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    When I was in secondary school, a Ferozesons Atlas for Pakistan was part of the curriculum. Apart from the sparse curriculum-driven usage, my copy had several areas circled with a pencil, places that I had visited, along with a companion list of places that I dreamt of going to one day.

    Living in Karachi and not travelling much, the markings were modest – Malir, Thatta and Hub were the first to be circled. Over the years, the wish list grew longer. The habit became part of who I was.

    An item that first appeared on the list a few years back was Chutok in Moola Teshil of District Khuzdar in Balochistan. I first came to know of Chutok through an article penned by my travel writing idol Salman Rashid, in the Urdu publication Jahan-e-Pakistan.

    The piece, titled Jadunagri Chutok (Magical Wonderland of Chutok), described the place as a nature’s waterpark of sorts, embedded deep in a narrow canyon. The prospect was tempting.

    I had already visited some areas of Balochistan, seen Khuzdar from atop Gorakh on the other side of the Khirthar Ridge in Sindh, and Makran Coastal Highway had become a favourite hangout spot, but for one reason or another Chutok remained out of reach.

    Last year while visiting Pakistan for Independence Day, I sought Salman Rashid’s help to visit the place but his local friend from the Zehri clan had moved abroad. This year, our plan to visit Astola for Independence Day was blown away by monsoon winds.

    As luck would have it, Fawad Khan, a banker and former colleague, has taken up offroading and is always on the lookout for a destination to explore. Our addiction to the outdoors lead the way and we were on the way to Khuzdar along with Jahanzaib Najam who is a professional photographer, a Bonsai practitioner, and an adventure enthusiast.

    Photos by Adil Mulki and Fawad Khan.
    Photos by Adil Mulki and Fawad Khan.

    As we fueled up along the Hub River Road, we observed PAF’s Mirages coming in to land at the Masroor Base. This is the base where Rashid Minhas took off from on his flight to immortality, on that fateful morning in August, 46 years ago.

    We crossed the bridge over the Hub River to Bab-e-Balochistan, the gateway into the province.

    We stopped near Bhawani Serai (a Chowkandi style graveyard) on the RCD (Regional Cooperation for Development) Highway for Friday prayers. Similarities in the stone carved graves from Bhawani Serai to Makli are a testament to the presence of an ancient culture that fared these routes.

    When we crossed Winder, the usual sandstorm-esque gusts greeted us on the way to Uthal. In its own rugged way, it felt as if Balochistan was welcoming us.

    Way to Khuzdar

    Our first break was between Uthal and Bela, where green fields and smoke rising from the hearth of a teashop, tempted us with the promise of doodh-patti prepared on a wood fire. I have never been able to appreciate the difference between a pizza baked in a wood-fired oven and that prepared in a gas oven, but tea and karhai are on a different level altogether when prepared on wood fire.

    In Sindh and Balochistan, smoke from burning keekar lends the humble ingredients an aroma that the finest Darjeeling tea and Wagyu beef cannot match. We savoured our tea in the cool breeze under huge keekar and babur trees.

    To our surprise, the crop in bloom in the fields behind the teashop turned out to be cotton. None of us previously knew that cotton was planted in this area of Balochistan.

    Cotton fields at Bela.
    Cotton fields at Bela.
    Cotton at Bela.
    Cotton at Bela.

    The locals informed us that it was a recent development as it is more profitable than other crops and know-how of its growth is now reaching these parts as well. Although this sojourn was very relaxing and on another day could have been a destination in itself, Chutok beckoned us.

    Throughout our journey we encountered the usual cargo on trucks – huge boulders heading toward the Marble City near Hub, to be crafted into tiles and ornaments, and agricultural produce heading in both directions. There were containers being hauled.

    In the wider geo-political arena, commentators would have us believe that these are the beginnings of CPEC cargo and not continuation of NATO cargo – if so or otherwise, I am unable to vouch. But I hope that whichever alliance the cargo belongs to, its economic and social benefits will trickle down to the locals.

    During a short break between Bela and Wadh, we bought and drank what we later concluded was counterfeit bottled pomegranate drink. We were left red-lipped, red-mouthed, and red-faced.

    Between Bela and Wadh.
    Between Bela and Wadh.
    Between Bela and Wadh.
    Between Bela and Wadh.

    We decided not to take any further breaks till we reached Khuzdar. Dusk approached as we crossed into Wadh, and as it became dark we made a stop in the wilderness, surrounded by the mountains to marvel at the Milky Way before the lights of Khuzdar would fade it out.

    Khuzdar was refreshingly bigger and more developed than our expectations. The roads that we used were better than most Karachi roads, cleaner too, and a minor ocean of city lights gave the impression of a large, well-planned town.

    Moola Miles

    Much to the discontent of our hosts at Khuzdar, we decided not to stay for the night, but immediately after dinner, head off to Moola Tehsil.

    There are two navigational options available if one were to reach Moola from Khuzdar city. The longer, but saner and safer route is through Karakh town of Khuzdar District on the under-construction M-8 Ratodero-Gawadar Motorway.

    M-8 promises to be a life-changing infrastructure project for many, similar to what the Makran Coastal Highway has done for the people in Ormara, Pasni and Gawadar. From Karakh, one has to take a hillside road to Moola, which, as it proceeds, morphs into a dirt track that criss-crosses the river bed.

    The other option is to take the comparatively shorter but completely unpaved 90 km-long dirt and rock track near the intersection of RCD and M-8.

    Our motley crew had the offroaders’ ego to live up to, so we opted for the latter much to our hosts’ concerns and suggestions to reconsider. Their mehmaan-dari called for letting them provide us a comfortable stay, a breakfast and then an early morning start to our onward journey.

    But once they saw how committed we were to take ‘the road less travelled’, a different aspect of their mehmaan-dari checked in, and they not only encouraged us to go ahead, but also arranged for a Levies personnel as a guide, and provided a travel time estimate of three to four hours. This time estimate further encouraged us to proceed.

    Enroute to Chutok Springs.
    Enroute to Chutok Springs.
    Pathway to Chutok.
    Pathway to Chutok.

    Years of wandering teaches one not to digest any time frames given by locals, especially hosts without a pinch of salt or two. But the same years also prove that no matter how many pinches of salt you take, excitement to reach your destination often intoxicates you into believing the time frames, and also that you can improve on that time!

    What was supposed to be 3-4 hours, turned out to be eight long hours of gruelling offroading on dirt, mud tracks, rocky patches, running streams, and finally meandering for miles along steep mountain sides. Throughout the night, we were convinced that it was our guide who had lost the way and was working on a trial and error methodology.

    Several times, one of us had to cross a stream in the dark to check how deep it was, before our faithful 1984 TLC (Toyota Land Cruiser) could make it through. I guess the rationale behind this time-tested method of crossing streams is that it is better to risk one soul with everyone else there to rescue them, instead of jeopardising the pack and no one left to rescue!

    The continuous night-time off-roading was a personal record for all of us as we reached Chutok at 6 am.

    Springing to the springs

    Fawad, whom we had entrusted with the steering wheel and our lives throughout the night, opted to take some rest while Jahanzaib and I, who had occasionally caught some naps during the night, immediately got into gear for the two km hike westwards from Chutok Resthouse to the springs.

    The sun slowly rose behind us as we entered shaded canyons. The path often criss-crossed the stream coming from the springs. The surrounding landscape is mostly dry but its rugged beauty is spell-binding — something Balochistan is blessed with.

    Fawad Khan - Gateway to Chutok.
    Fawad Khan - Gateway to Chutok.
    Gateway to Chutok.
    Gateway to Chutok.

    During our hike it was disappointing to notice a couple of rocks where visitors had left some graffiti.

    As Chutok comes on the adventure visitor’s radar, it is important to preserve its natural beauty and originality. We are better off eating an apple or a banana purchased and brought along from Hub, rather than the prospect of enjoying a burger served by a franchise’s Chutok outlet that will ultimately ruin what one goes there for!

    I asked the guide Mian Khan why they do not stop the vandalism, to which he replied that on a holiday such as Eid or 14 August, there can be hundreds of people visiting the springs and it is just not possible to ensure that people don’t engage in such acts.

    Canyoning – Into the rabbit hole

    At the mouth of the gorge we expected to swim across the huge pool of turquoise water that we had seen in some videos. When we reached the spot, I enquired from Mian Khan where the pool was.

    He replied that that it had been filled over with pebbles. When asked who did that, his response was “qudrat”, before explaining that torrential rains bring huge amounts of pebbles down the ravine that fill up the pool.

    He went on to claim that this was a periodic phenomenon and that another torrent will flush out pebbles from the approximately 30-feet-deep pool! Hard to believe, but I guess we’ll have to take Mian Khan’s word for that. Or maybe, we can revisit in hopes of being greeted by a flushed out pool.

    Any notion of a stroll-in-the-park kind of picnic that had survived up until now was quickly and surely put to rest as we entered the gorge. To begin with, the sides are steep and the stream is rolling down a gentle slope, but as one goes further, the gradient increases and little falls have to be climbed.

    Fawad Khan - Pool at Chutok entrance filled up by pebbles.
    Fawad Khan - Pool at Chutok entrance filled up by pebbles.
    All that's left of the Great Bath after qudrat filled it up with pebbles.
    All that's left of the Great Bath after qudrat filled it up with pebbles.

    The gully narrows and the sides become virtually vertical, thus eliminating the option of bypassing the stream. The flow of water increases at the tighter spots and the sides drip from innumerable points.

    The walls are tens of feet deep and allow little direct sunlight to enter the crack; this, combined with lack of space and rocky ground, limit vegetation mostly to ferns and moss that have found a perfect abode here.

    This is an ideal setting for an introduction to the sport of canyoning, with a wide variety of obstructions and features squeezed into a neat power pack.

    During our session, the objective was to reach the point where the springs originate and return safely. On and on we prodded, waded, jumped, swam and climbed against the flow.

    There are several fantastic water features one comes across here — puddles, pools, showers, waterfalls, springs and fountains gushing out of the rocky walls — and waterslides polished smooth by perhaps millennia of water erosion. Waterslides in general are great things to slide down on but climbing up against a powerful stream gushing down is another story!

    We took off our shoes before swimming across a large pool and climbing a small waterfall. When one crosses all the pools and falls, the stream in the middle weakens to a soothing flow of crystal clear water with a bed of pebbles on both sides – a Japanese rock garden created by ‘qudrat’.

    Here the roars of the torrent are only a distant whisper interspersed with a gentle drip. We discovered that walking with soaked bare feet in a Japanese garden can bring one back from a meditative state, especially if one is overweight – in short, it HURT!

    At places the sides of the canyon broaden to let sunlight in.
    At places the sides of the canyon broaden to let sunlight in.
    Initially bypassing the stream is an option, then the canyon narrows.
    Initially bypassing the stream is an option, then the canyon narrows.

    The tranquility of this space was disturbed a couple of times by what sounded like a few SMG bursts from a distance but the sound was too vague and distant for us to investigate. In any case, an investigation would require us to get out of the gorge first — we kept moving further in.

    Alas, when we reached what we thought was the point of origin, all that we could see ahead was dry pebbles. We continued further, only to discover that there was yet another “origin”, a tiny spring with water flowing out and sinking under a bed of dry pebbles.

    The water reappeared where there was a disturbance in the terrain. This happened a few times till we finally reached the true origin of the stream, after which the gully took a sharp turn and sealed off.

    It was only by this time that we realised that those 'bursts' were pebbles of various sizes hurtling down sporadically from the top edges of the ravine, gaining momentum during their long fall, and then hitting boulders at the bottom. Any unfortunate soul that gets hit by one of these would find them not much different from a bullet. Mian Khan enlightened us that grazing goats at the top sometimes cause these rocks to fall.

    Getting struck on the head by rocks falling from tens of feet (if not hundreds) was not exactly an enticing prospect, hence we were a bit nervy and quick on our return.

    In my haste I was about to splash in a shallow puddle when Jahanzaib grabbed my arm. He pointed towards a little snake that was lounging by its pool in privacy that I was about to invade.

    The tiny fellow remained unfazed by our presence — the feeling was not mutual. One snake meant the possibility of finding more, and worst, sharing the upcoming pools with a few.

    Luckily sanity prevailed and we were able to negotiate our return through some steep descents and sliding down slippery rock surfaces, without injury.

    It was the best canyoning experience one can hope for.

    A note for would-be canyoneers: The sport is most exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable if you love nature, however, it has its own set of hazards such as flash floods, getting stuck in whirlpools, encounters with wildlife and being pinned down by a boulder, etc.

    Remember the movie 127 hours? It is based on the true story of Aron Ralston who was trapped by a boulder in Blue John Canyon in Utah and had to cut off his arm to get free!

    In any corner of the planet, the activity should be exercised with knowledgeable local guides and by exercising due caution.

    Baloch hospitality

    As we headed back to the Moola valley, a constant game of light and shade was on display as clouds moved overhead. Up ahead we could see darker clouds with distant rumbling sounds indicating a downpour.

    At the village, our hosts had prepared for us a scrumptious meal that summed up Baloch hospitality. The art of slow cooking that Baloch cuisine is famous for is perhaps born out of necessity as food in most areas is still cooked on wood fires. Despite the presence of Sui where the legendary methane reserves were discovered, ‘Sui gas’ is yet to make its way to many households in the province.

    It was no surprise that the pièce de résistance was the lamb sajji, slow cooked in its own juices, covered with a salty crust, and equally importantly, sans the masala that we are accustomed to in the cities. Salt is applied to the meat to help dehydration and is often the only spice used.

    Sajji and Kurnu.
    Sajji and Kurnu.
    Opened up Kurnu at the centre.
    Opened up Kurnu at the centre.

    Other items on the spread were not to be outdone by the sajji. Namkeen rosh, fried green chillies, boiled rice and kurnu featured on the menu.

    Kurnu is a traditional Baloch bread, that takes hours to bake. Tough unleavened dough is applied to spherical river bed stones weighing approximately a couple of pounds. The stones are heated in a fire and covered with the dough, then left in fresh, warm ashes.

    The exterior heat of the ash bakes the dough from the outside while the inside is cooked by the heat emanating from the stone. The result is a thick, crusty bread, a bit hard on the outside like baguettes, but chewy on the inside, and hollow in the middle after the stone is removed.

    Au Revoir but not goodbye

    Eager for our return now, we started our goodbyes only to be informed by the hosts that our departure would be delayed. The rumblings we had heard earlier had brought heavy rains further down the valley and a flash flood was passing through the river bed that would take an hour to recede to navigable levels.

    We spent this time exploring the nearby paddy fields and date orchards — another destination in their own right.

    Moola Valley date orchards.
    Moola Valley date orchards.
    Moola Valley paddy fields.
    Moola Valley paddy fields.

    Finally the water level receded and we headed back, driving along steep cliffs overlooking the valley. We had entered from the other side along similar cliffs in the dark. Daylight emphasised our exploits from the night before.

    Like a dream, the adventure ended as we returned to Khuzdar, interacting on the way with the ever vigilant FC personnel guarding their posts, and young men from the village who had hitched a ride with us to the city.

    As the M-8 takes shape, CPEC traffic increases, and the magic of Chutok lures more visitors armed with SLRs and video drones, one hopes that the local population finds better economic opportunities from tourism and commerce, and better education and health facilities become available.

    Moola Valley.
    Moola Valley.

    One also hopes that the increasing footfall does not result in total destruction of the magic. Unfortunately, already a couple of plastic wrappers and some scribbling could be seen etched around Chutok.

    With dreamy memories of the Jadunagri, and a promise to return again when life permits, we made our exit from Balochistan. Upon my return, I picked up the phone to tell Salman Rashid that I visited Chutok and to tell him that his Urdu title for the piece was perfect.

    After the call, I picked up my time-worn atlas, circled Moola (Chutok is not mentioned on the atlas) and updated my list.

    Have you been on adventures that are off the beaten track? Tell us all about them at

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    These girls could have also become Malala Yousafzai or Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, but they didn’t.

    They were married off in their early teens, and before they could escape childhood, some gave birth to their own children.

    Child marriage is widespread in Pakistan. Girls as young as 13 are married off by their parents or guardians. Poverty, illiteracy, religious beliefs, and cultural norms and pressures are some of the reasons behind this practice. For the young mothers, early motherhood is often accompanied with high fertility, and poor maternal and children health.

    Over the past five decades, significant improvement has taken place in battling child marriages.

    A relatively much smaller proportion of young girls is married off today than was 50 years ago. Still, much more work is needed to curb such practices to ensure Pakistan’s future mothers and their children can lead healthy and prosperous lives.

    Know more: Married off for 'honour': Pakistan's child brides

    Teenage pregnancies are not just a challenge for developing countries. Even the US is struggling with the same challenge, with additional complexities.

    In 2006, the cumulative risk of a teenager becoming pregnant in her teen years was one in three. The US government has been struggling to curb this trend. By 2010, the numbers were down to one in four. Teenage pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates were all down. Greater awareness about contraceptives and their effective use and cultural changes are the reason behind the decline in these numbers.


    In Pakistan, though, teenage pregnancies result in additional complexities. In a recent paper published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, Muazzam Nasrullah and others explore the impact of girl child marriages on fertility in Pakistan.

    Read on: Fatal conception — stilled life

    Using data from the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey for 2006-07, the authors found that over 50 per cent of the ever-married women in Pakistan between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18. Most international conventions consider individuals under 18 as children.

    The authors believe that the adverse impacts of girl child marriages include high fertility rates (three or more childbirths), frequent childbirth with fewer than 24 months between births, unwanted pregnancies, and pregnancy termination.

    Source: Nasrullah et. al., 2014
    Source: Nasrullah et. al., 2014

    Pakistan has made tremendous progress in increasing the average age at marriage for girls, which increased from 13.3 years in 1950-59 to 23.1 in 2006-07. But despite the good work done, one in two young girls is still married off before she turns 18.

    This has to change.

    The poor health of the teenage mother and her child, and higher risks for disease and death for both should convince the governments to increase the legal age for marriage.

    Explore: Half of South Asia's girls marry before 18: UN

    The main determinants of childhood marriage are the usual suspects. Most child brides have no formal education and live in Pakistan’s rural areas. Of those, who were between 20-24 years old, 75 per cent women reported at least one childbirth. Almost 32 per cent women in the same cohort gave birth to a child in the first year after their marriage. Another 20 per cent of 20-24 years old had at least once terminated a pregnancy.

    The recent crisis of over 100 reported deaths of children in rural Sindh should be a revelation for the government and the public at large.

    At the face of it, drought has been identified as a contributing factor. It could very well be true that these children were of poor health from the beginning and that some of them may have been born to teenage mothers.

    The mother and child’s health has to become a priority in Pakistan.

    But given the crisis-prone nature of the country, the government’s and the media’s focus will soon shift to yet another crisis, ignoring the deep-rooted crisis of mother and child health.

    Pakistan needs to invest in its people to build a prosperous country. It can start by investing in the health of mothers and children to preserve the future generation of Pakistanis.

    Note: An earlier version of the blog misstated the risk of becoming pregnant in the US. The error is regretted.


    —Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro.—Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro.

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    I happened to meet a Pakistani mover and shaker a while back. You know the type: They talk about Pakistani problems in a distinctly firangi accent.

    Their offices are decorated in enough Persian couplets and shiny diplomas to showcase their foreign qualifications and eastern aesthetics in equal measure.

    They drop hints at every turn in the conversation about the number of projects they have been recently directing.

    The moment they get a chance, they tell you about how many American journalists have asked for their interview.

    By way of introduction, I mentioned that I had recently completed my PhD on women doctors of Pakistan.

    Then, I held my breath for the predictable response.

    “Oh? So, you must know about these ‘doctor brides’ who become doctors only to be able to find good matches, right?”


    Ever since I started my fieldwork in Pakistan back in September, 2015 ‘doctor brides’ is a phrase that has been chasing me.

    The story goes something like this: A Pakistani woman becomes a doctor. An amazing achievement, right? Well, think again. As it turns out, it is quite likely she will never practice.

    Because she is a doctor, she is quite a catch in the marriage market. Pakistani mothers-in-law would do anything to get a doctor bahu for their precious sons. It is a sign of self-importance and prestige to have a lady doctor as a wife or daughter-in-law.

    Related: doctHERs: Remote patient care with female doctors at the fore

    Rafia Zakaria used the term ‘doctor brides’ to describe this phenomenon back in 2013, and the term stuck. Even though the idea of a doctor bahu has been silently percolating in the society for quite a while, it exploded into mainstream media after that.

    Adding fuel to the fire, in late 2014, the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) tried to impose a quota on admission of women in medical colleges (restricting them to 50% of available positions) in a perverse affirmative action for men. The decision was later struck down by the Lahore High Court.

    Everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Local and international media did sensational pieces on these remarkable (or pitiable?) women who, despite being highly educated, continued to act on the age-old script of patriarchy and backwardness, getting a degree for marriage, leaving their careers for family and tradition.

    I heard it all. I have been hearing it since before anyone talked about it.

    I was a doctor once. I sat on the benches crammed with eager medical students in a lecture hall. It was no ordinary institution either. Its iconic brick buildings and verandas designed in the style of an Italian villa, practically dripped with tradition.

    We were a fairly even batch, just about half of us girls. The fact was mentioned to us many times, sometimes in slightly disappointed tones.

    I secretly felt proud, as if taking over a ‘masculine’ profession was something of my personal doing.

    Then one day a teacher stood in front of us and told us in an emphatic voice that each and every one of the girls has usurped that seat from a ‘more deserving boy.’

    “What use is that degree to you?” he asked. “Medicine requires hard work and devotion. You are all going to get married and leave the profession. The degree will go to waste. A boy could have fed his family with this education.”

    I was a coward that day. I wanted to stand up and tell him that he had no right to judge us.

    I did not. I only secretly vowed to someday be much, much better than him.

    Read next: Where are Balochistan’s female doctors?

    The subject of women dominating the medical colleges kept resurfacing again and again. Sometimes, almost jokingly: “This was a better place when there were fewer girls here.”

    At other times, in hints bias: “You know that professor doesn’t fail girls because that delays their marriage. But he won’t give them medals either; what use would that be to a girl?”

    Perhaps these not-so-subtle jabs, and an uneasy feeling of something unsettlingly wrong with my society, made me switch from medicine to anthropology.

    When the time came to decide on a research area, not surprisingly, I picked women doctors in Pakistan.

    When I started my work, I was almost instantaneously hit with a barrage of statistics, all equally dismal and disheartening.

    Women comprise more than 80% of enrollments in Pakistan’s medical colleges. That is a number unmatched even in the US and the UK. But more than 50% of these women doctors do not go on to work.

    Pakistan’s health sector is in dire straits, yet women doctors continue to choose medicine only to be good matches in marriage. What a neat little narrative! Shame on women doctors indeed!

    Only, that is not the whole truth.

    Nobody knows what percentage of women doctors are working. I should know. I tried to find out. No medical institution, college or university, tracks the career progression of their graduates.

    The PMDC does collect some data: They know when a doctor registers with them to practice, or enrolls in advanced specialisation programmes.

    Explore: Meet the heroic mothers who raise children with special needs

    According to them, in 2016 alone, 66% of the doctors registering with them to practice, were women. And this percentage has been rising almost steadily every year.

    So where does the misconception, that a majority of women doctors end up not working, originate?

    It turns out, these statistics are just bad science. The number these movers and shakers like to cite is the aggregate percentage of women doctors in the current workforce. They forget that women doctors have only recently overtaken men in the medical profession.

    The first time more women than men registered to practice with the PMDC was in 2004, after centuries of male dominance which did not create any discomfort at all.

    This sure but gradual change will take some time to reflect in overall numbers, a process aptly called demographic inertia.

    Even though that should put some dent in the argument of doctor brides, it is still not the whole truth.

    The high school enrollment statistics in Pakistan indicate that male students overwhelmingly opted for non-medical tracks. It’s not just that women want to be doctors, it is also that men do not want to be doctors anymore. And it is not difficult to see why.

    Sarmad, a medical officer in a public hospital, explained the phenomenon to me: “A doctor, after five years of study, is nowhere financially. Nobody hires a simple doctor, you have to be a specialist.

    During specialisation, you are lucky if you get paid Rs 70,000-80,000 per month. That is not enough to support your family. An engineer, fresh out of university, earns ten times more than that.”

    The fact that, medicine, a humble and low-paying profession for new entrants (as it has become in Pakistan), has lost its appeal to men, is seldom mentioned.

    And the coveted men doctors, where are they, you ask? They leave Pakistan to work where work is good.

    Do you know how many men doctors leave Pakistan to practice in UAE, Saudi Arabia, UK, Australia, and US every year?

    According to a study, in Aga Khan University, 900 out of 1,100 graduates in 2004 left Pakistan after graduation. Only a few ever returned.

    Pakistan is the third-largest exporter of health personnel to developed countries. Most of these doctors go on visa programmes that require these doctors to work in under-served, rural areas. Ironic, isn’t it?

    But you won’t see these facts being paraded in the media when someone mentions shortage of health personnel in Pakistan.

    You won’t see a mention of recovery of fees, or a hefty fine, or quota on men because they are kamao poot: the sons who earn (foreign) remittances.

    Make no mistake, the consequences of attrition of doctors are heart shattering. Pakistan has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratio in the world, and (except Afghanistan) the highest maternal mortality rate in the region.

    One in 89 women in Pakistan dies of pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications. It seems Pakistani women end up paying the price, whether they are doctors or patients.

    So, to answer your question, dear person, being asked of me for the umpteenth time: Yes, I know a lot about the doctor brides of Pakistan. I think they do not exist.

    I think it is a convenient story that people like to tell because it allows them to remain oblivious to the harsher truths about the status of the medical profession in Pakistan. It allows them to ignore that medical education in Pakistan has scarcely changed in the past century.

    Also, the fact that an eight-hour work day (a norm for medical workers everywhere else in the world) is still an unachievable utopia in Pakistan, is cast aside.

