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Old Sunday, October 18, 2015
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Default October 18, 2015

Meanwhile in Babylon …

Last week a T20 match between India and South Africa in the Indian city of Cuttack was interrupted when a large section of the crowd in the stands began to throw bottles onto the ground.

The game was stopped twice when the crowd exhibited its disappointment at the way the Indian team had capitulated, being bowled out by the South Africans for just 92 runs. The ground staff and the police rushed in to clear the ground that was littered with hundreds of empty bottles, forcing the South African fielders to take refuge in a less troublesome part of the stadium.

At one point when it seemed that the police would not be able to control the commotion, the Indian cricket board (the BCCI), informed the government of India which, in turn, radioed senior officers of the Indian troops stationed at the Line of Control (LoC) on the India-Pakistan border.

The Indian troops began shelling the Pakistan side of LoC with artillery fire until the situation in Cuttack was brought under control and the match resumed. Though India badly lost the game, the Indian Interior Minister, Sri Ram Gopal Varma, commended Indian military for bringing the situation under control inside the stadium by shelling Pakistan positions across LoC.

Varma told reporters that the government was also studying the bottles that were thrown on the ground by the spectators. He said: ‘we are investigating whether the bottles were thrown from inside the stadium or tossed from outside’.

He said the investigation was being led by Professor Kesariya Ram Lakhan (aka Dr Bob), who also heads the recently formed research facility, the Institute of Ancient Brahmin Astronauts, Vedic Cyber Technologies & Groovy Aryan Hallucinogens.

A humorous view of where the bottles came from in the Cuttack T-20, why the man was lynched in Delhi over some beef and what was the inside story of NA-122 by-election
Varma informed the media that so far Dr Bob’s investigation (that was conducted using ancient Vedic Physics), suggests that the bottles were most probably launched from the Pakistani city of Gujranwala and that they took about two hours to reach Cuttack before raining down on the city’s cricket stadium where the T20 match was being played.

After the initial findings were shared with Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, he is said to have applauded Dr Bob’s efforts. To express this, he took a selfie with Dr Bob and his cat.

Meanwhile, in New Delhi, forensic tests of the meat taken from the home of the Muslim man who was lynched by a Hindu mob for keeping beef, was found to be mutton (goat’s meat). Last week a Muslim man was attacked and killed by an enraged mob in the Indian village of Dadri for allegedly indulging in cow slaughter and eating beef.

Commenting on the finding, Indian Health Minister, Manmohan A. Puri, in a statement said that the forensic tests were inconclusive because Western sciences were largely unreliable.

He said that additional tests will be done of the meat, this time through ways prescribed in the book, Starwaar Galecticama, an ancient work of science first written in 4000 BC by an Aryan priest called Sri Obiwara Kanobiwara (aka Pete).

Puri added: ‘I am convinced the new tests will once and for all prove that the meat found in the house of the dead Muslim subhuman was really beef and thus his lynching was entirely justified.’

Meanwhile, PM Modi, after appreciating this statement, snapped a selfie with Puri and his llama.

A group of scientists in Pakistan reacted to the statement by suggesting that that it wasn’t Sri Obiwara Kanobiwara who wrote the book of science that was being used by the Indian government (to conduct the meat tests), but it was Hakeem Nadir Bin Nadir — an ancient Yemeni scientist — from whose 11th century book, Bakra Qiston Par, that some Hindu authors had compiled Staarwaar Galecticama in the 19th century.

This group of scientists is famous for encouraging the study of the ‘real sciences’ in Pakistani educational institutions. They specialise in conducting experiments first mentioned in Bakra Qiston Par and in another ancient book of astronomy, Sitara Aur Mehrunnisa.

Recently, during a series of lectures that they delivered at Pakistan’s leading universities, this group of highly qualified scientists successfully exhibited how electricity could be generated by harnessing the energy of genies (jinns), and how black magicians practice their magic by creating micro black holes in their bathtubs.

They also condemned men like Dr Parvez Hoodbhoy for distracting the students by teaching them ‘pseudo-sciences’ such as quantum physics, which, they believe, was created by Albert Einstein to destroy the ancient and accurate works of men such as Hakeem Nadir Bin Nadir and another ancient wizard-scientist, Alama Harun Maqsood Yemeni (aka Bablu).

When a reporter pointed out that the machine which the scientists had created to derive energy from the jinns looked very much like a standard toaster, one of the scientists responded by saying that their research showed that jinns preferred to have their bread toasted.

Interestingly, apart from the response Puri’s statement triggered from the mentioned group of sciencedaans in Pakistan, rest of the country’s media largely remained quiet about the issue.

Observers believe that this was most probably due to the much touted by-election taking place in Lahore’s NA122 constituency. For weeks the Pakistan media had been running commentaries and news about the said election.

A by-election was ordered in NA122 by the Pakistan Election Commission and the Pakistan Metrological Department after electoral irregularities were found to have influenced the victory of PML-N candidate from this constituency during the 1857 general election.

The by-election was being seen as a three-way fight between the centre-right, PML-N, the centre-left-right, PTI, and the centre-left-out, PPP.

The PML-N candidate won an extremely close victory against the PTI candidate, whereas the PPP candidate came a very distant third. It was repor*ted that his own relatives didn’t vote for him.

Senior PPP leader and Sindh Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah, quipped that even his age was more than the number of votes that the PPP man managed to bag in the by-election (1,117).

After the result was announced, a number of PTI supporters urged their party’s leadership to initiate major education projects in Lahore so that the city’s people would stop being uncouth and uneducated dupes who (due to their uncouth and uneducated mindset) always end up voting for uncouth and uneducated parties such as the PML-N.

A PTI supporter tweeted that had the people of NA122 been as educated as he was, PTI would have swept the election. He was then seen beating a TV reporter with a cricket bat after the reporter had pointed out that he had misspelled the word education in his tweet. He had spelled it, ‘ejucation’.

During a press conference, PTI chief, Imran Khan, stated that it is true this time no major episode of rigging took place. But he quickly added: ‘However, since no rigging was also a kind of rigging, one can thus say that rigging did take place … ’ For the rest of the press conference, he explained this.

PML-N chief, under and overpass enthusiast, and Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was not available to comment on Khan’s new allegation. Sharif is said to be busy supervising the construction of an underpass that will connect his bedroom to his dining room in his Raiwind home.

Source: Meanwhile in Babylon …
Published in Dawn,Sunday Magazine , October 18th , 2015
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Old Friday, October 23, 2015
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Default October 22, 2015

The fanatic: One face, many shades

Source: The fanatic: One face, many shades
Published in Dawn, October 22, 2015.
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Old Tuesday, October 27, 2015
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Default October 25th, 2015

Alam Channa: A tall tale

According to the Guin*ness Book of World Rec*ords, the tallest living man in the world (between 1982 and 1998), was Pakistan’s Mohammad Alam Channa. Before his death in 1998, Channa was reported to be 7ft 7 inches tall.

Born in 1953 in the city of Sehwan (in Pakistan’s Sindh province), Channa is said to have stood 6ft 4 inches by the time he was 18. He continued to grow taller till he was 26.

