Thursday, March 31, 2011


When Green Shirts’ Efficiency turns into Deficiency

By Mahtab Bashir

The excitement and plans to celebrate the result of the second semi-final vanished with the defeat of Pakistani team at the hands of India on Wednesday (March 30), however, at the mid way through when Indians posted 260, the youngsters look optimistic- ‘Yes we will jump over the chest of Indians this time’!

With the start of the second innings in the match, the Federal Capital started giving a festive look as cricket lovers wearing green T-shirts and faces painted with the flags came to the roads on their motorbikes and cars.

The young and the old gathered around giant screens placed at various points in Islamabad. They cheered in excitement when a player hit a four or faced a fierce delivery. Whenever an Indian wicket fell people jumped and danced in jubilation and fired gunshots in the air.

Fatima Jinnah Park drew the largest crowd where a large screen was installed. The other gathering was witnessed in front of the Islamabad Stock Exchange building, F-10 Markaz, National Press Club (NPC) and Jinnah Super Market (F-7)- where I enjoyed the first innings thoroughly!! However, after the match ended, signs of gloom were visible on the faces of youngsters returning back on their vehicles only waving Pakistani flags but not raising any slogan.

Earlier, in the day the otherwise bustling and noisy Islamabad wore a deserted look with traffic off the road, shutters down in markets and cricket lovers confining themselves to their homes. However, in the evening youngsters wearing green shirts and faces painted came out in their vehicles showing victory signs, bringing the hustle and bustle back to the city.

The road celebrations kicked off the moment the Indian inning was over giving a meager target of 261 to chase. Many youngsters around me were very optimistic and in a fluster opined, “This total posting on the board is nothing especially on Mohali track. We will do it easily, all we need is a flying opening start of 50+ runs or a good 70+ partnership,” said Hamza to me, and I agreed with him.

As the second innings starts, we were exhausted and instead of spending time at Jinnah Super, we opted to go home leaving other boys there, who were with us and lost somewhere enjoying. We didn’t bother them and went back home where I found my dream torn into pieces.

The infuriating wait for the titanic India-Pakistan clash ended in anti-climax for the fans in green as India shattered Pakistan’s hopes for a 2011 World Cup final appearance courtesy a nervy 29-run win watched by thousands inside the stadium and billions in front of their television sets.

Apology accepted ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ but if I chanced to interview you, ‘What makes you delay to capitalize the Power Play, when u was on the crease’, would be my first and last question!

Pakistan Zindabad!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


‘Education is common but Knowledge is rare’: Saien Ditta, a vendor at Old Books Stall at H-9 Sunday Bazaar

By Mahtab Bashir

How many types of books are there? The philosopher Francis Bacon answered four centuries ago, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

During a visit to H-9 Sunday Bazaar, when this scribe asked the complementary question, how many types of readers are there? Saien Ditta- the old books vendor said some read only if they have to, others read anything they can get hold of, yet others search for challenges. Some like poetry, while others enjoy non-fiction. Some readers start a book hesitantly until the writer casts a spell on them; others open books with great gusto but abandon them after a few pages.

Ditta, 47 sitting on a bench inside his Stalls No. D-502 & D-503 while talking to Daily Times said that book reading habit no doubt is on the verge of decline because of rapidly integrated computer technology where anyone could access at any time with spending a meager amount and that too without leaving their homes.
“I have put up all sort of books from Urdu, English literature to Persian, French, Italian, German and literature from all over the world. Besides a wide range of course books from matriculation levels to graduation, local and international magazines, cooking books, English novels and stationary, but unfortunately the customers are few,” Ditta said.

There are around 5 old book stalls in H-9 Bazaar held under the banner of Capital Development Authority (CDA) selling various sort of literature books and academic books for students but it was witnessed during the visit that only students who are preparing for their exams are frequently visiting these stalls and asking for guess papers/ keys/ or guide books from the bookstalls vendors. I have been doing this business because of my romance for reading books for the last 15 years. “I take a strange sense of satisfaction while reading a book and this trait of mine pushed me establishing this business I started from G-9 Bazaar Sunday Bazaar that is now shifted to H-9 Bazaar,” Ditta said.

