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Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Handbag Walee & The Self Hating Pakistanis

Photo: Saba Gul had done both her undergraduate and graduate studies from MIT, which is considered one of the greatest universities in the World. She is an Engineer by profession, and was working in the Silicon Valley with a potentially great career lying ahead of her, when she decided to come back to her home country, Pakistan and start doing something for her people. She is the CEO and founder of BLISS (Now Known as Popinjay), which is an NGO which works for the welfare of under privileged School Girls who are taught the skills embroidery and needle work, which are later finished into handbags and sold in the Global Markets. Apart from the Human Capital, which involves incorporating skills in these girls, the proceeds from the sales of handbags enable them to continue with their education.

Saba Gul has also worked in Sri Lanka and Ethiopia, and is a World Economic Forum Young Global Shaper, as well as a fellow of The Unreasonable Institute. Her work has been recognized by the US State Department, and featured in the MIT Technology Review, Vogue Magazine, NBC News and Fast Company, to name a few. 

Saba indeed is a very patriotic Pakistani, leaving behind an illustrious career at Silicon Valley to work for the welfare of the Pakistani nation. Pakistan needs more people like her.

Very recently an acquaintance of mine shared some information with me about a young Pakistani entrepreneur based in Lahore. The name of the young entrepreneur is Saba Gul and she is the brains behind the venture Bags for Bliss. The project itself now known as Popinjay manufactures highly quality designer hand bangs which are made through the employment of under privileged young girls and trains them with the skills related to embroidery making and needle work. Later on the proceeds from these very hand bags are used to facilitate these girls in continuing their education and take necessary steps towards empowerment and economic independence. Now how many people know that the founder of Popinjay/Bags for bliss is actually a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States of America and had a successful career in California's Silicon Valley which she left behind to return to her native Pakistan. For those not familiar with the school, it is the top tech school in the world and their graduates the most sought after ones by tech and engineering companies. Now how many of us know foreign graduates, especially those with great careers overseas who leave behind everything and feel a sense of national duty and obligation to give back to their country in some way or the other. I personally do not know that many and for me some one like Saba Gul is a source of inspiration, those foreign graduates I know personally still living in Pakistan actually hate being dream and are still dreaming of returning to foreign shores.

 One doesn't have to sink into wonderful ventures immediately upon arrival back into this country, just returning under a sense of patriotism or national obligation is a good starting point  to reduce the effects of the brain drain damaging this country. It is not by any means an easy journey back into this country, especially if one has lived abroad, life here is very difficult and demanding and can take a great many years to get used to how things are and how they work here. The best way to go about it is to have an open mind and be accepting to the challenges of every day life here. Some cities have a high crime rate, some cities have a problem with running water and electricity, but then again these things are part and parcel of living in the developing world. Such patriotic Pakistani's returning back from foreign shores out of love for their fellow Pakistani's and the land that may or may not have given them much will always be a source of inspiration and their efforts are worthy of ever lasting praise.

At the same time, our country has no shortage of self hating Pakistani's, regardless of whether they have had a foreign education or not, have lived abroad for some time or have never set foot on foreign shores, there is no shortage of Self Hating Pakistani's especially among our youth. Those that have lived or studied abroad at some point, especially the recent graduates or those that stepped out for the very first time desperately yearn for the day they will hop on a plane out of Pakistan. I am not sure what it is they miss, I will treat this as a no fixed rule approach. Some might miss a loved one abroad, some might miss their real life social network that they have left behind, some might miss the creature comforts and state of the art facilities of a developed nation or some are just missing the uncontrolled freedom that life abroad seems to offer. The freedom bit I would say is a relative thing, freedom is but an illusion, we are never really truly free, there are degrees of relative freedoms some places offer and some do not. Even in the West you are not fully free, you have laws of even those countries to adhere too as well as social norms.

You also have the lot among the Pakistani youth that does not feel a sense of ownership or belonging to their country even when life has been good to them with or without ever setting foot on foreign shores. They show signs of apathy when their country is ridiculed or mocked, it could be because they have been conditioned by their surrounding environment i.e. they have been brought up in an environment where their made to believe they do not owe Pakistan anything. In some cases, it is considered trendy and mainstream to be extremely critical and devoid of attachment, i.e. it is considered cool to dislike your country and see it from a judgmental angle. Some young Pakistani's are only able to associate themselves with their own ethnic group or community going with the identity of ethnocentrism versus broader national thinking. In some cases the broader perception is that their ethnic group is the superior of the lot and all others around them are non deserving of what this country has given them. Nationalistic feelings tend to become surface level visible for Pakistani's during a cricket match especially if it is against India, that is no surprise, observe the apathetic and unmoved attitude of some of your fellow Pakistani's, or even joy at the failure of our national cricket team or its star players. This would probably be the easiest way to identify a self hating Pakistani. Not to generalise but I am quoting this just purely as an example.

