I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

...Of Friends In Need

 The fact that I'm posted at CMH Lahore makes it almost impossible for me to physically participate in the ongoing efforts towards the relief and rehabilitation of the millions of people affected by the recent floods, however I've been trying to do my bit in terms of donations, liaison and coordination with some of the exceptional projects being undertaken by friends of mine. I don't think any of us need to be reminded about the scale of destruction and displacement caused by the floods. What needs to be highlighted is the work of lots of motivated and hardworking people who are spending time, money and an enormous amount of effort in trying to lessen the suffering of their fellow countrymen.

I feel great pride in the fact that many of my friends and acquaintances are actively participating in flood relief efforts in individual or collective capacities. I feel their work needs to be highlighted for the purposes of due recognition as well as awareness, so that others can chip in with financial or moral support and initiate or accelerate their own efforts towards easing the burden of the victims of the floods.

CMH Multan has established a Flood Relief Cell and doctors and nursing staff from the hospital are in the field, going to unreachable areas by helicopter and establishing medical camps. Some of my batchmates are at the various medical camps while others are in Multan coordinating the efforts. The news that filters in from them is both worrying and encouraging. In the face of an enormous number of difficulties, they are spending days upon days doing their best to ensure the maximum number of affectees recieve adequate medical attention. Good job Ammad, Javed, Waseem and Yasir.

My college, Army Medical College Rawalpindi has taken the unprecedented step of sending Final Year MBBS cadets to the relief camps set up by Pakistan Army in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well as Southern Punjab and Sindh. These cadets are assisting doctors in providing medical and surgical facilities for the many people in the relief camps. In addition, all of the male and female doctors undergoing BMT in PMA and AFPGMI respectively have also been sent to Sindh and South Punjab for organizing and participating in medical camps and other relief activities. I must express my immense pride in AM College and many of my batchmates who make up the more than 100 strong team of doctors and medical students participating in flood relief. Goodshabash everyone, and may your endeavors meet with great success.

Another bunch of my friends and batchmates have joined Kumak Flood Relief Project in taking medical supplies for distribution in Mianwali. Doctors Taha, Tauqeer, Mustafa and Murtaza are currently in Mianwali, having taken time out of their jobs to treat those requiring medical attention in South Punjab.
The folks at Beaconhouse National University have also organized a concerted flood response program, with teams carrying supplies and medicines already having made their first trips to Muzaffargarh. They are busy gathering donations in cash and kind for further trips to Muzaffargarh and other affected areas. One of the most urgently needed items is mosquito repellent - Mospel and the like- which can save countless people from diseases such as Malaria and Dengue transmitted by mosquitoes. Bottles of Mospel can be dropped off at the Main Gate,Beaconhouse National University; 3 Zafar Ali Road, Lahore. Information about what and how to contribute can be had from their Facebook and Google Groups pages.

  SEPLAA have started a number of initiatives for relief. One of them is trying to provide clean water for the flood victims. Its a project in which almost everyone living in Karachi and Lahore (and soon Islamabad/Rawalpindi) can participate. Used mineral water bottles, properly washed, cleaned and filled with filtered water can prove to be lifesavers in areas where contaminated water usage is leading to the spread of water-borne diseases like Gastroenteritis, Viral Hepatitis and most frighteningly, Cholera. Access to clean, safe water for drinking, cooking and cleaning can prove to be the difference between life and death for the millions of people in danger of becoming victims of water-borne epidemics. Washed and cleaned water bottles can be dropped off at the following places.


1- House No. 85A, JCHS, Off Tipu Sultan Road Karachi
2- The Second Floor (T2F); 10-C, Sunset Lane 5, Phase 2 Extension, DHA Karachi (3.30pm - midnight drop off timings at T2F)


  23- B  XX, Phase III, Commercial Area, Khayaban-e-Iqbal,
D.H.A., Lahore Cantt, Pakistan.

More information can be obtained from their Facebook page.

The British Council and FACES Pakistan have started a fundraising campaign for flood affectees and have figured out an ingenious way for citizens of Lahore to contribute. They've started a drive to collect "raddi"- old newspapers,books,paper,cardboard etc - that will later be sold to gather relief funds. Almost everyone has a stack of old newspapers,notebooks or books stacked away for throwing away or giving to the raddi-wala; in this case it can be used to save lives. Two relief trucks loaded with supplies have already been sent and more will be sent in the near future from the proceeds of this collection drive. Raddi and monetary contributions can be dropped off at:
   150 M Block
   Gulberg 3
                  Further information on the Facebook page.

These are just some of the many remarkable projects that some of my friends and acquaintances are taking part in. Each represents the participants' intense desire to help their fellow Pakistanis and decrease the suffering of our brothers and sisters who have fallen victim to this unfortunate calamity of nature. All of these are deserving projects that need your help and support. Please feel free to contact any one of the projects mentioned above and play your part.

