Friday, 30 March 2018

What would ‘secularism’ mean in Pakistan?

In his inaugural address to the Constituent assembly of Pakistan, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah proclaimed, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”. It was a vision of a state where religious practice is entirely separated from the functions of state – as enunciated by the man who almost singlehandedly brought that state into existence. Mr. Jinnah knew that a clear majority of people in Pakistan at the time were Muslims. He was also well aware of the fact that almost a quarter of Pakistan’s citizens (at that time in history) belonged to various non-Muslim faiths.
 
Changed contours 
 
Over the years, the contours of Pakistan changed, geographically and demographically. According to the latest estimates, an overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s citizens are Muslims. This has led many to question whether secularism is a viable option for a polity that belongs to a particular religion.
 
Secularism is not atheism
 
Secularism as an idea has taken some beating in the Land of Pure. It is associated with atheism, debauchery and lawlessness. However, secularism, as a political ideology has nothing to do with a particular religion. It is true that secularism arose out of the Enlightenment in Europe as a counter to Papal theocracy. It evolved into different shapes based on geography thereafter. The French version of secularism (with its basis in the concept of Laïcité) is profoundly different from the constitutionally mandated secularism in India, Turkey and the United States. The charge that secularism is akin to atheism is frequently thrown by religious commentators in Pakistan. As a result, the popular narrative in Pakistan is that secularism means going against religion (Islam) which can be a dangerous notion for anyone claiming to be secularist. This misinterpretation was done with an aim to close the debate altogether about system of governance.
 
The challenge for proponents of secularism in Pakistan is to demonstrate how a Muslim-majority country that was conceived to be a place specifically designed to be a ‘laboratory of Islam’ would function as a secular country. 
 
Secularism in Pakistan - a neutral state promotes coexistence
 
Secularism, in my opinion, would mean coexistence, tolerance and a confessionally neutral state in a multicultural society such as Pakistan. Even within Islam, there are different strains of thought. In fact, sectarian conflicts within Islam over the last three decades are only one of the reasons as to why a neutral state is required to mediate the different schools of thought and the conflicts that arise from within.
 
Moreover, Pakistan still is home to millions of people who are non-Muslim. Biased policymaking and intolerant jurisprudence has made the lives of these minorities a living hell. In the age of modern technology, people in Pakistan are still arguing over interpretation of religious texts and killing each other over it. The state has abdicated its responsibility towards Hazaras, Ahmedis, Christians and Hindus. The only way we can protect the minorities and establish a rule of law is in the presence of a neutral state.
 
What needs to be understood is that the opposite of secularism is theocracy, in which religious figures control the reins of government. In countries with diverse populations, the rule of one faction over the other leads to brutality and in some cases, genocide. One of the major examples of this trend can be seen in Myanmar where Buddhist monks have aligned with the ruling government to wreak havoc on Rohingya Muslims.
 
In Pakistan, secularism would mean respect for existing religious identities
 
In a country like Pakistan, secularism would not mean erasing religious identities but a respect for existing identities and no efforts by the state to impose its version of faith on its citizens. The first attempt at reversing Mr. Jinnah’s secular message was the passage of Objectives Resolution in 1949 that foreshadowed an Islamization of Pakistan’s constitution. In the 1973 constitution, the resolution was kept as a preamble but a dictator (General Zia) made it part of the main text.
The importance of secularism for Pakistan can be understood by the way it has been opposed – tooth and nail – by the religious lobby since the very first day of Pakistan’s establishment. The poorly-constructed Nazriya-e-Pakistan (Ideology of Pakistan) was supposed to put Islam at the center of our politics. Currently, with exception of Jamaat-e-Islami and some factions of Imran Khan’s PTI, no major political party is willing to defend the ‘Nazriya’ as Zia defined it – and the sooner such a poorly thought-out concept is consigned to the dustbin of history, the better.
 
Pakistan deserves a secular, constitutional democracy, instead of a narrow-minded Mullah-cracy.
 
 

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Guide for students taking USMLEs


Most people who pass the USMLEs and guide other people talk about study resources, daily schedules, importance of xyz things in a CV and a host of other things. I took the USMLEs and was not a high-scorer. But I learnt more than a few thigs down this path that I think could be useful for potential USMLE candidates. Here are some of them.


You develop a daily routine and follow it as best as you humanly can. It is hard. You have good days and bad. You hope that the good days would outnumber the bad ones. It is, in the end, a numbers’ game. Every hour in the library (or your room) that you spend, adds to your preparation, unless you end up watching YouTube videos of cats or go on a Daily Show binge (or both). You learn how to spend most of your waking hours sitting in front of a computer. You get addicted to coffee, tea or whatever drug keeps you alert. You start losing hair, gaining weight, having headaches and backaches. USMLE is not just an exam of your knowledge, it is as much an exam of your patience, your stamina, your confidence. Your best friends in this ‘Brave New World’ are a book named First Aid and a software named U-World. No parties for you, no casual hangouts, family functions, holidays, weekends, nothing. You’ll have to befriend solitude. You start thinking about what you are missing out on, and what you’d like to do once it’s over. You’ll learn new words over the course of this journey, words like NBME, ECFMG, CMS, CCS, Prometric, NRMP etc. Try not to underestimate your enemy (the exam), you will have to be sharp to tackle the challenge.

