educationist”. Other than having a head of hair so thick that I’m convinced it’s capable of deflecting armour-piercing shells, the man actually impressed me. I don’t necessarily think he’s going to be storming the bastions of the unfaithful or anything, but after seeing some of the raving loonies on channels such as “QTV” (Quran TV), or “The Muslim Channel” and listening to them explain to the adoring masses that you have to have faith because if you don’t you’ll burn in Hell forever, I was taken aback to find someone with a functional brain on a mainstream TV channel.

As you may be able to imagine, in Pakistan critical analysis of any sort—particularly when it involves matters theological—is frowned upon most severely, and to find someone sitting calmly (albeit on an absolutely hideous set) on TV while happily dissecting a few dozen-odd “religious truths” is something of a mind-boggling experience, not entirely unlike being savaged by a goldfish.

I came into the programme as it was about halfway done, and so am a little bit hazy on the minutiae, but apparently some bearded guy sits on one side of a table, with this Ghamidi fellow on the other, and on the third side there’re a man and a woman who ask him what seem to be very rote-memorised questions. They’re also a bit daft, I must say—I caught myself wondering, do people REALLY sit at home wondering if they’re allowed to eat poultry that may or may not have been given a bit of meat in its feed, or laughing at the man who wondered if “it was OK to eat food caught by dogs because the dog is an unclean animal”. But Ghamidi’s approach towards answering these questions is actually very interesting, and involves a very…holistic, and common-sense approach towards religion. My favourite part was, I think, when he moaned out loud: “But all the things you’re saying, none of them are actually in the Quran! You’re using man-made rationales and reasons to justify your own cultural beliefs and customs, and that’s just WRONG. The Quran has nothing about dogs written in it, and you can’t just pick blanket phrases and apply them to things without actually thinking about it! ”

I’m interested in seeing how far this particular “reformist” movement will have an impact on popular notions of Islam, particularly in a domestic context. Half the radicals of whom I know or DO know tend to have picked up their notions from the media—I wonder if they’ll pick up the notion of moderation or critical thinking as well. I think it’s a good sign that it’s on TV, and that it apparently has a number of supporters; in particular, I find myself incapable of disliking a man who actually uses logic and rational arguments rather than reverting to tautological theology.

IÂ’m still reserving judgement though. Just in case. Continue reading

Wide Eyed

In case any of this wonderful siteÂ’s (donÂ’t fire me!) glorious readers (leave me happy comments!) are in Karachi for the next couple of days, I highly recommend that they check out the 6th KaraFilm Festival being held at the Arts Council and/or the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. According to the website:

There are a grand total of over 170 films being screened this year, including over 40 features, over 30 documentaries and over 95 shorts. They are from 37 countries as diverse as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, Germany, France, Italy, USA, Canada, Lithuania, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Portugal, Jamaica, Brazil, Ireland, Romania, Sweden, Guatemala, Sudan, Chad, UAE, Sri Lanka, Peru, China, Poland, Estonia, Austria, Australia, Turkey, Greece, Finland and the Czech Republic . They include a number of World Premieres and Asian premieres, while most are at least Pakistan premieres. Many of them have won prizes at other well known festivals including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, London, Sundance and Mumbai as well as international critics’ FIPRESCI jury awards.

The film festival will also be running a retrospective on François Truffaut, and showcasing the works of Irani (not Iranian, thank goodness) director Jafar Panahi and Pakistani director Jamil Dehlavi. What I love about this festival, despite my inability to actually attend it, no matter how many times I swear to myself in the months leading up that I WILL go to at least a handful of screenings, is that it manages to also (albeit somewhat tangentially) hit other visual arts media. To wit:

Accompanying the film screenings will be a unique curated art exhibition of the work of 5 Pakistani artists who draw their inspiration from the hand-painted imagery of popular cinema and billboard advertising.

