The Pattern

I find twitter to be a great tool for cultural anthropology. There are a lot of views discussed and often many people hold these views very seriously and see twitter as a medium to express them freely. Relative anonymity also makes it easier to utter that you wouldn’t otherwise in public.

One of my occasional observations is how strong the pattern of denying ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits is within various groups of people on Twitter. I am interested in it because I have lived through these events, but also because I want to understand what kind of moral or political imperatives drive people towards holding such views sincerely.

Continue reading “The Pattern”

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The role of Comedy in our age

I am an aspiring stand up comic (‘aspiring’ the operative word here). I was attracted to quick-witted, slapstick comedy while I was at an all-male boarding school in Pakistan. Since I was not physically strong enough to compete with the big boys, I had to use my tongue as an asset/weapon. I grew up watching mild-mannered comedies in Urdu on Pakistani television. It wasn’t until the late 2000s that I discovered ‘Seinfeld’ as a syndicated show on an Indian TV Channel. I had started watching ‘The Daily Show ‘ with Jon Stewart almost at the same time, through pirated websites (broadband internet was a late arrival in our household). There was no broader culture of stand up comedy in Pakistan, except a few souls with western education who were briefly on the scene in the early-to-mid 2000s (Sami Shah, Saad Haroon, etc.), mostly clustered in Karachi (which was as culturally far away for me as New York City). I used whatever avenues I could to write humor. I wrote parodies and mockeries in Urdu, first in boarding school, then in med school. Urdu has produced some great humorists (Ibne-Insha, Patras Bokhari, Khalid Akhtar, to name a few), but written humor is different than performative comedy. The only parallel I could find was in stage dramas that were mostly, if not entirely, produced in Punjab and consisted of varying degrees of ‘jugat baazi,’ which is pure slapstick comedy. It can consist of monologues or a back and forth between two men (and it is almost always men) who take turns to insult each other. While it is quite entertaining, it is most often misogynistic and hinges upon common tropes.
Image result for sami shahhttps://i0.wp.com/www.radioazad.us/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/sAAD-hAROOM.jpg?resize=506%2C760

The TV show ‘Hasb-e-Haal’ ushered in a new era of political comedy in Pakistan. Before that, there was ‘Hum Sab Umeed Se Hain’ (literal meaning: we are all hopeful; a double entendre since ‘umeed se hain’  can mean hopeful or pregnant), which consisted of parodies of major political figures. Hasb-e-Haal had regular news and humorous analysis of that news by Azizi, a character played by veteran stage actor, Suhail Ahmed. The show was competing against completely serious political shows and shot to popularity in the late 2000s/early 2010s. Soon after that, there was a deluge of TV shows offering political comedy, in varying degrees of success. There was no ‘Saturday Night Live’ analog that poked irreverent fun at every possible institution in the society. Noone could criticize the judiciary, the military (and its proxies), or the ‘Two-Nation Theory’ (TNT).  I remember watching a stage show that was quite popular in 2013-14, written by Anwar Maqsood (famous playwright), in Lahore. It was a miniature, middle-class, sanitized version of the nightly news shows. The state of humor in Pakistan was bleak, a nation taking itself too seriously and too afraid to laugh at ourselves. I actually wrote a parody show that was educational at the same time as it was humorous, in 2012, which was filmed by a friend but did not make it to the screen, partially because it was my first experience writing in that format.
Image result for hasb e haal

Recently, there have been some positive developments like Aurat Naak, an all-female comedy troupe, and satire sections in newspapers (dearly-departed/banned Khabaristan Times and The Dependant, both of which I contributed to). However, satire in English newspapers and blogs has its limitations: Very few people in Pakistan read English papers regularly. A few years ago, Nadeem Farooq Paracha (cultural critic for Dawn and one of my early heroes) wrote a blog for Dawn.com that portrayed Malala Yousafzai as a polish agent planted in Pakistan (there were enough hints in the piece for it being a satire column/blog). The article was soon shared by people who took is as gospel truth, and some local newspapers even published Urdu translation of that piece as evidence that it was proof of Malala being a fake (a common enough conspiracy theory in Pakistan). Dawn had to label the piece as Satire at the front and bottom of the page as a response. A year or two later, when I submitted a satire piece to Dawn, I was told to ‘tone it down a bit’ in light of the Malala story. In Pakistan, there is a very fine line between humor and absurd reality, and as a writer, I was often treading that line, veering from one side to another.

