Customer Service in Death care

image2.jpgThere is an African idiom that if a man does not eat at home, he may never give his wife enough money to cook a good pot of soup. This might just be true when applied to politicians on the continent seeking medical help anywhere but home.

Pakistan’s public health systems are in a depressing condition. Preventable diseases still kill a large number of women and children, especially dengue and other vector borne diseases due to poor mismanagement of the local governments, poor sterilization of equipment, doctor’s negligence and the doctor-pharmacist nexus that plays an integral part in the role of doctors, whether they know it or not, are being incentivized by luxurious S400 Mercedes (Residents of Islamabad must have seen two parked at IDC and at the homeo-pathic Uppal) to prescribe certain medications by pharmaceutical companies. When we say “bribe”, we don’t want you to envision some illegal, money transaction taking place. But there is incentive, and that incentive can be dangerous to you. Especially when these medications turn out to be deadly. And this has happened.

The unethical relationship between doctors and drug companies harms both patients and doctors: it harms patients because it brings a corrupting component to their medical care and it harms doctors because it alters the quality and character of their care. In addition, it hinders the proper functioning of the health care system in the country and increases drug costs. According to some estimates, up to 30 per cent of the cost of drugs is kicked back to doctors to increase sales.

There are several ways in which doctors are bribed by drug companies. They range from cash payments, hospitality and all-expenses-paid trips, to gifts for their families etc. Drug companies also bribe hospitals to stock their drugs so that doctors can prescribe them. It’s not only drug companies that bribe doctors, though. Often, patients bribe doctors to get procedures done, or done earlier.

Doctors swear an oath to uphold their integrity – the “Hippocratic Oath”. In doing so, we should expect that when we can come to them with a medical issue, they will prescribe (if need be) medication that’s proven safe if used correctly. But not all medications are truly safe, even if used correctly.

These unsafe medications are still being prescribed. Why? The answer may lie in the relations between these huge pharmaceutical companies, who gain to profit off these medications, and physicians with the ability to prescribe them

Pharmacists do not perform these functions in all countries but Pakistan is an exception. A prerequisite to their widespread adoption is the involvement of pharmacists with the appropriate expertise in the determination and implementation of national health policy, which provides the context for policies related to drugs and pharmacy. In view of the special knowledge and expertise of pharmacists, they are given the responsibility at a senior level for the determination and implementation of policy on drugs and pharmacy manpower and for the drafting and administration of legislation, which they tend to exploit. Pharmacists in such senior positions should preferably have postgraduate training and a qualification in public health.and a regulatory setup that monitors the effectiveness and usage of drugs prescribed to patients by doctors

But in a country like Pakistan, potent medicines and related products may be supplied or dispensed by non-pharmacists and without the supervision or control of pharmacists. For the safety of the public, such transactions should be performed or supervised by pharmacist regulatory body, to ensure the supply of correct medicines of acceptable quality are being dispensed to patients in local hospitals

It’s therefore not surprising that people from Pakistan, not even people, only the elite and politicians travel abroad – mainly to Europe, North America and UK – for their medical needs. Superseding the Sept 19, 2016, a letter, from the Punjab finance department issued fresh austerity and economy measures for 2017-18 to observe financial discipline in the province by judiciously reducing expenditure but aligning with the organisational goals to make them target-based and cost-efficient. The measures also also constituted a seven-member Austerity Committee headed by finance minister Dr Ayesha Ghous-Pasha to examine and recommend procurement of vehicles and cases for foreign visits as well as examine of medical facilities of local MPAs and decide in line with the austerity drive to curtail current and development expenditure of the provincial government. Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1357988

Aimed at effective and economic use of public money, the Punjab government has banned foreign air travel of ministers, MPAs and government officials through government funding. Similarly, no official or elected representative will be allowed treatment abroad at government’s expense during the current fiscal deficit lest its a Queen from the Monarch

It can be argued that private cadre opting to seek medical help in other countries don’t owe the public any explanation, because it’s their own affair from their own money. But medical tourism among Pakistan political elite is a completely different kettle of fish and a big cause for concern, because they are responsible for the development of proper health care for the citizens of their countries.

The shame

It’s well documented that politicians from across the continent go abroad for medicl treatment. The reasons for exercising this choice are obvious: they lack confidence in the health systems they oversee, and they can afford he trips given that the expenses are paid for by taxpayers.

The result is that they have little motivation to change the status quo. Medical tourism by PAKISTANI leaders and politicians could therefore be one of the salient but overlooked causes of Pakistan’s poor health systems and infrastructure.

“Every country, except Pakistan, is concerned with medical tourism,” say doctors, who bemoan the fact that our government is sleeping over a golden opportunity.

According to ET, Medical tourism – a buzzword in global healthcare – is a term used to describe the worldwide trend of people travelling across international borders to obtain healthcare. India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand and Dubai are some of the top destinations to where patients flock to to get better treatment.
She further reiterated that Gynaecologist Sadiah Pal says there is no need for Pakistanis, at least, to travel abroad for treatment; she believes that Pakistan has specialists and high-quality hospitals where comparable care is available. Pal says the cost for infertility treatment abroad can range between Rs2.5-3 million, while the same treatment in Pakistan costs around Rs0.2 million. Source: https://tribune.com.pk/story/365757/untapped-market-can-pakistan-become-a-hub-for-medical-tourism/

Pakistan Medical Association Sindh President Dr Samrina Hashmi says there is huge potential for Pakistan in becoming a hub for medical tourism, like so many other countries in its neighbourhood.

