Development / 19.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf Now that we have discovered all the “essential” workers who were invisible to us, or to whom we had closed our eyes, what are we going to do? I mean, the people who keep our cities and buildings and homes clean and functional. Is it really alright for them to live the way they have been living all these years -- in some hovel, making barely enough to eat, working Sundays so they can accumulate enough leave to visit every four months, for a week, their parents, wives, and children forsaken in some faraway village? Is it really alright and acceptable to you? Is it mandated by some God on high? I know it before you can say it. We are back in the days of the Roman pantheon and there is a Market God except that now he doesn’t stay atop Mount Olympus but...

Development / 15.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf For the life of me I can’t figure out why Aitchison College students still have to wear those things on their heads. I was reminded of them when a retired teacher shared a chapter of the autobiography he is writing adorning it with the picture of a bevy of boys milling around him all capped in that anachronistic headgear.  Before jumping to conclusions I decided to check with a former student and was educated about the origins of the institution as the Punjab Chiefs’ College in 1886. I was informed that this headgear was part of the proper attire of the Punjab chiefs of the times and it was only natural that their offspring, the future chiefs, would continue the tradition.  That much made sense except that very soon after, the British renamed the college for a wannabe chief of their own, one Mr. Aitchison....

History / 12.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf What, I thought, would be our reaction, those of us living along the heretofore unimaginatively named Avenue 2, if some overenthusiastic brigadier, inspired by our vaunted Prime Minister, were, in the spirit of bravado, to rename it Osama Bin Laden Shaheed Road? It’s bad enough living in the Defence Housing Authority but by now our senses have been numbed to that offense. We are able to call friends and tell them to come to our Defence but to have to direct them to continue straight on Osama Bin Laden Shaheed Road would be a bit much to stomach.  My thoughts on this are informed by the heated debate that erupted in 2015 when Aurangzeb Road in Delhi was renamed Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road. This is what I wrote then about how one might go about such a renaming: “It doesn’t seem right that some minister...

Reflections / 08.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf I read a strange proposal the other day -- that Tipu Sultan’s famous tiger, safely ensconced in the British museum, ought to be returned to Pakistan because Pakistan is the Muslim successor state to Colonial India and also because the tiger is a symbol of resistance. This is just so problematic at so many levels. First of all, Bangladesh is just as much a Muslim successor state of Colonial India as Pakistan and the fact that it has (wisely) not lodged such a preposterous claim should not be held against it. Given the fact that there are two successor Muslim states, how would a Solomon allocate the trembling tiger? Would the head be assigned to Pakistan as the senior successor state and the tail to Bangladesh for having arrived late on the scene?   And why should a Muslim successor state be privileged in any way...

Analysis / 04.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf The Coronavirus pandemic is bad enough but, as dozens of countries have demonstrated, it can be controlled -- there were just 3 new cases in Sri Lanka on June 12. Even in places where the number of infected persons was very large before the alert was sounded, Italy for example, new cases per day have dropped from 6,557 on March 21 to 163 on June 12. In Pakistan, they continue to rise -- from 144 on March 21 to 6,397, the highest to date, on June 12. What makes the pandemic so recalcitrant in Pakistan, where the initial cases were minimal for lack of tourists, are the epidemics within the epidemics.  The first of these is the blight of ignorance. A country where the majority cannot verify information for itself is hugely handicapped. All it should take is a visit to one of the...

Analysis / 01.08.2020

By Anjum Altaf While the pandemic has months to run, enough time has passed since its inception to render an interim judgement on its management in Pakistan and India. Despite giving the governments as much benefit of doubt as I possibly can, I am afraid I have to assign both a failing grade. The governments would no doubt contest this award so let me justify my verdict. As always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating so let us look at the actual situation at this time. Both countries are reporting the highest number of deaths per day to date -- Pakistan over a 100 and India close to 400. Despite everything they have thrown at it, the graph of new cases continues to rise and their number exceeds the number of new recoveries so the load on hospitals continues to grow. Unlike most other...

Analysis / 21.07.2020

By Anjum Altaf 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...

Reflections / 20.07.2020

By Anjum Altaf 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...

Development / 15.07.2020

By Anjum Altaf 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...