M. Ayub Rafique Asks for Funding to Oppose the Islamic State


by M. Ayub Rafique


“In 2011 I founded an organization to counter religious extremism because I too was once a radical extremist.

I come from a highly religious and very rigid background. Although my father is not what one would call a “radical Islamist”, somehow I started leaning towards radicalism. Maybe it was because I visited many mosques and was a passionate teenager. I used to listen to Sipah Sahaba lectures and feel happy when I heard of the attacks on Shias. I was ready to go for Jihad myself so in 2002, after my studies ended, I decided to go serve the Islamic Militants and be trained by them.

Call it good luck or fate but my family did not allow me to leave.

I listened to them, joined college and decided to study further. At college I got involved in student politics & activism and realized I had a passion for it. A radical society with extremist Islamic views in college that I was very involved with gave me an outlet to channel my radicalism.

One day our society got into a fight with another society from college. My so called peers did not take a stand and I was left fighting alone and I was badly beaten up by the other society that day. I felt quite betrayed.

At the same time, I noticed a liberal left society that was also very active in college. I was curious and observed them. They were very friendly people and very loyal to each other and quite welcoming towards me. I was intrigued. These guys were also working against injustice and inequality which was a huge attraction for me. Two things were battling in my mind at this point; I found myself sympathizing with my conservative orthodox mentality and the radical groups and on the other hand I wanted to be part of this leftist group because they were representing Che Guevara who I am extremely inspired by. I found a new way to channel my radicalism via Che Guevara by joining the leftist group. I also became very interested in English and Urdu Literature which really helped shift my mindset.

It was 2005 by then and I was changing; my attitude, my mind, my behavior were all transitioning. Today, I can’t recognize the boy I was in 2002. It is a complete paradigm shift and I have a liberal stance in life now. This has been a decade long journey- ten years of gradual transformation.
What is ironic is that now I face problems from my family. Till I was a radical fundamentalist Muslim, my father had no problem with it! I guess they were okay because if I had died in the name of God they would have resolved to the fact I gave my life for a good cause. They way they saw it, atleast I was not challenging their values and norms so they had no problem- but as soon as I transitioned into a tolerant liberal leftist (and a very active one), they had issues!

“What has been your biggest regret?”

“In regard to regret, I believe if any person is going through a complete transformation like me, they need to learn how to overcome the feeling of guilt. My father stopped talking to me- so there is that guilt. Then there is religious guilt where I am always wondering if I am right in doing this or not? What will happen to me on the day of judgement for my decisions? Will I go to hell or heaven? These are all personal struggles no one can help one with- these are thoughts I needed to resolve on my own and I did.

Like I said my journey has been one of ten years. I have reached a point where I can say I am very happy but at the same time the internal battle is ongoing because I know my parents are not happy with me. I am now living life with a new pattern – a new culture whilst my family is still the same rigid conservative family.

Working for the organization I founded gives me a sense of peace and purpose. This was my way of overcoming the depression I was beginning to feel because no matter what, if you do not have respect from your family, you just don’t feel complete.” 

Hillary’s Pakistani Aide Again in the Limelight

Clip_10 (2)Among the trove of emails released from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state was this instruction to a trusted aide who needed to brief her on a matter that could not wait:

“Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in November 2009 to Huma Abedin, then her deputy chief of staff.

Since she first interned for Mrs. Clinton as a 19-year-old George Washington University student, Ms. Abedin, 40, has held a singular role as one of the former first lady’s most trusted and most visible confidantes. She travels with Mrs. Clinton to her presidential campaign events and fund-raisers, dispensing political advice and serving as a gatekeeper for donors, Democratic leaders and even supporters who want a photograph with the candidate.

As questions continue to dog Mrs. Clinton about her use of a private email account, a spotlight has landed on Ms. Abedin, the aide so often at her side that she has been called Mrs. Clinton’s “surrogate daughter.”

Ms. Abedin’s own emails on her boss’s private server have drawn increasingly intense scrutiny — as has an arrangement she made to earn income privately while she worked for Mrs. Clinton at the State Department. Ms. Abedin was on Mrs. Clinton’s personal payroll, and her other outside employers were the Clinton Foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm founded in part by Douglas J. Band, who was a counselor to former President Bill Clinton.

