Rabia Ahmed

The author is a freelance writer and translator.

August 4, 2013

Adoption, it appears, is for TV ratings

It takes a long time to come to terms with some diagnoses, and the fact that you may be unable to conceive a child is one of them, but there is a solution: adoption. It offers couples the opportunity to raise and love a child, and give the child a loving home and family that it did not possess. And yet, even though adoption generally turns out to be a mutually happy solution, it is a serious process, and an emotional one; the journey is not easy. Prospective parents looking to adopt a child are vetted in a notoriously rigorous manner. Their ages, ...

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Why my champa tree reminded me of the sect-free mosque

More than six months ago, I bought a small champa tree, supposedly because my husband wanted one, but really, I love champa myself. It’s ‘frangipani’ in English, but it is the name ‘champa’ that means for me this short tree with a most definite idea of self. Its branches twist this way and that most tree-ishly, its leaves a rich deep green, veined and elongated. And then the flowers, so many varieties, but all champa: the pale pink ones edged with a blush of slightly darker pink with the signature yellow in the centre…  Champa flowers all have this yellow right there. ...

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Swat Jirga: For the women, by the women – but will it work?

The best environment for terrorism is ‘poverty, injustice, racism, and deprivation of human rights,’ factors identified by Malala at the UN on June 12. Pakistan, where terrorism is a major force, has them all. Malala, a living example should know, and obviously her defiance emboldened other women, since all four factors are rampant in Malala’s district, Swat, where the men are known for male chauvinism, like a dragon is also known as a worm. Tahira, married at 12, suffered marital abuse. There’s nothing unusual about either the child marriage or the abuse, they happen all the time. One day her husband ...

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‘Halal’ education in Pakistan: When ‘pig’ in a nursery rhyme is taboo

As certain words and concepts in English are out of their range of experience, my students, coming from an underprivileged background, find it difficult to understand or accept them. With English nursery rhymes for example, since Jack was remiss enough to break his crown, the girls thought he and Jill were king and queen, until I explained otherwise.  Humpty Dumpty on the other hand continues to be viewed with deep distrust, however much I pleaded his cause. It isn’t, after all, normal to be an egg person. The resultant doubt of his being quite kosher creates a degree of disquiet. If ever Humpty wanders ...

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A must watch!

Set against the social and political upheaval following the infamous 9/11, Mohsin Hamid’s book is skilfully brought to life in the movie The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Instead of the somewhat stilted, ‘Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance?’ with which the book starts, the movie launches straight into old Lahore (sadly, a Lahore recreated and filmed in Delhi, given the potential volatility of the subject), with an electrifying qawali. And very soon, images of the qawals’ paan stained uvulas are interwoven with disturbing scenes as an American couple on the street is attacked, the man roughly bundled into a car. The screams of ...

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Playing Bluff with ‘religious’ men

Mir Jan lives in my village, Pratistan, between the affluent town of Bundookh and impoverished Mafloos. Like his fellow villagers, he is a poor, illiterate man. In fact there are just five literate men in our village, respected men, and until recently, I was respected as one of them. Our advice is sought in village problems, and we offer it after consulting thick books and pulling at our lips with solemn frowns. We are paid in cash, but mostly with gifts of meager farm produce, and milk from skeletal cows. Mir Jan is paid by handling our transport, because he ran the ...

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Can the jirga and women co-exist?

A loud screech from the speakers drowned out the last word of the lecture ─ the word which happened to be ‘peace’. Nervously, the girls leaned forward to make sure they missed nothing else. They were to write an essay. Their teacher, her voice thick with distaste, pronounced the words, “…the existing judicial system and its failings, and how the jirga can help…” But the rest was lost again as a throat was cleared explosively, and the azaan burst onto the airwaves. Shifa rubbed hard at her eyes. Damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, this was the gist of her thoughts ─ ...

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A true patriot lost with the demise of Chacha Pakistan

A man called ‘Chacha Pakistani’ was at the flag lowering ceremony at the Wagah border every single day of the year. The flag lowering ceremony, a ceremonial thumbing of the nose by the troops of India on one side and Pakistan on the other, has taken place at the Wagah border since 1959. Even though the contempt has since been toned down, it remains a sort of civil baring of the teeth on either side, or as Michael Palin described it, a ‘carefully choreographed contempt,’ of one neighbouring country for the other. Born Mehar Din ninety years ago, Chacha Pakistani moved ...

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Please help me; I’m all alone

When the ship sank, we swam ashore onto a beach, six of us men, and three women who quickly moved away. Conferring amongst ourselves we agreed that we should set off immediately to explore the place and see how best to return home. Even by climbing a tree and squinting into the distance we saw no sign of land or ship anywhere on the sea that surrounded us, nor any sign of life on this little island: no smoke, no huts, nothing. But there were trees all around. It was a bountiful land. Like a gigantic orange vitamin-C the sun sank into the ...

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Why have they complicated Islam so much?

If you had a step-by-step guide on how to build a bookshelf, you’d be silly not to use it before cutting your planks or handling your tools. It would show you the most effective way to wield that saw, use a spirit level and, and hit those nails on the head and not yourself. It would be one of those well thumbed hands-on books, kept in a handy spot for easy reference where you can reach up and pull it down every time you need to check something. So what’s all this about using the Holy Quran only when you’ve washed, ...

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