Sunday, 22 January 2012

Meme se Maya: The Bigger, Dirtier Picture behind the "chapa" episode

“azadi ka mutlub yay naheen hain kay aap dateain marain”  
                                                                                                                      -One of Maya’s co-hosts


By now, the video of morning show host Maya Khan harassing couples at the Bagh-e-Ibn-Qasim has been floating around the internet, accompanied by a petition against Maya and her intrusive and unprofessional methods. 

Blogger Mehreen Kasana wrote a very pointed and enjoyable to read Open letter to Maya Khan. This post is partially a caveat to that letter. This is not a blog post highlighting all that was wrong with the show, because that’s been done to great effect in said letter.

Maya's show basically expressed concern with 'indecent' sexual activity 
and public displays of affection at parks . Think park benches. Making out. Gettin handy. Oral sex. And think all the attendant demands of shame and modesty,  so that explicit  mention of these 'acts' and 'sins' was circumvented.

The reality is that for a very large number of Pakistanis, witnessing a couple, married or not, just about making out (and then some) on a park bench is an eye-sore and reason enough to assume bud-qirdaari.  It’s a sight a lot of the public is not comfortable with, unless it enters their life on silver screen and celluloid, in which case it is ravenously devoured behind locked doors and hand-cupped eyes.  We’re a country that gets gratification out of Sheila’s jawaani and moral release from Munni’s budnaami.  Sometimes, traces of the latter are found in the corner most seats of our country’s seedier cinemas.

I bring up making out because that’s precisely what the video was afraid to explicate but insinuated in its respectable silence.  In fact, ‘making out’ seems like a misnomer here because it reflects the ease and familiarity of a worldview where making out is just that: minimally, a harmless activity and at most, foreplay. I should say kissing wissing.  Kissing gets moral. Kissing gets sinful. Kissing gets “sesky.”  Pakistan’s preoccupation with seski-ness may seem innocuous at first, but the word seems an appropriate choice to talk about what this 17-1-2012 episode of Maya Khan’s morning show Subah Saverey Maya Kay Sath makes an attempt to talk about. Let it be known to ALL that we don’t have sex or sexuality in Pakistan. We have sesk. We can never quite come to grips with the X. 

Maya Khan’s “chapa” episode sees a dozen or so women participating in a pseudo-awareness program decrying the many perils of park courtship. And benches. BEWARE the benches!

It’s a lesson in assisted Izzut. That the cameramen are indeed men makes it really conducive to some good old fashioned confessional girl talk.  Let’s shoot a moral load whilst the boys watch why don’t we! 

No hard evidence of “lewd” activity is established of course. After all, hysteria has never demanded substantiation. It is contingent instead, upon imagination, and in a culture where all manner of discourse on sex, sexuality and pre-marital relationships is severely taboo, it is no surprise that this imagination has already seen things unseen. Heard things, unheard of.  Made moral decisions. And profiled the bad boys and girls from the good ones.  It is, in fact, in response to a request by some “good” girls that Maya decided to host this investigative foray into park-land to begin with. The good girls feared that the uniform-to-home clothes swapping bad girls are giving them a bad name and soiling their collective honor. I am no one to dismiss their fears but it is clear to me that the entire episode’s interrogative mission is fuelled by action upon a sense of shared moral proxy.  Word of mouth, hearsay, rumor and a certain sexual superstition, if I may call it that, play a role in (mis)informing this mission. One mother even came up with a recycling campaign style 3M manifesto: Meem se “Ma, Media, Mobile”, she said. I’m surprised she forgot "Murd."

The episode, around an hour’s worth of televised moral meem-say ma/media/mobile/murd panic, features urban dwelling women’s almost folklorist narratives of the occurrences in parks. My estimate is that the women participating in the field-trip are aged between 18 and 55 years of age.

Rumour or not,  the ideas expressed in the video are significant because they seem to come from some unlit, dirty, dingy corner of truth- something Maya was aspiring to tap into and failed miserably at.  I’m arguing in the vein of Nancy Scheper Hue’s study on the globalization of organ-theft rumours here and I think there’s an uncanny relevance and rewarding applicability to this present situation:  “Most Anthropologists who have encountered these rumors in one form or another will suggest that the stories are, like the Scriptures, at the very least metaphorically true, operating my means of symbolic substitutions.”  I can’t possibly think any amount of rational debate will necessarily dissuade the women from believing in hearsay and other unverifiable second-hand accounts of misconduct in public spaces like parks and malls. The metaphor holds true and exerts very real power. A lot of us live by metaphor, not Human Rights Watch fact sheets. The “symbolic substitution” works thus: all the women seem to have a very palpable sense of a moral crime, without knowledge of the culprit. There is crime without culprit; they are courting transgression without convicting any real transgressor. And surely, if there’s a crime or violation- real or perceived- there MUST be a culprit, there must be victims and, above all, there must be a court. If the authorities don’t care, which the group alleged they did not, WE must.  This calls to mind Veena Malik earnestly asking Mufti Sahib “Aap kawn hotay hain adalut luganay walay?” during her now-famous interview. If the same question were to be hurled Maya’s way, I reckon she’d respond: Hum Meem-say-Media walay hotay hain. 

