All posts by Fahad Zaki

About Fahad Zaki

I like reading and writing

Happiness is…

The smell of books, holding lots of stationery items in both hands, the flood of memories at a get-together with childhood/school/college/uni friends, the look in the eyes of a human being or an animal you just helped, the sound of your loved one when he/she laughs without a care in the world, the feeling of finding some you thought you had lost, the feeling of finding someone you’ve waited all your life, the smell of freshly baked cookies, tea with biscuits, smiling like an idiot on something you have just read read or remembered, seeing the whole picture or solving a problem by connecting a few dots, fixing something by yourself on the first few tries, making people laugh, aiming and throwing something in the trash can/bin and getting lucky, the feel of a good calligraphy pen in your hand, a good handwriting day, admiring the possibilities held by a blank piece of paper, understanding a novel or a movie better while reading/watching it a second time, beginner’s luck, getting appreciated by your mentor, fulfilling a responsibility well, gaining respect and admiration by your peers, getting forgiveness, the smile of a child when she/he has learned something new and applied it.

When you are in love

1) You listen to her. Her voice creates your world. Her voice heals your soul.
2) You share stuff with her. You can’t help but share. She knows you more than most people.
3) You, sometimes, cry, when she cries. You don’t care even if people think it’s not a manly act.
4) Her happiness and her safety is your priority. You curse yourself when you are not available or don’t have the capacity to be in her hour(s) of need.
5) You worry about her A LOT.
6) You look for opportunities to help her. You also create opportunities to help her.
7) Even though you can’t seem to live without her, you respect her right to her space and her choices. You respect her right to her life. (This goes without saying)
8) You want to give her a hug (to comfort her) when she is sad and when you can’t (for whatever reason), it pains you.
9) You feel worthless, if you are the reason for her being upset. It seems, at times, that it has become very difficult for you to breathe.
10) You apologize if it’s your fault.
You apologize even if it’s not your fault.
11) You remember her, when you’re doing simple stuff, like making tea.
12) When you have conversations with people, and when you think about those conversations, your mind replaces those people with her.
13) Everything about her is perfect.
14) When she laughs or smiles, you subconsciously copy her, even if you have absolutely nothing to be happy about.
15) You feel as if you’re the luckiest man in the world when she is with you.
16) When she praises you or thanks you, you feel that you are someone worthy.
17) When she trusts you, you feel like you can do anything.
18) You pray for her, even when you’re not religious.
19) You seriously evaluate yourself, at one point, and when you realize you don’t deserve her, and that you fear that her rejection will destroy your world AND you fear losing her. You don’t tell her that you love her. You remind yourself that you can’t allow yourself to love her. ‘She deserves better’, you keep telling yourself. Alone, with that depressing thought, a sad smile appears on your face. You take a deep breath and busy yourself with work, thinking, ‘Well at least she is happy. That’s all I want.’

An old man drinking coffee while sitting in a wheel chair at a nursing home

Little Victories

Few things connect with us, emotionally, when we’re old. As you grow older, the excitement and the curiosity, which you felt when you were young, is not the same. So why am I feeling more than one emotion at the age of 83? Was it something that I ate today? Salad and pudding, was it? Was it an interaction I had, in the morning, which set the mood for the whole day? I can’t remember. Well, at least my memory is consistent with my age.

Ah! The pain, in my left arm, is getting worse. I didn’t tell the nurse. Should I tell her? I don’t want to look weak in front of other people here, especially, in front of Jafeero-The-Bully. I won’t hear the end of it. He’ll bully me for the rest of my short life here at this retirement home.

Ah, I remember it now. Jafeero made fun of me over a game of chess, in front of Leeka and she smiled. So what if he won. He is 6 years younger than me. Why did Leeka smile? Does she not care about me or respect my feelings for her? I feel angry at Jafeero. I feel betrayed by Leeka. I feel sad at the incident. I feel happy that Leeka smiled, in a long time, but did the smile touch her eyes. I couldn’t see with these prescription glasses. Did she smile because everyone was laughing? Did she hear Jafeero’s joke? She does have a problem with her hearing. Did she look at Jafeero while she smiled? There is no justice in this world. I’m tired, thinking about it. I’ll just sleep.

Reesha: ‘Mr. Koona, you have to take your medicine before you go to sleep.’
Koona: ‘Who are you? Where is the old nurse? Reesha! Reesha!! Someone is trying to poison me!’
Reesha: ‘I am Reesha. I changed my hair-color and shortened my hair.’
Koona: ‘You look horrible. I hate your look. Don’t you know how much I hate change?’
Reesha: ‘Okay. I’ll fix my hair-color. Now take this. Please.’
Koona: ‘It tastes different. It’s too sweet. Why is it so sweet?’
Reesha: ‘It’s a new medicine. It helps with sleep and memory.’

I wanted to say something clever. But I’m too tired now. Why am I feeling more than one emotion at my age?

Reesha: ‘Good morning Mr. Koona.’
Koona: ‘Good morning, beautiful.’
Reesha: ‘Oh, Mr. Koona, you’re a bit chirpy today.’
Koona: ‘I had an amazing dream last night. What’s with all the commotion?’
Reesha: ‘Haven’t you heard? Mr. Jafeero passed away in the night. Here’s your pudding. I’ll come back in 15 minutes with your medicine.’

Jafeero-The-Bully, passed away? Well, he deserved it. That’s what you get when you mess with the Koona! That’s Karma. Who is laughing now? Should I laugh, the last laugh? Ha! Ha! I lived longer than him. Little victories like these make me happy. Oh look, there is no pain in my left arm. Can this day get any better?

man holding a rocket launcher

My thoughts on radicalization

My thoughts on radicalization

(Estimated Reading Time: ~ 10 minutes)

So I came by this survey (posted by Lorand B.) through a forwarded message and I started answering the questions. I, then, realized that the answers were somewhat worthy of being a blog-post. Since I have not been consistent with posting content on this site and I also would like any excuse to reach out to people to make them hear, listen or read what I have to say (someone’s hungry for attention), I thought of posting the answers with the questions here.

Disclaimer: The questions are not mine. As mentioned they’re by someone named Lorand B., who is working on an “…MA Dissertation that aims to explore the causes of radicalisation”.