“Already, a number of patients from places such as the Middle East, UK and US seek a range of treatments in Pakistan; these include cardiac surgery, infertility treatments and cosmetic surgery,” she says.

Costs for treatment in Pakistan are more than 50% of what doctors and hospitals charge abroad, she explains. At the moment, most foreign patients who come here for treatment are of Pakistani origin

Costs and risks

Countries pay a heavy cost for this behaviour. It’s estimated that in Pakistan, the funds spent to treat top government officials abroad every year could build 10 hospitals

Not only do the leaders travel with elaborate entourages, but they also travel in expensive chartered or presidential jets. For example, the cost of parking presidential plane during his three month spell in London is estimated (approx) at £360,000. That’s equivalent to about 0.19% of Pakistan’s total 54 billion of total health budget, given the fact even Nigeria has a 304 billion budget allocation for health for the year 2017-18 And there would have been many other heavier costs incurred during these stays.

The failure of leaders to improve health care and stem brain drain also carries a heavy price. On top of this, Pakistani hospitals that were previously world class have been reduced to symbolic edifices due to political negligence.

Essentially, when people charged with responsibility feel they have no need for public health systems because they can afford private health care at home or abroad, ordinary citizens bear the brunt.

The way forward

The effective health systems in western and Asian countries that are being patronised by Pakistani leaders only exist because they were developed, and are consistently maintained, through political commitment and visionary leadership, qualities that are clearly lacking in Pakistan

To bring change, our citizens must start condemning political medical tourism. They must also push for regulations to curb the shameful practice. Taxpayer funded medical trips should be banned and criteria set detailing what sicknesses that can be covered by the public purse. Though a law to this effect does not even exist in Pakistan.

The management of drug procurement and supply, and drug control, registration and enforcement, do not meet satisfactory standards. To achieve acceptable standards, pharmacists with suitable postgraduate training should be appointed to senior positions, and standards should be assured by comprehensive pharmaceutical legislation and its effective enforcement.

Make pakistan a medical hub by regulating pharmacist industry with NHS

Essentially, if the leaders do not experience the poor state of health care, they might never strive for any positive changes to it.

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The piper-less identity

Returning to the blog to rant politic seems out of character even to me but as we grow, our priorities shift, and for the second time in my life I find myself being directly affected by who gets to run a country.

The first time was in 2012/13, during the tumultuous and contentious elections in Pakistan which were defined by the hate speech and fear mongering generated by a certain narcissist with ambitions that far outweighed his political ability. I voted for decorum and stability then, and whether through rigging or general consensus, the country of my birth managed to make the same choice and have reaped the rewards over the past 3 odd years. For me, that was democracy at work and no matter how vociferously and passionately PTI supporters condemn the elected premier of the country, the proof in the pudding and the pudding is better than ever before despite all the theatrics and the repeated threats of umpires and raised fingers.

Therefore, the irony of a very similar campaign unfolding in America was not lost on me when another narcissist, albeit a significantly worse one, brought rhetoric filled with hate and anger and fear mongering to the forefront of the campaign season. The media did not help. Plastering Trumps face on our TV screens like a watermark did not help demonize him, instead it glorified him as a rebel rousing gun slinger with the cojones to take on the sheriff.

The Republicans in their desperation to regain the Oval office, failed to foresee the impact of such caustic vitriol on their own party and their traditional voter bank. The Democrats failed to see that in their desperation to change America into the Liberal paradise it was, in their opinion, always meant to be, moved so fast that a significant portion of the country got left behind, including many of their own supporters who had voted for progress but not such rapid social reform.

Having experienced UK during the Labor era, I know firsthand how things had improved under Labor’s subtle, friendly and fatherly leadership. We all also saw how the disenfranchised holdouts of the segregation era felt threatened enough to take up arms against the ones who stood to benefit most from the sweeping social reforms the Dems had planned. BLM was not an overreaction; it’s the least the African American population can do to feel like they have a fall back in their country where a random traffic stop can lead to death. The terrorist attacks, although few and far between, didn’t help the Muslim American cause and paved the way from Trump’s toxicity to seep into the national psyche. It really is asking a lot from people to continue to love the people of a religion whose members have repeatedly targeted innocent people for no apparent reason. Arguments regarding white folk going off their rocker to randomly shoot people up notwithstanding, Muslims may be tolerated but are still considered outsiders and this mindset is precisely what the Dems had been slowly chipping away at.

I am a Pakistani who has lived extensively in UK, and by lived I mean earned my living there lived, paid taxes and called UK home lived, not just went there on vacation every summer lived or went to school for a couple of years lived. I have also simultaneously lived in Pakistan in the same deep rooted way. I am probably not the only one with this perspective, but I do feel it’s somewhat unique all the same to experience the shifting sands in two countries that could not be more different during key periods of change. I was in America when the twin towers were ruthlessly attacked and experienced fear and anxiety rip the geniality right out of the American populace. I was there to see it reborn and grow, slowly but surely, as almost the entire political establishment erased bi-partisan battle lines to jointly decide that tolerance and acceptance are two principles that must not be allowed to die for America to be what it was meant to be.

And then Trump happened.

What this means for America is anybody’s guess at this point. People can speculate all they want, but no one who doesn’t actually lives in America as a minority can ever fully understand the despair this uncertainty causes. We had been fighting hard for our right to exist in a country that we saw was struggling with its identity, but under the leadership of a decent human being was predominantly decent. We only had to fight because the racist, sexist, isolationist underbelly of America had been marginalized to the point where it was threatened enough to lash out and fight back. We saw this as the death throes of a school of thought that had no place in a global community and was dying its natural death.

