It takes a special breed of people to attack a place of worship. Special in more ways that one, of course.
These people are given special attention by the government. Invited for special unconditional ‘peace’ talks. Specially never named by the powers that be, lest they come after them once they’ve come for those of us that are most vulnerable. Invited by anchors on their television shows, specially to take credit for their attacks; only for those anchors to then wonder who could possibly be behind the carnage they’ve just specially attributed to themselves.
But truly special are we. As indication after indication rains down on us in the form of bloodied children’s clothes, wailing mothers, and destitute communities, we refuse to look the truth straight in the eye. As though absolving them of sin will absolve us of our collective omission.
Sportsmen turned politicians hector us on our need to listen to their plea for peace with those who wish for none of it. Have we paused to think what the Taliban stand to gain from talks? Violence is their currency, and violence widens their sphere of influence. With every additional church destroyed, they find a nation more willing to acquiesce to them. Silent mice scurrying trying to evade a big bad cat.
We can continue to wish for talks with them all we want; and they’ll continue to play pretend. We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that people with no compunction in killing children are somehow above lying. “Oh no, but it can’t be them! They said so themselves!” we exclaim time after time. “No, this is just a ploy to sabotage peace talks!” we say after militant groups even claim credit for the attack. They see wide public disapproval and then distance themselves from it. Sort of like the school kid who’s recently been inducted into the cool kids group needing to distance himself from the nerd he’s been childhood friends with. And here we stand, buying every drop of it. Trending it on Twitter. Listening to men that have killed more than 30,000 of us over ten years. Believing them over ourselves.
But on top of it all; we have to resort to disgusting obfuscation. An elimination of the truth from an event; so that we can put forth a kinder, gentler explanation for it all.
“Please don’t call it a Shia Genocide. Call it a Pakistani Genocide!”
“Why do we refer to them as CHRISTIANS? Shouldn’t we be saying that PAKISTANIS are being killed?”
And, really, no one even wants to call Ahmedis Pakistanis at all, so they don’t even get the decency of obfuscation.
I refuse to deem it a conspiracy, because conspiracies imply a necessity for planning and forethought. This is simple denial. Denial of what’s actually happening around us so that we can go to bed feeling better about ourselves. Alright then, let’s take a ride down denial all the way to these mythical peace talks.
But tell me what we want from these talks. And who are we talking to?
Are we talking to the CIA agents that are apparently running these terror networks in Pakistan? Or are we talking to the people that got turned into terrorists by the CIA drone attacks? Or since terror is all manufactured by the United States and India, are we just wasting our time by talking to a peaceful entity in the TTP?
And what do we want from these talks? What’s our goal? To everyone that says there’s no point in fighting for the sake of fighting; I agree with you wholeheartedly. Because there’s no point in talking for the sake of talking either. You know what that’s called, right?
Dear Ms. Rahman,
Please don’t confuse this for an open letter. Open letters are dumb and are meant for the consumption of anyone who really wants to read it. No. This letter is dedicated to you solely and to try and explain the intricacies of the network of tubes that we affectionately like to call the interwebs.
You see Ms. Rahman, as Minister of IT (or Minister of State of IT because one would presume that you would learn on-the-job prior to being promoted to a full Ministerial position where you could wreak even greater havoc) your job is to formulate policy regarding the new and wonderful ways in which technology is revolutionizing the world. Unfortunately it seems you took a wrong turn going to church (or the mosque, whatever) and thought that as Minister of IT your sole responsibility was to morally crusade on my god given right to look at dog videos on YouTube (because screw cat videos – cats are demons. My maulvi taught me. Perhaps yours did too Ms. Rahman. Or maybe yours was really into the whole dogs are paleed thing. Diff’rent strokes, diff’rent folks.) and freely download enough pornography to crash my ISP’s server.
Here’s a step by step guide to how the internet works:
1. Person A has a computer
2. There is a magical cloud or a series of tubes or a network of underwater cables or who the fuck cares through which Person A transmits information to some other person.
