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Many years ago there was a movie in which the stereotypical semi-pathetic, semi-comic character was assigned a stock phrase (takia kalaam) that he repeated with regularity – kaash maiN Hong Kong meN paida hota (I wish I were born in Hong Kong). Hong Kong was a success story and thus attractive to an impecunious South Asian dropout. It was also not part of China then; no right-minded person even in the sluggish South Asia of the times would have wished to be born in the China of those days. How times have changed. Hong Kong has been reclaimed by China and China itself is a place that dazzles most visitors. The Chinese model of authoritarian politics and market economics has begun to draw admiring attention in many quarters.
By Ibn-e Eusuf   I often think about the transformation from Indo-Pak to Af-Pak – from being part of a civilization to being part of a problem. Nothing more needs be said except that the transformation was not accidental; it was deliberately engineered and therefore involved winners and losers. I will leave readers to mull over who won and who lost in the process. I wish to focus in this essay not on the past but on the future, on the nature of the problem represented by this Af-Pak pairing. What exactly is it that is common to Afghanistan and Pakistan and what does it mean for the people living in the two countries?
By Sakuntala Narasimhan “So how was your trip to Karachi? How was the conference?” my friends back home in India asked, when I returned to Bangalore after a week in Pakistan. Good? Bad? In trying to choose a short answer I find myself stumped. The second question is easier to answer – the three day conference was a fruitful, enriching, and enjoyable experience, as we interacted with artistes, activists from the arts, writers and academics from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Germany, UK and USA discussing the interfaces between politics, performing arts and gender.

By Anjum Altaf What do the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt portend for Pakistan? The question is on many minds. One approach to attempting an answer might be to try and infer it from below by investigating the morphology of Pakistani society and noting any...

By Anjum Altaf In a recent article (The Music of Poetry), I argued that it didn’t make sense to ask if one poet was greater than another. The musical metaphor I attempted proved to be the undoing of the piece; perhaps I should have tried a different metaphor – it would be silly, for example, to ask if Tendulkar is “greater” than Muralitharan, though both are cricketers. The reason is obvious, the one being a batsman and the other a bowler. My conclusion was simply that we should place less emphasis on “greatness,” however defined, and focus instead on the pleasure that comes from a given work. The use of a cricketing metaphor, however, adds another point to the argument. In cricket, statistics are available for comparison in a way impossible for poetry or music, but even then the matter is not as simple as it seems.

By Pilid Lao

Today’s Supreme Court decision in Prafull Goradia v. Union of India is ludicrous to say the least. The question was straightforward and simple: whether a government grant funded by taxpayer money violates the proscription of Art. 27 against state fostering religious activity. Article 27 of the Constitution of India states:
No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.
By Anjum Altaf Like no other political assassination in Pakistan, the recent brutal murder of Salman Taseer should throw into sharp relief the nature of the Pakistani liberal, a condition whose complexities and conflicts belie the simple narratives reflected in headlines like “Pakistani reformer dead” or “Setback for liberals in Pakistan.” Salman Taseer reflected the essence of a certain segment of Pakistani liberaldom – liberals who are highly educated, articulate, erudite, dynamic, successful, affluent and well connected. It is from this group that the most could have been expected in the struggle for reform, but they have been marginalized to the point of irrelevance.  Seen through the lens of conflicted loyalties and aspirations, this phenomenon becomes less opaque: No matter how progressive, the stereotypical liberal harbors a visceral antipathy for the “enemies of Islam,” which leads to knee-jerk responses blind to what is progressive or retrogressive within the implementation of Islam itself or what is in the long-term interests of the majority of the population.
A friend introduced me to the notion of a ‘chewing-gum’ concept – one that has the flexibility to be stretched or shrunk as needed to suit the context. This immediately solved a problem that had been vexing me for months. The problem was the following: I had been toying with launching local language versions of this blog but had found myself stymied by the challenge of translating meaningfully its name – The South Asian Idea. What had come so naturally in English turned into an impossible task in, say, Hindi or Urdu. There were two questions here: why was the task proving to be difficult and what was to do be done about it?
By Anjum Altaf There are two ways to make the point that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be met in Pakistan. One can offer analytical reasons in support or place a large bet on the outcome. Given that Pakistanis are presently swayed more by spot bets than appeals to reason, I am willing to wager Rupees 10 lakhs on the MDGs remaining unmet by their designated end date of 2015. I hope there are some who will wonder why I am willing to risk my money on this bet. To them I will present some very obvious and some not so obvious reasons for my pessimism as a Pakistani and optimism as a bettor. The very obvious reason is easy to get out of the way. I doubt if there is anyone who believes that our governors are serious about MDGs or have time to spare for them.