Thursday, September 26, 2013

[Social Eye] Clarity: The rector answers back...

As I came out of the auditorium, where only a few moments ago the rector of NUST Dr. Muhammad Asghar had addressed the student body of the troubled university, my previous post seemed eerily out of place. In that post, I had talked about how NUST is sinking into the mire of gender segregation and talibanization. As it turned out. I was wrong, along with many other students like me who were covertly coerced into making a whole lot of fuss about nothing. Pakistan's media didn't help either.

Throughout the address, Dr. Asghar, struck me as a man who knows what he is doing. He is ideologically similar to most of us youngsters in the aspect of weaving quite intricate conspiracy theories. Apart from that he is concise and talks sense.

The awesome rector of NUST who is a proponent of quite appealing conspiracy theories
like 5th Generation Warfare and pseudo-revolutions.
In a well-crafted speech, he let the facts do the talking and did an excellent job in quelling rumors and suppressing all the anti-NUST sentiment around.

The decision of separating cafeterias beyond dusk was (although not totally as evidenced by the hell load of CCTV cameras around which gives the cafes a semblance of Splinter Cell) an administrative one. Due to the large influx of students this year, the girls themselves had requested the rector to do something about the acute shortage of seating space in the cafetieres. So, the rector responded and reserved C1 for females and C2 for males beyond 5:00 p.m. A decision which was painted in the wrong light by both the student body and the media.

The hullabaloo that followed a viral notice was also dealt with by the rector. The notice, which originated from NUST Business School (NBS), had a listing of students fined for certain offenses: from not wearing a dupatta to wearing jeans or eating in the lab. It instigated quite a storm of verbal retaliation from the students as they feared NUST turning into a despotic monster which would fine you for wearing what you desired. This news was picked up and reported by esteemed dailies like Dawn and The Express Tribune, bloggers went crazy, tweeters couldn't control themselves and Facebook was studded with NUST memes. The result? NUST started losing repute as the clothing fiasco boiled over in the furnace of a nationwide, heated debate.

The notice that caused all this furor.
Ironically, everyone got it wrong. NBS is the only school in NUST which enforces a dress code, since its inception, for its student's own corporate presentability. The students of NBS, when they signed up, were made aware of this both in the prospectus and on orientation. The dress code was to be: a shirt, dress pants and tie for boys and shalwar-kameez with dupatta for girls. Meanwhile, people in the rest of the schools dress as they please with no restrictions whatsoever. Except for, as the rector pointed out in the address, clothing bearing offensive material.

There goes the explanation of two of the major issues trending around NUST and Pakistan's universities as a whole. NUST, is and will remain Pakistan's top university with a great student environment, excellent campus and facilities. Despite the fact that this media campaign to malign NUST's name and some quite abysmal professors drag it down. More on the latter part later.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

[Social Eye] What they didn't tell you about NUST...

When I got into NUST's sprawling H12 campus, a couple of years back, in my mind there was this lavish place full of opportunities and unbridled promises of success. Well, it didn't turn out the way everyone sees it from the outside but it was still good enough to be labelled Pakistan's premier engineering and sciences institution.

Come the fall semester of 2013, everything started changing at breakneck speed. The university started curtailing student freedom and the administration got extremely autocratic overnight. Rules were implemented to cut down on 'immoral activities' and bring in 'more discipline'. It was as if someone from the dusty, Taliban-infested region of Islamic Emirate of Waziristan has taken ahold of NUST's reins.

Students are to be locked in their hostels post 7:30 p.m. and anyone seen roaming around after this cut-off time will face probable suspension along with a hefty fine. The university's cafeterias are off-limit for guys after 5:00 p.m., to deal with the gender inter-mingling beyond the class room. Guys and girls are not allowed to sit together on pavements and in lawns after this time as well. The girls living in hostels will have to acquire guardian permission to leave university premises.

The Taliban would sure love NUST now.
If these restrictions were not enough, the despotic NUST administration have banned students from expressing themselves through or enjoying entertainment. Loud music in cars is banned. Concerts are banned. Torrents can't be accessed. Websites pertaining to movies and games have been filtered-off. In short, the life in NUST is mostly a grayscale prison wall that you have stare at all day with a few flashes of the azure sky here and there.

Talking about the net, it is pathetic. When I first came into NUST, the internet speed was like a dream. Touching 40 Mbps at times but now, due to an unresolved feud with the service provider, the speed barely crosses 0.60 Mbps during peak-times. Even Google opens laboriously.