But now, that ugly underbelly stands validated.

The POTUS-elect came in to power by stoking this dying fire of hatred to a roaring flame. The impact of this has already been spreading in America in the form of random racist attacks that have gone up in frequency since Trump got the GOP nomination and now they will get worse because the perpetrators will know that the most powerful man in the country is one of them. He has legitimized the worst behavior imaginable in a civilized society; he even prodded his followers to shoot his political rival dead soon after impersonating a disabled person in the most shameful way imaginable at a press conference. He has routinely molested women because he felt entitled to do so and could not even be bothered to apologize for it when caught red handed. Having such a person as a successful businessman is bad enough, but to have him is a President is a reality so frightening that it is difficult to encompass the fear and agony of it into words.

Most people in Pakistan don’t get it. They can’t. I don’t blame them. They don’t know what it’s like to be a minority in a country which wants to accept you wholeheartedly but stops just shy because of a legacy that it’s trying very hard to shed. They don’t get it because they don’t have an immigrant population which is as diverse, as voluminous and as entrenched in the very roots of a nation as the one in America. I don’t blame the people of Pakistan, or for anywhere else when they think it’s just embarrassing and hilarious that the ‘goras’ are dumb enough or ignorant or belligerent or whatever enough to elect someone like Trump. They don’t know, nor can they comprehend, the implication of such an election on the minorities, on women, on foreign policy on the day to day lives of people who call America home and will now be told every day, on the sub way, at the grocery store, at their jobs that their time is up, that the white supremacists are back in power bitches and its game over for everyone else. They do not bear the scars of random, seemingly harmless acts of racism that will grow bolder, more frequent and more violent now because the head of the state does it too. I don’t expect them to understand the fear and the apprehension I feel as my relatives pack their bags to fly back to my home in America in two days. I don’t expect them to empathize with the anxiety this palpable uncertainty is causing across the very fabric of the American landscape. I will find that empathy in America alone and for all anyone knows, not even there, for long, anymore.

The road to mid-life crisis

Running towards 30 is its own punishment. You start getting that uncle vibe from your self even if you don’t look or feel uncly. You kindly of feel scared conversing with women constantly wondering whether the particular subject of your conversation switches its pendulum into a chinese whisper of misinterpretation, bringing your constellation at unscathed odds

Funny thing about this number is that there seems to have been a mushroom growth of insanity within you. It certainly helps to satiate the ogler inside with the obvious realization that you don’t have much to offer to anyone except pretending to give a tinker’s damn for the sake of it!

Also peculiar to running 30 is the feeling of having wasted away your life. Perhaps it only afflicts those of us who actually have wasted away their lives but it certainly did not occur even to us life wasters before the digits ticked over. However, and this is just sweet, this rather unsavory epiphany is not accompanied by depression. No, there’s this wierd calmness instead. Its like, Ah well, what’s done is done, lets waste away the rest of it too. I suppose in 30 years one manages to scrounge up enough emotional strength to understand what’s what and not lose sleep over it and you know, that in itself is an accomplishment.

My mind is a fortress of numbness, that’s for damn sure. I’ve talked myself out of damning spiritual demons, that drove me full on hallucination and numbed filled hysteria on occasion, I’ve managed to survive an overdose of child to family torture/sarcasm/taunts by not allowing myself to fall asleep or throw up and for those of you with the rolling eyes, I’d like to see you experience it and come out unscathed. In more conventional terms also i’ve managed to put the mind to good use and one of the traits i have acquired is humility, ”Mitti Payo” Its a pretty new dime for me so i’m still sorta struggling with it but i’m hopeful it will work out.

Oh and i have concluded that religion is in fact totally redundant and kinda fake tassali on the principle of ‘Sabar and Shukar’ when you try to understand it. And its because of the simple reason that the story was written for the people from way back when they rode camels to work, we simply cannot ‘get it’ like they ‘got it’. Its just like the current crop of movie watchers yawn when the see the old Devdas with Dilip Kumar and his over-emotional squealing but they sit on the edge of their seats when they Watch DevD, which is essentially the same story but only more relevant to the current times.
Therefore, i can understand how the people from way back when, when told the whole creation of man and showdown with angels story, believed it despite the enormous dichotomous holes in the story which would make a present day homo-erectus’s head spin with the sheer absurdity of it. Back in the day people just did not infer much, they apparently took stuff at face value, whereas nowadays we tend to take a fact and turn it every which way just to see if it has any leaks in it, and once we do that to the story of religion, there’s a freaking flood of impossibilities that pours out. The Angels though unable to do anything other than praise the lord managed to get offended by the imposition of a supposedly lesser being, one in fact, was so chagrined that he managed to rebel against God to the extent that he became his opposite equal. Thats pretty cool, i’ll admit, but it’s also kinda strange considering how God is supposed to be all powerful and therefore, theoretically could have nipped the whole evil thing in the bud. But he didn’t because he wanted to test mankind by telling them whats right and allowing them to choose but at the same time telling them that those amongst us who fail to follow the path of righteousness have been made blind and dumb by God himself and hence CANNOT be righteous and even so, they will be condemned to an eternity of torment the likes of which we cannot imagine, just cuz God in his infinite wisdom effectively chose some of us to suffer. Even as i write it i fail to understand it which is why i have for the second time in my life picked up the Quran to try and decipher it for what it really is and not take it as the super-potent relic that it is purported to be. Here’s to hoping i ‘get it’ this time around. I’ve gone through the first Sipara and have found this Marmaduke Pickthall translation to be very different from the one of Bukhari i had earlier studied to the effect that where in the Bukhari version the scripture seems to be focused on Jew bashing, this is one is more… civilized, addressing the Jews and reminding them of thier history and basically portraying god as a slightly vain and insecure diety who is pissed off at being forgotten. For what its worth, this one makes a little more sense and hopefully by the end of it, so will I.

