Sri Lanka – The Land of Smiles

This articles was first published in Travel & Aviation magazine here: http://travel-aviation.com/index.php/category/country-piece1/

Sri Lanka –the land of smiles – is one of the most underrated destinations in my humble opinion. That may be primarily down to the fact that the country was dogged with internal security issues till about 4 years back during which time competing destinations marketed and established themselves much more. But if you ask me it ranks right up there in terms of experience and beauty and hospitality. Especially for those of us looking for an economic get away and something that isn’t a burden on the wallet. The tagline ‘the land of smiles’ also fits really well as the people are really welcoming, hospitable and great. They always seem to be smiling and happy and there is actually no language barrier to be faced here.

For Pakistanis another plus point is the VISA. It used to be easier than it is now as it was on arrival till 2014. However new rules require travellers to apply online. This isn’t a cumbersome process at all and quite easy. I got my visa within 24 hours and it was all online. No passport submission anywhere. No documents. Nothing. Easy.

Easy Visa process + easy on the wallet makes this for a great destination. And it has a lot more to offer from a tourism point of view. There are scenic views, cultural and spiritual experiences, natural beauty, and interaction with wild life and beach resorts as well. Colombo offers some amount of an urban metropolis with the required shopping as well. Not as expansive as most other destinations but good nonetheless.

For the Pakistani Wallet

As mentioned earlier this is one of the more economic destinations for Pakistanis not looking to splurge. And with all other travel guides we like to encourage the smart traveller in you to plan ahead and make life easier for yourself. Book in advance and use the miracle of the internet to book online. Sites like booking.com are great in this regard and you never when you might come across a ‘steal’ of a deal for a 5 star accommodation.

To give you an idea here is the breakdown. Travel to Sri Lanka can be done via Sri Lankan Airlines from Karachi at fares which will hover around PKR 45-55k depending on how early you book. These are the fares for economy seats. For other places people can either journey to Karachi and onwards or take other airlines which won’t be direct like Emirates or Etihad. So for non-karachi travellers I would say the flight estimate would be around PKR 65-80k depending on airline, flight and date of booking. Keep in mind the peak season for Sri Lanka is between July to September so fares will go up if you book during this period.

VISA costs are 99$ per person. You can pay online using a credit card while applying for the VISA if you are managing this all on your own. Otherwise your travel agent can take care of it and add it in his overall bill. This is a spike as up till last year the VISA cost was 20$ for applied VISAs and 30$ for on arrival VISAs.

Expenses within Sri Lanka on food, shopping and tours etc are more or less in line with the kind of costs and expenses you might expect to find in Pakistan. Once you do the conversion its more or less the same. And the conversion goes in our currency’s favour which is just that slight bit stronger than the Sri Lankan rupee (roughly around 1 PKR to 1.3 Sri Lankan Rupee*). Average meal cost would be something like PKR 1,200 per person in normal restaurants. And for fast foods and on the go foods it would be something like PKR 700 per person. And there are plenty of Halal options so that is also a load off. Not to mention the vegetable variety on offer.

 Accommodation for an 8 day tour would come to around PKR 90k for a double room or twin share stay throughout, which is again great and can be slightly less also depending on what kind of hotels you book and how smart you are online in getting good deals. An example – when I recently went I got a 5 star property in Bentota (beach resort area near Colombo) for around PKR 25,000/- for two nights inclusive of breakfast and dinner! The hotel was Cinnamon Bey and I got this amazing deal through booking.com. Just goes to show how well you can manage your accommodation expenditure if you are smart about it.

Transportation is not something that needs to be explored. You can easily hire a guide and driver for the duration of the stay. The guy stays with you for all the days and is your transport for throughout Sri Lanka. There are no public transport hassles. All travel in Sri Lanka is customized to your own time table and not to mention the convenience and ease of having a guide / driver combo throughout. A good one can come in around 55$ per day inclusive of fuel, car rent, services of the guide, his food and accommodation. Now please tell me that is not a steal?

All in all the total cost per head should come to around PKR 140k for an eight day stay including travel, stay, tickets, tourist activities, food and guide. And mind you stay is in 4-5 star hotels. This does not include shopping and any other luxurious activities like spas and massages. However even if you add the latter for a couple of times it would come to around not more than 150K per head which is fantastic for an eight day tour. Honestly great destination and you can probably get away with a lower budget as well.