These thoughts have been acquired by me, over the years, through reading books, listening to audio lectures and watching TV. So they might not be my thoughts at all. (What a horrible thought, that you are what you have experienced up till this moment, in time)

Here are my thoughts on radicalization:

1) In your view, what is radical/extreme?

Radical/Extreme is not giving young adults or adults the freedom to make a choice AND forcing your own mindset/culture/rules on other people.

 

2) What is your opinion on deviating from the norm? In other words, going against what is deemed as mainstream

It’s fine, as long as no one is harmed physically, mentally or emotionally, and as long as it doesn’t disrupt peace and harmony. How will we evolve if we don’t deviate.

 

3) What role do you think social media and the internet play in the process of radicalization?

They play a huge role now that the internet and social-media have become a big part of peoples’ lives. It liberalizes access to information and people, which makes them (social-media and the internet) beneficial in the right hands and dangerous in the wrong hands.

 

4) What do you think drives young people to join extremist/terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, ISIS, etc. ?

In a particular order: Hunger for power and wealth, hunger for sense of importance and sense of meaning, loneliness, joblessness, lack of better ideas, lack of time consuming activities, an idle mind, inappropriate upbringing and genetics.

 

5) What do you think are the reasons for using violence in order to achieve certain goals?

A reason for a violent act can be anything. That reason will only be important if it helps us understand and find a solution to stop or reduce the violence.

Three things come to mind:

First is the upbringing of children. Parents give their children tools to face the world. If they teach their children to react and not to respond to situations, they’ll be violent.

Second is a combination of hunger for instant gratification and hunger for power. Some people want to implement their will tomorrow or the day after that. Violence scares most of its victims because it promises loss of something valuable, your loved ones, your wealth, your life, etc. etc. Violent people firmly believe that actions speak louder than words.

Third is the mindset of victims (based on their continuous experience of violence) that makes them think and/or believe that they are weak and their actions won’t amount to anything. This point is not the victims’ fault. We shouldn’t hold it against them.

side by side movie

Movie Review: Side by Side (2012)

I believe ‘Side by Side’ is the best movie to have come out of the year 2012. It gets 5 out 5 stars for helping us understand and appreciate movies and the craft of making movies. This movie/documentary, which is based on an interview format, is produced, moderated and narrated by Keanu Reeves. Astonished? Read my review to find out why I made this selection.

It takes you on a journey of discovery, giving you a backstage pass to how movies are made. It gives an overview of processes which were used to make a movie over the years and the current technological achievements and improvements in the industry. Most importantly, the people who are being interviewed, are some of the most respected actors, directors and producers, e.g. Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle, The Wachowskis, Christopher Nolan, George Lucas and James Cameron to name a few.

Side by Side Official Trailer (2012) from Company Films on Vimeo.

Rotten Tomatoes’s Tomato Meter gives it a 93% rating. IMDb gives it a 7.7 score. I agree with these ratings/scores. This is one movie you MUST watch. Even if you have very little time left in your life here on planet Earth, you absolutely need to take some time out of your schedule and watch this movie. Yes. It is that good. I must admit, I am biased towards documentary movies. But, wait till you watch the movie.

movie side by side George Lucas giving his views
We are going through a very significant and large transition in cinema and the digital process democratizes the whole thing. – George Lucas

It talks about the different roles of people involved in the development of a movie. It shows the dilemmas, challenges, fears and conquests from some of the amazing pioneers of movies over the years. This movie should be a definite part of every movie/technology buff’s collection.

Role of Keanu Reeves:
Now the role of Keanu Reeves in the movie. He’s the producer, the interviewer and the narrator. His voice during narration seems a little different than the usual professional British/American narrating voices we are used to, while watching documentaries. A simple trick, which I used to overcome this, is to think that Neo from The Matrix is narrating. Everything falls into place after that trick.

Dear Bully

If I die tonight or any other night,
will people remember me?
I fought with the life that I had,
a journey with no map and an endless sea.

This is for you, and you, and you,
all those who have done wrong to me.
Those who have taken part in my life,
and dishonestly taken a part from me.

Reading books, keeping myself busy,
watching documentaries and shows on the tele.
All that investment wasn’t worth a thing for you,
maybe understanding people was the key.

I tried to keep things interesting,
always creating a better version of me.
I have tried to live with dignity,
but people’s thoughts defined me.

Have you ever noticed how ugly people, like me,
can’t afford to be angry, can’t afford to be mean.
Yet they’re responsible to improve their lives,
they avoid stereotypes, keep their feelings unseen.

“Your face is your business card”,
is what you implied in your dealing with me.
Hence business never did well,
you looked at the cover and judged me.

I wish to remove your criminal smile
by the end of this poem, you see.
I wish to curse you with words,
beat you down to your knees.

I wish you wake up from nightmares,
drenched in sweat and deafening screams.
A part of my heart will never heal,
you’ve destroyed that part of me.

I didn’t choose this life, this face, this body,
I didn’t choose my mind’s physics or chemistry.
How easily you remove your crimes from my life,
yet my supposed mistakes must stick with me?

I hope you’re criticized, judged, looked down upon,
laughed upon during your misery.
Dear bully, I hope you die a slow, painful death,
while there was still hope for your recovery.

A narrow escape

If you were in Karachi on December 17th, 2013 and were driving (or being driven) near Hassan Square and you noticed a traffic jam, somewhere between 10:30 am and 10:50 am  and you wondered what the reason was. I’ll tell you.

Over a month ago, on December 17th, 2013, I was going to meet someone at Clifton for an upcoming project. I was riding my bike after 5 months from Hassan Square. So, naturally, I was scared and hence extra careful while riding. I gave myself courage that everything will be fine. I didn’t know what was about to happen in the 10 minutes that were about to come next.

My process of bike riding:
I’m paranoid so I ride my bike very, very, very carefully. Always keeping a safe distance between myself and the vehicles in front. It’s not because I am a safe/careful bike rider. It’s because of a simple reason. I don’t want to die.

When I switch lanes I do the following:
While switching lanes, I assess the speed and the intention of the vehicle in front of me. I keep turning my head over my shoulder to assess the distance and speed of the vehicles coming from behind. If everything looks fine I turn on the indicator and using my arm or my hand, I give signals of switching lanes, before the switch. This process takes  5 to 6 seconds.

