Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On consumption and melancholia...

There was a time, not too long ago, when having a cold actually meant something. But like most other things modern, antibiotics had to descend upon us and steal the romanticism out of everything. These days, we’re merely expected to pop an Augmentin and drudge about as if everything is fine, no matter how stuffed our sinuses may be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as thankful to Alexander Fleming as the next person. Nor do I bemoan the practices of modern medicine and the swift recoveries afforded by them. But really, consider what we have lost. Gone are the days of feverish confinements, of people waiting on you hand and foot by day, and praying for a miracle by night. Never again will there be messengers despatched urgently in the rain to fetch doctors, or joyful exclamations at the announcement, “The fever has broken.” Worst of all, no long recuperative trips to the countryside, or to Europe.

Then there’s the whole issue of medical etymology. There’s just something so quaint about the term ‘invalid’, and ‘consumption’ sounds so much better than ‘tuberculosis’. ‘St Vitus’ Dance’ is so much more magical than ‘chorea’; ‘chorea’ has drab connotations, and personally, reminds me of something sick and green. Likewise, ‘melancholia’ has a fancy ring to it, like having it makes you special, in comparison to plain old ‘depression’.

Roll your eyes all you want, but all I decry is the death of romance. Really, must we be so mundane?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Pseudo-Pakistani

Salman Ahmed of Junoon said in Shoaib Mansoor's Gulls n Guys, "Agar aik Pakistani gora banna chahay aur na ban sakay, to woh aik ajeeb cartoon ban jata hai. Agar woh is main kamyab ho jaye, to aur bhi bara cartoon ban jata hai." (If a Pakistani fails trying to be white, he becomes a strange cartoon. If he succeeds, he becomes an even bigger cartoon) And it's only now that I understand what he meant.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my college has a vast variety of people and here I will talk about the foreigners. They come in all shapes and sizes and from many countries. Most are Made in USA while some come from Canada and fewer from other Asian countries. Only the ones from the west are ethnically Pakistani, though that is a curse for most of them.

Before I go on to rant aimlessly, let me clear a few things. Firstly, not all foreigners I know are the same. Some are very reasonable. Secondly, my college is to blame mostly. I had a friend in A Level in Beaconhouse from Canada and we're still like best friends. My current medical college is...well...let's just put it this way that I have more sworn enemies than marginal friends because I have an uncontrolled tendency to hit hypocrisy where it hurts most.

Let's describe the average Pakistani-American. He's cooler than a Pakistani, even if his shirt says "Born on the street". He plays basketball better than a Pakistani, even if his baby hands can't score from under the basket. He doesn't give a crap about anybody, even if he drools at the sight of an average LGS chick. He might not accept your friend request, but he'll add you himself to see what a girl posted on your wall. He's more honest than a Pakistani, even if he bribes every lab attendant. He's smarter than a Pakistani, even if he relies completely on cheating to pass. He has a better knowledge of Islam than a Pakistani, even if he attempts the Ethics paper instead of Islamiat. He hates cricket (because Pakistanis love it), even if he's the vice-captain of the college cricket team. His music choice is much better than a Pakistani, even if he cannot name two rock bands. He thinks Pakistanis are a disgusting nation, even if he openly expresses his Oedipus complex. He hates coming to Pakistan but hey, it has cheap education.
In short, he's a Pakistani, only not one. He's just like us, only completely different.

I first met their clan in my first few days in the college. I clicked with one to start with and he took me there. Coming from the A Level community and having watched a gazillion movies, I'm able to fake the American accent pretty well. And so I did. After a normal conversation, one asked me, "Which state are you from?" I said, "I'm from here, only from a different school than most people here". And suddenly, there was a dramatic background music. I grew smaller as they all grew taller, looking down on me with that despicable gaze. There was an actual uncomfortable silence like I just confessed an unforgivable crime. But I was only to be surprised the next few years.
After a few days, I was chattering with an Iranian and an American when the Iranian said my accent was very American. I don't think Hitler would be that offended of being called a Jew as the American was by that comment. He spent the next few minutes explaining to the Iranian how we were two completely different people as I stood there smiling in disdain.

Before I get lost going deeper, here are a few conversations of particular interest.
1) Pakistan had just won the 2009 T20 tournament, so this American updates his facebook status: "Fuck cricket"
American 2: Yea, these fuckin paki niggers, i can't even go out. they're in the streets etc.
Me: "Fuckin paki niggers", I like that.
American 2: Hell yea.
Me: I was being sarcastic in case anybody didn't get it. :)
-no more replies-

2) American: Why are Pakistanis so corrupt?
Pakistani: Did you pay that lab attendant for the practical?
American: Yea.
Pakistani: I didn't.
American: But that's different.
Pakistani: How?
-end of conversation-

3) American: Why do you hate America?
Me: I don't. Matter of fact, I love America. I love their music and movies. I just get pissed when you diss my country.
American: Oh yea? Well I get pissed when you diss my country.

