Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Futile life of Nelson Mandela

   Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013)

 WFDY’s 12th World Festival of Youth & Students in 1985 was not just a big gathering of 26,000 youngsters from 157 countries. It was a recording of history by a generation coming of age in the times of Gorbachev, Glasnost, Afghan revolution, US vs Nicaragua War and the founding of Hezbollah. It was the year when President Li Xiannian welcomed Mickey Mouse in China and President Reagan welcomed the Mujahideen in the oval office. It was the time when US abstained from signing the UN treaty outlawing torture, Madonna released ‘Like a Virgin’ and the gas leak at a Union Carbide Plant overnight killed 4000 people in Bhopal.
     It was also the year when Nelson Mandela refused President Botha’s offer to sign a contract to 
unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon 
in exchange for his freedom.

Mandela’s response,
“…Only free men can negotiate! A prisoner cannot enter into contracts” 
resonated loudly every time the ANCYL delegates chanted “A-N-C… MAN-DE-LA”! During the opening ceremony at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The authoritative boom of this simple six syllable slogan often made the Chileans, the Cubans and us Pakistanis stop singing our own songs and just listen in respect.  

     Mandela is dead at 95. He was the Tata wethu: father of the modern day South African Nation, like Gandhi was for the Indians and Ataturk for the Turks. The difference is that Mandela actually created, raised and nurtured the youth wing of ANC. His title therefore, is not just for reverence; it is in acknowledgement of a relationship between him and the people who he led for sixty years of his active political life. 

     For the South African Nation,
  • Mandela is not a name; it’s a term signifying sum total of a life well spent.
  • Mandela is not a name; it’s a word meaning fearless pursuit of tabooed goals.
  • Mandela is not a name; it’s a philosophy detailing sacrifice of personal goals for the future of all.
  • Mandela is not a name; it’s an image of life greater than an individual’s.
  • Mandela is not a name, it’s an inspiration… and if anyone fails to see that, then may God help them… ‘God’ a word which is attributed omnipresence and omnipotence but can never define the word ‘Mandela’.

     I am not a South African but I do agree with the essence of this tribute, especially with the last part. I also agree when the world media hails Mandela as the champion of anti-apartheid awakening in South Africa and would not object if history turns him into a symbol of anti-apartheid resistance; but will that make him a symbol of success too? In other words, I want to ask:

Does present day South Africa prove Nelson Mandela successful?

     This question needs to be answered for two reasons:

  1. Apartheid, like all other oppressive and discriminatory practices, uses economic disparity as its most favorite and effective tool; therefore success in a war against the crime of apartheid is not possible without achieving economic equality.
  2. If one accepts the role of evolution in everything and every aspect of life then it is a folly to assume that wars against oppression, disparity and discrimination have an end point and that any one system, ideology or philosophy can provide a beginning, middle and an end. 

     The sad fact is that in today’s corporate world it has become politically correct to entertain the ideas of ethnic, racial and sexual equality in isolation, but to consider and endorse the idea of economic disparity is neither discussed nor accepted as a reason for global social unrest. Where struggle against ethnic oppression is commended by those at the helm of private ownership and corporate dominance, the struggle against imperialism is shunned and labeled as socialism and communism. It is in this world that the idea of unlimited private property takes precedent over equal distribution of wealth and the perpetual existence of rich and poor is accepted without many frowns or second thoughts. To trumpet ones support for social equality but not for economic evenness is therefore a highly paradoxical practice which serves as nothing but an eyewash.

     Through his seventy years as an ANC worker up till five days ago the world saw Nelson Mandela go through imprisonment, bouts of TB, release from prison, divorce, ceasefire, making international allies, discovering national adversaries, ANC presidency, South African presidency, remarriage, retirement and a battle with cancer. At the time of his death Nelson Mandela’s South Africa appears as follows:

  • The unemployment rate is at 30%, out of which at least 62% are black South Africans.
  • The Rand’s value against the US dollar fell from R3.41:$1.00 to R10.23:$1.00.
  • On a scale of 1 to 100 (1 being lowest) the difference between per capita personal income in terms of race between whites and blacks is 100:13.
  • Since 1994, 1.6 million South Africans have moved out of the country permanently in favor of countries with better economic output.
  • In September 2013 South Africa hit its six year high in violent crime.
  • There is a 4.4% increase in robberies, a 6.8% increase in residential burglaries and a 2.9% increase in sexual offenses.

     So what did Mandela achieve? 

     Most people I know cannot understand why I advocate thoughts and ideas which have nothing to do with my immediate well being.  Why do I talk about processes which probably will take longer than my life span (most likely, a couple of generations) to give results. Why should there be an investment of time, intellect and monies on hypotheses which do not involve instant individual gratification and why should aspirations without clearly defined ‘incentives’ take precedent over a person’s  efforts to ensure a better life for himself?

     I suppose, for such people Mandela didn’t achieve anything. He couldn’t, because among those who honor his life today, are hidden the ones who are the reason for his failure.

