Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Meet Ali Aftab Saeed & Dishonour Brigade.

I have an announcement to make: I am officially an intellectual now. Last week, I was given an air ticket (and hotel stay) to attend the Karachi Literature Festival; isn’t this the ultimate criterion? The festival had a host of literary people who have dedicated their entire lives to reading, writing, and excelling in their respective fields buried under piles of paper and books. When my friend Zeeshan Hussain came to know that I was invited, he wondered why people like Intizar Hussain and Dr Mubarak Ali didn’t think of producing a song and skidding their way into the world of intellect. It could have saved them a lot of tattered books and paper cuts. I am tempted to ring up Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi to apologise each time my article is published in Pakistan Today on the same page as his. Even this requires a lot of courage, which I most definitely lack. I don’t criticise these new TV anchors anymore, who have suddenly acquired the status of godfathers of journalism. This is how it is in media and it seems to work fine for me. At the festival, I also represented Beygairat Brigade in a session with Nadeem F Paracha (the moderator) and Saad Haroon. The session was on satire, on which Saad spoke very well; and since I didn’t have too much to say on the academic aspects of the art form, I moulded it into a discussion on political satire with the help of the moderator. By the time it ended, Paracha was able to conclude that KLF could very well stand for the Karachi Liberation Front. The political satirists should really thank God that our politicians are such a corrupt and incompetent bunch; otherwise we wouldn’t have a job. What other options are there? The spoof of a High Court judge dancing on a catchy Bollywood number – perish the thought – is unthinkable, as it would be tantamount to ridiculing the entire judicial structure. The conscientious army generals don’t give us the chance either because they never do anything that we can make fun of. Mullahs work under direct orders of God; and therefore who are we to make fun of them! As for the civil bureaucracy, whenever I have come across them I have always found them earnestly discussing the issues of this country. How can one imagine making fun of a class who has solemnly dedicated its very existence to empathising with this country and its people? Journalists are of course the heroic class which has the hardest job of all: not only does the public look at them to make sure the country stays intact, it is also their job to set the moral standards of the nation. In view of the above, I sincerely hope that our politicians remain dishonest, corrupt and incompetent – and more importantly, tolerant of being made fun of – and that Veena Malik never loses her youth, brains, and beauty. One of the guests at the festival expressed her concern about my getting hurt (or worse), or about my potentially succumbing to the lure of money (in other words, being bought). I told her that I myself feared the former, but the latter I deeply wished for. Is some rich guy reading this? I repeat: Is some rich guy reading? All those who don’t have my bank details can contact me via phone, Facebook or Twitter. If you want to buy me but can’t afford to pay in cash, I also accept mobile top ups, restaurant coupons and concert passes (if one is held, that is). After spending two days inside the literary cocoon, my friend Bilal, literature teacher at LUMS, who was also one of the moderators at the KLF, showed me around Karachi the next day. This included one of those areas where up until recently, massacres had continued for months. I expressed my amazement at the ordinary folks managing to get through such long-drawn chaos. He told me that the mobs worked according to a strategically devised time plan: they usually started the fights after Maghrib prayers and busied themselves till Fajr. People could go to their offices, and children to their schools, because the mobs knew that people might come out and take the matter in their own hands if not allowed to function at all. As one would expect, there’s indeed a lot of method to the madness in Karachi. Another case in point: the peace prevailing there now, as if somebody has flicked the switch off. REFERENCE: Literary soup for the intellectual soul By:Ali Aftab Saeed http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2012/02/the-karachi-literature-festival/

Beygairat Brigade with Aalo Anday on DawnNews


Aalu Anday - Beygairat Brigade


Just when one thought Pakistani pop music had eaten itself and choked on its own self-indulgences, comes a band called the ‘Beyghairat Brigade’ (the Dishonour Brigade). The name says it all: A tongue-in-cheek take on what is called the ‘ghairat brigade’ (honour brigade), the band sarcastically embraces a title that the peddlers of ‘qaumi ghairat’ (national honour) spit at those who disagree with the brigade’s conspiratorial rants and an almost xenophobic brand of ‘patriotism.’ In the wee hours of the October 17, the Beyghairat Brigade (BB) uploaded a video of a song called ‘Aloo-Andey’ (Potatoes & Eggs) on YouTube. It was not just another ‘funny song’ about a guy talking about his mom cooking some potatoes and eggs. Nor was it a ditty toeing the usual line taken by the many political spoof shows and social parody songs that have been doing the rounds of popular TV news channels in Pakistan in the last decade or so. For years one has come to expect everyone from talk show hosts, to their ‘expert guests’ all the way to mainstream pop stars and actors to (as if on cue) roll-out a now much worn-out and self-comforting narrative about the awkward political and social ills besieging Pakistan. This is how it goes: Politicians are corrupt, America is evil, Indians want to break-up Pakistan, acts of terrorism are either being carried out by US/Indian/Israeli agents or by Pakistanis trained by these agents, or by non-Muslims posing as Muslims, or even if they are Muslims they are not Pakistani and if they are really Pakistanis then they are .. errm … not circumcised.

