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 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.

1 comment:

  1. Extremely well written!! I agree with you on most points.