Stories published in April, 2014

Afghan malangs: Keeping the country’s mystic roots alive

In Afghanistan, there is a special group of people called the malangs. This is an Afghan word which describes men who live a very austere and dangerous life and who are happy with the hardships they endure. A malang is somewhat like the Afghan version of a shaman. They have been part of the Afghan society for centuries and have been forced to live an extremely hard life. These harsh circumstances are not just because of the wars; these people are neither accepted nor respected in the Afghan society. The main reason behind such ill treatment is that in mainstream Islam, shamanism (or anything like ...

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We’re twins, not aliens!

Being a twin has not been easy for me, especially living in Pakistan. We’ve been stopped at restaurants, airports and even in the middle of the road by well-intentioned but annoying strangers. Some would ask us if we were twins (as if it wasn’t obvious) and would marvel at our likeness when we confirmed it while others preferred to waste our time by playing ‘spot-the-difference’ and bombarding us with irrational, overly-personal and clichéd questions. At the passport and driving licence offices, our National Identity Cards (NIC) have even been locked repeatedly because the computer detected one of us as a ‘suspect ...

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Journalism in Pakistan: Where the sword is mightier than the pen…

“How was your weekend?” a colleague asked me. “Terrible.” I answered. “Oh! Why so?” he inquired. I was sad and nostalgic. I told him that on Friday evening, I had received a message on Skype which said that the late Arif Shafi would have turned 38-years-old and that was when my mood had changed and become so gloomy. Confused, my colleague asked, “But who was Arif Shafi?” I didn’t know how to answer him. The fact is that I had never known Shafi personally. He and I had exchanged a few emails two years back while he was working on a feature story on the ...

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Mirror mirror, what do you see?

I have a mirror in my hands. Mirror mirror, what do you see? “I see a girl, a black girl, with beautiful eyes… beautiful eyes over gaunt cheeks. Cheeks caved in over thin, crisp lips and a levee against the pointed chin. I see a face festooned by gold; hard earned 18 carats of flimsy artwork. A ritual slaughter of a loved one.” Say more my mirror. Say more. “I see a void in the girl. I see uncertain gestures hiding in her smile. I see an ominous pout and a stoic sarcasm in her gentle nods. She knows what to appreciate. She has a keen eye for ...

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She took my advice to get her husband treated so why do I feel guilty?

I was rewarding myself with a fat free yogurt in the gym cafeteria when someone called out my name. I turned to find an old neighbour from yester years standing behind me. The last time we had met was in Islamabad, 14 years ago. After the preliminaries, I had to remark on how well she looked. Smiling, she replied, “Yes, I am happy and life is good.” She looked fit and confident; a 360 degrees change from the miserable girl I remembered. Genuinely pleased for her, I said, “Seems like your husband finally turned over a new leaf.” Although it was a personal ...

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Bulldozing the poor of Islamabad to make room for the rich?

I offer my deepest sympathies to the elite and upper-middle class families of Islamabad who may be experiencing frustrating irregularities in the activities of their servants. It’s quite possible that the inconvenience is being caused by their maasi (domestic maid) Zareena’s sudden homelessness in the aftermath of the Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) war on slums. I’ll try not to undermine the importance of preventing illegal occupation of public land but this prevention shouldn’t be reserved for just one segment of society. It’s expected for these settlements to be raked away especially, if the occupiers are haplessly poor and have no teeth to bite back. But what ...

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Drone strikes: We’re humans, not bugs waiting to be squashed

Recently, a charity organisation in the UK by the name of Reprieve, along with the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), helped a group of artists install a giant portrait of a child victim of a US drone strike in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), using French artist JR’s ‘Inside Out’ movement. Since humans seem like ‘bugs’ when viewed by drone operators, and like bugs, they are mercilessly crushed by drone strikes, the idea behind this initiative labelled ‘Not a Bug Splat’ was that it would arouse empathy and humanity in drone operators when they spot the face of a child. Source: NotABugSplat It is quite heart-rending ...

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7 simple rules (or not) to impress ‘rishta aunties’

We all know for a fact that middle-aged aunties are on the lookout for prospective wives for their sons and nephews, during the wedding season. What is surprising though is that young ladies love being the centre of attention and enjoy all the looks of admiration showered on them. And let’s be honest, what better place is there to plan the conception of your own wedding than the venue of someone else’s wedding? However, there are rules that need to be taken into consideration if you wish to actively participate in the South-Asian game of ‘match-making’. Even if you intend to avoid the game ...

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Love in the time of Marquez

I woke up today and switched on my cell, a morning ritual. The first ping was a WhatsApp message from fellow journalist and dear friend Shai Venkatraman, “Marquez is dead!” It was followed by an emoticon denoting sadness. I sat up, partly due to disbelief. Illogical disbelief. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was 87-years-old. He was sick and frail. Reports of Alzheimer’s pointed in the direction that the beautiful mind that had given us works that pulled us through our years of solitude had exhausted its reservoir of memories. He had done his job. He had given enough to this world. It was his ...

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Afridi the hero and Misbah the villain

Pakistan needed six runs of four balls. The previous ball had scored a perfectly-timed six. A rather slim and unperturbed Misbahul Haq was the last man standing on the pitch. Jogendar Sharma was one of those spin-bowling all-rounders from India who would disappear just like many of his kind. Misbah had played the cheeky flick so well throughout the tournament that he decided to bank on it again. In my opinion, he batted it well enough; the ball remained airborne for some torturous seconds and then we saw Shanthakumaran Sreesanth running around in glee while Misbah sat down in agony and distress. Needless to say Pakistan lost the ...

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