I am Karachi…

reimaginingReimagining Karachi is a heritage preservation initiative by Seedventures. It is an endeavour to restore Karachi to its former glory, prolong architectural and historical assets and rehabilitate old neighbourhoods around the city.

“Our dream was not just to start a conservation project; it was to create an environment where everyone joined hands to save these stone legacies and provide hope for the future. Reimagining Karachi is all about what we own, have overlooked for a long time and are now striving to protect and restore. What makes this project unique is the effort to bring together all the work that has been done separately so far, continue on with that and initiate and develop extensive, timely and focused programs to preserve and restore our glorious architecture. We strongly believe that this project should not be just about aesthetics, but should also have a direct and very strong impact on the environment, the economic, social and cultural activities in and around the historic areas.” – The Project Team

As part of this initiative, “two books titled Reimagining Karachi — Perspectives and Reimagining Karachi — Memories on the different historic facets of the city were launched” on May 25, 2015.  It is an honor to share my essay which was benevolently selected to be a part of Volume I.

I Am Karachi!

In a day and age when many find raising two children an uphill task, I raise book1nearly 24 million. Mothers age and grow
frail, becoming dependent on their children as time goes by.  I, on the other hand, grow stronger, with every passing day.

My children, many of my own, many whom I have adopted from all over, from the beautiful mountains of Kashmir, the valleys of Gilgit Baltistan, the northern beauties of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa & FATA, the lush green lands of Punjab, the beautiful plains of Balochistan, to the deserts of Sindh, all unite within me, weaving life in one of most beautiful symphonies.

re v IIFrom dawn to dusk, the children are doing what they do.  Some are at work, some at are play, some laze around doing nothing. There seem to be natural sources behind it all as it all starts and concludes each day.  While I house what may be the highest number of mendicants on the streets, I am home to the wealthiest as well.  I am often labeled very dangerous, yet I don’t lose the pull which keeps the influx in full swing.  I can’t turn away from the fact that my children die.  They die every day. Yet, Edhi, Cheepa, Adeeb, they too are my children, who give life to many.  All day, every day.

What is my identity? Who am I? I am all of my children. Nothing more, nothing less.

“A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.” – Dorothy C. Fisher

Within my own bounds, I try and make sure my children are provided the book2tools to become whatever they wish, offering a wide strata of primary, secondary, graduate and post graduate schooling under private and public set-up.  Knowing my children the way I do, some are just not cut out for formal education while others just don’t want to, I try to create an environment with the help of my other, established and educated children to help out and lead the way, either by coaxing them into formal education, or vocational training.  If that doesn’t work, there is always on-the-job training, which I do not endorse as it gives rise to exploitation of my young ones.  Nevertheless, I offer various opportunities, guides, mentors, should one choose to seize the opportunity.

It is a dream of every mother to see her children grow up and be independent.  Having such dreams for 24 million is quite a task in itself.  From a bricklayer to a Chief Executive Officer of a Bank, the opportunities are unlimited.  Each and every post, as important as another.  Ask the president of a bank how productive the day was when the tea-boy took off!

book3My children can’t be working and studying all the time.  That is just not possible.  So I make sure there is something for everyone.  There are Makkah and Medina, the Karahi places on the highway for those adventurous ones and the resilient truck drivers.  Then there are Sakura, Okra, Flo for the sophisticated ones.  The variety of food is unlimited.  Almost everything, not only from all parts of Pakistan but from around the world is available to satiate the venturesome desires of not only my children but their friends who are visiting from time to time.  Be it Kashmiri Chai, Chapli Kebab, Makai Ki Roti with Sarson Ka Saag, Sajji or simple, Karachi Broast, all is available in ample quanity. Tea at the dhaba or hi-tea at Asia Live, tea is a must for everyone for all my children.  At times I really wonder if it is blood or tea that runs in their veins.  They have come up with so many varieties of tea, I have actually lost count.  I just smile as they play along, from simple Kahva and Doodh Patti to Green, Mint, Orange, Lemon Grass, and the list goes on.  But tea is a must! And I make sure there is a perfect environment for each one of my children and their friends to enjoy tea.   The early morning Paratha, which now is served almost all day, to my dislike, as it once carried its own peculiar value being served early in the day only, is something few can turn away from.

