The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi: A Review


Book #2 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


I originally came across The Wish Maker after a google search:

novels set in pakistan

Something about the name Ali Sethi rung a bell but I couldn’t quite remember where I heard the name from. This inevitably led to another google search:

ali sethi

And as it turns out, Sethi is a Pakistani singer, and I had already listened to few tracks on which he is featured (most notably Coke Studio’s Aaqa). In fact, I had first heard Sethi’s voice years back when I watched The Reluctant Fundamentalist (I recommend both the novel and movie adaptation) which features his singing debut. I just didn’t know it was him. And so with a feeling of familial attachment akin to one you’d have for a very distant cousin, I decided to take a chance and pick up a copy.

The Wish Maker follows the story of a young man named Zaki Shirazi, who has returned home to Pakistan after studying abroad in America for a few years. The novel picks up with him arriving in Lahore for his cousin Samar’s wedding. It then branches off as Zaki, the narrator, recounts tales from his childhood set amidst the backdrop of Pakistan’s political history.

As the story progresses, you begin to learn more and more about the Shirazi family history as told through the lives of its female characters. I found Daadi’s childhood an incredibly heart-wrenching story of loss at the hands of cultural and political forces as well as her own. However, my favourite character has to be Zakia (Zaki’s mother). Her back and forth dynamic with young Zaki is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Sethi puts together a tapestry of the Shirazi family’s history that paints an enlightening picture of what life is like for Pakistan’s middle class. You can tell when reading that Sethi draws a lot of inspiration from his own life with the level of familiarity with which he writes. In many ways, the novel feels like an autobiography, the characters feel real, and the setting feels like home.

Because of this level of familiarity, non-Pakistanis (and maybe even Pakistani diaspora) may have difficulty grasping with the narrative. Sethi doesn’t go off on long-winded explanations to make his story accessible to those outside the country. Instead, Sethi has written a Pakistani novel for Pakistani readers. Most of its references are for a Pakistani audience – I’m sure that even I didn’t pick up on a few. Perhaps because of this reason, the book seems to have received relatively poor reviews on Goodreads; Pakistanis seem to love it while non-Pakistanis seem to be lost and confused.

In conclusion, I recommend this book to anyone familiar with Pakistan. For me personally, the novel brought to life some of Pakistan’s most tumultuous times. The history that I’ve studied in other non-fiction books finally begins to feel real.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond: A Review


Book #1 of 2021. This year I aim to read 60 books. This was one of them. Be sure to check out my Goodreads.


I originally received this book as a Secret Santa gift back in 2018 with a pair of socks and a few coloured biros. At first glance, the book seemed far too long, and the subject matter didn’t interest me at the time. I was only 17 so the only things on my mind at the time were girls, video games, and A-levels (in that order).

In the two years since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in global development within post-colonial contexts. Studying the history of various ex-colonies around the world and how their development was hindered as a result of European exploitation. However, I never stopped to think and ask the obvious question – the same question Yali posed to Diamond – why was it that Europe colonised Africa, Asia, America and Australia rather than the reverse?

And so recently, while going through some old stuff, I stumbled upon this book again. But instead of dismissing it as my 17-year-old self did, my interest was piqued. I then spent the next 5 weeks diving my nose between the pages of this fine depository of knowledge. Which brings us to today and my review of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

The entire premise of Guns, Germs, and Steel is to the answer Yali’s question:

Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people have little cargo of our own?

Diamond attempts to answer this fundamental question by giving his readers a multi-disciplinary crash course in history. I found the chapters dedicated to evolutionary biology and linguistics to be incredibly exhilarating. Diamond doesn’t hang about and cuts straight to the ultimate cause of global disparities in development: geography.

People that were lucky enough to find themselves in the ideal geographical location for development would be the ones that rose to prominence. By virtue of their location, they would develop the most Guns (weapons), Germs (diseases), and Steel (technology). Those unlucky enough to draw the short straw would be doomed to be conquered by the lucky ones. Thereby undermining the archaic belief that Europeans came to dominate the world because of some inherent superiority in the European people themselves but rather by luck of the draw.

I expect that if the populations of Aboriginal Australia and Eurasia could have been interchanged during the Late Pleistocene, the original Aboriginal Australians would be the ones occupying most of the Americas and Australia, as well as Eurasia, while the original Aboriginal Eurasians would be the ones now reduced to downtrodden population fragments in Australia.

Diamond does an excellent job explaining complicated concepts in simple terms so that a layman like me can understand. After finishing his book, I really feel that my knowledge of global history has been broadened. I now have a bunch of new facts that I can bore family and friends with. For instance: did you know that of the 148 species of mammal weighing over 100 pounds, only 14 have been domesticated – 13 of which were domesticated in Eurasia alone! This undoubtedly gave Eurasians a considerable advantage over people in other continents. On the whole, Eurasia was the best continent for human development for a myriad of reasons that Diamond explains in his book.

One critique often cited against Guns, Germs, and Steel is that it overgeneralises. However, I would argue that this is an inevitability for a book which aims to pack 13,000 years of human history into around 400 pages. This book seeks to outline the overall trends in human history. Not give an in-depth study of every little detail of every single decision made by humans across the world. That would be near impossible. Instead, Guns, Germs, and Steel serves as a great entry point for people interested in studying history. Part Four: Around the World in Six Chapters acts as a great stepping stone for this very purpose. Furthermore, Diamond also includes nearly 30 pages of recommended further reading.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the social sciences. Its multi-disciplinary approach makes it useful for almost any field. No matter your intellectual background or goal, you will find something new and exciting in this book, which will add to your future discoveries.

A Reflection on Loneliness and How to Punch

Two weeks ago, I received my Autumn physics exams results. I am happy to report that your boy bagged an A; thus concluding the whole A-level predicament. Alhamdulillah!

The stress plaguing me these last few months has finally been lifted from my shoulders, leaving room for the next load of stress that life’s going to throw at me. And so, it is in this moment of respite that I can sit back, relax, and reflect for a minute.

This past year has been a rough one. I’m sure you’re more than acquainted with why that’s the case. The way I see it, my life has been on pause since March. Unlike most of my peers, I did not start university this year, so I’ve virtually been stuck at home these last nine months.

During this time, I’ve learned things about myself as I’m sure you have as well. The key thing I have learned – the subject of this post – is that I’m not able to cope with loneliness as well as I used to. To understand why we must delve into my past. That’s right. It’s time for my ORIGIN STORY!

In primary school, I was very much a loner. I struggled a lot with making friends because my interests were very different from my peers. I wasn’t into sports. To this day, I’ve yet to sit down and watch an entire ninety-minute football match. Considering I’ve lived my whole life in England, this is borderline blasphemy. The most I do is watch cricket when its India vs Pakistan but that’s more for the culture than anything else.

Neither did I have Cartoon Network or Disney XD, like the other kids, so I couldn’t relate to any of the shows they talked about. Even during playtime, I used to prefer staying in class playing with Lego, drawing, or reading than outside playing with the other kids. I was a bit of an oddball.

This isn’t to say I was sad, I was actually pleased to spend my playtimes alone because as far as I was concerned playing with Lego was way more fun than playing football. Nonetheless, the result was that I was very socially awkward and only had a tiny group of friends.

When I started secondary, I lacked the social skills that my peers had. My few friends from primary had started at different schools. So I was alone without the skills needed to make new friends. This meant that for much of my secondary school career, I was a social outcast. It also didn’t help that my school was set up in a very odd way.

My school had four houses (we called them Ties because we were differentiated by our ties’ colour). I was in Green Tie. Coincidently, I was also in Green House in primary school and Wilberforce House (also denoted by the colour green) in Sixth Form. I guess the magical sorting hat known as fate decided that I was a Slytherin at heart despite my inclination to the unseriousness of Hufflepuff.

These four houses were then divided into two bands: X and Y. In the X band you had Red and Blue Tie students, and in the Y band you had Green and Yellow Tie students. For the first two years of school, our classes were determined by our band. This meant that you didn’t even get a real chance to socialise with half your year group, thus limiting your potential pool of candidates for friendship. From year 9 to 11, the bands were finally mixed for our optional classes, but by that time, secondary school’s social circles were set in stone, and I was left adrift.

I did make one friend in year 7, though. He was an immigrant from Bangladesh – something I was surprised to find out given he spoke with an almost Canadian-like accent – and had just started school in the UK. We used to spend our break times playing Pokémon cards or discussing video games. Unfortunately, this friendship wouldn’t last long due to a very stupid yet humorous sequence of events.

This friend and I would often be singled out and picked on due to our different interests. It also didn’t help that we were both brown and Muslim. The other kids used to call him “Big Aqil” because he was taller than me at the time. One day, we were leaving through the school gates when another student started verbally abusing us. My friend decided that he had enough and began to swing for the bully.

I would now like to take a pause in this story to deliver a PSA on punching techniques. When you deliver a punch, there’s a particular technique you must follow to maximise damage done to your opponent while minimising damage dealt to you.

The first, and arguably most important, step is to make a fist. Now a lot of people surprisingly get this wrong and end up injuring themselves so listen up. To make a fist, you must first open your hand, stretching out your fingers and thumb. Then curl in your fingers at which point you’ll be left with a thumbs up. Your thumb is then secured onto the outside of the middle phalanges of your fingers.

Many people end up connecting their thumb to the proximal phalanx of their index finger or, even worse, underneath their fingers. This will inevitably lead to a broken thumb when you land a punch, so please don’t do it. Your wrist must be kept straight at all times. This ensures that the fist is reinforced allowing you to put more power behind your punch.

The second step is to get into your resting stance. Different martial arts have slightly different stance variations for different reasons. Muay Thai fighters like to keep their arms highs with their elbows flared out and shoulders square-on to allow for easier elbow strikes and kicks. But for the purpose of this post, we will be looking at the traditional boxing stance.

Tuck in your chin by slightly lowering your head and place your fists in front – not too far and not too close. Your elbows should be kept close to your sides to defend your ribcage. Your legs should be kept apart with your less dominant side at the front and a slight bend in the knees. Your shoulders should face your opponent side-on with your less dominant side in front.

For example, if you are right-handed, your left leg should be in front with your left shoulder angled towards your opponent. To keep things simple, we’ll assume everyone is right-handed – sorry left-handed folks. Whenever you’re not throwing a punch, you should be in this position. All punches start and end here.

Now we move onto the actual punches. There are different types of punches, such as hooks and uppercuts, but we will just be looking at a basic jab and cross to keep this post short.

To throw a jab, simply rotate your waist clockwise. As you do this, extend your left arm rapidly outwards, leading with your fist in a straight line towards your opponent. Your jab should be shoulder height, so don’t aim too high or too low; aim straight ahead. Of course, if your opponent is a different height to you then adjust accordingly. Once your arm is fully extended, it should immediately be brought back into the rest position.

Similarly, to throw a cross, rotate your waist anti-clockwise extending your right arm. As before, do not aim too high or too low. However, this time you should also pivot your back foot to get more power behind the punch. Once again, the arm should immediately be brought back to the rest position once fully extended.

The aim is to hit your opponent hard and fast with your knuckles. Think of yourself as an oscillating system. Equilibrium is the rest position with the peaks and troughs being your jabs and crosses. At no point should one of your arms be left sticking out.

Before we get back to the story, I’d like to cover a few things to keep an eye out for. If your unsure whether your opponent is in range just throw a jab. Your jab is your measuring tool so use it wisely. If you find you are out of range then simply move closer to your opponent. Don’t overextend your punches lest you be punished with a volley of punches throwing you off balance. Your legs should be providing a stable base at all times. As a general rule: Move your legs first before you move your arms. Fleet footwork is key.