Only recently, a rumor has started circulating that the NUST admin wants to impose uniform on the students, in order for them to dress 'morally'. This would be the final nail in the coffin for this NUST campus whose student body is already reeling with unforeseen constraints. It is like they think we are academic robots who should check into classrooms each day, check-out, go to the hostels and sleep soundly. No substantial fun and stuff in between.

People give various reasons for this sudden onslaught. Some say that this is all because of E&ME, an army-run campus of NUST, which is dethroned for the first time in 34 years as the top merit electrical and mechanical engineering university in Pakistan. This might be so because student life in E&ME is close to non-existent, the administration is nothing short of a dictatorship. So naturally more and more students opted for the more lax SEECS and SMME (both NUST H12 schools) and E&ME's merit fell. In order to nip the problem in the bud, E&ME's representatives, who are believed to have considerable clout in NUST's governing board are for a uniform autocratic environment across all schools of NUST. This might bring back E&ME's recently lost glory but at the expense of student freedom, here at H12.

All these moves are questionable as they tend to force people to change their way of living much like Kim
Jong Il had altered the way North Koreans live. But the most acrimonious of these all is putting red-tape across the whole idea of co-education which permits male and female students from communicating as they please. This is the whole problem with the Pakistan society that it has put males and females into separate boxes. Women are just seen as sexual objects and need to be hidden way in some basement for their whole life. If, by any chance, they tend to get out of that basement, they have restrictions and constraints forced upon them thus stigmatizing their existence. Universities are from where the society gets its cream. If this cream isn't open minded and lives in a box of seclusion then how can we curtail the rampant gender disparity in the country? This is why I am vehemently against this rule which has been forced into effect in Pakistan's top ranked engineering university.

Student liberty is an essential part for a university. After all beyond the flash and glitter of universities lies the monotonous corporate life. This is why I hope that NUST administration rolls back on these new laws. If not then I sure as hell hope that they have their ranking shaved so that this new authoritarian admin (which I picture with a knee-length beard and a shalwar rolled up to mid-shin) is fired for good.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Making Sacrifices: Enter, Movies. Exit, MVs

In recent times Pakistani music videos have become a shadow of their former selves. This can mostly be attributed to the fact that Pakistan's cinema is finally coming out of dormancy. Celebrated music video directors like Jami, Saqib Malik and Bilal Lashari seem to have given up on music videos and taken up directorial jobs for feature films. This is both good and bad. Good in the sense that Pakistan's struggling cinema needed them as much as lungs need air and bad in the way that they leave behind an expansive void in Pakistan's music scene which shows no signs of filling up.

Gone are the days when audiences used to relish exquisite music videos like Chal Bulleya, Na Re Na, Sajini, Ankhon ko Ankhon ne, Mehbooba, Piyareya and Garaj Baras. These videos were a viewing pleasure with well-crafted stories that relate with the lyrics impeccably. Now we are treated to unpolished and crass crap featuring a make-up laden, Prada-clad girl swaying about and an over-styled singer trying his best at lip-syncing.

In fact, Ali Azmat's Garaj Baras, was the video that sent me down this spiral of reflection. I was just browsing through some old Coke Studio videos on YouTube (CS withdrawal syndrome, I didn't get my expected summer fix this time) when all of a sudden this video popped-up in the suggestions list. I clicked on it and despite the potato-quality of the upload, was thrown down the memory lane. I miss videos like these which engross you and make you think.

For instance, my interpretation of Garaj Baras goes like this: the video basically deals with the magical effect of rain - how it brings about our dormant selves. Monks for instance are very tranquil normally but as heavens pour they seem to let go of the wild beast chained inside of them and become polar opposites of what they were before. They go about swinging chained kettle-balls and splashing water at each other. Ali Azmat, dressed as a monk, screams the lyrics with a rosary strapped to his hand. The rock, belligerent feel of the track goes in perfect sync with this notion. Also, you see Ali Azmat sink back to his former monk-state of oblivious stupor as the rain recedes.

How many Pakistani music videos have you seen of late that ask for your interpretations and inferences? Not many, I suppose. Simply put, Pakistan's golden age of music videos is behind us. However, this heralds the revival of Pakistan's cinema. As Pakistan's acclaimed cadre of music directors step into the big boots and take up the mammoth task of breathing nueva vida into what remains of the once iconic Pakistan motion picture scene. With releases like Waar, Morqaye, Downward Dog, Dastaan and Operation 021 (all directed by former music video directors) lined up, I am sure as hell expecting a lot. On the other hand I am also hoping for a fresh crop of MV directors that can hold aloft the passed flame that is flickering somewhere down on the ground.