3. There are these things called websites. Person A might use a website to send something the other person or to post something on it. Much as I’m using this website to send this letter to you. I really ought to have used snail mail though; seems more up your technological alley. (Should there be a Ministerial reshuffle [and knowing our history there certainly will be one] angle for the Post Master General spot. You could threaten long term bans on manila envelopes.)
4. Now here’s the real kicker: Person A can post anything he wants. That’s right. ANYTHING. And that anything might be a hilarious dog video, or a cat video (highly objectionable to me – look into banning those maybe.)
So when you, Ms. Rahman, say that YouTube will not be unblocked until the ENTIRE BLOODY INTERNET is rid of the scourge of whatever offends your moral (or your government’s, or the TTP’s, or whoever’s bidding it is that we do these days) all you really display is a level of ignorance that is unbecoming of someone in your position of power.
While we’re talking can we have a good laugh about the time when you threatened to block Google? Because of our mighty economic clout. Hahahahaha *cling cling cling* (that’s the sound of our teacups returning to their saucers because we don’t want the scalding tea to fall all over us as we laugh ourselves senseless.) Yes, let the company that can buy Pakistan twenty times over feel our wrath. I’m sure they’re shaking in their boots.
So do us all a solid Ms. Rahman and stop talking about YouTube for a while. We know it’s not coming back, because we know no one has the gumption to really do anything about it. All that happens when you bring it up is make people’s blood boil. And seriously, high blood pressure? That shit ain’t good for nobody.
Welcome back to me. Yay.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about a most pressing matter. As anyone with access to the internet in Pakistan must be aware today was a monumental day in Pakistan’s brief yet thoroughly exciting cyber history. Interior Minister Rehman Malik finally came through on a month old promise and managed to reverse the ban on YouTube. Much rejoicing was had.
In the time since the video clip sharing website was returned to the rose tinted, soft-lit reality of legality, Facebook updates across the nation have notified a previously bereft of entertainment nation of the return of the prodigal website. Like I said, much rejoicing.
However, since this is Pakistan and Stealing Christmas And Similar Joyous Events is a national pastime, the various Grinches that form our journalistic corps decided to come out to play. Now, none of us wanted them to play. In fact, some of them I very much wish would never play anything ever again and would retire to a permanent state of aitekaaf (a win-win situation if there ever was any; they top up their Sawaab accounts and I don’t have to deal with their poisonous existence. Ever.)
Anyhow, Ansar Abbasi (that vile, repulsive little man) is the greatest genius of our times. The man figured out that if you search for something on the internet, you run the risk of actually finding it! SHOCK HORROR!! CALL THE MURDER POLICE!!! Upon discovering that searching for something does in fact yield search results, Ansar Abbasi notified Geo News (a vile, repulsive little channel) that objectionable materials are still available on YouTube. We yawned in shock!
Ansar Abbasi is a man of many talents and of outsize reputation. It had barely been a moment since he proclaimed the awfulness of YouTube, that our Prime Minister sprung into action. A little primer on the PM himself – this is the man that was entrusted with the Premiership under the assumption that he was directly in the crosshairs of the Supreme Court at the height of the Swiss Letter Affair (a ridiculously overwrought affair that I hope most of you aren’t aware of [for your own sanity]). He had performed so abysmally as the Minister of Water and Power and as a representative of his constituency that it was widely believed that he’d lose re-election come May 2013.
NOW. Keeping in mind the fact that this Prime Minister has little to no popular support, let’s observe the days events. Once Ansar Abbasi had notified the world that the video did in fact still exist somewhere in the interwebs, the Prime Minister clearly thought that our nation of six year olds should not be allowed to make any decisions for itself. He ordered the re-banning of YouTube. And so it was.
