The Wrath of Khan

I can’t completely justify voting for Imran Khan’s PTI in the 2013 election. I thought it was a simple decision at the time. I could not vote for PMLN and PPP, given their past record. And it seemed useless to vote for minor parties, even thought they had legitimate manifestos. So I decided to give my vote to Hamid Khan who was a reputable man and an important member of the lawyers movement.

I regret it immensely.

Khan is a narcissist, a right winged conservative, along with being a Taliban apologist who calls the very people who murder people openly in Pakistan ‘brothers.’ His speech after winning the World Cup is probably one of the worst acceptance speeches I have ever heard. He makes no mention of his team, his country or its citizens. He does however promote his newly established hospital and tells the world, “I won the World Cup.” That’s it.

Khan channels the same arrogance and narcissism, which I’m sure he doesn’t have to look too deep within himself to find, when he makes speeches as chairman of PTI. Everyone stands by as the Captain tells everyone who chooses to listen that he is out here to save Pakistan, that he alone can reform the system and he will bowl over anyone who stands in his way. His fellow party members, mostly cast aways and have beens from Jamaat-e-Islami, PML N and PPP, listen half heartedly; sometimes with disgust evident on their faces, as Khan continues to praise himself. Javed Hashmi, perhaps the only big political catch by PTI, also listens but almost never chants “Go Nawaz Sharif Go!” His allegiance to PTI has been called into question frequently.

I have no doubt that PTI has become a cult. Its most devout followers do not respond to any legitimate criticism of the party, be it questions over PTI’s canoodling with banned terrorist parties or his outlandish claims of ending terrorism or corruption in a matter of months. How? What? Why? Doesn’t matter. It’s Khan. He won a trophy in a sport. Built one well run hospital. That’s all that matters. Let us give control of a country to someone who regularly condones the actions of groups that undermine the integrity of the state and the security of its citizens. Someone who has very little understanding of how politics work and thinks the world is black and white.

Khan’s most recent escapade, a march on Pakistan’s parliament is badly run. His call for civil disobedience was frowned upon by most, even his followers. His repeated calls to not pay GST are baffling. He maintains that the 2013 elections were rigged but refuses to resign in KPK, where PTI is in government. His ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘tigers’ leave for the day and return at night, coinciding nicely with prime time television. While I sympathise with his cause, I fear Imran Khan more than I fear Nawaz Sharif. Khan could have used this leverage for serious, long term reforms. He could have strengthened the election commission. But he believes that nothing will happen unless Nawaz Sharif resigns. When pressed by a news anchor about how that makes a difference given that PML N will still stay in power, Khan was baffled. Hard pressed to come up with an answer, Khan replies, “Accountability.” So accountability from a system that he believes is wholly corrupt from the judiciary to the government?

Wah Khan Sahib Wah. Aap pey qurban jaoun maiN.


Malamatiyya: the Great Sufi Tradition

The Malamatis were a mystic Sufi group that formed in the 9th century in the Greater Khorasan region, otherwise known as northeast Persia. I discovered them through a verse written by Mir Taqi Mir, one of the greatest Urdu poets of all time who lived during the Mughal Era. The verse shocked me at first. Poets that lived during the Mughal Era were pretty liberal as far as blasphemous remarks are concerned. But this was out of the ordinary:

What can I tell you about Mir’s faith or belief ?
A tilak on his forehead in a temple he resides, having abandoned Islam long ago

Having abandoned Islam? Ghalib, his successor, was shunned for his poetry. Surely Mir must have been lambasted by the Orthodoxy of the time. There must be some other reason as to why Mir wrote such a controversial verse. Upon further research I found a footnote that said that Mir wrote this in the Sufi tradition of Malamatiya. The word ‘Malamah’ in Arabic means ‘to blame’. It means the same in Urdu, my first language, but it’s pronounced as ‘malamat.”