The road from Karachi Expo Center to the National stadium splits into two. The two faster lanes meet the flyover and become two lanes of the said flyover. The slower lanes of the road branch into a separate road and runs adjacent to the flyover for a while and then splits into three more roads.

The flyover near National Stadium.
National Stadium Flyover-Image by Iftikhar A. Khan

This one instance when I was switching to the fast lane and I looked back to see the vehicles behind. I saw the guy, the central character in this story, for 2 seconds near the Expo Center. A biker in a T-shirt with no helmet. He may or may not have been wearing sunglasses, I can’t remember now. The guy was swerving his bike left to right and back. From my own experience this happens, when a biker is very happy or suffering from road rage, or in a hurry. From his expressions I realized that he was not speeding because of any emergency. He seemed to be casually speeding.

I switched into the fast lane. The T-shirt guy sped past me from behind from the left.
And in a few seconds there were two or three cars between us. So the biker was in the lane to my left, ahead of me and I was in the right lane.

There was a water-tanker-truck (a truck with a tank/container attached for transporting water) ahead of me, towards the left. It didn’t change lanes and it didn’t increase its speed. So my assessment was that it wanted to go over the flyover. So I kept in my lane. One of the most important rules while riding bikes is to never take on a truck or a larger vehicle. You can never ever win. The T-Shirt guy sped in front of the water tanker.

When I reached the starting point of the National Stadium flyover, the accident took place. The water-tanker-truck  screeched and made sounds exactly like in the movies of rubber-tires of the water-tanker-truck and the body of the bike (under the wheels of the water-tanker-truck) going against each other. My assessment is that the unlucky biker thought that there was enough road to get in front of the tanker and that he would switch to the left branch of road, that ran adjacent to the flyover. But the cut, to switch to the left branch, was gone and was replaced by the flyover wall. The biker hit the left wall of the flyover and then came under the tanker. Perhaps a strong wind (very common near flyovers) had caused the bike to slip.

There was another biker in front of me, who I will call an ‘idiot biker’. I call him an ‘idiot biker’ because I could have died because of his carelessness. The ‘idiot biker’ braked and stopped right in the middle of the road to look at the accident. He didn’t care that he was carrying a passenger. He didn’t park his bike to the side and immediately just stopped.

I had to slow down my bike quickly, which is not the correct thing to do while you are riding at a fast speed, (I think the maximum speed on flyovers is 40 km/h) but I had no choice because I would have hit the ‘idiot biker’ in front of me. I quickly looked back over my right shoulder and I saw a white car maintaining its speed and not slowing down. This was bad news for me. I got scared and I looked towards the front. I let my bike slow down, but  didn’t stop my bike, and prepared my mind to get hit by the white car behind me.

The car touched my bike from behind with some force and my bike began to lose its balance. I thought I was going to die. My bike then hit the bike of the ‘idiot biker’. And surprisingly gained back its balance. I took control of the bike and moved to the left and kept going till I got past the moron. I later realized that the car behind me had slowed down in time to just slightly hit my bike.

I looked back and saw the white car came to a stop and then it got hit by another car from behind.

While looking back, I saw the unfortunate biker lying under the front wheel of the truck. His face was facing the road. When I saw this image, I sensed that he was extremely sad. I can’t explain this feeling. I couldn’t see his face correctly but this strong sensation was overwhelmingly sad. I looked forward and kept going until I reached my destination in Clifton.

I could have stopped and helped. But I didn’t. I thought of stopping. But I didn’t stop. During the bike ride I questioned myself about my lack of action. This was made worse by my negative daydreaming where I saw myself dictating the water-tanker-truck’s driver to back away from the man. I saw myself taking control of the situation. I saw myself tying my belt on his thighs or arms to prevent blood loss. I saw myself loading the unfortunate man into a car and giving instructions to the nearest hospital.

Some can call, my riding away, a selfish, insensitive or cowardly act. But I had the belief that there were people, who had seen more terrible things, people who had cars to take the man to a hospital, would take care of the man. Also before you judge me, I’d like to mention that I had just avoided death. So the adrenalin was forcing me to keep riding my bike. My reptilian brain was telling me to move away from the scene, where I could have died, as quickly as possible.

Now the question: Did the unfortunate guy on the bike survive?
Well, as I came to the end of the flyover, going towards Karsaz, a white car rushed passed me, on my right. I think, no, I hope that the man was being taken to the hospital and I hope that he survived. I couldn’t find the news using Google. Perhaps it was not reported. So I can’t confirm about the fate of that man. (If you know about the details please comment below I would really appreciate.)

If the water-tanker-driver has been arrested and requires a testimony, then I must state that it wasn’t the water-tanker-driver’s fault. It was the unfortunate biker’s fault. Had he been careful and observant and had he not been riding his bike carelessly, very close to the water-tanker, this traffic accident could have been avoided.

Lessons:
– Always, always, always wear a helmet. Never ride a bike without it.
– Keep some distance while you are driving, between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.
– Never ride bikes too close to cars and other heavy vehicles like trucks.
– When an accident takes place or not, never, ever, stop immediately on the road. You could get hit by the traffic coming from behind.

I lost some of my confidence (of riding a bike) after witnessing that accident. It will take a lot of time to readjust. I hope this post helps people to be a little cautious while riding bikes or driving cars.

Movie Review: Zibahkhana – Hell’s Ground (2007)

(Estimated Reading Time: ~ 20 minutes)

(Movie Review: Zibahkhana – Hell’s Ground)
(Possibly the worst movie made/shot in Pakistan)

With movies like Josh, Zinda Bhaag and Chambaili giving hope to some about the ‘revival’ of Pakistani cinema, I felt the need to watch some of the indie movies made in Pakistan, in the past. So my first attempt was to watch a movie that was on my list for a long time but I didn’t have the courage (read stomach) to watch it. It was Zibahkhana.
Zibahkhana is a zombie / gore / horror movie made/shot in Pakistan. Directed by Omar Ali Khan and produced by Pete Tombs.

This movie surprised me with the amount of limelight it got in the media. It was mentioned in Time Magazine, The Telegraph and Variety. I was also surprised to see that it got 100% (7.2 out of 10) from rotten tomatoes. Even more than ImDB (5.5 out of 10). So I made plenty of calls to obtain a DVD with bonus features if possible. I was sucessful and started watching the movie. By the end I was immensely disappointed. It looked more like a film for assignment submission for a course whose teacher marked everyone as a winner.