Channa came from an impoverished Sindhi family. He did not receive any noteworthy education. The male members of his family had traditionally served as minor retainers at the famous shrine of Sufi saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Shewan. Here is where Channa too spent most of his years, tasked to keep certain areas of the shrine clean.

Alam Channa passed away many years ago, but one of his last wishes remains to be fulfilled
The annual urs (death anniversaries) of Sufi saints across South Asia are celebrated in a rather festive manner because since Sufi saints are considered to be ‘the beloveds of God’, their departure from earth is considered to be a visal (or when they are finally united with their beloved).

For centuries the urs of Lal Shahbaz has been a vibrant, festive and boisterous occasion.

Ever since the 1950s, travelling circuses (in Sindh) have also become mainstays in the area around the shrine where the festivities take place. It was the owner of one such circus stationed outside the shrine during the urs of 1978, who offered Channa a job in the circus.

According to Channa’s paternal side of the family (who I happened to meet in the late 1980s and then again in the early 1990s), Channa was making just Rs. 15 a week at the shrine! So when the circus offered him Rs. 160 a month, he decided to immediately accept the offer.

The circus turned Channa into a local star. He would travel with it across the length and breadth of Sindh. All he had to do was to make an entry just when two short men dressed as jokers were going through their routine. He would walk in and proceed to lift up the jokers (who would pretend to run away from the giant). Channa would grab them and then put them on his shoulders.

In 1981 a man who had watched Channa at the circus wrote a letter to the editors of the famous Guinness Book of World Records. With the letter he also sent some photos of Channa he had taken at the circus.

Months later some officials from Guinness landed in Sindh’s capital city, Karachi, and from there they reached Sehwan where they met and measured Channa.

They measured him at being 7ft 7 inches. On their return to the UK, the men entered Channa’s name in the Guinness book as the tallest living human on earth.

The news was first broken by local Sindhi newspapers. It was then picked up by a number of large Urdu and English language papers and then finally read in the main 9 pm Urdu news bulletin on the state-owned Pakistan Television (PTV).

Almost overnight Channa had become a well-known name. He began being chased by media personnel and onlookers wherever he went. Distressed by the kind of attention he had begun to attract, Channa quit the circus and retreated to becoming a minor retainer at the shrine.

He was still working at the shrine when in August 1983, a widespread protest movement erupted across Sindh against the dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq.

To prove that the protests were largely the work of a ‘handful of traitors’, Zia decided to tour all the hot spots of the province. But he continued to face protests, pebbles and stones wherever his helicopter landed.

In September 1983 after he had to hastily conclude one such trip (that he made to the violence-hit city of Dadu), Zia’s advisors in Sindh suggested that he met with ‘Sindh’s latest pride,’ Alam Channa (for a photo session).

Some government officials (escorted by a dozen or so policemen), quietly arrived at Channa’s small house in Sehwan. They did not go to the shrine because the shrine had become a meeting point of anti-Zia activists.

Someone told Channa that cops were waiting for him outside his house. Channa was almost entirely apolitical so he could not understand why there were cops stationed outside his home. He stayed put at the shrine until told by a messenger that the government was inviting him to receive an award from the ‘President.’

Cahnna walked back home and met the officials, who asked him to accompany them to Karachi. He shrugged his shoulders and agreed. He was to be picked up the next evening and driven to Karachi.

However, once the officials had left, Channa and his family were visited by a group of Sindhi nationalists. They asked him about his meeting with the officials and then told that since Sindhis were being oppressed by Zia, he must refuse to meet him.

Channa again shrugged his shoulders and agreed. The next morning he walked to work to the shrine as he always did. He stayed there doing his chores till late in the evening. The officials had arrived at his house, but after waiting in the area for hours, they returned to Karachi empty-handed.

No one knows what Zia was told. But it seems his obsession to meet the famous Sindhi remained intact.

In 1985 Zia once again exhibited his desire to be photographed with Channa. By now Channa had begun to be invited to various events abroad. He had truly become a star. But when in Sehwan, he would still walk to the shrine and do exactly what he had always done.

In March 1985, he was visited again by some government officials (this time without the police escort). They invited him to receive a special award from Zia during the parade ceremony on Pakistan’s Republic Day on March 23.

On 21st March he was driven to Karachi and then flown to Islamabad. There, during the award-giving ceremony, and in front of thousands of spectators, he received an award from Zia and a photographer captured the occasion for the press.

All leading Pakistan newspapers (including UK’s Daily Telegraph), ran the picture of Zia handing an award to Channa who had to significantly bend his back forward to receive it.

The same photo was also run by many Sindhi papers, but with a different caption.

Instead of simply writing ‘World’s tallest man, Alam Channa, receiving a special award from General Ziaul Haq’, most Sindhi newspapers wrote (in Sindhi): ‘Sindh still looks down upon Zia …’

Channa continued to gather fame after Zia’s demise in 1988. The post-Zia regimes of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif too used Channa as being at least one face of Pakistan, and Channa eventually went on to tour (on government expense), the various Middle Eastern, Asian and European countries and the US.

He got married in 1989 and had a son in 1990. But by now his health had begun to deteriorate. He often became depressed and distressed, complaining he was happier being a non-entity.

He would often talk about his days in the circus and refused to let go of his job at the shrine, despite the fact that he had begun to receive cash awards and gifts from around the world.

In 1998 his kidneys began to fail. The government decided to send him to the US and finance his treatment. But in a US hospital, he slipped into a coma and soon passed away. He was 45. He is buried in Sehwan.

His son, now 27, has been appealing to the government to help him fulfil one of Channa’s most passionate wishes: To build a university in his beloved Sehwan.

Source:Alam Channa: A tall tale
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 25th, 2015
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Old Friday, October 30, 2015
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Default October 29, 2015

The Facebook timeline of the 21st century Pakistani celebrity!

With the awesome gang at the awesome LUX Style Awards. Thanks guys, for an awesome evening full of awesome peeps, talents and random osmosis awesomeness. And thanks also to lovely awesome Beena, Timmy, Kinku, Bali and Fittaymu. You guys are all awesome and make me awesome too. Moooah. Awesome!

Working out my bod with ma bud Badar Butt at the budding Body Double Gym in Karachi. Gettin in shape for ma next TV play, Mirza Gahlib. I’ll be playing the lead.

With the lovely Mahira Khan on the set of her show, The Set of Mahira Khan Show. As a guest, I had a ball with Mahiru and her teamu, as we cracked jokes, exchanged gossip, played with the lamps and ate salty biscuits. Thanks Mairu for the invitu and now, it’s my turn to invite you to my show.

With the lovely Mahira Khan on my show, The Bod Man. As a guest she had a ball with my team and me, as we cracked jokes, exchanged gossip, played with the lamps and ate salty biscuits.

On stage with the great man!!!! A crowd of about a trillion young patriots went wild wanting revolution and riddance from corrupt, dishonest, dynastical dogs!!!! Go Nawaz Go, Go Obama Go, Go Madonna Go! What an inspiring evening it was, truly engrossing, enthralling, beguiling, mesmeric and messianic!!!! Some folks even compared my bod to that of Khan’s. Truly honoured!!!!

