Posted in Articles, Book Fiction, Book Non Fiction

Liberty Books Blogger!

Finally! It happened! It’s official!

After a series of intense emails and phone conversations, I have been shortlisted to join Liberty Books small but exclusive band of Book Bloggers! This is very exciting as I was looking for a larger platform on which to share my book reviews. Liberty Books have been super kind to take me on to blog for them.

The best part? I will be given complimentary books and giveaways as part of the deal! How exciting is that!?

As it is, there are only two books stores in Lahore that I frequent a lot: Liberty Books and Readings. I also like The Last Word a lot, but shopping from there is an expensive business– and I stick to getting a graphic novel or an exclusive book when it’s not available anywhere else.

I am fond of Liberty Books because of the Loyalty Card program they have introduced. I collect points when I purchase books, and then I can redeem my points to get more books! In addition to this, I get all my magazine subscriptions from them as they provide very timely and speedy service!

In Lahore, they are located at Emporium Mall (Pop Up Store) and at Packages Mall, and can also be found online here. Liberty Books will also be seen at the upcoming Lahore International Book Fair being held from Feb 1st to Feb 5th, 2018.

As of now, I am in a moment of #gratitude!

Cheer!

 

Posted in Articles

The Man in the Black Boots: Remembering APS Tragedy

[The world was a witness to the massacre that took place at the army school in the city of Peshawar in Pakistan. 140 children were mercilessly killed  by militants. These young children had to face death in such a cruel manner, that we are still reeling in from shock. There were some survivors too and some of the stories they shared with the media became unbearable to read. There is a 16 year old survivor, Shahrukh, who recounted his episode. His story jolted me intensely, and for someone like me, who just lost his own  father in 2014, I felt like as if I lost 140 children of my own. I cannot even begin to think of how 140 families have been devastated. The following is something I wrote from Shahrukh’s perspective what I thought would be like  in his mind. The original article is published in Express Tribune, upon which I based the following account. I felt very strongly with Shahrukh’s experience, hence I developed and expanded on his account of the tragedy. It’s one thing to merely read a survivor’s account, and it’s another to empathize and feel that pain.]

In remembrance of the children who were martyed on Dec 16th, 2014.

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My name is Shahrukh and I am 16 years old. Today I am going to tell you about the day when I faced death head on. It is not easy to recount what I went through but I must share. You need to know the kind of horror I went through, only because until and unless we don’t confront with the reality, we will not change things around here.

I was born in the north-Western Pakistani city of Peshawar, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Peshawar is a city that is still riddled with conservatism: women are covered and men grow beards. However, times are changing with modern developments and advanced infrastructure.

I go to a school that is run by the Army. My parents decided to send me here because they said schools that are run by the Army are the safest. “Son, the Army will protect you and other children. You need not worry about safety. We trust the Army.” I’ve been going to this school ever since I was a little kid. Today I am sixteen and doing my O’Levels. I want to carry on and do my A’Levels and go to university. I have dreams to become someone big and serve my country.

16th December 2014 was just like any other regular day at school. Actually, to be honest, this day was sort of special because my teacher said we will have a special demonstration of first aid in the auditorium. In this day and age, especially in my hometown, it’s a must to know basics of first aid.

Excitedly we all pour into the auditorium. There must be about 100 children in the room. The younger lot is excitedly chatting away with one another as they settle down in their seats. I sit down along with my friends. The teachers come in the auditorium and welcomed everyone and proceed to tell us the basics of first aid. There is also some dummy models to practice CPR on.

I don’t know who screamed but someone in the room screamed out loud, “Get down and hide below the desks!” There is so much fear and intensity in the voice that my friends and I don’t know how to react. I see some students quickly fall down on their knees and hide below the desks. In reflex action, I do just the same. As I am getting down below the desk, I see a few men at the rear end of the auditorium, in paramilitary uniform. I am confused as to what is happening. Is this a fire drill? Is there an earthquake? There is a silence in the room as a lot of us are scared. I can’t hear anything, excepts for the boots walking. The voice definitely shook us all up. I am shaking on the inside. I also see that the teachers at the front are also lying down on the floor.