In some cases, some young Pakistani's take it to the next level and only identify with the identity advocated by their political party of choice, and it is no secret that some political parties in Pakistan do not advocate a national stance or attitude among their followers, and play the ethnic or region centric card limiting the self adopted identity of their followers to a particular region or linguistic community. Some even keep obsessing about where their ancestors came from instead of accepting the reality that this country was founded over six decades ago, they have no realistic ties to land lying in another country, their fore fathers migrated to Pakistan because of their belief in the idea of Pakistan and political shifts do not change their national identity.  Realistically in the short term nothing can be really done about the attitude of such self hating Pakistani's, the same way nothing can be done about very judgmental and narrow minded people, for now we can continue praising the efforts of young entrepreneurs like Saba Gul and see her as a sense of inspiration especially for those young Pakistani's that feel a sense of pride in their Pakistani national identity.

Saba Gul, wherever you are, I hope you come across this blog, cause your story truly inspired me and I hope one day you can inspire millions more who like you also willingly took the decision to return to my native soil.

Pakistan Zindabad

Monday, October 21, 2013

Waar, A Review: Not a Movie For the Self Hating Pakistanis

File:Waar film 2013.jpg

The right question to start with would be, has there been a revival of Pakistani cinema? More specifically this would be reference to whether people in urban Pakistan are returning to the cinema or are people returning to the cinema to watch home made productions, films made in Pakistan, by Pakistani film makers. 2013 has been a year where home made productions have experienced a remarkable response from the public and have been witness to countless movie goers flocking to the cinemas in our major urban centers. Some of the movie's have been produced by independent film houses featuring first time directors as well as some well known faces from television. Among the more prominent releases this year included 'Main Hoon Shahid Afridi' which was the first attempt by Pakistani film makers to make a sports themed film. The story revolved around a disgraced former cricketer looking to redeem himself and an aspiring young cricketer from a small town dreaming to be like his cricketing hero, former Pakistani captain Shahid Khan Afridi. The other major release of the year was the Bilal Lashari directed acton thriller 'Waar'. Starring the likes of film veteran Shaan along with a supporting cast that included Ayesha Khan, Meesha Shafi, Ali Azmat, Hamza Ali Abbassi and ofcourse Shamoon Abbasi as the main villian. 

The word 'Waar' in the Urdu language means to strike and is a directorial debut for the young film maker. With an Urdu title name, the movie was shot primarily in the English language in an attempt to attract a wider international audience as well as the English speaking educated gentry of Pakistani society which often keeps its distance from the local cinema industry giving preference to the imported films instead. About 70 to 80% of the film is in English with a limited number of scenes in Urdu, while Urdu sub titles remained on the screen for most of the duration of the film. The movie had a private premier at Karachi's Atrium Cinema, which is owned by Mandviwala Enterprises, who are also the main nationwide distributors for the film. The Private Premier featured some celebrities from film and television along with some journalists and others in the media industry.

In a nutshell, the back drop of the movie is Pakistan's on going war against terror which claimed thousands of Pakistani lives. The film is about a high level Anti Terrorist counter intelligence unit of the Pakistani police that uncovers some intelligence about an upcoming major terrorist attack that is due to hit Pakistan for which they seek assistance from the army in the form of retired military counter intelligence office Mujtaba Rizvi (played by Shaan) who previously had first hand experience of bringing down in the past the very mastermind behind the impeding terrorist attack. Music legend Ali Azmat on the other hand plays a politician who believes that the construction of a certain dam can help significantly reduce the energy crises in Pakistan and is in the process of lobbying it with various politicians. 

The very first review of Waar to hit online media was the one that featured in the Express Tribune's Life and Style section.  The first rule of a movie review is not objectivity, rather you do not reveal the spoilers since there are people who are hoping to see a newly released movie. Not only did Rafay reveal the spoilers, he in a very distasteful manner labelled the movie as a poorly executed army propaganda film completing lacking in quality. It still amazes me how such a review of the movie got published, do their in house writing staff just have too much discretion at their disposal? Even spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are not hard to find in front page news on their online edition. Even though 'Waar' lacked a very strong script and there was significant room for further fine tuning it, it is none the less a significant leap forward in film making in Pakistan. Not only touching upon a sensitive issue, but it is also a first for Pakistan with respect to visual and sound effects that have gone into the making of the movie, this is complimented by reasonably good acting performances. For some critics the accents of the actors might be an issue, but one must remember that all the actors in the movie have done a film outside their native language and the actors could be given the benefit of the doubt over their English language ability. It was also not the propaganda as claimed by Rafay and a few other media critics, the message was more or less touching upon a ground reality that we as Pakistani's have to live with every day. It is definitely not a movie for self hating Pakistani's who look for excuses to either malign and degrade their own country or simply limit their association with their ethnicity or political affiliation, without feeling a sense of ownership and belonging here. If you are a self hating Pakistani this film was not made for you.

For our film industry to thrive, it needs the support of cinema going audiences across urban Pakistan. We are witnessing an era of revival, and encouragement must be given to films where significant efforts have gone in the making. If not for the war film content, cinema goers must go for the encouragement of your local industry, and 'Waar' by far is the most expensive locally produced film in the history of Pakistan and considering this was Bilal Lashari's directorial debut, I would give him full marks for the effort and the execution. Looking forward to his next venture. If you even have a drop of patriotism of love for your country, go watch this movie.

Pakistan Zindabad