Conducting my special Ramazan show on TV. It’s a very different kind of a Ramazan show compared to the ones on TV these days. I’ll be hosting it from the seat of a motorbike! Ain’t that khool? But remember, friends, help the poor, the needy, the helpless in Ramazan, and fast and pray, perform Hajj, cry a lot, repent, and shun all luxuries and pleasures and materialism and drink only Qarshi Jam-e-Shirin. Fasting is good for the bod too, guys, so keep as many fasts as possible. See you in janna, dudes … !!! PS: My Kurta was designed by Asim Joffa at a very modest price, Alhamdulillah.

Guesting in a famous cooking show. Being a dedicated foodie, I had a ball preparing biryani, bhindi, chatni and sushi. Yummummum. Went to the show wearing my favorite going-out outfit. Am I haat or am I haat? Hehe.

At Tibet Snow Style Awards with the beautiful peeps. I received an award for handing out an award to a celebrity last year who got it for handing out the award to another celebrity the year before who handed the award to me this year so he could receive it next year from the one who he handed the award year before last. Awesome.

Source: The Facebook timeline of the 21st century Pakistani celebrity!
Published in Dawn, October 29, 2015
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Old Sunday, November 01, 2015
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Default November 1st, 2015

The cursed song

Ibne Insha was a nifty character. Poet, diplomat, author and a Marxist. However, he was mostly known for his poems that he regularly published in compilations and literary magazines.

There is one poem that he penned in the early 1970s that greatly heightened reputation. It was called Insha ji Utho (Get up, Insha).

The poem is about a melancholic man, who, after spending the night at a gathering (most probably at a brothel), suddenly decides to get up and leave — not just the place, but the city itself.

Is it the power of poetry that makes the song of death or is it just a coincidence?
He walks back to his house and reaches it in the wee hours of the morning. He wonders what excuse he will give to his beloved. He’s a misunderstood man looking for meaning in (what he believes) is a meaningless existence.

The poem soon caught the interest of famous Eastern classical and ghazal singer, Amanat Ali Khan.

Amanat was looking for words that would depict the pathos of urban life (in Karachi and Lahore).

Someone handed him Ibne Insha’s Insha ji Utho and Amanat immediately expressed his desire to sing it.

He met Ibne Insha and demonstrated how he planned to sing the ghazal. Insha was impressed by the way Amanat actually transfigured himself into becoming just like the forlorn protagonist of the poem.

When Amanat Ali Khan first performed the ghazal on Pakistan Television (PTV) in January 1974, the channel was immediately blitzed by letters demanding that the ghazal be aired again. It became the singer’s biggest hit.

But after just a few months of enjoying this burst of triumph, Amanat Ali Khan suddenly passed away. He was just 52.

Then in January 1978, exactly four years after Amanat Ali Khan’s rendition of Insha ji Utho was first telecast on PTV in 1974, the poem’s author, Ibne Insha died.

He had begun to suffer from cancer in 1977 and travelled to London to get treatment. He wrote a number of letters (to close friends) from his hospital bed. In the last such letter that he wrote, he wondered about the success of Insha ji Utho and Amanat Ali Khan’s death. Then after lamenting his own deteriorating condition, he wrote: ‘Yeh manhoos ghazal kitno ki jaan ley gi …?’ (How many more lives will this cursed poem take?)

The very next day, he passed away. He was just 50.

Amanat Ali’s son, Asad Amanat Ali, too was a gifted Eastern classical and ghazal singer. He began to perform regularly on TV after his father’s death in 1974. But unlike his father, Asad also ventured into singing (as ‘playback vocalist’) for Urdu films. He gathered ample recognition and fame in the 1980s.

He was always a popular draw at ghazal concerts, singing his own famous ghazals, film songs and those of his father’s. In 2006, he performed a concert for PTV that he rounded off by singing Insha ji Utho. Incidentally, this would be his last concert and Insha ji Utho the last song that he would ever perform.

A few months later, he passed away as suddenly as his father had done 33 years ago. Asad was too 52, just as his father had been at the time of his death.

Asad’s brother, Shafqat Amanat Ali, had already risen in the early 2000s as a gifted semi-classical and pop singer. His stint with the pop band, Fuzon, was what broke him into the mainstream. He quit the band after recording just one (highly successful) album, and began his solo career which too has been equally successful

During concerts (and on TV), he is often asked by fans to sing Insha Ji Utho. He almost always declines. Not because he is afraid of singing it, but because after his brother’s death in 2007 (and before that, after the demise of his father in 1974), Shafqat’s paternal family begged Shafqat never to sing Insha ji Utho — the poem and song that apparently took the lives of three men (Amanat Ali Khan, Ibne Insha and Asad Amanat Ali).

Echoing the words of the ghazal’s author, Ibne Insha, that he made on his hospital bed in 1978 Shafqat’s family too insists that the ghazal is cursed. What’s more, despite its popularity among ghazal fans, very few singers have attempted to cover it. Some say they don’t sing it out of respect (for the three men), while others have admitted that an eerie notion of fear has kept them from performing it.

Source: The cursed song
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 1st, 2015
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Old Saturday, November 07, 2015
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Default November 06, 2015

Taj wars

Rewriting history is quite common in both India and Pakistan. Governments do it, the state does it, and sometimes, so do families.

This phenomenon has been a robust and recurring exercise in both the countries ever since the subcontinent was split (in 1947) into two countries: The Hindu-dominated India and the Muslim-majority state of Pakistan.

The practice has been more frequent in Pakistan, though, especially after the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War.

The state and various governments in the country began an academic process to sketch a narrative that attempted to delink Pakistan’s historical connection with a region which, though, ruled by Muslim dynasties between the 13th and 17th centuries, still had a Hindu majority and had become the Republic of India in 1947.

The experiments in this context have had a disorientating impact on the state’s national identity-building process, more so after Pakistan’s historical linkages with the region’s 5000-year-old history were deflected towards a largely concocted idea of having a linkage with Arabia.

On the other end, till the late 1980s, the Indian state had explained Pakistan to be an ‘unnatural creation’.

This narrative began to further mutate when the Hindu nationalist sentiment first began to seep into the mainstream politics of India.

By the early 1990s, Hindu nationalists were more aggressively pushing in a brand new narrative (vis-à-vis India’s historical links with the region that had become Pakistan and with India’s large Muslim minority).

Just as the state of Pakistan (ever since the early 1970s) had tried to undermine the history that the country shares with India, Hindu nationalist outfits such as the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and the radical Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), began attempting to whitewash India’s Muslim past.

One physical manifestation of this was when RSS members and supporters demolished the 16th century Babri Mosque in the Indian city of Ayodhya in 1992. The mosque was built by Muslim ruler and the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, Ẓahīr-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Babar.

Recently, the Pakistan state’s first major operation to put back the genie of religious extremism back inside the bottle – an ogre that was first let out by the same state in the 1980s – the operation (that now includes the participation of the Pakistan security forces, judiciary and parliament), is slowly but surely also trying to realign and amend the reactive historical narrative that the state had begun to construct from the early 1970s onwards.

For example, anyone suggesting that 8th century Arab commander ‘Mohammad Bin Qasim was the first Pakistani’ is not taken very seriously anymore.

In India, things in this respect seem to be going the other way.

One of the most intriguing manifestations of this is the way sections within the ruling BJP, RSS and certain Indian historians, in the most dubious manner, are attempting to claim ownership of perhaps the most majestic historical monument ever built in the region: The Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is considered to be one of the ‘wonders of the world’. I have visited it once, way back in 1985, when I was a college student visiting India.