It is not as if Pakistan does not have people who are funny and can poke fun at the ‘holy cows.’ I know dozens of people who do that in private frequently but cannot, for their safety, say those things in public. There is no First Amendment guaranteeing free speech rights in Pakistan. ,’ 19 of the constitution explicitly identifies the holy cows (military, judiciary, TNT) and prohibits speech against that. Adding to this fuel is the firepower possessed by Pakistan’s right-wing media and loudspeaker power wielded by molvis who can commandeer people to form a mob against anyone at the drop of a hat. A few years ago, a fellow journalist and friend wrote an article about the ‘homosexual question’ in Islam on a popular Urdu website. A week later, Orya Maqbool Jan, former civil servant, and lifelong windbag dedicated a whole TV show to that one article and targetted that Urdu website. A case of hate speech was filed against him with Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). For his hearing, Orya brought a bunch of goon (including lawyers, molvis and other members of a for-hire mob) and disrupted the hearing. Nothing ever came out of that hate speech case.

When I moved to the US in 2017, I had the opportunity to see stand up comedy myself. I went to a place in Miami that had bi-monthly comedy shows and to a place in Fort Lauderdale that had an open-mic. I wrote some material myself, which I performed in front of a group of friends but never on stage. In Houston, I went to an open-mic and was going to perform my set, but I was supposed to be on stage around 11 pm, which is way past my bed time, and I had friends in the audience who had to go to work the next day. In Washington DC, I went to a show titled ‘Black Side of the Moon’ in December 2016. It was a combination of monologues and sketch comedy by an all-black cast. The most memorable moment in the show was when a white volunteer who came on stage was given the ‘Full African American Experience’, including being sold at a slave market, denial of place in a sports team despite his qualifications, and being shot dead by a black policeman. It was probably my first exposure to live, politically conscious comedy. A Pakistani version would have Ahmadis or Baloch people mocking the majority Sunni population or Punjabi elite. That show is not going to happen any time soon.

Sadly, the only Pakistani import to the US in terms of stand up comedy (Kumail Nanjiani) is a good actor but a subpar stand up comic. His film ‘The Big Sick’ was an amalgamation of stereotypes and some mildly emotional scenes. He does quite well in the HBO TV show ‘Silicon Valley’ and was admittedly quite good in the movie ‘Stuber’. Many of his Karachi acquintances are on the record saying how he fabricated things about his life in Pakistan (you can google that). Do You Believe in Madness?

I was in Chicago recently and saw a show at the famed Second City theatre titled ‘Do you believe in Madness?’. It was a powerful sketch show with a diverse cast and ranging in topics from Abortion to Impeachment, global warming , Brexit and including a song with names of all the people who have left the current white house (sung to the tune of Billy Joel’s ‘We didn’t start the fire’). It was like watching SNL but better. This is my long-winded way to say that the satte of comedy in the US, is strong, and long may it continue!

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India’s massive fertility gradient


I’m pretty sure I’ve posted this map before. It’s not surprising, as it shows fertility differences across the nation.

But, what I just realized is that the fertility rate gradient between West Bengal and Bihar is one of the largest in the world. Bihar’s TFR is about 3.3, West Bengal’s 1.6. For comparison, Mexico has a TFR of 2.1, and the USA 1.7. Yemen has a TFR of 4.0, and Saudi Arabia 2.5. Perhaps analogous are Iran and Pakistan. TFR’s of 1.7 and 3.5, respectively.

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The Unspoken reality in South Asia

Every commentor on this blog, knows there are family and relatives and who bonk the servants or help  in South Asia.