    It lets our training institutions pride themselves on their gruelling work schedules and load, and our surgical departments still carry on the tradition of ward weeks for young trainees.

    We like retelling this narrative because it allows us to feign ignorance to the fact that only teaching hospitals are required by law to provide day-care centres to their employees. These are barely functioning, threadbare facilities which operate only during office hours for kids of school-going age.

    We never seem to want to talk about that sacred cow: Our pride and our joy, our traditional family system and our values, which have allowed men to escape any responsibility towards their parents and their children.

    It is this system which shifts burden of care to next generation of younger women while men are only expected to bring in the money and pay the bills.

    We like to revel in the story of doctor brides because it seems familiar to our ears, because that is what we expect of our women, isn’t it? Giving it all up for family, quietly, and happily.

    We do not want to acknowledge that Pakistani women can have ambitions other than getting married, having children, and squabbling with their saas.

    We want to remain blissfully unaware of the struggle a doctor endures every day, at home and at work, till she gives up, exhausted, and demoralised.

    We also do not know the tears and restless nights these women spend, trying to make their career and their families work, in a society that has been stuck in an anachronistic time loop.

    Let our women doctors be.

    Because in the end, when Pakistani men left for greener pastures, it is the women who stayed home and worked.

    Are you engaged in the medical profession? Share your experiences of working in the health sector with us at

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    Ahmed Rabbani was arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2002 and handed over to the US Government under the claim that he was Hassan Ghul, a known Al-Qaeda operative.

    The US Senate Select Committee that looked into the CIA’s torture and rendition programme has confirmed that his was a case of mistaken identity (see here at page 325). In fact, Hassan Ghul was killed in 2012 by a CIA drone.

    Rabbani has not been charged with any criminal offences and has never had the opportunity to prove his innocence in court.

    I am a Pakistani citizen. My family is originally Rohingya, from Burma. I watch the genocide being committed against Muslims there with horror. Unfortunately, it is not only the Burmese government that persecutes Muslims.

    As I am dictating this to my lawyer, I am being held forever in Guantanamo Bay, without charges or a trial, on the orders of President Donald Trump.

    I was sold to the Americans 15 years ago, for a bounty, with the lie that I was some big-time terrorist named Hassan Ghul. In truth, I was a humble Karachi taxi driver.

    I have endured the unendurable: I was taken to the Dark Prison in Kabul, and I was tortured for 545 days and nights in the CIA torture programme before I was taken to this awful prison.

    I have seen nobody from my government for years. I hear nothing from the Pakistan government that gives me hope. I fear that my love of my country counts for nothing, if my country will not stand up for me.

    Guantanamo is all about lies, hypocrisy and broken promises. They promised me that they might let me out for a review of my detention, but that came to nothing.

    Now 730 of the 780 brothers [imprisoned in Guantanamo] have gone home, nine have died here, but I remain. President Trump says he will never let me go, no matter what the facts are.

    He is just posturing for the American people, as he postures on his Twitter account. It is one thing to marvel at his folly; but it is another to be on the receiving end of it.

    There is little I can do here, except use the traditional power of peaceful protest. To begin with, I was very patient, expecting the American government to honour their promise of justice. But eventually it became clear they never would.

    I began my hunger strike on May 9, 2013 which means that I have now been on strike for four years and four months. Under their rules, they are meant to force feed you when you have lost one-fifth of your body weight.

    I began my strike as a slight man, 135 pounds, so they used the tube on me when I reached 108 pounds. That was long ago and it was illegal then as it is now – if I wish to protest my confinement, it is my right to do so, with human dignity.

    But then the American general [Bantz J. Craddock] said he wanted to make it less “convenient” for me to protest, so they used a big tube that was particularly painful, and they pulled all 110 centimetres [of the tube] out after each feeding, to make it hurt some more.

    And yet, I persisted.

    Now there is a new military criminal [the name of this person is kept secret by the US government] running the force feeding programme. The doctor is helpless, and she does what he tells her. They have stopped torturing me with the tube, and now they torture me with food, in the hope that they can break my resolve.

    They are trying to force me either to eat their food and give up my protest, or to eat myself by starving me. Hunger is feeding on my bones, my flesh. But I will continue even if they bring the tube back.

    My intention is to reach 80 pounds. I am not in a hurry – I am trying to lose two pounds a week until I get there. Now I am around 97 pounds, though I have not weighed myself properly for a few days.

    They will not succeed. Maybe I will lose my sight, and go blind – but in here I have nothing to see.

    I will get out of here one way or the other – either when I am freed from prison, or when I am freed from the bondage of this life, and I leave in a coffin.

    This piece was dictated by Pakistani Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Rabbani (Internment Serial Number 1461) to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith OBE, of the charity Reprieve, on September 26th, 2017, and was cleared to be published.

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    When we came up with the idea of cycling around the Shandong Peninsula, our friends told us, “You guys are junooni (fanatics).” But we were determined to complete this dream cycling tour of ours.

    The objective was straightforward: To explore China, find out whether it is actually difficult for expats to travel freely in the country as portrayed in the international media, know whether the Chinese really love Pakistanis the way we have been taught throughout our lives, and finally, to defy the general perception that Pakistanis lack the spirit of adventure.

    We chose the Shandong Peninsula because of its historical importance, attractive scenery, diverse cuisine, and rich culture. Besides, it was close to Qingdao where we live.

    Starting point: Ocean University of China. - All photos by the authors
    Starting point: Ocean University of China. - All photos by the authors

    The Shandong Peninsula is located in the Shandong province in eastern China, between the Bohai Sea to the north and the Yellow Sea to the south.

    The peninsula’s territory comprises three major cities of the Shandong province: Qingdao in the southwest, Yantai in the north and centre, and Weihai at the eastern tip.

    Besides these three prefecture-level cities, the peninsula has many county-level cities and villages as well.

    We opted for bicycles because of their simplicity, slowness of pace, and the worm’s-eye view they allow a rider to have. On a bicycle, one does not just observe the scenery but gets absorbed by it. For students like us, bicycling is an economic, healthy and environment-friendly way of travelling as well.

    Chaoshi (Chinese for supermarket).
    Chaoshi (Chinese for supermarket).

    The tour was a completely new experience for us. Even though we had explored Qingdao and its districts on bicycle before, we had never done a long distance cycling tour prior to this.

    It was imperative that we not allow our inexperience to triumph and so, in order to make our trip safe and sound, we arranged all necessary equipment. We took with us our cycling toolkits, some extra tyre tubes, an air pump, rain coats, air pillows, etc.

    We set off on April 22, 2017.

    We planned the trip as a point A to point A tour, starting from our university, Ocean University of China, in Qingdao and returning right where we began on May 5, 2017.

    In the course of our journey, we passed by more than 12 prefecture-level and county-level cities: Qingdao, Jimo, Laixi, Zhaoyuan, Longkou, Penglai, Changdao, Yantai, Weihai, Rongcheng, Rushan, and Haiyang.

    We rode through the difficult terrains of rural Shandong as well as on the smooth roads along the coasts of the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea, covering a distance of more than 1,000 kilometres.

    Fuelling just before the high altitude biking in rural Longkou.
    Fuelling just before the high altitude biking in rural Longkou.

    Initially, it was tough to cycle on the relatively hilly roads of Shandong with the considerable amount of weight of the equipment loaded on our bikes. But our stamina gradually grew, along with the strength in our thighs.

    Jimo was the first stopover. It is a county-level city close to Qingdao. One can take either the general traffic routes or the Yangkou Tunnel which is 3.8 kilometres long.

    We took the general traffic routes which run mostly through the main city area, but are often hampered by numerous traffic signals. It is a small city, but is home to some classical architecture and big shopping malls.

    The next destination was Laixi. We followed the rural traffic routes to get to Liaxi, which were often crowded with heavy vehicles, but one got to see the rural life.

    An evening of traditional dance and music with elderly Chinese in Laixi.
    An evening of traditional dance and music with elderly Chinese in Laixi.

    Laixi is known for its slower pace of life. In the evening, residents can be seen fishing and exercising at the Moon Lake Park.

    We also spent an evening with the elderly Chinese exercising in the park. They welcomed us to participate in their exercise activity which included traditional music and dance.

    On our third day, we arrived in Zhaoyuan, another county-level city located on the seashore of the Bohai Sea. We had again taken the rural traffic routes but encountered light rain on our way.

    Riding in the rain was quite a novel experience, but the best part was that we came across so many people who offered help. They gave us umbrellas, raincoats, and asked us to take shelter in their shops. Some also offered us hot drinking water.

    A glittering bridge in Zhaoyuan.
    A glittering bridge in Zhaoyuan.
    Making our way to Zhaoyuan through a village.
    Making our way to Zhaoyuan through a village.

    We learnt that drinking hot water is an old tradition here in China and is believed to be a source of good health. Be it summer or winter, one can see people carrying their own bottle of hot water.

    In Zhaoyuan, what we found particularly fascinating were its magnificent architecture and scintillating night views. At night, one can see bridges and high-rise buildings showered in beautiful, colourful lights, around a lake located just outside the main city.

    One can also find numerous parks and gardens within the city which make Zhaoyuan green and tourist-friendly.

    A village near Nanshan.
    A village near Nanshan.
    It was a tough ride making it to the top.
    It was a tough ride making it to the top.

    We rode to Longkou next. Along the route, one can’t miss the Nanshan Mountain Tourist Area. It is the first-ever AAAA-rated scenic area in the province - a rating that’s given only to some of the most important cultural and historical places or buildings in China.

    The main attraction here is the Great Buddha. Weighing 380 tonnes and measuring 38.66 meters, it is the largest tin bronze sitting Buddha statue in the world.

    We rode up to the top of Nanshan on bicycle and it proved to be the toughest ride of our whole tour. The tourists were amazed when they discovered that we managed to ride up to the top on bicycle.

    We took a less familiar route to get to the summit in order to see and explore the rural life and the villages located around the Nanshan Mountain. Throughout the ride, we passed by quaint villages and stunning sceneries.

    Elderly Chinese working in the fields near Nanshan.
    Elderly Chinese working in the fields near Nanshan.

    We noticed numerous elderly villagers working in the fields all day long. We learnt that since the youth is increasingly moving to the cities for education and employment, their parents and grandparents are left to tend the fields.

    Another observation we made was the community involvement in the protection of forests, water conservation, and tourism promotion. We came across many locals dressed in uniforms, tasked by the government for these purposes.

    Longkou is quite mountainous in the south and in the first half of our journey, we had to ride through the difficult terrains of rural Longkou.

    The second half of the journey started from Penglai and was mostly through the urban areas of Penglai, Yantai, and Weihai, and along the smooth coasts of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea.

    En route to Penglaige Scenic Area.
    En route to Penglaige Scenic Area.
    A Qing Dynasty iron cannon of the First Opium War displayed in Penglaige, Penglai.
    A Qing Dynasty iron cannon of the First Opium War displayed in Penglaige, Penglai.
    Historic carvings of words and poetry in Penglaige.
    Historic carvings of words and poetry in Penglaige.

    In Penglai, we spent two full days because there is so much to do and see. The special thing about Penglai is the Penglai Pavilion Scenic Area.

    One will find here ancient city walls, iron cannons, some small and medium-sized temples, an ancient light house, and lots of historic carvings of words and poetry.

    The main point of interest for us was the fort-like structure that occupies the mountain on the north of the shore. One can also take a cable car to the adjacent cliff with great aerial views of the Changdao Islands.

    Highlight of the day: Penglaige Tourism Area in Penglai.
    Highlight of the day: Penglaige Tourism Area in Penglai.
    Changdao Island, a wonderful place famous for its rocky beaches.
    Changdao Island, a wonderful place famous for its rocky beaches.
    Culture and beaches, China has it all.
    Culture and beaches, China has it all.

    Changdao Island is a wonderful place to see around Penglai. It is known for its rocky beaches and picturesque cliffs. The island is regularly served by both passenger and vehicle roll-on/roll-off ferry from Penglai and one can take their bikes on the ferry as well. But in order to do so, one needs to inform them beforehand because sometimes they may not allow it.

    We arrived in Yantai after riding along the scenic coast of Bohai Sea. Yantai is one of the major cities and the largest fishing port in the province. The best thing to do in Yantai is gaze at the Yantai skyline dotted with high-rise buildings, besides lying idly on the sandy beaches.

    A glimpse of the Yantai business hub from the coast of Bohai Sea.
    A glimpse of the Yantai business hub from the coast of Bohai Sea.

    Our stay in Yantai was short but eventful. Our four star hotel’s management asked us to take our bicycles to our bedrooms because they thought they wouldn’t be in the car parking.

    Later, while in a park, we unknowingly entered an army-controlled area adjacent to the park. The security officers inquired about us and let us go when they found out we are expats and exploring Shandong on bikes and had entered the place mistakenly.

    They dealt with us in a very friendly manner and asked us if we needed any help. We got to see the friendly and supportive attitude of Chinese officials in all the cities and villages we visited.

    Met a biker from Dalian.
    Met a biker from Dalian.

    En route to Weihai, we came across a Chinese biker who suggested that we visit the Yangma Island which is a few kilometres off the main Yantai-Weihai route. We crossed a long bridge and arrived on Yangma Island.

    The island is round-shaped and we actually rode around the entire island in a few hours. The place is mostly famous for horseback riding and antique horse-drawn carriage rides.

    Buzkashi demonstration in Weihai by young Mongol horsemen.
    Buzkashi demonstration in Weihai by young Mongol horsemen.

    For Weihai, we dedicated two full days. It is the easternmost prefecture-level city of the province and an important seaport. The major landscapes of Weihai are the Happiness Gate and the Weihai International Bathing Beach, but for us the highlight of the day was the Huaxiacheng Tourist Scenic Area.

    It is a huge complex with a great number of tourist spots and activities. One can find a mixture of gardens, temples, traditional architecture, statues, museums, and shows.

    A glimpse of classical architecture in Weihai.
    A glimpse of classical architecture in Weihai.

    The most surreal part of the day was when we got to experience a level 7 earthquake in a special simulation room in the Weihai Air Defense Education Museum.

    It is a moveable wooden compartment which can house around 20 people. During the simulation, one can hold the steel frames fixed inside the room in order to keep one’s balance.

    It was an absolutely thrilling undertaking. The presentation is part of a series of different shows meant for public education.

    Experienced a Level 7 earthquake at the Weihai Air Defence Education Museum.
    Experienced a Level 7 earthquake at the Weihai Air Defence Education Museum.

    The longest ride of our tour started from Weihai and ended in Rongcheng. We rode over 150 kilometres that day and even rode during the night for a couple of hours.

    Rongcheng is one of the most stunning county-level cities in Shandong. The must-see places here are Chengshantou and the Swan Lake.

    In order to get to Chengshantou, one needs to ride up the mountainous region in the extreme east of Rongcheng, which was a really challenging task.

    Chengshantou is located at the easternmost part of the Chengshan Mountain. It is also referred to as the Cape of Good Hope, as it is the first spot in China where people see the sun rise in the morning.

    An intriguing thing about Chengshantou is that one can go to the seaside from a hill via a deep, long and picturesque cave.

    Swan Lake is an ideal habitat for Whooper Swans.
    Swan Lake is an ideal habitat for Whooper Swans.

    Another must-see place in Rongcheng is the Swan Lake. It is an ideal habitat for swans that migrate from Siberia to this small fishing village to spend the winter.

    While making it to our final destination, Haiyang, we passed by the small but striking city of Rushan. It is a county-level city that borders Yantai to the north and looks out to the Yellow Sea to the south.

    In Haiyang, we were forced by the heavy rain to spend an extra day, but we managed to leave on the third day when it was lightly drizzling. The special thing about Haiyang is that it is strategically located in the centre of the prime tourist trio of Qingdao, Yantai and Weihai.

    One can travel to all these three major cities of the Shandong province directly from Haiyang. So our final ride was also from Haiyang back to Qingdao.

    We did it! At Ocean University of China after completing our dream cycling tour.
    We did it! At Ocean University of China after completing our dream cycling tour.

    Throughout our journey, we were warmly welcomed by everyone we came across. The question one everyone’s lips was, “Ni shi na gou ren (Where are you from)?”

    The moment we said, “Wo shi Bajisitan ren (We are from Pakistan),” their response was: “Huanying lai dao Zhongguo, women shi feichang hao de pengyou (Welcome to China, we are very good friends).”

    What we experienced was very different from what the international media says about China. Everyone including law enforcement officials were extremely supportive and helpful.

    We wrapped up our tour with a newfound determination that this surely can’t be the end. We would really like to see all of China on two wheels one day.

    We strongly encourage everyone reading this to come and experience firsthand the diverse culture, economic prowess and the irresistible charm of China and its people.

    Have you travelled to places that are not commonly visited by tourists? Share your experience with us at


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    I am sure if you have a free spirit residing somewhere deep inside, you must be carrying with you a list of to-do adventures.

    For me, the list only came into being over the last few years after I relocated to Canada, where I discovered my love for camera and the heavenly scenery around me. The quest to find that next best shot or the view from the top led to hiking.

    The feeling that you get when you go around an outcropping rock and the lookout opens to a vast valley leading to snow-capped mountains or clouds swirling below, or that first look at the sun as you sit at the top of your trail – that rush cannot be described, only felt.

    After a while, I grew more adventurous. Denali, Machu Picchu, K2 Base Camp, Gondogoro La, and Kilimanjaro were my next targets.

    Having done the K2 trail last year, the coin was flipped and the call for 2017 came from Kilimanjaro, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world and Africa’s highest point, standing at 5,895m above sea level.

    Kilimanjaro is also the highest dormant volcano in Africa, consisting of three volcanic cones: Kibo, at the highest altitude, then Mawenzi at a lower altitude and Shira, the lowest cone.

    In September this year, I booked myself in for the six-day Machame route to the top of Kilimanjaro. The customary reminder for such adventures is a must here as well: Know your group, guide, route, climate, your limit and, above all, plan for the trip.

    Even more importantly, you will hear the wisest chant time and again during the trek: do it "pole, pole" (slowly, slowly in Swahili).

    Hiking to Shira plateau. –All photos by the author, Thumbnail: Muhammad Mahdi Karim (Wikipedia)
    Hiking to Shira plateau. –All photos by the author, Thumbnail: Muhammad Mahdi Karim (Wikipedia)
    Through the rainforest.
    Through the rainforest.

    I met my group on a Saturday morning – Scott, Mike, Will and Colin. Two brothers, a brother-in-law, and a high school friend. Our guides and porters welcomed us with the Swahili greeting, "Jambo". And it immediately hit the right spot.

    We compared our notes, who has done what before, who has what kind of medicines, who has Diamox the altitude sickness medicine, who has the painkillers, who hikes fast, who hikes slow, and above all, who loves to play which card game.

    Our guide Minja preferred to be called Mr Goodluck or Mr 100%, while our assistant guide wished to be called God bless. We needed all three, so we were just fine with the names!

    Day 1

    The first day of the hike was an easy-paced one. We spent almost the same time travelling from Arusha, the city where we were staying, to the starting point of our trek, Machame Gate, and registering ourselves, as we spent on the trail that day.

    There are many routes you can take to reach the peak; Machame is the most popular. This is primarily because of the impressive views, varied habitats, and shorter duration.

    The starry night at the Shira plateau.
    The starry night at the Shira plateau.

    At the same time, it is also known as the whisky route, given its reputation for the tough climb. This lies in contrast to the Marangu route, which is nicknamed Coca Cola for its ease and the provisions of huts to sleep in rather than tents.

    Machame Gate is at an elevation of 1,640m. After registration, we started a gentle climb through the lush and fertile rainforest canopy.

    In about four hours, including a stop for a quick snack or two, we reached Machame Camp which is located at a height of around 2,850m. It is a 11km hike, and a good appetiser for the days to come.

    Day 2

    On the second day we hiked to Shira Camp, the second camp on the Machame route. Shira is a plateau around 3800m high, home to the shortest volcano on Kilimanjaro. It is a short hike, around 5km long, with a 1000m elevation gain.

    The terrain changes from rainforest to moorland. If you are lucky, as we were, you may be walking in clouds for some part of the hike, giving the moorlands a magical exposure.

    The habitat gives rise to some peculiar plant species that are only found here. These plants seep the moisture from the atmosphere, creating an oasis in an otherwise barren landscape.

    Shira Camp is also a great location for stargazing as the sky is completely dark and clear.

    Day 3

    On this day, we got our first exposure to an altitude of more than 4000m.

    We started at the Shira plateau and then kept climbing gradually through a gentle slope to a maximum elevation of 4800m at the Lava Tower. From this point on, the Kibo peak was always in our sight, the highest volcanic cone on Kilimanjaro.

    The Lava Tower is a single piece of rock jutting out at the top of the climb. It is also called The Shark’s Tooth. We only stayed there for a quick lunch.

    Our group en route to Shira plateau.
    Our group en route to Shira plateau.

    We continued to climb down to the Barranco campsite. You end the day almost at the same elevation as where you started, but the climb to the tower is an important step to acclimatise yourself and prepare for the summit night.

    Given my prior experience, I marked this to be the end of non-technical hiking. The next day onwards we would finally begin the 36-hour journey which will take us to the top of Africa and back.

    Day 4

    The Barranco campsite is right in the shadow of the mountain. The morning started with a beautiful sunrise over the peak.

    The porters celebrated the start of the day with Jambo Bwana– a nice combination of lyrics with its origins in Kenya. Anyone who has watched The Lion King will be able to recognise, among the lyrics, Hakuna Matata which means ‘no worries’ in Swahili.

    After breakfast, we left the camp and headed towards the steep ridge of the Barranco Wall. It was astonishing to see the porters carrying up to 15kg on their shoulders and heads, passing by at running pace while we scrambled on our hands and knees to climb up a few narrow ledges.

    In front of Lava Tower.
    In front of Lava Tower.

    Soon we were on top of the wall and the scenery opened. At this elevation, the environment is reduced to a desert and there is no vegetation in sight.

    We walked towards the Karanga Camp, which we saw from the top of the ridge, and it looked like it was just a few hundred yards away. That is until we realised that there was a steep valley between us and the camp.

    We ran into a hail storm on the way to Karanga but it was short-lived. Finally, we reached the Barafu Hut, 4km from Karanga, our destination for the evening before we started our bid for the summit.

    The camp is at 4600m and here we got into our tents and lay down for a few hours of rest while admiring the Mawenzi and Kibo volcanic peaks in the distance.

    Day 5

    The next 24 hours were my toughest experience to date. The bid to climb to a final elevation of 5895m really tested our will. Our target was to reach Stella Point, the rim of the crater of Kilimanjaro, in time for the sunrise.

    We woke up at midnight and started our hike at one in the morning. The freezing temperature, the dark night, the vision limited to only the circular light of our head lamps, and the sharp gain of elevation – 1300m over 5kms and 5hrs – all played tricks. This was a game of mind over body.

    Within the first hour the trail started taking its toll. The lightheadedness is known to cause blackouts and headaches. The key is to stay focused, to take one step at a time.

    Your pace must be slow, but consistent so you can keep your body warm. The more you stop, the more difficult it will become to get yourself back into rhythm.

    Our guide only allowed us to stop after 70-90 minutes and that too for a maximum of five minutes. One of our team members drifted in a mindless walk twice. Slowly but surely, we kept climbing.

    The giant plants of the moorlands.
    The giant plants of the moorlands.
    Hiking through the foggy moorlands.
    Hiking through the foggy moorlands.
    Approaching Barafu Hut.
    Approaching Barafu Hut.

    Along the way, we saw seven or eight other groups. Almost every one of them had a climber or two who had their heads in their hands, or were feeling highly nauseated.

    Altitude sickness is a real concern on the summit, and this is where we appreciated the importance of taking Diamox.

    We reached Stella Point just before sunrise. We stopped for 15 minutes to take it all in. We were completely exhausted and utterly drained. This is where it dawned on us that we were the first in Africa to feel the sun’s rays on our faces today.

    The struggle to reach the top to witness the surrounding beauty had all been worth it.

    The sunrise was a spectacular sight to see. Behind us, the crater came into view, cradled by the Rebmann and Ratzel glaciers.

    From here, there is an hour’s gradual ascent to Uhuru Peak, which is the highest point on the crater rim, and the peak of Kilimanjaro.

    We were the second group to reach the peak that day. I still feel goosebumps remembering those final steps.

    I touched the sign at the top of the peak to make sure that I had arrived, and to assure myself that this was not a dream. We were not allowed to spend more than 15-20 minutes on the peak to avoid further altitude sickness.

    We were the first to see the sunrise that day.
    We were the first to see the sunrise that day.
    Rebmann glacier.
    Rebmann glacier.

    The climb down was aggressive. We had to go the same way as we came up, 1400m in 5km. And the terrain was loose rocks and scree. The ascent was purely a mind game, but coming down at this speed and slope was a mighty physical challenge.

    We stopped at the Barafu Hut to remove our layers, and have a small breather. The porters welcomed every member of our team with fist bumps and songs.

    The hike from Barafu to the Mweka Hut is mentioned ‘easy’ in most of the brochures. I think that should be revised. The trail is a staircase for almost 6km where you climb down foot-high steps all along the way – not easy by any measure.

    This was our last night on the trail and the crews helped us celebrate with a well-deserved cake.

    Day 6

    On the last day of the trail, we spent most of the night sharing notes and stories of hallucinations and blackouts that some of us had experienced.

    The target was achieved and now it was just a gentle stroll back to the Mweka Gate for our ride to Arusha.

    We took group photos and headed down. At the gate, we received our official certificates – a document to cherish. And this is where we thanked our guides and porters for without them none of this would have been possible.

    On top of Africa - been there, done that!
    On top of Africa - been there, done that!
    The day starts in Africa - Muwenzi Peak.
    The day starts in Africa - Muwenzi Peak.

    We helped our guide to keep his luck and score intact; he had come with a reputation of 100% success of trek completion and he maintained that with us.

    We had begun our trek with chants of “Jambo” and we ended with “Asante Sana” (thank you very much to one and all) and finally “Kwaheri” (goodbye!)