It is imperative that you keep your knuckles in line with your forearm and wrist. This is because you will be hitting your opponent with them and so it’s a good idea to keep them reinforced otherwise you risk injuring yourself. Lastly, do not flare out your elbows when you punch. Remember the punch is lead by the fist, so you do not need to raise your elbows out to the side before extending your arm. The punch should be a fluid straight-line motion.

When my friend swung for the bully, he ignored all of the rules mentioned above. Instead, he decided that he’d like to charge up his punch by swinging his arm all the way behind him before going for the bully. Unfortunately, I was standing behind him. It didn’t end well.

A few moments later, I woke up in the medical room. My friend was standing by the door; the colour drained from his face. I was more embarrassed than I was angry at him. Within a few days, word had travelled around the school, and kids began taunting me, but the worst part of it all was that my father was picking me up that day. He had brought me some wings and chips from my favourite chicken shop, and by the time I left the medical room, they were cold. After this, I stopped talking to my friend; the embarrassment was too much. He was also in Red Tie, so I didn’t have any classes with him until year 9 making it easier to avoid him.

For the next few years, I just drifted between different social groups, never really part of any of them. In almost all of them, I was ridiculed for my differences in the name of banter. Kids would talk about me behind my back, and I was rarely invited to hang out outside of school. More often than not, people would tear me down than build me up. At the time, I didn’t think this was a problem because I had just assumed that this is what fitting in was supposed to be like. This, of course, destroyed a lot of my already dwindling self-confidence.

On the flip side, when you don’t have a lot going for you socially, you find it a lot easier to spend time by yourself. I would spend a lot of my free time playing video games to the point that I was clocking 30 hours a week on Team Fortress 2. Other than video games, I would also read a lot of comic books. Loneliness wasn’t a significant concern for me because I had resigned myself to the fact that kids were just naturally unkind. The time I spent alone was way more fun and emotionally fulfilling than the time I spent with others.

Luckily, by the end of year 11, I reconnected with my friend from year 7. Things were awkward at first but seeing as we were going to be starting at the same Sixth Form, it seemed appropriate that we just forget about the past. Through him, I met two other students from X band that were also going to the same Sixth Form.

On the whole, my secondary school experience was pretty bad socially. I would often pretend to be ill to avoid going into school. However, academically it was going very well. I would usually rank amongst the top of my class and was the first student to sit the GCSE further maths exam. When you didn’t have friends, you’d have a lot more focus in class. And while I did meet some decent people in secondary school, I wouldn’t call them friends per se save for the three that joined me in Sixth Form.

It wasn’t until I took part in the National Citizen Service (NCS) when I fully came out of my shell. For those unaware, NCS is a four-week program where teenagers get together and participate in activities before undertaking a project for their local community. It’s not mandatory but is highly encouraged by schools. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to said their wave was quote “dead” – meaning dull – so my wave (Bromley Wave 8) was certainly an anomaly.

For the first time, I was surrounded by genuinely kind people. Before this, I was often greeted with animosity by my peers. Instead, at NCS, people celebrated me and my differences. People built me up instead of tearing me down, giving me a much-needed confidence boost. I will forever remain grateful to those I met at NCS for giving me the chance to socially thrive and come out of my shell. They essentially changed me from a bitter introvert sceptical of others to an enthusiastic extrovert who actively goes out of his way to meet new people.

With my new found confidence, I was able to socially thrive in Sixth Form. I made a lot of friends from different walks of life. I took part in social events; something I would’ve never dreamed of at secondary. I also grew very close with my friend who knocked me out in year 7, to the point I consider him my brother. The truth is, I feel as though I found my community in Sixth Form. And by finding my community, I ultimately found myself.

Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can be harmful. I had essentially become dependent on social interaction with others. This meant that when lockdown started, I had a lot of adjusting to do. Without my community, I struggled a lot, which brings us back to the whole point of this post. I can’t cope with loneliness as well as I used to.

When the lockdowns first started, I found myself with a lot of free time but hardly anything to do. Physically cut off from my peers, I began to miss the little things. The ramblings we used to have on our train journeys. The daily shenanigans we got up to in room 10 – our weekly games of Cards Against Humanity. The philosophical discussions I used to have in the canteen during my free periods. The chicken and beef burgers I used to get from Wrap City located just outside Victoria Station (Highly recommend). All of this was brought to an abrupt end on the 20th March.

I needed things to occupy myself with at home, so I took up reading more seriously – something I’d begun to neglect. I even revisited comics again, which I had stopped reading in year 12. My video game consumption ultimately skyrocketed yet again. Anything to keep me occupied lest my mind wanders to unpleasant places. I also took up writing which culminated in the establishment of this very blog. That being said, I still missed my friends greatly and yearned for social interaction. There is only so much time one can spend cooped up with family before going insane.

This feeling of loneliness was new to me. As mentioned before, prior to NCS, I had learned to enjoy the time I spent alone. In many ways, I was my own best friend. Since NCS, if I ever felt lonely, I could just meet up with friends. With the new lockdown restrictions, this was impossible. Lockdown was the introvert’s paradise, yet I was no longer an introvert.

Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of technology, I could still communicate with my friends via social media. Had social media not existed, I’m sure I would have gone insane. Then again, one could make the convincing argument that it is social media itself that is driving us insane. Alas, that is a topic for another day.

With one of my friendship groups, which we dub “Brown Society” due to the majority of members being of South Asian descent, we began hosting weekly intellectual discussions. Our very own Oxford Union, you could say. This eventually evolved into weekly games of Among Us. Unfortunately, these discussions and gaming sessions only lasted a few months as everyone was slowly preparing for their new lives at university – something I’ve yet to experience.

As sad as it may be, I need to come to terms with the fact that people are moving on with their lives and I should too. The friendships that are meant to last will do so and those that aren’t, won’t. The sense of community I felt at Sixth Form is gone and, from what I’ve heard from my peers at university, it probably won’t ever come back. I’ll try my best to hold onto the friendships I’ve forged these past three years. Still, I must also remember that people outgrow each other and move onto greater things – ‘tis natural.

And so I venture into 2021, with the acceptance that, for better or for worse, things will never be the same again. Happy new year to all those reading, I hope you all fulfil your ambitions for the next year. For myself, I hope to come to terms with this new feeling of loneliness. Perhaps maybe reach an equilibrium between my current extroverted and past introverted selves.

That’s it from me this year. See y’all in 2021!

Peace be with you.

A History of Comic Books and the Rise of Kamala Khan


Picture this: A 12-year-old boy walks into a comic bookstore. He’s been reading comics for a good year now. He peruses the shelves scanning for the latest issue of Superior Spider-Man. In the previous instalment, Green Goblin has just become king of New York’s underworld setting the stage for the Goblin Nation story arc. The store clerk looks up from the comic he is reading and beckons the young man to come over.

“Hey there little man, uh, your name is Aqil, right? There’s this new comic I reckon you might like.”

He gestures to a comic book a couple of shelves to the left. The cover features a woman wearing what looks like a dupatta around her neck – like the ones the boy’s mum wears. She’s got her right hand balled into a fist with some books tucked under her left. The title read Ms Marvel #1. The boy is intrigued.

“I thought Ms Marvel was white.”

“No, that Ms Marvel goes by Captain Marvel now. This is the new one.”

 “What’s her name?”

“Kamala Khan.”


Those who know me in real life know that I am a huge geek. My areas of expertise include Star Wars and Marvel in particular. I’ve been reading comics for close to a decade now. That being said, my intake over the last two years has been significantly limited (another hobby of mine choked by the demands of A-levels). Yet, over the last couple of weeks, I have decided to get back into the habit of reading comics. Where before I used to visit the comic bookstore in person to collect my monthly cache of paperbacks, I now read comics digitally via Marvel Unlimited (Netflix but for Marvel comics). Naturally, I decided to revisit one of my favourite Marvel characters.

In this post, I’m going to introduce the character of Kamala Khan a.k.a Ms Marvel for those who are unfamiliar with the Inhuman charged with defending the streets of Jersey City. Seriously? have you been living under a rock? I’ll then “briefly” outline the history of comic books and the backstory behind Kamala’s creation before analysing her impact on the comic industry and popular culture. I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.


Who is Kamala Khan?

Kamala was born in Jersey City, USA to immigrant parents Yusef and Muneeba Khan from Karachi, Pakistan. Her older brother Aamir was born in Pakistan before moving to the US. Her family history can be traced back to her maternal great-grandparents, Kareem and Aisha. They moved from Bombay to Karachi during the Partition of India. She also has a nephew called Malik and her sister-in-law Tyesha is an African American revert.

Growing up, Kamala had two best friends: Nakia Bahadir, a social activist of Turkish descent, and Bruno Carrelli, a prodigious genius of Italian descent. Kamala met Nakia in kindergarten, where they bonded over their shared faith in Islam. She then met Bruno in second grade and the two bonded over their shared interest in Tween Mutant Samurai Turtles (the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Bruno would end up falling deeply in love with Kamala. Unfortunately, Kamala, too preoccupied with her life as Ms Marvel, has trouble reciprocating those feelings. Not to mention the cultural and religious boundaries that would have to be overcome.

Alongside her close friendships with Nakia and Bruno, Kamala also has an interest in video games, fan fiction and, of course, superheroes. She was a devoted fan of the Avengers. Little did she know she would one day become one. In particular, Kamala looked up to her idol Carol Danvers a.k.a Captain Marvel. I say these in the past tense because future events would test Kamala’s belief in the heroes she looked up to.

In school, Kamala has trouble fitting in due to her Pakistani-American identity. Something all too familiar for those born into immigrant families. Her peers often mock her faith and geeky interests putting her more towards the bottom of the social hierarchy allowing her to fly under the radar. All in all, Kamala is your average teenager. At least, she was, until the Terrigen Mist.

First off, a brief lesson in the lore of the Marvel Universe:

The Kree are an ancient alien race of advanced, militaristic, and blue-skinned humanoids. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the Kree experimented on early humans resulting in the creation of the Inhomo Supremis more commonly referred to as the Inhuman species. Unlike their human cousins, Inhumans naturally exhibit extraordinary powers. However, these powers can vary significantly. Relations between humans and Inhumans were indifferent at best. Still, some interbreeding occurred, meaning some humans are carriers of Inhuman genes. To activate one’s latent Inhuman genes, they must undergo Terrigenesis. Such is the case with Kamala.

One night, Kamala was caught in the Terrigen Mist which enveloped Jersey City following the Inhumanity crossover storyline. She subsequently underwent Terrigenesis which unlocked her latent Inhuman genes, giving her superpowers. Kamala can share her mass through time with different versions of herself. On a molecular level, she actually transports her atoms through time. This allows her to transform her body (think Ant-Man, Mr Fantastic and Mystique) in any way she can imagine. Kamala can also heal serious injuries (think Deadpool and Wolverine) by reverting to her original form. She usually uses her power to elongate her limbs, enlarge her fists, or enlarge/shrink her entire body.

Now Kamala Khan uses her powers for the greater good, donning the name Ms Marvel in homage to her idol. She has served in several superhero teams including the Avengers and her very own Champions whom she leads. When she is not saving the world, you can find Kamala attending Coles Academic High School, hanging out with her friends and family, or playing World of Battlecraft (the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of World of Warcraft).


A “Brief” History of Comic Books

To really understand why Kamala Khan is such a big deal, one needs a brief history lesson. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, whenever I say “brief”, I do in fact mean anything but “brief”.

The history of comic books can be divided into four ages: The Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age.

THE GOLDEN AGE (1938 – 1956)

The Golden Age of comics began with the publication of Detective Comics’ (which would go on to become DC Comics) Action Comics #1. It was the debut of the superhero that started it all: Superman. The popularity of Superman gave rise to many rival publications. Timely Comics (which would one day evolve into Marvel Comics) was established in 1939. The first comic book published by Timely Comics was Marvel Comics #1. It included three stories, all of which were first appearances: The Human Torch, Angel and Namor the Sub-Mariner.

