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Some Very Important Considerations in Mind when Choosing

Some Very Important Considerations in Mind when Choosing

Retirement Planning for the UnwealthyExcellent post! Yes, the big potential cost for most people in their 80's and 90's is their care. As I work with my clients, who are primarily middle class, their consumption goes down dramatically in their later years, in my experience. They still have fixed costs, however most have paid off their homes, which was their largest expense. Also, they are just not getting around or are as interested in new purchases as they were at earlier stages in their life. They begin to enjoy life in a different way than they did in the past, and it generally involves less consumption. Clearly, more and more "retirees" are finding a place for work in their later years as well.I think many of the growth estimates used by financial planners of retirees' consumption needs are way off base. They use simplistic assumptions that do not factor in the behavior of real people. They are also used to sell products to the consumer. (After 17 years of working at a large broker/dealer which promoted this approach, it was way past time to get out and work as flat fee only advisor and give up my licenses.)The big cost, and big risk, is needing expensive care. If it happens, then an individual will experience a massive increase in their expenses. This, instead of their lifestyle, is the real threat to their wealth.This is a brilliant question, I am sure I am not the only one except the author who has this question in mind. I m quite impressed the way the author has explained everything. Thanks for sharing.This is fascinating information. Do you know if there are updated numbers? These look like they are from 2005 and I wonder if there has been any significant changes.Google David Blanchett, The True Cost of Retirement. BLOG_CMT_createIframe('https://www.blogger.com/rpc_relay.html');



older | 1 | .... | 5 | 6 | (Page 7) | 8 | 9 | .... | 502 | newer As a Scottish-Pakistani journalist who has lived in Palestine, I have suffered my fair share of prejudice and stereotyping, ranging from being called a Paki-terrorist to a haggis-eating Scot who prays for the demise of England. However, nothing prepared me for the recent Twitter war I got caught up in, simply for using the hashtag  #GazaUnderAttack.On day one of Operation Pillar of Defense, live updates were not only coming in from the BBC or CNN, but also from so-called citizen journalists — individuals tweeting from the ground. As Israeli F-16s fired rockets into the densely populated Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) decided to pre-empt worldwide condemnation over its Gaza offensive by aggressively pushing out its version of events.The IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) employed young Israeli keyboard warriors, who posted round-the-clock updates on Facebook and Twitter. Not to be outdone, Hamas (@AlQassamBrigade) fired back with their own tweets publicising its rocket and mortar attacks, which it called “Operation Shale Stones”, resulting in the world’s first social media war.“From today the IDF is biggest army on twitter @IDFSpokesperson,” came a tweet from 26-year-old Sacha Dratwa — a snowboarding Belgian-Israeli who runs the IDF’s social media desk.  Hamas shot back with, “@SachaDratwa @IDFSpokesperson Really, but sorry you have been defeated in Tel Aviv few hours ago? How come you are the biggest army on Twit?”By employing social media and media sharing websites like, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, Israel broadcast their version of the events directly to the public, as opposed to speaking solely through the media. Israel’s attacks had sparked international condemnation and people had taken to Facebook and Twitter to voice their views and vent their anger. Similarly, those outraged by Hamas rocket attacks retaliated with a hashtag war. Soon it turned into a popularity contest between #PrayForGaza and #PrayForIsrael. Fellow “tweople” as they are known, were giving live updates on both sides, hours before stories even hit the mainstream news outlets. I barely read or watched the news during Operation Pillar of Defense and heavily relied on tweople in Palestine for information, due to the fact that I believed that the mainstream media was biased in its reporting of Israel-Palestine conflict. Take the BBC for example, which reported: “Three Israelis have been killed by rocket-fire from Gaza, where 13 Palestinians have died in Israeli air strikes,” it was clear that impartiality didn’t exist.As the cyber-war reached a fever-pitch, it started spilling out in to the sidelines and Pro-Israeli trolls jumped in and began systematically harassing and abusing those siding with Gaza.“In the name of humanity, how can you justify killing an 11-month-old baby boy. #GazaUnderAttack,” I tweeted referring to a BBC journalist’s young son who was killed by Israeli air strikes. The response I got was shocking.“Arabs are the biggest killers, they should be cleansed from the world,” tweeted one troll. “You Paki Arabs deserve to die! #Israelunderattack.”Another troll even decided to pull out statistics. “Theres 1billion Muzlim [sic] who only one 6 Noble Prizes compared to 146 Jews. Tells you that Muzlim are stupid peaple.”Rather than get angry, I decided to point out that his statistics really did not help his argument. I also commented on his terrible grammar, which led to more abuse.“@zabmustefa if calling me a nazi means hoping all palestinian die, then ok I’m a nazi #IsraelForever.”Alongside news and updates, the IDF also posted YouTube videos, graphic images and infographics and encouraged their followers to like and share these with their own followers. Within minutes of the strike that killed Ahmed al-Jaabari, the Hamas militant wing leader, the IDF posted a video of his car exploding on YouTube. Other clips tried to counter claims that civilians were being targeted by the IDF, one animated clip even depicted Hamas fighters firing rockets from a school which clearly displayed a UN logo.All this was to support IDF accusations that Hamas was using human shields and storing weapons in civilian houses, schools and media buildings. “Warning to reporters in Gaza: Stay away from Hamas operatives & facilities. Hamas, a terrorist group, will use you as human shields,” tweeted the IDF.Responding to @IDFSpokesperson, I asked if all 1.7 million people in Gaza were Hamas terrorists.“Arabs use kids as suicide bombers to kill Israelis. They are the real terrorists you dirty Paki liar,” was one response.“Soon we will kill all your khanzeer (pig) children. I will cheer when they kill more in Gaza,” said another“u need a drink [sic] oh I forgot Muslims don’t drink,exept the blood of other nations.pls RT.”The trolls started to report and “flag” my tweets about Gaza, which led to an automatic suspension of my account. Ironically I wasn’t the one using hate speech and so I was back up and running within an hour.Then came the far-right English Defense League (EDL) trolls, spewing obscenities about Islam, telling me how I belonged to an inbred race and calling for the death of all Muslims.“Nuke Gaza! The world needs less Muslims! #EDL,” tweeted one EDL troll.I asked if I should find him a local Nazi group to join. Mocking EDL trolls was entertaining as they eventually wallowed in their own stupidity, but I began to worry as the number of trolls spewing hate speech started increasing. The final straw came on the seventh day of Israel’s attacks. A previously blocked Israel troll made a new fake account, @pakizabmustefa with a profile picture of a headless pig, wrapped in a kuffiyeh (Arab scarf), and vowed that he would get Mossad to hunt me down. Reporting a “tweet crime” to the London Metropolitan Police was a bizarre experience. To start with, both police officers didn’t have any idea about Twitter, so I had to explain tagging, profiles and how it works. After filing a report, I was informed that their internal “cyber abuse” department would be taking it from there.As Israel and Hamas finally agreed on a ceasefire, the hashtag battle also began to die down along with the trolling. In the eight days of Operation Pillar of Cloud, I lost count of how many times I was called a Paki-Arab on Twitter.  The fighting may have ended for now, but it’s clear that any future war will not just be waged with rockets and fighter planes, but also hashtags and twitpics.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 2nd, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag The Israeli Lobby. It is a term that brings up images of an entity of near-mythic strength that seems to influence all branches of US policy and has an inside track to prominent US politicians, whether Republican or Democrat. It is credited with the power to make or break Presidents and dictate US foreign policy. Unaccountable and impossible to fight, it is seen in Pakistan and in large parts of the Muslim world as the driving force behind the United States’ pro-Israel stance.It is in fact not a monolithic entity, and comprises of many separate lobbies, the most powerful of which is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is considered to be the most powerful lobbying group in the United States (see The Lobby List).From 1982 to 1986, MJ Rosenburg was editor of the AIPAC’s Near East Report, a biweekly publication on Middle East Policy. Since then, he has held the position of Director of Policy ysis for Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan group that lobbies for a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue and has also worked as a fellow for Media Matters for America, a media watchdog group.Once a supporter of Israel’s policies, Rosenburg is now a staunch supporter of peace between Palestine and Israel and holds AIPAC and the right-wing Israeli lobby responsible  for not only distorting American policy, but also plunging Israel and Palestinians into a seemingly never-ending conflict.In an exclusive interview, The Express Tribune Magazine spoke to him about the role of AIPAC, and how left-wing Jews like him believe that AIPAC has harmed US politics. The interview was conducted in two parts — as the November war between Gaza and Hamas in November took place, and a few days after the ceasefire agreement was agreed to.For Rosenberg, there were two defining moments that led to his split with AIPAC. The first came when he witnessed the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin shake hands with Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat on the grounds of the White House in 1993.“I was at the White House lawn and [the handshake] indicated to me that the conflict was over,” says Rosenberg in a telephonic interview. Two years later, Rabin was assassinated by the Jewish extremist Yigal Amir at a rally held in support of the Oslo accords and it seemed as if the peace process died with him.“The final breaking point was when the Camp David negotiations of 2000 collapsed,” says Rosenberg, adding that “the nature of Ehud Barak’s statements made after the collapse of the talks between him and Arafat,” made it clear that Rabin’s dream of peace did not outlive him.ET: What makes AIPAC so influential in US politics?Rosenberg: It is important to understand that American politics is entirely governed by money. Presidential campaigns cost billions of dollars and its primarily the Democrats who rely on the Jewish donors for the money to run their campaigns. Republicans can afford to rely on big business, and have all kinds of billionaires making sizable campaign contributions. They don’t need the pro-Israel crowd as much as the Democrats do. And what the Democrats seem to believe is that every Jew who gives money to President Obama is giving it to support Netanyahu — that’s not true. Jews are liberals, and always have been, even before there was an Israel. What AIPAC has done is to convince the Democrats and Obama that the reason he got 72 per cent of the Jewish vote is because he supports Netanyahu. Now if the US had public financing, and if political campaigns were paid for by taxpayers, you would see Congress and Obama taking a different position. It’s all about the money.ET: How do you think AIPAC viewed this current conflict? There are reports coming out that the US will block the UN resolution on Gaza?Rosenberg: I think AIPAC, and more importantly rich donors associated with AIPAC, are on the phone with the State Department and the National Security Council and with members of Congress to make sure the US blocks the resolution.I think that this war, is going to help convince the people of Israel to think that this [approach by Israel] is only going to lead to the next war, and the yet another war. And in every encounter, the Palestinians are getting stronger. Who would be believed they had rockets that could reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? Next time they’ll have guided missiles. This is not what the Israeli people want. Netanyahu is desperate to get a ceasefire because the Israeli people are going to start turning on him. Within the next few years, Israel is going to have to deal with whomever the Palestinians choose as their representative. Public opinion polls say that the number of people supporting Israel in this war is much lower than before. Less than half of the Democrat voters supported Israel this time around.Unfortunately, many innocent people are going to die before this realisation takes hold. There has to be some kind of arrangement before the round of conflict. I don’t know what that’s going to be but ultimately Israelis and Palestinians will have to live together, and I think that can be done. Sadly, the leadership to advance that idea is not there, and certainly not on the Israeli side. Hamas would like to achieve a long-term ceasefire, but Israel may not want that. If the Gaza blockade is ended, if Israel stops its targeted assassinations in Gaza, and Hamas stops shooting rockets into southern Israel you will have a true and total ceasefire. I think that’s a good enough situation for now. But anything less than that, and especially if Israel is going to maintain its blockade of Gaza all it will get in return is missiles.ET: There has been a lot of talk about a war between Israel and Iran. What do you think is AIPAC’s role in that?Rosenberg: AIPAC will push for a war with Iran, it is obsessed with the idea. In light of the Gaza attack, it can go one of two ways: One is that they’ll look at how different this (the Gaza conflict) was and think: “We’ve used up all the goodwill, and we can’t do another war”. Or, it’ll be: “Look at how President Obama backed us 100 per cent without any criticism; we can get away with anything.” At this point I think Obama’s view on Israel is: “I’m giving you Gaza, so don’t attack Iran.” I thought he knew what side he was on, that he stood for peace and security. I may have been wrong.ET: Why haven’t other people like yourself been able to be an effective opposing voice to AIPAC?Rosenberg: There aren’t so many of us. You have a situation whenever people like me, whenever there’s a war, they line up behind Israel with very few exceptions. The lobby group J Street is for peace, but they go to solidarity rallies for Israel as well. It’s a fallcy to think that Congress listens to Jews, because many Jews don’t support Netanyahu. The only people Congressmen really listen to are wealthy AIPAC donors. All that really counts in money, and not just in this issue. Every issue is determined by which side has how much money.ET: Then how does J Street differ from AIPAC?Rosenberg: It differs in the fact that J Street prefers a two-state solution and is pushing Israel for a negotiation. The difference between J Street and AIPAC is that J Street prefers pushing both sides towards a two-state solution. AIPAC favours the status quo, AIPAC and the Israeli right feels that the last war wasn’t won, and that there are ways to win it this time. So there is a significant difference. In J Street’s heart it wants peace from the conflict, and AIPAC doesn’t. But they can only be effective if President Obama is interested in what they have to say. It’s possible that Obama has come to his senses on this.ET: Since we last spoke, there has been a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. What do you think about the agreement?Rosenberg: First of all it is a bit ambiguous as to how it was achieved. It appears that President Obama and Secretary Clinton joined with President Morsi and put pressure on the Israelis. If that narrative is true and it holds, it’s a significant shift in the US. Also, this was a recognition of Hamas. I don’t want to be overly optimistic as to whether this indicates a shift in American policy as it’s too early to know for sure.We have to see what happens at the United Nations when the Palestinian Authority asks on November 29 for observer status. If the US says it’ll cut off aid if it asks for observer status then nothing has changed. We’ll know over the course of this week — it could be a significant shift.One thing that is clear is that the Israeli right-wing and Jewish right in the US are very unhappy about the ceasefire in general. An indication of this is the contrast between the cheering and dancing in Gaza City, and the quiet in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.This is not what [the Israeli right] wanted. Israel initiated this war, when you initiate a war, you want a victory. Instead what they got is this. All along, they could’ve had a deal with Hamas: end the blockage and target assassinations, and in exchange Hamas would stop shelling Israel — they could’ve had all of that without this war.And this is going to hurt Netanyahu, but it remains to be seen to what extent. The main thing is that the AIPAC crowd is miserable, and Jews like me are very happy about the ceasefire, even though we are sad about the loss of life.ET: How is it that AIPAC is able to influence foreign policy to the extent to possibly damaging the US?Rosenberg: Well, they do in fact damage the US, but they claim to believe and they have made most of Congress believe that whatever Israel benefits from, benefits the US. To wit: if it’s good for Israel, it’s good for the US. And it’s very cynical, but that’s the line that they sold Congress. As far as members of Congress are concerned, they are less