DAWN - Features; November 10, 2003

November 10, 2003

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Significance of the C’wealth case

WHEN the political parties opposed to General Musharraf and the LFO decided to take part in the general elections in October 2002, they had reckoned that they would be more effective in fighting the LFO through parliament rather than by boycotting and staying away from the elections.

But quite early in the day, it was evident that any hope of securing a two-thirds majority in parliament to vote out the LFO was wishful thinking. Despite what seemed to be some wavering by the PML(Q) initially, it became obvious soon enough that the government party and its parliamentarians had decided to remain behind General Musharraf and the LFO. The occasional submissive statements by the prime minister also squashed any hope which the opposition might have harboured, about him doing a “Junejo” on General Musharraf.

The opposition then tried negotiations with General Musharraf on the LFO issue. At times it looked as if an imminent understanding was about to be reached, particularly between General Musharraf and the MMA. But these negotiations broke down, and opposition protests against the LFO and General Musharraf have increased since, both inside and outside parliament.

Recently, the opposition also tried to break General Musharraf by publicizing an apparent internal strife within his very own constituency - the army. But this has only led to the arrest of the opposition and PML(N) leader, Javed Hashmi, on treason charges, three days before General Musharraf left the country for a another trip abroad, this time to the Far East.

If the opposition has not succeeded in convincing General Musharraf to step down from running the political affairs of the country or to step down from his military position, neither has General Musharraf and his PML(Q)-led government been able to convince the opposition to accept the LFO and his remaining in political power with his uniform on.

One major leverage which the opposition has against General Musharraf and the LFO is the suspension of Pakistan’s membership in the Commonwealth. Since the October 2002 general elections and the establishment of the PML(Q)-led civilian government, the Commonwealth has acknowledged the important step and good progress made on the path of democracy in Pakistan. However, it has continued to uphold the 1999 suspension of membership on the three occasions that Pakistan’s case was put up for review during the past year.

“We want to see a parliament in Pakistan with the full sovereign authority of a parliament. We want to see an executive government with the normal authority that would be attributed to a government.” These were the comments of the Secretary-General after the Commonwealth decided not to lift Pakistan’s suspension in a review in May 2003 held in London. “Repeated deadlocks between the government and opposition in Pakistan made it clear that more needed to be done towards restoring democracy,” said the Commonwealth foreign ministers after the latest review in September 2003 held in New York.

Ironically, the prime minister’s occasional servile statements, e.g., that General Musharraf is his boss, have not done anything to help convince the Commonwealth that parliament is sovereign and that it is not subservient to the general. If anything, such statements by the prime minister have indirectly helped to boost the opposition’s stand.

The next review of Pakistan’s suspension case, which will take place in December 2003, is a particularly important one. Unlike the previous reviews, which were foreign ministers’ level meetings, the December one in Nigeria will be a grand summit of the Commonwealth heads of government.

Thus, last week the Pakistani foreign minister was in London and Brussels trying to convince the governments there of Pakistan’s democratic credentials. In London, he tried to prevail upon his British counterpart that his country has already fulfilled all the requirements for a lifting of the Commonwealth suspension. In Brussels, he tried to move the European Union forward on a new cooperation pact with Pakistan, which is being stalled in part by EU’s apprehensions about Pakistan’s movement towards democracy.

At home, however, the opposition was doing quite the opposite. It geared up its protest against the LFO and General Musharraf, vowing to restore full democracy in the country.

The PPP wrote a letter to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, voicing its concern over parliament being made an irrelevant forum. In the letter, the PPP pointed out that questions of national importance raised in the Senate, e.g., on Kargil, Kashmir, and the intelligence agencies’ conduct of raids, detention and interrogation, were being dismissed as “inadmissable” and ruled out of order for discussion.

Meanwhile, the PML(N) has been meeting the ambassadors and High Commissioners of different countries in Islamabad to highlight the fact that the arrest of its leader, Javed Hashmi, amounted to a violation of the law and an insult to parliament because he was arrested without the knowledge and the permission of the Speaker of the National Assembly.

At the same time, the MMA threatened to close the doors on the LFO dialogue with the government. It also threatened once again to launch a national protest movement, if a constitutional bill was not tabled in parliament by the end of Ramazan.