You must be thinking, what is my problem? Well, my problem is that one should never forget his origins. Life in Pakistan might have become too difficult but that does not mean you should go into a denial of not being a Pakistani if you're born and/ or raised abroad. You might call yourself an American in Pakistan, but in the US, you'll always be a Pakistani-American.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Genetics of Corruption

I am a medical man, and the questions "Why?" and "What else?" are never too many for me. And that helps me to analyze everything by comparing it to something related to our biology.

Being a medical student, I study that almost all diseases can be pinned on genetics. Even infectious diseases (like TB) have a distribution according to genetic predisposition controlled by certain genes. One day, gene therapy might help us make health virtually infallible (not immortal, you cannot fight death).

But there's one disease that is prevalent in every walk of life and might not be curable. Corruption is everywhere. If the media finds loose ends in the corruption by our politicians, it doesn't mean they get the urge once they take office. It's naturally in almost every person in the world, some just fear the Law and yet fewer, fear God.

The first "patient" of corruption I came across was in fact a "friend". I put that in inverted commas because actually I'm a loner in my college, which is apparently a social experiment of bozos from every corner of the country (and outside too but more on that later). You see, there's a Sports Week in every medical college that lasts for about a month (no, they call it the Sports Week the whole month with no hesitation). While the athletes play, the nerds take offices of different societies and sports. This guy was part of the Volleyball Club and had gotten some money to buy ribbons to decorate the poles. He asked me to accompany him and so I did. To my surprise, he looked very excited about the task and kept smiling all the way.
At the shop, he bought the ribbons and two packets of chips. Moreover, he asked the shopkeeper to make a cash memo of an amount larger than the prices of the ribbons. I was shocked. I told him I won't let him do it, while he had his hand stretched out with my chips. In his defense, he said the Club President had told him to do whatever he wanted with the money as long as he brought a cash memo of the given amount. I was dumbfounded. I refused to take the chips and walked away as he stood displeased over my rude refusal to take the packet.
It has been about a year since that day and I'm still disgusted the same when I think about it. This goes on in every society, in every public institution, every year. Face it, we have no right to criticize our politicians.

Another hallmark of medical colleges is bribing lab attendants to help you in the practical examinations. It is such a normal thing that whenever one expressed his unwillingness, he's everybody's laughing stock. That's where "doctors" come from. Once a guy was begging even after paying up, the attendant said, "Sahab! Fikar na karo, kabhi Haraam nahi khaya!" (Sir! Don't worry, I never earn black money).

But again, I'm not blaming doctors or lab attendants- but our nature. I know that teachers in private medical colleges leak university papers to their students so they get distinctions and help them boost their business. Yes, teachers- the so-called builders of tomorrow! Every year, students from private medical colleges (who weren't able to get admissions to government medical colleges because of low marks/ grades) get top positions and get the undue admiration. In practicals, they dictate answers to them before they even enter the laboratory. So if a student in a public medical college bribes an attendant to help him get a few marks, his crime is grossly eclipsed by the teachers' who dictate answers to all questions prior to the examinations.

If there's something that lifted the spirits of the nation, it's cricket. We haven't had any at home in two years but we still love to explore new horizons of curses when we see Afridi get caught on TV. Just as our team appeared to have regained its lost glory in the form of Asif and Aamer (rated the best opening pair by Ian Chappell), corruption made a comeback as well. No doubt it was a set-up, but our players were also bent upon following the leaders of the nation. It's pathetic how they keep preaching their innocence while the news channels have run every video evidence, even the one in which the money is taken.
Earlier Wasim Akram had praised Aamer upon his success saying, "Aamer is more clever than me when I was 18 years". Too bad Aamer proved he was clever by not just bowling like him at that age, but also earning like he did.

Reluctantly, I'd like to say a couple of things about corruption in politics.
Firstly, I'd like to appreciate the fact that some politicians admit they are corrupt.

This tells us that the evil of corruption is beyond repair or reversal. This shows that we have no values as a nation. If there is corruption even in Hajj Schemes, trust me, there is no hope.
Secondly, I'd like to compare another shenanigan that goes on in our Provincial Assemblies with ourselves. While all students are aware of the proxy attendance, the same goes on in the assemblies. Today, Rana Sanaullah pointed out in the Punjab Assembly that the attendance register had marked 35 members as present while only 11 were actually there. I love Pakistan.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Lie

It has been almost a week since the governor’s killing, but the aftereffects keep coming. I, like many others, have travelled across shock, fear, indignation and disgust, but in the end, only sadness remains. There are, of course, many tragedies linked to the whole event, but perhaps the biggest tragedy is that of Quadri’s life. I look at the tranquillity on his face, and on the face of his brother, and all I feel beyond shortlived disbelief, is a gut-wrenching sadness at the cruel mockery of deception. So, this is what it is to be lied to.