I eventually just sat on a bench in front of it, staring at it for hours, marveling at the building’s imposing beauty and impact.

Mainstream history correctly records that this majestic white marble mausoleum (in Agra, India) was completed on the instructions of Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan in 1653.

And yet, very few know that by the end of the Mughal era in the mid-19th century, the Taj Mahal was crumbling and in danger of actually collapsing.

It had also been robbed over and over again by thieves and plunderers, who took away a number of precious jewels and stones that were used to beautify it.

By the mid-1800s, the Taj was nothing like the wonder of the world it is today (or how it was during Mughal rule). William Bentinck, who rose to become a governor in India in 1828, had actually joined the locals in plundering it.

He imported machinery and tools to rip out the precious white marble from the once majestic building and send it to Britain. In fact, according to Dr Mubarak Ali’s book, In Search of History, the plan also included completely demolishing the building!

What is even more interesting is the fact that in spite of ample and irrefutable evidence available about when the building was originally constructed and who ordered its construction, there appeared many Indian and some British historians in the late 19th century who claimed that the Taj was not built during the Mughal reign of Shah Jahan.

Mubarak Ali laments that it was the British who first initiated this idea because they could not swallow the fact that the ‘backward people’ (of India) were capable of achieving such architectural brilliance and beauty.

Major Sleeman, a British Major, remarked in 1844 that the Taj was actually designed by a Frenchman, Austin de Bordeaux.

British Colonialists such as Sleeman insisted (without providing any reliable evidence), that the design of the mausoleum was the work of European architects.

Things in this regard got even more outlandish when certain Hindu ‘historians’ began to claim that the building actually pre-dated Shah Jahan and was built long before Muslim rule began in India.

Such claims failed to hold in front of the overwhelming evidence available that places Shah Jahan as the man who ordered its construction in the 17th century (as a tribute to his wife Mumtaz Mahal).

The Taj Mahal was first restored and saved from a complete collapse in 1902 by Lord Curzon, the British Viceroy of India.

When he first saw the mausoleum, he wrote that it had been continuously ravaged by robbers and forces of nature and was in bad shape. He immediately ordered its restoration, and, by 1905, the Taj got a new lease of life.

Though the tour guides during my visit to the mausoleum, all named Shah Jahan and his large army of workers to be the sole creators of the Taj, even in 1985, I was made aware of certain Indian historians who were trying to prove otherwise.

Even in recent times one can come across many Indians quoting whole paras from books such as Taj Mahal: The True Story (by Indian ‘Hindu national revisionist’, P.N. Oak). The book was published in 1989 and claims that the Taj Mahal was built as a Vedic temple in 1155 and/or before Muslim rule began in India.

He also suggests that Shah Jahan had only acquired it from one Jai Singh. Oak claims that the supposed temple was built by Raja Paramdari Dev in the 12th century.

Oak attempts to provide multiple proofs to back his claim, but none of them have managed to stick in the face of rigorous historical and scholarly scrutiny by those opposing this theory.

Nevertheless, this book has continued to excite and inform the narrative of large sections of Hindu nationalists. Ganga Ram Garg mentions the same in 1992’s Encyclopedia of the Hindu World.

It must be added that P N. Oak later went on to also claim that Christianity and Islam are both derivatives of Hinduism, and that London’s Westminster Abbey (along with the Taj) were all once Hindu temples to Shiva!

In his book, Christianity is Chrisn-nity, Oak writes, ‘Jesus went to India between ages 13 and 30 to learn Krishna-neeti (Christianity) from Hindu sages.’

In a lecture titled ‘Outsider as Enemy’, Indian historian K N Panikkar, discussed in length the attempts by the BJP to further communal consciousness of history.

He said that the party was doing this by revising school textbooks ‘to introduce a communal view of the past, highlighting the achievements and contribution of the Hindus and undermining or misrepresenting the role of others.’ Panikkar said that the BJP is ‘saffronising research institutions’.

Subhash Gatade in his essay ‘Idiocy as Scholarship’ laments that P N. Oak died in 2007 but his ideas live on.

Many noted Indian historians have called Oak a ‘mythhistorian’ — someone who peddles myths as history — while others have described him to be a ‘pseudo-historian’, or someone like Eric von Deniken, the Swiss author who, in many of his books has claimed that most of the great and ancient historical monuments on Earth were actually built by aliens who visited earth in ancient times!

Enough said.

Source: Taj wars
Published in Dawn, November 06, 2015
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Default November 11th, 2015

Hassan Nasir: The man who wasn’t there

On October 31, during the first phase of the local bodies’ elections in Sindh and Punjab, I was going through the many images (of the event) that were being uploaded on my Facebook timeline.

Since the PPP (in Sindh) and the PML-N (in the Punjab) were clearly sweeping the polls, most of the uploaded pictures were of workers and supporters of the two parties celebrating their big wins in the elections.

However, as I was flicking through the photos on my iPad, I suddenly came across images of two celebratory gatherings — one in Sindh and one in Punjab. In these pictures more than a dozen or so supporters were carrying posters of a bygone communist activist, Hassan Nasir.

His face has become a symbol of defiance on political parties’ posters, since the 1970s
What is this, I wondered? Initially I supposed that the photos were of some PPP workers trying to link their party’s victory (in the area where the photo was taken) to the PPP’s distant socialist past. But I couldn’t see any PPP flags in the photos.

Intrigued, I messaged the young gentleman (on Facebook) who had uploaded the pictures. I asked him who the folks in the photos were.

The young man was a Sindhi and a student at the University of Sindh in Jamshoro. He told me that he was a member of the Awami Workers Party (AWP) — a leftist grouping of various small Marxist outfits who had merged in 2010 to form the AWP.

One of the photos was taken in the city of Okara in the Punjab, and the other was taken in Naseerabad, a town in upper Sindh’s Qambar Shahdadkot District.

The AWP had won a seat in Okara, Punjab so the Okara photo was of young AWP workers celebrating their contestant’s victory which they claim was achieved by putting up a committed party worker.

The other photo was of Naseerabad where the AWP had won a couple of seats in the mentioned elections. But I pondered, what was Hassan Nasir (who passed away in 1960) symbolising in a gathering of a left-wing group in this day and age; and / or 25 years after the demise of the Soviet Union and with it, communism?

I had first come to know about Nasir when I was a teenaged college student in Karachi in the early 1980s. Posters with his image had continued to crop up during the many movements that emerged against the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship (1977-88).

At the time, the posters were mostly being issued by left-wing student groups such as the NSF, and parties such as the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP), and also the PPP.

In 1985, a MKP activist had told me that posters of Nasir had even emerged during the 1977 movement against the first PPP government of Z.A. Bhutto (1971-77). Some leftist groups, after being incensed by Bhutto’s ‘authoritarian personality’ and his regime’s ‘betrayal of its socialist agenda’, had joined hands with the right-wing alliance (the PNA) in a bid to topple Bhutto.

Ironically, before all this, Hassan Nasir’s image had actually first been used on PPP posters during the 1970 election when the party was positioning itself as a socialist alternative to the religious right and the ‘capitalist / feudal statuesque’.

