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Behavior / 29.08.2019

By Anjum Altaf Position yourself at a traffic light or a roundabout in a Pakistani city today and you will witness every possible violation of the traffic code quite independent of the status of the violator and the presence of one or more policemen. The free-for-all encompasses the entire range from glitzy cars to rundown bicycles. Reflect a little on this seeming chaos and you might be able to infer that it all follows from one simple rule -- the desire of every individual to find the shortest route from here to there unimpeded by any constraints in the way.     Such a rule is called a shortcut and although I have reflected on this particular shortcut for some time and deem it important, I refrained from raising the issue out of a sense of its ranking in the list of catastrophes enveloping our country. It seemed akin...

Behavior / 09.08.2019

By Anjum Altaf Here is a question of pricing for you to consider. Imagine the following scenario: You are getting ready to travel from Lahore to Islamabad when by chance X stops by at your house. X is also making the same journey driving his own car. X offers to give you a ride and you accept. Consider X to be one of the following in different versions of this encounter: 1. Your student 2. Your good friend 3. Your brother-in-law with whom you are on speaking terms 4. A distant relative 5. A colleague at work 6. A neighbor whom you know but are not close to 7. A stranger who stopped at your house by mistake If you had traveled on your own as planned, the trip would have cost you Rs. 2,000. For every case of X (from 1 to 7) answer the following questions. You can combine the categories of X who, in your...

Behavior / 03.06.2015

By Rizwan Saeed Patriarchy is an established informal system. It has clear hierarchy of power and authority that is transferred from one generation to other. As it is an informal system, its roots are embedded deep in cultural settings and social fabric of societies. There are certain rituals and cultural practices that protect and strengthen this patriarchal system in the subcontinent. One key component of culture is language. Here I explore patriarchy in the culture of the subcontinent through the lens of language. In Urdu, there are names for each relationship that falls under the line of authority. To understand authority lines we will have to understand some basic family structures prevailing in the subcontinent. In the subcontinent, joint and extended family systems exist in which husband, wife, husband’s brothers and their families (spouses and children), parents of husband, and unmarried sisters of husband live together under one roof....

Behavior / 20.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf First, the result – A disciplined, professional team easily took care of a ragged, mercurial bunch of individuals. Lightning did not strike. No miracles occurred. As we watched the pathetic procession in the first half, lines from Macbeth came flooding back: … a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.  Then, as comments began to circulate, the dissension amongst the faithful was captured by the lines that immediately followed the above: [Enter a Messenger] Macbeth. Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly. Messenger. Gracious my lord, I should report that which I say I saw, But know not how to do it. Macbeth. Well, say, sir. Messenger. As I did stand my watch upon the hill, I look'd toward Birnam, and anon, methought, The wood...

Behavior / 19.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf The India-Bangladesh match ended predictably but in Pakistan its off-field resonance was of greater interest. All the ambivalent feelings about India and Bangladesh that are otherwise submerged bubbled to the surface. It was a rich occasion for some casual explorations in social attitudes. My limited sample revealed two sets of observations – those on which there was relative agreement and those where opinions were more divided. The first set comprised the following: First, a sense of pride that four South Asian teams had made it to the quarter finals of a major world championship. It was encouraging evidence of a South Asian consciousness amongst people many of whom had not seen more than one or two cities in their own country. Second, a fairly objective assessment of the quality of the four teams based purely on their track record. Most people ranked India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan,...

Behavior / 18.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf Sri Lanka took a strategic gamble against South Africa in the first quarter-final of the 2015 Cricket World Cup and were blown away. What surprised me was how misplaced the gamble was and how unexpected from a team known for its ability to think. The nature of the gamble was obvious from the first ball. It was clear that Kusal Perera was sent in to open under instructions to hit the South African attack bowlers off their lengths. The strategy might have paid off but even that would have required some sensible hitting. It was clear as daylight that Perera would not last more than a few balls, and he didn’t. More than throwing away a wicket, it put paid to the Sri Lankan strategy in a hurry and fired up the South Africans instead. The fact that there was a slight chance the strategy...

Behavior / 22.02.2015

By Anjum Altaf in Economic and Political Weekly My professional life has involved study of the attitude of individuals towards risk and it is this perspective that I employ to reflect on some aspects of the Charlie Hebdo affair. My interest in the subject emerged in graduate school when I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the idealized behavior described in Western textbooks of economics with actual behavior I had observed in South Asia. My conclusion was that context mattered much more than acknowledged, followed very quickly by the realization that context was not constant. One implication was that attitude towards risk was not a genetic trait – people were not born risk averse or risk preferring – but a behavioral response to specific contexts. I became convinced of this when my thesis adviser mentioned all the radical things he would do once he was awarded tenure. Not only...

Behavior / 19.06.2014

By Anjum Altaf Feudalism never existed outside of Europe. Scholars of South Asia use the term ‘feudalism’ to refer to something that in its classical form in late medieval and early modern Europe was something quite different. That in general is the tenor of the comments I have received in response to my assertion that women in South Asia suffer under the persistence of feudal values. This is a very old debate and I don’t really have a quarrel with the criticism. It has a place in scholarly exchanges but in popular parlance in South Asia the term feudal has acquired the status of a short-cut description for a particular set of values. This set of values is well recognized and understood by participants in a discussion. I could very easily have cast the whole argument without any reference to feudalism at all but would then have had...

Behavior / 18.06.2014

By Anjum Altaf A sentence from Dubliners leapt out at me: He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her. This is the narrator’s observation in the story ‘A Painful Case’ from an Ireland of a hundred years ago. My mind couldn’t help being drawn to the South Asia of today. A narrator’s observation could easily have been as follows: “He had dismissed his wife entirely from his gallery of pleasures yet he did not cease to suspect that everyone else would take an interest in her.” One could argue around the margins without denying a recognizable truth – a wide gulf separates the attitudes. Replace wife with any female relative and gallery of pleasures with realm of interest and one would be staring at a fair characterization of our contemporary milieu in...

Behavior / 11.03.2014

Kashmiri students in Meerut cheered when the Pakistan cricket team defeated India in the Asia Cup, were suspended, and charged with sedition. Since then madness has prevailed with people taking sides whether the students were right or wrong and whether the charges were justified or not. Pakistan, as usual, takes the cake for stupidity – its hearts and college gates have been thrown wide open for the heroes of the resistance. I don’t know enough about the particular incident to wade into the controversy but there are things about it that seem quite obviously wrong and problematic. What, for starters, is the notion of an own side and why, for another, is one required or obliged to cheer only for it? Why should an accident of birth dictate my emotional attachment and why should I not have the choice to own the team I want? The notion...