The voice spoke up again, this time much louder and angrier. “Recite your kalma!!” (Islamic creed) Out of fear, I started to recite the kalma: there is no God but Allah, there is no God but Allah. My ear drums nearly burst as I hear loud firing. Machine guns. They are firing guns like maniacs and all the children in the room start to scream, breaking the silence.

Bodies are being shot at and I can see the young ones jerk their bodies. Some are even being shot more than once, while others are being shot in the head to completely finish them off. There is a lull in firing, till that voice speaks up again: “There are so many children beneath the benches. Go get them!!” More firing and I now start to panic. Will I die too? How can I escape from here?

I see my friends next to me get shot. I am lying down still, not knowing what to do. I can’t see my friend who was just shot to death. I want to revive him, but I also realize I need to stay put. I see these big black boots walk towards me. It feels like as if Death is walking towards me, as if to come and take me away. The boots are now close to me, staring directly in my face. This man is probably looking for more students to kill.

I don’t feel the pain initially, but when I do feel it later, it is extreme and intense. The man in the black boots actually shoots me in my legs, precisely below my knees. I am shot in my both my legs. I can’t tell you what that feels like. The pain is excruciating and I want to scream my lungs out. But I can’t. All I can do is fold the tie I am wearing and put it in my mouth. I bite down on my tie as hard as I can. I think I am also in shock. I don’t want death to come take me away just yet. I want to live.

The man in the black boots keeps on firing and killing the children around me. He is looking for children to kill. He doesn’t want to spare a single life. It’s as if it was his mission to kill every single person. I simply close my eyes, start to shiver like crazy again and recite the kalma, waiting to get shot so I die. I lay still completely. I don’t move an inch. Subconsciously, I think to myself that if I lay still and pretend to be dead, I may just be lucky to stay alive.

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The next few minutes seem like eternity to me. There is again silence in the room. Seems like the man in black boots and his friends are done from here. I continue to lay still. I hear the door open and close and complete silence, save for a few moans that emanate from some parts of the room. I can still feel the intense pain in my legs. I want to leave the room and escape. As I push myself up with my arms and drag myself across the room to the door, I can simply not take in all the bodies around me. I recognize some of them from other classes. Familiar faces from the cafeteria and playground, all dead. I finally make it to the door and push it open.

There is heat in this room. I assume it is the heater left running. As I turn my head to see where the heat is coming from, I see something that completely startles me to the core. I want to die. There is thick smoke in the air. I can’t breathe. But along with the thick smoke, I can smell something pungent. I don’t know what burnt skin smells like. Now I do.

The office assistant is on fire. She is sitting on her chair and is burning to death. I can see the flesh burning. The smell is horrible and I want to throw up. I don’t know how she caught fire, but the skin is melting away and blood is dripping from her. The plastic armrest from her chair is infusing with her own skin. I don’t hear her scream and I quickly say to God: Please let her be dead so she isn’t suffering from any pain. It is getting too much for me to see her burning away like this; I become exhausted now. I lose all energy. As much as I want to get up and run away, I simply pass out with my own leg pain rendering me unconscious.

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Posted in Articles

Digital Detox

I will be the first to admit (just because no one else will) that I became an addict to my phone (don’t blame me, the iPhone X is too gorgeous!). More than the phone, I’ve become an addict to the social media, namely Instagram and Facebook.

I remember back in 2014, around the time when my father had fallen very ill, I deactivated my Facebook account for six months. It was a scary step for me at the time as I felt I would be totally disconnected from everyone. Little did I know how much happier I would become. Friends who merely messaged me online now started to call me. Instead of meeting each other virtually, we would meet up in person for coffee or dinner. If anything, friends living abroad started to reach out to me and I actually had live phone conversations. I reveled in the “human” touch to my relationships with everyone.

I also remember when I had created my Instagram account back in 2012. It was a new platform where seasoned photographers showed mind-numbingly awesome photographs (I would spend a lot of time admiring these photos!). However, since I didn’t have that top-notch photo taking skills, I abandoned my Instagram account.

Fast forward to 2016, Facebook is out and Instagram is all the rage. Instead of witnessing some awesome photographs, we get to witness into the lives of every account holders. It’s also all about the number of followers– which is no true benchmark to assess how many are organic and how many are fake. There was a huge outcry when Instagram did a huge purge and celebrities literally lost 1000s of followers overnight.