The Top Places in Sri Lanka

It is all basically a drive around the country once you land in Sri Lanka. The perfect planning would have you land in Sri Lanka and stay overnight in Negombo (city close to Colombo and on the beach). From there you drive away to Kandy and Nuwara Eliya and then back down south towards Bentota and Colombo.

Kandy

By far the most activity filled city with tourist attractions aplenty and very scenic hilly views as well. The weather the city has to offer is excellent between July to September which is overall the ideal time to go to Sri Lanka. There will be showers out of nowhere but then the sun will come back up out of nowhere to. Kandy is the second largest city of Sri Lanka after Colombo. It has temples, market areas, natural man made attractions and cultural shows. You can visit the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala and the Spice Gardens on your way to Kandy and not far from the main city (maybe about a 1 hour journey). The orphanage is great where you can get up close and personal with gentle giants of the Ceylon valley and feed and ride them for an enhanced experience. Then there are the botanical gardens which are beautifully made and have some of the tallest and oldest trees around which are nothing but beautiful. Very well maintained and made the botanical gardens are a must see. The one in Kandy is high on plants and trees as compared to flowers. And if you are lucky you might get a peek of monkeys as well! Additionally you may also visit the Temple of the Tooth for some cultural input and attend a local dance and culture show in city to cap of the stay here. A 2 day stay in Kandy is sufficiently comfortable but you can do all of this in one hectic day as well. On your way out from Kandy be sure to visit a local wood carving factory for some great souvenirs and take home stuff.

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Places to stay in Kandy would definitely be either Amaya Hills or Earl’s Regent. Both are excellent hotels with comfortable rooms and excellent hilly views. The Ayurvedic massage treatment at Amaya Hills is especially excellent.

Nuwara Eliya

The hill station of Sri Lanka that is absolutely gorgeous. Expect weather to be on the chillier side here with temperatures during the day time during July-September also touching around 13-14 degrees. It gets cold in the night so be sure to pack something slightly warm for here. Nuwara Eliya is on the hill so the journey to and from the city is a windy road. For those who have travel issues on such routes I would definitely advise taking a motion sickness tablet before hand to help during the journey as it can be a bit much. The result is worth it though. The view from Nuwara Eliya and on the way is gorgeous. The higher you drive closer to the city your view is filled with beautiful tea gardens all across the hills. You can stop at one of the tea factories for a quick visit and lesson in how tea is made and how many different kinds of tea are there. You will also be served a complimentary cup of tea made from the fresh produce. Another on the way sighting is the Ramboda Waterfalls. This makes for a great view and a nice lunch stop. Once in Nuwara Eliya to be honest there are just a couple of things to do. More so for the nature geeks in us who like treks and lakes and horse rides. Gregory lake makes up the main attraction in the city with boating, horse riding and a typical hill station weather time coffee. Maximum you just need a day in the city and then you can move on. If you like relaxing in such environments you can extend your stay.

Recommended hotels for the city are Qantara and Araliya Green Hills. Qantara is a fairly new hotel but very well made is almost at the top belt of the city so the view from here of the whole city all the way to the lake is breathtaking. Stay at both hotels is comfortable and food is also good.

Bentota

The perennial beach resort. Bentota is something of a properly developed sandspit or hawksbay that Pakistanis and Karachiites in particular might be able to relate to. The hotels are resort type hotels here and it is basically the stop for a relaxing, tanning and spoil of yourself resting type of stay. The beach is somewhat pebbly so be sure to be prepared in footwear accordingly. There are some good water sport options that can be done here including jet skiing, tube riding, motor boat riding, snorkelling and fishing to name a few. There is also a wild life attraction in the Turtle Hatchery in Bentota which you can skip or do depending on your interest.

The hotel to stay in here is Cinnamon Bey. It is a 5 star luxury property with a great beach, excellent restaurants and fantastic amenities overall. A 5 star resort in the true sense of it.

Colombo

Colombo is the only metropolis experience that you will get in Sri Lanka. This is the place for fulfilling the retail, shopping, big city cravings in you. There are some places you can see as a tourist like the Independence square but really Colombo is really for concrete jungle feel for rounding off the Sri Lankan holiday. There are some very nice shopping outlets and retail malls here where you can get good stuff. Odel, Paradise Road, Glitz and Barefoot are a couple of places that you should definitely visit. Shopping is also like almost all other things not that expensive in Sri Lanka and in some cases you can actually get some pretty good deals. For fine dining experience be sure to try out either Beach Wadia (for sea food lovers) or Gallery Cafe which is a great combination of an art gallery, a retail store and very fine dining.