So because of this disappointment, this movie gets a very special review, spoilers and all.

I give it 1 out of 10. It gets 1 for the concept of Burqaman. It loses all the other points because of low production quality, flaws in the script, substandard acting and a director with no eye for details. The best scene in the movie is that of a stream filled with trash and filth. At least the stream made an impact.

Here’s the detailed review:
From the start you have to stomach a lot before you get into the mood of watching this movie. It is sub standard from the get-go. From the poster (which was probably updated 3 times over the years) with crappy fonts (to scare us, I think) to the introductory scene that adds no horror value to the movie. i.e. A car gets into an accident because it hit something, we don’t know what. The actor sits up immediately, no shock, no trauma, and lights a cigarette. Great. There is a full shot of the actor and we see him getting scared of what appears to be thin air.  Poor acting at that.

There is the usual jumping through hoops, where a group goes on a journey and
takes a shortcut. Then there are no signals on the cellphone and they realize the gas gauge is messed up. Then the engine doesn’t start, and then the car gets stuck in mud (twice), there was mud but no source (rain/stream) shown.

Dialogues:
Actor asks whether the map has gas stations, as if it was Google maps — in 2008 — in print form — in Pakistan.

Here are some more examples:
(Rest in peace English)
“It was fucking with the shit out of me.”

(Make up your mind)
“I was attacked by something down there!”
“It wasn’t an animal, it was a man!”

(Drawing room discussions)
Actors (standing) : “Do you have any idea what was going on back then? What is your opinion on this?”

Realism:
Some form of realism is important for us to help us connect with the movie. So that we get lost in the movie and are on the edge of our seats when the action quickens its pace.

The actor in the movie is shown to be more concerned about the animal that attacked,
than the person attacked and possibly bleeding to death.

LunchTime

Here’s another scene:
(One actor gets bitten by a zombie and friends try to help)
“We have to take him to a hospital, the blood is not stopping”
(No bandages are applied. Result should be death by blood loss. But No!)
(2 minutes later in the van)
Actor (who was bitten): “I’m okay now that I have my dope”
(Moral: Dope heals fatal wounds.)

– While there is one friend in the group, who is dying in the van, two of the other friends
start politely discussing philosophy as if they don’t even care what happens to him.

– A stranger tells them he will guide them and gets into their van.
Then the same stranger screams: “I will take blood out of you all!”
Result: No reaction. They don’t stop the car or kick him out.

– A decapitated human head lies in the van. Three of their friends are missing.
And then out of nowhere a romance blossoms between the poor Christian boy and the upper-class religious Muslim girl. Huh?

The film shows a group that comprises of people of different beliefs and
backgrounds but is inconsistent with the parts played by the actors.
For example, the educated, upper-class girl is okay medicating herself when an
old lady, who she just met, seconds ago, in the middle of the jungle, says:
“Let me give you some medicine. Here. Drink it. There you go.”

Sound:
The music and sound of the car engine is turned on and off abruptly. There is no consistency. The dubbing was crappy overall. In one scene the mouth of the actor moves and words don’t come out.

Lighting:
The scenes in the night should depict the moonlight but all we see is a stage light
(very close by and at a height of 12 feet) masquerading as the moon.

We’re not idiots. We can easily differentiate both.

There is no consideration for day time and night time while shooting.
In one scene it’s noon, then it’s sunset, and then noon and then sunset.

Tube-lights were installed in the van as if it were an ambulance. More importantly, lights in the van are on while they are escaping at night, lights are off in the van when they stop to check the front of the car.
Ambulance

There is inconsistent lighting throughout the movie. They try to show a moonlit night.
Sometimes too dark, sometimes we get the feeling of a street lamp in the middle of the jungle.

Near the end, when we have established that there is enough moon light for people to walk about but then in a certain twist the girl suddenly can’t see anything, in that light. There is light all around the van, the girl does not notice the burkha-slasher, in front of the van, until she turns the headlights on. Totally believable.

Acting:
It was as if someone convinced their cousins to work with them on the project.  Even striking/beating the car in anger is unconvincing.

Human Anatomy:
This is important because the movie is a zombie-slasher movie. Human parts will be eaten. Humans intestines look like chicken intestines.

Make-up:
Make up isn’t consistent with the disease plot they were pursuing. Some have boils and white scales, some are normal with a zombie look in the eyes.

Props:
This movie could get the razzie for the worst and unconvincing ‘horror props’ e.g. the scary stuff hanging from trees include a dead crow, a brand new doll not a rag doll and a foot of a chicken.

They come to a mausoleum burning 50 or so candles (in the middle of nowhere). How the
hell do you procure candles in the jungle? It appears there is a shop in the middle of the jungle that gives out free candles and people burn them generously. When one candle will suffice for lighting they still burn seven candles in more than one scene.

Example of disregard for detail:
The burkha-slasher uses a flail to smash the head of one of the ‘teenagers’. His head doesn’t even shake/move when the death blow is served. And his eyes (appear to) roll back into their sockets.

After she strikes the slasher, she checks, to see if he is dead, in a very interesting way.
Usually in movies we kick to see something (which was out to kill us) is alive or not.
But here, the girl drops to her knees and puts her head near the chest of the slasher
(as if he was her loved one) and listens to the heart beat.

This movie should be shown in film institutes for a different reason.
“How movies should never be made.”

Here’s a simple test for you, to see how cliched this movie is:
Take a guess how this movie ended.
That’s right. Everyone dies.

I’m glad I watched this movie. Now I have an answer to the following question:
“Which movie, in your opinion, is possibly the worst movie ever made/shot in Pakistan?”
rundownshack

Desi Writers Lounge’s Short Story Contest

Desi Writers Lounge’s Short Story Contest

(Estimated Reading Time: ~ 30 minutes – If you don’t have time you can read the Background, Result and Conclusion)

I sincerely hope I don’t become a victim of an over simplification, when people categorize the act of someone raising questions, about the quality of judgment in a contest, as someone behaving like a sore loser (because the one, raising the questions, did not win the said contest). What I share is an opinion based on observations which could be wrong.
I wholeheartedly appreciate the work Desi Writers Lounge is doing and their Dastaan award initiative and I wish them the best of luck.