When that arrangement was revealed more than two years ago, political opponents including Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest. But those quieted until the email controversy provided a new opening — and the potential for new information to be unearthed.

HumaIn a recent letter to the State Department, Mr. Grassley suggested that Ms. Abedin, at Mr. Band’s request, may have asked Mrs. Clinton to urge President Obama to give a White House appointment to a Teneo client, Judith Rodin, the head of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Conservative groups like Judicial Watch and Citizens United have also applied pressure through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits and other measures to press the State Department to make public Ms. Abedin’s emails and employment records.

Those records, they argue, could give clarity about Ms. Abedin’s outside work and whether, as critics contend, it converged with her official duties. (Ms. Abedin’s lawyers say she has cooperated with all requests made in the lawsuits.)

Ms. Abedin declined to comment for this article. But in a letter sent Friday to the legal adviser’s office of the State Department, her lawyer, Miguel E. Rodriguez, wrote that Mr. Grassley’s notion that Ms. Abedin may have intervened on Ms. Rodin’s behalf was demonstrably false — Ms. Rodin received a presidential appointment two years before Ms. Abedin began working for Teneo — and that Mr. Grassley was citing hearsay related to email exchanges he had not seen.

Mr. Grassley, the lawyer wrote, had “unfairly tarnished Ms. Abedin’s reputation by making unsubstantiated allegations.”

Mrs. Clinton’s critics have also seized on an inquiry by the State Department’s inspector general into whether Ms. Abedin was overpaid by the government by nearly $10,000 when she was on maternity leave in 2012. But Mr. Rodriguez has disputed those findings, saying the inspector general’s own report showed that Ms. Abedin was working while she was on maternity leave and thus had earned the extra pay.

Ms. Abedin, at a campaign stop in Norwalk, Iowa, in April. She serves as a gatekeeper for donors, Democratic leaders and supporters of Mrs. Clinton.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

In the letter Friday, Mr. Rodriguez wrote that Ms. Abedin’s “integrity and her tireless work ethic” made her “a role model for young women.”

Mrs. Clinton has been unable to put to rest questions about her email as some of her poll numbers have weakened and a new threat has emerged with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. possibly joining the Democratic primary field. Now her campaign is mounting an aggressive defense of Ms. Abedin.

“Huma is wicked smart, multifaceted and has a great strategic sense,” the campaign’s chairman, John Podesta, said in a statement in which he also praised her humility. “She’s an integral part of the team, and we’re not going to tolerate these attempts to turn piecemeal, partisan leaks into an alternative reality. If the Republicans on Capitol Hill think they can bully her, they are dealing with the wrong woman.”

Clinton allies say Ms. Abedin is merely a pawn in congressional Republicans’ efforts to damage Mrs. Clinton, but one that will ultimately provide little fodder. And they say that Ms. Abedin, who is Muslim and was raised in Saudi Arabia, has long inspired conspiracy theories among conservatives eager to sully Mrs. Clinton.

But the email controversy and the outsize attention Ms. Abedin has attracted pose challenges as her role in the campaign evolves.

Ms. Abedin has long since graduated from the so-called body woman’s work of fetching Diet Cokes or the jalapeño peppers Mrs. Clinton eats to maintain her voice on the road. She helped plot Mrs. Clinton’s political activity during the 2014 midterm elections, orchestrated the promotion of her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices,” and was rewarded by being named the vice chairwoman of her presidential campaign.

Though she is routinely at Mrs. Clinton’s side on the road, advising on policy and politics, Ms. Abedin — known as genial and easygoing, and for gushing about her young son, Jordan — has a corner office in the campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters with a sign marked for the vice chairwoman. She oversees scheduling, correspondence, surrogates, briefings and the advance staff members who set up events nationwide. She has also stood in for Mrs. Clinton at some small fund-raisers.

“Now, politically, organizationally and personally, she’s the glue that holds Clinton World together,” said Robert Barnett, a Washington lawyer who has worked with the Clintons for years. “She has the complete and unquestioned trust of the secretary.”