Unfortunately for the couples and the audience, Maya’s “expose” of social concern descends into reductive, sensationalist moralizing on the consequences of doing things behind your parents back, bunking college, not caring for your bahayn’s izzut, sitting too close to a na-mahram on a park bench and other grave social vices.  Somewhere in there, park centered prostitution raises its Trojan horse burqa-clad head. 

Is the security of prostitutes addressed? No.  Their welfare? No. Abortion? No.  Safe sex practices? Of course not. Violence/rape/abuse. Nope. HIV AIDs? Never; that’s so gay! 

I was talking about moral release and Munni earlier. As can only be expected, there was a certain hush and giggle of excitement amongst the women. They were enjoying this sascapade. There was a sense of self-righteous, morally sanctioned masti and tafreeh in the whole thing. Wise cracks were had, verdicts on the various couples passed and the whole thing played out like an extended field trip with treasure hunt upon arrival. 

Tafreeh reminds me, the nature of morality policing depicted in the episode, seems almost masturbatory in that it served a safety valve function. It reestablishes existing virgin-whore binaries.  It does for our country’s arbiters of honour, decency and morality what good old porn does for the consumer. Enter morality porn.  Or more appropriately, moreporn.  I can just feel it in all the giggles and frowning speculations abound in the video.  The ladies are hot and bothered. This particular safety valve happens to be safer because they’re not confronting the more privileged boys and girls of Butlers Café:  Think Veena Jee and “soft targets.”
                                       . If you read my article yesterday, this video would have been accessible. It has, since then, been taken off YouTube. I thought Maya and Samaa had nothing to hide? 

After their breathless pursuit of the first two couples (five in all), Maya martials her forces for some down time with further anecdotal exchanges.
I could conveniently say she was making a big deal out of nothing, but the trouble is that there is a moral problem here- both in the watch dog style sexual surveillance brought to bear upon those unsuspecting couples (ala Zia-ul-Haq), and also in the pursuit of transgression without transgressors, and the process of substitution that took place, where the former replaced the latter.  

There is a situation, whether it exists in perception or reality: the dirty, taboo details occupy a place all their own in the nether regions of many Pakistanis’ minds and mouths. Those bad words. Bad parts. The PTA banned word list. Ullu chudai. Jesus. Bumblefuck and flatulence. Period! 

What this episode demonstrates to me is that if there isn’t necessarily a religious agenda here, there is certainly a moral imagination at work. This video is perversely precious in that it captures this imagination in all its frenzied excitement. I found it interesting how the interviewee Dad, that pillar of families-ONLY, Sunday outing moral rectitude, expressed his knowledge of the inexpressible.  That contradiction is at the heart of Pakistan’s wider preoccupation with secrecy, seskyiness and kissing kay scene.  

Maya is essentially telling us- shit goes on at these parks- shit so bad I can’t really tell you. But you must know, nonetheless. You must know what you cannot be told. She and the rest of her quasi-expose brigade is locked in a loop, compelled to action by conscience (and higher ratings perhaps?) and ultimately arrested by shame.  They, on the one hand, wish to shine a light on the so-called “shameless”, and at the same time must circumscribe their coverage out of shame itself.  They are shaming authorities and ashamed subjects all at once. That’s an exercise in futility. It’s not contributing to any healthy dialogue on what can be done to make parks more permissible spots for families and couples alike. As I understand it, that is a legitimate concern for the stakeholders concerned, even if it is one I do not personally share. I just don’t see a morning show host as a relevant one in this case at all. Municipal councils world over clamp down on any untoward behaviour in public park spaces (from cruising for sex to drug use and procurement/prostitution).  Not this way, though. This is very bad, almost delinquent behaviour. This is bullying, harassment and humour at others’ expense. The concerns here may be legitimate but the methods deployed by Maya and team are absolutely unacceptable. They constitute the same breach of (public) trust that she claims these young men and women are guilty of when they meet behind their elders’ backs.  Their intergenerational trust deficit is not really her mind, nor is it of the couples’ own making. Her own violation of media ethics and trust, however, is within her professional control.  As a morning show host, she’s supposed to be reaching OUT to people, not arbitrarily running a sight-and-shame campaign and becoming an arbiter of decency and marital goodness on her own arguably skewed terms. Maya embodies Pakistan’s biggest trouble- she’s clever, cunning and cheeky. But not intelligent. Never intelligent. 

