Sunday, February 27, 2011

The confident and courageous Çetinkaya


This turbo-charged Turkish race car driver talks about her life from hairpins to handbrakes.

Few of us have actually experienced the rush of motorsports and know what it really feels like to race at mindbogglingly high speeds under trying conditions. Burcu Çetinkaya, however, can tell you all about it. The Turkish racecar rally driver has made her mark in the male-dominated sport, and is currently touring Pakistan with the aim of inspiring motorsports enthusiasts in the country.


The star sportswoman became interested in racing while attending a rally at the age of 12 and eventually took up the sport when she was 24. “The first rally I participated in was a round of the Turkish Rally Championship, the Hittite Rally in Ankara (the capital of Turkey) in 2005,” she recalls. Since then, Çetinkaya has gone from strength to strength and has amassed quite a long list of impressive performances. “I have been the Turkish Ladies Champion for five years in a row, from 2005 to 2010,” says Çetinkaya. Her team has also placed highly in various rally championships, outshining a number of both male and female participants.

The rally driver had to face several difficulties when she initially entered the motorsports arena. “To find sponsors was the biggest difficulty. To learn how to be patient was another one. After I started to be successful and find sponsors, then the problem was to convince people about my goals. In the beginning, they wanted me to stay where I was, go for the ladies championship and not try the ‘impossible’. Then I had to fight to achieve my goals.” She feels that “the help of the Turkish rally champion Volkan Isik in trainings helped [her] a lot,” when she was starting out.

As can be expected, her training regime is quite extensive. “All year long, I have a physical training programme where I run eight kilometres, at least five days a week. I work a lot on my arm muscles, again a minimum of five days a week. Before the start of the season, we have testing with the car for two to three days; we take the data from my driving and try to see the places for improvement. Also, before each rally, we have a shakedown test of fifty to hundred kilometres to warm up. And after the rallies, I watch the onboard cameras in detail to be able to see where I make mistakes.” She thinks a person needs to be calm and patient if they want to take up motorsports. “They must like challenges, and have a warrior-like character. They need to be very well disciplined and persistent. And most important of all, they need to be really brave.”

Pakistan tour

Çetinkaya cites a number of reasons for wanting to tour Pakistan: “the colourful culture, the clothes, the beautiful mosques and most importantly the people of Pakistan! As you may know, Turkey and Pakistan have very good relations. We also have a high percentage of Muslims in the country, so we have some cultural similarities. And Benazir Bhutto was one of my heroes when I was a kid, so that also made me very curious about the country. When the 2010 flood hit Pakistan, in Turkey we really tried a lot to help. That was also the first time I planned to go to Pakistan, but it was not possible because I was away at the races. I am very happy that I will stay [in Pakistan] for ten days [from February 25 to March 5]. I want to meet as many people as I can and learn as much about Pakistan as I can when I am here.”

As for what she aims to achieve through her visit, she says she’s here to motivate people. “Nothing is impossible’ is a phrase I really appreciate. If there are people with dreams in sports or art or anything else, and if their families are unsupportive or have financial barriers, like I was at the beginning, there is a message I can give them. The biggest barrier standing in the way of our dreams is within us. If we can be creative and fight hard with discipline, we can fight for our dreams. I dream to meet people interested in this and motivate them if I can.”

The touring rally driver hopes to discover the scope of rallying in Pakistan during her visit. “I hope after ten days [of touring], I can be more clear about [how the sport can be made more successful in Pakistan], but the media can help a lot.” She thinks having a local motorsports hero would help. “If there is a worldwide successful sportsperson from your country in the sport, people will be more motivated to follow, and sponsors will be more encouraged to help.”

Women in motorsports

Burcu cites Michele Mouton as her favourite racecar driver. “She is the only woman in the world of motorsports that won a few world rally championship events and finished second in the championship at the top level in the 1980s, and showed that impossible is nothing.”