The ties between Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin, called “Hillary’s Secret Weapon” by Vogue magazine in 2007, have only grown stronger since.

Mr. Clinton officiated at her 2010 wedding to Representative Anthony D. Weiner of New York, at Oheka Castle in Huntington, N.Y., just weeks before Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. A year later, when Mr. Weiner resigned from Congress amid a sexting scandal, Ms. Abedin’s decision to stand by him evoked comparisons to the marital travails her boss faced in the 1990s.

When Mr. Weiner tried for a political comeback in the 2013 New York mayor’s race, and new revelations showed he had continued his sexting ways even after leaving Congress, people who wanted to protect Mrs. Clinton’s image as she contemplated a 2016 White House run were not shy about urging him to drop out. (Mr. Weiner recently took a job at a communications firm owned by a Clinton donor.)

It was after Mr. Weiner’s resignation from Congress that Mr. Band, a friend of Ms. Abedin’s since their time working at the White House, offered her work at Teneo. He told people at the time that he hoped it would open her eyes to the possibilities outside the Clintons’ orbit. Ms. Abedin handled discrete projects, like a Teneo annual event, and did not influence State Department business, people briefed on her work at the time said.

But Ms. Abedin eventually decided consulting was not for her.

Marc Lasry, a Clinton donor and friend who attended Ms. Abedin’s wedding, called her “as loyal as they come.”

“She loves Hillary. She would die for Hillary,” Mr. Lasry said. “Really, what she’s always looking at is, ‘What’s in the best interest of Hillary?’ ”

Mr. Lasry said he had expected Ms. Abedin to reduce her workload in the past few years. Instead, she has maintained a breakneck pace.

“Her life,” he said, “is Hillary.”

Rentboy.com Offers Male Escort Services in New York

IMG_4246The terms of service on the website Rentboy.com said that people could not use it to exchange money for sex. But federal authorities, who called it the largest online male-escort service and arrested the site’s chief executive and several other employees on Tuesday, said that was exactly what was happening.

The chief executive, Jeffrey Hurant, 50, and six other current or former employees appeared in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Aug 25, 2015 on charges of promoting prostitution.

Although the site, founded in 1997, required visitors to accept the terms of service, the criminal complaint said visitors would arrive at a home page stocked with escorts’ profiles listing sexual services and fees. Escorts pay to post the profiles, and the site’s visitors contact them directly to arrange meetings.

The site, whose headquarters are on 14th Street at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, has had $10 million in sales since 2010, the criminal complaint says.

“Rentboy.com attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution,” acting United States attorney for New York’s Eastern District, said in a statement.

The lawyer for Mr. Hurant, said outside court that the case represented a First Amendment issue.

“My client advertises for people who are willing to be escorts, to accompany people for their time and be paid,” he said.

“He’s upset and confused about how this legitimate business could become the subject of a Homeland Security investigation,” he said. The Homeland Security Investigations arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was involved in the investigation, apparently because it believed the site promoted prostitution across state and national borders.

“I don’t think we do anything to promote prostitution,” Mr. Hurant said. “I think we do good things for good people, and bring good people together.”

Putting up profiles costs escorts $59.95 to $299.95 a month, depending on how visible the ads are, according to the complaint. Website members then contact them.

Escorts list “primary interests,” ranging from “vanilla” (“nice and clean”) to leather to role play to other fetishes. “A user can filter by a number of categories,” from primary interests to preferred sexual position, the complaint says. There are also fields for the escort’s pay rates, the complaint says, including overnight and weekend rates.

A separate website, DaddysReviews.com, “contains explicit reviews of the escorts written by previous customers,” the complaint says.

In one profile quoted in the complaint, an escort in Manhattan advertising as Ryan Raz said, “I have an innocent shy mid-west look, but once you get me behind closed doors it’s an amazing experience.” He charged $300 per hour for a standard visit.

Some of the complaint details “the Hookies,” or the International Escort Awards, which the website holds each year. The site’s marketing banter for the awards described them as “covering all aspects of the oldest profession as presented in the newest media,” according to the complaint.