H. M. Brough  the Bro probably would say I  am talking gibberish, i.e bonk.

Bonk  and bonk and parte.
Words are bad not the reality

Many (of my vintage) listen to Santana eg Oye Como Va
How many know the meaning.

http://sbarrkum.blogspot.com/2011/02/celia-cruz-oye-como-va-and-cubanpuerto.html

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The Ram Mandir Verdict in India. From Dr Hamid Hussain

From Dr Hamid Hussain. Dr Hamid is what might be described as a “secular” or “liberal” Muslim. These are his personal thoughts on the Ram Mandir judgement.

11 November 2019

 Someone had sent me excerpts of Spinoza’s God a day before the Indian supreme court verdict.  I was pondering over those words when I was asked about my comments.  Following was the result and all credit goes to Spinoza.

“If you are desirous of obtaining a great name, of becoming the founder of a sect or establishment, be completely mad; but be sure that your madness corresponds with the turn and temper of your age.  Have in your madness reason enough to guide your extravagances, and to not forget to be excessively opinionated and obstinate.  It is certainly possible that you may get hanged; but if you escape hanging, you will have altars erected to you”.   Voltaire (1698-1778)

 Regards,

Hamid

 Babri Mosque Verdict

Hamid Hussain

 “The toughest kind of forgiveness is self-forgiveness and the road that leads to it is a lonely one but is also where mad meets the divine”.  (1) 

On November 09, 2019, Indian Supreme Court announced its judgment about the long standing dispute between Hindus and Muslims about a religious site in Ayodhya. Muslims claim that a mosque has been at this place since sixteenth century.  Hindus claim that it was built on the site of a Hindu temple.  The place has been locked since 1949 for fear of threat to public order.  On 06 December 1992, a Hindu mob demolished the mosque resulting in riots that resulted in death of over 2000 people.  After a three decades court battle, court awarded the site to Hindus to build a temple explaining that the sixteenth century mosque was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. Continue reading “The Ram Mandir Verdict in India. From Dr Hamid Hussain”

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2019 Sri Lanka Presidential Elections

The latest Game of Sri Lanka’s National Sport, politics, has ended.
In words, divisive, peaceful and large turnout,

Turnout:
83% of approx 16 million eligible voters.
Total Population 21 million.

Results:
Winner: Gotabya Rajapakse 52.5% (approx 6.9 million votes)
Second: Sajith Premadasa 42.99% (approx 5.6 million votes).

Difference: 9.51% or 1.36 million votes

Divisive
Green Color (for Sajith): Minority as Majority area (Tamils and Muslims)
Red: Majority in Majority area (Sinhalese)

Await next Game, Parliamentary elections in a few months.

http://election.newsfirst.lk/

Divisive Analysis (my opinion)

Gotabaya got less of the minority vote (less than 10%) compared  Mahinda Rajapakse in 2015 (around 20%).

Tamils:  Instead of reaching out for Economic development, its still pie in the sky separatism. These views are propagated by the Tamil leadership like Sumanthiran who live comfortably in Colombo, went to Colombo schools (and their children).

Sumathiran (or someone in the TNA) went as far as to say if we dont vote for Sajith we cant defeat the Sinhalese. The Tamils united and backed Sajith by over 70% in the North and East. That was the kiss of death for Sajith with the Sinhalese voters in the south

Muslims:   Sajith, hobnobbed with Muslim MP’s who had been pals of the Easter Terrorists. The Muslims voted for Sajith en masse (again over 70%) and Sajith lost a lot of Sinhala votes.

The Sinhalese responded,and united in what they saw as Sajith’s apparent support for separatism and seeking support of Muslim MP’s sympathetic to Islamic Extremists. The SLPP party base is not sufficient to win. There has been UNP crossovers to Gotabya and he won with pretty much only the Sinhalese vote.

Background on Gotabaya Rajapakse
Was the all powerful Defense Secretary 2005-2015.  Credited with ending the Civil Wat, Urban renewal and Infrastructure development.   Diploma in IT from Uni of Colombo. MS in Defense Studies from the University of Madras and various Defense related training  In SL Army, 1971-1992 retired after 20 years as Lieutenant Colonel.   Unix Admin (1998-2015) at Loyola Law School, CA.  Credited with being a Technocrat and authoritarian.