There are plenty of good hotel options in Colombo. Cinnamon Grand, Hilton, Cinnamon Red and Mirage a few of the good ones you can choose from.

Overall

Overall Sri Lanka is a great holiday experience which gets ignored thanks to the Thailands and Malaysias on offer. Head to head it is probably not as high in experience but definitely has a lot to offer and is something which will be economical for Pakistanis. Excellent destination for couples and honeymooners!

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The Revival of Pakistani Cinema

There are two different Cinema revivals in Pakistan. One is the pure movie theatre culture and big screen experiences that were originally associated with names such as Regal Cinema and Nishaat and Bambino if you go further back. Then a few years ago places like Atrium, Cinepax, Cineplex, Nueplex etc started opening up across the major urban centers of the country. Cinepax is now even expanding to Murree.

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The cinema going culture has been revived for a few years now and so much so that in Karachi for the otherwise starved for entertainment public this is the primary outing these days. Movies would be sold out over the weekends and even weekdays would see throngs of people lining up to the big screen madness.

The other cinema revival is that of the Pakistani movies. This has started happening in the last couple of years thanks to ARY, HUM and other major media houses investing in bringing out films. There have been hits and many misses along the way but it is heartening to see that our movies are also being sold out at the cinemas even with bollywood releases simultaneously being shown. Definitely a good sight.

There has been criticism however of an inclination for movie makers of trying a wee bit too hard to be in line with Bollywood standards or outlandish plots and scripts matching C grade hollywood material. That criticism is valid but perhaps a little harsh at this time. The revival has just started. The primary stars and talent is coming from the world of tv dramas (which we have always minus a couple of years in between been high quality in – both in terms of acting and stories). Yes there is an attempt to compete and imitate bollywood and hollywood styles but that’s ok. At least it is pulling the public in and eventually we will see more consistent quality work coming out soon.

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There have been a few good ones too so its not all despair in terms of quality. Waar was a brilliant movie strictly speaking from our standards. Yes there were loose ends and technical quality and directorial issues but we will get over them. Na Maloom Afraad was another great movie and to be honest I would actually disagree with the critics against it. I think it was a well balanced and well made movie with plenty of laughter and solid performances. The storyline was well worked and consistent throughout the movie. Javed Shaikh displayed the quality of his immense talent and one has to say he is perhaps the most legitimate quality veteran actor we have who can be slotted right up there with the very best.

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This year has also seen a host of new movies coming out including hits like Karachi se Lahore and more recently Jawani Phir Nahi Ani which has been doing well at the box office. I would say Karachi se Lahore was a more superior film to Jawani Phir Nahi Ani as the latter tends to go a bit overboard on occasions and I am sorry but Humayun Saeed – as a good an actor as he has been simply does not fit.

The best this season and perhaps over the years has to be Manto thou. Sarmad Khoosat has brilliantly displayed his skills both as an actor and director with this one. Fantastic acting, great post editing and wonderfully well worked music give the entire movie a A Grade quality of work. The acting by everyone in the movie was great and some scenes were powerful beyond words. A couple of the scenes which stand out the most – the story part of Manto’s ‘Thanda Gosht’ and the scene where Manto just about makes it home in the middle of a curfew with alcohol instead of medicine for his ailing daughter. manto-poster

All in all extremely good to see our movies coming out more frequently and improving step by step in terms of technical execution of acting as well as production and direction. Stories will also improve with time. Give it a couple of more years and I am sure we will start seeing more of Na Maloom Afraad and Manto type of work. Maybe even B or A grade type Hollywood action stuff.

In the meantime lets all continue the support for our industry and see the movies.

The Importance of Travel

My article ‘The Importance of Travel’ was first published in Travel & Aviation magazine in May, 2015. 

You will only live once. And a majority of that life would be spent in the traditional phases for most of us. School – College – University – First Job – Second Job – Job – Fall in love – Get married – have kids – raise them – retire and enjoy old age. I think that would pretty much cover about 60-65 odd years (based on the average expected life Pakistanis). That’s schooling, working, family life split up in those 65 years, 365 days a year. Now trust me the people or person or story which gave life to the phrase You Only Live Once were definitely talking about the above. They were talking about life in spite of the above. All those things will happen. But it is important to live during all this. To make experiences which perhaps would only add or make you appreciate your everyday life more.