The opposition’s protest is expected to intensify in the run-up to the Commonwealth summit in December. Moreover, the lawyer community, the only organized group outside of parliament that has openly opposed the LFO and General Musharraf during the past year, is also planning to launch a long march protest from Islamabad to Peshawar in December, and later on from Karachi to Quetta, and from Lahore to Karachi.

An apparent boost to the opposition last week came from the United States when the American president made a policy speech on his administration’s goal to see movement towards democracry in the Middle East. Although he did not refer to Pakistan when talking about those Muslim countries which need to move forward on democracy, the general policy trend of his speech is encouraging to the opposition, particularly the fact that he did not include Pakistan when praising the Muslim countries which have democratic rule.

How the opposition’s struggle against General Musharraf and the LFO will progress depends in great part on the Commonwealth’s decision on whether it will lift suspension of Pakistan’s membership. If the suspension of Pakistan’s membership is lifted, especially without General Musharraf and all the opposition parties reaching a constitutional agreement, this will take the wind out of the protest campaign against the LFO.

But if the suspension is stayed, this will encourage the opposition to carry on their constitutional struggle against General Musharraf. The Legal Advisor to the Prime Minister has tried to counter this prospect by saying last week that the LFO did not need to be approved by parliament. This line of argument will not hold water if the Commonwealth, and the EU, continue to encourage a government-opposition resolution of the LFO issue in parliament.

New research on Iqbal

BEGUM Rasheeda Aftab Iqbal, the wife of the late Barrister Aftab Iqbal, the eldest son of Allama Mohammed Iqbal, has done a research on the life of Allama Iqbal and his family.

This 506-page book entitled Allama Iqbal Uar Unkay Farzand-i-Akbar Aftab Iqbal is a unique work. Begum Rasheeda claims that this new book may reveal the hidden aspects of Allama Iqbal and his family’s life.

She claims that most of the people know nothing about the hidden aspects of Iqbal’s family. According to her research, data has been completed about the last resting places of Iqbal’s family. She claims that this data is real and based on facts. The previous resources in this regard are incomplete and differ with the facts.

Iqbal was not fond of marriages. He got married to Karim Bibi, Mukhtar Begum and Sardar Begum in different times of need and unavoidable circumstances.

Allama Iqbal had two children (Aftab Iqbal and Meraj Begum) from his first wife Karim Bibi; a son from his second wife Mukhtar Begum (both mother and son) died very soon after birth.

Iqbal had a son, Javid Iqbal, and a daughter, Muneer Bano, from his third wife, Sardar Begum. Now only Javid Iqbal (75) and Muneer Bano (69) are alive members of Iqbal’s family.

Begum Rasheeda Aftab Iqbal has also given details of the last resting places of Allama Iqbal’s family. According to her, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq (the grandfather of Allama Iqbal) had been buried in Ropar graveyard of India, Taleb Bi (sister of Allama Iqbal) died on July 31, 1902, and was laid to rest in Kashmirian graveyard of Sialkot.

Imam Bibi, the mother of Allama Iqbal, died on Nov 9, 1914. Her grave is in Imam Sahib graveyard, Sialkot.

Mukhtar Begum (second wife of Allama Iqbal) died on Oct 21, 1924. She is buried in Ludhiana graveyard of India. Noor Muhammad (father of Allama Iqbal) died on Aug 17, 1930. He was laid to rest in Imam Sahib graveyard, Sialkot.

Sardar Begum (third wife of Allama Iqbal) died on May 23, 1935. Her grave is in Bibi Pak Daman graveyard of Lahore.

Shaikh Ata Muhammad, elder brother of Allama Iqbal, died on Dec 22, 1940. He is buried in Kashmirian graveyard, Sialkot. Shabnam (Allama Iqbal’s granddaughter) died on Sept 5, 1945. She is buried in Meraj Din graveyard of Sialkot. Akbari Begum (Iqbal’s niece) died on 1948. She is buried in a Quetta graveyard. Shaikh Imtiaz Ahmad, Iqbal’s nephew, died on Dec 30, 1946, and is buried in Bahrain graveyard. Karim Bibi (first wife of Allama Iqbal) died on Feb 28, 1947. Her last resting place is in Meraj Din graveyard, Lahore.