Background
An organization by the name of Desi Writers Lounge held a short story contest. It probably started some time after July 16, 2013 and ended on September 15, 2013. It received some 200+ entries. I participated in it and I was super serious about it.  The organizers were very helpful and happily answered questions that required detailed responses.

I followed some of the best practices mentioned on different sites and forums. I had multiple people look at my story which I updated in the light of their valuable suggestions.I also put it aside and let time pass. And I came back to it after a month. I revised it. In fact, I revised it nearly 200+ times. Paying attention to minute details. Fixing holes in the plot, the tenses, the voice and the flow of the story. Making sure it wasn’t weak anywhere. I’m content that I did my best.

Result
I didn’t win the contest. I didn’t get 2nd or 3rd position or an honorable mention.
That is understandable as it was one solid possibility. I am not delusional and didn’t expect to win the very first contest I participated in. I’m 100% okay with it.

The winning story
More importantly, here is the story that won the contest, which I believe has flaws in it.
(Take some time to read it. I insist.)

Did you read the story? Please read the story because a major portion of this post revolves around it. Once you’ve read the story you realize it is very gripping.
In the last 6 lines, all that noise just goes out the window and leaves the reader in shock.
I feel that’s the desired effect that the author wanted and was successful.

Flaws in the winning story
But I noticed (and I would like your opinion on this) that there are parts in the story, I think, which are not written well, like:

1- Construction of the Crime in the story
A) 8th segment/part of the story, line 232, ‘Hoshang’ explains that the rape took place inside the house. The word ‘they’ suggests more than one man committed the crime.
We are to believe that the victim opened the door to her house to strangers? And she managed to run out of her house (overpowering, let’s say, two men) to ring the bell of people in the building?
So the woman opened her doors to strangers, overpowered them, ran outside her house and then she was dragged back to her house and raped by men she had overpowered?

B) While the victim was taking her time pressing everybody’s door bell on that particular floor (in one case, pressing it twice — and politely pausing before pressing the door bell a second time), are we to believe that the criminals were merely taking a stroll to reach the victim?

2- The victim of the crime
In the story, it is told that the rape took place the day before the interview (the interview took place at the very end of the story), but the victim was not showing any signs of mental trauma in the story during the interview, which is mysterious.
For example, in the story, while explaining the tragic event, the victim ‘smiles’.
She apologizes and jokes about breaking the door bell of the reporter’s apartment.

3- Biggest hole in the story
Now go to the last 6 lines of the story. The victim (in the story) says that: “They got to me before you did.” and the husband says: “Nobody answered the door bell”, implying, at minimum, that they knew the reporter was in her apartment. This was the shocking and most profound moment in the story. This was the foundation of the whole story.
— Now explain this to me: How did the victim know that the reporter was present in her house?
Let me help you with that: Put yourself in a person’s shoes who is ringing a door bell not once but twice with a polite pause in between. And no one answers the door.
After this exercise tell me what would you infer? Would you conclude that no one is answering the door because people are in the house? Does this sound logical? Was the victim sitting next to the author while this story was being written?
Also was the victim expecting the woman reporter to open her door to the rapists?

Judges’ note on the story – All praises
“Sucharita Dutta-Asane has written a remarkable story that deftly and delicately breaks down the awful spectre of big-city violence. On a technical level, the piece meets almost all the traditional criteria of a ‘good story’, but the writer’s real triumph lies in the way she controls her audience, gently manipulating and guiding the reader to an end that will change the way most of us think about the cities we inhabit.”

My apprehension before the contest
The contest, sort of raised a red flag, for me in the very beginning, when I went through the content of the website several times, (so that I didn’t end up violating any of the submission rules).  There was a story that got 2nd place in the 2012 short story contest.

And in the reason-for-choosing, the judges said:
“… If the characters do not seem well developed or if they are lacking in their personalities, it is only because this story is part of a larger text. Upon a second read, everything suddenly seems to click into place, completing the puzzle….”

So, essentially, what they were saying was that, if a story forces one to read it a second time, because the characters don’t seem well developed OR they are lacking in their personalities, it can still win a 2nd prize. There is no stopping them once the judges have made up their minds.

No conspiracy here
Now I’m not cooking up a conspiracy or anything, by writing this. As I believe it would be very unfair if I were to say something like:
1) “It appears only women deserve the top two spots for the contest, judging from 2012 & 2013 results.”
2) “It appears that the guideline for 5,000 words limit is misleading, since only shorter stories have won.”
3) “It appears that only authors with shining profiles win because they have ‘potential’ and when their profiles are mentioned elsewhere in the future, this contest’s name will appear in them and will result in free promotion.”
4) “It appears that the authors are asked before hand (before the announcement of winners) to submit their shining profiles. This happened on the day of the announcement of winners of the 2013 contest. On September 15th, the names of winners were there on the website, along with their shining profiles. How very convenient.”

Conclusion
This was a great learning experience. I, now, appreciate literature and writers more and (sort of) understand the hard work that goes into making a story. My personal estimate is that a short story of about 5,000 words (or 10 legal pages) requires: scheduling 5 months, writing a draft, getting feedback from the right people, revising, asking lots of questions while doing lots of research, revising, leaving the work aside for a month (in the 4th month) to review it (in the 5th month) with a fresh perspective, revising again (overall 200+ revisions) and lots of dedication. No need to be surprised or demotivated if the plot of the story, the gender/name of the protagonist/villain and the locations change while the story develops and is revised over time. Participating in writer meetups or groups is very very beneficial.

I am a bit disappointed in the result of the contest. I would have appreciated if a better story had been picked as the winner. But I feel that thanks to this contest and the motivation of the Dastaan award, I am a better writer now (sort of). Thank you Desi Writers Lounge!

Movie Review: After Earth (2013)

After Earth is a science fiction movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Jaden Smith and Will Smith. Set in the future, where humans have left Earth and settled on some other planet. A father takes his son on a military mission and they crash land on Earth. The son defeats/kills the alien and saves the father’s life.