In summation, I’m running 30 and probably evolving a Cancer (as per my docs) so i have found that I wasn’t allowed to grow up at all. I have found that i’m naturally adaptive to change and that is possibly the only thing i dislike most about myself because it is also the only thing that is the cause of most of my miseries and failures because there is no room for rigidity in the world unless you are a God or have dominion over Heaven in Constitutions and hell and everything in between, even if its only hypothetical.

The object voice in Fiction!

“Relationships are probably our greatest learning experiences,” a wise woman once said, echoing Rilke’s memorable proclamation that love is “perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks… the work for which all other work is but preparation.” When we fall in love, we are asked to rise to this task — a polarizing pull that stretches the psyche in opposite directions as we crave surrender and safety in equal measure.

Reviewing this correspondence, it seems that some part of Kafka desired to make a show of his stigmata; and not – whatever his protestations – because that effort was so very self-abnegating but, rather, because he took an artist’s pride in the distinguished originality of his wounds

The discomfort of this wildly disorienting bidirectional pull is what 29-year-old Franz Kafka articulated in a beautiful and heartbreaking letter to Felice Bauer, a marketing rep for a dictation machine company whom the young author had met at the home of his friend and future biographer Max Brod in August of 1912. Young Franz and Felice immediately began a correspondence of escalating intensity, with Kafka frequently exasperated — as was Vladimir Nabokov at the start of his lifelong romance with Véra — over his beloved’s infrequent and insufficiently romantic response. Over the five-year course of their turbulent, mostly epistolary relationship, they were engaged twice, even though they met in person only a few times. During that period, Kafka produced his most significant work, including The Metamorphosis. Five hundred of his letters survive and were posthumously published in the intensely rewarding and revelatory Letters to Felice (public library).

In November of 1912, three months after he met Felice, Kafka writes:

Fräulein Felice!

I am now going to ask you a favor which sounds quite crazy, and which I should regard as such, were I the one to receive the letter. It is also the very greatest test that even the kindest person could be put to. Well, this is it:

Write to me only once a week, so that your letter arrives on Sunday — for I cannot endure your daily letters, I am incapable of enduring them. For instance, I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you. I belong to you; there is really no other way of expressing it, and that is not strong enough. But for this very reason I don’t want to know what you are wearing; it confuses me so much that I cannot deal with life; and that’s why I don’t want to know that you are fond of me. If I did, how could I, fool that I am, go on sitting in my office, or here at home, instead of leaping onto a train with my eyes shut and opening them only when I am with you?

Whether out of self-protective rationalization or mere pragmatism — the onset of tuberculosis was, after all, what ended the relationship five years later — he plaintively points to a physiological reason, almost as an excuse for the psychological:

Oh, there is a sad, sad reason for not doing so. To make it short: My health is only just good enough for myself alone, not good enough for marriage, let alone fatherhood. Yet when I read your letter, I feel I could overlook even what cannot possibly be overlooked.

He resumes his plea, which seems directed more at himself than at her:

If only I had mailed Saturday’s letter, in which I implored you never to write to me again, and in which I gave a similar promise. Oh God, what prevented me from sending that letter? All would be well. But is a peaceful solution possible now? Would it help if we wrote to each other only once a week? No, if my suffering could be cured by such means it would not be serious. And already I foresee that I shan’t be able to endure even the Sunday letters. And so, to compensate for Saturday’s lost opportunity, I ask you with what energy remains to me at the end of this letter…

He closes in true Kafkaesque fashion:

If we value our lives, let us abandon it all… I am forever fettered to myself, that’s what I am, and that’s what I must try to live with.

It makes sense, of course, for a man who associated pleasure with pain — nowhere more vividly than in his famous proclamation that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” — to experience love as at once elating and anguishing. But the paradox of love is perhaps the same as that of art, which Jeanette Winterson so elegantly termed “the paradox of active surrender” — in order for either to transform us, we must let it turn us over and inside-out. That is what Rilke called love’s great exacting claim, and in that claim lies its ultimate reward.

Illustration from My First Kafka by Matthue Roth, a children’s-book adaptation of Kafka for kids

 

Accountability Tambola

As the Arabprotests busy themselves with throwing off repressive and despotic regimes I inevitably bump into friends and colleagues who express a desire for similar here in the Land of the Pure. They point to a crumbling economy and a state that seems to earn its international living these days by begging – bringing a whole new dimension to the phrase ‘professional beggar’. They tick off the usual checkpoints: – terrorism and internal instability, a galloping demographic, a layer-cake of incompetence at every level of government, institutionalised corruption and dynastic political systems. Where, they wonder are the future leaders, the Jinnahs who may come to save us all from fundamentalism before it eats us up? With the educated middle class having abdicated the political role in favour of being a kaffee-klatch that pelts the Establishment with finely-tuned witticisms from the safety of its Facebook page – is not revolution the only route left to us?

