Superstars of Middle East ComicCon 2016


This year’s Middle East Film and Comic Convention (MEFCC, in short) had a star-studded line-up of celebrities and experts from the comic industry. People actually queued up and paid to get autographs or selfies with their favourites. On the other hand, media representatives, including yours truly, had an exclusive interactive session with all these people. Here are a few shots from the event!

The list featured heavyweights including:

  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (I didn’t know who he was till I met him; I don’t watch the show – Game of Thrones / Jamie Lannister ring any bells?)
  • Christopher Lloyd (Back to the future)
  • Randy Orton (WWE)
  • Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: Sarah Connor)
  • Nick Frost (Shaun of the dead)
  • Veronica Taylor (voice artist extraordinaire – April from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
  • Max Landis (Victor Frankenstein)
  • Darryl McDaniels (a.k.a. Run DMC)
  • Stan Lee (last, but certainly not the least, who made an appearance over a live video stream – creator of  Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men)

Here are a few shots from the event. Enjoy!


Manslaughter on New Year’s Eve

Manslaughter on New Year's Eve

New Year’s Eve (or NYE as it is popularly referred to) seems to be all the rage in Karachi these days. Surprisingly, this was never the case a couple of decades ago. My dad, or his dad before him, never went out to the Clifton beach partying his way into the new year, welcoming it with fire-power (note that I didn’t use the word ‘fireworks’ here) and dancing with some downright cheesy music blaring out of the bystanders’ cars, a mash of discordant symphonies coupled by grotesquely gyrating bodies.

It’s December 31, 2010, and I’m sitting in my room YouTubing for some videos. Suddenly, I hear shots being fired in the distance; lots and lots of shots. I instinctively duck down, asking my wife to do the same, but she’s relaxed, unfazed, without a single frown-line on her forehead. She smiles surreptitiously, points at the wall-clock and says, “Relax, honey. It’s going to be 2011 soon; seems like the party’s started a bit early this year”. I breathe out a partial sigh of relief and can’t stop myself from thinking about the consequences, the price that some innocents might end up paying because of a few irresponsible idiots. More firing follows and for the next hour or so, thats all I can hear, my ears trying (and miserably failing) to pinpoint the origins of this mindless debauchery. Never in a million years could I imagine one of my family members to be a victim of this New Year insanity, as I was about to find out the very next day. The story that follows is in the victim’s (i.e. Hassan’s) own words and has been modified slightly (as he was unconscious through part of the incident).

“Since it was my last weekend of freedom, the last couple of school-free days, I decided to join my friends outside for some late-night chit-chat. It was almost 11:30 p.m., me speeding down the stairs, my dad yelling after me to take my jacket. After contemplating for a split-second, I flew back upstairs, grabbed my winter-gear and whispered a silent thank-you to my dad once I stepped outside. It was 9 degrees centigrade outside, or at least that’s what I had heard on the TV earlier that evening, and that is extreme by Karachi standards. My friends and I headed towards the corner of the street, our usual hangout, and started engaging in some boy-banter. The discussion soon steered towards the computer games we had played, Monday blues, upcoming exams and the teachers we hated. After about 10 minutes, we heard the first gun-shots being fired, signalling the arrival of the fast approaching New Year. A few fireworks lit up the night sky, but it was the noise of the gun-shots that dominated our senses. The firing intensified as time snaked its way towards 2011. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my scalp, as if something was burning through me, trying to making its way to my brain. Two little streams of blood trickled down my forehead and the next thing I remember is blacking out completely, falling on the ground in a heap. At first, my friends thought I was joking, then spotting the blood, they started screaming. Thankfully for me, the hospital was only a short distance from where I live, so my friends had me there in no time. I was still unconscious, my breathing shallow and labored. The doctor in the ER rushed up to me, examined the wound and started throwing questions at my friends. What? How? When? Confused and afraid, they answered as best as they could. After a few minutes, the doctor picked up a pair of tweezers and extracted a bullet out of my scalp. He dressed up my wound as best as he could, all the while consoling my friends. I came to about 10 minutes later, my brain about to blow out of my skull. I told the doctor I was in a lot of pain and he mercifully gave me the magic drug (what would we do without pain-killers?). According to the doctor, the bullet must have been shot into the sky and on its way back, its trajectory had slowed it down considerably before it landed on my head, failing to go further on into the skull. Had this not been the case, it would have been a through-and-through and I would have definitely died. With a prescription in one hand, I managed to walk out of the hospital, a bit groggy and disoriented but otherwise alright, the dent in my scalp a constant reminder of what could have been.”