At the 2015 Hookies, held this year at a West 42nd Street hotel, an undercover agent approached Mr. Hurant, who gave the agent a business card with the email address cyberpimp@rentboy.com on it and explained that the Hookies were about celebrating sex “so good, you had to tell someone.”

One of the other six defendants is Michael Sean Belman, 47, the director of the site. According to the complaint, Mr. Belman has given interviews indicating that he knows the escorts are offering sex, such as describing the Hookies winners as “sexual therapists.”

Another of those arrested was Edward Lorenz Estanol, 23, an escort, Hookies award nominee and former social-media coordinator for the site. He charged $300 an hour, or $3,000 for a weekend, the complaint says. On his personal website, he wrote that “escorting is a great way to explore your sexuality and get paid doing it,” the complaint says.

Another is Diana Milagros Mattos, 43, a former saleswoman, who had “a Twitter account in which she identified herself as the ‘escort whisperer’ ” while she worked at Rentboy.com, the complaint says, and tried to help escorts increase their social-media presence so they would get more clients.

All of the defendants except for Mr. Lukas made their initial appearances in Federal District Court on Tuesday and were released on bonds ranging from $50,000 each for Ms. Mattos, Mr. Estanol and Mr. Calero to $350,000 for Mr. Hurant. Mr. Lukas was arrested and made his initial appearance in South Dakota.

Conviction carries a maximum penalty for each defendant of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. The government said Tuesday morning that it was trying to seize the domain rentboy.com, which was not loading as of Tuesday afternoon.

Saudi Economy on its Knees But Good News as it Will Lessen Sunni Terrorism

Clip_4 (2)The world’s oil producers are boiling in cheap oil. This is a statement which aptly describes condition of OPEC and other oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Sunni Gulf states.

Saudi Arabia may go broke before the US oil industry buckles.  If the oil futures market is correct, Saudi Arabia will start running into trouble within two years. This would be excellent news for free democracies, as there will be less money for extremist Sunni Mosques and Madrassas and Sunni Terror organisations as well as Sunni client States.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf States jumped on Tiger’s back to frighten ‘Living Day Lights’ (Arabs are no 007 Bond film material) out of the US Shale producers by increasing production to drive the oil price down last year. Now they cannot just get off quickly. So either they lose billions of Dollars in revenue or lose all credibility and power at a fast speed.  The Saudi king Salman and his young son prince Mohammed cannot afford to look ridiculous, so Saudi forex reserves will go down and borrowings up. it could lead to friction within the house of Saud, as other ‘branches’ of the family try to position themselves for more power, leading to changes in the power structure, at the cost of prince Mohammed.

Oil prices dominate business news currently as weak Chinese demand accelerated the fall in addition to spectre of Iranian oil coming to market.

Goldman Sachs in a client note called for Brent oil to fall to $45 a barrel by October ( Brent price on 21 August was US$ 45.34) indicating that the global crude market is currently oversupplied by at least two million barrels a day, up from 1.8 million barrels a day in the first half of the year. Oil prices are likely to remain low for about at least 4 years, due to the changed character of the global oil geopolitics, since the price came down from US $ 100 for Brent oil.

Before that oil prices were high due mainly to limited OPEC supply, which resulted in the development of shale energy from new technology in the US. This transformed the USA, from being an importer of oil into a net exporter in short period as high oil prices resulted in commercial production. But the technology was developed in relation to prices with a cost of $60 per barrel. Saudis expected that if prices fall, shale oil wells will shut down and the companies will be out of business. The plan did work initially. Oil companies reported drop in profits. Number of wells producing shale oil came down and Oil companies shelved large projects, deferring $200 billion of investments.

But despite lesser wells running, oil production in the US will be more in 2015 than in 2014. This was something few in the industry including Saudi’s had imagined.  John Hess of Hess Corporation stated that shale producers have lowered their costs to such an extent that their average break-even price for a barrel of US crude is now little over $40, down from $60. Further, technological advancement in drilling led to more oil being produced from the same well.  This is where OPEC miscalculated and have got stuck.

