Why We Badly Need to See a Therapist As a Nation

Source: geo.tv

In a saner world, or let me rephrase that even before I begin…

In the real world, such behavior is easily considered to be mentally unstable. A serious problem. Yes, even in Pakistan.

On an evidently non-violent trigger, anger fits so severe that you end up possibly and at times actually killing a human being. Even doing the same to a non-human animal would warrant serious investigation but of course what really matters is how good you feel at the end of the deed. Nobody wants to burn in the agony of repressed anger about God knows what.

Let the rage out. It’s good to let the poison out. But also focus on the positive things in life. You know, surround yourself with positive people. But still does that make this problem go away?

And what is the solution to this sort of behavior? What would you suggest for an individual displaying such dangerous, out-of-control behavior? Or even worse, a large group of individuals displaying shockingly identical symptoms. Now it is easy to condemn and dismiss a large group of people just like that, but what about offering a real solution.

The latest episode of rage is an undeniable symptom and evidence of such a condition among our nation.

I don’t know about you but when I experienced not-so-similar and far less dangerous anxiety and compulsive symptoms, I went to a psychiatrist. I was prescribed some medicine and now I feel much better, or I am trying at least. Now I know while there is no way you can make the problem disappear completely, you can at least manage it and become socially acceptable.

There really is no taboo in mental illness, especially when you acknowledge that you are going to act to treat it. Of course, no one chooses their mental disease but they can sometimes choose to keep people around them from suffering the consequences.

It is more difficult to diagnose and treat mass hysteria though. Especially when it is mixed with a strange mix of illusions, delusions, and paranoia of an extreme nature. They have an altered version of reality.

However, it is just a thought that we may go on with this sort of inappropriate behavior or start facing the reality of our condition and to start treating it. While I know that it is hard for an entire nation to see a therapist or be prescribed an SNRI or an antipsychotic for curbing the violence in our heavily indoctrinated nerves, we could start doing so in an individual capacity.

Mashaal Khan – Source: wire.in

Doing so might limit incidents such as the lynching and public humiliation of Mardan journalism student Mashaal Khan at the hands of his fellow campus mates in Abdul Wali Khan University for committing a blasphemy, allegedly or not.

This is not normal if you think it is. It is just a socially acceptable mental disease. And estimating very carefully, we badly need some help. Which means seeing a well reputed, qualified psychiatrist who can prescribe antidepressants and anti-psychotics, whatever is needed in each deteriorated case.

However, you could choose to make matters worse if you think that the local cleric in your mosque is a good substitute to a psychiatrist. Or especially if you think he is more qualified. That is why we have this role in our society and economy.

But of course, all the rational prescriptions to this condition would sound not only ridiculous but outrageous and offensive when religion comes into the picture.

In that case, even the most savage behavior somehow becomes the most enviable sign of high piety.

In that case, diagnosing, prescribing and helping become acts of blasphemy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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My Pakistani Person of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Well, it feels like as if I were writing a single post for the free speech hero and this one. But believe it or not, this has been the impact of Qandeel Baloch on the Pakistani society, in my opinion. She offered Pakistanis the necessary shockwave that was needed to break their convenient slumber of socially conservative morality. It was a much needed first shock needed to a population that is a bit too uptight about its sexuality while tolerating all sorts of perversions under the cover.

To her credit, model and liberal social media icon Qandeel Baloch single-handedly cleared up that suffocation a little. With a little help from earlier stars such as Mathira. A heroic model who appeared in a much-needed ad for a much-needed commodity in Pakistan. Condoms. Of course, the ad was banned. But condoms are not. More power to her.

Qandeel Baloch, alias Fauzia Azeem, started as an apparently cheap social media sensation, and slowly started gaining the sort of following that no one could ever anticipate. Her fame was further catapulted by the local media because, let’s face it, her unusually bold glamor sold like anything in a market thirsting for it. But little did her clueless audience realize that she was making statements that went beyond just fun and games.

Now, I wish I knew more about her. I wish I had followed her more and had not dismissed her in the way most ordinary Pakistanis had. I hardly ever followed her videos. I wish I had paid more attention to the buzz about her in the local media, but I knew what was largely going on about her person. At least I cannot accuse myself of ever condemning and rejecting her. At least morally and politically, I always found a supporter of her in myself.