Travelling is that one major important element which will give you the experience and perspective and personal insight to all of the above. Whether for adventure, to relax, to explore, to learn or simply to get away from everything and take whatever it offers you – travel is something that should not be ignored. It should be undertaken with open arms and open mind. Travel and you truly will understand the fact that you will live only once.

We have compiled a list of reasons for you to travel. My best bet is that you will be able to relate to at least half of them.

  1. Travelling has never been easier

First of all let’s clear the air about the difficulties of planning a travel. Travel isn’t a gigantic task or a mount everest that needs to be climbed over. It is not something unreachable or undoable and certainly not because it is difficult to do, plan, manage or execute. More now than ever before travel is actually easier to plan and manage. Yes there might be the challenge of getting the VISA for the destination of choice but beyond that it is certainly no herculean task. The easiest route of course is a travel agent. Just tell them where you want to go and they will plan everything and get it done. Even airlines offer you the option of making arrangements for accomodation along with booking a flight and even transport.

If you are more into doing things and managing yourself than there are many online websites now which help you make your travel plans, book online, provide reviews etc. tripadvisor.com , lonelyplanet.com and booking.com are three such websites which will help you plan you trip from a to z. With reviews provided for hotels along with information on the top attractions of a particular city, these websites also come with ongoing deals on accomodation, tours and air travel. They will help you compare each element, guide you on the dos and do nots and give the perspective of other fellow travellers. Make a detailed itinerary or a light one all can be managed by booking through the websites.

  1. Opens your eyes and changes the way you relate to the world

It is great reading about all the customers, cultures and things that happen around the world in newspaper articles and online blogs and magazines. They are fantastic to look at in documentaries and other shows on the television. But nothing quite compares to experiencing all of this first hand and then opening your eyes with that added experience to the world that awaits you. The Donor Kebab that you saw on tv or had at the local franchise was great. But the one you can have standing in the streets of Istanbul amidst all the hustle and bustle of Turkey’s most beautiful (in fact one of the world’s most beautiful) cities was an experience on a whole other level. Seeing the locals interacting with each other, going about their daily business, having their lunch in a quick street meal and the way it all comes together was something on its own. Add to that the authentic Donor kebab from the very heart of Istanbul itself – priceless.

The way we look at everyday things that we do when at home changes when we have an added perspective of another part of the world in a meaningful way. Whether it is food or business or a local merchant or a local small business man or any other xyz thing – the perspective you gain, the way you can relate to your everyday life back home will have gained from the travel experience.

  1. Self Insight

Backpacking through Europe, not knowing exactly where your next stop and meal is going to be at and just living life 1 day at a time during that 10 day vacation. Doesn’t quite sound like the everyday hustle and bustle of driving from your home in DHA or P.E.C.H.S and driving through the clutter of cars on Shahr-e-Faisal and I.I. Chundrigar back in Karachi. Neither is it anything like well cooked Biryani waiting for you at the comfort of your home. You see when you step out of your everyday routine or your comfort zone you will most definitely get an insight about yourself. Maybe you will learn that you enjoy walking. That you actually enjoy roaming the market streets and interacting with people more than you thought. Perhaps you are someone who likes to get your hands on fresh produce and whip up something of a quick meal and experiment and make all that Masterchef viewing come in handy. You will learn that you can be quick on your feet in decision making and that there are certain areas of life that you never knew could be explored. Most of all you might learn that you have a thing for taking breaks, going to new countries and getting new experiences of people, cultures and food.

  1. Meaningful and memorable encounters with people

When on travel you are bound to meet new people, have new encounters with them. For most parts these might just be your average typical conversation. But everyone once in a while you have a special encounter with someone who might through their shared life experience leave you wiser and enlightened. Or someone with whom you might by chance share a mutual travel experience with which lends foundation to perhaps a story that you tell over and over in your life. They might even be someone that you become good friends with. And maybe, just maybe if you are experiencing a rare hollywood / bollywood moment than you might even meet your soulmate. You learn to embrace being outside of your own social circle of family and friends back home in Karachi or Lahore or Islamabad or wherever in Pakistan you hail from and learn to make new connections and the different perspectives it can bring. It will help you develop the skill of striking up conversations with people you have never met before, of breaking the ice, of making small talk and interesting ones. You will be a more confident and well rounded person at the end of it.