My vast beaches offer the tranquility for the early risers.  As the sun starts to spread the gold over me, each morning,Faraz-Khan as if pouring life, one ray at a time, slowly, softly. From the beaches to farmhouses on the other end, an array of locations, once again, there is something for everyone, to make sure none of my children are unhappy.  From the Malls, to Sunday Bazaars, to parks, to stadiums, to bowling alleys, to cinemas, everyone has an outlet.  Various activities year around keep me alive which include but are definitely not limited to Food Festivals, Concerts, Carnivals, Circus, Road Shows, Car Shows, Shopping Festivals, and the list is far too long.  I offer a lot to do and see for my children between the beaches and the mountains and beyond.

reI have seen much extremism on my streets.  Extremism based on ethnicity, class, religions, sect, yet, my children are one of the most diverse group of individuals.  Belong to almost all colors of skin, all ethnicities, I am a mother of Urdu speaking, Baloch, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pakhtoon, Kashmiri, Shia, Sunni, Ahmedi, Hindu, Christian, Parsi, Atheist, and many more.  I am often presented as unwelcoming and dangerous, which may be so, situational, but it hurts me when situations are blown out of proportion for personal gains and vested interests.  I have Christians heading largest organizations, Parsis as CFOs, Memons leading the business community, Ahmedis in leading positions and there are many other such examples.  Yes, they are all my children.

Who am I? What is my culture? What is my religion? My ethnicity?

I am Karachi.  I am home to all.  My culture is your culture.  My ethnicity is your ethnicity.  My religion is your religion.

Come to Karachi.  Come home.

 

 

Sabeen Mehmud, A Human Par Excellence…

875557-SabeenMahmud-1429909478From April 24, 2015, till now, much has been said about an individual who was ruthlessly murdered in the streets of Karachi.  A city which has grown just too fond of bloodied streets.   During these seven days, Sabeen Mehmud, a human par excellence, has been put on a pedestal as high as the highest ranking angels, at the same time, dragged in mud, on the streets, completely denying the respect she warranted.

From a messiah to a foreign agent, from an elitist to a dervish, from a national asset to a threat, she has been labeled almost anything and everything during these past few days. What has been most perturbing is that those sharing extreme views about her, when asked if they knew her, responded “NO”.

Without referring to my personal affiliation with this individual who defined humanity, love, respect and a lot more, here is sketch of Saturday, 25th of April, 2015, outside T2F as a cross section of the society gathered to bid farewell to Sabeen Mehmud.  Perhaps that is what reflected best on who Sabeen was.

Sabeen was the men and women who drove to T2F that day in their fancy cars,Sabeen_Mahmud_smile-600x400 in most cases, driven by their chauffeurs.  They came as silently as the rest.  Amid the crowd, just like everyone else, they tried to locate someone they knew, said a few words and stood there with eyes welled-up.  The women made their way inside.  Sabeen was the men and women who rode in buses, took rickshaws and taxis, just to be there.  They too, walked up to T2F, silently, and stood there, saying nothing at all, yet saying it all.  Sabeen was the men and women who came along with security guards.  Sabeen was also the journalists, most of them were not there to cover the event.  They were there, just to be there.  Sabeen was also the professionals, the well established businesspersons and at the same time Sabeen was also the small shopkeepers, the vendors of the area, the tailor behind T2F.  Sabeen was almost everyone ranging from teenage to late 60s and 70s.  Sabeen was that one tumblr_nnden4yXWa1sd8vq8o1_500women, most probably in her late 40s, who wore a complete hijab and cried silently in the crowd.  And Sabeen was also this young female, who may have been in her late teens or early 20s, wearing a sleeveless shirt, with a tattoo, smoking away in the middle of the crowd, crying, very obviously and personally disturbed.  Sabeen was that man in the 70s wearing a prayer cap with a long beard, eyes wet with streaks of red, who kept reciting Kalma-e-Shahadat, silently as his lips quivered.  Yet Sabeen was also that young teenager with the funky hairdo, wearing a stud in the ear, crying, communicating his pain only through the look on his face.  Sabeen was also all the celebrities who had taken time out to be at the venue and Sabeen was also the people no one knew, but Sabeen did, and they knew Sabeen.

