Qissa Khawani Bazaar

Our friend bulleyah is fighting the good fight in Delhi. He emailed earlier in the week that Delhi’s Sunday Book Bazaar faces closure by those municipal goons. Surrounded as I am by city-block sized Border’s and B&N’s, I forget the pleasures, the sights and the sounds of a book bazaar. Imagine, if you will, a sunday farmer’s market [make them organic farmers for further frisson]. Now substitute all the vegetables and fruits, piled on canvases, stacked on the ground, with books and magazines. And the barter and weighing of literature [that emily brontÎ is so yellowed, you gotta bring the price down].

My favorite bazaar, of course, is in Old Anarkali, Lahore. But, I did spend some time in Hyderabad and Peshawar’s book bazaars. The Peshawar one, especially. Qissa Khawani Bazaar or the Storytellers Market is one of those places that look terribly ordinary unless you peek behind the layers of paper and dust to the history. The standard version of its history is that it was founded by Paolo Avitable, the Italian governor of Peshawar under Raja Ranjit Singh, sometime around 1840. It quickly got the reputation for a place where travelers and traders sat, sipped green tea, ate chapli kababs and told stories. The romance of the bazaar grew as various European narratives begin to circulate [Kipling’s Mahbub Ali sat in the Qissa Khawani bazaar].

I visited it for the first time in ’88. By then, there were no storytellers left in the bazaar. Qissa Khawani was a big, wide sreet with merchants and traffic galore. You could still find the stories, though, if you knew. Right off the main thoroughfare, were quiet alleys and backways that took to shops and merchants who peddled stories. In cassettes by Pashto folk singers, accompanied usually with a rebab, were the stories called badalas. The titles were usually accessible to those who knew Persian or Urdu epics – Shirin wa Farhad or Yusuf wa Zulaikha – or who were well-versed in the Pashto epics of resistance [to the British and the Soviets]. One could also buy little pulp books with the stories. The original storytellers may have disappeared but these cassettes [and the texts] are an amazing primary source for this oral tradition. I think the Lok Virsa people have collected these stories.

On my most recent visit, two years ago, the place had changed considerably. Textile and other merchandise dominates the market. At first, I was disheartened, thinking that the old book stalls had disappeared. But, right when I got my first pinch on the ass, I saw that the stalls had morphed yet survived. The stories are still available in the storytellers market. They have even graduated from cassettes to VCDs and, strangely, skirts. And that just made me happy. Mahbub Ali would be at home.

Go fight the good fight with bulleyah, O ahl-delhi.

later: Har points to harneet who took some nice fotos of the delhi sunday bazaar.

Tap Tap

Pakistan has lost the internets due to “a serious fault in the undersea cable carrying data between Pakistan and the outside world”.

In unrelated news, USS Jimmy Carter is a fine looking submarine. Ahem.

In related news, some of your comments recently may have been blocked due to “questionable content”. My apologies. I accidently added the text string “hi” to my blacklist file. Yikes.

Full Court Press

Speaking of courts, we should probably try to get our noggins round SCOTUS, which has apparently lost its damn mind.

Earlier in CMís history, I wrote a little jeremiad on America getting the Supreme Court it deserved as punishment for allowing its legislature to punt all significant decisions sideways, to the ununelectable Supremes. I expected the nonsense to start later, and have more of an international flavor, perhaps like Korematsu v. United States, but aimed at folk like Sepoy; but it has begun sooner.

In the past few years, the Court has done some good things for hideous reasons (which is the very nut of bad law) and some hideous things for hideous reasons (which make me think theyíre Ringwraith parodies). The Rehnquist Court legacy is one of judicial activism par excellence: progressives should be girding for war, and small-c conservatives should be ashamed of what has become of their movement.

The problem is two-fold: First, the court is mired in academic positivism that requires it snuggle up to the jurisprudence of them who came before; second, the court has begun to resemble the institution its worst critics already thought it wasóa despotic, unelected group of knuckleheads who deliver holy writ to wee mortals from on high.