  1. Learn new languages

It has, it is and always will be cool to know how to speak a different langauge. Other than our mother toungue of urdu, the globally official language of english and our regional ancestral language of sindhi, balochi, pashtu etc. You may not be extremely fluent in it but to be able to utter out a few sentences that you learned while away in Italian or Spanish or French is something that will add that ‘coolness’ factor to you. And its always better when that learning has that travel story attached to it rather than language classes at for example Berlitz in Karachi. Added to all of that there is something deeply satisfying about having been able to do it with the locals on your travel.

  1. As a transition

It is always good to get away from your world from time to time. It leaves you refreshed and recuperated. Re-energized and raring to have a go at everyday life once more. This is truer for people who are going through different transitions in life. These transitions might be good or bad. It might be in between jobs, in between schools and moving, kids or relationships but just stepping away from all of that for a few days of escape will benefit the end goal of that transition. Sometimes more than the end goal the escape is necessary simply for you to move on with your transition. It can maybe help you deal with a major life event. I have had the personal experience of travelling twice when things got a little too overwhelming for me in my personal life. Both times I came back feeling renewed just that little bit extra. It helped me shut off my mind from everyday stuff or ongoing stuff for those few days and be back with a different energy to move on. This was especially the case when I went to Sri Lanka last year to help myself get over the loss of my mother. Whats more is that at times it needs to be solo to be able to achieve the required goal. So from experience I can say in my opinion that travel is perhaps the best drug, in a completely legitimate and good sense, during any sort of transition period.

  1. For all the food in the world

Travel is especially essential for a foodie. And we are not talking about the people who are foodies because of their unbelievable capacities to down gastronomic monstrosities. No we are talking about people who love food, for the art of food, for the divine experience of food. For people who know and understand and want more out of their food life than your local spicy biryanis and parhata rolls and niharis. While our pakistani cuisine is rich collection of culinary delights and heritage and history – it is certainly not the end of the world. The world has so much more to offer in taste. So many different ways to cook the fine produce from mother earth each with its own sense

  1. For the adventure, the experience

Riding the elephants in the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka or having the parakeets standing on almost every part of my arms and head while feeding them at the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore or walking through the streets in Trafalgar Square or visiting the historical grounds of my love i.e. Arsenal (football club) in London UK are not experiences that I would trade for anything ever in life. In fact all the traveling I have done – domestic or international – has only left me with the desire of doing it even more. To wanting to see more and more different places and being able to experience the different foods and cultures and people those places have to offer. The night safaris, interacting up close with wild animals, trekking through the mountain ranges, visiting different historical landmarks, the mueseums, the art, the culture, the sacred places, pushing my physical limits and pushing my cautionary flags are experiences and adventures that have left me wanting more. There are many beautiful places and cultures in this world that are waiting to be explored and taken in. The need for adventure and new experiences is hardwired into us. Travel helps you awaken this need and tap into it.

There can be a million more reasons added to this or just one taken from the list above but as soon as you understand yourself and look into yourself you will know that you want to travel. So grab your backpack, book your tickets and get going. The world is a wonderfully diverse place waiting to enrich you with all it has to offer in every corner of it.

Pakistan–67 Years On

Happy Independence Day to all people who stumble upon this blog.

Happy another year of a mixed bag for Pakistan. Thou at times it gets harder and harder to count the good points amongst the worrying or the bad points. With all the long marches, opposition protests, terrorist attacks, corruption, energy issues and other woes its no surprise that good points tend to get lost in the background.

The democratic system is faltering and almost in danger of treading off path and crashing. Zardari managed to keep all things at bay to steer home after 5 years. However Mian sb and his N League certainly aren’t inspiring the same confidence. And the opposition is making a lot of noise and the Civ Mil relations are back to being well on and off rocky.

One good thing is that we are finally taking a stand (hopefully all the way through) against the virus and plague that has been the TTP for Pakistan in the last 12 years. No more dialogue. No more bull. Time to get the act together and clean up this mess. We don’t want an ISIS blowback coming all the way here.

The thing is I could go on about all that has happened in the previous year of Pakistan’s existence but we all already know that. Thanks to the dozens of news channels. But what about the things not on the news. Like where has the spirit gone by and large? Yes there still cars out with the customary side flags and bonnet flags and roof flags. Yes there was still some awaam heading towards sea view to create a ruckus and party. But there was no noise. There wasn’t much sound. It was more like a case of somebody just showing up to a wedding to get there face shown, attendance marked and then be on their way home. Even at work, people who were in the spirit (and there were hardly any by the way) were recycling things that they could get their hands on from last year at work. There was no joy. There was hardly any green. People didn’t do even something as small as just wearing something green. Very few.

