Guantanamo Library: Bollywood, and Bakra Qiston Pe

Last year, the U.S. government released a list of video/film and book titles available at Guantanamo, in response to an FOIA request. The entire list is on GovernmentAttic here. I hadn’t looked at the entire list until now, and I did a double take when I saw Bakra Qiston Pe is available.

Carol Rosenberg’s incredibly invaluable reporting on Guantanamo includes updates on the library: Rosenberg reported that the library added Moana last July. In 2013,  she reported on how censors did not approve a book by Noam Chomsky.

Last month, The Independent reported that Pakistani detainee Saifullah Paracha was refused permission to read a book about non-violence authored by family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks.

There’s also a tumblr of images at books at Guantanamo: http://gitmobooks.tumblr.com

For consumers of South Asian popular culture, here are some of the titles available at Guantanamo:

Bakra Qiston Pe – one of the standouts of Pakistan’s comedy theatre productions, the stage play is a classic, rife with sketches of a Genghis Khan-like character, a lot of Michael Jackson music and moonwalking and references to America, and some bawdy and stereotyped humor.

Fifty Fifty – An Urdu satire/sketch show, probably considered among the best shows produced in Pakistan

Taleem-e-Balighan – A classic Urdu play on school education

Bollywood Zero Hour Mashup – If this is the same mashup I’ve heard at workout studios, it’s not very good.

Something called Shahid vs Ranbir, which is what? A Bollywood face-off?

Desi Boyz (A really, really average Bollywood film)

Veer Zaara – A soppy, sappy film about an Indian man who languishes, forgotten, in a Pakistani prison for years, torn from the woman he loves, and is only saved when a lawyer takes up his case

Dhoom and Dhoom 2 and Dhoom 3

(and Chennai Express.)

Dil Se – a Mani Ratnam film about nationalism, insurgency, and love in India. (This piece by Daisy Rockwell on the film is great.)

Tremors – Every Pakistani saw this film in the 1990s.

In the library, along with works by Murakami, Nietzsche, Marquez, Mahfouz, Rowling are works by Saadat Hasan Manto (written as Minto in the list – one wonders if the letters to Uncle Sam are included?), Mustansar Hussain Tarar, and Khadija Mastoor.

Starting off language coaching!

As of this week, I'm starting off conversation practice for English, Urdu and Punjabi on iTalki: If you'd like to practice your conversation skills, please hop onto italki to sign up and book a lesson. 

The idea of studying a new language is difficult. The most common reasons I've heard from people is that it takes too much time, it's too expensive, and that they can't learn another language. More on that later. 

But why not build on the skills you do have? In Pakistan's Sindh province, for example, Sindhi is a mandatory subject for exams administered by the government. But - based totally from my experience - very few non-native speakers study or interact with Sindhi once they've left school, turning a skill dormant. One of the things that I am hugely thankful for is that I was able to keep up with Sindhi after school. I used Sindhi while reporting on the Sindh legislature, and as a result of continuously interacting with the language, I could read documents and newspapers, watch TV shows and do basic interviews in Sindhi. The fact that so many of us in/from the developing world are bilingual or trilingual is a great start to learning languages. Why do we let these skills go dormant?

So shake it* off and start with practicing a language you do know; whether it's your parents' Punjabi, your grandparents' Gujarati, or your school-level Sindhi, or the Arabic you learned to study the Quran. (Here's a great list of resources to get you started) These language bases are hugely important to start learning a new language: Urdu and Arabic for Farsi, English for German and so on. Think about it: that's one more skill you can add to your resume, one more edge you have, one more way to interact with a different province or region, and more importantly: get a whole new perspective.

It*: lethargy/laziness/the inability to make time yet spend hours scrolling through Instagram

You can sign up for my iTalki lessons here: https://www.italki.com/teacher/1785144 and search iTalki for tutors in any language here: https://www.italki.com/i/AbCdCG