Gotabaya and Wife Ioma

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotabaya_Rajapaksa

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The Ayodhya Verdict

November 09, 2019 was a momentous date in the history of modern India. An end to the decades and centuries old Ayodhya dispute has likely happened. The Supreme Court of India has, by a unanimous verdict of 5-0, pronounced that the disputed site of 2.77 acres be given for the building of a Ram temple while at the same time allotting a land of 5 acres somewhere else for the construction of a mosque.

In all respects this was a very fine judgement by the Supreme Court. However, there are mischief mongers who are busy spreading falsehoods about this judgement for their own vested interests. Let me here share a few videos which give us a very clear picture of why the SC judgement is neither biased nor is it giving precedence to faith over evidence.

 

 

Please also watch these two long presentations as they explain the available evidence at length.

The Case For Ram Mandir at Ayodhya

What Do The Ram Janmabhoomi Excavations Tell Us?

To put it briefly :-

Ayodhya is one of the seven holy cities of ancient India and for Hindus or Sanatan Dharmis. Its holy precisely because it is associated with the birth and life of Lord Ram, one of the most revered figures of Hinduism.

Now what exactly is the significance of Ayodhya for Muslims ?

Particularly with regard to the Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid site, it is clear and the SC judgement also points out that the Babri Masjid was not built on a vacant land but was built over a large pre-existing non-Islamic structure. Archaeologists and scholars have pointed out that this structure was most likely a Vishnu temple built by a feudatory of the Gahadavala King Govindchandra, the most powerful king of North India in his time and the grandfather of none other than Jayachand of Prithviraj/Samyukta fame.

While the SC has acknowledged the existence of this temple structure since the 12th century, it points out that between the 12th century and the early 16th century when the Babri Mosque was built on the site, we do not have records documenting what was happening at the site. The SC also states that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) could not prove that this earlier temple was destroyed to build the mosque i.e. perhaps the temple was already destroyed & lying in ruins. However, proving it conclusively is a tough ask.

Nevertheless, it has already been proven without a shadow of doubt that the remains of the pre-existing temple, including its pillars were used in the construction of the mosque.

Lastly, there are numerous eye-witness and other accounts in English, Persian, Arabic & Urdu from the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries which clearly prove that the particular site was holy for the Hindus and that the mosque was built by destroying the mandir or temple, and the site is often referred to in the accounts as the Ram Janamsthan.

Hindus were able to show that they were worshipping at the site for several centuries and people used to flock the site particularly on Ram Navami, the date of Lord Ram’s birth. They were also able to show the outer courtyard was always under the control of Hindus while there was often disputes between Hindus and Muslims for the inner courtyard of the mosque.

One may ask, what is the evidence that Lord Ram was born at this very site. And infact we don’t have any. But it can be shown that for several centuries it has been a Hindu belief that this very site was the birthplace of Lord Ram and that there is no other site at Ayodhya or elsewhere for which such a belief exists or has existed.

When one looks at this evidence in totality it is clear that the claim of Hindus on the site as an important place of worship for several centuries is supported by much more substantial evidence than anything the Muslim side could muster.

Therefore, the Verdict was a foregone conclusion. The Supreme Court has merely gone by the balance of evidence and has not buckled under the pressure of majoritarianism nor has the rights of the Muslim minority been suppressed by it, as alleged by some unscrupulous lot who perpetually want to keep the communal cauldron burning.

 

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Afghanistan’s History (a)

Special thanks to Mayuresh Madhav Kelkar for sending this. I would start watching this excellent Dari Farsi documentary 1 minute 19 seconds in. There are many excellent ancient maps of central and south Asia.

 

I just want to watch this again and again, just to listen to the narrator’s voice. Majestic, wise, soft and sweet. For those so sure Afghanistan will fall; any nation with voices like this is perchance stronger than she appears. This may be where the homo sapien sapien modern civilization was born.

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Afghanistan’s History

 

Avtar Singh Khalsa: Lion of Afghanistan

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