Is it that the whole spirit of being a Pakistani is fading away slowly and steadily? Did the ‘Naya Pakistan’ disappear over the last year? Perceptions matter and right now the perception is that it could be the 3rd of March for anyone cares – it’s a holiday from work. And that’s about it. No sitting down and watching parades as a family. No good national shows on TV to follow. No national songs blaring around to celebration. At least I didn’t hear any. The mood is perhaps more somber this year because of the whole Azadi march and the Inquilabi march and Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri and the show down in Islamabad. Our capital has been shut for the last few days. Anyone there is not getting much done. And the march is on the way.

Even so – even with all of that going on and no doubt all of that is quite significant – the spirit is slowly fading away from people. The passport is getting less and less valuable in the general public’s eyes. A good investment in some small island nation for a different colored passport is sounding extremely good to people.

I miss the days when it was better then this. The spirit was there. Green was dominant on this day. The green of our flag. There was something ,….. anything that would reflect even a little bit of love or pride. Now its hard to find. Hard to see. Hard to blame people for as well.

So yes Pakistan, 67 years have gone by. 67 years survived at the hands of corrupt politicians, noise oppositions, a non-inclusive military and a still to mature media. Here’s to perhaps a different 67 years ahead. Maybe a different topic or theme altogether when it’s the 134th Independence Day of Pakistan. If it comes around to that.

Let’s pray to Allah to bring better years and better fortunes for our country in the years and months to come. Let’s pray that the love comes back. The spirit gets renewed.

Pakistan Zindabaad.

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Of Moral Corruption

I have been mulling over a few incidents that I have come across, heard about or seen in the news with regards to the degradation of the moral fabric of the social setup that we live in. This seems a little more on the forefront now as the incidents are becoming more frequent and glaring in our society and not just incidents of other countries. Ranging from domestic violence to abuse to adultery to murder. Of course the common reader will say that this has been there in Pakistan for a long time – the rural areas will testify to that. And some pockets of urban and semi urban areas. That holding true doesn’t make it any less disturbing. And all said and done it has increased and increased in a way which is making the moral fabric of the society more and more corrupt.

We already face terrorist attacks, target killings, sectarian violence, ethnic violence and religious intolerance. That much is evident in the following:

· We have lost almost 5000 people to terrorist attacks since 2008 pan Pakistan (source: http://tribune.com.pk/story/527016/pakistani-victims-war-on-terror-toll-put-at-49000/)

· Data collected through open sources suggested that some 2,674 people lost their lives in 1,108 incidents of violence across the country from January to April of this year(Source: Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), http://x.dawn.com/2013/05/05/2670-people-killed-in-pakistan-in-four-months/)

· In the last 18 months, 203 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan resulted in 1,800 casualties, including 717 deaths, of which 635 were Shia (source: US Commission on International Human Rights,http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C07%5C19%5Cstory_19-7-2013_pg12_1)

· There were at least 1,636 “honor killings” last year, said Pakistani rights group The Aurat Foundation (http://beta.dawn.com/news/777491/pakistani-women-turn-to-once-taboo-divorce-to-escape-abuse)

But these are all things we see and read in the news on a daily basis. So we are tuned into this statistic even if we don’t know it. Post 9/11 terrorism has increased. We have had spates of religious intolerance from time to time. Ethnic clashes are not new.

When husbands and wives start getting murdered by their better halves, or when a man (who is otherwise doing perfectly well in his life) murders his family of 4 and then commits suicide, when there seems to be a level of acceptance at it being ok for someone to break another home (cause of divorce) or even without any influence the number of homes that are broken.  (the rate of divorce has drastically increased in the last decade. In Islamabad alone the number of divorces increased from 208 in 2002 to 557 in 2011). I was note able to gather any statistics online for 2012 / 13 but I know I have heard a lot of cases personally from various sources.

There is an increase in the number of children going astray, leaving basic good values far behind. Recent cases of kids getting involved in shooting/murders of other kids as a result of some bust up (Shahrukh Jatoi, Shahzeb Khan, Hamza Jawad etc) are examples of this. Then there are other things as well – the wonderful parties where everything is magical because they all smoked up, did pot or that miracle drug called ecstasy. Then there are cases of some kids even running away from homes to be with the ‘loves of their lives’.