When asked why this habit of reading books is on the verge of extinct, Ditta said smilingly in Pakistan it was never on the rise. “Centuries ago, there was no Internet facility in Europe but whole Europe experienced the intellectual revolution when philosophers and intellectuals brought prosperity to their respective countries,” he said adding I have access to modern technology but still I steal more pleasure reading book instead of browsing on internet.

Another reason that caused the downfall of reading books is everyone has become selective. “Students just picked the books for reading and getting good grades to pass the examination and later find a good job but hardly anyone grab the literature books to enhance his knowledge,” Ditta said adding now ‘Education is pretty common these days but Knowledge is rare’, he said precisely.

To a question, Ditta said the fundamental reason of decrease in book lovers is the ongoing inflation and interest of people comes later. Quoting an incident, he said a young kid comes to his stall thrice as he was interested to get a book but her mother took her to away on an adjacent stall of a food where they both had cold drinks and snacks,” Ditta said smilingly. He said 90 percent of his customers are students while just 10 percent of customers visited his stall for literature books, novels, magazines, or cooking books etc.

“I am doing a government job as well and purchased books from Lahore and other jumbo book stalls on a cheap rates and offered my customers on a 50 percent discount and sometime lesser than 50 percent rates but still I found them reluctant to buy books, Ditta said adding customers leave the stall saying price is not affordable to him/her.

“There was a time when I used to sell good bulk of books a month time, now I only manage (to sell) just few in a day, “ he said. But still it is a good source of knowledge, I am selling it to my satisfaction and people like me are buying it to theirs’, Ditta said.

Daily Times,
however, found that a few dedicated patrons of these shops still exist. Mahwish, a housewife, while purchasing a couple of Urdu novels said that she has been a vivacious reader since her childhood. “It has everything to give me guideline of settling the domestic issues, nurturing the kids and how to struck a balance between home and outside affairs,” Mahwish said adding reading Urdu digest guided her understanding the child psychology.

Another English novel lover, Rafea Manan said there is a mustiness and familiarity to old bookshops that isn’t always found in the glossiness of larger bookstores in the city. “I can have some unique books from here at time that are centuries old and thus haven’t lost their uniqueness,” she said.
People like Mahwish and Rafea, however, are in minority.

Many of us no longer have the time to be huddled-in with old books.
The prognosis for these old books’ stalls is not good; they are fighting a battle for their very survival- when many believe they might very well already have lost.

A study carried out by the University of California at San Diego found out that people in the US were consuming more words on average now than in the 1980s. But this was mainly due to increase in online activities including facebooking, tweeting and blogging etcetera.
Pakistan has an Internet penetration of about 10.6 per cent (the second highest in South Asia, after the Maldives), according to Internet World Stats, and PTA expects it to rise rapidly in the coming years.

published in Daily Times, Monday, March 29,\03\28\story_28-3-2011_pg11_10

Monday, March 21, 2011


Dedicated to all drivers who ply their vehicles on the road to prosperity

By Mahtab Bashir


Emotions come instinctively to every individual as he tries to find happiness and grievances utilizing these sentiments. Thus, people while reacting use various modes to express their feelings. Few use an art of painting to express their feelings, many opts to pick up the guns in their hands in frustration and few goes to create emotions with words through poetry.

In such perspective, when we peep through the lifestyle of laborers around us who earn honestly with laborious work, especially of drivers of trucks, buses, vans, or taxi cabs, we came to know they remained satisfy with their lives even though they are people of lesser God and hence, through their experiences they remained resonant putting up a number of verses on their vehicles- sometime emotional, sarcastic, hilarious and sometime with the usage of metaphors or similes to vigorise expressions.

