More Than Money: The psychological externalities of neighborhood foreclosures

Losing a home can have a strong and long-standing economic and psychological impact on older individuals and their families who experience the loss first-hand. But what about neighbors and friends who are left behind to see auction signs on homes that used to house old friends?

In their paper “The Onset of Depression During the Great Recession: Foreclosure and Older Adult Mental Health,” Kathleen A. Cagney, Christopher R. Browning, James Iveniuk, and Ned English find that a large number of foreclosures in one’s neighborhood can be an important risk factor for the onset of depression among older adults. More specifically, the authors find that foreclosures not only impact individuals and families who directly suffer the loss of a home, but also those who are left behind with less dense communities, neighborhood properties in disrepair, and a general sense of social withdrawal.

Survey data were collected from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally representative study of older adults (those aged 57 years or above), which follows study subjects over a long period of time. Data were gathered from the 2005-2006 and the 2010-2011 NSHAP surveys, perfectly bounding the economic downturn and the foreclosure crisis. In order to accurately observe the difference in depressive symptoms, the authors used data of people who had taken the NSHAP survey both times. The respondents’ home addresses were linked to the US censuses of 2000 and 2010 to determine how many housing units were available in the areas of interest, and the NSHAP data was linked to the 2009 American Community Survey to see what proportion of people living in a respondent’s neighborhood fell below the poverty line. ZIP code level data were purchased from RealtyTrac, an authoritative source of data on foreclosure, to determine the percentage of housing units in a ZIP code that had experienced foreclosure.

Studying data from New YorkLos Angeles, and Chicago, the three most populous metropolitan areas for NSHAP respondents, the authors observed a dramatic rise in reports of depressive symptoms among older adults in communities that were hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. Respondents who had not reported depressive symptoms in the 2005-2006 survey reported them when surveyed in 2010-2011, suggesting that the impact of foreclosure is independent of an existing psychological disorder. Furthermore, the symptoms were found to be worse among respondents whose mobility had reduced over this period of time, making feelings of loneliness and loss more acute.

Although the authors acknowledge the limitations of their data, for instance that the NSHAP data do not allow for a seamless comparison across age groups, they argue that focusing on older adults is important as they are more likely to have lived in a particular neighborhood over a longer period of time and have stronger ties to their surroundings. This would lend credence to the hypothesis that a change in living conditions, induced by foreclosure, would have an emotional impact on these older residents. In fact, studies show that feelings of extreme loneliness can have a severe impact on older individuals, including increasing the chances of a premature death.

As the United States continues to grapple with the aftershocks of the 2010 foreclosure crisis, this study has important implications for policymakers working on policies aimed at the elderly demographic in the US population. With the last of the baby boomers entering their sixties, policymakers must divert more attention towards the emotional needs of older adults, particularly with respect to health and housing needs. A home, old friends, and neighborhood landmarks are memories that enrich individual lives. These factors can in turn impact entire communities and shape local health across the country, therefore warranting the attention of policymakers.

Article Source: Kathleen A. Cagney, Christopher R. Browning, James Iveniuk, and Ned English, “The Onset of Depression During the Great Recession: Foreclosure and Older Adult Mental Health,” American Journal of Public Health 104, No. 3 (March 2014): 498-505.

Feature Photo: cc/(TheTruthAbout)


Recipe for Disaster: The Link Between Urban Planning and Karachi’s Political Violence

349173356_f015a4dd65_b-940x400As Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi elects the largest number of representatives to the country’s parliament. However, for this electoral influence, Karachi has also paid a price in the form of rampant violence in the past 20 years. Armed groups fight and kill members of rival groups for political power, and in 2012 alone, 2,124 people were killed in the city’s streets.

Political commentators, researchers, and security analysts in Pakistan have attributed political violence to tensions among the various ethnic groups that populate Karachi and want to gain maximum control over the city’s resources. The fact that at least one ethnic cohort repeatedly votes for a political group engaged in violence in Karachi supports this point of view.