I read somewhere that ‘re-education’ is tougher than ‘education’ itself and that is what you do in the course of preparation: unlearn what you’ve learnt before, add new information and then learn how to use that new info in real-life scenarios. You need a one-track mind, a state of commitment far superior to undergrad education, to go through all of this. The state of affairs drives even the most stable people, a bit crazy. No one can understand what you are going through, except the people who have crossed this river of fire. During the course of preparing for steps myself, I discovered a newfound respect for people who voluntarily go through this grueling process. It is not impossible and thousands of people across the world do it. Just beware that this endeavor is going to consume a lot of mental and physical energy. You do emerge as a better doctor (and hopefully, a better human) after this.


The whole process though, is hard to explain to your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your friends, your co-workers, what you are actually doing. There is an exam which you are preparing for, but what happens after that? Oh, there’s another one. And after that? There’s more. Right, so you’ll get a job after passing all of these? Not really. There is a ‘match process’ and it’s a 50/50 chance at best. The odds are not in your favor and after explaining this sequence for the 50th time, you start doubting your own self. There would be naysayers, people who will try to scare you, telling you how this is an uphill battle, that you’d be competing with people from all over the world. But this is as much a battle with yourself as it is with the rest of the world. You have to wake up each day with the attitude that you’re going to win today. They’ll always give you examples of people who either left the quest midway or faced issues after they were done with steps. They’ll never tell you the success stories, stories of people who survived despite the odds, the courageous lot, the go-getters.

The toughest thing about USMLE I found was the fact that I had to choose the exam date myself. It means taking the exam when you have optimal preparation. But can you ever have optimal preparation? How can you tell when you are ready? To tackle this question, you have to choose the time of the exam wisely. Too soon and you’ll be underprepared, too late and you’ll get lax. You can always delay the exam (at a certain cost) which is another thing that tugs at your heartstrings. It gives you a false sense of security. This is the real battle for USMLE, not the exam itself. What most people do is to plan ahead and take the date when they feel they are at the peak of their preparation. It works for some people, it doesn’t work for others.

What should be the sequence of Steps? Step 1 first or 2? When to take CS? There is no fixed guideline for that. However, you should start mentally preparing yourself sometime before you start the actual preparation. In my personal view (and you can choose to ignore it), if you think you are good in basic sciences, try taking step 1 during final year (while preparing for it during 4th year). It is probably the best time to take step 1. It doesn’t mean you can’t take it and ace it later. If you think you really liked medicine, surgery and Gynae, take step 2 CK soon after final year. This is an ideal situation and human beings are not ideal. If you can’t take it during these times, prepare later but it will require more effort, as late as you take them after Final year.
One should not forget the financial cost of the exam. Just the exam fee for Step 1, 2 CK and 2 CS is about 4 lac rupees. The cost of U-world for different steps also gets higher than 1.5 lacs. For CS you need to visit the US and the lowest ticket cost is about 80 thousand rupees. If you stay in the US, the cost of staying here every month ranges from 700-1000 Dollars.

The Exam itself is fascinating. After preparing for six months to a year, you finally enter the exam room and you take that damn test. I wish I had the words to describe the sweet feeling that descends upon you when you start attempting the test. Just being there, after all those hours you put in, all the revisions, all the good things in life that you missed out on, all the friendships that were affected, the grind of it all, you make it to the final stretch. The exam is grueling, no doubt about that. I have a theory that at least 50% of your final score depends on your test day performance (the rest on your prior preparation). You could have every single word written in First Aid and UW on your fingertips and you can still score less than expected. Just wish that you don’t have a bad day and that you perform according to your preparation. There would be times during the test that you’d be amazed at how easy some things are and within the next 5 minutes, you may be kicking yourself for taking it too lightly (because they’ll ask you something totally ridiculous). Overall, it is a well-structured exam with much higher standard than the UHS or FCPS, both of whom I’ve suffered over the years.  

To decrease the misery a bit, people rely on SPs or study partners. There are Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups and a gazillion other things like that which you’ll encounter during the process. It works for some people, it doesn’t work for some. Choose what suits you. You’ll find all sorts of people during this journey. Some you’ll forget, some you’ll form life-long friendships with, some you’ll want to get away from faster than the speed of light. There is no hard and fast rules when you are preparing. Anyone that you’ll talk to, for advice, will give you their personal experience, which would be unique in each case. So be careful when seeking advice. Try to ask people whom you trust. Don’t use too many resources (unless you are absolutely comfortable), they’ll overwhelm you at the end. There is one thing though, every step is tougher than the previous one (with an exception of Step 2 CS). Remember one thing at the end though (for Steps and otherwise): the world is not a fair place, don’t expect it to be one either. Do your best and leave the rest to fate. Fight for every Inch. But if you don’t get that inch, be gracious in defeat. Use it to your advantage. Best of Luck. You’ll need it.