One of the lesser known sides of Pakistani life: the chaotic public transport blossoms in color with buses, trucks, rickshaws and taxi cabs that are decked out in bright paint and elaborate designs- and the best part for many is the poetry.

Poetry in any form is good, but one that comes with hu
mour and sarcasm adds to the spice. In Pakistan we come across many public transport vehicles that have imprinted some form of poetry (shairi) mostly at the back of their vehicles, showcasing that people in particular drivers of these vehicles are not hopeless and proved out to be the beacon of hope for prosperous Pakistan.

Marking the International Poetry Day today, Daily Times, asked many of drivers of these vehicles exploring why they use poetry as tool of their expression, many of them opined every verse is a reflection of their gut feelings. “This is in a very real sense a public conversation which is not in books, which is not in the type of middle class milieus – it’s on the street, and it is what actually we have experienced in our lives and later on engraved at the bumper of our vehicles,” they said.

A taxi cab driver in F-8 parking when asked why he has inscribed this verse ‘Kis Qadar Khush Nazar Atay Hein Meray Shahar Kay Log- Aaj Akhbar Kisi Nay Na Parha Ho Jaisay’, (People of my city look happier today, it seems as if they have not read the daily newspaper), Kashif Satti, the driver smiled and said this verse is not going to be outdated in socio-political milieu of this country. “ I am dejected ever since I heard the release of Raymond Davis, the killer of two innocent Pakistanis and since then drone attacks and extremism has hit the country all over with blasts on a daily basis,” he said with a serious tone.

We must also say that every now and then one does comes across a very standard poetry sample, which makes one think in admiration of poetic sense of its creator as well as the transport owner. Look at this another verse written on a vehicle spotted in Rawalpindi: ‘Jahan Sach Na Milay, Wahan Jhoot Hi Sahi- Jahan Haq Na Milay, Wahan Loot Hi Sahi’ (When you are not to be
succeeded truthfully, you may use the crooked ways). “This is not a manifestation of just a driver of a cab, like me but the reason this verses is here to reflect the vivid picture how much this society has indulged in corruption, nepotism, and biased to say the least as it seems that an honest man has no place in this country to live on,” said Zahoor Ahmed, a cab driver.

Of course, the drivers aren’t writing these verses in a vacuum. Poetry plays a very prominent role in popular culture here – not just as a form of art, but also as a part of everyday conversation. ‘Dawaa Zubaan Ka, Lucknow Walon Kay Samnay- Guftar-e-Boo-e-Mushq, Ghazalo Kay Samnay’, (Mentioning the qualities of mother tongue in front of people of Lucknow, seems like talking about musk infront of Deer). “Often, the verses reflect the culture and cultural background of a particular place where the driver of vehicle belongs to and where these vehicles hang out,” said Hidaytullah, a truck driver belongs to Karachi said.

Religion being the fundamental element influenced our lives and many of drivers opt to choose verses for preaching and suggestions to readers. ‘Sari Musibaton’ Ka Aik Hi Hal- Bistar Utha, Tableegh Ko Chal’, (The only soul soother solution of all troubles is- to go for Tableegh (preaching) is one of such verse written on a van. “I have been driving loader truck since 15 years and I since many years I have been participating in annual ‘Tableeghi Ijtima’ at Raiwind since last many years. I feel relaxed there as it appeases my inner self a lot and that’s why I have written this verse,” said Hamza bearded driver.