Yet while Karachi’s ethnic composition has shifted in recent years, killings motivated by political incentives have continued unabated, raising the question of whether there is more to the violence in Karachi than just ethnicity. In the paper “Informality and Political Violence in Karachi,” Haris Gazdar and Hussain Bux Mallah attempt to answer this question by explaining political violence in terms other than ethnic tensions. The authors suggest that while it is true that the major players in Karachi’s violence have clearly identifiable ethnic bases, studying informal urban planning and land use in the city can explain the persistence and patterns of violence in the metropolis.

Using census data, polling station returns, and qualitative case studies, Gazdar and Mallah examine the relationship between unplanned urbanization and political violence in Karachi. With this information, the researchers map Karachi’s population in terms of migrant rather than ethnic groups and study the dispersion of these groups across the city’s neighborhoods since 1947. They categorize neighborhoods as planned, unplanned, or mixed (semi-planned) based on the level of access to formal urban planning structures such as policing, water, and sewage that each neighborhood provides for its residents. The studies were conducted between 2003 and 2011 on three neighborhoods—Lyari, Jacob Lines, and Kausar Niazi Colony—that started as unplanned residential areas and were eventually regularized.

The authors then describe two cycles of migration that substantially changed Karachi’s demographics. The first migration cycle occurred in 1947 when Karachi received a massive influx of migrants as a result of the partition of the Subcontinent and Pakistan’s creation as an independent state. As Pakistan rapidly industrialized, Karachi underwent a second wave of migration in the 1960s as people from other parts of the country moved to Karachi in search of employment. The authors call members of the first migration cycle “Partition migrants” and members of the latter cycle “post-Partition migrants.”

According to Gazdar and Mallah, with time, communities that had inhabited pre-1947 Karachi began to settle in the city’s oldest urban areas (District South) while suburbs (District Central and East) and industrial areas (District West and Malir) were converted into housing for Partition and post-Partition migrants. Planned low-cost housing schemes were launched in the Central and East districts to accommodate the poorest migrants but the superior planning of these neighborhoods began to attract more affluent Partition migrants who overwhelmingly belonged to one ethnic cohort—the Muhajirs. After analyzing census data, Gazdar and Mallah find that the settlement of Partition migrants in the well-planned districts of Central and East led to great social inequality in Karachi, one factor in the current political violence in the city.

Eventually, the number of post-Partition migrants in Karachi increased, landing them in unplanned settlements that cropped up close to planned settlements. As the political landscape became more accommodating of ethnic groups that inhabited unplanned neighborhoods, the government in the 1970s decided to regularize existing unplanned settlements, including ones that were seen as limiting growth of planned neighborhoods. The government’s action resulted in a sense of insecurity among the Partition migrants who would have benefitted from greater development of planned areas. Consequently, the Partition migrants chose to empower third-party intermediary groups against what they felt was a hostile state.

According to Gazdar and Mallah, the underlying ethnic tension in Karachi eventually turned violent and politically significant when the government began to develop planned housing for its employees (from non-Muhajir backgrounds) near Jacob Lines, an unplanned neighborhood populated by poor Partition migrants. The migrants were often harassed by police and threatened with eviction on the basis of complaints from residents of planned segments. Feeling insecure, the Partition migrants turned to third-party intermediaries—sometimes members of neighborhood gangs—instead of planning authorities, who the migrants felt were partial to affluent residents.

Through their research into the history of urban planning and growth in Karachi, Gazdar and Mallah conclude that violent political conflict in Karachi can be traced back to divisions between planned and unplanned districts. The authors’ research shows that urban planners in cities as socially diverse as Karachi need to carefully consider the unintended consequences of urban policymaking that can turn a city’s diversity into a threat rather than a strength. Karachi can be seen as a prime example of how urban planning may lead to many long-term consequences, even ones that can prove deadly.

Feature Photo: cc/(megabeth)

Published in Chicago Policy Review on February 12, 2014. 

The myth of female representation in Pakistani politics

Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto

Last week, I got the opportunity to hear a short lunch-time talk by former US Congresswoman Sue Kelly. A member of the Republican Party, which I am not generally a fan of, she was remarkably impressive in her scathing criticism of her own party and of the other lot, the Democrats. Her knowledge of the subject matter was very impressive and the anecdotes she shared from both her campaign as well as tenure in the House of Representatives made for a highly inspirational talk. A friend described her, very aptly, as a firecracker.