Firing a gun isn’t fun when you are at the receiving end, a deal you didn’t sign-up for, an innocent bystander, caught in the cross-fire of mindless self-indulgent individuals trying to prove some point that I fail to comprehend. Yet this continues to happen year after year after year, a soiree of imbeciles hell-bent on painting the earth red with the blood of the innocent. How can we expect the New Year to be peaceful when all we really do is welcome it with violence? Think about the 70+ people (including INFANTS, for crying out loud) who were either dead or seriously injured in Karachi; sadly, the same story was repeated throughout the country. Not to mention the disregard for people being disturbed by these senseless acts; think about the elderly, the sick, the children, and the people who have to wake up early no matter what. Is this a celebration or an act of barbarianism? Go figure.

Note: Here’s a link to the video of the coverage done by a Pakistani news channel.

Maids Caught After Failed Robbery Attempt

I hate sensationalism and the only reason I am writing this is to educate people about the new modus operandi (MO) some criminals have adopted; this, and the fact that a family friend got seriously injured and is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress. The extent to which these felons will go to get what they want is limitless, and they won’t let anything or anyone stand in between. Interestingly, this new wave of crime is led by a group of ladies (with male assistance, of course), disguising themselves as maids (of which there is an acute dearth, especially in Karachi) and looting the house-owner as soon as they get a chance. Enough chit-chat – now let’s get to the real story.

The story has been chronologically ordered and covers the incident from several people’s perspectives. The names of the people (except the criminals’) have been changed to preserve their anonymity. The names Nadia and Sadia have been used interchangeably.

Date: Wednesday, October 13, 2010.

10:50 am – Sabrina: The doorbell rang and I was relieved to see the new maid I had appointed a day before. The kids gone to school, the husband to work; it was time to get my house back in shape. As I opened the door, I was a bit surprised to see another maid walk in with the first one. “Baji, she is my sister Sadia and has come to help me. I have to go early so an extra set of hands sure would come in handy”, said Nadia.

Work? Fast? Too good to be true! I allowed them to come in. While they went to get their mops and brooms, I resumed cleaning my cupboard. What happened next was so sudden that I felt paralyzed for a few seconds; or was it minutes? Sadia pulled out a gun which was concealed under her abaya (a tradition black garb worn by muslim women), pointed it straight to my head and said, “Don’t move, don’t scream. If you do either, I’ll shoot.”

The paralysis hadn’t broken yet so I allowed them to drag me to my kids’ bunk bed and tie me to the bedpost using a chain. Next, they tied my neck so hard I could barely breathe and padlocked both the chains. After this, they took turns pulling my hair, and biting my arms, all the while interrogating, “Where is all the gold? Where is all the money?”

I said, “Whatever I have is in my purse and the drawer in the cupboard”.

They extracted whatever they could, namely my cell phone, a few pairs of earrings, bangles, my engagement ring, some other gold trinkets and a little cash. If I had more, I would’ve given it all to them there and then, but honestly, that was it!

Sadia asked, “What is this? Why is this locked? Where are the keys?”

The drawer in question was my husband’s and contained his work documents. To keep these out of reach of the children, he kept it locked and the keys with him at all times. I told her the same story but she was not budging.

