Yasir Pirzada's Blog

Its collection of columns of Yasir Pirzada

Privacy Matters!

It was perhaps in 1994 when I first visited United Kingdom. On the very first night, my host took me to a casino in Bradford (probably that used to be a SoP for such visits). Overwhelmed with excitement, I requested the host to take some pictures of mine in front of a roulette table (takey sanad rahey aur bawaqt e zarurat kam awey). As soon as he took the first picture, a lady appeared from nowhere and told me in a very polite manner that I can’t take pictures in the casino. On my query, she said that using camera in a place like casino might be objectionable to people who come to play here as it amounted to intruding into their privacy. Although surprised a bit, I immediately apologized; but instead of accepting my apology, she demanded my camera because she wanted to eliminate the picture that I had taken in the casino. I handed over my camera to her which she returned the other day along with developed printouts of the remaining pictures which were in the roll. She thanked me and didn’t even ask for the cost of the pictures that were developed, although the fault was mine!

In 2007, I visited United States for the first time for a short course in a university. On the first day, the university coordinator gave us a form to sign. The form was a kind of undertaking that “I have no objection on being photographed or filmed in the class room or moving on a tour or any public gathering etc.” At that time, I made quite fun of that “useless” form because in my opinion that was totally an unnecessary undertaking. However, towards the end of the course, I realized how important the privacy matters were in the eyes of the Americans. Since I, as a Pakistani, never thought it that way, I had no idea why on earth they were getting our signatures on a NOC for taking photos!

Last year, (this time Pakistan), I was on my way to Defense. When I stopped at a crossing, a young boy and a girl with a mike and movie camera in their hands approached my car. The guy put the mike in front of me while the girl directed her camera towards my face and started saying “Sir, the floods have devastated our country, how much would you like to donate for this noble cause?” I answered “Have you taken my permission before starting this recording?” The answer was quite unexpected for them; their reaction, on the other hand, was not unexpected for me. Both of them first looked at me surprisingly for a while, then stared me in a real displeased manner and finally went off.

All these three incidents may appear quite insignificant but actually they are not. We, as a nation, have no idea what does it mean by an individual’s privacy; what are our rights in this regard and how should we not let anybody infringed this right? Taking photograph or filming someone without his or her permission is considered to be absolutely normal in our country. Imagine you are shopping with your family (or even alone) in some market or having dinner somewhere; suddenly a cameraman appears and starts asking you some meaningless questions about the ongoing inflation in the country or the quality of ‘morning shows’ for that matter. Nobody dares to stop him/her.

There may be people who have no objection to this unwanted filming but at the same time there may be those who don’t want it anyway. Putting camera on the face of someone without even requesting a formal permission is unthinkable here. TV channel cameramen think that they have divine right to film ‘everything’ and they presume that every citizen of Pakistan is crazy about coming on screen; so filming an ordinary man, especially woman, on street is actually an act of benevolence on their part! And not only TV channels do this, private individuals also trespass your privacy without even letting you know about it, which is even more dangerous!

So the lesson learnt is that every individual has the right to have his/her privacy. We should exercise this right anywhere we want without any hesitation or fear of rejection. In today’s high tech world, this has become even more important because you never know where some sick mind might have installed cameras to film you. And it is not necessary that such cameras always operate at some public place; that can be a changing room of a boutique even! So be ware about that!

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December 24, 2011 Posted by | Media, Men, Society, Women | Leave a comment

How Not to Harass a Woman

Yesterday I went to see one of my corporate friends who work for a multi national company. Wile waiting for him in his stylish office, I noticed that some kind of poster with the title “Code of Conduct” was fixed at the notice board. Since my favourite time pass is reading all kind of irrelevant stuff, I started reading that poster also. To my surprise, that was related to work ethics relating to interaction with woman at workplace. Some international NGO had drafted that code of conduct in line with the Protection against Harassment of Woman at the Workplace Act, 2010 and got it printed in the poster size. The poster was in bulleted form and some of the points were really interesting, e.g. it stated that it is inappropriate to praise the beauty of a female colleague, to call her in an indecent manner by saying “tum” or “tu”, to give her sarcastic remarks like “we all are afraid of you” or “hum to khadim hein aap key”, to visit her office and pass demeaning comments like “at last you thought of calling me” or “yad a gayi aap ko”, to offer tea or meal, to demand her mobile number without any cogent reason, giving her “missed calls”, thank her unnecessarily or show undue courtesy etc.

