Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Current Affairs

Three weeks of rigorous writing - for a client's travel site - is what I was upto during this 'break'. There were so many things that I wanted to write about, but completing my assignment was first preference. First of all, an online friend asked me if everything was fine at my end, given all the bad news going out of Pakistan. Yes, we're all well, but that obviously doesn't mean that Pakistanis aren't in pain. We are losing innocent lives everyday, and that is tragic. The height of it is that we have sadly grown somewhat immune to it all, unless it strikes somewhere nearby. Sounds cruel, but life goes on...

Talking about terrorism, Avatar has a thing or two to say about state terrorism (aka U.S. Foreign Policy). I finally saw the movie a couple of days back. People have been going mad about it since it first hit the cinemas. Okay, its good. Nice special effects, but I certainly did not think that they were out of the ordinary. Or perhaps I didn't have the facility to see it in 3D. In any case, I think the movie deserves more accolades for its political underpinnings. James Cameron has put across a very strong message, and effectively at that. Why don't people talk about the plot or the story itself; why just the special effects! It makes one wonder whether the technological expertise invested in the movie has been its own undoing - at the end of the day, lessons learnt stick with us. Special effects will only keep improving with time. In about 10 years' time, people will have forgotten Avatar, the visual wonder.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

3 Idiots: Not a Movie Review

One of the bloggers I follow with a lot interest and respect, recently wrote about ‘3 Idiots’, the movie. Iditis, being from the U.S., came out of the theatre asking whether Indian parents really were so cruel in defining their childrens’ career paths and whether Indian children, in turn, do not give their ‘pre-destinations’ a good fight. While I myself have never been to India, I can safely assume that the climate is the same, this side of the border.

I think my friend’s questions are well-founded but I also think that these arise because he/she has not experienced what developing nations do. In our part of the world, people do not have the opportunity or the resources to pursue every kind of career. A very basic concern for everybody is that of survival, so earning money is important - very important. Taxation money goes places, but those places are never the homes of the poor or the middle classes; they need to fend for themselves entirely.

Vocational training is usually the answer to many amongst the poor. They cannot afford to aim high. Many people wonder why despite poverty, poorer couples opt for bigger families. The answer is simple: they want more earning hands. These hands enter the job market at the ages of 5, and even lower at times. The only job markets available to them are domestic help, mechanics’ workshops, tailor shops, tea vendors and the sort. (This also explains why terrorists are having a ball in poorer countries. Little children from low-income families can easily be bought over.)

The middle-class cannot afford to aim much higher either. A father might recognize the artist in his son, or a mother might sense a keen researcher in her daughter, but this is as far as they go: dream, and then, let go. At the end of the day, an artist or a researcher has no real opportunities to earn locally, and that is very important in an economically struggling society. Doctors and engineers are always in-demand in societies yet working to decrease infant mortality and death rates, and looking for proper infrastructure like roads, bridges, dams etc. Can you blame the parents?

Having said that, I still support the message brought forward by ‘3 Idiots’, because for me, happiness and contentment of the heart and mind is far more important than that of the physical world. No wonder then that one will find many poor people who always have a bright smile to greet the morning sun, and a lot of rich people who say, “I need to get a life!”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Do you know Sibel Edmonds?

I first learnt of her while doing research for a project.

Sibel Edmonds, a Turkish-American, was hired by the FBI shortly after the September 11 attacks. They needed somebody to transcribe for them, in English, wiretaps targetting Turkish nationals in the U.S. Sibel, fluent in several languages including Turkish and Persian, was called in, and although she had never considered such a career, she thought her country needed her and she immediately made herself available. 

During her short stint at the FBI's Translation Wing, she realised that it was the FBI's inefficiency and corruption that completely missed out or chose to ignore clear evidence, which could most certainly have prevented the attacks. For one, the FBI was deliberately asking its translators to slow down, so that they could attract more budget allocations, sighting resource shortages; and for another, some FBI officials had been bought over by moles in the State Department (having sold their country for its green paper) who were deliberately ignoring wiretaps from the American-Turkish council (ATC) - a front for sinister activities.