Now the Saudi’s are seeking $27 billion in debt via issuance of bonds. Oil constitutes 90 per cent of Saudi’s revenue and it needs a price of $106 per barrel to balance budget. Saudi Arabia has an illegitimate ( not elected ) Government and has to bribe its people, army, public sector employees and clerics to stay in power, so its expenses can not be reduces significantly. Actually its exploding population means more cash outflow further increased by Yemen type misadventures. Saudi Forex reserves have already gone down form US $ 732 Bn in 2014 to US $ 672 Bn in June this year. Either it borrows lot more or observes Forex reserves disappear like mirage in desert.

Once the OPEC dictated unjustified high oil price to importers and now refreshingly the boot is on the other foot. Oil exporters are desperate to sell oil to large importers like China, Japan, India, Korea etc and have to offer special discounts. When the Iranian oil comes in the market, Japan, India and others will increase imports from Iran to pre-sanctions level at a competitive price and Saudis and others will have to match the prices to keep market share. You ain’t seen nothing yet Pardner, as US shale gas rough necks are saying, as they want to put pressure on the Saudi led OPEC now, with indirect assistance from more Iranian oil next year. Recently UAE invited the Indian Prime Minister Modi for two day visit with red carpet treatment to ensure that UAE has access to large Indian economy both for energy exports and investments, as India is now the fastest growing large economy in the world, as slowing Chinese economy is experiencing hard landing. Iran, Saudis, Iraq, African countries etc are competing for the Indian ( and other large importers’ ) energy market share.

IMF has also pointed out that the budget deficit of Saudi Arabia will touch 20 percent in the present year. Reducing the country’s outlook to “negative”, S&P had said “We view Saudi Arabia’s economy IS NOT diversified and IS vulnerable to a steep and sustained decline in oil prices.”

Saudis and other OPEC nations and the US shale oil businesses are producing more oil to increase their income due to low oil prices. The state-of-art shale oil technology will ensure that if oil prices increase at all other wells which have been closed down will also add to the supply. The US producers have added drilling rigs for a straight fourth week in spite of the oil prices at nearly 6 year low mark. For large net importers like China, Japan, India, Korea, etc this competition for markets reduces the oil import bills by many billions a year.

Sunni Saudi Arabia is yesterday’s power and the West, especially the UK, was behind the reality curve. Now, one step at a time, the West is moving towards neutrality between Sunni and Shiite Islamic sects, as the nuclear deal with Iran has been worked out by President Obama despite Saudi and Israeli objections. The geopolitics of oil has changed after the US virtually becoming self-sufficient in totality and Uncle Sam does NOT now depend on Saudi oil. The UK Foreign Secretary Hammond was in Iran on 22/23 August with a large business delegation for  potential business and to re-open the British Embassy there. Other European Ministers and business delegations also have been to Iran.

The Western and other free democracies have realized the present and real danger from global Sunni Islamic terrorism and are gradually getting more united to confront Sunni terror where ever it projects its evil and barbaric influence. The US defense department has informed the Congress that Pakistan is still supporting Haqqanis and other Pakistan based terrorist groups that attack Afghanistan and the military aid to Pakistan may be stopped. Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of supporting terror groups for cross border attacks in Kabul etc with a view to cement position of Pakistan’s stooge Mullah Mansoor, who is opposed also by other Taliban sections and terrorists, as well as mainly non-Pashtun people of Afghanistan, known as ‘Northern Alliance’ opposed to Pakistani influence. This confirms the trend in democratic countries not to tolerate Sunni Islamic Islamic terrorism for more peaceful World. Now the West also knows that any Iran sponsored negative acts are confined mainly to Islam’s sectarian war in the Middle East.

Why Reham Khan Had to Lie on Her Resume?

Clip_24When I disclosed in January that cricket legend Imran Khan had secretly married former BBC presenter Reham Khan, his ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith seemed less than thrilled and publicly thanked Pakistanis who contacted her to say she remained their favourite First Lady.