concerned about national security and more about campaign financing.ET: If the status quo continues, where do you see Israel in five years?Rosenberg: If this continues I see Israel engulfed in Intifada in five years time. It would not just be a war with Gaza, but with the West Bank as well. And if it continues for five years, the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship will join in as well and it just won’t be sustainable for Israel. For many years Palestine expected nothing, but that has now changed.Israelis won’t put up with it for five years despite their hawkishness and even now certain Israelis may have started seriously thinking about an Israeli initiative in exchange for peace. I don’t see a viable peace anytime soon, but it could happen. Rockets landing on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv changed a lot, and the next time will be worse. Hizbullah has tens of thousands of missiles and there could be one gigantic Intifida that involves all Palestinians and Hezbollah as well. What I pray for is that Israelis come to their senses, like Yitzak Rabin did.Israel lobbies and activist groupsThe American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a powerful lobbying organisation that exerts considerable influence in the legislative and executive branches of the American Federal Government.Supported by an estimated 100,000 supporters from all political parties, AIPAC aims to improve relations between America and Israel, and since its founding in 1953 has grown to become one of the most powerful and controversial lobbyist groups in the United States.It frequently urges sanctions against countries seen to be actively anti-Israel and also works to secure foreign aid to Israel.Americans for Peace Now (APN) was established in 1981 to mobilise support for the Israeli peace movement, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), and has since developed into the most prominent American Jewish, Zionist organisation working to achieve a comprehensive political settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) was formed in September, 1996 by Julia Caplan, Julie Iny and Rachel Eisner.It is a United States Jewish organisation which describes itself as “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights to support the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination.”JVP seeks “an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem” and opposes Israel Defence Forces operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and supports Israeli refuseniks.The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is an international non-governmental organisation based in the United States. Describing itself as “the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency”, the ADL states that it “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all,” doing so through “information, education, legislation, and advocacy.”Historically, the ADL has opposed groups and individuals it considered to be anti-Semitic and/or racist, including: Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin(leader of the Christian Front), the Christian Identity movement, the German-American Bund, neo-Nazis, the American militia movement and white power skinheads (although the ADL acknowledges that there are also non-racist skinheads). The ADL publishes reports on a variety of countries, regarding alleged incidents of anti-Jewish attacks and propaganda.J Street is a nonprofit liberal advocacy group based in the United States whose stated aim is to promote American leadership to end the Arab–Israeli and Israel–Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. It was founded in April 2008.J Street describes itself as a pro-Israel organisation, which supports peace between Israel and its neighbors. Some Israelis, including several public figures, have said that J-Street is anti-Israel, particularly in relation to key challenges facing the Jewish state. Several US Jewish leaders have expressed reservations about J Street’s position on Israel, and some have publicly disassociated themselves from the organisation.J Street states that it “supports a new direction for American policy in the Middle East — diplomatic solutions over military ones”, “multilateral over unilateral approaches to conflict resolution”; and “dialogue over confrontation” with wider international support.The American Jewish Committee (AJC) was established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews concerned with pogroms aimed at Russian Jews.The organisation’s mission statement is “to safeguard the welfare and security of Jews in the United States, in Israel, and throughout the world; to strengthen the basic principles of pluralism around the world, as the best defense against anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry; to enhance the quality of American Jewish life by helping to ensure Jewish continuity and deepen the ties between American and Israeli Jews.”Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 2nd, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag “Those of us who are in this world to educate — to care for — young children have a special calling: a calling that has very little to do with the collection of expensive possessions but has a lot to do with the worth inside of heads and hearts. In fact, that’s our domain: the heads and hearts of the next generation, the thoughts and feelings of the future.” — FRED M ROGERSIt would be perfectly believable if Dr Adeeb Rizvi had himself said these words, for he is indeed striving, and successfully accomplishing, exactly that. The renowned kidney specialist and founder of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplant (SIUT), has committed himself to not only treating kidney and liver patients for free, but to in fact create a generation of compassionate and socially responsible young men and women through a vigorous student volunteer programme that he conducts at his hospital.How successful is he in achieving this lofty goal? Well, take for example Mohammad Ali, who was in the first batch of this programme six years ago and has since then been promoted to the position of ‘Captain,’ supervising new volunteers.“Simply getting up early in the morning felt like a task on the first day of work at SIUT. Cleaning bathrooms and sweeping floors was awful, and I really wasn’t fond of kids,” he says, admitting that he was least bothered by anyone’s troubles as long as they did not affect him or his loved ones. “Now after six years, I ask for more work, decorate the Paediatrics Ward and don’t even hesitate to change the nappies of minor patients.”The student volunteer programme was initiated in 2006, and so far 3,000 students in 150 batches have completed the course. Volunteers, divided into groups of ten and supervised by ‘captains’ and ‘co-captains’ (former volunteers who have become regulars), are required to buy lab coats that allow them entry into wards, operation theatres, dialysis rooms and out-patient departments. Serving in various wards and cleaning is mandatory.Volunteers are given an orientation on Nursing, Gastroenterology, General Infection, Cardiology, Patient Care, Radiology and diabetes by senior doctors, who even let them observe kidney transplant surgeries and offer Q&A sessions. Recently, the syllabus was updated to include information about the organ donation law in Pakistan and bioethics. Altogether, it’s 30 hours of lectures and activities spread over five days.At the end of this exercise, each volunteer is awarded a certificate and a first aid box in the closing ceremony, while their proud parents look on. And as a token of gratitude, the volunteers present flowers to their mentors.Ceremony aside, sometimes emotions also get the better of the volunteers as they reflect on what they have learned at SIUT. That was certainly the case with Sakina, a graduating volunteer who tearfully declared, “Thank you mother for sending me to SIUT, because what I learned here no one can teach. I thank Allah who blessed me with health, wealth, happiness and love, and even if I bow to Him a million times, I won’t be able to thank Him enough. I guess the only way I can do that is by helping those less fortunate.”Sakina isn’t the only one who’s gone through what can only be termed a life-changing experience. It’s quite an experience to see volunteers come in on the first day, chatting with each other and texting on their state-of-the-art cellphones. With their branded clothes and styled hair, it’s clear that they’re only there to fulfill a school requirement. But in just a day or two, the lab coat they are required to wear seems to work its magic: they are transformed and are seen washing bathrooms, sweeping floors and taking care of patients without hesitation.The brainchild of Dr Rizvi himself, the student volunteer programme aims to induct impressionable minds and groom them with stern discipline so that they treat patients with care and dignity. Kishwer Zehra, Chairperson at the Resource Generation Office, says theirs is a purely philanthropic initiative in which both the volunteers and the patients benefit. Where many other organisations simply look to the bottom line, it’s clear that no one here is in it for the money.For this reason, the SIUT has found support from various schools, both private and government-run, which have made the programme a part of their own curriculum. The Foundation Public School, for instance, “requires its 9th and 10th graders to participate in the programme,” says Yasmeen Minhas, the school’s founder principal, and at the end they are rewarded with certificates and additional marks.The programme not only has humanitarian value, it also imparts practical training to school children and educates them about medical issues and procedures in a way that other hospitals offering volunteer programmes do not. “We have designed a course in which they learn [how to extend] moral help, learn how to coordinate between doctors and patients and also learn first aid,” says Kishwer apa, as she is affectionately called at the SIUT, an organisation she has been associated with since 1972. For her, watching often spoiled students transform into caring individuals is proof of a job well done.Take the example of one volunteer who says, “According to my friends and mother, I was an extremely impatient and rude person. I never thought of cleaning even my own room, and for me poverty was associated with our house maids and servants only. But here I weep every day and can’t stop my tears from coming when I see such helpless people who don’t have money, health or, most importantly, love in their lives.”Then there’s the grandmother who thought her grandson had things too easy in life and had never learned responsibility. Until he volunteered at the SIUT, that is. Now, she says, “he gives me medicines regularly and often checks on me during the night. He polishes his shoes himself and doesn’t allow our servants to do his errands for him.”Principal Minhas is also all praise for the positive changes she has seen in her own students. “A group of students used to regularly terrify and play tricks on the school gatekeeper. But once they were back from their volunteer programme, they starting giving him relief during home time by taking over his position at the school gate and monitoring the kids. That way, the guard is be able to say his prayers and eat.”There is even a visually impaired volunteer, Zainab, who croons popular melodies, accompanied by a keyboard player, to entertain children at the colorful Paediatrics Ward. “Echak dana peechak dana… Aaj main ooper, asman neechay… I sing and dance with them,” she says. “The best part is when they respond to me even in a state of pain and grief. I can’t see but, it gives me immense pleasure when I feel they are happy.”Of course, there has been some resistance from certain students when they are asked to perform menial tasks. Once, at the start of the session, a boy who had been told to mop the floor stood up in protest. “You don’t know where I come from and who my father is,” he said angrily. “If he sees me doing this, he’ll be really angry.” He was asked to quit the programme, which he did, but only to return and complete the course. The second time around there was no complaint.It’s not easy to change the hearts and minds of a generation of privileged young people, who have largely been raised in the comforts of their homes and schools, far away from the gritty realities of life.But no matter how short Dr Adeeb Rizvi’s programme may be, this small window into what life on the other side of the tracks looks like, a life without health or wealth, has certainly instilled a realisation among student volunteers that being privileged means they owe a lot more to the less fortunate.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 9th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake up in the day to find out that it was illusion. But the dreamers of the day I talk about are three thrill-seeking men and a woman, for when they opened their eyes, they acted upon their dream and made it possible.Our dream was to trek to the Hushe village, beyond Gondogoro La — which at a towering 5,940 metres is one of the world’s highest mountain passes — and we chose the most unconventional route to do so.True to the spirit of people possessed by their dreams, we treaded the path less travelled that would take us to the pass in the shortest possible time. It took us seven days via Skardu, instead of the usual 10 days via the Concordia route, to reach our destination. It is the point where we would be able to get a view of the second-highest point on earth — the magnificent K2 — which is not visible from any other point.The road to one’s dreams is never easy and it took us one full year to plan out ours. Most of our colleagues from the trekking community told us not to do it. They said their apprehension came from our choice of route but we could tell that that wasn’t their only worry: a woman was heading the trek and most of them considered that to be a disadvantage to the team. Little did they know that having a woman leader is a blessing, because our leader did not feel the need to go ahead with something potentially dangerous just to prove a point and would think every decision through. As thrilling as it is, trekking can also be life-threatening and the kind of leader in whose hands you would want to put your life, should be one who doesn’t believe in unnecessary risks.In July 2011, our group of four was ready to go. We chalked out our daring plan for the next seven days, gathered our resources, pulled up our socks and, anti-climactically, ended up taking a detour!We could have taken a 55-minute plane ride from Islamabad to Skardu instead of wasting a-day-and-a-half on the Karakoram Highway but thanks to Pakistan International Airlines, the only airline that flies to Skardu, the flight was cancelled and we ended up going by road.Already a little behind on our schedule, we decided to relax our muscles for a day in Skardu, where the 1,982-metre height difference from Islamabad was a welcome change. We were in for some serious physical exhaustion in the coming days so we thought it best to get some rest.With mounds of luggage packed and loaded on to jeeps, the four of us and our guides and porters set off for Hushe, the highest valley of the Ghangche district of northern Pakistan at 3,050 metres, located 140 kilometres east of Skardu.We were the only Pakistani group headed in the other direction on Askoly Road that leads to Askoly and then, through the Baltoro Glacier, onto Concordia, where four of the world’s 14 ‘Eight-thousanders’ (peaks higher than 8,000m) are located.We were close to both our destinations now — the Gondogoro La, which connected Concordia and upper Baltoro to Hushe valley, and then the valley itself.Enroute to Hushe, we drove through sand dunes and crossed the Shigar valley to enter Khaplu, which used to be a geographically significant kingdom of Polulu in ancient times. Our jeeps climbed up to 3,250m that day via Kande and Nangma valleys (notable for Amin Brakk and Iqbal Top) and dropped us to the ever-smiling Hushe village which is the home to Masherbrum, the world’s 22nd highest peak.The next morning we finally began the trek that had taken such extensive planning. Taking in the glorious views of the “Queen of the Peaks” Mount Masherbrun (K1), we reached a point known as Saitcho (3,600m) which is a sort-of base camp for the Hushe Valley trek.At Saitcho, we saw the breathtaking Namika (6,325m) and Baltistan K6 (7,292m) and K7 (6,934m) peaks of Hushe and Shyok valleys and the Masherbrum mountains. From here on, we hiked continuously to Gondogoro campsite (3,853m) and Golong under the shadows of Masherbrum.Then we faced a steep descent to what is known as the Gondogoro Glacier. There were no footsteps from previous trespassers, which is not surprising given that there is no trail at all. Carefully, we scrambled through the glacial surface, fighting fears of continuous rock falls. It took us 35 minutes to cross the glacier and another hour to reach the lush green campsite of “Field of Flowers” Dalsangpa (4,150m).Close by stood the Masherbrum Pass, notorious for being so difficult that it has been climbed only a couple of times. If there were questions in our minds about why the pass had such a reputation, the two to three roars of avalanches we heard along the pass during our overnight stay answered them all.Thankfully, we did not have to cross the pass, and that thought probably helped us sleep for a few hours without too many nightmares.From Dalsangpa onwards, one begins to easily feel the “paranoia of 4,000 m” and all of us were feeling that when we restarted our trek at 4 am the next day. It was still quite dark and it set the stage for the next two-and-a-half-days when we didn’t see any sun at all.The further we hiked, along with the sunlight all colours deserted us as well. We had stepped into the kingdom of wilderness, emptiness and rock-ice. There were glaciers everywhere with the Masherbrum Pass in the background. We kept on walking, tripping and slipping on our way, across the moraine and glacial debris.It felt as if the temperature was falling with every metre we walked and the icy haze just kept becoming more and more dense, forcing us to put on all our layers of inner and outerwear. We were amazed at the drop in temperature, as our research