When writing this post, I simply cannot put into words what Qandeel Baloch has really accomplished. She has been dubbed the Pakistani Kim Kardashian, a reality icon widely mocked for her superficially extravagant lifestyle and social media selfies. Imagine how big a reality star she would have become had she appeared in Bigg Boss on Indian TV.

Qandeel’s own lifestyle had become something similar from her humble beginnings, though nowhere near extravagant as that of the Hollywood superstar who never had to face any such odds in her life. Qandeel Baloch came from a much more difficult background and never ever really enjoyed the “privilege” you could accuse her of enjoying. Well, being a woman in Pakistan is enough to explain it, for that matter.

Now I hear that double Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has made a film on her life. Even though I was considering her to be the nominee for this title of mine this year, but even if she were to win three straight Oscars in a row, she would never have been able to pull off what Qandeel Baloch did. Perhaps no one could, short of a Pakistani Larry Flynt. Hell, not even such a character. And yes, a part of it is being a woman.

Qandeel Baloch’s sense of self-righteousness and of being morally upright came from a mix of the modern urban Pakistani liberalism, as well as the social conservative background of her roots in South Punjab. In an interview with Sohail Warraich recorded just before her death, you would hear her being a snob toward the “vulgar” mujra dancers. Being pro-mujra, that slightly offended me.

No, these women are not prostitutes. And yes, prostitutes are honorable women too. But I leave aversion to mujra as a personal aesthetic preference, as opposed to being a matter of making cultural judgments.

Unfortunately, she was accused herself of vulgarity by people from her ranks and from the less liberal sections of the more progressive Pakistani urban classes. You know, for twerking and not dressing up according to the standards ordained by the Sharia. Don’t believe me? Google for any of her videos and observe the titles from the socially conservative uploaders.

As I have often said, it sometimes becomes hard to keep track of what amounts to vulgar and what does not in Pakistan. I am not even sure what the word really means anymore.

And another thing that I like repeating is that it is easy to talk about feminist ideals. It is very hard to live them up in a society and industry dominated by men, who are going to attack you like a vicious pack of wolves from all directions and every chance they get. So it was obligatory for someone like me to defend her every chance I get. I have respect for what she did.

As I said, it is hard to articulate the impact of Qandeel Baloch. Through her bold antics, she proved how confined and captivated the Pakistani women really are. Through her outspokenness, she proved how tolerant our society really is. She basically demonstrated how free women are in our society and how hypocritical we are about our sexuality in public. She also proved how easily our men are willing to put our women to death for “honor.”

She was a resounding slap in the face of every woman-hating man rejecting the notion that Pakistan is not a society dominated by men.

She helped expose how disgusting religious clerics can be when it comes to women and in ways nobody could even imagine before.

She tested and questioned our moral compass in a complicated world in which we take it for granted, and exposed our hypocrisy harmlessly.

She showed how easy it was to kill in Pakistan, and for what reasons.

She made us feel immensely proud of being a Pakistani and made us feel immensely ashamed at the same time.

In that sense, she has been an iconoclast of the revolutionary proportions in her individual capacity. Nobody even comes close.

I learned about the news of her murder while I was on a shoot in Karachi this year’s July, right when I was in the middle of people in front of who I had to defend Qandeel Baloch. On that day, it seemed I really had no other substantial purpose to my existence. Not that there would be any otherwise. But when her brother and former husband are found involved in her murder, it is hard not to feel disappointed.

And the government also did not take her requests for security seriously.

I know a lot of people believe that a lot more people were so much more important to Pakistan this terrible year. But honestly, I don’t have time to think about those self-proclaimed saviors of this country. Because seriously nobody did this much for the Pakistani society for decades. Nobody in the history of this country ever promised a striptease for a Pakistani cricket star.

Qandeel Baloch is the star of the age of social media. I know she came into prominence from a Pakistan Idol audition, but it was social media that really took her voice to the people. So in many ways, in the transformation of the Pakistani society to more liberal and open ideas, social media is as much a star as are the people whose voices it is empowering.

