Monday, November 26, 2007

An Interview with Pankaj Mishra

I have written here before about Pankaj Mishra. At that time, I had linked to his several years old three-part essay on Kashmir written for the NY Review of Books. In that piece I had been impressed by his evident passion to dig below the surface for truth and his caring and empathetic style. Over the years, he has had a special relationship with the NYRB as his non-fiction writing blossomed under the tutelage of that periodical's legendary editor Barbara Epstein.

Mishra continues to be one of the most thoughtful literary and journalistic voices in contemporary India. I enjoyed reading a detailed interview with him in "The Believer" magazine. (Thanks to Amitava Kumar's blog).


"--- but I think the reporter or journalist is well served by having a responsibility to the powerless, to use a much-abused cliché. The voice of the powerless is in some danger of not being heard in the elite discourses we now have in the mainstream media. This is something that I’ve learned late. Obviously, I write for a very elite audience, but is there something else that I’m also responsible to? People who write about issues like poverty or terrorism are a part of the elite, and the distance between the elite and nonelite is growing very fast. You can move around the world but meet only people who speak your language, who share the same ideas, the same beliefs, and in doing so you can lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the world does not think or believe in or speak the everyday discourse of the elite. Yet their lives are being shaped by these elites, by people like us. I don’t mean this in a pompous way, but we have a responsibility to articulate their sense of suffering."

"--- some of my students seem to want to be able to write without actually reading, which seems utterly bizarre. When I assign certain readings, they often say, “I can’t relate to this,” which means whatever story we’re reading is so far outside of their experience—which tends to be limited—that they will not make the effort to understand what it is about. I find this a crippling attitude to have toward literature, toward history, toward all sorts of things.
Some of my students don’t have a sense of whether their writing is any good or not. They think it’s good just because it comes out of them and it’s a part of their being. To criticize their writing is to criticize them in some profound way. It’s as if they’ve been taught far too much self-confidence—and maybe not much else."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The New Pakistani Middle Class - New York Times

There is a very interesting article by David Rohde in the New York Times today titled "Pakistani Middle Class, Beneficiary of Musharraf, Begins to Question Rule " (registration required) about the changing dynamics of the Pakistani political scene.

Some excerpts:

As he fights to hold on to power, General Musharraf finds himself opposed by the expanded middle class that is among his greatest achievements, and using his emergency powers to rein in another major advance he set in motion, a vibrant, independent news media.

Since he took power, Pakistan’s gross domestic product has doubled. The number of cellphones has soared to 50 million, from 600,000 six years ago. The privatization of banks has led to a huge increase in the sales of cars, motorcycles and, perhaps most important, television sets. Globalization has taken hold, as it has in other countries.

That spreading economic success — and exposure to the outside world — has filled Pakistan’s white collar office workers, stockbrokers and small-business operators with a belief that their country can be more than the backward fief of a few generals, many said in interviews.
For decades, Pakistan’s moderate elite has been dismissed as “the chattering classes,” who have shied away from the political arena and rarely voted.

Instead the political system has been dominated by feudal landlords who could deliver huge blocks of votes from poor tenant farmers. The key to winning elections was striking the right alliances and spreading graft, not developing a coherent political platform or putting in place broadly beneficial social policies.

Yet the country is slowly changing, in ways that have left a growing number arguing that Pakistan is more prepared than ever for democratic rule.
This spring, the middle class vigorously supported a successful campaign by the country’s lawyers to reverse an attempt by General Musharraf to dismiss the country’s chief justice.

For now, greater mobilization is hobbled by a deep distrust of their political leaders and the United States. A perception is growing that the United States will betray middle-class Pakistanis — Washington’s greatest long-term ally in the fight against terrorism — and continue backing an unpopular military ruler who refuses to give up power.

Many said they believed that General Musharraf had tried to contain — but not eliminate — a dangerous rise in militancy in the country because it allowed him to garner billions in American military aid for Pakistan’s army.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Myth of Musharraf's "Sincerity"

Some well meaning Pakistanis (along with a much larger numbers of opportunists) continue to defend Musharraf's rule even after the November 3rd Martial Law. I have puzzled over this phenomenon of how people can continue to defend the indefensible (overthrow of an independent judiciary, trashing of the constitution, harsh repression of civil society and a gagging of the media). However, in many e-mails and conversations the remaining support for Musharraf seems to boil down to two connected statements: One, that Musharraf is still somehow the least worst option and second, that for all his mistakes he is sincere about building a better Pakistan.

I finally responded to a friend on why this view is wrong-headed and an incorrect framing of the issues. I have decided to share that response more widely given its potential relevance to a broader group(purging any personal details and after minor editing).
An Open e-mail:

The question of "sincerity" is wholly irrelevant to any discussion of Pakistan's political crisis. I have no idea whether Musharraf, Nawaz, Benazir, Imran or anyone else is sincere or genuinely cares about a better Pakistan. I can claim no special insight for looking into people's hearts to divine their 'true' intentions. The only things that I am able to base my judgments on are observable actions and outcomes geared towards the goals that I embrace. If the actions further these goals then I am supportive of those actions, if not I oppose them. If on balance individual leaders do more to advance these goals than to retard them compared with other political actors then they have my support.

Based on my view above, the fundamental question therefore is this: What are the goals and principles that we support and how is any individual leader measuring up in helping achieve these goals? The goals we should support include first and foremost, the strengthening of civilian state institutions and clear progress toward a rule of law based constitutional democracy ( i.e. an independent judiciary, right of people to elect and throw out their governments via a constitutional process, civilian supremacy over the armed forces and intelligence agencies), growth oriented economic policies with sustained social investments in basic education and health and a free and independent media.

How do I judge Musharraf on performing to these goals? A C- before November 3rd and an F after the second Martial Law. Since November 3rd, Musharraf has showed complete willingness to destroy every last vestige of independent Pakistani institutions for perpetuation of personal power, backed by the barrel of the gun. Even actions he was given credit for prior to November 3rd, such as support of a free media, have seen a complete reversal now when the media has refused to play his tune. Macroeconomic growth (without much trickle down, however) is the only silver lining of his 8 year autocracy but it has come at the price of institutional destruction, deep internal political instability, alarming rise in extremism and persistent US interference in all facets of Pakistan's governance to the point where the US Ambassador is a virtual Viceroy meeting government officials, political leaders, election commission officials and media organizations in trying to rescue a "failed state with nukes".

