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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eid and its lost meaning

Yesterday our Pashtun brothers and sisters in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa bid farewell to the holy month of Ramadan and today are marking the first day of Eid ul Fitr, and tomrow as off Wednesday the 31st of August, the rest of Pakistan including myself would be marking this religious holiday and festival. Its only been a few years now that Eid in Pakistan has been a part of my life, for many years I was on foreign shores when the holy month of Ramadan ended and we were blessed by the arrival of Eid. Since for so many of us living abroad, Eid is just another working day with just the slight adjustment of early morning Eid prayers at the very best, if it wasnt for the Eid wishes we would be getting from all around, a lot of us would fail to even realise that the current day is marking such a joyous occassion.

When abroad we think of Eid back home and what Eid meant for us, what was it like being family, friends and other loved ones, little do we realize back home Eid has changed quite a bit and it is not what we have experienced growing up. It is not hard to wonder if Eid still holds the same meaning in the hears and minds of people as it did when our generation was growing up in the 90's. Long gone are the days when we as Pakistani's took pride in our collective spirit and our sense of community which was particularly evident on Eid days. Now we live in an age and era, where our realtionships with people that meet in our lives have been reduced to one's which are merely transactional in nature and lacking the depth of the human connection. Growing up in Pakistan, for me Eid was more than just collecting Eidi from all my elders, though Eidi was an important part of my day, for me Eid was also about meeting loved ones and spending time with close family and friends. It was also about forgiving and forgetting, sharing and caring, a spirit of joy, brotherhood and compassion which can not explained in words.

The part of Eid that involves meeting people is some what still there, but a lot has changed in our society over the last 10 to 15 years. It seems the real spirit of meeting people has evaporated into thin air and meeting people is now a symbolic practise more than the real desire to meet them. In the last 10 years or so, the values in our urban centers have transformed and they haven't transformed for the good, they have become more or less commoditised in nature where our interaction with others is based now on what utility we can derive from our exchange, or at best the attempt to keep a dying tradition alive. Values that were strongly associated with Eid have also disappeared, missing now from our every day lives is compassion, empathy, the spirit of brother hood, tolerence, patience and love. It would not hurt if all of us took a few minutes out of our lives to think about this when we wake up in the morning for the call to Eid prayer or the ringing of the alarm clock for the family breakfast. A few minutes of personal thought with regards to bringing out the spirit of Eid can make the difference in how our Eid holidays go. How about for a change, we show some real enthusiasm in meeting our friends, family and loved ones, while at the same time make the effort to re connect with old friends and relatives we havent met for a long time.

Confusion,Social Perception and Common Courtesy

Thanks to technology a few weeks back, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old acquaintance of mine now living in the United Kingdom. In the process of catching up with my old acquaintance, I brought to his attention a very recent mild conflict that I have been engulfed in for some time with another person. Upon elaborating the detailed nature of this mild conflict, an idea, an opinion was put forward by this gentlemen with regards to the practise of common courtesy in modern day urban Pakistan. The suggestion by my acquaintance was that the reason for the lack of common courtesy was due to confusion and a misperception with regards to what basic common courtesy is, and he rightly pointed out that people are unable to differentiate between basic common courtesy and being nice to others. In other words, what he was trying to say was that the practise of common courtesy is mistaken by many people regardless of their background as a good will gesture or an attempt at being nice to the other person. I agreed with his suggestion, that our society, particularly our youth has not reached the level of maturity to establish the notion of the practise of basic courtesy in their day to day behavior which is an inherent part of many cultures and societies.

I continued this discussion over the weeks that followed with several friends and acquaintances, some of whom far more experienced in the realities of adult life in Pakistan. They too reaffirmed what the English doctor had told me, the concept of common courtesy is alien to society here and people mistake basic courtesy as 'being nice' to the other person. Though I will not disagree with the notion, that many people refrain from 'being nice' in order to display that they have not let their guard down or to show case their social bargaining power, in the process they end up overlooking basic courtesy which from my point of view is the right of every human being on earth, even our foes are worthy of basic courtesy. This tempts one to Question, what determines our social behavior, what is is that determines whether whether one will practise common courtesy with others? Who will be a recepient of common courtesy and who will be overlooked. The determination of who recieves common courtesy also leads to our personal decision with regards to who to be-nice to, and who not to to be, if they are two seperate things.

