Analysis / 21.07.2020

  Introduction Mr. Javed Jabbar has posted a public video titled “Two Nation Reality” to refute certain statements about Pakistan by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. I feel the issues raised in this exchange are worthy of a detailed analysis. In this introduction I wish to explain my motivation for undertaking this analysis and laying out how I have organized it. The video was forwarded to me with a ‘must-watch’ label by someone whose opinion I respect. He was impressed by how Javed Jabbar had successfully refuted Pervez Hoodbhoy with infinite gentility. That statement intrigued me sufficiently to make an exception to my standard policy of deleting, without watching, all videos sent to me via social media. The issues debated in the exchange go to the heart of the controversies that are generally avoided in Pakistan much to our disadvantage. Mr. Jabbar’s initiative is therefore to be greatly appreciated and it becomes...

Reflections / 20.07.2020

When I was young, growing old was an amusing idea -- Prufrock’s “I grow old. I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” -- entailing a quaint adjustment. Parting one’s hair behind or daring to eat a peach didn’t seem all that onerous and walking along the beach in white-flanneled trousers seemed actually quite suave to one who had encountered neither. Prufrock was worried that the mermaids wouldn’t sing to him but given that they had not ever sung to me, I didn’t envisage that as a particularly major loss. Those were days in the life of the country when one could still have a cosmopolitan education. My father was a MA in English in the 1940s from Lahore’s Government College and his library continued to occupy the bookcases and shelves in all the houses we moved in and out of. I...

Development / 15.07.2020

How amazing that governments all over the world that could not find any money for public health or education have now, all of a sudden, discovered they can conjure up over ten percent of GDP to revive the economy after the COVID pandemic. What this means is that we don’t have to worry where the money will come from. Governments have signalled they have it and presumably they have figured out how they will pay for it -- by monetizing the debt or growing out of it or inflating it away. What this does mean is that we can move on to thinking about the economy that is to be revived with all this money. Are we aiming to restore the wretched economy that was damaged by the pandemic? Was that economy really all that great? Weren't we fighting against its inequities all these years? Isn't...

Language/Meaning / 14.07.2020

Anjum Altaf, Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Delhi: Aakar Books, 2019; Karachi: Liberty Books, 2020. Transgressions, by Anjum Altaf, is a book of poetry that is a comment on the nature of translation more than anything else. This commentary is made all the more poignant since the book is not a work of translation in the first place, but is rather reflections on the poetry of the late, great master of Urdu poetry, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Described on its cover as a book of ‘Poems inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz,’ Anjum takes on the task of picking different poems by Faiz, and writing poetry inspired by those poems. He insists, and correctly so, that these are not translations. Instead, it is a very humble offering. The act of making another poet your muse is not just rare, but also a nod and an acknowledgement towards the...

Analysis / 15.06.2020

The relatively low number of Covid-19 deaths reported in South Asia continue to puzzle analysts. While the low numbers might be true for reasons yet to be fully confirmed, there are now serious charges of undercounting.  Reports of undercounting have been circulating in India for a while but now an investigative piece in the London Telegraph has leveled charges of deliberate malfeasance. It claims to have seen written orders to a West Bengal hospital that in case of Covid-positive determinations, the cause is not be recorded on death certificates. A doctor at a government hospital in Cooch Behar is reported as saying: "We were ordered to strictly refrain from using the word 'Corona' in the death certificates until it gets a nod from the state government's opaque committee.” In Pakistan, doctors told the newspaper that “deaths were being undercounted because of stigma around the disease and...

Education / 07.06.2020

Many are having a hard time comprehending the coronavirus in Pakistan. They have not seen it before; it has no distinctive symptoms; there have been very few deaths in most communities; it hasn’t yet penetrated rural areas where half the population lives. This lived experience makes it hard to relate to what they are being told by the rest of the world -- that they are threatened by a lethal pandemic that calls for extreme constraints on how they live. Mixed messages from political and social leaders have fed the doubts. From the Prime Minister down, many in government have underplayed the threat likening it to the flu and comparing the number of deaths to those from road accidents. The Chief Justice has turned denier-in-chief, ordering the immediate opening of markets for Eid shopping. Partisan infighting has convinced many that this is just politics as usual....

Language/Meaning / 04.06.2020

The amazing thing about Faiz Ahmed Faiz is that you can never leave him behind. Witness how he emerged in the midst of the recent protests in India with ‘hum dekhenge’ being sung in half a dozen languages to the point where flummoxed authorities were forced to treat a man, dead for a good 35 years, as a threat to national security. These days the title of one of his poems, ‘yahan se sheher ko dekho’ (Look at the City from Here) has gotten into my head and is driving me insane. That is because, if you think about it, the ‘here’ in the title can blow your world apart. What it is telling you is that the city looks different from ‘here’ than it does from ‘there.’ And, knowing that can forever change the way you look at your city. I was recently part of a...

Language/Meaning / 01.06.2020

Anjum Altaf’s renderings are elegant, and often melancholic, exploring Faiz as a poet of solace for those licking their wounds in the aftermath of inevitable injustices. Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz. By Vipul Rikhi in The Wire on 18/May/2020 “Not even dogs Go as quietly as these men Battered and bruised Idle and begging Homeless and hearthless Stabbing each other for scraps Starving in silence” The nightmare unfolding on Indian highways through the abruptly-imposed ‘lockdown’ – of migrant labourers, rejected by the cities they served, walking hundreds, sometimes thousands, of kilometres home to their villages, often without food and water, under the hot, unsparing sun of the Indian summer – reminds us in stark visuals of the cruelty of visited by one class of humans on another. A cursory look at history reveals that such cruelty is hardly new. ‘Why’, the opening poem in Transgressions, Anjum Altaf’s collections of poems inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, continues thus: “Why What...

Analysis / 19.05.2020

Between the commencement of Ramzan and the easing of the lockdown, I was at the wrong end of a rant for advocating the avoidance of congregations in mosques. A gentleman accused people like me of hypocrisy for continuing to drink at the Punjab Club while keeping the devout from visiting the House of God. I am not a member of the Punjab Club but was sufficiently intrigued to investigate what was going on there. I was informed that everything was closed except for the bakery and that home deliveries were continuing for members who wished to entertain and had sent their cooks home. It also came out that tennis had been restarted but a couple of days later a rather urgent message affirmed it was discontinued. This was the first time I had influenced an action in Pakistan though undoubtedly the outcome owed more to a...