had shown that the area does not experience such extreme weather during the month of July.After crossing many a hidden crevasse and jumping over wide glacial spaces, we were ready to take a break and treated ourselves to our life’s most expensive 1.5-litre bottle of Coke. Yes, Coke is available in the middle of the mountains — albeit at a whopping price of Rs735 and that too for an expired one — at a small shop of the rescue team. Pressed for an option, as all other available drinks were expired as well, we paid up.As we moved towards Khuspang, the gorgeous Laila Peak was in the background. During normal weather conditions, the peak can be viewed easily, but given the harsh climate we were facing, every rock that we tried to lean against to relax and take in the view was too frozen to allow us even a moment of rest. The continuous rain wasn’t helping our cause either. Eventually, robed like Eskimos and with aching limbs, we finally found our way to the Khuspang campsite.Khuspang, which is the last camping ground before the gateway to Concordia known as the “Throne Room of the Mountain Gods”, was covered in pitch-dark clouds and thick mist. By evening, raindrops had transformed into bits of snow and the temperature, which had remained consistently cold until then, dropped suddenly to -14 degrees Celsius. Given the extremely low temperature, we decided to stop laughing, talking, eating or even moving around too much because any air that we exhaled would turn into snow powder almost instantly!The next day, however, we woke up determined to acclimatise ourselves to the altitude and weather conditions regardless of how severe they got. Our plan was to leave Khuspang at 9 pm and, over the next 10 to 12 hours, hike up roughly 1,200m to the top of Gondogoro La.Our technical gear, like crampons, was out and being fixed onto our boots. But all of us were quite worried about the drastically changing weather conditions. Visibility was zero and it was tough to see any of the high mountains surrounding Khuspang. Given the conditions, we even wondered if we should we postpone our plan.To arrive at a final decision, we approached a member of the Gondogoro Rescue Team who updated us through radio communication that due to the bad weather, a team attempting the Gondogoro La trek from the Concordian side via the Ali Camp had gotten stuck some hours ago. It was nearly impossible even to attempt Gondogoro La from either side, he told us.Slightly discouraged, we decided that we would make another attempt only if the weather would be clear the next day. Hoping to get some sleep, we played Kishore Kumar’s timeless “Jeevan ke din chotay sahi” to drown out the scary sound of avalanches.Luck, however, was not on our side and we were in for an unpleasant surprise the next morning. As we expectantly unzipped our tents and looked out, we were stunned to see that the campsite was completely inundated with snow almost a foot deep. In that pristine view of white everywhere, we saw nature in all its ferocity; Laila Peak was veiled in white and Fairy Castle Peak hid itself in a patch of dark clouds.Never in history had Khuspang experienced such heavy snowfall in the peak of the summer season and no trekker whose account is available has ever seen Khuspang covered in snow. For us, however, it was the last nail in the coffin for our plans of trekking towards Gondogoro La as the weather reports for the next few days were even worse.With heavy hearts, we bade goodbye to the one that had haunted our dreams for many a nights. Our wish to see K2 from atop the Gondogoro La would have to be fulfilled another time, and in that failure, we felt the divine presence and bowed our heads. Each one of us was having a personal conversation with God.If the farewell ritual was emotional, the return to Hushe was even more dramatic. Covering almost two stages a day, we returned to Skardu and proved that the human body might have its limitations but the human spirit is invincible. We had learnt that courage doesn’t always roar; sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow”.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 9th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag When you think of Brazil, the first things that come to your mind are football, the feisty Carnival of thousands parading to the beats of samba, beautiful beaches and even more beautiful women.Some may even be reminded of Lula — the former Brazilian president who was once called “the man” by his North American counterpart, Barack Obama, for his brazen everyman style (thanks to his frequent tirades against “western imperialism” to his refusal to honour Zionism to a conciliatory approach towards Iran). Most recently, Brazil has been creating a buzz in the world financial market with its booming economy. Riding on this wave of optimism, the fact that the South American country will host, in less than two years, the Fifa World Cup, and in 2016 the Olympic Games, adds a ‘cherry on top of the cake’ for the upbeat Brazilians.With so many things going on — and so well — for the country, the state of Brazil has been cautious, perhaps understandably so, in designing its foreign policy and reacting to geopolitical affairs in the Middle East. Brazil’s foreign policy regarding the Arab Spring, especially Syria, has been, at best, muted.But this is where foreign policy ysts are sceptical of the wisdom of this stance: if Brazil wants to shed its ‘developing country status’ and beat other BRIC countries in achieving a ‘world superpower’ status, it will have to be more visible and outspoken in international affairs, particularly those of the Middle East.When the Arab Spring began in December 2010, Brazil may not have gauged the gravity of the situation in the region, and failed to condemn dictators like Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, or Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.“The foreign ministry of Brazil stumbled badly,” Marcelo Coutinho, a professor of International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, wrote for an influential local newspaper a couple of months back. “In a hundred years, the history books will speak of events that changed a core part of the world. Brazil will appear in a footnote on the wrong side of these transformations.”Paulo MalufPresident Dilma Rousseff, who assumed office in January 2011, has strongly held on to the principle of non-intervention, whether it was in the wake of Qaddafi threatening to wipe Benghazi from the map or Assad bombarding cities across Syria. She seems to have taken a more conservative approach to foreign policy matters than her outspoken predecessor Lula. Speaking at the opening session of the 67th United Nations General Assembly meeting in September, Dilma reiterated that the solution to the Syrian crisis could never be a military one, but “had to be negotiated and achieved through peaceful means.” She blamed the thousands of deaths over the 20 months of conflict on both the Syrian government and the opposition.Clearly, Brazil did not want to take a categorical stance on Syria, much less side with western powers looking to remove Assad from power. Whoever follows the Syrian conflict closely knows that blaming both sides for the deaths is inaccurate, and the onus for the slaughter of the Syrian people lies with Assad.Fernando HaddadBrazil, which aspires to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has occasionally cast itself as a mediator in the Middle East, attempting to help find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear crisis in 2010, for example. Of course, the Obama administration was not thrilled by the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal back then and has been disappointed with Brazil’s response to the Arab Spring so far. But last October, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after a meeting in Washington DC with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, said, “Brazil’s involvement in a peace process in Syria is welcome.”But what Brazil hopes to achieve through negotiations — a long-lasting peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis — seems far-fetched at the moment. The situation on the Syrian ground remained abysmal even at the time of the four-day truce around the Islamic festival of Eidul Azha, with nearly 150 people dead on the first day. According to the Local Coordination Committee, a network of local groups organising and reporting protests as part of the Syrian uprising, the regime’s army violated the ceasefire 1,455 times.Gilberto KassabIronically, a considerable number of leftists belonging to the ruling party, intellectuals, syndicate directors, student movements, and even congressmen, who once fought against their own oppressive military dictatorship (1961-1985), support the Syrian regime. They view Assad as “anti-imperialist”, a better option than Nato, specifically the US and the United Kingdom.But the non-interventionist stance or pro-Assad bent is not shared by all in Brazil. Clóvis Rossi, a famous Brazilian columnist who often writes about the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime and the lack of sympathy from Dilma’s administration regarding these, wrote, “For the Brazilian democracy, today and always, we have nothing to do with the killings in Syria. I disagree: what affects humankind, in Syria or Brazil, affects me too, it is my business.”According to Aldo Cordeiro Sauda, a political scientist, trying to justify the unjustifiable under the pretext of respecting Syria’s right to sovereignty, the so-called anti-imperialists “pretend they don’t see the Russian military bases on the Syrian beaches where billions of dollars in arms sent by Moscow are unloaded.”“They even go beyond by presenting Assad as an anti-Zionist hero. Doing this, they conveniently forget that under Assad’s regime the Syrian borders were the safest ever to Israel,” he says.For its own domestic order, it would serve the Brazilian government well to heed to the sentiments of the large Arab community, which is estimated to be somewhere between seven and 12 million in number, while formulating its foreign policy with regards to the Middle East. Their numbers have been steadily growing due to the continuous influx of immigrants from the Middle East, particularly Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine since the 19th century. And many of these immigrants have attained positions of power, like Gilberto Kassab (outgoing mayor of São Paulo), Fernando Haddad (mayor-elect) and Paulo Maluf (famous politician) to name but a few.Samir Rahme, 55, a Syrian-origin doctor based in São Paulo, is vexed at his government’s response, or the lack thereof, to the Assad regime’s atrocities. “Brazil’s inaction towards Syria is almost cowardice. Even with all this killing, the government doesn’t assume a more energetic posture towards the Syrian regime,” he says angrily.Rahme is among the first generation born in Brazil, to a family that migrated from Yabroud, some 80 kilometres from Damascus, in the 1920s. But he has strong views about the state of affairs in Syria, and fears that a religious war between Sunnis, Shias and Alawites might erupt if the Assad regime falls, or worse, the state could fall into the hands of Islamists. “That would be a catastrophe,” he says.But this in no way means that Rahme is a supporter of Assad. “He is going to finish like Qaddafi,” predicts the doctor, referring to the unceremonious end of the Libyan leader who was killed after being caught in a sewage pipe near the town of Sirte.Dead against any military intervention, he wishes everyone “could sit down and talk,” something very unlikely to happen at this point in the conflict. “The man [Assad] is a doctor, he studied in London,” he says. “But all this background didn’t do him any good. He is just really dumb, willing to kill everyone to stay in power. Everyone hates him now.”Not an enviable position to be in, the Brazilian government is caught between radical left-wingers calling for non-cooperation with Nato over Syria and a segment of the population that wants it to outrightly condemn the Syrian bloodbath. On top of that, the pressure to prove itself as an important international player keeps on intensifying as the civil war in Syria drags on and the body count mounts.It seems President Dilma’s non-interventionist stance will not work for long.Kety Shapazian is a Brazilian journalist based in São Paulo where she works for Diário do Comércio.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 9th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag There are two kinds of writers: those who make you think and those who make you wonder. Musharraf Ali Farooqi is a little bit of both.As a writer, he is atypical — effortlessly shifting between languages and genres. As a person, he’s charming and chivalrous, making it a point to personally get our lattes from the counter as we sat down for this interview in a well-known cafe in Karachi, the city of ever-dimming lights.Farooqi proved to be an easy-going interview subject. Cooperative. Smooth. Not overwhelming in his display of brilliance. Right at the outset this Pakistani-Canadian writer, translator and journalist dismisses the phenomenon of the ‘writer’s block’. “It’s really just an ‘idiot’s block,’” says a smiling Farooqi.The journey to arrive at his calling of being a writer took him through many a turning point and milestone. After three years of drawing schematics and such, he dropped out of a prestigious engineering university in Karachi, hardly a year away from finally holding that rolled up engineering degree.What made him take up engineering in the first place, given his natural inclinations? And how did he muster the courage to drop it and follow his heart, at a time when literature and humanities were not accorded even the slight acceptability and honour they are given today? “In our times, if you were an engineer, a doctor or a teacher, it was taken for granted that you had a bright future. Arts colleges were only meant for people who had immense financial security.”Forget about the ‘writer’s block,’ says Musharraf Ali Farooqi. It’s the ‘idiot’s block’ you need to worry about!. PHOTO: HUSSAIN DEWANIIn any case, even though it took three years of studying engineering for him to finally drop out, he says that he had realised that this field did not suit his temperament after the first one and a half years. It was never meant for him. Once that realisation hit him, he knew that he must quit the dry and technical world of mechanics.“My mother thought that now her son was a ‘gone case’ and had no future whatsoever, let alone a bright one,” Farooqi says, smiling at the memory.Though his recent works are all in English, Urdu literature is a passion for him. A year after joining university, he started reading Urdu literature avidly and was notably inspired by the contemporary Urdu poet Afzal Ahmed Syed, whose poetry was the first thing  Farooqi translated into English.Urdu humourists such as Muhammad Khalid Akhtar, the author of the novel Chakiwara Mein Wisal, and Shafiq-ur-Rehman inspired him to try his hand at satire. His very first work in Urdu was a parody which he showed to Muhammad Khalid Akhtar for approval. From humour he moved on to Urdu language classics such as Tazkira-e-Ghausia and the Indo-Islamic epic Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, which he also later translated.Farooqi’s very first book, Salar Jang’s Passion, was published in Canada, around 12 years ago. It revolves around a wealthy elderly widower who is pursuing a ‘rapacious’ actress named Madame Firdousi. And all the while, a termite infestation is literally eating the town from the inside out.His recent work Between Clay and Dust is a novel which revolves around the rather messy and murky lives of a pehelwaan (wrestler) and a tawaaif (courtesan). The story is set in the pre-partition era and throws a significant amount of light on the shared values and the common culture that exists, or once existed, between the Hindus and the Muslims.What’s really interesting is that Farooqi never actually stepped into, or even laid eyes upon, an actual akhaara while writing this book. Yet he somehow penned down an entire book on desi wrestlers. When I ask him about this, he retorts smoothly by saying, “After writing the book, I got a chance to set my eyes on an actual akhaara. However, writing is simply a function of how vivid and vast your imagination is and this is exactly how I effectively utilised it to paint the entire picture.” He excitedly points out that many of his readers find it incredibly hard to believe that this was a pure work of his imagination, as the depiction of the akhaara and its subsequent setting was so precise in nature. One can only wonder what kept him away from the akhaara in the pre-writing process, as well as while he wrote it.Between Clay and Dust has been long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2012 and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2013, but awards are not his ultimate goal. “For me, awards are synonymous to lotteries,” he says dismissively.One of the most attention-worthy things about this writer is that he loves to shift back and forth between different genres. At one point, you will read his intellectual works such as Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, whereas at another moment in time he is working on children’s books.Children’s literature is a joy for Farooqi. “Books for children are fun to write and I love writing for children. The reason is that these young readers are very sincere in giving feedback,” he says.Elaborating on this, he said that children’s response is evident on the facial expressions that they exhibit when a paragraph out of a just-published book is read out to them. If they like it, one can instantly see the shimmer in their eyes. On the flip side, if the book fails to capture their interest, one can see them yawning or looking away. This is what inspires Farooqi to write books for these youngsters and transform them into “intelligent readers.”One of Farooqi ‘s recent works is the illustrated novel, Rabbit Rap: A Fable for the 21st Century. A satirical story meant for young adult readers about a group of disaster-prone, self-destructive rabbits who invite endless troubles because of their reckless ways, its various themes include politics, environment, corporate greed, and feminism. The book is available in India, and will be available locally in late December.His wife, Michelle Farooqi has illustrated this book and two other titles by Farooqi — Tik-Tik, The Master of Time which is Pakistan’s first in the English language novel for children, and the story collection The Amazing Moustaches of Moochhander the Iron Man and Other Stories. Michelle Farooqi is herself a visual artist and an illustrator who recently showed her artwork at ArtChowk gallery’s Portraiture group exhibit, which included her oil paintings and charcoal drawings.Elaborating on their joint creative projects, Farooqi says that once the text is in hand, the two of them discuss the ‘look’ of the characters. Once there is agreement on that, Michelle selects the passages to be illustrated and begins her work.When it comes to the local market for graphic novels, he feels that the market has tons of potential to grow but only and only if it aims to achieve a reduction in the price level for such novels while simultaneously enhancing the quality of the publishing.What valuable pieces of advice would this established writer give to the aspiring writers out there? The answer is succinct: “The aspiring writers should not look for praise. They need to write for themselves only and not for anyone else. They need to write for what they believe in.” Farooqi also feels that to check on the quality of one’s writing, one should look up to the ultimate gurus of literature as role models. Benchmarking work with the work of the contemporary writers is a mistake that should not be made, he feels. A sense of balance is what Farooqi endorses. He feels that the twenty-first century generation must have the courage to publish their work as well as to learn “not to rush through things.”In his opinion, writers need to develop and continuously enhance their ability to distinguish and draw a crystal clear line between the ordinary work and the extra-ordinary one. Between writing that is shallow and writing that is deep. Exactly how that’s to be achieved is, of course, left unsaid.