While I was still going through that stringent code, my friend entered with his female colleague (Salma, fake name but how original!). Both of them were cracking jokes and appeared to be quite frank…..rather “unnecessarily” frank. My friend introduced me to her colleague and then immediately he offered her coffee which she accepted with a big smile. “Violation of code number one”, I thought. During the coffee session, my friend praised the elegance and beauty of her colleague and every time he did that, Salma blushed and I marked in my mind, “violation number two”. After finishing the coffee, my friend cracked some more jokes (not quite indecent) which Salma enjoyed by laughing loudly (undue frankness, hence, again a violation, this time number three); and then she left with the statement that she would join us again during the lunch. This was violation number 5, I calculated.

Immediately after she left, I told my friend that he was guilty of misconduct within the meaning “Protection against Harassment of Woman at the Workplace Act, 2010”.

“How come?” my friend asked amusingly?

“Because during the whole meeting with your female colleague, you violated this Code of Conduct which is displayed right in front of you”, I said in a firm voice, “you not only praised her beauty but also offered her tea, exchanged jokes with her and became unnecessarily frank which is harassment within the meaning of this Code!”

My friend listened to me patiently and then suddenly laughed screamingly. His non serious attitude annoyed me a bit but I kept my cool. Seeing my seriousness, he put brakes on his laughter and said,” You are mistaken dear. Haven’t you noticed that during the meeting, Salma was enjoying my company, infact, when she left; she said she would be having lunch with me which I didn’t even offer to her. So how can you say that I violated some kind of code?”

“It’s written there on the wall….”

“Yes, it’s written but it is applicable in the situation where you do all this without the consent of the woman!”

“You mean if you do it with her consent, then its ok?” I asked in a surprising tone.

“Perfectly ok and if you have any doubt about it please read the definition of harassment given in the Harassment Act. It says any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment.” My friend read the definition verbatim from the Act which was being displayed on his laptop.

“I think you are twisting the definition just to….”

“Hold on…..before you judge me; let me tell you an interesting phenomenon. When this code of conduct was initially adopted by our company, I followed it religiously. I stopped praising Salma, stopped offering her any tea or coffee, what to talk of lunch, stopped sending her funny sms etc. And you know what happened? She got furious. She said that I was deliberately ignoring her and she was quite upset with my attitude. And when I resumed all this, she became normal again.”

“Well, you are interpreting it in a wrong way. You guys are friends so probably you both have different set of ethics between you….but…….”

“But few minutes ago you were charging me with the Harassment Act?” My friend again interrupted me and this time I had no answer. Seeing me speechless, my friend laughed again and said, “for the sake of the argument, if I accept that all what you are saying comes under the definition of sexual harassment, then please allow me to say that every man on this planet is guilty of harassing woman in one way or the other during his lifetime, be it President Obama or late Osama!”

I kept quite and again started reading the Code of Conduct. Meanwhile my friend picked up the phone to call Salma just to remind her that it’s lunch time now!

December 6, 2011 Posted by | Humor, Men, Satire, Society, Women | Leave a comment

Me and my Naseebo!

Last week I received a call from a university student who happened to be secretary of some literary society of his department. He wanted to invite me at a gathering being organized by that literary society in connection with their regular activity of having guest speakers to talk on various current issues. Since these kinds of gatherings involving group of young university students always excite me, I accepted the invitation without any hesitation. Being somewhat over cautious, however, I asked the host on what topic I am supposed to speak. The guy replied, “It’s your choice sir, anything under the sun, we have no problem!”

“Well, that sounds quite progressive. Ok then I will dilate upon the growing religious extremism in our society.” I suggested a topic off-the-cuff.

“Oh no sir, not on religion,” the guy replied hurriedly, “as you know religion is a very sensitive issue and people often get offended easily when we talk about it and we don’t want any kind of problem in our department.”