Now questions are starting to be asked about the CV of TV journalist Reham, 42, who left Britain for Pakistan two years ago. Reham’s personal website states that she won her post as a reporter on the BBC regional show South Today after starting a postgraduate course ‘in Broadcast Journalism at North Lindsay [sic] College’, in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

However, according to officials at North Lindsey, it has never offered such a course.

Indeed, it does not teach journalism at all. Furthermore, they can find no record of anyone bearing Khan’s name or age ever having enrolled.

Questions are starting to be asked about Reham’s CV. She is pictured with her husband

‘We do not have anyone by those names or date of birth having attended this college,’ says a spokesman. ‘We have never done a degree in broadcast journalism.’

Reham could not be reached for comment but it is not the first time that her past has been clouded in mystery.

In early 2015, she claimed in an interview with a Pakistani journalist that she was a victim of domestic violence during her first marriage, to 54-year-old NHS psychiatrist Dr Ijaz Rehman.

However, this was angrily denied by the doctor, who told me: ‘I reject these allegations strongly.

‘I have never lifted hands on anyone. Domestic violence is a very serious offence.

‘I work in a very senior position in the NHS and if I was convicted or charged or found involved in domestic violence, in any sense, I wouldn’t have been able to practise.’

Clip_39Imran, 62, who is now a leading politician in Pakistan, has two sons from his nine-year marriage to Jemima, 41, and a daughter from a previous relationship with the late heiress Sita White. Reham has three children from her previous marriage.

Clip_30She married Imran in a simple ceremony in Islamabad after a whirlwind romance and their wedding was reported to have been met with opposition from some members of his family.
Reham was subjected to insults after photos of her in ‘revealing’ clothes and a video of her dancing the tango were posted on the internet in the conservative Islamic country.

Surprises That Greet A Pakistani in India

By Tahir Mehdi

When you cross the Wagha Border, you are struck by so many similarities in the two countries that you may need Google map to confirm your current location.

However, India holds many surprises for a Pakistani visitor as well.

Here are the six that I couldn’t resist sharing:

Eat, Sip and Travel

Train travel for a Pakistani of my age is a precious childhood memory – the anxiety of being on time, as it never awaited for anyone (not even a VIP), siblings jostling for a window seat, snack vendors popping up every other moment, the coolies, uniformed ticket checkers, the signals and the crossings. All of this had existed as a fascinating sub-culture.

The behemoth shuttled past vast plains, snaked through mysterious mountains and jumped over mighty rivers, as astounded passengers, like me, gazed at the fast changing scenes. The best moment was when it used to stay put for some time (for truly technical reasons) in the midst of a strange place; a jungle, a hamlet, suburbs.

But then it would hit a red signal that would never turn green. A majority of Pakistanis in the 20s had never had the pleasure of a train travel.

Clip_24The railway in India, however, is alive and kicking. It arrives and departs on time too. India has maintained well this technological wonder that we jointly inherited from the colonial period. It comes with its fair share of changes; some make you feel good and others nostalgic.

Clip_30I eagerly waited for the chana chaat wala but was instead visited by a waiter every 20 minutes or so. Each time, he handed me a tray load of things to eat, so much so that with a mouthful throughout the journey, I barely spoke to my companions. I missed all those colorful characters from my childhood, now replaced by packed food from a host of companies, diligently offloaded onto keen consumers.

The overwhelmingly generous, or should I say lavish, hosting by the railway comes in sharp contrast with the measly ways of private Indian airlines. They hand you a menu with a ‘sky price’ of each item and you feel guilty asking for even a glass of water for free!

My Indian friends joked that they expected the airlines to soon start charging passengers for toilet use, with a ‘price list’ hanging at the door. You can well imagine the ‘items’ it would include.

The Other Wheel

Clip_24The most startling difference you come across as soon as you enter India from Pakistan – women in public space.

They are everywhere, riding two wheelers, in buses and trains commuting independently and running businesses big and small, including roadside tea stalls and shops.

They come from all cultures and communities. I saw young girls cycling back home from school in a Ludhiana village. I saw two black burqa-clad women riding a scooty in Hyderabad. The most amusing, however, was to witness a grey choti (braid) dangling from behind a helmet as an old lady sped past me in Bangalore.