Musharraf equates his own personal interest with the national interest. National interest cannot be determined by an individual or the military. It can only be arrived at with the people's consent and with institutional checks and balances on the behavior of all political actors, including the military. He has been solely incharge for 8 years as a COAS and President with a rubber stamp parliament since 2002 but what greater measure of his failure to build any stable institutional structure that he still had to decapitate his own system by overthrowing the independent judiciary, shutting down the electronic media and locking up most of moderate civil society all while falsely claiming to have done this in the name of fighting terrorism. Are we supposed to take his word that he is sincere after his rigging a referendum, rigging 2002 elections, breaking promises to take his uniform off twice, letting the most corrupt politicians and feudals off the hook as long as they joined PMLQ or were willing to support him (BB recently, MQM since the beginning) and now unleashing despotic and illegal acts since November 3rd? How is this persistent pattern of tyrannical actions and political corruption consistent with the advance of institutions and a "true democracy"? After eight years of misrule, should we continue to wait for General Musharraf indefinitely to prove his sincerity despite accumulated piles of evidence to the contrary.

As part of Pakistan's educated class, I urge you to support principled positions rooted in institutions not individual saviors however well meaning. Choose long term goals over short termism and don't be easily seduced by facile arguments in favor of the rotten status quo in the name of pragmatism. Join the forces and build the capabilities of the developing Pakistani civil society that will provide a more robust check in the future to all errant rulers. You will see me advocating for the same positions when hopefully the constitution and democracy are restored and military is sent back to the barracks because the long term fight in Pakistan is for institutions and a rule of law based democracy not for individuals, whatever guise they come in. Whoever plays by the rules of the law and constitution deserves support, anybody who doesn't should be opposed. The heroes to look up to in this long term fight are people like Asma Jahangir, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Justice (r) Wajihuddin, Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, Saeeduzaman Siddiqui and others in civil society who have always been in the forefront of this struggle and who have always paid a steep price for standing up for institutions and principle. This is the only way in which Pakistan has a hope of moving forward and overtime evolving a stable and democratically accountable polity.


Putin's Russia & Musharraf's Pakistan

Sergei Kovalev, a Russian biologist and former political prisoner is now an opposition politician. In the November 22nd issue of the New York Review of Books he has an excellent piece on the Vladimir Putin phenomenon in Russia and the paradoxical acquiescence of the people to autocracy. He roots much of the rise of Putin in Russia's political history but the applicability of his diagnosis of the problem to Pakistan surprised me. There are passages in the essay that could have been written about most countries (like Pakistan) with stunted and repressive political systems.

Here are some selections:

"Eleven hundred years of history have taught us only two possible relationships to authority, submission and revolt. The idea of peacefully replacing our ruler through a legal process is still a wild, alien thought for us. The powers-that-be are above the law and they're unchangeable by law. Overthrowing them is something we understand. But at the moment, we don't want to. We've had quite enough revolution."

"The members of the political elite are even more profoundly attached than the masses to the idea of the immutable dominance of the powers-that-be, because it is their own position that is in question. But infusing the values of the imperial state into the public mind is only an intermediate goal for the Russian political establishment. The main goal is to entirely eradicate European mechanisms of power transfer in Russia and to consolidate the Byzantine model of succession."

"What should be done if one cannot accept the Byzantine system of power? Retreat into the catacombs? Wait until enough energy for another revolt has been accumulated? Try to hurry along revolt, thereby posing another "orange threat," which Putin and his allies have used, since the 2004 Ukrainian elections, to frighten the people and themselves? Attempt to focus on the demand for honest elections? Carry on painstaking educational work, in order to gradually change citizens' views?

Each person will have to decide in his or her own way. I imagine—with both sorrow and certainty—that the Byzantine system of power has triumphed for the foreseeable future in Russia."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Poetry as an Antidote to "Rulers of the Masses"

This morning I have been listening to Iqbal Bano's beautiful rendition of Faiz's ghazal "Yeh mausam-e-gul garche" and thinking about poetry as the highest of art forms. The subtlety of thought and the economy of expression required for good poetry militates against a lazy, rambling and unstructured mind. The Nobel laureate poet Joseph Brodksy starts his collection of critical essays "Of Grief and Reason" with a wonderful quote from W.H. Auden: "Blessed be all metrical rules that forbid automatic responses, force us to have second thoughts, free from the fetters of Self."

It is in the terse reflectiveness of poetry that we, in Joseph Brodsky's words, "discover, in place of the anticipated consent and unanimity, indifference and polyphony; in place of the resolve to act, inattention and fastidiousness. In other words, into the little zeros with which the champions of the common good and the rulers of the masses tend to operate, art introduces a 'period, period, comma and a minus,' transforming each zero into a tiny human, albeit not always a pretty, face."

With that, here are some verses of Faiz's ghazal mentioned above from "Sham-e-Shehr-e-YaaraN" that precipitated this reverie:

Yeh mausam-e-gul garche tarab khez bohat hai
Ahwaal-e-gul-o-lala gham angez bohat hai

Ik gardan-e-makhlooq jo har haal meiN kham hai
Ik bazoo-e-qaatil hai keh khooN rez bohat hai

Kyoon mish'al-e-dil Faiz chupao tahe damaN
Bujh jaye gi yooN bhi keh hawa tez bohat hai

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mohsin Hamid on NPR & Solidarity with Justice Bhagwandas

Mohsin Hamid reflected on the the crackdown on civil society in Pakistan on NPR's show Morning Edition on November 9th. I am glad that a Pakistani of his prominence, who has flirted with the "good Musharraf" in his past, is supporting the civil society's struggle unambiguously.

Also, I received an e-mail from a lawyer friend in Pakistan about an event in Islamabad that was held to honor Justice Bhagwandas on the occassion of Diwali. I was quite touched by the sentiment of the caption under the picture he sent me:

"Citizens of Islamabad gathered outside Civil Junction to celebrate DIWALI in solidarity with the Honourable Justice Rana Bhagwandas, our courageous 'Prisoner of Conscience' who was forced to celebrate this significant event at home. Thank you, honourable Bhagwandas and the 6 other honourable judges for giving 'hope' to our children. We will always be grateful to you and you will live forever in history."

