About Zain Umar

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me. Twitter followup: https://twitter.com/#!/zmrzain Email: zain5@live.co.uk Live messenger: z_umar_9@hotmail.com

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.

 

Between Clay & Dust – I wish you a Song

I want to write songs of you, the way Trent Reznor sings

Of his ephemeral Her, his God, every roar, every whisper, every husky syllable outlining

This hollow emptiness within our strangled darkly dreaming cardiac cages. I want to write songs for you, twisted and double-edged, a symphony within symphony, a malady of melodies shaping all my depthless, wordless need; a melody I would bury deep, let oceans crash over it so when it rained you could be soaked in this music & the rain shall whisper in your ear.

Let this rain always be for you, the symphonies reverberating on your skin like a pulse, still in search of something numinous. I want my words to resonate within you, the words to melt calmly in you. Breathe them out into the wind, circumnavigate the world, be suspended in the ether of midnight, fireflies caught aglow in amber; hold my amber-spun dreams in your hands, let the sun warm them, seep the sun-wine of their slow fire to resonate in your emptiness, the way piano keys echo within the hushed gloom of a thousand watching eyes, I wish you could be– eternal, eternal, eternal.

Portraits of Kafka – A Review

WBposter58x58-55To understand Franz Kafka’s world and his art, we need to thoroughly explore his literary universe – an alienated, morally desolate place. This would not only make us appreciate his work, but also make us respect how he grappled with such ultimate issues as the disjunction or disharmony of consciousness and being, individual aspiration, social bondage, man’s innate religious need and his endemic inability to reach that solid assurance of metaphysical truth for which he longs. The term “Kafkaesque” refers to that unique combination of qualities Kafka’s work can have. It has come to mean anything from the dreamlike to the sinister and the absurd. In this article I will compare the political absurdity indicative in Kafka’s major works to the current financial crises in America.

Kafka’s Political Literature

As one of the most acclaimed and influential writers of the twentieth-century, Kafka is renowned for prophetic and profoundly enigmatic stories that often portray human degradation and cruelty. In his works, Kafka presents a grotesque vision of a world in which alienated, angst-ridden individuals vainly seek to transcend their condition or pursue some unattainable goal. His characters are always victimized and never overcome adversity; they accept it. The situations he presents can be nightmarish and go far beyond being simply neurotic. There is a fixation on all of life’s negativities. His characters are mostly paralyzed in their exercise of will by anxiety. His fiction derives its power from his use of precise, dispassionate prose and realistic detail to relate bizarre, often absurd events, and from his probing treatment of moral and spiritual problems. In his short story The Penal Colony, for example, the accused is asked to blindly conform to the law. The prisoner fails to stand at attention and salute the captain’s door and is awarded the death penalty for this petty mistake. There is no rational connection between the alleged crime and the punishment, but the system is not concerned with establishing guilt or rendering justice. Kafka’s writings sketch an anti-authoritarian image. In The Trial and The Castle, the Government is a hierarchical, abstract, and an impersonal apparatus. Despite the brutal, petty, and sordid characters the bureaucrats are only cogs in this machine. As Walter Benjamin, the German-Jewish critic, acutely observed, “Kafka wrote from the perspective of a modern citizen who realizes that his fate is being determined by an impenetrable bureaucratic apparatus whose operation is controlled by procedures that remain shadowy even to those carrying out its orders and a fortiori to those being manipulated by it”.

Even though Josef K’s false arrest in The Trial seems completely illogical, it should, nevertheless, be kept in mind that Kafka is not describing exceptional states in this story. Kafka is indicating the alienated and oppressive nature of a corrupt state. He writes in The Trial:

“K. lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force; who, then, dared seize him in his own dwelling?”

As Josef K pleads with the guards to acquit him, the guards indicate their blind belief in the law: “Do you think you can bring your whole damn trial to a quick conclusion by discussing your identity and arrest warrant with your guards? We’re lowly employees who can barely make our own through such documents, and whose role in your affair is to stand guard over ten hours a day and get paid for it. That’s all we are, but we’re smart enough to realize that before ordering such an arrest the higher authorities who employ us inform themselves in great detail about the person they’re arresting and the grounds for the arrest.”

Kafka’s characters seem so resigned to their circumstances that they start embracing their surroundings. The guard’s faith in the government points to an egregious abuse of power by the law enforcement agencies. Kafka’s two major novels, The Trial and The Castle, are a critique on modern states. He considers them alienated, hypostatized, and autonomous bureaucratic systems, which become ends unto themselves. The Castle contains all of the primal emotions readers interested in existentialism look for: confusion, isolation, immobility, estrangement, and a sense to understand the human condition. The story’s protagonist, K., who by all descriptions is a simple surveyor sent to measure the land, cannot reach the Count of the Castle no matter how much he tries. In one passage that is a masterpiece of black humor, in The Castle, the town mayor describes the official apparatus as a machine that seems to work by itself: “One might say that the administrative organism could no longer put up with the strain and irritation it had to endure for years because of dealing with the same trivial business and that it has begun to pass sentence on itself, bypassing the functionaries.”

The story of K. is the story of a person discovering the tragedy of being trapped in an endless, dreamlike maze. At the start of the novel, K. is primarily occupied with the desire to survey the land and leave, but the more K. works, the more he discovers. For instance, he sees a village where people are scared, overly cautious, and paranoid, as if they are hiding some important truth. They do not know that their Count Westwest is dead (in German, west means “decomposing”) and so continue in a state of mediocrity. One can feel that Kafka’s work is missing a sense of time and place, which is why it can be very easily related to any period in human history. Although his work did neither prophesize about the future nor bash a particular system of government, his stories were somewhat autobiographical and attempted to portray the society he lived in and knew very well

In the End Kafka’s stories and novels may be about a world where things seem the opposite of what they are; but we find that it is much closer to the truth than we might think. Kafka might have written about bleakness in people’s lives, presenting a forlorn world; however, looking at what is happening around us in the world, we find that he was not that far off from reality. Kafka presented the difficulty of the situation, where one simply cannot escape the law. No matter how Kafka’s protagonist tries to escape the court in The Trial, he only finds himself dragged deeper into its web. This situation resembles Capitalism without a conscience. When we consider how we are stuck in the vast web of capitalism without regulation, the more we try to struggle and wriggle our way out of it, the deeper we engulf ourselves into a Kafkaesque neurosis. As the Occupy protestors have experienced firsthand, it is a long and difficult haul to reform the political and financial sector