Published 26th August 2014 in The Express Tribune (e-paper version here)
‘They think Hashim too old for the game,’ he said once, ‘but Hashim fool them.’
Greatness might be understating it. Hashim Khan was to squash what Ken Norton was to boxing, what Harry Houdini was to wriggling out of chains underwater: greatness, yes, but a classic greatness. The kind that stares back from sepia photographs. The kind that’s for the ages.
Yes, when it comes to sport, Pakistan’s seen its share of greats. At times, its laid claim to legends — athletes that could very well be called the Best Ever — in its Jahangir Khans and Wasim Akrams. But Hashim Khan was different: he was the first.
Published 20th August 2014 in The News International (e-paper version here)
Prakash Jha has made many fine films – last year’s Satyagraha isn’t one of them. To those who have had to bear a 3-hour project go slowly off the rails, one offers condolences: to both Bollywood fans, and the thousands of Azadi Marchers gathered in Islamabad. Both audiences deserve better.
Daduji is an aging reformer – played tearfully by Amitabh Bachchan – who finds himself pitted against the system: evil mantris and lazy fatcats, beating Mother India over the head with their feckless ways. And so Amitabh, more ham than Hazare, cries foul.
He is joined by faithful party workers Ajay Devgan – who as with all his films, plays an honest second banana – and Arjun Rampal, who spends the entire movie smiling dangerously.
Our hero is an outsider calling for satyagraha: civil disobedience. Why? ‘System sarrh gya hai,’ explains another, in a film where writing is clearly not the strong suit. Daduji is egged on by the young and hungry on Twitter, who are great at hashtagging #Janta.
This leads to the single dumbest chorus in Bollywood history, from the same Manmeet Singh and Harmeet Singh that brought us Baby Doll and Shirt Da Button: ‘Janta Rocks, Janta Talks, ab raaj kare gi janta.’
Amitabh turns up the temperature too, by going on a hunger strike. Close to the climax, hundreds of sad schoolkids turn up at the rally, to wish their rockstar well. Daduji stirs himself awake, because after all, it’s the youth that are at stake. He wobbles over to the mic, manages to whisper ‘Bachon,’ then swoons to the floor, spent.
The rally fails. The system holds.
But ours may not.
Published 12th August 2014 in The Express Tribune (e-paper version here)
'One last question, Mr President, and excuse the brutality of it. Do you think you can last?'
Interviewing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had its perks. Slower men would have balked.
Not the Chairman. ‘Let’s put it this way. I could be finished tomorrow, but I think I’ll last longer than anyone else (…) Have you ever seen a bird sitting on its eggs in the nest? Well, a politician must have fairly light, flexible fingers, to insinuate them under the bird and take away the eggs. One by one. Without the bird realising it.’
It’s a moment frozen in time: a hot Karachi summer, April ’72, Bhutto at the rebirth. Even the most cynical of us would be moved to ask, what could have been? Before Mustafa Khar. Before Tikka Khan in Balochistan. Before the FSF.
But Mr Bhutto refused his own advice (that though one has a hammer, not every problem is a nail). His volumes on Talleyrand, on Napoleon, on Cavour were flypaper; Pakistan’s most well-read head of state — by leaps and bounds — self-destructed via the path most tried and tested and true: police brutality in Punjab.
Published 5th August 2014 in The Express Tribune (e-paper version here)
Even after deliberating for 60 years, the jury’s still out on Muhammad Munir. Pakistan’s second chief justice was a symptom of the times he lived in: brilliant but tragic, visionary but weak. He cared nothing for the rule of law; he cared for nothing but the rule of law. However one chooses to look at him though, Pakistan was never the same again.
1954 was the Year of Munir: when our first parliament was sacked for the first time. The CJ stamped his approval, and disaster ensued (AR Cornelius wrote the sole dissent — Lord Cornelius was the North Star of the judiciary; all others can be measured by how far their positions fall from his).
But 1954 was also the year of the Munir Report; and there haven’t been many like it since. The report raised some of the most profound moral questions splitting Pakistan at the seams, questions that haunt us today. Justice Munir found that, while the ulema were adamant as to who fell outside the pale of religion, they were far less clear as to who made it in.
“Who is a Musalman?” the judge asked; a question so simple, each had a different answer. When one aalim expressed his opinion, the judge asked whether he would change his mind if the subject “steals other people’s things, embezzles property entrusted to him, has an evil eye on his neighbour’s wife, and is guilty of the grossest ingratitude to his Benefactor?”
“Such a person,” came the answer, “if he has the belief already indicated, will be a Muslim despite all this.”
Published 28th July 2014 in The Express Tribune (e-paper version here)
Evacuation notices, airdropped over Gaza
In Judeo-Christian belief, Goliath is a giant, a warrior, and an oppressor of David’s people. In the books of Samuel, before the Israelites and the Philistines do battle, David and Goliath meet each other in single combat. A young boy, David is outmatched; Goliath brings shield, spear, and (ranging from scripture) six to nine feet of human height with him.
But David wins. He fires a stone from his sling, and the giant falls. Goliath similarly appears in the Qur’an’s Surah al-Baqarah as Jalut, felled by Dawood, ‘But those who were convinced that they must meet Allah, said: ‘How oft, by Allah’s will, hath a small force vanquished a big one?’
Yes, David versus Goliath is the story of victory against all odds: that with enough faith, our hero can fight enemies bigger, stronger and fiercer – and persevere. It only follows that, thousands of years later, the star of David would become one with the story of David.
Ever since creation, the State of Israel has seen itself as David, projected itself as David, and warned of the many Goliaths that have tried eating it since birth. Thus far, it’s been a winning play — helping Israel drown violence in victimhood from Day Zero.