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

Advertisements

Karachi’s Chairman: Saving her a seat

The Express Tribune: December 27, 2013

2

On the 27th of December, 2007, Riaz Ahmed was at his workplace, Manzoor Sons, a catering, decoration and tent manufacturing business, when he received a call from his wife. “I was very busy as we were juggling seven or eight functions that day,” he says. “When I answered the call, my mind was preoccupied and all I heard my wife say was “Zaalimon ne BB ko maar diya”.”

As his workers scrambled for updates on the functions, Ahmed thought of a room one floor above his office, where a caramel coloured wooden chair was placed in a dark corner, the curved S-shape of it’s legs peeking out from under an olive green tarpaulin. This is the chair that Benazir Bhutto sat on when she visited the National Refinery in 1995, during her second stint as prime minister. “It had rained the night before,” recalls Ahmed, “and it was still damp when Benazir arrived at the refinery in her helicopter.” Not wishing for the prime minister to tread on the muddy ground, Ahmed and two of his employees stood by the helicopter with a tightly rolled red carpet, unfurling it before Benazir as she walked from the helipad to the building. A photograph of the day sits under the glass surface of Ahmed’s desk at his office on Burns Road. “She came back to do something for Pakistan this time,” he says, looking at the image. “She didn’t realize how much love we would give her.” Ahmed says he was unable to process the news of Bhutto’s assassination until he reached home at 4 a.m. on the night of the 27th.

The weighty sheesham chair with a cranberry red velvet seat is now upholstered in a royal blue fabric and it was last used at a function for the former chief minister’s nephew three years ago. “He told me he had seen a blue fabric he liked at the PM house in Islamabad and so we had to change the fabric,” Ahmed says. This ‘sadarti kursi’ or presidential chair was made in Chiniot and has been used at a few weddings and some government functions but, Ahmed says, those who request it don’t know who sat on this chair nor do they care. “That time is long gone,” he says. The chair can be rented for Rs. 600.

Ahmed, who refers to Benazir as ‘Bibi jee’, feels a connection with the Bhutto family. “I’ll show you a chair that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto used,” he says, describing the lions’ faces carved into the chairs arms. “You’ll feel like the sher will jump out at you,” he promises, uncovering a sheesham high-backed chair with a red velvet seat, gulkari work or carvings of gold flowers curled around a crest of two swords and the crescent and star, their brilliance faded over the years. Sitting on the chair, your hands rest on the manes of two lions. The chair was first used by Queen Elizabeth in 1961 during a visit to Pakistan. “We also provided this chair for a function for Zia ul Haq, but we needed to create a special footstool as…” Ahmed breaks off, lowering his tone, “woh kadd mein chotay thay, you know (he was short in height).” Crafted in Multan, the chair cost roughly Rs 3000 to produce during the 1940s. It’s creamy velvet upholstery pockmarked with small holes, nibbled away by moths, it can now be rented for Rs 1000.

Since Zia ul Haq used the chair, it has been used once during a theatre production at Karachi’s Arts Council. “I also met Nusrat Bhutto when Sanam Bhutto was married,” Ahmed says, introduced to Mrs Bhutto by the manager of the Shezan Hotel on Victoria Road. “We visited 70 Clifton to meet Mrs Bhutto,” says Maqbool Hasan, who inherited the business from his father, “and press people followed us back to the shop to ask us what the Bhuttos were up to and why we went to their house.” Ahmed adds, “The day after Sanam’s wedding, Mrs Bhutto called me and said she’d gone to Larkana and so I shouldn’t worry that she’d skipped out on paying me.” The concern over payment is legitimate – Maqbool Hasan explains that “kaun le ga payment inn siyasi logon se, woh baad mein nazar hi nahin aatay.”

Much has changed in Ahmed’s line of work since he first met Benazir. The business, established nearly 150 years ago in India, moved to Karachi in 1949 and employed 50 workers; as the market for catering to weddings changed, with a focus on modern decoration and in-house services at hotels and marriage halls, Ahmed says the business only has 10 employees today. Primarily a tent-manufacturing firm, providing tents to Pakistan’s army since the country’s inception (in India, the business catered to maharajas requiring tents for events or camping trips), Manzoor Sons focuses now on weddings and events such as birthday parties or convocations, as they face stiff competition from cheaper businesses in China and Spain. The last tents they provided to the Pakistan government were sent to Awaran this year.

As he covers the chair in its tarp, Ahmed says he has not catered to the younger generation of Bhutto-Zardaris. “Hum ne abhi tak toh nahin kiya,” he says. “Bilawal kahaan hota hai Pakistan mein?”

Link to article in the Tribune

More photos via Instagram

Going nowhere

The Express Tribune’s T Magazine: December 22-28, 2013

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but my father might,” said the ghora gaari waala to Sarah Khan, when she asked him if he knew Ahmed Rushdi’s Bunder Road se Kemari. The artist met the young man’s father, who immediately recognised the song and took her on a ride in his tonga along the route Rushdi sang about in 1954.  “I took that route every day,” Khan says, “as my house was located in the area and I would visit Khori Garden for my art supplies.” Her trip on the tonga, however, allowed her to glimpse familiar sites anew, as she furiously sketched while perched in the carriage. The sketches form part of Khan’s contribution to Right to the City: Travel guide to Karachi, a collaborative project by four artists, a historian and a curator determined to challenge local and international perceptions of Karachi as ‘Pakistan’s dark heart’ (as characterised by Time Magazine in 2012) or a ‘sweltering gangland’ (Time Magazine in October 2013).