    From Jambo to Kwaheri - one pack, one team!
    From Jambo to Kwaheri - one pack, one team!

    What destinations have you checked off your bucket list lately? Share your adventure stories with us at

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    Karachi is often termed as a dull city, sometimes even dangerous. In a city of 20 odd million, there is a dearth of public spaces and limited avenues for cultural activities.

    The much praised diversity has also come under scrutiny, with minorities migrating to greener pastures abroad and those staying back choosing to remain discreet.

    The uncertain security situation restricts religious festivities of non-Muslims as well as the nurturing of our communities' collective imagination. Festivals come and go but they don’t manage to make headlines for the right reasons.

    But anyone who has lived in Karachi for some time would know that the city opens up to its denizens gradually. There are pockets across the city that light up annually with festivities, religious and cultural, showing a fascinating side of the place that doesn't make the news.

    Last week, my friend visiting from London asked me if I had any plans for Diwali.

    I suggested we visit the Shri Swaminarayan temple, the biggest remaining Hindu temple in Karachi.

    The communal area in front of the temple was crowded by the time we stepped out.
    The communal area in front of the temple was crowded by the time we stepped out.

    Diwali, the festival of lights, symbolises the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance.

    It dates back to ancient times, marking the summer harvest in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika. Diwali celebrations last for five days and it is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar.

    As we drove towards Bunder road, I got a call from a novelist friend who was in the vicinity and wanted to come along too.

    I told him to reach the temple directly and keep his hazard lights on. As I looked for his car on Bunder road, I could not help but notice a sizeable presence of police and Rangers outside the temple.

    We formed into a group, seven curious souls, mostly Muslims, attracted by the lure of the unknown and the unexpected.

    The main temple was garlanded with lights and flowers.
    The main temple was garlanded with lights and flowers.

    The entrance to the temple is through an arch which was crowded by the time we reached. Its central location, ample parking and large courtyard makes Shri Swaminarayan an ideal location for such events.

    The festivities were in full swing by the time we got inside the compound. A poster near the entrance commemorated the victims of the recent terrorist attack on the police academy in Quetta.

    We followed the crowd and soon found ourselves in front of the 200-year-old temple which was garlanded with lights and flowers.

    People were dressed in different hues of red, yellow and saffron, as they queued up to pray inside the temple.

    Outside the main temple, children were lighting up firecrackers, some of them loud, leaving a colourful trail in the night sky.

    We stayed there for a bit, fighting for space as more people joined the party and more firecrackers went off.

    Children looking at the fireworks from the main temple.
    Children looking at the fireworks from the main temple.

    We reassembled at the main gate and decided to take a walk through the neighbourhood to look for Rangoli — the colourful patterns created on the floor with sand, rice or flower petals.

    The houses in the temple’s neighbourhood were decorated with fairy lights and clay lamps. The firecrackers went on continuously. As we walked ahead to find a quiet spot, we noticed Rangoli outside several houses.

    On the evening of Diwali, people light up clay lamps, make Rangoli and pray to Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

    According to their belief, Lakshmi visits people’s home and bestows blessings upon them.

    A young man busy creating a colourful design in one of the streets behind Shri Swaminarayan.
    A young man busy creating a colourful design in one of the streets behind Shri Swaminarayan.

    From Shri Swaminarayan, we went to Narayanpura. Located in Ranchor Lines, it is perhaps the epitome of Karachi’s diversity.

    A dingy, congested neighbourhood of 10,000 people, Narayanpura is home to Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. People participate in one another's religious festivities regardless of their creed.

    As we reached the neighbourhood, I could smell the foul stench coming from the heaps of garbage everywhere.

    The hard-working people living in Narayanpura work in municipal sanitary services but their own neighbourhood lacks basic sanitary infrastructure.

    Narayanpura, another neighbourhood housing members of the Hindu community, was not far behind in the festivities.
    Narayanpura, another neighbourhood housing members of the Hindu community, was not far behind in the festivities.

    There were hardly any street lamps and we had to carefully watch our steps in the dark. I noticed a Rangers van and a few policemen lazing around at the neighbourhood's entrance.

    The area has remained largely peaceful apart from when it was set ablaze by a mob following the Babri Masjid incident in India.

    We stepped inside the gate where children noticed our cameras and posed for photos, wanting us to film them as they set off the firecrackers.

    Their parents were observing their antics while standing in their balconies.

    The neighbourhood is one of the most destitute in the city but they knew how to celebrate and had decorated their homes for the occasion.

    We were invited to one of the rooftops. As we observed the view from there, children surrounded us with smiles on their faces, wishing us a happy Diwali.

    A group of children wishes us a happy Diwali.
    A group of children wishes us a happy Diwali.

    Pakistani flaglets flapped in the backdrop, reminding us how minorities still have to prove their loyalty to the country more than any other communities.

    It was midnight by the time we stepped out of the neighbourhood's main gate. We bode farewell to the people of Narayanpura and headed back to our side of the city .

    None of us spoke for some time, as we absorbed the surreal night out we had just experienced in Karachi.

    A motorcycle rider passes right by a firecracker.
    A motorcycle rider passes right by a firecracker.

    We decided to explore the neighbourhood behind Shri Swaminarayan.
    We decided to explore the neighbourhood behind Shri Swaminarayan.

    Firecrackers went off continuously as we briskly crossed the street.
    Firecrackers went off continuously as we briskly crossed the street.

    People making rangoli with petals.
    People making rangoli with petals.

    A child lights a candle outside his house.
    A child lights a candle outside his house.

    By the time we returned to the entrance, more people had joined the celebrations.
    By the time we returned to the entrance, more people had joined the celebrations.

    Children thought we were from the media and excitedly posed for pictures.
    Children thought we were from the media and excitedly posed for pictures.

    Families look on from their balconies as festivities go on.
    Families look on from their balconies as festivities go on.

    A child lights up sparkles in front of his house in Narayanpura.
    A child lights up sparkles in front of his house in Narayanpura.

    Photo credit: Farooq Soomro and Kamran Nafees

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    On a warm morning this March, I was passing under the heavy iron vaults (arches) of the Lansdowne Bridge, in a small jeep over the Indus River in Rohri, Sindh. The spring sun had turned the water into molten gold; some buffaloes were idly bathing in it, their black skin gleaming in the sunlight.

    I could see the cities of Rohri and Sukkur sprawling on both sides of the river. I was lost in thought as we were speeding by Rohri and its beautiful pre-Partition houses and their enigmatic wooden balconies, when I heard our driver ask me “Adi, do you know how this bridge and cities were saved during the 1965 War?”

    “No, I don’t,” I replied, rather ashamed of my lack of general knowledge.

    “Well, it was he who did it,” the driver said pointing towards a far off dilapidated structure inside the river.

    “Who?” I tried hard, but couldn’t see anyone nearby.

    “Khwaja Khizr saved it from destruction, the saint you are going to visit,” he replied reverently.

    When I questioned further, he narrated a story popular in the twin cities of Sukkur and Rohri. During the Indo-Pak War of 1965, when Indian planes came to bombard this strategically important bridge, people noticed that bombs wouldn’t explode and harm their targets.

    Some claim to have seen a green-robed man standing over the bridge, disarming the bombs, and that is how the bridge, Rohri and Sukkur were saved from destruction.

    Lansdowne bridge in Rohri. -All photos by author, thumbnail: Wikimedia Commons
    Lansdowne bridge in Rohri. -All photos by author, thumbnail: Wikimedia Commons

    Despite it being a myth, the story nonetheless shows the devotion accorded to Khwaja Khizr by the people of this area, where River Indus flows and is also worshipped.

    It is generally believed that Khwaja Khizr is a saint who is also mentioned in the Quran, but in Sindh, like everything else, he is transformed into a heterodox and syncretic figure that transcends religious boundaries.

    While Hindus call him Udero Lal or Zinda Pir, for Muslims he is Khwaja Khizr, and is worshipped by both communities as an incarnation of River Indus. His shrine or khanqah is located near the Bakhar Island in the middle of the river in Rohri.

    We stopped near a sandy river bank, while the mighty Indus listlessly lapped at our feet. This once-magnificent lion river which the Rig Veda calls Sindhu and describes that “its roar is lifted up to heaven” has now been tamed by humans and turned into a muddy backwater. However, the inhabitants of the region are still devoted to it and towards its saints, one of whom is Khwaja Khizr.

    A painted boat on the shore of River Indus.
    A painted boat on the shore of River Indus.
    A boat floating on the Indus. Rohri can be seen in the background.
    A boat floating on the Indus. Rohri can be seen in the background.

    After hiring a boat, we started off towards the shrine and reached a small platform that would lead us to the sanctum. Colonial writers like Major Raverty, Henry Cousens, and Richard Burton describe the shrine as an impressive structure; however the floods (in 1956 and then in the 1970’s) carried away all the superstructure and what now remains is a group of half-ruined buildings.

    While there are various accounts explaining the chronology and purpose of building the shrine, there is no consensus. For example, an inscription on a slab was found in the shrine which General Haig translated in his 1887 memoir The Indus Delta Country as:

    When this sublime temple (dargah) appeared,
    Which is surrounded by the waters of Khizr,
    He wrote this in pleasing verse
    Its date is found from the court of God

    The date calculated from the slab states that the shrine was built in 341 AH (952 AD). However, this is a still contested fact by historians and archaeologists.

    An old slab.
    An old slab.

    In another version, in the historical work Tarikh-i-Tahiri authored by Mir Tahir Mohammad Nasyani, it is related that in 952 AD, a merchant from Delhi was passing through Alor (present day Aror) with his beautiful daughter, when the ruler of the city Dalu Rai happened to see her and wanted to abduct her.

    The girl prayed to the saint of water, Khwaja Khizr, and he changed the original course of Indus, destroying the city and its ruler with it. Therefore, it is believed the shrine was built to honour the saint.

    Currently, the shrine has a few niches and alcoves for keeping earthen lamps, a place for prayers, and a number of verses in Sindhi and Persian related to the sanctity of the water, inscribed on its walls.

    A niche for lighting earthen lamps.
    A niche for lighting earthen lamps.

    The main sanctum is bordered by small walls and adorned with colourful paper streamers. There is a raised platform in the middle, which is believed to be Khwaja Khizr’s takiya or gaddi (throne or seat), and is embellished with large alams (flags or signs), which are a testament to Shia influence nowadays.

    The story Khwaja Khizr doesn’t end on this small, dilapidated shrine in the middle of the Indus River. Instead, in order to fully comprehend this enigmatic persona, one has to cross the river and go to the other bank, where one finds the temple of Zinda Pir.

    Zinda Pir's temple was constructed sometime after the 1870s. Despite worshipping Khwaja Khizr for time immemorial, there came a point when Khwaja Khizar was also compartmentalised into Hindu and Muslim sections.

    Due to a communal disturbance, Hindus moved away and established the temple of Zinda Pir or Darya Badshah on the opposite bank.

    The throne or gaddi of Khwaja Khizr.
    The throne or gaddi of Khwaja Khizr.
    Brass lamps called jyots and posters of Zinda Pir.
    Brass lamps called jyots and posters of Zinda Pir.

    Alice Albinia, award-winning author and journalist, in her fascinating book Empires of the Indus, provides an interesting account of the fissure between the two communities.

    She notes that the 1874 Gazetteer of Sindh attested to the non-antagonistic character of the common worship there, but by the time the 1919 Gazetteer was published, Hindus had moved off the island.

    According to the sajjada nashin (custodian) of the shrine, in the 1880’s Hindus filed a case against Muslims, arguing that the absence of a tomb on the shrine means that it belonged to an immortal Hindu God. Muslims argued that there is no tomb as Khizr is immortal and is still living.

    The colonial authorities decided the matter in favour of Muslims. Thus, Hindus placed a lit lamp in the water and when it came ashore, they founded the temple at that spot.

    Old entrance from the 1890's.
    Old entrance from the 1890's.
    Devotees praying.
    Devotees praying.

    Another reason that Albinia cites for the dissension between the two communities is the exclusionary politics of Hindus propelled by Bankhandi Maharaj, an Udasi saint of Sadh Belo. He encouraged Hindus to move away from Muslim saints’ shrines and establish their own places of worship.

    When we reached the temple, what we saw were heaps of rubble and men engaged in construction work. I spotted an old slab adorned with green floral patterns and some Gurumukhi writing lying in rubble.

    I found all this quite astonishing and asked people what was happening there. They told me that the temple was being renovated which meant that the old, beautiful colonial building had been torn down to make room for more people and modern structures.

    I felt sad witnessing this modernisation of a site of such historical significance, but they assured me that old bits and pieces will be incorporated once the construction is finished.

    Renovation work being carried out at the temple.
    Renovation work being carried out at the temple.
    The cupola over the entrance.
    The cupola over the entrance.
    An ornamental wooden door.
    An ornamental wooden door.
    An old slab.
    An old slab.

    The temple has a well and some other spaces allocated to other Hindu gods and Sikh gurus. We were told that the puja is held in a large hall upstairs so we decided to go have a look.

    There was a Punjabi devotional song playing on a cassette player while some men, their head covered with rumaals, were cleaning the floor, putting things in order.

    The central space is occupied by a beautiful statue of Zinda or Jinda Pir where he is shown riding his palla fish. It is believed that the brass lamps which burn here day and night are blessed by the immortal saint so if you take some oil from them and silently wish for something, it is granted.

    Since I had applied for a New Zealand visa and it was being delayed, I asked one of the men whether I could make a wish for my visa to be granted. He laughed at this seemingly naïve request, but then seriously added, “Of course, Zinda Pir sabhhni ja bera paar lagae thho” (Zinda Pir is one who leads everyone’s boats ashore), meaning he delivers all devotees from worldly ordeals.

    Zinda Pir.
    Zinda Pir.

    It is said that when the Indus is flooded, the high tide reaches the temple as if to show respect for the saint. On Cheti Chand (which is the first month of Sindhi Hindu calendar, and also believed to be the Zinda Pir’s birth month) people organise a procession called behrano in which they carry oil lamps to the river and offer fruits and sweets to fish and aquatic life.

    Before leaving, we were offered to have some cooked rice as prasad (food offering). I took some in my palm and moved to one of the opened windows from where one could have a breathtaking view of the Indus, the shrine of Khizar and the island temple of Sadh Belo.

    It brought to my mind Bina Shah’s words, in her book A Season for Martyrs, about Khwaja Khizar’s confusion over the Hindu-Muslim divide: "Khwaja Khizr could not understand how this had happened: the land had been one for millennia".

    I could not for the life of me understand this divide either. With these final thoughts lingering, as the sun set in the west, bathing both the Hindu and Muslim shrines of Khizr in its fading rays, I decided to head back.

    Have you visited places of historical, cultural or religious significance? Share your experiences with us at

    Khwaja Khizar's shrine as seen from the boat.Khwaja Khizar's shrine as seen from the boat.

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    As a part of the Pakistani society, we are well aware of the fact that a strange sort of onus befalls an expectant mother of a female child.

    If this very expectant mother is ripped off of all the material and immaterial biases that the society has entrenched in her, I can vouch for her neutrality to either gender, unless of course there exists an innate predisposition and preference for either one of them.

    Why then, I ask, are many mothers in Pakistan yearning to have a male child? Although the answer beckons a multidimensional analyses of the social structure that we are a part of, I aim at illuminating one of the dimensions, namely, labeling.

    Labeling is a problem so deep rooted that it has become a part of the existing norms of the society, distorting realisation of a pragmatic and sane society to seem like an Orwellian unachievable utopian society.

    Being the only sister of two brothers, I always yearned for a female sibling. However, yearnings do not always produce results. When I got married and started expecting our first child, insouciant about the social norms, I naively declared to the utter astonishment of kith and kin, that I desired to have a daughter.

    For the longest time, it never dawned on me that people around me found my wish to be strange, to say the least.

    At the beginning of my second trimester, out of sheer curiosity my husband and I would enquire about the gender of the baby from our gynecologist, every time we went for a routine check-up.

    After the ultrasound, the doctor would come up with excuses and evade the answer, most often stating that the baby had turned his/her back towards the ultrasound machine.

    During one of those check-ups, I intuitively asked the doctor if she was purposely hiding the gender. This hunch was by then based on numerous concerns people around me had enunciated regarding the gender of the child, which they had hoped was male.

    Upon reassuring her that I desired to have a daughter, she breathed a sigh of relief and finally labeled the foetus as a female one. Her hesitance, she said, was based on the society’s inclination towards the male gender.

    An inclination so strong, that it could cause parents to experience vasovagal syncope (fainting) if they discovered that the foetus was female. In worst case scenarios, the pregnancy would be terminated or the child abandoned once born.

    Examine: Pakistan’s ‘gone girls’

    The second time I was pregnant, everyone around me became extremely optimistic and unequivocally confident that the baby to be born was a male child and that I should start praying for him.

    Following the dictums of norm, how others’ wants were morphed into my preference for a son is a process not unfamiliar to most of the Pakistani population.

    Albeit ambivalent as I was, the constant pressure and tacit affirmatives in vernacular regarding the gender of the baby were eschewed psychologically and internalised unwittingly, insomuch as to bring an inexplicable sense of shock once I discovered that I was bearing a female child. I can recall how I stood on the fulcrum of remorse and apathy.

    Finally, better sense prevailed. Also, despondency shoved away after an erudite person (my mother) cited verses from the Holy Quran that explicitly termed even remote dislike for the female gender of an incipient child as evil.

    A sense of true emancipation dawned (thankfully) once I broke loose from the strands of engendered societal norms and shouted out that I was proudly expecting a female child!

    Alas! The battle was not yet won – I was accused of not ‘praying properly’ to be ‘blessed’ with a baby boy!

    Sociological research provides strong evidence for rhetorical impact on the formation of beliefs, attitudes and values. Negative notions prevailing in society ingress into discourse; after all what is in the heart is almost always on the tongue.

    Of all the people, if a prospective parent hears the following words from a medical professional e.g. a radiologist, the likelihood of him/her internalising the negative association of words to gender of the foetus is greater than hearing such terms from any other person:

    "Hmm… it appears to be a girl, however one can never be too sure, so do not worry. Miracles happen. I have witnessed many in my medical profession. Continue praying."

    The most common heartfelt prayers are from complete strangers. I can never forget how once a manicurist asked me how many children I had.

    I said, “Mashallah two daughters.” With my answer she seemed to fall into a zone of dystopian regret and her almost spontaneous reply was, “Oh, poor you! May Allah give you a son the next time.”

    However, I did not remain reticent to the reaction which was impolite to say the least. I asked her, “Why? Aren’t both genders granted by the will of Allah? Besides what good would a son do to me, that a daughter won’t?”

    She retorted, “Well, it is obvious. A son will carry forward the name of the father!”

    I counter-questioned, “Wouldn’t a daughter do the same? What if my hypothetical son never married; wouldn’t my husband’s legacy die? Besides, what makes me or my husband so great, that the alleged legacy has to be carried fore?”

    She finally gave up on me, and a sense of absolute mirth dawned on me.

    In-depth: The missing daughters of Pakistan

    I am a proud mother of two daughters, and so is my husband. We have been "blessed, twice," as someone once said to me. And yes, we have laughed off at the concept of primogeniture prevailing in this day and age, where even extant monarchies such as the British have done away with the succession clause of the first-born male child.

    The problem of the girl child is a structural one that should be addressed in terms of basic changes in discourse and vernacular, so that biases at all levels can be eliminated and the internalisation of the association of the female gender with burden/onus can be annulled.

    And this is only one dimension of the problem that finds presence in all the structures of our society. Female infanticide cannot be tackled unless we address the deeply-entrenched biases against the girl child that have made way into our discourse, and taken over our minds.

    Labeling, as a process, is so deep-seated that there is a plethora of evidence and sociological research explaining female primary socialisation as an instrumental factor in influencing what constitutes as feminine and what not.

    A change in primary socialisation over the years has also been found to be an agent in changing parents’ attitudes towards female education in most developed western societies, which then encouragingly has reflected into workplace assignments, and back into primary socialisation.

    This has also explained the paradigm shift away from female underachievement in popular feminist discourse to accentuating female achievement in workplace.

    Researchers Bussey and Bandura indicate that children attempt to match their behaviours to the socially desirable standards set by processes of self-socialisation and social learning.

    Also read: No country for girls

    Therefore, the impact of labeling must not be underestimated. It is indeed, the biases in our disourse that viciously circulate to lead us into associating terms such as burden, onus etc., with the girl child, in the end sustaining a self-created and self-fulfilling vicious social prophecy of the girl child causing misfortune and encumbrance.

    It is interesting to note that most of sociological research analysing the labeling processes use subtle labeling tags e.g. cues of gender labels as (opposed to neutral labels) such as, “See that boy running fast!”.

    In our society, one can only imagine the size of the exclamation mark after a fair completion of discourse analysis on gender labeling by the very same researchers.

    Analyse the daily discourse in Pakistan, where seemingly inane phrases such as, “Boys carry on their father’s legacy” and “Why study when you are going to end up in the kitchen?”, are staggeringly overused.

    By virtue of these, girls not only feel worthless, they also internalise the societal gender constructions and automatically adhere to patriarchal ways of life, later on yearning for male progeny.

    Biases against the female gender have been discussed in the Holy Quran and drawing upon the fact that the country that we live in, is in fact, an Islamic Republic, the state and media can easily educate people by drawing references to the verses that expressly shed light on the vices of even remote dislike for a foetus that is female.

    As the old adage goes, years of analysis are required for one day of synthesis. Indeed, change in attitudes, values and judgements, along with discourse are the much needed saving grace(s) if the socially perceived and psychologically impactful problem of the girl child is to be mitigated in a systemic way, and women are to be emancipated and empowered, deservedly.

    Are you discriminated against due to your gender, religion or ethnicity? Share your experiences with us at

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    I bet most of my readers don’t know where Kish happens to be. I didn’t know it either until sometime in 2011 when I received an invitation to be one of the judges at the first Kish International Film Festival. Even the lady issuing me a boarding card for Dubai at the Karachi airport had not the vaguest idea.

    As I was to learn, the island – about 20 miles from mainland Iran – is a short hop from Dubai and is part of the Hormozgān Province of Iran. The immigration staff issues a 14-day visa on arrival but is quick to state that the document is not valid for a visit to elsewhere in Iran.

    Back to my trip: the small Fokker F27 plane, which also carries some participants of the film festival, seems to be landing in the sea. The wheels of the aircraft touch the ground merely a few yards away from the beach.

    My one wish, on boarding the bus, which is to carry us to our hotel, is that the world ought to become border free or at least become easily and legally crossable, if I may coin the expression.

    Take a look:Stranded in India during the 1965 war: How I won friends among ‘enemies’

    Coincidentally one of the two feature films to impress the members of the jury is an Armenian movie, whose title is Border.

    The film is set at the time when the Soviet Union was disintegrating and separate, new states were emerging from areas that used to be part of the union.

    Quite reminiscent of the Radcliffe Award, the boundary line drawn between India and Pakistan, the movie shows how an international boundary is drawn inconsiderately and thoughtlessly between two villages in the former Soviet Union, which are at a handshaking distance from each other.

    Families are divided and the action is set at a time when a boy from one village is about to marry a girl from another village.

    All requests to delay the laying of barbed wire fall on deaf ears. What’s worse is that mines are laid to discourage border crossings.

    One evening the wires are cut, enabling the bridegroom’s party to cross over. The marriage is solemnised and the guests from the other side, escorting the bride, return hastily.

    One man who had inadvertently stepped on a hidden mine does not remove his foot from the deadly contraption. He knows the mine would explode the moment he would do so.

    Once the last member of the bridegroom’s party has moved to a safe distance, the unlucky man removes his foot slowly, hoping against hope that the mine won’t blow up. But it does, shattering his sturdy body into countless pieces.

    Also read:A train ride to India in better times

    Borders can be, and often are, callous if one has to describe it in a single word. A Lahore-based artist, whom I interviewed a few years ago in Karachi, recalled that her parents’ house, somewhere in the Punjab, fell right on the newly-carved border in 1947.

    The front door opened in what became Pakistan, while the back door opened in what remained India. The family made its final exit through the front door, which until a few days back they used for welcoming their guests.

    “My mother used to go to the border as often as she could and look at the house despondently,” lamented the artist, whose name I can’t seem to recall. She had come from Lahore with three others to display their work at the VM Art Gallery in Karachi.

    The one border which fascinates me is the Detroit River, a narrow waterway that divides Windsor, a small town in Ontario, Canada, and Detroit, a fairly large city in the US state of Michigan.

    Many people, including immigrants from our part of the world, live in the relatively inexpensive Windsor, but they work in Detroit or its suburbs. So, they use either one of the two underwater tunnels or a large bridge to commute every day.

    Read next:In the heart of Rawalpindi, Indians and Pakistanis remember their pre-Partition homes

    Coincidentally, as I had begun to put my thoughts on borders on my laptop, the doorbell rang and the courier boy handed me a complimentary copy of Footprints on Zero Line – Writings on the Partition, sent by the publishers HarperCollins, India.

    The volume is a collection of Gulzar’s poems and short stories on the theme of Partition and the newly-created border which has haunted him for all these decades.

    They have been translated by Rakhshanda Jalil, who has done a great job all these years, translating gems from Urdu literature into the English language.

    A man who wears many hats, Gulzar is an Indian poet, author, filmmaker, script and dialogue writer, and what’s more, he is an Oscar award-winning lyricist.

    The multi-faceted genius was born in Dina, a small town near Jhelum, Pakistan which has haunted him for seven decades and so does the border, in no small measure.

    In one of the endearing prose pieces, he narrates his visit to the Zero Line with senior columnist Kuldip Nayar, who too had left his home behind in 1947.

    In one of his poems, Gulzar says as he stands on the dividing line, that his shadow falls in Pakistani territory. He reminds this reviewer of a shady tree whose trunk was hardly a few feet on the Indian side of the line, but its branches and roots were on both sides of the border.