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Struggle for Rights

Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed - else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.
~Thomas Paine

Photo Credit: Protest at LUMS(from the NY Times)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Asma Jahangir's Appeal to Support Lawyers and Judges in Pakistan

Asma Jahangir has sent out an urgent e-mail appealing to bar associations all over the world to support the imprisoned lawyers and judges of Pakistan. This is indeed a heartbreaking situation that demands that civilized people all over the world join forces to defeat Musharraf's forces of oppression and terror. Please read her appeal and support Pakistani civil society any way you can. She is a true hero and as long as there are courageous and principled people like her in Pakistan I refuse to lose hope.

Election announcements from Musharraf are useless and the elections under him have no credibility. The constitution and judiciary have to be restored as they were on November 2nd before any elections can take place. There can be no democracy built on the ruins of a destroyed judiciary.


Asma Jahangir

Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions(Since August 1998)

Subject: Fwd: from asma jahangir

I am fortunate to be under house arrest while my colleagues are suffering. The Musharaf government has declared martial law to settle scores with lawyers and judges. While the terrorists remain on the loose and continue to occupy more space in Pakistan, senior lawyers are being tortured.

The civil society of Pakistan urges bar associations all over the world to mobilize public opinion in favor of the judges and lawyers inPakistan. A large number of judges of superior courts are under arrest. Thousands of lawyers are imprisoned, beaten and tortured.

In particular the cases of Muneer A Malik, Aitzaz Ahsan, Tariq Mahmood and Ali Ahmed Kurd are serious. Muneer A Malik, the former President of the Supreme Court BarAssociation and leader of the lawyers' movement has been shifted to the notorious Attack Fort. He is being tortured and is under the custody of the militaryintelligence. Tariq Mahmood, former President of the Supreme Court BarAssociation, was imprisoned in Adiala jail. No one was allowed to see him and it is reported that he has been shifted to an unknown place. Mr. Ali Ahmed Kurd, former Vice Chair of the Pakistan Bar Council is in the custody of military intelligence and being kept at an undisclosed place. Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan, President of the SupremeCourt Bar is being kept in Adiala jail in solitary confinement.

Representatives of bar associations should approach their governments to pressure the government of Pakistan to release all lawyers and judges and immediately provide access to Muneer A Malik, Tariq Mahmood, Ali Ahmed Kurd and Aitzaz Ahsan. The bars are also urged to hold press conferences in their country and express their solidarity with the lawyers of Pakistan who are struggling to establish the rule of law.

Asma Jahangir

Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan

Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Struggle for a New Pakistan in the Shadow of Tyranny

A combination of distractions had kept me away from this blog for a few months despite having queued up a number of things I had been meaning to write about such as a piece on Quarratulain Hyder and one on Pakistani writers in English. Depressed by the shenanigans of BB and the politicians, NRO and the sham Presidential elections I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm to even consider writing about Paksitan but then ----

this past Saturday Musharraf defaulted to a state of naked tyranny, declaring a martial law, decapitating the independent judiciary, killing off the independent media and declaring open war on all forces of civility, honor and decency in the country. For a few days I was just glued to Geo TV (which Pakistanis are deprived of) in a virtual state of shock. I still find the hubris, "beghairati" and gall of Musharraf's actions hard to believe. But there it was, Jinnah's Pakistan reduced to worse than a banana republic by a tinpot despot given too much rope by a short-sighted American government.

But now is the not the time to dwell on how we got here. Now is the time to take an uncompromisingly clear position: these actions of a self-styled savior, supported by his political minions and cowardly, kleptocratic generals will not be allowed to stand. If there is a silver lining to this tragedy, it is in the pictures of resistance that are pouring out of Pakistan. The country should be justifiably proud of its judges, lawyers, human rights activists and students who are showing tremendous courage and paying a steep price for their honorable resistance to tyranny. They are Pakistan's heroes and it fills my heart with joy to know that the country has so many sons and daughters who are willing to pay the price of liberty, even in the complete absence of credible and principled political leadership. It is now up to all Pakistanis and their well wishers to support these heroes with everything at their command to return Pakistan to full constitutional democracy and to send the forces of military dictatorship back to their appointed role under the Constitution.
Here are a few things I want to post as resources that may be helpful to those who get to this blog:

1) Live audio and video streams of GEO TV:

2) Collection of invaluable information on Martial Law 2007 with news, petitions, campaigns, testaments, images, details on detainees and more:

3) Teeth Maestro's Blog which according to the NY Times has become a "hive of information for the resistance" at (LUMS protest, Imran Khan's video from an undisclosed location,'s petition etc.)

4) "The Emergency Times" blog with details on student resistance and protests on college campuses including LUMS, Punjab University, FAST etc.)

5) Another great source of aggregated information on the Pakistan crisis and its global coverage

6) Another petition organized by a group called "We oppose emergency in Pakistan"

7) The following letter was sent by the South Asian American Forum to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate:
November 6, 2007

Dear Member of Congress:

South Asian American Forum Action Fund ("SAAF Action Fund"), affiliated with the South Asian American Forum, a legally registered, bipartisan political action committee consisting of community and business leaders united behind a progressive policy platform, strongly condemns the actions of General Pervez Musharraf and his government for what is, in effect, a second Martial Law imposed by the General who took over the country in a coup in 1999. We urge the US government and elected officials to call for an immediate return to full Constitutional Democracy in Pakistan.

On Saturday November 3, 2007, General Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan as well as its Chief of the Army Staff, declared a state of emergency and issued a "Provisional Constitutional Order" (PCO). Under this PCO, General Musharraf suspended that country's 1973 Constitution depriving the people of Pakistan of their fundamental rights and preventing the actions of his government to be challenged in the Courts. The justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan were ordered to take a fresh oath to abide by the PCO. The Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and seven other justices issued their own legal order calling General Musharraf's declaration of emergency unlawful and urged military officials not to act on unlawful orders. General Musharraf then dismissed Chief Justice Chaudhry and in his place swore in a pro-Musharraf member of the Supreme Court as the new Chief Justice.