For a start, we need to agree on some terms when it comes to the meaning of the word revolution. Thoroughgoing and lasting change is all well and good, but we have to add, achieved by breaching the law, meaning by means of insurrection. It seems to us that the notion of revolution needs to be understood as an insurrection and, in any case, that is precisely how it is construed in everybody’s political vocabulary. Occasionally one hears references to peaceful revolution or violent revolution, indicative of the sort of elasticity of meaning always attached to words which concisely articulate widely varying actions and relationship, such as phenomena in the socio-political realm. But mention of revolution on its own is understood by all to refer to a popular uprising intent upon forcibly overthrowing the existing order and replacing it with a different one that denies and is dismissive of the legality that went before it. Let us not get muddled here. No matter how thoroughgoing and lasting, any change procured by lawful and peaceful means would be described as a reform and not as a revolution. And it is precisely according to whether they believe in the possibility of achieving a given purpose by lawful means or reckon it necessary to resort to insurrection that parties, regardless of their ideals, are divided into the reformist and the revolutionary.

We are for revolution, first because we think it useful and necessary and then because we can see its coming as inexorable and would regard it as puerile and harmful to go off looking for impossible alternatives; but since, above and beyond our being revolutionaries we are socialists and anarchists, we are out, and well…no. Despite appearances to the contrary ours is not a particularly despotic regime. It is a bumbling quasi-democracy held together by the military, and all beneath the democratic fig leaf of something vaguely resembling a parliament. There is mass participation in political activity and currently there is a cautious experiment around the idea of letting a government run its course. The politicians who are this day dancing the lobster gavotte in Punjab may be kidding themselves that they are pushing us towards a mid-term election, but it’s all theatre and we will happily and passively watch a performance that has run for at least fifty years and seems to show no sign of flagging, even nothing despite the Panama mock!

There is Corruption and intimidation, there are concerted attempts to stifle the media from time to time and a regular butchery of innocent civilians by assorted groups who have no interest in anything beyond bombing us back to the stone age. Any signs of popular protest against any of this? Beyond a loyal band of brave souls who demonstrate outside press clubs, blog with the utmost earnestness and seem to number in the few thousands and not the millions that would be needed to bring real change – no issues pertinent to Accountability is elevated to being a grisly national spectator sport ritually decried for the regulation two days and then put back on the shelf. We even have politicians of national stature defending it in parliament. Mass protests against Injustice? Child rape, Corruption and murder? Lack of provision of schools and health services? Absolutely NOT, except PTI whom we often tend to see on roads. No sign of mass food riots either despite over 30% of the population being food insecure – which is a polite way of saying they are half-starved. You’d think a few million hungry people might be able to kick a bit of a revolution into life wouldn’t you? hehe, Apparently Not.

Our rulers PML-N,PPP,ANP,PML-Q and even the Military can only watch events elsewhere safe in the knowledge that their positions are secure and most unlikely to be challenged. And why might this be, Dear Reader? Because we are united in our dis-unitedness. Because you would never see a group of Christians linking arms around a group of praying Muslims to protect them as they did in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Nor all march under a single flag. Nor tolerate – nor even contemplate – a move across political, cultural and ethnic boundaries in such a way as to present a united front. Grumble and fulminate we may, but there is no unifying issue beyond blasphemy that is going to coalesce ‘the masses’ and provide a real and credible challenge to the status quo. So no revolt here, now or in the foreseeable future. Sorry to have disturbed you, you can go back to sleep now.

Plums of National Smoke

Driving into the city to stock up the kitchen before Independence Day something suddenly struck me some few months ago onpak.jpgly to receive its partisan reflection at my blog today!

Where were the flags? Why was there not a man selling Pakistan flags embellished with Mickey Mouse in the white sector next to the staff hustling me? And where was the thicket of flag-sellers that usually congregate at G9 Karachi Company…now down to just the one and he was not looking like he is doing much business. And what about the rooftops – where were the flags…where?

It has become something of a tradition in the ZMR household to go up on the roof on Independence Day and count the flags we can see. They get photographed for posterity as well, with the year of the greatest number visible being 2016 with 69 fluttering bravely.

Since then – and we spent a half hour looking through endless albums to find the pictures – the numbers have been dropping. There were 22 last year including our own.

Up on the roof in the gathering dusk the day before Independence Day we could see one flag, on a house a 100 metres or so away to the east. In other years there had been some friendly local competition to see who had the tallest flagpole, and the flags stayed up for days, sometimes weeks, afterwards.

Come the morning of Independence Day and a cup of tea on the roof – and the lone flag was gone. Taken down on the very day it was put up to commemorate. We had decided that we would not put up our flag either. We had gone to the storeroom and had a look and then…no…not this year.

There was some debate in the social media and a couple of print newspapers ran a story on the flag famine of 2013; and there was no shortage of organised events on TV, the point being that they were organised and not spontaneous and it was the spontaneity of the individual going out and buying their flag and putting it up that was missing.

Take a look at North Korean TV sometime. Acres and acres of flag and pom-pom waving young people exuding merriment from every pore of their well-fed bodies. And it is all an illusion. An artifice.

The North Koreans are starving in their boots and propped up by aid from China, South Korea and yes, America -the Great Satan, actually contributes to keeping North Korea afloat and breathing.

So how different is that from Pakistan? Well, despite rumours to the contrary Pakistan is not a failed state and far from it, but it is home to increasing numbers of people who are food-insecure and live in profound poverty. There is not yet famine. Yet. The economy is tottering but not collapsed and the banking system and stock exchanges are doing roaring business…and yet…

Perhaps the failure to celebrate Independence Day this year with quite the same spontaneous fervor as in the past is linked to an overall sense of fatigue, an overarching sombre mood that pops the balloon of celebration and jollity.

Maybe people had just run out of money and spent it on other things than flags, Iphones and Samsung’s. Could it even be that some people just no longer care about Independence Day any more despite it being one of the most important dates in the national calendar?