“I’ll open it myself”, said Sadia. She put a hand in the collar of her burqa and out came a handy screw-driver set with a plethora of attachments. She got right to work and pulled out the lock within seconds. Upon finding nothing, she flipped and the hand with the gun came crashing into my skull. I reeled in pain, the room going out of sight for a few seconds. I opened my mouth to scream but that’s when the second blow landed. Blood had started gushing all over my face, my hair a total mess, my clothes sickly wet. Next, she put the gun in my mouth and said, “One more attempt to scream and I blow your brains out”.

I could see my death closing in.

The paralysis finally gave way and I let out an ear-shattering scream for help. “Fauzia Baji! Fauzia Baji!”.

11:05 a.m. – Haleema: Mornings are the usual; jogging from the room to the kitchen and back. I had some work to do so I went into the kitchen. That’s when I heard the cries, “Fauzia Baji! Fauzia Baji!”

I went straight to my mother-in-law and said, “Mummy, Sabrina Baji is screaming, and she’s calling out your name.”

“Your ears must be ringing. Why would Sabrina be screaming? Hmm… unless the husband and wife are having a fight. We mustn’t interfere.”

“No mummy! Something is wrong. I can feel it in my bones. Please go check.”

Mummy went to the kitchen and shouted, “Sabrina! Sabrina! Everything alright?”

Upon getting no response, mummy called my brother –in-law Basheer.

11:05 a.m. – Sabrina: I could hear Fauzia Baji calling for me but Nadia had wrapped my head in a blanket. This was it; I would die suffocating and all they would find was my lifeless form. Two more blows landed on my head. I could hear one of them say, “Why don’t you just lose consciousness?”

Couldn’t breathe… couldn’t move. My God, these ruthless criminals had thought of everything.

11:10 a.m. – Basheer: I was on my way to work when my phone started ringing. After hearing the apprehension in my mom’s voice, I immediately called the chowkidar (guard) Ameer Khan at our building’s entrance and asked him to go up and investigate as my mom was too afraid to look herself.

Call it quick thinking on my part, I instructed Ameer Khan to close the ramp entrance leading down to our basement parking and told him to ask Sher Khan (the other guard) to stay put and guard the building entrance. After doing this, I tried getting through to Yousuf, my brother. Why wasn’t he picking up the phone? I needed to report this to the police immediately and didn’t know the number.

11:15 a.m. – Fauzia: I couldn’t wait for the chowkidar any longer; I knew I had to do something. I asked my daughters-in-law to stay inside and rang the doorbell.

“Sabrina! Sabrina! What is happening?”, I cried. There was no reply. It was then I saw Ameer Khan coming up the stairs. Finding some strength in myself, I called again.

Nadia came out and from behind the closed grill gate said, “Baji is taking a bath. Come later”.

I said, “I heard Sabrina screaming. What have you done to her?”

“We’ve done nothing. She’s taking a bath”, and then moving towards Ameer Khan, she said, “This woman has gone crazy. Baji is in the bath room”.

11:18 a.m. – Sabrina: Sadia pointed the gun to my head and said, “Tell her everything’s OK and you’re taking a bath.”

I had to do what she said or she would shoot me. I was delirious but I still managed to say what she had asked me to.

Pacified by this, Ameer Khan started walking towards the staircase.

11:19 a.m. – Fauzia: I could only look at Ameer Khan with a look so sinister, it would’ve put George Bush to shame.

“Baji, there’s nothing wrong here. She just said she’s taking a bath and everything’s alright”, said Ameer Khan.

“No Khan! They have done something to her. Don’t walk away”, I shouted angrily.

11:20 a.m. – Sabrina: I hanged onto dear life with the last vestiges of strength I had left in me and screamed one more time, knowing that these might very well be the last words I would ever speak.

My scream alerted Ameer Khan and he asked Nadia to open the door immediately. He may look gentle but when needed, he can be quite intimidating.