The basis of the tradition is destroying the ego, much like many other sects of Sufism and other mystic traditions of other religions. But the Malamatis proceeded to do this through self-blame. Malamatis would denigrate themselves through associating themselves with what society shunned or considered wrong. The process was to create a voice from the outside and barrage the ego with what it can’t stand. In the case of Mir, this was being an infidel. What would be more destructive to an ego that feeds on other people considering an individual pious? And so, Sufis who participated in the tradition would not claim to be pious or lovers of god. They were men of sin.

The tradition revolved around owning taboos in an effort to tackle hypocritical asceticism and mysticism. The claim is that a man who prays five times a day and does it for show is as bad as the man who visits the pubs and bars. And so Malamati poetry is full of references to cup, pub, gambler etc. The point of Malamatti poets was to change the way words were perceived. They would also try to distort the meaning of words like beard and rug; words which were associated with piety. Here is an excerpt from the Sufi poet Sanai of Ghazni, who lived in the 11th century:

A cup of poison is better for me than penitence in the world
Hearken my groan oh thou cupbearers help me with a cup
Oh thou, Old Zoroastrian’s (master) girdle me with a Zonar
I have put rosary out of my hand and Aba off my shoulder

During my research, I also realised Bulleh Shah, the great 17th century Punjabi poet, was also influenced by this tradition. I could not find any proclamation by Bulleh Shah or any other researcher that connected the two, but much of Bulleh Shah’s poetry was about destroying the ego and criticising hypocritical asceticism. This is shown in verses like this:

(I was unable to find a translation online so I’m just going to translate it myself. It’s not reliable because my Punjabi is rusty at best. But I hope it gets the message across.)

Rab rab karde budhe ho gaye, Mulla Pandat saray,
Rab da khooj khurra na Lubha, Sajde kar kar haare,
Rab te tere andar wasda. Wich Qur’aan ishaare,
‘Bulleh Shah’! Rab unho milsi jhehra apne Nafs nu mare..

All the clergy aged as they repeated ‘God! God!’,
But were unable to find a trace of God, useless were the prostrations,
God resides within you, and within the Quran are the signs,
Bulleh Shah! Those who find God are those that kill their ego.

Apart from all of this, it was also interesting to note how a tradition travels from one rich region like Nishapur in the Great Khorasan to Lahore, Multan and Delhi in the Indian subcontinent. Sufism was adopted with much zeal in the Punjab region in what is modern day Pakistan but it’s roots were in Persia. Even Qawwali, the great music genre that is rooted in Sufism, traveled all the way from Persia where it was called Sama.

Perhaps we need such poetry today more than ever.

The Last City I Loved

(I came across this piece while attending “Open Mic Night” at NYUAD. I was greatly moved by its eloquence and sincerity and by the strength and length of applause, so were others. I asked April Xiong, the author of this article, if I could feature it on my blog and she was kind enough to say yes. Thank you once again, April.)

Leaning on my luggage in front of a tower named Sama, I watched the sky turn dreamy with light – rising up infinitely behind the mosque and the hospital and the still-sleeping buildings, streaked with pink and wisps of pearly cloud. Deeply aware of my own breathing, I wanted to hold on to that moment, keep it forever in my memory: Abu Dhabi at magic hour, Abu Dhabi at its most secret, Abu Dhabi at its most beautiful. Abu Dhabi that I have known, Abu Dhabi that I will never know.

On the road to the airport that day, I peered through the car windows and gazed around at the city in its first half-stolen moments of waking. The sun, casting a golden mist over all that it touched, flashed through the window at times, sticking white dots in my vision that would disappear with each slow blink of a sleepy eye. The palm trees lining both sides of the long, straight road seemed, in that magical light, to be covered with a fine layer of pure golden dust…

The white minarets of the Grand Mosque rose at first as small, instantly recognisable shapes on the far horizon – but soon – too soon – we were passing them by. I stuck my face to the window, looking backwards, and watched until they were completely out of sight. I felt an unnamable loss, one that I often feel, going from city to city and from life to life, always trying to catch one last glimpse of something beautiful.