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 9th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag Ancient beliefs, based on what is now often referred to as ‘intuitive science’, are making an unprecedented comeback and believers in the philosophy of ‘The Doctrine of Signatures’ are being taken more seriously than they have been for hundreds of years.Sometimes called ‘Magia naturale’ or ‘Natural magic’ — the doctrine of signatures may, to the uninitiated, sound like a heap of hocus-pocus yet at the same time it does also make a whole lot of sense.It has its roots in ancient times when healers, herbalists, and even magicians, associated the ‘signatures’ of herbs with parts of the human body.This philosophy states that herbs that resemble various parts of the body can be used to treat ailments afflicting those particular parts.These ‘signatures’ are based on colour, texture, shape, aroma and the environment in which the herbs are cultivated.At first it is easy to dismiss the association between herbs and the body parts they resemble as crazy, but if you look at the examples around us, it becomes apparent that the philosophy may actually hold water.Take something as simple as a walnut. It looks exactly like a miniature brain with a left and right hemisphere and upper cerebrums and lower cerebellums, and it has been scientifically proven that walnuts greatly assist brain development.The ancient herbalists, who believed in the doctrine of signatures, also recognised the intrinsic relationship between plants such as ginger and the digestive system. After all, ginger roots resemble a stomach and it can be used to treat stomach ailments, assist digestion and to prevent motion sickness. They also believed that figs, which are full of seeds and mostly grow in pairs, could be used to cure male sterility.Under the doctrine of signatures it is not only the shape, colour, texture, seed and leaf formation of herbs that help in discovering their healing properties but also their scent and the location in which they are cultivated.Plants growing in or besides water are considered to be associated with ‘wet’ diseases/illnesses such as coughs and colds whilst those growing in muddy swamp-like conditions are connected with mucous excretions in the respiratory and reproductive systems. Plants falling in the former category include various species of mint, willow and verbena, which are widely used in cough and cold remedies. Eucalyptus and sunflowers, on the other hand, are cultivated to dry out waterlogged areas to make them suitable for growing crops.Herbal treatments aside, the doctrine of signatures also includes a list of fruit and vegetables that, if added to one’s daily diet, can cure or at the very least relieve a number of illnesses and complaints. Some of these might seem a little farfetched, while others are perfectly understandable and scientifically proven too.We have long been told by our parents that eating carrots will improve our night-vision. While this is not completely true, the regular consumption of carrots increases blood flow to the eyes, acting as a comprehensive vision toner and all-round eye strengthener. In fact, a cross section of a carrot actually resembles a human eye.Celery, that wonderfully crunchy salad delight, is quite similar to the shape of our bones and has long been used in both, internal and external medicines, and poultices for bone ailments. It comes as no surprise therefore to learn that ancient wisdom in associating the two was spot on: Bones contain 23% sodium and so does celery. If the body doesn’t receive enough sodium from dietary sources then it uses up sodium from the bones. This can weaken them and leads to future problems including osteoporosis.Kidney beans are shaped just like kidneys and, unsurprisingly, a regular helping heals and helps maintain good kidney function.The case for those increasingly popular avocadoes is twofold. Firstly, the fruit takes exactly nine months to develop, from flowering to harvesting, and secondly the ripe fruit is very similar in shape and form to a human womb. Making avocadoes a regular part of the female diet helps to maintain hormonal balance, deters cervical cancer and speeds up weight loss after giving birth.That’s not the only female-friendly fruit either: olives greatly resemble ovaries and it is scientifically proven that olives help balance ovarian health. Similarly, citrus fruits, which resemble mammary glands, are known to reduce the risk of breast cancer.Try cutting a mushroom in half and you will see that you are looking at a detailed portrait of the human ear. Mushrooms contain Vitamin D, which is necessary for bone health including all of those tiny bones in the ear which help transmit sound to the brain.Similarly, the pancreas shaped sweet potatoes are known to be useful in balancing the glycemic index of diabetic patients.When it comes to pomegranates, things get a little more complex. For some, the anaar resembles the heart, while for others, with its many seeds, it is closer to the female ovaries. Some even say that, like the orange, it more closely resembles the mammary glands.They may all be right.According to the Chinese, who are also great believers in this theory, the blood-red colour and shape of the pomegranate indicates that it’s good for the heart. Also, a report published in the January 1 issue of Cancer Prevention Research claimed that pomegranates contain compounds that may prevent the spread of breast cancer. Finally, pomegranates are also very rich in iron, which is great for the health of the female reproductive system.Now, although it is certainly not so easy to visualise bananas as antidepressants, they do contain something called tryptophan which converts into serotonin, a naturally occurring mood-lifting chemical in the brain. Is this why people who laugh at just about everything are sometimes accused of ‘having gone bananas’?Jokes aside, lets also take a look at the multi-layered onion which, whether eaten raw or cooked, cleanses the body and the skin (also multi-layered) of impure elements. What’s more, these eye-watering bulbs also keep the cook’s eyes clean by making him/her cry!Grapes represent the alveoli of the lungs and medical science confirms that eating lots of these ‘Health bombs’, which contain high levels of reserveratrol, is highly beneficial for the epithelial cells lining the lungs and trachea. Regular consumption of grapes works to alleviate asthma and other bronchial complaints. This goes double for black and red grapes. Additionally, eating grapes or drinking pure grape juice on an almost daily basis has been scientifically proven to neutralise carcinogenic substances present in the body.The primary reason for this action lies in the two different types of polyphenals (a type of organic chemical) grapes contain which actively inhibit, and sometimes even destroy, cancer cells. These two polyphenals (anthrocyanins and proanthrocyanins) have been noted to be especially effective in preventing or dealing with lung, breast, liver and prostrate cancers.Furthermore, the body’s immune system is strengthened by the presence of bioflavinoids found in the skin of black and red grapes.  A ‘fully charged’ immune system is far more successful at fighting off cancer cells than one that is in a weakened state due to unhealthy dietary regimes.Cauliflower is another anti-lung cancer and healthy bronchial tract food, as is broccoli. And yes, both of these vegetables resemble the bronchial tract and lungs. Their anti-carcinogenic action is attributed to the carotenoids, flavinoids, folic acid and sulphur compounds present in these, and other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage. The fact that ancient practitioners of natural magic were, somehow, aware of this, is simply amazing.Low calorie pumpkin, thanks to the presence of a multitude of vitamins and minerals, is recognised as a great medicine for curing an upset stomach and is also a healthy part of any weight-loss diet. If that’s not enough for you, then also consider that it has beta carotene content and anti-carcinogenic properties. And of course, it’s also large, round and hollow, much like a stomach! Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is known as ‘paitha kaddu’ in Urdu.And last, but never least is the incredible Ginseng root which has been used in eastern Asia for millennia. It’s considered a cure-all, able to fix just about anything, and why not? After all, the root itself looks like a miniature human being!So next time you head down to the grocery store, take this issue with you, and who knows? It just might save you a trip to the pharmacy!Natural magicIn natural magic, there is a theory that many natural objects — rocks, roots, plants, animal bones, etc — have a connection within them to some part of the human experience. For example, a rose quartz is linked with love and matters of the heart, a piece of oak would take on the attributes of strength and sturdiness, and a sprig of sage is connected to wisdom and purification. In this form of magic, also called sympathetic magic, the link between items and their magical symbolism is referred to as the Doctrine of Signatures. Influence of doctrine of signature on Homeopathy:Homeopathy has often called upon the doctrine of signatures for finding potential herbs to use in its cures. Despite some rejecting it as a valid theory for classification of plants or their properties and uses in medicine, many homeopathic and other “natural” practitioners still use the concept today.Chinese herbal medicine and the doctrine of signatures:Traditional Chinese medicine classified substances of potential medical use by correlating their appearance with human organs. For example, rhinoceros horn and deer antlers were considered useful in curing impotence and for enhancing male virility.The doctrine through the ages1. The earliest known reference to the Doctrine of Signatures is in the writings of Galen (131-200 AD). He was a physician, writer, surgeon and philosopher who became the most famous doctor in the Roman Empire and whose theories dominated European medicine for 1,500 years.2. The Doctrine was then revived in modern times by a Swiss physician, alchemist and philosopher named Paracelsus (1493-1541), who is also known by many as the father of modern chemistry. Paracelsus noted how the qualities of plants are often reflected in their appearance. He thus theorised that the inner nature of plants may be discovered by their outer forms or ‘signatures.’ He applied this principle to food as well as medicine, remarking that “it is not in the quantity of food but in its quality that resides the Spirit of Life.”3. In the late 1600s it was revived after Jakob Bohme, a master shoemaker in the small town of Gorlitz, Germany, began writing on the subject. A religious man, Bohme suggested that God marked objects with a sign, or ‘signature’, for their purpose. A plant bearing parts that resembled human body parts, animals, or other objects were thought to have useful relevance to those parts, animals or objects. The ‘signature’ may also be identified in the environments or specific sites in which plants grew.4. However, it was an avid student of Parcelsus, William Coles (1626-1662), a 17th century botanist and author of The Art of Simpling and Adam in Eden, who ultimately popularised this concept for practical medical applications. Coles found that walnuts were good for curing head ailments because “they have the perfect Signatures of the Head”.*The suggestions in this article have been provided for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider. The Express Tribune does not endorse any specific service or treatment.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 9th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag The science behind a Detox Bath is fairly simple. Sweating is the most common and effective way to dextoxify a human body efficiently. Skin pores of a human body react to differences in the temperatures of the surroundings. So when you soak your body in hot water, the pores on your skin open up and all the toxins from your body drain out. The process begins when the bath medium is hot, peaks after the body is immersed for 20 minutes and ends as the temperature falls below the effective degree.Here is the recipe for a detox bath that works wonders in making you stress-free, helping you to sleep better and give you a refreshing start for the next day.Detox bath recipeIngredients:• Sea salt 1/3 cup• Epsom salt 1/3 cup• Baking soda 1/3 cup• Apple cider vinegar 1 cup• Ground ginger 2 1/2 tbspProcedure:• Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.• Prepare a hot water bath, setting the temperature according to your preference. Add the dry ingredients and vinegar while the water fills up the tub, so that these mix in well. Don’t be alarmed if the water turns orange or yellow, as it is due to the ginger and vinegar.• Soak yourself in the bath for about 40 minutes and enjoy the ‘me time’. You can also rub your skin to activate the lymphatic system that helps you clear out harmful toxins from your body.• You can make the dry mix and store it in a bottle for future use. All you will need when you want to have a detox bath is one cup of dry mix and one cup of vinegar. It also makes for a great gift!Health benefits:1. Sea salt: It helps to sooth open sores or blemishes.2. Epsom salts: It helps to relieve muscle aches, makes you sweat more and reduces inflammation.3. Baking soda: It is alkaline in nature and helps to balance off a highly acidic system. As a result, it softens the skin and eliminates chlorine present in the water.4. Apple cider vinegar: It softens your skin and helps restores the acid-alkaline balance of your body. It is also good for acne treatment.5. Ginger: It opens up pores and makes you sweat more. Ginger also helps in increasing blood circulation.Important considerations before the bath:• This bath can dehydrate you. So it is important to take plenty of water before, during and after taking this bath.• You can feel a little light-headed after taking this bath, so don’t stand up so quickly.• The preparation and duration of the bath could make you tired, so it’s better to take this bath right before bedtime.• Do not take hot or salt baths if you are hypertensive, pregnant, diabetic, or if you have a history of heart disease. If you are unsure, ask your doctor first.• If you come down with flu-like symptoms after a detox bath, then know it’s fairly common. Your body is flushing out toxins, and you have to make sure you are well hydrated at all times.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 16th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag Every year, around mid-August, the mountain town of Azzinano in Italy gets a makeover. Artists from all over the country descend into this tiny village, home to some 164 inhabitants, in the foothills of Gran Sasso, the highest mountain of the Apennine range in the Teramo province. In true Italian tradition, they take to their paints and brushes and draw murals like past Italian maestros did on church ceilings and palace walls. Only this time, their canvasses are the modest, but quaint, village houses lining cobbled streets.The ten-day event called “Walls Tell” has been held two years in a row since 2011 to commemorate the memory of Annuziata Scipio, a renowned painter hailing from Azzinano. Originally the brainchild of Luciano Marinelli, who painted murals in honour of Scipio, the event has become a celebration of the region’s life and culture where painters now paint murals on specific topics on the front walls of houses.Of course, the sight is refreshing for the locals, who see their houses bathed in new colours every year. And it “spreads peace, joy and happiness among all villagers,” as Antonello Pescosolido, a local tourist guide says. But the locals specifically pride themselves on this tradition for it serves to preserve and showcase the region’s cultural heritage that the new generation is losing touch with.