So Nasir’s face continued to crop up (as a symbol of defiance) in the early 1970s, the late 1970s, and the early 1980s. It continues to pop up even today.

However, unlike Che Guevara (the celebrated Latin American revolutionary who was killed in 1967), and whose image too continues to be used by various protest groups around the world, Nasir’s image is yet to get his very own ‘post- modernist’ makeover by also appearing on coffee cups and on baseball hats!

But who was Hassan Nasir?

Hassan Nasir was born into an aristocratic Muslim family in Hyderabad Deccan, India. After finishing school in his hometown, Nasir got admission in UK’s prestigious Cambridge University where he came into contact with various young British and Indian Marxists.

On his return to India, and against his family’s wishes, he plunged into a peasants’ uprising against feudal lords and British Colonial overlords in the Telangana region.

When the movement collapsed after the departure of the British in 1947, Nasir decided to migrate to Pakistan. In 1950, he arrived in Karachi and joined the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). His family stayed back in India.

Though just 22 years old at the time, he greatly impressed the CPP leadership with his profound knowledge of Marxism.

Soon, Nasir’s revolutionary outlook and charisma made him popular among college students, peasants and factory workers. In 1954 he was arrested by the government, jailed, tortured and then forcibly flown back to India.

However, in 1955, he quietly slipped back in. Since the CPP had been banned, Punjabi and Urdu-speaking leftists began joining progressive Sindhi, Baloch, Bengali and Pashtun nationalists to form the National Awami Party (NAP). In 1957 Nasir was made the party’s secretary general in Karachi.

He turned his office into a busy working and planning area for leftist students and trade unionists. Though his aristocratic background could have easily guaranteed him a rich and comfortable life in Karachi, he chose to live among labourers cramped in and around the make-shift shanty towns that had sprung up in the glittering metropolis.

In 1958, when Field Marshal Ayub Khan launched a military coup, he ordered a crackdown against leftists as well as against the religious parties. Nasir went underground.

Veteran communist leader, Jamal Naqvi, in his 2014 memoir writes that in 1960, Ayub, while being briefed by Karachi’s police chief, lost his cool when Nasir’s name came up. He is reported to have lashed out and shouted, ‘How is that bloody communist still free … ?’

The Ayub regime was equally harsh towards the religious parties. But Nasir’s activities and his popularity among the students and labourers had begun to greatly perturb the regime.

Nasir was finally located, hiding in a shanty town in Karachi. He was picked up by the police and then flown in chains to a special cell that had been set-up by the police in Lahore’s historical Lahore Fort.

Naqvi informs that here Nasir was continuously tortured, beaten up and refused food and water for days. Then finally, he was slayed in his muggy, tiny cell. He was just 32.

The Muslim aristocrat’s son who had become a communist rebel was never seen or heard from again.

The press was told that Nasir had died in an accident. The news of his death left his father suffering a mental breakdown. He had wanted his son to become a civil servant. His mother refused to believe that the body that the police had shown to the press was his.

With Nasir’s father indisposed, his mother travelled alone to Lahore to reclaim the body. ‘This is not my son’s body,’ the ailing old woman shouted and then fell to the ground. She was escorted out by the police and put in a waiting rickshaw.

She returned home empty-handed. Till this day, nobody is quite sure what happened to the young man’s body and where is it buried. His father passed away and the family eventually lost its aristocratic status in India. The mother too died soon after.

The country’s leftists consider Nasir to be their first modern ‘martyr’. That’s why his face has continued to emerge on posters ever since the 1970s.

‘He still symbolises defiance and clarity of purpose beyond the political cynicism and rightest demagoguery of today,’ (sic). This is how the young man who had uploaded the pictures described Nasir when he wrote back to me.

Indeed. Well, as long as Nasir (like Che) too doesn’t end up on coffee mugs …
Source:Hassan Nasir: The man who wasn’t there
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 8th, 2015
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Default November 13, 2015

Pakistan’s greatest cricket captain: Khan or Haq?

Till the appointment of Misbahul Haq as Pakistan’s cricket captain in 2011, former all-rounder, Imran Khan, was overwhelmingly remembered as the greatest captain ever to lead the Pakistan cricket side.

However, five years after Misbah’s elevation to the post of captaincy, he not only leveled the joint-record (of most Test victories as captain held by Imran and Javed Miandad), but, by the tail-end of 2015, Misbah has already added to his tally another 6 victories (compared to the 14 each by Khan and Miandad).

Misbah now has an impressive 20 Test wins under his belt, the most ever by a Pakistani Test captain.

But Misbah is a modest man. Whenever he is reminded of this feat of his, he almost always recoils and politely suggests that as a cricketer he is nowhere close to Khan or Miandad.

Though it has taken quite a while for Misbah’s prestige and fame (as skipper) to mushroom, there is now enough evidence to suggest that he may as well have become the country's greatest cricket captain.

Compared to the way Misbah’s fame as captain has slow-burned its way to the top, Imran Khan’s rise in this context was a lot swifter. But interestingly, both took over teams that were peppered with multiple problems.

Khan was appointed captain in 1982 at the age 0f 29. He had already established himself as a world class fast bowler and was on his way to becoming a quality all-rounder as well.

He was a regular member of the Pakistan team, having made his debut in the early 1970s as a lanky teenager.

Till his appointment, Khan had played his most formative cricket under the leadership of Mushtaq Mohammad who (between 1976 and 1979) became the country’s most successful Test skipper with 8 wins in 19 games.

However, in late 1979, Mushtaq was nudged out by the Pakistan cricket board (for losing form and ‘an advancing age’).

He was replaced by his friend and vice-captain, Asif Iqbal (who, ironically, was of the same age as Mushtaq, 36!).

Pakistan under Iqbal had a disastrous tour of India after which he promptly retired and was replaced by the then 23-year-old Javed Miandad.

Miandad’s appointment came as a surprise to the senior members of the team, so much so, that two years later (in early 1982), 10 regular members of the squad refused to play under him.

The rebellion was led by dashing opening batsman, Majid Khan, who, though, by then had lost much of his batting flair.

Another senior, Zaheer Abbas, sided with Majid and both convinced another eight members of the team to boycott Javed’s captaincy which they claimed was immature and ‘disrespectful’ to the seniors. Imran was one of the rebels.

The board sided with Miandad. But when a new-look Pakistan side almost lost a Test against a nascent Sri Lankan Test squad, Miandad agreed to step down on the condition that he would not play under Majid or Zaheer, both of who were expecting to be named captain after Miandad’s departure.

The board, in its pursuit to resolve the captaincy crisis, decided to think out of the box. It sprung a surprise by bypassing both Zaheer and Majid and named Imran Khan as captain.

Cricketing wisdom in those days suggested that fast bowlers never made good captains. However, this perception was somewhat negated when England’s quick bowler, Bob Willis, was made captain in 1982 and did quite well in his first series as skipper (against India in India).

Although Khan’s appointment took the players and the media by surprise, it baffled Khan too. After consulting with some of his closest friends (including legendary cricket commentator, Iftikhar Ahmad), Khan almost declined, only to accept the post just before Pakistan’s 1982 tour of England.

This meant Khan had to lead a team that was severely troubled by in-fighting and had in it some players who even refused to speak to each other.