Other than this, the drivers of vehicles use poetry on account of relating their personal account of romanticism and livelihood. ‘Musafir Hoon Manzil Ko Ja Raha Hoon- Pait Ki
Khatir taxi Chala Raha Hoon’ (I am a travller head towards my destiny and riding this cab for livelihood), ‘Chalta Hoon Har Subha mein Tumhari Talash May- Har Shaam Laot-ta Hoon Isi Bebasi Ky Saath’, ‘Dil to Day Chukay Hein Ab Naseeb Azma Rahay Hein- Kisi Sangdil Ki Khatir, Taxi Chala Rahay Hein’ ‘Hazaro Manzilain Hon Gi, Hazaro Garian Hon Gi- Sawari Humko Dhunday Gi, Na Janay Hum Kahan Ho Gay’, ‘Sarak Say Dosti Hay, Safar Say Yari Hay- Dekh Piary, Kaisi Zindagi Hamari Hay’, and ‘Na Koi Umag Hay, Na Koi Tarang Hay- Meri Zidagi Hay Kia, Ik Kati Patang Hay’, are few of verses that has preserved the natural innocence and ‘be-saakhtagi’ (spontaneity) of the transport poetry. Many ‘ashaar’ are not hum-wazan, and many have problem with ‘tazkeer-o-taanees’ (gender) e.g. feminine words sometimes are referred to as masculine and vice versa but this lawlessness in poetry is what makes it so colorful and enjoyable.

These hard-pressed drivers use couplets to explain a situation, something like the way proverbs are used but for the owners of public transport vehicles, it’s also about defining their public identity.

Daily Times dedicate this ‘International Poetry Day’ to all drivers, cleaners, mechanics and transporters of Pakistan who despite all hardships are keeping the wheel of economy moving from Karachi to Landi Kotal.

World Poetry Day will be observed across the world today (Monday) to celebrate the achievements of poets and motivate them to produce quality literature.

To mark the day, different literary organizations will arrange a variety of events including contests, readings and festivals. Renowned literary figures from twin cities talking to Daily Times said that poetry works as an indicator to bring reforms in political, social and cultural spheres of life.

Poetry not only shapes individual identities but also serves the public and evoke their feelings against injustices and inhuman activities, they observed.

The core objective of celebration of this day is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world and as the UNESCO session declaring the day says, to give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements. WPD was declared by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1999.

World Poetry Day also pr
ovides an opportunity for children, in particular, to be introduced to poetry at home and in schools. Classrooms all over the world will be busy with lessons that seek to equip students with the necessary tools to identify the various types of poetry, examine the works of poets and engage in writing their own poetry.

Exhibitions and poetry evenings showcased the work of poets on or around March 21 to mark the day. UNESCO promoted the efforts of small publishers to publish poetry. The day was first observed in 2000.

Let me wrap up this piece of writing with one of the most common poetic phrase written on these vehicles reflecting the love for mother: ‘Maa ki Duwaa, Jannat Ki Hawaa- Maa Ki Bad-Dua, Ja Puttar Rickshaw Chala’!!!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

ANOTHER VOICE SILENCED: Minority Minister Shot Dead in I-8 Sector of Islamabad

Bhatti calls all religious factions to defeat violence, extremism
*Said I received threats but will not buy any bullet-proof vehicles, would continue struggling for peace
*Minorities sacrificed for Pakistan more than Mullahs who used to issue Fatwas to make situation worse and push solutions further out of reach
*Slain minister acknowledged slain governor’s assertion that blasphemy laws are man-mad, not divine, and are misused

By Mahtab Bashir
Before leaving Bhatti’s office while winding up my rendezvous with him, I stood up and whispered in Punjabi, ‘Theek ay Bhatti Sahib, tusi apna kam karo, (you please, do your work), thank you so much for your time. He raised from his seat, hugged me smilingly and asked me, ‘yar mahtab, ay interview kis din chapay ga’? (When this interview will get published? I said Saturday or Sunday are usually dull days and space is sufficient so these days are better to flash your interview. ‘theek ay’, Bhatti said in his low voice putting his hand on red tie. ‘Oh sorry Bhatti Sahib, “Every time I make promise to gift you a red colour tie, but I always forget to bring it for you. By the way, why you wear mostly red ties,” I asked final question while standing. Bhatti smiled again and said ‘pata nahi yar bus waisy e, red colour prominent ay na’. I nodded my head smilingly. ‘Beth ja, ki karna e jaa kay, I said bus sir kafi kam ikatha ho gia ay subha da, stories file karan da time ho gia ay, fair mulaqat hoi gi, insha allah, tay ais dafa ‘Red Tie’ zaroor lay kay awan ga. The minister smiled in response and I left Green Tower – where the ministry of minority affairs office located in.