While Burcu hasn’t met any female Pakistani racecar drivers yet, she is looking forward to meeting some during her tour. She thinks encouragement and a change in mentality could help make it easier for women to take up motorsports. “In this sport, women and men are not put in different categories. Only in some countries, ladies prizes are also included in the championships to encourage women. But in the general classification there is no separation. There are two types of women in this sport: the first is there for attention, the other for success. I think the ones there for attention also give some colour to the sport, but the ones there for success are the ones that should really be encouraged. Women’s cups can be organised to choose the talented ones. I think the biggest help would be to encourage women. When there is a lady driver who is doing well, every mistake [she makes] is highlighted to show that she is not capable, so I think if this mentality can be fought against, things can get better.”

Activities and interests

In her spare time, Çetinkaya likes to read books and watch movies. “The books by Osho and Paulo Coelho, and Mesnevi by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī are books I have read over and over many times. My favourite movie is Güneşi Gördüm (I Saw the Sun), a Turkish movie directed by the Turkish singer, actor, and director Mahsun Kirmizigul.  I also liked Amores Perros a lot. Also, I really love Indian movies; Ek Ajnabee, directed by Apoorva Lakhia and starring my favourite Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan, is a movie I really like. My favourite singers are Sezen Aksu, İbrahim Tatlıses, and Mahsun Kırmızıgül from Turkey; Garou, and Dany Brillant from France; and Frank Sinatra." As for TV shows, Çetinkaya says, “I love Top Gear and it is my favourite show so far.” She even hosts two television shows in Turkey and enjoys snowboarding and wakeboarding.

The future looks bright for this ambitious sportswoman and we can only hope that her tour of Pakistan will help motivate people, especially young women, to pursue their own dreams.

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 27th February, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Confession

book review

Book: The Confession
Author: John Grisham

With the publication of each of John Grisham’s latest novels, I become more certain that I keep slogging through his work out of a misplaced loyalty to a writer who is long past his prime. Since the first time I came across his book in the school library in the late ‘90s, I have read all but one of his legal thrillers (the only exception being the young-adult effort, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer), but after going through his recent works, I am thoroughly confused: what happened? The Associate (2009) rambled on till you got to the ending and, well, it didn’t have one; The Appeal (2008) seemed like a bad rendition of Erin Brockovich; and The Broker (2005)... I can’t even remember what that was about, and that can’t be a good sign.

His latest legal thriller, The Confession, doesn’t help the lawyer-turned-writer overcome his slump as he continues down the path of unimpressive fiction. The story revolves around a wrongfully convicted man who, despite his lawyer’s best efforts, is being executed for a murder he did not commit, but just a few days before the sentence is set to be carried out, the real killer confesses to the crime before a Lutheran pastor. Will they be able to stop the execution? Or will an innocent man lose his life for something he did not do?

The underlying story is based on a complex issue and the plot clearly has a lot of potential, but the novel itself is a complete letdown. The Confession fails on a depressing number of levels - as an interesting story, as an intriguing narrative and work of literature, and as a case against the legal system and death penalty. The narrative drags on for the most part; the pace picks up in the second section as the reverend and real culprit race to halt the execution, and you can see glimpses of the old Grisham shine through in places, but overall the same point could’ve been gotten across in about half the number of pages. As for the content, it’s all just black and white when what it really needed was a generous helping of grey. The characters lack complexity and are mostly one-dimensional absolutes - the bad ones are plain horrid, the good ones angels - and it’s not so much human error or a few bad apples causing the injustice, but the whole damn system that is staggeringly hellbent on executing an obviously innocent man. And yes, there is absolutely no doubt about the accused person’s guilt; he is flabbergastingly innocent and being blatantly set up, dagnabbit!

While I appreciate the fact that someone is trying to make a statement against the flaws with the legal system and think the author has every right to air his point of view, The Confession does not work as a legal thriller because it lacks balance and reads less like a convincing piece of fiction and more like a rant with the writer tediously belabouring the point to death. What’s worse, though, is that it is predictable to the point of frustration, and Grisham’s wry wit and intriguing character development are nowhere to be found. What makes it even more frustrating is that the theme is valid, the core plot is there; then why is the novel’s execution so lazy?

