By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Devising and furthering ‘suitable’ national narratives is a much recommended culturally and intellectually highbrow activity for the awed and awesome amongst us.

Speaking as one at the receiving end of proliferating narratives I cannot but feel that, important as constructing an appropriate narrative may be, it is even more important to deconstruct some existing ones. The more so when they crystallise as one-liners, slogans that are accepted unthinkingly and allowed to be unquestionable. Take just one to begin with: Pakistan was founded as a Muslim homeland. Continue reading Construct/Deconstruct

Ebbing or incoming?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

THE PTI tsunami epithet is becoming woefully apt. Not in terms of the overwhelming sweeping force of Imran Khan’s political victory – that may be understood as less of a natural occurrence than a technical one – but in terms of the aftermath of the victory: Tsunamis sweep things away and the new government has debuted in tandem with a demolition process: What we have around us is debris. Literally, figuratively and politically. Nature hates a vacuum but we don’t see the space vacated by outcast governments being filled with the kind of tabdeeli we thought was voted in. Administratively we have a case of posttraumatic stress disorder – bewilderingly manifest in paralysis and shrill hyperactivity and declarations that go around in well-meaning circles of clarifying retractions and reiterations so that even U-turns cannot be relied on as lasting second thoughts. Continue reading Ebbing or incoming?

The dream house

By Zubeida Mustafa

AFTER Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan Housing Programme had received considerable publicity, I asked Sakina Bibi if she would apply for it. Sakina is a housemaid, and her family income amounts to Rs20,000 per month. She lives in a rented house (Rs8,000 a month) in a squatters’ settlement. Hers is a small family of four, and her economic status should qualify her for a house under the PTI’s ambitious scheme of building five million houses for the poor in five years. Above all, her lifelong dream has been to have a roof she owns above her head. Continue reading The dream house

To read or not

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE tenth annual What Kids are Reading Report released earlier this year in the UK got educationists worried. After surveying a million primary and secondary schoolchildren, the author of this document concluded that the country faced a persistent problem of getting young teenagers “to read challenging and age-appropriate books”.

It is now suggested that the secondary school pupils should benefit by having 15 to 30 minutes of time for independent reading integrated into the school curriculum. Continue reading To read or not

Interview with children’s books author, Rumana Husain


Anya, Sonia and Etienne (in front) to whom this book is dedicated

ZM: You have had a diverse career — teacher, artist, publisher, activist and writer of children’s books. Which of these roles have you enjoyed and cherished most? Which gave you most satisfaction?


Rumana Husain: At the very outset you have posed a difficult question! J

However, if I have to choose only one of these roles then I would say writing/illustrating children’s books has always given me the most satisfaction. And I have consistently done it for thirty-two years now.


ZM: Are you satisfied with the book publishing industry in Pakistan? Especially children’s books. Please elaborate.


RH: The answer is “no”, because there are very few writers or illustrators of children’s books to begin with, and by that I am not referring to school textbooks. When I co-founded the Book Group back in 1988, it was prompted due to a dearth of good Urdu books for children. Although the situation is slightly better now, it is still far from satisfactory. In my personal experience of doing over sixty children’s books, none of the publishers have made it financially worthwhile; be it small publishers or large publishing houses. I have done it for the love of it, but monetary gains have always been negligible. Therefore why would people bother about writing books for children? Continue reading Interview with children’s books author, Rumana Husain

Laughter and light

Remembering Anjum Niaz (1948-2018
By Zubeida Mustafa
It was in July 2014 when Anjum Niaz, a former colleague and a friend, wrote to me: “Indeed, I too felt good after speaking with you and catching up on the past. Like you, I love delving into old relationships and events that may be pushed back in memory yet, are somehow more lucid and graphic… DAWN, like you, has a special place in my heart and the person at the centre of this universe is of course Khan sahab.” Both of us had been out of DAWN for some time, but the paper still held us together.

This comment, from the lengthy emails we exchanged for some years, sums up my relationship with Anjum Niaz who passed away on October 21 in New Jersey, USA, where she lived since she migrated with her family in 1999.

Anjum came to DAWN in 1987 as the Magazine Editor. My acquaintance with her, however, began earlier when she worked for The Dawn Media Group’s eveninger, The Star, which she had joined in 1984 after a stint in teaching. While at The Star she won the Population Institute’s Award For Excellence In Population Reporting and this being a subject I was interested in too, we found much in common to talk about.

Anjum’s contribution as the DAWN Magazine Editor was immense. She injected in it ‘youthfulness and elegance’; two attributes she herself possessed. They showed in how she carried herself and her graceful ambience. Her office in DAWN was carpeted, had pictures on the wall and lovely potted plants to brighten it up. That is how she also kept her home – whether in Karachi, Islamabad or New Jersey.