No one’s winning here, least of all a woman in an anchoring position in the media. The couples’ secrecy may prove enabling for them in terms of averting the moral gaze and worse, of elders (I would know, I’m gay and living in a country where homo= invisible=convenient=I get around=still feel very suppressed), but Maya’s silence is certainly not empowering her as a woman in a male-dominated mass media. 

She may have invaded the public space that is the park and breached its gates in all her “risqué expose” glory, but she is unable to breach the moral gate-keeping taking place.  She is unable to climb over the gate, let alone unlock it.  What she is able to do, however, is conveniently peep through the keyhole, not as moderator, but as voyeur.  

The gossip mongering moral sisterhood at work in the video is interesting, too. A few of the women are covered themselves, but are so quick to take part in the unveiling of fellow sister(s). So pray tell me, where is the sisterhood? Where are the established informal networks of trust and confidence that in many instances, can empower women and safeguard them? I know them to exist, but the presence of a male tv crew and an attacking gang of women, ruin any chance of meaningful engagement. If Maya wanted to give some friendly advice on the merits of protecting your honour and not bunking classes, she could have done so on her own terms, behind the scenes, free of the gaze of the penetrative camera and thousands of na-mahram in the audience. That is after all, a moral/religious concern for her isn’t it?

Mehreen Kasana talked about privacy in her letter, and the idea of letting people be. I get where she’s coming from, but I think she’s too quick in assuming that Anglo-American standards of “personal space” and “respect for privacy” are operative, and even necessarily desired, here. In context of the televised sermon that this was, I couldn’t agree more with her, though: Maya was invading privacy and encroaching upon personal space. 

 Where I think it’s not quite that simple, is in statements like this: “They’ll ask for help when they ask you.”  Not quite. Different cultures negotiate personal space differently. “I let them be unless and until they ask for help (my emphasis).”  By and large, Pakistan is not a DIY, self-help culture, so that translates into letting a lot of women and a lot of youth just BE. As it is, many women in Pakistan are brought up to never ask for help but only to listen, lower their gaze and respond.  With regards to sexuality, it’s all the more Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I felt Kasana’s Open Letter  dealt with the idea of privacy uncritically. 

If every woman in this country minded her own business, then the entire institution of arranged marriage, easily condemned but seldom appreciated as an enabling convenience in women’s lives, would collapse. Informal support networks, where they do exist, would collapse. A ‘bahayn’ offering advice, sans tv crew, wouldn’t necessarily be dismissed as an intrusion. In societies as homosocial as ours, there are tacit bonds at work: girls get girls. Women get women. They ask. They intuit. And they offer each other the kind of therapeutic support that is not the subject of a morning show. Sometimes these support systems have been known to take the shape of increasingly popular female-only durs gatherings, in the style of Farhat Hashmi, for instance. The whole mind your own business thing works both ways. Free counselling and advice can also empower women and connect them to a wider feminine experience and narrative in a male-dominated society and can make them feel like they’re not alone. Not all of the advice and guidance dispensed from elders and/or cultural authorities is deemed invasive- some of it, is indeed welcome. Privacy and personal space are cultural variants, not universal postulates readily applicable everywhere and anywhere. 

Which makes Maya’s program all the more pathetic, because she violated that gendered trust by not respecting her sisters’ wishes to remain unseen and lying to them about conducting a survey on mobile theft and street crime. She forced entry, cameraMAN included, in a space where alternatively, she may have been welcomed had her tone not been as interrogative and judgemental. In doing so, she alienated the very girls/women she set out to “save”.
Saving reminds me, one caller, and several other commenters,  suggested the girls' faces be pixellated out of regard for their privacy and safety.  An understandable suggestion, but I can't help but think that pixellating couples engaged in harmless activity, instead of diffusing the situation, only concentrates the taboo.  The censored versions of Veena's FHM cover made her look like she was bare-chested all together. It overwrote her own titillating self-censorship- she cupped her breasts and got tactical with her legs. Regardless of whether the cover was genuine or fake, censored Veena equals naked Veena equals na-zayba Veena. Veena was irrevocably nuded the moment local television channels ran the blurry version of the cover:  nuded in person and in the national pscyhe. Pakistani audiences at large, including the Mufti Sahibs and Maya Khans respond to the blurry, and the pixellated. An act as harmless (and SAFE) as buying condoms and lubricant at the local market here can get blurry, inviting evasive glances and other suspicions regarding marital status.  Maya and many of the women in this "chapa" bring a pixellated lens to bear upon the amoral and the indecent.   Pixellation can mutate even the most innocuous imagery into porn. Look, I've tried it here, and you can try it too:


Solution: If there was a problem, perceived or real as the case may be, and if Maya "date buster" Khan wished to address it publicly, she could have done so in a studio capacity, as moderator of a civil discussion that brought together different stakeholders, including CONSENTING launday and laundiaan, parents, municipal authorities and social scientists/activists. She could have even petitioned against the park authorities concerned and lobbied for better maintenance. This would have yielded better results than stalking couples.