And don’t let me forget. She is not my Pakistani Person of the Year because she was killed. Far from it. You know a lot of people died in 2016, including Edhi. It was not the death of Qandeel Baloch that made her special, but her life. It is her impact on the society that has outlived her, and it is our responsibility as citizens to carry it forward and fight ignorance, illiberalism, and obscurantism.

All I can say is that as a Pakistani citizen, I salute Qandeel Baloch and applaud her for her courage to express her sexuality. She is and must be an inspiration to all of us. Shame on us for not valuing her enough.

Farewell, and rest in peace, you brave, beautiful soul.

Read about my Pakistani person of the last year here.

Khawaja Asif, Traitors & the Pakistani Welfare State

Source: Sabir Nazar

Source: Sabir Nazar

Part I: The Traitorous Defense Minister 

Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Minister of Defense, has been under fire for his recent statements against the Armed Forces.

Of late, the Armed Forces have taken active offense to the relentless criticism on its institution from civilian sections, such as the media. Finally, we have an aggressive ISPR Director General on board.

But apart from the media, certain politicians have also been actively criticizing them as well. Especially from the party in power.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

The incumbent PML-N Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been at the forefront of this assault, more recently merely for stating that the Parliament is the more sovereign institute.

He had been particularly at it, when he was in the opposition during the reign of President General Pervez Musharraf and the last democratically elected government of the PPP led alliance.

Khawaja Asif may have been irresponsible but he has spoken his mind when it comes to criticizing the Pakistani military for certain practices.

As rightly pointed out by Ahsen Iqbal, the current confrontation has more to do with offering the under-trial General Pervez Musharraf a safe exit path than anything else. However, with the fallout of the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir, the counter offensive has taken a new turn.

In the currently on-going pro-establishment campaign on most media channels, one of Khawaja Asif’s speeches from 2006 was aired to prove his traitorous record.

I was startled by that speech which Khawaja Asif made on the parliament floor that I must confess I was not aware of. I have a feeling I must not be the only one. Had I been in charge of the ISPR, I would have made all efforts to prevent the airing of that speech on national TV, it was so revealing.

The speech was not just about the usual cries of military imperialism or the excesses breaching civil liberties in Baluchistan, but it concerned something lot deeper. Even for the Punjabi people.

 

Truer words have hardly ever been spoken on the floor of the Pakistani legislature.

Well for the most part.

There is no wonder why he is the latest entrant in the traitors’ Hall of Fame, or Shame.

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Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

Part II: The Pakistani Welfare State

The last minute of the clip of this speech, mentioning the words “Welfare State” largely reiterates what I have been maintaining for quite a while now. Perhaps not on my blog though.

The people of Pakistan have been fed this false ideal of “Islamic Welfare State” right from the beginning. They have been fed a utopian fallacy that a state would be established which would provide them everything from food stamps and shelter to free education, and from utilities to free healthcare.

Actually, all these benefits have been reserved to the people in the government service, whether military or civilian. However, such entitlements, or privileges, which include insured housing, subsidized education and absolutely free healthcare have been particularly enjoyed by the military service.

In Pakistan, the military pretends that it is a profitable corporation with benefits only reserved for its employees. This approach has largely improved the acceptance of these institutional perks. Nobody should dare question “private property” right?

Furthermore, their absolutely inevitable national defense function and employment incentive have particularly ruled any possible political criticism out. At least in Punjab.

This is the current Pakistani concept of Welfare State, and one that has been widely accepted by the Pakistani people. As a matter of fact, one of the main aspirations of the-not-so-affluent classes is to uplift their living standards by entering the exclusive club of military and civilian government service.

As a matter of fact, there could not have been a better strategy for the exclusivist government club to strengthen and legitimize its power grab.

Pakistan is a classical example of a government entity that has a state and a large piece of land at its disposal. It would employ all in its means to perpetuate its hold and the most lucrative of such tactics is increasing government based employment. A mode of employment that is as useful to the economy as a leech is to human body.

Surprisingly, but perhaps not so surprisingly, the people of Pakistan celebrate the announcement of government positions. It is for precisely the same reason.

They are condemned to.

It is their only ticket to the dream of the Pakistani Welfare State.

Leaving Good Company

Source: Focus Features/huagl.net

Source: Focus Features/huagl.net

I have always believed that just as the presence of something is pleasant, the absence of it would be as much unpleasant and vice versa.