“It is important to revive the old culture of the land, even if it means through paintings,” says Silivia Bucci, a local. “When youngsters come to this village and see the [depictions of] indigenous games played in the countryside that are now extinct, they learn about their history, which they should not have forgotten [in the first place]. The murals offer stories from the past, knowledge of tradition and a message on local culture and philosophy. They also depict the colours of life in Azzinano and the surrounding towns.”For tourists who visit Azzinano at this time of the year, it’s probably a detour from the conventional, and massively popular, tourist trail in Italy. The village and its attractions boast of no grandiosity like the Colosseum in Rome does, nor does it offer the romance that gondola rides over Venetian cs do. Still tourists find the sights of colourful paintings against the green and tidy backdrop of lush mountains and quaint cityscape very unique. After all, like Bucci says, “It is like a gallery of large paintings under the sky roof, an outdoor museum which can be visited free of charge anytime of the year.”Mathew, a tourist from Rome who is glad he complied with his friend’s recommendation to visit the village, would agree. “The place offers something which cannot be seen anywhere else. It is refreshing and bewildering at the same time,” he says.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 16th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag Sheikh Hafizuddin is 90-years-old. The wrinkles on his face are like the roadmap of a life well-lived. Endless pairs of eyes have found brighter vision through the corrective lenses and spectacles his business has provided; so many have been cured by buying medicines off his pharmacy counter. Countless fingers (and shirt pockets) have been stained by the ink of the fountain pens sold at his store. In many a profound moment, the men of Lahore have lit up cigarettes they brought at his store, and reflected on life.Hafizuddin has seen boys grow into men and fathers grow into grandfathers, with the next generation holding onto the grandfather’s finger as they enter the shop for their first pair of glasses. For Lahoris, the stores under the family signature “Haji S Ameerdin & Sons” are a part of Lahore’s heritage. Every day, at 11 am, Hafizuddin sets out to visit his shop at no. 26, The Mall. He then goes to his frame manufacturing factory at Thokar Niaz Baig around noon. He joined the business of his father Haji Sheikh Allah Dita, Lahore’s oldest drug and optical equipment shop, in his youth. “I had just passed my FA exam from Dayal Singh College then. I was the second oldest of my seven brothers. My father, who ran a small optical shop in Lohari Gate, called me over and said, ‘the nature of business these days is changing. I want your help in improving the business.’ I said yes,” Hafizuddin recalls.Hafizuddin with Koyle. PHOTO: SONIA MALIK He did not pursue further studies and instead immersed himself in his father’s business. Today, he runs three Haji Ameerdin & Sons outlets in Lahore, and one each in Karachi, Multan and Rawalpindi. Expansion included the setting up of Ethical Laboratories in Thokar Niaz Baig and a frame manufacturing factory.As Hafizuddin embarked on reflections about the 70 years of this legendary family business of Lahore, he shared bits of history. E Plomers was the first drug and optician’s shop set up by the British in Lahore in 1864, the place his family acquired in 1962.It all started with a British man called Edward Plomer who came to India with the East India Company in the early 1860s. Since the English were still settling in and needed a variety of goods and services, Plomer decided to also sell stationary, tobacco and set up a photography studio, as is indicated in two boards erected at the shop till today. “I believe he was trying to sell products exclusively to cater to the British, ones that were not available anywhere else,” Hafizuddin said.After Plomer passed away in the early 1900s, his wife took over the business but then sold it to John Francis Koyle, an Englishman from Goa, in 1928. Koyle had moved to Lahore and was also running a factory producing aerated soda at Queen’s Road. Koyle in turn sold the business to Bal Krishan Chopra, a native of Lahore who owned other buildings at The Mall too. Medicines sold here at the time were imported from six or seven international manufacturers and were mixed in proportions prescribed by the doctors.  Even today, some medicines are imported from some of the same manufacturers as in the 1900s.This sign’s been outside the wall of the E Plomers building since 1864. PHOTO: SONIA MALIKMeanwhile, even as the shop changed hands, Hafizuddin’s father was also contemplating a change of his own. “My father was very keen to move out of the inner city area of Lohari Gate, as Anarkali and The Mall were fast becoming retail hubs. We owned a shop in Anarkali which my father moved his business to in 1950. When in 1952, Koyle decided to move back to England and was looking to sell his business; my father grabbed the opportunity, but did not buy the actual building until ten years later. In 1962 the building was purchased for two million rupees in an open house auction,” says Hafizuddin.“At that time, the English felt that Pakistan would not survive for long, and would fall apart. Most Hindus had left Lahore by then, and the English were seeking to sell what they owned,” Hafizuddin says, reminiscing about the post-partition days.Today, that very building stands opposite the Lahore High Court, and in keeping with its mixed heritage, goes by two names — E Plomers and Haji Ameerdin & Sons. Medicines and drugs are sold under the E Plomers label, while Haji Ameerdin & Sons sells lenses and glasses. More shops were opened up by the family at other locations, and those run under the family name.“The business was purchased, hence we kept the E Plomer name,” explains Hafizuddin. “The name Ameerdin was included because this is what my father’s shop in Lohari was called. Both are essentially the same thing. The shop was named after my brother,” Hafizuddin recalls.As Lahore grew, so did the demand for Pharmacies. Besides E Plomers, the other drug store on the Mall was Smiths and Gambles. It was also sold prior to partition. Later two more drug stores, Jagit Singh and Sons, which later came to be known as Fazil Din & Sons, and opposite to it, Jai & Sons, opened up. So there were four shops in all when Hafizuddin’s family purchased the business.“In 1947, my father was leaving for Hajj via Karachi and I went to see him off. An optician’s shop, Himalaya Optical Company, was for sale. It was owned by a man who wanted to move to India,” Hafizuddin says, recalling how the family business expanded into Karachi. “As my father was leaving for his Hajj, he told him that he cannot make the payment until three months later, which was the time it took back then to return from Mecca. The shop owner agreed and it was purchased later that year.”Multan was next. “After partition, a few senior administrators of the local government in Multan visited my father requesting him to open a shop as there were no opticians there and as a consequence, Multanis had to travel to Lahore or Karachi for treatment. My father complied with their request by opening a shop there in 1949,” he said. A shop in Rawalpindi was set up in 1952.Most shelves used in the shop are over 150 years old. PHOTO: SONIA MALIK“We had continued the system of importing the drugs, but in 1962, we took a step forward with the setting up of Ethical laboratories, which I founded. We specialise in ophthalmic solutions,” says Hafizuddin. This sister concern of M/S Haji S Ameerdin & Sons was established in collaboration with and under the technical direction of M/S Smith Miller & Patch of USA. By this time Ameerdin & Sons has become a household name, and a lot of its less ethical competitors tried to cash in by opening shops with the same name. Until just four years ago, a Lohari gate shop selling glasses still operated under the name of Haji S Ameerdin & sons. Hafizuddin denies any connection with that shop. “My father closed down our original Lohari gate shop as soon as he relocated to Anarkali, but many have tried to profit from his name and his reputation of being the only Muslim optician in Lahore in yesteryears. It was not just this one shop outside the Lohari Gate that stole his name, but there were at least three others as well. Some closed a while ago and the others only closed after I sued them.”The years have flown by, but even at the ripe old age of 90, the thought of visiting his beloved shops is enough to get Hafizuddin out of bed in the morning.  Such are the people who are part of our living heritage. Their stories need to be told and re-told before they become diffused memories of the past.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 16th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag “One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.” This quote by the French author Victor Hugo, best describes the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) held this November. IDEAS has had a bad run in the past couple of years, the devastating floods in 2010 caused the event to be cancelled at the last moment and the event was not even held in 2011. However this year, the event has come of age and has provided the perfect platform for launching Pakistani defence products in the international arena.As a child I grew up watching the Pakistan Day parade and wondered why it didn’t take place in my city. It was to satisfy the curiosity of the inner child and re-live that nostalgia that I visited IDEAS 2012 held in Karachi.There were a number of international exhibitors but I was more interested in the wide variety of Pakistani products present. The JF-17 Thunders, the Karakorams, the Mashaks and the Al-Zarrar and Al-Khalid tanks are undoubtedly the pinnacle of Pakistan’s indigenous defence production. But I would like to highlight some of the lesser known gems that the local manufacturers had to offer — from the bizarrely simple to those straight out of a sci-fi movie.A concert that wasn’tAt a huge stall belonging to the Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS), I spied what looked like a set of acoustic microphones and some very high tech speakers. It turned out that the microphones were part of what is called the Gunshot Detection System or GDS and it does exactly what its name suggests. The GDS can detect and convey the location of gunfire by using shock-waves created by the bullet. What’s even cooler is that an automatic machine gun can be configured with the system to lock onto the shooter’s position to return fire almost immediately! The “speakers” turned out to be explosion proof lights that could stand the shock-wave of a blast.KITT — Meets HIT (Heavy Industries Taxila)This took me back to the days when Knight Rider was king of the airwaves. This is a White Toyota Altis with dark tinted glasses. Nothing exciting about that, you say?” Well, the car is bullet proof and explosion proof! Capable of withstanding a barrage of gun-fire, grenade attacks and even IED blasts. Not even flat tyres can stop this car! HIT have improvised on their knowledge of armour plating gained from years of producing APCs and tanks. The package comes with reinforced chassis and shocks and a supercharger to compensate for the extra weight of the armour. Quite handy for Karachi driving too, I would imagine.Drones in DrovesWhat’s a defence expo without drones? Pakistani manufacturers had their own drones on display. Once again, GIDS led the way with its local Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Shahpar, which has a wingspan of 6.6 metres. With its 250 kilometre range, 50 kilogramme payload capacity and day and night operational capability, it lives up to its grandiose title. Integrated Dynamics (ID) was another promising manufacturer of UAVs that offered a range of military and civilian drones. Interestingly, ID has exported some of its products to Australia, Italy and even the US!Quad-rotors and Hexa-Rotors — VR — GogglesNational Radio and Telecommunication Corporation (NRTC) were showing off a product that reminded me of the surveillance quad-rotor that Rancho from 3 Idiots helped build. Well, the NRTC had a high-tech version of that at IDEAS, called the Air Scout. This unmanned aerial system (UAS) has search and rescue abilities, urban surveillance and counter-terrorism potential. The built-in cameras can provide live video feeds and can be customised for thermal imaging, night vision, extended flight or weather proofing. Imagine the advantages of having one hovering between buildings and reporting on the proceedings at a rally, procession, protest or dharna! The system comes with a cool set of goggles that provide the pilot with point of view video for controlling the craft.Virtual BattlefieldA simulation can be something as basic and physical as “net practice” in cricket or as advanced and sci-fi as the simulated “worlds” onboard the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek. The Military Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (MVRDE) have built cutting edge tank simulators complete with life-like pods. These pods are mounted on hydraulic systems that let the driver experience a simulated battlefield. MVRDE has also created a simulated shooting range. The “Shooter Profile System” is capable of ysing all the parameters that a shooter has to master, including breath control and pre-fire anxiety. To top off things, the G3 rifle’s recoil mode can be switched on to give you a real “jhatka”! They also had showcased their ATGM (Anti Tank Guided Missile) simulator which was very popular with some young engineers attending the exhibition.The Golden GunOne of the reasons I love IDEAS is that you can find all kinds of weapons there, from the gun that can be fired around corners to the gold-plated sub-machine gun. Yes you heard that right, a gun that can be fired around corners! The POF EYE, created by the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, allows the shooter to see, and fire, a gun around corners. Future versions will include night vision, infra-red vision and would also be able to transmit the video feed back to base in real time!All Blown UpLast, but not least; I came across a couple of stalls that reminded me of the inflatable jumping castles. These are actually inflatable decoys which mimic aircraft and military equipment.  Before I left, I could not help but stop at the stall serving piping hot curries with scrumptious looking parathas. I was invited to try the food and after my appetite was satisfied, I enquired what it was all about. It turns out that the food I had just polished off was more than a year old! PANA Force makes preserved food without using harmful chemicals. The food comes with a special self-fuelled burner for heating when required, remains fresh for over an year and tastes delicious — this last bit, I speak with experience!Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 16th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag In 2011, twenty two-year-old Mirzya Syed, a Pakistani-American student at Barnard College in New York City (NYC), was attending a class on novels written about the immigrant experience — precisely about problems faced by people of East Asian, African and Latin American descent. What struck her at the time was that there was no mention of any Muslim country or people — except for a terrorist character in a book called Flight by Sherman Alexie.Around the same time, Syed heard on the news that the New York Police Department had been spying on the Muslim community in NYC, including Columbia University’s Muslim Students Association. “It made me sad more than anything else,” she recalls. “I felt that we needed something for the Muslim voice.”Syed took her concern to Haris Durrani, a nineteen-year-old engineering student at Columbia, who brought the university’s Muslim Students Association onboard. Seven months of meetings, emails and Skype conversations later, Columbia University held the first-ever Muslim writers symposium of its 258-year history. They called it ‘The Muslim Protagonist’.On November 11, a series of panel discussions, videos and writing workshops were conducted with Muslim scholars, playwrights and novelists at the helm. Among Muslim writers from a varied cultural landscape, writers of Pakistani descent, including Kamran Pasha, Mohsin Hamid and Daniyal Mueenuddin, addressed the audience of 300 participants in person and through video conferencing.Instead of lamenting the lack of Muslims in modern literature, panelists urged attendees to pick up their pens and start writing. “No one story will be a perfect representation of the Muslim community,” said writer and award-winning film director Musa Syeed. “We need many stories, and we need them now.”Panelists promoted literature and art as a way for Muslims in the US to project their voices. Co-authors of more than two-dozen works of fiction, Nikoo Kafi and Jim McGoldrick, shared how they penetrate hard-to-reach audiences through popular culture novels, sold on the shelves of retailers such as Costco and Walmart. Their books are intentionally kitsch — stories of lovers ala Mills and Boons — but with characters named Omid and Habib and set in Muslim countries like Iraq and Iran.“With our stories, we can reach into those deep hidden areas of this country to people who don’t know a Muslim beyond what the media feeds them and present Muslims as the heroes and heroines,” said Kafi. “We reach out to the Americans who have never known a real Muslim. Our readers are the people who watch Fox News.”Novelist Mohsin Hamid, who was in Lahore, made an appearance via a pre-recorded video to discuss his two books Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, both of which juggle contrasting notions of Muslim identity. He addressed the current media climate for Pakistan and noted the breakthrough nature of telling stories with Pakistani protagonists. “In the international media, Pakistan is a horror film franchise,” he said “It’s the loose nukes and the threat of the Taliban. You don’t see stories outside of that Pakistan.”Playwright and essayist Wajahat Ali used humour to illustrate the condition of the Pakistani-American Muslim. As some of the world’s most hated countries, Pakistanis now have more in common with Iranians than chest hair and a love of Mercedes, he quipped. “It is imperative in a globalised world, where cartoons and crappy YouTube documentaries can be exploited by extremists on both sides of the Atlantic, for Muslims to emerge as protagonists and share rich stories that authentically portray who we are. We are neither avatars of perfection, nor catalysts of Armageddon. We are people with warts and faults, who eat meatloaf and biryani.”Author of the play The Domestic Crusaders, Ali’s most recent book, All American: 45 Men on Being Muslim, relates the personal accounts of 45 Muslim-American men on how their religion affects their daily lives.Hollywood screenwriter, director and novelist Kamran Pasha shared the difficulties of working in the American television industry as a Muslim. The Karachi-born novelist co-produced and wrote an Emmy-winning show called “Sleeper Cell,” which is about a Muslim FBI agent on a mission to uncover a terrorist plot in the US. The show has come under criticism for some negative portrayals of Muslims. At the event, Pasha defended his work, citing that the alternative was worse: no Muslim voice in Hollywood at all. His two books Mother of the Believers and Shadow of the Swords also employ Muslims as protagonists.