The verdict: Nuteeja yay nikla kay…Munni budnaam hui. Maya jaisoon ke liye.

Maya Khan (left) stars in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Brought to you by the House Un-Islamic/Pakistani Committee.  

Post Script: 


just learnt that Maya Khan's team removed her date-buster videos. This just keeps on getting better by the minute. Ironic given that it was Maya who insisted the evasive couples should not fear her lens had they nothing to hide. Yet here Samaa goes, imposing self-censorship on a cause Maya, not too long ago, deemed noble and for the greater good of honour and decency. I bet if Maya and team were asked why the videos were brought down, they'd say they did it for the jawaans and their safety. Too little, too late, don't you think! The obvious reason the videos were removed was damage control and saving face. Given that personalities like Maya and networks like Samaa pride themselves on being stalwarts of a free and fair press, I think this exercise in censorship only harms them further and undermines all and any semblance of credibility.
The network, alongside Maya and her team can't even take ownership of the program and accept responsibility for their so called freedoms. Who's hiding now, Maya? Who's covering up? Who's seeking recourse to the purdah your expose sought to unveil? Shame.


Organ Stealing: Fact, Fantasy, Conspiracy, or Urban Legend?

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, 94720

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Quit playin' videogames with my heart.

The pastiche intensive music video to Lana Del Ray's "Videogames" is postmodern Americana at it's hypnotic, dizzying best. It's heart break in the time of i-PODs, hyper-reality, paparazzi surveillance, Youtube, homevideos, webcams and retrofitted Hollywood nostalgia.

This is a music video situated precariously on the "bad edge of postmodernity" (ala Mike Davis).

The ground here says STOP and says you're on the Walk of Fame both at once. Fame is subsumed in the city's larger security apparatus, frequently and relentlessly policed.

I can't think of a more fitting metaphor for love and heartbreak. Lovely song title. Haunting lyrics. 

It also helps that it is significantly allusive to a movie I consider my religion, David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. and channels something of a Mulholland mood, what with the darker side of LA and Hollywood. There's some Twin Peaks in here, too. The raw footage reminds me of Laura Palmer and Donna dancing in the woods. All the falling recalls one of the opening scenes of Mulholland Dr., where Rita's character is seen stumbling through a palm-tree dotted street in LA, in a moment of surreal amnesiac abandon. David Lynch has often had as his muse the idea of a Lady in Trouble.  Lana's beauty in this video is quaint and melancholic and I can almost envisage her creeping out from behind Lynch's characteristic red-curtains.  Lynchian-esque would be an adjective I could use to describe her...mood, her dis-ease. and that voice. 

Another interesting touch is the inclusion of Paz de le Huerta, of BoardwalK Empire fame, in which she played the coquettish vampy siren Lucy Danziger. This seems an appropriate reference to the period drama, set in a gilded age of jazz-age excess, Prohibition, speakeasies, criminality and celebrity. Of course, all of these themes are refracted through a decidedly cinematic lens in Boardwalk- courtesy Martin Scorcese, whose aesthetic is felt vividly in the series.

 There's a sense of privacy, here, on Lana's part. A privacy gone dangerously public. A privacy surrendered and a privacy invaded.  A lady in trouble- a pouty lipped siren on the edge. A videogame postscripted by the looming presence of a GAME OVER sign- lit in sexy, sultry neon no less.


Saturday, 7 January 2012

A Daily Particular

(Written in 2009)

Comfort zones discomfort me. I begin to take myself and the world around me for granted when I am safe and secure in my comfort zone, and in the process, I cease to question, challenge, and upset the status quo. Every once in a while, a little something happens in my life that shakes things up; ruffles a few feathers; disturbs the peace. And it is in these precious moments that I feel most vital, most alive, most free. One such significant moment that I still recall with perfect clarity chanced upon me 9 years ago.

I can still recall his face, and how its contours changed as he smiled at me. 9 years and it all seems and feels so immediate. He jangles in my head along with all those other daily particulars, names of people, places and other groceries one stores in their mind's address book without ever actually reaching out to them, or wanting to. 

I like thinking of these items as permanent household fixtures if you will. They exist. I trust my bed because it doesn't grow wings overnight- it sticks around. I trust my network of family, friends and acquaintances because they occupy delineated spaces. The soap dish for the soap; the washing machine for the clothes; the front porch for the car. The electricity bill hangs around too, in all too officious earnest. 