A confluence of idiocy of the sort that we see on a regular basis in Pakistan has ruled again. Courts that have somehow come to believe that they represent the will of the people, create orders that limit our agency in one wave of their robe. Journalists who have inflated their sense of self to the point where they no longer recognize themselves, inform us of how we ought to behave in our private lives. A civilian government that proclaims itself to be secular bends to the will of every right wing demand at the expense of those that are ideologically aligned with them.
Unfortunately, none of this is new to us. Even worse, this is far from the last time something like this will happen to us.
ADDENDUM: Geo News is proudly proclaiming its role in getting YouTube banned again. As is fully evident to anyone with a semblance of intelligence, this is NOT something to be proud of. In fact, it’s something that an outlet dedicated to bringing us INFORMATION should be deeply ashamed of. I wish nothing but ill to the power brokers at the Jang Group for their short sighted self aggrandizement. Please feel free to complain to the following people that man Geo’s complaints cell: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org. <33
I can’t quite explain why I’m this fascinated by the Punjabi film star Anjuman.
That’s actually not entirely true. I can explain its genesis. My aayah (or nanny, what have you), was borderline obsessed with Anjuman. While growing up, I would often be subjected to VHS tapes of Anjuman’s songs and at times entire Anjuman movies.
As a child, my interest in these was perfunctory at best. Some of the song clips were undeniably mesmerizing, I particularly recall one with a song and dance atop a train (eat your heart out Malaika Arora), and another that featured her in a string of disco themed outfits that were further disco-fied by the mere fact that these were Punjabi masala numbers. Imagine a glitter ball, covered in sequins, layered over with neon gauze, and with green eyeshadow. THAT was Disco Anjuman.
What this post is not trying to do is explore Anjuman as a mass phenomenon. My point of contact is solitary, therefore, to try and explain how the entire Punjabi movie going audience viewed her would be dishonest. What I do know is that Anjuman was a superstar and likely had millions of fans, but I have only one person to explain to me why she personally liked Anjuman as much as she did.
While recently back home I asked Ama (my aforementioned Aayah) why she liked Anjuman so much. Her response was quite simple, “Uss ka dance (her dancing ability), uss ki acting (her acting ability), aur kyunkeh woh kissi se darti nahin thee (and because she wasn’t afraid of anyone / homegirl didn’t take shit from nobody).
I decided that I would try and explore these three aspects of Anjuman in this post: Anjuman – Dancer; Anjuman – Actress; and Anjuman – Amazon Warrior. Upon closer inspection I came to realize that Anjuman, the actress, and Anjuman, the Amazon Warrior, were one and the same. The Amazon Warrior eventually just becoming the defining feature of her acting.
Anjuman – The Dancer
One must never underestimate the importance of dance in the South Asian film. Songs intersperse the action, at times with no particular reason, and at times to further propel the film’s narrative. While possessing the ability to dance well is important for a male actor, for an actress it is absolutely essential. Particularly when keeping in mind the 80s Punjabi film, where the lead actor is often stoic in the song sequences and the actress must do all the heavy lifting.
Anjuman excelled in this arena. Jumping from genre to genre of dance but still grounding it in the Punjabiness necessary for it to resonate with the audience.
Here we have Anjuman performing a typical girl-in-the-village-dancing-in-the-fields (yes, all the hyphens are necessary because this is a REAL category):
In this number Anjuman glides from pining-for-her-love slower dance, to I’ve-found-him-yay! close dancing / expressing her adoration, to finally-let-me-break-out-all-my-moves-for-you to show her utter excitement.
Then, we have Disco Anjuman. Disco Anjuman is very much a one-woman show. She is the center of attention, a slave to disco (or is disco a slave to her lycra bound hips?)
Anjuman is the star here. In her western garb, with her backup dancers in saris. Traditional? Save it for the khait. In the club, homegirl wants her spandex and she wants it now. She is on a single mode through this whole song: ridiculously fucking fast. Or as we know it, Punjabi Disco dancing.
However, there was one particular combination that made a Punjabi song soar to the greatest heights possible. Anjuman, Sultan Rahi, and the immortal Madam Noor Jahan. I present what is possibly the greatest Punjabi song from the 1980s:
Here Anjuman leaves no stone unturned. She plays seductress, accomplice, and ridiculously great dancer all at the same time.