Shaikh Noor Ahmad (Iqbal’s nephew) died in 1949 and is buried in Kashmirian graveyard, Sialkot. Shaikh Zahoor Ahmad (Iqbal’s nephew) died on Aug 22, 1954, and is buried in Kashmirian graveyard, Sialkot. Shaikh Khurshid Ahmad (Iqbal’s nephew) died on Aug 25, 1954. He is buried in Kashmirian graveyard, Sialkot.

Karim Bibi (sister of Allama Iqbal) died on July 4, 1958, and was laid to rest in Kashmirian graveyard of Sialkot. Prof Manzoor Ahmad (Iqbal’s nephew) died on July 15, 1976 and was laid to rest in Kashmirian graveyard, Sialkot.

Aftab Iqbal (Allama Iqbal’s first son) died on Aug 13, 1979. He was laid to rest in Sukhi Hussain graveyard of Karachi. Waqar Iqbal (son of Aftab Iqbal) died on Dec 22, 1988, and was buried in Sukhi Hussain graveyard of Karachi. Mukhtar (Iqbal’s nephew) died on Dec 18, 1989. His grave is in Miani Sahib, Lahore.

Muhammad Zafarul Haq (Iqbal’s nephew) died on Jan 27, 1990, and is buried in Society graveyard of Karachi. Shaikh Ejaz Ahmad (Iqbal’s nephew) died on Jan 2, 1994. He is buried in Steel Town graveyard, Karachi. Barkat Bibi (Iqbal’s niece) is buried in Kashmirian graveyard, Sialkot.

Sarwar (Iqbal’s nephew) is buried in Lahore graveyard, Fatima Bibi (Iqbal’s sister) was laid to rest in Kashmirian graveyard of Sialkot and Zainab Bibi (sister of Allama Iqbal) was buried in a Wazirabad graveyard.

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MUCH has been written on the dynamic personality of Allama Iqbal who woke up the Muslims from the depths of ignorance. So great are his services in taking revolutionary steps that they led a nation towards the path of independence.

Iqbal was the first Muslim thinker to present the concept of a separate Muslim homeland free from want and injustice. There was a divine inspiration that helped him to write poetry based on his concept of Khudi.

Every child in Pakistan pledges loyalty to himself and the nation by reciting these lines every day:

Lub Pey Aati Hey Dua Ban Key Tammana Meri

Zindagi Shama Ki Soorat Ho Khudaya Meri

Even a cursory look at our history evokes a strange feeling — a ‘pride’ in having such a solid, committed and courageous intellectual as our leader. Not only the Pakistanis, but the whole Islamic world praises and pays homage to Allama Iqbal.

Iqbal was heir to a rich literary and philosophical tradition. He imbibed and assimilated all that was best in the Islamic and oriental thought and culture. His range of interests included religion, philosophy, art, politics, economics, nationalism, Muslim revival and the universal brotherhood of man.

Iqbal is not merely a poet transforming thought into beautiful verses; he is also a great thinker and philosopher with a message.

We find that science conceived as resting on mere sense perception with no other source of observation, so far as it confirms its claim to self sufficiency. Science can find no individual enjoyment in nature, no aim in nature; it finds mere rules of succession.

Iqbal explains the dangerous consequences of depending merely on science for guiding and regulating life. He believes that man cannot lead his life with peace in the cold regions of an arid intellectualism.

The modern man, he observes, with his philosophy of criticism and scientific realism finds himself in a strange predicament. His naturalism has given him unprecedented control over the forces of nature, but has robbed him of faith in his own future.

Iqbal recognises the importance of scientific knowledge but is fully aware of the fact that this knowledge is by nature sectional; it cannot, if it is true to its own nature and function, set up its theory as a complete view of reality.

From Islamabad with love

SHEIKH Hafizur Rahman is a senior friend I have loved and respected for over 25 years now. He was first introduced to me by another very dear friend, Mohammad Idrees who used to work with me for The Pakistan Times until his death in 1988. Idrees did a million good turns to me, none of them more valuable than my introduction by him to Sheikh Sahib. How can I talk about Sheikh Hafizur Rahman without remembering Syed Abid Ali and his wonderful wife, Nazi Apa. There never was and there never shall be a more beautiful, a more compatible or a more loving couple. But of Shah Sahib and Sadequain and a host of others some other time.