I remember the first time I experienced rain in Abu Dhabi, almost three years ago. We all rushed outside and held our faces up to the sky and spun around, laughing at ourselves, because it was really only a tiny drizzle, but still – it was something. The taste of raindrops on my outstretched tongue.

I remember lying on the Corniche with Bethany and Paige and Alyazia on a seemingly regular night, and the most beautiful fireworks I have ever seen started going off right above our heads, terrifyingly close, colossal explosions of color and light, sparks landing next to us on the sand.

I remember sneaking onto the roof of the Intercontinental with Adam after a free jazz show and roaming around exhilarated at being on top of everything and seeing the lights of the city laid out so clearly below us and feeling the wind on our faces and the thrill of being young and wild and free, and we danced on the rooftop helipad and launched our feet into the sky.

One late night/early morning, walking home after a long night spent in the editing lab at DTC, I caught a glimpse of a taxi driver, probably Pakistani, masturbating in the backseat of his taxicab. Face turned up, eyes closed – how secret this stolen moment, how dingy it seemed to me. As I hurried along, nervous, I wondered fleetingly if he had anywhere to go besides his taxicab. If he had a home. If he had a wife.

I often feel nervous in Abu Dhabi, like I am constantly being watched. Sometimes I walk around the city and notice, jarred, that I am the only woman in sight. Endless lines of men around me, staring and laughing, shouting things sometimes.

Another evening, while I was filming alone by the Corniche, an Egyptian man approached me and expressed interest in my camera. His English was very poor, so we ended up communicating in broken Arabic about the camera and my university and his job as a waiter. He wanted to get dinner, and I wanted to practice speaking Arabic, so I agreed. On the walk over, as we were cutting through an empty lot, he suddenly grabbed me with terrible intensity and slobbered on my neck for two sordid seconds. I shoved him away, and he apologized, and we resumed our walk again.

I was wary of him from then on, but still I felt pity for the desperate expression on his face, the raw need in his voice, the sadness and the loneliness laid utterly exposed. At the restaurant, he kept repeating over and over again, ufakir fiki, ufakir fiki, I’m thinking of you, I’m thinking of you, even as we were sitting there together eating shawarma. As I walked alone back to Sama, I thought of his lips on my neck, and felt repulsed, and then ashamed – who was I to judge him for his loneliness? I, too, have felt loneliness and need; I have merely been luckier in life than he has.

The story ends like this: I gave him my phone number, for a reason I can’t recall now. I ignored all his calls, feeling ashamed and disappointed in myself each time. Still, I never picked up – I was, and am, a coward. A few days later, I left for Buenos Aires, and I’ve never seen that man again.

There are single women in Abu Dhabi too – maids to Emirati families, workers in grocery stores, waitresses. Melba and Janna and Mary and Eva – beautiful, spirited, caring women whose stories of generosity and sacrifice have made me cry. All these people, and the stories they rarely have the opportunity to tell, make Abu Dhabi what it is today. They work so hard, but what do they get in return? Abu Dhabi is not kind to them. Abu Dhabi is not their home. Abu Dhabi takes them in and spits them out again like wastewater instead of human beings. When I think of this ugly part of a city I love, I feel sick and ashamed to love it.

But what right do I have to say anything? I sit in a place of rare privilege – I am a student at New York University Abu Dhabi, and I don’t pay for a single dirham of my education. I have been treated with unimaginable generosity by the government of the UAE, and I have been privileged to be invited here as an honored guest, with the potential to give back some of what I have been given.

I owe so much. But even if I live the rest of my life here, Abu Dhabi will never belong to me, and I will never belong to it – like so many other people living in this strange transitory city, I am just passing through.