The courtís tendency to wrap policy within established theory is one of the reasons we get locked into generation-long skirmishes over dumb shitóconsider abortion, for instance, and its basis in an old substantive due process ìright to privacy,î or OíConnorís majority opinion on affirmative action, which holds that diversity is an important value that will not, however, be important 20 years from now. Would it be so hard to say, for once, why youíre doing what youíre doing, and just own up to the fact that youíre acting like an ad hoc, to the matter, legislature? I can deal with tyranny. Itís the condescending dishonesty that gets me red.

The courtís seeming obsession with the apostolic succession of constitutional principles gives us gun laws from the 18th century, and social policy (until we got the unmitigated right to sodomy, based infuriatingly, in part, on international precedent, and mostly on the fear that the rest of the world was laughing at us, instead of addressing and explicitly rejecting Americaís puritanical concern over whose peckers were in what orifices) from long before.

As a lefty who was a righty and retains his libertarian bent, I am most concerned with the courtís willingness to assume the bailiwicks abandoned by our jellyfish Congress, and worse yet, to let its wanderings in uncharted legislative territory lead it to places where Courts ought not go. Itís this binge into nonsense, this judicial freelancing, that presents a great threat to our system of government.

The recent Kelo decision is an attack on private property from the Right. For two centuries, America has retained the socialistic concept of the governmentís eminent domain (the right to seize) over private property for the public goodóa fine example being the Eisenhower Interstate System; now, the Rehnquist court has given the Right its theoretical corollaryótax revenue generated by private business as public good.

This much is very, very clear: your city, county, state or country can now take your house and give it to Wal-Mart; this right is Wal-Martís for the asking. For some time, the idea of the market as deity has been gaining groundóand though not necessarily at the heights of Olympus, it contends that the market has finally attained parity with the idea of the public good, and this reflects one of the final bricks in the wall surrounding an erstwhile North American gulag.

The court, in its madness, has spun so far out of control, that its rulings no longer follow any measure of predictabilityóimagine, if you will, the fucking whopper of a case that gets Scalia, Thomas, the ACLU and the NAACP fighting mad, and on the same side. Is there any constant that we can follow? Is there anything tying all this together?

I think soóanything that causes the Justices international chagrin (that is to say, American provinciality regarding lifestyle issues) will get dinged. Otherwise, the Court is moving back firmly toward a laissez faire, pre New-Deal model of economic theory. States are becoming more powerful, with some exceptions; the Federal apparatus is weakening, save for its defense, intelligence; and law enforcement branches, and corporate interests, via campaign donations and lobbyists, have so firm a grip on the reins of power through the hands of their bough and paid for congresspeople that settled issues like the constitutional right to discharge in bankruptcy, or the ability of an individual to hold property without fear of having it stripped from him by a big-box-store lusting city council, that we can no longer expect any government to stand between us and the designs of the salivating, cigar-chomping capitalist caricatures Iíd taught myself not to believe in back in the 90ís, when we were all getting rich. Property is deadóyou hold your Fee at the pleasure of Wall Street. Thatís where we sit, yíall. Fascism wears a blue vest and a smiley face.

The Rosa Parks Effect

Today, Mukhtar Mai appeared in front of the SC to plead the case against her rapists. Here is a very good timeline of her case – including the news that her passport has been returned to her. The central decision before the SC is whether the Federal Shari’at Court or the Lahore High Court have juridical rights over her case. The FSC condemned six men to death for their role in her gang-rape. The LHC releases the men for lack of “substantial evidence”. It is up to the SC to decide if the special-powers FSC or the civil LHC has the right to this case. The very legitimate fear is that the SC may uphold the LHC decision and these horrid men will escape justice. We will find out tomorrow.