On the Objectives Resolution

The creation of Pakistan was a culmination of the ‘Indian Muslim National Project’ that was started by Muslim Elites primarily based in UP. It was bound to be a country where religion took center stage in the political arena. Led by a charismatic, populist British lawyer, All India Muslim League was a hotchpotch of landed gentry and titled aristocracy. The Second World War paved the way for an early exit by the British and handed a historic chance to Indian leaders to decide their destiny. It is difficult to predict if a ‘United India’ would have survived for some time in the absence of British interlocutors since fratricide and ethnic cleansing in Potohar had started much before the actual partition. The Muslim Elite (Ashraf) that founded Pakistan decided that the country would be an ideological state, the ideology was chosen to be Islam. Not because the elite overwhelmingly consisted of Islamists (with a few exceptions) but because religion is an easy way to manipulate people. The Khilafat movement had provided a glimpse of what mixing religion and politics could achieve and Muslim Leaguers were well-aware of its power, which is why they used the ‘Islam in Danger’ card during the 1945 election.

Objectives Resolution was the foundation on which this building was to be erected. It was presented a few months after Mr. Jinnah had passed away so minimal opposition was expected. It was the first effort of its kind among the newly established Muslim-majority nation states. One could argue that even if the Objectives Resolution was not passed when it was, situation in Pakistan would have been similar to what it is today. I completely agree with this sentiment but now that we have a starting point, we should examine what happened there and if it would have been possible somewhere along the line to course-correct. There are more reasons than one to explain Pakistani society’s ‘right-ward’ turn including Islamisation from the top, financial requirements (we always needed Dollars or Riyals in absence of a proper industrial base) and opposition to a ‘Hindu’ India. One factor that is implored much less is what I call ‘de-novo Islamisation’, i.e. Islamisation from below, by Islamic organizations in different guises. Outside of big cities such as Karachi, Pakistanis were always religious and conservative. It didn’t occur with Zia and Objectives Resolution before him. I fail to explain why ‘modernization’ has only been tried under military dictators while most politicians (despite being secular in private) turned religious in public, once they were in power. Anyhow, I wanted to plug a two-part commentary I wrote on the proceedings of Constituent Assembly following the presentation of Objectives Resolution by Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan.

The creation of Pakistan was a culmination of the ‘Indian Muslim National Project’ that was started by Muslim Elites primarily based in UP. It was bound to be a country where religion took center stage in the political arena. Led by a charismatic, populist British lawyer, All India Muslim League was a hotchpotch of landed gentry and titled aristocracy. The Second World War paved the way for an early exit by the British and handed a historic chance to Indian leaders to decide their destiny. It is difficult to predict if a ‘United India’ would have survived for some time in the absence of British interlocutors since fratricide and ethnic cleansing in Potohar had started much before the actual partition. The Muslim Elite (Ashraf) that founded Pakistan decided that the country would be an ideological state, the ideology was chosen to be Islam. Not because the elite overwhelmingly consisted of Islamists (with a few exceptions) but because religion is an easy way to manipulate people. The Khilafat movement had provided a glimpse of what mixing religion and politics could achieve and Muslim Leaguers were well-aware of its power, which is why they used the ‘Islam in Danger’ card during the 1945 election.
Objectives Resolution was the foundation on which this building was to be erected. It was presented a few months after Mr. Jinnah had passed away so minimal opposition was expected. It was the first effort of its kind among the newly established Muslim-majority nation states. One could argue that even if the Objectives Resolution was not passed when it was, situation in Pakistan would have been similar to what it is today. I completely agree with this sentiment but now that we have a starting point, we should examine what happened there and if it would have been possible somewhere along the line to course-correct. There are more reasons than one to explain Pakistani society’s ‘right-ward’ turn including Islamisation from the top, financial requirements (we always needed Dollars or Riyals in absence of a proper industrial base) and opposition to a ‘Hindu’ India. One factor that is implored much less is what I call ‘de-novo Islamisation’, i.e. Islamisation from below, by Islamic organizations in different guises. Outside of big cities such as Karachi, Pakistanis were always religious and conservative. It didn’t occur with Zia and Objectives Resolution before him. I fail to explain why ‘modernization’ has only been tried under military dictators while most politicians (despite being secular in private) turned religious in public, once they were in power. Anyhow, I wanted to plug a two-part commentary I wrote on the proceedings of Constituent Assembly following the presentation of Objectives Resolution by Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan.
Objectives resolution, Part 1: http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/03-Jul-17/objectives-resolution-i

Excerpts in Italics..
In this milieu, Objectives Resolution was a pioneering effort to define and crystallise Muslim Nationalism and an effort to ‘Islamise’ the society. This effort naturally faced opposition from members of the assembly who didn’t belong to the Muslim faith and were not enthused by the wording of this resolution. The debates that took place foreshadowed discussions about the Islamist-secular dichotomy as well as the status of minorities in a Muslim-majority society and role of religion in a society that had barely recovered from the shock of a violent partition based on religious affinity.

Objectives Resolution, Part 2: http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/06-Jul-17/objectives-resolution-ii

Following is a concise account of the reaction that the Resolution garnered among members of the Assembly.