What’s more, Khan hardly had any captaincy experience. He had only captained his university team at Oxford in the early 1970s.

However, in the next two years, Khan was more than successful in transforming the once bickering squad into a close-knit unit who turned winning into habit.

Khan’s first assignment as skipper: The Pakistan team during the 1982 tour of England. : Iqbal Qasim, Mudassar Nazar, Salim Yousaf, Sikandar Bakht, Mohsin Khan, Tahir Naqqash, Mansoor Akhtar, Salim Malik, Haroon Rashid, Abdul Qadir. Wasim Raja, Wasim Bari, Majid Khan, Intikhab Alam (Manager), Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Sarfraz Nawaz and Javed Miandad.
One of the main factors that contributed in helping Khan achieve this was the way his form as a bowler and batsman blossomed under pressure. Thus, he was able to win the respect of his teammates by leading from the front.

But Khan’s first era as captain almost entirely revolved around his imposing personality.

As an all-rounder he had rapidly evolved from being good to becoming great and this greatness permeated in him, a somewhat authoritarian and an almost dictatorial approach.

But, as long as he was able to perform well and lead from the front, the team willingly followed.

That is, until he broke down in 1983, and then quit cricket (for two years to rest a fractured shin).

With his exit the team just crumbled. In-fighting returned and so did players’ intrigues, again revolving around Zaheer and Javed, the two men who followed as captain after Khan’s exit.

Khan returned as skipper in 1986, his path cleared by Miandad’s second stepping-down moment – even though this time it was more voluntary.

Misbah too, took over a troubled squad. But unlike Khan, he was not even in the team when he was asked to lead.

Also, quite unlike the appointment of Khan, Misbah’s appointment as captain was initially a make-shift affair.

Misbah had made his Test debut in 2002 but was soon dropped. He was recalled to the side five years later in 2007.

In 2010, he was again dropped and was most likely to have remained in obscurity had three frontline Pakistani players (Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir), not decided to earn some extra bit of money by indulging in spot-fixing during Pakistan’s 2010 tour of England.

Butt was captain at the time, replacing Shahid Afridi, who had conveniently decided to retire from Test cricket after his team lost the first Test on the same English tour.

Disgraced by the spot-fixing scandal, hit by the resultant long bans on the tainted players, and unable to resolve a simmering tussle between various groupings in the squad, the cricket board returned to Misbah and requested him to lead the side for the 2011 series against South Africa.

It was a one-series-deal; a series played in the UAE because at the time, no foreign team was willing to tour Pakistan which, ever since the mid-2000s, found itself wedged by a deadly wave of extremist violence and instability.

In 1982, Imran had arrived (as captain) with an aggressive plan to turn Pakistan into an attacking side. He largely succeeded because by 1988, Pakistan (under Imran’s second stint as skipper), not only shot up to become the No: 1 Test side in the ICC rankings, but the team was also being universally praised as one of the most exciting squads of the era.

Misbah’s approach on the other hand, was a lot more cautious. Because when he took over as captain, the once celebrated belligerence and flamboyant unpredictability of the Pakistan cricket teams under Imran (and then of the Pakistan sides that followed his retirement in 1992), had stopped being seen as things to rejoice or endear.

Match-fixing scandals, in-fighting, captaincy tussles coupled with the rising tide of extremist violence and political instability in Pakistan had eroded the team’s once celebrated status of being an excitingly unpredictable side. The moniker actually began to be seen with suspicion and dismay.

That’s why Misbah’s approach was almost opposite to that of Khan’s.

Khan had instilled unity and spirit into a disjointed side by encouraging flamboyance and aggression. He lead with his heart and in the process, realigned the team’s implosive disposition by channelising the player’s emotions towards achieving nobler cricketing pursuits, instead of attaining only those driven by their myopic self-interests.

Khan saw himself as a warrior-captain. Bold, forthright, leading from the front, he explained anything that disagreed with his approach as cowardice.

He had admired captains like Australia’s Ian Chappell. But, whereas, Chappell too, was warrior-like, he also had a sharp mind.

Khan had a good cricketing brain, but it was nowhere as potent as the heart with which he led the team and played the game.

This mind-gap in this respect was filled by the wily Javed Miandad who became Khan’s Vice Captain in 1986. According to Chappell, the Khan-Miandad nexus became one of the most powerful combinations on the cricket field.

Misbah came in as an outsider. Though untainted by the debris of what had befallen the team in his absence, he was quite alone.

Not only was he expected to restore order, but he also had to actually justify his return as a batsman.

Misbah, in this respect was like Mr. Spock (the extremely rational and unemotional Vulcan in Star Trek).

As a captain he came in as a detached and stoic Vulcan to lead a team of passionate, warlike but wayward Klingons!

He knew well that no matter how he would want to restore his version of order in a highly instable and tainted team, he would first and foremost have to win the respect of his teammates by leading from the front.

Looking back, it is remarkable how well the then 36-year-old returnee managed to do this, finding his batting form, and gradually becoming the central figure around which the team’s batting would begin to revolve on a consistent basis.

Whereas, Khan had nurtured spontaneous and rugged talent because it strengthened his vision of constructing a warrior-like unit driven by unorthodox abilities and unabashed passions, Misbah groomed players that he believed had the nerve and discipline to stoically but resolutely face the rigours and pressures of international cricket.

For example, Khan would bank on the unorthodox thinking of Miandad; fight to get in eccentric leggies such as Abdul Qadir; and influence the budding of raw talent that would lead to the shaping of brilliant fast bowlers such as Wasim Akram, Waqar Younas and Aquib Javed.

On and off the field Khan’s protégés became quite like him: Flamboyant, unabashedly passionate, provocative and having a penchant for living in the fast lane.

But, of course, times had dramatically changed by the time Misbah took over. The flamboyance and glitz that had emerged during the Khan era and then cut across the 1990s had, by the end of that decade, begun to misfire and mutate into becoming characteristics that were far less glamorous or inspirational.

Inzimamul Haq who was made captain in 2003 tried to stem the rot by introducing a regime inspired by the dictates and musings of the religious sages that he had begun to follow.

But by the time he quit in 2007, the team was still in shambles, even though during his four-year-stint, many of his teammates did try to exhibit how pious they really were.

It is interesting to recall that till about 2005, former Pakistan coach, the late Bob Woolmer, and former Pakistan batsman-turned-commentator, Ramiz Raja, were fawning at Inzimam’s approach, and praising it as ‘a good way to unify the squad.’

However, two years later, Woolmer was bemoaning the fact that some players were spending more time indulging in preaching than concentrating on playing cricket; and Pakistan’s media manager during the 20o7 World Cup (in the West Indies) claimed (in his report) that one of the reasons why the team did not manage to go past the first round in the tournament was because the captain’s attention was more fixed on winning converts in the Caribbean than on leading his side!

In the long-run, Inzi’s unique experiment to restore order in the team with the help of faith and spiritual rituality was a resounding failure because three years later, the team hit a terrible new low when three of its members (two of them groomed by Inzi), were caught red-handed bringing the game into disrepute for the sake of making some quick, easy bucks.