After Earth

I give it a 2/10.
2 for production quality and fear-smelling-alien concept.
It loses all other points because the story wasn’t gripping enough. It was interesting in certain scenes but didn’t have a strong role for Will Smith, which is frankly why we watched the movie. I also think that the people who watched this movie might have felt cheated in the end.

(This movie hasn’t released in Pakistan and the DVD sales are said to start in October 2013. So a lot of waiting is involved here for you if you haven’t watched it yet.)

(The details that we know from different sources is that the idea for the movie came from Will Smith. Gary Whitta wrote the script first and then M. Night co-wrote it with him later.)

The script has flaws. I have never been a fan of story writers trying to jump through hoops to make a story possible. More discussions should have been done on the script.

No Emergency escape pods:
We see that there is a military spaceship, it gets messed up and we realize that there are no escape pods to save the humans.

Flight safety:
The ship just crash lands and kills most of the crew. We deserve better from the future.
1000 years later and emergency landing still kills people? People travel (the seating arrangement) like they are going to be dropped out in the jungle from a plane?

No Space suits:
What if they land on the planet with no suitable atmosphere to expose your hands and face. Like in the case of the planet (Earth) they landed on. No thermal suits.
No breathing masks? (just in case) No gloves? (Even mountain cycling people wear gloves)

Weapons:
There are no guns (for immediate protection). All we see is that Jaden has a cutlass that is on his back. 1000 years later and we still prefer close combat with aliens that can smell you and your fear from a considerable distance.

The communicator:
We see that the communicator gets damaged. We also see that the heart beat, bone structure etc. is transmitted but voice communication not possible. So the communication between the devices is one way?

My Illogical Bones:
At the end of the movie, Will Smith is saved by his son Jaden. After the rescue, we see the medics helping Will Smith with his injuries. We know that both of the legs are broken but still Will Smith says stand me up. Why put pressure on your broken limbs? Why couldn’t you stand up during the whole movie?

Will’s disappointment:
We weren’t the only people who were disappointed. Will Smith also expressed his disappointment on Jimmy Kimmel Live, talking about After Earth coming at number 3 on its first day at the Box Office.

Further observations:
Resemblance: It’s amazing how Jaden Smith looks exactly like his father Will Smith in the movie.

Conclusion: 
I wasn’t impressed with the movie, but I would like to add it to my DVD collection 
when it becomes available on DVD.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in Pakistan

|Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in Pakistan|

— This post is not a movie review. You can read reviews of the movie here on IMDB and RT.
This is a post where I mention why I’m not going to watch the above mentioned movie 
that will ‘run’ in Pakistan on August 23, 2013.

I’m sure the movie will be a success here in Pakistan as it inspired India (and made crores of rupees at the Indian Box Office). I also don’t have any issues with it showing in Pakistan. I’m sure this success will translate into other Bollywood studios producing sport themed movies. I appreciate that Farhan worked really hard in becoming ‘Milkha’ for the movie (Even Milkha accepted that Farhan Akhtar looks like him). I also recognize that he has talent for acting. There is no doubt about that.

However, the only reason why I’m not going to watch this movie is because of its lead actor:  Farhan Akhtar.

Farhan Akhtar fueling animosity against Pakistan:
It’s his character in real life that I don’t appreciate. This dates back to an unfortunate event on 02-MAY-2013, where an Indian prisoner, ‘Sarabjit Singh‘, was killed by a fellow prisoner in a Pakistani jail.
Farhan tweeted: ‘… Pak has painted itself a heartless villain, even in the most forgiving Indians eye….’
FA
Farhan didn’t take into consideration the Pakistani lawyer that defended Sarabjit or the support given by the Pakistani civil society and media. Farhan didn’t even take into account the human rights activist, Ansar Burney, who helped bring back 6 Indian sailors that were held hostage (and these sailors were brought back on a Pakistan Navy warship PNS Zulfiqar).
Even if we consider, for the sake of the argument, that the Pakistani government or ‘establishment’ was involved in the murder, the question that comes up is:
“Why did they wait 22 years to ‘kill’ him?”

Farhan’s tweet showed the amount of research he did before he opened his mouth in public. This showed how irresponsible he is as an adult. He added fuel to the animosity that exists in different segments of Indian society. He acted like a troll. He misled hundreds of thousands of his followers. Shame on him.

Another point of view on Milkha Singh:
One way to look at Milkha, is that he is the best male athlete that India has ever produced and  he won gold medals (Commonwealth & Asian Games) and prestigious awards like Padam Shri (1958) with an inspiring Cinderella story.

Another way to look at Milkha is that when India required him to perform
at a truly international event (Olympics) and when his training required him to focus on the finish line. He failed miserably. When he was in the lead in the 400 meter event at the Rome Olympics 1960, he slowed down and looked back at the runners who were behind him.
He lost his speed and thus lost his lead and came in fourth. I’m not emphasizing this because of any negativity.  I’m adding this because Milkha, himself, considers this the biggest mistake in his life and the worst memory after his parents death.

Final thoughts:
What we need to appreciate, is the work that went into making this movie, instead of focusing on praising Farhan Akhtar. We need to praise the director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, writer Prasoon Joshi, editor P.S. Bharathi and co-producers Viacom 18 for taking such a project and executing it well.
That is the right way to acknowledge this movie. Just like Milkha’s son, professional golfer Jeev Milkha Singh did in an interview.

Anime Review: Another (2012)

‘Another’ is a 12 episode anime. It falls under the category of horror / mystery / drama / seinen. It’s about a student who transfers to a new school and then one by one, students start dying in mysterious ways, because of a curse. Some are calling ‘Another’, the anime version of ‘Final Destination’. I have to be clear on this. I am not a big fan of horror movies/anime. And I’m also not a fan of people dying one by one to help pace the story.

– I give ‘Another’ 5 out of 10.

5 for excellent quality, solid foundation/theme.
It loses points for flaws in the script in the ending episodes.

After reading several negative comments on the net about this anime, I gathered some courage to watch it. It was good. The plot was mysterious. The foundation of the anime was pretty solid. It looked promising. Until the ending episodes. More specifically, episodes 10, 11, and 12.

I checked again on other sources like IMDb and yet again that site has positive (and in my opinion misleading) reviews of anime that I am not fond of.