Bhupendra Kumar Datta said that if this Resolution is approved, it will open the door to political adventurers such as Yuan Shikai (Chinese General who attempted restoration of monarchy while crowning himself the Emperor) or Bacha Sakka (Habibullah Kalakani, an Afghan warrior who briefly became the King).
He warned against the deification of the state, citing Nazi Germany as an example. He delineated the core problem of mixing religion and politics as: “All our religious scriptures are subject to different interpretations by different theologians and divines. It, therefore, becomes a difficult matter when you speak of those ‘limits’ prescribed by the Almighty.”
Prem Hari Barma said: “The Objectives Resolution is not meant only for Muslims but it is intended for non-Muslims of Pakistan also. If the Honourable Mover has in his mind any limitations stated in the Holy Quran or any other scripture of Islam, then those limitations are known to Muslims only”.
Kamini Kumar Datta said: “Though supreme sovereignty rests in God, God doesn’t rule directly. The people have to exercise the right of sovereignty through its chosen representatives.” He demanded an explanation of the concept of Zimmis and the status of minorities in Pakistan.
Other members of the assembly suggested different amendments to the Resolution. Dr Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi, Pakistan’s first Education Minister, defended the Resolution. He rejected the theory that faith and politics belong to different spheres of life.
Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, a cleric with a dubious past, said in his speech: “It should not dismay us if we are branded as conservatives and reactionaries. We should try to unravel the tangled skein in the spirit of a seeker after truth”.
He went on to proclaim that “the Islamic state was the first political institution in the world which abolished imperialism and installed a caliph elected by the people in place of a king”.
He further elaborated upon his idea of an Islamic state as “a state which is run on the exalted and excellent principles of Islam. People who do not subscribe to those ideas may have a place in the administrative machinery of the state but they cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of framing the general policy of the state or dealing with matters vital to its safety and integrity”.
..
The penultimate speech was delivered by leader of the opposition, Sri Chandra Chattopadhyaya, who warned the ruling party in no uncertain terms what the future held for the country if the Resolution was passed without amendments.
His advice fell on deaf ears and all amendments were rejected by the Assembly. Pakistan officially took its first step towards becoming an ‘Islamic state’ on 12th March, 1949. The rest is history.

Thoughts welcome!