Turkey is a country strategically located. It connects two continents and a lot of business crosses through its harbors and borders. But instead of becoming trade giants in overt ways, they seemed to have chosen covert, illegal means, Sibel alleges. With all the money, they buy over officials in the State Department, the Pentagon and the FBI. They've even penetrated sensitive laboratories by installing their scientists there, stealing nuclear secrets and selling those to the highest bidder on the nuclear black-market. While our "national hero", A. Q. Khan did something like that in the 70s - stealing nuclear fusion prints from labs in the Netherlands - he was among the buyers (and later, a seller) many of these times.

Among other crimes discovered, were drugs-trafficking, money-laundering and more... A couple of months after Sibel started blowing the whistle, she was fired. She went to the courts; she went to the Congress; but only ended up receiving a slap because people who wanted to help were rendered impotent. Bush's Attorney General, Ashcroft, slapped the State Secrets Privilege on her. This means that Sibel is not allowed to talk about her case, the evidence she has (which was corroborated by many patriots in the FBI and the Congress) because discussing those could be detrimental to the security of the U.S! Interestingly, law experts say that her case doesn't deserve the State Secrets Privilege. If anything, letting crooks infiltrate areas bustling with sensitive information, will only harm the entire world - not just the U.S.

Sibel says that she's the most gagged person in U.S. history.

Knowledge of her case has completely changed the way in which I understand government and politics. Hers is not just another conspiracy theory, because she's got evidence which important people have confirmed, but which cannot be made public due to Ashcroft's slap. Cover-ups like those projected in The Prison Break or State of Play do not seem like fiction anymore.

To end, officials in the Obama administration haven't acted to award Sibel a hearing either - not a single hearing, which is all she asks for!

I leave you with an excellent documentary made on Sibel's case, called "Kill the Messenger":

Thursday, December 24, 2009

They're Funkier than Indie Films

The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999. I hated it. I got headaches from the erratic recordings, and I didn't find the movie all that scary; not even funny!

Fast forward 10 years, and I need to applaud that project because it pioneered a new wave of movie productions. I saw two of them this week and they've both been awesome, to say the least.

Cloverfield was my second attempt at watching movies projected through the lens of amateurs. I didn't find the monster (that takes over New York City) all that convincing, but that is besides the point. It was a well-made movie: low budget, high returns, a great storyline and a crazy boy behind the camera, who will just not leave it - not when the monster is attacking, not when his own life or his friends' lives are being threatened, not when he needs to jump from one falling skyscraper to another. Now that takes crazy to a whole new level.

Even crazier, I felt, was this sweet but in-your-face video cameria junkie in Paranormal
Activity. Before I saw the movie, I had read somewhere on the net that the movie didn't come out all that scary, and that it was just plain stupid. NO!

NO! Yes, my husband thought the guy was very irritating, but I thought he was a bit too sweet. He stuck around, didn't he? Sure, he had weird ideas, but don't we owe them this movie? Hats off, the most frightening movie I have ever seen. You might think differently, but I think it, at least, deserves a watch.

Let me know if you've seen or you end up seeing either...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out of the Loop

Once I start a treadmill regime, there's nothing that can stop me. Day after day after day, I'm up on the machine. But if I'm forced off it - say, wedding season or summer vacations - I find it hard to get back on it. Continuing is not the problem; renewing the commitment is.

I think something on the same lines happens to blogging too. Once I'm at it, there's a kind of addiction that takes over. I need to write about stuff that's been affecting me - even routine matters - or it feels like I'm being unfaithful to my community of friends here. And yes, I got distracted. A couple of projects I needed to concentrate on, coupled with a changed routine because of guests in the house, forced me out of the loop.

Regardless, I do know that the pledge to renew can very easily be materialized but for procrastination. I wonder if that is a built-in feature of the human mind and body...

Anyhow, I've now taken the first step back into keeping this forum - and others - both active and interactive. How are you all? And can you convince me to get on the treadmill too now?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The 14th of August

The 14th of August, Pakistan's Indepence Day, was approaching, and I, as a blogger, was ducking under pressure. What do I write? What do I say? My country hasn't exactly been doing well off late. I was looking for a reason to celebrate, beyond military governments, terrorist groups, joblessness, poverty - just one reason, but I couldn't think of any. So I found myself retreating.

But then I realised, it isn't always important to celebrate the day, here and now. There is room to think of glorius days gone by (there have been many) and hope for better days to come.