    Sadly, this tree was chopped off by the Indians to increase the seating arrangements for people who come to watch the jingoistic drama enacted at the flag-lowering ceremony.

    The author with one foot in India and the other in Pakistan. The luscious tree in the background has its trunk a few inches inside India and branches and roots on both sides of the Great Divide. Sadly, the tree has been uprooted seemingly with mutual consent. Photo: Ameena Saiyid
    The author with one foot in India and the other in Pakistan. The luscious tree in the background has its trunk a few inches inside India and branches and roots on both sides of the Great Divide. Sadly, the tree has been uprooted seemingly with mutual consent. Photo: Ameena Saiyid

    Gulzar calls Pakistan his vatan (homeland) and India his mulk (country), as he warbles “Eyes don’t need a visa / Dreams have no borders.”

    One of the most moving poems is the one where he recalls the mad character Bishan Singh from Manto’s immortal short story Toba Tek Singh, who refused to cross the border. He stood there relentlessly, until his body could not take it anymore. He fell down and died.

    Gulzar concludes the poem by saying that Bishan often calls him to Wagah and while repeating his gibberish line ‘Ooper di gurh-gurbdi moong di daal di laltain’ he curses both India and Pakistan.

    The most heart-wrenching of Gulzar’s short stories is Raavi Paar, where a couple with newly-born twins, were perched precariously on a goods train, moving at a snail’s pace.

    One of the twins, unable to bear the rigours of the hazardous trip, dies but the mother clutches him along with the other one to her breast.

    As the train chugs over the bridge on the River Raavi, the father Darshan Singh, is advised by a fellow passenger to throw the dead infant into the holy river so that it becomes easy for the couple to carry the living child.

    Darshan Singh finds sense in the advice. In a split second he picks up the living child, mistaking him for his dead sibling, and flings him into the river.

    Most poignant stories relating to brutalities experienced by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs at the time of Partition, written in Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi end with either the death of the characters or the crossing of the newly created border, but Gulzar goes a step further.

    He narrates the enormous problems that the migrants have to suffer in the camps. He also relates how the locals, some if not all, exploit the helplessness of the refugees.

    An excerpt from his forthcoming novel Two narrates the predicament of two sisters in a highly heart-rending manner.

    Rakshanda Jalil has included four stories with post-Partition backgrounds. The one narrated by an Indian Hindu, all about her second visit to Kashmir, is most agonising.

    She is the reporter for Hindustan Times and pines for her experiences as a small girl, when her non-Kashmiri parents took her on a holiday. Things have changed drastically and Kashmir, much to her shock, is now under siege. The Indian soldiers behave inhumanly. She returns to Delhi totally heartbroken.

    The cover of Footprints on Zero Line – Writings on the Partition, a collection of Gulzar’s poems and short stories on the theme of Partition.
    The cover of Footprints on Zero Line – Writings on the Partition, a collection of Gulzar’s poems and short stories on the theme of Partition.

    What makes the volume all the more invaluable is the dialogue between another accomplished Urdu writer Joginder Paul and Gulzar, both of whom crossed the Zero Line.

    Titled On the Partition of India, 1947, it is a discussion on the literature produced on the subject. They pay tributes to such writers as Manto and Krishn Chander.

    Rakhshanda Jalil’s epilogue is also an enlightening commentary on Gulzar’s outpourings. She raises an important point when she says Gulzar, a post-Partition writer, has the advantage of hindsight.

    Those familiar with the Devanagri script (read Indians) will have an advantage over those who are used to the script used by Gulzar himself (read Pakistanis) while going through the volume.

    Rakshanda Jalil should have also given the transliteration of the poems. However, it now seems the writings will appear in Urdu and will be published by Gulzar’s favourite publishing house, Maktaba-e-Danial.

    If only Gulzar could be here for the launch. He could re-cross the Zero Line. The last time he was in Pakistan he went to Dina and also recorded a song for Hasan Zia’s movie in Lahore, where he had landed a couple of days earlier.

    He was scheduled to fly to Karachi, where he was to be interviewed for the literature festival four years ago by this writer. But suddenly, for reasons best known to him, he crossed the Zero Line and went back. It’s a loss I haven’t got over.

    Have you or anyone you know been personally affected by the drawing of borders? Share your stories with us at

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    Back in 2014, it was my first visit to Pakistan, to Lahore. I was the youngest of a 16-member delegation coming from India to Pakistan for a conference on South Asia People’s Union.

    I vividly remember crossing the Wagah border chanting my Sanskrit mantras, gazing awestruck at the red sandstone expanse of the Badshahi Mosque, strolling up and down the Liberty Market looking for a printed designer cotton lawn suit, drooling at the sight of Haq Siri Paye and Mohammadi Nihari, and finally coming back home amazed by Pakistani hospitality.

    A mere visit to Lahore had completely changed my personal perception about Pakistan. But the whole idea of socialising and making friends still seemed a far-fetched one.

    Was being a part of delegations, conferences, cross-border trade, and peace projects the only medium of interaction between Indians and Pakistanis, or could it go beyond that?

    Also read:A Mumbaikar in Karachi: 'Tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley'

    Shortly after coming back from Lahore, I moved to Paris to study South Asian affairs. While I got thoroughly immersed in discovering the artistic and cultural treasures of the city - its Haussmannian buildings, Gothic art, perfectly manicured gardens and tender gourmet crêpes, I also felt a strong sense of South Asian identity.

    More so, Paris gave me a new hope for India and Pakistan.

    It was my first French language class. We were 15 different nationalities, all in our 20s, except one. There was a lady in her mid-forties, whom I guessed to be of Indian origin, sitting quietly in a corner. It seemed as if she was struggling to be in the classroom sitting with all the youngsters but had an aura and poise that none of us possessed.

    I walked up to her, introduced myself, and we exchanged numbers. The following week she invited me to her home in Courbevoie, a little outside Paris.

    After a long train ride, I found myself in her lovely, well-kept home. She introduced me to her teenage daughter and husband - both were very welcoming.

    Take a look:The Hindu woman who found her freedom in the sound of the azan

    I accompanied them to their neighbours’ place for a birthday party. It was a family from Lahore - a young couple with two adorable daughters. And there I began narrating my entire Lahore trip from three years back.

    With time, I started visiting my Indian friend more often. My trips began to last from several hours to several days. The longer I stayed, the more I fell in love with her.

    I fed all my cravings for Indian food before going back to toasted baguette and cheese. On every trip, my Indian friend packed one tiffin for me and one for the little Pakistani girls.

    It was heartwarming to see how closely knit the two families were. Birthdays, anniversaries, Diwali, Eid, Christmas – they were always looking for an excuse to get together.

    And for me, I had found a bigger family in Paris!

    Birthday celebration. -All photos by author
    Birthday celebration. -All photos by author

    Once, after a long day of classes, I went directly to my Pakistani friend’s place. Starving, I asked what they had prepared for lunch. Afghani biryani, she said!

    Even my (conveniently) vegetarian self couldn’t resist. Shoving the bigger meat pieces aside, I began thoroughly enjoying that royal culinary treat. My friend asked if this would happen back home too.

    I was reminded of the time I tried sharing food from Karim’s (one of my favourite restaurants in Delhi) with my housekeeper. Although she loved me like her own child, she drew a line there and said that she would eat with me when I get food from a ‘normal’ restaurant. She simply refused to eat food from a Muslim restaurant.

    Explore:My visits to India made me realise how easy it is to be friends

    My friend and I then painfully discussed how sharing food between Hindus and Muslims is still a taboo for many. And here we were, raving about each other’s biryani and chaat.

    Long dinners were often followed by longer green tea sessions. Whenever I was there, I happily took the charge of making tea for all and swaggered with the tray knowing I had got it all right - less brewed for my Indian friend, more brewed for her husband, strong and piping hot for the Lahore couple.

    With a hot cup of tea of my own in hand, I thoroughly enjoyed going in and out of the delightful mix of Hindi-Urdu conversations.

    Iftar party during Ramzan 2017.
    Iftar party during Ramzan 2017.

    After a mandatory session on French politics, we contemplated fast-changing trends back home - if palazzo pants are more popular than cigarette pants, if it’s still a while before the short length kameez shalwar is back in fashion, or what the new perfectly elegant cut is that Pakistani designers have brought into trend.

    We talked about visas and told stories of friends and family who have been longing to visit an ancestral home or meet a childhood friend on the other side of the border. Occasionally, we got all emotional, travelled back in time and talked about Partition.

    While scrolling through Facebook posts, I read out aloud: Indians and Pakistanis who cherish the bonhomie born of personal interactions tend to forget that Kashmiris are suffering in the crossfire every day.

    Examine:Germany to India: 'Pakistan and India are more alike than different'

    My Pakistani friend instinctively replied, “In 70 years since Independence, ours is the first genuinely post-colonial generation. As experts are pulling the strings of political and economic diplomacy, all we can do is build more trust and show more love.” I promised to remember that.

    The inevitable eventually came. I was asked if and when I plan to get married.

    My ‘no’ was conveniently ignored amidst discussions on the tough visa procedures between the two countries. My Pakistani friends began brainstorming ideas for a destination wedding outside India so that they could be there to attend.

    Celebrating Eid in Paris.
    Celebrating Eid in Paris.

    Discussing the latest wedding trends, I mentioned how a little girl in the family closest to the bride becomes her flower girl. Little Rameen, my Pakistani friend’s younger daughter, came running from inside, hugged me tight and asked, “So when you get married, would I be your flower girl?” I loved her confidence and said, “Yes!”

    When the chai meeting had ended, it was time for me to leave. Rameen hugged me tighter and with a sad face said, “Please stay more. Khuda ke vaaste, please don’t go!” I tried not to cry.

    At the end of June this year, my family visited me in Paris. They arrived on the day of Eid. My Pakistani friend invited all of us for Eid dinner.

    Related:Stranded in India during the 1965 war: How I won friends among ‘enemies’

    For the unfortunate lynching of Muslims in India, #BlackEid was trending on Twitter back home and here in Paris, Eid was a gentle reminder that there’s still hope.

    It was gratifying to see my parents and my sister who so vehemently opposed my trip to Lahore, conveniently mingle with everyone.

    My Indian friend’s husband said to the little Pakistani girls, “So what if you are not in Lahore, here is your Eidi”. As the girls jumped in excitement, I wondered: Who says only blood makes family!

    Farewell lunch from an eight-year-old: Heart-shaped chicken biryani.
    Farewell lunch from an eight-year-old: Heart-shaped chicken biryani.

    It was soon time for me to leave Paris. On my last visit, eight-year-old Rameen prepared me my farewell lunch - chicken biryani shaped into a heart. My little chef reminded me that only she will be the flower girl in my wedding.

    We all hugged each other crying, all the while promising each other we won’t cry anymore. Sometimes I wish I could go back in life - not to change anything, but to feel a few things twice.

    It is rightly said: Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from god, it’s what we give one another.

    Do you live in a country other than your birthplace? Have you found home away from home? Share your story with us at

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    Last week, I went to one of the leading hospitals in Karachi to get checked for some pain in my lower back. My mother went with me to the doctor's office, but not into the examination room.

    It was a tiny room where I was led, about the size of a medium walk-in closet. There were only two people in the room at this point — a female nurse and myself.

    The nature of my medical concern required me to take my pants off and expose bare skin to the nurse and the doctor.

    The nurse gave me a gown and prepared the site of examination. Then entered the doctor.

    He took a look at my back and inquired what the problem was. I told him I was experiencing some pain post-surgery. He proceeded with his examination i.e. applying some pressure on the point of concern, waiting for my response.

    I let him know where it hurt and where it didn’t, and just when all necessary examination was done, out of nowhere— there came a smack on my butt.

    I tried to phrase that elegantly, but it really was just that. A slap on my posterior, completely catching me off-guard.

    The icing on the cake: he followed it up by smugly saying “ab naheen hoga” (you won’t feel the pain now).






    This spatial interval on your screen mimics my mental situation at the time. I went blank, speechless — all sensibility flew out of the room with the doctor as he left right after casually smacking my butt.

    I pulled up my pants and my eyes fell on the only other occupant of the room — the nurse. She looked down, avoiding my gaze, and in her silence I could feel her saying “I am sorry, but I am helpless.”

    I walked out of the tiny room and into the doctor’s office, where my mother was sitting, waiting to read my expression, trying to get a preview of what the doctor was going to say, completely unaware of what had ensued behind closed doors.

    “Honestly, there’s nothing wrong. You’re fine”, he said to me, without batting an eyelash. I avoided eye contact, trying to absorb what had just happened.

    My mother spoke concerned, “Are you sure? So what about the pain she’s feeling?” He replied nonchalantly: “You see, I don’t want to say I can give you something for it, because that means I’m making you think there’s a cure for it. Just get it out of your head and you’ll be fine”.

    After leaving the hospital and all through the drive back home, I kept replaying in my head those three minutes inside the narrow confines of the examination room, restarting the mental movie with the sound of a slap. Apparently my face looked washed-out as my mother asked me why I was so quiet and ‘off’.

    In-depth: Pakistan: No country for women

    It was then that I decided to bury it deep into the recesses of my mind. I started to shrug the memory off of me as if I were brushing a bug off my shoulder. I longed to take a shower as I felt absolutely disgusted.


    The word came nowhere close to encapsulating my feelings in the aftermath of such an agonising encounter.

    I tried hard and failed to justify one scenario where that action by that man on my body was okay. My intellect and intuition strained to come up with a single justification for that man to have touched me in that way.

    Maybe it was informal? Maybe he thought I was a little girl and it came as a joke? Maybe that’s just his way of expression?

    Be that as it may, in no way, under any circumstance, will it ever be okay for a doctor to touch their patient the way he did. Neither was it in any way necessary for the purpose of medical examination, nor was it warranted in any other situation.

    Also read: The hell of harassment

    A smack on the butt is not the same as a whack on the shoulder or on the arm. It is not a casual or even remotely acceptable gesture for a doctor to make toward a patient; more so, a male doctor toward a female patient.

    The act of smacking the butt is inarguably sexual. I say this for any of you who may be wondering why I am turning it into such a 'big deal'.

    Let me put it this way: a highly-esteemed surgeon, sitting at one of Karachi’s top-notch hospitals, smacked a female patient’s butt while examining her. Now, does that make you uncomfortable?

    I wasn’t going to write anything about this, but I was convinced otherwise by the sensible minds around me.

    Should I have gone back to the hospital afterward? What are the odds my complaint would not have fallen on deaf ears?

    Should I have gone to him? What could I have said if he denied that it ever happened? What if it was something so trivial and common for him that he wouldn’t even remember it? Who knows.

    The question I asked myself then, and I ask still, while writing this is — what do I want out of this? Do I want an apology? No. Do I want some compensation? No.

    What I want is for any person who has been through any form of sexual harassment to stop re-imagining and reconstructing a scenario of when it is acceptable for the perpetrator to act the way they did.

    Stop trying to look for excuses to justify their actions. Do not try to reposition yourself as an instigator of harassment. Staying quiet must never be the course of action for being treated inappropriately.

    I took to the media because even if one person reads this, and feels a little bit more comfortable in owning their story — it is worth the effort to translate my thoughts into words.

    I didn’t want to be that girl who complains about ‘minor issues’ but the fact that we might consider this a ‘minor issue’ is an issue. A serious issue.

    More on the topic: I was a victim of verbal sexual harassment at work and blamed myself for it

    The hospital and the clinic is one place where stripping down bare does not mean you are willfully naked, and surely does not give license for anyone to take undue advantage of your vulnerability. It is the responsibility of the doctor and their management to make sure you are comfortable in these situations.

    I don’t want to delve into conjecture about what this doctor could have possibly done with other patients (conscious or unconscious) or how he may have treated his female subordinates, because maybe he never did something like this before. But the point is, he did it to me.

    Sexual harassment is not limited to a culture, a society or a race — it is a condition of the human self. The pain in my back might be, but sexual harassment is not ‘just in my head’ — or yours.

    This article was originally published in June, 2017.

    If you are facing sexual harassment and would like to file a complaint, please follow the government's guidelines here and here. You can also reach out to NGO helplines. If you wish to share your story at Dawn, write to us at

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    The medical profession, since ancient times, has been recognised by all societies as a calling rather than just a job. Doctors command a high level of respect and medical graduates in Pakistan are not just called doctors, but doctor sahib. This respect, however, is not unconditional, and society expects exemplary conduct from the physicians it holds in such high esteem.

    The relationship between physicians and patients is inherently asymmetrical, with physicians substantially more powerful than patients who are rendered vulnerable due to illness. It's a rapport based on a high degree of trust that patients place in physicians.

    This position of power can quite easily be exploited. Traditionally, the medical profession has largely been self-regulated, with limited interference by the state.

    Governing medical bodies and international associations have professional codes of conduct that provide guidance, but can fall short of addressing emerging ethical and professional concerns.

    Medical practice in contemporary times poses numerous challenges to norms of conduct that date back to Hippocratic times. One major challenge that has emerged is the changing dynamics of patient-physician interaction in the digital age.

    Related: Female Pakistani journalists share stories of harassment at the workplace

    Thanks to the uninterrupted connectivity, no longer is the patient-physician interaction limited to the consultation room, and continuous availability through phone, texts and social media is becoming more and more of an expectation. Established with mutual consent, this would pose few concerns.

    The key factor here is mutual consent. Extending unsolicited friend requests on Facebook and social media in general would constitute an intrusion by physicians into their patients' personal space and would be unethical, unprofessional, and even exploitative behaviour.

    This is based on the age-honoured practice of maintaining a professional distance between physicians and patients, which discounts any socialising with patients whether in the real or virtual world. Even a seemingly innocuous friend request transgresses this sacrosanct boundary.

    While classical professional boundaries were easier to define and maintain, these have been blurred in the era of virtual reality. Some efforts are visible by medical bodies to address these emerging issues.

    For instance, the American Medical Association cautions friending patients on social media, by stating, “It is wise to avoid online relationships with current or former patients. Boundary violations can occur very easily online and serious indiscretions may result in disciplinary action against the doctor.”

    No such guidelines governing the use of social media by the regulating medical bodies exist in Pakistan, and the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) Code of Ethics is silent on this, as is the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Pakistan (CPSP), the premier body governing higher medical qualifications in the country.

    There is no doubt that, in sending an unsolicited friend request to his patient on Facebook, the doctor currently making the news thanks to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's tweet, was being unprofessional and his actions are unacceptable. But, were any Pakistani medical codes violated?

    We can say with certainty that in Pakistan, there are no relevant codes of conduct available, neither at the national level nor at the institutional level, that address the behaviour of doctors on social media.

    However, based on established norms of the profession, the physician in question ought to have known better. But it's worth examining why he didn't know.

    Also read: A claim of harassment stirs debate, draws Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy into focus

    Even in this day and age in Pakistan, a student may graduate from a medical college, fulfilling all the requirements laid down by the PMDC, and a specialist may qualify with a Fellowship awarded by the CPSP, and never have gone to a single session on medical ethics and what constitutes professional conduct.

    Even if the offending doctors’ institution has a policy governing social media conduct for its employees, the chances are that most people in the institution may not even be aware of its existence.

    The fact of the matter is that most health professionals, like all others on social media, draw their own boundaries and follow their own norms.

    A study co-conducted by us, Physicians in Cyberspace: Finding boundaries, described challenges like the one currently under debate, in addition to other issues as a result of social media activities by health professionals.

    Our study found that, although a majority of the 692 healthcare professionals surveyed from five medical institutes in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad did not consider it acceptable to be friends with patients on social media, 30% found no objections to it. Those who found it acceptable were from lower cadres in the field, including medical trainees and students.

    Another concerning finding from our study was that physicians often found it acceptable to friend their seniors or juniors, including students, on social media despite the inherent power imbalance in such relations.

    Our study also touched upon the different ways that patient privacy may be easily violated and confidential patient information disseminated on social media forums as physicians increase their use of social media.

    Read next: How a medical exam at a top notch Karachi hospital ended in sexual harassment

    The findings of this study, and the debate generated by the incident last week, sharply bring to focus the urgent need to update professional rules of conduct by the regulating medical bodies.

    Institutions on their own also ought to include use of social media within their policies, and if they indeed have such policies, their staff ought to be made aware and trained appropriately.

    Biomedical ethics training, which is either not imparted at all, or is taught as an orphan subject in most of our medical colleges, needs to be mainstreamed and made an essential prerequisite for graduation.

    It is not surprising that a seemingly limited issue has made so many ripples. This is perhaps because of the shared discomfort of physicians, as well as the general public, with undefined boundaries and the ever-changing goal posts in this coveted relationship between the patient and the proverbial messiah in the era of social media.

    Are you a professional who is concerned by breach of ethics in your line of work? Write to us at

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    We go to sleep at 1:45am on Saturday morning because after settling Pakistan’s ecstatic win in the 2nd T20 against Sri Lanka, we watch the highlights until the ads refuse to stop running.

    We – my father and I – turn off the TV more out of disgust at the number of times we have to watch a salted packet of Lay’s chips be opened and resealed, than any desire to call it a night.

    Pakistan has swept the ODIs against Sri Lanka, and the team is now 2-0 up in the T20s; we are thoroughly thrilled. Our poor sleeping pattern of late has not been in vain!

    Because we have become jaded and accustomed to match-fixing scandals in our cricketing history of the past two decades, we debate whether Pakistan will lose the match scheduled for the 29th of October in Lahore since they’ve already got the series.

    My dad jokes this will probably happen to prevent humiliating the Sri Lankans, who will be kind enough to brave the city that almost killed them the last time they were here.

    Sri Lanka team arrives in Lahore ahead of the final Twenty20. ─Photo courtesy: PCB Twitter
    Sri Lanka team arrives in Lahore ahead of the final Twenty20. ─Photo courtesy: PCB Twitter

    I reason that now is a completely different Pakistani attitude – for once, we’re actually playing cricket to compete, not to fluke our way through the sporting world. We’re going to win the 3rd T20, and we’re going to do it at home, I insist.

    I am so convinced this is going to happen, I am at the TCS office in Gulberg at 9am Saturday morning to buy four tickets to the match the next day. I am shocked when the young man behind the counter politely issues me what I want, no fuss, no queues, a few jokes added in regarding the different enclosures, and a moment of hesitation as I hand over a considerable chunk of my savings to buy some very pricey tickets.

    Match report:Hasan stars as Pakistan upstage Sri Lanka in first T20

    “Is nobody buying tickets?” I ask. “No, no, they are. You’re really early. We’ll be sold out by the afternoon.” he replies, confident in a way that sounds empowering.

    I don’t look back as I walk towards my car. The world hasn’t seen Pakistan in such good form in a long time; there is no way these tickets are going to waste.

    A cricket fan holds a placard welcoming the Srilankan team. -AP
    A cricket fan holds a placard welcoming the Srilankan team. -AP

    I am pleased at the chance to keep such faith in our team. There is a novelty to this feeling that has been lacking for a long time, courtesy of the ugly politics, and horrible fitness levels that have marked Pakistani men’s cricket for nearly a decade.

    There is another reason I am grinning so widely. I’ve had the chance to feel like a real citizen after a very long time: work hard, earn a modest income, set aside savings after pitching in with groceries at home, and with some time over the weekend, decently queue and purchase available match tickets to watch the amazing national team play in the city’s stadium.

    This is my definition of good leisure, an important part of a ‘good’ life. And I’ve had the chance, for a change, to do all of this right here in Pakistan.

    Spectators cheer during the T20 cricket match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. —AFP
    Spectators cheer during the T20 cricket match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. —AFP

    I am in such a good mood that my four-year-old niece, who is with me for this ride, starts to believe we are driving straight to the match. She is disappointed by the breaking news that we’re going home, and that she won’t be accompanying my father, khala, sister and me to the match the next day.

    I find myself promising her that cricket will be back to Pakistan soon, and when it is, I will take her to see every match we can. Does she want to do that? “Yes”, she replies solemnly from the back. “Do you know what cricket is?” I ask her. “Yes, with the guy swinging on TV,” is how she describes what she’s seen my father and me watching almost every other night all of October.

    I am a proud aunt in that moment, and I want very much for my niece to grow up in a Pakistan that has its beloved sport back. Cricket in not just Lahore, but any city of Pakistan. Cricket before which we don’t talk about safety, but about talent, solidarity, and profitability.

    * * *

    Sunday morning brings with itself haze and restlessness. When we hit the road by 4:35pm, we instantly run into a sizeable traffic jam made more problematic by the helpless traffic wardens narrowly avoiding run-ins with fearless motorcyclists.

    My father has become so unaccustomed to getting to a live cricket match over the past decade that he begins demanding – to my horror – that my brother turn the car around and take us all back home to watch the match in peace on TV!

    I issue calm notes of dissent from the backseat; not only have I spent Rs12,000 on match tickets, I’m tired of yelling victory slogans to the telly, not real players! If we’re meant to get to the match on time, we will; the important thing is to try!

    Soldiers stand guard next to cricket fans arriving to watch the third T20 match. ─AP
    Soldiers stand guard next to cricket fans arriving to watch the third T20 match. ─AP

    At 5:15pm, we are just managing to edge past the chaos between Model Town and Punjab University’s New Campus, flashing our tickets through the windows to dozens of peering security guards. They jocularly open a cordoned section of the road, and wave us through, but this restriction is clearly working on cars alone.

    Motorcyclists are routinely jumping the concrete dividers to escape the chaos unfolding on the opposite side of Usmani Road, and they may or may not have the required match tickets to be accessing this route.

    The planning is spectacularly mismanaged so far, I have to admit, but from this point it is a two-minute dash to specially designated parking spots within the New Campus. We are so close to the match now, I just giddily laugh at how ridiculous everything looks.

    Women cheer as they arrive to watch the T20 cricket match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. —AFP
    Women cheer as they arrive to watch the T20 cricket match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. —AFP

    Lights are strung across anything that won’t move for the next seven hours (or until the Sri Lankans get on their flight home – who knows how our security strategies are developed?) I see wardens physically picking up, and throwing into the green belts, plastic road dividers that have demonstrated their futility in face of determined Pakistani drivers.