In Pakistan, stories of rapes and honor-killings [karokari] blend into the cacophony of violence in the daily newspapers. They were chockful of daughters shot, burned or hacked to pieces by fathers, uncles, brothers and husbands in the name of ghairat or izzat – cognates of moral honor that depend on a particularly patriarchal understanding of shame – with nary an effort to stop and rudimentary condemnation of these abhorrent acts. Rapes are reported as brief news items. Honor killings sometimes get front page coverage – mainly for their sensationalism – but the overall response stays the same: Honor defines independent men. The women’s body is the locus of a family’s honor. It is up to the woman to protect this honor and should they fail – by getting raped or falling in love with someone else or speaking out against domestic abuse, e.g. – the men have the right to seek redress. Along with this honor comes the code of silence. Crimes against women, however unfortunate, are an understandable response from the males, and should be left uncommented. The silence of outrage is mirrored in the silence of the victim. Shame dictates that a family silence their dis-honor. The easiest way to accomplish this, of course, is for the victim to kill herself. The family and the community exorcizes even the memory of the victim. No one remembers, except for those that committed the heinous act and those that used it as an instrument of their power. By staying out of the domain of “honor” and “shame”, the state facilitates this. The lack of a police report is, in the end, the most harmful silence of all.

I will put the obvious disclaimer that this is not a situation peculiar to Pakistan or Islam or to this particular moment in history. Domestic violence or honor killings are not a culturally unique phenomenon but they are a uniquely patriarchal one. One can easily find instances from Milan to Kentucky with a layover in Dubai. If there is a difference in the rate of incidence between say, Chicago and Lahore, then it is the rule of law and effort of education that has permitted this equality and protection to women in one case and not the other. In many countries, like Pakistan, women have little recourse in law against such violence and insurmountable normative practices that sustain or encourage it. It is easy enough to start labeling Islam or South Asian/”tribal” culture as the root cause of such violence. But that would be a fundamentally flawed and disingenuous conclusion. The culprit is not Islam or South Asian culture, the culprit, undoubtedly, is the State of Pakistan.

Mukhtar Mai’s bravest act is to break this lynchpin of silence. She refused to play her assigned part. It was the imam of the local mosque who first urged the family of Mukhtar Mai to break their silence and go to the police. It was Mukhtar Mai who pressed charges against the men and pursued them in court. Neither did she disappear from the community, but used her case and her court award to begin a school for girls in her village. Her act brought serious and critical scrutiny to the plight of honor-killings. As a result of internal pressure from NGOs and external attention, Pakistan tightened the law against such killings – but not enough. Still, her bravery has led to mass demonstrations in her honor both inside and outside Pakistan. It has prompted others to seek justice. It has gathered hundreds of thousands of dollars for schools. Her fortitude has, in effect, crystallized a movement for women’s rights in Pakistan.

The General and his trusted advisor, Neelofer Bakhtiar, treat this as a PR crisis but one can see that they are worried. They maintain that the NGOs, in service to the international media, have trumped her up as a cause cÈlËbre. They should be very worried. The one thing a dictatorship cannot survive is scrutiny. The other thing a dictatorship cannot survive is an internal movement for justice. Mukhtar Mai has given her country, forever mired in silences, both of those things.

SC rules to re-try the case. Good news.

First Day of Summer

Outside our Nani’s house was a canal – taking water from the central Lahore Canal to the army fields in the cantonement. On my first trip alone to Lahore – this was seventh grade? – I sat along Joray Pull canal and, um, wished I could jump into the rushing muddy water. When we moved to Lahore in another year or so, I did jump in and we spend the whole summer dodging various crap [yes] that would float down the canal to the fields. I remember that Shakeel got some horrid eye infection that made him look like cyclops for the rest of the summer. I also got a nasty cut on my foot from a bottle shard. We pretty much stopped jumping- and pushing people – in the canal after that summer. It got too nasty. People were forever dumping trash into the canal. Eventually, the banks grew in and the flowing canal shrunk down to became a quasi-sewer for the houses that crawled alongside.