During WWII, comics boomed in popularity, particularly the likes of Captain America, Batman, Wonder Woman and Shazam. It was also during this time that comics began to branch out into other genres. By the end of the war, comics had essentially become a mainstay in American culture. However, during the late 40s, the popularity of superheroes began to decline. Many superhero comics would be cancelled as audiences sought out other genres such as westerns, comedies, romance, and horror.

In 1954, the comic book industry would experience its first major setback. Following the release of  Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, comic book publishers were brought in to testify in court. The belief was that comic books were contributing to youth crime. As a result, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was introduced to enact self-censorship leading to the cancellation of titles and a decrease in comic book sales.

THE SILVER AGE (1956 – 1970)

In light of the changes brought about by the CCA, publishers began reintroducing superhero comics starting with the introduction of DC’s Flash in Showcase #4 in October 1956.  This eventually led to the creation of the Justice League in 1960. Marvel would then capitalise on the renewed interest in the superhero genre brought about by DC publications.

Under the guidance of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, Marvel began its ascent. To compete with DC’s Justice League, Marvel released The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. For the first time, superheroes were portrayed as multi-dimensional characters with their own problems, inner demons, and fears rather than the archetypal superheroes typical of the time. Marvel ushered in a new era of superheroes that were more relatable to the reader. Fans began to see themselves in their favourite characters. During this time, Marvel also introduced famous superheroes such as Spider-Man, the X-men, and the Hulk.

The Silver Age represented a revival in the comic book industry during which superhero comics rose to prominence as a genre again. Meanwhile, other genres went into decline.

THE BRONZE AGE (1970 – 1985)

By the time the Bronze Age came about, superheroes had become synonymous with comics. Nearly all comics featured superheroes. However, the tone of superhero comics began to significantly shift to reflect real-world social issues. New plotlines tackling subject matter such as drug abuse, racism, grief, and alcoholism began to flourish, pushing the boundaries of what the CCA deemed acceptable.

There was also a rise in female superheroes such as Spider-Woman, Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers), and She-Hulk and minority superheroes such as Luke Cage, Storm, and Shang-Chi. While the industry was primarily dominated by superhero titles, a few non-superhero titles were able to survive such as Star Wars comics which were first introduced in 1977.

The Bronze Age established many conventions in the comic book industry. Artists tended to focus more on realism rather than the heavily stylised work during the Golden and Silver Ages. Team-ups and cross-overs became more common, establishing the Marvel Universe and DC Universe, respectively. There were even a few DC and Marvel cross-overs such as Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man. Furthermore, Comic books were no longer distributed at newsstands but at speciality stores. Thereby allowing smaller publishers to grow.

THE MODERN AGE (1985 – PRESENT)

This brings us to the current era. Many characters would be redesigned, and independent comics would flourish thanks to speciality stores. At the same time, the larger publishers such as Marvel and DC would become more commercialised. This period also saw antiheroes (protagonists with questionable morals) become the norm with the likes of Marvel’s Wolverine, Deadpool, and Venom and DC’s Batman, Swamp Thing, and Watchmen. Comic books also began targeting adult audiences with more mature-rated content.

Successful comic book film and TV adaptations helped significantly grow the comic book industry. Marvel would see particular success with its animated X-Men series. Things were going right for the comic book industry, and business was booming. At least until the speculator market crash of 1993.

By the late 80s, important comics such as first issues or first appearances were being sold for thousands of dollars. The prevailing thought was that comic books were good financial investments that would be worth fortunes in the future. In response, publishers began releasing loads of special edition comics in the hope of increasing sales. One fascinating trend was the introduction of foil covers.

However, by saturating the market with print runs of special editions, it defeated the very purpose of a special edition; how can something be special if it’s commonplace? As a result, the speculator market began to crash in 1993, causing sales to plummet, retailers to close and publishers to downsize by decreasing the number of series they ran. Comics featuring women and minority characters suffered the most as companies began to take fewer risks. In 1996, Marvel declared bankruptcy however it has since rebounded and retained its position as the largest comic book publisher.

During the late 90s and early 2000s, comic book sales began to drop. However, sales for graphic novels (collected editions with multiple issues bound together) increased. Think of a comic book issue as a chapter and a graphic novel as the entire book. This new publishing format helped comics gain respectability as a form of literature. Graphic novels are usually given volume numbers with writers creating stories that last four to twelve issues. Nowadays, most comic book series are republished as graphic novels as soon as a story arc is completed.

The late 2000s saw another bounce back for the comic book industry. The release of the Dark Knight Trilogy and Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) helped introduce a new generation to comic book superheroes bringing in new fans such as myself. Digital comics were introduced in 2007 with Marvel Unlimited. Since then, all major publishers release their comics digitally helping them reach a wider audience. The new digital space has also allowed independent creators to get their ideas out there as well.

By the early 2010s, superheroes were well and truly part of a global cultural phenomenon. More people than ever before had heard the names Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Superman, Batman, etc. In no small part due to the success of the MCU and other superhero films. That being said, the majority of marketed superheroes were white men.

It is worth noting that when it comes to identity and gender politics, comic books have been relatively progressive compared to other forms of media. In particular, Marvel has done an excellent job of reflecting the world around us. However, the rule has always been that white male characters tend to sell the best. As a result, comic book publishers would focus on narratives that featured this demographic. There were, of course, as with anything, a few exceptions. But even then, Black Panther has never quite had the same reach as Captain America at least until the release of his solo film.

By 2014, Marvel had been focusing on its core characters: The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk etc. They had also recently begun promoting the Inhumans. While some minority characters such as Miles Morales had loyal followings, they never had the same level of importance as Tony Stark or Peter Parker.

Enter Kamala Khan.


The Birth of a Trailblazer

Sana Amanat, an Indian-Pakistani-American, born and raised in New Jersey with a degree in political science from Columbia University, joined Marvel Comics as an editor in 2009. During her time at Marvel, Amanat worked on several comic books including Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. One day, Amanat was talking with one of her fellow editors, Stephen Wacker, about her childhood and her experience growing up as a Muslim-American. The conversation sparked the idea to create a comic book that authentically depicted the Muslim-American diaspora.

They then approached writer G. Willow Wilson, an American revert, also born and raised in New Jersey known for her recent novel Alif the Unseen. She loved the idea and couldn’t wait to work on the project, although she was worried about the potential backlash. Comic book artist and Runaways co-creator Adrian Alphona was brought in to draw Kamala and bring her to life on the page.

When it came to designing the future Ms Marvel, a lot went into consideration. Both Wilson and Amanat wanted to pay homage to the previous Ms Marvel while also creating something new that Marvel fans could be proud of. They also wanted to create something that spoke to a broader audience that is rarely represented in comic books.

Before Ms Marvel, there had only been a few Muslim superheroes in comics such as DC’s Simon Baz and Marvel’s Dust. Even then, no Muslim superhero has ever headlined their own comic series instead only appearing as side characters. Similarly, there was only a handful of female superheroes headlining comics at the time. Amanat and Wilson wanted to change that.

Marvel knew they wanted a teenage Muslim girl to take on the mantle of Ms Marvel. Still, the character’s ethnicity, location and appearance were left to Wilson to decide. After going through many iterations, including the idea of Arab girl from Dearborn, Michigan, Wilson eventually settled on a Pakistani-American from Jersey City. And just like that Kamala Khan was born.


Revolutionising the Comic Book Industry

There were a lot of doubts over whether Ms Marvel would be successful. In an open letter to fans, Wilson admitted that Amanat and her had only expected Kamala to make it to ten issues before being scrapped. New characters tended to have poor debuts; add any modifiers, and they would do even worse. Kamala was at a particular disadvantage: she’s brown, she’s a woman, and she’s a Muslim.

Ms Marvel #1 landed on store shelves on the 5th February 2014. To everyone’s surprise, she was a huge success. The first issue would far exceed expectations by making it to a seventh printing. To put that into perspective, most comics rarely make it to a sixth printing. The Amazing Spider-Man #583, which made international headlines for featuring President Obama in 2009, only made it to a fifth printing. For a new character to do this on their debut was practically unheard of. For a brown, Muslim female, it should have been impossible.

The success would not stop there, though. Ms Marvel graphic novels would also perform very well. Ms Marvel Volume 1: No Normal was the best-selling graphic novel in October 2014 and made it to the number two position on the New York Times Best Seller (NYTBS) list in November. The following year, No Normal won the Hugo award for Best Graphic Story and the Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Artist as well as nominations for eight other awards.

Over the next few years, Ms Marvel graphic novels would continue to debut in the NYTBS list top five and win multiple awards including the award for Best Series at France’s Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2016 (interesting considering France’s recent attitude towards Muslims).

The unexpected success of Ms Marvel must have definitely come as a shock to comic book publishers. However, it did mean one thing: comic book fans were hungry for new characters from different backgrounds. Ms Marvel began a chain reaction that would pave the way for unprecedented levels of diversity and representation in comic books.

For Marvel, the success of Kamala’s debut proved that new characters from unusual backgrounds could be very lucrative. Marvel would go on to pour new focus into such characters. Korean American Amadeus Cho would take on the mantle of the Hulk in 2015. America Chavez, Marvel’s first Latin-American LGBTQ character, got her own solo series in 2017. Similarly, Marvel would also introduce new characters such as Cindy Moon a.k.a Silk in late 2014 and Riri Williams a.k.a Lionheart in 2015.

However, none would quite reach the same levels of success as Ms Marvel. In fact, in some cases, they were flops: America Chavez’s solo series would only last 12 issues. Thereby highlighting the flaws of cashing in on diversity for the sake of diversity. That being said, the Marvel universe and comics, in general, are more diverse than they have ever been before. This wouldn’t have been possible without the commercial success of Ms Marvel.

As of 2018, Ms Marvel has sold over half a million in graphic novels. Traditionally, she remains one of Marvel’s digital bestsellers.


Pop Culture Icon

Immediately following Kamala’s debut, she became a comic book icon. Fans were cosplaying as her at comic conventions making it pretty clear that Kamala was already a fan favourite. People were beginning to liken her to Gen Z’s equivalent of Peter Parker. It wouldn’t be long before, Kamala started having an impact on the real world.

In early 2015, the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI) purchased 50 bus advertisements in San Francisco. The adverts called for aid to be revoked from Muslim majority countries and equated Islam with Nazism. In response, street artists began covering the adverts with pictures of Ms Marvel and anti-racist slogans.

This isn’t the first-time superheroes have been used in politics – Captain America is literally a walking American flag – but it does illustrate Kamala’s growing popularity as a symbol of resistance. Kamala’s likeness would once again be harnessed in the wake of President Trump’s Muslim ban.

On the 16th March 2016, Amanat was invited to introduce President Obama at a White House reception for Women’s History Month:

Kamala would make her first TV appearance on the 31st July 2016 in Season 3 Episode 1 of the animated Avengers: Assemble series. She would go on to make multiple appearances in Marvel animated series including a central role in Marvel Rising – a new media franchise launched in 2018 that focuses on Marvel’s new generation of heroes.

In September of this year, Kamala made her first proper video game appearance in Marvel’s Avengers as one of the main characters. She had appeared in other video games but mostly as an unlockable side character not central to the plot.

Next year, Kamala is set to make her MCU debut in her own exclusive Disney+ series. She is going to be played by industry newcomer Iman Vellani. The series is being written by British comedian Bisha K. Ali and is set to have four directors: Belgium-Moroccan duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Pakistani-Canadian Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Indian-American Meera Menon. It remains to be seen what role she will play in the MCU, but if her current status in comic books is any indicator, I’m sure it will be big.

In just six years, Kamala Khan has gone from having her own comic book series to her own place in the MCU. Quite an achievement for a character that was only expected to make it to ten issues.

