The rise of Pakistan’s ‘burger’ generation

Burger Inc 2 - Dec 20 - SM.jpg

Al Jazeera: January 15, 2016

How a homegrown burger joint pioneered a food revolution and decades later gave a young, politicised class its identity.

 

Karachi, Pakistan – On the evening of April 24, 2015, Sabeen Mahmud, the director of The Second Floor, a beloved cafe and communal space in Karachi, was shot and killed.

Mahmud’s murder, and the resounding question of who was responsible, made news within and outside Pakistan. Less than a month later, the authorities announced that they had a culprit: a 27-year-old man named Saad Aziz.

For many, Aziz seemed to be the unlikeliest of suspects. Media reports painted him as a mild-mannered man who had graduated from a reputable Karachi business school with good grades, the father of a baby girl, and a restaurant owner who loved football.

He was “a burger kid”, explained one unnamed friend interviewed by the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune at the time of Aziz’s arrest. “He was funny, acted in plays and danced.”

In Pakistan, the label “burger kid” is a loaded one.

Being a ‘burger’

“The implications of being a ‘burger’ are that you are spoiled, and detached from what is going on in the country,” says Monis Rahman, 45, the founder of Rozee.pk, Pakistan’s biggest online jobs portal.

“A burger lives in a cocoon and is enamoured by things outside of Pakistan – by the West,” Rahman explains. The word is often used to describe well-to-do Pakistanis who may have American or British-tinged accents after years spent studying or working outside Pakistan, he says.

“Fully dressed with matching accessories even for 8am classes at university, they always own the latest in fashion, cars and gadgets,” is another definition suggested by The Express Tribune. “Their ‘parties’ mimic nightclubs in foreign countries since the poor souls don’t have any clubs here and have to recreate the experience on their own.”

Despite the connotations, being a burger in Pakistan has value, Rahman says.

“People who have stronger English-speaking skills and more international exposure are valued higher in the jobs market.”

2013 elections: Imran Khan and his ‘burger’ supporters

Since 2013, there has been a slow but steady evolution of the term “burger” beyond its pejorative context.

That year, Pakistanis voted in the first general elections in which power was transferred from one democratically elected government to another.

Former cricketer Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was dismissed as a “baby boy or a burger boy” by older political leaders, while his supporters were called “burgers”.

“It’s the first time that the burger group will also come out to vote,” quipped politician Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed before the elections in May 2013.

“They’re going to join the chapati-and-salan [curry] folk. They might need to carry their laptops on their heads to protect them from the sun.”

While Rasheed hinted that PTI supporters were more suited to campaigning on social media from the comfort of their homes, he made one crucial point: “If they do come out to vote, they’ll do amazingly well.”

An estimated 46.2 million people voted in these elections, compared with the 36.6 million voters from the previous 2008 elections. The 2013 election saw the highest voter turnout in Pakistan’s history. Thirteen million were first-time voters and more than half the registered voters were aged 18-29.

Rasheed was proved right. Khan’s base of young, educated urban “burgers” helped the PTI to emerge from the elections as the second most powerful political party in the country. With 7.7 million votes, the PTI knocked President Asif Ali Zardari’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which garnered 6.9 million votes, from its perch and into third place.

PTI’s burgers began to wear the label with pride; literally, in some cases, as the party’s supporters turned up at rallies and on election day wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Kaptaan’s Burger Army” (“Kaptaan” is a moniker that pays tribute to Khan’s time as captain of the Pakistani cricket team).

That an American fast food has become a catchall phrase for a generation of Pakistanis who flocked to a political party which promised change, including an end to the decades-old hold of the two ruling parties and the rooting out of corruption, has its origins in the story of how the food itself first came to Pakistan. This begins in 1953, a handful of years after the partition of India and Pakistan, when a man named Syed Musa Raza arrived in Karachi.

Full story here

 

Advertisements

Karachi’s Diwalis Are Getting Quieter By The Year, And Here’s Why

Buzzfeed: November 17, 2015

2

It’s easy to forget that it’s Diwali here in Karachi. On Wednesday evening at the Shri Laxmi Narayan Mandir, the temple’s caretaker Kailash Wishram has just returned from work.

“It was not a holiday for us today and nor will I get the day off tomorrow,” he explains. “I work with a lawyer and I asked him if I could leave early as I had to finish shopping for my kids.”

His two daughters, aged two and four, are dressed identically in lettered baseball jackets. They’re waiting for their father to take them out for ice-cream.

On the floor near the puja ghar, plates of coloured rice have been placed next to a deg of homemade halva. Kailash’s wife fixes the goddess Laxmi’s crown and adjusts golden tinsel draped on the idol.

“Out!” she says, snapping her fingers towards the door. “We aren’t ready yet.”

Full story here

More photos on my Instagram

The Badshahs of Karachi

Scroll: October 31, 2015

1

I might have been in the sixth or seventh grade when my teacher asked, at the start of our mandatory Islamiat class at the convent school I attended in Karachi, if we were Shia or Sunni. “Raise your hand if you’re Sunni,” she instructed. I turned to a friend. “Am I Shia or Sunni?” I needed to know immediately; hands were going up pretty fast. “Well, I’m Sunni, so you must be too,” my friend replied. My hand went up.

I thought of that question on the day I met Dr Syed Zamir Akhtar Naqvi, a Shia scholar and public speaker. “Anything you might want to ask me, you can read about in my books,” he said after I was introduced. “And every year, the TV waalay take my interview, so you can find those online. In fact, if you just write my first name in Google, it automatically fills in the rest.”

