Category Archives: General Posts

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.

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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.’

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.

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.

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!

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.