I miss Abu Dhabi when I’m not here – but nostalgia is not the same as living. Still, Abu Dhabi has changed me, marked me, given me some part of itself – its whips of sand, its half-finished buildings, the call to prayer five times a day, its early morning skies and late night mysteries, all the things I love about it and all the things I hate about it. Although I don’t yet know where I’ll end up after graduation, if I’ll stay or if I’ll go, I do know what Abu Dhabi has given me – everything. I want to give back, someday, someway, even if I cannot find it in me to stay.

How? How? I trace the Arabic script for dream over and over again in the sultry air, I remember the taste of those first raindrops on my tongue, I dance on the Corniche against a yellow star wall, I wait for sunrise, I wait for the call to prayer, I wait, I wait, and – ufakir fiki, ufakir fiki.


April Xiong 


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The Abu Dhabi Blend

Walking on the streets of Abu Dhabi is wonderful for reasons more than one. One of them would be the freedom to walk with a couple of friends to the beach at 3 am in the night. That kind of freedom I’ve never tasted before. That is the kind of freedom that comes with living in a city where street crime is (almost) unheard of.

But Abu Dhabi is beginning to grow on me for other very personal reasons as well. The beach reminds me of Malé, Maldives where I used to live until 7 years back. The streets remind me of Lahore because I hear this familiar blend of Urdu and Punjabi disturbed only by the frequent Tamil or the not so frequent Arabic. It feel like it is an extension of home. Shops bear a lot of resemblance to the shops in Lahore (there’s a huge shop nearby my apartment building naively called Anarkali Plaza), the shop keepers are the same because most of them are South Asian or, otherwise, speak Urdu. I have stopped asking people if they speak Urdu. I know they speak Urdu because almost everyone does. This is why, perhaps, I have not missed home too much. I’ve adjusted perfectly because this isn’t remarkably different from where I live and how I’m used to living. The food is not nearly as good as food in Lahore (apart from the food in the dining hall for NYUAD students). Be it McDonalds or Dogar.

But if you’re beginning to draw comparisons between Lahore and Abu Dhabi, I suggest you stop. These are very different cities. Lahore has centuries of history, Abu Dhabi barely has 6 decades. While that means that Abu Dhabi isn’t exactly a cultural hub, it does have a vibe of it’s own. For if you start comparing Lahore to Abu Dhabi, the first major contrast is the skyline, because buildings here are much, much, much higher than those is Lahore. Also, you wont find those lovely, cozy bazaars that you find in Lahore in Abu Dhabi. This is very much a well planned city with excellent infrastructure. I miss those bazaars though.

Abu Dhabi also reminds me of SIngapore, a city I visited as a kid and immediately fell in love with. Outlining the skyline while sitting on a bench right next to the beach, I see the blinking lights that take me back to Singapore, where I saw that skyscrapers have flashing lights so absent minded pilots stay aware.

Abu Dhabi is a great city. And I find myself connecting with it in ways I never thought I would.


I finally have time to write. It feels really odd given that this week has been so hectic. I barely had time to eat or sleep because some event is coming up or I couldn’t force myself to abandon a conversation with some American or Slovakian or Kiwi .

So here I am, in my room empty because everyone is downstairs having dinner and because I wanted to have time to myself.

The week I referred to above was “Marhaba” Week, the “Welcome” Week for the incoming freshman at New York University Abu Dhabi, undoubtedly the world’s friendliest university. I imagine what it would have been like if I had gone to any other university. I would’ve sulked in a corner, drowning in a sea of conversations that I would not want to have. Here, almost every conversation is deep, engaging and interesting.

I say almost because not every conversation is a discourse for the ages. Conversations sometimes devolve into meaningless chatter because energy is high and you just have to contribute to the energy to the point where you are contributing for the sake of contributing. Small talk is beginning to get on the nerves of some, myself included, because there’s only so many times you can say, “Hey, I’m Usman from Pakistan!” “Who are you?” “What do you plan to major in?” But then again, everyone is so interesting that you just have to know everyone, which is fairly possible in a class that consists of about 180 students. About 180 students from 88 countries.

