Remembering Hal Gould, a friend of South Asia


I wrote this piece recently about someone I was honoured to consider a friend although we never met. Hal Gould came to mind when we launched Sapan, the South Asia Peace Action Network, earlier this year. I knew he was over 90 by then, a few years older than my late father Dr M. Sarwar, who Hal had felt an affinity with. We’re in a pandemic and I hadn’t heard from him in a while.

Hal and I had been in touch since early 2008 after he read my op-ed in Dawn, An inconvenient truth” (Feb. 22, 2008) about Pakistan’s ‘return to democracy’, marking the country’s first-ever peaceful electoral transfer of power. He had quoted from it in his column for the then newly launched online magazine South Asia Monitor, in which he urged America and the world to allow democracy to take root in Pakistan without outside interference.

My piece had emerged in response to an American friend’s outraged comment: “What kind of democracy is it that puts the fate of the country in the hands of a Nawaz Sharif and an Asif Zardari?” Trying to put the issue in context, I had written: “It’s surely not worse than a democracy which puts the fate of America – and the world – in the hands of a George W. Bush… TWICE!” I added that India had twice elected a right-wing BJP government-backed by religious militants. This was, of course, before Trump and Modi.

Interesting times, these. As a scholar who has done seminal work on caste in India, I am sure Hal would have had something to say about the Dismantling Hindutva conference taking place this weekend that is under massive attack from those who refuse to distinguish between Hindus and Hindutva…

Then came the sad update about his stroke, followed by news of his passing – shared by his son to the Friends of Hal email list that Hal used to post to. I found it hard to put the piece together in the middle of all that was going on but I felt Hal deserved a proper remembrance.

Hal’s son Armeen eventually sent around an obituary which I’ve drawn from, including a list of the books Hal authored. For the photos I’m indebted to historian Richard Barnett – who I had interviewed years ago for The Frontier Post – who connected me with another friend of Hal and of South Asia, Philip McEldowney at University of Virginia who dug about and sent some.

Obituary on Hal Gould in South Asia Monitor, cross-posted to our recently launched Sapan website. Rest in peace Hal. We will keep learning from you.

Here’s the full piece:

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With a queered pitch and biased umpires, Pakistan’s struggle for democracy is far from over

Haroon Bilour -s:o Bashir Bilour ANP

ANP’s Haroon Bilour, whose father was killed in the 2013 election campaign, was among those killed at an election rally in Peshawar on 10 July, 2018.

My comment contextualizing the politics of the upcoming Pakistan polls for India Today’s digital edition Daily O, shortly after a deadly suicide bombing at an election rally in Peshawar. The next day, there were two attacks at election rallies, one in Bannu which fortunately took no lives, and a bomb blast Mastung in which the death toll has risen to over 200.

Politics of the upcoming Pakistan polls

With a queered pitch and biased umpires, Pakistan’s struggle for democracy is far from over

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Binge-watching desi films

My article in The News on SundayJan 1, 2017, on two film festivals in New York recently showcasing work from Pakistan and India. I wanted to write more about some of them but didn’t have space. Below, with additional links and pix.

mah-e-mir

Mah-e-Mir director Anjum Shehzad and producers Badar Ikram, Khurram Rana with Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Desi audiences thronged to two recent film festivals in New York showcasing films from Pakistan and India

Many of the films in what is being heralded as a revival of Pakistan cinema feature the sprawling megapolis of Karachi. The multifaceted city’s historic sandstone buildings, sandy beach, traditional tiles, boundless energy emerge in these films… dreamily romantic under a perpetual full moon (Mah-e-Mir), wildly eclectic (Mailay), effervescent, multi-cultural (Actor In Law), violently revengeful (Gardaab), creative, musical (Ho Mann Jahan), a playground for street dancing (Dance Kahani), a tangle of underworld sewers and space-age factories (Teen Bahadur, animation). Continue reading

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