In addition, all independent and international TV channels in Pakistan were forced off the air by the government. Thousands of civil society activists and lawyers have been arrested, including the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Chairman of the Supreme Court Bar Association. Interestingly, even though General Musharraf suspended the country's Constitution after declaring emergency and fired the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he did not dissolve the pro-Musharraf Parliament. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, announced on State TV on Sunday that the parliamentary elections due in January 2008 could be postponed by up to a year under the PCO.

Specifically, we urge you to support the following measures towards restoration of full Constitutional Democracy in Pakistan:

1) Immediate revocation of the state of emergency and the PCO and re-establishment of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan

2) Reinstatement of Justice Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the reinstatement of all supreme and high court judges who have refused to take oath under the PCO (Justice Chaudhry was dismissed by General Musharraf in March of this year and was later reinstated as Chief Justice by the Supreme Court's special bench)

3) Timely return of the normal constitutional process by regular dissolution of the Parliament and provincial assemblies and holding of free and fair elections under a neutral caretaker administration supervised by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. These elections are to be held by January 2008 at the latest under Pakistan's Constitution

4) Active participation of all political parties and their leaders in the new parliamentary elections

5) Election for the President of Pakistan by the new parliament and provincial assembliesThe

United States and its people have always stood for freedom and democracy around the world. In addition, we believe that in the long term the fight against terrorism will be ill served by backing governments that take away democratic rights from their people. The situation today in Pakistan is such that the US government is stuck dealing with a single individual and is not being seen as a friend of the country or the democratic aspirations of its people. Pakistan remains a front line ally in the War on Terror but we believe that only a democratic government with its roots in the people of Pakistan can effectively fight terrorism while reducing the acute political uncertainties gripping the country. The US government and Members of Congress should act to push for the re-establishment of full Constitutional Democracy in Pakistan.

Friday, August 03, 2007

"Mother of All Deals": A Recipe for Continued Instability

Najam Sethi's editorial in this week's Friday Times titled "Transition to Functional Democracy" (behind a firewall) claims that a Musharraf/BB deal has been all but concluded. The basic terms of the deal, according to Sethi, stipulate that Musharraf will be re-elected by the present assemblies in uniform with PPP's consent in return for free and fair elections, an agreement to take the uniform off in 6-12 months and some other crumbs for Bhutto. Remarkably, he then goes on to argue that this "Mother of all deals" makes sense and is good for the country.

If he is factually correct about the specifics of the "Mother of all deals" (it still seems speculative punditry to me), then his analysis is naive in the extreme. It increasingly seems to me that Sethi has become so caught up in being an influential insider with a privileged view of the daily "jor tor" of power politics that he has lost his analytical moorings.

One key flaw in his reasoning is his completely static analysis of the "deal" in which a few key players (Musharraf, Bhutto, Fazl-ur-Rehman) will redraw the political map amongst themselves and everything else will fall in line. Sethi displays no awareness that the arrangement he outlines would be deeply unstable and will have resolved few of the fundamental contradictions at the heart of Pakistan's current crisis of governance. The deal will not begin to resolve the issues of military-civilian power balance nor the current lopsided dynamic of power between the Presidency and the Parliament. After the elections, the countdown to Musharraf's "uniform doffing date" will start immediately with all the attendant speculation and uncertainties that were experienced when he made this "promise" the last time around. The nation will once again be witness to endless maneuvering and horse trading between Mush and the parliament to demarcate boundaries of power with the military remaining at the center of the controversy. Meanwhile all the problems and complexities of actual governance will remain neglected.

The deal is also likely to alter the political landscape in other unexpected ways: PML-Q and PPP could experience significant dissension from within and PPP will likely lose popular support, particularly in Punjab, for bailing out a weakened Musharraf. The parties cut out of the power equation unceremoniously by PPP (i.e. PML-N, JI, PTI) will continue their campaign against the unpopular uniformed President with the added grievance of the PPP "betrayal". After saving Musharraf again, Fazl-ur-Rehman will revert back to form excoriating the secular Musharraf and his allies to please his Taliban constituency during and after the elections. The end result of this deal will almost certainly be to weaken moderate forces as they will be viewed as having compromised on basic principles for personal gain. The amalgam of anti-Musharraf, anti-PPP right (with PML-N and PTI pushed into this grouping) will gain in stature to the long term detriment of the Pakistani polity.

Reading Sethi you would think that the deal is a panacea for Pakistan's ills. It will do nothing but prolong the agony of the last couple of dysfunctional years. The need is for Musharraf to doff his uniform and hold free and fair elections. After he takes these steps if certain political parties, like PPP, want to elect him a civilian President there will be fewer objections to it. But at least getting Musharraf to abide by some basic rules right away will help begin a rational process by which the balance of institutional powers could be restored back to the original constitutional intentions. This route is also more likely to avoid a dangerous split between PPP and PML-N. To tackle Pakistan's complex domestic and national issues it is imperative that the large mainstream parties develop a working relationship with some basic trust in each other.

It is my hope that Sethi's view is not the prevailing wisdom in Pakistan's elite circles and that the PPP leadership displays greater political foresight. Unfortunately, the recent events and statements emanating from BB do not leave anybody optimistic. Another opportunity to right the ship of state seems likely to be squandered.

Bob Dylan in Concert

Last weekend, I was thrilled to be a part of a memorable musical experience when I saw Bob Dylan perform live in concert for the first time. Dylan performed in Kelseyville, California about a 150 mile drive from where I live in the San Francisco Bay area. The venue was the charming 5,000-person capacity Konocti Outdoor Amphitheater on the banks of the Clear Lake. It was a beautiful, warm summer evening and the concert was an absolute treat.

I certainly cannot claim to be one of those lifelong Dylan fans who know the lyrics to every Dylan song and can reliably narrate every twist and turn of his long and remarkable performing career but I have been an admirer of his music and songwriting for a long time. Some of Dylan's songs such as "It's all over now, baby blue" and "Shelter from the storm" make the list of my all time favorites. However, to be fair, my desire to see Dylan in concert was also based, in part, on experiencing first hand a performance of this unique 60's counterculture icon.