The response of the guy somewhat surprised me so I explained to him that I won’t touch the controversial issues, “I will just try to analyze the reasons of religious extremism, why we are facing the menace of sectarianism, intolerance towards other opposite sects and ….”

“Sir, why to indulge into this anyway,” the boy interrupted, “you are such an intelligent writer, why don’t you just leave religion aside and simply talk about anything else?” The compliment elevated my spirits so I decided not to argue with him on this account anymore.

“Ok then I will talk about the target killings in Karachi and will try to explain which political parties are behind these killings!” I proposed a political topic instead of religious.

“Oh my God, sir this is even more dangerous. You know when it comes to Karachi; the focus is automatically shifted to MQM so I am afraid we can’t afford this topic as well.”

“Ok ok, I understand that. Ummmm…..let me think…..ah….suicide bombings…..I am sure everybody is against these suicide attacks so I think this is the most appropriate topic for a fruitful discussion among young fellows like you.”

“How can you say that everybody is against these suicide bombers?” The guy said in an inquisitive tone, “I can introduce you to a number of students of our university who always justify these attacks on one pretext or the other. No sir, you cannot have any discussion on this issue. Please think of something else.”

“Suddenly you have made things quite difficult, my dear. Ok, what about army? I mean the role of army in politics and destabilizing democracy plus the Osama bin Laden affair and its aftermath….”

“I am sorry. Our faculty has advised us that we should not discuss army and judiciary in our proceedings. This is a no go area for us.” His tome was really apologetic this time.

“I wonder what the go go areas are?” I asked sarcastically.

“Well, rest is all open for you. As I said you can talk on any other issue…..”

“Yea…..any issue…except religion, except suicide bombings, except target killings, except army, except judiciary…that’s it or have I missed anything?”

“Your sense of humour is really amazing, sir. Yes, you missed a critical area i.e. criticism on university administration like VC, registrar, head of departments, faculty members, office bearers of union etc.” The guy almost stated the official policy of the university.

“No worries my dear, I won’t touch any of them not even your canteen boy. Ok why don’t you suggest something?”

“Ok let me think……ummmm……you can talk about growing prices of fruit and vegetables, dengue virus, role of tehsil Nazim in revamping the local drainage system……as I said everything under the sun.” The boy repeated his “liberal” stance.

“That’s so sweet of you……I couldn’t even think of these topics.” I again passed a sarcastic comment. “But let me suggest you something even better.”

“What’s that?” the guy asked in curiosity.

“Instead of inviting me, you should invite Naseebo Lal and listen to her mesmerizing songs. I can bet nobody would object to that, not even your VC.”

“Great idea….but…..there is one problem.”

“What’s that?”

“What has Naseebo Lal got to do with literature? After all we are running a literary society in the campus under which we are organizing this event so what can be the justification for having Naseebo Lal?”

“That’s no problem my dear. You can tell the authorities that Naseebo Lal will sing only those songs which are written by recognized poets so that comes under ‘piece of literature’ including the  song like ‘jadon sowan, mahi dey nerey howan, manji dey vich dang pherda’……after all these have been passed by the film censor board which is a government body so no issue!”

“Thanks a lot sir, you have solved a big problem. I will definitely recommend the society to invite Naseebo. But don’t you worry sir; we will invite you some other time.”

“That’s really sweet of you, best of luck with Naseebo.”

“Thanks and Good bye.”

December 6, 2011 Posted by | Humor, Media, Satire, Society | Leave a comment

“Bol” is Bold

If anyone of you has not been to the cinema to watch a Pakistani movie for the last many years, this is the time to break that promise to yourself. Just go and watch Geo Film’s ‘Bol’; the money you will spend on it will be worth it.A bold plot with twists and turns till the end, melodious songs, original locations, fresh and new faces blend with old and experienced cast, beautiful dialogues with a pinch of humor; and above all the creative magic of the Shoman, Shoaib Mansoor, this is what precisely Bol has got! Shoaib Mansoor has come up with an enthralling movie yet again breaking the myth that Lollywood has lost all its charm. With Shoaib Mansoor still in the market, don’t bet on that!