Not being a stranger to human behavior, having studied human behavior from the context of organizations and the corporate world through out university and graduate school, I would like to propose a theory based on what I have learnt academically in the classroom. In organizational behavior we were introduced to a concept called 'peceived power differential' to explain work place socialization, as well as the role of power and politics at an organizational level. It is a very simple theory that states that how individuals in an organizational setting treat each other is determined by their relative perception of the other person. In other words, how they see the other person when they compare the person to themselves. Whether individual perception sees the person as on par with us, below us or above us in terms of power, influence and status at the organziational level. For example our immediate supervisor or boss would know that he or she has some power differential relative to us which he or she can exercise for their own advantage at some point. So if one experiences, slight mistreatment at the hands of our immediate bosses, its because they feel they are at a power advantage relative to us, and what encourages them is the knowledge that they can exercise that hierarchial difference to get away with it.

Using the theory of the perceived power differential as a base, I would like to propose a similar theory. Our behavior in social circumstances and our ability to practise common courtesy is dictated by our 'percieved social status differential', in other words how we percieve others relative to ourselves socially or in a social setting. It is pretty much the same thing as the perceived power differential, just re-worded. So the following hypothesis is what I would like to propose, to those reading this, I would like to request that they take out just a minute from their life to think about what I am about to propose.

Hypothesis 1: When we percieve the social status of another individual as higher relative to that of ours, we give the individual in Question preferential treatment which includes going out of our way to be nice, courteous and cooperative with or towards those people. Such behavior could be classified as an attempt by us to be perceived as equals by the person in Question.

Hypothesis 2: When we percieve the social status of another individual relatively equal to that of our own, we will practise common courtesy atleast to the very basic level. This would be maintain the status-quo that we have with the other person, and keep a sustainable relationship intact, whether it be amongst friends, peers or sheer acquaintances. Its percieved social equality that serves as a psychological ice breaker between individuals which leads to the creation and transformation of sustainable friendship or good management of communication with acquaintances.

Hypothesis 3: When we percieve the social status of another individual to be below or inferior relative to that of our own, we will even abstain or restrict ourselves from the practise of very basic common courtesy and our behavior might even go to the extent of going out of our way to be discourteous, impolite or even hostile with the person in Question. A possible reason for such behavior could be either self-assurance about our own identity and self worth, or sending out a signal to the other person that they are inferior and we are off a particular standing that we wish to maintain. In other words, we try to them they are at the back end of the stick and we are better than them. Usually the recepients of such behavior also become victims of our negative and anti social behaviour traits, because we see them as below us, we might even be tempted to blow some steam. Example of behavior when we perceive some one as below below us, includes lack of acknowledgment when we stumble across acquaintances in public, rude and impolite responses to basic communication or approaches from the other person, infact even resorting to slanderish gossip about others reflects that in our perception we see others as relatively inferior.

To my friends, colleagues and acquaintances, I would like to thank those who made the effort to read this, and I would like to request once again, to take a moment out of their lives to spare a few thoughts on what I have proposed. The reason for my emphasis on common courtesy, is because the absence or lack of common courtesy is what actually leads to breakdown in communication, misunderstandings and many avoidable conflicts.

Monkey business at the Cinema

British film maker Rupert Wyatt made an attempt to bring the classic franchise 'Planet of the Apes' back to the cinema screeens. He managed that with this year's release 'The rise of the planet of the Apes' which for many months now was seen as one of the most eagerly anticipated summer time releases of the year. The film stars Oscar nominated actor James Franco (Spiderman, Milk and 127 hours) alongside the Indian beauty Frida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) with a supporting cast that included John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) and Brian Cox (Xmen 2).

The film itself is set out to be a prequel to the popular franchise with the intention of taking us back in time to the origins of when human kind's dominance on earth started falling apart and apes begun taking over the planet. The movie is set in present day San Francisco, where a prominent bio medical research organization is trying to develop a cure for alzheimers disease and in the process they do their laboratory testing on apes prior to determing its suitability for human use. After a failed attempt at developing a cure, the lead character of Will Rodman played by Franco decides to adopt a surviving infant chimpanzee after all other test subjects were put down on company orders. As it turns out, the surviving infant chimpanzee is able to demonstrate skills and abilities beyond expectation. The rest of the story is pretty much predictible and does not have any twists and surprises to engage the audiences. The title was a bit of a mis match though, as this film does not depict as much an up rising by the apes, but rather the origins of where things started falling apart. Even by the end of the film we are yet to see a catastrophe of epic proportions which depicts human kind's destruction and earth's conquest by the apes. A more fitting title would have been 'Planet of the Apes: The Origins'.

