Sparks fly when an artist decides to talk back to her Pakistani ‘uncles and aunties’

1

Women in the World: April 18, 2016

When Maria Qamar was a child, her parents refused to support her decision to pursue art — even ripping the drawings from her bedroom walls on one occasion. Today, thousands pay to have her work on their walls. 

For many people of South Asian descent, there is a group in possession of the magic words that will instantly transport you to your most painful and rebellious teenage years — the uncles and aunties. Often unrelated to you, they are the cluster of your parent’s friends that have a word of advice (or disapproval) for everything from your weight and grades to your marriage prospects.

Maria Qamar, a Toronto-based artist and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, who goes by the name Hatecopy, decided to talk back to the uncles and aunties. And very quickly, she had more than 46,000 followers on Instagram alone, listening in to the conversation and chiming in with their stories, both hilarious and heartbreaking.

When Qamar was a child, her parents refused to support her decision to pursue art — even ripping her drawings off the walls of her bedroom in one instance. Today, thousands pay to hang that art on the walls of their homes. Qamar spoke with Women in the World about this gratifying journey and why getting let go of her day job was the best thing that happened to her.

Full story here

 

 

Advertisements

Oscar-nominated documentary about “honor killings” exposes filmmaker to witch hunt

1.jpg

Women in the World: February 24, 2016

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has been accused of defaming and disgracing Pakistan as a result of her courageous documentary “A Girl in the River”

On a dark night in June 2014, a bruised and bloodied young woman stumbled into a petrol station in Gujranwala, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab province. She had been beaten, shot in the face, dumped in a burlap sack and thrown into a nearby canal. As her attackers fled, the cool water jolted her awake. She struggled out of the sack, and treaded water till she reached the canal’s banks where, grasping at reeds, she pulled herself to dry land. She followed the distant lights of cars and motorbikes until she ended up at the station, begging for help. Eighteen-year-old Saba Qaiser was picked up by rescue services that night and taken to a hospital, where she told doctors her father and uncle tried to kill her for marrying a man they did not approve of.

This was a clear-cut case of ‘honor killing’, a practice that claimed the life of at least one woman in Pakistan every day in 2015 alone — and those are figures gleaned from reported cases only — as she is murdered for bringing ‘dishonor’ to her family.

In her latest documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy met Saba’s father, Maqsood, shortly after he was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of his daughter. Furious that Saba married a man from a lower social class of her own free will, Maqsood claimed, “Whatever we did, we were obliged to do it. She took away our honor.” He describes his daughter’s decision to marry someone her parents did not approve of as “unlawful”.

“I labored and earned lawfully to feed her, this was unlawful of her,” he insisted. “If you put one drop of piss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed. That is what (Saba) has done.”

Unrepentant, Maqsood said: “If I had seen (Saba’s husband), I would have killed him too.”

Full story here

 

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

 

Take an exclusive look inside Pakistan’s first all-girl boxing club

1

Women in the World: November 24, 2015

13 girls are all longing for the perfect ring — a boxing ring, that is

They are part of the first-ever official training program in Pakistan to teach women how to box. The First Women Boxing Coaching Camp has been organized by the Sindh Boxing Association (SBA) in Lyari, Karachi, a neighborhood known for two things: gang violence and sports stars, particularly footballers and boxers, including Olympian Syed Hussain Shah.

It all started when a 16-year-old girl, Khadijah, approached the 2013 Sindh boxing champion and resident of Lyari, Nadir Kachi, and asked him to train her. She wanted to learn to box, but couldn’t find any club willing to teach her. All the girls she knew used to watch videos of matches or training sessions and practice in their homes. They had no way of competing, as no inter-club, district, provincial, or national-level boxing fights are held for women in Pakistan.

Nadir took Khadijah to his coach, Younis Qambrani. “I have been training my daughters to box since they could put on a pair of gloves,” explained Qambrani, whose family includes several gold medalists in the sport. Qambrani started including Khadijah in those training sessions. A few days later, another girl showed up asking for training, having heard of Khadijah’s sessions. Word spread and before he knew it, Qambrani had 13 girls in his home, all wanting to become boxers. At that point, the coach knew he had to find a space and an official program for them.

Full story here

More photos

2

How to help:

Dear readers,

After spending time with these champs, I decided to run a fundraising campaign for them, to help them get basics like a boxing ring, proper shoes and workout gear, weights and equipment. The goal is to raise Rs300,000 (US$ 2844.55), with the chunk of money going towards the ring. They don’t need very much, and anything you can do – whether its donating some money or just sharing their story and getting the word out – helps hugely.

Here’s a link to the crowd funding campaign. Please spread the word – every little bit helps.

Many thanks,

Sanam

 

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

In all fairness, chicken would not have been much of a distraction anyway

Roads and Kingdoms: November 13, 2015

1

Brains Breakfast-Style in Karachi

My father liked to tell us this story when we were children: a fellow doctor was visiting some exotic country (I forget where) and was invited to a dinner. His hosts placed a monkey’s head before him—brains, eyeballs and all—and told him, “It is our tradition to serve our guest of honor this delicacy.” The young doctor’s stomach quaked. All eyes—including the monkey’s—were on him. “Where I am from, it is a tradition to honor your hosts by asking them to eat such a delicacy first,” he replied. As the story goes, the hosts were overjoyed, everyone felt suitably honored, and the dinner was a success.

We were taught to eat—and loudly appreciate—whatever a host put on our plates. There were two rules we had to abide by. The first was simple: don’t insult someone by refusing the food or drink they offer you. The second was trickier: eat the food, yes. Finish it? Certainly not. For instance, if you were given a glass of juice at someone’s house, you were to make sure you drank all but the last few gulps, leaving an inch or so of juice in the glass. “Gobble everything down and people will think you don’t get good food in your own home,” we were warned. “You don’t want people to think you are a bhooki (perpetually hungry or just plain greedy).”

Full story here

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