They could be coupons- the ones that ask me to cut along the perforated lines. And the ones that caution me not to use the scissor in mommy or daddy's absence. They could be the contacts on my cell phone's address book; or my friends list on Facebook. Ever accessible, ever navigable- like my fridge, or the national archives. 

This is my safe, ever polite cereal box existence. (Please) Cut along the dotted lines. Be safe. Be supervised. (Kindly) Don't talk to strangers. (You are advised to) Protect yourself from the unexpected. (Please) Return things where you found them. 

It's been 10 years. I can still recall his face. He is a Clarks salesman who sold me a pair of shoes on Oxford Street 11 years ago. He's a really good guy. I had a relationship with him that lasted all of 7 minutes. I won't say I've forgotten his name, because he hadn't one to begin with. He is the Clarks salesman: Australian, million dollar smile, priceless goodness.

I guess it would be fair to say it was the moment. If I could, I would clutch it and spin it around on its invisible axis to show you, but I'm afraid I can't. Rather, I'm glad I can't. It was the moment- my moment- and I was and am sovereign over it. For there it was. No perforated lines to cut along here. None of the safe and boring linearity of my address book. 

I taste It very meaningfully, as if It alone is capable of articulating what I am trying to say; as if It were able to consummate those wicked, ever evasive thoughts that ricochet across my mind, this way and that, mixed up, simultaneously seeking and resisting a permanent postal address where I can call on them as and when I wished, at whatever hour any day and I would be sure they would definitively remain the same.

The salesman hasn't an address, however. He remains a stranded moment, not whole but membranous, uprooted from time and space, residing on continuum avenue (no left or right turns here), resisting my permanent fixtures, defeating the stationary and mind numbing tangibility of electronic appliances, microwaves and postal addresses. He happens

He is more alive to me than so much of the immediate world around me. I tire of the daily particulars. They are too constant, too secure, too earthed in their safe, reliable existence. 

The convivial chatter, the eating utensils and their perfectly rehearsed cacophonous clatter, mother's reliable daily platter- they come easy; so easy that they lull me into that distressing state of......half sleep. I am Marx's proletarian and they are my daily opiate. I know not pain nor pleasure, but only the soul stifling anesthetic of a convenient life complete with 'Directions for Use'. Be safe. Be supervised. Cut along the dotted lines. 

I can't deny that I have often longed to cut along this precious memory of mine- to borrow Horace's phrase, 'seize' it as you would the day. I have wished to hold it and turn it around and examine it in the light, when I am suddenly and joyously reminded there is nothing and no one to hold, there is little to seize, indeed seizable. There is a smile. There is a personal history engraved. Not on stone- but on whichever breeze chanced upon my path that fateful day. There is revelation upon revelation but no Holy Book upon holier pedestal. There is Truth. But there's another customer. In line. 'Thankyou. Have a good day.' There is Big Ben which must strike 12. 

I've bought my shoes. He's handed me the receipt. And I haven't an excuse to linger, probe and stay. Whatever we had is far and away. And I haven't an excuse. There is nothing to excuse. Forgive me please for sounding this obtuse. 

I've bought my shoes, and he's handed me the receipt. 

I've lost the receipt. Never mind the shoes (I was swept off my feet).

Never mind his name. And just as well. 

I had a relationship with him that lasted all of 7 minutes.

Not accessible, not navigable, but simply, lovingly, sincerely,


Centre Justified.

It's interesting that as I've progressed through school onwards to college, the more I wish to unlearn and the more I wish could be undone.

There are lots of reasons for this, one being that I haven't had a conventional educational career- already being in my third gap year. This present gap has proven disruptive in so many ways, both good and bad. But always instructive. I feed off disruption.

All the same, I must believe that between all the scholarship and reading, writing and thinking, deconstruction and agonizing analysis, I can retain some semblance of a pre-intelligent, pre-literate, pre-narrative self.

That self has so much to say and so much to do. I know it. I'm just hoping it hasn't died beneath the weight of all those words.

Sometimes I think that the shelf-life of a book is its afterlife. All these prophecies, histories, mythologies- are posthumously ours. We're all just paying our awe-struck respects.

A library is not unlike a cemetery to me. It's where knowledge goes to die. Goes to rest in silent peace. But like any good old ghost story, I believe, not all of it (knowledge) is dead yet. Some of it still haunts. Still resists. Feels like the oldest haunting in all the world. Feels like a mystery that's not myth yet. Feels like the unknown and unknowable. Feels like the stuff of a story, in search of a narrator. But there's no narrator to be found because maybe- the narrator is as implicated in this story's wonders and horrors as the characters are themselves. How could the narrator tell it, when he/she too, was it? All authority is lost. Authorships are disrupted, turned on their head. The scene is set- the camp fire frustrates against the firewood in its hunger for secrets, the marshmellows are ready and there's an appropriately spooky night chill- but no storytellers.