I always found her good for my morale, as she said I was for hers. Little acts of thoughtfulness reinforced will not be forgotten such as saving the page of The New York Times carrying my picture along with other awardees (IWMF). “I put it away safely to mail it to you in case you had not seen it,” she wrote in an email punctuated by many “WOWS”.

The DAWN Magazine she edited reflected her innovative skills and creativity, her love for diversity, her exquisiteness and her English language skills in crafting words and headlines. Above all, she knew the art of motivating her writers as many would testify. She understood them well and always found time to talk to them and discuss the subjects they were to write about. That is how she could take the initiative herself to plan the magazine.

Her forte as a writer emerged fully only later when she moved to Islamabad in 1993 and began to write a weekly column called Crème de la Crème. She was also reporting and the Foreign Office was her beat until she resigned in 1996.

Jaweed, her husband, pays her a rich tribute saying: “She took her work very seriously and checked and double-checked what she wrote. Can’t remember her ever missing a deadline.”

I always found her good for my morale, as she said I was for hers. Little acts of thoughtfulness reinforced will not be forgotten such as saving the page of The New York Times carrying my picture along with other awardees (IWMF). “I put it away safely to mail it to you in case you had not seen it,” she wrote in an email punctuated by many “WOWS”. Just like Anjum; so exuberant and so thoughtful. I managed to persuade her to write her memoirs. She finally agreed, so she told me, but I do not know if she ever got down to it.

She reached new heights in her journalistic career when she blossomed as a columnist. She wrote fearlessly, sparing no one who had to be chastised. She was clear about her source of information and scathing in her criticism if she felt it was deserved.

She may have been frivolous at times in order to make her writing spicy, but mostly she was solemn and very profound. This is from her column View from the US: The Enemy Within (August 5, 2012): “Fear then is the deadliest psychosis of all. Philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russell rightly says that fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom… Parsing the meaning of fear, Russell says it ‘makes man unwise in the three great departments of human conduct: his dealings with nature, his dealings with other men, and his dealings with himself.’”

When we shared our despondency on the state of affairs in Pakistan, she always ended on an optimistic note. This is what she wrote once: “I too despair… I can exactly feel your pain of seeing things slide so rapidly. We all are helpless onlookers to the tragedy being enacted before our eyes. Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.”

At times we had minor disagreements, but they were never major enough to disrupt our relationship. Besides, we always respected each other’s opinion and agreed to disagree.

We kept in touch mostly by email and by phone when I was visiting North America. The last time I was there in 2017 we couldn’t talk as she wrote to say she was busy and couldn’t talk, which was uncharacteristic of her. Maybe she wasn’t feeling well. She was a private person and never shared her personal problems. Of course there was mention of doctor’s appointments or an arthritic knee or of “old age creeping up, I guess!!!” but never anything alarming. She was as warm as ever when I wrote to her to check if I could quote her in my memoir. She had jotted down her views in 2014 on the current state of the media.

“Thanks for asking about my comment that I gave you – I had completely forgotten about it. But I guess it’s still relevant if you think you can use it. I’d be honoured. Do keep me posted about the progress of your memoir and lots of good luck.”

And this is how she is quoted in my book: “It is the onset of electronic media (all those frivolous chat shows on TV and idiotic analysis (24/7) that should cause one to refer to the importance and relevance of real time journalism which was practised as opposed to the top-of-the-hat journalism that we now get in plenty by TV and newspaper pinheads. Also, with the hotting up of social media, it seems that everyone thinks himself/herself clued in to news, a sort of news hack even if that happens to be personal goings on. You need to refer to the importance/relevance of print journalism that once formed the staple of real, factual news and information. It still forms the core of authentic journalism but has sadly been pushed into the background.”

When we shared our despondency on the state of affairs in Pakistan, she always ended on an optimistic note. This is what she wrote once: “I too despair… I can exactly feel your pain of seeing things slide so rapidly. We all are helpless onlookers to the tragedy being enacted before our eyes. Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.”

The light never came for her. Her daughter Zainab wrote to me that she was diagnosed with cancer in December 2017. The deadly disease progressed rapidly and by spring, it was stage four. “She has been spared from enduring further pain and is now at peace,” Zainab wrote.

RIP, dear Anjum. Hope you find laughter where you are now. How we laughed together when we shared our stories during our tea breaks in DAWN.

Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.

Continue reading Laughter and light

The ways of media

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

 The media derives value and purpose from its audience: If no one is listening it does not matter what is being said; and if no one reads or sees it, well, for one thing, we wouldn’t need censorship! So what sort of audience do the media in Pakistan have? And then what does the media seek to do and proffer – consciously or unconsciously; voluntarily and perforce? Continue reading The ways of media

Rights of rivers

By Zubeida Mustafa

CAN a river have legal rights as, say, a human being? Why not, a Maori would say. Te Awa Tupua, New Zealand’s third largest river located in the North Island, was recognised as a legal entity in March 2017 by an act of parliament. This move came in response to a 140-year-old demand of the Whanganui tribe of the region which has traditionally treated the river as its ancestor. This in effect means that a close link between man and nature has been recognised and man’s obligations towards the river — his lifeline — acknowledged.

