Tag Archives: friday times

Sita’s Story- Sita Sings The Blues

I recently wrote and article on a very interesting film called Sita Sings the Blues. The basic issues I have tackled are culture and culture sharing –Can revered old traditions be reinterpreted? The film is a modern retelling of the Hindu Ramayana and is also a free release. And can a culture become the exclusive right of a specific group? Sita Sings the Blues is a quirky new film retells one of India’s best-loved epics and raises some serious questions.

The discussion in the comments is however highly polarised. Read more here.

After you have read the article, and if your curiosity is sufficiently piqued, you can watch the film here. Or download it. 


Interview with Asma Jahangir

Asma Jahangir marching against the first invasion of Iraq, 1991
Asma at a Women Action Forum protest, 1983









So I met up with the famous human rights activist and asked her a few questions at her campaign office. She took me campaigning with her to various offices on Fane Road including climbing up four stories of broken stairs and avoiding the pot holes on Fane Road. Here are a few questions I asked her about her election campaign for the office of the President, Supreme Court Bar Association. This is an election where political leanings and group politics cannot be ignored. Asma Jahangir’s campaign has been called partisan and she has also been described by certain sections of lawyers and media as ‘pro-Zardari’. On the other hand, her opponent has been called pro-judiciary and anti-democracy (In The Friday Times, 15th October, 2010).

Why is contesting this election important? What is your motivation?
This is important because the bar has to be independent. The pressure that the lawyers are subservient to judges is a veiled threat to the lawyers and has affected the integrity and honesty of the legal system. My aim is to work towards ensuring the dignity of the bar and its independence.

Where does the support of the leaders of the 2007 Lawyers Movement lie?
I have their support, except for Hamid Khan.

What about Aitzaz Ahsan?
He has remained neutral, but he will probably vote for me.

Will the support from lawyers belonging to the PPP be a large part of your success?
Though I have the support of many of these lawyers, it cannot alone help me win the election. The votes from PPP supporting lawyers will probably be near 100 to 200 out of 2200 votes. The issue of the PPP supporting me has been given too much attention, in fact not all pro-PPP lawyers will be voting for me. I am supported also by lawyers who belong to the Awami National Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, PML-N and other parties who have said they will vote for me. I do not have a specific group that is behind me but individuals who support my stance. Continue reading Interview with Asma Jahangir

Raising the bar

My article on the politics behind the upcoming Supreme Court bar elections. Published in The Friday Times, 15th October, 2010

Otherwise a regular election of a professional body, this contest is being perceived as a political battle between the country’s power-centres

On October 27, the legendary advocate and human rights’ activist, Asma Jehangir will face Ahmad Awais in the electoral contest for the President, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). Awais is a senior lawyer at the Supreme Court who is being backed by powerful groups within the lawyers’ community. Otherwise a regular election of a professional body, this election is being perceived as a political contest between the country’s power-centres: the hyper-active judiciary and the pro-democracy forces which support the ascendancy of the elected institutions in national affairs.

Asma Jehangir’s campaign has been supported by lawyers like Munir A. Malik, Salman Raja, Abid Minto, Khawaja Sultan, Justice Tariq Mehmood (r) and Ali Ahmed Kurd (who is spearheading her campaign in Baluchistan). The PPP lawyers’ support of Ms. Jehangir has created unintended problems for her campaign, which have been especially highlighted in the media. It is true that the PPP offers a sizeable vote bank but this affiliation has caused the human-rights activist’s campaign to be labeled as being “pro-Zardari”.

Jehangir is adamant to keep the Supreme Court Bar Association free from politics once she’s elected as president. Asad Jamal, a human rights lawyer, has remarked that the lawyers affiliated with the PPP are supporting her willingly. They cannot be told to conceal their support and just come out to vote in her favor at the time of the election. Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood is of the same view and has clarified that the election does not and should not have anything to do with party alliances. He went on to say that personally everyone has political views, and this does not reflect on Asma being a partisan candidate.

