In Plato’s Cave


The above image is taken from the second of the five videos released to showcase Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad by the US Department of Defense after the 2 May, 2011 operation of US Navy Seals that was to kill or capture him. It was told that the footage was found among the treasure trove of data collected from his compound. This is a remarkable image. The body, which is supposed to be terrorism personified (let’s call it terrorism-body, for more than being of a terrorist, it represents much that is terrorism and the War on Terror), is hidden from view by a blanket wrapped over it and a winter skull cap on the head. Its rear side view doesn’t reveal much; only a side glimpse of a face with a beard and a hand on remote control being its revelatory organs. For all that is hidden, this is its only manifestation: a terrorist Muslim’s body that has its hand on the trigger.
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On Dissent

Over at The Hindu, a slightly longer version of my thoughts on the assassination of Sabeen Mahmud.

Crushing voices of dissent:

The crime of the intellectual is to create the scene of the crime. The scene of the crime is a space — whether concrete or metaphoric — in which dialogue can exist. Their crime is in expressing or harbouring dissent. And the punishment is always death.

No Healer of Glass

Fanon wrote about why the anti-colonial struggle targeted doctors and intellectuals. It did so, he surmised, because the colonial doctor or the colonial ethnographer were not mere healers and intellectuals. They were also critical participants in the daily life of the colony; they had property, employed colonized bodies; the healers were torturers and the ethnographers were erasers of native pasts. For Fanon, the native doctor and the organic intellectual were the hope for the freed nation– these figures who would carry the episteme of Europe through the burning colony, and assimilate the two. We now know that project to be just as flawed as the colonial one.

The mis-titled ‘post-colonial’ nation that emerged in 1947 bent its will to dominate Kalat, Kashmir, Swat, Bengal, Sind, Baluchistan. At each, they erased the organic intellectuals, the healers, those who could offer a narrative counter to their enlightened nationalism. Fanon’s organic intellectuals were targeted and killed by the post-colonial state in 1971 in East Pakistan, in the 1970s in Karachi. The healers are being killed across Pakistan right now.

Today, as I sit and think about Sabeen Mahmud, my mind keeps going back to the state-sanctioned killing of intellectuals in 1971. Why kill Abul Khair and Munier Chowdhury? They wrote. They taught. In the perverse logic of the nation-state, their ideas, their capacity to have a dialogue, were the very reasons for their eradication. There is only one idea, only one conversation, only one speaker.

I started to talk about Baluchistan here when the insurgency started in 2005. Ten years later, the state has assassinated a number of leaders and over 3,000 have ‘disappeared’. The Baluchi men, women and children walked over 2,000 km to see if someone can answer them. No one did. One of those marchers, Mama Qadeer, was the participant at the talk held in T2F, organized by Sabeen Mahmud. She was killed after the event. She was killed because she provided a forum for a conversation that cannot be held in Pakistan. It is a conversation that pits the dreams of a Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor against local resistance. Just days before the T2F conversation, the State forced LUMS University in Lahore to cancel their talk on Baluchistan. It is this re-scheduled talk that led to the death of Sabeen Mahmud.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Baluch cause will be crushed. Whether economic nationalism triumphs or the sacral one, does not really matter in the end. The corridors will be built over the hidden mass graves and the charred dreams of self-autonomy. With the murder of Sabeen Mahmud, there is the end of decade old space for dialogue in Karachi. That space is not coming back. No one is going to step forward and create such spaces anew. The killing of Sabeen Mahmud is the shattering of T2F. We can now cry and hold these broken shards as much as we like. But, to quote Faiz, there are no healers of glass.

موتی ہو کہ شیشہ، جام کہ دُر / be it pearl or glass, uncorked or full
جو ٹوٹ گیا، سو ٹوٹ گیا / is broken is broken
کب اشکوں سے جڑ سکتا ہے / when can tears mend?
جو ٹوٹ گیا ، سو چھوٹ گیا / is broken is gone

تم ناحق ٹکڑے چن چن کر / for nothing, are you picking these shards
دامن میں چھپائے بیٹھے ہو / storing them in your lap
شیشوں کا مسیحا کوئی نہیں / there is no healer of glass
کیا آس لگائے بیٹھے ہو / what hope do you have?

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.