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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Recap and Lessons from KLF 2013

This past weekend saw the conclusion of yet another hugely successful annual Karachi Literature Festival which was staged at the Beach Luxury hotel. This was the fourth year that this event took place in the city by the sea and it has created a road map for other cities to follow. Very soon the city of Lahore will be having it's first literary festival, we can hope it will also transform into a regularly held annual event. This year's Karachi Literature Festival was not as good as the ones held during the previous year, even though this year the choice of venue for staging the event was far more spacious and accessible to a greater number of people. Reason being a lot of writers, poets and intellects cancelled on the very last minute, especially from across the border. I did get to meet one of India's most famous female journalists Barkha Dutt from NDTV. Apparently I didn't have an idea of how famous she was in India, I just recognised her from a few random political talk. Also present at the festival from the journalism community were veterens Nadeem F Paracha, Javed Jabbar as well as the young business desk editor of the Express Tribune Farooq Tirmizi.

There were a fair few book launches as well. I had the fortune of attending a few, one of which was Aquilla Ismail's book 'Of Martyrs and Marigold'. Coincidentially I have already had the book on my Kindle for quite some time, it was only launched in Pakistan at the fair. The book is from a mainly Bihari speaking Urdu narrative, its a fictional account of what the writer's family and people they knew had to endure in post 71 Bangladesh. How they became soft targets for the nationalists because they were civilians and because they were not natives, could easily occupy the blame.

Even with all the cancellations, there were some outstanding events at the Karachi Literature Festival. For me  personally the highlights were 'Aapas ki Baat, Najam Sethi ke Saath live', it wa sort of like watching Najam Sethi's 11 pm show from GEO TV live. He did end up making analytical comments of the type also which he  would normally not make on live TV, I am guessing due to the policy of the Jang Group and Geo TV. Mohsin Hamid, the writer of 'Moth Smoke' and 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', along with other Pakistani writers Nadeem Aslam (writer of Maps for Lost Lovers) and Kamila Shamsi the writer of Kartography were part of a panel discussing the role of politics in modern South Asian Literature. In the panel they pointed out that major global political events such as the Cold War and 9/11 has had a profound effect on the world, and hence they are used as back drops for fictional writers even from developing nations. They argued for any writer, be it a fictional or non fictional writer, it is very difficult keep politics completely independent of their writing, citing it is natural for any good writer to write politically or think politically while executing their writing. Mohsin went on to add that politics in novelization is not just about what your government is upto, but it extends to include politics of class, politics of gender and also a socioeconomic divide.

For me, other than personally getting the opportunity to chat with Mohsin Hamid and Najam Sethi, what really stood out in the event was the talk on Satire in Media which featured Bushra Ansari and Ali Gul Pir on the panel with Nadeem Farooq Paracha (NFP). During the talk, they talked about how most of our society and television audiences are not mature enough to entirely understand or appreciate satire and it will be a while before it is properly understood. They did give a lot of credit to Dr Younis Butt for his work in taking on current affairs in Pakistani politics and producing satire for cable television. For those unfamiliar with Dr Younis Butt, he is the man behind 'Hum Sub Umeed Se Hain' on Geo Television hosted by Saba Qamar. NFP jokingly also said, maybe Dr Butt is afraid of Altaf Bhai, he gets the least amount of Satire dedicated to him.

The talk concluded with a lot of members in the audience were repeatedly raising Questions as to why Religious Issues, sectarianism and lack of harmony in our society isn't discussed through satire, since a lot of political solutions are achievable through Satire, why not religious ones. To this Bushra and NFP replied that it is because of the extremely sensitive religious nature of our society, even the fairly educated lot (some of whom can be labeled as parhe likhe jahils) that it is at this point even remotely unthinkable of discussing religious issues or sectarianism through satire or through any form of humour. Even though in reality religion is a personal affair, in a society like Pakistan it has become a public spectacle. One can not disagree with them, a good example right in front of us was the back lash media outlets got for promoting even the smallest of stories relating to Valentines day, an event which many on the religious right and this conservative society find immoral and distasteful. I feel particularly bad for those two young people who carried Urdu language banners stating let the love flow. Our society might not be very open minded and ready for humour or satire with respect to religion, but the Question we need to ask is, how do we change all that? Every one talks about the direction our society is headed, but let's start asking Questions now what can we do?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

So where's the V-Day Haram happening again?