With cities teeming with people and roads perennially clogged, the swift motorcycle is the vehicle of choice for millions, just as it is in Pakistan. But it is not a taboo for women to ride a bike in India.

In Ahmedabad, some of my friends decided to gather at one point and then go for a round of the city together. Everyone, however, had an errand to attend to on the way. The host took great pains in developing a please-all route and in accordance, divided the group among the available vehicles.

Clip_30When I finally packed myself into a car, I reminded the host, sitting next to me, that bhabhi (his wife) was missing. “No, I gave her my bike. She has to pick up our child from school before she can rejoin us.” I was flabbergasted.

Clip_31“That simple,” I murmured. Luckily no one noticed.

So please, when there, don’t stare at a young lady in jeans on a motorcycle, checking her newsfeed on a smartphone, while awaiting the green signal. It’s normal there.

Guess What’s for Dinner Tonight?

Clip_34This one could be a little more than a surprise – a shock for many Pakistanis, in fact.

I signed a declaration as part of the entry process on the Indian side of the Wagha Border to state that I was not carrying any contraband items like drugs or weapons, etc. That’s commonplace but the check list also included ‘beef and beef products’. I was worried about what I had eaten for breakfast that morning, lest they make me walk through some special scanner.

The surprise kept springing up in intriguing ways throughout my stay.

There are restaurants that are exclusively vegetarian and there are those that serve non-veg as well but then, many firm believers do not like to eat veg meals from the kitchen that processes meat as well. So, they will not go to a place that serves non-veg. At many places, rows of veg and non-veg restaurants are clustered in separate streets.

Clip_37This ‘culinary partition’ is then extended to housing as well, as vegetarian landlords do not rent their properties to meat-eaters that include Muslims, Christians, Bengali Hindus and people of Scheduled Caste Dalit communities.

Non-believers, however, can try to sneak past these stringent tests if their family names are kosher. Vegetarian colonies and apartments, however, closely watch against a non-veg taking residence there. So, entire neighborhoods can be identified with what they prefer to have for dinner.

In addition to meat, Jains abstain from eating garlic and onions as well. So there are separate Jain markets and colonies.

For most Pakistanis, eating out means nothing but neat-meat-big-portions. But it is impossible for a Pakistani to digest the socio-political dimensions of their seemingly banal love for the boti.

Take for example, if a Dalit (lower caste) rights activist, from among a large group dinning together, orders a beef tikka, would you suspect him of being a ‘revolutionary’? He might actually think he is making a statement against the Brahmin hegemony – the Hindu upper caste, the staunchest believer of the beef ban.

But the good news is that there are more ‘bad Hindus’ in India than there are ‘bad Muslims’ in Pakistan. You will have company.

Knowing the meat fetish of Pakistani middle-class, I can foresee a long line of tikka and karahijoints on this side of the Wahga Border post with ‘welcome back home’ signs, as and when the visa restrictions ease.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Clip_40Besides the super active railways in India, there are many public transport options available for intra-city commuting, including the all too familiar rickshaws, mostly known here by their first name ‘auto’.

They indeed spew smoke but the surprise is that they have a fare meter.

You can rely on these and do not need to consult friends regarding a fair charge from one point to the other. Some meters may not be calibrated to the new rates fixed by the government; in that case the auto wala will show you a chart comparing what appears on the meter to what is actually due.

You can note other signs of ‘the writ of the state’ in cities that we in Pakistan, have altogether forgotten.

I took a picture of a roadside book stall and its owner came to me quite worried. On my inquiry, it did not turn out to be a privacy concern, instead he was afraid of being reported for selling pirated books.

Sahab, frankly I do have some pirated editions,” the poor man begged. A sharp contrast to the brazen ways of copyrights violators that I witness, and benefit from, in my country.

Some of my Indian friends insisted ‘sab chalta hey’ and these acts qualify as mere posturing by the state. It may be so, but coming from a country where the state has withdrawn from even a symbolic existence in so many spheres, it was still a surprise.