“Muslims have seen themselves as victims of history. We need to see ourselves as the force of history,” he said.And this point was reiterated by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, radio personality, blogger and author of the acclaimed book Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet. “We can show the world that progress and innovation are part of our narrative. We improve ourselves and do things consistently better. That is the essence of being Muslim.”Punjab-based writer Daniyal Mueenudin appeared on video and spoke of the possibility for Muslims to write stories without mentioning anything political. Mueenudin addressed the lack of “bombs and beards” in his works, saying that his job as a storyteller isn’t necessarily to answer questions posed by the media. Instead, his collections of short stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders explores themes such as women’s empowerment and social inequality.Although the symposium was a weekend event, the spirit of The Muslim Protagonist lives on. Syed and Durrani have now teamed up to create a new student group at Columbia University called the Muslim Writers Workshop. The new organisation will continue using literature as an agent of social change for Muslims by hosting more seminars with academics and authors. The pair also hopes to publish a magazine, which will use the written word to project the Muslim voice on their campuses and beyond.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 16th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag “Can’t read my, can’t read my, No he can’t read my poker face”Lady Gaga’s hit single is very much on my mind as I enter the game room of this upscale club in Karachi.  The aroma of fish and chips is in the air and the general silence is only broken by the rustling of cards and clinking of poker chips. Seated around a circular green table are nine fairly affluent looking men, judging purely by their clothes and expensive watches. Their eyes are fixed on the cards they hold, their secrets carefully concealed behind their ‘poker face’ expressions. Occasionally, you will hear someone swear as they lose or let out a cry of glee upon winning. As the stakes rise, so does the noise.Poker — a card game played between two or more people with money at stake — has always been considered gambling, but the game’s loyal fan base is fervently pushing for it to be accorded the respect of a sport. The International Federation of Poker, which was founded in 2009 in Switzerland, has been promoting poker as a ‘mind sport.’ Then there’s the World Series of Poker, a series of televised poker tournaments held annually in Las Vegas. In fact, Pakistani-American Poker pro Hasan Habib has been a regular fixture at this event, netting around $5,100,000 as of 2010.No one’s really sure where poker originated, with some claiming it started in Louisiana and then spread to the Mississipi riverboats. Here in Pakistan it was initially probably started by people returning from the US, and then had its ‘cool’ aura enhanced by movies like Matt Damon’s Rounders, the George Clooney starrer Ocean’s Eleven and, of course, Casino Royale. Credit also has to go to Facebook, with its online ‘Texas hold’em Poker’ game. Even if you haven’t played it, you would most likely know of it from the countless invitations to play from your Facebook friends.As the game’s popularity grew, Pakistani poker fans began converging in private residences and, for larger events, rented houses to battle it out across a table. The trend started in Karachi some six years back, but now poker has its adherents across the country.“We were the first ones to start poker tournaments in this area,” claims a well known poker dealer operating in Defence and Clifton, areas that are home to the highest-stake games in the city. “It was at the same time when the clubs starting holding games as well.”And so, among the well-heeled gamblers of Pakistan, flash or teen patti is no longer fashionable. Flash, in case you don’t know, is a traditional game of cards that is played with a deck of three, where you simply bet and reveal who got the highest-ranking hand. It’s mostly just luck of the draw and deep pockets that win you this game.In poker, on the other hand, success doesn’t just come from the cards but also from the timely bluff which can even help you win against a person with a better hand.  That is why avid poker players will swear by the superiority of the game over other card-based gambling games.“Poker is more civilised,” says one player. “Flash is only luck!” asserts another, adding that “Poker is a game of mind, speed, technique and, well, luck too.”At the time when poker was introduced in Karachi, the stakes (the amount needed to buy poker chips before you begin to play) ranged from Rs500 to Rs1,000, but like all things money can buy, inflation has added a significant zero to the cost of stakes, raising it to around Rs5,000 to Rs10,000. Private poker gatherings, at residences or rented houses for instance, have low stakes, but you don’t get a club’s class or environment.For his part Jaffer*, a Poker enthusiast, finds private gatherings a little too gritty for his tastes.  “Clubs are sophisticated and my favourite is the Golf Club,” he says. “You meet decent people, the game is clean, plus you can order food and drinks and the house pays. Private places can get dirty. You get plenty of drugs and booze, and they are even ready to call girls on request. So the choice of place really depends on your mood and how much dough you got in your pocket.”Of course, not all clubs are created equal. In contrast with the upscale club mentioned earlier, a sports bar located near Shireen Jinnah Colony (which shut down early this year after running into losses) was a lot less classy. Walking in, you are immediately hit by its gritty atmosphere. The air is heavy with the smell of hash and stale smoke, and expletives are routinely exchanged between hardened players who hardly so much as wince at the verbal blitz going on around them.Strangely enough, a lot of the poker players I encountered were either jobless or with no regular income, and found playing poker an easy means of making money. A few were even hooked on drugs, and poker enabled them to buy these without having to turn to their parents for money. In fact, many got into drugs because of poker. “When you are in stress after losing a bundle of cash, the most tempting thing is a rolled up joint or a line of cocaine,” says a regular player. “It is the best way to relax and it numbs you enough to forget everything. There is plenty available at private game houses.” It‘s like killing two birds with one stone: game houses make additional money from the sales of drugs and the drugs lure players into gambling more recklessly.But why gamble away your money in the first place when, even if there is a chance of winning, there is an equal or greater probability of losing? “When you shuffle the deck and the first cards are aces, you think everything is working out fine but the reality is a tad different,” says Shahal Khoso, a regular poker player. “If you get good cards in round one, you tend to get confident. You raise the stakes. But in the next round, you end up with bad cards and your luck takes you down.”The metaphor used by another player is quite fitting, as he explains his fixation with the game, “Playing Poker is just like smoking cigarettes; you try it once and you are addicted. You never really figure out why you tried it in the first place.”  But unlike smoking a cigarette, a habit that is taken up by both genders in some quarters of our society, you will hardly see women gambling, whether in private game rooms or at clubs.In fact, when I went to game rooms for interviews and field research for this article, all eyes would turn towards me, as if I were an alien who invaded their home ground. When I shared my concern with one of the dealers, the reply was one which you will expect perhaps from ninety per cent of Pakistani men. “We belong to a Muslim society. Our women are not allowed to indulge in such activities. They are our pride and they should stay at home where they belong,” he said. Funny coming from someone who organises poker games, because the last time I checked poker was gambling and gambling is forbidden in Islam.For dealers and houses that arrange poker games, it is a great way of making money. Without any substantial investment, you arrange for a room and gather some people, and you are good to go. The returns are phenomenal, for you can get a ten per cent rake (commission) per hand by simply dealing hands and sitting back.“Even the smaller organisers make three to four lakh rupees per year by holding poker games at home,” says the dealer. And if you are holding a big tournament, he says, you can make as much as Rs50,000 to Rs100,000 in a single day. This explains how clubs can afford to offer free food and drinks, I think to myself.Of course, there is always the danger of police raids, since gambling is after all illegal in Pakistan. But then, an organiser makes enough money to bribe his way out of trouble. When poker first began in a Block 4 Clifton apartment, the constant arrival and departure of men at odd timings raised suspicions, and a police party raided the place.“Around 15 to 16 guys were arrested but were later released after the police were paid around 3-and-a half lakh rupees,” the dealer says.Thus, with stakes so high, it’s perhaps inevitable that some players have to turn to crime to make good their debts. “People have kidnapped their own siblings for ransom and then killed them when it came to resolving gambling debts,” says a police officer. “There was a very heartbreaking case in which a father gave away his own little daughter in place of cash he owed to someone for gambling.”And if these are not reasons enough to shun gambling, there are ample cases of people who have sacrificed their lives and relationships at the poker table.A former poker player confided in me, “I tried to commit suicide because there was no way I could have paid or played off my debts. I started getting threats. The more I lost, the more I played on credit (private places let player buy chips on credit, often at exorbitant interest rates) in the hope of winning and recovering. In the end, I had to flee the country and stayed away for months.”“One of the reasons my marriage failed was because of my husband’s gambling,” says a divorced housewife. “There were days when we would have a Land Cruiser parked outside, and days when all we would have was an old Corolla. Gambling then made him an alcoholic when he could not control his depression over losing money and thus he ended up losing his job and leaving his family.”The possibility of making a quick buck, coupled with the glamour and adrenaline of this game, makes poker irresistible for a growing number of people. It’s not as if every person who picks up a deck of cards ends up becoming an inveterate gambler, but for anyone growing addicted to the clink of chips and the rustle of cards, Shahal Khoso has a warning. “Gambling leads to lying, deception and, well, break-ups too,” he says. “After all, Juwa kisi ka na Huwa,” he says.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 16th, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag The idea was just too risky. In fact, I was crazy to even think about going ahead with it.This is what I was told by just about each and every one of my friends when I discussed with them my plans to take a family trip, with my wife and two kids in tow, to Ziarat. This is that hill station in Balochistan famous for being the Quaid-i-Azam’s health retreat in his last days of battling with tuberculosis. History aside, it’s also famous for its omnipresent junipers.Ten years back, when I visited Quetta and Ziarat with a bunch of college friends, I was given the same travel advisory. As a result of not paying heed to this advice, we survived just a few hours in the mountains and had to come down to Quetta — but only because of the killer December cold!This time, however, I was going to be more careful about the timing of the trip. Choosing November for the outing also meant that our winter wear inventory, lying idle in the attic for years, could now be utilised. We weren’t particularly interested in the main attractions of Ziarat — Jinnah’s Residency and the junipers — but we really wanted to see the fabled autumn colours of the region — a sight rarely witnessed in Karachi, which seems to have no seasons at all. My cousin from New York had shared pictures of colourful cherry blossoms blooming in his city during this season, which made me realise with a shock that fall colors do not appear only on seasonal lawn prints!But my drive to make the trip was just too strong to be put down by any apprehensions. And I figured that if I take necessary precautions, it won’t be all that risky. And so convinced in this belief, I went ahead with the trip.Plan ‘A’ was to do the 1,700 km roundtrip by car, which was then switched to Plan ‘B’ of using public transport instead. This was because we didn’t want to drive through the volatile Khuzdar city, located halfway between Karachi and Ziarat on the RCD highway. Priced above average, the overnight Al-Aziz coach to Quetta was more comfortable than what we had expected and was comparable to the ones we rode around peninsular Malaysia. But it was the lack of en route facilities, especially toilets, which made the long journey a bit inconvenient. We reached Quetta around sunrise, transferred to the Ziarat-bound wagon, and finally made it to the hill station before midday — safe and sound.As we disembarked from the wagon, it felt like we had walked into a cold storage, even though the sun shone on our heads unabatedly. What we found even more amusing was that everyone we met was so worried about the law and order situation in Karachi and inquired rather innocently how we came out of the bleeding metropolis alive! Funny that Karachiites think that Quetta is unsafe while locals in Quetta think that Karachi is way more dangerous.From a tourist’s point of view, there is not much to do in Ziarat. But this was exactly what we wanted to do: relax. There are a few exceptions though, and the Residency, where Jinnah spent his last days, is the most noteworthy. Gardens around the Residency are the best maintained in the whole of Ziarat. We enjoyed our little picnic there the next day as we watched the golden leaves falling off trees and dancing in the air, making their way down to the ground. The rustling of the leaves produced a synchronised whistling sound that broke the silence around us and announced the coming of autumn. The sunshine was just perfect to replenish our Vitamin D levels; the air was as fresh as it could be, presenting us with the opportunity to purify our polluted urbanite lungs; the skies were so clear and blue that we could see even the moon in the brightest of afternoons!The aesthetically designed wooden building in the background was not just a testament to the architectural marvel of its creators, but it was also reminiscent of the colonial era. In its good old days, I thought to myself, this serene resort must have looked over the East India Company’s rebellious northwestern frontiers towards Afghanistan and beyond.Back in our cozy hotel room, our little angel found the gas heater an object of interest while her younger accomplice struggled to deal with the many warm layers he wasn’t used to wearing. At night, the barking sounds from the wild suggested that the jungle was not far away. In the bazaar the next day, we found people to be friendly and courteous — except for one pushy tout trying to sell rooms in his guesthouse to the only tourists in town. Overall, the ambiance was laidback, peaceful, yet still commercial and comparable to other mountain stations like Gilgit and Chitral. Most of the people appeared to be religious and the active presence of religio-political parties was very visible on the streets. Surprisingly though, in this apparently conservative society, we saw many girls in uniforms coming out of schools, indicating that women literacy in this area may be on the rise.I brought this up with my host, Abdus Samad Dotani, a local of Ziarat who had invited us for a sumptuous luncheon and a trip to his family farms in Kewas the next day. He replied that women from the previous generation, for instance his wife, were not literate at all, but he had made sure all his daughters received an education. He said that more and more people were sending their daughters to school now, and believed that well over 50 per cent girls of his valley were receiving an education.  The number of female students is even higher in places where there are schools nearby, he claimed.A trip to Ziarat is incomplete without visiting one of its fruit valleys, and we were lucky that Dotani had arranged for us an outing at his family farm.The view from the village was one that we had longed to see; it was full of colors: red, orange, yellow, and green. Fat woolly sheep in black and white added to the rusticity of the scenery. Our host had made sure that a few trees in his orchard were left laden with apples for his guests to pick (it was the perfect opportunity for me to click away with my camera and capture the rustic village beauty that I could show off to my cousin in New York!), while he also packed us a couple of cartons to take home. Chances are you won’t die from a bomb blast in Quetta but will die of overeating thanks to Pashtun hospitality!After spending one more night in Ziarat, we began our long journey back home. All the way, I kept imagining a future when continuing the road trip all the way to Samarkand in Uzbekistan — another 1,500 km — would not be deemed too dangerous to sanely undertake. Perhaps it won’t be long before I undertake one, for I believe where there is a road there is a way. If you have the will, that is.