It gets hot in Lahore. By hot, I mean “melt-the-tar-fry-the-brain-boil-a-glass-of-water-hot”. In the late 80s, Ramadan was in the summer. Summer + fasting is, thus, forever linked in my mind. Riding the bike or taking the public transportation to school in over 110 degree heat is crazy enough. On a fast, it is nuts. Our only option to keep hydrated, was to stick to shadows and stand under showers with eyes, mouths and noses clenched tight. Oh. And jump into the Canal. You park your bike in the grassy slope down to the water. Stand on the pavement and look around for any policemen [it is illegal to jump into the Canal]. Take a running start , jump high and, my favorite, hug your knees. Boy, was that fun! In the turbulence of a cannonball, who knows how much water gets swallowed? Not me. God understood, I am sure.

Summer was also the official dedication to my obsessions: cricket, checking out books from the British Council Library, eating mangoes and playing carom board. Playing cricket in the summer is not easy. In our case, we would stay within the partially shaded 3 ft wide side passage to the back garden for “tip-tip” – a version of the game fit only for someone with the discipline of a samurai. And wait until five-thirty-ish in the evening before venturing out to the under-construction school on Joray pull. There, were the two neighborhood pitches upon which all kinds of tape-ball madness took place. Getting a book from the British Council was also tough. The library was only open twice a week and for limited hours. I had to change three buses and it took over two hours to get there. With the membership came the privilege of taking out only three books at a time for, I believe, two weeks. Naturally, I would try to maximize ROI on my time and effort by choosing the fattest books I could find and then proceeding to read them all in one week. The fattest books, invariably, were histories. Let’s say no more about that. Mangoes. Ah. What to say about mangoes? Chaunsa, Sindhri, Langra, Anvar Ratol. The king, for me, was Alphoso. Maybe I will do a post on the history of mangoes in India. For now, I will just ruminate and salivate. Carom board, I was never good at. And all my uncles cheated. And my finger would somehow always get hit hard. And the powder made me sneeze. So, screw that game. One last thing that dominated my summer time. Letters. I wrote a lot of letters during the summer. To abba gee, to the grandparents in sahiwal, to my uncle in Australia, to family friends in Doha. Letters were a lot of fun.

Anyways, I was reminded of all this by Danial’s post. Viva Lahori Garmi.

Sunday Reading for Pater Familias

Love, hugs and kisses to abba gee on this Father’s Day. the weather is nice today but it is supposed to REALLY heat up this week. Ugh. Next weekend, the iowocity crew is coming to town [hopefully], so I am psyching up for it. Anyways, off to the links, eh?

  • Prithvi called to attention an op-ed by Ashis Nandy in thursday’s TOI called Shifting Sand of History on the Advani/Jinnah controversy. Here is the best summary/background of the whole incident that I can find. As always, Nandy is provocative and thought-provoking. Though, when he wants us, ” to move beyond history, indeed, …, to defy history”, I think he means “historical narratives” – which aren’t as monolithic as he gives them credit. Anyways, there is tons to think over and mull in a simple op-ed.
  • When Pankaj Mishra writes, I read. In the The ‘People’s War’, LRB, he points out that, “Histories of South Asia rarely describe Nepal, except as a recipient of religions and ideologies ñ Buddhism, Hinduism, Communism ñ from India; even today, the countryís 60 ethnic and caste communities are regarded as little more than a picturesque backdrop to some of the worldís highest mountains. This is partly because Western imperialists overlooked Nepal when they radically remade Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries.” A must read.
  • In The Independent, is the Second Coming of Sartre. “Hell is other people.” Yeah.
  • In the NYT is news of MTV-Desi. MTV [and hybrids] are so 90s. If MTV really wants to get the edge, how about Real World: Lahore? A Jama’ti straight from a madrasa, a KC party-girl, a LUMS over-achiever, a closeted NCA, the daughter of commissioner, a punjabi zamindar, a sindhi vadeera. When things get real, indeed.
  • 1421: Singapore’s 600th Anniversary Celebration of Zheng He’s “discovery of the world”. Special discounts for sceptics.
  • Finally, from Boston Globe, what drums did you beat?
  • Also finally, go see the perfect father’s day movie.
  • Also, also finally, THIS is unbelievable. Someone cast the movie.

update:I couldn’t find the link yesterday to Peter Bergen’s review of The Power of Nightmares.