• February 23, 2024

Leaking

The priorities of a nation define its future. Let’s consider ours. The country’s poor people are telling you they are sunk, and if the flood were not enough, shrinking purchasing power would likely kill them. The elites of the country and the media tell you there is only one topic of discussion that matters —…

Read More

Put mud?

Back in school, a classmate asked a substitute teacher to translate the Punjabi phrase, mitti pao. If you are really interested in the expression, idiomatically, it will translate into something like: bury it, let bygones be bygones, or water under the bridge. The teacher, barely a few years older than us and by the looks of…

Read More

The happiness ceiling

It is not the first time I have asked you to pay some attention to the metaphor of man’s expulsion from heaven. Nor will it be the last. What does it tell you? Here is Adam, with a blank slate, with a partner made for him, in the paradise of all places. And that is…

Read More

The empathy bridge

The question was chiefly about the west’s moral imperative to take responsibility for climate change and freak disasters like the flash floods that have inundated one-third of Pakistan this year. But in the run-up to the question much had already been said about the rise of climate deniers like Donald Trump in the west. This…

Read More

Circle of abuse

One step forward, three hundred yards back. Notice even in these desolate times, I have not lost my sense of proportion. For instance, I could have said one foot forward three lightyears back. But there is no frame of reference. At least three hundred yards as an expression is quantifiable by the human mind. And…

Read More

Dogma and policy

To the reading world, Karen Armstrong needs no introduction. She is best known for her seminal works in the field of comparative religions like ‘A History of God’, ‘The Battle for God’, ‘A Brief History of Myth’, and ‘Transformation’. But it is her second autobiographical account, The Spiral Staircase — My Climb Out of Darkness, that…

Read More

Don’t look down!

The title of this article is a play on the name of a famous apocalyptic Hollywood black comedy and political satire called Don’t Look Up. I have mentioned the film before and this is no time to reproduce the summary here. You can do it on your own time by either watching the movie or fittingly…

Read More

The problem with narratives

Power trips of political triumphalism can be more potent than any intoxicant. You do not want to stop when you think you are winning. Notice the emphasis on thinking. If perception and reality were the same, we would have found little room to disagree. But they are not. Reality is like the blind men’s elephant.…

Read More

UnSTEMmed

Many video streaming services have invested heavily in original South Asian content. Consequently, it is hard to open such an app and not find it overflowing with Indian content. Here and there, you may find something from Pakistan too, but it is rare and hardly original. One wonders about the decline in the art of…

Read More

A word to the gatekeepers

They say divine providence granted a man two wishes as a reward for an act of selfless heroism. He wished for a tour of paradise, a wish that was instantly granted. He took the tour and spent time there to his heart’s content. When it ended, he was asked to make his second wish. Mortals…

Read More

Ancient sky, death spirals and pyrrhic victories

What is common between James Webb Space Telescope and former Trump NSA John Bolton? Nothing, to be honest. The first unlocks ancient mysteries without drawing too much attention to itself. The second, Bolton, is, pardon the rudeness, a prima donna, an attention hog. It is always me, me, me with the latter. And yet both…

Read More

Talking to the Taliban

A week before the fall of Kabul, my piece titled ‘Behold the wooden horse’ appeared in this space on August 7, 2021. Bear with me as I quote from the article to see if I had a point. Kindly note that to improve the flow, the quoted paras do not follow the order in which…

Read More

Kobayashi Maru

As the tale goes, once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away there lived two unemployed brothers called Modified and Modied. One day the older brother Modified (let’s call him Mod) said to his younger, hey Mo let’s go search for jobs in a foreign land. They both agreed and one hot dusty…

Read More

Proof of synthetic sentience

Since AlphaGo defeated a human player some eleven years ago, the field of Artificial Intelligence or synthetic sentience development has covered the evolution of centuries. This is how it is supposed to grow. But about five years ago, when I was obsessively trying to write a long research work on the need and possible methods…

Read More

Seduced by the right

Conjure the image of Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince in your mind with a few amendments. Our version of the statue is privileged, unpopular, high-strung, feckless, jaded and mostly fatigued. And in this version, the other character, the helpful swallow, is replaced by a selfish magpie. The statue is so unpopular that the people of the…