If fingers are being pointed at Asma due to PPP support, Ahmed Awais’s campaign may be even more embroiled in party allegiances since he is former Vice President of Pakistan Tekreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Justice Mehmood was of the view that this was worse than any support that Asma has from lawyers sympathizing with the PPP. In fact, when pro-PTI lawyers were approached to vote for her campaign, they clearly stated that they were under orders to vote for their party and their opinion would not be swayed. Another issue is that of biradari voting where lawyers have been arguing on the lineages of the candidates.

Ahmed Awais has claimed that the current triangular faceoff between the executive, the judiciary and lawyers has been created by Law Minister Babar Awan and that “the present situation is the result of massive funds which he gave to selected people.” The key figures of the 2007 Lawyers’ Movement are split over their support of the three candidates. The stance of Aitzaz Ashan has been especially ambivalent, with the Daily Dawn (14 September, 2010) asserting that he is supporting Ms Jehangir. However, Ejaz Haider in his piece published by the Express Tribune (October 4, 2010) has claimed that Ahsan is in reality supporting Awais, with lawyers close to Asma’s own campaign stating that he has not shown any open support for Ms. Jehangir, even though she has supported him openly and vocally in the past. Continue reading Raising the bar

Man-eating fiction-Life of Pi

Published in The Friday Times, August 20th

After finishing Yann Martel’s Life of Pi I spent the night dreaming of fish guts and maneating forests. Pi Patel’s (or Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a swimming pool in Paris) travelogue takes him literally from India to Mexico, but figuratively to the starving stomach of hell and back.

Pi grows up in Pondicherry in India and has an affinity for religion, any religion, as soon as he is aware of it. Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, it all naturally meshes in with his spirit, and the only thing that offers him solace set adrift in the middle of the Pacific with no one except Richard Parker to give him company. His father owns a zoo in Pondicherry, until the family decides to migrate to Canada. Some animals he sells and others he takes by sea, along with his family, to be delivered in Canada and America. Long story short, the ship sinks due to an undisclosed reason and most of the people drown in their sleep. Pi who is awake and on deck escapes, but he is not alone.

At the tender age of sixteen, Pi is adrift in the Pacific, sharing space with a hungry hyena, who kills and devours the zebra, and a drooling orangutan (named Orange Juice), only to become catnip for Richard Parker, who was hiding under some tarpaulin the whole time, because he was seasick.

Flying fish and Richard Parker

Of all the odd couples of contemporary fiction, Richard Parker and Pi Patel take the cake. Richard Parker is a voracious young Bengal tiger, who throughout the story rattles the bones of young Pi. Yet Pi has the courage to face this treatment and domesticate the tiger to some extent. Feeding Richard Parker and being alert in case of an attack, turns out to be the only physical reason that keeps Pi alive and occupies his tortured mind. The hero firmly believes that he would not have survived were it not for the thus anti-hero.

The book makes you think that Pi as an actual person and this is a biography, and just in the sense of it being descriptive fiction, the book is a triumph. It is engaging, full of passion, has witty dialogue (“Father saw himself as part of New India – rich, modern and as secular as ice- cream”), has a plot, and a hungry tiger keeping the reader on edge. But there are other aspects to the book as well, metaphors and insights into humanity, spiritual and savage, that reward the reader even after the last page has been closed.

Firstly, Pi’s romance with the three religions in India, and the sensitivity and tolerance of his parents’ is a beautiful message to start off with. Then Martel’s chilling description of a man-eating carnivorous island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where Pi lands to find edible algae, tame meerkats and fresh water. It serves as a point where Pi’s spirit is broken and has to be rebuilt. Pi had been a vegetarian all his life, but being adrift for months makes him a rapacious meat-eater, something his soul has not reconciled with yet. The island that turns toxic at night, is almost a physical manifestation of the condition of his spirit: beautiful and green, yet seething with poison.