While watching the premiere show of Bol, I was trying to figure out what is the most outstanding aspect of the movie; and I came to the conclusion that it’s not possible to think of any one aspect. Let’s starts from plot. After watching trailer and stills of the movie, one tends to assume that this movie will be about the plight of the down trodden women of our society. Well this is true and this is false. There is no doubt that the movie revolves around the weaker sex; but the way this theme has been treated is exceptionally novel. The plot is not only shocking but it also hints upon some very sensitive issues which have never been touched in the past. Hence, the impression that this would be a traditional movie with some loud drama and emotional scenes, as created by trailers and stills, just vanishes away in the first 30 minutes and then you can’t keep your eyes off the movie till the end. I regret why I left in the interval to buy popcorns and Coke and then came late only to miss couple of scenes!

This is not a star studded movie as most of the Lollywood movies used to be in the past. No Shan, Saima, Moammer Rana, Meera, Resham, Sana or Noor; but still it has got Shafqat Cheema, Imaan Ali and Atif Aslam on one hand and Humaima Malick, Manzar Sehbai, Mahira Khan and Zaib Rehman on the other. The pick of the actors is no doubt Shafqat Cheema. He has performed role of his lifetime. Cheema has given brilliant performance in the role of Sahka Kanjar (a pimp of Heera Mandi) , a character which enters in the movie near interval and gets relatively much less time as compared to the lead roles of Hakim Hashmatullah Khan (Manzar Sehbai) and Zainab (Humaima Malick). Cheema’s dialogue delivery, especially his style of addressing the Hakim in a typical way “Hakim saab” and his acting like a traditional Heera Mandi pimp simply outperforms all others. Manzar Sehbai in the role of an orthodox, fundamentally religious Hakim who follows rituals rather than true religion, also performed his part with almost perfection, thanks to the perfectionist director. And the third main character is that of Zainab, eldest, sensible, uneducated but still progressive daughter of the Hakim whose arguments on religious beliefs just renders the Hakim speechless at times. Imaan Ali is in the role of Meena, a traditional Heera Mandi Tawaif who deals her customers according to their class and mannerism. She is impressive in her short but important role but she needs to look after her figure as in some shots, her face was looking bigger than her waist.

The surprise package is Atif Aslam who unexpectedly has performed well in the movie not only as an actor but as a singer as well. The song “Hona tha pyar” has been sung and composed by him and no doubt this was an instant hit as soon as it was out. He is in the role of Mustafa, son of Master Akhtar Hussain Jaffery (Irfan Khosat), Shia neighbor of Hakeem. As such there is no hero heroine in the movie in the traditional manner but if you still insist on having them, its Mustafa and Aysha (Mahira Khan).

Apart from plot and characterization, the third outstanding feature of the movie is obviously its music. Shoaib Mansoor has come up with a galaxy of young and popular singers of Pakistan including Hadiqa Kyani, Shabnam Majeed, Sajjad Ali, Ahmad Jahanzaib and others. One can’t resist the temptation to buy the songs CD immediately after coming out of the cinema.

The most outstanding aspect of Bol is that it’s an issue oriented film which has touched upon the most delicate subjects of our society and religion in an extremely intelligent and bold fashion. The Shoman has shown us how Shia Sunni differences can be harmonized, what are the issues of new generation with old generation, what really is family honor, how we have ruined ourselves by following rituals only and most horribly, how our society treats someone who happens to be an “incomplete male”!

The movie is also a personal delight for someone like me as it has been shot on original locations of Lahore. Shoaib Mansoor has captured the old walled city, the famous Heera Mandi and areas around Shahi Mosque in such an artistic manner that one is mesmerized by the classic outlook of Lahore. The Shoman has also not forgotten to capture the modern Lahore and its scenic beauty as well, what else can you expect from the class of Shoaib Mansoor!

The only thing missing in the movie is a dhuandar item number. There was no harm in asking Imaan Ali to perform a proper mujra instead of just making few steps as if she was performing before school going children. The story telling part of initial 5 to 10 minutes is a bit slow and dragged while the exact number of daughters of Hakim has been a mystery throughout the movie. Rest is awesome and unlike most of the films, second half is more absorbing than the first one. All in all Bol is a treat to watch, a real roller coaster of emotions!