I had restarted my Instagram account as I was trying to minimize my Facebook usage. I have to admit that Facebook is an excellent tool to keep in touch with friends who are abroad. However, I was allowing these two social media platform to control me when it should have been me taking control.

Instagram was quick and easier to manage, as all I had to do was post a picture. I took it as an online journal of mine, to document my life in Lahore and abroad, which included where I eat, what book I read, what movie I saw and where I am traveling to. It started to become addictive when more and more people started to comment and making it an interactive session for me. I enjoyed connecting up with different people from different parts of the world. Soon enough, I was sucked into it, as I started following my favorite authors and actors. In short, I became an addict.

Of late, there is news going around of how a lot of people, especially the younger generation, are leaving the social media. A recent statement by an ex-Facebook VP shared the dangers of using Facebook and takes the blame for messing up people’s lives.  He shared:

“Bad actors can now manipulate large swaths of people to do anything you want,” he told the audience. “And we compound the problem. We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection, because we get rewarded in these short-term signals — hearts, likes, thumbs up — and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth. And instead, what it is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short-term and leaves you even more, admit it, vacant and empty before you did it . . . Think about that, compounded by 2 billion people.”

Time Magazine says that Facebook is about to lose 80% of its user in its report. While another study has explored into why more and more people are leaving social media platforms. Funnily enough, the number one resolution of 2018 among users is to quit social media. 

There are numerous studies online that has shown excessive use of Facebook and Instagram are causing depression, low self-esteem, jealousy, envy among its user. Everyone seems to be living the perfect life. There is ample reason for anyone to feel jealous of other people’s holidays, dining, shopping and cool experiences, all the while watching the pictures from their dreary office space.  What one realizes is that everything is fake– no one has the perfect life the way they do on Facebook and Instagram. Instead, the way I see it, these people are seeking validation from others out there, and get a kick out from the number of likes and comments they get.

There have been reports of users who’ve been depressed because they don’t get a certain number of likes, and so they remove their posts. There have been reports of users using techniques to garner fake likes and followers to increase their fan following. In short, everything is fake online.

As I am delving myself more and more into reading, one common thing pops up among a lot of the influential leaders and CEOs: don’t use social media unless it’s absolutely necessary. They instead talk about reading more books, discussing ideas with others, indulging in creativity and innovation, and focusing on self-growth- mind, body, and soul. Sleep is another important element a lot of these CEOS talk about: those 8 hours sleep is a must!

So, I took the plunge today morning and decided to go for a digital detox from Instagram. Instagram was not serving me any good, or enhancing my life, or giving me an opportunity for self-actualization. Instead, it just made me into a defunct vegetable just scrolling through the pictures to see what other people are up to. It was NOT doing me any good at all.

I have also minimized my use of Facebook (earlier I would be posting/ checking in almost everywhere) and now I have limited my use. I use it to keep in touch with friends abroad and to share my articles. I have un-liked a lot of the celebrities pages and focus on my interests only- books, literature, movies, culture and self-growth.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with both these platforms. Some people are thriving with their business, while others are making loads of money on it by endorsing products. Others use this platform to share their passion, while some use it to share their breath-taking pictures. But these types of users are far and few in between. It’s just that it wasn’t doing me any good. Technology can be useful and harmful at the same time, and it all depends on how we use it.

So I am off Instagram, in the hope that I get rid of my addiction. I am using Facebook minimally. Instead, I am focusing on my real life, meeting up with real people, creating new friendships, polishing up on old friendships and live a more meaningful real life. I will be able to declutter my life, keep it more productive and healthy, and ultimately happier. Keep in mind, a digital detox doesn’t mean one abandons the social media altogether. It merely means one is taking a break for a time defined by oneself.

Note: If you feel you are in the same boat as me, I encourage you to read Arianna Huffington’s Thrive (she talks brilliantly about getting 8 hours of sleep, and prioritising life- means, less social media, and more human interaction) as well as Russell Brand’s Recovery (his 12 steps to break addictive habits is staggeringly amazing!).

 

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