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 23rd, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag Albert Einstein once said “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” North American culture is wrapped in a never ending shroud of illusion. A keen eye can spot this. A sharp mind can deduce this. An entrepreneur can leverage this. However, a creative team can turn this illusion into a worldwide statement.Enter The Soup Boys, an experimental marketing project that pranked an entire city into believing that an A-list boy band was visiting Toronto from Pakistan for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). In fact, The Soup Boys were nothing more than a small group of friends with an idea to trick their city and have some fun while doing that.The final weekend of TIFF was quickly approaching. The city was buzzing with star fever as the likes of Kristen Stewart and Ben Affleck descended upon the city. The timing for such an event could not have been any more perfect. With the date set, our team had just less than 2 weeks to prepare for a celebrity takeover in downtown Toronto at Dundas Square. At this point things began to move quickly. Within a week we had picked a location, acquired the equipment, developed a brand, created a name, secured extra volunteers, and come up with a plan of action.Scouring liquidation stores for cheap equipment, we even went as far as taping a dollar-store flashlight on to a defective and outdated news camera to add to the effect.With less than a week remaining, the team began to practice roles, develop back stories and create personalities. Bodyguards practised how to immediately respond to situations while remaining at the beck and call of the word “security”, while faux fan girls prepared their high pitched screams. Each supporting cast member worked laboriously to fulfill one purpose: making these fake celebrities believable as a huge Pakistani boy band. All signs pointed to a successful event. However, no event is without its moment of doubt; that second of indecision that grips one member of the team. It can be caused randomly as events are so complex in nature that anything can go wrong at anytime.Up to this point, the ‘reporters’ had practised their lines to perfection and as they began to rehearse, one small overlooked factor started to become increasingly apparent.  If people were going to lie about knowing “The Soup Boys” how would they be able to differentiate band members without knowing their names? Our supporting cast could only repeat a band member’s name so often before it became awkward. As the ramifications of this began to spread, many began to doubt the effectiveness of the entire plan. The realisation that the stunt would only be compelling for five minutes before it died down began to emerge.But then a solution was found just as quickly. Why not put words into other peoples’ mouths? The reporters, instead of asking “who is your favourite member of the soup boys?” could ask “what did you think of Danish’s legendary guitar solo on their debut single?”This removed the confusion that would otherwise have lead to potentially awkward moments in interviews. When an interviewee is so quick with his or her response and so excited to comment on their favourite boy band, the waiting crowd begins to fall deeper into the fantasy. The congregations’ perceptions begin to shift, as the image of the Soup Boys begins to gain even more depth.Five minutes before the big ‘walk out’ the scene outside the doors was stagnant. There was no hype, no crew, and no crowd. The media team moved into position right away. While setting up cameras and shouting instructions, we began to attract curious glances. Soon people began to stop and stare.The brave ones ventured over to ask what was going on while the shy ones, the ones not yet sure of what to make of this event, began to murmur amongst themselves.Before the question could be answered by our own staff, who were too busy setting up the cameras for the ‘international celebrities’, bonafide onlookers began to fill the curious ones in.“They’re a boy band from Pakistan,” some yelled, while others added, “They were trending on twitter about coming to TIFF!”The media crew even started to get frustrated by those stopping to stare as they were getting in the way. Reprimanded like school children by their teacher, they moved off to the side but remained completely stationary. The illusion was starting to work!Accompanying the many fans was also a group of haters, who were convinced that The Soup Boys were nothing more than a band of tight jean wearing, Backstreet Boys knockoffs.One frustrated bystander, clearly sick of waiting for our big entrance, even exclaimed: “You know how these Rock Stars are, they make their own time!”Another told his girlfriend: “What’s the point? They’re too big to remember taking a photo with you.”As his girlfriend broke through the crowd to get through to Basim, I remembered Kanye West so accurately claiming “I love all my haters.” I too loved these haters. They created the perfect ambiance, the perfect counterweight, the perfect challenge that the eager crowd needed. No Justin Bieber or Donald Trump, is worth his salt without his haters.However, these haters were no match for our professional team members who had strategically placed two female accomplices within the crowd. Their only job was to scream in anticipation; a small detail which was crucial to cement the hoax in the minds of the crowd.One ear-splitting, crystal shattering scream marked our arrival. The Soup Boys, escorted by security, began to emerge. Innumerable flashes of paparazzi cameras went off. The crowd went into a frenzy, attracting more masses of people and eventually creating a wall that halted traffic. Another scream as “The Soup Boys” wave to the ensuing crowd from the building and then… pandemonium.The Soup Boys have become minor celebrities ever since, with media outlets like blogTO, a web site about Toronto, and Breakfast Television, a Canadian morning news and entertainment programme, running their video footage. Their appearance on Omni Television, a multilingual Canadian television system, is also imminent with talks underway. Their popularity has been spreading so far and wide that ‘band members’ are being recognised by people on the street. “I was the grocery store and the cashier recognised me,” says Naseem. Their reach is not only limited to Toronto with news pouring in that they have also been invited to pull the same stunt in Amsterdam and Hong Kong.What started off as a prank has clearly evolved into something even the pranksters didn’t anticipate. As Naseem says, “The Soup Boys are here to stay.”Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 23rd, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag The Sindh Madressatul Islam (SMI) boasts of an impressive list of alumni who have played key roles in the history of Pakistan. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Sir Abdullah Haroon, Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, Muhammad Ayub Khuhro, Mir Ghous Bux Bezinjo and Attaullah Mengal have all studied at SMI. But its journey from a secondary boarding school to a university was not an easy one. On the other side of the border, another premier Muslim educational institute, Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, became the Central University of India just 68 years after its founding, the alma mater of the founder of Pakistan had to wait for more than a century before it attained university status.In 1885, Khan Bahadur Hassly Effendi was inspired by the efforts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in promoting education in the sub-continent and decided to open a similar institute for the Muslims of Sindh. Effendi selected a plot of land in Qafila Seria (where SMI exists today) for the cause and inaugurated the Sindh Madressatul Islam on September 1,1885. Modelled after the Aligarh Oriental College, it soon became the bastion of education in Sindh.The institute prided itself on imparting subsidised, modern education along with religious instruction. It was here that the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah studied from 1887 to 1892. The Quaid returned once again to the halls of SMI in 1943, when he inaugurated college classes at his beloved alma mater. It was during this period that prominent European academicians including Sir Thomas Henry Vines served the institution as its principals.1947 brought with it partition, and as the refugees from across the border started pouring into Pakistan, it was SMI that rapidly converted its hostels into temporary residential rooms for them.It was an ironic day in 1972, when even the Sindh Madressatul Islam could not resist the advent of ‘Islamic Socialism’ and was nationalised under Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. For two years it remained under the administrative control of the Sindh Government but in 1974, it was handed over to the federal education ministry.Eleven years later, on 1st September 1985, General Ziaul Haq announced the restoration of college status for SMI, which had been taken away after nationalisation. Despite Zia’s promise, college status was actually withheld from SMI until 1994, when Dr Mohammad Ali Shaikh became the Principal. He finally succeeded in elevating SMI to the college level with the help of the then federal education minister, Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah in 1995, in the second government of Benazir Bhutto.It was under the leadership of Dr Shaikh that the historic institution began to show signs of its former splendour. Over the years the beautiful stone walls had been covered by plaster, and by utilising sand blasting techniques, the archaeological beauty of the historic gothic-styled buildings was finally restored. New computer laboratories were added, new books were purchased for the library and the auditorium was renovated. Secondary classes for girls were also introduced at this time.Between 1997 and 1999, the then federal education minister, Mr Ghous Ali Shah took a special interest in SMI and  formed a committee chaired by noted academician and intellectual Jameel Ahmed Jalibi to prepare the charter and related material for the proposed SMI University. In 2008, the Pakistan People’s Party came into power and picked up where the PML-N left off.Finally on May 18, 2010, the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari, the great grandson of Hassly Effendi, attended the inaugural session of a National Conference on Jinnah, organised by the SMI at the Sindh Governor House and announced university status for SMI along with a grant of 225 million rupees. The bill formally bequeathing university status to SMI was unanimously passed from the Sindh Assembly in the form of an act on December 22, 2011. All the elected members of the political parties lauded SMI for providing quality education in Sindh since the 19th century.Coming full circle, SMI is once again getting possession of its three oldest buildings ie Hassly House (built in 1909), Khairpur House (built in 1912) and Sardar House (built in 1919), which are under the control of the SM Science College. Historically, these buildings had remained a part of the SMI up to 1972 but after nationalisation, the college section remained with the Sindh government and only the school section was under the control of federal education ministry.Interestingly, these three buildings were the same ones which housed both students and refugees for almost half a century. Now preparations are underway to welcome the first batch of students at the SMI University in January 2013. With this, yet another generation will get the chance to live the motto of this legendary institute:  “Enter to Learn, Go forth to Serve”Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 23rd, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag It was the morning of December 13, 1971 in what was then East Pakistan. 19 year old Second Lieutenant Daniel Utarid and his company had just returned from the previous night’s war mission. The young lieutenant sat down to have breakfast served by a familiar batman, one he had known from his childhood. This was a rare moment of comfort at the time, for Pakistan was in the thick of battle.Just then he received news: the enemy had attacked a platoon of the 31 Punjab Battalion, and it was coming under serious pressure. The platoon had already suffered casualties and was in dire need of reinforcements. Second Lt Utarid immediately led his men to the war front, and was fatally injured while fending off the enemy assault.An army doctor who tried to save Utarid’s life by removing the bullets from his chest chronicled this young soldier’s last moments in his notebook. As his life bled out from his many wounds, his last words were a request:“Give this bullet to my mother as a souvenir and tell her that I took it in my chest while defending my homeland.”And so the brave soldier laid down his life on 13th December 1971, at the age of 19 years, 8 months and 27 days. Just a day later, 31 Punjab gave up its arms and retreated, and on December 16 the Pakistan Army signed the instrument of surrender in Dhaka. Second Lt Utarid’s sacrifice may have seemingly gone in vain, since it did not prevent Pakistan from splitting up, but he received accolades and praise from his commanding officer, Lt Col Riaz Javed, who recommended him for the third highest award of gallantry, the Sitara-e-Jurrat.The monument at the Punjab regimental centre also bears his name, along with those of others who went down fighting for their country, as a martyr. This young man had the blood of a soldier running through his veins: his father was Lt Arthur Emanuel Utarid (retd) and Lt Col Philip Utarid (retd) was his uncle. He himself was born in the very land that he eventually died in. In 1950, his father was posted to Dhaka, where his wife gave birth to Daniel on February 16, 1952 at CMH Dhaka Hospital.The family moved to Lahore on their next posting, and Daniel decided to join the Pakistan Army after completing his Junior Cambridge from Saint Anthony’s School. It was not surprising that he was following in his father’s footsteps, as he was brought up on a generous dose of patriotism at home.He passed out from the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul on November 13, 1971 — just when Pakistan was at the brink of war — after completing the 47th PMA course and receiving a shield for best rifle marksmanship.Given his passion for the infantry, his first priority was to join the Punjab Regiment. Second Lt Utarid proved his mettle in this when he volunteered himself during the war for a very difficult front in the East, where his uncle, then Captain Philip Utarid, was also fighting.His father, retired by now, was engaged as a reserve soldier in fighting at Bimbhar, Kashmir. On December 1, 1971, Second Lt Utarid was deputed to 31 Punjab, which at the time was posted in Sylhet, East Pakistan. Later, his colleagues and commanding officer Lt Col Riaz Javed (retd) lauded him as a young man who was always ready for the defence of his country and would enthusiastically volunteer for fighting patrols.He would return to his unit without so much as looking tired or overwhelmed by the horrors of the war, they would say. It is fitting then, that this son of the soil at least had the honour of being buried in a part of what was once the Quaid’s Pakistan.Irrespective of where you stand on the divisive Bangladesh conflict, this Christian soldier’s sacrifice deserves to be recognised as an invaluable service to the nation from a soldier who did not see himself as a minority, but a Pakistani. What would it take for the rest of us to accord his community the same respect? Surely that would be more pleasing to his soul than any amount of plaques and awards. One day, while driving past the Mazar-e-Quaid with my family, I heard my four year old son refer to it as the ‘White Masjid’. While a place of worship is certainly deserving of respect, and I did certainly feel a touch of parental pride at his budding deductive abilities, I felt the record had to be set straight. It was time my boy had an introductory meeting with the Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It was time Mr Jinnah became more than a mythical character from textbooks for my son.On the designated day of our formal visit to the Mazar, we paid our parking dues and our per-person entry fees before proceeding to the main podium to pay our respects to the Quaid. Just before ascending the steps, a pan-muddled voice stopped us and asked us to take our footwear off, out of respect, and deposit it for safe custody — for a small charge, of course. For us commoners, there is a price to be paid for visiting the Quaid and an additional charge for being respectful to him. It’s hardly a surprise of course; we have successfully commercialised the Great Leader — even his title “Quaid-e-Azam” has been debased by us to the point where “Quaid-e-Azam ki sifarish” has become a euphemism for bribery!This is what the Quaid-e-Azam’s bedroom looked like. The cane carelessly resting on the bed, it seems as if the great man has gone to get a drink of water and will be back any second.From the Quaid’s tomb, we proceeded to visit those of some of his closest confidants, located in a roofed hall besides the podium. These include his sister, Ms Fatima Jinnah, Shaheed-e-Millat Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan and his wife Ra’na Liaqat Ali Khan, Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar and Nurul Amin. The fact that Ms Jinnah was a dental surgeon and Begum Ra’na Liaqat was the brains behind the All Pakistan Women’s Association provides a good deal of insight into the mindsets of the nation’s early leaders. Sardar Sahib was a Muslim League leader and his claim to fame should be his achievements and services, not the common slogan “chalo