On October 28, Sheikh Hafizur Rahman, who like Syed Abid Ali Shah, now lives in Islamabad, sent me the following letter:

While Sir Ganga Ram’s name rings in Lahore every day because of the Ganga Ram Hospital (and of course his Trust and the building on The Mall named after him) you are doing a grand service to the psyche of Punjab by reminding its people of his unforgettable services. Here is something about his widow that is not known at all.

At partition, there was an incomplete building, almost a skeleton, opposite Ganga Ram Hospital known as Balak Ram Medical College. It was in the process of being constructed when the division of Punjab took place and was left derelict by its patrons. The government decided to use the modest structure as the foundation for the Fatima Jinnah Medical College for Women. This was done, the structure partially completed and equipped to take in the First Year class of the new college, and the Governor-General invited to inaugurate it. This was in 1950 or thereabouts. I’m not sure of the date; you’ll have to look it up on the foundation stone.

In his address of welcome at the ceremony, Dr Shujaat Ali, the first principal, narrated the story of the building which was used to form the nucleus of the FJ College. It was a fitting tribute to the Ganga Ram family and showed how his widow was imbued with the same urge for philanthropy as her distinguished husband.

It seems that some public-spirited Hindu gentlemen went to Lady Ganga Ram and told her about their plan to collect funds for a medical college in Lahore. They said that they didn’t want to bother her because her husband had already earned the gratitude of Punjab by doing so much for its people. However they had come because she might like to make a token contribution so that her name should also be there among the donors. Any little amount would do, they added.

The lady listened to their recital and asked how much they expected the college to cost. They told her that the initial estimated cost for the building and for setting up the college was about eight lakhs of rupees. She then excused herself; went out, and soon came back with a cheque for Rs 8 lakh. (Please note that by present value the amount was almost equal to eight crore rupees.) Handing over the cheque, she said, “I too have a request to make. I had a son who died in infancy. His name was Balak Ram. I shall be grateful if the new college is named after him. I shall provide the land for it.”

So that is how Balak Ram Medical College came into being and then, for the benefit of Pakistan, became the Fatima Jinnah Medical College for Women. I just thought you should know this.

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I AM grateful to Sheikh Sahib for his wonderful letter. He will be happy to know that the foundation stone of the Balak Ram Medical college has been allowed to stay where it was originally laid. I requested a friend of mine to visit the Fatima Jinnah Medical College and photograph the Balak Ram College foundation stone for me and my readers.

As for the Fatima Jinnah Medical College, I came to know the following:

“A scheme to establish a medical college for women was approved in March, 1948. Mohtarama Fatima Jinnah was appointed patron-in-chief of the project by the Quaid-i-Azam. The first batch of 39 students was admitted in October the same year. The formal opening ceremony of the college was performed by governor-general Khwaja Nazimuddin on Wednesday, March 30, 1949 at 10 a.m.” As you can see, Sheikh Hafizur Rahman has an excellent memory.

H H H H H

ANOTHER senior friend, Mr Ashfaque Naqvi, has also sent me the following letter:

Your write-up on BPL Bedi was illuminating. It told me a lot about him although I have not only seen but also met him. In those days in the late 30s, he was living in Model Town as a tenant of Hafiz Jallandhari. I also saw his British wife, Freda. An extremely graceful lady, she always wore a sari in khaddar and never polluted her face with make-up.

In those days, Sheikh Abdullah, the prominent Kashmir leader, came to Lahore and stayed with BPL. Next to that lodging was 75-G, the house of Sir Zafarullah Khan’s in-laws. One of them, Hamidullah Khan, was a fast friend of mine. The family also had a small Opel. Sheikh Abdullah somehow got friendly with his neighbours and asked Hamidullah to teach him driving. Considering me to be more appropriate for the task, Hamidullah asked me to be a part of the project. The result was that I had to fit the over-tall Sheikh Sahib in that tiny car and make him drive on the circular road in Model Town. He was a good learner, I must say, as he managed to change gears in no time and kept the car straight on the road.