I met Dr Naqvi a few days before the start of Muharram, the month of mourning for the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein in the Battle of  Karbala in 680 CE, almost 50 years after the death of the Prophet. In gatherings of Shia Muslims during this month, a horse (often snow-white) called the Zuljinnah will make an appearance, walking with the mourners during the processions. It has no rider, nor will it ever have one. The Zuljinnah (meaning “the two-winged one”) is a replica of the horse Imam Hussein rode.

According to accounts of the battle of  Karbala, Imam Hussein and his 72 compatriots (including the Imam’s six-month-old baby boy) were brutally killed by a corrupt caliph’s army of up to 10,000 men and at the time of his death, the Prophet’s grandson had been alone, shot at by arrows and stabbed 33 times. His body was pummelled under the hooves of the caliph’s army’s horses before he was beheaded. Legend has it his loyal horse refused to abandon him. The Arab stallion wept, and, covered in his master’s blood, returned to the camp to inform the remaining women and children of Imam Hussein’s death. In the years since, this moment – when the cleft between Shia and Sunni Muslims deepened irreparably – has been resurrected in this witness every year during Muharram.

2

Full story here

Nobody Home: The Indian government’s Karachi properties

The Caravan: June 2015

sr

On 13 April, I finally managed to get through to Tasnim Aslam, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs. I had called to inquire about three properties I had seen in Karachi, all surrounded by barbed wire-topped walls bearing the same warning painted in bright red: “This property is owned by Government of India. Trespassers will be prosecuted.” The moment I was done asking my question, the line was disconnected.

I called Aslam back. “There must have been some problem with the connection,” I said. No, she replied. “If you needed to ask me this, you should have SMS-ed me.” I explained that I had several questions, and asked if I could email her instead. “If you wanted to email me, you should have talked to my staff in the first place,” she said. She hung up again.

My next call was to Arif Belgaumi, an architect who works extensively on urban development in Karachi. “I’m really not old enough to remember how long these Indian properties have been around,” he told me. He pointed me to Arif Hasan, another architect and a known history buff. “Call him,” he said. “He’s older than the hills.”

I called Hasan, and asked about the properties for the third time that day. “There’s no such thing as the Indian government’s properties in Karachi,” he said. But there are—I’d seen three such places already, and the signs on their walls, I insisted. I asked Hasan if I could email him a photograph of one of the properties. “You can,” he said, “but I don’t plan to check my email today.” I sent the photograph over, but never heard back.

Subsequent searching revealed a total of six Indian government properties in Karachi: India House, at 3 Fatima Jinnah Road; India Lodge, at 63 Clifton; Hindustan Court, at 42-43 Kurrie Road; Panchsheel Court in Frere Town; Shivaji Court on McNeil Road, and Hut 61, Hawkes Bay.

These spots are, and for the foreseeable future should remain, small dominions of the Indian republic within Pakistan.

Full story here

Photo by Sitwat Rizvi

More photos on my Instagram

Ziarat Residency: Restoring the house that Mr Jinnah called home

Ziarat

20140719_100357

The Express Tribune: August 14, 2014

ZIARAT: “We have a tradition in our Pashtun culture,” says Feroze, the manager of a guest house in Ziarat. “When there is a shaadi or a baby is born, we get out our guns. We’re happy! We fire!” A little after 1 am on June 15th last year, Feroze woke to the sound of gunfire. “I thought someone had their first baby boy because it was so intense,” he said. A few minutes later, he learned that Ziarat Residency, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s home in his last few days in 1948, had been attacked by militants.

The bomb disposal squad removed six more bombs planted inside the house, but not before furniture, artifacts and photographs inside were burned and one police official lost his life.

Within a month, architect Nayyar Ali Dada was approached to oversee the Residency’s restoration. While he has a record of such conservation projects, it was Dada’s prior experience with the house that made him, as he puts it, a ‘natural choice’ – in the 1990s, the government recruited Dada to convert the Residency into a museum space after a fire.

Link to full article here

Ziarat

 

 

 

Flashback

I didn’t feel much like celebrating Pakistan this year, so I put out an open call for images from your parents/grandparents/family archives. Got such fantastic contributions from all over Pakistan, with great anecdotes/family histories. One photo every day, taking you back to a time when we had a lot more to celebrate. Today’s photo is one of my favourites 🙂 Most of the slots are full but if you’d like to contribute a photo, get in touch with me at sanam.maher@tribune.com.pk

Check out the e-paper if you’d like to read the note sent in with the image: http://tribune.com.pk/epaper/

August 1st Aug 1

 

December 27, 18:16

The Express Tribune: December 28, 2013

Six years later, The Express Tribune asked, ‘What’s your story?’

“I was in Badin at a PPP election camp during the campaign. My cousin received a phone call and I saw him placing his head in his hands. “I think something very bad has happened,” he said to me. I called a friend in Dawn News and he told me BB had been shot and there was a chance she wouldn’t make it. We didn’t know what to do – people were putting up flags, dancing, singing Dila Teer Bija and chanting PPP slogans. Only my cousin and I knew what had happened in this crowd of thousands. Thirty minutes later, we were sitting in the camp office when we heard screaming. The news was out. We closed the camp and told people to go home. In 45 minutes, the firing started. Our office was in walking distance of Zulfiqar Mirza’s office and cars full of men arrived there and started firing. Things went out of control within minutes – people were looting banks and shops. Some people went to a thana near my house and attacked it. I was handed a pistol and told to stand outside the house of a family, because we were scared the women and children would be targeted.

Sameer, Karachi”

I interviewed so many people with fantastic stories – with space restrictions however, only a few made the cut.

Link to article in the Tribune