    Green and white start to colour everything as we get closer to the parking gate, and once inside, we end up in a large field akin to a marriage arrangement – cars lined up along one end, the other end occupied by hundreds of chairs lined up in neat rows under a traditional wedding canopy.

    We board a red bus, and watch a conductor yell at a young man to stand up to give his seat to my older lady. We are driven against normal traffic direction on an empty road all the way to Gaddafi.

    A policeman stands guard outside Gaddafi Cricket Stadium. ─AFP
    A policeman stands guard outside Gaddafi Cricket Stadium. ─AFP

    We pass through three different security checks, and eye the guns on all the Rangers and Punjab Police officials roaming the premises who wave in return (by the end of the night, they’re handing out flowers). We know this isn’t how getting to a cricket match feels in any other part of the world, but the arrangements within the stadium seem top-notch.

    I’m worried now my father will run out of patience again, but just in time, we enter through Gate 10 into the Fazal Mahmood enclosure. Against the arriving smog, Gaddafi is gleaming, the field is pristine green, the teams are coming out of the pavilion and we can see the pitch (as well as the stumps) at such a perfect angle, I cannot believe my eyes.

    * * *

    The stadium is electric. It is different to the World XI match. This is a real country-on-country contest, our boys in green, theirs in blue. We love the Sri Lankans, but we still want to win.

    The air is alive with the inexplicable reverie of people who are being rewarded with other people’s faith in their ability to deliver – not just security arrangements or hospitality, but the swing that takes out an opening batsman or the calm half-century that jacks the run rate up by 12.5%. The ability to deliver on that fundamental cornerstone of the Pakistani identity – cricket.

    I feel incredibly fortunate. International cricket hasn’t really been in Pakistan for a decade (barring a Zimbabwean tour, which was also affected by a foiled bomb incident), yet here I am, at my second match since returning to Lahore about three months ago.

    The Twenty20 against Sri Lanka took less than four hours to play but its significance will last far longer. —AFP
    The Twenty20 against Sri Lanka took less than four hours to play but its significance will last far longer. —AFP

    The last time I came to see the World XI was because of sheer luck, and the generosity of one of my former students from Aitchison College with a spare pass into the Chairman’s Box. I’d queued numerous times unsuccessfully to get a match ticket so I was understandably over the moon when the chance came along.

    Afterwards, at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I told him I was never going to watch a match from the Box again – not only was most of the seating behind a wall of glass, the silence inside was eerily reminiscent of a very awkward viewing encounter with a boring old uncle.

    My student and I ultimately practiced all forms of contortionism, cramped along the floor of the tight balcony outside the Box, watching the match through a white grill. That’s what hunger for live international cricket looks like, I suppose.

    Mohammad Amir celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Dilshan Munaweera. -AP
    Mohammad Amir celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Dilshan Munaweera. -AP

    Now, having bounded up the Fazal Mahmood stairs to grab four seats at the top right of the stands, I am the happiest I’ve been in years. This is not an exaggeration.

    I absolutely love cricket with a passion. If your team is in such form – and the Pakistani team is – there is no better treat in the world than to have it perform to its potential in front of your eyes. If your country is 65% young – and Pakistan is – live cricket is only improved by the disproportionate presence of young people, and their unrestrained energy.

    Match report:Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by 2 wickets in second T20

    Being broadcast live across the world, I know I am standing in the middle of a match that is making history. This is Pakistan telling the whole world it is more than a violent, terrorist maniac seemingly anchored in the South Asian region to singularly serve geostrategic ends.

    Tonight, we are the persistence of our cricketers; we are the children who have continued to play on Pakistan’s streets when nobody was playing in our stadia; we are the entrepreneurial spirit that has held on to domestic cricket in the vacuum of eight years, and given the world Shadab Khan.

    Pakistan team poses for photographs with the trophy after winning the T20 series against Sri Lanka. -AFP
    Pakistan team poses for photographs with the trophy after winning the T20 series against Sri Lanka. -AFP

    I will remember this match in different ways forever. I will remember that at about 17 minutes to 6pm, we were around 23,000 people huddled in a protective circle around international cricket at the Gaddafi Stadium, listening to the Sri Lankan anthem, then singing in soulful unison our own.

    I will remember that as I emerged back into the lights from a toilet break, I saw Amir announce his arrival with his unmistakable reverse swing ruthlessly flinging the bails off of Munaweera’s wicket.

    I will remember the stadium’s miserable attempts at sustaining a cycle of three waves to ‘buck up’ Sri Lanka because right in the middle of it, Hassan Ali got to Perera.

    Match report:Final T20 in Lahore: Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by 36 runs to claim series

    I will remember Imad Wasim turning to us in the stands from deep extra cover, signalling for us to noisily ring in the impending victory. I don’t think anyone in the world will forget how that motorcycle reduced 13 professional athletes to a bunch of scrambling boys, stumbling over each other to check it out.

    I will remember the shine in my father’s 69-year-old eyes – normally tired from witnessing the daily antics of men his age who project themselves as Pakistan’s ‘leaders’ – beaming with pride at the hope embodied by his country’s young sportsmen.

    But most of all, I will remember the pounding of my heart, the thunder of the crowd, the rhythm in our chant, the words rightfully assuming a place in my heart after a long time:

    Pakistan zindabad, Pakistan zindabad.
    Pakistan zindabad.

    Have you been part of memorable sporting events in any way? Share your experiences with us at

    Pakistani spectator cheers prior to the start of the T20 cricket match playing between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore on October 29, 2017.Pakistani spectator cheers prior to the start of the T20 cricket match playing between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Gaddafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore on October 29, 2017.

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    Many Pakistanis perhaps do not know that there are snow leopards in Pakistan’s northern mountains, mainly in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region. Moreover, it is little known that the snow leopard population is in perpetual conflict with farmers who live in these mountains too. Snow leopards frequently kill domestic goats and sheep which are farmers’ precious resources.

    Sometime snow leopards come down in the villages from their mountain lairs and jump into a livestock corral (a pen or enclosure used to restrict livestock) engaging in ‘surplus killings’. In some instances a single snow leopard has killed up to 50 animals in an attack.

    Research on snow leopard diet shows that globally about 25% of snow leopards’ food is based on domestic livestock. This number is twice as high for Pakistan. In some ways, farmers unwittingly subsidise snow leopard populations.

    Despite a ban under the GB Wildlife Act of 1975 on killing and shooting snow leopards, farmers retaliate by killing the animal using various methods such as trapping, poisoning a snow leopard-killed carcass or even direct shooting. Farmers say that they have nothing against the predator, but they have to protect their livestock.

    Snow leopard in Roundu Valley. -All photos and footage by Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO)
    Snow leopard in Roundu Valley. -All photos and footage by Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO)

    There is an ongoing battle between the farmers and the provincial wildlife departments in GB and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over this issue. Last year, farmers in Misgar, Hunza, trapped a snow leopard that had killed tens of their livestock.

    The villagers refused to release the snow leopard and demanded compensation from the government wildlife department. Some villagers stated that rather than paying compensation, some state officials threatened them with a police case and imprisonment.

    In-depth:The great game: The politics of houbara hunting in Pakistan

    This kind of heavy-handedness is usually not a very helpful response to the demand for compensation by the affected farmers.

    The state officials and conservation institutions advocate conservation of the snow leopard on its uniqueness and ecological functions. From the point of the farmers, the snow leopard is a vermin and a threat which needs to be eliminated.

    How do we reconcile these two different views of a single animal? This is the crux of what is known in conservation literature as human-wildlife conflict.

    A young male Himalayn Ibex in snow, a natural prey for the snow leopard.
    A young male Himalayn Ibex in snow, a natural prey for the snow leopard.
    Baby ibex.
    Baby ibex.

    For conservation NGOs and government agencies, the problem of farmer-snow leopard conflict begins and ends with farmers.

    There are three main explanations about the farmer-snow leopard conflict that prevails among conservation institutions and state officials.

    First, state agencies and conservation institutions argue that snow leopards kill farmers’ domestic livestock because farmers have hunted snow leopard’s natural prey which are wild goats and sheep such as ibex, markhor and blue sheep.

    Second, they maintain that snow leopard attacks on domestic livestock occur because farmers are lazy and do not protect their livestock effectively.

    Third, they state that the snow leopard habitat is shrinking and getting degraded due to farmers’ activities, so snow leopards have nowhere to go but towards human societies.

    While all three of these explanations are true to some extent, they do not tell the whole story. Rather, they tell a story from the point of view of conservation institutions and state officials.

    First, evidence shows that decrease in natural prey is not the only, or even overwhelming, the reason why snow leopards attack domestic goats. In fact, livestock predation is higher in villages where natural prey is also found abundantly, and this is why we notice a high predation rate in villages near national parks which harbor good prey populations.

    The reason is that a snow leopard is an opportunistic predator: it will take prey that is easier to catch. A domestic goat is perhaps 10 times easier to catch than an ibex.

    The second reason that farmers are lazy is based on lack of familiarity with grazing conditions on open ranges by those criticising.

    I have spent the last 20 summers in Baltistan, visiting high pastures where farmer graze their livestock. Protecting a herd of goat in that landscape is impossible because of the cover it provides a predator and because of snow leopards’ stealthy nature.

    Himalayan Wolf in Basho Valley.
    Himalayan Wolf in Basho Valley.

    Farmers say that snow leopards are like suicide bombers; one doesn’t know when and where they will attack. Despite this, many attacks are averted due to farmers’ vigilance and hard work, but it is foolish to expect that there will never be any predation.

    The third reason that the snow leopard habitat is fragmenting and degrading is overblown.

    Up until the early part of the 20th century, tigers and lions were also found in Pakistan, mainly in the plains of the Indus River Delta in the south, but they are gone now. They were eliminated not through hunting alone, but primarily because their habitat was converted into agricultural fields and towns, cities and roads.

    The snow leopard lives in the harsh mountainous terrain, covered with ice, snow and rock, at an altitude of between 10,000 and 20,000 feet. Its habitat has little appeal and use for humans.

    This is the reason that the snow leopard range and habitat in Pakistan and worldwide has not decreased despite explosion in population growth and technological advancement in South and Central Asia.

    In comparison, the tiger is restricted to only 7% of its historical range today and its habitat has declined to less than 10 percent of its size in the 19th century. The threat of habitat degradation emanates from global changes induced by consumption and production of advanced industrial societies, not from the subsistence practices of local farmers.

    Landscape of co-existence - BWCDO

    In order to address farmers’ concerns for their livelihoods and protect this remarkable species, I started a pilot project called Project Snow Leopard (PSL) in Rondu Valley in the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan.

    The pilot project was conceived to test the idea of an insurance scheme for domestic livestock (sheep, goat, yak, dzo, dzomo) of Balti farmers against snow leopard killings. This was the first time anywhere in the world that the idea of a community-based livestock insurance scheme was being tried out.

    The idea of an insurance scheme is based on a simple premise: by killing snow leopards, farmers take a rational decision to protect their livelihood, and in order to stop the farmers, conservation organisations and government agencies must compensate them for their losses. The project therefore sees snow leopard conservation from the point of view of conservationists and farmers.

    From one project village in 1999, PSL expanded to 10 in 2006 and to 17 in 2013. In 2007, PSL was formally registered under a non-profit organisation called the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO).

    Today, there are 15 insurance schemes running in 26 villages across three valleys in Baltistan. Admittedly, these are small funds (about Rs200,000 to 300,000), but they are growing.

    We have paid out about Rs2.4 million in compensation funds to farmers since 2006, thereby reducing their incentive to retaliate by killing the snow leopard.

    Our insurance scheme model has been emulated by Pakistani NGOs and government departments alike. Recently, the directorate of Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP) started an insurance scheme based on our model.

    This is a welcome sign and must be encouraged, but more funds need to be spent on these government-run insurance schemes and less on making plans that cost a fortune (consultant fee, technical advisor’s fee etc) and which no one will implement.

    The BWCDO model has also been attempted in other snow leopard home range countries, including Nepal, India, Mongolia, and Bhutan. In addition, we have done solid research on snow leopard population, including camera trapping, population genetics, and were the first organisation to revise the snow leopard population estimate for Pakistan since Schaller’s assessment in the 1970s.

    BWCDO has carried out awareness raising campaigns in 26 villages across Baltistan on an annual basis. This includes publishing of a snow leopard book in Urdu and holding debate and writing contests on the benefits of snow leopard to ecosystems.

    Also read:Animal hunting in Pakistan deserves no applause

    As part of a community incentive program BWCDO is providing financial help and environmental awareness material in 25 schools across Baltistan.

    In order to stop snow leopard attacks on corrals, BWCDO has built predator-proof corrals for the communities. Under grants from the National Geographic Society’s Big Cat Initiative and support from the Snow Leopard Conservancy, BWCDO has spent seven million rupees in building 45 corrals throughout Baltistan and this figure in increasing.

    Predator-proof corral in Basho Valley.
    Predator-proof corral in Basho Valley.

    BWCDO/PSL has won several prestigious international awards, including the Whitley Award in 1999, the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2006 and the National Geographic Emerging Explorer Award in 2009. In 2017, BWCDO won the UNDP Equator prize for innovative, grassroots solutions to environmental problems.

    Despite their increased acceptance in conservation practice, insurance and compensation programmes remain highly contested and subject to a variety of critiques. The main criticism is that such programmes are not efficient but expensive, thus not sustainable.

    Read next:A UN prize-winning NGO’s remarkable efforts to save the snow leopards of Pakistan from extinction

    We found this to be partly true, but this is no reason to abandon the approach, rather to fund it even more. Insurance schemes are efficient, if run and managed by local communities. But they do suffer from lack of money from international donors and even government agencies who do not like cash transfers to the poor on (neo-liberal) ideological grounds.

    What if, in reply to the argument that insurance schemes are too expensive to run, farmers say that in the absence of any compensation mechanism, snow leopard conservation is expensive and unsustainable for them.

    Moreover, alternative approaches are equally flawed and suffer from financial and technical constraints, but we seldom hear calls for their abandonment. The main reason is that in the alternative approaches the money is ‘wasted’ by conservation professionals and government officials, while in the case of compensations schemes, they are ‘wasted’ on communities.

    Our main challenge so far has not been to convince the local people to protect the species, but, rather, it is to make state and conservation institutions realise that snow leopard conservation is not only an ecological imperative, but it is also a political and economic one.

    Barring a few exceptions, there is, however, little sympathy for social sciences amongst wildlife conservationists. State agencies and national and international conservation organisations are mainly staffed by natural scientists with little training and interest in the social dimensions of conservation.

    Thus, we see very little attention is paid to social issues such as economic and psychological cost of conservation to communities.

    The image of the snow leopard that prevails in such institutions and organisations is that of a ‘wilderness’ predator, that iconic American cultural idea which is based on worship of ‘pristine’ and ‘untamed’ nature.

    But research from the field shows that snow leopards live close to human societies and indeed, as mentioned above, depend on them for their sustenance.

    Ecological research from India, Nepal and other areas on snow leopards-livestock relationship show that if humans and their livestock are removed from the snow leopard habitat, the ‘natural’ prey of snow leopard and eventually the snow leopard population itself will decline.

    Ignoring this link between wild snow leopards and domesticated economy can be detrimental for the snow leopards in the long run.

    Explore:A bear for a human life: Who is the predator in Mansehra's human-bear conflict?

    Due to BWCDO’s efforts over the last two decades, the snow leopard population in Baltistan is stable. There are currently between 30 and 40 snow leopards in BWCDOs project area, and between 300 and 400 in Pakistan.

    In September 2017, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downlisted the threat level to snow leopard from Endangered to Vulnerable, indicating successful efforts to conserve this species in Pakistan and worldwide.

    But this revised status should not been seen as a signal to stop working for the protection of this species. We need to do more and continue to fund conservation action on the ground such as insurance schemes and predator proof corrals to alleviate the social and economic cost of conservation to communities.

    When I was in Misgar last year, I heard one of the villagers say that many NGOs working for snow leopard conservation are “dollar wala NGOs,” meaning that they spend money on strengthening their own organisations rather than on compensating farmers for their losses and building predator proof corrals.

    The farmers in Baltistan are not country bumpkins who do not understand the political economy of international aid and conservation. In so many words they remind us that we, the NGOs, who are a bridge between society and state, must see conservation from their eyes.

    Are you involved in any conservation efforts in Pakistan? Share your experiences with us at


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    Working in a tertiary care centre in a developing country, we receive patients from all over the province and country, for acute and chronic care.

    At times, initial discussion starts by receiving a patient brief on WhatsApp either provided by the patient or their physician.

    Subsequent to clinic visits, it is common practice for a front-line physician to give their business or even personal phone numbers to patients travelling from other cities, or at times within the city, to receive/discuss results of laboratory or radiological investigations, alter medications, or seek guidance at all hours. This is acceptable practice in our institute and in many leading health care institutes all over the world.

    WhatsApp and other social media applications have certainly improved patient-physician communication and have markedly improved patient care as a result.

    Just like in-person communication, virtual communication is always bilateral. It is difficult to regulate what transpires in both these forms of communication and to ensure that it always stays within professional, predefined boundaries.

    Transgression of boundaries can occur from both parties but physicians are supposed to be trained in the art of always keeping all encounters within limits.

    Read next:A claim of harassment stirs debate, draws Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy into focus

    It is easier said than done, however, as there are many instances that are not so straightforward and can rather create a quandary for the physicians.

    For example, should a physician respond to Eid Mubarak greetings of a patient? Should they respond to a compliment on their photograph displayed on social media?

    Should they reject a friend request from a patient whom they helped bring to this world, and have been treating for 20 years? Can they even make a social media profile where they express their political opinions?

    Professional boundaries in medical practice are not well-defined. In general, they are the parameters that describe the limits of a fiduciary relationship in which one person, the patient, entrusts another, a physician, for their well-being.

    Physicians are in a position of power in this skewed relationship where they have informational, social, emotional, geographical, and physical power over their patients who are inherently vulnerable due to their dependence upon them.

    But when we talk about physician-patient boundaries, we find them non-existent or at best poorly defined in a country like Pakistan where ethics education is conspicuous by its absence and is synonymous with morality.

    Also read:The smartest and dumbest social media posts on the Sharmeen Obaid 'harassment' controversy

    Physicians are generally held in reverence and called ‘doctor chucha’ and ‘doctor aunty’ rather than by their names and often hear sentences like “You are like my father, please decide as you know best.”

    Family physicians treating patients for years are themselves treated like family members, are invited to family functions, and receive mithai on religious festivals.

    Pakistan is a country where dual relationships with bilateral advantages is a norm rather than exception. In our culture, ethics of care prevail more than individualistic ethics, and health care decision making takes place in consultation with distant relatives and varied neighbours.

    Where giving gifts is a sign of respect and thanks, where physicians waive health care fee of deserving patients occasionally and feel obligated to receive home-made sweets as a sign of gratitude, where patients feel let down if the entire clan does not come to visit when they are sick, promoting individualistic ethics is difficult.

    Despite these Pakistani peculiarities, it still doesn’t mean that there is no place for ethics whereby physicians maintain a professional distance from their patients. Ethics is what ought to be no matter what.

    It is a standard of behaviour towards others and self within societies, and clinical ethics are the standards of behaviour towards patients, colleagues, and society during the course of providing clinical care.

    Related:My tweet wasn't meant to suggest privilege: Sharmeen Obaid breaks silence on harassment claim

    It cannot be emphasised enough that protection of patient vulnerability under all circumstances must be the central premise on which these standards are formulated.

    However, there is no code of professional conduct or regulative guideline in the world that defines standards of behaviour clearly under all possible circumstances – and there cannot be.

    Most guidelines are just guidelines; they provide general principles of behaviour and leave it to the contextual application for the physicians. Physicians in Pakistan are either not trained in bioethics, or consider it superfluous while practicing medicine.

    Ethical behaviour develops only with repeated practice. Even in institutes where ethics is being taught in theory, poor role modelling bars the translation of theory into practice.

    Systems of accountability are either non-existent or applied discriminately, penalising the lowest in the hierarchy while treating higher-ups with leniency.

    Law, which is minimal ethics, becomes the last resort to provide answers to questions that ought to be deliberated within the physicians’ fraternity as issues of a most significant nature.

    Pakistan needs to move towards addressing these issues, and when it does so, the deliberations should involve all the concerned parties. The focus should be on contextually acceptable norms, so as to be acceptable to the local healthcare community.

    We need empirical research in clinical ethics to develop relevant curricula, train teachers to educate current and future health care workers, provide good role modelling to help translate theoretical knowledge into practice, and robust systems of internal and external accountability.

    That does not mean that unethical behaviour or unprofessional acts will never occur, but that they will not be due to ignorance or lack of knowledge.

    Are you a professional who is concerned by breach of ethics in your line of work? Write to us at

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    The smoke of the hashish spread through the air as Basheer took a puff from his cigarette, staring at me through kohl-smeared eyes. He had a thick, long white beard, though his hair was neatly trimmed.

    Through the open buttons of his kameez, I could see a taveez hanging from a black thread. Such an amulet usually contains verses from a holy book written on a piece of paper. I wondered what holy book Basheer had – the Quran, the Bible or the Granth Sahib?

    Sitting with his back to a small shrine in an open field, he handed over the hashish-filled cigarette to his young companions. Were they here just for a smoke or did the shrine represent something to them?

    Hashish and bhang (both made from cannabis) play a central role in folk shrines across the country. I call them folk shrines because most of them, despite their outward religious associations, do not strictly fall within the bracket of religious traditions.

    They represent an indigenous religiosity that connects the thread of diverse religious traditions of this land. Sufi malangs have in their poetry and literature referred to hashish as al-luqaymah (little green bite), musilat al-qalb (what binds with the heart) and waraq-i kheyal (leaf of insight).

    In several Sufi shrines across the country, one would come across devotees gathered around a fire smoking hashish or consuming bhang. Similarly, in ascetic traditions associated with Shaivism, the consumption of hashish is almost part of religious rituals. In Vedic literature, the use of cannabis is mentioned as a bestower of joy, a liberator.

    “This is the shrine of Baba Gur Baksh Masih,” Basheer told me. Masih is the Arabic word for messiah, a title reserved for Jesus Christ. It is a word the Christian community uses today for its self-identification in Pakistan.

    However, it is not the word Muslims use for the Christian community – they use Isaai, followers of Prophet Isa, the name for Jesus in the Quran. While Isaai is now popularly recognised as the word for Christians in Pakistan, it is not a title the Christians necessarily associate with.

    However, power relationships between the two communities have forced this identification upon them, despite their reluctance. This is similar to Muslims being referred to as Mohammadens. Many Christians in Pakistan also use Masih as a surname.

    Not always a Christian shrine

    The shrine behind us was a simple structure – a short boundary wall with no roof, with the grave of the saint at the centre, covered in green cloth, similar to the cloths used to cover graves at Muslim Sufi shrines.

    Like in Sufi shrines, a turban and garlands decorated the grave, symbolising the groom and bride-like relationship between the saint and the divine. Green, a colour usually associated with Islam, was used to paint the decorative niches and false architectural pillars.

    At the entrance, however, was a cross, identifying this as a Christian shrine. In fact, this shrine in the small village of Maraka, about 20km south-west of Lahore, is popularly known as Isaaian da mazaar (shrine of Christians). Once again, one can tell that this is not a name chosen by the devotees of the shrine.

    But this was not always a Christian shrine. “Baba Gur Baksh Masih was a follower of Guru Nanak,” Basheer said. “He lost his life in a battle. During combat his head was severed but his body continued to fight until it eventually came and rested at this spot, where later a shrine was constructed to commemorate his life and death.”

    Basheer at the Isaaian da mazaar in Maraka village. Photo credit: Haroon Khalid.
    Basheer at the Isaaian da mazaar in Maraka village. Photo credit: Haroon Khalid.

    The history told by Basheer and several others in rural Punjab who have not had a formal education is not measured in years but through events. In this framework, Partition becomes a pivotal point, the ultimate divider of eras.

    Basheer does not know exactly how old this shrine is but knows that it predates Partition. So, in its original form it would be fair to suggest that instead of a grave, this shrine must have hosted the smadh of Baba Gur Baksh.

    Perhaps it did not actually contain the remains of Baba Gur Baksh but was a symbolic shrine built to commemorate the legend of Bhai Gurbaksh Singh, who sacrificed his life to defend the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar from the onslaught of the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali.

    Whatever it was in its past incarnation, the shrine today serves as the central communal space for Christians of the village. They not only gather here for the annual festival of the shrine, much like devotees of a Sufi shrine, but also for conventional Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas.

    A symbol of Partition

    The story of this shrine is the story of Partition. Maraka was a pre-dominantly Sikh village whose occupants fled to the other side of the border to escape the bloodshed. However, several of these wealthy Sikh landlords left behind servants to look after their property and belongings.

    Like millions of others, they felt the riots of Partition were a temporary madness and they would return to their ancestral homes as soon as the situation returned to normal.

    The majority of Christians who live in Maraka today are descendants of the servants of those landlords. Most of them were Mazhabi Sikhs, a title reserved for Sikhs who converted to Sikhism from lower castes.

    Sikhism in this case was no different from Islam in South Asia. Both these religions were principally against the caste system but in practice retained remnants of caste hierarchy. Lower caste Hindus who became Muslims came to be known as Musali or Deendar and in many cases continued to be treated as untouchables. In Sikhism, they became Mazhabi Sikhs.

    For as long as they could, these Mazhabi Sikhs retained their religious identity. But as soon as the fire of the riots approached, they cut off their hair, removed their turbans and embraced Christianity, a neutral religion, to stay alive. Christianity from Partition onwards became a part of their identity.

    The shrine of Baba Gur Baksh, too, eventually saw this transition. Similar to the name Isaai, the Christian identity, too, was forced on this shrine and the community.

