Category Archives: ethnic communities

PAKISTAN DAY – THE IDEALS OF EQUALITY, JUSTICE AND FAIRPLAY


On this Pakistan Day, let’s look back to what the vision was, what the man who created the state wanted it to represent, and then let’s talk about where we are in terms of the attainment of that vision.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s broadcast talk to the people of the United States of America on Pakistan recorded February, 1948.

“The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistanis not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims –Hindus, Christians, and Parsis –but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.” Read the rest of this entry

ONLY NATIVE SPEAKERS MAY APPLY!

As an applicant for a Creative Writing MA degree at two renowned London universities, my Pakistani nationality wasn’t an issue at any point. In fact, diversity and versatility were encouraged as valued attributes. I went through the screening process all applicants go through, which includes a submission of their portfolio to date, followed by a one-on-one interview with the course co-ordinator himself. Having been through that process at not one, but two UK universities, and having been granted admission to both, it was then the simple matter of choice. I wasn’t just proud of myself for having secured a place, but was profoundly thrilled at having had the opportunity to fulfil my life’s ambition of becoming a qualified writer. Time hurled by amidst a kaleidoscope of criticisms, workshops and tutorials. During the initial assessment, I was informed by my tutor that I could expect somewhere in the region of a C+ to a B-, and that I should be happy about that, because a B grade for me would be the same as an A for a native speaker. Although the use of the word ‘native’ did strike me as odd at the time, I was nevertheless happy about the assessment, as I was told I should be. Could I really get a B? Could I really be as adept at my skill as a native speaker? As it was, I couldn’t. The lowest grade I got was a B+, with the rest all being A grades, including for my dissertation. Well, well, what was I to do? Could I now consider my writing ability to have surpassed that of my English-speaking peers? Of course not, I couldn’t dare; but wait, isn’t that what I’d been told during my assessment? No, no, that assessment was obviously meant to help me feel better if I didn’t get good results. Not to land me on Cloud 9 if I did.

I was up for a distinction, and couldn’t wait to jump into my career as a writer! I started applying for jobs over the Internet. As it happened, I came across an ad for an internee copywriter. Perfect, I thought to myself. That’s just what I need. I skimmed the page in excitement, until a phrase jumped out and held me paralysed for a few insignificant ticks of the clock. It was a phrase I hadn’t expected to come across in my wildest dreams. In retrospect, that was my naivety, for I was to come across it quite frequently during the next few weeks of my job search: Only native speakers may apply!

Do you see what I was up against? I mean, I could gain a distinction, my thesis could be recommended for publication by my tutors, I could graduate top of my class, but heck, I couldn’t become a native speaker, not in this life, at least. I wasn’t up against my skill and my craft; I wasn’t even up against my nationality (as if that makes it any better). I was up against my ethnicity, the very ethnicity that had given me a voice in the first place.  Read the rest of this entry

Community cohesion through writing

Community cohesion, particularly amongst youngsters, is a much needed tool to strengthen today’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic societies. Harmony is a word that is thrown about everywhere, yet very few people actually look to do something to bring communities together by allowing youngsters to interact with each other via healthy and creative outlets. Aik Saath – Together as One, is a charity that has been working to promote harmony between communities in an area like Slough, that is rich in its ethnic diversity.

The power of the written word is such that it can reach the hearts of readers irrespective of their ethnicity, working as a tool to bridge gaps and promote cohesion. With this goal in mind, I have hooked up with Aik Saath to design a Creative Writing Workshop for youngsters of the ethnic Diaspora, that will allow them to express themselves and their unique views in a positive and constructive manner, while at the same time opening them up to the views of others, to arrive at a mutual understanding and acceptance of various cultures and ethnicities.

Diversity in no way means discord, rather its like a spray of different colours, each as radiant as the other, that when splashed on a monotone wall, can create a painting that is mesmerising in its beauty.

I will post updates about the Workshop as soon as things have been finalised. Meanwhile, a big thanks to Aik Saath for their role of promoting harmony in the community, which has no doubt positively impacted the lives of many youngsters!

Voice and Ethnicity

Voice is labelled by Wikipedia a “combination of a writer’s use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc.”[1] However, the voice of a writer goes far deeper than just this literal meaning. It is their very essence, which is contained in their writing even when they try to adopt a persona very different from their real souls. “Voice is not style. It’s not technique. It’s not a decision to write in first or third person, it is the expression of YOU on the page.”[2] The irony is that voice cannot betray the writer no matter what garb it is hidden in. Thus, although the technical aspects of the story might not lack anywhere, the voice of an ethnic writer will come across as wanting genuineness in the story about the rich White Londoner, laying bare the inaccuracy of the entire experience. The writer may even succeed in portraying the lifestyle and the personality of the rich Londoner to an effective degree. However, if the very same writer then pens down a story from an ethnic point of view, that story would undoubtedly surpass the previous one, due to its unfailing truthfulness, that can touch a reader’s heart. The craft could well be there in both the stories, but the heart will be there in just the second.

I might come across as cynical to those ethnic writers who wish to disagree. However, my own cynicism was what led me to question this authenticity issue in the first place. When I joined the creative writing course, my first attempts were at stories that centred around characters who had absolutely nothing do with the way I have lived my life; rich New Yorkers with a jet set lifestyle, aristocratic British living in resplendent mansions, etc. In retrospect, they appear to be somewhat clichéd, and the characters appear to be caricatures, too stereotypical to be genuine. As my stories were commented upon by my peers, there was almost always the issue of authenticity, or lack of it, that was pointed out by my classmates. My tutor encouraged me to look closer to ‘home ground’ for my stories. I took the advice, and was glad to have done so, for the piece that followed, an ethnic story of a woman’s vengeance, was received with such applause that I was left in no doubt about the fact that authenticity was indeed something that could not be achieved merely via a good plot or sound technique; rather, it was something that was in-built in a writer’s voice, and would come out when the writer was true to their experiences. By that I do not imply just the immediately undergone events in a writer’s life. The woman in my story was not me, so I did not, in essence, live her story first-hand.  Read the rest of this entry

Hello all you aspiring writers!

As a creative writing student, I struggled to find my ‘voice’. I looked everywhere, from the majestic hilltops of the Alps to the high-rises of Manhattan; from the resplendent mansions of aristocratic lords, to the yachting lifestyles of rich New Yorkers. In the end, I found it in a tiny village in the suburbs of my own existence.

ethnicity

It was right there, waiting for me all along, while I traipsed all over the globe, searching in all the wrong places. Finally, exasperated, I acted on the best advice I have ever received about writing: look closer to home ground for your stories. I did just that, and haven’t looked back since.

Voice, to me, is nothing if not my soul. We each have a story to tell, a story that no one but ourselves is best qualified to tell; it is in just such a story that lingers our voice.

Kouf

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