That Anjuman could rise to the occasion with her dancing abilities no matter the test must have certainly burnished her credentials as far as Ama’s fandom for her goes.
Anjuman – The Amazon Warrior
Prior to writing this post, I emailed Ahmer Naqvi (of Copy Paste Material, @karachikhatmal and Sasti Masti fame – you should seriously check out Sasti Masti; a great homage to the Pakistani masala flick), to ask what he thought of Anjuman. I will defer to a paragraph he wrote in response which helps a great deal in understanding how Anjuman differed from earlier Pakistani film stars:
“In the 80s the gender contrast in Lollywood became starker, and films that were successful were increasingly rural-centered, with the action and dishoom dishoom taking center stage not just here, but in Bollywood and Hollywood too. And Anjuman allowed a template for strong female characters to be written. Contrast that with someone like Zeba or Shabnam whose strong characters were urbane women entrusted with moral responsibilities, and dealing with them by trying to sidestep the zaalim samaaj or not let it get them down. Anjuman just kicked the zaalims out of the samaaj.”
Keeping the above paragraph in mind, let’s start things slow; because Anjuman did much to zaalims of many shapes.
Let’s begin with Anjuman not having time for nonsense like whose car should back up so the other vehicle may move:
Sultan Rahi has the temerity to stop his car in front of hers. Anjuman, clad in blue spandex (always the spandex), tells them to move their car. When threatened, she pulls out a strategically placed gun in her hat and shoots the tyres of the offending vehicle. In short: don’t mess with her.
At times even women tried to get in on Anjuman’s action. But Anjuman is the Only Ghundi (The Punjabi OG one may say), and well, takes care of her as she would anyone else:
Needless to say, the challenger gets well acquainted with a dhobi ghaat.
However, Anjuman need not always be a ghundi. Her ability to take the zaalim out of the samaaj was just as effective when she’d lend her hand to law enforcement:
Thus far we’ve seen Anjuman take no shit from anyone as an urbanite, as a deyhaati ghundi, and a policewoman.
WAIT. It gets better. Because Anjuman can singlehandedly take on large groups of men through sheer force of will (or Punjabi masala film director imagination).
Anjuman rides in on a bike; removes a helmet to reveal she’s a woman. The goons quite clearly seem non-threatened by her:
Too bad she knows Tae Kwon Do. And has the reflexes of a feline-human hybrid. In motorcycling gear.
If Anjuman had an equal, it could only be Sultan Rahi. In the following clip, Anjuman tries to take on Sultan Rahi but gets defeated. Never mind though:
She later kidnaps him while veiled. Reveals herself to be the same ‘bebass kurri’ he had earlier referred to; and well, the jokes on him.
In all, the characters Anjuman took on rarely took shit lying down. She is ghundi, she is vandal, she is policewoman, she can take on multiple goons at once, but she most certainly is not bebass.
Anjuman – The Superstar
Upon further probing Ama’s reasons for her passionate Anjuman fandom, I think I came to find why Anjuman resonated with Ama so deeply, “Kabhi kabhi, mujhay lagta thaa keh woh bilkul meray jaisi thee” (At times, it felt as though she was just like me.)
In my opinion, what differentiates a movie star from a superstar is the ability of the actor to maintain a semblance of approachability. Approachability is, (I stress to say) in my opinion, a defining feature of likeability. To be likeable on the scale that Anjuman was, she had to remind women that she was like them, and she had to remind men that in many ways she was not too different from your regular Punjabi gal.
I direct messaged the author Mohammad Hanif (namedrop alert), to ask him if he had any view on Anjuman that could help me hone my thinking on this piece. He mentioned a particular incident he witnessed. Mr. Hanif saw an army recruit saluting a poster of Anjuman and delivering an apology directly to her for having missed ‘Sher Khan’. It would therefore not be out of the realm of possibility to claim that Anjuman did indeed have transcendent mass appeal.