This is a unique concept which makes much sense. Within the span of a few weeks, an Indian court followed suit, and the Ganges and Jamna, sacred rivers of the Hindus, were also given legal rights. These initiatives have reinforced the personhood rights of rivers movement, which is rapidly gaining ground worldwide. It has significantly caught the attention of Pakistani environmentalists as well. I first heard of it the other day from Muhammad Ali Shah, the chairperson of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, who spoke of this in his speech on dams at a meeting organised by the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences. Who else but the fisherfolk would be the first to ponder the implications of the savage abuse of rivers in Pakistan?

A few facts and figures quoted by Shah should be eye-openers. Of the thousands of rivers in the world, only 292 are defined as large — that is, they carry over 1,000 cubic kilometres water — but only 21 of them reach the sea. The remaining have been depleted by dams and mega irrigation projects.

The worst form of social injustice in Pakistan can be found in water distribution.

What about Pakistan? The Indus, the only river to reach the sea in the country, is in its death throes. Dams and canals are draining the waterway while garbage and solid waste are choking it. As a result, the sea is encroaching on the delta, strangling the mangroves and affecting the ecological health of the coastline and the river mouth. Pollution is another major enemy of the Indus and its tributaries.

And the dams? According to the International Commission on Large Dams, Pakistan has 150 dams of the height of at least 15 metres, including the world’s largest earth-filled dam (Tarbela). Yet we seem to be desperate for another one.

If the personhood rights of the Indus were to be accepted in principle, we would have to ensure that the river is not polluted, no more dams are built on it and water is drawn judiciously so that the river’s ecology is not damaged further or marine life decimated. Many lakes have also been affected by the pollution and depletion of river waters.

Pakistan is a water-scarce country, we are told, and our exploding population needs water to live. What is strange is that the many options available have not been explored seriously. There is no discourse on reservoirs to store the excess water that the heavy monsoon rains and the floods bring. There is no mention of conservation in agriculture (drip irrigation has never been tried on a large scale) and industry, or of the need to check the wasteful practices of the rich. And what about the leaking pipes which drain away as much as 30 per cent of the water in Pakistan’s largest city where the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board rules over the water kingdom. Muhammad Ali Shah’s was a lone voice that spoke strongly of conservation at the Irtiqa meeting.

The worst form of inequity and social injustice in the country can be found in water distribution. It is no wonder that the Supreme Court-mandated commission on water and sanitation in Sindh expressed its “serious resentment” on the “unfair” distribution of water in Karachi recently. Water theft, the operation of a tanker mafia and the prevalence of illegal water pumps are the sad story of Karachi’s water supply system. These illegalities are provided cover by allowing half of the 2,600 flow meters installed on the intervention of the Supreme Court to remain out of order. And who are the beneficiaries? Naturally, the rich and the privileged who can buy water at exorbitant prices to meet their needs, while the indigent continue to be denied even this basic necessity of life.

With the lack of availability of water is in itself the first major issue that has to be addressed, no one speaks about the quality of the water that is being supplied. It is not fit for drinking. As a result, water has become a commodity that is sold in the market and that has made many people wealthy. But there is no guarantee that bottled water is always safe for drinking.

The root of the problem lies at the source. Alas, rivers have no rights in Pakistan. But neither do the citizens, not on paper but in reality. This is certain though, when the rivers die, so will the citizens.

Source: Dawn

No hope is suicide

By Zubeida Mustafa

ACCORDING to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds worldwide. It has also been reported that the incidence of suicide has been on the rise in Pakistan. WHO put the figure at an estimated 13,337 for all ages in 2012. It would certainly be higher today.

Only recently, this paper reported three students killed themselves in Chitral after receiving their examination results, while another survived. The Human Rights Programme’s chairman reported that 40 to 45 people commit suicide in Chitral (population 447,362) every year. Continue reading No hope is suicide

Fighting harassment

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE theme of Tehreek-i-Niswan’s fourth Peace Table held a fortnight ago was sexual harassment. This was very timely. #MeToo has made a controversial debut in the country with no consensus on the issue. As a television actor aptly said, “Women in our society remain united when it comes to keeping their mouth shut, and are divided when they speak up.”

The country now has a law in place, Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace. Yet women are hesitant to step forward and speak of their personal experiences. Our patriarchal culture, a flawed law and a weak machinery for implementation put women on the defensive. While some respond meekly, others give vent to their anger (usually on social media) to lash out at their oppressors. Continue reading Fighting harassment