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Pakistan / 08.03.2009

I had intended to wait a while to get some feedback from readers on William Dalrymple’s analysis of the situation in Pakistan (Governance in Pakistan – 1) before starting a discussion on the reasons for its poor predictive power. My plan was to follow that up with some samples of analysis by Pakistani commentators to reiterate the reasons that, in my view, contributed to the weakness of the analyses. I changed my mind when I immediately came across one such analysis in the March/April 2009 issue of the Boston Review. This review is by a member of the crème de la crème of Pakistani society, educated in the best institutions, a journalist by profession, and with the benefit of living abroad in a vibrant intellectual environment. The analysis provides a good parallel to Dalrymple’s piece. While Dalrymple brings an outsider’s excusably incomplete perspective, the contributor to the...

Pakistan / 07.03.2009

In this series of posts we will try and provide an explanation of the seemingly intractable problems that afflict Pakistan today. But first we address the issue of why analysts and observers are so often wrong in their assessments of the Pakistani situation. The occasion for this is an article by William Dalrymple who has made a name for himself as a chronicler of Mughal history and an analyst of modern South Asia. Writing on March 4, 2009 he says: Just over a year ago, in February 2008, I travelled by car across the length and breadth of Pakistan to cover the country's first serious election since General Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999…. The story I wrote at the time for the New York Review of Books was optimistic. Like most other people given the option, Pakistanis clearly want the ability to choose their own rulers, and to determine...

Religion / 28.02.2009

By Anil Kala [A curious man standing on a beach, blissfully unaware that earth is round, wondered what lies beyond the horizon! He embarked on a long journey in a dead straight line to explore the end of earth. Nature was kind; his journey progressed uneventfully but sluggishly. He crossed the ocean, walked across the desert and overcame mountains and as was inevitable passed through the same spot from where he had begun his journey. It was a long time ago; things had changed during his sojourn. He could not recognize the place and said, "Deja Vu". We are like this man unaware, always asking, "What beyond that? What after then"? ad nauseum. Like Neti Neti*, these questions are absurd. There are no straight lines only warped space and warped time. The ends are seamlessly joined with the beginning like in a loop. We pass through same...

Ghalib / 26.02.2009

Readers would be well aware by now that there is always more to Ghalib than comes across at the first encounter – therein lies one aspect of his genius. In this week’s selection Ghalib addresses the issue explicitly: haiN kawakib kuchh nazar aatey haiN kuchh detey haiN dhokaa yeh baaziigar khulaa the stars/constellations are one thing and appear another These conjurers/tricksters trick/fool us openly At one level the meaning is obvious – things are not what they seem and we are being openly deceived. There are a few twists – Is Ghalib referring to the stars in the firmament or to the stars on earth and what exactly does the deception comprise of? These aspects are addressed in the companion commentary on Mehr-e-Niimroz. Here we presume that Ghalib is referring to the stars on earth and explore a tangential thought – to what extent are we complicit in our deception? This is...

Education, Religion / 23.02.2009

By FT and FoF This is an almost unedited record of an email exchange between a Fresh Teen (FT) and a Friend of the Family (FoF) spread over ten days (February 13-23, 2009). FT is educated in the leading convent school in Pakistan (established 1876). Her parents are both physicians with doctorates from England.  Friday, February 13, 2009 FoF: All the very best for the birthday tomorrow. Are you 14?  Saturday, February 14, 2009 FT:  Thanks!!! No, im 13. a fresh teen. FoF:  I read it first as frash been! Congratulations anyway for crossing the milestone. Now the hard slog begins. FT:  frash been!!!!!!??????? Why is it a hard slog??? FoF:  French beans in local language became distorted into frash been. Hard slog, because it is a long ways to go and your hair will turn white and your teeth will fall out by the time you are through!! FT:   well thats good to know!!!!! FoF: ...

Ghalib / 13.02.2009

This week we engage with a complex she’r by Ghalib in an attempt to understand how we know what we know:   az mihr taa bah zarrah dil o dil hai aaiinah tuutii ko shash jihat se muqabil hai aaiinah   from sun to sand grain, all are hearts; and the heart is a mirror the parrot is confronted from all six directions by a mirror   Given the complexity of this verse and the absence of punctuation in Urdu, numerous interpretations are possible. The reader is referred to Mehr-e-Niimroz to resolve some of these complexities.   From our perspective, the following are important in extracting the particular interpretation that we wish to present here:   Whether the break in the opening line comes after zarrah or after the first occurrence of dil. The knowledge that in Sufi thought there is a very close relationship between the heart and a mirror and the metaphor of...

Education / 10.02.2009

By Anil Kala   There is a celebrated episode in Mahabharata known as ‘Yaksh Prasn’ (Yaksh’s Queries) which culminates in this question:   Kim aashcharyam? (What is the most amazing thing?)   Yudhishthir answers that despite knowing the inevitability of death our incessant desire for immortality is the most amazing thing.   The answer seemed very impressive to me until one day I thought this is really silly. I realized that things said in a dramatic manner often escape critical scrutiny. For example, that our desire to live at every cost is the most natural thing and the crux of our existence; without it life will not last another day. Didn’t Buddha say, ‘Being born is cause of all our miseries’?  Therefore if there is no compelling desire to live why would anyone want to live? What seemed amazing though was the conduct of Yaksh Himself. This entity claiming to be a God, cursed...

Ghalib / 05.02.2009

The beauty of language and the art of wordplay determine this week’s selection from Ghalib:   laag ho to us ko ham samjheN lagaao jab nah ho kuchh bhii to dhokaa khaaeN kyaa   if enmity would exist, then we would consider it affection when nothing at all would exist, then how would we deceive ourselves?   In last week’s selection (Heaven Unto Hell), the word laag had appeared in one guise. This week Ghalib uses it in a completely contrary meaning and then pairs it with lagaao to create the beauty of opposites. One can’t resist the temptation to say: lage raho Munnabhai!   Mehr-i-Niimroz will delve further into this intricate facility with words. The meaning, on the other hand, is quite clear: any kind of relationship is better than indifference; even enmity from the beloved is preferable to no relationship at all.   What interpretation can one extract from this in the social context?   We can...

Ghalib / 31.01.2009

Even as I was writing about Pascal’s wager (On God: Existence and Nature), Ghalib’s words were echoing in my mind: taa’at meN taa rahe nah mai-o-angabiiN kii laag dozaakh meN Daal do koii le kar bihisht ko so that in obedience, the desire of wine and honey may not remain let someone take heaven and cast it into hell The question is quite obvious: What is the motivation to do the right thing or to act ethically? But, of course, this begs the prior question: What is right or ethical to start with? Ghalib’s position on the prior question is well known – he never placed much value on the rituals and gestures of propriety; for him it was always the sincerity of intent that mattered more. There is the constant contrast in Ghalib’s poetry between the genuineness of the Sufi and the hypocrisy of the Mullah. Here Ghalib is going a...