Here’s what was bothersome about the final episodes:

Episode 10:
We find that Misaki has the power to see ‘dead stuff/people’ or the ‘color of death’ with her glass eye. 8 people died but she didn’t even bother to help.  She kept that eye covered with a patch. Why?

She knew the murderer, the ‘extra student’ but she didn’t mention it to anyone. Why?
(At the end of the tenth episode she is about to tell Kuichi but they are interrupted by a crazy knock at the door.)

Episode 11:
After Kazami is killed at the end of episode 10, we see that the three students coming down to check whether Kazami is still alive after being thrown from the second floor. Notice the extra slow walk down the staircase. What was that supposed to be? Was it supposed to add a dramatic effect to the anime? Someone was dying and they acted like
‘Let’s just go extra slow this time. Let’s take our time and let him bleed and die’

Even when Mei Misaki’s life is in danger after the announcement in the house,
she doesn’t inform the people about the murderer. Even when almost all her
classmates want to kill her, she doesn’t speak up. Why?

A student tries to kill Misaki with a — mop — and the teacher, Ms. Mikami, just walks straight into the blow of the student. She doesn’t parry the blow with her hand. Where were her reflexes? Was she trying to block the blow with her head?

Ms. Mikami was hurt/killed trying to protect Misaki. Misaki doesn’t speak up.
She is calm and composed. She just takes Kouichi’s hand and runs away. Why?

When they lock the door to a room, a girl opens the door with a simple kick. It seemed momentary insanity gave super strength.

Everyone is in a frenzy to kill Misaki. They’re smiling and laughing while approaching to kill her. Even people who were timid and didn’t talk much are now out of their shell and freely trying to kill their classmate, all the while saying:
‘Send the dead back to death!’
A worth noting aspect, in this episode and the one that follows, is that most of the people who are trying to kill have gained super skills in stabbing, slicing, dicing and throwing knives (with excellent aim I must add) at people although they have lost their minds.

Here’s something more interesting– when Takako gets stuck with wires around her neck, instead of pulling her head up to get out of the wires, — she pulls down — with her neck. What?! Who came up with that stuff?
And when she is hanged by the wires, Misaki just watches and doesn’t support her legs to save her from getting strangled by the wires. Why?

Episode 12:
Kuichi comes out of the burning house on the advice of the librarian (who also saved his life). But he goes back into the burning house after realizing that Misaki is still inside. The librarian doesn’t stop him. Why?

If a falling chandelier and a pillar weren’t enough to kill the students,  we learn that some higher power also endorses the curse and sends lightening bolts from the sky to kill Izumi Akazawa, the student responsible for counter measures against the curse. Huh?

When everything was normal there were no signals on cellphones, when the student with asthma collapsed. But when the whole house was on fire the signal reception improved for Kuichi to make a call to Misaki. What?

Conclusion:
It’s better than some of the other animes I have seen. It’s watchable.

News:
There is news of a spin-off novel ‘Another: Episode S’ releasing in July 2013.
A sequel manga/novel ‘Another 2’ has also been announced.
— I’m afraid I’ll have to skip that.

Links and resources:
Official website:
http://www.another-anime.jp/

Wikipedia post (and list of episodes):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Another_episodes

Fiverr: I’m joining this marketplace

Since Google announced (04-JUN-2013) that they awarded £100,000 to vInspired (a micro work/job site) , I find myself interested in this concept again. I like to visualize and I visualize many projects submitted and many rejected. I see (with my mind) some projects long-listed and then short-listed during this process.

The reason why vInspired won could be because it might have had something amazing to begin with and it passed through all those stages in the competition. Something that forced the judges (or fans) to think in favor of this project. I congratulate vInspired.

I have had an interest in micro-job sites. To me, they are the new market places of the world that has access to the internet. This interest began a few years ago, when I thought of so many self help gurus writing books and giving seminars, but most of them didn’t do anything in a profession. By profession, I mean a job, like we have.

This led me to this idea: What if we had a reality show where someone who lost everything,
all their financial stability, and then gained it, again, from scratch. But then I thought people who became extremely rich through their hard work, would have many people in their contacts, that could lend them capital to start their businesses again. So that reality show would not last the first season or the initial brain-storming stage.

So, these self-help gurus always talk about having passion for the work. I see passion
in people in these micro-work sites. The people who are on these sites seem genuinely happy.

I want to know what they do. I want to know what they feel when they apply/bid for jobs.
So I ended up checking many micro-job sites. Some were not so micro (e.g. oDesk, elance)
and some were (e.g. Fiverr). I liked Fiverr after watching videos made by people. I saw people doing some really neat stuff. Some did narrations, voice overs, translations, logo design, website issues resolution. Some people made rap videos & greeting videos. It was nice to see that everyone did whatever they felt they liked and could generate cash from it.
It was admirable. I want to know more. I want to experience this freedom these people have.

I’m also looking into the concept of poverty alleviation using micro-work websites.
So, I think I might join Fiverr just for the experience and learn about the possibility to
improve peoples’ lives.

Oh and by the way, the ‘Impact Challenge awards’ happened in March 2013.
So, if you like, you can come up with a unique idea that impacts the world in a big way till March next year and win something for a project you believe in.
The challenge period was from 25 March 2013 – to 17 April 2013.
(The finalists were selected on 3rd June 2013)
More here: https://globalimpactchallenge.withgoogle.com/

Additional motivation for you:
4 (Four) finalists got £500,000 — and 6 (Six) additional finalists got £100,000.

P.S. You can check out other initiatives by Google here:
http://www.google.com/giving/grants.html

Anime Review: Night Head Genesis (2006)

This anime has 24 episodes and I give it 3/10.
3 points for concept, quality (at the time), and super-powers used.
This anime loses points because of the crappy plot.
Again don’t be misled by generous reviews elsewhere like IMDb.
It’s a drag. It would have been better if it was reduced to 12 episodes.
It’s a case of too much bread and too little butter.
(Even putting a little girl, to add cuteness to the last 2 episodes, fails. What were they thinking?)

A bit of advice: Please turn your headphone’s/speaker’s volume a little lower than you usually set. This is because of the number of times ‘Naoya’ and ‘Niisan’ is yelled.
Be prepared to continuously hear a grown up (Naoya) cry like a child and faint throughout the episodes to convince his brother to win arguments and force his ‘Niisan’ to take action.