In other words, the whole wide world (except Saudi Arabia and maybe China) wants to destroy Islam (and thus Pakistan, which is the ‘bastion of Islam’). As ‘serious’ TV talk shows and drawing rooms ring with discussions revolving around such insightful understanding of the ‘new world order’ and as the oh-so-clever social and political satirists on TV base their uproarious creations on these same musings, BB’s ‘Aaloo-Andey’ simply digs out the questions being asked by those who are so endearingly being called ‘liberal fascists’ and beyghairat by the self-appointed keepers of Pakistan’s honour. The mainstream English press, especially Dawn, The Friday Times and Express Tribune, have continued to pose these questions. What has so far been contemplated by ‘liberal fascists’ in English, suddenly emerges in the shape of a highly catchy and jangly little tune fronted by lyrics sung in ordinary everyday Punjabi!

Things can’t get more interesting than this because the Punjab province (apart from the war torn Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), has faced not only rapid Islamic and sectarian radicalisation in the last 15 years or so, but it now has perhaps one of Pakistan’s most conservative urban middle and lower middle-classes. The young men in BB are all based in Punjab’s capital, Lahore and boast basic middle-class backgrounds. After watching the video on YouTube, I was thrilled that DawnNews actually played it in its 6 and 9 o’clock news bulletins, and today as it ran the song again I was lucky to be in a place where groups of working-class men (drivers and gardeners) were also present. Many of them let out a tired smile when the song kicked in with BB’s singer, in typical ‘Lahore Punjabi’, complaining that he didn’t want to have potatoes and/with eggs that his mom had cooked.

The tired smiles then grew a bit wider when the singer goes on to say that he instead wants chicken and roti (bread) but then wonders why the price of roti had suddenly risen. This question, of course, finally managed to get working men’s more-than-a-passing–attention. The roti reference then automatically led to the dilemma of the provincial government of the Punjab led by the PML-N (headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif). Though both the brothers now have expensive hair pieces planted on their heads, they had precious little hair some six years ago. This is why BB refers to them as ‘ganjay’ (baldies), who (after struggling to run a smooth administration in Punjab) were hanging on kites and Imran Khan (the Sharif’s new nemesis in Punjab), is looking towards the Chief Justice/Chief of Army (to intervene and make way for new elections). One needs to understand well the current political discourse in Pakistan to fully appreciate the lyrics that are largely studded with allusions. For example, when BB suggests that Imran is looking towards the ‘chief’ (as a bright light), the band means the CJP and the army chief but more so the army chief because the band alludes to the chief getting an extension (like the one the army chief got last year).

By now the people I was witnessing the video with couldn’t keep their eyes off the screen. Why? Simple. Here was a bunch of raw, early twenty-somethings poking fun at the military chief! It’s easy making fun of politicians (because most of them do not bite back), but the military’s top brass has been one of the sacred cows that the media cannot touch, let alone mock. And let’s face it, there are many within the media who’ve been more loyal than the king in this context. So, after lamenting the apathetic and confused state of the Sharifs, and winking at Imran Khan’s desire to see the ‘chief’ come in and light up Khan’s political career, BB then get to what are perhaps the most loaded and boldest lyrics of the whole song. In a clean, unadulterated sweep that lasts not more than ten seconds, BB wonders about a country where killers like Mumtaz Qadri (who assassinated former Punjab governor Salman Taseer after accusing him of committing blasphemy) are treated as royals; and where Ajmal Kasab (the Pakistani terrorist who took part in the attack in Mumbai) is a hero; and where mullahs escape wearing a woman’s burqa (like the head cleric of the Lal Masjid); and how no-one ever mentions men like the Nobel-Prize winning Pakistani scientist Abdul Salam (just because he belonged to the outlawed Ahmadi sect).

I had no clue what was going on in the heads of the men I was watching the video with. They just kept staring at the TV screen, smiling away. What the song was suggesting are simple, rational observations. Yes, but in a charged and tense country like Pakistan the rational can also mean anything from blasphemy to treason to being labeled as US/Indian/Zionist agent, and, of course, bayghairat! These lyrics are the heart of the song. A heart that every Pakistani knows beats loudly but very few, if none at all (especially in the populist media), have the guts to follow, or worse, would rather like to rip out and replace with an artificial ticker they call patriotism/ghairat/et al. As the song moves on, the singer can’t help but comment on yet another of our favorite excuses: the notorious Blackwater. In a lyric that instead of absolving Blackwater’s many reported misdeeds in the world, BB instead suggests that we shouldn’t be worrying about Blackwater because the (suicide/terrorist) attacks taking place in our mosques, schools, shrines and markets are coming from within. Again a rational observation, but a fact only a ‘liberal fascist’ is prepared to face? There is so much more here that doesn’t get said by the singer. These appear as placards in the video and some of them are not only hilarious, but spot-on: ‘Nawaz Sharif bye, bye, papa Kiyani no likey you’ (alluding to the schism between the once pro-military Nawaz and the army); ‘Free Judiciary = Hanged PPP’ (the PPP regime’s problems with the judiciary that wants to see it brought to book for corruption); ‘Tehreek-i-Insaaf = A Good Looking Jamat-i-Islami’ (or how Imran Khan is just a more good-looking fundamentalist); ‘Your money + My pocket = We’re still enemies’ (a taunt at Pakistan army posing to be anti-America after pocketing millions of dollars worth of aid from the US); ‘Mullah + Military = Ziaul Yuckee’ (the alliance between religious parties and the military that began strengthening during the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq).

