Sunday
Apr242011

30 days, some very long nights.

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I've been in Washington, DC for exactly a month now. And one thing that you have to do if you work here is networking. Which is an art form in itself. The networking is brutal (and tiring), and after a few weeks you'll realize your spiel about what you do comes naturally to you. "Hi, my name is Huma, I work as a correspondent for Express, which is a (insert description based on who you're talking to) would love to meet you and discuss (insert issue here). Let's (insert: meet/i'll call your assistant/email). " Quickly whip out cards and exchange.

The next sound is of your brain cells dying.

But my gripes about having to do the meets and greets aside, DC is a wonderfully weird town. It is wonderful because its small and quiet, and has wonderful architecture, tree lined streets and some gorgeous sights. Everyone is friendly, and there is ample space to walk on the pavements. The food is fairly decent, and it is gorgeous in the spring.

The weird part is how everyone you meet either works for the government or a think tank or for the IMF or World Bank. As someone described it, its "like Islamabad with better restaurants and pavements". You also witness how World Bank folks > IMF ones (will never recover from the experience of dancing with an IMF geek who gave me his business card afterwards. I suspect he is perpetually in networking mode, even at 2AM). Then, there is the abundance of shiny happy people. DC folks, sometimes its okay to look like slobs, and not as if you walked straight out of the Zara store.

And then, there is the part of being away from home, and you begin yearning for the small comforts. There are at least half a dozen of us looking for a place in DC that serves halwa puri in the morning (am convinced it exists somewhere). Watching the Pakistan-India match in a crowded room at a university and realizing how desperate the Pakistanis were to cheer on something that they clapped and roared when a shot of PM Gilani came on, and after the defeat, a boy turned to me and said, "why do we always have to bear this shame?" The raised eyebrow when you hand your green passport as ID at a bar. And sometimes, just wishing you were back in your room in Karachi, sipping chai.
Sunday
Mar202011

The Bangladesh Diaries - II

So I wrote a short piece about my visit to the Liberation War Museum for Express Tribune:


As a Pakistani schooled in a sanitised version of history, the museum makes one cringe with revulsion. Skulls and bones recovered from a killing field in Mirpur, Dhaka, stare at you from a glass cupboard. A black and white image shows vultures picking at the bodies of those left for dead. In another image, a snake is stretched out on the back of a dead body — an unknown victim of the cyclone that battered East Pakistan in 1970, and led to increased feelings of alienation amongst East Pakistanis with the slow aid response from West Pakistan. Lewd sketches of women are among the graffiti found in a Pakistan Army camp.

My tour guide turns to me, “You tell me, how can we forgive or forget this?”


You can read the entire article here. But I also recommend that you read the comment section. And after you're done banging your head against the wall at the state of some Pakistanis' perception of history and the extent of denial, please take a look at some of these photographs:

Sigh.

And bones.

The cyclone.

You can see the rest of the pictures from the museum here.

In retrospect, I'm not surprised that some people do think that the fall of Dhaka was due to an "Indian" or "international" conspiracy - after all, this is what they're learning in their textbooks. But one would think - and this is very important - that if one has access to the internet and can spend their time leaving comments on say, Express Tribune's website, surely they'd have time to, I don't know, Google Bangladesh? Maybe read a bit of alternative history as opposed to the one they've been subjected to? Or is that asking too much?
Monday
Mar072011

Speechless in Karachi

This morning I woke up, remembered Shahbaz Bhatti was dead all over again, and was quite looking forward to spending my day in a good, old fashioned funk.

Then, I saw this on a pole in Zamzama, Karachi:



I actually don't know what to say, or think. Does one laugh at and admire the creativity of this man? Do I bemoan how there are barely any avenues for men and women to interact in an environment apart from the familial or educational? Or does one just sit down and sob about what this generation is up to in their spare time? You can choose any or all of the above options, or suggest more in the comments section.
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