The girls, knowing that they were cornered, took out a cell phone and called their accomplices waiting outside the building. Sadia said, “We’ve been caught. You two run away. We will find a way to escape”. Then turning to me, she said, “Baji, please forgive us. Tell them we have done nothing and let us go. We will never bother you again.”

I said nothing as I had nothing to say.

11:25 a.m. – Yousuf: I was driving down Shaheed-e-Millat Road on my way to work. The weather was hot and humid, and with my car air-conditioner not working, I was in no mood for traffic. As soon as I took the exit for Shahra-e-Faisal, my phone started ringing. Yeah, yeah, I know driving and talking on the phone don’t mix but since my no-traffic prayer had been answered, I made an exception. It was my brother Basheer and this is the conversation that followed:

Basheer said, “Bhai, do you have the emergency no. for the police?”

“No. Everything alright?”, I enquired.

“The apartment next to ours is being robbed; mom can hear screams coming from Sabrina’s house.”

“Oh God! Let me contact the police.”

And with that, I dialed Enquiry Services and after being redirected by three different police stations, finally got to the right one:

The Officer said, “Assalamoalaikum”.

I said, “Waalaikumussalam. I wanted to report a robbery in progress.”

“Sir, can you please tell me your location?”

I gave him my address and phone no. and he told me to that I had the wrong police station, mainly because the area I live in is another station’s domain.

11:28 a.m. – Sabrina: Upon getting no response from me, she sprinted towards the main door screaming, “Bhago!” (meaning “Run”).

The gate flew open, taking Ameer Khan by surprise, and both of them bolted towards the stairs.

Fauzia Baji shouted, “Khan, pakro inko!” (meaning, “Khan, catch them”), and with that she and her daughter-in-law entered the room I was held captive in.

I was going to live.

11:29 a.m. – Fauzia: I almost fainted when I looked at Sabrina. With blood all over the face, she looked like she had stepped right out of a Horror movie. I tried yanking the chains but in vain. I turned to my daughter-in-law and said, “Call everyone in the building. We need help.”

Kausar was the first one to answer our call, and also the one most composed. While the other ladies gathered trying to figure out how to break Sabrina free, she went to her apartment and came out with a toolbox. Using the hammer, she broke the locks. The chains were all tangled within Sabrina’s hair and we could all see her gasping for breath. She had lost a lot of blood and all she could whisper was, “Fauzia Baji, Fauzia Baji” on and on.

Kausar took out the pliers and with strength no woman could possibly have, broke the chains around Sabrina’s neck. We picked her up, dragged her out of the room and made her sit on her chair.

11:29 a.m. – Yousuf: I was about to try the number when Basheer suddenly called again. “Bhai, they tried strangling her and she’s bleeding a lot. I’ve almost reached home. Do something quick.”

“I’m heading home too. Give me a minute and I’ll get the police.”

With that, I turned my car towards home. Unfortunately for me, there was a police man asking me to stop my car. I’m sure he needed some chai-pani (i.e. a petty bribe). To hell with him, I said to myself and almost ran him over. I am a straight-arrow so it was very James Bond of me, if I may say so. The policemen, sulking, could only look at my car and his potential bribe speeding away.

The man I had talked to at the last station had the sense of calling the correct station and giving him my number. He called me straight away and said that he was personally heading down to my building. True to his word, he was there within two minutes.

As I swerved towards the road leading to my building, I ran a red light – The Bawany Supremacy; why don’t you try writing that, Mr. Ludlum?

11:29 a.m. – Basheer: I slammed onto my brakes and parked the car right in front of the building. I could see someone wearing a burqa running out the gate, right past Sher Khan. Thankfully, Sher Khan came to his senses and started chasing her. After a few minutes, he was back, dragging Sadia by her wrist.

He said, “Basheer bhai, she had almost reached the signal on the road when I grabbed her. She told passersby that I was trying to take her against her will. I told them what had happened and only then did they let us leave.”