Independence – the very thing that MA Jinnah and his fellows fought for, for so many years is now reduced to an extra day off for most people and not worth buying and waving a flag for. Well

Dreaming of Cheese through the paradox of rabbit holes

Review – The Forbidden Room

Margot escapes the wolves through the doorway of a drforbiden.jpgeam.” This is an entirely representative intertitle from The Forbidden Room, another
crazed cheese-dream of early cinema from the Canadian auteur Guy Maddin – credited here with collaborator Evan Johnson – renowned for his freaky mashups and pileups of cine-fetish silent movie pastiche. (Another intertitle is: “Eve is arrested for murder and squid theft.”)

The colour will flicker and degrade like damaged nitrate stock. Shout lines will twirl towards the audience as if the film has decided to include its own trailers. Images and faces will wobble and flare and explode, as if celluloid has been trapped in the gate of an old-fashioned projector and caught fire – but what follows is not the traditional burned-around-the-edges hole of nothingness but more wild imaginings, shaping and re-shaping themselves like mercury. It is a silent cinema with all sorts of noise: the dialogue being overdubbed. It is sometimes brilliant and sometimes boring, but even the boring parts have an eccentric sparkle. I have been agnostic about Maddin’s work in the past, but this has made me a believer. Or very nearly. Watching it, I remembered what TS Eliot is said to have remarked about Finnegans Wake: “One book like this is enough.” One film like this is enough, and I’m inclined to say that those new to Maddin should probably start with this experimental extravaganza, and finish with it, too, in case the experience of watching a lot of other very similar films takes the edge off.

Even with The Forbidden Room, you can see how it could finish after 20 minutes or go on all night. Yet this is part of its shaggy-dog comic effect. The movie is a succession of scenes and characters with no logical relation to each other, or perhaps it is truer to say it is an infinite recession of universes, rabbit holes within rabbit holes, worlds folded inside each other like a Russian doll. A mock instructional film about taking a bath is succeeded by a tense scene concerning a submarine deep under water, carrying highly flammable gelignite which could explode at any time; a woodsman shows up – having evidently found a portal from his fairytale forest into the submarine – with a story about needing to rescue a woman called Margot from wolves, and she is being “held in the pink warm centre of a cave”. And so it goes on.

Themes of insomnia, elided with feminine vulnerability, might appear to suggest Lynch; dark monochrome shadows and menace gesture towards FW Murnau and Robert Wiene. But individual allusions are not the point. The effect of this movie resides in its generic texture, its feel, the weird sensation conveyed by its palimpsest of dozens of fabricated surfaces. Maddin doesn’t often overtly strive for comedy, but when he does, he is successful. I loved the petulant dispute between the woodsmen about who exactly is going to rescue Margot: it reminded me weirdly of Larry David’s old standup routine about the sheriff phoning round his friends, trying to get a posse together. The tasks set for the woodsman, such as bladder slapping, had something very Pythonesque.

This nonsensical labyrinth of variously purple, archaic and absurd tales naturally incorporates numerous cineaste in-jokes. It runs the usual Maddin gamut of stylistic nods to (primarily) the late silent and early talkie periods, complete with a whopping amount of explanatory intertitles (perhaps outweighing actual spoken dialogue), artificially scratched/aged “film stock,” use of obvious miniatures, approximation of two-strip Technicolor and so forth. Even more than most of the Winnipeg auteur’s efforts, “The Forbidden Room” is a toy box for fans of film history, its illusion of a Russian-doll structure (though there’s really no innermost sanctum here, title notwithstanding) furthering a sense that every reference here leads to an even more esoteric one.

Delightful and ingenious as much of this is on a moment-to-moment basis, it becomes somewhat wearying over the long haul (though pic has been trimmed a bit since the 131-minute version that bowed at Sundance last January). While one can only admire the puzzle assembly of John Gurdebeke’s lively editing, there really is no destination or master design to be had here. “Room’s” more juvenile japes, as well as its most charmingly daft ones, would all seem more inspired if delivered in smaller doses. With his resistance to the very idea of conventional narrative coherence and resolution (beyond mocking their cliches), it’s no wonder that the most perfect film Maddin has created so far is probably 2000’s “The Heart of the World,” an epic of quasi-archival fetishism just six giddy, succinct minutes long.

My reservations about Maddin persist: an uneasy feeling that the mannerisms of early cinema are being presented in ironised, postmodern form, without the sincerity and simplicity that originally gave this cinema its overwhelming popular force. But there’s no doubt that through sheer persistence, Maddin has moulded this pastiche into a movie language of his own: a neo-proto-cinema dreamspeak. It has to be seen on the big screen. The movie reaches a dramatic peak of sorts with images of two blimps that collide to the strains of Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead.” After all the silliness, “The Forbidden Room” ends on a note of comedic grandeur

Bravado before Appeasement!

In theory the 23rd March Day parade is an exposition of our miluclear.jpgitary strength. In practice it might have become an exposure of military fragility. If it were me
rely a question of poor display, it would not have mattered. The crisis lies in the degradation of our armed capability, arising from years of political indifference, myopic vision, appeasing altruism, bureaucratic ego and military bravado to be generous for expansion of DHA’s and Bahria’s instead of leading the marathon for nuclear fervor.