While this applies to many things, and almost everything for that matter, it holds true the most for good company.

Good company. Good is vague here, even misleading or inappropiate.

Enjoyable company perhaps.

This is a rarer commodity than you thought. Even rarer than happiness. Even though it is one of the most genuine sources of pure happiness itself.

Usually such experiences are the other way around. It’s mostly about repulsion. Maybe that is the way our world has been accidentally, or deliberately, designed.

So whenever you get a shot of this pleasure spirit, and are forced to retreat to your retreat, then you get a sweet-bitter hangover, rather a sweet-sour hangover, the likeness of which can never be offered by any other intoxicant.

Surely, good company, rather, enjoyable company, is different for everyone. And indeed it has everything to do with that particular person.

But I wonder if the perception of the experience is the same for everyone, and also the intensity of it.

It is one of the few happy sad things in life that you can actually take back home.

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© 1999 Focus Features – Under Fair Use

Ravi Shankar – The Sound of Memories

Ravi Shankar (1920-2012) - Source: Nagara Gopal/The Hindu

Ravi Shankar (1920-2012) – Source: Nagara Gopal/The Hindu

What do memories sound like?

I am sure when I will look back at my life at its end, a lot of them will sound like the music of Ravi Shankar.

As I am sure what they would have sounded like to him.

The greatest sitar maestro of our times passed away on December 12, 2012 in a San Diego hospital. He was 92.

From his fabulous works with the London Symphony Orchestra and the soundtrack of Pathar Panchali to the soundtrack of Gandhi, which is one of my fondest memories of his music, every note out of his strings was divine. And I, by no means, want to deify him. It’s just sheer magic.

He popularized, if not introduced in the true sense of the word, Indian classical music in the West. Particularly with the Beatles. Particularly with George Harrison.

But it must have felt good, to some extent, to leave the world with such massive marks that would keep on reminding people of you for eternity.

I have often pictured myself standing facing the sun rising over Ganga on one of the Ghats in his birthplace Varanasi right after dawn with his Shanti Mantra playing. I hope to do that before I die. A surreal spiritual experience.

Source: Anna Kastner/vedicodyssey.com

Source: Anna Kastner/vedicodyssey.com

Also, thank you for Anoushka Shankar.

One of the rare moments where procreation actually worked.

Rest in Peace. At least we do when we listen to your music.

To Our Generals…

General Kazi and General Zafar (Source: youtube)

The recent days have seen some unusual events. Generals in the dock. That is unusual in a country where generals call all the shots, and who along with the civil bureaucracy are a part of an establishment that makes sure that everything remains in “safe hands”.

I would not really go into a lot of details as far as the background is concerned, but in a nutshell the Supreme Court is trying General Baig and Maj. Gen. Durrani for the Asghar Khan-ISI-IJI case, but even more importantly or maybe not, three retired generals Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Kazi, Lt. Gen. Saeed-uz-Zafar and Maj. Gen. Hassan Butt are being questioned by the NAB for the Royal Palm Railways Real Estate Lease scam. Earlier three retired generals were being interrogated by the military in the NLC scam.

Now there is nothing wrong and unusual with committing a mistake, knowingly or unknowingly, and being tried for it. It’s actually business as usual, isn’t it? But there is something special about these gentlemen. Of all these generals, the ones interrogated by NAB in the Railways Real Estate case stole the limelight recently. What is even more inflammatory is that this is a case initiated by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of the bloody civilians.

Of course conidering how vigilant our media is, the correspondents from all sorts of news channels ganged around the generals and started asking all sorts of inconvenient questions that are asked of people under scrutiny. Well the most noteworthy part was the way the generals responded to the media. Gen. Kazi told the reporter to “shut up“, while Lt Gen Saeed-uz-Zafar sarcastically and derogatively bestowed his advice to the nation to vote for the transgender leader Almas Bobby for the next elections, even though I would actually like to see them in the legislature. It is hard to say what is the relevance of that recommendation to his case.

Well of course you would not expect them to be used to be questioned like that but nevertheless their response is pretty significant. I don’t really have much to say about it as the rest of the nation and the media are covering it pretty comprehensively anyway. However, I have just one point to add.  I at least want the educated members of the society reading these lines to memorize this event and never forget it.