Story of Communism in Pakistan

Yeh fasal umeedon ki hamdam,
Iss baar bhi ghaarat jaye gi,
Sab mehnat subhon shaamon ki,
Ab kay bhi akaarat jaye gi
(This crop of aspirations
will be ruined once again,
the toil of day and night
will be wasted another time.)
(Faiz, Montgomery Jail, 1955)
The view from jail
The year 2007 was eventful in Pakistan’s recent history. Political upheaval coupled with a rise in terrorism and a lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judiciary gripped the country for most of the year. Musharraf, the military dictator, had forcibly removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan — sparking a movement led by lawyers across the country. Amidst all this kerfuffle arose a new band called ‘Laal’ with their song ‘Umeed e Seher’ (Hope for a new Dawn). The song became a sort of anthem for the lawyers’ movement alongside slogans against military dictatorship. The song was based on a poem written by Pakistan’s foremost progressive poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the band consisted of young academics who openly declared themselves Marxists. One of the band members was the General Secretary of a Communist Party in Pakistan. A communist party in Pakistan? That seems like an oxymoron, does it not?
Laal performs in Karachi, Pakistan. Lead singer Shahram Azhar and guitarist Taimur Rahman take a curtain call with key leaders of Pakistan’s lawyers’ movement, Ali Ahmed Kurd (left) and Aitzaz Ahsan. (Source: Nighat Chaudhry/for NPR)
Today, the international media has no space for stories that contradict the dominant narrative of Pakistan as a fountainhead of extremism. In order to understand the current trajectory of Pakistan, it is imperative to discover the alternative discourse that existed in the days gone by. While it is an established fact that the All India Muslim League played a pivotal role in the movement that led to the 1947 Partition of India, the contributions of the Communist Party of India are often neglected in this regard. The Communist Party of India (CPI) was established in the third decade of the twentieth century. Initially, the CPI aligned itself with the progressive section within the Indian National Congress consisting of people such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Bose and Jayprakash Narayan. CPI adopted a ‘United Front’ tactic and sought positions within the structure of Congress. This relationship remained intact till the Second World War (WWII).
In 1942, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) met in Bombay and passed a resolution condemning the British involvement in the war. All communist members of AICC voted against the resolution because the Soviet Union had entered the war by that time. This was a momentary divorce between the two parties and CPI sought other allies in their anti-fascist stance against Germany. By that time, the Muslim League had decided to support the British government’s war effort and proposed the formation of ‘Pakistan’, consisting of the Muslim-majority areas in British India. The British government and the Muslim League were the unlikely ideological partners that the CPI decided to support. In 1942, the CPI held a meeting of its central committee during which G.M. Adhikari presented a resolution indirectly endorsing the idea of ‘Pakistan’. Adhikari viewed Muslim nationalism as a reflection of uneven development of the bourgeoisie amongst the Muslim masses in British India. In an article published in the CPI’s Urdu newspaper Qaumi Jang, Sajjad Zaheer (member of CPI’s central committee) praised the Muslim League faction in Sindh for pursuing progressive politics.
The Muslim League never enjoyed electoral success in the province of Punjab before Partition and the Muslim-majority province voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Unionist Party that ruled the province during the years 1936–1946. Before the 1946 elections, the CPI asked Muslim communists based in Punjab (including Mian Iftikharuddin, Daniyal Latifi and Abdullah Malik) to support the Muslim League in their electoral efforts. There was, however, a reversal in the CPI’s support to the Muslim League in later part of 1946, due to a change in the Soviet attitude towards such ‘liberation’. Sajjad Zaheer then wrote an article criticising the Muslim League’s strong-arm tactics such as the call for ‘Direct Action Day’. During the Partition of India in 1947, the CPI failed to have any significant impact on the larger political stage and the ensuing violence.
Sajjad Zaheer
Mian Iftikharuddin
Daniyal Latifi
Abdullah Malik
Faiz Ahmad Faiz with jailmate Sajjad Zaheer
Ye daag daag ujaalaa, Ye shab gaziidaa sahar
Wo Intazaar thaa jiskaa, Ye wo sahar to nahi(n)
Ye wo sahar to nahii Jiskii aarazuu le kar
Chale the Yaar kay mil jaaye gi kahi(n) na kahi(n)
(This blood stained light, this dark-stained dawn,
this is not the destiny we were waiting for.
This is not the Destination towards which
we travelled in hope and anticipation.)
Faiz, “Subhe Azadi”, August 1947.
In the year 1932, Urdu’s literary landscape was jolted by the publication of a collection of short stories aptly titled ‘Angaaray’ (Embers). The topics covered in the stories included gender, sexuality, women’s rights and a critique of religion alongside traditional Indian customs. The publication of this book divided the Urdu literati in two camps. On one side were the naturalists or people who favoured “Art for art’s sake” while the other side believed in “Art for humanity’s sake”. The second group, composed mainly of Marxist Indian students and aspiring writers, formed the All India Progressive Writers Association. Their manifesto was first published in February 1935 in Left Review and the Hindi translation in October 1935. From its inception, the movement had a core group of committed communists but its larger membership was not limited by political ideology. Writers and poets focusing on the miseries of the proletariat and mocking the bourgeoisie and ruling classes joined the movement during that period. The movement was not an offshoot of the CPI but worked closely with the communist party.
Sajjad Zaheer was one of the Indian students at Oxford who became a founding member of the Progressive Writers Movement. He described the movement in the following words: “We can only call that literature successful, that knowledge true knowledge, that art real art, which benefits the tree of humanity, which soldiers against capitalist violence and oppression and is a blessing for the working class.”
After the Partition of India, progressive writers who were based in areas that became Pakistan and those who migrated from India formed the All Pakistan Progressive Writers Association. There was no official presence of the CPI in Pakistan but APPWA worked as a cultural representative of left-wing politics in Pakistan. A new manifesto for writers was issued by the CPI which declared that all writers had to take sides in this new battlefield between the people and the ruling elite; neutrality was not an option. In the post-Partition era, debates about the future of Pakistan were going on in political and cultural spheres.To quote Saadia Toor, “one of the most pitched political/ideological battles of the post-independence period was conducted between two literary camps — the left-wing members of Progressive Writers Association and their liberal anti-communist detractors.”