I have never wanted to get to know my pre-intelligent self more than when I'm at the library. In a flickering moment of semiotic disruption, I tell myself- there is nothing here. This is a maze of knowledge. All the truths here are centre justified or left aligned.

None of the books make any sense. They say nothing at all. Maybe if I held them, or smelt them, or tried tasting their pages, they'd mean more.

The universe seems to say, get over yourself, I came a really really long way, and I am not studied in my absolute awesomeness, nor am I cautiously humble about my infinite vastness.

I'm so much bigger than you and better than you and infinitely smaller than you too, and you will never shelve this.

It says, every time you begin a new sentence, the words are actually just falling off the goddamn page, because the world of words, is flat. The world of words hangs on an edge. Reading this world is a tenuous exercise and requires adjustments for loss of idiom. There’ll be seepage and stuff will get out; top secret stuff. Some of it will get out because it never really got in, to begin with.

All the same, I am sure you will search me out and call for me in the void, which is not the same as emptiness. It is the most fulfilling hollow of all, and if you try, you can hold it in the palm of your hand. The void is a giant metaphysical cunt. And I use the four-letter word here with the utmost deliberation. It is no mere coincidence that one can conceive both an idea and a baby. There is a pressing linguistic relationship between sex and knowledge. 'Ken' means both 'know' and 'give birth' (Barbara G Walker, 1983). When I am conscious of the yawning divide between the sign (signifier) and the signified, the image of falling into a gap or a hole, helps me express that lapse in signification- it's a deep and dark cleft. It's as frightening as it is welcoming. I feel that in order to achieve a better understanding of Self and Source, I must come to terms with the hole. All of them. The one I came out of- the one my words come out of and the one in the iris of my eye through which light enters. Each of these holes is an opening- it's a way in, and a way out. I must not fear the dark. And here's why.

The pupil- that dark, circular aperture in the iris of my eye, the aperture of the lens through which we view the world and maintain perspective and host worldviews,  is black.
The pupillary lumen is black. The word lumen is Latin for light and an opening. These connections remind me that for all our preoccupation with vision, illumination and seeing the 'light', all our light, all our luminous ideas and insights are refracted through a void of utter blackness. I do not fear the dark- I cuddle up next to it, and in its deep chasm and dark cavity, I sense possibility and promise. I sense a source. There is an opening in the dark.

As for words, and language, instead of an opening, I am presented with the obtuseness of an edge. Thales was right. The world is flat.

That's a lot of fallen words. We reinventorize them so that they rise again, and fall again. and rise again. left to right and right to left. We collect ourselves as we gather all the words together, as we pick up the fallen ones.We learn em up and commit them to memory, without asking whether they're committed to anything beyond their own semantic schemes. As Korzybski said, the map is not the territory. The word is not the truth. The word is not the first or the last, nor the beginning or The End. I speak and write in words but these words are never really, truly, my own. We killed it when we christened it. And yet, here I am- such a  mouthful. I'm gagging on the galaxy, choking on cosmos- not quite getting there. Every word leads me to yet some more words, as every map leads to yet some more maps, ad infinitum. As Bateson says in Steps to An Ecology of Mind (1972), "The territory never gets in at all....Always, the process of representation will filter it out so that the mental world is only maps of maps, ad infinitum." We are locked in a loop of recourse. I know my references but I know not the source. Maps of maps. Words of words. Gods of gods. Narrative of narratives. Texts of texts. Names of names. Kinda like the cover to Memento. Damn, that was a great film! And so, I regress infinitely.

Speaking of names,  something about the culture of “naming” in general fascinates me so much. It's very functional and irrational at the same time. Pseudonyms have always been as much about evading the public eye and masking the private as they have been about resisting the convention of naming all together, despite acquiescing to the 'need' for a name in the first place, a true testament indeed to the importance of being Earnest. This begs the following questions:
 If we could re-name ourselves as we willed, what implications would that hold? Would such an exercise leave way for protean shape shifting identities? 
Has the concrete, given name anchored identity and rendered it static?
Am I as personal as my name?
Is the extent of my Person the extent of my Name?(and vice versa) Can my person extend over and beyond my given name?

You know those moments when words and language and names of things, for a brief moment, don't make sense? but make lots and lots of sound. Not so different from water-sound, owl-sound, cricket-sound, neon-buzz sound or empty corridor-sound. That's where it's at. That's the magic. 