Dylan is 66 years old and since 1988 has been on a "Never Ending Tour" performing more than 100 concerts a year. His voice is now more gruff and raspy than in his famous studio recordings but it still retains that quintessential raw quality. The performance was extremely lively and energetic. Dylan and his Band have refused to turn these live concerts into nostalgia acts so even the classic oldies are typically performed in newer arrangements. For those like me who don't follow the band around, it would have been nice to hear some of the familiar arrangements for songs like "Blowin' in the wind" but overall it was still an exhilarating experience.

Here's the set that Dylan and the Band played that evening:

1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (Bob on electric guitar)
2. It Ain't Me, Babe (Bob on electric guitar)
3. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight (Bob on electric guitar)
4. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)(Bob on electric guitar)
5. Workingman's Blues #2 (Bob on keyboard)
6. Rollin' And Tumblin' (Bob on keyboard)
7. Boots Of Spanish Leather (Bob on keyboard and harp)
8. Lonesome Day Blues (Bob on keyboard)
9. Desolation Row (Bob on keyboard and harp)
10. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
11. Spirit On The Water (Bob on keyboard and harp)
12. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again(Bob on keyboard and harp)
13. Ain't Talkin' (Bob on keyboard)
14. Summer Days (Bob on keyboard)
15. Blowin' In The Wind (Bob on keyboard)
16. Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
17. All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard)

(With thanks to Bill Pagel's Bob Dylan tour webpage for details on the set)

Here's one of my Dylan all-time favorites:

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dalrymple & Hamid - Understanding the Rage

As of late, Pakistan has been a hot topic in the Western press. Most of the coverage is the usual unenlightening blather about nukes and extremism but there have been a few good, thoughful pieces. Of course, given the tumultuous nature of current Pakistani politics, events on the ground soon overtake even the most up to date writings on the country.

I have always enjoyed reading William Dalrymple ('City of Djinns' about Delhi is my personal favorite) so I was happy to see his piece called "Days of Rage" in the July 23rd issue of The New Yorker. Even when I disagree with some of his interpretation of facts he is a consistently objective and unfailingly intelligent observer of the South Asian scene. The article is partly a profile of Asma Jahangir, the tireless campaigner for the cause of human rights in Pakistan. Dalrymple's admiration for Asma Jahangir's lifelong struggle on behalf of the vulnerable clearly comes through.

Mohsin Hamid recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post titled "Why Do They Hate Us?" In a way only a novelist can, Mohsin Hamid has intelligently explored this question which, since 9/11, is mindlessly asked in the West with a certain "wounded innocence" (Hamid's evocatively apt phrase). In his recent non-fiction, Mohsin Hamid has demonstrated increasing political maturity and seems to have finally moved on from his long lasting infatuation with Musharraf. I think the low point was his "too clever by half" review of Musharraf's atrocious autobiography. The literary device of schoolyard types that is supposed to help us understand Musharraf's psyche is merely attention-grabbing without being illuminating not to mention the inconvenient truth that no such rigid classifications exist in a typical Pakistani school where a 'cheetah' one day can just as easily be a 'chutiya' the next. As a respected Pakistani novelist writing in English, Mohsin Hamid has earned a rare bully pulpit from which he can contribute toward greater cross-cultural understanding and advance sensible ideas. Thankfully, he seems to be moving in that direction.

The Triumph of Justice but What's Next

July 20th, 2007 will be long remembered as a historic day in Pakistan when the honorable judges of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Ramday, reinstated the suspended Chief Justice and struck a vital blow for an independent Judiciary in the country. This unequivocal reversal of Musharraf's political folly has breathed life into Pakistan's moribund political landscape.

However, this event is only the beginning of an arduous political season in which the Supreme Court's independence and good judgment will be repeatedly tested. On every critical issue from dual office retention and return of exiled leaders to the enforcement of a level playing field for free and fair elections, the Court will be in a central position to restore some faith in Pakistan's political institutions and begin the process to extract the nation from Musharraf's destabilizing chokehold. Pakistanis can only hope that the Court's newly earned prestige and independence will be consistently leveraged to further the cause of a political system based on a constitutional rule of law. After the July 20th decision there is some real cause for optimism.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Pakistan's Dictator" - New York Times Gets it Right

I am extremely encouraged that increasingly the American press, led by the New York Times, is getting it right. In another editorial today titled "Pakistan's Dictator", the paper forcefully calls on the Bush administration to support an orderly transition to democratic, constitutional rule in Pakistan rather than blindly standing behind the singularly disastrous and dictatorial government of General Musharraf. With its short sighted policy focused on a myopic view of the war on terror, America is squandering a golden opportunity to stand with the people and their democratic aspirations in a strategic Muslim country. The movement against military dictatorship and for the rule of law is being led by lawyers, journalists and members of the liberal civil society and is refreshingly free of religious sloganeering or hate mongering. This is the kind of grassroots democratic spirit that the administration has been purporting to support since 9/11 but America is busy doing severe damage to its reputation and little remaining credibility in Pakistan by clinging to a dubious ally.

I would encourage all those who are able to write to the New York Times to write and express approval of the newspaper's stance supporting the restoration of a rule of law-based democratic government in Pakistan. Instructions of where and how to send the letter here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Evolution of Larry Summers

The New York Times Sunday Magazine has a remarkably interesting profile of Larry Summers discussing the evolution of his thinking on economic matters but also touching on the development of his personality since his stint under Robert Rubin at the Treasury. Summers is an impressive intellect who, at 52 years of age, has accomplished more in three different careers than many talented people do in a lifetime.

Larry Summers's name has been in my memory ever since my undergraduate days when, always fond of trivia tidbits, I found out that he was the youngest tenured professor at Harvard, nephew of two Nobel Prize winners (Robert Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow) and the son of two Penn economics professors, Robert and Anita Summers. I admit to experiencing a tinge of genetic envy. As an aspiring PhD in economics at the time (a path never taken) I remember looking up to Larry Summers and Paul Krugman as inspirational young stars with exceptionally fine minds and a penchant for writing and arguing clearly, concisely and logically.