PS: Atif Aslam would have done wonders in the role of that “incomplete male!”

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Men, Movies, Society, Women | Leave a comment

Mukhtaran-“My” other side!

Our country has a unique capability of producing events which instantly attract international attention in the most negative manner possible, be it Osama bin Laden or Mukhtaran Mai. So when a person like me starts developing a column in his mind about the Mukhtaran incident, suddenly Bin Laden comes out of nowhere from the compound of Abbottabad thus throwing away all the past incidents in a basket having zero value. Nevertheless, despite the bizarre episode of Osama which has virtually shaken the whole country (for yet another time and this is not the last time for sure when we are shaken) I am still determined to write about Mukhtaran. This is simply because of a reason that the other side of this case is still hidden from many of us.

First things first. There is lot of uproar after the recent Supreme Court judgment which acquitted 13 of 14 men accused in the Mai case. Like others, my first impression was also the same that justice has not been done. It reminded me of Jessica Lall, a New Delhi based ramp model who was murdered in front of dozens of eye witnesses at a socialite party on the night of 29 April 1999 by the son of a wealthy Congress politician. After extensive hearings with nearly a hundred witnesses, a Delhi trial court acquitted 9 accused in this case thus exposing enormous flaws in the Indian judicial system. This lead to a public outrage and consequently hundreds of thousands of people e-mailed their petitions to the President and others seeking remedies for the judicial debacle of the country. Two movies were also made on this murder trial; one is “Halla Bol” while the other is “Who Killed Jessica?”

Apparently there seems to be many similarities in both the Mukhtaran and Jessica case but this is not the fact. A former western (female) news correspondent Bronwyn Curran who is also author of a book on the Mukhtaran case has dared to expose the truth in this media frenzy atmosphere. In the words of Bronwyn, “In 2005-06, after many months painstakingly poring through every police statement, medical record, witness testimony, and cross examination transcript in this case, coupled with multiple visits to Mirwala, Jatoi and Dera Ghazi Khan for extensive interviews with members of both sides of this case, I reached the same conclusion as the Supreme Court has in 2011. The Lahore High Court reached the same conclusion in 2005. Indeed, I would challenge anyone who has opportunity to pore through all such records and interview members and associates of all sides in this case to come up with any conclusion other than 13 of the 14 accused are innocent.”

There are atleast five points in this case which need attention. First, Mukhtaran is no doubt a victim of a terrible crime, i.e. sexual assault in which a woman is forced to marry against her will; hence the culprits deserve severe punishment. Second, the claim that Mukhtaran was paraded naked before crowd of people was thrown out in the original 2002 trial. Third, the perception that Mastoi tribe is much wealthier and influential than Mukhtaran’s tribe is also false as police admitted under cross examination that Mukhtaran’s clan owned more land and was more influential. Fourth, what was the crime of those men who were kept in jail for six years since 2005, without charge? Who is responsible for the agony, pain and torture from which these men suffered during these years, media, human right activists, police or courts? Last but not the least, the charge of the gang rape was lodged by a local cleric and a journalist on the basis of rumours. Mukhtaran was out of this until she was dragged to the police station where she found a statement already written by the cleric in her name. Without being able to read it, Mukhtaran attested it with her thumbprint. Here, I am again constrained to quote Bronwyn verbatim, “The next day the charge was in a local newspaper, the following day in national and international press, and just three days later Ms Mai had a cheque for Rs. 500,000 in her hand from President Pervez Musharraf. No investigation had taken place and Ms Mai was already both an international heroine and wealthier than any illiterate villager from a wretched Indus backwater could have ever dreamed.”

What else is left for us now to believe? Since, we all are bad learners; I have no optimism that we would learn anything positive from this case. However, those of us who formulate their opinion on the basis of facts rather than rhetoric do certainly realize that in this flood of information, true facts are really hard to extract and they are often quite bitter. Mukhtaran’s case is not similar to Jessica Lall, rather it is similar to Afia Siddiqi whose mystery is also shrouding under the facts.

May 18, 2011 Posted by | Politics, Society, Women | Leave a comment