The liberal writers considered themselves first and foremost as patriots who were committed to putting their energies and talents in service of their new nation-state. They defined this project of nation-building as being incompatible with the socialism and anti-imperialism of Progressives. The Progressives went on the offensive and boycotted writers who deviated even slightly from ‘party policy’. This led to them ostracizing luminaries such as Manto and Noon Meem Rashid. These writers were denied any space in the magazines and newspapers controlled by Progressives. In a 1984 interview, Faiz Ahmad Faiz decried the ‘extremism’ that had gripped the PWA in the early post-Partition years. Faiz was never formally a part of the PWA or Communist Party.
Manto wrote a scathing critique of the Progressive Writers Association and its admirers in one of his essays titled “Jayb-e-Kafan”. He wrote, “What kind of progressives are they, when all they advocate is regressive. Why does their ‘redness’ point towards darkness? How can they be friend of the proletariat when they urge working classes to demand their due rights before starting work? I can’t seem to fathom their innovations through which they want to turn the Ghazal into a machine and a machine into Ghazal. I was fed up of their ever increasing manifestos, their lengthy resolutions. Most of their statements arrived from Kremlin through Mumbai and reached McLeod Road (in Lahore). All they care is what this Russian writer wrote or what that Russian intellectual prophesized. I was frustrated on realizing that these people don’t talk about the land we inhabit. If we have stopped producing intellectuals, is becoming a ‘Red’ the only antidote to this malady?”
Wo Baat Saray Fasanay Main Jiska Zikr Na tha
Wo baat unhain bohat Na-gawar guzri hai.
(The issue that was not even mentioned in the story
has bothered them the most).
(Faiz, 1951)
In the second post-Partition CPI congress held in Calcutta, three people represented West Pakistan and 32 people represented East Bengal (later named East Pakistan). After the main congress, the Pakistani delegates convened and held the first meeting of a ‘Communist Party of Pakistan’. Sajjad Zaheer was chosen as the General Secretary. Sajjad Zaheer and two other people migrated to Pakistan to run the day-to-day affairs of the new party. After independence, only 1% of Pakistan’s population was working in industry and among those, only 25% were unionized. Apart from engaging in debates about the future direction of Pakistan via the Progressive Writers, the Communist Party of Pakistan motivated labourers to unionize. By 1950, almost 150 unions had been created in East and West Pakistan. Under the party’s tutelage, a Civil Liberties Union, a Peace Committee, a Women’s Democratic Union and a Democratic Youth League were also formed.
Among students, left-leaning students had formed the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) in Karachi and Rawalpindi. While the party didn’t gain enough mass appeal, it focussed on particular areas to conserve its limited resources. Soon after Partition, Pakistan had sent irregular troops into Kashmir but the mission had been aborted after the Raja acceded to India. An adventurous veteran of the first Kashmir war, Major-General Akbar Khan, talked to some people — including the top brass of the Communist Party of Pakistan — about a possible plan to overthrow the government and attack Kashmir again. This foolhardy plan was unanimously rejected by the Communist Party of Pakistan.
But the matter was not to end there, given the Cold War environment.
Following the Second World War, the world was divided into Capitalist and Communist camps led by the United States and the Soviet Union respectively. After Partition, Pakistan was looking for a benefactor to aid its economy and armed forces. A witch hunt was taking place in the United States against communists in Hollywood and the intelligentsia through the House Un-American Activities Committee and Jospeh McCarthy. In an effort to ingratiate themselves with the Americans, Pakistani authorities (in full know of General Akbar’s plan) arrested the General, some other military officers, the top brass of the Communist Party of Pakistan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. This case became famous as the ‘Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case’. All of the accused were sent to jail but were released after serving less than their sentence. In 1954, Pakistan finally signed a Mutual Defence Pact with the United States. The Communist Party of Pakistan was officially banned in the following month. The Democratic Students Federation was also banned.
Sajjad Zaheer left Pakistan after getting released from jail in 1955. In the absence of a communist leadership, many political activists from the party formed the National Awami Party (NAP) in the 1950s. Students formerly in the DSF joined a new student organization called the National Students Federation (NSF). NAP consisted of political heavyweights from East and West Pakistan. The party opposed Ayub Khan’s martial law in 1958 and supported opposition candidate Fatima Jinnah in the presidential elections held in 1965. After leaving Ayub’s cabinet in the aftermath of the Taskent Agreement with India and before forming his own party, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wanted to join NAP. Mr. Bhutto was deterred by the fact that the party was not willing to accept him as a ‘leader’ without first coming through the party’s ranks.
NAP split into pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing factions in 1965. The pro-Beijing faction further split and Major Ishaq alongside Afzal Bangash formed the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP) — a party of Maoist leanings that fought against entrenched landlordism in Hashtnagar, which is part of today’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Many left-wing ideologues, meanwhile, also joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) founded by Mr. Bhutto and were a vital part of the party. In the 1970s, Pakistan needed benefactors beyond the United States and Mr. Bhutto started envisioning himself as the leader of the ‘Islamic world’. Left-wing ideologues in the PPP were tortured, jailed and abandoned as a result of this paradigm shift. The Progressive Writers Movement failed to have much impact on the literary scene beyond the initial years and wilted completely during the oppressive Islamisation under Zia’s dictatorship. Women’s rights organizations that started in the 1970s consisted of women with mostly left-wing worldviews. The only mainstream left-wing party working in Pakistan is the Awami Workers Party, a coalition of three leftist parties.The Lawyers’ Movement was hijacked in the later stages by right-wing parties and the Chief Justice was only restored after intervention of the military establishment.
The demise of Pakistan’s left has been blamed on many factors, including but not limited to the lack of an industrial base in the country. A former member of the party joked that when the Communist Party didn’t find industrial workers, they started recruiting railway workers (who were government employees). Another frequent criticism is the lack of adaptability shown towards local conditions and political economy while preaching ‘class war’ to people. Despite all these factors, there is still political space for progressive parties with workable ideas. After all, as Faiz would have reminded us, this stained dawn is not what we were waiting for!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Using Public Transport to Reach Galveston from Houston and Back