Read More

Between 2 Bushes

Two fundamental observations at the start. Human beings by nature are basically a decent bunch. That is to say that if there is no earth shaking crisis in someone’s origin story you are going to witness more decent souls. I know we can go on debating this for a long time but this is my…

Read More

Slow cancellation of the future

At the outset, you will have to forgive this writer for a few underlying assumptions. The first assumption is that you are equally shocked by the developments of the previous decade. The second that, like me, you too cannot account for the broader contexts of the 2010s despite being mentally healthy and sober throughout the…

Read More

The problem of incompetence

As the media struggled to cover the ongoing economic crisis, an interview with the MCB chairman Mian Mohammad Mansha stuck out like a sore thumb. Although he offered views on many policy issues, the observation that fascinated me the most was this: Pakistan’s biggest problem is not corruption; it is incompetence. Now let us face…

Read More

Article 15 — fend for yourself!

In their wholly remarkable book The narrow corridor, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson bring up a Congolese joke. It is said that since its independence from Belgium Congo has had six constitutions. But they all have one thing in common — Article 15. And it reads Débrouillez-vous (Fend for yourself). Obviously, it is a joke and…

Read More

Mystical art of not dying of shame

It is a useful art. Contrition, guilt, loss, grief, and shame are all silent killers. This art is important right now because smoke is billowing from our federal capital. I believe it was Mohsin Naqvi who in one of his verses told us about a mother who saved her son’s life from the cold by…

Read More

Legends of our fall

What do you do with a government that wouldn’t take yes for an answer? Its governing partners gave it carte blanche to effect the much-needed if painful reforms by removing unaffordable fuel subsidies. But for the better part of its tenure, it seems to be frozen in the headlights. Two days back it brought a…

Read More

The election announcement cliffhanger

The first commodity you will need in abundance if asked to put together a fantasy league of Pakistani politicians is imagination. While the new federal cabinet seems to have come into existence as a result of similar experiments with imagination there are limiting factors. For one the new team had to be picked from a…

Read More

Stop whining and innovate

We live in a fascinating age. Technology is quietly re-sketching the contours of our lives. And yet we only quibble about the old things. Only a little over a month ago a team of scientists unveiled the most complete human genome of all time, filling in millions of missing pieces. The scope of it all…

Read More

Celebrities, politics and outrage

The quarter of a century spent writing opinion pieces has taught me a few things in life. The first one is frustrating. The herd instinct. As opinion writers most of us obsess about more or less the same things. As we do so, many important stories get crowded out. The growing flatness of South Asia’s…

Read More

What profits a man?

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world andforfeits his soul?” — Mark 8:36 Two weeks ago I wrote about the American political sitcom Veep and what a perfect metaphor it is for our times. Before that, I have repeatedly told you that I do not see the appeal of the public…

Read More

Whodunnit

Attention all readers. This is not an obituary of the last government, the party that went out of power, or for that matter of the politics of its leader and former premier Imran Khan. Nor does this piece seek to thumb the nose at any of that. That is despite the month-long horror show that…

Read More

Explaining gravity to a chicken

“Amy: I have bitten my tongue so long, it looks like a dog’s cushion. But no more! You have made it impossible to do this job. You have two settings – no decision and bad decision. I wouldn’t let you run a bath without having the Coast Guard and the fire department standing by, but…

Read More

Bipolar disorders

As the current political crisis unfolded and one by one the government’s erstwhile allied parties and dissident members chose their path, an anchor on a private channel asked an undecided member of the parliament whether he had made up his mind. The answer came in the negative. Deliberations were going on and when he arrived…

Read More

The writing off the wall

The writing on the wall is overrated. Do you want more of the same? Endless whining or victory laps? Oh-I-told-you-so, at any rate? More of the shame? Egos driving the political agenda or the policy debates? The endless discussion regarding the glass being half empty or full? The writing on the wall is edited, written…

Read More

Pointless!

My salutations to thy sacred streets, O beloved nation! Where a tradition has been invented – that none shall walk with his head held high If at all one takes a walk, a pilgrimage One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in pretense and stealth – Faiz Ahmed Faiz “I said it was crude,”…

Read More