I like to think every word has an underbelly. And sometimes, when a word leaves my mouth, my tongue longs to lick its nether regions.

As I fall, the universe seems to say: You will soon recognize that your intelligences will do you little good, or bad. they will simply do. Your sentience however, will save you. It will not wonder whether to be or not to be. You won’t need to make sense of the world around you; you will have sense.  Sense will be had, not made.

and then and then pre-intelligent Ahmed dies. Society and correctness resurrect him; he's come around again, back within the margins. And he can spell truth all over again.

Here he is

Centre justified
Left aligned.

Posthumously yours.

Forgive me for sounding obtuse.

That's a lot of fallen words.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Daal mein Kuch Kaala Hain

Somebody needs to rechristen the 27th of December, "Let's lick Patrilineal Dynasty's balls" day. And no, the ballsiness of this message is not just gratuitous frustrating against our present political climate. It's literal. Think balls. Feudal egos. PPP prados. And surnames that are an easy ticket to an Oxbridge education. Think VIP. Think Bakhtwar saying: "Our party is like a family." Think entitlement. Enthronement. Ennoblement. Think over-wrought memorializing, an Olympic season since the day. 

And then, don't think at all. Because that's the easiest way to get through the suffocating observances of 27th December.

Whatever happened to honest, measured appraisals of office bearing political persons' careers? What of all the vehement liberal shout outs for human rights records and violations? Why the amnesiac refusal to be critical in our remembrances and exhume easily forgotten grievances? Should an undoubtedly tragic, unwarranted assassination automatically entitle one to canonization and conveniently absolve one of all error and fault? 

Posthumous revisionings of leaders need to admit alternative readings/interpretations. 

I appreciate cult of personality, I understand hero/ine worship and deification, I respect sentiments, I admire the sacrifices and struggles of partisan workers and the PPP's experience and expedience in party politics.  I am further schooled in popular culture and pop icons, but I will not understand the refusal to speak freely and openly of former leaders in public office.

If you're such a popular figure, then, with the flowers, you should also be ready to receive the thorns. It really is that simple. Call it tough love. 

The state and the PPP establishment have no right to coopt public office and render it a throne. The state must not be partisan. It's an OFFICE, not a Mahal, nor a Jamaat. The office stays. People/leaders come and go. Get over it, get on top of it and stay ahead of it. That's the spirit of service. The servicemen and women are never bigger than service, are never beyond service. 

If BB belonged to the Peoples Party (whatever that means), then surely, her so-called legacy and spoils of leadership are OURS to plunder, pillage and scrutinize. You gotta grant me my 10-110 % here!!! 

She belongs to the citizens she claims to serve, not only in their patronage, but also in their protest. If she belongs to me, and claims to represent me (a problematic idea in and of itself), then surely I should be able to (re)vision her as I will. 

Which is why the idea of a "People's" party is troublesome in the first place. When you're part of the feudal elite, everyone and anyone else can be lumped into the homogenizing category of "People" with condescending ease and remove. This is a convenient exercise too, for the people become the lowest common denominator as seen from the highest of vantage points. It's really never been about the people- it's been about peopledom. There's a cleavage here, one which Pakistan seems to be falling deeper and deeper into. So that ideas of empowering the people/the MANY are only refractions of ruling-class ideology/the FEW. The masses are made. Massification is a project, not unlike the nation-state. I think this Youtube user's comment serves to illustrate how precarious and fragile the term "people" really is: "i will never vote for you people, tum kia jano masoor ki daal kitnay ki milti hai." It is, perhaps unwittingly, disruptive of the People in the people's party. It is poised to question: Whose people yaara? Yours? Mine? Ours? WTF? Masoor ki daal.

In context of the PPP and trinitarian Baap-Beti-Beta Bhuttoisms at large, nothing is more elitist/exclusivist than claiming to speak for and galvanize the people ("masses") when you've been born into landed privilege. Nothing spells elitist reappropriation of apparently populist ideals, more. 

BB, you really were a remarkable woman. I just wish a greater spectrum of remarks would be engaged. 

So on this auspicious 4th Anniversary, also arbitrarily designated a National Holiday - like we don't get enough of those already- I will not contribute to preferred + privileged + dominant canonizing discourses and narratives. 

I will not keep my peace, nor dignified, politically correct silence. I shouldn't have to. 
That's what gravestones are for. And by the likes of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh's entombed legacies, some stones speak for themselves. And some are so boastful, so set, so erect, they silence dissident whisperings all together, and seem to make a second killing and heartier stuffing of fallen martyr.

If only those paying their respects would read more than just their Fatiah. 

Postscript; To the Lost

May you rest in peace. And May I, my mortal self, never find it in this life. 