How can someone who once produced gripping works like A Time To Kill and The Chamber come up with something as immensely unexciting as The Confession? Has success made him complacent? Or were his initial efforts just not as good as I seem to remember and have simply glorified them through nostalgia? I’d like to say John Grisham has written some remarkable books and The Confession just isn’t one of them, but after reading so many back-to-back dismal efforts by the same author, I’m just not sure anymore.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25 February, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The alluring Angeline


A powerhouse of creativity and talent, Angeline Malik is a well-known name in the entertainment industry. Not content with excelling in just one field, she has put together a diverse portfolio with skills ranging from acting and production to hosting, modelling and direction.

Family & life

Angeline spent her early years in England before coming to Pakistan and eventually settling down in Karachi. “I was brought up in London and moved to Pakistan when I was 10,” she says, speaking about her childhood. “I spent my school and university years in Islamabad and went back to the UK for a Masters degree in Computer Animation once I completed my Masters in Sculpture. I moved back to Karachi after that and have been here since then.”

Strangely, Angeline is the only one from her family who’s been bitten by the show-biz bug.  “I belong to a totally non-media family with mostly doctors. My dad was an ophthalmologist and a social worker. He passed away three years ago. He is my inspiration and strength. My mom and brother are in Islamabad. My siblings have pursued conventional careers; my brother is a doctor and my sister is a banker.”


Angeline’s big break was a mere stroke of luck. She started her acting career when another actress withdrew from a production. “I was talked into taking up the lead role, as the main actress backed out at the last minute. Since I was the co-producer, I had to find a solution, so I stepped in.”

The rest, as they say, is history. “Acting came to me naturally,” she explains. Her first project was Musafir Din Musafir Ratein (2001), directed by Jamal Shah. Since then she has tackled a diverse range of projects and says each of them stands out for its own reasons. “I would say I am proud of every project, because I give myself to it. I’m proud of different projects for different reasons, and I don’t do anything I wouldn’t be proud of. So far, my biggest accomplishment is that I am content with who I am and what I do and I am pursuing projects I would like to do.”

After having worked as an actor, producer, director, anchor and model, Angeline has experience in various fields, so which one of these does she enjoy the most? “I enjoy telling stories the most, the way I see them. My vision. Which is completely possible as a director.”

For Angeline, the support of her family has helped her establish herself in the industry and the sole reason she didn’t face any obstacles. “My family believed in me and has always encouraged me in all I’ve done.” As far as criticism regarding her work is concerned, the star says she is totally fine with it; “I love it! Any reaction works for me.”

Speaking of her own career and future plans, she says she isn’t a long-term planner. “I only plan short term… long term, who knows.”

Activities & interests

In her spare time, Angeline still thinks about work. “My mind works most of the time, obviously about work-related issues. I just can’t sit still!” If she could pick another career, she says she would love to dance and if she could learn a skill, she would want to learn to sing. She thinks a person requires lots of patience, tolerance, sensitivity and awareness to make it in show business.


If I could play a character in any film ever made, I would play…
Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.

If I could meet one person (out of anyone that ever lived), I’d love to meet…

If I could collaborate with any musicians (past or present), I’d work with…

If I could destroy the master copy of any song so that nobody could listen to it again, I would pick…
I wouldn’t listen to it if I don’t like it.

If I could change one thing about myself/my life, I’d change…
My hair. It would be nice to know how it feels like to have silky straight hair.

If I had one wish, I’d wish for…
Wishes to come true…

If I had a million dollars, I would…
Treble it!

If I could find out the truth behind one incident/story/issue, I’d want to know about…
Sometimes it’s better not to know the truth.

