Lessons from journalism, tai chi, and life

Finding ‘a way of looking inwards, confronting my own demons, and competing with my own best self”‘

My keynote speech at the first affinity graduation celebration for AAPI – Asian American and Pacific Islander / APIDA: Asian Pacific Islander Desi-American – at Harvard University, 23 May 2022

With my mother Prof. Zakia Sarwar, plus Harvard School of Education graduates after the ceremony: Najwa Maqbool and Nishant Singh from India, and Nigel Gray from Sri Lanka. Their families couldn’t make it so we were glad to be there for them. Photo: Lipofskyphoto.com

Beena Sarwar, video and text of speech below. Also published in Sapan News Network

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Asma Jahangir Conference; Pakistan-India cross-border collaborative reporting; a cautionary tale from Sri Lanka; and a Bhutan peace initiative – Sapan News Network

Justice Qazi Faez Isa, late Asma Jahangir, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Manzoor Pashteen: Collage by The Friday Times/Naya Daur

Sharing four recent offerings from Sapan News Network – the most recent one in full below, pegged on the Fourth Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore, on the ‘ ‘Crisis of Constitutionalism in South Asia’, that I’m thrilled to have co-authored by aspiring young journalist Abdullah Zahid, published in The Friday Times/Naya Daur, South Asia Monitor and other media outlets. Plus three other recent syndicated features:

A teach-in on Sri Lanka’s ongoing crisis, with eminent thought leaders Amita Arudpragasam, Nalaka Gunawardene, Marlon Ariyasinghe, Rehana Thowfeek.
East-West Centre Fellows and alumni from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka converge in Kathmandu – Photo: courtesy Lubna J. Naqvi
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Remembering two gems, stellar journalists and old friends

Two wonderful colleagues and friends departed this world rather suddenly within days of each other last month, leaving behind multitudes to mourn their loss — and celebrate their lives: Khalid Hameed Farooqui, Geo News correspondent in Brussels, 7 May, and Editor The News Talat Aslam, 25 May. We honoured both at the In Memoriam section of the Southasia Peace or Sapan event on the last Sunday of May, along with others.

Khalid Hameed Farooqui: A lifetime of politics, journalism, and activism in Europe and Pakistan.
Talat Aslam: His tweets @Titojourno gathered a fan following for his posts on politics, food, film, music and nocturnal wanderings in Karachi.

The tribute to Khalid by European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer in a press briefing shortly after Khalid’s passing speaks for the respect he inspired amongst colleagues and political figures:

TNS page on Talat Aslam, online, TNS e-paper, 29 May 2022

Friend Saifullah Saify in Amsterdam organised a wonderful online tribute for Khalid, with tributes from personalities like Farhatullah Babar, and journalists Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, Munizae Jahangir, Amber Rahim Shamsi, Murtaza Solangi, Mazhar Abbas, Raza Rumi, Nazir Leghari – see video clips at this playlist on his YouTube channel.

Sharing below my piece on Tito, as friends and family called Talat, one of three articles carried by The News on Sunday in a full page tribute. The two other remembrances, by colleagues Zia ur Rehman and Gulraiz Khan, are online here. My piece includes a couple of my illustrations for Tito’s columns in The Star 1986-88.

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Sara Suleri bows out

Sharing personal memories of the brilliant Sara Suleri whose genre-defying book Meatless Days inspired generations of writers, feminists, memoirists and dislocated Southasians. Thanks Ailia Zehra at The Friday Times for asking me to write this piece. Published as a Sapan syndicated feature in TFT, The Wire, Geo TV blog, South Asia Monitor and The Print – shared here with additional pix and links.

February 2018: Sara Suleri pays tribute to Asma Jahangir. Photo: Beena Sarwar.

PERSONAL-POLITICAL

By Beena Sarwar

March 25, 2022, Sapan News Service:

Aur bataiye” – tell me more, a polite invitation to keep talking. I can hear her voice, perhaps naturally husky, made deeper with years of cigarette smoking and perhaps more recently with pain and other medications.

She’d send her love to Pakistan whenever I’d call before flying out from Boston, where we had both ended up around ten years ago – she after retiring as Professor Emeritus of English from Yale University. I had transplanted myself from my home city Karachi where I was editing Aman Ki Asha, hope for peace – between India and Pakistan.

“Dream on!” I hear Sara say. And yet, she agrees, it’s important to keep going. She’s also a hundred percent supportive of our push for a regional approach – the South Asia Peace Action Network, or Sapan, the more recent endeavour, launched last year with a wonderful group of inter-generational, cross-border peacemongers.

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From the Zia dark years in Pakistan to the ‘hijab row’ in India

I was initially hesitant to add my two bits to the ‘hijab row’ in India about which so much has already been written. But I’m glad I did – gained a lot of insights and info that I tried to share with a wider audience. Thanks to Ullekh NP, Executive Editor at Open Magazine in India for prodding me. Published 25 Feb with the headline Hijab Row in India: Just Like Us, with a powchaerful illustration copied below. I’m thrilled that my SAWM sisters, the South Asian Women in Journalism, liked it enough to share it on their website under Article of the Day category. Posting the essay below with materials not used in the Open article, including my 1983 (or was it ’82?) piece in The Star with my own illustrations, HUNDRED AND ONE USES OF A CHADDAR, and link to Fahmida Riaz reciting her poem.