P.S: It is no coincidence that the two letters quoted above should have followed one another. Sheikh Hafizur Rahman and Mr Ashfaque Naqvi are great friends. Mr Naqvi calls Sheikh Sahib ‘Bapu’. This could be because the two spent their early youth in Junagadh. However, Sheikh Sahib does not share many of Mr Naqvi’s naughtier habits.

Can there be a liberal face to communalism?

INDIAN Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has told the Financial Times of London that last year’s communal violence in Gujarat was an aberration and that the guilty would be punished. His remarks come just before India’s important summit talks with leaders of the EU and the European Commission, which are to be held in New Delhi on November 29.

Although much of the talks would be taken up by Iraq and Afghanistan, Indian issues will naturally occupy centre stage. New Delhi is always prickly when it comes to criticizm of its human rights record, and this time around there could be friction because the EU was one of the strongest critics of the Gujarat massacres. This could be one reason why Mr Vajpayee has given a second interview to FT in 13 months. It is clear that the PM’s spin doctors are hard at work.

FT described Mr Vajpayee’s comments, published on Friday, as his strongest criticism of the Gujarat pogroms that killed more than 2,000 people, almost all of them Muslim. “There is no doubt that those perpetrating such violence should be punished,” the prime minister declared. “Our public, media and judiciary are following it closely. Justice will not only be seen to be done; it will be done.”

Strong, reassuring words, indeed. But there is a curious gap between what Mr Vajpayee promises and what he delivers. For example, whether it was his threat of “aar-paar ki larai” (decisive battle) with Pakistan or later the hand of peace offered, little has come out of either the threat or the placatory offer; mercifully so in case of the former. Of course there could be even a bigger gap between what Mr Vajpayee says one day in Gujarat and what he declares a week later in Goa, revealing a soft caring facade one day and hard Hindutva visage the next.

One of those who endured the full blast of Mr Vajpayee’s rabid Hindutva was Mrs Subhadra Joshi, a Congress politician and well-known Gandhian, who died last week. In 1962, Mrs Joshi had won the parliamentary elections from Balrampur in eastern Uttar Pradesh against Mr Vajpayee. Mrs Joshi in an interview last year had recalled the ferocious campaign Mr Vajpayee had unleashed against her. This had included taunts for not wearing a “bindi” on her forehead and allegations that she was not a good Hindu woman.

Mr Vajpayee’s history of communal bias is as long as his political career and is well archived. Among these are his remarks cited in Lok Sabha records and in books and articles pertaining to the speeches he made in Assam in 1983, just before the notorious Nellie massacre of Bengali Muslims there.

Even if we make allowances for all these as “an aberration”, to use Mr Vajpayee’s own words, then how should we analyze his current performance and sayings as prime minister and as leader of the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party?

If the BJP is a secular party, as he claims, how then does he tolerate Narendra Modi, the notorious chief minister of Gujarat, whose administration connived so brazenly in the anti- Muslim pogroms and in the earlier anti-Christian violence? To be charitable to Mr Vajpayee, it could be said that he does not personally like Mr Modi, but then he has rejected any attempt to bring Mr Modi to book.

The embers of communal violence have not yet been put out in Gujarat. Almost every week, there is a major flare-up in which people die, if not in clashes, then in police firing. On Friday, there was yet another communal clash that made it to the front pages of the national dailies. In fact, the incidence of communal violence is rising in other states, specially in politically volatile Uttar Pradesh.

If Mr Vajpayee is indeed sincere about handling India’s problems with communalism — that means not just Hindu communalism, but also Muslim, Sikh and Christian communalism — then he should have his ear more to the ground. For a start, he should go through the petition sent by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties to the Election Commission of India, in which it has warned of a potential conflagration in Rajasthan, which borders Gujarat.

The PUCL petition warns that the deployment of Narendra Modi as the star campaigner for the BJP in the state elections in Rajasthan, particularly in 36 constituencies of southern Rajasthan, could have serious consequences. “It is clear that the campaign has been taken over completely by the BJP Gujarat units,” PUCL says. “We have apprehensions that this campaign of the BJP would incite hatred against the minorities and disturb communal peace. Given the method employed in Gujarat of communal propaganda before and during the Gujarat elections we have apprehensions that the tension caused during the campaign may cause an irreversible change of relationships between the tribals and the minorities in the region.” It fears that the campaign in southern Rajasthan could have a spill-over in other parts of the state.