Shaheen

Fiction. Its an interesting thing isn’t it? Inherently false yet at the same time often truer than even the truest encyclopaedia. Not quite real yet not quite fake either. A kind of no man’s land between the reality that we witness before our eyes and the jumble of threads that make up the complex machinery behind our hardened skulls. A half-existence.

It is in this land of half-existence that we find our protagonist: Shaheen. A being neither old nor young. Neither bright nor dull. Neither handsome nor ugly. Neither fat nor skinny. Neither fast nor slow. Neither man nor woman. Neither real nor fake. A truly – yet at the same time falsely – half-real half-fake being. Well, that depends if you even consider Shaheen a being. For how can something that only half-exists, “be”?

You see, Shaheen knows that she is merely the product of an author’s imagination. And an underdeveloped product at that. He knows that she half-exists. She knows that what he knows she only knows because the author has decided that he knows. She is aware that the boundary of his half-real half-fake half-existence starts and ends with the page upon which her author has written. He will never be more nor less than that. She will forever remain constant. Trapped by the page never really existing but never really not.

Shaheen got his name from her father. A father that didn’t exist until just now when the author decided they did. The name Shaheen means “falcon” in Persian. However, it is not from Persian that the author got the name but instead another language: Urdu. In many ways, Shaheen is like Urdu and Urdu is like Shaheen. A half-real half-fake language in a state of half-existence. Upon laying their eyes on Urdu, one may be forgiven for mistaking it for Persian. Upon hearing Urdu, one may also be forgiven for mistaking it for Hindi. However, regardless of how one encountered Urdu, they would not fail to realise the beauty of the language. And as with all beautiful languages; Urdu is famous for its poetry.

شاہین کبھی پرواز سے تھک کر نہیں گرتا
پُردم ہے اگر تو‘ تو نہیں خطرہ اُفتاد

Shaheen Kabhi Parwaz Se Thak Kar Nahin Girta.
Pur Dam Hai Agar Tu To Nahin Khatra-e-Uftad.

The falcon is never tired of flight, Does not drop gasping on the ground:
If unwearied it remains on wings, From huntersʹ dread is safe and sound.

Allama Iqbal

The author originally came across this poem from their father. Not Shaheen’s half-real half-fake father but instead a fully real non-fake human being. One not confined to the page as Shaheen and his father are. It is from this poem that the author picked out Shaheen’s name for Shaheen’s father to give to her. Neither Shaheen nor his father would really have any choice in the matter. They thought what the author wanted them to think and did what the author wanted them to do. They were only aware of this fact because the author allowed them to be aware. Perhaps, they felt grateful for being given this awareness? Or maybe they felt resentful? Neither Shaheen nor her father nor the author nor the author’s father knew the answer to this question. Could Shaheen and her father even feel? Nobody knew because the author hadn’t decided yet.

The poet who brought the couplet into existence went by many names. “Shair-e-Mashriq” (“Poet of the East”), “Hakeem-ul-Ummat” (“The Sage of the Ummah”), “Muffakir-e-Pakistan” (“The Thinker of Pakistan”) were just a few of his titles. Shaheen found that last title interesting. It is said that the poet envisioned a nation. One that didn’t exist yet at the same time always existed. Not quite real yet not quite fake either. A half-existence just like him. However, unlike Shaheen, the nation wasn’t confined to a page. In fact, the nation was able to elevate from a place of half-existence to a full existence. And this made her feel jealous.

The author had finally decided to let Shaheen feel. Whether Shaheen’s father could feel or not was a different question. The author decided they’d leave that up to the reader to decide. The author was fond of leaving loose ends after all. What is certain is that the author and the author’s father could feel. They were fully real non-fake beings that lived a full existence. But was this true because it was indeed true or was it true because the author said it was true? This left the author puzzled.

While the author struggled to contemplate the truth of their own existence, Shaheen was well aware of the truth of his existence. She was a half-real half-fake being living a half-existence. He was an idea. But just like a nation, ideas could become a reality.

Perhaps one day, the author may name their child Shaheen. Thus, elevating Shaheen from a half-existence to a full existence. At least in name anyway. Perhaps, the author might invest more time into making Shaheen a more fully-fledged character like in the novels they read as a child. This wouldn’t elevate her to a place of full existence, but it would make his half-existence more bearable.

Unfortunately for Shaheen, she was but a skelf of a thought in the author’s head. They had only bothered to bring him into her half-existence because the very idea of Shaheen was keeping them awake at night. Having done so. Having expunged Shaheen from their mind, the author will move on with their life. Thus, leaving Shaheen to her half-real half-fake half-existence. Whether he would ever become anything more than her current state would depend upon the author’s author. For the author only thought what their author wanted them to think and did what their author wanted them to do.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Rowlatt Act, and Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms – 1919

Jallianwala: Repression and Retribution. Painted by twins Rabindra and Amrit Singh.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Rowlatt Act, and Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms – 1919

On Sunday 13th April 1919, on the traditional Sikh festival of Baisakhi, thousands of Indians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh – a seven-acre garden surrounded by walls roughly ten feet high with five narrow entrances located a stone’s throw away from the Golden Temple (the holiest site in Sikhism). Following recent political upheaval, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer[1] imposed an 8 p.m. curfew to prevent any potential protests.

Regardless, by mid-afternoon, the bagh was beginning to fill up in the thousands with protestors as well as casual visitors. Most of the people were pilgrims passing through the bagh on their way home from the Golden Temple. In addition, many farmers, traders, and merchants had also been attending the annual Baisakhi horse and cattle fair.

By late-evening, Dyer arrived at Jallianwala Bagh with a group of ninety British Indian soldiers and two armoured cars fitted with machine guns. The troops started by blocking the narrow exits. Then, without warning the civilians to disperse, Dyer ordered his troops to fire into the crowd. The troops didn’t cease-fire until their ammunition was exhausted.

A total of 1,650 rounds were fired, killing approximately 1,000 men, women, and children, and injuring more than 1,500 others in the ensuing chaos. Those that survived the initial onslaught of bullets would be crushed by others frantically trying to escape. Many would try their luck by jumping into the solitary well located in the centre of the bagh. The youngest victim was a six-week-old baby; the oldest was in his eighties.

The event would come to be known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre or Amritsar Massacre. It came amid large scale political unrest following the passing of the controversial Rowlatt Act on the 18th March 1919. The Rowlatt Act, officially known as the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919, was an indefinite extension of the emergency measures first introduced in the Defence of India Act 1915.

In short, the Act allowed for the censorship of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial, and juryless trials for anyone engaged in acts of revolutionary nationalism. The Rowlatt Act was subsequently invoked to imprison members of the INC and other political leaders. The aim was to curb the growing nationalist sentiment amongst the masses; the effect was the contrary.

Immediately following the introduction of the Rowlatt Act, protests erupted across India, especially in Punjab. By the end of the first week of April, rioting had reached its peak with the disruption of rail, telegraph, and communication systems. It is said that “practically the whole of Lahore was on the streets, the immense crowd that passed through Anarkali was estimated to be around 20,000”[2]. Events over the next few days would also contribute to the heightened tension between British and Indian that led to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

On the 10th April, several protesters were shot and killed outside the residence of Miles Irving, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. In retaliation, rioters carried out arson attacks on British banks, killed several British people and assaulted two British women.

On the 11th April, Marcella Sherwood was violently attacked by a mob on a narrow street called Kucha Kurrichhan but managed to escape thanks to some local Indians. When Dyer met with Sherwood after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre on the 19th April, he issued an order requiring every Indian man using Kucha Kurrichhan to crawl its length on his hands and knees as a punishment. He also authorised the indiscriminate, public whipping of locals that came within lathi length of a British policeman. Dyer would later state:

“Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god and therefore they have to crawl in front of her, too”[3].

On the 12th April, Indian leaders announced that a protest would take place at Jallianwala Bagh the next day, demanding an end to the Rowlatt Act and the release of Congress members Satyapal and Kitchlew. This announcement was believed to have prompted Dyer’s decision to implement an 8 p.m. curfew the following day.

Following the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, many Indian moderates would abandon their previous loyalties to the British becoming nationalists in strong opposition to British rule. The event would also see the radicalisation of Indian freedom fighters such as Udham Singh[4] and Bhagat Singh[5].

Famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore renounced his British knighthood writing in a letter to Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy of India at the time:

“The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments […] The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings”[6].

The massacre caused a tremendous increase in anti-British sentiments across the Subcontinent. However, to fully understand the impact of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the Rowlatt Act on the Indian Independence Movement as a whole, one requires a brief history of India during World War One.

After the British Empire joined the war on the 4th August 1914, there was division amongst Indians over what India’s response to being dragged into a global conflict should be. Indian revolutionaries were in strong opposition to the war, whereas moderates and liberals backed it in the hopes that their loyalty would be rewarded with more autonomy. Indian Muslims were particularly ambivalent towards the war, considering that the British were fighting against the Ottoman Empire, whose Sultan was considered the Caliph of Islam.

Despite this, both the AIML and INC were supportive of the war effort. The following quote from Gandhi during his WWI recruitment drive illustrates the rationale behind the decision to support the British government during the war:

“If we could but crowd the battlefield of France with an indomitable army of home rulers fighting for the victory of the cause of the Allies, it will also be a fight for our own cause. We should then have made out an unanswerable case for the granting of Home Rule not in any distant or near future but immediately”[7].

The Indian political leadership believed that if they could prove India’s loyalty to the Crown, then Indians would inevitably be given self-governing dominion status within the British Empire. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa had become dominions in 1867, 1901, 1907, and 1910 respectively. If other colonies could do it, why not India?

Despite his own gripes with the British, Jinnah was of the same mind. In response to Muslim dissatisfaction with the war, he would implore his co-religionists to remain loyal to the British government:

“Whatever our grievance, whatever reforms we desire. Everything must wait for a more seasonable occasion. Even if the government were to concede to us all that we ever desired or dreamt we would humbly tell the government this is no time for it and we must for the present decline such concessions with thanks. Concessions are asked for and accepted in peace. We are no Russian Poles. We need no bribes”[8].

So, what did India get in return for her loyalty? Draconian Laws.

During the first year of the war, the British introduced the Defence of India Act 1915. The law’s objective was to prevent Indians from engaging in activities that would hinder the war effort. The Act was mainly aimed against members of the Ghadar Party, a group of Indian ex-pats seeking to overthrow British rule, and the Bengali Anushilan Samiti. In practice, the law could be used against anyone the British considered a nuisance because it bypassed the right to a trial by jury.

During the war, 1,470 Indians were imprisoned under the Act, with another 310 facing minor restrictions[9]. The Defence of India Act 1915 was only to remain valid for the duration of the war and six months thereafter. Therefore, on the whole, it was merely accepted as a reality of war with very little resistance.

However, when it was extended indefinitely under the Rowlatt Act in 1919, it is no wonder that Indians were so outraged. Jinnah subsequently resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council, stating that “a government that passes or sanctions such a law in times of peace forfeits its claim to be called a civilised government”[10].

The Rowlatt Act would also push Gandhi to launch his famous Non-cooperation Movement on the 5th September the following year. It would take another three years of agitation before the British repealed it in March 1922.

As the war progressed, it became clear that the geopolitical shifts brought about by the clash of empires would mean that things would never be the same again. To capitalise on this, India’s political leadership went about securing what little ground they could, resulting in an impressive period of Hindu-Muslim unity for the remaining duration of the war. This was primarily due to the efforts of Jinnah, who established the Lucknow Pact in 1916.

In the latter half of the war, leaders from across the political spectrum formed an alliance kickstarting the Indian Home Rule Movement. Bal Gangadhar Tilak[11], leader of the Congress’ estranged extremist faction, founded the first Home Rule League in Belgaum, which would operate in Maharashtra (except Bombay), Karnataka, Berar, and the Central Provinces. Annie Besant[12], an Irish socialist, founded the second in Madras which would operate throughout the rest of India.