The session was organized by Women in Public Policy, a student group at The University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, so naturally when the floor was opened for questions from the audience, the conversation turned to women in the legislature.

It was a frank, candid conversation where everyone agreed – including the male participants, one of whom was Kelly’s co-speaker for the talk – that although a lot more women were now in the US legislature, Washington was a long way from being considerate and accepting of women legislators. Kelly shared an anecdote of when, during her first term in office in the ‘90s, she asked to be assigned to the commerce committee of the Congress, the then chairman said “Like hell will I ever allow a woman to be on my committee.”

In her concluding remarks on the discussion, Kelly said something that particularly stuck with me. She said: “The glass ceiling has been broken [with Nancy Pelosi becoming the minority leader in the house]. The challenge now is how to keep your head above it.”

As I gathered my belongings, I was reminded of a conversation about Pakistani politics I had had with an American female classmate just when we were starting our term. After a brief conversation about our long-term goals of running for office, she told me that she was fascinated by the fact that Pakistan has had a female head of state and that too not once but twice. She almost keeled over when I told her that we have also had a female speaker of the lower house of parliament (Fehmida Mirza) and a female foreign minister (Hina Rabbani Khar), leaving out former central bank governor Shamshad Akhtar and ambassadors Sherry Rehman and Maliha Lodhi who did not serve in elected office. My classmate assumed that somehow this recognition for women politicians in Pakistan encouraged me to harbor the dream of being a member of parliament someday, and wistfully commented how the US was yet to elect a female head of state and how much of a pipedream that seemed to be sometimes.

I wanted to tell her then as I wanted to tell her after Kelly’s talk: don’t be wistful, because what you have is sustainable. What we have, on the other hand, is something of a charade.

The female head of state we talk of, Benazir Bhutto, was only able to become the prime minister because she was her father’s daughter. The reason she was nominated for prime ministership was because she was the chairperson of a national party that swept the elections, a party also inherited from her father.

To give credit where it’s due, what makes Benazir an iconic Pakistani female politician is the admirable fact that she campaigned, not only for herself but for her party. Although her ascent was in part because of the man her name and thus identity was associated with (her father), she is the only woman politician in post-1980s’ theocratic Pakistan to have addressed massive rallies where men and women listened with rapt attention.

That is more than can be said of Mirza and Khar, who both have influential men in the family who practically campaigned on their behalf. In fact, Khar rose to prominence in 2002 when she was a proxy candidate for her father’s seat which he was unable to contest for failure of possessing a bachelor’s degree which had become a requirement for running for office that year.

The one big difference between the US and Pakistan when it comes to women’s role in politics is not that women have had a more successful run in Pakistan than in the US, rather it is that the trend of increased female representation in US politics is of a much more sustainable nature than that in Pakistan.

Pakistani women parliamentarians have almost always run second-fiddle to men. In the most recent election (May 2013), an overwhelming majority of election rallies were addressed strictly by men. In none of the mainstream political parties is a woman in charge of anything remotely important, and a large majority of the women who are now members of Pakistan’s National Assembly have made it there on the reserved seats for women, not the competitive ones that are open for contest among genders. Unfortunately, that is also true for some of the most promising women leaders and former parliamentarians like Sherry Rehman and Bushra Gohar whose election rallies would be something to attend.

In the US, unlike in Pakistan, women politicians are no longer thinking about winning a seat in the parliament on equal terms. Their energies are now focused on working to build on the gains made by women politicians who beat the competition to make it in. In Pakistan, we have a long way to go until a woman can be elected on to a non-reserved seat or without a family lineage of politically influential men. And having a quota of reserved seats isn’t doing us any favors.

Photo credit: Reuters

Dear Pakistanis, don’t go on the defensive!