There is so much that Pakistan has achieved in its 60-odd years. Of course, we seem to be taking two steps behind every now and then, but we're fighting it. Most of us continue to be happy-go-lucky people, in the face of threats to life and property brought on by the war on terrorism. But we persevere. We go on vacations. We take our children out to parks. We eat out. We frequent the movies. We speak our minds and some of us, lose their lives in the process. We are a hospitable people. We go head-over-heels entertaining our neighbours or any foreigner for that matter, from the moment they set foot on our turf.

Of course, we have a weak state and have been plagued by rogue governments every so often. And it seems, we never really trust or like our democratically elected governments either. But then, who is happy with their leaders. Look what the Americans had to put up with for 8 years prior to Obama. And a lot of them still seem disappointed with the lack of 'change'. India claims to be the biggest democracy, and just see what Jaswant Singh's published thoughts have stirred there. A man who spoke his mind has been fired from his political party and his book, banned in Modi's Gujarat. Aisha Siddiqa, with her Military Inc. too faced the music in Pakistan. So what's the difference? Everybody creates reason to celebrate anyhow. As must we.

It makes one a nice moment to think that Ayesha Jalal, a Pakistani, had the balls to say what she thought about Jinnah and we teach her work in our universities as a must. We even discuss the pros of United India in our classrooms. So we, as a nation, are anything but apologetic and certainly not whimsical. I think that calls for celebration. We are a creative people. We can manage to conquer new heights in media and the arts, despite the lack of freedom of speech that plagues most developing nations. Our news people have been able to defy fears of the rod, in effect, executing several turning points in history. Our actors and musicians have managed both national and international fame and fortune, without compromising on values. Heck, we can pull off quality entertainment without the support of semi-naked women.

If that doesn't convince, there is always hope. When so many of our youth - despite joblessness, despite lack of opportunity, despite their securities under threat - choose to stay in the country, persevere and serve, there is hope. And if I may dare, we seem to be standing stronger than how we were, a year or two years ago. We have exposed our brittle enemies in Swat, we have upgraded our stock market ratings and we feel pride in our framed religion, Islam. No regrets. No apologies. 

To end with a bitter (and necessary) dose of realism and humility, our erratic cricket team managed to crash and burn in an away series immediately after winning the Twenty20 worldcup. And then, the labourer who shirks, the deadlines that are not honoured, the work that doesn't get done without a generous donation or two, the scheduled power outage that won't let me rant much further...

Long way to go!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spiritual Travels!

I planned a trip to Europe last year, and then, much to the disappointment of some of my religious friends, I went on and planned another this year. And I have no qualms about not regretting either. I was told both times that I should either go for umrah  (Muslim pilgrimage) instead or perform it on my way back. While the reasons why that hasn’t happened are very personal, I do feel inclined to share with friends and family that traveling isn’t just fun, it is very, very spiritual too, apologetic as that may sound!

The rail tracks clamped to the Swiss landscape are just about heaven-sent. Every route they take, every inch they cover, a marvel of nature unveils itself. From the teal rivers running through quaint towns, to the still waters of turquoise lakes stretching twenty-odd miles among the lush of freshly bathed greenery, one cannot help but say, “Oh God!” Spiritual.

A train-ride from Venice to Vienna is just as much fodder for the spirit, with its winding paths, opening horizons to waterfalls, green beds of grass, densely and lovingly populated by small lakes and mellow cattle. Spiritual.

Paris is a world famous city; not for its landscape or natural beauty, but for the aesthetics of its people. The wide boulevards, the manicured lawns, the fashion statements are all mixed up for a classy combo. But then, you discover how threatened the country feels in the face of religious symbolism, and in a second, you’re willing to forego dreams of settling in a city that has so much to offer because your religious sensitivities will not be respected. The Versailles tells tales of uber-luxury that one cannot even find in modern-day Buckingham, and you instantly understand why the French Revolution happened. You shun such disparity. You rise above it all. Spiritual.

Rome is the historic city of the world. A magnum-opus in itself.  The Roman Forum, the Colosseo, the Palatine Hills are all thronged by people; few tourists throng other European cities like they do, Rome: for its cathedrals, its piazzas (and pizzas!), and most of all, its ruins. Often, the book of God tells us to take heed from ruins spread across land, and Rome – not to take away from the marvel that it is – serves as a very apt reminder. Spiritual.

Cordoba. A mosque built by the Umayyads, on the site of a church, once again, converted into a Roman Catholic Cathedral. Food for thought. Spiritual.

Time to plan my next adventure…! I’m thinking Mecca!