Then halfway through the video, as if preempting what a majority of the ‘ghiarat brigade’ would be decrying about this video, one of the band members is seen holding up a placard with the words, ‘This video is sponsored by Zionists.’ However, the parody in this respect turns darker still when at the end, the singer pulls up a placard with the words ‘If you want a bullet through my head, like this video,’ scribbled on it. Hope not, but this song and video is certainly an apparently unassuming bolt of consciousness that, within a span of three minutes, has rendered all the conspiracy theorists, ‘analysts,’ talk-show hosts and robotic, contrary ‘patriotic’ show-biz exhibitionists as not only meaningless masters of chauvinist rhetoric, but apologists of lies. As for the men who had gone through these three minutes with me, they were smiling widely by the end of the song. Sure, it was more a smile of wonder than of complete acknowledgment, but in a country that is being torturously burdened by matters of faith, identity and its own history, a smile of wonder in this regard is good enough. REFERENCE: Enjoying ‘Aaloo-Andey’ with the people BY NADEEM F. PARACHA ON OCTOBER 18TH, 2011 Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com. http://www.dawn.com/2011/10/18/enjoying-aaloo-andey-with-the-people.html

Pakistan's Beygairat Brigade: The 'Aloo Andey' rebellion (NDTV)


PAKISTAN: PROTEST MUSIC Thy Song, Great Anarch A potato-and-egg song taking down Pak’s holy cows is a YouTube sensation. Elsewhere too, satire rules the chords. AMIR MIR MAGAZINE | DEC 12, 2011 http://www.outlookindia.com/printarticle.aspx?279171

KARACHI: Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the sharpest of them all? With stand-up comedian Saad Haroon, political satirist Nadeem Farooq Paracha and Ali Aftab Saeed of Beygairat Brigade in one place, it was clear that this Sunday morning at the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) would be heavily soaked in vinegar. And if the duel of jibes is to be the test for the crown for caustic humour in this session titled ‘Satire/Comedy, Ali Aftab Saeed of Beygairat Brigade, Saad Haroon and Banana News Network (BNN)’, then Saeed deserves to share Paracha’s pack of sharp nibs. The overall experience of watching Haroon, Paracha and Saeed in a battle of wits made for an exciting episode of social satire. “Pakistanis have always gravitated towards political satire right before ‘Humsafar’ started. Till then we all lived in this world of infotainment where the gossip was always ‘what’s happening in the country’,” quipped Haroon at the outset of the session delineating the significance that political satire holds at large for the populace. However, Haroon performs in English, a language few have command over, and fewer still grasp the nuances of. Therefore Saeed who chose to speak entirely in Urdu clipped with a rustic Punjabi undertone, made greater head way with the audiences, despite being a one hit wonder thus far owing to his song “Aloo Anday”. “Comedy is made through contradiction and we as a nation are full of them,” said Saeed, giving due credit to the Pakistani politicians who have shown immense toleration towards their public lampooning on television, in songs and on shows. When he took on, what Paracha termed as ‘sacred cows’, the military and the intelligentsia, is when he really touched a raw nerve. Even his video crew deserted him and although he did not get blatant threats, he admits that he “received a lot of friendly advice.” In this light, what was even more amusing was a female audience member offering sincere advice and telling Saeed to be careful lest he incur wrath for his bold views or be sold to a media agency. To this Saeed cleverly responded that he was indeed fearful for the former, but hopeful for the latter. The question of how much a satirist can push the envelope about a particularly sensitive subject like the establishment proved to be highly entertaining. In this regard, Haroon spoke of his infamous “Burqa Woman” song. Soon enough, the conversation led to Maya Khan and Veena Malik and finally settled on Saeed’s narration of how certain members of his team fled whilst shooting his song as they were convinced that the army could do no wrong — a far more worrying notion. Coming back the discussion on satire, Haroon was of the opinion that Pakistanis feel very guilty about upsetting the apple cart which is why they do not want to be associated with someone who takes audacious steps. He added, “The whole idea behind satire is to question and push people to come out of their comfort zone and take a look within.” Judging from the hall which was bursting at its seams, it looks as if Pakistanis may be very interested in learning how to laugh at themselves. As Saeed concluded, “It is the artist’s job to create that space for expression. It’s a huge deal that our politicians are even managing to complete their entire term, which, in itself, is a blow to establishment.” Paracha, being the satire sire, jibed in with a remark that punctuated the essence of this festival: “And so we shall start calling the Karachi Literature Festival the Karachi Liberation Front.” Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.