To Misbah, order meant applying reason. In the face of some vehement criticism (especially from some former players), Misbah consciously went about detaching the team’s unpredictability tag and curbing its unabashed flamboyance and its penchant to be roused by emotional spiels of glory and honour.

In their place, he encouraged the need to understand the game through one’s mind and experience; to connect and form unity through clear communication between players; and to adopt a diplomatic disposition.

He deliberately restrained his ego and presented himself as a private and modest man who did not have any favorites in the team.

This was his way of neutralising ‘groupings’ in the squad for which he also made it a point to talk to players privately on a one-on-one basis.

Unlike Khan, who often clashed with the selectors and the cricket board – mainly due to his belief that the captain should have the most say in selection matters – Misbah in his five-year-stint has never had a single major falling-out episode with the country’s cricketing establishment.

Khan used to lament that when the team lost, it was always the captain’s head that ended up on the chopping block, so he needed to be given more say.

Misbah actually agrees with this assessment. But his dealings with the board and the selectors too, have been stoic.

Khan would often threaten to resign if the selectors did not give him the player (or players) he wanted on a tour. But Misbah simply takes what he is given and tries to make the best of it.

However, the more his place in the team got cemented (due to his resolute and dogged batting), and the more victories he began to score as captain, the selectors eventually began to invite him to give his suggestions on selection matters.

This is how he made off-spinner Saeed Ajmal a permanent member of the squad and desired the same kind of permanency for solid and circumspect batters such as Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq.

Khan’s rise as a fast bowler from 1976 onwards and then his attacking tactics as captain had ushered in a fast bowling revolution in Pakistan cricket.

Beginning with Khan himself, he soon had in his team two devastating quick men, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus, who were supplemented well by the accurate Aquib Javed.

Across the 1980s and even after Khan retired in 1992, Pakistan’s bowling attack was always dominated by fast men.

But, in 2011, when Misbah came in as skipper, the team’s last major fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, had retired, and two other quality quicks, the extremely accurate, Mohammad Asif, and the incredibly talented, Mohammad Aamir, had been banned for indulging in spot-fixing.

Pakistan suddenly had an extremely weak bowling attack. Unable to find immediate replacements in the fast bowling department, Misbah put the unorthodox off-spinner Saeed Ajmal in the lead. He had played with Ajmal in domestic cricket and believed that he was a spinner who actually thought like a fast bowler!

Ajmal is on record in saying that Misbah would often visit Ajmal in his hotel room and discuss with him what he wanted from him as a frontline bowler; and assured him that he had his (Misbah’s) full backing.

When Ajmal began to deliver the kind of performances Misbah was hoping for, the nature of the team’s bowling attack too changed.

Once dominated by fast bowlers, Misbah began to strengthen the team’s bowling attack with spin, bringing in left-arm leg-spinners (Abdul Rehman and then Zulfiqar Babar), to support Ajmal from the other end.

Spinners began to bowl in pairs for Pakistan just as fast bowlers had done till the mid-2000s. Misbah also encouraged Mohammad Hafiz (an established opening batsman), to sharpen his spin bowling skills as well, and he often became the team’s third spinner.

Some former players and a section of the media lamented the fact that Pakistan’s fast bowling tradition was being trampled upon by Misbah. But the criticism largely fell flat when Misbah’s spinners led by Ajmal began to produce wins.

Also, what the critics ignored was the fact that after Akhtar’s retirement and the banning of Asif and Aamir, it was next to impossible to generate quality fast men in such a short period.

Misbah had to rely on spinners, even though Umer Gul (who had made his debut under Inzi), did give him some fire power.

But Gul’s form was on a decline ever since 2010, and the fast bowlers Misbah did have were just too inexperienced.

So, he invested in them the way he invested in his batsmen. He picked fast bowlers who were more interested in keeping things tight and stable for the spinners to have a go.

Men such as Rahat Ali and Imran Khan (no relation to the former captain) were/are given consistent runs despite the fact that their bowling talent is nowhere near the talent possessed by Akram, Waqar, Aquib, Asif, Aamir or Akhtar.

Misbah’s captaincy continued to blossom, but it was constantly tested.

He suddenly lost his bowling ace, Ajmal, when the latter was reported for having an illegal bowling action, and Rehman was banned for a year (for smoking cannabis), and then completely lost form after his return.

But just as Gul was in decline, Misbah welcomed the towering Mohammad Irfan who has pace, bounce and accuracy. But being highly injury-prone, he wasn’t around much for Misbah in Tests.

Wahab Riaz eventually filled the gap by rearranging his game after initially struggling with ball-control. In him, Misbah finally found the genuine fast man that he never had.

As mentioned elsewhere in this article, Imran was highly impressed by the captaincy style of former Australian skipper, Ian Chappell. It was Chappell who started the Australian team’s now established tradition of ‘messing up the psyche’ of visiting teams by shooting off provocative and exaggerated statements just before the series.

Imran, too, adopted this approach and would often bring in players who he thought had in them the material that he could use in a provocative manner.

For example, he picked up Abdul Qadir for the 1982 series against England when leg-break spinners had gone out of vogue and Qadir had been discarded by the selectors.

Khan insisted he wanted Qadir in the team. Apart from the fact that English batsmen hadn’t played leg-break bowling for quite a while, Imran also picked Qadir because Qadir was an eccentric. Khan admired eccentric personalities, especially those he could mold to express the mind games he wanted to play with the opposing teams.

After getting Qadir selected, Khan asked him to grow a goatee. Not understanding why the skipper was asking him to grow a goatee, Khan told him that he would be introducing him (Qadir) to the English press as a ‘spinning magician’ and thus wanted him to ‘look like a wizard!’

In 1988, during an international ODI tournament in Australia, Khan explained Manzoor Ilahi (an average all-rounder), as ‘the hardest hitting batsmen in the world.’

During another tournament in Sharjah, Khan told the Indian press that the issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan should be resolved on the cricket field.

Misbah, on the other hand likes to keep his cards much closer to the chest. When he made Ajmal a regular member of his team, he did not advertise him as the innovative off-spinner that Misbah knew Ajmal was.

Misbah’s stoic disposition may suggest that he plays purely in the moment without thinking much about the future. The truth is, he actually does think ahead, but chooses not to say much about it.

For example, when Ajmal was reported and was unable to bowl, Misbah was asked how he planned to fill the huge gap created by Ajmal’s departure.

Misbah just shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said the team will have to utilise whatever resources it was left with.

Unknown to the journalist who had asked him this question, was the fact that Msibah had for quite some time kept an eye on three other spinners who were playing domestic cricket in Pakistan: Yasir Shah, Imad Waseem and Bilal Asif.

He immediately got Shah in and advised his batting protégé-turned-ODI-captain, Azhar Ali, to select Imad and Bilal in the ODI squad.

Leg-break bowler, Shah, who has rapidly developed into a class act under Misbah, almost immediately filled the gap created by Ajmal’s fall.

On the other end, Abdul Rehman’s decline was addressed by Misbah when he brought in Zulfikar Babar.

Both these bowlers, along with the now very sharp and hostile Wahab Riaz, were central in giving Misbah his last 6 victories that took his captaincy tally of wins to 20.

Misbah is Pakistan’s most successful Test captain. In the second place are Imran and Miandad. But Khan still remains to be the country’s most successful skipper in ODIs, with 75 wins.