An aside: Paul Krugman's excellent writings on economic issues, accessible to laymen, are collected here and are well worth the read. I still recommend "In praise of cheap labor" (in the International Trade section of the site), particularly to knee-jerk opponents of globalization. Even though this piece was written in March 1997 and lot has changed since then, the fundamental argument for free trade in that essay still holds.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Government of the Generals, by the Generals, for the Generals

Deciphering the underlying reality from official proclamations is always a risky business, but if we take at face value the statement issued by the Corp Commanders and Staff Officers of the Pakistan Army after discussions with President/COAS Musharraf, the signs for the republic are indeed ominous. The statement loudly proclaims fealty to Musharraf, applauds his great dual role accomplishments, threatens the media and civil society and demands respect on the point of a gun for an institution thoroughly compromised by its taste for economic and political power. Here is a most shameless display by the army's leadership of besmirching its own honour and a violation of their oath of allegiance to the constitution and the country. No amount of browbeating of the public will force it to respect an individual or an institution. As the American civil rights leader Eldridge Cleaver aptly said: "Respect commands itself and it can neither be given nor withheld when it is due."

The army hierarchy clearly seems irritated by the increasingly direct criticism of the military's central role in the political and economic spheres in Pakistan. But this is a debate that is long overdue. The military's chokehold on the affairs of state have resulted in weak political institutions, enriched the officer corps at the expense of the nation, distorted national priorities and shifted the military's focus away from professional matters. The presence of all intelligence heads (MI, ISI and IB) in the meeting to persuade the CJP to resign was an egregious illustration of how far the military has moved away from its primary responsibility of national security and instead become the full-time guardian of its corporate and political interests. Civilian control of military affairs is the established norm in every civilized democratic government (including our neighbor) and, as distant as that may seem today, it is the desired end state in Pakistan as well. The code words for suppressing this legitimate debate on the military's role in Pakistani society are "respect" and "politicization". It is laughable that a COAS/President instructs the nation not to politicize the army when he controls all the levers of political power, uses his political and ethnic surrogates to create mayhem in Karachi, holds meetings at the Presidency and Army House with his political cronies, pressurises his presumed judicial opponent in uniform surrounded by senior military personnel and then huddles with his military leadership to issue a threatening statement to the country to preserve self-rule. Mr. President, it is hard to imagine how the army could be any more politicized!!

The CJP's forcible removal was just a catalyst for this current conflagration but the truth is that the underlying malignancy of this regime was eventually bound to be exposed. Musharraf's liberal supporters have often forgotten this in the past that in a dictatorial polity without democratic representation and legitimacy, it does not matter much whether the government happens to promote liberal or fundamentalist behavior. The ultimate yardstick is always self-preservation and the perpetuation of one man rule. It has taken this crisis to expose the regime's fragility and to strip it of its faux-gentle facade. How often did Musharraf talk about the "true democracy" he was establishing and touted the freedom of the press that "he had granted" so magnanimously! Of course, it turns out that the media is free as long as it does not tell unpleasant truths that threaten his hold on power. At the first signs of trouble we have Geo and AajTV off the air, promulgation of the media-gagging PEMRA 2007 ordinance, hounding of the courageous scholar and author of Military Inc. Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and explicit threats to respected journalists all over the country.

Musharraf's end will be similar to all the other khaki saviors in Pakistan's sordid history ("they leave themselves no other options") but how much more damage he does to the country before he is consigned to the dustbin of history is still an open question. If the escalations of the past few days are any indication, Musharraf will not go without causing a lot more pain to the fragile Pakistani state.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

United States Belongs on the Side of Democracy

I was delighted to see the editorial in the New York Times today titled "Propping up the General". I have been impressed by the Times coverage of Pakistan over the last year. The editorial page and the reporters on the ground (Salman Masood, David Rohde, Carlotta Gall) have demonstrated a more firm handle on the causes and cures of Pakistan's chronic political instability than the Bush administration, which has a single-minded and misguided focus on keeping a general in power just because he is easier to deal with than any democratic government is likely to be. However, in pursuing this myopic policy, US is losing the little credibility it still posseses with moderates and reformers in the Muslim world. The recent protests against the Musharraf government, sparked by the ham-handed removal of the Chief Justice, have largely been powered by Pakistan's civil society led by the lawyers and the regional bar associations. This has been a movement remarkably free of religious undertones and its slogans have been focused on championing a free media and the rule of law.

The United States needs to unambiguously weigh in on the side of constitutional democratic governance and the people of Pakistan. It is the right position on moral and pragmatic grounds. Only consistent and clear support by the US government for civil society forces that advocate and struggle for a rule of law, democratic governance, free media and human rights will eventually create Muslim societies that are not a threat to themselves and the rest of the world. American governments often speak of these principles but rarely stand behind them when it matters most. Pakistan's courageous civil society (which sadly does not even look to the US for inspiration any more) is leading an inspiring struggle of the kind that American officials pray for in Iran, but in Pakistan it only results in banal State Department statements of support for our erstwhile uniformed ally. Pakistanis and the Muslim world will believe in America's rhetoric only if it consistently backs its own principles and does not sacrifice them at the altar of short term expediency. Only America has the clout to make a real difference in promoting freedom and stability in Pakistan and America needs to answer the call. We need not fear a democratic Pakistan. Only a country on a more solid democratic footing with a representative government can be a stable and reliable ally.

Here are the powerful words that end the NY Times editorial:
"A succession of uniformed dictators has misruled Pakistan for more than half of its 60-year history. All have advertised themselves as great friends of Washington, but all have fanned extremism while discrediting America’s reputation among ordinary Pakistanis. There is no security with General Musharraf. The United States belongs on the side of Pakistani democracy".

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tyranny Descends on Pakistan

There is no doubt in my mind that sections of the Pakistani media are now being actively muzzled after their valiant defiance in showing the true face of this ugly regime over the last couple of months. On the website of "The News" there was no report all day on the cold-blooded murder of the Supreme Court additional registrar and CJP loyalist Hammad Raza in Islamabad. Even the New York Times has a full blown story on it already, by their reporter Salman Masood. As if to confirm my fears "The News" finally has a story on this episode but it is about the MQM chief condemning Hammad Raza's murder rather than the news item itself.

I will not criticize the media for succumbing to this extreme coercion while working in an environment of constant threats and extreme insecurity as they are and have been doing a courageous job of standing up to unjust authority. However, I would implore the journalists and media owners to resist, to the best of their abilities, this new phase of darkness being imposed by a government which cares for nothing but the perpetuation of its illegal and authoritarian rule. This valiant effort of the people to reclaim political space from a usurping military should not go to waste. The end result of this struggle needs to be an independent judiciary, free media, a strengthened rule of law and a return to civilian rule.