    This article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

    Have you visited any places that promote social harmony? Share your experiences with us at


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    On a Saturday eve, I decided to venture off to a town, around 200 kilometres from Karachi. Accompanied by a friend, we drove through the cold night on a highway with heavily loaded trucks hurtling past us.

    We were headed towards a town known as ‘Bhit Shah’. In this small town lies a great sufi scholar, mystic poet and saint who is loved and followed by thousands.

    Tonight was no ordinary night. It was the 272nd Urs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. With its second night underway, we looked forward to witnessing the vibrant festivities and celebrations.

    The path leading to the shrine.
    The path leading to the shrine.

    The high energy here was palpable.
    The high energy here was palpable.

    We entered Bhit Shah through an archway embellished with lights. A pedestrianised street led us in. The eventful night started with a long walk towards the shrine with throngs of people.

    The shining tomb slowly emerged as we kept moving closer to the centre of the crowd. Amid blaring music and the relentless chatter of people, calls of shopkeepers trying to lure in customers intensified.

    Shopkeepers changing shifts.
    Shopkeepers changing shifts.

    A man selling stones.
    A man selling stones.

    Filing inside to pay respects.
    Filing inside to pay respects.

    The constant circulation.
    The constant circulation.

    As we arrived within the confines of the shrine, the hour was late, but the buzz of activity felt as if it was the middle of day. The bulbs hanging above shone brightly, and the shrine reflected their multi-coloured lights.

    Just across the courtyard, opposite the door to Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s tomb, the last performance of the night was taking place.

    The first view inside the Shrine.
    The first view inside the Shrine.

    The Shrine alive as ever at 2am.
    The Shrine alive as ever at 2am.

    Collecting alms.
    Collecting alms.

    On duty.
    On duty.

    The last performance.
    The last performance.

    There was a sense of calm within the mausoleum as the notes of the Tambooroo— a musical instrument invented by the sufi himself — filled the space.

    A fascinated audience sat around the performers as haunting vocals rose through the air, invigourating the environment.

    Pure emotion.
    Pure emotion.

    High note.
    High note.

    Around this spiritual performance was a constant hustle where people were entering the tomb, paying their respects, and praying fervently.

    Some would either exit the shrine from the other side, or sit down to partake in the majestic experience that the performers had to offer.

    The graveyard within.
    The graveyard within.

    Spending nights through the Urs.
    Spending nights through the Urs.


    Fakir Juman Shah.
    Fakir Juman Shah.

    They say you find tranquility if you search for it, may it be at the peak of a mountain, or at the foot of a hill, or perhaps at the sea shore under the starry night sky.

    But that night, I discovered tranquility within myself.

    For me, it was a soulful experience where I discovered not just the world that exists out there, but the one that exists within myself.

    The spirituality of the Urs may beckon tens and thousands of people from all around the country for just three nights, but the affect it leaves resonates within you for a lifetime.

    This blog was originally published on December 07, 2015

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    Much hullabaloo was created at last month when my bill, calling for an Amendment to the Child Marriage Restraint Act by raising the age restriction for girls from 16 to 18, was put up for debate in the relevant Standing Committee, and will now be put to a vote in the Senate again in the next session.

    I was suddenly swamped with both positive support and negative feedback – but neither of those reactions was extraordinary, and to me, 70 odd years after independence, therein lies the true tragedy.

    We argue that no country can flourish without the active participation of its women, and that we believe children are the future of this land that we’ve fought and sacrificed for.

    But when push comes to shove, we continue to be reluctant to protect them, and afford them the opportunities they need to blossom.

    The reasons and justifications we produce are also multifold; poverty, misuse of the culture and tradition narratives, lack of education, a patriarchal system deeply embedded with power-related/political motivations.

    But those are another matter – the exploration of the whys and wherefores has been done at some length, by many an author far more distinguished and better suited to the job.

    My purpose lies in the other direction – to make my case for this change, and do what I can to ensure this particular piece of legislation passes through the two houses of our parliament.

    And thus, I’d like to lay open before you my mind and reasoning as to why it is of the utmost importance to protect our girls from becoming child brides, in order for them to fulfill their true potentials as the cruxes of their families, and productive citizens of this great state.

    Related: Obstetric fistula: Another reason CII is wrong on underage marriage

    For a nation that sets great store by its founder’s ideals, it is often forgotten that opposition to child marriages was first brought to the forefront of social issues by none other than Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, when he drafted and introduced the first Child Marriages Restraint Act in the subcontinent as early as 1929, as a member of the British Indian Legislative Assembly.

    He was cognizant of the damage an inordinately early marriage has on the psyche and development of a child. This is in addition to other problems it exposes girls to, like health complications, domestic violence, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, HIV/Aids infections, education disruption, social isolation and exploitation.

    The Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP) warned some years ago that one woman dies every 20 minutes during childbirth, and that the major cause for high maternal mortality ratio - 276 per 100,000 live births - is child marriage.

    To those who posit that this archaic practice affects but an insignificant fragment of the population, I’d recommend the data made available by Gallup, whereby in Pakistan, one in four women (24.7%) were married before they turned 18, compared with just 1.4% of men. This is about six percent of the population aged 15 and above (translation - 7 million people!) that was married between the ages of 15 and 16 years.

    Also read: Married off for 'honour': Pakistan's child brides

    This is not meant to detract in any manner from the fact that this practice is a globally acknowledged problem in many parts of the world. The United Nations Population Fund puts one in every four girls in developing countries into the category of marriage before 18, and one in nine under 15. But it is, at the very least, acknowledged as a detrimental and archaic practice, and great efforts are being made for its elimination.

    Formally, Pakistan also acknowledges this, which is why it is signatory to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which identifies a “child” as “less than 18 years”, as well as Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women– two international human rights agreements which prohibit child marriage.

    And yet, it has taken Pakistan 27 years from when it ratified the UNCRC in November, 1990 to take the initiative and introduce a bill in Senate in 2017 for passing the appropriate amendment in the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 to match its binding international commitments.

    Delay in converting international obligations into national legislation is not uncommon, and can be a result of a multitude of factors including apathy and political motivations.

    But it is important to note that when a state ratifies a treaty or convention, it is bound by international law to adhere to the commitments within, and subsequent failure to do so can adversely affect that state’s image and standing within the international community, which in turn can also impact on economic policies towards that state.

    Pakistan’s sluggish pace in legislating our child rights commitments into law (specifically the Child Marriage Amendment), has been affecting our rankings in the Human Rights Index.

    Read next: CII: Pushing Pakistan back to the caves

    Ending child marriage is such an important international goal that eliminating the practice was added as a Sustainable Development Goal, to be achieved by 2030 as it ‘prioritised the prevalence of child marriage among girls as a key indicator of progress toward this target’.

    This is in line with the findings of a research report published by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) that has found that Child marriage will cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030.

    The trend towards ending child marriages is even acknowledged within the community of Islamic states at large, as is demonstrated by the 2009 OIC Khartoum Declaration: Towards a Brighter Future for our Children.

    Article 26 of this declaration sets out a clear path encouraging Islamic countries to “take the necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls and all harmful traditional or customary practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, in the light of the relevant declarations, instruments and conventions.”

    To that end, the legal age for marriage in many other Islamic countries is 18 or above, such as Jordan (18), Libya (20), Morocco (18), Tunisia (18), Algeria (19), Oman (18), UAE (18). Surveys from these countries also indicate that over two-thirds of the population in fact encourages waiting until at least 21 before a girl is married.

    This makes sense if one thinks about it rationally for a moment: Where people are not allowed to drive, vote or in any other way be legally considered an adult before the age of 18, why should marriage, which arguably requires even greater maturity, be the exception? Similarly why protect only boys and not girls under the guise of values or culture?

    Young girls are not child brides. This is only the first step on the path to social progress, which is long and arduous, but more than ever I am certain that together we can and we will eliminate this practice, and move our country towards a better, brighter future.

    Are you working to promote children’s rights in Pakistan? Tell us about your experiences at

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    “. . . he said I am from there, I am from here, but I am neither there nor here. I have two names which meet and part… I have two languages, but I have long forgotten— which is the language of my dreams.” -Mahmoud Darwish

    She spoke slowly in a deep voice, with every word tacked deep into the beams of my mind, “The sea can separate the land but not the souls.”

    Her tone had a strange mix of emotions that I couldn’t comprehend.

    She told me that she received the news a day prior to my visit. Pakistan had released 68 Indian fishermen who had unwittingly crossed over to the other side. They had boarded a train to Lahore from where they would be taken to the Wagah border and shall be handed over to the Indian authorities.

    Her husband has been imprisoned in Pakistan since the last seven years. He was arrested for violating territorial waters when his boat drifted into the Pakistani side.

    She said, “I am happy that our people are returning home. I don’t know about my husband though. But, at least somebody is coming. They would tell me about my husband, perhaps.”

    “But, I’ll only believe it when I’ll see him. I don’t trust the news anymore. They lie,” she said.

    She woefully continued, “The sea defies all our attempts of partition and rejects all shackles. It cannot be caged or divided. It is beyond all that can be divided. Yet, we suffer.”

    Who can blame the sea?

    Indian fisherman released from Malir jail shows his travelling card at a railway station in Karachi. -AFP
    Indian fisherman released from Malir jail shows his travelling card at a railway station in Karachi. -AFP

    Unfortunately, she is not the only one. There are many families of Indian and Pakistani fishermen who share similar stories and are frequently detained for illegally fishing in each other's waters.

    She cursed the sea and lamented, “The Arabian Sea does not have a clearly-defined marine border and the wooden boats lack the technology to avoid being drifted away.”

    Then, speaking boldly, she said, “We are a different tribe. We risk our lives every day. We don’t cry.” She told me that their tribe records the stories of the courage of the fishermen. Not many people know these. She shared some of them with me.

    She told me how risky it is to lower down the net in the ocean. “But, this is how it is. You cannot change everything about life. We have learnt to live with it,” she said.

    The woman believes her misfortune to be the curse of the mermaid. She told me that her husband caught a very big golden fish the day before he went missing. She thinks that the golden fish must be the mermaid’s child, who had cursed them.

    “We are the cursed tribe. It must be karma. Fishermen on both the sides repay their debt to the sea,” she said sadly.

    I don’t know all that. I only know about the curse on humanity for creating such victims of divisions, wars and sufferings.

    Indian fishermen released from Malir jail arrive at a railway station in Karachi on October 29, 2017. -AFP
    Indian fishermen released from Malir jail arrive at a railway station in Karachi on October 29, 2017. -AFP

    She introduced me to her beautiful teenage daughter who is diagnosed with bone tuberculosis. Her two teenage sons still go fishing. “There is no escape. The sea is our refuge,” she said.

    I remembered some notes from my diary:

    “Father, have you heard what has happened to me?
    The sea closes no door before me.
    No mirror I can shatter makes a path
    of its slivers before me...
    And all the prophets are my family,
    but heaven is still far from its land
    and I am far from my words."
    -Mahmoud Darwish

    I could not find even a drop of tear in her eyes as she spoke to me. Perhaps, she has drained them all in the sea. The sea takes everything she told me.

    “Days decay like food, fish and rotten dead bodies — all that we find in the sea. Nothing remains. It all decays,” she said matter-of-factly.

    And we forget.

    Yes, we’ll all forget these fishermen.

    Every time they release a group, she waits for her husband, but he does not return.

    Indian fishermen released from Malir jail wave from train at a railway station in Karachi on October 29, 2017. -AFP
    Indian fishermen released from Malir jail wave from train at a railway station in Karachi on October 29, 2017. -AFP

    “If he’ll not come this time I’ll pray for his peaceful death. I hope that would set him free, beyond the borders of the land and the sea,” she said resolutely.

    I didn’t say anything.

    “It is the best thing to happen,” she said.

    Freedom by any means. She meant that, perhaps.

    I don’t know what happens when people overcome fear. Do they win always?

    There are questions you don’t want to answer. And I have learnt not to arrive at conclusions for most things in life.

    I looked at the sea from her small half-broken window. It looked serene but regretful. I wondered, what can be more free and peaceful than the sea?

    Yet people claim ‘their land’ and ‘their sea’.

    It turned dark and cloudy and I left her place with many unanswered questions. I did not bury them, nor did I drained them in the sea.

    I wanted to read her the verse of Agha Shahid Ali:

    “Can you promise me this much tonight,
    When you divide what remains of this night,
    It will be like Prophet once parted the sea.
    But no one must die!”

    But I left silently, leaving the verse suspended.

    I sat on the shore for some time and heard the sea breathing, heavily. The breeze carried a nip of melancholy in the air. And the sea carried the guilt.

    There, at the shore, I offered prayers to the Prophet for the day when the sea will merge all that it carries and reclaim the peace.


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    Since late October, large swathes of Punjab remain engulfed in toxic smog. Air quality indicators show high levels of particulate matter, with breathing conditions in urban areas ranging from highly unhealthy to very hazardous.

    Readings from Lahore taken in the last week of October indicate the level of carbon monoxide at 21.29 milligram per metre (mpm) on Mall Road, 17.52 in Mohlanwal, and 6.94 in Gulberg’s Liberty Market. The maximum permissible limit under World Health Organization guidelines is 5 mpm.

    This year, public outcry over the issue has been far more amplified. Citizens of Lahore are using social media to pressurise provincial and local government bodies.

    Urdu news media is devoting greater attention to the hazard posed by the phenomenon, while there are a number of ongoing independent efforts to crowd source and publicise air quality readings.

    As a whole, there is considerable urgency on part of the affected population as they try to get the government to deal with the issue as a public health emergency.

    Read next: Is Punjab ready to tackle smog this year?

    The government’s response to this pressure will be shaped by both its intention and its capability. On the former, it is reasonable to assume the government will want to address the problem.

    This assumption is based on the fact that smog as a whole impacts a cross-section of the population, including middle- and high-income households. Historically, issues confronting the elite are given greater consideration in public policy decision-making, not just in Punjab, but all over the world.

    In fact, the Punjab government’s existing urban development agenda – ironically enough, a contributor to the ongoing smog epidemic – has long carried an elite bias, whether it’s in road infrastructure development, utilisation of public land, or enacting building regulations.

    It is also true that social campaigns led by elite or middle-income citizens are more likely to garner positive attention from the government.

    The most recent example was the campaign against fee hikes by high-cost private schools, which resulted in swift legislation and repeated assurances by provincial authorities.

    The dengue epidemic from a few years ago was similar, in so far that it impacted both rich and poor households, and was thus tackled comprehensively in the face of heightened public pressure.

    Contrast this with the relative lack of attention devoted to simmering issues, such as low-cost housing, water, sanitation, and public-sector health institutions, which overwhelmingly impact underprivileged households who have neither the tools to organise effectively, nor a truly representative voice in the political process.

    Given that the government will likely want to respond in earnest, its capability dimension becomes much more important. Capability here includes a number of factors, such as ability to diagnose the problem, to mobilise public administration in a way to curtail it in the short run, and to undertake difficult and unpopular decisions to prevent it in the long run.

    Diagnosing the problem requires un-blinkered scientific analysis that can highlight exactly what’s at work here. We need to know, in clear and precise terms, how much of this is because of crop-burning in both Punjabs, sand storms in the Middle East, motor vehicles on our roads, and emissions from factories and even residences.

    If there’s another factor at play here, it needs to be identified and made public. At the very least, this will reduce public confusion, and maybe even encourage conscientious citizens to adopt socially beneficial practices, such as cutting down car and generator usage.

    Related: Lahore smog: It's not a natural phenomenon

    To date, the government’s short-term response has been to impose section 144 on crop-burning, increase vigilance of garbage burning and other harmful urban practices, and issue its official smog control policy.

    These short-term measures are only as useful as the extent to which they’re implemented. That in turn is a question of directing a range of government departments staffed with often less-than-competent bureaucrats.

    Unlike dengue, which included close coordination between the health department and district administration, tackling smog requires mobilising and monitoring officials from a number of historically under-funded institutions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, at different tiers of government.

    Given the generally decrepit condition of public sector governance, short-term measures are likely to experience patchy implementation, and residents of the province will continue to suffer for a few more weeks.

    Lastly, it is apparent from extant analysis that the problem has germinated over years, and will take many more years to resolve. To this end, a long-run agenda for tackling environmental pollution is crucial, and remains the biggest litmus test of the provincial government.

    Also read: Safety guide: How to safeguard your health from smog

    An agenda of this nature would mean fighting off the influences and impulses that have contributed to this epidemic. It involves sustaining attention on an issue that will dissipate after a change in weather, only to return with vengeance next year.

    It involves moving away from profiteering off real-estate development and infrastructure contracting, which have long remained the two guiding lights of municipal governance.

    It means imposing regulations and investing in solutions that limit the kind of growth that has doubled the number of cars per 100 persons in Lahore in less than a decade.

    It also entails stepping on the toes (and lifestyles) of many of those who’re currently vocal about the smog, given how the consumption and investment footprint of elite and middle-class households has contributed to the problem in a considerable way.

    Fighting an environmental catastrophe is not just a test for the PML-N government over these two months, it is a larger test of whether the state is at all capable of diagnosing and tackling a multi-faceted problem on an urgent basis.

    And finally, it is a test of whether their earnest intentions aside, our policymakers and state institutions are capable of instigating a period of difficult course correction in the face of overwhelming evidence.

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    Enter a school in Pakistan and often, you see wall displays communicating messages about good character and values. But when you look at the curriculum of most schools you discover a void: ethics as a subject is missing from classrooms.

    In 2007, an ethics syllabus was introduced in the National Curriculum for non-Muslim students as an alternative to Islamiyat. Ten years later, very few public or private schools actually offer ethics so hardly any Muslim and few non-Muslim students have access to ethics education.

    In fact, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa online school curriculum no longer includes an ethics syllabus, while the Punjab Textbook Board’s curriculum includes ethics as an alternative to Islamiyat for non-Muslim students, an approach that in itself is debatable.

    The slow process of incorporating ethics into schools makes it clear that ethics comes low on our list of educational priorities. A recent article in Dawn referred to the kind of ethical problems that can arise because of the lack of exposure to ethics education in medical colleges.

    This becomes an even more pressing issue in the context of school education where young students are faced with ethical dilemmas not only in the physical world, but with unprecedented problems related to cyberbullying, appropriate boundaries of interaction on social media and the violation of privacy.

    While government curriculums do make (half-hearted) attempts to incorporate ethical values into some subjects, the style is often didactic and the content is limited. A secondary problem is the way in which ethical content is actually taught to students.

    In most Pakistani schools, Islamiyat classes are supposed to deliver lessons that build character and teach ethical values. In actuality, the teaching of religion is fraught with the same kind of pedagogical problems that affect our teaching of other subjects which is based on rote learning and discourages enquiry and critical reflection.

    A pilot study conducted by me in a local school showed that teachers of Islamiyat, with perfectly good intentions, focused more on teaching factual information and religious rituals and paid far less attention to the ethical values that characterise Islam, such as courage, wisdom, temperance, compassion and, above all, justice.

    While this was a limited study, it is likely that the teaching of religion across the country similarly lacks a focus on ethical content.

    Some educators have argued that religion does not have to be part of the discussion on ethics in Pakistan, but I find this viewpoint myopic. Religion is important to most Pakistanis as the medium through which they make sense of life.

    My experiences in teaching ethics to students and working with teachers in Pakistan has shown that religion often enters discussions spontaneously because it is the lens through which children and teachers will often view a problem to understand the right or wrong of it.

    But let me add a caveat here: Religion is important as a source that can lead to the development of a virtuous character. But rationality and moral reasoning are also important to cultivate for thinking about ethical issues.

    Religion teaches us to treat others fairly and to develop virtues like honesty and compassion. Rationality helps us analyse social practices and assess whether they are just and fair.

    Humans have many aspects and a holistic education addresses all of them and what we are talking about here is not separating the two strands of virtue and reasoning but bringing them together to address the whole individual.

    The question then is: How can we bring ethics into schools in ways that encourage children to develop good character while simultaneously learning how to reason about difficult issues?

    In my opinion, an ethics syllabus that is merely theoretical and disconnected from lived realities may not be very effective. In fact, it may give rise to the same phenomenon of rote learning without understanding to get ‘good marks’, something that we witness in other subjects in so many of our schools.

    While learning by rote can admittedly be useful if we are memorising the multiplication tables or a verse from the Quran, ethics is one subject in which there should never be rote learning.

    At a school level, ethics education should incorporate discussion on issues such as bullying, honesty, civic responsibility, environmental degradation, and the dilemmas associated with technological and scientific advancement.

    While examples from the sources of religion and culture can be used to emphasise virtuous conduct, children should simultaneously learn to identify ethical concerns and reflect on them.

    The key here is to let children’s voices be heard freely in non-incriminatory classrooms where they are not punished for their temerity in asking questions or in disagreeing with the teacher’s viewpoint.

    It is only then that students can think critically about social issues and recognise the ethical dilemmas that we encounter in our daily lives: For instance, why it may be better to fail honestly than to cheat to get the grade we want, or why sharing someone’s pictures online to ridicule them can amount to cyberbullying.

    Ethics is so much a part of our lives that it need not necessarily be brought into classrooms through the agency of a special syllabus but can also be incorporated into discussions across the curriculum.

    School environments can foster ethics through teachers who role model ethical behaviour and incorporate ethics and critical thinking into discussions on diverse subjects including religion, science and literature.

    Non-traditional methods can also work such as research on a burning ethical issue followed by script writing and dramatic presentations that highlight the ethical concerns. Building on classroom research and discussions, it may also be beneficial for children to exercise their ethics ‘muscle’ by volunteering for community work.

    In whatever way schools choose to incorporate ethics, ethical discussions will stay with students longer if they are relevant to our own context and connected to the sources that give meaning to their lives.

    Most importantly, children need opportunities for critical thinking and analysis that help them reason about the ethical aspects of our own social and cultural practices.

    Will this solve all our problems and make us all ethical? Sadly, no. However, it will make young people more sensitive to ethical problems in society and more aware of their own responsibility.

    It will also give them tools for looking ‘inside’ to examine their own lives and actions. As Socrates says in Plato’s Apology, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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    Working in Karachi with family back home in the UK, my mind is constantly in two places. I am forever grappling with understanding my hybrid identity of being a British Muslim of Pakistani origin, and of late, I am beginning to think more about where I belong and what connects me to a particular place.

    What I find is that I am forever missing something wherever I am, whether it’s people who are part of my life, the most important thing, or places that I like to visit, food, transport, weather. The list goes on.

    When I am in Birmingham, my hometown, I miss the weather in Karachi and when I’m in Karachi, I miss the milder climate of Britain. I miss Karachi’s vibrancy in Birmingham and when in Karachi, I miss walks in the park in England.

    One thing, however, that I have access to all the time no matter where I am on the globe, is music that I have a connection with. I’ve noticed that over the years whilst I was growing up, the South Asian music which my family used to listen to, in a purer form, comprising South Asian instruments or at least sounds particular to that region, has changed to a more hybrid music which resonates with my identity and fuses Western and Eastern cultures both linguistically and musically.

    Read next:What is gained and what is lost in the mainstreaming of qawwali

    If I reflect upon growing up in the UK, my mother and father instilled Muslim values through our faith and its observances. However, on the broader, cultural South Asian side, the closest we had to our Pakistani roots with regards to entertainment was Bollywood films, their soundtracks and live concerts by Asian artists - which were few and far between.

    In the 80’s, there was also the emergence of early modern bhangra groups such as Alaap, Heera, Malkit Singh, DCS, who made TV appearances and performed concerts. As I was very young at that time, I can’t recall what these songs would have meant to me other than they resonated with the Punjabi we spoke at home.

    Growing up in Birmingham, these bhangra groups were also often to be seen performing at weddings and I remember seeing live performances after food, the most important part of attending Asian weddings for most!

    However, growing up in the 90's was an exciting time. We subscribed to channels such as TV Asia and later Zee TV.

    These brought with them a new dimension to entertainment for South Asian diasporic communities in the UK. I remember a tagline that Amitabh Bachchan used to say in the promotional advertisements for Zee TV:

    “Home away from Home”

    This hinted at the fact that Zee TV was bringing South Asia to those diasporic communities living away from home, and indeed it did. I remember sitting down to watch South Asian films and TV shows for the first time which was a unique experience.

    In terms of music, which was what appealed to me the most, this brought to our screens and lives — and indeed exposed to my generation living in diasporas — a fusion of Eastern and Western music by talented South Asian artists based both in the subcontinent and in diasporas elsewhere.

    So, Pakistani pop and rock music from bands such as Junoon, Vital Signs, Awaaz were loved as much by Pakistani diasporic communities in the UK as they were in Pakistan, with songs such as Sayonee making it to playlists where earlier Pakistani artists were unheard of.

    Take a look:Sound of Lollywood: To Palestine, with love from the great Pakistani star Neelo

    For someone who was raised in the UK, I was suddenly enjoying new genres of music such as Sufi rock! On the Hindi pop scene too, we could enjoy both new and older tracks that were being remixed by new artists such as Shaan and Sonu Nigam along with artists such as Rabbi Shergill and Lucky Ali who gave the music scene a more contemporary feel.

    I remember listening to Rabbi Shergill’s version of Bulleh Shah’s kafi, Bullah ki Janna Main Kaun, and not only being blown away by the poetry of Bulleh Shah but the way the kafi had been produced with a cool video encompassing all strands of society along with Shergill’s vocals and the accompanying music.

    Hence, this fusion music became popular both among youth in the home countries and with youth of my generation growing up in the UK and elsewhere. The trend of fusing Western and Eastern sounds and re-mixing music was something which became very popular and artists continued to do this in the British domain as well, both in the East London Asian electronic scene and the hip-hop bhangra scene.

    The former emerged in East London as youths were mixing South Asian sounds, often sampling lyrics and merging with electronic sounds. Musicians such as Joi, Badmarsh, TJ Rehmi are but a few from that era. Talvin Singh and Nitin Sawhney are also notable Asian electronic artists who found a niche for themselves.

