It’s Easier Now

There’s much to be said about Jason Molina, who passed away today. I’m sure there’ll be lots written – he was one of indie’s unsure, unheralded giants. From Songs: Ohia’s devastating, melancholy meanderings to the more bluesy rigmarole of Magnolia Electric Co, Molina was a phenomenally competent songwriter and band leader.

I can’t say anything about his work that hasn’t already been said, or is likely to be repeated over the next week, but I do feel some aspects of his work need constant reiteration, lest they ever be forgotten. My first proper introduction to Molina was his 2006 solo album, It’s Easier Now. From the opening track’s utterance of the titular lyrics, I was never going to do anything but fall in love with his booming, emotive voice. Molina sings like few people I’ve ever heard – his voice actually travels and it’s never been coated in anything other than sort of honesty you’d expect from one of the greatest artists of his generation. His command over dynamics, over soft and loud, over theatrics and subtlety are unmatched, as his ability to sing what should be maudlin songs, but are instead the sort of eviscerating, destructively honest songs that only a few can muster up regularly.

It’s Easier Now and Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness and Didn’t It Rain are some of my favourite albums ever. This is music that is desolate but incessantly genuine. It’s music made by someone who was at the peak of his abilities nearly throughout his sojourn on this piece of rock and dust.

Molina was someone whose music, despite its scope and breadth, never really lifted the veneer off whatever was going on in his head. It’s something we’ll never know either, and perhaps we aren’t meant. Maybe this is how it was always supposed to be, and an album full of achievement and happiness was never supposed to be forthcoming.

But ultimately, it matters not a jot – Molina’s body of work is as good as anyone else’s, and it’s one of life’s greatest failures that a man, and a musician, as irrevocably brilliant as Jason Molina, will never get to sit down and look back at what he’s done and the lives he’s touched and mended over his life.

Songs Ohia: Lioness

Songs Ohia: Didn’t It Rain

 

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Peshawar & I

The last time I was in Peshawar was a year ago, but I barely remember anything about that trip since it was work based.

Yesterday though, I had to go to Peshawar from my best friend’s walima. The trip felt very different, perhaps because I was in more than a pensive mood. One of my best friend’s was getting married – how could I not be in some sort of a mood?

Anyway, on the motorway it didn’t take me long to realize why I (or many others) legitimately find KPK (almost typed NWFP there) to be the most gorgeous province in the country. Once you got past Charsadda, and with the mountains of Swat teetering into view, you couldn’t help but be left stunned at the sheer natural beauty of it all. Sure, it was evening and a slight mist was descending, shaping halos around the trees by the side of the motorway – but still. Everything seemed perfect. It wasn’t overblown; you weren’t gasping, for example. It was just subtle and serene. There was a calmness in place, one that this province and its peoples hadn’t seen in quite a while.

Yet, just as I was coming to grips with how I felt warm at the sight of this province, the car got off the motorway and headed towards Peshawar. And that’s when it all crumbled and fell.

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My dad’s a pathan, and during the 90s I visited Peshawar a fair bit with him. His village, Mashokhel, is about 15 minutes from Peshawar, just off the Kabul river (a river whose been very violent to us – there used to be just one road leading into the village and a healthy Kabul river would flow all over it. We’ve twice almost had our car taken away by it)

In ’98, my family moved to Peshawar and I joined up with them two years later. I knew Peshawar from 1998 – 2004, and that place has many memories for me; most of them quite pleasant.

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Peshawar, as a whole, will probably never change. University Road will likely always remain central to the city’s plans, and Saddar will always remain the city’s big shopping hub. Hayatabad too, will be Peshawar’s Defence/DHA. But, as tautological as it is to say, the Peshawar circa 2004 is widely different from the Peshawar of today.

Peshawar’s now ovewhelmed with traffic. It’s a city not built for the population that currently resides in it. Swelled to the ranks because of Afghan refugees and IDPs, Peshawar’s bursting at the seams. Though it’s no longer as conservative as it was when the MMA were being the tubthumpers they are, Peshawar’s still a long away from the relative freedom one could enjoy around 2000/2001. Business though is booming – there are lots of new restaurants and lots of new cafes. At least Peshawar’s youth are struggling to earn back the city that is rightfully theirs. No city should belong to bearded old men.

New, monstrous plazas have crept up next to old ones. Where there were houses with outer walls full of bougainvillea, now there are concrete monstrosities selling clothes and mobile phones. Roads are being widened, which in a city like Peshawar is hardly a solution for the ages. Flyovers, even, are being built. And all this while ignoring the elephant in the room: barricades and checkpoints. That side of Peshawar perhaps is best summed up by the fortress that is the road which leads to the American Consulate.

