Emotions in an online world

We live in a world where the number of people we interact with online is more than the number of people we see in our day to day lives. Therefore, we gradually change our sharing behaviors based on the people we don’t see. Profile pics, status messages and tweets become our default outlet for emotional release. In such a world, how does one express sorrow, channel grief and share misery? I feel that unlike happiness, sorrow is a more genuine human emotion. To really experience and recover from sorrow, the human mind needs time and a particular setting that allows it to develop the understanding that it needs to go through this sorrow. Sometimes you need the input of others but to really recover, you have to go through the process all by yourself with people leaving you alone because they see that you clearly need some time to recover. But how do you do that in the current world of social networking? It is our innate desire to let the world know how we are feeling but the tools that we have for expression are too shallow; too… inhuman. Does changing a profile picture have the same effect of shedding a tear? Absolutely not. Instead of processing our thoughts internally and walking through the forest of confusion into some sort of clarity, we post our thoughts and let other people – who have no idea what the background is and might even be suffering from some sort of mental disorder themselves – come and take us to some distorted form of clarity. Instead of arguing with our inner self, we argue with others and instead of answering our own questions, we end up being more angry at others. After sometime the act of changing your profile picture, which in the beginning seemed like a profound way to share other people’s misery, starts to appear as an insignificant gesture and now you are confused whether you are healed enough to go back to normality or not.

I am not a huge fan of social networking. I believe it’s not genuine and it’s trying – and pretty much succeeding – to replace genuine human interactions. I see husbands and wives living in the same house posting things in public to each other’s walls, which should be said in private – and in person. I’ve seen people declaring that it’s their 2 year old son’s birthday, which doesn’t make sense since the kid doesn’t really care who liked this amazing news since he or she is more concerned about things that really matter at that age. Like getting fed. I see wall posts replacing phone calls and likes replacing genuine affection.

So in this context, how do I grieve the loss of 141 lives? Do I change my picture, write an angry post, argue with people who don’t share my views, like the status messages that reflect my views, block people who anger me or look for content that keeps me grieving? And believe me, I tried to use all this to process my emotions. Initially I thought it was a reporting error, that it’t not possible to lose 132 children in one incident. Then, when it was certain that it was true, that such barbarity has happened, I skimmed Facebook and wrote comments expressing my grief and liked statuses. But then I couldn’t go on. I had to stop because there was only one way that I can actually grieve. I cried.

It’s been a couple of days now since 12/16. My online world is full of demands for justice and calling for heads. It’s full of people spreading false information and overly dramatic posts. It’s full of people making fun of and defending the mullahs. It’s full of hopeful and hopeless sentiments. And I don’t care about any of it anymore.

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Smudges

A smudge on train floor that looks like a squeezed out heart. Blackened. All the love squeezed out of it so now it only functions as an organ. If I squint, it looks like a batman symbol, which is I guess appropriate. A guy sitting staring at his phone with ear phones on, jack not plugged in, desperately trying not hear anything. Far away, a girl looks at her reflection in the blackened windows as the train goes into a tunnel; lights illuminating all her features and she notices a misplaced hair. I am surrounded by 9 people, 8 of them are on their phones. The girl infront of me is watching something on her phone. Seems like an interesting show since she hasn’t looked up for a while now. Suddenly she smiles, then casts an embarrassed glance to see if anyone saw her smiling. I avert my eyes and look out of the window. It’s still raining outside. I look back inside and someone is now standing on the smudge.

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The clone

(Background: The year is 2021. The newest fad are clone clubs, where visitors can spend up to 12 hours with a clone of any person whose DNA they provide. The clones are disposed afterwards.)
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Sirens. I hate sirens. Ever since the crash, that’s the only thing that I hear. Sirens.
And her scream.
They told me that I was lucky. Being “lucky” is as subjective as it can get. I can’t walk, I can’t talk. I guess I am lucky to be born in this age where I can be a better version of Stephen Hawking but I wouldn’t call being able to select my accent as “lucky”. But, I guess I can go and burn a few things in the church to show my gratitude. The church at the corner is holding a midnight burn on Halloween night. Maybe I’ll go.

Fast cars. I have always loved fast cars. I hated when electric cars became mandatory. There was no engine sound. I was a proud petrol-head but the crash of ’19 forced me to sell my corvette and trade it in for the government issued e-vehicle. That’s when the industry of racing vintage cars picked up. I used to save $999 every month to get a chance to drive a petrol car. The track could’ve been better but I didn’t complain. God, I loved that sound. Driving was my second most prized possession. I was a great driver. Everyone said so. Even Shelly said so.

Shelly.

I met Shelly when I was working as a mechanic in Los Angeles. I was very successful and was making a lot of money. There were a few girls that I spent time with but I didn’t like them. And then one day, Shelly walked in. From the moment I saw her, I knew. We got married a year later. Shelly loved to go fast. Fast car. Fast life. Always asking me to drive faster.