    The music of electronic artists was arguably more vibrant on the London club scene and was inaccessible to some youths such as myself, who being young Muslim girls, were not allowed to go to clubs and only knew about them through the odd interview or video on television and through my older brother who DJ’d as a hobby and dabbled in producing music himself.

    Bhangra artists started being featured on our screens more, with artists and groups such as Johnny Zee now known as Taz, B21, and Punjabi MC amongst many others. From what I can remember, vocals for these groups were still purely Punjabi but the music was arranged around Western sounds.

    Johnny Zee in the earlier days was a South Asian Michael Jackson. Punjabi MC produced a hit song Mundeyan tho Bach ke Rahi, featuring a sample from the soundtrack of the television series, Knight Rider.

    Again, I remember this song being played at weddings and everyone dancing away with the craziest of moves! Another catchy tune belonging to Punjabi MC which was really popular was one featuring a sample from Billie Jean.

    Explore:The lost soul: Qawwali’s journey from ecstasy to entertainment

    It was around this time too that Bally Sagoo, a British Indian, collaborated with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to produce an album Magic Touch (1992), which were essentially qawwalis, the music for which was mixed and produced by Bally Sagoo.

    It was followed by other successful albums and singles, such as Bollywood Flashback (1994), which rejuvenated classic Bollywood soundtracks such as Noorie, the title track to the film of the same name, starring Farooq Sheikh and Poonam Dhillon.

    This fusion was bringing about a more palatable version of older songs for the younger generation too. It was more appealing for youngsters like me who also listened to regular British and American pop culture but who could now relate to South Asia.

    The Punjabi lyrics that resonated with me as the spoken Punjabi was the same as what I had grown up speaking. I almost felt as if this hybrid music was much like me, a fusion of two cultures.

    At around this time we also saw the rise to fame of British Pakistani Muslim artist Aki Nawaz, of Fun-da-mental, who brought to the fore political rap, in a fusion of music genres ranging from hip-hop, techno to world music. This effectively created a space and voice for youths of not just British Muslim origin but other minorities too.

    I remember the single Countryman and how that was an early insight into political rap, rapped in English with a blend of both Asian and Western sounds. Known for sometimes being controversial, Nawaz told me in a recent conversation that what he had said in the past was time sensitive.

    Hence, new identities were appearing through the British South Asian music scene where these youths were finding a voice and representing their communities.

    Moving on to the 2000s, I remember seeing groups evolve, as well as new ones forming. Johnny Zee’s conversion from a solo artist into a group brought about Stereo Nation.

    Dr Zeus was collaborating with many other artists as he continues to do so, including Snoop Dogg, which brings about a direct fusion of Asian and Western mainstream artists.

    The Rishi Rich project, the brainchild of Rishpal Singh Rekhi, a British Asian, launched Jay Sean and Juggy D and what culminated was the track, Dance with you, merging English and Punjabi vocals amongst others.

    It was this period that brought about bilingual lyrics and a combination of singing which was in the South Asian language, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi with English rap interspersed.

    With an increasing number of streaming channels at our fingertips, we are now able to access music from anywhere around the globe and this has really enriched my playlists which are an eclectic mix of a range of musical genres.

    Here, I have jogged down memory lane and focused on British South Asian artists who have appeared primarily on South Asian channels, both in the British context and elsewhere, but there are many others in other diasporic contexts that are creating a space for South Asian voices in both an entertaining socio-cultural way and politically.

    Artists who come to mind are Riz Ahmed, a British Pakistani actor and rapper who raps in a solo capacity as well as part of a rap duo, Swet Shop Boys.

    Also read:From punk to rap: Explore the desi sounds of South Asia

    Imran Khan, a Dutch Pakistani rapper whose Amplifier was very popular continues to rap bilingually. He performed recently at the Birmingham Mela over the Summer where he was one of the most awaited acts highlighting his popularity amongst British South Asians.

    Moving Stateside there are a number of South Asian artists who are producing again bilingual, hybrid music with Punjabi lyrics. Two artists that come to mind amongst a whole host of others are Bohemia and Jasmine Sandlas.

    Ali Qazi, also known as AQ, is an American artist with a Pashtun background who brings to the music scene an interesting mix of Pashtun culture fused with Western beats merging musical genres from electronica to hip hop, R&B to name but a few.

    His track Supplication amongst others that he has produced combines the soulfulness of the rabab with Western beats, carving a space for a new musical genre. AQ also raps in both Pashto and English which highlights yet more cultural diversity and an insight into more identities amongst South Asian diasporic artists.

    In the context of the music scene, South Asian diasporic communities seem to have come a long way from being represented in their traditional cultural ways. This is thanks to those who are bringing a voice in popular culture through their music.

    A spectrum of cultures are highlighted in a range of languages, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto and fusion music using an array of musical instruments. This in itself brings forward greater insights into the wide spectrum of diasporic identities and their contributions, be it British Pakistani, British Muslim, British Indian, American Indian, American Pakistani or American Pashtun.

    We’re lucky to be witnessing such superdiversity on the music scene from talented artists emanating from these diasporic communities and can only expect more exciting fusion music in the future.

    Are you a Pakistani who grew up in the diaspora? Share your experiences with us at

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    In the mini blue booklet distributed to visitors as a guide to the first-ever Karachi Biennale (KB17), the chief curator Amin Gulgee quotes the mystic poet Kahlil Gibran:

    “Now, I feel, is the time for us to join together as artists and as human beings to bear witness to our shared salt.”

    We think it is time to remind ourselves that there is no shared salt here.

    It was the Sindhi feminist poet, Attiya Dawood, who first convinced us of the fallacy of shared salts. We were talking poetry at her sunny apartment on a Sunday morning, and we remember being ecstatic at the prospect of venturing into Bhittai, hailing it as a universal text.

    At this point, Dawood smiled coyly and shared a small anecdote: She was once interviewing a group of Sindhi women in the interiors of the province whose husbands had migrated to Gulf countries in search for jobs.

    Eulogising their suffering, Dawood told them: “Seeing you here, I am reminded of poem by the Shah of Bhittai, a poem that mourns the lives of Sindhi women on the banks of the river Sindhu, who, separated from their lovers, are heartbroken.”

    At this, the Sindhi women burst into giggles, and asked: “Kaunsi poetry? Kaunsa love? Hamare shohar bohat badmaash the. Pura din ghar ka kaam karvate the. Acha hua chale gaye.”

    (What poetry? What love? Our husbands were quite notorious. Making us do housework all the time. Thank goodness they’ve left!)

    Dawood burst into laughter as she finished her anecdote, but that day, we learnt a vital lesson about the fallacy of the universal and the importance of the particular.

    Explore: Dialogue: Laurent Gayer and Omar Shahid Hamid on Karachi

    Driving to the 160-year-old building on the M.A Jinnah Road that houses the NJV School, we, too, are moved to ask: “Kaunsi madness?” (What madness?)

    We, of course, are not responding to any poem, but words from the chief curator’s statement, the contents of which are aimed at poeticising something that is hardly poetic: The disorder of Karachi.

    “Of course, the city is by the sea,” Gulgee tells us in a KB17 promotional video. “And of course, you can go there, look at the waves and feel open and clean and fly like a seagull."

    "You have the energy of the city, the city buses, the rickshaws, taxis, it’s polluted, it’s crowded, and it has this tremendous energy… I call this maddening, inspiring city home.”

    The taxi driver taking us to the NJV does not think there is anything inspiring about the traffic or the fumes. For him, on the contrary, Saddar represents a site of claustrophobia and frustration.

    Upon reaching the NJV, when we ask him if he knows what is happening inside the building, the opening of Pakistan’s largest contemporary art event that is “an occasion to participate in an aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional survey of the city,” his response is a mix of indifference and dismissiveness: “yar kitna traffic hai.” (God damn this traffic!)

    He reminds us of the laughing women from Dawood’s story, who have already made clear to us the difference between the imagined and the lived: The disorder of the city that is mad and inspiring for some is conversely nerve-wracking for others.

    At the KB17, the two-week long, public exhibit spanning 12 venues, the politics of conflating the city as a site of lived space with the city as an imagined space – a concept of spatial politics on par with Benedict Anderson’s notion of imagined communities – was quite apparent.

    The city imagined by the KB17 was a far cry from the city as it is experienced by those who bear the brunt of its material degradation.

    Imagined geographies, to borrow Edward Said’s term, refer to the perception of space created through certain images, texts, or discourses – and in our case, the exhibit of the KB17 itself – that is radically different, and in fact, establishes a distance, from the lived nature of the spaces in question.

    Yet Said has the French geographer Henri Lefebvre to thank for this very critical distinction between the city as imagined and the city as lived; Lefebvre, who had aimed to liberate space from both its status as a pre-existing given and its passive role as a mere backdrop for social activities.

    Who can forget his polemic statement that “Space has now become a theatre [emphasis added], a stage or a setting of action, than action itself.”

    As we walk into the NJV, the voice of the exasperated taxi driver fading into the background… yar kitna traffic hai… we realise that we, too, have entered a theatre that holds little semblance with the world right outside the NJV’s gates. Welcome to the Karachi Biennale 2017.

    We are greeted by two security guards with metal detectors, who ask us if we have invitations to the private opening ceremony – an affair kept entirely separate from the ‘public’ for whom the exhibits open on Day 2 – a contradiction in itself.

    Discover: Operation overkill: How not to improve law and order in Karachi

    After being cleared, we proceed to the reception area where a couple of volunteers are handing out the Biennale booklets, the first few pages of which lay out the project’s philosophy, describing it as a strategy to “strengthen a global art exchange” by proposing that “a bruised city like Karachi enter into an international discussion on art.”

    That this is a statement so symptomatic of what Federica and Vittoria Martini, in their book Just Another Exhibition: Histories and Politics of Biennials, call “the globalisation of the art system”, is hardly contentious.

    The KB17 curatorial team has no qualms about confessing this themselves, when they say that they “are part of the global network of the International Biennale Foundation [previously named the Venice Biennale] and have a strong partnership with cultural institutions abroad.”

    To understand the socio-economic ramifications of the ways in which the KB17 posits an imagined geography of the city to embody a global aesthetic, we must first trace the spatial politics of its source inspiration – the archetype of the Biennale itself – which will allow us to understand the pitfalls of globalising cities, common to this popular exhibition model.


    While first popularised in 1895 by the Venice Biennale, cultural theorists Peter Sloterdijk, Marion Roces, and Donal Preziosi, amidst others, trace the genealogy of this exhibitionary model in those notorious world exhibitions which began with the Grand Exhibition of 1851 in London and were epitomised by the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris.

    These exhibitions, according to theorists, were “the first human attempts to condense the representation of the world in a unitary exhibition space, where the main exhibit became the world itself, a museum – an ahistorical thing [emphasis added].”

    In his seminal 1989 essay Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Order, British political theorist Timothy Mitchell brilliantly documents the curatorial strategies used during the world exhibitions. A world exhibition, he tells us, spanned across the public spaces of the city hosting it.

    Each site chosen for the exhibition would house large-scale structures that served as replicas of cities from around the world, so that for the person navigating through the city, “the world itself was ordered up as an endless exhibition,” or to echo a phrase from Martin Heidegger, the “age of the world as exhibition.”

    Mimicry, spectacle, and performance were incorporated into the exhibition’s 'theatrical machinery' to accentuate what Mitchell calls 'the effect of the real.'

    Such was the obsession with maintaining this effect, according to one Arab writer visiting the exhibition, that “even the paint on the replica building was made dirty to represent ancient Cairo.”

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    Parisian visitors who had never been to Cairo themselves were convinced in the honesty of these reductive representations.

    Things only went bizarre when a group of Egyptians entered the replica of a mosque, only to find themselves in an Oriental-themed cafe that served real coffee.

    Disoriented, resentful and angry, they brought the ‘effect of the real’ into serious question: Had their lived experiences been reduced to mere objects?

    Where exactly lay the fine line between the artificial and the real, the representation and reality?

    The organisers maintained their cool, asserting that turning the world into an exhibition only functioned as a larger metaphor: Of the globalisation of cities.

    Or to use the rather ritualistic expression, “the meeting of cultures” and “breaking down of cultural barriers” – in this case quite literally, within the space of the world exhibition itself.

    38 years earlier, the curatorial team at the Grand Exhibition of 1851 in London had responded with the same rhetoric to similar objections raised in Paris.

    Of all people, Karl Marx happened to be in the British capital at the time. Persuaded by Engels to visit the Exhibition’s opening, they had flocked together to the grounds of Hyde Park where the world exhibition was taking place.

    Furious at what they saw, they wrote a scathing critique in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung Revue shortly afterwards, describing the “spectacle” as “the most impressive cold-bloodedness” they had ever witnessed.

    They referred to it “as a striking proof of the concentrated power with which modern large-scale industry is everywhere demolishing national barriers and increasingly blurring local peculiarities [emphasis added] of production and society…”

    This politics of globalising cities at the world exhibitions has now largely been documented by historians and urban theorists alike, finding its way to Pakistani artists too, one of whom, Julius John Alam, writes:

    “The oldest arts festivals, including The Great Exhibition (1851) can be seen as the first attempt by a world power to affirm its spectacular wealth and high taste."

    "The world fairs held in the 19th century provided a prototype for the modern art fair. While the overt desire was to provide a venue for a proliferation of arts and crafts, a covert goal was the affirmation of the hosting country as the hub of power and culture."

    "This is the common agenda of capitalism and consumer culture, that is to dissipate itself through spectacle.”


    One is then led to ask: Whether their illusion was broken or not? The answer lies in the experiences of those Europeans who left the exhibition and encountered the real beyond the exhibit.

    “So here we are in Egypt,” wrote one of them, a certain Gustave Flaubert, in a letter from Cairo.

    “What can I say about it all? What can I write you? As yet I am scarcely over the initial bedazzlement … each detail pinches you; and the more you concentrate on it the less you grasp the whole…. it is such a bewildering chaos…”

    In this encounter with the real that Mitchell brings up too, Flaubert experiences Cairo as a material chaos. And what can he say about this material experience? That “it is a chaos that refuses to compose itself as a picture… it is an absence of pictorial order [emphases added].”

    Subsequently, dissociating oneself from the city’s material reality is also expressed in pictorial terms.

    “The more distance you assume, [the city] becomes harmonious and the pieces fall into place of themselves, in accordance with the laws of perspective,” writes Flaubert. “The world arranges itself into a picture and achieves a visual order.”

    “Every year that passes,” one disappointed Egyptian wrote criticising Flaubert, “you see thousands of Europeans traveling all over the world, and everything they come across they make a picture of that tells nothing about our lives. [emphases added]”

    Flaubert’s account exposes the contradictions of world exhibitions, or their modern-day successors, the art biennales of the world.

    Curators reorder the real as a picture, a spectacle, a theatre, a museum, a mimicry, a performance. In doing so, a great deal of distance is established (“the more distance you assume”) from the materiality of the lived space.

    In establishing distance from that materiality, art biennales’ claim that they “are here to represent cities” and “to witness what the city stands for” simply drops dead.

    As we climb the stairs to the NJV, Mitchell’s words hit us too, “As visitors to the world exhibit, you imagine yourself caught up in a hall of mirrors from which you cannot find a way out."

    "You cannot find the door that leads back to the real world outside; you have lost touch with reality. [emphasis added]”

    We enter the NJV, establishing distance. The regurgitating sound of the traffic outside drops dead.


    If imposing an exhibitionary order onto lived spaces had such serious social and political ramifications at the world exhibitions in the 19th Century, it is unfortunate to hear Nilofur Farrukh, the CEO of the KB17, describe her project precisely along these lines:

    “I’m looking at it [the city] as a museum.” It is equally unfortunate to hear Asma Ibrahim, a Trustee of the KB17, describe the event as “a museum outside of the building.”

    Reducing lived realities of a city space to a museum can only offer us a myopic understanding of the nature of city spaces.

    Biennials, or city-as-exhibits, participate in the construction of this myopia, where audiences, following the romantic attitudes of Phileas Fogg, the fictional character invented by Jules Verne, navigate the city in an “ambition to represent the complexity of the world in a compressed journey.”

    To evoke the words of the father of modern anthropology Claude Lévi-Strauss, compressed journeys “do not involve, as we like to believe, in discovering facts after long and thorough study, but in covering a considerable number of kilometres, while collecting fixed and animated images.”

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    It is important, then, to ask ourselves: Underneath this ambitious palimpsest of animated images, what are the plain facts about Karachi in general and Saddar in particular?

    From Arif Hasan to Perween Rahman to Noman Ahmed to Nausheen Anwar, responsible and engaged intellectuals and citizens alike have written about the problems that have plagued Karachi.

    According to the report The Rise of Karachi as a Mega City, give us frightening statistics of urban poverty: 50% of the total population in Karachi is living below the poverty line, a large ratio of which occupies the peripheries of katchi abadis. Out of this ratio, 54% are chronically poor.

    Karachi struggles to cater to rising urban demands and finds itself in the face of a staggering 90,000 unmet units of housing this year.

    The traffic fumes in the city, especially on M.A Jinnah road right outside the NJV building, are good enough to choke you.

    The National Environmental Quality Control estimates that 86% of the city air pollution is high sulphur in disguise, emitted from fuel-inefficient motor vehicles such as the W11 buses and the rickety rickshaws that symbolise “a tremendous energy” for the chief curator of the Karachi Biennale.

    The city generates an unbelievable 475 million gallons of sewage per day. Open sewers and overflowing manholes abound throughout the city, carrying an artery of untreated waste that is discharged into nallas winding their way into an Arabian Sea that the chief curator of the Karachi Biennale finds “open and clean.”

    Saddar itself is emblematic of Karachi’s historical material problems and their transformations.

    Part of British modernisation that divided the city into Old Town and New Town, Saddar was part of the latter, along with Civil Lines and the Cantonnement – centres of social and political power where the British (and some indigenous elites) resided in luxury.

    Separated they were from the Old Town where the natives lived in a “maze of densely populated mohallas roughly organised in ethnic and religious lines, without any access to water, electricity and sewage lines,” according to researcher Laurent Gayer in his impeccable book, Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City.

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    The spatial segregation along class lines continued after the creation of Pakistan, when the “wealthier muhajirin, including public servants, were allocated prime housing in downtown localities around Saddar,” notes Gayer.

    “Karachi’s turbulent plebs,” on the other hand, were settled on the outskirts in Baldia, Malir, and Korangi during Ayub Khan’s regime.

    Some were “forcibly settled” in New Karachi under Ayub’s Greater Karachi Resettlement Plan – a “disciplinary project which aimed to sanitise and secure the city centre [emphasis added] by sending away the poorer, working-class segments of the refugee population to the periphery of the city,” writes Gayer.

    This class-based urban engineering of the city resulted in consequences that Karachi still lives with, one of which is most apparent on the M.A Jinnah Road.

    As all other major arteries, it became a “transit channel” for the working classes to move between the city centre and their residences, leading to “clogging and environmental degradation” of Saddar, destroying any potential it had to be a “socially integrative” place.

    It is here, in Saddar, on the M.A Jinnah Road, that the KB17 purports to “disrupt the limits of our spatial imagination… [and be] an occasion to revisit our histories, rethink our present, and reimagine our future with greater optimism.”

    The irony lies in undertaking a project whose curatorial paradigm reproduces precisely what it claims to disrupt: A distance from the material realities of the space it has entered.


    The politics of establishing distance from the material realities of Saddar, and thus de-limit, rather than disrupt, our spatial imagination of it, manifested itself in many ways at the KB17.

    Simply placing artwork in a public space does not make it public art, especially if distance is at work.

    In her monumental book Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, Rosalyn Deutsche formulates a clear-cut working definition of what public art means – and one that is as inclusionary as it gets.

    “The most radical promise embodied in the public art”, writes Deutsche, “is to decrease this distance by “dislodging public art from its ghettoisation within the parameters of conventional art discourse, and resituate it, at least partially, within critical urban discourse.”

    Borrowing from Eric Gibson’s Public Art and the Public Realm, Deutsche establishes the "criterion" for public art: “What distinguishes public art in the eyes of its proponents, and, further, what renders it more socially accountable than the old, is precisely its 'usefulness.'"

    "Definitions [of usefulness] will differ from artist to artist, but they are held together by a single thread: it is art plus function [emphasis original], whether the function is to provide a place to sit for lunch, to provide water drainage, or to enhance and direct a viewer's perceptions.”

    "Utility", to quote Gibson himself, “is the principal yardstick for measuring the value of public art.”

    Public art, as such, has a functional basis and involves a dedication to extra-aesthetic concerns of the community it is claiming to represent.

    Radical public art, then, is promoted as useful in the reductive sense of fulfilling essential human and social needs.

    Building on this foundation, radical public art claims to unify successively a whole sequence of divided spheres, offering itself in the end as a model of integration.

    Initially setting up a polarisation between the concerns of art and those of utility, it then transcends the division by making works that are both artworks and usable objects at the same time.

    Further, it claims to reconcile art, through its usefulness, to the public.

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    If the supreme act of unification with which the intelligent public art is credited is its interdisciplinary cooperation with the public and their lived realities, the KB17 seems to have disappointed.

    Nowhere is their promise of “cross-disciplinary approach that reflects collaboration among communities” and “discursive interventions that aim to cross pollinate idea across contexts" realised.

    These exhibits of the KB17 belie the impression of bringing “art out of the galleries and to the public,” but their imagination of what constitutes public, to use the Lefebvrian analysis, is limited to seeing “space as a mere backdrop for social activities…”

    It is not a coincidence to discover the word backdrop in the official statement of the international partner of the KB17, The International Biennale Foundation (formerly known as the Venice Biennale):

    “The goal of Karachi Biennale is to bring visual art into public spaces to invite, encourage, and sometimes impose [emphasis added] public engagement on the viewing audience."

    "Using the metropolis of the host city as a backdrop [emphasis added], the Karachi Biennale 2017 will present artistic content that addresses topics and initiates discussion under a conceptual framework titled Witness."

    "Projects will be created that interact with the viewing public to create a platform that is democratic and accessible.”

    The word backdrop exposes KB17’s theatrical connotations, implying distance from the lived, reminiscent of a canvas on which paint applied, or a Cartesian grid on which everything is an empty, white space waiting to be conquered.

    As such,space is rendered as passive and the artist/geographer an active agent of negotiation. Space and the public living in it are already reduced to non-agents.

    But perhaps comparing the city to a canvas might be overlooked, given the KB17’s lack of cross-disciplinary ethic. More appalling is the use of the word impose in the same paragraph as the word democratic, a coupling rather unfortunately to come across.

    As the organisers of the world exhibitions asserted that imploding the cities of the world into an exhibition only functioned as a metaphor of “the meeting of cultures”, now the KB17 curatorial team insists on “strengthening a global art exchange showcasing Pakistan to the world.”

    On the same topic: Cities, climate change and Pakistan’s extended urbanisation

    Mimicry, spectacle, and performance are now part and parcel of the KB17’s 'theatrical machinery,' as they once were of the world exhibition, and they manifest both, in the KB17’s overall philosophy, but also in its curatorial strategy that manifests in individual exhibits that are the positioned in the city space.

    In their books, The Society of the Spectacle and The Revolution of Everyday Life, Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem warn us against the cultures of mimicry, spectacle, and performance marketed as “public representations.”

    At the heart of their discourse is the idea that spectacles degrade human life, because those creating are detached from those experiencing it, and whether to create poetry out of someone’s dispossession is to degrade their struggles.

    As such, with the degradation of human struggle, also comes the hindering of critical thought.

    “The whole life of societies,” writes Debord, “presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles [emphasis original]. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation."

    "The phenomena of maintain distance is part and parcel of a global social praxis that has split up into reality on the one hand and image on the other.”

    At the KB17, this splitting is exercised at many exhibits.

    Let us take, for example, Huma Mulji’s installation, titled An Ode to a Lamppost That Got Accidentally Destroyed in the enthusiastic Widening of Canal Bank Road, which she had drilled into the walls of the Pioneer Book House, engendering the historical bookshop in the process.

    Mulji writes of her site-specific work for KB17: “The installation shifts from buoyant absurdity to a paradoxical and monumental decline… The site of Pioneer Book House, equally worn, gives sanctuary but also illuminates the enormity of the moment, the slow passing of time. The site and the installation within collaborate…”

    Of what Mulji promises in technical terms, she, in fact, delivers: As we walk into the Pioneer Book House, we do not even notice the exhibit until we are on the second floor, to behold the distressed face of Maniza Naqvi, who describes herself as the “voluntary caretaker” of the book house.

    It is only until Naqvi points it out, jammed between the floors, that we can discern it, that we are almost forced to negotiate its visibility from the materiality of the space it inhabits.

    Looking at the exhibit, we are immediately reminded of a quote by Samuel Beckett that he reserved for the works of James Joyce: “It not about something; it is the thing itself.”

    Such is the obsession with maintaining the ‘effect of the real’ that, as the owner of the book house Zafar Hussain bitterly reveals:

    "When the artist was leaving, she asked me to spit my paan onto the installation. When I refused, she asked if I could get someone to do it, to make it look like it fit in."

    It reminded us of the perplexed Arab writer’s account of the world exhibition, that “even the paint on the replica building was made dirty to represent the real Cairo.”

    Consider the performance piece, Any Last Words by Kanwal Tariq, who had a few human beings stuffed into sacks to mimic the movements of those who are kidnapped in the infamous band boris of Karachi.

    The sacks were placed in between the feet of visitors. We, for one, accidentally walked over a sack, mistaking it for an object, until it resumed its movement, making contorted sounds, to show us that it was alive.

    During the opening of the show, people took to the social media to document the performance. Videos showed up on people’s instagram, with hashtags like #ExperienceTheBody #ContemporaryMovement, one going to the extent of using the hashtag #UrbanRomance.

    Later onwards, the editor of ArtNow Pakistan described the performance as “a notable performance” that “brought a certain richness and excitement” to her.