All throughout the hours that day, personal stories of how Sabeen had touched so many lives were pouring through the mumbles and whispers in the crowd, amid sheer pain.  One would find it difficult to understand or comprehend how was it possible for a single individual, ‘Sabeen Mehmud’, to be there for so many, so personally, to be a friend and to make the other feel to be the one and only best friend.

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This is who Sabeen was, is and will be.  The light.  The hope.  The enabler.  Sabeen was ‘all inclusive’. Her cause was ‘humanity’.

I have been in mourning for days, yes, due to a personal loss, but much more for a bigger reason.  A reason unfathomable.  I mourn for Pakistan.  I mourn for the world.  For Pakistan and the world is poorer today.

Live amongst people in such a manner

A life-changing tweet…

tweetAnum Batool, a person who I have befriended through Twitter (@anumb3), has made a special place for a very simple reason.  She has always come across a kind and caring soul.  Being a doctor by profession, she is probably one who would make a patient feel better just by her demeanor.

On March 7, 2015, at 4:11 pm, she shared an event on twitter which left an impression, not only on me but quite a few others.  The maid had brought sweets on the festive occasion of Aliya, her daughter’s graduation.  From that date and time, the following turn of events is shared with utmost pride and happiness.

timeline

From the very beginning, the fact that a maid, mopping and sweeping floors and washing clothes, putting in such great effort in her daughter’s education, had caught a lot of attention.  Many asked me who the person was who had contacted me for employment.  I wanted the world to know about this kind soul. Name However, since the entire conversation took place in a private message, I thought it was better to seek permission before revealing his identity.  The response I got increased my respect for the gentleman manifolds and for the organization as well.

While I request you all to remember Aliya in your prayers for a prosperous future, please also remember this kind person who chooses not to be known and for Anum Batool for making sure that a heroic deed was publically shared.  Volumes can be written on Aliya’s mother.

geo-tv-logoI have no words for Geo and its management for empowering the employees in such a way that they become such wonderful contributors to the society.  Thank you.

Before ending this, just a small message for those who become critical of tweets, facebook posts, etc…. you never know, you just never know.  Hence, keep updating, even if that is all you can do.

#ThankYouGeo #PakistanZindabad

Al Ajal…

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sahib uz zaman

By Ta Ha, by Ya Sin, by the ascension of Ahmad
By Ghadr, by Kawsar, by Paradise, by Tree of Tooba
By the Holy Revelation that is Quran
By the Torah of Moses and Gospel of Jesus
Let me be a king in my begging
A beggar amongst the beggars of Zahra
What nights have passes that Zahra has prayed
For us all to be Shia in love with the Master
Serving this Family is the reason and purpose for our creation by Allah
Now that your direction and commander is clear, do not hesitate and be free like the sea
That the world is not worth the loss of the hereafter
May we not be far from the Son of Zahra
And the transient life, youth and the worldly pleasures, is not worth the regret of the next world
If you passionately seek to be his follower
If you earnestly attempt to be his follower
If you place your honor in front of his feet
Surely, surely you have earned the title of follower
How many Friday mornings did you not have rest and how much you were moved by Dua Nudbeh
Did you assist in removing the sorrow from his heart, or did you increase the burden upon him like others
If you introduce one person to his cause, you become one of the leaders of his army
Did you cry from night to the raising of the sun? How much do you miss to be by his side?
Heart broken is your greatest reason, if you are restless, know you are a true follower
And the outcome of this restlessness is Paradise
A Paradise were its pleasure is to gaze upon him
The wind of generosity and the rain of mercy has descended upon us
May you never close your heart to the sights so clear
Of those who sell Yousuf so easily and cheap in this dark era
O’ Allah by the brightness of Mehdi, by the black distressed hair of Mehdi
By the gracious heart which is an ocean of pain, by the eyes filled with tears of sorrow
By the lips warm with the saying of O’Ali, O’ Ali, by his remembrance of his beloved Hussain and Hassan
By his benevolent hand and compassionate look, by the hope in the eyes of the beggars of Mehdi
By the supplication of his prayer, by the saying of “Glorious is Allah” of Mehdi
By his electrifying look and his black birth mark, by the graceful perfume of Mehdi
By his beautiful ceremony of hajj and his great and lofty position
By the Hejazi Quranic recitation of Mehdi
By the morning of Iraq and his evening in Damascus and his love towards Khorasan
By the lovers who gave their life on his path, by the sweet intuition of the martyrs of Mehdi
Make me permanently enthusiastic for him, may I be sacrificed for his separation
Grant to this undeserving servant
Make me the companion, confidant, follower of his journeys towards Khorasan, Syria and Iraq
O’ Mehdi, O’ Mehdi, assist me!