If one were to choose the two’s greatest feats, then for Imran it has to be the way he led a depleted side in 1992 that turned the tables and lifted that year’s Cricket World Cup; and for Misbah it should be the manner in which he quietly stabilised a tainted side of a country in turmoil, and lifted it to become the 2nd ranked Test side in the world – despite it not being able to play a single Test at home ever since 2009.

Source: Pakistan’s greatest cricket captain: Khan or Haq?
Published in Dawn, November 13, 2015.
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Default November 15th, 2015

Smokers’ Corner: A last piece of chocolate

One of the paan shops where I usually buy my cigarettes from once had a fading poster of bygone Pakistani film star and icon, Waheed Murad. I had noticed the poster pasted in one corner of the shop ever since I first began buying my cigarette packs from this place almost 20 years ago.

I know the shop owner well. Today he is a white-haired man in his late 60s and his name is Yameen. He owns three more such paan and cigarette shops in the area and has done well for himself and his family.

He lives in a three bedroom apartment (which he owns) with his wife and three children (two sons and a daughter). The sons are college graduates. One of them looks after two of Yameen’s three shops, while the other son works in the sales department of a tea company. Last year Yameen’s daughter completed her intermediate from a local college.

Yet, despite the fact that I have known Yameen for over 20 years now, I had no idea that before he set up his first paan shop in Karachi’s Boat Basin area 31 years ago, he used to be a barber.

I came to know about this only recently after I finally asked him about the fading, dusty Waheed Murad poster that he just refused to peel off.

How icons inspire and enrich ordinary people and their lives
He began to laugh: ‘Arey, aap nahi jaantey …?’ (You still don’t know about this?).

One of Yameen’s, employees, Kudrat, smiled as well: ‘Yaar Paracha Sahib, aap nein Yawar Bhai ki dukhti rug par haath rak diya hai …’ (You have hit a sore nerve).

It turns out that the poster is over 40 years old! Yameen bought it from a street vendor in Saddar’s Regal area in 1974 when he was in his early 20s. He was a huge Waheed Murad fan.

At the time Pakistan’s film industry was thriving and Waheed Murad was one its biggest stars.

Yameen had joined one of his uncles’ barber shop in the city’s Guru Mandir area after he dropped out from a government school in the 10th grade.

‘I had become a barber because of Waheed Murad,’ he told me. ‘His hair style was all the rage in those days. Women were crazy about him and all the men wanted the barbers to give them the Waheed Murad Cut …’

In 1979 Yameen managed to set up his own barber shop. But four years later he suddenly sold it to a friend and used the money to open a paan shop in Clifton.

Wasn’t the shop doing well?

‘The shop was doing very well,’ Yameen replied. ‘I was making good money from it.’

But then why suddenly sell it?

‘Murad Sahib ki wafat hogayee thi …’ (Waheed Murad died), Yameen explained.

After Murad’s demise, Yameen stopped going to the cinema and anyway, by then the country’s Urdu film industry had already begun its downward slide and the extroverted and populist characteristics of the pre-1980s’ society had begun to fold inwards.

‘One day, just like that, I quit being a barber,’ Yameen explained. ‘I was heartbroken by his (Murad’s) death. But more saddening was the fact that people simply forgot about him. He had brought such joy and colour to so many Pakistanis, but very few mourned his death.’

When Pakistan’s film industry began its decline, a number of actors and filmmakers who had been joyfully reaping fame and fortune suddenly found themselves stranded and abandoned.

Some took to drinking and slipped into obscurity; some compromised their egos (and fee) and began doing TV plays; while others ventured into taking roles in loud, kitsch Punjabi films whose stock and popularity rose rather bizarrely in the 1980s.

The tragedy of the once idealised film stars suddenly losing all their sheen in Pakistan is most strikingly exemplified by the fate of a man who for more than a decade was the country’s leading film icon: Waheed Murad.

From the mid-1960s till about 1977, it seemed as if anything Murad touched turned to gold.

His hairstyle after 1967 was repeatedly copied by young men, and his lively romantic roles turned him into a heartthrob for millions of college girls and housewives.

He would only accept roles of ‘refined’ and gentle romantic men who wore their hearts on their sleeves and demonstrated their optimistic disposition with an unabashed rejection of both irony and cynicism. He was endearingly dubbed ‘the chocolate hero.’

But when things in the industry began to experience multiple jolts after a reactionary 1977 military coup in Pakistan, Murad became the calamity’s first casualty.

As Murad’s contemporaries, such as Mohammad Ali, actually turned rightwards to start making films that accorded with the ‘correct moral lines’ laid down by the in-coming dictatorship, Murad’s romantic heroes who would dance, sing and shed tears at the drop of a hat, suddenly went out of vogue.

Murad tried to reinvent himself as a character actor. But the image of a jolly romantic attached to him was just too fresh and overwhelming for anyone to take his more grounded roles seriously.

Even though another contemporary of his, Nadeem, was still dishing out hits till 1979, Murad began being ignored by the filmmakers. The fall from where he was till 1977 was just too sudden and rapid.

Perplexed and bitter, the man whose car (in 1971) was once mobbed by dozens of college girls in Karachi and literally painted red with lipstick (à la Rajesh Khanna), slipped into the dark void of heavy substance abuse.

When he appeared on a TV show in 1982 (in Anwar Maqsood’s show Silver Jubilee), Murad, by now looking exhausted and with deep, dark circles underneath his eyes, sounded like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

His wife of many years had temporarily left him when some film producers offered Murad to return to the big screen in the role of a hero (on the condition that he would clean up his act). Murad agreed.

But in 1982’s minor hit, Aahat, he seemed to be playing himself — a broken man surrounded by empty gin bottles, medicines and shattered pieces of what was once such a radiant life.

But destiny had marked him to fall even further. In early 1983, while driving under the influence of anti-depressants, he smashed his car into a tree, giving his face a terrible scar.

After the accident, he tried to find solace in his two children and yet more (empty) promises by film producers, who had to keep saying ‘yes’ to a man who had helped them make millions of rupees in the past. But, of course, they were in no mood to hire him again. It was just a gesture of pity.

Then finally it happened. In 1983, the now 46-year-old former star, heartthrob and cinematic Midas, was found dead in a bedroom of a friend’s house. The cause of death was an overdose of an assortment of psychotropic medicines, but many also believe that he had ended his own life.

A film critic lamented that it weren’t the pills and substance abuse that killed Murad. It was his broken heart that took his life.

When I told this to Yameen, he agreed: Bilkul! (Indeed). But then suddenly he withdrew and quietly walked out of the shop. His employee gestured to me with his hands that he (Yameen) would be alright. But he did add: ‘Kaha tha na, Paracha Sahib, Yawar Bhai ki dukti rag par haath rak diya aap nein …’ (I told you, you had hit a sore nerve).

Two days later when I visited the shop again, I noticed the poster had been peeled off. I asked Kudrat about it and he said, Yameen had pulled it off and disposed it somewhere.

And where was Yameen, I asked.

‘Wo retire hogaye hein’ (He has retired), Kudrat informed.

Source: Smokers’ Corner: A last piece of chocolate
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 15th, 2015
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Pakistan's Twitter wars: Clash of the egos

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