When Anjuman staged her return to film in 1999 with her final hit “Chaudhrani”, Ama went to see the first show. She returned raving about it. The film was successful, so I’d have to imagine her other fans must have raved about it too.
Perhaps they feel for Anjuman, what Anjuman’s character sang in Sher Khan:
Tu ju mere hamesha kol ravay,
Tay mein duniya nu keh davaan paray paray
Dil de ke duniya tun kaun daray
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls,
Time to take a trip down memory lane,
A phallic monument to independence:
A phallic monument to Pan-Islamism:
A phallic monument to war:
A phallic monument to capitalism:
A quadri-phallic monument to religion:
Ugh, just look at him. Dick:
This has been a phallic history of Pakistan.
As I begin to type this I am entirely unsure as to where this piece of writing is going to take me. I want to explore what being Pakistani means to me, what it means to others, or if it means anything at all.
Twitter is a terribly noisy medium, more prone to invective than intelligence. I must, however, admit to having moments of sudden clarity in the midst of snark-laden exchanges. Some tweeters, much wiser than I, can often respond to arguments within 140 characters with cogency that I can only wish I possessed.
I recall tweeting a piece (written by Asad Munir, I believe) on the preferred bête-noire of some op-ed writers of late: middle class morality and its romantic affiliation with the religious right. In line with my beliefs at the time (religious right bad! ‘Islamism’ evil without a cause! Silly middle classes!) I tweeted a link to the article approvingly. I possibly praised him for the great clarity with which he saw the issue.
Among the approving retweets, and the disapproving hisses, there was one comment which stood out to me. While I cannot recall the comment verbatim, it essentially went “[Munir’s] argument assumes that the middle-class, unlike the other undefined classes, somehow does not aspire for peace or stability or happiness.” Many of you may disagree with this comment. Nonetheless, a comment on Twitter had somehow forced me to come face to face with my biases.
Believe me when I say that confronting your own biases or assumptions is (at least for me) a deeply harrowing process. You’ve convinced yourself of the righteousness of your argument to such an extent that a valid critique of it is almost physically painful.
In this instance, I came to understand that Pakistanis, of all shapes and sizes, and of all political hues, certainly necessarily share common goals. Our desire to simplify the ‘other’ robs them of the complexity that is inherent in any human thought. It often leads to a position where we are unable to see that all (or at least very many) of us, indeed, do aspire for peace, stability, and happiness.
Similarly, I recall an interview of Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s (the former Ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islaami) daughter Samia Qazi given to Newsweek Pakistan. Ms. Qazi sees no contradiction between defining herself as an Islamist (a term which I personally dislike due to its overuse and misuse to paint all conservative Muslims) while also striking a somewhat progressive feminist chord. Ms. Qazi was of the opinion that women should work. That our society is too male dominated. She was also of the opinion that Islam is the superstructure that everything else should fall under.
As is wont to happen in the social media sphere, this led to a protracted war between those who saw Ms. Qazi’s position as feminist and those who argued that an Islamist position was inherently incompatible with any form of feminism. How I saw it (and I am certain many others did too), was as an addition of another layer of complexity to a previously much too facile division between Feminist and Islamist.
My relationship with Pakistan is deeply conflicted and very complex. I feel like every Pakistani’s relationship with Pakistan is deeply conflicted and very complex. This is because Pakistan is not a piece of land – Pakistan is the people that constitute this piece of land. These people bring with them their views, their experiences, and, yes, their various biases.
However, in the process of putting forth our views we often end up painting the ‘other’ as inherently biased. We (and by we I mean all people across the political and religious spectrum) strip them of rationality or of a desire for a happy ending. We paint their actions or their intentions as evil solely for the sake of being evil.
Surely, in a nation as diverse (and as fucking noisy, Jesus Christ, the noise) as ours we should explore each other’s complexity instead of dumbing it down.