Going to the track was our favorite pass-time. It turned us on. The only reason I would drive an RV to the race track was because I knew that we were going to have sex as soon as our lap is done. It was our weekend getaway. It kept us sane. It kept us together.

Until that day.

I don’t remember how it happened. They told me afterwards that I lost control. I don’t think so. I could never lose control. There was something wrong with the car. I tried to sue them but I didn’t have enough money to buy justice. So all that I am left with is a crippled body.

A year back, I read about this technology that could clone someone for 12 hours using that person’s DNA. The procedure wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t that expensive either. I missed Shelly so I got Miguel to go through her stuff to get something that could give me her DNA. And then I saw it. In the mirror.

My crippled body.

My DNA.

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Damned if we do, Damned if we dont

Writing anything about Malala and the Noble Peace Prize is like finding a sprawling garbage dump and putting something at the top. It doesn’t really matter whether the thing you have put at the top is a work of art, a real eye-opener or a collection of rambling points dipped in bigotry and baked in the oven of contempt. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s for Malala or against her. Quite frankly, it doesn’t even matter if it has facts or just a work of fiction. Being ill-informed is the greatest dilemma of this instantly informed world. We pick and choose what information we would like to consume and often discard, if not vehemently dispute, whatever doesn’t fit our appetite. In this context, one might ask, what is point of writing anything?

I write because it’s an outlet. Like the man in The Green Mile who sucks illness out of someone and spreads it in the air as tiny bugs, writing takes all of my observations, whether they are good or bad, and sprinkles it on the strings of the interwebs.

During the past week or so, however, I have remained less observant and more engaging. I’ve grown tired of people making ignorant generalizations. In the past, I would’ve ignored it or tried to put my point across through wit and humor, but I wasn’t able to do that during the past week. One reason would’ve been an over exposure to Peter Capaldi’s character – Malcolm Tucker – and as a result, I have been calling out people’s ignorance while including *s between characters as if that makes a difference. I guess it does. Saying Fuck and F**k does allow some room for probability. However, it’s difficult to sustain that level of assholeness. I am sure after every episode of The Thick of It, Peter Capaldi goes home and watches cartoons to counter the level of shit that he had to say.

So back to the point – my addition to the garbage dump. Malala Yousafzai got a Noble Peace Prize and the world went bonkers. Some went bonkers in the sense of “Fuck yeah! Take that extremists!” and some went bonkers in the sense of “No fucking way I am going to let this shit happen”. I think it’s a good thing that the Noble committee gave the award to the Chemical arms watchdog organization the previous year, because that ensured that the Noble Peace Prize had no other way to go but up, given that its recent recipients have been Barack Obama, the EU and the chemical watchdog committee. I don’t know why it didn’t go to NASA since they are the only ones actively working on finding worlds where we can establish some peace, and that they operate the most peaceful place in our solar system, the International Space Station. Anyway, they gave the prize to Malala and Kailash Satyarthi. The latter is also a worthy recipient who, thankfully, hasn’t received a hostile reaction. People are generally happy that he got the award.

On the other hand, the supporters and opponents of Malala are typing away furiously. Each pressing the enter as if it would send electric shocks to their opponents. The supporters are happy that their icon has been recognized. They acknowledge that her contribution hasn’t been great but it’s her courage and determination that has been rewarded. She is no longer a 17 year old from Pakistan, rather she is the symbol of the resilience of women and girls, specially Pakistani women and girls, and represents the root of all good; education. One might point out, though, that similar sentiments were echoed by the supporters of Barack Obama, when he got the prize in 2009, a mere one year after he got into office. The comparison must stop there because it would be unfair to compare Malala with Obama as she is still quite some years away from leading anyone into war or from ordering drone strikes. Unless there is a startup that comes along and takes drone strike requests from anyone with a credit card.

The opposition camp, however, is in complete disarray. The points against Malala range from people pointing out the meaningless of the Noble Peace Prize, to people demanding to know her list of achievements and culminating into the most pathetic of maneuvers – dragging Edhi into the discussion. A more amusing sight is of people describing the Noble Peace Prize as a useless prize and demanding that Edhi should’ve been given the award, in almost the same breath. Edhi is, without doubt, worthy of all the plaudits that the world could give and then some, but dragging him in this debate is quite pitiful. We, the supporters of Edhi, should’ve done more to highlight his case but most of us just pay lip service to his cause. If they really want to honor Edhi, then they should’ve contributed to his organization or at least talked about it instead of posting “Go Nawaz Go” or “Go Imran Go”. Edhi foundation is understaffed and underfunded. It needs support and very few of the people, who are dragging Edhi’s name into this, actually donate and volunteer for his organization.