     To me however, Nelson Mandela is like the cancer researchers who are in constant battle with a sneaky, defiant, resilient and persistent disease, which more than often laughs in their faces but with every passing moment their resolve brings them that much closer to hope and survival. Mandela too, chose to fight an organism which usurps, feeds and thrives upon the resources of the larger world body and its inhabitants. Between Mandela and the cancer researchers the monetary gratification might not be similar but I can bet that the feeling of satisfaction resulting from a life well spent is pretty much the same... may be better for Mandela.     

Saturday, November 23, 2013


     I absolutely adore my Indian friends! I can die for Srini & Manju Anumolu, would cease to exist without Vivek Agnihotri and Nanditta Banerji andwouldn’t recognize myself if SriRam Velaga, his children and Am’ma’ma were taken out of the equation.

     I also love Indian films, film stars and film music. My neuroanatomical atlas for emotions would be seriously compromised without Kishore Kumar, Geeta Dutt, S D Burman, R D Burman, Ysu Das, Sippys, Khannas (Rajesh, Vinod & Akshay) and the Kapoors… I’ll cry my eyes out the day Shashi Kapoor dies.

     Having clarified that, I do have my WTF moments with India. Some of the very personal ones being:
·       Salman Khan is an icon?
·       Fevicol vs Jhando Balm in item songs?
·       Chicken Tikka Masala?

But the above are very personal peeves and cannot be compared with moments which pop up because of disinformation, disinterest and disregard for simple things like historical facts and objective reality. For example when a singer pronounces the word ‘ajdaad’ (اجداد पूर्वजों) as ‘azdaad’ switching the j sound with the z sound, I cringe for two reasons:

  1. There is a distinct  j sound in Hindi alphabet.
  2. The word is not yet incorporated in Hindi dictionary therefore deserves its original etymology and pronunciation.

     Then there are situations when I come across Indians at shop registers and parties and they say, “Indian Pakistani, same thing”; I wonder what part of sixty six years of separation did they miss? Which brings me to my latest … well… WTF moment.

     WAAR (وار / strike) was released on 16th October, 2013. Since then the media is abuzz with opinions, critiques and predictive remifications. Looking at the news coverage one finds the words ‘predictable, propaganda, patriotism, being used repeatedly to define the movie, making ‘controversial’ the second most used word.

     It is baffling to see a Pakistani film receive so much (international) media attention. Continuous coverage by the Wall Street Journal, The HuffingtonPost, Reuters, Euro News etc. is both interesting and surprising to say the least. 
Surprising, because unlike India, ‘film’ is not a recognized industry in Pakistan. While Indian cinema flourishes under the umbrella of Ministry of Informaion and Broadcast, being mothered by NFDC & Film Division, Pakistani cinema has gone through rapid degeneration and has been comatose for almost forty years now. Its utility in terms of determining cultural identity or projecting national sentiment is as obsolete as the 8/8 camera. The proof lies in the number of films produced every year, the archaic technical knowhow and the abysmal acting talent, not to mention the content which is, almost always, absent. Compared to that, Indian films have a lareger-than-life influence on Indian society. For a country that produces more films than any other in the world, cinema is a powerful determinant of cultural identity. WAAR arguably, has raised the standards of film production in Pakistan but that doesn’t seem to be what everyone is paying attention to.

     Interestingly, attention is focused on the content of the film, most particularly the part which is “anti-India”. Why I find it interesting is because this approach is neither new nor unique to films in general and Indian films in particular; then why do this particular production receives so much reaction about the subject matter? Twenty four years after the fall of USSR, Hollywood still cannot get over its pre-iron curtain mindset and continues creating villains with thick Russian accents and names ending in ov. Similarly, just in the past twelve years Bollywood has released ‘Mission Kashmir, Gadar, LOC, Fanaa, Agent Vinod and Aik tha Tiger, besides other, less popular titles. That alone gives an average of at least one anti-Pakistan film every two years. So what’s the big deal if, after a few decades, an ‘anti-India’ film comes out of Pakistan?

I have looked high and low for similar media concern for the above mentioned six movies but have found nothing. I have also fished for analysis/reviews about WAAR focusing on cinematography, screenplay, acting and musical score but came out dry… So I am like, 


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Damn if I do, damn if I don't!

Malala Yusafzai

October 11, 2013 is the day marking one year and two days since I first heard the name Malala Yusafzai.  Before that date last year, I had no clue and no need to know Malala. It reflects poorly on me since BBC Urdu, for which Malala wrote her diary under the pseudonym ‘Gul Makaee’, is the home page for my laptop but I use it for headlines and more than often, bypass the opinion pages.  October 11, 2013 is also the day when Malala Yusafzai did not win the Nobel Prize for Peace and AFP reported that TTP (Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan) is "delighted over Malala's Nobel missing".