There is no doubt that Mr Vajpayee needs to act urgently, and the coming elections could become a true test of his resolve to fight communalism as he claimed in the FT interview.

* * * * *

BRITAIN’S Prince Charles has special affection for India, or so his official publicists claim. But they could not mask the restrained anger, bordering on anguish, that the visiting heir to the British throne revealed last week during his tour of Lucknow.

His concern was the officially-backed vandalism of colonial images, chiefly statues and portraits of British sovereigns. The royal visitor reportedly revealed his mind to a shocked Lucknow resident in a private aside. According to Professor Nishi Pandey of Lucknow University’s department of english and modern European languages who met Charles at a function in Delhi, King George’s grandson showed uncommon knowledge about the City of Nawabs and its colonial heritage. The Prince of Wales was said to have expressed “surprise and dismay” at the way in which statues of many of his predecessors, including King George and Queen Victoria, had been allowed to fall into a dilapidated condition at the Uttar Pradesh State Museum in Lucknow.

The fears of “royal” neglect are not completely unfounded. Eleven magnificent and handcrafted sculptures from the British era are currently lying in the open, the canopy that once guarded them long gone.

* * * * *

THE imprisonment of the editors of The Hindu ordered by the Tamil Nadu assembly is of a piece with the attacks on journalists being waged both by the Indian state machinery as well as by the private hordes sponsored by the rightwing administration. Senior editors, including Mr N. Ravi and Ms Malini Parthasarathy, were sentenced to simple imprisonment for publishing a criticism of the speaker of the assembly. An outpouring among the media fraternity was in order. And so they met at Delhi’s Press Club to condemn the assault on their colleagues by the legislature. It’s seriousness can be gauged by the fact that even Kuldip Nayyar, senior journalist and parliamentarian who was a victim of Mrs Gandhi’s emergency rule, conceded that the new attacks were worse that the fate he had suffered in 1975-77.

Goethe to stage a comeback

Slowly but surely cultural activities in the city are gathering speed. Following in the footsteps of the Japanese Cultural Centre and the Iranian Cultural Centre, which never stopped functioning, the Pak-American Cultural Centre has started to hold functions on a regular basis. The Alliance Francaise has also reopened, and its educational activities have commenced.

Both the British Council and the Goethe-Institut, the German cultural centre, wound up their affairs last year. At the moment they are functioning from their consulates. It is indeed a pity that the British Council has no intention of reopening its library, which for years remained the favourite haunt of book lovers. However, the good news is that the Goethe-Institut is all set to stage a comeback.

The German cultural centre will not return to its 42-year-old building on Sarwar Shaheed Road. Instead, it will have a new base in downtown Karachi. Its director, Josef Bornhorst, is a widely travelled man who, having served his country in Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti, is familiar with a wide variety of cultures.

The Goethe-Institut, known originally as the German Reading Room, has come a long way since its single-room office days in Hotel Metropole in the early 1950s. The non-profit organization has over 125 centres in 76 countries. In the past, the Goethe-Institut in Karachi served as a resource centre for people interested in German culture and heritage. Students benefited immensely from the German language courses and other educational activities on offer and their cultural activities were good entertainment value. It is heartening to know that all the 8,169 books, videos, audio-cassettes and CDs, which are at present lying safely in storage, will soon find their way back on the shelves.

The last cultural presentation by the Goethe-Institut was in April 2002 when three theatre artistes from Germany performed Moby Dick and Bolton the Lion at the Finance and Trade Centre and a local hotel.

Beware of muggers

Do not hit the road immediately after Iftar in the hope of avoiding traffic jams: you could get mugged.

Many people break their fast in their offices and shops and do not head home so as to avoid getting caught in traffic jams. The pre-Iftar rush is maddening. Motorists, truckers and drivers of public transport vehicles just do not consider themselves bound by any traffic rules.

A person whose workplace is in the “bank district” on I.I. Chundrigar Road or in the vicinity of Shaheen Complex would take at least 65 to 70 minutes to reach his home in North Nazimabad, Gulshan-i-Iqbal or the Sakhi Hasan area.

After Iftar, however, roads appear virtually traffic-free, and one could cover the same distance in 35 to 40 minutes. However, there is one danger — one could get mugged.