Both leagues worked closely together to campaign for dominion status to be given to India. The Home Rule Leagues consisted of India’s educated upper class with members from both the AIML and INC (both Moderate and Extremist factions), including Jinnah. The leagues organised demonstrations which caused quite a stir leading to Besant’s arrest in June 1917, resulting in nation-wide protests. Besant’s subsequent release in September was shortly followed by a major announcement.

The August Declaration took place on the 20th August 1917 at British parliament and was carried out by Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India:

“The policy of His Majesty’s government […] is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”[13].

The declaration was an implicit acceptance, by the British, of the right to Indian self-rule and promised future reforms. Demands for greater autonomy would no longer be considered seditious, opening the door for future negotiations between the British and Indian leadership. Things were looking up for the oppressed people of India.

By the end of the war, a total of 1.3 million Indians would volunteer their service on behalf of the British Empire, and over 74,000 would lose their lives[14]. Many Indian men would go abroad to fight and carry out extreme feats of bravery, such as Khudadad Khan[15], the first Indian to receive the Victoria Cross. The Indian Maharajas and Nawabs also supplied ammunition, men and even their own service, like in the case of 74-year-old Pratap Singh[16].

Following the tragic events of the 13th April 1919, the much-awaited Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms would be put into effect on the 23rd December as the basis of the Government of India Act 1919[17]. Under the new legislation, the following was introduced amongst others:

  1. Diarchy at the provincial level. This meant that the executive branches of the provincial governments would consist of two groups:  The councillors (those appointed by the Viceroy) and the ministers (elected Indians). The councillors would oversee the courts, the police, land revenue, and irrigation. Meanwhile, the ministers would manage education, public health, public works, and agriculture.
  2. The Imperial Legislative Council was now to consist of two houses. The lower house was the Central Legislative Assembly with 145 members, of which 29 had to be Muslim, serving three-year terms. The upper house was the Council of State with 60 members, of which 10 had to be Muslim, serving five-year terms.
  3. Separate electorates for Sikhs, Europeans, and Anglo-Indians.
  4. The budget would be divided into two categories, votable (1/3 of expenditure) and non-votable (2/3 of expenditure).
  5. Those who had property, taxable income, and land revenue of Rs. 3,000 would be entitled to vote.
  6. A statutory commission would be set up in 10 years to assess the new system of government. This would come to be known as the Simon Commission, which I will cover in a later post.

King-Emperor George V summaries the evolution of parliamentary legislation for India up until this point, here:

“The Acts of 1773 and 1784 were designed to establish a regular system of administration and justice under the Honourable East India Company. The Act of 1833 opened the door for Indians to public office and employment. The Act of 1858 transferred the administration from the Company to the Crown and laid the foundations of public life which exist in India today. The Act of 1861 sowed the seed of representative institutions, and the seed was quickened into life by the Act of 1909. The Act which has now become law entrusts the elected representative of the people with a definite share in the government and points the way to full responsible Government hereafter”[18].

While it may seem as though the Government of India Act 1919 was a major victory for the Indian independence movement, it is worth analysing how it fits into the overall British strategy.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were portrayed as being the first step towards Indian self-rule. However, critics, including myself, would argue that it is was instead a ploy by the British to concentrate power in the centre. The implementation of diarchy simply relegated Indians to the less important areas of government. The real power was still with the British.

Furthermore, seats were distributed based on a province’s perceived importance rather than its population, with franchise only being extended to the Indian gentry. Thereby creating an electorate with pro-British inclinations. By granting concessions to the provinces, Britain wasn’t preparing India for self-government but instead sowing the seeds for federalism which would pose a huge obstacle to achieving Jinnah’s dream.

Following the August Declaration, the Home Rule Movement went into decline. Besant’s hunger for self-rule was sated with the promise of future reforms, and Tilak was off in England pursuing a libel case. With a lack of effective leadership and a now seemingly redundant raison d’etre, many of the movement’s members would go on to join Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement – which I will be covering in the next post. Thus, putting an end to the golden age of Hindu-Muslim unity. From this point on, relations would begin to sour. The Home Rule League formally merged with the INC, under Gandhi’s leadership, the following year.

All in all, 1919 represented a watershed moment in the Indian Independence Movement. It laid out new rules for India’s political leadership to play by and awakened her slumbering masses. In a world ravaged by war, India’s future hung in the balance.


This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement


[1] Collett, N., 2005. The Butcher Of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer. Hambledon Continuum.

[2] Swami, P., 1997. Jallianwala Bagh Revisited. The Hindu.

[3] Talbott, S., 2004. Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, And The Bomb. Brookings Institution Press.

[4] Anand, A., 2019. The Patient Assassin: A True Tale Of Massacre, Revenge And The Raj. Simon & Schuster LTD.

[5] Singh, B., 2007. The Jail Notebook And Other Writings. LeftWord Books.

[6] Tagore, R., 1997. Selected Letters Of Rabindranath Tagore. Cambridge University Press.

[7] Begum, I., 2019. The Muslims of India and the First World War 1914-1918. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Research, Vol. 5.

[8] Qureshi, I., 1967. A Short History Of Pakistan. University of Karachi Press.

[9] Hansard.parliament.uk. n.d. Persons Interned – Hansard. [online] Available at: <https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1919-10-22/debates/098022cf-ef4d-4195-bdee-46a4997416a8/PersonsInterned?highlight=defence%20india%20act#contribution-e0355608-739a-43bb-ab66-e0579b5747c7> [Accessed 9 November 2020].

[10] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[11] Bhagwat, A. and Pradhan, G., 2008. Lokmanya Tilak. Jaico Pub. House.

[12] Taylor, A., 1992. Annie Besant: A Biography. Oxford University Press.

[13] Danzig, R., 1968. The Announcement of August 20th, 1917. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 28.

[14] Tharoor, S., 2015. Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten. BBC News, [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33317368> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[15] National Army Museum, London. 2020. Khudadad Khan | National Army Museum, London. [online] Available at: <https://ww1.nam.ac.uk/learning/khudadad-khan/#.X6R45qsYCUk> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[16] Morton-Jack, G., 2018. World War One: Six extraordinary Indian stories. BBC News, [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-46148207> [Accessed 7 November 2020].

[17] Constitutionofindia.net. n.d. Government of India Act, 1919. [online] Available at: <https://www.constitutionofindia.net/historical_constitutions/government_of_india_act__1919_1st%20January%201919> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[18] Ilbert, C., 1922. The Government Of India. The Clarendon Press.

Aqil Ghani’s Gap Year Goals

On Wednesday, I completed my final A-level Physics exam. The exams themselves went far better than I anticipated. Paper 1 and 2 were smooth sailing with paper 3 posing the most significant challenge yet still tameable. I think its safe to say that I did not crumble and fumble (see my previous post). Of course, we will not know for sure until my second results day on the 17th December. In the meantime, though, I find myself presented with a lot of freedom.

It is strange to find myself free of academic responsibility: no more exams, no more classes, no more homework, no more timetables. And while we have been in Lockdown for the past eight months (wow!), this time it feels different. I no longer have the uncertainty of A-levels casting a shadow over my daily life. It’s done and dusted. Never again will I have to do Physics in my life, and in this, I take immense pleasure. But now I feel a kind of emptiness. A-levels had been the primary concern of my life for the past two years. Before that, it was GCSEs. Day in day out, Monday to Friday (and even some Saturdays) I was in school. For the next year, I will have no such commitments. My long-coveted gap year is finally underway, and I have a lot of time on my hands now. The question is: What to do with this time?

Believe me; I would love to spend the next year just kicking back and playing video games. However, this would be a complete waste of time. Not because I would not enjoy it but because I would have nothing to show for it – I am nowhere near skilled enough to be a professional esports player. I want to able to look back in a year and say: “Yo, that gap year was actually lit you know, I did X, Y and Z” as opposed to “Man, I sure could’ve used that time way better instead of just playing League all day.” So instead, I have decided to dedicate my time to the following endeavours.

I now present to you: Aqil Ghani’s Gap Year Goals! (This post is more for myself than anyone else to act as a record I can review at the end of my gap year). So, without further ado, in no particular order, let us begin:


Acting

For those who know me (and those who have read my last post), it is no surprise that I aspire to be an actor. It was my sole motivation for taking a gap year after all. A year to pursue acting. The main thing you need as a professional actor is an agent. Agents are what get you acting work after all. Now, this is no small feat, especially with the effect COVID-19 has had on the acting industry. Small acting agencies are going through financial difficulty, and a lot of the larger ones are not admitting any new actors in what was already quite a hard industry to get into. Nonetheless, this will not deter me from doing what I can to get the prerequisites covered.

The main thing you need to get an agent in the UK is a Spotlight CV (And this will be what I am going to work towards over the next year). There are two ways to do this 1) Go to drama school and graduate with a degree and 2) Have at least four professional credits in featured speaking roles. Unfortunately, I will not be able to go to drama school, and so I am left with the second option. Alas, we have the old “chicken and the egg” predicament. You see to get acting roles you need an agent, but to get an agent you need to have done some acting roles. This is very much the first of many mountains one must climb to become a successful actor. Fortunately, in the modern age, we have the internet. There are many sites online that one can use to find available casting calls, such as Backstage and StarNow, so I will be using said sites to find work. Once I’ve done this, I just need to put together a showreel showcasing my talent, get some headshots taken, and I’m good to go. Of course, this is all easier said than done.

The actual process of getting an agent once you’ve met the prerequisites is a long one. It took my acting coach a whole year to get an agent, and he had the added advantage of going to drama school in South Africa. It is going to be a process fraught with rejection. Even once I get an agent, this won’t change. The life of an actor is very much one of sacrifice, uncertainty and financial insecurity. There is no set path when it comes to becoming an actor like there is for doctors, lawyers or engineers. A drama degree and an agent doesn’t guarantee that’ll you will get work the same way medicine or law degrees do. This isn’t to say that treading those paths are easy – I know some doctors, lawyers and engineers who can tell you just how hard it is – but they are most definitely paths that have been trodden before with a set roadmap to follow. For an actor, there is no road map. Just a bunch of objectives hidden in a dense jungle that you need to find and even once you’ve found them you still need a massive dose of luck to get admitted into the temple filled with the treasures. A far cry from the well-paved highways with signposts that tell you where you need to go and what you need to do to get the keys required to enter the hospital, courtroom or construction site. That being said, I know that in front of the camera is where I want to be. Nothing else can quite match the thrill of tapping into one’s deep-seated courage to deliver a line to a captivated audience. And so if that requires me having to forge my path, away from the beaten track and into the dense jungle, then so be it.


Fitness

For my entire life, I’ve always been the scrawny kid who was never particularly good at sports. Not because I don’t like playing sports – I do – it’s just that my enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily translate into skill as I’m sure my friends who played cricket with me at Lord’s are well aware. And while I may not look it, I consider myself quite physically fit having done several martial arts over the years from Karate to Muay Thai and even a little bit of Jiu-Jitsu. However, when you look at my skinny frame, you wouldn’t think I’m that athletic. It’s no secret that when it comes to acting, one needs to maintain a particular physique – you know the chiselled jawline, bulging biceps and six-pack that is all too familiar amongst Hollywood stars today. Furthermore, let’s not pretend that when it comes to finding a romantic partner that your physique doesn’t play a part. And so over the next year, I aim to significantly change my skinny frame into one that is more “swole”.