 

 

An open letter to the authorities… Whose side are you on?

February 21, 2015

Dear PM, CMs, MNAs, MPAs, COAS, Commissioners

Anyone else who is supposed to be interested in the ‘affairs of the State’ and the (sad) ‘state of affairs

I won’t get into too much of historical aspect, which is all too clear, and shall assume complete ignorance on the gravity of the situation.  This is the only way to ensure that the writer of this letter and those addressed are at the same level of understanding with respect to the issue being discussed.

In the recent past, we have witnessed a group known as Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) spewing venom against the Shia community.  Aurangzeb Farooqui has been seen vowing to ensure that survival for members of Shia community is made impossible in Pakistan.

Public gatherings are held where anti-Shia slogans are chanted, even in Islamabad, the federal capital of Pakistan.

A group of concerned citizens raise their voice against such atrocities followed by attack on an Imambargah in Shikarpur.  Sharmila Farooqui of Pakistan Peoples’ Party attends to the protesters outside the Chief Minister House ASWJ bannedand the visit is followed by agreements of cleaning of wall chalking in Karachi by banned outfits including ASWJ.  She also appears on television and confirms that ASWJ is a declared banned outfit in Pakistan.  On the following day, however, ASJW is found gathering in large numbers threatening the civil society and the state with great zeal and fervor, as if knowing no one can possible take any action.

Later that evening, the concerned citizens, raising their voice for peace and against terrorism and hatemonger are arrested as they continue to chant “Shia Sunni Bhai Bhai, Pakistan Zindabad” while those who threaten the civilians and the state are allowed to rally.  The lovers of peace continue to scream and shout from behind the bars and fight for their constitutional right.

open letterASWJ has now planned another rally in Islamabad, which has brought to the kind and unconcerned knowledge of the authorities by the concerned citizens, although it is really perturbing  to note that citizens are required to bring activities of banned outfit to the knowledge of the law enforcement agencies.

As a Pakistani, I demand answers to these questions:

  1. After looking at the videos in this piece, why are those asking for peace behind bars and those preaching hatred allowed to rally freely?
  2. Why are citizens required to bring anything to your attention? Is this a reflection of your incompetence?
  3. With such self-incriminating speeches, what else is required to take action?

MOST IMPORTANTLY…

  1. Whose side are you on?

Introspection…

media_47454_enIntrospection is the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings.  In psychology, the process of introspection relies exclusively on observation of one’s mental state, while in a spiritual context, it may refer to the examination of one’s soul.

Introspection, a faculty far too alien to most of us and much needed considering the overall fabric of our society.  The monumental challenges spread all over include but are not limited to overall values, health, education, religion, sectarianism, ethnicity, terrorism; the list is never ending and ever growing.  In this vociferous age with ‘agents of change’ growing in number, one may feel hopeful.  Pakistan is witnessing unprecedented number of protests, both in electronic form (on social media) and on the streets, quite often organized and mobilized on social media only. The number of petitions moved and participation in the same is rather impressive.  Protest calls by citizens for minorities (term used for reference although a more apt term would be ‘lesser Pakistanis’) and the subscription to the public display of rage and registration of concern is once again inspiring.

These petitions and protests have been perpetrated in response to societal issues with varying degree of impact.  Themask subjects have included but have not been limited to dilapidated state-run schools, failing public health system, promotion/protection of those employing children, inadequate water supply, apathy towards poor, culture of royal/VIP lifestyles at the cost of tax-payers, spreading of sectarian/religious hatred, etc.  And the number of voices, protests and intensity of the same is growing by the day.