These are just a few examples and by no means generalize the society at large. But the fact is that these are all different problems pertaining to different people. And they are chewing at the moral fabric of our society. Just yesterday I heard about two cases, almost similar, where the husband was murdered by his wife and her lover.

Even when we talk about the above mentioned national level problems – ethnic violence, religious intolerance etc. The fact remains that as a nation we are seeming inclined towards immunity rather than action. The philosophy in general seems to be ‘Damn this is really bad shit happening. Ok time to go to work’. We are more or less in a state of accepting all that is wrong rather than standing up against it and demanding a change or some sort of action (this for the problems that are happening at national level more so then on an individual scale). The individual level issues demand prayer. And a close look at ourselves.

We are standing dangerously close to losing basic moral fabrics from our social structure and I for one feel very disturbed and at a certain level helpless at this state of affairs. Years from now if this path isn’t changed we will be asked by those future generations ‘What did you do when the decay started?’ and all we would be able to answer ‘We stood and watched as the devil celebrated every moral fibre’s breaking’

Naya Pakistan?

Almost two months have come to pass since the election and already there seems to be a familiar cycle resuming. A unfortunate ‘same old same old’ seems to be ringing in the air. It almost seems that given a couple of more months and all the naysayers and pessimists/uber realists will be lined up to have their chance at telling us all ‘We told you so!’ An unusually absent Prime Minister, a somewhat sheepish sounding and directionally unsound looking government and the lack of anything big in terms of an action or step have all given more substance to these thoughts than anything else.

On top of that – the nagging issues still remain the same, almost as if they have maintained their status quo after the much anticipated and talked about historic election. And we as a nation seem to have almost gone back to our previous mode. Sleep. It may be too soon to say that ‘I was wrong’ but signs of it are showing quite evidently thus far.

Moreover the nagging issues remain as mentioned. The power outs, politicking, terrorist attacks, sectarian attacks, protests, strikes etc etc. Realistically the power issue isn’t one which was ever going to be fixed over night. But then again a plan or concrete vision on how to go about tackling it doesn’t seem to have come about strongly enough. The politicking remains. And will remain ever so a part of the DNA make up and structure of all things Pakistan for some time to come. (and to a degree are part of most countries). The terrorist attacks continue and the one thing that I did have an issue with over the PTI is the way they would come off as Taliban Apologists more than anything else. They attacked innocents, they took responsibility for the attacks, they murdered people- there is no room for negotiations here. I think it is quite clear what has to be done. Condemn them in clear and strong words for what they are and take action against them. Same goes for the LeJ – the hate organization has restarted their attacks on the Hazara Shia community with the latest one being over the weekend in Quetta. The state must take action against them. They openly claim these attacks and nothing is done to haul them in. The MQM continues to bring Karachi to a complete stop as before. And now with London being extremely active over the Imran Farooqui murder case and Altaf Hussain’s residence being investigated by the Scotland Yard there seems to be some more days of strikes and more ahead.

The problem is … I could go on and on about all that is going on but that would just take up unnecessary space. Where is the change? There doesn’t seem to be any change coming from the government in the way things are being done or managed. It all seems a repackaged version of the same. And also the country, the nation, the people seem to be conveniently going back to sleep. And the prime minister. Mian saaaaab – kithay ho???

Elections 2013–Silver Linings

I stood in line for 10 hours last Saturday to exercise a fundamental right as a citizen of Pakistan. There were hundreds of others there with me, in fact make that a 1000+. We were all there to exercise our right to vote. This wasn’t going to be like any of the elections of the past where even if we did turn up to vote we generally did feel it was more of a paper exercise than anything else. This time was different. This time there was a feeling of a difference that could be brought about. A change that could come. So that’s why for 10 hours, bearing the sun, the heat, the long line we all stood there to ensure that we cast our vote.

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This changed feeling brought about by Imran Khan, PTI and a more energized and involved youth was further validated by the Election Commission after the elections when the estimated voter turnout was announced to be around 60% – the highest turnout in the history of the country. A change was almost certain now. Perhaps not the one we thought but the one we needed.