This is not the first time I’ve tried to do this. As someone who has struggled with body image issues – yes, men can also have body image issues – Its always been a dream of mine to one day become “dench”. Unfortunately, this desire has led me to take on board advice that in hindsight wasn’t the best. For example, when I was fifteen, I got the awful idea that drinking a gallon of milk a day would somehow magically turn me into the next Hrithik Roshan. As you can imagine, this ended horribly, I kept it up for about three weeks, and then my bowels turned against me. Now my body can’t even handle a single glass of milk, let alone a gallon. Even though now I’m a lot more cautious having learned that online advice isn’t necessarily the most reliable – what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next – I still want to attain that so-sought-after figure of an ancient Greek statue. Fortunately for me, I have a friend I met in Sixth Form who used to be skinny like me. Now he is one of the “denchest” people I know. He’s offered to help guide me in my quest, and I most definitely will be taking advantage of his guidance.


YouTube

One thing that people often say to me is: “Aqil you should start a YouTube channel”. The truth is, I did have a YouTube channel from when I was about eleven to fifteen. It wasn’t anything special: Just another kid with a high-pitched voice making Minecraft videos in an age when everyone was making Minecraft videos. I’ve since had it deleted. Now I suddenly find myself with an abundance of time, I thought, why not give it another try. However, I will be doing things differently. Instead, I will be tailoring it more towards acting rather than gaming. It will serve as a kind of portfolio of my work. I aim to write, direct and act in short films that I can share with potential collaborators in the future. I may even upload vlogs and make documentaries on topics that interest me. In many ways, it will be like this blog – just another way to spurt out my endless stream of thought into the universe.


Blog

Speaking of blogs, I started this site back in June as a way to occupy myself during Lockdown. Since then, I’ve only made a measly seven posts. This is something I want to change. I want to expand this into something I do more regularly. I want to make it something I can point to whenever anyone asks me: “So Aqil, what are you about?”. And so, I aim to post more regularly on more wide-ranging topics, and I may even expand this site to include some of my acting work with maybe even some occasional photography. So far, I’ve only really covered historical topics. While I still aim to complete my series on Jinnah’s Pakistan, I do wish to cover more issues relating to pop culture, society and politics in the future. Right now, I have an idea concerning everyone’s favourite brown girl from New Jersey (wink wink to my fellow Marvel fans). Furthermore, my last post and this one, which have essentially consisted of me waffling about my life, have proven to be a very therapeutic experience for me. So I also want to do more posts just talking about me, myself and I (the site is named after me after all).


4U Tutors

Last but not least, I have an exciting project to share with you. A group of friends and I have decided to create and sell online GCSE courses. So far, we are still in the early stages as the courses are still in production, but you can still follow us on Instagram to stay updated. I will be making the Geography course which I am currently a third of the way through. Each course will consist of videos, worksheets, quizzes and tests that you will have lifetime access to. So if you know any current GCSE students, sharing this with them will be much appreciated. I aim to get the Geography course completed by the end of this year.


Alongside these primary goals, I also have secondary goals, that while not imperative for the next year, would be nice to accomplish. These include: doing some form of work experience, writing an article for a newspaper/magazine, begin writing a novel, learning how to cook biryani, develop a cure for cancer, and maybe even some travelling when/if COVID-19 calms down.

Alas, this concludes today’s post. I was going to end with an inspirational quote or something, but instead, I have decided to leave a message for my future self:

Your greatest blessing is an overactive mind that’s filled to the brim with ideas, yet you often fail to bring them to fruition. Instead of daydreaming about future possibilities, turn them into your reality. Live a life you can be proud of.

Limbo

On Thursday the 13th August, thousands of students across the country received the most important results in their academic lives. I was one of these students. I remember struggling to sleep the night before, perturbed by what daylight would bring. And in a year like no other, this results day would be like no other.

Due to COVID-19, we went into Lockdown with the assurance that, when it came to it, our previous performance would determine our grades. This was the crux of the issue. My academic performance in year 12 was atrocious. I was getting Ds and Cs in nearly every assessment. Despite this, I was able to scrape an A in my AS Geography exam. Meanwhile, in my end of year 12 mocks, I got an ADE in Maths, Physics, and Further Maths, respectively. The issue was Further Maths. You see in Secondary School; I lured myself into a false sense of security that I was a talented mathematician. Maths came easy to me, and I would often rank in the top 5 in my year. When it came to my GCSE exams, I managed to get a nine and was the first student in my school to sit the GCSE Further Maths exam and got an A*. A-levels was a different story. Starting at a new school in the heart of London with some of the brightest students from across the city, I quickly realised that I was not the genius I believed I was. I also learned that my heart was not in the STEM subjects I had chosen but was instead in humanities. I enjoyed spending my free time learning about Geopolitics and International Relations.

So, after a year of revelations about myself, I decided to drop Further Maths and take on an EPQ (Extended Project Query). This was the best decision I ever made. My EPQ, titled “Is CPEC good for Pakistan?”, allowed me to explore my interests and led me to apply to study a joint degree of Economics and Politics through UCAS despite never studying either subject in a formal educational setting. Furthermore, by dropping Further Maths, I was able to free up time for my other subjects leading to significant improvements in my grades. I managed to achieve predicted grades of A*AAB (EPQ, Geography, Maths, Physics) with offers from Birmingham, Bristol, Bath and Durham for deferred entry. Unfortunately, I did not quite make the cut for my dream university of Warwick. Throughout year 13, I consistently got A*AAB in my reports, even getting A*AAA at the start of the year.  And so, I went into Lockdown with the self-assurance that I had done everything I could to prove I was capable of achieving my predicted grades. Then results day happened.

Results day itself had a melancholy feel to it. I remember walking into school. Not greeted by the cheers of happy students like my last results day but instead by the solemn faces of students hard done by either by the government’s algorithm or the school’s CAGs (Centre Assessed Grades). When I walked into the hall and received my white envelope, I honestly did not know what to expect. I peeled off the opening and slid out the contents to find that I had been given an A*ABC. And while these grades were decent, they fell short of both my firm and insurance offers. I immediately went into panic mode. I didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, a kind member of staff took me to the side and explained that I should try and contact my universities to see if they would still allow me to join in 2021 as planned. I called multiple times and, unfortunately, I could not get through, so in the meantime, I decided to do some investigating. I came to find out that the grades I was given were not given to me by the government but were instead the same grades the school had sent off. I felt betrayed. It was not an unfair algorithm that stopped me from going to university, but the school I had tried so hard to prove myself to. It was at this point that I was at my lowest over the last two years. I tried again to see if I could get through to my universities but still no answer. Hopeless and helpless, I decided to give up. I know; not the most heroic thing to do but that is the truth. I felt as though I was being swallowed up from within, and I needed an escape. I needed to do something other than calling universities to no avail. Luckily, that is where my friends came in.

Gordan Ramsey had announced on twitter the day before that he would be giving out free pizza at his restaurants. Naturally, sniffing out a bargain, myself, and a group of five of my closest friends decided to make the trek to Gordan Ramsey Street Pizza. We arrived at a queue of dozens of students waiting to take advantage of the free pizza. Upon further enquiry, we discovered that those ahead of us in the line had been waiting close to thirty minutes. It was at this point a few of my friends had to start heading home. Eventually, we just forgot about Gordan’s free pizza and had Sainsbury’s meal deals instead. A lacklustre meal for a lacklustre day, I suppose. Following this, I decided that I too would return home and face the proverbial music as they say.

It was during this journey home that I reflected on my Sixth Form experience. The past two years, while academically challenging, were by far the best years of my life. I had met some of the most amazing people, built lifelong friendships and went from the quiet bitter introverted boy I was in secondary school to the positive extroverted young man I am today. Had I stayed in my previous school’s Sixth Form; I highly doubt I would have undergone such personal growth. This for reasons that are too long to go into right now as they would make what is already going to be a long post even longer. So while I may not have left Sixth Form with the grades and the university place of my dreams, I am happy that I was able to leave knowing that I am a much more well-rounded individual than when I started. Despite the bitter ending, I am glad the last two years happened. And this can serve as a neat segue to a video I made at the start of Lockdown of some of the highlights from my time in Sixth Form:

When I arrived home, I shifted gears and spent the evening with my sister calling up various universities to see if they would offer me a place through Clearing. I managed to get several Clearing offers; however, none of them would allow me to defer and take a gap year. I was faced with two options:

Option 1 – Accept a Clearing offer and start in 2020 with a guaranteed place. (Low-risk manoeuvre)

Option 2 – Decline the offers, sit the exams in October, and reapply in 2021. Thereby allowing me to take my desired gap year but with no guarantee of a university place. (High-risk manoeuvre)

It is at this point in the blog post that you, the reader, require a bit of context. You see, while I do have a particular interest in global affairs, my true passions lie in storytelling. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by stories. Whether it be film, TV, books, comics or video games, the power of a good story always kept me mesmerised. The way stories on screen, and paper, were able to tug on the strings of one’s emotional harp to leave a lasting melody on the soul is what drew me to storytelling.  The telling of stories, whether fictional or not, is intrinsic to the human experience. Since the beginning of recorded time, human’s have been telling stories. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Star Wars saga, stories have served to entertain, teach, spread ideas, enact change, critique the status quo, and much more. To truly understand a society, one must look to its stories. Even the divine places particular emphasis on stories: Throughout the Qur’an, Allah teaches us righteousness through the stories of the prophets. It is through stories that we interact with the world and the world with us. And when you combine my passion for storytelling with my innate desire for attention, you get someone who dreams of being an actor.

You can imagine the nightmare this has been for my Pakistani parents. When your academically capable son says he would rather be an actor than something safe like a doctor or engineer, it can come as quite a shock. I remember when I tried to pick Drama for GCSE, my dad laughed at me saying I should do something more useful. I chose Computer Science instead like every typical Desi Munda. I guess my father assumed I was going through a phase and would eventually see sense as I got older. This did not happen. At Sixth Form, I wanted to take A-level drama but fooled myself into thinking Further Maths would be a better fit. More practical, more useful. Bad idea. I decided early on in my Sixth Form career that after my A-levels, I was going to take a year out to pursue acting with maybe a little travelling and entrepreneurship here and there. But first, I had to convince my father.

This was a gruelling process. Many a time, we would debate long into the night. No one in my family had taken a voluntary gap year, and there was a negative stigma attached to it: “You’ll end up wasting a year of your life doing nothing.”  As a child of immigrants, you’re taught that the safest life path is as follows: school, then a good university, then a good job, then marriage, then children, then grandchildren and, then if you lucky enough to live that long, great-grandchildren. Surprisingly, one day out of nowhere, my dad did a full-on U-turn. For one reason or another, he agreed that a gap year was a great idea and the best course of action. And here is the thing about my dad, he is stubborn as hell and will stick to his guns but once you convince him of something it becomes one of his guns and he’ll stand by it until the day he dies. Now, I think my dad is more enthusiastic about me taking a gap year than I am. I happily selected deferred entry on my UCAS application back in November. This brings us back to results day.

I had two options: the easy route and the harder route. After a lot of deliberation, I picked the risker option – no risk, no reward after all. I decided I would sit Physics and try to get that C up to a B, maybe even an A. Then go on my gap year and pursue my dream. But first, a bit of grassroots activism.

Following the mess that was results day, protests took place across the UK condemning the government’s use of an algorithm that unfairly downgraded students from poorer backgrounds. The demonstrations proved successful and, by the following Monday, the government, just like my father, pulled a massive U-turn. Students would now receive their CAGs rather than their government moderated grades. This helped a lot of students get the places they deserved but still left many others, such as myself, with no hope. Naturally, I took to twitter:

For the next few days, various students from my school, who were in the same position as me and even some who were not, approached me asking what we could do. The only plausible option was to get the school to do something on our behalf. I decided to contact the student senate, who had more experience with this kind of thing, to come up with ideas. It was agreed that we would put together an open letter to the school with student testimonies. I got to work. On Snapchat, I asked people to each send a paragraph detailing their situation and why they believed their CAGs were inaccurate. Then I collated them together and wrote up the first draft. It was time for review. I sent the letter off to a good friend of mine who is a far better writer than me and was the same friend that inspired me to start this blog. In response, she gave me a long list of improvements which I used to put together a second draft which she then edited until we got our finalised letter (https://t.co/w1ZmXcYpSo?amp=1). By the end of the week, we had enough signatures to send the letter off to the school’s senior leadership team. Following this, I arranged a meeting with my headteacher to speak in person. This meeting proved futile. He simply was not willing to be cooperative instead arguing that he had more important things to deal with than the concerns of ex-students. I asked him whether he saw the letter. He replied: “I did, but I don’t reply to petitions.” Never have I lost respect for a person so quickly. Unfortunately, nothing came of that letter.