There are many things that can be taken from a man, which leave him for the worse. But the greatest robbery is that of a man’s reason, his mind. For Quadri, in true madman fashion, believed in the sanctity of what he was doing; he believed in the truth of it. There was no conscience disturbing his thoughts, no cold feet once he was on the path that lead to glory. No shame descends now upon his supporters : they hail their hero for his righteous deed. Which leads us to the question of whether previous definitions of madness still stand. As far as I know, the ‘mad’ have always been in the minority. But when the opposite starts to be the case, I feel like I’m under siege, slowly suffocating. But mostly, I feel like there is an invisible phantom around somewhere, laughing his head off at the black comedy he has orchestrated.

I believe it is a wonderful thing to have a passion, and to fulfil it even more so. But for that passion to be a lie is a tragedy of epic proportions; it is a death died many times over. It is remorse multiplied by a hundred, and added to ruin.

Yet it is true that we all yearn for certainty, for purpose...Quadri had one. What a pity it was all in his head.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Hate Within

I want to die and I wish to take a lot of people with me. I have had suicidal thoughts all my life but not like this, no. It's always been something depressing me and telling me to call quits. But this time it's not about me, it's different. I feel it.

Over the past few days, I have been researching and reading just about anything where the murder of Salmaan Taseer was even mentioned. I was refuting both extremes on every forum. I couldn't resist debating wherever somebody didn't agree with my point of view. I saw utmost secularism and dances with the devil. I saw religion without logic and logic without religion. I saw revolt and I saw despair. I saw claims of victory over blasphemy and I saw blasphemies that made my flesh creep. But most of all, I saw hate.

I saw hate I had never seen before. Hate, that had no comparison to anything I had ever seen. Blinding self-righteousness, and hate. Venomous intolerance, and hate. The polarization is real, very real. The country really has been divided into the so-called liberals and conservatives. And while the ships wage war in their ocean of hate, I really don't know where I stand.

I always grew up to call myself a Muslim. I never even liked classifying myself in a sect. Muslim, has been my identity all along. I fulfill my religious duties all day and go to sleep with a wish to wake up to a better day for Islam and Pakistan. But the hate will never let that happen, I can see it. If I was to classify myself between the two, I'll never be able to. I simply cannot gather that much hate for anybody who calls himself a Muslim; that is the Islam I know. Both factions are too self-righteous to feel anything but hate for the other.

The murder of the governor is also a tragedy that roots to this mutual hate. The governor never cared for the enormous hate that had been gradually building up. The clerics kept issuing fatwas and the governor acknowledged them on the tip of his shoes. It was only a matter of time before a lone man was devoured by the hate.

Hate always leads to more hate. It's not like fourth grade algebra where two negatives make a positive. This is Pakistan, where hate increases exponentially. And while everyone with a pen and/ or an internet connection bombards the other with hate full guns blazing, the suffering is just for Islam and Pakistan. My Pakistan, your Pakistan. This is the same Pakistan whose creation we studied when we were little. Gradually, we grew up loving Pakistan and yet, hating each other.

While every sane person curses the murderer, the two greatest culprits have gone unnoticed. The media and the PPP.
Gone are the days when the only news was the 9 PM Khabarnama on PTV. You were told what you needed to know, not what they wanted you to know. Now with news channels popping up every other day, news reporting is nothing more than a horse race. The spicier the news, the more successful the channel. I moot this cliche because until I researched for myself, all I knew was "kala qanoon" (black law) and I must say, I always found these remarks offensive. Moreover, every other anchor and slef-proclaimed "Aalim" was feeding me this- kala qanoon, kala qanoon!
But now, after my own research, I realized the governor only wanted a review of the blasphemy law. This changes the entire scenario. This shows, that behind the highlighted insult, was a very rational and realistic stance. But that's not all, the final shock came to me when I was told of the Taliban's blasphemy law:

"The authorities may punish blasphemy if it is committed by a male of sound mind over age 18 or by a female of sound mind over age 16. Anyone accused of blasphemy has three days to recant. If an accused does not recant, death by hanging may follow."

I never thought I'd ever say this, but I felt the Taliban are more realistic than us. This law makes much more sense than anything a Pakistani cleric ever said. And, had the media ever told us about this, believe me you, things would had been a lot different.