In the Pakistani tradition of giving unsolicited advice in abundance, when I was moving to the US everyone made it a point to tell me that wherever I go, I will find myself an ambassador for my home country. Strange questions will be thrown at me and I would be expected to respond to them with expert ability. Dodging them will not be an option, instead it will be some kind of an affront to my Pakistani identity.

This advice wasn’t wrong. I have often been asked rather hilarious questions, sometimes bordering on the offensive, but nothing that some clever wit cannot handle.

Before I even got here, I had made up my mind that I will not defend Pakistan. Not because most of the stuff is so indefensible and certainly not because it is easy for me to resist the temptation to tell people off.

The reason I made that decision and have stuck to it is because I deem it a waste of time to provide answers to questions that those who genuinely want an answer to can easily find if only they would sift through the internet. There is great reportage from and on Pakistan which can give you a flavor of how diverse the country is and, if one’s intention is to truly gain knowledge of the country, s/he will be able to find it without much work. So instead of going on the defensive, I have started to direct people to sources where they will be able to genuinely learn and understand what is happening in Pakistan and what the country is like.

I can say with some certainty that it is because of this attitude that I have now become good friends with an American classmate who made a rather upsetting comment to me barely two weeks into class. A Mexican friend told me recently that she enjoys discussing and learning about Pakistan from me because I give her a different response than the other Pakistanis she’s met.

After six months of being on the pedestal, I have come to the conclusion that what Pakistanis in foreign lands really need to do is … chill out. What a bunch of foreigners think about your country doesn’t make it any less of the awesome place that it is to you. You have learnt to live with it (and in it), they haven’t and don’t need to either. Be honest to yourself, take pride in the good, acknowledge and condemn the bad and laugh at the absurd. There is no country in the world that is perfect, and none will ever be. Be comfortable in your unique identity (and if you’re an expat, visit often so that your understanding is not frozen in time!).

Maybe my approach is too naïve for other people. Maybe it’s juvenile or plain wrong to others. Maybe I’m too optimistic. But as Baba Michael Jackson says in his historic song ‘Beat It’: “Show them how funky and strong is your fight; It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right.”

Pakistan Flag

Movie Review: Dhoom 3 from the eyes of a Chicagoan

Should you choose to watch Dhoom 3, you will find yourself asking “How is that even possible?” at least once every three scenes. But the biggest, most mystifying question is this: How is it even possible to create a worse film every time???

You know the film has almost nothing by way of a script when you can write out its entire plot in 50 words. Aamir Khan plays a circus artist/thief who wants to destroy the bank that caused his father to commit suicide after defaulting on a loan taken out to run their circus. When Chicago Police fails to crack the case, Inspector Jai and sidekick Ali are called in to do the job.

The saving grace of the film is unsurprisingly Aamir Khan, and of course the absolutely beautiful city of Chicago (yay, my city!). Shot rather nicely, the makers make full use of the city’s unique attractions – a lake in the middle of a city, a bridge that moves and the fact that a circus is something you can expect Chicagoans to actually care about. Khan is brilliant in everything he does in the film, although the dancing seems a little contrived. The Khans are not superstars for their dance moves, and perhaps Bollywood would be better off not trying to reinvent them into something they aren’t particularly known for. The rope work is also absolutely stunning, done seamlessly, and a treat to watch.

Uday Chopra’s character Ali is as superfluous as it was in the two previous Dhoom films. Katrina Kaif’s character Aliya serves the same purpose as that of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s in Dhoom 2, except that Kaif’s dances are marvelous, which may have been made possible by the fact that since she didn’t have many lines to deliver, she could spend all her energy on perfecting the dancing. Sadly, even Abhishek Bachchan has little to do in the film, though I was hoping this would serve as something of a comeback for him.

If one is to go by the film, it is easy to see why Chicago is as crime-infested as it is: its cops are incredibly stupid who don’t seem to know the city whose protection is their life’s work. By that same logic, Mumbai should be the safest city in the world! It would serve Dhoom makers well to put in a little more thought into making the criminals smarter rather than showing the cops as dumber.

All in all, the film isn’t particularly worse than the other two. If anything, Khan’s presence makes it more watchable than the earlier films. The film isn’t so long that it will feel like an absolute waste of time. I say GO.