Three Is Crowd, But How Many Is A Mela?
Clip_42I was born and grew up in Punjab, Pakistan, and by the time I entered my 20s, I had known only Urdu and Punjabi speakers and a few Pakhtuns. I ‘saw’ (and later befriended) a Sindhi for the first time when I joined a federal college.

The metropolitan culture in Pakistan is way too shallow.

India, by that count, is an ocean, possessing endless diversity in its every span.

You can meet a Kannadiga in Ludhiana, a Manipuri in Hyderabad and a Bihari in Bangalore. There are scores of different languages and dialects, cultures and sub-cultures, religions and sects, castes and sub-castes and, of course, classes.

The permutations and combinations of all these factors are just mind boggling.

A Goan Christian married to a Hindu from Odisha and living in Ahmedabad, while working in a company owned by a Bohri Muslim from Kachh, Gujrat! Can you tell what identity markers this family chooses for itself?

The ‘ocean’ is not calm at all points and at all times. It is understandable that the countless fissures lead to frictions that keep flaring up every now and then. Hegemony of social, economic and political orders play with this fire and they are good at making a tamahsa out of it, of course, a profitable one.

I am here not commenting on whether or not India is dealing with its diversity well. I am simply stating an admiration to the amazing tapestry that India is.

It takes a Pakistani some effort to come to terms with this amazing juxtaposition of human beings. It feels great to speak Punjabi with someone in Bangalore, with no intentions of hiding it.

New World Order

Clip_44I ignored this one when I encountered it for the first time but then I gradually realised the pattern to it.

If someone introduces himself as say, Jai Parkash, an average Pakistani’s next obvious inquiry will be, “Are you a Pakistani?” But this will not happen in India, even if your name is Tahir Mehdi.

No one can know your nationality unless you make it known yourself.

They can’t guess it from the language that you speak and they won’t doubt it when you discuss Indo-Pak relations.

This unintentional anonymity can lead to interesting situations.

An auto rickshaw wala was proud that India had beaten the hell out of Pakistan in all the wars that we had fought. We were passing by a cricket stadium where the two countries had played a match. He, however, was critical of Indian players for losing the Asia Cup 2014 to Shahid Afridi’s last over blitz.

Such responses to Indo-Pak relations are no surprise as they follow known positions of either the doves or the hawks.

The surprise, however, comes when they discover they’ve been talking to a Pakistani. Stances are softened, positions nuteralised. And feel good statements are uttered, ‘After all, we are brothers’.

But many take it to the next exquisite level:

You know what? Please, come closer. It is a conspiracy of the world powers, the US, of course. It’s a part of the new world order. They plot to make us fight each other. They are afraid that if India and Pakistan joined hands, they would not be able to stop us from ruling over the entire world!

Indian Muslims `Go Home’

Clip_31Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) president Pravin Togadia sent temperatures soaring in Bhavnagar in Rajkot with a hate speech that targeted Muslims for buying properties in Hindu areas.

At night, Togadia joined a group of VHP and Bajrang Dal members on a street protest outside a house purchased by a Muslim businessman near Meghani Circle. While saffron groups have been regularly organizing ‘Ram Dhuns’ and ‘Ram Darbars’ to thwart such deals, Togadia went a step further by asking the protesters to take complete control of the house and put a ‘Bajrang Dal’ board on it.

Togadia told the gathering that there were two ways to stop such deals. One is to pressurize the state government to bring in Disturbed Areas Act in Bhavnagar, which prevents inter-community sale of immovable property. The second is to take forcible possession of the house and fight a legal battle later which will go on for years.

He gave the Muslim occupant 48 hours to vacate the house. “If he does not relent, go with stones, tyres and tomatoes to his office. There is nothing wrong in it. Killers of Rajiv Gandhi have not been hanged … there is nothing to fear and the case will go on,” Togadia told the charged-up gathering.

“I have done it in the past and Muslims have lost both property and money,” he said.

He also said that this election is the best time to pressurize political parties to ensure safety of Hindus. “Don’t be reluctant to pressurize Congress or BJP for the sake of Hindus’ safety,” he said.

After the event was over, tension was palpable and police feared that the mob might attack the house. A team of policemen has been stationed outside the house to avert any trouble.


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