In a city like Karachi, where the only forms of public entertainment revolve around food (which, hey, no complaints from me or the owners of my gym) and the occasional (overpriced) concert, this is an unsurprisingly popular event. Tickets tend to be relatively cheap, and the organisers of the event tend to try and cater to a variety of income groups, for example showing movies like The Incredibles dubbed in Hindi/Urdu (the voices are by Sharukh Khan, no less! Eeeee! Not really.) for kids, and charging about Rs. 50 (about 90 cents) for a ticket to a showing. ItÂ’s not a bad deal at all, but I think what I find really encouraging about the whole event is that it tends to remind Karachi that it can well function as a city with cultural projects, as a locus not necessarily limited to bombings and huge amounts of criminal and sectarian violence or a massive economic class divide.

On the off-chance that there are any readers in Karachi whoÂ’d like to go and are having trouble finding tickets or getting sorted out, leave a comment and IÂ’ll try to help out. ItÂ’s well-worth the effort. Continue reading

Read On

“Actually, Dilip couldn’t make it, he ate too much paaya last night, and his stomach’s upset.” Those were the words preceding my introduction to Shobha Dé this past weekend, at a book-launch for a new author from Karachi, someone named Nadya A.R. (like E. E. Cummings, only the other way around), who has written what promises to be yet another opus to my home-town. This one, since Kamila Shamsie seems to have used up all the other referential titles, is entitled Kolachi Dreams. I haven’t read the book just yet, nor have I been able to find myself arsed enough to look up reviews, but I’m working on the premise that more desi writers is a good thing, so I’m hoping it’ll be a good read. I’m a little annoyed by the elements that went into the publication, but we’ll get to that in a second. Continue reading

Here comes the rain again

The amount of havoc wreaked in Karachi by the weather over the last few days has been insane.

Flooding.jpg With 51mm of rainfall in the last 24 hours (whatever that technically means, all I know is that my mother spent most of her day scurrying about in the rain with a trowel in order to re-plant her seedlings in parts of the garden that were elevated enough to rise above it all), things have been kind of nuts. While I haven’t really been out of the house much, since everyone in Karachi magically loses the ability to drive successfully if it’s pouring, my short stints have seen a fair amount of damage done to parts of the city.

While the actual numbers are listed in the linked articles, so far people have died from the cold, from being electrocuted as live power cables snapped and fell into the water through which they were wading, and a number of shops and businesses have shut down because the streets are (were) flooded and there’s no access to them. Karachi’s most notorious underpass, which was designed to keep traffic flowing smoothly was temporarily the city’s most expensive wading pool, and all the while, power outages continue to make their presence felt–I’ve spent most of today trying to make sure that all the power outlets in the house are turned off so that the electronics in the kitchen and assorted rooms don’t blow up from sudden current surges. While it’s somewhat understandable that a desert city may not necessarily be well-equipped for rainfall, one would think that annual monsoons would have indicated to the municipal authorities that SOME sort of drainage system is in order. Continue reading

Rasslin’, the way the it was meant to be

I could barely restrain my glee yesterday when I switched on the TV during the day, and found myself witnessing the 15th Asian Games in Doha. Why, you may wonder? Because I found myself watching (wait for it)…international, competitive, kabaddi.

One of the more eclectic sports, and for people such as myself who know nothing about the game other than its featuring scantily-clad, oiled-up men chanting, kabbadi is played by two seven-player teams, which take turns raiding each other’s side of the court. One scores points either touching an opposing player and returning to your own side, or by an opposing team managing to prevent a raider from returning to his side.

I mean, I sort of know what it’s all about, but my experience with kabaddi was limited to having heard about it, seen the occasional match while channel-surfing at 4:00 a.m., and once or twice, driving past Clifton Beach in Karachi on a Sunday evening and seeing what I was informed was a match in progress. I certainly had no idea that kabaddi had hit an international level, and even less aware was I that Japan and Iran are also into the sport. I also had no idea that (a) this existed, and (b) that there were some hotties involved in the game: Am I just clueless about this, or did I somehow miss the (re?)surgence of kabaddi? Best of all though, I can’t help but feel somewhat vindicated by this image. On behalf of all brown men everywhere who enjoy getting oiled up and tussling with other oiled-up men in skimpy clothing, I say carry on my brothers! We shall overcome!

Continue reading

Who’s objecting?