This experience taught me a lot of things. One being the importance of gratitude. Throughout my life, I have been a lone wolf, sometimes even an outcast. While in recent years, I have become more sociable and outgoing, still, I’m not too fond of it when other people try to help me. This probably stems from a place of mistrust. There are very few people I trust to have my best interests at heart. Or maybe a place of pride. I do not want to let others help me because it may make me seem weak or dependent. Ultimately, whatever it is, I had to accept that this was something I could not do alone. In this regard, I will forever remain grateful to those that assisted me along the way with this endeavour. I will try my best to make it up to you lot.

Even though we did not get the result we wanted, I was moved by the outpouring of support from my classmates. Never in my life, did I expect to get so many kind messages from people thanking me for putting together the letter. A week ago, it was someone’s birthday. Upon wishing him happy birthday, he responded with a voice note saying how the tweets, snaps and letter helped him personally cope with the whole CAGs situation. An action I took had a direct and meaningful impact on someone’s life. This was when it dawned on me, maybe life is not about success but is instead about the parts we play in each other’s stories. The impact we have on those around us. After all, we will not be remembered for the degree we got or the job we did. Instead, we will be remembered by those who knew us. Those people whose stories we played a part in. I played a small role in this person’s story. And if that is the case, maybe the letter was not a complete failure. Or perhaps I’m just on one big ego trip right now.

I have also learned that I need to take on a more active role in my own life. For perhaps the first time, I feel as I am genuinely being tested. This could be a blessing or a punishment, depending on how you look at it. And while I am finding revision a very arduous task – I hate Physics with a passion – I know that “Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.” (2:286). Ultimately, this whole ordeal is supposed to help me become the man I am supposed to be. In the past six weeks, I have learned more about myself than I have in my entire life. It is funny how that works. I learned more in the space of six weeks than eighteen years. And this brings us today.

Right now, I feel as though I am in a place of limbo. In the coming weeks, my friends will be heading off to Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, UCL, Imperial and many other outstanding institutions while I am going to be stuck doing exams I should have done months ago. It is a weird feeling as though I am being left behind with my future hanging in the balance. Like the world is moving around me while I am standing still. Nonetheless, I do feel as though this could be THE turning point in my life – the moment where I really see what type of man I will be. Will I work hard and get the grades I deserve, or will I crumble and fumble? I do hope it’s the former.

Do I feel like a failure? Most definitely. But like a phoenix from the ashes, I hope to rise and shine brighter than I ever have before.

Insha Allah.

Indo-Africans: The Siddi People of South Asia and The Story of Malik Ambar

Group of Siddi men playing music and dancing during a celebration in Hyderabad, Pakistan.

Throughout history, if there is one thing that unites people of different cultures, it is trade. In the case of Africa and South Asia, this is no different. Trade relations date back to as early as the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation (3300-1300 BCE) as Pearl Millet, a crop originally domesticated in West Africa, and the burial site of an African woman was found at the Indus settlement of Chanhu-Daro[1]. Trade relations would continue for centuries to come. According to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a manuscript detailing ancient trade routes written in the first century, both South Asia and East Africa were connected via the lucrative Indian Ocean trade routes[2]. Merchants from the Kingdom of Aksum, a trading empire located in modern-day Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia, would trade gold and soft-carved ivory in exchange for cotton and other goods from South Asia. By Medieval times, Indo-African trade had grown to even greater levels, and the African presence in South Asia began to take on a more political role.

With the rise of Islam strengthening connections between different cultures in Africa and Asia, more and more Africans would begin to settle in the Indian Subcontinent permanently. The first African settlers came from a range of different backgrounds including merchants, sailors, indentured servants, slaves, and mercenaries but mostly descended from the Bantu people of East Africa[3]. These African settlers and their descendants would come to be known as the “Siddi”/“Sheedi”, believed to be derived from the Arabic “Sahibi” and Urdu/Hindi “Sahib”, meaning master[4]. The Siddi would go on to establish various communities and, in some cases, rule over native Indians. Siddis ruled the State of Janjira (1489-1948) located on the Konkan Coast and, in 1759, Jafarabad State (1650-1948) located on the Kathiawar Peninsula, 320 km northwest of Janjira, became its dependency[5]. Some Siddis would also rise to positions of power within the various royal courts of India. For example, Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, a prominent slave-turned-nobleman was a close confidant of the infamous Razia Sultana of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1555)[6]. Similarly, many Siddi served as warriors and generals in South Asian armies such as General Hoshu Sheedi who died fighting the British in 1843[7]. However, there was one Siddi, in particular, that would go on to distinguish themselves as a mighty military general and ruler: the legendary Malik Ambar[8][9].

Malik Ambar (1548-1626)

Malik Ambar was born in 1548 with the birthname of “Chapu” and belonged to the Maya people of central Ethiopia. He spent his early childhood living a peaceful pastoral life until, at the age of 12, Chapu would become one of the thousands of people from non-Abrahamic communities that were enslaved by the Solomonic Christians and Adal Muslims. The young Chapu was captured by Arab traders and taken to a slave market on the coast of Yemen. Chapu would eventually end up being sold to a merchant by the name of Mir Qasim who took him to Baghdad, the cultural centre of the Muslim world. Qasim converted Chapu to Islam, giving him the name “Ambar”, and taught him to read, write and manage finances. Ambar would remain in Baghdad for a decade before accompanying Qasim to the Deccan Plateau in 1571 where he would be sold once again to the chief minister of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate (1490-1636), a Siddi, by the name of Chengiz Khan (no, not that Chengiz, a different one).

Political map of South Indian states (1400-1650)

The Deccan at the time was divided into five sultanates which comprised of Muslim elites ruling over a Marathi Hindu majority as well as many Indo-Turks, Persians, and European merchants. The Deccan was a land plagued by war and intrigue as rulers would have to always watch over their shoulders lest their own soldiers slay them. Violent coups were the norm, and it was rare for a ruler to hold power for more than a few decades. To make things worse, the rising Mughal Empire (1526-1857), to the north, was slowly becoming the most dominant force in India and had its sights set on the Deccan.

Ambar would serve as a warrior-slave but soon distinguished himself becoming Chengiz Khan’s personal aide. However, much in the nature of Deccani politics, Khan would be framed by his fellow courtiers, who were jealous of his power, for conspiracy against the state and was subsequently executed. Following his master’s death, Ambar legally became a free man and decided to travel south to the neighbouring Bijapur Sultanate (1489-1686). There he got married to a fellow Siddi, by the name of Karima, and enlisted in the Sultan’s army.

The Bijapur Sultanate was ruled by Sultan Ali Adil Shah I until he died in 1579. Following his death, his nine-year-old nephew, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, became his successor. After several bloody battles, his wife Chand Bibi, by turning various generals against each other, came out on top as regent to the young Sultan. As regent, Chand Bibi introduced the idea of fidelity to the salt, which espoused loyalty to the land rather than any single ruler or dynasty. During this time, Ambar slowly climbed the ranks of the Bijapur army gaining a following of veteran cavalrymen due to his bravery in battle, earning the respect of Chand Bibi and the symbolic title of “Malik”, before returning to Ahmadnagar. Chand Bibi would follow suit, and at the end of her regency, she too returned to Ahmadnagar, the kingdom of her birth.

In 1595, the Mughal Empire decided to turn its full attention to the Deccan following the death of the Sultan Burhan Nizam Shah II of Ahmadnagar in a border war with Bijapur. Chand Bibi laid claim to the Ahmadnagar throne which led its chief minister to seek the Mughals for protection. The Mughal Emperor Akbar sent his son Murad Mirza, with a mighty imperial army, to secure the Sultanate. Realising his mistake, the chief minister fled, and Chand Bibi became the leader of the resistance. Donning full armour, she led her men in defence of Ahmednagar Fort, and after a long unsuccessful siege, the much more powerful Mughals opted to make peace in exchange for the cessation of the Berar province to the east. Chand Bibi accepted, becoming regent of Ahmadnagar, and entering an uneasy truce with the Mughal Empire. However, in 1599, in typical Deccani fashion, Chand Bibi was slain by her own soldiers on false accusations she was going to sell out Ahmadnagar to the Mughals. Without Chand Bibi to defend it, the Mughal Empire subsequently invaded the Sultanate and imprisoned its young Sultan.

Without a ruler to lead them, Malik Ambar took it upon himself to oust the Mughals from Ahmadnagar. Siddis, Indo-Turks, Persians and Marathi Hindus all rallied behind the great commander as he carried out cross-border raids against the Mughals. By 1600, his forces grew from around 150 cavalrymen to 7,000; insignificant compared to the manpower the Mughals were capable of mustering. Out-gunned, out-manned, out-numbered and out-planned (a little reference for all you Hamilton fans out there), Ambar realised he couldn’t take the Mughals head-on and began to pioneer guerrilla war tactics in the Deccan. One such tactic was to use light Marathi Hindu cavalry, famous for their lightning-fast assaults, to attack Mughal supply lines. The Mughal’s heavy cannons and war elephants were unable to keep up with the continued harassment from Ambar’s forces. The Mughals were eventually forced to retreat from Ahmednagar city. With the Mughals out of the picture, for the time being, Ambar went about rebuilding Ahmadnagar’s government.

Deccani politicians were unlikely to accept a Siddi as their ruler, and so Ambar went about finding a puppet he could proclaim as Sultan. The Mughals imprisoned almost all the royal family with claims to the throne except for a young prince by the name of Ali who was currently staying with Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur. In 1600, Ali was crowned Sultan Murtaza Nizam Shah II of Ahmadnagar. To cement his power, Ambar gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to the new Sultan. Malik Ambar was subsequently appointed Prime Minister of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate making him the de facto ruler.

In 1603, Malik Ambar put down a rebellion launched by three of his officers all whilst feigning a treaty with the Mughals to prevent them from taking advantage of the situation. A testament to Ambar’s skill in balancing the pressures of external and internal threats to his power. In 1605, following the death of Akbar, his successor Emperor Jahangir restarted incursions into Ahmadnagar territory but to no avail due to Ambar’s superior guerrilla war tactics. The Mughal Emperor was so enraged that he ordered a painting to be drawn of him shooting the decapitated head of Malik Ambar. This fantasy would remain just that, a fantasy.

Emperor Jahangir’s fantasy painting.

In 1610, Sultan Murtaza Nizam Shah II turned against Malik Ambar and his daughter. He was swiftly assassinated and replaced by his five-year-old son, Burhan Nizam Shah III. In the same year, Ambar founded the city of Khadki close to the Mughal border and made it his new capital. In 1612, a treaty was secured with the Mughal Empire, allowing Ambar to focus on developing his kingdom. The next decade saw Khadki become a booming economic hub: the construction of an aqueduct system to bring fresh water to the new capital, the maintenance of over 40 forts to secure the Sultanate’s borders, the flourishing of Muslim and Hindu arts, and the building of masjids and palaces to increase Ahmadnagar’s prestige.