Malala Yusafzai did not win the Nobel Prize for Peace. Good for her! As it is, these are not the best times to be associated with (arguably) this most esteemed and coveted honor, primarily because of the controversial nature of its two previous winners. US president Barack Obama and the European Union will certainly go down in history as the worst decisions ever made by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

Just a day before the announcement by the NPC, Dhiya Kuriakose in her article for The Guardian, wrote “...the Nobel is a prize, and prizes should be handed out at the finish line... 1

I almost agree. If only Kuriakose would adjust the finality of her statement by replacing ‘at the finish line’ with ‘for achievements’ she'll have my vote because surviving an assassination attempt with the help of good quality modern medicine and after care is perhaps similar to reaching a finish line but not an achievement; neither is having a will strong as steel to survive. The latter however, is certainly an extremely worthy trait which can be employed very usefully for achieving greater goals but an achievement on its own it is not.

The fact is that from the day Malala started writing Gul Makaee’s Diary for BBC Urdu Online until she received a bullet in her head, she was a ‘nobody’. For most Pakistanis she was just another eleven years old in terror stricken Sawat of 2009.  Incidentally, until that time the terror stricken Sawat of 2009 was also just another city in the Taliban ravaged North West Frontier of Pakistan. In other words, before the bullets entered Malala, Pakistani public and media did not find her interesting enough to mention in their conversations, their publications or in their heated social media statuses. The public specially was oblivious of BBC’s eleven years old reporter and the severed heads hanging in public squares in Sawat Valley.

But lo and behold; as soon as the "western media" picked the story about Taliban targeting a teenage girl, all hell broke loose and opinions, criticism, analyses and mysterious background revelations found their way to the forefront turning Malala into a heroine overnight… at least for a few days.

I do not like to judge or rush to conclusions but humans in general and Pakistanis in particular have a history of honoring the dead and ridiculing the living. Had she succumbed to the attack, Malala would have stayed a heroine, BUT she survived; and her glory became controversial. During the first four days in which she went through a decompressive craniectomy at CMH Peshawar, was shifted to AFIC/NIHD Rawalpindi and transported to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, the media overflowed with real time updates and reports. Parallel to that was another kind of overflow; or something more like a race on social media to prove the following:
  • The attempt on Malala’s life is a set up.
  • It is the doing of an ‘outside hand’ with a ‘hidden agenda’.
  • Her father is a CIA agent.
  • Malala is a CIA agent.
  • The shots were not real.
  • The bullets were not real.
  • The Taliban were not real.
  • The girl who got shot was not Malala.
  • The girl who was flown to Birmingham was not Malala.
... so on and so forth.

Malala recovered.  Not only did she recover she started voicing her thoughts through interviews. BUT the Pakistanis/Pakistani media had once again receded into their shells. Why would you allow airtime and print space to someone/something which was simple but not intriguing, which was sensible but unceremonious and which was relevant but not sensational?

And then somebody's mad, semantically challenged idea of recommending Malala for the Nobel Peace Prize sent everyone amuck again. Once again the media and the sociopolitical glitterati in Pakistan rattled with a multi-speaker x  debates. The points of concern this time were:

  • Western media is using Malala to forward their own agenda.
  • Her speech in the UN was rehearsed.
  • Malala's interview with Jon Stewart was scripted.
  • Why doesn’t she talk about the ‘drones’?
... and my favorite from a dear one’s Face Book status
  • If Malala is Peace Prize worthy then what about the children who have been a casualty of the same terrorist war?

Malala responded to some of these ‘points’ to Abdul Hai Kakar in an interview for The Atlantic(2) but here is what I have to say.

  • If one is able to look beyond black, white, pink AND west, east, left, right, top and bottom, one would discover that all media has some agenda and it comes forth in all they do. Accusing the ‘west’ of using Malala is simply venting out the regret that the ‘east’ (??) failed to use her first.
  • Even the mightiest of the mightiest rehearse before opening their mouths in the UN.
  • Jon Stewart is a delightfully mean host and it just makes sense for a sixteen years old to write down her thoughts specially when she’d be speaking in a foreign language.
  • She doesn’t talk about drones because her subject of choice is female education.
  • And last but not least; being a casualty is certainly different from being a target. Many die in wars with causes and their sacrifice is by no means trivial but only those are honored who contribute a little extra and have a slight edge. Malala was and remains a contributor and that gives her that ‘slight’ edge.

  For more on Malala Yusafzai and Sawat From 2007 to 2009:
Diary of a Pakistani School Girl (english)
Diary of a Pakistani School Girl (urdu)
Malala Yusafzai
Sawat 2007

Sawat 2009

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Can We Listen to Your Bleeping Music Please?

My son raps! He's pretty darn good (if I may say so myself). His subject matter and lyrics are quite substantial and he raps it out with significant ease. Last week he brought home his first amateure recording. We listened to it on the car stereo. Through rendition he kept his quick fingers on the skip button on his IPod and uttered the bleep sound every time he had to press it. The recording was two minutes long and he bleeped three times in all; not bad for a seventeen years old rapper writing his lyrics towards the end of 2013.

BUT, what do I know of Rap and Hip Hop? I entered this scene only through my kids. Before them I was limited to the classical lyricism of Indo-Pakistani singers and, to a minute extent, western duos and bands of the 70s & 80s like The BeeGees, ABBA, Simon and Garfunkel and The Carpenters. The common denominator here was not the kind of music but the choice of lyrics. 