I am a fervent believer in public transport (mostly because I don't own a car and Uber/Lyft is untenable over long distances). 

Getting from Houston to Galveston (distance ~ 75 miles) was a challenge that I faced for the first time in June 2017 as I wanted to visit UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch) on the island. 

I looked online for multiple solutions and eventually carved my own path. The biggest challenge at that time was the lack of a direct bus service connecting the two places. There were buses that went from Houston to Bay Area and there were buses that went from near Bay Area to Galveston but you had to traverse the intervening distance yourself. Now, there is a service that promises a direct transfer between the two cities. I want to list the two options that one might take while traveling between Houston and Galveston. 

ROUTE 1: The Direct Route (Island Express)
This service was supposed to start in August 2017 but due to Hurricane Harvey, there was a significant delay in commencing the route. Much like the 'indirect' route, this one involves changing buses, but not stations. This route combines route 249 and 246 (Houston Downtown-Bay Area Park and Ride) with a direct bus from Bay Area Park and Ride to Downtown Galveston. 


The official web page for this route can be accessed here (http://galvestontx.gov/895/Island-Express---HoustonGalveston-Connec). There are three times on which the buses depart the island and three different timings for buses arriving on the island. Despite the relative comfort it provides, there are numerous pitfalls to this plan. It is however, a cheaper plan.

(i) TIME
You have to wait up to 3-3.5 hours to traverse a distance of 70 miles (which takes anywhere from an hour to ninety minutes depending on traffic on a car). So in order to make this journey, you need ample amount of time with zero flexibility, at least on the Bay Area-Galveston route (since 246/249 run almost every hour from Houston). 

(ii) CASH
The buses to/from Galveston only accept Cash so you better have $4.50 in hand. 

(iii) LACK OF CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS
One day I wanted to catch a bus to Houston from Downtown Galveston (I had a dinner to attend that night in Houston). I couldn't figure out where the bus is going to depart from and the number given on the brochure wasn't responding. I tried asking two different bus drivers and they gave me opposite directions. I missed that bus but eventually made it to Houston using the indirect route. For future reference, the bus leaves from the Strand bus-stop (which is the main bus stop for all local Galveston buses). 

(iv) AFTERNOON?
The Afternoon service from Galveston leaves at 11:04 am (which is technically not 'Afternoon') and there is no service between then and 4:48 pm. 



A screenshot of the timings, just in case. 

ROUTE 2: The INDIRECT ROUTE
I did not come up with this route but I don't know many people who have utilized this so I am sharing this for public benefit.  It involves taking 246/249 from/to Houston from/to Bay Area Park and Ride. That is the easy part. If you are coming from Houston and you reach Bay Area, you have to take an Uber/Lyft to 20738 Gulf Freeway, Webster, 77598. I have marked it on Google Maps as 'Clear Lake Center Pick-up Spot for Bus to Galveston'. In the parking lot of this shopping center, there is a stop sign near Hooters where a bus stops and takes people to Galveston (or drops you off if you are coming from Galveston). The charge is $4 in cash. I believe that despite the inconvenience of taking an Uber, this route offers more flexibility, time-wise. There is even an Afternoon service, which can take you to Galveston from Houston in around 2 hours if you time it well. (I have personally traveled from Hou-Gal using the Morning and Afternoon timings mostly). Following is the bus schedule for the Galveston-Clear Lake Center bus.It can be accessed here http://galvestontx.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/4475
 
 
It shows that the first bus leaving from Clear Lake is at 7:09 am. The Afternoon bus leaves Clear Lake Center at 1:34 pm.  
Schedule for 246/249 can be seen here 
https://www.ridemetro.org/MetroPDFs/Schedules/BusSchedules/gulfcorridor.pdf

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES:

I have used the afternoon service multiple times (coming from Houston to Galveston). I used 249 that left Milam & Jefferson or Milam & Dallas around 12:05 pm, reached Bay Area around 1:05-1:10 pm and then took an Uber/Lyft (cost between $6-10) to reach Clear Lake center before 1:34 pm. The afternoon bus from there reaches Galveston around 2:15 pm. On my last trip, I got off at El Dorado Park and Ride because that is closer to the Clear Lake Center than Bay Area but that's my personal tweak.


 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Where to Get Polio Vaccination in Lahore

During the last few decades, Polio has been eradicated from most countries in the world. Pakistan is a different case altogether and after a successful vaccination drive in the 1990s, we failed to keep up the good work and now we get occasional reports of polio cases in different parts of the country. As a result, WHO has asked every traveler moving out of Pakistan to get the polio vaccination. As a health professional, I get asked this question every once in a while and I was initially unable to mention specific places which provide polio vaccination. The top places to get free polio vaccination in Lahore are

1. Health Department 
2. Special Counters at all Public Hospitals
3. From Private Hospitals 
4. From a kiosk at the Airport (least reliable)



I decided to visit the Health Department's facility the other day and got a polio vaccination certificate without much hassle. It took me all of ten minutes to get it done. I am posting the exact location of the office so that future travelers can get their certificates with ease. Kindly take your passports along when you visit the office. 


Step 1: Locating the Office on a Map
 
If you go from Canal Road on the Mall Road towards Lower Mall, right after NCA on your right, there is a huge building of Lahore's Town Hall. Between these two places (NCA and Town Hall) is a small road. Take that road. I have attached a Google Maps Screenshot of that place. 




















Step 2  
There is a small Ally (Gali in Urdu) on your right, opposite the office of Ombudsman. Here's how it looks like

 

Step 3  
 Keep moving forward once you are in the alleyway, You'll see a small gate at the end. Here's how it looks like

 

Step 4
Enter the Gate and Ta-da! you've reached your destination! Get two drops of the polio vaccine and get your certificate.

 
 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Turkish Delight: Grand Bazaar


(I traveled to Turkey for vacation during first half of July,2014. Following is an account of my experiences in Istanbul. This is the Eleventh installment of the series, focusing on a missed opportunity to visit Topkapi Museum and things I learnt about Turkey. I hope you enjoy it.)