Predictably, the fragile peace with the Mughals was eventually broken and, in 1616, Ambar experienced his first major defeat allowing the Mughals to regain a foothold in Ahmadnagar once again. By 1618, Malik Ambar’s ally to the south, Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur, believing Ambar’s time was up, began to conspire against him and collaborate with the Mughals. To force the Bijapuris onto the backfoot, Ambar began raiding the Bijapur countryside. This forced the Mughal Empire and Bijapur Sultanate to meet Ambar on his own terms. In September 1624, Ambar won a decisive victory against a joint Mughal-Bijapur army at the Battle of Bhatvadi. Thereby, humiliating the Mughals once again, foiling the attempts of his Bijapuri rival, and securing his realm’s independence.

In 1626, Malik Ambar passed away peacefully at the age of 78 and was succeeded by his son Fateh Khan, who changed Khadki’s name to Fatehnagar. Unfortunately, he lacked his father’s military genius and, within ten years, the Mughal’s managed to conquer Ahmadnagar under the leadership of Emperor Shah Jahan. In 1653, when Prince Aurangzeb was appointed leadership over the Deccan, he made Fatehnagar his capital and renamed it to Aurangabad, which it is called to this day. Prince Aurangzeb would go on to become Emperor in 1658.

Today an estimated 250,000[10] Siddis are living in Pakistan mainly concentrated in Karachi and its coastal regions. Meanwhile, in India, there are at least 25,000[11] Siddis primarily concentrated in Karnataka, Gujarat, and Hyderabad. The majority of Siddis practice Islam, although there some Hindu and Christian Siddi communities. Although Siddis have largely adopted the language and traditions of their localities, some traditional Bantu practices have been preserved. Gujarati Siddis practice the Ngoma style of dance and music. Similarly, the annual festival by the name of Sheedi Mela in Pakistan also has notable African influences. Unfortunately, Siddis still experience discrimination and prejudice from the broader South Asian community. Despite this, many Siddi have managed to rise to prominence in India and Pakistan such as Urdu poet Noon Meem Danish, singer Younis Jani as well as politicians Tanzeela Qambrani of Pakistan and Shataram Budna Siddi of India to name a few.

The Siddi people serve as a testament to the shared global history of humanity and have undoubtedly added to the diverse fabric of the Subcontinent; their contributions to South Asian culture and society should not go unnoticed.


[1] Kennedy, K. and Possehl, G., 2012. Were There Commercial Communications Between Prehistoric Harappans And African Populations?. Advances in Anthropology. [online] Research Gate. Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276490753_Were_There_Commercial_Communications_between_Prehistoric_Harappans_and_African_Populations> [Accessed 27 July 2020].

[2] Schoff, W., 1912. The Periplus Of The Erythraean Sea. Longmans, Green.

[3] Shah, A., Tamang, R., Moorjani, P., Rani, D., Govindaraj, P., Kulkarni, G., Bhattacharya, T., Mustak, M., Bhaskar, L., Reddy, A., Gadhvi, D., Gai, P., Chaubey, G., Patterson, N., Reich, D., Tyler-Smith, C., Singh, L. and Thangaraj, K., 2011. Indian Siddis: African Descendants with Indian Admixture. American Journal of Human Genetics, [online] 89(1). Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135801/> [Accessed 27 July 2020].

[4] Albinia, A., 2018. Empires Of The Indus: The Story Of A River. John Murray (Publishers).

[5] Ali, S., 1996. The African Dispersal In The Deccan. Sangam.

[6] Meri, J. and Bacharach, J., 2006. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopaedia. Routledge.

[7] Soomro, F., 1977. Cultural History Of Sind. National Book Foundation.

[8] Ali, O., 2016. Malik Ambar: Power And Slavery Across The Indian Ocean. Oxford University Press.

[9] YouTube. 2019. Malik Ambar: African King In The Heart Of India. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY9RIGEWD_o&t=9s> [Accessed 28 July 2020].

[10] Trip Down Memory Lane, 2012. Blacks in Pakistan (Afro-Pakistanis). Available at: <https://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2012/08/blacks-in-pakistan-afro-pakistanis.html> [Accessed 29 July 2020].

[11] The Sidi Project. n.d. The Sidi Project. [online] Available at: <https://thesidiproject.com> [Accessed 29 July 2020].

Lucknow Pact – 1916

Mohammed Ali Jinnah (bottom centre) and others at the time of the Lucknow Pact.

Since the AIML’s establishment in 1906, Jinnah had been mistrustful of its pro-British inclinations. The Muslim League was willing to offer their loyalty to Britain in exchange for more political representation[1]. Ultimately, this loyalty did not stop the British from reversing the Partition of Bengal. A now disillusioned AIML amended its constitution and adopted Indian self-government as its primary goal[2].

In October 1913, with no reason to continue opposing the League, Jinnah joined the organisation yet retained his membership in Congress, stressing that League membership took second priority to the “greater national cause” of an Independent India[3]. Unfortunately for Jinnah, over the next few years, Congress would endure significant blows.

The deaths of Moderate leaders Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta in 1915 significantly undermined the party and left Jinnah isolated. Not to mention the fracturing of the party several years before in Surat. Nevertheless, Jinnah saw that if India were to achieve freedom, both the INC and AIML would have to work together.

In 1915, Jinnah ensured that both the INC and AIML held their annual sessions in Bombay and organised a joint meeting between the two parties. At this meeting, the Congress and League pledged to work together to put pressure on the British and committees were set up to prepare a common scheme of reforms.

In 1916, the INC and AIML met again in Lucknow and officially endorsed the reforms at their respective annual sessions. The scheme came to be known as the Lucknow Pact[4] and called for the following amongst others:

  1. 4/5 of members of the Provincial Legislative Councils and Imperial Legislative Council should be elected.
  2. Separate electorates for Muslims in Provincial Legislative Councils in the following proportions:
    • Punjab (50%)
    • United Provinces (30%)
    • Bengal (40%)
    • Bihar (25%)
    • Central Provinces (15%)
    • Madras (15%)
    • Bombay (1/3)
  3. No bill/clause/resolution concerning a particular community can be passed if 3/4 of the members from said community oppose it.
  4. Number of members in the Imperial Legislative Council should be increased to 150.
  5. 1/3 of the Indian members of the Imperial Legislative Council must be Muslims.
  6. 1/2 of the Viceroy’s Executive Council must be Indians.

In short, Congress agreed to Muslim demands concerning political representation, and, in exchange, the League agreed to Congress ideas concerning government structure along the lines of Gokhale’s Political Testament[5].

The Lucknow Pact serves as a testament to Jinnah’s adeptness as a political tactician in the cause for an Independent India. By bringing the League and Congress together, Jinnah single-handedly allied both of India’s most influential political parties, creating a joint front against the British. Thereby living up to his title as “the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” and making significant strides in the cause for Indian independence.

The Lucknow Pact served to bring the AIML and INC together, but it also healed the fractured Congress party as both the Extremists and Moderates were on board with the proposed reforms[6]. All in all, the Lucknow Pact signified a turning point in the Indian Independence Movement. It turned the League and Congress from bickering rivals into a united political force to be reckoned with.

On the 31st December 1916, Jinnah gave his presidential address to the AIML during its annual session in Lucknow,[7] where he stated the following:

“In its general outlook and ideal as regards the future, the All-India Muslim League stands abreast of the Indian National Congress and is ready to participate in any patriotic efforts for the advancement of the country as a whole. […] I have been a staunch Congressman throughout my public life and have been no lover of sectarian cries, but it appears to me that the reproach of “separatism” sometimes levelled at [Muslims] is singularly inept and wide of the mark when I see this great communal organisation rapidly growing into a powerful factor for the birth of United India. A minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for co-operation and united endeavour in the national tasks. To the [Muslims] of India that security can only come through adequate and effective safeguards as regards their political existence as a community.”

“The [Muslims] must learn to have self-respect; what we want is a healthy and fair impetus to be given to our aspirations and ideals as a community, and it is the most sacred duty of government to respond to that claim. Towards the Hindus, our attitude should be of good-will and brotherly feelings. Co-operation in the cause of our motherland should be our guiding principle. India’s real progress can only be achieved by a true understanding and harmonious relations between the two great sister communities. With regard to our own affairs, we can depend upon nobody but ourselves. We should infuse [a] greater spirit of solidarity into our society. […] We should not lose the sympathy of our well-wishers in India and in England by creating a wrong impression that we, as a community, are out only for self-interest and self-gain. We must show by our words and deeds that we sincerely and earnestly desire a healthy national unity.”

In summary, Jinnah is saying that the AIML is the vital “political organ” of the Muslim community and necessary for the creation of a “United India”. It is the role of the AIML to see to the internal affairs of the Muslim community while working externally with the other communities of India for the “advancement of the country as a whole”. These are hardly the words of a staunch separatist who seeks to divide India and carve out a new state for himself, as is commonly depicted.

One interesting thing about the Lucknow Pact is that it revealed a lot about Jinnah’s political character. A man who only six years before was dead against the idea of separate electorates[8] was now the architect of a common scheme of reforms in which separate electorates were a key demand.

It is here that a distinction must be made between strategy and tactics. Strategy defines your long-term goals and overarching plan to achieve said goals. Meanwhile, tactics are smaller specific steps and decisions that must be taken to complete your overall strategy.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

The Art of War
Sun Tzu

The inclusion of separate electorates in the Lucknow Pact was a political tactic. Jinnah knew that to free India, he needed the League and Congress to be on the same page. To do so, he had to compromise on his individual opinion when it came to separate electorates because he knew that it would be the only way to get the League on board. He even states so in his address:

“Whatever my individual opinion may be, I am here to interpret and express the sense of the overwhelming body of [Muslim] opinion, of which the All-India [Muslim] League is the political organ.”

Jinnah was also aware that separate electorates would have to be a necessary evil to secure his position in the Imperial Legislative Council. Jinnah’s ability to put aside his personal opinion for the overall strategy would serve him well in the years to come. However, it makes the historian’s job of dissecting and determining said opinion from the annals of history much harder.

In many ways, Jinnah acts against his personal beliefs, the inclusion of separate electorates being a clear example, with many more, albeit subtle examples, to come up in future essays. What is certain, though, is that whatever Jinnah’s strategy was, it involved Muslims and Hindus working together for a common cause.

Unfortunately for Jinnah, events in the next few years would disrupt and eventually put an end to the unity brought about by the Lucknow Pact. Nonetheless, the Lucknow Pact still served to establish fundamentals in the Independence Movement. The agreement on separate electorates made the communal issue a crucial part of Indian politics.

Furthermore, by agreeing with the League, Congress tacitly yielded to the idea that India consisted of two different communities with different interests. This pushed the less relevant AIML into the forefront of Indian politics, alongside the INC, as the political body representing Muslim India. This made it a necessity to have the League involved in any future decisions concerning Indian independence.


This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement


[1] Pirzada, S., 1969. Foundations Of Pakistan. All-India Muslim League Documents: 1906-1947. National Publishing House.

[2] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Muslim League | Indian Muslim Group. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Muslim-League> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[3] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[4] Constitutionofindia.net. n.d. The Congress-League Scheme 1916 (INC & AIML). [online] Available at: <https://www.constitutionofindia.net/historical_constitutions/the_congress_league_scheme_1916__inc___aiml__1st%20January%201916> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[5] A History of India. n.d. Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s “Political Testament” (1915). [online] Available at: <http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415485432/33.asp#:~:text=(1938-1940)-,Gopal%20Krishna%20Gokhale%27s%20″Political%20Testament”%20(1915),of%20the%20Morley-Minto%20Reform.&text=He%20specifically%20referred%20to%20the,for%20the%20impending%20Indian%20reform.> [Accessed 21 July 2020].

[6] Ahmed, N., 1987. History Of The Indian National Congress, 1885-1950. Aligarh Muslim University.

[7] Jinnah, M. A., 1916. Presidential Address By Muhammad Ali Jinnah To The Muslim League Lucknow, December 1916. [online] Columbia.edu. Available at: <http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_jinnah_lucknow_1916.html> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[8] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.