    Another depressing example is Hurmat ul Ain and Rabbya Naseer’s tragedy of epic proportions, Dropping Tears Together II. In what was dubbed as performance art around the theme of tears, the two artists came together to chop a dozen kilos of onion.

    The sweeper woman we spoke to later, who had to clean the onion peels in the aftermath of the KB17, did not witness any poetry in this installation.

    She only stood at a distance, obscured by the weight of the urban visitors and foreigners, the chopping of the dozen of onions only symbolising one thing to her: Waste and humiliation.

    The number of activists that the country has known, for whom the memory of suffocation in a sack lives with them every day, to watch a crowd of consumers ‘witness’ their memory by hash-tagging it #UrbanRomance is a very unfortunate affair.

    To stereotype and dehumanise Zafar Hussain’s paan-eating habit and turn it into an aesthetic of the working-class as an object of art is questionable behaviour by every standards.

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    “The spectacle”, Debord tells us, “asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere representation."

    "Any critique capable of apprehending the spectacle's essential character must expose that representation is a visible negation of life — and as a negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself. [emphasis original]”

    “The actor supposed to play a condemned man in a realist play is at perfect liberty to remain himself,” continues Vaneigem.

    “Herein lies, in fact, the paradox. This freedom that he enjoys is contingent upon the fact that this "condemned man" is in no danger of feeling a real hangman's noose about his neck."

    "The roles we play in everyday life, on the other hand, soak into the individual, preventing him from being what he really is and what he really wants to be."

    "They are nuclei of alienation embedded in the flesh of direct experience”

    If such alienating experiences are created by local artists, who embody considerable detachment from the materiality of the spaces of the exhibits, we need not imagine the alienation carried out by the foreign artists, 40 of them, who have all flown into the city to engage with the public.

    Yet, they have brought art “geared toward showcasing New Media, [and] video installation” that relies heavily on technology, intertextuality, and transnational cultural contexts.

    This creates a knowledge gap, which according to the journalist Hamna Zubair, has furthered alienated “a public that still conceives of ‘art’ being a product of traditional forms of expression — portraiture, painting and calligraphy, for example."

    According to a poll by Dawn, international exhibits have created “an attitude of apprehension” amidst the local public, many of them “admitting that they ‘didn’t understand’ the art” and even “lack the words to explain why.”

    These semantic contexts remained unbridged throughout the KB17; and on the contrary, the curators let them exist in this schizophrenic way, without a single inquiry into the desires of the public.

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    We still navigate through the exhibits, hoping to find something that would make KB17 worthwhile endorsing. But we are proven wrong – all optimism is thwarted when we chance upon the fact that KB17 has announced a tour of Karachi for the international artists through the Super Savari Express.

    In a very problematic feature article written for The Guardian in 2015, journalist Maryam Omidi described this bus service as “an armed tour bus for crime-ridden Karachi.”

    The bus comes “secured by six armed guards close by at all times, serving to protect the tourists from the city’s day to day reality.”

    One passenger finds the merits of travelling on this bus in the following:

    “You have the opportunity to explore the city in a typical Pakistani bus [that are otherwise] fast, with passengers jumping onto the bus; others sitting on the roof if there is no room inside.”

    The Super Savari markets itself as a local tour bus promising a local experience of the city while conveniently also facilitating a complete disengagement from the material conflicts of the everyday commuter of the “typical Pakistani bus” that it is modelled after: The W11.

    A fuel-inefficient motor, the W11 is no great romance: It contributes to pollution, it is here that working-class women are harassed, and owing to a history of urban rupture, inefficiency and failure, it is part of the city’s transport system now on the verge of collapse.

    At Rs2,000 per ticket, against the staggering Rs10 which its local counterpart affords, the Super Savari attracts only the wealthy clientele of posh areas, offering them mediated experiences of the city that cannot be classified as the experiences of the public by any standards.

    While the Super Savari tour was open to everyone at the KB17 , international artists were given complimentary trips, while locals were asked to pay the regular fee to avail the same tour.

    If the desires of the international artists are really about connecting with the city and its people, why did the KB17 not take them on a local W11 bus?

    Here, the KB17’s own contradictions are exposed: They subconsciously devise a separation of the public and the international visitors.

    White People want to explore the buildings of Saddar, without having to deal with the locals of Saddar, who are stereotyped into disparate categories because of their class.

    Only a panoptic ‘tourist gaze’ is maintained, whereby native bodies and native settlements are reduced to static objects, only to be observed at a distance.

    “By absorbing dominant ideology about the city,” writes Deutsche, “Proponents of the public art respond to urban questions by constructing images of well-managed and beautiful cities for a global audience. Theirs is a false vision.”

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    Arif Hasan, the authority on urban planning in Karachi, traces this dominant ideology to the “the World Class city agenda” which comprises of four key desires:

    The World Class city should have iconic architecture; it should be branded for a particular cultural, industrial or other produce or happening; and it should cater to international tourism, which has promoted massive gentrification of public space.”

    For Hasan, the above agenda is already in operation, fueling projects spanning from social to cultural to political ones through which global social, economic, and cultural capital (often a combination of these) flows into the city space, at the cost of local modes of life and culture being sidelined.

    “Insofar as it discerns a real problem”, writes Deutsche, “the loss of people's attachment to the city – global capital, whether cultural or social, reacts by offering solutions that can only perpetuate alienation: a belief that needs and pleasures can be gratified by expertly produced, "world class" environments: by turning the city itself into a global urban utopia.”


    “Why should Karachi be Dubai?” asked the late Perween Rahman. “Karachi should be Karachi.”

    When looking at what will make Karachi a Karachi for its citizens, how the citizens will reclaim the right to their city, the Karachi Biennale Foundation, as a public art project that purports to “bring art to the public,” needs to ask itself a very pressing question:

    When public art itself takes on an insular character and seems more and more divorced from the quotidian issues of the denizens of its city, does Karachi even need an internationally-inspired biennale that fails to create art that can call itself public?

    If the aim of the next KB is to consider the issue of public space at all, to forge a lasting discourse on public art, they will have to bring what Gayatri Spivak calls “a shift in their own desires,” towards the local, and acknowledge that first, space is political, and second, so is any intervention in that space.

    The purpose of this critical appraisal is solely to suggest an alternative, possibly transformative, practice of public art that understands the political nature of space. This is the struggle for responsible curation.

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    I was 17-years-old when my father was killed. The boy who was arrested for his murder was the same age as me. He went to jail and was sentenced to death.

    It was easy to be angry. It was easier still to hate him. After all, Muhammad Iqbal had no reason to do what he did to my family. But it happened anyway and we were powerless to stop it.

    Suddenly, our household was in trouble. My father was our only source of income who had always taken care of everything, and with his death everyone turned to me – his eldest.

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    I had to find the means to support my four siblings and mother. Anger, sorrow and vengeance had to be put aside. There was no time for it. And with hard work, I realised, there was no use for it either.

    I used to console my mother, and tell her that God was with us. That He would protect us. And He did.

    With time, honesty, and hard work we were able to bring our lives back on track. We now have a small dairy business and I run a general store.

    Things have been better. I now have school-going children of my own.

    But Iqbal’s future may as well not exist.

    Iqbal went to jail and has been there since 1999. He has spent more time in his life inside prison than outside it. He has, quite literally, grown up on death row.

    Iqbal’s brother, Abbas, found his way to me a few years ago. He was a man weighed down – bent over by the terrible weight of knowing the magnitude of his request, almost broken by the knowledge of what his younger brother was going through.

    At first, I was livid and turned him away.

    But he came, again and again. He begged us again and again. People will do everything they can to save a loved one. And killing his brother will not bring back my father.

    Stats by: Justice Project Pakistan
    Stats by: Justice Project Pakistan

    For all intents and purposes, and as far as my family is concerned, we believe Iqbal has been punished for what he did. He has learnt his lesson. And we forgive him, everyone including my mother. If not for his sake, then for the sake of his family that has already suffered enough.

    But our wish to not see him hang may ultimately mean nothing. Iqbal was convicted by an Anti-Terrorism Court, which does not allow his sentence to be commuted.

    We appealed to the Supreme Court on his behalf but this was denied. There is no room for forgiveness in the Anti-Terrorism Act, even if there is in our hearts.

    Take a look:A flawed anti-terrorism law

    I used to tell my siblings that my father’s death was in God’s plans. My father was sitting at the back of the van, and there were other people who were in the van right next to him.

    The bullet that ricocheted off of the steering wheel could have hit any of them. But it did not. A small, unthinking decision about where to sit in the car decided my father’s fate.

    Hanging Iqbal is detrimental for society. He was a boy, and he made a mistake and we are always more than the worst thing we have done.

    Whether it was for our own peace, or to bring some to Iqbal’s family – we forgive him. God tells us to forgive our enemies, and that is what we’ve done.

    We cannot force the government to save him from the gallows. It is their prerogative.

    But if they are going to hang him for us, we say don't hang him. He can salvage what remains of his life, and move on so that we can all be relieved of that terrible night.

    Muhammad Iqbal deserves to live.

    This entire episode has already punished enough children.

    Waheed Ahmed narrated this story to Rimmel Mohydin, who put it in form of an article.

    Justice Project Pakistan has released a report that underscores the need for reform in the country’s primary counterterrorism legislation, particularly with regard to the lack of safeguards for juvenile offenders like Iqbal.

    0 0

    I have visited many poverty-stricken, underserved areas of the world on medical missions. However, my most recent trip to the Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, marked the first time that I have ever cried during fieldwork.

    Stories of suffering usually affect me after the adrenaline has worn off and the fatigue has set in – most often on my long plane ride back home or during jet-lagged nights as I lie awake, remembering the patients I have left behind.

    Children play by the water pump at the base of the refugee camp. -All photos by author unless stated otherwise
    Children play by the water pump at the base of the refugee camp. -All photos by author unless stated otherwise

    This time, however, things were different and the emotional toll my work at the Rohingya camp took on me was greater than ever before.

    I had come to Bangladesh as part of the MedGlobal assessment team — a group of doctors, nurses and public health professionals tasked by the NGO with the huge responsibility of determining the needs of the population and initiating a primary health care clinic in the middle of the camp.

    One of the pathways leading to the crowded tents of the camp.
    One of the pathways leading to the crowded tents of the camp.

    One day in the camp, after listening to an elderly lady's breathing to diagnose pneumonia, I went to find water so that she could take her first dose of antibiotics. Upon my return, I found tears in the eyes of my Bengali/Urdu-speaking male interpreter.

    After many childhood summers in Karachi, I knew well enough that for a man to show his vulnerability like this in a public place, especially around relative strangers, is not typical in this part of the world. So something must have been very disturbing.

    The campsite overlooking the roofs of the tents.
    The campsite overlooking the roofs of the tents.

    When I asked him what happened, he just shook his head and told me that our patient was describing how she and her frail husband had witnessed their three adult sons being killed by the Myanmar army. They also saw one of their young grandchildren being thrown into a fire.

    Despite the unimaginable horrors they had experienced, somehow, the couple managed to travel for days to reach Bangladesh with their granddaughter. The young girl had accompanied her grandmother to the clinic and could not have been older than eight or nine.

    MedGlobal Needs Assessment Team along with local staff in the clinic.
    MedGlobal Needs Assessment Team along with local staff in the clinic.

    The child would get daily rations of food and water for her elderly grandparents. Seeing how this little one was bravely shouldering the responsibility for the care of her aging grandparents not only brought tears to my eyes, but also made me worry about her future. What would happen to her after they are gone?

    Maybe she would become like the three children we met as we explored the makeshift refugee camps in the Kutupalong and Balukhali areas of Ukhiya. The site consisted of about 800,000 people and was comprised of tents made from flimsy tarps and bamboo poles pitched on dirt ground, which turned into slippery mud during the monsoon rains.

    The MedGlobal/Hope Foundation Clinic
    The MedGlobal/Hope Foundation Clinic

    These children were brought across the border because their parents were killed in Myanmar. They are being raised by distant relatives.

    Their story was told to us by a man who spoke both Rohingya and Bengali. He was standing outside of his small tent, in which he lived with his four children, wife and two other family members.

    These children just crossed the Naf River to Bangladesh a few hours prior to this picture being taken. Myanmar can be seen in the background.
    These children just crossed the Naf River to Bangladesh a few hours prior to this picture being taken. Myanmar can be seen in the background.

    As he stood outside his makeshift home, he told us another story of the lady in the neighbouring tent, who walked nine days over mountains, at eight months pregnant, with her three other children, to reach safety. Her husband was back in Myanmar, and she was unsure of his fate.

    Editorial:Rape in Myanmar

    So many women had made this difficult journey by foot or boat while pregnant. These women brought their tiny babies to the clinic to be checked by a doctor; tiny likely due to premature births and lack of hydration/nutrition of the mother, which leads to decreased breast milk production.

    Refugees carrying bags of food and supplies in the monsoon floods. Photocredit: Maren Wolf
    Refugees carrying bags of food and supplies in the monsoon floods. Photocredit: Maren Wolf

    One baby sticks out in my memory. She was extremely small and had a sickly appearance. I took her temperature and found out she was flush with fever.

    Normally, a baby in her condition would be rushed to the emergency room for blood work, a lumbar puncture, and IV antibiotics. As I tried to keep calm and decide what to do, I asked the interpreter to ask the mother how old the baby was. He replied, “Twenty something days.”

    I asked again, saying that I needed a more precise answer. The mother replied and again my interpreter shook his head in sadness: “She says that the baby was born on her journey here, which she had made on foot. She walked for so long that the days and nights blended together, so she does not know how old the baby is.”

    Dr. Minal Ahson examining a very small newborn.
    Dr. Minal Ahson examining a very small newborn.

    In the doctor’s room next door, my colleague was dealing with a similar situation – a malnourished, tiny baby with a fever.

    After writing our assessments and findings on a referral form, we spoke to the local staff and arranged a tom tom (rickshaw) to take both babies to the nearest hospital. We returned to the queues of patients waiting for us, busy again with physical exams and dispersing medications.

    A few hours later, I asked the clinic manager if the babies reached the hospital safely. He stated, “One of them did. The other one went home with the mother. She said she needed to ask her husband permission to take the baby to the hospital.”

    A mother holds her sick child at the clinic. Photocredit: Farida Ahmad
    A mother holds her sick child at the clinic. Photocredit: Farida Ahmad

    My heart stopped. Did the mother not realise how sick the baby was? That the baby could die? Why did the staff let that happen?

    I had a long discussion with the clinic manager about the seriousness of the situation. I asked him to inform us the next time this happens so that we can educate not only the mother, but also the father. This particular scenario really opened my eyes to navigating cultural boundaries and norms.

    MedGlobal Needs Assessment Team exploring the camp. Photocredit: Farida Ahmad
    MedGlobal Needs Assessment Team exploring the camp. Photocredit: Farida Ahmad

    Many of these patients had never seen a doctor before due to their socioeconomic status in Myanmar. Most of them had acute complaints – respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, dehydration.

    There were descriptions by many women of post-traumatic stress disorder, with symptoms of insomnia due to anxiety and flashbacks. But occasionally, I found a case that made me wonder if we were even equipped to provide appropriate treatment in such a resource-limited setting:

    The eight-year-old with huge lymph nodes sticking out of his neck, pointing to systemic tuberculosis or cancer; the man with one-sided weakness likely due to a stroke; or the child with a neuromuscular disorder who stopped walking.

    Children stand outside what is now their home.
    Children stand outside what is now their home.

    In a proper medical facility, these conditions would easily be worked up with biopsies and MRIs. However due to our lack of resources, all I could do was offer a smile, encouragement, and offer a prayer.

    These are just a few of the many horrific stories I heard during my time at the refugee camp. Each of the hundreds of thousands who have fled Myanmar, now and over the years, have a tale equally heart-wrenching.

    Since returning home, I have had multiple people tell me that the first time they had heard of the conflict was through me. This has reinforced my motivation to stand up and speak out for this neglected group of people.

    Are you an international aid worker? Have you assisted in providing relief amidst humanitarian crises? Share your stories with us at

    In this Sept. 8, 2017, photo, a Rohingya woman breaks down after a fight erupted during food distribution by local volunteers at Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. The massive refugee camp in Kutupalong was set up in the early 90s to accommodate the first waves of Rohingya Muslim refugees who started escaping convulsions of violence and persecution in Myanmar. Don’t expect the United States to step in and resolve what is increasingly being describing as an ethnic cleansing campaign against Myanmar’s dowIn this Sept. 8, 2017, photo, a Rohingya woman breaks down after a fight erupted during food distribution by local volunteers at Kutupalong, Bangladesh, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. The massive refugee camp in Kutupalong was set up in the early 90s to accommodate the first waves of Rohingya Muslim refugees who started escaping convulsions of violence and persecution in Myanmar. Don’t expect the United States to step in and resolve what is increasingly being describing as an ethnic cleansing campaign against Myanmar’s dow

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    Overshadowing the vast complex gurdwara of Panja Sahib, one of the most popular Sikh shrines, associated with Guru Nanak and located in the city of Hasan Abdal in Pakistan, is the tallest mound in the region, rising high above its other shorter cousins.

    The entire city of Hasan Abdal is this interaction between mounds and planes, the narrow alleys with their wooden jharokas, abandoned Hindu temples, tall minarets of mosques and some recently constructed plazas, rising and falling as the earth beneath them breathes in and out.

    However, there is something spectacular about this mountain. The scatter of the city, its ancientness, pales in comparison with the permanence of this mound.

    The focal point of this historical city is the shrine of Guru Nanak, a vast complex protected by tall walls. Every year, hundreds of pilgrims descend upon this gurdwara from all over the world to celebrate different religious festivals including Baisakhi and Guru Nanak Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism.

    This year as well, when Sikh and other devotees of Nanak come to Pakistan to participate in his birthday celebrations, Gurdwara Panja Sahib will be one of the places pilgrims will be allowed to visit by the Pakistani state. No Muslim, besides representatives of the state, will be allowed within the premise of the gurdwara.

    The legend

    Right next to the main entrance of the gurdwara manned by police officials, a tiny stream flows into the shrine.

    The legend goes that the stream once flowed from a spring on top of the hill, near which lived a local religious figure named Wali Qandhari.

    This spring was the only source of water for the inhabitants of Hasan Abdal.

    But once Nanak arrived and started gathering a congregation around him, Qandhari felt jealous and angry as his popularity declined. It is believed that Qandhari stopped the flow of water downstream.

    Needing water, the people appealed to Qandhari to let the water flow as before. “Go to your Guru, the one you visit everyday now and ask him for water,” he is supposed to have responded angrily.

    The inhabitants of Hasan Abdal went to Nanak, who sent Bhai Mardana, his disciple and companion, to plead with Qandhari, who in turn is said to have refused angrily and turned him away with the same response.

    Nanak sent him again, and then again, but to each time come back with the same response. Eventually, Guru Nanak is said to have removed a stone from the ground under his feet, making a stream of water gush out of the earth.

    Qandhari’s spring, as per the legend, is said to have dried up because all of its water had come gushing out from under Nanak’s feet. In his wrath, Qandhari is supposed to have hurled a boulder towards Nanak, which he is said to have stopped with his right hand, leaving a permanent mark on the rock, thus lending this gurdwara its name – Panja Sahib.

    It now rests in the sacred pond created from this stream of water, facing the main shrine, as pilgrims form a long queue to place their hand where once Nanak is said to have rested his fingers.

    Many festivals

    The climb up the mountain, which Bhai Mardana is believed to have undertaken thrice to plead with Qandhari, is arduous.

    On a barren mountain interspersed with a few trees, the authorities have in the past few years constructed a pathway. Many Sikh and Hindu devotees who come to visit the shrine of Nanak also sometimes travel up this mountain.

    At the time of Baisakhi when the courtyard of Nanak’s gurdwara is swarming with pilgrims, there is a festival arranged here as well. There is a separate date for another festival at the shrine which is unique to it.

    Graffiti on some of the rocks on this mound present another form of religiosity. “Allah O Akbar”, it says. On a cool morning a few years ago when I undertook this trek, there were several people whom I saw on their way to the lone shrine at the top of the mound. T

    hese were young students in school and college uniforms, families with picnic baskets, a few devotional pilgrims carrying their slippers in their hands, intentionally attempting to make this spiritual journey more difficult for themselves.

    Midway, there was a small bazaar, while there was another one right outside the shrine, selling not only religious paraphernalia but also refreshments.

    In an empty ground behind the shrine, there were a few dervish preparing a hashish cigarette, with the panorama of the world with its people engaged in their daily grind at their feet.

    Standing at the edge of the cliff, the gurdwara seemed far away, beautiful with its white dome and a green pool.

    Many stories

    In the Sikh tradition, Wali Qandhari is an arrogant saint who refused Mardana water and then hurled a rock towards Nanak, for his Muslim devotees he is Baba Hasan Abdal, who lends this city its name.

    There are several stories associated with the saint. Some suggest that he prayed on the top of this mountain and then mysteriously disappeared, which is why he is also referred to as the Zinda Pir.

    There is no grave inside the shrine, but a green box has been put up by the authorities to collect donations made by the pilgrims.

    Another narrative suggests that the saint was responsible for extracting two streams from these mountains that now flow through the city.

    In this version, he was not the jealous or arrogant saint who refused Mardana water, but rather the benefactor who gave the city the gift of water.

    There is yet another story associated with the pond at Hasan Abdal which recalls its reverence in the Buddhist tradition. H

    asan Abdal happens to be approximately 20km from Taxila and the Chinese Buddhist traveller Hiuen Tsang, who travelled to India in the 7th century CE provides a detailed description of his trip to a place about the same distance from Taxila, with an ancient tank covered with lotus flowers, where devotees would come to pray for fine weather and rain.

    The pond, according to Hiuen Tsang, had become sacred because of a boon bestowed on a Buddhist king, Elapatra, by the gods.

    With relics of ancient Buddhist cities and stupas in all directions around the town, Hassan Abdal in ancient India fell within the geographical location of the famed Gandharan civilisation.

    While there are three stories that describe the origin of this pond, there is only one thing common in all of them – its sacredness.

    This article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

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    The shrine stands atop an ancient mound. The structure has been recently constructed – perhaps built upon an older shrine – crowned by a white dome. The dome is intricately decorated on the inside, with glass patterns and floral designs.

    The grave of the patron saint, Shah Bahlol Daryai, is right in the middle. There is a huge tiara above the plaque bearing his name, while turbans of the kind worn by grooms are scattered across the shrine. In Sufi symbolism, the saint is often imagined as the groom, sought by his lover and bride, the devotee.

    There are several graves around this shrine located near the Chenab river in Pakistan’s Punjab province, near the city of Pindi Bhattiyan. An ancient civilisation once thrived here. After it disappeared, all it left behind was a mound.

    For residents of the area, the ancient mound possibly symbolised death and they decided to build a graveyard on its remains – there was no contradiction in burying the dead on the top of the mound of dead.

    As the mound gave way to the graveyard, its secrets seem to have disappeared with it. No one can say for certain how old this mound is.

    Perhaps it was as old as time, merging with the antiquity of the Indus valley civilisation.

    Perhaps it was part of a larger network of towns or cities that contained the key to understanding the ancient civilisation.

    Standing for eternity

    While death loomed on this ancient mound, right next to it, on an empty plain, stood symbols of eternity – three banyan trees, each one older and grander than the other. It’s hard to think of a better metaphor for permanence and immortality.

    With its thick trunk sinking deep into the soil, its magnificent height, and its boughs hanging from its branches that sink into the earth, in time forming new additional trunks, the tree only seems to grow older and stronger with time. Does it come as a surprise, then, that Lord Krishna recited the Bhagavad Gita under the banyan tree?

    Among the several magical properties ascribed to are the beliefs that the tree can bestow a couple with a child, cure leprosy and remove bad omens.

    According to the Atharva Veda, the banyan tree is the abode of spirits. Other ancient myths suggest that the good-natured Yakhsa spirits reside here. If the tree or even its branch is cut off, it is believed that the spirits find the house of the one who destroyed their home.

    There are several other myths about why the banyan should never be cut and hence several of these ancient trees are scattered across rural Punjab in Pakistan even today.

    One of the most popular figures associated with the banyan tree (or by various accounts, its close cousin, the peepal) is the reluctant prince who fled his kingdom and abandoned wealth and power to search for truth.

    It is under the shade of a banyan tree that he found this truth – where Siddhārtha Gautama became the Buddha or the enlightened one. In the process, he lent the tree its new name – Bodh, the tree of enlightenment, a name by which it is popularly referred to in Punjab.

    Deep in his meditation, when the demon Devaputra Mara came to distract him, it is the guardian spirit of the tree that descended for his protection.

    Last symbols

    Just as death and immortality come together in this area, so too do different religions and traditions. Shah Bahlol Daryai, to whom this shrine is dedicated, was the spiritual master of one of the most unique Sufi poets of Punjab, Shah Hussain.

    It is said that once, while he was leading a special prayer during one of the holy nights of Ramzan, Shah Hussain abandoned his position at the head of the congregation, entered the walled city of Lahore, cut off his beard and bought a set of ghungroos. Then, with a pitcher of wine in his hand, he danced in the streets of the city.

    In his defiance of religious puritanical movements, Shah Hussain is the ultimate symbol of the Sufi Malmati tradition of Punjab, adherents of which do not follow any conventional religious doctrine and custom, instead believing in forging a personal relationship with the divinity, usually by flaunting conventions.

    The Malmati tradition borrowed heavily from the Bhakti movement and the ascetic tradition developed around Shaivism. It is, in its essence, the ultimate expression of syncretic religious tradition of South Asia.

    During his lifetime, Shah Bahlol found solace in the company of the dead atop of the mound. Several of his devotees, and companions, including Muslims, jogis, bhaktis and even Buddhist bhikshu, would have come here to pay homage to him or visit him. The ancient banyan trees must have stood witness to those times.

    Banyan trees are worshiped and revered in various Sufi shrines all over the country. The boughs of these banyan trees tie together the diverse religious traditions of this ancient land. They are the last standing witness to a world that is slowly fading away.

    This article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.