Secondly, I found out that among the supporters of the governor's stance were Imran Khan, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain and Rana Sanaullah. Oh, the irony. One person of every major party is supporting a positive change and the PPP is too reluctant to bring it to the Parliament. For those fortunate ones who don't watch the news, Rana Sanaullah is among those known as arch enemies of the PPP and was even blamed for the governor's murder first up. Had the PPP gathered an ounce of sense, it was in the perfect position to bring the issue to the Parliament. Fatwas wouldn't have mattered in front of unity; after all, even the hated government of Musharraf was able to pass the Women Protection Bill.

But alas! The hate in a Pakistani's heart would never let him do that. The selfishness runs too deep. The virtues of patience and tolerance are nowhere to be found. Hate is what we're sowing and hate is what we shall reap.

Nothing more needs to be said. Whoever you are, whatever you may call yourself, if you're reading this, reach out and save Pakistan. Save Pakistan from this crippling hate.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

About Murder and Blasphemy [Edited]

Murder is murder. Blasphemy is blasphemy. It's just a matter of how you connect these two sentences.

Murder is murder and blasphemy is blasphemy. And the country has put "but" in place of "and" and is changing the order of the two sentences. Although the political parties have a different debate altogether- pointing fingers. I ask the question, why am I supposed to take a side in this matter?
I believe the blasphemy law is right in its place and
I condemn the murder of the governor. Expressing his own opinion is not a crime. But calling a law, sacred to many, a black law is something he should have been more careful about.

About Freedom of Expression and Blasphemy:
I find many people complaining that the "ghairat brigade" troubles their freedom of expression. Let's define both of these terms. Does the term "ghairat brigade" refer to those who support the terrorists? Does it refer to those who demand the unconditional release of Dr Afia? Or does it consist of those who support the blasphemy law? Because I feel all these groups might overlap but are in no way the same. For instance, Dr Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi was a strong antagonist to terrorist forces and was martyred in his fearless struggle by a suicide attack in his Mosque. He issued fatwas against terrorists but I am sure he would have supported the blasphemy law, had he been alive. So generalizing people who disagree with you as the "ghairat brigade" is much more narrow-minded than the "ghairat brigade" itself.
As for freedom of expression, we need a definition too. In other words, we need to know where freedom of expression becomes a hate crime. Is a guy whistling at girls freedom of expression? Is a VJ prominently displaying her low neck on TV freedom of expression? Is a white person not allowing entry to a colored person to his shop freedom of expression? I believe the line is drawn wherever the feelings of a particular community are hurt.
Now the question of blasphemy. Most people fail to recognize the basis of this law. The law is made out of love; love of the best human being that God sent on earth. There is no being worthy of more love than him except God Himself. And God Himself praises the Prophet (PBUH). I did not make the law, nor did Zia-ul-Haq. It is adapted from the fact that the Prophet (PBUH) forgave every criminal on the day of the conquest of Makkah (including the murderer of his daughter), but those who ridiculed him and his message. Why? Because the Prophet (PBUH) and his message are from God, and making fun of them is making fun of God. Non-muslims might raise the question that the same should be the case with their religions and it really is! Muslims are not supposed make fun of non-muslims, thus the verse [Quran 109:6] "To you is your religion, and to me is my religion." You don't cross your limits and I don't cross mine. [It's pretty much man-made.]

About Murder:
All life is sacred. There is no denial to that. And any harm to life without any judicial grounds is a sin and deserves equal punishment. Same is the case with the murder of the governor- no one person has the right to declare someone a criminal under any law. This is the way educated and democratic nations deal with their issues. We have laws governing every aspect of our life and courts with judges to make decisions. Even in the Shariah, only the Khalifah or Qazi has the right to give a decision. And Khalifas don't operate underground. The murder is unlawful, with no religious or moral grounds. The governor did not even commit blasphemy the way I see it. He expressed his opinion, but was not careful in choosing his words. Calling the law protecting the honor of Prophethood a black law was like an open challenge to the already infuriated Pakistani community which had lost all it's faith in the government.
Comparing the murderer to Ghazi Ilm-din Shaheed is confusing too, as to whether people want to demean Ghazi or exalt the murderer.

The Next Step:
Pakistan is an Islamic republic. Most, if not all, Muslims love the Prophet (PBUH) and hold his respect above their lives. Most of them are uneducated. They know Islam but do not understand it. The blasphemy law was not there to start with, but now that it is implemented, going back will bring nothing but anarchy. I don't understand why would one want to have this law removed unless he/ she intends to disrespect the Prophet (PBUH) because the general rule of "Innocent unless proven guilty" is supposed to protect the innocent. It's like someone asking you to open the door; one would only ask if one intends to walk through it. The law should [be edited and then] continue to protect the honor of the Prophet (PBUH) BUT it must be made sure [by editing it] that it is not misused to harm the rights of the minorities since they have a high regard in Islam as well.