But then again, cities change. They’re living, breathing organisms – hardly immune to the machinations of its citizens or the politics around it. Lahore’s another city that’s changed considerably since I left, but Lahore still seems to be able to breathe more. Peshawar though has become a nightmare. It’s claustrophobic, dirty, polluted. It’s overwhelming, and not in a good way.

But hey, at least Namak Mandi’s legitimately back on the map.

Design

I’ve realized now, perhaps a bit too late, that one of the best proffers of inspiration is design. Anything, in fact, that sparks your senses – but for me, more than touch or taste, it’s sight and sound.

On the other hand, I’m badly trying to do anything but work.

Yes. Nonsense. I am a nonsense.

What? How many blogs do you HAVE?!

No, really.

Four, I think.

Two blogs, two tumblrs.

One tumblr’s essential – that’s my ‘official site’ (till I can be bothered getting a domain proper).

One tumblr exists for reblogs, essentially.

One blog exists solely for prose and poetry.

One blog exists for year-end lists and rants (though the latter now seems to be the prerogative of twitter). It also exists to be ignored. It’s self-loathing like that.

Can any be coalesced?

More importantly, why must they be coalesced?

Mostly because it’ll lead me to procrastinate less. Before posting, the obvious question is, “Which blog/tumblr do I post this inane thought to?” But instead of having four options, if I had just two to contend with, I’m fairly certain I’d find myself far more willing to tell the world about the rancid mess of neutrons that run amok in my skull.

Problem with Tumblr is that it’s hard to take it seriously. The themes are insanely pretty, for starters. Plus, even though I want a tumblr where I can post whatever I want, does it really make sense to have a tumblr where you post a few pictures that span your sense of humour (lame/offensive/geeky), followed by a few songs and a few images (both pretty and funny) and then follow all of that up with a poem?

No, but really?

And then there’s the part where I feel the need to rant about something beyond music/art. What if I want to exercise my right to have a whinge at a political system that I have no direct & immediate chance to change? What if I want to try my best hand at eloquently calling Imran Khan a massive shitcunt? Which of my many blogs exactly gets to have that honour?

So really, where do I stand? Despite my whinges about a poetry blog or essays (heh) on politics, I am also incredibly lazy and these two interests of mine tend to not get much airing. So what’s the need for a blog for prose/poetry when it gets accessed once or twice a year? And likewise with anything resembling a ‘serious’ blog on politics or anything of that ilk?

I’m stumped. I genuinely am. Four blogs, despite my best attempts to cut them down, still seem to frighteningly make sense to me. I reckon Songs for a Dead Pilot has to exist because of how immeasurably pretty it looks. Asfandyar Khan has to exist, because, well, it’s my official music site. So that leaves this blog and Introduction By Glass. I guess, ultimately, that I could merge these two.

Maybe.

 

 

 

Superficial musings on Quetta

Quetta’s a bit of an anomaly compared to the other provincial capitals (and Islamabad). Embedded deep within a valley, it’s surrounded on all sides by elements of the Hindu Kush mountain range. The mountains are, for some, hideous. Devoid of any foliage, they’re the primary reason why it takes a grand total of ten seconds for your hair to find itself a new hue due to all the dust floating around.

Yet, for me, personally, they’re remarkably beautiful. There’s this starkness prevalent in a city surrounded by mountains of that nature – a wonderful, bleak starkness. I can’t imagine living there, as I’m certain it would drive me insane, but a weekend in Quetta taking in those sights is a must.

Moreover, there’s a lake just outside of Quetta called Hanna Lake. When you drive up to it (past the Army checkpoints and bases – seriously) you’re initially faced with this vast expanse that has not a single drop of water in it. And once you get past that, there’s something far more austere lying in wait. Dotted all around Hanna Lake are buildings (this was, and perhaps still is a fairly well walked tourist attraction, even though when we went there it was as empty as a girl’s school in Taliban Afghanistan) with cracked or shattered windows and plastered walls falling apart. The colour/graffiti on them falls off by the minute. And then for the final punch, you’ve got children’s swings that haven’t been used in god knows how many months. You have to ignore the fact that they’re decrepit and probably unsafe – what’s harrowing is that they’re barely moving. Despite a gutsy wind circling (seemingly) us, those swings don’t even budge an inch. It’s frightening and it’s probably the most post-apocalyptic image I’ve ever witnessed in real life.