I’m looking forward to…
Every day…

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 13 February, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Writer’s block is a euphemism for laziness" - Haider Warraich


Ever since its inception, Us Magazine has served as a platform for budding writers, helping them hone their skills and establish a presence along the way. One such writer is Haider Warraich. Long term Us readers might remember Haider’s stories and articles that were printed in this magazine; he is now a regular contributor for various other publications, and has also written a novel, titled Auras of the Jinn. We recently got a chance to ask him about his association with Us and his new novel. Here’s what he had to say:

Us: Please tell Us a bit about yourself.
Haider Warraich:
My parents both belonged to the army, so much of my childhood was spent moving from one place to another. I did my O’ Levels and AS levels from Saint Mary’s and my final year of A Levels from Roots, both in Rawalpindi. From there I went to the Aga Khan University to study medicine, graduating in 2009. After a stint as a research officer in AKU, I then moved to Harvard Medical School, where I am currently working as a research fellow.

Us: When did you start writing? How did you first get your break in writing?
I have been writing since as long as I can remember. I used to own a notebook when I was in Murree and was about nine or ten years old when I wrote an entire series of stories, conjuring adventures from the Amazon to the Karakoram. My byline first appeared in the newspaper when I wrote a poem that appeared in The Nation in 1999.

Us: Tell us about your association with Us Magazine.
I first wrote for Us Magazine in 2001, when my article about the distortion of Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of Pakistan was printed. I then followed that up with two 8-issue short stories, called Brighter Pastures and War of the Worlds. War of the Worlds was particularly popular. I also wrote two articles that appeared as cover stories, one was an article on hostel life, and another was about my experience at the national students’ convention.

Us: How do you feel about Us as a forum for aspiring writers?
I believe, and I can say this from experience, that Us is a tremendous platform for young writers in Pakistan. It caters to an age group that really has no representation in the print media of Pakistan. I actually believe that if Us had never published those short stories, many years ago, I might never have had the confidence to pursue my dream of writing on a bigger stage.

Us: What prompted you to write a novel?
Everybody has stories brewing inside them; it is almost a human condition to find heroes, villains, themes and plots in the world around us. As a writer, I was able to translate those ideas and stories into words on to paper (or text on a screen). By the time I wrote the novel, I could feel that there was a large story that I had to tell, one that could not be restricted to a few thousand words.

Us: Tell Us about Auras of the Jinn.
Auras of the Jinn can be described in many different ways, and I am sure people will have much to make of it. However, I think what describes the story best, is that it is a ‘Pakistani’ story, which is to say that it is as comic as tragic, as absurd as cerebral, as warm as it is cold. Just like the country which it is borne out of, Auras of the Jinn is far from perfect, but it wouldn’t be right if it were.
Readers can ‘like’ Auras of the Jinn’s Facebook page to receive regular updates on reviews, media coverage and launch updates, as well as communicate with the team and myself.

Us: How did you come up with the plot of Auras of the Jinn (AOTJ)? How long did it take you to write the novel?
I came up with the plot of AOTJ when I was studying in medical school. My interaction with disease, in theory and practice, greatly affected me. Our frequent visits to community health centres in different slums of Karachi, such as Sultanabad and Rehri Goth, were some of the big stimulants. The plot and themes naturally followed and it took me about six months to write the book.

Us: What do you hope people will get out of Auras of the Jinn?
AOTJ is less like a full stop and more like a ‘...’ (ellipsis). There are many different characters, many different themes. Much is implied, but less is said. It leaves a lot of room for the reader to draw on their own experiences and their own life. The book has not been necessarily written for people to agree with; it has been written though, to prod the reader, at times gently, and at times, rather harshly.

Us: Did you face any difficulties while writing the novel or getting it published?
Writing, as some writers might attest, can be emotionally draining. It also requires a lot of discipline. This is only my first novel so I don’t have much experience in that department. As far as publishing a novel is concerned, it is certainly much harder than writing it. In Pakistan, most people who write novels either have a background in journalism, as I partly did, or have plentiful financial resources, as most published Pakistani authors do. Having said that, however, no barrier is big enough to stop true talent from flourishing.