“At least you caught her”, I said as I stepped inside the building lobby. Ameer Khan had caught Nadia and a few ladies from our building had her cornered. With both sisters in the corner, the ladies took turned beating them with whatever footwear they had on.

<A slideshow containing photos of the felons and the crime-scene>

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

11:32 a.m. – Yousuf: When I pulled up in front of the house, I could see pure chaos. The police car was parked up-front and a mid-sized crowd had gathered around them. One of the policemen was asking for me, since it was I who had made the phone call. I approached him and told him who I was. The building gates were sealed but they let me through. As I neared the staircase, I could see two females cowering in the corner while being surrounded by Basheer, Ameer Khan and one of the aunties from our building. It took me a few moments to register who these ladies were because from what I could see, these were very young females between the age of 19 and 23.

The policemen followed me in, only to find the two criminals pleading their innocence. “Hum ne kuch nahin kiya. Humain janay do” (meaning “We have done nothing. Please let us go.”). The police took both of them and together we started climbing the stairs to the second floor.

The first thing I noticed when we entered Sabrina’s apartment were the blood-stained walls. Next, my eyes fell upon Sabrina who was surrounded by my mother and some other ladies in the building. Her hair was as if a bomb had exploded near her, her face caked with dried blood, a chain tangled in her hair. I felt sick for a moment.

The police brought Nadia and Sadia in the apartment and asked them to sit alongside one of the walls. The aunties from the building turned into women possessed and armed with their slippers, took turns beating each of the sisters, all the while spewing modest profanities (i.e. kuttay ki bachi, kameeni, haram-zadi, etc.). The police wanted to examine the rooms where Sabrina was tied but she was adamant that no one would enter the room till her husband was home. Shahid, Sabrina’s husband and a lawyer by profession, was about 15 minutes away from home so all I could do was wait and watch the ladies beat the heck out of the two sisters.

I stepped out for a bit and asked my wife, who was at the kitchen window, to bring me my camera; I was sure it would come in handy. Armed with my most prized possession, I went back into Sabrina’s apartment. Someone entered behind me screaming, “Meri beti ko kyun mara?” (meaning “Why did you hurt my daughter?”). It was Sabrina’s mom, followed by her younger brother. After doting around her daughter for some time, she joined the other ladies in their butt-kicking mission. Kicks, punches and above all slippers were all the rage.

Thankfully, we have a doctor living in our building and he was home at that time. He came down and after examining Sabrina, he started applying some antiseptic on her wounds and tried to stop the bleeding.

Shahid entered the apartment within a few minutes and after taking a look at his wife, moved to the culprits and said, “You don’t know who you have messed with. I will make your life a living hell.” Then talking to the police, he said, “I want to get some lady inspectors and do to them what they have done to my wife.”

The police and I were then allowed to enter the rooms. I showed Shahid the camera and he told me to take photographs of everything. No one touched anything except for the dumb police man who handled the weapon without any gloves. I was like, “Dude, seriously? That’s the first thing you do when entering a crime scene – wear gloves; duh”. The police officer wanted to make sure the weapon wasn’t loaded, so he took out the magazine. The gun didn’t have any bullets, but it was real nonetheless. I asked someone to give me a plastic bag and very carefully, I put the gun in it.

After the investigation (if that’s what you call it) was completed, Nadia and Sadia were escorted down to the police car waiting downstairs. I was in tow, documenting the arrest.

The last words Sadia said were: “We will kidnap your kids”. This sent a wave of fear and panic and as Shahid prepared to take his wife to the police station and the hospital, he asked my mom to look after his children in their absence. Shahid’s brother and I went to get the kids from school and their grand-mother then picked them up from our place.

Sabrina is feeling better now. She’s still at her mom’s place and will be back after a few days. The apartment has been cleaned off all the blood. Her superficial wounds and stitches will heal easily but the ghosts of the trauma she has suffered will probably stay with her for the rest of her life.