To give a background: as mentioned Imran Khan and PTI were largely responsible in mobilizing the urban populous in going out to vote and in all probability most of them did so in their favor. However the key word there being ‘urban’. Anyway this transformed into a social media wave which intoxicated the youth and first time voters with a lot of excitement and gusto. There were talks of the PTI sweeping the elections and a Naya Pakistan was almost guaranteed. The more experienced voter who wanted change also voted but perhaps with a more realistic expectation. He did focus on the urban bit. In fact one fellow voter said he is voting for PTI, that he knew they would lose but still he will vote for PTI because they deserve it. They deserve every seat they can manage to win and have a voice in the NA.

Come election night all people were glued to the TV as the Geo Election Band Wagon got into high gear. The votes started coming in… and a sense of disappointment was soon showing its ugly face. The realistic outcome was crushing the idealistic romanticized tsunami of Naya Pakistan.

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Nawaz Sharif aawaaye aaway indeed. And eventually it was confirmed – unofficially (as GEO could not stress enough) – Mian Nawaz Sharif was returning to power, to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan for the 3rd time. As it stands – PML N has 124 seats in NA and an overwhelming majority in the Punjab Provincial Assembly with 204. PPP was wiped off the central map and managed only to retain its sindh stronghold. MQM retained Karachi and the few seats that they get in Sindh. ANP was completely eradicated from the face of the 2013 elections. And Imran Khan’s PTI claimed the top spot in KPK to earn themselves the place of the 2nd/3rd biggest party in these elections. But that wasn’t enough to be a tsunami.. the tsunami that the social media popularity promised the voters had halted abruptly at Islamabad/Rawalpindi. What happened? Well the urban voter did go out and he did vote …. but Mr Khan and the proponents of change will have to wait before the old ways in which the larger vote bank is set can be changed. Punjab voted in the same jageerdar, landowner and power politics philosophy that it usually does. And Sindh voted in the same feudal manner that it does. As for Balochistan, they still remain detached with lower voter turnout and with a complete mix of seats between different parties. It will take quite some time for all of this to change.

But here is the thing – people who have been getting disappointed about the outcome and frustrated that nothing will ever happen of this country should not lose hope. For change has come. And it is important to stay positive for this to continue and transform into the grander scheme of things to come.

First of all the Voter turnout is a huge change. There were a lot of first time voters. People who just weren’t interested in voting before because of a lack of faith in the system went out to vote. Going from 40-42% to 60% is a huge win not for any party but for Pakistan.

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Second – the way the youth have been involved in this election has been fantastic to see. Yes they have much to learn in order to broaden their analytical horizon beyond just the idolization of one man but the enthusiasm was phenomenal. They have raised their voices. They have voted. They have actively volunteered to facilitate the voter on election day against the heat. They have rightly protested against ‘rigging’ in various constituencies. Some have even gotten directly involved in the politics (Example: Jibran Nasir who was an independent candidate for NA 250 and PS 113 in Karachi). The youth are the future and such energy levels to be seen in them is great. The key is now for this to be maintained.

Thirdly – and this is specifically for PTI Supporters – PTI has firmly established itself as a 3rd political force in Pakistan. They may not have won the elections but going in properly for an election for this first time and winning 30 odd NA seats and the majority in one province is a huge achievement. And once the final results are out one should see the number of seats that they have come second in. That furthers the fact that PTI have established themselves. They have the opportunity to run the state of affairs in KPK. This is wonderful. They can prove themselves there and come next election that will transform into many many more seats! Also it is not clear at the moment but two things can happen: one Imran Khan will want to be leader of the opposition but that seems a little difficult as they are a couple of seats behind PPP. Plus MQM will probably support them in the center in return for being part of the setup in Sindh. So with PPP and MQM joined in the center will not leave enough support for IK to be nominated to that position. However Mian sahib is mulling giving IK the PAC Chairmanship which could be another good way of tackling issues.

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Point is a lot of good things have come from this election. The incoming government cannot take it easy. It is no longer a case of musical chairs where just 2 major parties keep taking turns at power. We have successfully transferred power democratically. They will have to perform or else be accountable in front of the huge mandate of the public.

Lastly on rigging – yes there was rigging. There always is. But that said I don’t think it would largely affect the overall outcome even if there is repolling at the alleged constituencies. I am not saying that repolling shouldn’t be done. It should. We have voted and it is our right to get assurance that it was not misused. That it was counted. That it wasn’t tampered with. That we were not cheated out of our fundamental right. So all those who have to go out and vote again PLEASE DO! Don’t get frustrated in the system and not show up. Give these things time. They will improve. Just don’t give up. Go and vote again. I have to as well and I will!

Continue being the change. Pakistan Zindabad.