The Noble Peace Prize is a political prize. It is chosen by a group of people selected by the Norwegian parliament. It is bound to have political overtones. But it is also an internationally recognized award. People and nations feel proud if one of them gets this award. After all the bad press that we get, and most of it is because of the right reasons, don’t you think that this time all of us should get together and be happy for a change? Next year, hopefully our water car might get something too.

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Coke Studio 7. First impressions

Coke Studio is back. Here are my first impressions

1) The pianist is the oldest surviving member of the house band. He will be doing a lot of nodded approval during the series

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2) The drummer is extremely happy to be in the show
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3) Abida Parveen was as usual awesome

 

4) Aamir Zaki makes me feel a little old with his white hair.

aamir zaki

5) Sajjad Ali has a good heart but he doesn’t fit in Coke Studio

6) The male member of the backup vocals is going to sing a lot of high pitch notes

backup vocals

7) Ustaad Raees Khan seemed like a guy who always looks to the side in a portrait

raees khan

And the old man seemed a little high. “What is this long instrument in my hand”

raees khan-2

But he was pretty awesome too!

An observation made by a friend. Why are all the Ustaads Khans too? Why aren’t there Ustaad Chaudhary XYZ?

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The leaning tower of Pakistani politics

If the White House represents the American political system, the leaning tower of Pisa would be the true representative of Pakistani political system; you are pretty certain that it would fall but for some reason, it remains in place. Some would argue against this by pointing out that the democratic political system in Pakistan has been demolished many times, and it’s true but the political system has never been demolished. The faces in the executive have changed but the underlying system has remained intact, with a solidifying amalgam of intentional corruption and misplaced nationalism keeping it together.

Any moment in Pakistan’s political history is a crucial moment. The government is always on the verge of collapse primarily because of the incompetence and greed of it’s representatives, the opposition is always calling out for heads and crying out “cheating!” and the public is always in the state of “to hell with this!” with a garnish of “oh well”. Since the same actors tend to play government and opposition at different times of their lives (and sometimes at the same time, which is very confusing), they tend to say conflicting things. When they are in government, they would declare anti-government protests as illegal. When they are in opposition, they would consider themselves as the saviors of democracy by leading anti-government rallies. There is no consistency but nobody really cares. A champion has to win only once to become a champion. Consistency is the illusion mediocre people live in.

Overall, the Pakistani politicians are quite an expert in fooling the public. You can’t be considered the most corrupt person in Pakistan’s history and stay as President for 5 years if you don’t know how to fool people. You can’t return to power, after twice failing, without mastering the art of trickery. And you can’t raise a call for the removal of government on the grounds of incompetence while showing no significant progress in your own constituency without the belief that the public will follow no matter what. It takes the magical flute of Pied Piper to get the rats to jump into the sea and our politicians have imported containers full of these flutes.

But they don’t know how to schedule. I have heard the promises of “massive improvement in 90 days” so many times that I started thinking that our politicians think that 90 is a hypothetical number. For the past couple of weeks, I have heard the opposition parties promising Inquilab (revolution) in 2 days and the government promising that the crisis will end in 2 days, only for the deadline to be extended the next day. I am not sure where the inquilab or political stability is coming from, but it feels more like the copy wizard from Windows.

I want a stable Pakistan. I want a Pakistan where the priorities are right. Where the government doesn’t spend only 2 percent of its GDP on education and declare the budget as a balanced budget. Where the talk shows discuss improvements rather than be bickering matches. Where race, religion, cast and sect are disregarded in the furious defense of an individual’s rights. If this Inquilab is going to move us towards this future, I am all up for it. But we can’t have that if our attitude towards politics remains the same. The will to move forward should be greater than the desire to humiliate and right now, I only see pitchforks.

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Born to March

It seems like the name of months actually mean something. The month you are born in does have an impact on your personality. For example, the general consensus is that the defining moment of the creation of Pakistan was at the conference held on 23rd March, 1940. And ever since then we, as a nation, have been marching. We marched from old homes to new ones, from violence to uncertain future. We have marched for democracy and for removal of that democracy. We have marched for constitution and then we marched for adding amendments to that constitution to curtail rights of a portion of our population (i.e. the Ahmadis). We have marched against any country our assigned leaders have bothered to read about in the newspapers. We have marched against Denmark for publishing the cartoons without knowing where Denmark is. We have marched to demand release of a leader in self-imposed exile, arrested in a country he self-imposed-exiled himself to for breaking the laws of that said country. And we don’t even need our leaders to be in the forefront of our marches. They can direct us through a phone call and we are up and ready to go. We marched for the restoration of judiciary and now we are marching because of an election rigged by the judiciary we restored. We have branded marches as necessary for democracy and a threat to democracy in the same sentence. But we can’t do anything about it. It’s our destiny to march. One might assume that after labeling Raiwind as the real center of politics in Pakistan, we would march to Raiwind but there is no point creating a capital city if you can’t even use it for marching destinations. To Islamabad!

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