This casual interview proved to be my last meeting with federal minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti on Tuesday March 1, 2011, 15 hours before I heard the news of Bhatti was gunned down on Wednesday morning in Islamabad as he left his house (situated in sector I-8) to attend a cabinet meeting.

He surely was a down to earth creature, very hospitable and a rare breed among the federal ministers who always talked selflessly for underprivileged. During the meeting, when i asked Bhatti sahib, where is your security? I mean from coming up from the parking of this Tower till the up, there’s all open space and even in reaching the 6th floor there is hardly a security personnel deputed for you. Bhatti with his trademark smile said, ‘yar asi Saien log aan, sanu kisay nay ki kehna ay- Chaa pi tu’.

While sipping he asked me in Urdu, ‘Yar mahtab tum kahan sy parhay ho’? I said I have obtained Master's degree from Quaid -e-Azam University (QAU), Punjab University (PU), and now looking forward to get another degree in Mass. Communication from Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) as being a relevant subject to my profession. He smiled again and said, "Good... Achi bat hay yar. Acha jatay hoay bahir say meri aik passport size photograph le jana, wo interview kay sath laga lena, I smiled and said ok ok ... don’t worry bhatti sab.

And next day (Wednesday) it was my weekly off when in my sleep I got a text message from a friend about the brutal assassination of Bhatti. I hurriedly put away my quilt and tuned on news channels one by one- every channel was flashing the callous murder of the Minister. The next moment I was on my way to office. I filed the interview on the same day (Wednesday) well ahead of my promise of Saturday or Sunday! RIP minister!

Here is the swan song Bhatti sang to me!\03\03\story_3-3-2011_pg11_7

All religious factions in the country should get together and come forward to shun the religious extremism and violence, which is on the rise in recent years, and soon ministry will invite intellectuals from all segments of society to seek their advice to combat this menace of extremism, Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti said this on Tuesday night hours before his voice was silenced forever by the bullets of extremists on Wednesday.

Sitting in his office, calm and composed wearing red tie- as his favourite, Bhatti said every religion conveys the message of love, tolerance, peace and brotherhood but unfortunately nothing is visible in our society because of rapidly spreading tentacles of extremism.

Talking exclusively in his last interview, the assassinated minister wished to take all religious, political, and academicians on board to eradicate radical elements involved in ruining the peace, stability and interfaith harmony in the country and bringing bad name abroad.

Terming the assassination of governor Punjab as an act of brazen timidness, that was sabotaging the peace in the country, Bhatti said the killer wanted to disrupt the peace of country and interfaith harmony as Taseer always tried to protect the minorities’ rights.

“The minorities in Pakistan have sacrificed more than these handful of radical forces members who made just Fatwas (edict) to aggravate the situation and exploit people rather going for the solution,” Bhatti said. “These hardliners are the one who destroy shrines, hospitals, educational institutions, and other worship places, whereas minority of Pakistan has produced a number of icons who made their names across the globe,” Bhatti, still a bachelor said.

Referring to murder of Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, Bhatti categorically said all Mullahs who made the Fatwas over blasphemy convicts firstly be arrested for initial investigation of Taseer’s assassination,” he said, adding Taseer was against the blasphemy laws, implemented in the country, as he termed this law as man-made and not divine that is being misused for political, religious and personal vendetta.

Bhatti, who was one of successful minister to reassigned the same portfolio after the resizing of federal cabinet few weeks ago, said slain governor was the person who consoled Aasia Bibi, who was wrongly involved in blasphemy law.

“She was innocent that is why governor met her and promised her to save her life requesting president Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her,” Bhatti said, adding nobody could change their views regarding the misuse of blasphemy law.