No ease for me, in Sovereign peace. 
Make that an order of unrest, 
on the rocks please. 


This poster recasts the cover to Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" Penguin Books, 1980.
I thought the Mobius triangle would be a fitting way to convey the never-ending spiral of dynastic, in-house politics and symbolise the trinitarian extent of Bhuttoism, today. The PPP arrow might just as well be a bloodline, and a bloody one at that too. The Khaki shades reflect yet another presence in Pakistan's political history: that of the uniform, against whom democracy is sworn as "the best revenge", a vicious cycle all its own.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Mythic Politik 1: POPulisms

Mythic Politik 1: POPulisms; Dil Bola Pakola.

 25th December, 2011.

The PTI rally today was heartening, to say the least. And I'm not speaking here from a partisan standpoint.  Where I do wish Imran Khan's proclamations were anchored in more than just rhetoric, I gotta admit, rhetoric can be addictive, uplifting and empowering. To that effect, the rally today was quite compelling. It was a sight to behold.

Who needs a solution when you got a slogan? Who needs a future when you're drunk on the heady brewing imperative of now? That kinda sentiment. It's sexy. It catches on. 
I caught on too, not to the politics of it, but the poetics of it. The assemblage, flags, celebrations, speeches. The promises. And how each of these things are performed, staged and cued.  

People are so cynical about Obama, and we all have our reasons I'm sure, but I remember the night of his election, I was suffused with hope and possibility. If I were to freeze that moment in time and take a snapshot, and separate it from what was to follow and what came before, it sure was beautiful. And it still is. Perhaps it is beauty betrayed, but beauty nonetheless.

If I can think of a way to seize the moment and then freeze it, I can perhaps find a way to rescue it from potential betrayal. You might call it an exercise in foolishness, but I call it one of vindication. Pre emptive as much as it is redemptive- my mythic politik. 

I like doing that with pretty much everything. 

That initial point of contact. Before you have to worry about where you must proceed from that point. Just that irreducible speck of satisfaction and faith. Before there's too much gum and tongue. before you hit some posterior wall. Before the after-taste kicks in. before the fall. that's where the magic is at. 

We tend to privilege the continuous. At the expense of the momentous. When we do privilege momentous occasions, we feel compelled to locate them in a bigger history and anchor them in greater contexts and timelines. So that the moment gets mangled with all these other concerns and trajectories. 

Demonstrations of fidelity- political, social ,sexual, what have you- can feel very true. So amazingly powerful and dramatic. The trust we invest in the social contracts, oaths and vows we undertake, is a beautiful thing. Even if it is abused after, as it often can be. It's beautiful when it's plucked out of that timeline. The *moment* we swear upon eternity, minus all the concern with eternity. Now isn't that just the most convenient dream ever?

I saw an expectant sparkle in so many of the attendants' eyes today; their hope in betterment.It's never a waste of time. Because the moment I lose trust, I lose vitality. I lose sparkle.

Sometimes I think, damn the ballot. Bring on the confetti, and belong, for a moment, to something bigger and better than your surroundings. Surrender to the mob. At least, it's a happy mob. At least, the only riotousness here is the mischief of courting possibility and flirting with potentiality. 

Celebrate. Before our preoccupation with continuity and a sense of objective remove, screws everything over and sends this parade under.

Congratulations to all the attendants at the rally today, and PTI supporters in general. In my wilfully and unapologetically contrived snapshot, this day, change *did* come. The revolution did arrive. It may have been two hours late. But it came all right. The flags bear witness. 

If your revolution doesn't stay, don't hold the moment accountable or answerable. Hold the guy on the podium responsible. For the moment is true, but ever so careless. It makes no promises, and keeps no secrets. It is so pure and so irresponsibly perfect. How could you not be swayed by it?

As a caveat to carpe diem, it's not just seizing the moment that's important to me, and freezing it in snap-shot, it's letting go once the seizing's done, and releasing it from the cold clutches of historical continuity, analysis and hindsight. 

Before there's too much gum and tongue. Before you hit some posterior wall. Before you lose yourself in his oral cavity. Before mommy walks in the room and finds you out. Before she tells you you've been bad. Bad enough to commit wholeheartedly to the one thing that makes you good- trust and hope. Bad enough to believe in revolution.

It's only a kiss, mother. It’s only our spirits in the air. It’s only the fizz on the brim of our raised glasses (sparkling water, not sharaab, mother). It’s only soda pop. He was so hot, we were frothing at the lips. But we won’t heed your caution. We won’t handle with care.

It’s only a kiss, mother. It's only a revolution. 

Let us Rejoice, before the fall. Before our belatedness can read the writing on the wall (yes; the very same).

Before there is too much tooth 'n' tongue. Before they can say, you were in college, silly, and ever so young.