Passport Tales

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My Pakistani passport is the most Pakistani thing about me. When I clutch it approaching the border agents, I carefully keep the seal facing downwards. No need to scare off the grandmother next to me. Yet the green does seep out of my palm. My expiring passport was the older variety – not readable by machines. The ticketing agent and the border agent had to laboriously decode the trilingual (Arabic, English, Urdu) categories to hunt for my date of birth or the expiration date. Eagerly, I would try and point them to the right pages. This digital intrusion into their domains was rarely met with a smile.

I needed to get a “Machine-Readable” passport.

My father who got his in 1967, once spoke to me about passports. He had won a scholarship to go study Engineering in Ankara. He recalled it taking a laboriously long time to acquire. He had kept it – as he had kept all of his passports. When I took hold of it, I carefully went through its yellowed pages, filled with strange looking stamps and hand-scribbled notations of entries and exits.
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A Matriarch in Exile

A version of this is published on Public Books on Jan 9, 2015.

She moved to NYC in 1990 or 1991, according to her son. According to her own melodious Punjabi, she has been in exile for “vi ya panji saal” (twenty or twenty five years). For some hours, she has been speaking of her time in NY, but her first few sentences are stuck in loop inside my brain – an animated GIF of exile. kithay lay aye dane paney de khed? Where have these games for grain and water landed us?

She looks to be in her late 60s or early 70s but I did not inquire. I said very little as she spoke, sitting quietly, my mind half-a-second after her speech, deciphering the cadences of her language and disentangling the similes, metaphors, landscapes.

For a while I have been writing about cities – Lahore, Berlin, Uch Sharif – and I have been reading those who write about. The men especially because it is a very masculine form of writing: one that posits itself either as insular or as vulnerable to the charms and dangers of the city. The City as inhabited by a woman does not have the same place in the marketplace of narratives. Panels on the City in this city, feature men who have written Big Books on The City with apt quotes from Benjamin or Sebald, Simmel or other clever French cities-writers like Augoyard or Perec. They are keen to show me “inequality” which exists, or perhaps the “immigrant” or perhaps the “wanderer”. No matter, friends, I always want to say, those Germans and Frenchs you cite have already said it.

What do they know of the city when they know only themselves?

For a while I have been interested in thinking about exile – working through Said, Agha Shahid Ali, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I came to this country almost 20 or 25 years ago as a very young man, and I spent a lot of my early time, reading Faiz as if he held the key to unlock the reality that was around me. My relationship to exile was shaped by my reading of Faiz. My relationship to Faiz was shaped by my exile. I gave up thinking about exile, when I moved to Berlin. Rather, I gave up thinking about it in the terms I had become accustomed to. What do I know of exile when I only know myself?
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Kill the Future

Kill the future
Shut down twitter, facebook, linkedin, google
Unplug the internet, the hydro-dam, the nuclear reactor
Shutter the few generators of electricity
let those hooked to machines, die

Spray with fire our books; plug the holes in our logic with bullets. Erect a flag, on a bamboo stick. Plant it in the father’s chest.

Tear the scream from the mother’s throat tune it to the national anthem set the reverbs of the blasts as rhythms release it for us to Like

Pour gasoline on me,
Flick your thumb against the flint
Light me.
Make me watch how I burn and then shoot me
shoot me
shoot me
shoot me
shoot me
shoot me until 132 bodies are full of your lead.
shoot me in the eyes.

Write my obituary
Find out who fought for my cause
Make of them Heroes of Islam
Garland them in poppies.
Let them smoke my ashes.

wear your uniform to my funeral, have your dharna at my door, make your reconciliation, enjoy your appeasement, drone me, fill my shed skin with petro-dollars, sing me a hindu lullaby.

murder the past, kill the future.

Editorial Notes for Opinion Editorials on “Independence Day”

Open with Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” if you are a male* Indian/Gora author.
Open with Jinnah’s “You are Free to Go” if you are a male Pakistani author.
No one will ask you to write anything if you belong to current state of Bangladesh, so do not worry (one imagines you may have something to say about 1947).

Connect Nehru to Development; development to Congress; Congress to Decline; And turn to Modi, and open Markets. This should take one paragraph.
Connect Jinnah to secularism; secularism to Taliban; Taliban to lack of civil will to fight, and open Terror. This should take one paragraph.

If India: your nut graph should be keywords: trade, growth, poverty, rights, political.
If Pakistan: your nut graph should be keywords: turbulence, crisis, terrorism, US, failure.

Literary Value: For India, Established Male Fiction Authors should evoke example from a “classics” text here to peg. EMFAs for Pakistan do not exist, so you will necessarily be a One Book Author and should focus on evoking a White Author (preferably Russian writing in short pithy sentences about Chaos).

Human Interest Value: For India, Slums and Sexual Violence. For Pakistan, Persecution of Minorities, Terrorism *focused on Gender Abuses.

Concluding Paragraph for India must tackle what Modi’s visit to US will mean, and how do we want to remind Americans that they do not care about 2002. For Pakistan, the failure of the civil regime to make the military regime destroy the terrorists that they created to destroy the civil regime and what it means for Syria? Iraq? The Pakistan op-ed has more room to maneuver but “drones” are not on the table this year.

Open Remarks: No history lessons people. 1947 and 2014 are the only two important years with 2001 and 2002 as regional markers. Please try to keep your attention focused away from un-necessary people centered debates and certainly do not go into “domestic” issues. I heard from someone that infrastructure (water and power), IMF payments and Saudi Arabia/China were important players but we really do not have the space in 800 words to tackle this. Make sure that your novel has a catchy title for the bio line!