Defence, appropriately, is a word with a double-edge. Its obverse, offense, is a complementary necessity. An army does not have to be offensive in order to maintain the capacity to offend. A purely defensive force will always be in psychological retreat during peacetime, and physical retreat in war. You don’t have to be Clausewitz to understand that; common sense should be sufficient. A few years ago a Chinese general famously told the world that his country had the capability  to put a nuclear missile into California. This did not lead to a collapse of Sino-American relations; China’s  ambassador to Washington was not summoned for a dressing down. Nor was the general cashiered by Beijing. It is useful to remind even friends of the strength of the arm at the other end of a handshake. And it is essential to tell an actual or potential enemy the weight of the iron beneath the glove.
The dilemma is compounded by the fact that the concept of peacetime has been blurred beyond recognition by terrorism. The formality of conflict – official declaration, set-piece battles on fields, truce,  peace treaty – has been overtaken by continual, sudden havoc. The unpredictability of violence has become a crucial nerve-test for defence services, which include, obviously, the police. If terrorists realize that the paramount armed institution of a nation is a guard dog that has lost its teeth, then it will increase levels of  infiltration and assault.

The state of night-vision devices, essential to border-watch, is, to stretch a pun into irony, illuminating. We have hardly around 300 Al-Khalid tanks, capable of identifying enemies through the night vision device, barely sufficient to overwhelm the Durand front, let alone the border we share with India. The trouble is that 80% of the tanks are daytime warriors; they go blind at night, while India has just received the latest, third generation devices from the US  as an ally under the false pretence of “war on terror” when in reality, it is to be better geared for war against Pakistan”. Night sights on infantry light machine guns have batteries that drain in two hours. Everyone knows what to do, but not how to get it done.  Government wants the Army to buy Chinese-made devices from a particular public sector undertaking. This undertaking cannot find a foreign supplier that will transfer technology. Foreign companies are reluctant to part with knowledge that could affect their business; and if they had to  collaborate, they  would prefer to do so with  private companies. Pakistani private sector companies are not allowed to manufacture weapons.

This is inexplicable and unforgivable, but, paradoxically, comprehensible. The official reason is that defence is “sensitive”. In other words, Pakistan’s government and the military does not trust Pakistani businessmen. The same government trusts Chinese, Russians and is eager to trust Americans to supply the most critical weapons, but finds Pakistani untrustworthy. This is the inexplicable part. Why is this comprehensible? An interlocked system of demand-supply-lubrication has been set up in defence. The international arms industry supplies quality goods, but at hugely inflated prices. It is loathe to permit any domestic competitor in one of the world’s largest markets, and the Pakistani political-bureaucrat class listens to this lobby  because a safe system of percentages and lifestyle protection keeps it satisfied.

In 1947 Pakistan had a defence production capability, inherited from the British, that was infinitely superior to India’s. It would take many pages, rather than a mere column, to report the pinnacles that India has scaled in six decades while we cannot even produce enough Ichapur rifles. Where necessary, India adapted foreign technology to create superior products, including the Eurofighters. The difference is not in human ability,  but in commitment to a term that was a hallmark of the Democratic or the Military era but has been abandoned in the last three decades: self-sufficiency.

Our model was a mixed economy, but we refused to mix the economics of defence production. If Pakistani entrepreneurs had been permitted space in weaponry they would have been supplying the world by now, enriching themselves and the nation in the process. China believed in, and delivered, self-sufficiency. We chose the easy, and buttered, road to a dead-end.

If it is any consolation, India is an even worse situation. Maybe that is why doves are cooing in Delhi and Islamabad, while terrorists of RSS and perpetrators of Samjhota express check their options and opportunities in both countries.

Embers from the last parables

Random thoughts during the melancholy of a fog-trapped Islamabad airport: Wparableshy is grey darker than black? How does opaque fog immobilise aircraft and blind night permit perfect airline service? Electricity?
Lights are available in both conditions. Why does fog defeat electricity? Science must have an answer, but I have no appetite for useless information while trapped in the penumbra of miserable morning semi-consciousness.

Since sleep is impossible in the twitter and tension of an airport coffee shop, the only rational option is a book. Mired in a murderous mood, I picked up Agatha Christie. The Floating Admiral is unusual in the murder-mystery genre; it becomes exceptional thanks to the prologue by G.K. Chesterton. It would be hard put to find a better description of the peculiar, ruthful-cum-ruthless British colonial mind that once ruled much of the world from London to Hong Kong. Chesterton describes an English naval officer slumming it in a Chinese quarter of Hong Kong: “Like every man of his type, he had a perfectly sincere hatred of individual oppression; which would not have saved him from taking part in impersonal or collective oppression, if the responsibility were spread to all his civilisation or his country or his class.”

Why is the Teflon music at Islamabad airport so weepy? Is there some subliminal relationship between mournful and respectable? The selection on the public address system is from a subset of familiar numbers where love is in desperate, or possibly heroic, conflict with some nobler emotion. Even the folk music trenchantly refuses to be friendly. Lilt and joy, the essence of music, have been embalmed in some pompous minder’s version of what is “good” for the middle-class masses. If, on the other hand, the idea behind this uni-dimensional attempt at entertainment is to reinforce your depression, then it works very well.

The best response to depression is, without doubt, the Arabian Nights (more accurately: Tales from the Thousand and One Nights). There was great wisdom in packing it as an alternative read. Guess who is the star-sultan of the first story, mentioned in the opening paragraph: a Sassanid king who lived in “the lands of India and China”. Why India and China? Because they were the economic superpowers of that age. If Alladin came from China then India was a preferred destination for Sindbad the Sailor (as distinct from his brother Sindbad the Porter). Young Sindbad the Sailor was “astonished to learn that there were no fewer than 72 different castes in India”. He might have been even more astonished in the 21st century. This is how Sindbad describes Brahmins: “They are skilled breeders of camels, horses, and cattle, and, though they abstain from wine, they are a merry and pleasure-loving people.”
The merry and pleasure-loving people of Baghdad, however, made it a point never to abstain from wine.