There’s no culture shock, no jarring adjustment. Everything falls in place by itself. It feels wonderful to begin at a new place and to immediately feel secure and energised and happy. There is nothing I can complain about. Abu Dhabi is a wonderful city and while it may not be the cultural hub you would like it to be, it certainly has it’s traits that make it a pleasure to live in. It’s safe and sound and the freedom of going out at 2 AM in the night to grab Subway is new and much appreciated.

As always, NYUAD has been a pleasure not because of it’s facilities or presence. It has been a pleasure because people here are vibrant and are dying to make an impact. Admittedly, it can feel force fed sometimes. I have listened to five speeches now. I know the professors and administration are excited, but you don’t have to tell me every single time that these are the four greatest years of my life, that I’ll develop long and meaningful relationships and I’ll have fun. Still, none of that ever comes of as insincere. The administration and professors are some of the most energetic and entertaining people I have ever met.

Being an NYUAD student is not easy. But it’s very rewarding and I feel truly blessed. The atmosphere, the accommodation, the energy, the breadth of courses and the sheer friendliness make it a wonderful place to call home for the next four years.


 As thoughts collapse on each other in the middle of the night, I find myself being grateful and ungrateful for the same things. 

Life has too many purposes and too many directions and I do not have any idea which one to pursue because, as it is repeated too often, life is way too short.

I want to achieve peace, which is all too fleeting, and I will one day achieve it: let’s hope that day is not the day I die.

I am not used to not getting what I want. Thankfully, I don’t want a lot of things.

But when I do not get what I want, it leaves me questioning myself and my abilities.

My self esteem plotted on a graph will be the same as that of cos (x.)

I’m leaving home in a couple of days and I don’t know how I’ll cope. Heck, I know how I’ll do. I’ll be absolutely fine.

The next four years are set up to be the most amazing of my life. But I don’t want the peak of my life so early on.

Sometimes I find myself wishing being old. It’s right up there with one of my more sadder wishes.

This blog was never meant to be personal but now it is.

I love and hate goodbyes at the same time. They allow for an outpour of emotion that would not be displayed otherwise but they drive me into a deep state of melancholy.

Hugs should last longer.


Welcome to the whirlwind that is my mind.


Insult ideas. Go on, do it. Pick your most treasured belief, put it right in front of you and then insult it for what it is and what it is not. Realise that all beliefs and ideas and open to questioning and nothing should be above your skepticism. Realise that you don’t have to respect the beliefs of others to respect them, that people and ideas are not the same and that a person who does not understand this should not be engaged in any sort of intellectual discourse in the first place.



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Religion General Store (Islam Edition)

Hello! Yes, you there. How would you be interested in a life changing product? That smirk on your face suggests you are amused by my lofty claim. You look happy, but I sense that you are not. I feel like something is missing in your life. As if sadness has engulfed your heart. I can see you’re awfully puzzled. Don’t be. There is a quick fix to all your problems! Have questions regarding the origins of the universe? Wonder what is the purpose behind your existence? Hmmm. You don’t look too intrigued. How about being certain about anything and everything? How about ensuring that society respects you for your words, association and get up rather than your actions? Ah. I see you’re interested now. Well, I won’t hold the suspense much longer. The quick fix I am talking about is religion, of course.

Now, I understand the needs of consumers today. And so, I lay before an exciting variety of religion and sub-religions. I’m looking at you and I think Islam would be a good fit, especially because we live in a society where most members indulge in self-righteousness. How is that linked to Islam? Hahaha. Look around lad. That man right there, behind the burger stand with his 4 wives covered in burge….I mean burkas; he is staring at those 2 girls passing by and surely his gaze will pursue them until they disappear around the corner. Believe me, he is known as the most pious man in town.