Now I don’t have any youtube video links at hand right now because the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has blocked youtube over the presence of the trailer of a blasphemous film and for many other obscurantist reasons. How convenient. So you can’t expect media groups to upload these videos on the youtube, though they should anyway. I will surely upload this blog later and share it again to include those video links whenever available, but I have found one from Sama TV News. However, I am sure all those Pakistanis who closely follow the news would have witnesssed these significant comments by our able generals.

What these generals fail to realize is that they are actually telling the entire nation to shut up. Furthermore, while I personally don’t mind seeing transgender MPs in Pakistan, let it be clear that the statement from the honorable General was an insult not only to the civilian leadership of the country but to the nation as well. I wish I could actually recruit transgenders as generals given the kind of people running the Pakistani military.

Given the almost apartheid-like discrimination in the area of civil and military services and facilities, it is no surprise how our generals view the general public that they so proudly claim to defend. Oh wait, it’s the country. And then statements are issued by the military that certain people are conspiring to destroy their morale. Perhaps, but how about some tolerance for reasonable criticism?

I would be be prepared for much more criticism than this if I were undertaking that much responsibility. And there is no need to remind the world of the events in history that demand them to take responsibility.

But thanks for shutting us up, again.

Never forget…

There are No Lies in the Battlefield

Courtesy: James Montgomery, acclaimimages.com

What is it about wars that thrill us? What is it that makes us feel so good, so proud, as if we have accomplished something. Is it the bravery, the chivalry, the defiance to death that men can display, or simply because it makes great stories to tell? It does not matter, because in our world it is a glorious thing to go to wars.

But war is an intellectual concept nevertheless. I have to acknowledge that fact. It is as intellectual as it is stupid and nonsense. This is why it is fought by people far away from action in the battlefield. You know, far away from those mindless soldiers, who are brainwashed the moment they land into Boot Camp. They are fed lies, and they are fed truths. But one thing is for sure. They take away from them a part of humanity and they get to earn a part of it that no one else would ever know about.

But even more cruel are the ones who do not even set foot on the battlefield and expect others to sacrifice themselves for them. The one who dodges the bullet, the one who bears the wounds and the one who witnesses the horrors of war can only know what war is like and how vain national glory means when you only have your life to lose, unless they are hardened by war and it becomes their way of living. Some do it by choice and suffer, others are forced into it and made to suffer.

You would have heard about, if not watched, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), based on the novel of the same title by German veteran Erich Maria Remarque. It is just a movie, maybe a touch too exaggerating and maybe overdone for some, but it tells the story of men who lived through World War I, an overdone war after all,  if it is not too much to say. The film emphasizes this very idea more explicitly and deliberately than most of the others about the war that you would come across.

The film talks about sending the youth to the front lines for glory and their subsequent discovery of what war really is. The film was banned in the Nazi Germany for its anti-war content, which for no surprise was taken to be an attack on German nationalism. Rats were used to disperse audiences during the initial screening of the film in theaters. But let’s not take any sides here. To my mind, the American filmmakers have emphasized the human side of the war by choosing to tell the story of a non-allied nation.

How many politically motivated artists talk about the human side of the enemy soldier? Most of the war movies even have no faces for them, just silhouettes. The silhouette of the enemy.  There is no enemy soldier, just humans who agree to kill each other over something they are not even aware of. The film applies as much to France as it does to Germany. It applies as much to Britain, or any other allied nation. It applies to each and every nation of the world. It applies to humanity. The blood-thirsty humanity.

A Few Important Excerpts 

(Note: Right now, the complete movie is available on YouTube. However, I have only posted the excerpts in context of the post. It may or may not be accessible from different parts of the world.)

For those familiar with the history of World War I and Trench Warfare in the Western Front, are also familiar with the toll it took on men.  This film, also the novel, is about how a war changes a man, how a war destroys a man and how they are sent by civilization to die to lift their spirits. A remarkable motion picture for its time, it effectively portrays what a soldier goes through before, during and after war, whether an exaggerated portrayal or not. I think it really is a lot worse than this.

What I learned from this film and what shook me the most is this.

There are no Lies in the Battlefield.

But have we learned the lesson?

That’s why we are an intelligent species.