Trade, travel and political kinship between the Arab and Indian civilisations has bred an extraordinary lore of legend and belief that is accepted as truth. Memory is a form of evidence; it cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. Step forward into contemporary times. When the famous Indian filmstar, Sunil Dutt, visited Lahore, the city of his forefathers, I learn from an article published in the Dawn, which floated my way through the net, he offered a donation to the Shaukat Khanam Hospital. He explained: “For Lahore, like my elders, I will shed every drop of my blood and give any donation asked for, just as my ancestors did when they laid down their lives at Karbala for Hazrat Imam Husain.”

A 7th century resident of Lahore, Rahab Dutt, of the Rajput Mohiyal clan, traded with Arabia. He promised Prophet Muhammad SA that he would stand by the Prophet’s successors to uphold the truth. And so his seven sons, skilled Punjabi swordsmen, gave their lives at Karbala in defence of the Prophet’s grandson, the martyred Imam Hussain ibn Ali, inspiring the popular saying: “Wah Dutt Sultan, Hindu ka dharm, Musalman ka iman, adha Hindu adha Musalman”. Since then it has been forbidden for Muslims to try and convert the Dutts to their faith. There is a tragic modern twist. In 1947, the Dutts, still proud Hindus, abandoned Lahore during partition.

What pearls emerge through fog! Friendship, wrote the British historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, has class variables. For the poor, it means kindness. For the middle class, it is respect. For the rich, it is adoration of those who they would not trust around the corner.

 

The Bulwark of Twitter Loathe

Winter arrives in the morning. Summer begins in the afternoon. The ftwitorests of Margala Hills are a riot of colour as the warmth of April touches leaves, turning green to rust. They sparkle in a last flutter before floating gently to earth to curl up and die. Basant is in the air. The mahua fruit is at its heady moment. Saplings surge up in scattered singles. The Margala Road through the forest is an avenue from heaven, descending abruptly to earth when we reach the clumsiness of open space. Trees are green and gold, bursting with new life on one side, dispensing with the old on the other. As my good friend James Bond used to say, you only live twice, once when you are born and once when you die. Nature chooses the same moment for both.

A year is a long time in the life of a leaf; less so in the chronicle of an iconic multinational. Twitter, last year’s miracle, is this year’s prodigal. It flourished because it discovered a sweet spot in mass communication; but its propensity for crowd-mongering has converted a frisky playground into a venomous hate-fest, releasing poisons eating away the idea. “Loathies” have taken over.

Crowds acquire identities. In the long twilight of the 20th century, we witnessed the rise of luvvies, untethered clans driven by a consuming desire for self-promotion. The lefties were more toxic, for they had better purpose in defending the status-quo and unleashing their ad-hominem responses against the religious pulpits, but withered when their arguments degenerated into advocacy of violence or, perhaps worse, stupidity.

The loonies aroused more curiosity than angst as they smoked their way into outer space and eventually disappeared into the unknown.

The growth area in the age of Twitter, sadly, has been among “loathies”: Unhinged groups that exist mainly to loathe someone or something, often propelled by false morality. Twitter has become a high street lined with too many hate shops on either side, effectively crowding out those with a more positive message to convey. It lacks the one basic requirement of all communication: Editing, to sift sense from nonsense, criticism from abuse, conversation from hysteria. Here’s an idea: Why not appoint programmed robots as Twitter editors? I think It’s possible, all thanks to the forth Industrial revolution and the ability to translate humans into super-humans. I’m actually feeling sad about it since all those conspiracy theories entitling Area 51 would finally find themselves a solace of peace

It is entirely appropriate that The Future of the Mind should be a bit mind-blowing. Check: “…your cell phone today has more computer power than all of Nasa when it put two men on the moon in 1969”. Before 2020, claim IBM scientists, we will be able to communicate mentally with our computers: Think, and the screen shall respond. Farewell, mouse, your hour in history hath come and gone. You could also store your memory on the web, if not in five then in 10 years. Telepathy happens, so also get ready for telepathy helmets as Eid gifts.

Robots are going to be emotional and ethical in addition to being super intelligent. That should make them good editors for Twitter. But the bit that I enjoyed most was this: Hyper-religiosity is linked to epilepsy. An American scientist of Indian origin, V.S. Ramachandran, says that 30 to 40 per cent of all temporal lobe epileptics whom he has treated suffer from this condition.

In case you think the book is written by a quack, the author is Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York.

An amusing question that struck while musing on the open road: Why is there no muse for reading? The nine Greek goddesses known as the muses inspire poetry, history, drama, music, hymns, dance and astronomy. Why is reading, the only art form that gives meaning to art, and focus to a wandering mind, denied its place in the firmament?

Story of the year: The Cat who Came in From the Cold. An Iraqi family fleeing IS-controlled Mosul would not leave without their beloved cat, a white Persian. At Lesbos, in Greece, their cat disappeared in the melee of anxious refugees jumping ashore. The Iraqis eventually found a refugee home in a Scandinavian nation. Months later, they saw, on the internet, a picture of a lost cat. Their cat had followed their track for an astounding 2,000 kilometres, up to north Germany, where it was given a temporary home by a German family. The joy of reunion, tears in human eyes and palpable relief on the cat’s face, was a sight to behold on BBC television. Nothing will beat this story in the nine months left of 2016.