With such developments, one would hope to witness some sort of abatement, arrest or some nuance of amelioration in any of the issues against which voices are raised.  As a citizen, the exact opposite is witnessed.  The incidents not only seem to be on the rise but the level of blatant shamelessness is of another level.  Ever wonder why?  The answer is fairly simple and much closer to home.

mask (1)While we are out fighting for justice, there is too much unjust at home which is conveniently overlooked.  How is it possible to be out there raising a voice against child labor and expect to make a difference while leaving own children with underage maids at home?  The food insecurity must be addressed.  Indeed a pressing issue which requires attention at all levels.  But let us not remind ourselves of the same while we spend thousands in restaurants.  Sectarianism and religious extremism are eating away the foundation of this country.  It is important to go out and raise our voices and register our protests.  But let us not spend time with our children and speak to them of peace and co-existence.  Prevalence of justice is considered the key to progression in any society.  By all means speak up on the streets and on social-media, take part92ee9a8126a15963006f42151f251898 in demonstrations, but when faced with an actual situation within the circle of family, friends, colleagues, stay away and make sure you don’t take a stand for what is right and just as it may get you in trouble and have an impact on your relationships, employment, livelihood, etc. We don’t bother to turn off the tap while shaving, but let’s take part in the demonstration for water conservation, shall we?  Simply put, we like to speak about the unlawful situation without missing a chance of running a red traffic light.

In so many ways, we all contribute to the issues and problems we raise our voice against, knowingly and unknowingly.  Who are we fooling? There are just too many of us on the “unjust” side.  There is no hope till this changes.

Time to introspect… We need to stop blaming others because they sin differently! Should we decide to take a stand for something, we need to own it and make sure we are not a party to it. That is the only way to ensure at least one less person contributing to the problem.

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Tribute to a kind soul, Sarfaraz M. Khan…

1896897_10153798515335705_1115363481_n530340_3662334803858_1377275877_nIt was during March of 2012 I came across a post regarding the “One Rupee Project” on Dr. Awab Alvi’s Facebook profile.  Who would have thought that post will turn into a priceless relationship with a man who I came to know as only @smkhan on Twitter and later on as Sarfaraz Bhai.

Our very first interaction away from cyberspace, that very first handshake, the embrace, the warmth and the feeling of belonging was palpable.  What attracted me to this man? Perhaps it was my own life’s shortcoming, missing that firm, warm embrace, handshake, sense of belonging, as a child with my father? I can’t really explain.  And then started a journey, not one of many interactions, meetings, outings, but one of confidence, trust, ability to reach out and discuss the wildest notions.

From March 2012, t552893_10150650477412546_105300623_no January 2015, Sarfaraz Bhai impressed me more with almost every passing day.  I found him to be exactly how I pictured a perfect father to be and not only that but a man of substance.  He spoke fondly of his family.  I am no one to 945660_10151899129745884_455338288_ncomment on his personal relationships but from what I observed in public sphere, it was almost one of the most impeccable composition of respect, love and friendship.  I often wondered how one could find the perfect distance to place oneself to be far enough to give space to the children, yet close enough to be the best of friends.  A dilemma faced by many parents.

73386_10152429584160585_197436241_nAt his age, he put me to shame many times.  Sarfaraz Bhai almost never missed any event or a get-together.  Not only that, he was actually at the forefront and planning for such meet-ups quite often.  The beauty of his being was, old and young, not a single person found the self out of place in his company for he was just that sort of a man.

Very seldom did he miss a chance to give back to the society and serve humanity.  “God-fearing” is a term which may have become clichéd over time.  Sarfaraz Bhai, however, was a walking definition of the term itself.  Reading the Quran was probably his favorite activity and I felt him taking10474731_10154816747150437_7512103612839353545_n
the essence of it to his heart and trying to implement it with every breath he took.  I, being a rebel in my thoughts, had long discussions over anything and everything and he, almost always reasoned and discussed much with me endlessly.  There were many instances where he would quote something in a tweet which would send me into a rage.  I would take it up with him off-line and he would just smile and his comment would be, “I was waiting to hear from you on that…” and our discussion would start.

1920032_10151881944752186_1293668908_nSarfaraz M. Khan, I know it is a fact that I am not the only one who feels what I have written here.  There is an old saying, “blood is thicker than water” and you proved it wronged.

Assalamoalaikum Sarfaraz Bhai, there is too much you said you will get back to me on, specially our discussion on “mother” and “motherhood” in light of religion.  Perhaps I shall have to seek certain answers on my own.

(Readers are requested to please offer Fateha/prayers for the departed soul and family/near ones)