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A case of two elections: What Pakistan Peoples Party can learn from Indian National Congress

In the past 6 months, much has changed in the South Asian region’s political landscape. Three countries – Pakistan, Nepal and India – had their voice heard through the ballot. Congratulations are in order for all three countries, particularly Pakistan where voters defied Taliban threats and Nepal, where just they very holding of elections is a huge step forward for the Himalayan kingdom.

Some key parallels can be – and have been – drawn between the recently-concluded elections in India and Pakistan’s May 2013 elections, the first of which is of course the almost mirror-image ascents of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and the Aam Aadmi PartyPakistanis went out in large numbers (a predicted turnout of 55%) to literally throw out the incumbent government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), similar to Indians’ disgust with the ruling party Congress which has a received a huge battering. Interestingly, conservative Pakistan decided to vote in conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) which was barely a surprise. But, surprisingly and similarly, secular India decided to back conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – whose prime ministerial candidate is accused of mass murder of Muslims in Gujarat. 

But I want to focus on one key difference: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s statement following his party’s defeat. While his mother Sonia, a traditional subcontinental leader, insisted that inflation was to be blamed for her party’s dismal showing, Rahul went right out and stated clearly that he would like to learn from AAP’s success and transform Congress. One of the things that he said had made a lot of difference was that the AAP had been able to bring into the fold people who earlier used to look down upon politics. Never a fan of Rahul Gandhi (apart from his looks), I have to say that this is a very sensible statement to make. He has clearly reflected at length about what went wrong and has at least displayed some intent to try to tackle the problem. Although I do not have very high hopes, I wish him success in his efforts to revitalize his party.

No such reflection was on show in Pakistan, where PPP and its assorted allies cried foul, with its co-chairman claiming that there was a local and global conspiracy against them that had caused their defeat. “Young gun” and Chairman of PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari responded by moving to Dubai semi-permanently and using Twitter more aggressively. So serious was the PPP to rebuild itself that it decided to name Qaim Ali Shah the Chief Minister of Sindh AGAIN, in whose 5-year term provincial capital Karachi reverted to the sort of violence last seen in the 1990s. The losing parties almost stopped short of publicly stating that the Pakistani people had gone crazy. Surely they must have that they wanted to throw out the very parties that had performed so well in the 5 years of their government, soldiering on to effectively addressing issues like terrorism and food insecurity in Pakistan. I mean, just look at the numbers…ok, nevermind, the numbers are probably manipulated too. After all, the media is also Pakistani public, and the Pakistani public clearly had lost its mind. 

There is still time, if anybody is listening. The PPP has five years to reflect, to learn and to rise back to its once glorious stature in Pakistani politics. It’s a voice that is needed in Pakistan, it still enjoys a large support base. Its leaders, like Aitzaz Ahsan and Sherry Rehman to name a few, need to stop lying to themselves and put their house in order. They need to read the writing on the wall: The reason they lost so miserably is not because Pakistanis woke up one morning suddenly hating the PPP, they lost because of the wounds that they had inflicted and left to fester on the people of this country.


Career women don’t always starve to death

I was never the fool who believed that our society isn’t incredibly judgmental, but I didn’t realize how irritatingly overbearing it can be if one is moving out of her parents’ home and is known for having barely any interest in the kitchen.

I am currently in the process of preparing my move to the US for a Masters at – forgive me for bragging a little – one of the top universities in the world for my field of study. Yet, every time my mother announces my imminent departure to one of her friends or someone from the family, the comment that immediately follows the mandatory congratulatory comment is “Akeli rahogi, khana pakana parega“. After much deliberation, the best response I have been able to muster to this remark is an awkward smile. It doesn’t help that most of the times I’ve had this conversation is a little before Iftar, which means I am not at my patient best!

As a feeler, I would always sense some forlorn in their comment and I wondered why that would be the case. What makes them so sure that I will cry my eyes out while staring blankly at a recipe? Have they known a great number of career women who died of starvation because they weren’t much in the cooking department?