The whole anime is weak but I’m going to talk about 5 episodes in the end.

Episode 19:
Students die. Both the brothers just watch the students floating in the pool.
They don’t try to save them and perform CPR.

Episode 20:
Naoya can’t feel that ‘mind control’ is at play when his brother is shown scary visuals.
It’s also normal for the brothers to sit down with murderers and manipulators to have coffee and do chit-chat.

Remember X-Men First Class, near the end, where Charles Xavier was mind
controlling the former Nazi, Sebastian Shaw and Magneto was passing
a coin through his head. Xavier could have let Shaw go. But he
didn’t. He controlled his mind till the end and let him die.
And while doing that, Charles was screaming. I didn’t get that part too.

Episode 21:
It takes Naoya a whole day to come to the conclusion to save the girl.
They reach the house at night (even though no one told them where the girl lived)
Naoto could have punctured the wheel of the car, to stop the ‘Ark’ rep
from taking the girl. The girl is very important in the destruction of the
world. It seems the brothers somehow suffer amnesia at this critical moment
and forget this.

Episode 22:
Instead of taking his brother to a hospital, Naoya takes him back to the hotel
where they are staying. Naoto is not waking up and is probably in a coma.
Naoto gains the power of telepathy after he ‘dies’ (-_-).
Naoya gains the power of giving back life.

Episode 24: (Final episode)
This episode raises so many questions. This is typical when people
are quickly wrapping up an anime. There are bound to be loose ends.

–Naoto stops the scientist from telling the media that an earth quake will happen. He forces him to go back. But when there is a chance that a huge earth quake will happen and the scientist again decides to tell the city council, Naoto doesn’t stop him. Why?

–The mark on the map, made by the little girl in Russia, is over the water/sea
near Japan. But in the episode it shifts to a forest near a theme park. Why?

–When the scientist hurts his shoulder, Naoya heals him. But when his own brother passes out. He just takes him to a hotel (we don’t know how that happened) and waits for Naoto to wake up. Why?

–In the starting episodes, Naoto saved a woman from falling off a building in when she was thrown. But when the lights of the stage are falling on the good scientist, who saved millions of people, Naoto doesn’t save him. Why?

–The good scientist had 2 daughters. The elder daughter leaves her little sister (with complete strangers) to go to the research site on the hill after her father’s recent death. Why?

I don’t recommend this anime, but it is watchable.

Anime Review : Monster (2004 – 2005)

Monster  is an anime of 74 episodes. If you’re planning to watch this anime then don’t.
There is no issue with the animation quality of the anime. The plot is intense and keeps you on the edge for many episodes.  However, in episodes 37 & 38, it turns to crap.
Don’t waste your time. Don’t be misled by the super positive reviews given on IMDb and other anime review sites. I watched it. The anime was doing great till episode 37 and 38.

I’ll tell you the reason why I started disliking this anime without spoiling it for you.
In episode 37, the main character (the hero) couldn’t pull the trigger at the villain (this villain, by the way, killed people that the protagonist knew and respected. This villain didn’t even leave kids, women, men and old people). And if this villain was not stopped (read killed), we are told, he will cause more destruction and more deaths.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely DO NOT condone violence in any form.

But this is an anime. Not real life. It is supposed to have a plot.
The hero takes training for 6 months to shoot. Builds his stamina by skipping ropes like a little girl and running through the forest. He goes from city to city, all over Germany, in search of this villain.
In episode 37, the hero has one chance to shoot.
In episode 38, he has two chances to shoot.
He suffers from some illogical internal dilemma and does not shoot. There is a girl who tries to shoot. He orders her not to shoot and she doesn’t shoot. Oh and the girl I just mentioned had also taken 5 or 6 months training (separately) and has been following ‘The Monster’ throughout Germany.

There are a few flaws in the anime in this episode (Episode # 38) that made me wish I didn’t watch it.
There is a library that is set to receive a huge donation of books from some important businessman and security is requested (vehemently) to be beefed up. The library is set on fire. And the doors are locked. Amazingly, there are no latches on the inside or the outside to open the doors (as you will see if you watch the episode, people who came to help couldn’t open from the outside and people stuck in the library couldn’t open it from the inside).

The fire was set by a woman who happened to be there in the library carrying a can filled with gasoline. Wow! There is no security outside the library. Because no one opens the door from the outside. Everyone is inside and the library is burning.

Now one would say, “Hey. Come on. The hero may not have wanted to shoot. May be he had a change of heart.” I understand if you think like that. But the guy (hero) does shoot another accomplice of the villain, first in the shoulder and then in the chest.

What was bad was not that the hero didn’t shoot the gun (he had a sniper rifle and a perfect shot). The problem was that the anime took us from one innocent’s death to another. And we were made to believe that this villain was a monster (if the name of the anime couldn’t be obvious enough). We were told during the anime that this villain was no ordinary bad guy. He had a messed up head. So anime logic implies that this bad guy would not be stopped by traditional means. Because he had evaded the police for 9-12 YEARS committing many murders. So now when the anime should have come to an end, the villain disappears into the smoke of fire in the library. Great!

But I knew the villain won’t be shot from the start. It’s obvious if you think about it. If the villain died in episode 38 what would they show from episode 39 to 74.
If there was something logical that caused the villain to escape then I would have appreciated the effort by the writer to have discussed this script with someone who could have pointed out the flaws.

This anime was a let down. They got us interested in this psychological thriller. And then they just made an episode to disappoint us.

I stopped watching the anime after finishing episode 38.
Some say this anime ends without any conclusion. So much for happy endings.

Being an extra in the movies

Most people don’t know this but I have worked in a movie. I worked in the zombie movie by the name of ‘I am Legend’, starring Will Smith. This was one of the few horror movies where the mandatory minority does not die or, in this case, not till the very end.
You know when, during the movie, Will Smith says that 5.4 billion people died because of a virus. I was one those 5.4 billion people.

The producers initially filmed everyone, keeping 5 seconds for each death. That’s 5.4 billion people multiplied by 5 seconds which is 27 billion seconds. That amounts to somewhere upward of 856 years worth of footage. Then the editors  cut the footage to a line in a dialogue and reduced the movie to 100 minutes.

Being an extra is a tough and thankless job but someone has to do it.