Though Franco is a remarkable actor and showed a great deal of promise with films like Milk and 127 hours, his acting in this film left a lot to be desried. The same can be said about Frida Pinto, the star of Slumdog Millionaire is yet to impress global audiences with her acting abilities. None the less this movie does manage to give her the much needed exposure that is required in Hollywood. The animation, graphics and special effects also left a lot to be desired. Most of the apes seen in the movie are a product of CGI animation, as opposed to Tim Burton's attempt at the franchise where the apes were played by actors wearing costumes and covered in hours of make up. One can saftely assume the use of CGI was due to the complex nature of working with animals, how ever with over reliance on CGI it managed to deprive the film of a personal touch which one comes to expect from a visit to the cinema. If a sequel is to follow, one can hope for an improved film viewing experience.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Remember Remember the 5th of November but Not this One

It has been some time now, that the city of Karachi has witnessed the return of theater. Theater has marked its return in both the English and the Urdu language and over the months the residents of this great city have seen some remarkable plays. From recreated musicals such as Shah Sharabeel's 'Bombay Dreams' to the classic Urdu story 'Begum Jaan'. The latter featuring the acting talents of the likes of the Nimra Bucha and Naila Jafri. This past weekend, the city witnessed the staging of 'V for Vendetta' held at the Rangoonwala Center Auditorium in the Dhoraji Area of Karachi. The choice of venue for stagging the play was a surprising one, as most productions including ameture and student theater make their way to Karachi's Arts council as venue of choice.

V for Vendetta is based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore which depicts a dyspotian future in the United Kingdom where the country is ruled in a dictatorship style manner by a fascist political party. The graphic novel was popularised globally including Pakistan by its cinematic adaptation in 2006 which starred Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. For those unfamiliar with the plot of V, it revolves around the story of a masked vigallente that wears a Guy Fawkes mask and identifies himself as V, who intends on bringing down the fascist regime ruling the United Kingdom and recreating the original 5th of November gunpowder plot to blow up the British parliment. For fans of the movie and the graphic novel, this promised to be the most eagerly anticipated play of the year and an ideal way to end the pre-ramzan theater season, however much to the disappointment of not just fans of this remarkable film and graphic novel, but also fans of theater itself.

Our first impression off the production house behind this play was not a favourable one, as upon arrival at the Rangoonwala Auditorium there were no signs, posters or banners put up indicating that this was indeed the correct venue for the play. As for the play itself, inspite of producers promising punctuality, the play started about 40 minutes later than its originally scheduled time. A possible reason for the delay could be the very poor turn out to the play for a Saturday night. Considering the massive capacity of the auditorium, it barely had 5-10% attendence. Even the exclusively reserved front row VIP seats were vacant through out the play. The temptation of free luxury gourmet chocholates could not tempt those invited to attend the play. My best guess is that word got out following the premier night with regards to the quality of the theaterical production. Even as the play commenced

The play itself was not a proper theatrical adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel rather it was an imitation of the 2006 film, incorporating major scenes from the film such as the chancellor's speech and the alley scene where the character of V saves the character of Evey from being harassed by government officials amidst the late evening curfew. The actors playing the lead characters of V and Evey appeared unconvincing and unprepared for the role, with the only remotely convincing acting coming from the actor potraying the grand chancellor. However poor acting was not the only source of disappointment for the audience, as the quality of production lacked professionalism and adequete management. The direction and on screen execution of the play reflected a great deal about the ability of the team behind this production. The set and the props were very poor, as was the quality of audio and visual effects. Apart from that, there were long delays and pauses between scenes, on occassions for upto 10 minutes the audience was left sitting in the pitch black darkness of the auditorium between scenes.

Poor acting and long pauses combined were amongst the reasons why this theatrical experience failed to catch the attention of the audience and engage them in the story. One can only hope that in the future, we see a return of this epic novel in the form of a professional theatrical production that does justice to V for Vendetta and executes it in a manner that this story truly deserves. For those that missed out the play, they truly did not miss out on anything.