art of resistance, Pakistan

Humans of New York: Pakistan.

11227558_1041123395961760_1916040798956359579_n“When I’m bored, I call up Radio Pakistan and request a song, then I start dancing. I’ll even dance on a rainy day. It’s my way of expressing how grateful I am. I am the happiest man in Pakistan.”

I just love Brandon Stanton’s work. His latest series from Pakistan makes me so happy. Here are some of my favourite HONY Pakistan moments. Be sure to follow HONY for more.

11143463_1048123161928450_2900847522199128811_n“I take her everywhere I go.”

11212775_1042542305819869_1831513739907898347_n“I just found out we’ve been evicted. Right after you leave, I’m going to start packing up. I’ve got to find my family a new place to live by tonight. The landlady is a good woman. She’s just in a tough situation. Her disabled son lost his home. I’ll handle it. I’ve been through worse.”

11253734_1045192165554883_4561212694742836236_n“Education changed the lives of my entire family. Before education, we knew only how to work. It was always very quiet in our home. My grandfather was a laborer, but he paid to send my father to a tutor so that he could learn to read. He told my father that, if nothing else, he should begin by learning how to read and write his name. When I was born, my father taught me how to read. I started with local newspapers. I learned that our village was part of a country. Then I moved on to books. And I learned that there was an entire world around this mountain. I learned about human rights. Now I’m studying political science at the local university. I want to be a teacher.”

11800081_1044027352338031_2417244874136593443_n“We lost their mother to a heart attack recently. And their father is overseas trying to find a job. So I’m currently Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, and Dad. Luckily I have five children and eighteen grandchildren, so I’m very experienced. There’s actually one more child at home—he’s eight years old. And none of them can fall asleep unless they are lying next to me. So I have to put the oldest one to sleep first. Then I get up quietly, and lie down between the other two. The only problem is sometimes they fall asleep on top of me.”

11800584_1042810375793062_1969535597646343972_n“He’s a very respectful husband. He’s different from a lot of the men in this region. He never stops me from voicing my opinions. And if he ever notices me walking down the road, there’s always hot tea and apricot cake waiting when I arrive.”

11822683_1043936682347098_3403049766620861594_n“I was born paralyzed from the waist down. But this community is so tolerant that I never had to worry about fitting in. I only had to focus on improving myself. Everyone treated me as normal. I got everything my older brother got, including punishment. I never once escaped a spanking. I dove off cliffs. I swam. I played cricket and badminton. I climbed trees. The only thing my family told me not to do was play music, because they thought it would distract me from my studies. But eventually I got so good, they couldn’t even tell me to stop that.”

11825142_1050699768337456_5888639465022407760_n“He’s my only grandchild. Every time he does anything, I enjoy it. The other day he pulled down the TV set. I didn’t even mind.”

11825946_1045079645566135_6485553779658191350_n“My father passed away a year before I got married. I wish he could have lived to see me start my own family. After God, he was my god. There was no infrastructure here when I was growing up, so we lived through very hard times and often there was no food. But he’d do whatever he could to make us forget. One night he organized an entire musical. We couldn’t afford instruments so we pretended that we had them. Every one in the family had a role. I was the star.”

11873401_1051802934893806_7888020601027564304_n“I was never educated because I began working when I was a child. I was always envious of the boys who got to wear uniforms and go to school. This is her first month of school. She comes home and tells me exactly what happened, everyday. I love it. If I’m not home for a few days, she’ll save up all her stories, then tell them to me all at once.”

 

//all photos © Brandon Stanton/HONY//

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art of resistance, Lebanon

The Book To Read: The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine.

blog_OP_bubbles_hakawati/illustration by Ayloul, for the article ‘The Hakawati, a story in pieces‘, The Outpost magazine/

“A hakawati is a teller of tales, myths, and fables. A storyteller, and entertainer. A troubadour of sorts, someone who earns his keep by beguiling an audience with yarns. Like the word ‘hekayah’ story, fable, news, hakawati is derived from the Lebanese word ‘haki’, which means talk or conversation. This suggests that in Lebanese the mere act of talking is storytelling.”

Lebanese writer Rabih Alameddine has had a good number of notable works by now, but this is his first book I (finally) managed to read. The rain was pouring most of the days last week, so I sat on my little balcony, letting myself go where Alameddine takes me. It was a good journey – I was bewitched and wanted more with every page.

In its essence, The Hakawati is an hommage to all the great storytellers of the Arab world and the art of storytelling itself. It is a story about the magic of stories and it was done so well it became magic in itself. And really – where would we be, what would we know, how would we feel – without stories? There’s no life, no memories, no history without stories. Like Alameddine writes:

What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.”

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/The Hakawati, photo via Leonard Shoup/

The Hakawati is a mixture of stories that unravel throughout the book –  it is a historical novel and a family saga, and an impressive short story collection told at the same time. It takes its inspiration from everywhere – old Arab folktales, the Bible, the Qur’an, modern Lebanese storytellers, etc.

Music also pulls its strings here – particularly the oud, an instrument that was so important for Osama (the main character). And there’s more than one reference to the great Umm Kalthoum and the notion of tarab – known in Arab music as a musical ecstasy, the merger between music and emotional transformation.

The book is also a sort of a love letter to Beirut and Lebanon. Which doesn’t mean their relationship is perfect – like all great lovers, they went through a lot of turmoil. Osama returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father’s deathbed. The Beirut he finds is a shell of the Beirut he remembers, but he and his friends and family take solace in the things that have always sustained them: gossip, laughter, and – stories. Alameddine writes:

“Like all cities, Beirut has many layers, and I had been familiar with one or two. What I was introduced to that day with Ali and Kamal was the Beirut of its people. You take different groups, put them on top of each other, simmer for a thousand years, keep adding more and more strange tribes, simmer for another few thousand years, salt and pepper with religion, and what you get is a delightful mess of a stew that still tastes delectable and exotic, no matter how many times you partake of it.”

You’ll come to know the diversity of Beirut through this book – there’s Elie, the neighbourhood bully and a militia leader, Osama and his half-Druze family (his mother is Christian and his sister Lina too), Jewish childhood friend Fatima, and a lot of other striking characters.

They are all lost – being the young generation during the Lebanese civil war – like their lives have been on hold for too long and now it’s hard to press the play button again. But if there ever was and is comfort, it is found in stories. Osama digs through the stories of where he came from – at times it is to know that he was and is at all, and at times it is to know where he can go or that he can go (on) at all.

And that is the beauty of stories – no matter how lost you are, you can always find your place and your people there. It is the eternal shelter –  you can just sit there and wait till the storm passes.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Anti-Arab Racism in the USA

A Tale of Love and Darkness

Afghanistan, Were God Only Comes to Weep

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

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