Cumartesi, On Ikinci Temmuz
(Saturday, 12th July)

I had planned to visit Topkapi palace but as soon as I exited my hotel after breakfast, I felt intense pain in my upper back, just below the shoulder blade.I ignored it initially and took a morning stroll around the half-empty Isteklal Street. During the walk, I bought one of the only English-language newspapers published in Turkey (Today's Zaman) from a small store. During the walk, I noticed the inability to move my neck sideways. It was probably a strained neck muscle, so I visited the nearest Eczane (Turkey's answer to Walgreens) and got some painkillers. Thankfully, I was able to find the right tablets despite the language-barrier.  
I decided to continue with my plan and boarded the Taksim Tünel followed by a tram to Gülhane. I found Meltem and her fellow volunteers Gülhane station. They were guiding tourists about the Istanbulkart Refill machines. I spent almost 30 minutes assisting the volunteers. I wasn’t able to walk comfortable so I decided to postpone the Topkapi visit and walked towards Blue Mosque. My interest was piqued by a sign pointing to a place that used to be Hurrem Sultan's hamam. Initially I ventured towards the ladies' side of the establishment but I was then guided by a lady towards the entrance for gentlemen. At the entrance, I received a brochure for a ‘Royal Message Service’. It felt like a godsend but a) It was expensive and b) I wasn’t looking forward to jumping in the sauna with a loincloth.  
I continued my journey to to Blue Mosque’s gate A and caught up with Hatice and Bayzanur along with their fellow volunteers. Went inside the mosque and sat with Doğukan and Ahmet in the
Shady courtyard of the mosque. It was there that I learnt about traditional Turkish dishes from Sinem, and took some absurd photographs of different varieties of hair. Discovered that Today's Zaman is published by Gülen party sympathizers and they had started criticizing the Erdoğan government since the 17th December crackdown on Gülen sympathizers (Hizmet Movement) in judiciary and police.

I confessed to my volunteer friends that I had already tried etliekmek, kurimpi, simit, börek, patso, doner, Turkish delights, Turkish coffee and baklava among traditioal Turkish cuisine. They asked me to try Iskander, Mantı and Dolma apart from Turkish Pizza. Sinem and I talked about medical education in Turkey and she mentioned that Istanbul University was probably the best medical university in Turkey We also touched upon the cost of braces for teeth. As a former "sufferer" of braces, I empathized with her and reminisced about the difficulties faced by people in braces after eating any regular meal. She explained the education system of Turkey (8 years primary school, 4 years high school, entry exams and then University). I discovered that possessing a Turkish passport was only slightly better than having a Pakistani passport, as people with Turkish passports could only visit a handful of countries without visa.(Being a third world citizen really sucks!) We scattered on sight of Miss Cansu, the supervisor and landed near German fountain.

It was there that I had a good chat with Ertugrul (his name reminded of Chilean midfield player Arturo Vidal) about religion and politics (I learnt that ISIS was called "Ishit" in Turkey). He confessed about his "virtual relationship" with someone in Torino, Italy. Kaan joined us after a while.
We talked to a Ukranian family that wanted guidance regarding a place that was quite far from Fatih and the patriarch of that family was really funny. They were visiting from Kiev and supported the Euromaidan protests. They were amused by my reference to "the Chocolate King"(nickname of Ukraine's current President, as he owns chocolate factories). Kaan made a cheeky comment about him supporting Yanukovich (the deposed Ukrainian president who fled to Russia) which didn’t amuse them and they branded him a “risky boy”.

I was supposed to get a shoulder bag for my younger sister, so I sought help of Sinem in this venture.We walked to Grand Bazaar (called Kapali çarşı in Turkçe) with Kaan and Ertugral in tow. En Route, We encountered a very animated Turkish girl who knew three languages (Turkçe, Italian and Spanish with some knowledge of English). She was interested in our “group” due to the “Ask Me” shirts worn by volunteers. We did a grand tour of the Bazaar focusing on shop that sold bags but the prices were quite high, due to what Ertugrul called the "Grand Bazaar effect". Sinem informed that she could get bags of similar quality from market near her home.

As a last resort, we visited the nearby flea market and finally found a decent bag. On our way back, a restaurant worker recognized me as a Pakistani and tried to tempt me by offering Biryani with kebabs (I would’ve accepted his offer but I was not hungry and am a vegetarian anyway). On our way back, we had to make two stops as Sinem wanted to get bracelets for herself. During the return journey, we talked to a German couple from Dusseldorf who wanted to know directions to the Galata Bridge.

I wanted to get some balance charged in my account and wanted the volunteers to help me interpret it to the sales person. They took me to the nearest “Avea” franchise. To my surprise, one of the sales people was a former musician and knew Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (one of Pakistan's finest Qawals/sufi musicians).I had to sing a stanza from NFAK’s "Dam Mast Qalandar" to convince him that I knew and revered Nusrat. I later roughly translated "Dam Dam Ali Ali" to the guy, who was pleased to entertain us.

Upon reaching the hippodrome, the group split up and I talked about Ataturk, his dictatorial tendencies and effects of "forced secularization" with Kaan and Ertugrul. We were approached by two boys doing a metropolitan survey regarding political choices in the upcoming Presidential elections. I encountered an ex-volunteer (she volunteered last year) named Rabia. She was studying English Literature at the university, favored socialism over the existing political system and had't read any socialist literature (which did surprise me). It was another day well-spent in Istanbul.