Monday, August 23, 2010

...Of An Alarming Change

There are thought-out, worked-upon posts and then there is hack work to keep the juices flowing. This is probably the latter.

My weekends have changed.

In my five years in med-school, weekends were like pit-stops. We used to look forward to them, counting down the days and generally living a weekend-to-weekend existence. The whole work week was considered a tedious preamble to the really important stuff, namely the weekend.

Sunday was an almost hallowed day and I would go to great lengths to keep it that way. Saturday mornings at the college were spent dreaming up weekend escapades and any study or ward-duty was done grudgingly and with complete disinterestedness. Playing hookey (quite a dangerous exercise considering where I was studying) and trying to get home as early as possible was an accepted practice. Throughout my stay in med-school, I never stayed in the hostels for a weekend unless it was absolutely unavoidable, i.e there were exams or the weekend was -in official parlance- a closed weekend.

The fact that my family moved four times during the five years I was in hostel meant that going home on weekends was a rather tedious and,in hindsight, expensive task. Except for the two and a half years that the family was settled in Pindi , going home generally meant a taxi-cab from college to the bus station, a hundred kilometre bus ride, and another cab from the bus-station to home. This process was repeated in reverse less than 24 hours later for the return journey. This ensured that at least 8 of the possible 30 hours were spent traveling.

What I didn't realize or probably realized but didn't care about at the time was the obvious monetary cost of performing the same ritual week in week out in the face of rising fuel prices and bus fares. All in all, I may've spent in the neighborhood of 50-60000 rupees simply on traveling to and from home on weekends. But here's the thing; looking back I can safely say that the time spent away from the hostels was worth every penny.

Weekends at the hostel were usually mind-numbingly dull affairs with most of my dorm-mates either home or out about town and nothing but 8-10 hours of sleep to while away the time, waking from which I had to endure the hostel-food which descended to unthinkable levels of blandness on Saturdays and Sundays. An unhealthy gloom descended on me every time I knew I was going to have to spend a weekend in the hostels.

Weekends at home were a completely different story, with every hour utilized to its fullest. I wasn't (and still am not) a very sociable person in that I didn't make friends in whatever neighborhood we were living in at the time. Hence there weren't many social calls to pay. I usually stayed home, and if I went out at all it was probably to go to
a) a bookstore or,
b) the now deceased Sadaf CD Store

The lack of a social circle also meant that I could spend my time in catching up on my reading or writing, spending a few hours on earnest undisturbed study or painstakingly downloading the next week's supply of music (those were pre-broadband days). If there was nothing else to do, I'd spend hours upon hours in front of the telly, getting my money's worth out of the couch in the living room,oblivious to the world around me.

Sleep was strictly rationed to the bare minimum. I rarely slept more than 5 to 6 hours on weekends, preferring to sleep off all the fatigue on Sunday night when I was back in the hostel. Afternoon naps were eschewed even in the balmiest weather and it was usual for me to sleep at 4 in the morning and wake up 4 or 5 hours later.

That was then, this is now.

It's almost four months now since I started working on my house-job and there are precious few weekends left. Sundays are working days unless by a freak of nature my name is not on the weekend duty-roster. On the average, I get every sixth Sunday off, with a non-stop succession of workdays in between. Add to that thrice weekly night duties and I have my hands full most days of the month. I can't complain however. The workload isn't unbearable and the fact that I'm finally learning actively after years of passively imbibing knowledge means that I don't consider myself an overburdened drone.

I get around two to three evenings free every week, which is more than what I used to have in Med-school,especially during final year. It's the weekends that have dried up, and that's a tragedy of gargantuan levels. Still, things would be acceptable if the level of activity on those precious few weekends equaled if not exceeded the R&R of weekends past. If I could get a bit of reading, a bit of writing, a bit of listening and viewing done over the weekend, I'd be a happy man.

But the balance of R&R has swung from recreation to rest. Where once sleep was strictly rationed, it has now spread itself over the day to such an extent that I wake up on Sundays at the ungodly hour of twelve in the afternoon, most times only to grab a two to three hour nap in the afternoon. I've replaced Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski the poster-boy for unshaven slacking. Downloaded music remains unlistened to, movies that were eagerly awaited and downloaded gather dust in the DVD rack and newest contents of my overburdened bookshelf go untouched for months. Most disturbingly, it's been almost three and a half months since I acquired a new car-my first car mind you- and I feel absolutely no urge to grab the keys and take it out for a spin and practice my driving on the only day I have time for it. The result is that even after 3 months of being a car-owner, my driving skills are cretinous at best.

This is an alarming situation and I'm worried over it. Strangely, worrying only makes me want to snooze even more. I can't put my finger on the cause of the blight that has descended on the holiest of days in my calendar. The only reason I can think of is that I unconsciously accumulate fatigue over the weeks and weeks of ceaseless work and the only time I have to unburden myself is a Sunday. Try as I might, I can't maintain the same levels of activity I used to produce in the preceding years. My friends and acquaintances ensure me that what I'm going through is actually a return to normalcy after years of what they consider fairly deviant behaviour. Weekends were meant for sleeping ,they say, congratulating me on the fact that I have finally seen the light.

