Stories about culture

“So, what’s Pakistan like?”

The old man had the most startling blue eyes, the kind that glittered in a wizard-like way. He was a contractual worker fixing some room in the building where I work, and I met him in the kitchen over my morning coffee. He asked where I’m from and widened his eyes. He didn’t comment on how good my English is, but how American my accent is (which I take no offence or pride in – it’s not the two years of Master’s in St Louis but all those American movies and TV shows I watch). And then he asked me ...

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The faults in PEMRA’s decisions

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority – or PEMRA as we know it – is the body that aims to regulate and monitor content released in Pakistan on television and broadcasting networks.  This is their mandate: 1. Improve the standards of information, education and entertainment; 2. Enlarge the choice available to the people of Pakistan in the media for news, current affairs, religious knowledge, art, culture, science, technology, economic development, social sector concerns, music, sports, drama and other subjects of public and national interest; 3. Facilitate the devolution of responsibility and power to the grass roots by improving the access of the people to ...

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Pakistan and India: Friends abroad always, enemies at home always always

As someone who had been raised in the United States by Pakistani immigrants, I have always found it difficult to fathom the animosity between Pakistanis and Indians living in South Asia. All the aspects of life that bring the two groups together – from music and food, to values and mannerisms – get clouded out by the venomous politics between the countries’ governments. During this time of celebration for the 69th year of independence of Pakistan and India, I strongly believe that the only way forward is for the citizens of both these countries to recognise their shared experiences ...

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Why are Lahore Fort’s walls being used as urinals?

Nations, tribes and even individuals have claims to heritage. Heritage helps us define our place in the multitude of ideas that surround us. This view, however, is simplistic and uni-directional to say the least. The notion of a collective heritage and what we hold onto in the present day and age is an iterative one. It means that along with the mighty forts, castles, mosques, literature and practices of the past, we as present day inhabitants of a place can build on the legacy from the past. This building on the past is yet another dangerous term. The experiments in this ...

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Our national dress is the shalwar kameez, not the niqab

Through fear of the sword or through promise of eternal torment they spread their regressive ways. Over time we found another reason to abhor each other, to feel divided, to openly judge our own. The foreign culture we adopted didn’t play well with our own, for it insisted in its dark perfection while clashing with our own light. Whenever I travel from Pakistan I feel a melancholy that slowly hums in my heart overseas until it reaches full tempo when I return home. Other countries hold dear their customs and honour the old roots from which they rose with tolerance ...

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New girl in Lahore

When you are a college dropout, tired of making coffee for a living with a half-finished manuscript lurking in your head, it’s only natural for you to pack your bags and fly to the East; land of your father and his father, in pursuit of a hippie lifestyle. Okay, let’s just say Whole Foods organic market was out of budget. What was I thinking though when I boarded that plane from good ole Amreeka? What was dad thinking when he labelled pasteurised, hormone-free milk fake? Was that out of his loyalty towards the Australian cows milked here in Lahore? Or the nehr water that makes its ...

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Why did we have to rely on Brandon Stanton or Kim Driver to portray us positively?

Brandon Stanton has done a great service to Pakistan, but what have you done for your country? Of late, my Facebook newsfeed projected a new Pakistani face every morning, credit Humans of New York (HONY), and a wonderfully fascinating story to go with it. There were moments I sat crying, moments of awe, moments of elation, moments of gratitude to Stanton for projecting to the world an image of Pakistan that is so awesome in its depth, humility, reality, humanity and simplicity. His wrap-up titled ‘A final word on Pakistan’, and the parting shot of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ (seven beautiful little boys) inspired a comment on ...

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Let the women of Iran take off their hijabs, give them the right to choose!

Where citizens are forced to abide by the norms of a certain culture, disrespect for that culture for the mere sake of disrespect, becomes a mode of resistance. Thousands of Iranian women are posting pictures of themselves online with their hijabs removed, as part of a rapidly growing movement across the country. Last year, an Iranian journalist, Masih Alinejad, in an act of defiance of her nation’s ultra-conservative culture, posted a picture of herself on Facebook without her hijab. She launched a Facebook group – ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ – which has now snowballed into a movement of over 800,000 followers, inspiring thousands of Iranian women to ...

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Why do jihadists hate women but love pornography?

One of the defining aspects of our culture right now, though it is rarely acknowledged and discussed, is the problem of the young man. We often reflect as a society on the way in which our culture, especially as it is articulated in the media, has very strong and very negative consequences for our young women. From the way in which our media is affecting our cultural understanding of normal body image, to the psychiatric disorders (including but not limited to eating disorders) that ravage a shocking proportion of our teenage daughters, to the ways in which this new ...

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Memories of Shikarpur, the Paris of Sindh

The news of a bomb-blast at an imambargah in Shikarpur rocked the nation on Friday. But the attack was particularly shocking for my family. They remember a different Shikarpur – a land of peace, tolerance and Sufism, a land once called the ‘Paris of Sindh’. Many a wars have been fought by people coveting dominion over the emerald city. In the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1841, Lieut. Postans describes Shikarpur as, “The most important town in the country of Sindh in point of trade, population and influence”. My father was born in Shikarpur, my grandfather was born in Shikarpur, as was his father ...

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