chalo Nishtar park chalo” that we hear whenever a political party organises a jalsa in the park named after him. Nurul Amin was another Muslim League personality from the Bengal and a thorough patriot. He was sworn in as the first and only Vice President of Pakistan on December 22, 1971. A case of too little and a tad too late, one might say.Treasures from history: Some of the Quaid’s personal mementos.The writing on Shaheed-e-Millat Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan’s grave is Urdu on one side and Bengali on the other, while on that of his wife, Begum Ra’na Liaquat Ali Khan besides his, is Urdu on one side and English on the other. Sometimes, seemingly minor details give away darker chapters of history that are usually brushed under the rug. One bitter December in 1971 is the difference between the two graves.Not wanting to explain to a four year old the disappointments and horrors that surround the event, I made a quick exit from the hall before a question was raised regarding the script. How could I explain to my son this sad chapter of my nation’s history when I do not completely understand it myself?The Quaid’s Iman ZaminThe “Aiwan-e-Nawadirat-e-Quaid-i-Azam”, which is a formal name in Romanised Urdu for the Quaid-i-Azam Museum, located adajacent to the hall housing the other graves, is a must-see. One has to pay an additional little charge here for getting a better glimpse into the life of the father of the nation — and judging by the upkeep of the museum, every paisa is worth it, many times over.Jinnah’s suits tailored in EuropeUnlike the Quaid’s principles, his belongings have been carefully preserved, after restoration where required, and placed in well-lit glass chambers. His collection of swords and firearms, some of them hand-made gifts, is placed behind a protective metal cage. Although photography is not allowed inside the museum, I had negotiated a special permission as I was writing for the press — but as I was to find out, the protective glass, iron cage and lighting in the hall is not designed to facilitate photography.The Flying Lady: The Quaid’s Packard.Shields, mementos and gifts presented to the Quaid all reflect the love and respect that he commanded over millions of hearts from Bengal to Khyber. Also on display are beautiful items of personal use such as ivory napkin holders and a silver cigarette case. His collection of holy books includes one English translation of the Qur’an with a commentary by A Yusuf Ali bound in black hard back, much like his books of law.Silently looking back at the visitors from a glass case, is an Imam Zamin with the Arabic text “Fi Amaan Allah” (In the safety of Allah), written with zari which has faded over the decades. The Imam Zamin contains five one Rupee coins of the state of Hyderabad. A good biographical museum should be able to transport the visitor for a brief moment into the life of the personality it is dedicated to, regardless of location or time. The “Aiwan” does just that.Decorative pieces carved out of ivory.The place has a certain power. It seems as if the frail and graceful man in the black and white pictures will step out of the two-dimensional frames any minute, take a measured walk through his study, pick up a few books, select his favorite suit for the evening and move on. One has to pause and look in admiration at his collection of custom-made designer accessories ranging from engraved buttons to buckskin shoes.  His wardrobe, elegant and enviable included made to order suits stitched by the finest fashion houses of London and Paris. The letters “MAJ” were embroidered on the inner side of some shirts’ collars. One handkerchief in particular caught my attention as it only had the letter “J” — just the way Ruttie Jinnah used to lovingly call him. Was it a gift from his beloved wife? We may never know. It is easy to imagine in this magical space that the fashionably dressed “J” would then be driven off in one of the two vintage sedans — his private 1938 Packard in white and the official Black 1947 Cadillac.The white PackardPerhaps Mr Jinnah would like to play golf today or else don his Jodhpur trousers and fancy a horse ride? The man certainly had great taste in fashion, books, furniture, weapons — you name it, he had it. And along with a taste and an eye for the finer things in life, he had the unshakable resolve that helped carve out a nation.Earlier during this visit, I had come across an old Chitrali lady and her young son, looking for some change for a hundred rupee note. They exchanged currency and pleasantries with me despite their broken Urdu. Later, inside the “Aiwan”, I saw them being insolently reprimanded for attempting to take pictures. The son sheepishly pointed towards me clicking away with abandon and I felt the need to walk over to him and explain that I was permitted to do so for a press assignment. Later, I had to prove my innocence to countless others before finally succumbing to my guilt and packing away my camera altogether.The Quaid’s golf clubsThe Quaid’s personal life suffered because of his commitment to larger causes. His first wife, Emibai Jinnah, died while he was studying in the UK and little is known about her. While Ruttie “Maryam” Jinnah is relatively well known, in the midst of events leading up to partition and what followed thereafter, she too did not enjoy the undivided attention of the Quaid, nor the public spotlight she deserved. However, here in the museum, behind thick sheets of glass, the spot lights are definitely on her.The recently deceased maestro Ardeshir Cowasjee, in a July 2000 piece, had expressed gratitude to the Zoroastrian community of Pakistan for conceiving, funding, planting “the Ruttie Jinnah Grove” and “for handing over the completed garden to the Quaid-i-Azam Mazar Managing Board in March 1999 for further and continued upkeep and maintenance”. I looked around on our little walk to the podium but was unable to locate the clump of trees dedicated to Mrs. Jinnah. With my family in tow and the mid-day heat sapping our strength, I did not search the huge mausoleum grounds. Hence, inside the museum, I was pleasantly surprised to find a window dedicated to Ruttie Jinnah, beautifully displaying some of the Quaid’s personal belongings amidst large pictures her.Jodhpuri pants for horseriding (L) and the dressing gown (R) for more casual moments.Ruttie Jinnah died on February 20, 1929, on her 29th Birthday. MC Chagla who was present at the funeral, writes in his book Roses in December, “That was the only time when I found Jinnah betraying some shadow of human weakness: there were actually tears in his eyes. It was, indeed, a tragic sight to see someone so young and beautiful lying in the cold embrace of death.”Also in the gallery are some pictures of Ms Dina Wadia, the Quaid’s only child, whom Ruttie “Maryam” Jinnah gave birth to. Ms Wadia almost shares her birthday with Pakistan, ie, the night of 14th August, though she was born after midnight and hence technically on the 15th. She married Neville Wadia, a Parsi, against Mr Jinnah’s wish, and thereafter her relationship with her father became formal to the point that the Quaid addressed her as ‘Mrs Wadia’ in correspondence and she reciprocated by calling her father ‘Mr Jinnah’.To be Jinnah was to be knowledge, grace, class, commitment and above all sacrifice personified. Physically, the age worn designer shoes of the Quaid on display might be size 10, but the ones we have to fill, as citizens of the nation he created, are much larger.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 23rd, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag I got married last year in Houston, Texas in a mostly ‘traditional’ Pakistani wedding with a few twists. As our valima came to a close, we hugged the last of the relatives hanging out around the reception hall. Then my husband and I breathed a huge sigh of relief: we were done.Done with the months of planning, the deluge of details and the careful balancing act of emotions required to keep both sides happy. While I know our wedding wasn’t anywhere close to the elaborate festivities commonly seen in the Pakistani community — whether in the US, at home or elsewhere in the world — it was enough to make me wonder if I’d do it again if I had the choice.Regardless of one’s approach to a wedding, stress seems to be the most common component. And when talking with Pakistani-American brides busy planning their weddings, it seemed that the stress level of a Pakistani wedding can take the cake.“There’s a definite difference between the elaborateness of a desi wedding and an American wedding,” says Sarah, owner of The Transformation Studio, a beauty and wellness center in Houston. “Being Pakistani makes it more stressful, from the old school chauvinism and prerogative given to the groom’s family, to the huge guest lists.”Or maybe it’s because lately, the Pakistani wedding has morphed into a hybrid of traditional customs, Western concepts and fairytale. We’re no longer just the ‘dulhan’ on stage with the lowered gaze. Now, we’re also the ‘bride’, who has an opinion on everything from the decor to music selection to guest list. Now, our multi-day weddings demand a level of personalisation and attention to detail previously unheard of.“We’re far more controlling in terms of what we want,” says Amna, who got married in 2008. “But these weddings aren’t meant to be organised by you. They’re not meant for you [the dulhan] to plan. But because we’re now raised differently, we have strong opinions and so we tend to get more controlling.”“I’ve seen a very big shift in weddings from when I first moved to the US,” Sarah said. “A wedding used to be a pretty standard affair; now brides are having meltdowns over napkin folds. The more details involved, the more stress there is.”And while a woman may see herself as a bride of today who calls the shots, there’s a good chance her family still sees her as a stationary object around which all celebrations take place. This distinction can open the door to all kinds of conflict. We now have far less patience for nosy aunties, inappropriate questions or decisions made without our consent. After all, we’re independent, intelligent people  — why can’t we do what we want?Of course, as the bride and as a woman, you can do what you want — but I recommend doing it with finesse. While your wedding is just a day (or, more accurately, a few days), you have the rest of your life to spend with not just your husband, but his family and your family. If you let the stress get the best of you, you could end up making things quite awkward as you start your new life.“There’s a major emotional component to getting married,” says Sarah. As a trained counselor and cosmetologist, she’s been around dozens of brides. “Every time there’s a life transition, there’s a fear of the unknown. Of course, there’s also familial stress and in-law issues that are too common in our community. A bride’s mom can either be a help or absolute hell. Sometimes diva attitudes come out unexpectedly and weddings bring out people’s true colours.”She’s seen long-lasting friendships permanently destroyed and brides who behave as if they own their family. “The wedding has become more valuable to some people than the marriage. The wedding itself has turned into an object to allow a person to show off.”Which is a bit ridiculous considering how elaborate our weddings were already. There’s definitely more pressure now to put together a beautiful, unique wedding while decked out in the latest designer threads. With the onslaught of websites, message boards and blogs, brides have access to so much knowledge that, if they’re not careful, they can quickly slip from being informed to being overwhelmed.“Sixty percent of the brides I see are particular — to a degree that borders on obsessive — about everything from lip colour to how winged the eyeliner is,” Sarah said. “Social media has a major effect. The awareness of options has gone up, and I’ve seen several beautifully thought-out weddings. I think it’s a good thing to be informed, but people need to restrain themselves and not lose their minds.”With sites such as Pinterest, brides are immediately transported to a perfect world where handmade flowers and mason jars filled with drip-less candles are effortlessly bound with raffia ribbon that secures a handmade label with the couple’s names. They are led to believe guests expect this level of creativity, the bride’s mental health (or budget) be damned!Truthfully, no one will notice each and every personal touch. Whether in the US or Pakistan, brides would do well to focus their energy on what matters the most and delegate or let go of the rest.If you have a major sweet tooth, go cake-tasting crazy and find a delicious cake that will make you smile whenever you need something to take your mind off the wedding craziness. If music is your thing, sit down with a friend and come up with some excellent playlists for the various events.While you may see yourself as an independent super bride and your family may still see you as a prop adorning the various wedding stages in different outfits, find a balance somewhere in between the two extremes.To do so without losing your mind, communicate your expectations clearly with those around you who you can trust. If a friend or family member has never come through for you before, chances are they aren’t going to deliver during your wedding, either. Instead, take note of the friends who genuinely offer to help and assign clear tasks that you’d like them to do. After that, let it go and move on to the next to-do item.Be organised. Make lists and go over them with your go-to team. Most importantly, manage your expectations. Things will get crazy and they will go wrong, but for the most part there’s nothing you can do about it. All you can control is your reaction to the situation.Most importantly, take care of yourself. Schedule monthly massages and facials leading up to your wedding. Detox to get rid of the impurities that can clog one’s system. You can do this by sitting in the sauna or even spending a few extra minutes in the shower. Try to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet (preferably raw).Try to find an outlet to relieve stress that works for you, whether it’s exercise, painting, writing or talking to a neutral party. It will help you keep your cool when everything inevitably goes awry.While your wedding is no doubt the biggest event of your life, it’s also just the beginning of your new life. Enjoy yourself and the moments that truly excite you, and simply let go of the rest.We’re no longer just the ‘dulhan’ on stage with the lowered gaze. Now, we’re also the ‘bride’, who has an opinion on everything from decor to music selection to guest list.Fauzeya is a reporter in Austin, Texas. She enjoys research, writing and finding new ways to tell a storyPublished in The Express Tribune, Ms T, December 23rd, 2012.Like MsT on Facebook and follow at @TribmagMsT for your dose of girl talk Violent children are always disturbing. Perhaps it’s the idea of innocence lost so early that is frightening; perhaps because it is so unexpected to find very young children as perpetrators of vicious, bloody murders. Either way, extreme violence from a child as the premise for a book is enough to either entirely repulse or entirely put a reader in a trance, depending on how well it’s written.Liz Jensen, however, writes her latest book The Uninvited with precision fluidity, beginning with the protagonist’s recollection of “when a young child in butterfly pajamas slaughtered her grandmother with a nail-gun to the neck…No reason, no warning.”Narrated by Hesketh Lock, a consultant for a global troubleshooting company, the story follows a series of violent spates by children, and corporate sabotage by adults claiming they didn’t act of their own volition. Lock suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes him incapable of lying or even imagining anything beyond the absolute empirical reality, and thus we are led to trust his account of the events. He explains, “My contract with the world holds that there are no secrets we can’t unlock, with persistence and time, because everything has a precedent.”Yet when his adorable stepson is shockingly found to be involved in a murder, forcing a sudden but clear shift in the paradigm he recognises, Lock is unable to remain a purely disengaged observer. It’s an odd book that relies on an unemotional “robot made of meat” narrator to tell its story, and it should be hard to relate to Lock, who tries to navigate society without understanding many of the social cues that people around him immediately pick up on. But it’s not, and this is a testament to Jensen’s simple and effective prose. It is a book with many frightening aspects — one being how easy it is to read and accept what is being suggested, because “whatever is shaking the foundations of the reality we know, it is something we have summoned.”All over the world these changeling children force global society and economy into ruin. Lock attempts to understand why children, after murdering their family members, appear to be retreating into a world of their own, a “world with no adults, no toilets, no fresh food, a world with its own landscape, and props, its minerals, its food sources, its rites and rituals, its gestural password, its hierarchies, its own unassailable imperatives.” The Uninvited is perfect cerebral horror — while there may be blood and violence, what is ultimately frightening is what the future holds for a “species in crisis: a species on the brink of collapse.”As with some of Jensen’s previous books, The Uninvited too has elements of an eco-thriller, and of a prelude to dystopia, built from many different mythological cultures. There is the suggestion of the Gaia hypothesis — that everything in the world co-evolves with its environment — which leads to a frightening but highly probable future, because “human history is a juggernaut. If it’s to change direction, it must first come to a stop.” It makes this film a quiet, compact and a creepy little cautionary tale that is completely relevant to modern society.Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 23rd, 2012.Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook and follow at @ETribuneMag older | 1 | .... | 5 | 6 | (Page 7) | 8 | 9 | .... | 502 | newer





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