Quetta itself is an odd city – in some places it’s brimming with life and in others it seems desolate and resembles more a village than a provincial capital. Even then Quetta still has surprises up its sleeve. It is, for example, a far less conservative city than Peshawar. There are booze shops smack in the middle of busy bazaars, while women walk around you without hijabs and burqas (it’s perhaps telling that the women who were wearing burqas were also pushto speaking).

For someone who expected Quetta to be as conservative (if not more) than Peshawar, that was quite a shock. Moreover, you rarely saw these women being ogled to death the way they would’ve been in Peshawar. I even saw a fair few women drivers – another sight not often witnessed of late in Peshawar.

I keep comparing Quetta to Peshawar and it’s unfortunately just one of the many slights against Quetta and Balochistan that I’m guilty of. For pretty much every minute I spent outside the hotel where I was staying, I felt as if I was in some foreign land. Most of Pakistan’s substantial urban centres are in close enough proximity to each other (Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad), but Quetta is in a way off the charts. Moreover, with Balochistan and the Baloch peoples always having to sit out on the sidelines, it was intriguing to note that in my own subconscious I’d somehow, embarrassingly, done the same.

I felt like I was in a new place amongst new people – a people distinct from ‘Pakistanis’ that I’d known. And I sit here ashamed that I felt like that in any way, shape or form.

Capitalism

Say what you will about capitalism, but I just love the fact that capitalists are willing providers of luxury goods that make people with tiny penises (or little class/brains/sense) feel ‘unique’ and all that shit. ah, the power of suggestion and marketing.

Time =/= Money?

I’m absolutely abysmal at time management. Now by that I don’t necessarily mean that if you hand me a couple of things to do in a given time period, I won’t be able to do it – cause I will if I care enough. I’m talking about personal time management; setting time aside for myself, for my own interests. Managing my time on a broader scale.

The last time I read any fiction (and I’m including short stories here) was in the summer (Life of Pi, just in case anyone is/was curious). Over the past two or three months I’ve done nothing but read through my course readings, play modern warfare 2/left 4 dead 2, and listen to music.

Once upon a time I was actually interested in non-mainstream film. Without wanting to sound pretentious, I simply mean films that were more than popcorn fodder. Now? I only watch popcorn fodder, and that too mostly as a ‘break’. A break from what? Fuck knows. Every week I promise myself that I’ll sit down and record/write some music, yet when the weekend comes I either sleep away or just browse whatever shit I can instead of picking up my guitar, dialling in some gorgeous reverb and delay patterns and creating ambient bliss. Or hoping to create some.

Maybe it’s the pressure of applications and of trying to get a first. My mind gets incredibly overwraught in such instances, completely destroying any calm I might have. But I’m done with applications (well, except for Fulbright – for fucks sake. I have to start working on that app too).

Anyway, what I meant to say was that I haven’t been able to conjure up enough time or patience to sit down and write – whether it’s music or crap poetry or even a full fledged emo/angsty/pseudo-intellectual political blog post. Everytime I have an idea and get excited for a fair few seconds, I end up shoving it aside and just staring at a wall instead. It’s a really weird limbo where I have the mental drive to do stuff (i.e. I want to write and all, and worry about not writing), yet when push comes to shove I take up the fetal position, stick my thumb in my mouth and continue to worry/dream about writing as opposed to actually fucking doing it.

Pakistan

Is it dickish to want to leave Pakistan badly?

Amidst the insanity over the taliban; the continued unbridled violence perpetuated by further unbridled stupidity; the lack of electricity; the ridiculous price rises; the general thievery of pakistani businessmen/corporations; the Prado owners and drivers with their mistaken concepts of inheritance; the rampant hypocricies of people and society, is it really dickish to not want to spend another year in this country?

In my defense, seeing as how my Urdu is fairly atrocious and I’m pursuing a degree in Politics (as well as, hopefully, a MA/MSc soon, with a view towards a Ph.D), I honestly don’t see what Pakistan contains for me. I will not be a bureaucract, even if Natalie Portman offers herself to me for eternity. Academia? Aside from LUMS and QAU, there isn’t much. Even then, these Universities don’t possess as much an emphasis on post-doctoral research as Unis in UK/US/Canada/EU. In other words, I’d be teaching rather than researching. Journalism? Maybe, but I don’t have the desire to, well, chase stories. Commentary/Punditry is more my thing, but it’s highly unlikely I’d be able to make a living like that, even if it’s reinforced by a place at some weird think-tank. NGOs? Probably my best option, but that’s genuinely not saying much.

I could come back to Pakistan as a specialist UN bureaucrat. If that’s how things turn out, I’m not entirely sure I’d want to come back.