So, what flavor? Ah, that puzzled look has returned. Yes, even religion has flavors. This one here is what we call “Sufism.” It is currently my best selling brand. You see, young men like you, clad in jeans, do not really like the taste of orthodox religion. It is, admittedly, a little too strong. Hence, people of your type, jean wearing liberals, often come up to me and buy this brand of religion. What? The product I’m selling is a fake brand of Sufism? Hahaha. Who cares what’s real or fake, lad? All people care about is their image and this brand does the job. Ask your average fashion designer and I’m pretty sure he or she will be using this particular brand of Sufism. I am, after all, a high-end retailer.

But you don’t seem too pleased. Maybe I haven’t understood your needs. What you need is this: Orthodox Islam. It is one of the strongest brands of religions on the market. Hey! I’m sorry but you can’t touch this until you buy this. It is very special. Why, you ask? Because this isn’t any Orthodox Islam; this is Sunni Islam. It’s the most potent brand. It gives to authority and saves you from those pesky terrorists that hunt down and target the people who consume the other version of Orthodox Islam: Shi’ite Islam.

Hey! What are you doing? Put that down. Do you understand what you have done? You picked up Ahmadi Islam. This is illegal and is sold only to a few customers who need to conceal their identity. Why, you ask? Because it’s has a distinct flavor. So what, you say? Well, remember when Coca Cola introduced the New Coca Cola? Remember how outraged people were when the formula was revised? Think of it in the same manner. Except this time, instead of just protesting, people attack, hunt and kill people who consume this flavor.

What? You don’t want to buy any of these flavors? That’s alright. Next time you come, when can discuss other brands. Good day.

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You try to ease into the discussion, knowing the outcome will inevitably be ugly. You try to calculate the intensity of each and every word knowing that at the end of the day, they will cause damage anyways. You know it is incredibly weird. It is like crashing a car. You are bound to dent the car and yourself, but in the end it is definitely the car that has suffered more damage. Will you make it? Probably. Will the car make it? Probably. But you are not talking to a car are you. You are talking to a being; alive. A being that, unlike a car, can grow out of this, can move on.

But what if the damage is too much? This time you are not just a reckless driver. This time you are a reckless human being.


Owl City News Network

7:00 PM

Islamabad, Pakistan: A huge mob of bearded mullahs has gathered in front of the U.S. Consulate demanding that the U.S. government repeal the recents changes to the Constitution of the United States. These recent changes to the Second Amendment  (Ordinance XXX) entail that Sunni or Shite Muslims can no longer call themselves as Muslims, or pose as them, because “we run the damn country and we do whatever we want, whenever we want.” said an official from the White House.

The statement issued by the Chief Correspondent of the White House, Captain Nemo, was this: “We believe that we want to further anger the Muslims of the world, because frankly that is all we want to do all the time, so we decided that most Muslims can no longer call themselves Muslims in the United States. It is mandatory for every person in the United States to sign a clause that states that all they believe and hold sacred is ridiculous, phonie and downright absurd. We do what we want. Also, we plan to create separate voter lists for Muslims and make sure they cannot call their mosques as ‘mosques’ or refer to their ‘call for prayer’ as ‘call for prayer.'”

We asked some of the protestors to tell us why they were protesting. One of them, a 47 year old named Zia-ul-Haq ,said, “How dare Amreeka gets to decide who is Muslim or not? How dare they tell Sunnis and Shias whether they get to practice and believe in their faith?! IT IS AN ATROCITY AND AN ATTACK AGAINST THE MUSLIM WORLD!!” We cut Zia off, wiped off the spit off our faces and reminded him that the same treatment was given to Ahmadis in Pakistan. The fact of the matter was that the Pakistani government had decided to take a religious stance over who can be declared a Muslim or not. By making sure that the Ahmadis could not legally call themselves Muslims, call their mosques as ‘mosques’ or their ‘azan’ as ‘azan’, the government of Pakistan had taken away a basic human right from the 4 million Ahmadis in Pakistan who had to sign a clause that their Prophet was a fraud if they were to participate in the election. He stuttered, appearing as if his already broken brain had stopped working completely and, after some panting and gasping, said, “Well, this is Pakistan. Since when have we cared about human rights?”

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