Link to full article in T Magazine

What is the Pakistani dream?

The Express Tribune’s T Magazine: Cover story, November 10-16, 2013

Sabiha Sumar has had a good month. As her film Good Morning Karachi (Rafina) had its London premiere at the Raindance Film Festival, Sumar and the team of Saving Face — the Academy Award-winning documentary that she served as producer of — picked up an Emmy award for Best Documentary. In the works since 2011, Good Morning Karachi was filmed over a period of eight weeks, following an intensive three-month workshop with the cast and features Amna Ilyas, Atta Yacub, Beo Raana Zafar, Yasir Aqueel, Khalid Malik and Saba Hamid. “It was like running a film school,” Sumar recalls, as she worked with a motley team of Indian and Dutch crew members as well as local film enthusiasts who had never been on a feature film set.

The film found its inception in a chance meeting between Sumar and the author Shandana Minhas at a mutual friend’s house. “I had read Shandana’s articles in newspapers,” explains Sumar, “and I invited her to write a novella on the life of a young woman coming of age in Karachi.”

Link to full article in T Magazine

Bad for business

The Herald: March 2012

Bad for business

The Khatm-e-Nabuwat Lawyers’ Forum’s proposed ban of Shezan products is yet another illegal action against Ahmadi business-owners, who continue to face violent persecution in the absence of state intervention.

In the summer of 2011, TA (name withheld), a shop owner based in Faisalabad, received a call on his mobile phone. The man on the other end of the line refused to identify himself, but he knew TA’s name. His motives became clearer when he asked, “Tum Jamaat e Ahmadiyya mein kya kartey ho?” (What do you do within the Jamaat e Ahmadiyya?)

“Who is this?” persisted TA. “How did you get my number?”

“Khuda ko banda dhoond leta hai, tum kya ho?” replied the man, before he hung up. (trans)

TA continued to receive a slew of text messages as well as other such phone calls. One message read, “You liar Ahmadi. You better accept the truth. Warna toh apna intezaam kar lo.” (trans)

Such communication has become routine, he tells the Herald, after he was named in a pamphlet distributed in June 2011, at eight Clock Tower bazaars in Faisalabad. “My friend saw a couple of men who looked like mazdoors distribute these pamphlets outside our shops,” TA says. “When we took a look, we realized how dangerous they were.” The pamphlet reads “Qadiyanis are deserving of death” and “To shoot such people in public view is jihad and it is a blessing to kill them.” 

Link to PDF of full article

Making a mark

The Herald: Cover story, December 2011

Making a mark

Defacement or censorship in international publications

British GQ’s September issue features a portfolio of images by photographer Mario Testino, including portrait of supermodel Gisele Bündchen. You are denied a comparatively innocuous glimpse of the curve of Bündchen’s breast – it has been scribbled over with black marker.

The director of distributor Liberty Books’ magazine division, Jamil Hussain, explains that this process, which the company refers to as “defacing”, is carried out by buyers in the U.S. and U.K.. Liberty, who supplies an estimated 95% of the market in Pakistan, is responsible for the purchase and distribution of 250 titles ranging from GQ, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health and Esquire to Harvard Business Review, Time, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest and The Economist across Pakistan. With magazines such as Maxim, which promises “scantily clad cover models and plenty of revealing photo layouts,” Liberty has what Hussain refers to as a “standing order” from the Pakistani Press Information Department (PID) and Customs to ensure that “nothing sexually explicit and anti-Islamic” makes its way into the local market. International buyers approach publishers such as Conde Nast on behalf of Liberty Books, acquiring magazines that are subsequently checked for images that would not pass the litmus test of the market’s sensibilities – Pakistan or the Middle East, for instance. In warehouses in London and New York, black marker-wielding employees restore the modesty of the scantily clad models.

Link to PDF of full article

Link to full article on Herald site

Paper work

2014-01-27 20.20.40The Herald: August 2011

Paper work

The challenges in documenting and accessing historical records in Pakistan

“How much has India paid you to get this information?” asked a librarian at a government archive when a private archivist Ahmed Saleem attempted to access documents for his research into Sikh history. Saleem laughs as he recalls his (mis)adventures in Pakistan’s provincial and national archives. “Staff members at the archives would have a number of excuses for my request to access files,” he says.

During the course of his research into Partition, Saleem was often told that the material he was seeking was classified as it posed a potential threat to ‘Pakistan’s integrity’. He believes “the chief secretary of the Punjab Archives keeps all records of Bhagat Singh’s trial in a drawer in his desk and if you ask for these files, he questions whether you are working for India.”

Saleem’s assertions echo what researchers in Pakistan have been saying for years: government archives are rich repositories of information for those researchers who manage to whisper the right words to open these veritable Solomon’s mines of historical records. With provincial archives slowly transferring data from outdated microfilms into computerised systems, these records are largely well preserved, though poorly organised. As one former archive director says, “There is no shortage of funds — that is a myth.” The problem, he believes, lies within the administration, failing to employ professional, well-trained archivists who are able to handle the material in their charge.

Link to PDF of full article