Traditional Indian and Pakistani singers do not sing songs; they sing poetry. To me Paul Simon's 'the sound of silence' is poetry; poetry sung beautifully well. So is 'Eventide' by Karen and Richard Carpenters (though not as beautifully sung).
But no parallels can be drawn when it comes to the frequency with which the Indo-Pak singers choosing from traditional poetry. If I were to put in a number I'd say that over 90% of Indian & Pakistani (not Bollywood) songs are, in fact, poetry. Penned by the master poets through the long history of Hindi and Urdu literature, these verses are, to say the least, 'serious stuff'. That is precisely why  serious listeners gauge qualitative merit of a singer by his/her selection of poetry. In other words the choice of poetry determines the 'artistic intellect' of a singer; and it doesn't end there. Think Spider Man... having found a great poetic piece brings with it the great responsibility of creating a strong and suitable musical composition for rendition. For most singers the first step is easy, thanks to the extremely rich and abundant poetic content of Indo-Pak literature. However, a substandard musical composition and/or a listless rendition doesn't just receive a bad review, it sends forth a message that the singer obviously lacks the intellectual finesse required to understand the depth of his/her poetic selection and therefore unworthy of any serious consideration.

With such a poetry focussed orientation in vocal music, who can blame me when X-Bitches leaves me shell shocked, speechless and surprised... perplexed, perturbed and puzzled... alongwith alarmed and appalled. Those of you who are not familiar with this 1998 Ice Cube number from the album 'War & Peace (vol 1)'.  For better understanding, below is a picture of the first 1:30 minutes of this track ... the full song runs five minutes:

Please note the ninth line which is 39 seconds into the song... apparently the singer has a problem with 'cussin'!

Yes I do recognize how relativity contributes towards each and every aspect of human life, be it science arts or philosophy. Therefore the atypical lyrics, as in the example above, might very well be liked, appreciated and enjoyed by many who are not me. BUT, I also understand that it doesn't take very long for the 'atypical' to become the norm; especially in a society governed by political correctness. How this political correctness actually allows and nurtures political incorrectness in a debate for another time. Right now my dilemma is that my son raps very well but, owing to the usage of certain words which have become typical to rap, he remains uncomfortable about sharing his talent to the fullest with his parents and grandparents.

My parents and my parents in law are all in their eighties. They'll probably not be around long enough to witness profanity laden music become the norm. A less sentimental person might suggest that maybe its not for them and thats that, which could be (debatably) true; but that also means that they won't be enjoying their favorite grandson's talent, which, to me, is a shame. My son on the other hand is seventeen and hopefully has a lifetime ahead but does that give him enough time to become comfortable with something which has a certain negative connotation in his moral makeup? I'm afraid that a less sentimental person will have the same suggestion for him too... which, to me, is double shame!

Profanity in Vocal Music is a debate that can involve a lot of 'should've, would've, could've' but its not a debate that I intend to start here. All I intend doing through this little write up is to ask a simple question. The most beautiful thing ever said about music is that it has no boundaries. Going by that isn't it ok if one questions the authenticity of such music which has to be scanned, controlled, edited and blocked depending upon the social territory it is within?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Three Things

9/11, Shahzeb & Game Show Prize Babies

I haven't been writing much. That's because I've been painting. Our small town has four small art galleries where local and touring artists take turns displaying their works all year round. I'm going to turn fifty in less than two months and the desire to have my first exhibition before that is strong these days.
BUT, there are things transpiring every moment of every day and some of them I just cannot let pass without comment.

1st Thing:
Yesterday marked twelve years since two aircrafts were flown into the WTC buildings in Manhattan, New York. I watched it on TV while cooking breakfast for my kids. I was only three years new in the US, had recently moved to the then famous and fabled Silicon Valley & had no clue that what I was watching was not special effects. Not until my brother called from  Bangkok asking the same question, "is it for real"?  I hope everyone understands that the doubt in our heads was for no other reason but the sheer unexpected  bizarreness of the tragedy. However, through the twelve years since then, an actual group of people has emerged who not only doubt the 'bizarreness' but also the motive and the roleplayers. This group dismisses the US version of the act of terror (they do not believe it was an act of terror at all) and present a theory which can be bullet pointed as follows:
  • The 9/11 'happening' was orchestrated by the US Government itself for the purpose of waging war over peace loving Muslims.
  • The twin towers did not collapse because of the two Boeings 767 crashing into the structures but because of monitored explosions at the base of each tower. 
  • The entire Jewish population of the two towers was 'mysteriously' absent on the day of the 'so called attack'. 
I cannot give you the details, reasons or purpose of either the theory or the theorists behind it simply because I have never tried finding out. But I can tell you this that some of my 'friends' on Facebook are whole hearted supporters. These are the same people who question the authenticity of Holocaust but conveniently keep a blind faith when it comes to their God, prophet and religion. One of such 'friends', who is pretty irked by President Obama's recent declaration of 'move to strike Syria' posted this:

I do not go looking for public opinion declarations on the net but since this showed up in my notifications, I commented as follows:
 .....disagree that Afghans, Iraqis & Pakistanis are not 'accessory' to the crimes committed in the name of Islam. Even by Islamic law, withholding knowledge about a wrongdoing, being complacent in a criminally/militantly driven society and keeping quiet while watching the aggressor act is being a partner in crime. ..... the past few years have seen me speak out loud about the atrocities committed by MUSLIMS to prove that only them and none else is in the right. AND those who'd want to retort with the hackneyed cliche "(these people) are not Muslims" & that "Islam is a religion of peace", 2 things:
  1. They ARE as much Muslims as u or anyone else ... probably more because they ... follow their belief. The fact that their belief is absolutely absurd is notwithstanding. 
  2. If there were more scholars of Quran instead of 'hafiz-e-Quran' the facts and details of violent instructions would be clearer (to) all.
 I dare ... all to read the book (and) the history to find out what u have been pledging your allegiance to and then decide if u have what it takes to follow religion/s OR show the (dignity) to choose human rights over religion.
Which brings me to the 2nd Thing on my list. On Christmas eve last year, Shahzeb Khan, a twenty years old young man from Karachi, was gunned down by one Shahrukh Jatoi on the behest of his friend Siraj Talpur. The killing was the result of an argument over the servants of the killers making suggestive passes at the victim's sister, to which he objected angrily. What made this murder a 'contemplated cold blood killing' was the fact that the verbal 'fight' was broken up & resolved but a few hours later the killers returned with a 9mm gun and shot the unsuspecting Shahzeb four times while he sat in his parked car outside a mosque in a popular upscale market area.
What followed was a series of events in which the killers (belonging to powerful and wealthy feudal families of Sind) escaped to Dubai defying all law enforcing and security agencies, the victim's friends and family effectively used the social media to get attention, the Chief Justice of Pakistan 'took notice' and the authorities were directed to register a case against the suspects and produce them for first hearing. In less than a month four accused were arrested (including Shahrukh Jatoi in dubai), remanded and the trial was on its way. By June 6, 2013 the court wrapped up its proceedings by awarding two death sentences and two life imprisonments to the four accused.
Three months later, on 9/9/2013, Pakistani media went berserk airing the news that all four convicted were "pardoned by the victim's family in the name of Allah".
Since the Pakistani Law on murder conforms to Islamic 'Sharia' it does talk of 'blood money' in exchange for 'death' however, I have not come across 'absolute pardon' being a part of this law. Neither have I been able to find such a precedent (in a murder case after sentencing) in the history of the Pakistani court system so my comment on this is: "Go figure"!
Interestingly though, this 'pardon by the family' did not sit well particularly with those involved in turning this case into a 'cause for justice' in Pakistan. This includes journalists, witnesses and Shahzeb's friends. For a common man taking on the feudals in a criminal case takes courage with a capital C. It is therefore, not surprising if these people feel terribly disappointed, let down and cheated.
But why is the general public pissed? Is it that average Pakistanis have come to a point where their craving for justice has overcome their need for religion? I don't know if they are ready to point out how the "Islamic Law" leads to lawlessness but, for once, many more than a few have openly criticized the massive loophole therein.

And talking of loopholes, it looks like religion in Pakistan is actually the loophole helping everyone and everything slide out of sticky situations.
The 3rd Thing is one such sticky situation about which I must comment before it fizzles out of our forgiving minds.

This is Amir Liaquat Hussain, 
a televangelist turned game show host holding an abandoned baby which he will award to the couple who answer correctly his questions on religion. According to the information available, more than two babies have been given away as 'prizes' and there are more in line awaiting their turn.

I have already shared with you my comments on the first two things. My comment on this last one is: "I would like to believe that Amir Liaquat Hussain, his game show and the 'prize abandoned babies' do not exist". I would like to believe this just like the facebook friend I mentioned and others who believe that holocaust didn't happen, 9/11 was staged by the US government & blind faith in a religion is the key to salvation.
PS. If ever I was interested in seeing public comment on articles on this blog, its now. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Absent Axiom