Lauding the role of minorities in Pakistan, Bhatti said minorities in the country had staunch faith in all Islamic teachings, Quran, Prophet hood of Muhammad PBUH, and all religious personalities. “None of those could imagine to think to convict blasphemy laws but here in the country radical forces are exploiting these laws for personal interests and we would not allow anyone to exploit these laws in their favour to spread a wave of fanaticism,” he maintained.

He said minorities had participated and struggled extensively in creation of Pakistan and through blasphemy law fanatics wanted to terrorise the country. “These extremists want nobody to talk about blasphemy laws and if someone talked about it, he is convicted for blasphemy,” minister said adding minorities in Pakistan do not want to achieve their rights gaining sympathy from others.

Condemning the role of large public for making Qadri a ‘Hero’, the minister said he condemned the members of legal fraternity for fighting Qadri’s case ‘free of cost’. “I will request again to heads of bar councils to take this decision seriously, governor murder was religiously motivated backed up by political actors with a planned conspiracy,” Bhatti said. “We will fight against it and we will not compromise on it,” soft-spoken Bhatti said.

Giving solution to counter the spreading fanaticism, Bhatti said confrontation is not at all the solution but negotiation and mutual talks are. “I have received a number of threatening text messages, telephone calls, emails and letters to stop raising voice for minority rights and misuse of blasphemy laws but this act could not deter my commitment. I don’t want security, I don’t need bullet proof vehicle- that’s what I am,” Bhatti said.

Talking about the recent steps taken by his ministry for safeguarding the rights of minorities in Pakistan, Bhatti disclosed that we have formed ‘District Interfaith Committees’ in all districts of the country with members belonging to all segments of society. “After this we will form 27 members ‘National Interfaith Council’ at federal levels and initiate the process of negotiation taking all religious groups on board. “Hope this would promote the interfaith dialogue and help projecting peace, tolerance and love among the people of all communities,” he said.

The slain minister said ministry is working on ‘3 E Agenda’ - Emancipation of minorities in Pakistan, Equality, and Empowerment. “Under this policy, we will work out bridge the gap, create an atmosphere of tolerance, and to counter extremism at local levels through dialogue,” he said.

Bhatti said in his recent foreign tour, he met with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, a number of senators and Canadian Prime minister, who lauded our services for the protection and uplift of the minority communities. “Interfaith harmony is the need of the hour and only solution to counter ‘clash of civilization’, ‘prejudice’ and ‘zero tolerance’ for other religion. This is not a need of Pakistan it is global a need and international community has acknowledged us,” Bhatti said proudly.

I want to see Pakistan a liberal and progressive state as envisage by the founder of this nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and PPP slain founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhtto and Benazir Bhutto and under the leadership of president Asif Ali Zardari, we are making headway to make Pakistan a progressive state.

With the wishful thinking Bhatti sang his swan song requesting all liberal and progressive forces to come forward and join hands to eradicate all those forces that want to harm peace and ongoing democratic process in the country.

ISLAMABAD: The Catholic slain federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, son of Jacob Bhatti was born on September 9, 1968 in Lahore, Punjab. Bhatti joined Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 2002. Shahbaz Bhatti was elected Member of the National Assembly on reserved seat for minorities on the ticket of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). He was made Federal Minister for Minorities in year 2008. Shahbaz Bhatti was again included in the Federal Cabinet with same portfolio last month. He was one of the founding members of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) in 1985. He was Chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Founder and President of the Christian Liberation Front, and the Executive Director of the Pakistan Council for Human Rights. Shahbaz Bhatti was the first parliamentarian who made history by assuming the Federal Minister for Minorities. Shahbaz Bhatti also received International Religious Freedom Award for rendering services to the community. He was the first ever Pakistani to receive this award. He was bachelor and have four brothers and one sister. His father died last month in Faisalabad. He was living in Sector I-8/4 Islamabad. As federal minister, Bhatti took stern measures to ensure the safety, rights and empower religious minorities while in office. He launched national campaign to promote interfaith and harmony through seminars, awareness groups, and workshop.