And then it hit me. Most women who have made that comment to me are women who cook, have had to cook or will have to cook, as some kind of a compulsion. Because they themselves dread the thought of it, they feel that other women would do that too if they were put in the same situation, especially single women who’d much rather focus on a grueling education or career.

What they don’t realize is that cooking isn’t rocket science, and what makes it so dreadful for them is the fact that it threatens to become the end-all and be-all of their existence. I ask you, how hard can it possibly be to chop off a bunch of vegetables, add condiments and spices and let it cook – on its own – for 15 minutes? Daal and chawal are even easier to prepare, and there’s always the trusty omelet and Shan Masala packets! Who needs to eat difficult-to-cook foods such as biryani and qorma every day anyway? In fact, a craving for such food is a great opportunity to meet desi relatives you would otherwise avoid like the plague!

But what they don’t seem to understand, let alone appreciate, is that a woman who prizes her career understands that she is responsible for the consequences of her decisions. She knows that she’s signing up for a tough life, and that cooking her way through it may help but becoming a gourmet chef wouldn’t make things much easier because that wouldn’t be one of the biggest causes of stress in her life. I respect a woman’s decision to be a homemaker, even if it comes at the cost of her giving up a high-profile career in medicine. But the least I can expect in return is respect for my decision as opposed to the contempt and superiority complex that makes some women make insensitive and inane comments like “Ab pata chale ga bachoo jab roz khana banana parega”. Believe me, I have gone through stress levels in my life that are just as bad, if not worse, than any saas-bahu-nand-susar-devrani-jethani issues a woman may have had to suffer from. And they have made me strong enough to realize that the biggest issue in life is not whether or not I will be able to cook for myself in grad school. And does it occur to you that I may be enjoying myself so much and relishing in my achievements that eating two-day-old rice wouldn’t be such a punishment?

So, to every girl and woman who has, and will, make that comment to me: Trust me, as a career-oriented woman, I am more likely to die of a nervous breakdown caused by unimaginable levels of stress than of starvation because of a purported lack of cooking skill. And as someone with an elite, world-class education to go with it, I will probably be able to pick up that skill faster than one can say “cook”.


Malala Yousufzai and the league of extraordinary Pakistani women

There was the face of one woman in that room that could quash all the misgivings that one has about Malala Yousufzai’s “backstory”. No, it wasn’t 16-year-old Malala’s herself, it was her mother’s.

Minutes after Malala began her magnificent speech at the United Nations General Assembly this Friday, the camera cut to the face of her proud parents. Her father smiled like a man who had won a battle he had fought his entire life. Her mother, in her plain white dupatta and light green shalwar qameez, sat next to him wiping a tear that fell out of her right eye.

Since October 9, 2012, one of the many dark days in Pakistani history, we have heard as many views on Malala as we have avenues of information – newspapers, television shows, social media etc. The dominant view seems to be “she’s too confident to be doing this on her own, somebody must be supporting her.” I tried hard to understand that viewpoint, even though what matters most to me is not the agenda of those supposedly “propping” her up but the fact that that agenda is the right one.

On July 12, 2013, when a young Pakistani woman wowed the entire world by her simple yet powerful views, I let go of trying to look logically at the other view – I saw that tear that fell out of Malala’s mother’s eye and I felt what had caused it, and everything fell into place. Malala’s mother, purported to be a CIA agent, was crying because the little girl who she had carried in her womb for 9 months and nurtured for 15 years was finally able to speak with her characteristic vigour after surviving a bullet to her head. Ask a mother what that must feel like. Ask her if she would still care for a damned foreign agency when her own flesh and blood is battling for life.

Why is it so difficult for us to believe that one of our own, somebody from a small town in Swat, can be so eloquent and incredibly intelligent? Why can’t a 16-year-old, whose father trained her her entire life to be a fighter for education, be that fantastic a speaker? Why can’t a little girl who has spent her entire life under the shadow of crushing militancy have the undeterred spirit that Malala has? Why is that so impossible for us to fathom?