Worth vs Value in Putting a Price Tag on Housework

        United Nations Statistics and Indicators on Men & Women suggest that:
  • At any given time 72% of the world population is married.
  • At any given time, more than 60% of the married females do not earn money.
  • More than 95% of the working and nonworking married women are responsible for doing house work. 
       According to a 2011 survey by the Professional and Domestic Services Institute, in the US a live in housekeeper can expect an annual package offering $35,000 to $60,000 of take home salary for a 50 hour week with weekly and annual holidays and benefits including automobiles and insurances. The high profile website, which caters for all who can pay/afford, offers $85,000 to $150,000 a year to individuals qualifying to work as 'Administrative Household Managers'. The job requires a college degree and responsibilities include guaranteed smooth running of everyday life at the employing household including procedures, schedules, rules, itineraries, events, vacations, travel etc. Administrative Household Managers are expected to budget, manage and execute short notices and tall orders. An overview suggests that these individuals are expected to deliver almost everything that a middle class housewife is expected to do; which compels me to share two most thought provoking facts with you: 
  • Typically, households employing live-in housekeepers spend an average of 12-18% of their annual income on this service. 
  • In comparison the average personal expenditure of a housewife amounts to less than 7% of the annual household income.
     The above facts are neither hard to find nor hard to believe. What's hard to believe is that they have never been used in determining the value of the most common job in the world, only because most of the times it is being performed without compensation by the woman in a domestic relationship. In a world where everything (including labor) is price-tagged according to its profitability it is strange that those which are for free are the most unappreciated. Yes we have come a long way from wheat grinding stones and wood burning stoves; and yes, like the rest of the world, housework continues to enjoy a regular influx of efficiency tools but the fact remains that in a domestic unit the one responsible for housework is the most un(der)appreciated.

     There is also another sad fact. Housework, is devalued and somewhat not accepted as a skill not only by those who enjoy it for free but also by those who perform it.

     For example there is my mother, who chose to put her own paying career as a college teacher and writer on hold to take care of her house and kids until the kids were on their feet and things requiring personal attention became fewer and far apart. However, she never fails to remind me that I need to get busy with a 'job' because I have been  'free' for too long. During such reminders she tends to project that things like putting one's culinary skills to work, delivering fresh laundry to all family members, daily cleaning and upkeep, grocery shopping and  regular event planning, management and execution etc. do not qualify as a 'job'. I want to forgive her though, for the reason that she belongs to a culture where immense social disparity allows for cheap, unskilled domestic labor, which leads people to believe that the jobs of housekeeping, nannying, cleaning and cooking are as menial and undemanding as the persons doing them. But that is not an excuse, because she also knows that without her continuous supervision her unskilled staff cannot perform. Which only means that for any job to run smoothly you either require skilled labor or a well trained manager.

     The importance of the size of a price tag is more sorely evident in a capitalist society like ours where housekeeping does not come cheap but still housework is not valued accordingly when it is being done by the wife.

     Listen to this story. Last Monday, at 2:15 in the afternoon, a knock at the door most annoyingly pulled me away from my painting. A well dressed man with a very friendly smile stood on the porch. Misinterpreting my annoyance as fear he said "Did I scare you? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to." For some reason, instead of saying that 'I was in the middle of painting a six foot canvas with acrylics and since they dry very fast, therefore the expression', I said "I have something on the stove; I'm concerned that it might burn". Obviously my response failed to  convey my urgency to get back to work because he gave a chuckle and proceeded to introduce himself. "I am Mr. X, the neighborhood financial consultant. They call me the finance doctor and I represent this very big Investment company with seven million clients" he offered me a colorful flyer. I wanted to say 'which part of something on the stove did you not understand', but instead, I smiled politely and took the flyer. Long story short he talked for a good ten minutes probing about our finances and offering his services; and then abruptly asked "how is that I caught you home at this hour today"?
"I don't work for money; if that is what you are asking" was my response.
"Oh, so you are a stay at home mom... you don't work... you take care of the kids".
The sheer oxymoronity (excuse the contrivance) of his sentence left me speechless for a few seconds. "I...take care of the kids too" I managed to reply... and that was that.

     One would like to think that of all people a financial consultant would understand the financial advantage of distribution of work between two partners, to the best ability of each in any given situation; but obviously this one could not even identify 'work' or 'job' in the absence of a price tag.

     The greater disappointment, however, is when similar reactions come from people like my brother. A marxist by thought, i expect him to be able to gauge worth and value through a dialectical process.  He might not denounce housework unequivocally but he does depict it as prosaic and devoid of providing intellectual stimulation or gratification.

     Each household is different from the other. In most middle or upper(ish) middle class homes, where generating a second income is not a matter of survival, housewifing instead of housekeeping  is evidently more commonplace. For example, in our case my husband and I have divided responsibilities on the basis of our personal strengths and weaknesses. The concept is 'socialistic' where use-value of our abilities is as much importance as their exchange-value. My husband is a trained marketing professional and his greatest strength is his ability to keep pace with the ceaseless evolution of his profession and to adapt effortlessly and seamlessly. He, in other words, is single minded and works extremely well with fixed targets. I am a trained creative artist and my greatest strength is my flexibility to be innovative on demand, with finesse, without losing structure, order and eventual productivity. I, in other words, can take on multiple jobs of various sizes and character, from beginning, middle or the end and make them delivery ready, without fuss and confusion. Simply put, I provide my husband with a strong, comfortable and effective launching pad to soar as high as he does. The integrally interdependent nature of our jobs renders individual success irrelevant since, within the family unit, none can perform without the other. It is basically a collaborative division of work on two equal but different levels. Why one level is deemed higher than the other is the doing of a society which has lost the understanding of use value vs exchange value. 