Illustration by Saurabh Singh for Open Magazine

WOMEN ACROSS SOUTH Asia and beyond have for centuries loosely covered their heads and bosoms, regardless of religion, shielding themselves from unrelated men as well as from the hot sun.

Those entering the work force in urban areas have been quicker to shed traditional attire. Those who find these changes threatening sometimes find ways to keep women in their place. Religion offers a convenient pretext.

The more conservative Muslim women in South Asia also traditionally wore a burqa, more all-enveloping than a chaddar or dupatta. My grandmother in Allahabad, U.P., used to wear a brown burqa that she discarded eventually in Karachi.

Growing up in Pakistan under the military dictatorship of Gen. Ziaul Haq, 1977-88, women like me have first-hand experience of such tactics. We watch in horror as shadows of the ZIa dark years seem to spread across the border into India.

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Chakwalians, Rotarians to gather for “a tsunami of peace” reunion at Kartarpur Corridor

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur: Bringing people together. Image credit: Facebook/@syed.alli

Dozens of Indians and Pakistanis with ancestral roots in Chakwal will meet up mid-week at Kartarpur Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, taking advantage of the visa-free corridor inaugurated in November 2019 by Prime Minister Imran Khan for Baba Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birthday celebrations.

Delhi-based Rotarian Anil Ghai, whose own family has strong connections to Chakwal since before Partition in 1947, will lead the Indian delegation.

The family had to flee with whatever belongings they could take, in a Dakota aircraft, remember area natives. Ghai’s visit to Pakistan in 1996 had led to rekindling those ties.

The establishment of Chakwal International Group about six months gave momentum to the upcoming ground-breaking meeting planned for Wednesday, 23 February.

“Everyone is welcome, they do not have to be Rotarians,” says Mohammed “Mo” Ayyaz, a Rotarian in London who is also from Chakwal and one of the driving forces behind the initiative.

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RIP Saquib Hanif: A meticulous editor, generous friend, passionate cultural aficionado

Death brings people together. I had known Saquib Hanif and his wife Nadia Chundrigar for years in Karachi without really knowing them. We spent a lot of time together when they came to Boston 2015 for the funeral of Saquib’s childhood buddy, the brilliant Nasser Hussain, younger brother of one of my old school friends. Now, it is Saquib’s sudden death, aged just 57, that brings us together again.

Thanks to The News on Sunday for asking me to write his obituary, published on the same page as another obituary, of Tasneem Siddiqui, the top former ‘pro-people” bureaucrat and social activist who died recently from a cardiac arrest, aged 82. We had run into him at the Karachi Gymkhana just a couple of weeks earlier. He had attended a meeting on the morning he died.

In the process of working on Saquib’s obituary, I talked to old friends Amra Ali and Salman Rashid – their contrasting views of Saquib would no doubt have amused him greatly. Also sharing Salman Rashid’s lovely video – he had talked to me about these aspects of Saquib the day before recording it.

I took the photos below the day Saquib and Nadia were leaving. There was intense grief, and yet we found it within ourselves to laugh.

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A real and dangerous pandemic, and lives well lived

The Covid-19 pandemic is real and dangerous. Yesterday it likely snatched another beloved relative from us. My beautiful, youthful 83-year-old cousin Geti’s husband Ismail Saad, 90, passed away in the early hours of Monday morning. He was frail and not keeping very well, but was mentally all there. Had just finished yet another book – in Urdu. A comparison between educational systems in different countries, it will now be published posthumously.

Ismail Saad and Geti Waheeduddin a week before their wedding, 1967.

He wasn’t tested but the positivity rate in Karachi is currently estimated at 40%. Like others, many of our family members tested positive over the past weeks – most with mild or no symptoms, probably the Omicron variant, including my mother Zakia Sarwar, 82, and many overseas guests visiting for a family wedding. But it’s not mild or asymptomatic for everyone. The day before Ismail Saad’s passing, the virus killed a senior pediatrician at Aga Khan Hospital.

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“We will fight, we will win”

The spirit of South Asia and the power of the four-letter word love

Commemorating 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, remembering Kamla Bhasin

By Beena Sarwar

The annual international 16 Days of Activism against gender violence takes place this year without the pioneering feminist and poet Kamla Bhasin, even as her songs and poetry enliven events during this period and beyond.

Kamla Bhasin. Radical love. Photo: Kashif Saeed

The 16 Days are observed annually starting 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. They end 10 December, with international Human Rights Day. These are integrated issues that Kamla fought for all her life. And she did this with love, joy, music, poetry and compassion.

As she famously said, “I am a feminist, and I do not hate men. I am a feminist and I do not hate women who are not feminists. I am a feminist – and I laugh.”

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Commemorating ‘the second 9/11’ and the way ahead

The United States and India should join with other regional powers to deal with the Taliban and help the Afghan people – Noam Chomsky

BOSTON, 27 September: Prominent academic Noam Chomsky has urged the United States and India to engage with the Taliban, work towards overcoming differences with other regional powers, and help the Afghan people rather than blocking ”the best of the options that are available”.

He was speaking last Sunday at the tail end of a webinar titled “20 Years After 9/11: Impact on South Asia and South Asians” organised by the recently launched South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan. Speakers shared stories of hope and inspiration, besides those of distress and challenges.

Noam Chomsky: Put the Afghan people first. Screenshot from Sapan webinar, 26 September 2021.
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