Here is to the hope that the people of Pakistan will soon escape the yoke of this latest self-styled uniformed savior and will overtime (with painstaking effort) build a democratic polity that can produce civilian leaders worthy of governing this country and able to build a decent state for its people.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Dark Day in Pakistan's History - Karachi Burning

The details emerging out of Pakistan are still somewhat sketchy but some facts are clear; more than 30 people are dead and over 115 injured. The CJ was unable to address the Sindh Bar Association and was forced to go back to Islamabad and the private television station Aaj TV, which has been in the forefront of covering pro-judiciary and anti-Musharraf protests, was attacked by armed gunmen. This is indeed another dark day in the checkered political history of Pakistan. It is now well past time for the shameful Musharraf regime to go. This illegal government has now lost the last shreds of moral authority required to govern. I salute the men and women of the civil society of Pakistan and the courageous independent media who are leading this struggle for the supremacy of the law and freedom of expression at grave risk to their life and limb.

As tragic and sad as today's events in Karachi are, this political moment is of historic import for the people of Pakistan and even on this day of darkness I see some hope for a better future. Since the sacking of the CJP on March 9th, the heroic struggle of the lawyers has germinated greater democratic desire and decisively strengthened Pakistan's civil society and its beleagured independent media. In the face of relentless governmental coercion there have been heartwarming displays of peaceful resistance, none more evident than in the historic journey of Justice Chaudhry through the heart of Punjab. Those in Pakistan and abroad who desire an eventual constitutional democratic polity rooted in a rule of law have to be encouraged by these developments. The conclusion of this episode, however, remains highly uncertain because no political sagacity can be expected from those who have brought us to this pass.

This grassroots peoples' movement has also forced the politicians of all hues to make a choice; they either stand on the side of the rule of law or for the perpetuation of a dangerously unstable, one-man military banana republic. Mainstream politicians (despite all their historical shortcomings) clearly seem to grasp the national mood and the King's men who are standing up for the present dispensation to save their personal fiefdoms will hopefully pay a steep price whenever they face the electorate in a fair election. MQM more clearly exposed itself today than it ever has in its sordid history (thanks to private TV channels). The party that started with great hopes, rooted in the educated middle classes has over the years just become a collection of vicious thugs. It is wielding its fascistic tactics on behalf of people who seem to believe they have a divine right to perpetual power and who originally nurtured this party as a counterweight to PPP. MQM has shown itself the mirror image of the worst of MMA; both groups want people to acquiesce to their ideologies by force. Neither believes in nor has any fundamental respect for a constitutional rule of law.

Pakistan stands at a critical juncture as it has so many times in its unfortunate 60 year independent history. I would urge all Pakistanis and their well wishers to lend thier support to the struggle of Pakistan's revitalized civil society. Let's hope that the forces of peaceful democratic activism led by the country's courageous lawyers ultimately emerge victorious and we can close this latest chapter of the military's recurring era of authoritarian and unconstitutional misrule without further human suffering.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Protests in Pakistan

I felt a sense of pride in the strong response today from Pakistan's civil society to Musharraf's outrageous sacking of the Supreme Court Chief Justice. Led by the country's lawyers, there was a heartening willingness to stand up for the rule of law and against dictatorial fiat. This attack on judicial independence is a naked move to neutralize any smidgen of opposition to one man rule in the country. Musharraf wants the entire nation to acquiesce to his being a uniformed President for life and the final arbiter of the "national interest" even as state institutions (other than the military) wither away.

The establishment of democratic, constitutional governance in Pakistan will happen only when people stand up and fight for their own rights. No individual, no foreign power will give people their rights on a platter. It was deeply disappointing to me, though not surprising, that there has been virtually no coverage in the US media of this constitutional crisis in a country which is supposedly the "closest ally" in the war on terrorism. There have been countless articles written in the US on the "democratic deficit" in the Muslim world but when mainstream, moderate elements in these countries protest the dictatorships imposed on them by tacit or explicit American support, not a peep is heard amongst the Western crusaders of Muslim reform. One can imagine the coverage today's protests would have received if they had happened in Tehran against the Iranian theocracy. Criticism of "our sons of bitches" (Musharraf, Hosni Mubarak, the Saudis) is somehow always more muted than the legitimate scorn poured on the likes of Chavez, Mugabe and Ahmedinejad. On international affairs, the American "free media" seems mostly to take its cue from the government.

BBC, at least, has to be commended for giving the story its due. It has an interesting analysis of the entire episode. There are also photographs of the protests here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Another Shameful Episode

On March 9th, the Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was summoned to that bastion of Pakistani democracy, the Army House, and suspended from office. This is another shameful episode in the long, sad story of Pakistan's first 60 years. Reading the newspapers it is clear that the civil society is unanimous in deploring this latest authoritarian powerplay by Pakistan's current self-styled savior. The way the hopes and dreams of the founding generation of the country have been dashed are enough to kill the spirit of the most optimistic amongst us. The dream of a Pakistan based on the rule of law is further today than it ever has been since its founding.

Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of Pakistan's sordid khaki-dominated political history can be forgiven for not taking the official reasons seriously. Given that Musharraf has not shown the slightest regard in the past about the destruction of politial institutions or the probity of our judiciary there is not an iota of reason to believe that this was motivated by anything other than power consolidation. This is just a step in the preparation for rigged elections later in the year to keep Musharraf in power and uniform in perpetuity. In retrospect it is clear that Naeem Bukhari's letter widely circulated on the internet was a charade likely orchestarted by the agencies in preparation for this pre-meditated move. Whatever Justice Chaudhry's personal shortcomings it is indeed a fact that he has presided over several decisions that have embarassed the government including the high profile Steel Mills case. His probing in the disappearance of hundreds of Pakistanis into the lawless, Kafkaesque world of Pakistani military intelligence also likely did not endear him to Musharraf and his cronies (amongst them that crying shame of an enabler Prime Minister, Shaukat 'shortcut' Aziz). Going into a fraught political season Musharraf cannot take any chances. That this was orchestrated at a time when the next in seniority Justice Bhagwandas was out of the country provides more evidence of the government's real intentions.