I find the Misbah “Molly” Rana story to be a particularly interesting one insofar as it seems to very handily illustrate the whole “desi-but-not-desi” dialectic that many of my peers and I seem to have undergone over the years. Well, in my case the whole social misfit scenario was a little bit more complicated, what the liking of the mens and the persistent crushing on Saif Ali Khan (call me!), but leaving that aside, there were always certain cultural divides that we were constantly trapped within, both self-imposed and those brought to bear by the parental units—“go abroad to study, only speak English at school, but then come back here as soon as you graduate, because we’re alone and need you, and everyone hates Muslims in the West and don’t you dare question anything we say because we’re a good traditional family and that’s just how things are.”

My caveat, since this seems to have been cropping up just a teeny-tiny bit: I am not making any representations as to a multitude of opinions, perspectives or experiences other than my own, as a gay Pakistani male from a fairly privileged social background. I just want to put that out there so I donÂ’t have to spend another forty minutes deleting angry e-mails accusing me of trivialising the desi experience, because in case anyoneÂ’s confused, IÂ’m not Indian, IÂ’m not British, IÂ’m not American, and seriously I donÂ’t really claim to speak with any authority on issues relating to any/all of those perspectives. Continue reading

Fashion victims, unite!

Ennis and I swapped a few e-mails the other day, in which, in-between soliciting my opinions on Begum Nawazish Ali and expressing a fear of pigeon-holing me, he offered up some ideas of stuff to talk about—politics, the whole “war on terror”, fashion, South Asian politics, that sort of thing.

Naturally, having all the depth of a particularly shallow puddle, IÂ’ve opted to go with fashion.

Fashion, or what passes for it in Pakistan, really pisses me off. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t somehow find myself at least marginally involved with it, but in the years since I’ve been back, it’s taken on this quasi-mystical status as an “industry”, with a mythical “council” comprising…well, I’m not quite sure who’s on the council at present, but I’m going to go with “senior”, “established”, and/or “reputed” designers, since those are generally the terms that seem to be kosher.

Now, at the risk of back-tracking, let me just mention for the record that I know most of the designer community in Pakistan. It’s all a bit of the little pink mafia, with most designers either being gay men or straight women (I’m sorry, they’re not always gay, some of them are “bisexual”, or “bi-curious” snort; I’ve yet to meet a larger group of individuals who have managed to make what they describe as a “phase” last well over a decade or two). And then the photographers, stylists, event managers and “choreographers” all tend to fall into the same gay man/straight woman alliance, so when you combine the somewhat incestuous socialising with a severely limited pool, and then further refine it into an industry dominated by fags and their hags, it’s not hard to meet them all—and be declared their new best friend—within a matter of hours. And while I’ll admit that there’s a certain amount of glitz to the whole thing, to socialising with the crowd that everyone knows (of) and being dragged from one party to another, the realisation that it’s tinsel and not actual stardust comes rather rapidly.

I know, what a shocker, right? Fashion, shallow and superficial? Never! Continue reading

Will no one think of the bacchas?

So moving right along, the other thing that has me alternating between “amused” and “seething with badly suppressed rage” is the gay scene—or lack thereof—in Karachi. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The socialising angle of being homosexual in Pakistan is an issue in and of itself, but the serious drama ensuing from the social angle is enough to make me start hurling kitten pumps right, left and centre at any and every queen unfortunate enough to cross my path. BegumNA.jpg

When I was growing up in Pakistan, being gay went beyond just being taboo; it was one of those “don’t even think the word” concepts, kind of like Dubya, only with, you know, actual concepts and not all conceivable mental processes. And over the years it started getting a bit better, but that coincided with growing up, with getting to know other gay men (and one and a half lesbians), with a slightly more liberal government regime, that sort of thing.

But regardless of anything else, there was a substantial lack of a sense of entitlement, of feeling that your parents, friends etc., were obligated to accept and tolerate your particular peccadilloes, whatever those may have been. Drinking, smoking, partying, fucking men—they were all lumped together in an odd smorgasbord of “if you’re going to do it, you make damn’ sure that no one in a position of familial authority finds out”, although the first three occasionally got a free pass, depending on how “fast” and “liberal” the family in question was. [In case anyone’s interested, there were a fair number of such clans.] Continue reading