Photo: Faasla na rakhain. Pyaar honay dayn. Say YES to Love! #Karachi
Another year, another month of Feb, another Valentines day graces our calender. Another year where the religious right aka the mullah brigade is at it again condemning it as an act of immorality that will result in all hell breaking loose on the moral fabric of our society. Regardless of what one thinks of Valentines day, hate it, love it or our indifferent, it is still going to happen, there is now law in Pakistan that forbids it's celebration. And it seem's plausible that this trend will continue on for years, Valentines day will come, the mullah brigade with make its usual fuss, people wanting to celebrate it will celebrate by exercising their God given free will and on the next day life will resume as it was before the V day fever came in.

On this day (V-day), thousands of couples are going to be going out for dinner, exchanging gifts, spending time together and exchange moments of intimacy, and in the case of Pakistan since public displays of affection are frowned upon, all that will happen in complete privacy. Sure Valentines day is an overly commercialised day courtesy of the Hallmark Card culture and is drowning in Red, but that's a different story altogether, its a good kind of red by the way, not the red that represents spilled blood. For those bitterly opposed to Valentines day, here are some things you guys should know, majority of couples likely to celebrate it in Pakistan would be married couples, so yeah husbands buying flowers and gifts for their wives, and wives buying gifts for their husbands. They can celebrate their love all year long, a commercialised event just gives them another excuse to do it and enjoy in the process. Now what is more Halal than the love between a married couple, between a man and his wife? There is nothing Non Shariah about it.

I am curious, those of you guys bitterly opposed to the even mention of this day in Pakistan, is it because you  men do not want to spoil your wives by showering them with flowers and gifts, and you ladies, are you just upset that your husbands did not spoil you with gifts. We all know everybody likes getting gifts, if you really dislike gifts, shun the gifts that come your way on wedding anniversaries, birthdays and even your own wedding. Yes, I know what you are thinking, what about all the millions of high school, college and university students. Well most of them, their not full fledged mature age adults, their just looking to have some innocent fun, enjoy life and experience the joys that come with it. A lot of our youth appreciates life and what comes with it, hence their very proactive when it comes to festivities. Don't demonise this youth, their also fairly active on Eid-Milad-Nabi, you will find Milad celebrations across schools, colleges and universities so yeah there goes the excuse of religious insensitivity out the window. Their also very active on Independance day, so yeah you can not even accuse them of being overly westernised and insensitive to local culture. We live in a globalised world, certain set of events, cultural attributes or trends go beyond geographic borders.

If anything according to your individual definitions of shamefulness is happening, very very high probability that it is probably happening behind cloosed doors and what happens in the privacy of some one's home behind closed doors is of no course to any of us. What will happen on the surface level is nothing out of the ordinary, people will be going out for dinner, going out for a movie, spending time with one another like they usually do, the only difference is there will be a lot of RED going around and florists are going to make a killer buck today. Now what is so HARAM about an honest hard working florist who may be a devout Muslim selling flowers? He sells flowers every day, only difference is he is selling a huge lot more especially the roses.

So tell me again, where are the countless of shamelessness happening in public eye again? Please enlighten me as I am mighty curious to know. If nothing immoral or shameful is happening, keep your attitudes to your self and let the love flow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ad spending on V-Day Bashing.

So Valentines day is coming. Yes that's right the 14th of Feb is just around the corner, and signs of the day to come are all around the city of Karachi. To cash in, so many companies big and small are spending good money on getting their advertising message across to the audience they hope would be celebrating the day. Whether their huge outdoor hoardings, print adverts or those appearing on prime time television, the spirit of Valentines day is definitely in the air, especially for the marketers. Among the campaigns dished out through different mediums this year, one that marketing campaign that really stands out is the one done by Cadbury for their signature flagship Dairy Milk chocolate brand. In the advertisement on television they show a young man who manages to get his message across to the girl he seeks by passing the chocolate with a Valentines day message across the class room, in the process, all but one piece of the chocolate gets eaten up. The last piece manages to get the job done, the boy's message gets communicated to the girl, and the marketing agency behind this advertisement is successful in getting their message across to their target audience. This TV advert has been brilliantly complimented by outdoor and print advertisements. Cadbury Pakistan has also redone its packaging on its range of Dairy Milk products. Whether its your brilliantly made television advertisement by Cadbury for their flagship dairy or some other brand, no escaping Valentines Day. There is also no escaping the other kind of attention this day manages to attract.