I find Pakistan's current political scene, never encouraging, extremely depressing of late. Musharraf and the army's perpetual chokehold on the people, with intelligence agencies as instruments, has sapped the country of its vitality. Mainstream political parties are paralyzed and in complete disarray. The mullahs are more regressive than ever. Law and order is at an all time low. Pakistanis are likely to emerge from the Musharraf nightmare as a country institutionally more decimated than at any other time in its history. The people of this benighted land seem destined forever to be at the mercy of one tinpot uniformed dictator after another.

The best we can do is to continue to raise our voices for the rule of law and in opposition to constant governmental violations of fundamental rights and to the systematic taking over of the institutions of state by an unaccountable and parasitic elite military class (there are of course honorable exceptions in the military but too few sadly). I am reminded of Dylan Thomas's famous poem, pessimistic as it no doubt is:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

W.H. Auden: "O Tell Me The Truth About Love"

W.H. Auden is one my favorite 20th century poets. His birth centenary is right around the corner (he was born on 21st February, 1907). On 3QD, Robin Varghese linked to an Auden poem called "O Tell Me The Truth About Love" that I quite like. This being February 14th, I decided to rip off Robin's original idea to pay my own tribute to Auden here.

O Tell Me The Truth About Love

Some say that love's a little boy,
And some say it's a bird,
Some say it makes the world go round,
And some say that's absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn't do.

Does it look like a pair of pajamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does it's odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It's quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I've found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway-guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
it wasn't ever there:
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton's bracing air.
I don't know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn't in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all it's time at the races,
Or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of it's own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my shoes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Inhuman Enemy

Yesterday I read Ian Buruma's excellent review of Clint Eastwood's new film "Letters from Iwo Jima" in the New York Review of Books. This film, in the Japanese language, has been widely praised by critics, winning the Golden Globe for "Best Foreign Language Film". The passage below in Buruma's review really caught my eye:
"Most war movies have been about heroes, our heroes, and individual differences among the enemies were irrelevant, since their villainy could be taken for granted. In fact, showing individual character, or indeed any recognizable human qualities, would be a hindrance, since it would inject the murderousness of our heroes with a moral ambiguity that we would not wish to see. The whole point of feel-good propaganda is that the enemy has no personality; he is monolithic and thus inhuman."

This reminded me of a recent e-mail I had received with a link to an old song by Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam nowadays) called "Peacetrain". The song is in the background as images of modern day Tehran flash on the screen. These images of everyday life paint a portrait of a people not unlike 'us' as opposed to pictures of an implacably ugly and hostile enemy conjured up by political propaganda. How many people visualize Tehran and its people in this way when they speak of bombings and military action? The message is powerful and surprisingly effective in its simplicity because it subverts the very essence of propaganda, the inhumanity of the 'other'.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lahore Revisited

I just returned from a brief trip to Lahore and despite having only a few days there I was able to spend almost a full day inside the enchanting walled city area. I started out at Mori Gate and walked all the way across to Roshnai Gate at the end of Shahi Mohallah Road just past landmarks such as the Mazaar of Hazrat Naugaza Pir and the famous "Phajjay ke Pai" restaurant. Walking through the Roshnai gate I entered the Hazuri Bagh area and past the garden to the entrance of Gurdawara Dera Sahib / Ranjit Singh Smadhi.

The visit to the Gurdawara turned out to be the highlight of my visit. For a long time I have wanted to see this classic Sikh structure but, for reasons unknown, Muslims are not allowed to visit this sacred monument. On a whim I asked a turbaned Sardar standing outside if I could see the Gurdawara. He thought it might be possible and agreed to ask a caretaker. He went inside the complex and returned a few minutes later with an elderly gentleman who after asking me a few questions invited me to come inside. Mr. Harpal Singh was exceptionally kind and gave me a guided tour of the premises, pointing out historic facts about the building. The thing I did not know was that this monument also contains the "Shaheedi Asthan" (the site of martyrdom) of Guru Arjun Dev (the fifth Guru of the Sikhs). Harpal Ji took me to the sacred area where the Guru Granth Sahib is kept and explained the concept of the "Akhand Paath" (the recitation of the entire Granth Sahib in a single setting which can take more than two days). There is an Akhand Paath in the Gurdawara on June 12th, the day of Guru Arjun Dev's martyrdom. Guru Arjun Dev died during the reign of Emperor Jahangir. During his confinement in a prison in the Lahore Fort, the Guru is believed to have vanished into the water miraculously and attained martyrdom after his captors were persuaded to allow him to go bathe in the River Ravi.

After thanking Harpal Ji I walked back into the walled city via Roshnai Gate and winded my way through the streets and alleys all the way to Masjid Wazir Khan inside Delhi Gate passing innumerable shops, bazaars, historic landmarks, shrines, mosques and imambargahs in Mori Gate, Lohari Gate, Shah Alam Bazaar, Mochi Gate and Akbari Mandi. Masjid Wazir Khan is one of the most beautiful and famous mosques in Lahore. It is an oasis of peace set in the midst of crowded bazaars pulsating with constant, loud and hectic commercial activity. In the courtyard of the mosque is the mazaar of the 13th century sufi saint known as Sabz Pir. I sat in the mosque courtyard for a while looking at the delicate decorations on the walls, the surrounding brick buildings overlooking this serene 17th century structure and flocks of pigeons fluttering on the mosque's domes and minarets.

On my way to the walled city I made the essential stop at Kim's; a tiny but wonderful bookstore which is part of the Lahore Museum complex and sits just across from Kim's Gun and Punjab University's Old Campus and adjoins the National College of Arts. I always discover books there that I never find anywhere else in the city. I bought Majid Sheikh's new book called "Lahore: Tales without End" and Som Anand's "Lahore: Portrait of a Lost City". Both books, in very different ways, are treasure troves of vignettes about Lahore and its people. Among dozens of fascinating Lahori tales recounted by Majid Sheikh is the story of the Renault Benz gifted by Adolf Hitler to Allama Mashriqi (founder of the Khaksar Tehreek). This car in a rusted, dilapidated state is still parked in Icchra in the courtyard of Allama Mashriqi's house. Allama's descendants still live in that house.