     If you Google 'wind turbines' you will see hefty price tags ranging from three to five digits depending on the size and efficacy of the turbine, but from the cheapest to the most expensive, a wind turbine is useless without wind! In my opinion, there cannot be a better example to demonstrate how use value is almost always taken for granted by materially trained human minds. 

     It surely is a tragedy that idioms like 'time is money' have become hardline truths in our world of profit and private ownership. The folly of this behavior/attitude reflects in the way human race has abused its environment, by plundering, wasting and not valuing expendable resources essential for long term survival. Therefore, no matter how ignored or overlooked, the axiom of value of housework undeniably stays put even in absentia. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dialogue 2: Tina's Dogs

Her:    Tina was sad today...

Him:    Who’s Tina?

Her:    My manicure person...

Him:    Right.

Her:    Lulu died...

Him:    Who’s Lulu?

Her:    Tina’s dog...

Him:    Right.

Her:    I told you about her...

Him:    I remember... the dog which is divine, is extremely fashionable and has accessories.

Her:    No... the dog Tina calls ‘Lulu divine, the extreme fashion accessory’...

Him:    Right… I mean OOH, she died?

Her:    Yes, and Tina is taking it really hard...

Him:    But this… this Tina person…you told me she has numerous dogs, right?

Her:    Three; Lulu, Bobo and Jingles… her babies... Bobo and Jingles are boys...

Him:    Right.

Her:    They wear very expensive clothes...

Him:    Excuse me?

Her:    She dresses them up in very expensive clothes...

Him:    For fun?

Her:    I’m sure it’s fun for Tina...

Him:    No I mean she dresses her dogs up for fun or for real?

Her:    Oh, for real, very very real. Their outfits cost at least $90 a piece...

Him:    She’s just telling you that.

Her:    She didn't tell me... I looked it up on the ‘Pet Couture’ website...

Him:    Pet what?

Her:    ‘Pet Couture’. It’s an upscale pet apparel store...

Him:    Of course.

Her:    Everyday she’d bring one to work and two would stay home keeping each other company. Now she’ll have to bring both Bobo and Jingles to work...

Him:    I think she’ll soon get another dog.

Her:    You think?

Him:    Of course, she’ll have to find a girl for her boys…. you know.

Her:    Oh I don’t think so...

Him:    Come on now, every boy needs a girl.

Her:    That’s factually incorrect; besides, Tina’s boys are neutered. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dialogue 1. Why Did You Leave Your Country

Him:   Why did you leave your Country?
Her:    More than one reasons.
Him:    But tell me one.
Her:    The Forms.
Him:    Forms?
Her:    Yes, the forms. The forms that you fill out at different offices. School entry forms, school exit forms, job application forms, passport application forms, passport renewal forms…
Him:   You don’t like filling in forms?
Her:    Oh I’m neutral about filling them IN, it’s certain questions which I don’t want to answer… questions I can’t answer.
Him:    Any one in particular?
Her:    Two actually.
Him:    Go on.
Her:    Well, here’s the story. The first time I applied for a passport as an adult, I filled in the form as I thought right and submitted it. It came back in the mail with a letter saying "it is the responsibility of the applicant to provide the passport office with all required information. Incomplete or ambiguous forms cannot be processed by this office".
The two 'incomplete' fields were highlighted in pink.   
Him:    Which were?
Her:    Father’s/husband’s name and religion.
Him:    Ah-hah, I could never have guessed.
Her:    So I went to the passport office, got in the 'ladies' line and on my turn submitted the same form again to the man behind the window. 
Him:  Friendly man?
Her:   Judgmental man. 
Him:  Ouch.
Her:   Yup. So he looked at it... kinda' scanned it, and then looked at me. And I said what? And he said, 'Full information miss. Full information about you'. 
And I said I HAVE given full information about myself. See, here is my name, my age, date of birth, sex, height, distinguishing mark.
Him:    And?
Her:    And he said, ‘but what is your religion’. And I said I don’t have one. And he said, 'you have to have one, everyone does, and I said not everyone, and he said weren't you born a Muslim or a Christian or a Hindu? And I said no, I am sure I was born a girl.
Him:    You pissed him!
Her:    Not yet.
Him:   Then?
Her:    Then he smiled, cynically, I remember, ‘cause then he said, 'and what about your father, you didn't put in his name. Did he disown you after you became faithless'?
Him:   He was pissed!
Her:    Not yet.
Him:   OK, then?
Her:    Then I said, 'Daddy is very much around sir but since he didn't put my name on his passport, I have decided not to put his on mine.
NOW he was pissed.

Him:   Do you miss it?
Her:   Form filling?
Him:   Your country?
Her:    Oh yes, I do. I miss it a lot.
Fabulous fun...almost like an intense summer fling in Florence… adorable but not the marrying kind.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

مغلظات کا استعارہ

مئی کا مہینہ دو چیزوں کی نظر ہوا. ایک پاکستانی انتخابات  اور دوسرے قوم کی آراء. انتخابات کی ہلچل ١٢ مئی کو ختم ہوئی تو دھاندلی کا شور بلند ہوا اور اتنا بلند ہوا کہ زوال آتے آتے چند ہفتے لگ گۓ. اب حلف برداریاں ہو رہی ہیں. ان تمام حالات، واقعات اور رویوں کے دوران ایک چیز جو ہمہ وقت جاری، موجود اور  دستیاب رہی وہ تھی 'رائے عامہ'. 