My question to all those conspiracy theorists is this: if not her, then who? If not the girl who was named after Malalai of Maiwand, then who? If not the little child who was deprived of an education she so dearly loved, then who?

It wouldn’t be so hard for us to believe in Malala’s magnificence if we were a nation of people who stood up when it felt the pain of being snatched of something it holds in high esteem. A nation that read national poet Iqbal’s verse beyond those that exalt Islam: “Zara namm ho yeh mitti, bari zarkhez hai saaqi”. A nation that isn’t so suspicious of its female population that it cannot process the idea of a strong woman without an “evil, western” agenda.

There is a lot to be taken away from Malala’s story – from the day she spoke out, to the day she was shot until the day she told the UNGA what a simple Pakistani woman can achieve given some confidence by her near and dear ones. Yes, a key takeaway is that Malala and her family has been maligned because she was attacked by the militants we so love to please. But here is another deeper problem that it points to: the bias against women so strongly ingrained in our heads that our nation can hardly believe in a confident woman who actually wants the best for this country. In Pakistan, you cannot be a well-wishing female citizen until you’re acquiescent and respectful of “social norms” no matter how much they pull you down.

This is the same attitude that a whole line of amazing Pakistani women have had to battle, from Benazir Bhutto to Asma Jahangir to Sherry Rehman to Mukhtaran Mai to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy to name a few. Each one of these educated, empowered and accomplished women have at one point or the other been named an agent for a random but ill-meaning cause, agents who are out to destabilize Pakistan for money. In actuality, all they were/are out to do is to destabilize the ridiculously skewed representation for men compared to women in Pakistan. They are such evil “ladies” because they refuse to silently obey and follow the patriarchy that continues to grip our society.

Dear Pakistanis, for a change, believe in one of your own. Accept her as the extraordinary Pakistani that she is. Love her and respect her. Don’t let her gender get in the way of that. Don’t translate her message of peace as “western”, it is universal.

You can hear her brilliant speech here:

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Movie review: There’s no limit to how much a film can move you

It’s a very sensitive topic handled just as sensitively. And all credit for that goes to [ad] filmmaker Asim Raza.

Behadd (Limitless), a romcom telefilm by Hum TV, was premiered at Karachi’s brand new monument Cinepax (at Ocean Mall, Clifton) on Saturday. There was barely anyone in the audience who wasn’t moved by the nicely written script and the brilliant performances.

The plot is incredibly easy to predict, but the beauty of the film is that you still want to watch it. Masooma (Nadia Jamil) is a doting single mother who practically lives for her 15-year-old daughter Maha (Sajjal Ali). Through her job, she is reunited with Jamal (Fawad Khan) the younger brother of her bachpan ki dost and they are both overjoyed. As they catch up over a cup of coffee, Masooma tells Jamal about her husband’s death and Jamal tells her about his failed marriage with an American girl. Masooma takes it upon herself to find a girl for Jamal but eventually he ends up proposing to her. Masooma speaks to Maha, who on the face of it says yes but is deeply distressed by her mother’s decision and, in her insecurity, destroys Masooma and Jamal’s relationship. However, the ending is a happy one – predictably, again – but it is so sweet and so well-executed that even the most cynical audience member cannot help but cheer.

Nadia Jamil is, as expected, excellent in her role. She looks lovely and is perfectly natural as a mother. Her role in Behadd is quite similar to the character she played in Meray Paas Paas (a play by Hum TV circa 2005) but it is a testament to her versatility how differently she has done this role compared to that one. Fawad Khan is about as good and has truly, truly grown as an actor, which we saw in Humsafar and the recently concluded Zindagi Gulzar Hai. It is such a wonderful experience, seeing him on the big screen even if it is not a feature film. I seriously hope that he has some feature films coming up in the pipeline – and hopefully one where he plays the quintessential romantic that he does so well.

While Nadia Jamil is the star of the film, kudos to Sajjal who has done a very nice job as the somewhat spoilt yet perceptive young girl who has grown up having her mother as her one-and-only. Nadia Afgan is also great as Shafaq, Masooma’s best friend from work, and adds a lot of colour with her natural flamboyant style.