The mugger’s advantage is that he can rob you without fear of being caught, because there is no one around — except the mugger and his victim. The mugging usually takes place at traffic lights, because the victim’s is the only car there, and there is no one around who could help.

A few tips:

* Avoid lanes and dark streets

* Drive in such a way that you do not have to stop at traffic lights

* Be sure no motorcycle rider is shadowing you. Slow down or speed up to dodge him, or pull to the left at places where there are some people

* Do not keep big cash or important receipts in your wallet

* Do not keep the cell phone in your pocket. Keep it in the glove compartment

* Finally, if the mugger gets you, just surrender quietly.

A new frequency

FM radio is fast becoming popular all over Pakistan, especially Karachi. Leading a fast-paced life with no time to watch long-running television shows, many TV enthusiasts are switching back to FM to which they listen in their cars on their way to work and back home.

FM radio made a debut in the country about eight years ago when the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, alarmed at the rate at which profits were dwindling, introduced its FM Gold service. The new service broadcast local pop music for a couple of hours every day. Significantly, it was not as prim and proper as standard radio programmes which put a great deal of emphasis on received pronunciation and strict avoidance of English words. Furthermore, the quality of sound offered by the new FM service was vastly superior to the existing AM and SW broadcasts, thanks to the new technology of frequency modulation.

However, it was FM100, a private concern, which rekindled the interest of the masses in radio. Bubbling with vim and vigour, young comperes or disc jockeys as they are called opted for an unbuttoned style of presentation and had no qualms about speaking the local vernacular. Purists, however, took a dim view of the manner in which the presenters spoke Minglish, English mingled with Urdu, without the slightest compunction.

The PBC lost no time in waking up to the fact that the days of staid broadcasting, a hallmark of Radio Pakistan, were numbered, if not already over. It launched FM101, which was initially a revitalized version of FM Gold. Afterwards, FM101 carved a niche for itself in the broadcasting industry. It also attracted kudos for not jettisoning the traditions of Radio Pakistan.

The latest player to join the game in Karachi is FM107. It was launched some time back and has received positive reviews from a cross-section of listeners. Equipped with a sound system better than that of its old competitors, the new radio station prides itself on providing more music and less talk to listeners. This is a good trend, for most presenters chatter a little too much. Some talkative presenters babble even during a song. FM107 plays good music, both Eastern and Western.

Film festivals

Old-timers recall that the best period for cinema-going in the city was the 1960s. It was in that decade that some new cinema houses were built, and air-conditioners were installed in the old ones. Those cinema houses were well looked after, because, to use the term employed by those running the cinemas, the “gentry” used to go to the pictures.

A movie buff also had access to classics screened at film festivals. A man called Mahmood Fareedon organized the first and only multinational film festival in the city, where one saw such outstanding films as Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour, Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar, the Russian version of Hamlet which got its main actor Inokenty Smoktovensky many awards, including the Lenin Prize, and Andrzej Wajda’s Kanal. There were three shows of each film but the management of Rex cinema, where the festival was held, had to arrange two extra shows of Mahanagar for the East Pakistani film fans living in Karachi.

Then there were film festivals organized by the embassies of different countries. The best films were screened by the Polish and Czechoslovakian missions. There were such immortal movies as Closely Watched Trains, The Cry, Knife in the Water and the greatest of all, the Czech film Carriage to Vienna. The Russians screened their films at Voks Library (later moved to Friendship House) on what was then Elphinstone Street.

The first movie to be released at the Scala cinema in the 1960s was a Russian classic I’ve bought myself a father. The management of the mini cinema claimed that they would only show classics, but they couldn’t keep their word.

Later in the 1970s, the government-sponsored National Film Development Corporation made a film club and one could see a movie every Saturday night, but the fee was unaffordable. These days the editor of the literary magazine Aaj holds film shows every week.

The best thing to have happened to this city’s growing film buffs in the last three years is the annual Kara film festival. The one scheduled for December is the third. This time it will have as many as a hundred entries, some of them are quite outstanding — Somanath Sen’s Leela happens to be one. Among the celebrities who are likely to be here are Mahesh Bhatt and Pooja Bhatt from across the Wagah border. The festival this time will run for 10 days instead of seven days.

— By Karachian

email: karachi_notebook@hotmail.com