Not that I was totally surprised to see what I saw, especially considering the route that society in Pakistan is taking. I did manage to take a snap of what I saw at a very busy Chowrangi (Roundabout) in the Bahadrabad area of Karachi. For those on the other side of the bridge, its about 7 odd KM's from you all live, rest of Karachi probably knows how busy this chowrangi is. It is not uncommon for one to find hoardings, sponsored TV shows or advertisements (both print and broadcast) aimed at getting a certain message across at a certain time of the year. This advertising message was aimed for the purpose of defaming and demonizing Valentines day with carefully selected extracts and references from religious sources. Do not be surprised people if on the actual day, you seen tens of thousands of both men and women out on the streets burning symbols of Valentines Day like Teddy Bears, Flowers and other various trinkets.. It has happened before and I suspect it will happen again.

Photo: Parked at Bahadrabad Chowrangi, Can't believe some one paid for this, lol

The pic above I snapped with my cell phone camera as I was passing by Bahadrabad Chowrangi in my car.

Not that I have a particular opinion on Valentines day etc, rather to point out to those in opposition to the celebration of the day  that make it sound as if all hell will break loose if this day is celebrated. The apocalypse will descend upon us immediately as a grave act of shameless sinfulness is being committed in a country occasionally titled land of the pure. I wrote a blog early on a similar line in which I referred how the religious right and the growing conservative lot (especially the new lot) in our urban societies go paranoid crazy about the thought of any communication of any sorts between members of the opposite sex who are either not related or married to one another. They believe any contact of any kind between genders is a sin waiting to happen and hence it should be prevented. Same reaction to Valentines Day, reactions suggest delusions on similar lines that a catastrophe is waiting to happen should this occasion be celebrated. Frankly speaking, those who wish to celebrate it should be free to do so, and those who do not want to celebrate it should be free to keep their distance from it. I how ever do not see the point of paying good amounts of cash on advertisements meant to demonize the day. A lot of it stems from our culture of moral policing which goes hand in hand with widespread hypocritical attitudes not uncommon to people of Pakistan. The same religious right who demonizes Valentines day, among so many of them you will also find people who do not even blink an eye when violation of human rights or abuse of some sort or the other is common in our society

I do not want sound like I am judgmental prick, but what I am about to communicate can not be done without sounding atleast borderline judgmental. It is this very same right wing religious lot in our society that has started demonizing everything and anything, and everyone and anyone who does not adhere to their ultra conservative Wahabi influenced school of thought. They argue its not their school of thought, rather it is the will of God to look down upon people and discriminate people based on how rigidly people practice religion or not, too much emphasis on symbolic rituals and practices. Do not be surprised, if you also come across people who will get offended because you turned down an invitation to offer Salat (prayer) in congregation with them, because trust me I have and that too on multiple occasions. In a nutshell it is very difficult for such people to come to terms with the reality not everyone is religious, people by not being religious are just exercising their God given FREE WILL. I could be wrong but part of me believes that  for the religious conservative lot, especially those new to that way of life, it is very difficult to come to terms with leaving a life behind for the pursuit of religious devotion while others around them are still living their lives business as usual. In other words, people are experiencing worldly life (their choice of words) while they have left everything behind for spirituality. If they had truly left everything behind, their not would be this feeling of missing out on life by seeing others pick and choose how they deem fit to live. Just look at the image above and read the words, they have openly declared Valentines day as something evil and immoral and that this celebration is insensitive to Islamic values and followers of Islam. If that isn't also judgmental, please correct me if I am wrong. I for the time being have said what I wanted to say, they have a right to their opinion but no right to enforce it on others or even demonize millions based on personal sentiments. I would probably get a lot of votes from secularists for saying that those opposed to it are not really against it for cultural or religious reasons, rather cause their not part of the whole festivities and celebrations, only time will tell.