The sad bit is that I slowly feel myself warming to their point of view.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

...Of Empathy

Do you know what I think? I think Pakistan is a "nazar-battu' for the rest of the world.

We're like a twisted international version of a voodoo doll that keeps getting pins and needles stuck into it in a (futile) attempt to ward the evil eye off of the rest of the world. Pin after pin after pin, Pakistan doesn't find its footing after one disaster before finding itself in the midst of another. I think it's time some other country took over this responsibility. We've had enough, thankyouverymuch.

I've always considered rains a blessing and I can't help but feel terribly guilty when I look back to all the ecstatic rain-related posts I've written.I think it was obvious from the outset that this year's monsoon was gonna be a big one. It wasn't hard to figure out that if it was raining solid sheets of water in Lahore, the monsoon up north would be a thousand times more intense.

I noticed something eerily interesting about the current situation. I remember that at the time of the October earthquake, the whole nation was shocked by the collapse of the Margalla Towers and the loss of life and property it caused. While the attention of the media and the rescue teams was focused on the tragedy in Islamabad, news slowly started trickling in from the north and everyone realized pretty soon that Margalla Towers were just the tip of the iceberg. In a few days it was clear that the scale of destruction was much larger than anybody had imagined.

Cue to 2010. The first inkling of the destructive power of this year's monsoon was the tragic AirBlue crash in Islamabad. Again, the nation was shocked and saddened at the worst aviation disaster in Pakistan's history. The rescue and relief efforts along with a (hysterical and immature) media focused on it while the monsoon continued to wreak havoc. Slowly but steadily, news started trickling in of incomprehensible destruction up North; flash foods that look like solid walls of water sweeping away completely unsuspecting victims, entire villages wiped out while the inhabitants slept and in some cases, people forced to abandon sleeping family members behind in emergency night-time evacuations.

There are a lot of similarities between this disaster and the earthquake but there is also one crucial difference. Remember how the morning after the October earthquake, when the scale of the tragedy had started becoming apparent, the general mood of the public suddenly changed. Encouraged by an exemplary media campaign, ordinary people sprang into action and started the greatest fund-raising and relief operation in Pakistan's history. Aid appeals went out to the general public and relief started pouring in. Granted we had scumbags and carpetbaggers and profiteers aplenty, this is Pakistan after all, but on the whole the national response to the disaster affectees was one of compassion and benevolence.

As I drive around Lahore this time around, I get a heart-sinking feeling on seeing all the relief collection camps by the roadside semi-deserted. The television channels that were once at the forefront of the disaster response are busy making surreal soap-operas of their personal vendettas with the government.All around, I can sense a general feeling of - I would be loth to call it indifference- apathy where once sympathy and empathy existed. The international response to our disaster has also been lackluster, especially when compared to the response to the earthquake or natural disasters elsewhere, but that's understandable. We've become an international example of the "Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf". We've begged and pleaded for so long that when the actual moment of need came, nobody's willing to spare a dime.

But it's an alarming change of mood at the national level, especially when we compare the scale of the current disaster with the previous one. The loss of life in the earthquake was on an almost biblical scale, but compared to the current floods, the area of destruction and the amount of direct and indirect devastation was relatively limited. As Kamila Shamsie wrote the other day, the fact that the floods have affected such a wide geographical swathe has acted as a (perverse) unifying factor for Pakistan. As this graphic shows, the trail of destruction cuts right through Pakistan, with no province escaping unscathed.

It's not hard to see the causes for what some observers are calling "Empathy Fatigue" in the Pakistani public. As Dylan says, Pakistan has seen ' a lotta water under the bridge, lotta other stuff too'. Apart from the obvious political and economic realities of the past five years (which I will not go into for obvious reasons), the nation has been through a lot. The cynical insensitivity and resignation that I wrote about has affected almost everyone to varying degrees. The constant stream of bad news has slowly eroded our ability to
approach anything with hope or optimism. For a while I've been thinking that we've slowly turned into a twisted south-Asian version of the post-apocalyptic dystopia in Masked And Anonymous .

There are signs of a public response to the disaster, but they're too slow and too few when compared to what's needed. Maybe there'll be a snow-ball effect but for now, it's too little. I only hope it doesn't prove to be too late.

P.S Want to help, here's some links.

Al-Khidmat Foundation
Edhi Foundation
Sungi Development Foundation
Pakistan Red Crescent Society
Pakistani Youth
Islamic Relief USA
Various other organizations

P.P.S , Two weeks ago, I attended TEDxLahore and one of the many brilliant ideas I came across was the use of Google Maps to help in aid and humanitarian efforts. Here's a brilliant example of an idea put to work. Missing person information entered through this app can be plotted in real time on Google Maps, helping NGOs and government agencies in rehabilitating missing people. All that's needed is awareness about it's potential.