Thursday
Jul122012

Ichra, home.

Moments before you're about to go to sleep, you find out there's been an attack on policemen in Ichra, Lahore, by militants.

Ichra, the place you call home.

Our earliest memories are tied to Ichra. Our last, I predict, will belong there.

My mother moved there, a young bride, before she left for UAE with my father. My chacha studied for dental school there, and met his now wife at the college.

Across the alley, was my great grandmother's house. Down the lane, another great aunt's.

There was an S, painted in bright blue, on the stairwell of our house, which we grew up gazing at.

The culprit behind the painted S were my chachas Ifti and Shehzad, who I never met. He died, in 1981, in a traffic accident. With his brother, Shehzad.

Our family drifted apart, then came together, then drifted apart, then came together.

When we were nine, we moved to Ichra. The school van came to pick us absurdly early -- 5:30 a.m. on some days. There was no running hot water, and my mother stood watch over the stove, as the water heated up on the stove on cold November mornings. The sehan was our playground, where the tiles were the perfect set up to play hopscotch. In the makeshift study, the old cuckoo clock rang every hour.

The kheer was a favourite amongst the cousins. There was the halwa puri wala at Ichra mor, and the fried fish wala at the corner. Then there was the haleem, and the chikkar cholay. There was a Lahore Broast across the street, and a choorion ki dukaan nearby.

Years later, my uncle told me of our neighbours. Geo's Iftikhar Ahmed [of Jawab Deh fame] lived down the street. There was another journalist who lived nearby, who broke the story of the children who were carpet weavers.

My grandfather is buried in Ichra. So are my chachas.

The last time I was there, at the graveyard, I didn't know what to say. The next time I was in Lahore, I made up excuses to not go back, to not have to go to the graveyard, to not have to walk over the paved pathways, that didn't remind me of home.

Now, I wish I was in Ichra.

Tuesday
Jun262012

The Newsroom

Last night, I saw the season premiere of Aaron Sorkin's new show The Newsroom.

While I haven't heard about anyone being knifed in Pakistan while covering a Shiite protest [being a bomb blast victim is more likely Mr. Sorkin], that wasn't what made me dislike the show. And one episode in, it really isn't fair to make a judgement on what the show might shape up to be.

For me, The Newsroom presented a romanticized, idealistic vision of what a newsroom should be -- staffed with bright folks, who have bosses that trust them, editors with sound news judgement, and an anchor, who when he does lose his shit [pardon my french], holds forth on what doesn't make this nation great.

Life in a newsroom, unfortunately, is not like a Sorkin show.

In Pakistan, when anchors do lose their shit, or decide to speak their mind off-camera, they either spout anti-Ahmadi sentiments, or admit that a question has been planted, or hold forth on what wonders the film Mirza Ghalib had. That said, the behaviour of anchors is not a reflection on some of the journalists that work at those channels -- I have been in a newsroom when an anchor's behaviour made us groan in despair, but a job is a job is a job. Newsrooms, in broadcast media, are understaffed, underpaid, and journalists are expected to work a minimum of 10 hour back-breaking shifts a day, at salaries that make one wonder if bonded labourers might have it better off. This isn't a defense of how some journalists behave, but I have heard countless tales in the past year of how journalists have taken massive paycuts, just to get a job [if they're lucky], that they can be laid off from at any point.

The Newsroom, more than anything, just made me sad. Newsrooms change you, and in most cases, not for the better. And in the process, you may lose not just empathy, but also the passion for telling a story well. And I really doubt if a Sorkin show can bring that back.

 

Thursday
Dec152011

Never forget. Never.

 I have written at length in the past (posts here and here) about Bangladesh. Nearly ten months to the day I went to Dhaka, I am still overcome with a sense of shame whenever I talk about the country. Tonight, at dinner in DC, miles away from our homeland, many of us shared our experiences of what Dhaka was like, funny anecdotes from hotels we stayed at, whether Dhaka reminded us more of Indian cities or Pakistani. 

And then you remember that it has been fourty long, long years. No apologies, no explanations -- and from the looks of what rulers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi think -- we have not learnt from what happened that fateful day.

I was born fourteen years after Dhaka fell. My parents were not from East Pakistan, and didn't have any links to the land. We didn't lose friends, or family in the violence that took place. All I know of what happened in 1971 is what I have read in history books, and from what I heard and saw in Dhaka.

And yet. It is not even shame, it is a gutwrenching misery that twists your insides when you close your eyes, and think of the murders, the rapes, the brutality, the blood. 

We can apologize, for something we didn't do, and something we would never wish on another person, or country. But more importantly, we must never forget.