* The chances that a female authored piece will get published are slim but do give it a shot, if you are genetically inclined.

Looking forward to the submissions.

The Monster Within: Our Collective Complicity in Modi’s Silence

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The savage violence in Badaun and Pune reveals an abiding moral ugliness at the heart of present-day elite Hindu society, argues Rohit Chopra

It is an ethical obscenity to even try to imagine what the parents of the Badaun girls or Mohsin Shaikh must be going through. The iron on the flesh is the iron on the flesh. We might know though, all of us, that the pain of those we love devastates more, burns fiercer, than the pain we ourselves experience. We might know, too, that there is no pain like the pain of a child. There are few things harder to watch, no knowledge worse to bear than witnessing a child suffering.

The images haunt. The parents of the Badaun girls falling at the feet of politicians. They are begging for justice for their murdered children. Mohsin Shaikh, the young Muslim man in his twenties, beaten to death by Hindu terrorists. He is smiling, slightly self-conscious. It is the kind of photograph the local photo studio in any Indian lane would proudly display on their walls.
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Reppin Your Hood: Zabān, Pehchān, and Pakistani Rap

[Following up on his earlier essay that traces the development of contemporary rap productions in Pakistan, Khwaja Hamzah Saif profiles two Pakistani rappers, a Sindhi and a Punjabi, rhyming to preserve language and reinvigorate ethnic traditions. This essay was first published on Ajam Media Collective.]

Shahzad Meer (right), who goes by Rapper Meer Janweri, with fellow Thatta artist Wahab Rocx
Shahzad Meer (right), who goes by Rapper Meer Janweri, with fellow Thatta artist Wahab Rocx

Shahzad Meer, or Rapper Meer Janweri, grew up in Thatta, a city in south-eastern Sindh famous for its ancient necropolis,. Once a Sindhi cultural capital, it is now among the smaller cities of a Pakistan bifurcated into the mega-metropolises of Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar, and everything else. Meer’s parents are from Dadu, a comparably sized Sindhi city about 300 kilometers north of Thatta. Shahzad’s Sindhi is accented with the twangs of Dadu and the crispness of Thattai Sindhi. “Northern Sindhi,” he describes it.
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Fifteen Years After Eqbal Ahmad: A Call

eqbalahmad Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the passing of Eqbal Ahmad (1932 – 1999). Who was Eqbal Ahmad?

On 10 Feb, 1971, a letter appeared in The New York Times titled “Eqbal Ahmed: A Defense” signed by faculty at Princeton.

To the Editor:

Leaders in the movement to end the prolonged, cruel and useless violence against millions in Indochina have now been indicted by the Justice Department for conspiracy to blow up a heating system and kidnap a Presidential adviser. As Fathers Daniel and Phillip F. Berrigan have already right said, such a plot would be a “grotesque” response by “deranged” people – a “caricature” of the dedicated mass action still required to end the war.

We are writing about one of those indicted – a former student at Princeton and a good friend, Eqbal Ahmad, now a Fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Institute of International Affairs.

Everything we know about Dr. Ahmad is contrary to that of which he is accused. He is a scholar in political science who has established an international reputation with his published work on revolution. He has also translated his analysis into action.

He was one of the first to denounce romantic revolutionaries for substituting personal heroics for truly difficulty task of fashioning new links among the exploited, the powerless, the excluded and those who know what sustained work is required to transform individuals and society.

His writings have analyzed the disadvantages of conspiracy and terror when used by revolutionaries and emphasized the need to concentrate on isolating all unjust regimes morally and politically. A group of extreme leftist students last year stormed into the Adlai Stevenson Institute and deliberately destroyed Eqbal Ahmad’s research notes.

In our view, Eqbal Ahmad understands well the underlying social forces that impel rulers to persist in runious wars, and allow revolutionaries with deep roots among their own people to succeed despite the might brought against them by great powers. This among other things has made him a first-rate teacher and analyst and also one of the most persuasive opponents of the Vietnam war on campuses in this country and abroad.

Eqbal Ahmad’s public record of scholarship and advocacy makes the accusation appear highly implausible to us.

Henry Bienen, Kathyrn Boals, Henry H. Eckstein, Richard A. Falk, Manfred Halpern.
Princeton, N. J. Feb. 1, 1971
The writers are members of Princeton University faculties

Edward Said, when remembering Eqbal Ahmad, did so with such love and grace that every single time I have read those words, I have found myself transported to those conversations Said notes – with Darwish, or Faiz or Paley.

Yet, Said left unsaid what Ahmad would mean to the future, our present. The Harrisburg Seven are now forgotten. I rarely find Ahmad cited in contemporary scholarship and I rarely see his figure evoked in a genealogical manner to the many critical thoughts on empire or global south. He did not leave behind “the big book” I guess. Perhaps most critically, I have rarely heard young scholars of Pakistan incorporate his work into their own.

A small group of us, wish to mark today, the anniversary of Eqbal Ahmad‘s fifteenth year, and raise a call for submissions. We wish to create a small print ‘zine to be published in Fall 2014. We ask for reflections on Eqbal Ahmad’s work and the ways in which it intersects with your own practices and theologies. Please contact me or leave your contact information in comments, if you are interested. We would also like you to read Eqbal Ahmad, if you have not encountered him before. We recommend The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad (2006).

You can also look at the archivization project at our beloved SAADA on Eqbal Ahmad.

We thank you.