What was a surprise for me though is the progressive message of the plot. Behadd is written by Umera Ahmed, of the Shehr-e-Zaat and Zindagi Gulzar Hai fame. I am not a fan of her writing, because I feel that it is full of regressive ideas and sweeping statements, like the girl who wears jeans is the evil one and the one who wraps a dupatta round her head is the good one. In this telefilm, however, she has taken a position in favour of a woman, a mother, marrying again and that too a man younger than her.

All in all, I have little bad to say about the film other than the fact that the plot is utterly predictable. It is heartening to see managers of Hum TV, the television channel that singlehandedly steered us out of the reign of awful Indian [and Pakistani] soaps, taking such an initiative. Moomal Productions’ choice of plots is always interesting, and I think it is great that people with artistic sensibilities like that are now looking towards entering cinema. I am hopeful that the revival of Pakistani cinema is nigh if media professionals like these continue to produce film after feature film.

Verdict: Watch out for it on TV and don’t miss! It’s a really sweet film, which is also very well made. An evening well-spent! 


Confessions of a newly-converted Insafian

In our society, it is easy to have an opinion. If you say it with enough confidence, barely anyone ever calls you out on a claim that is completely made up, whether or not it makes sense. Many of our journalists and analysts have thriving careers because of our national inability to think critically and argue logically.

In such a situation, making certain confessions can land you in deep trouble. One such confession is: “I am an Insafian”.

Once you make that pronouncement, the way people look at you will change. I felt as if I had grown a moustache in the 30 seconds it took me to say it and my audience to process it. Whether or not this person knows you well enough, they will react with a snotty purse of the upper lip. They will then give you a look like you’re a sorry creature who has decided to move in with the animals in the jungle because, let’s face it, you actually should be with the animals since you’re now a follower of “Taliban Khan”.

Your ability to critically analyze a situation, any situation, will be severely critically analyzed. Every time you try to break up a discussion where Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf is being bashed, even if it is only to add to the bashing, your opinion will have less weight than it did when you were still in the closet about your “Insafian-ness”. You will be told “Don’t be so detached from reality” by people who have barely ever stepped out of their house to observe the reality that they are discussing with such authority.

You will be relegated to the bottom of the food chain. Everyone who has an opinion will make it a point to drag you into the conversation, whether it is about politics, cricket, fashion, food, insects, computers, movies, music, pretty much anything where the concept of “Naya Pakistan” and “Taliban Khan” can be jammed in. You will then be made to feel like you should expect to be the target because you dared to support a party that is not the “progressive”, “liberal” and “secular” PPP, ANP or MQM.

No one will stop to consider that maybe you’re not in it because of hero worship. That although you love Imran Khan the man, you’re not crazy about his politics or his stance on religious minorities or his position on the Taliban. That you have allowed yourself to get swept by the proverbial Tsunami because you believe that there is a need for a third voice in parliament, even if that voice isn’t 100% representative of you. That you feel that this party will respond to criticism of its work, and that that response will not be a bullet.

I am an Insafian. I became one the night before the election, when I sat in my hotel room in Lahore wondering why I had argued and argued with my family to accompany me to Lahore where our votes are registered – I realized it was because Imran Khan had touched a chord in my heart. He had made me realize that if I missed my constitutional right and duty to vote one more time, I will not be able to live with it. I never believed in his promises of clean sweeping the elections, but I believe in his promise that any PTI MNA or MPA who falls short on the standard of PTI will be chucked out of the party so that the higher goal of better governance can be achieved. I took a leap of faith, putting my trust in a man who has both disappointed me and made me proud an equal number of times.

I am an Insafian, but that does not mean I have lost my ability to reason. It doesn’t mean that overnight I have turned into a Twitter troll or have decided to condemn the Taliban a little less. All it means is that I have found a reason to sit up and pay attention, an avenue to bring at least some fresh blood into politics and a national party to support and own because its leadership cares about what urban voters think and want.

I am an Insafian, and now a PTI voter, and I will watch my party closely to applaud the good, censure the bad and, hopefully, embrace a new kind of politics that is based on good governance.