ٹیلیوژن پر مکالمہ، انٹرنیٹ پر مکالمہ، فیس بک پر مکالمہ، ٹوٹر پر مکالمہ اور پھر ان مکلاموں پر عوامالناس کی آراء. ہم 'ڈش کلچر' کو بھلے کوسیں مگر حقیقت یہ ہے کہ پاکستانی عوام کواپنے حقوق سے آشنا کروانے میں  جو کردار ذرائع ابلاغ نے ادا کیا ہے وہ اس ملک کے تعلیمی ادارے  پچھلے چھیاسٹھ سال میں نہ کر سکے. لیکن اسکے ساتھ ساتھ ان مکلاموں اور آراء نے جہاں بہت سے جیّد سیاستدانوں کی سیاست اور دانشوروں کی دانش کے پول کھولے وہاں اسلامی جمہوریہ پاکستان میں بسنے والے متعدد افراد کی ریکارڈ توڑ  ناشائستگی اور ذہنی پستی پر پڑے تمام پردے بھی اٹھا دیۓ. سوشل میڈیا پر بکھرے مغلظات سے لبریز انگنت  "کمنٹس"  اس بات کا منہ بولتا ثبوت ہیں کہ مذہبی بالادستی اور  سماجی اقدار کی عمدگی کا دعوا کرنے والی قوم تعلیم اور تھذیب کے اعتبار سے کسقدر مفلس و نادار ہے.

اسلامی جمہوریہ پاکستان جس میں رہنے والے ستانوے فیصد پاکستانی مسلمان ہیں اور اپنے مذھب کے حوالے سے عورت کی عزت اور اس سے جڑے رشتوں کے مقدس اور مقدم ہونے کا ذکر کرتے نہیں تھکتے. پاکستانی، جنکی قومی زبان میں تکلف اور بے تکلفی کا فرق 'آپ' اور 'تم' سے لے کر 'جی' اور 'ہاں' تک بار بار بتایا جاتا ہے تاکہ تہذیب کا دامن ہاتھ سے نہ چھُوٹے. یہی پاکستانی جب اظہار راۓ کرنے پر آۓ تو ماں پلک جھپکتے میں مادر ہوئی اور پھر مادراور بہن دونوں، مباشرت کے سابقے بن کر رہ گئے. جہاں اس سے کام نہ چلا وہاں ماؤں، بہنوں اور بیٹیوں کے متعلق نہایت تفصیل سے شہوانی مشورے دیے گئے....

لیکن مجھے اسپر کوئی رفاہی تقریر نہیں کرنی. مجھے تو صرف دو نتیجے اور دو باتیں آپ تک پہنچانی ہیں. اور آخر میں ایک چھوٹا سا سوال کرنا ہے.

نتیجہ نمبر ١. استمعال ہونے والی ننانوے فیصد مغلظات کا شخصی استعارہ عورت ہے.
نتیجہ نمبر ٢. استمعال کرنے والوں میں ننانوے فیصد سے زائد مرد ہیں.

بات نمبر ١.   بند کمرے میں اکیلے یا یار دوستوں کی صحبت میں بیٹھ کر اور ایک فرضی نام کے پیچھے چھپ کر کمپیوٹر پر ماں بہن کی گلیاں لکھنا، جسمانی لحاظ سے خود کو توپ اور مخالف کو پانی کی پستول بتانا اور اسکے برتے پر خود کو ناقابل شکست سمجھنا کمزوری، جہالت، احساس کمتری اور کمینگی کی ٹھوس علامات ہیں. 
بات نمبر ٢. اس مظاہرے سے یہ ثابت ہوتا ہے کہ اسلامی جمہوریہ پاکستان کی مغلظات بکنے والی عوام جہالت اور اخلاقی دیوالییہ پن میں کسی طرح بھی  ڈنمارک کے کارٹونسٹ اور امریکی فلمساز سے کمتر نہیں. جسطرح وہ اپنے سے مختلف عقیدہ رکھنے والوں کے جذبات کو مجروح کرنے میں اپنا ثانی نہیں رکھتے اسی طرح اپنے مخالفین کی تذلیل میں انسانیت اور لحاظ بیچ کھانے اور شرم کو گھول کر پی جانے میں پاکستانی عوام کا کوئی ہم پلّہ نہیں. 

سوال: ان حقائق کی موجودگی میں کیا یہ بہتر نہ ہو گا مذہبی، تھذیبی اور معاشرتی سطح پر موجود اپنے احساس برتری کو پس پشت ڈال دیا جاۓ اور اپنے دینی اور دنیاوی رویوں کی فضیلت کا ڈھندھوڑا پیٹنے سے گریز کیا جاۓ ؟