Of course the book is not without minor flaws. The first part gives long descriptions about the life of Pi until the drowning of his family. But what happens after this is mostly a blank, where many readers would be curious about his rehabilitation and college life as a student of zoology and religious studies. Secondly, the first part of the book goes back and forth between the voice of the fictional writer and Pi. It forgets about the writer, and is an account in the voice of Pi until the end of the book.

Some readers may find the story disappointing, and with the brutal consumption of raw fish, and the physical torture of the protagonist, even disturbing. But then there are redeeming qualities such as the simple way in which the writer tries to unfold an intense philosophy of faith.

The book won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2002. It has fit well into the canon of contemporary fiction that is accessible to teenagers and adults alike, like JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and even more mature titles like Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Agnosticism always confused Pi. Either one believes, or does not, and he is an atheist. The little hero says, “It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them – and then they leap.” In another quote about agnostics, the book

says “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.” And in the final few pages the reader is forced to see why belief is what helps people survive. Science is held in high regard in the book and every argument Pi makes, is backed up by scientific reasoning. But it only works to solve his more immediate problems. To solve the bigger problem of not how to survive, but why, requires a little more than logical reasoning.

In the end the reader is given a choice, to either take a leap of faith and believe in the fantastical humane story of survival with the hyena, zebra, orangutan, tiger and meerkats, or in a credible human tale of murder and death on a crowded lifeboat. What version of the human spirit will you choose to embrace?

Please comment and let me know!

The Af-Pak saga continues: Af-Pak Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA)

Published in The Friday Times, 30 July 2010 to sort out what the hullabaloo is about. This is the what the agreement is all about in a nutshell.

The 1965 Transit Trade Agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been revised this year with regards to Afghan goods’ transit to the Arabian Sea, as well as terms for Pakistan to secure routes to the Central Asian republics through Afghanistan. Pakistan is the largest trading partner of Afghanistan and the two countries’ trade has grown from $170 million in 2000-01 to $1.49 billion in 2008-09.

During the meeting between President Hamid Karzai and President Zardari in Washington in May 2009, a memorandum of understanding was signed to begin talks. The draft for an agreement was finalized on 19 July 2010. The decision to discuss APTTA coincided with the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and has irked many in Pakistan as it reinforces the perception that the government is making the decision under US pressure.

On 22 July, clarifying the ambiguities regarding the trade agreement, the Chairman Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Sohail Ahmed said the agreement had not been signed yet, only the minutes of the meeting had been endorsed by authorities on either side.

The new agreement will allow Afghan trucks to carry export goods to the Wagah border for delivery to India. In order to check unauthorised trade the cargo will be allowed to be transported in accordance with internationally acceptable and verifiable standards of sealable trucks for a period of three years. Pakistan will be allowed to use Afghan territory for its exports to Central Asia.

India, which has transit trade agreements with Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, seeks the shorter Wagah-Khyber transit route to Afghanistan for access to Central Asian markets. This access has been denied by Pakistan but India will be able to carry its goods to Afghanistan using Pakistan’s airspace despite the fact that India has not extended Pakistan transit rights to landlocked Nepal.

The drivers and cleaners will be allowed to enter and exit the two countries on short-term work permits readable by biometric devices installed at entry points. If goods do not exit the country within the specified time, the guarantees will be encashed by customs authorities.

An Arbitration Tribunal will also be set up bilaterally in case of a dispute. Failure to agree on a common name of a third arbitrator, two names of non-nationals and non-residents will be proposed by each side and the third arbitrator will be selected by drawing lots from the four proposed names.

To tackle the issue of smuggling, the two sides agreed to install tracking devices on transport units and a mechanism for customs to customs information sharing (IT data and others) will be established. Financial guarantees, equal to the amount of import levies of Pakistan, have to be deposited by authorised brokers or customs clearing agents to check the unauthorised trade and these deposits will be released after the goods exit the country.