Us: Who are your favourite authors? And your favourite books?
Before answering that, I must say that my single greatest failing as a writer is my poor grasp of Urdu literature. However, from amongst those whom I have read, Albert Camus and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, two very different writers with very different worldviews, have affected me the most.

Us: Are you currently working on anything? How soon can we expect another novel from you?
I am currently working on a lot of things, but most of them are abstracts, research papers, institutional review board protocols and the likes! I am, however, writing for newspapers, but am certainly not as prolific as I would like to be. Work on this novel, however, has certainly not ended, and only after this novel has been settled, can I look forward to the next one.

Us: Any advice for aspiring writers?
Discipline is the key and writer’s block is a euphemism for laziness. Don’t play the game just to avoid defeat - nothing trumps persistence and perseverance. Best of luck!

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 11th February, 2011

Friday, February 04, 2011

Us and I


Full name: Sameen Amer

Date of birth: May 25

Educational background: I’ve done O- and A-Levels from Beaconhouse, and BS (CS) and MBA from FAST-NU. And I also have a Master’s degree in Awesomeness from the University of Make Believe and am planning to apply for a Ph.D. in World Domination.

Hobbies: Overanalysing things till they make my head hurt.

Favourite book: I absolutely love books; they’re, like, food for the brain, so I find it impossible to pick one as a favourite. But if I had to pick, I’d probably say The Catcher in the Rye, and then I’d regret it immediately because all the other awesome books would feel left out.

Favourite movie: I’m a huge fan of animated movies, and Pixar has made some awesome films in the last few years – Finding Nemo is the cutest film ever, and everything from Ratatouille to Up! has been great. But my absolute favourite is WALL-E!! I think that movie is brilliant and it makes my inner geek do somersaults.

Favourite actor/actress: I don’t think I’d watch movies just because an actor or actress is in them, so I guess I have no favourites.

Favourite band/singer: That I’m a Kurt Cobain fan is the world’s worst kept secret, so the obvious answer to this question is Nirvana. That said, there are countless bands and musicians, both past and present, that have made some awesome music, so my list of favourites actually runs on for a few pages.

Favourite personality: Celebrities? None. People I know? My parents; they have done everything in their power to ensure that I can avail the opportunities that they did not have, and they’ve been there to provide unconditional love and support throughout my life. I can’t put into words how much I love them and how eternally grateful I am for their love.

I detest: Hypocrisy, intolerance, fear mongering, bad adaptations and unnecessary sequels, unnecessarily forwarded emails, advertisements and celebrity endorsements, reality television, award shows, the lack of pizzas in my life, the fact that chocolate still hasn’t been declared a basic human necessity…

First crush: No idea. I’ve always thought that if Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah were a guy, I’d totally marry him; does that count? Although I suspect it would’ve been an intense and tempestuous relationship and we would’ve filed for divorce within days, so not much would’ve become of it.

Most memorable/embarrassing incident:
Memorable: Getting my MBA medal, because it made my parents happy which, in turn, made me happy.
Embarrassing: I’m quite certain my entire existence has been a string of highly embarrassing incidents; I can’t recall any of them now because my brain has blocked those memories to shield me; defence mechanism, you see.

Most precious possession: Things (mostly gifts) that remind me that I am loved; they’re as varied as an assortment of stuffed toys (including a little blue teddy bear called Mr. Blue) to a number of books that have been sent to me by friends, as well as lots of other little presents from family and friends. Oh and my computer, which I’m distressingly dependent on for my sanity and survival.

After five years I will be: A world-renowned writer? An international rock star? Miss Galaxy 2016? The Queen of the Universe? A caped crusader working as an intergalactic superhero ridding the worlds of crime and injustice? Humbly accepting my fifth Oscar? Getting Emma Stone to portray me in my biopic? Five years older? I haven’t decided yet. Probably not the last one though.

The next President of Pakistan should be: I’d like to say me, but I’ll have to admit I’m more interesting in the President of the Universe gig, so I’m afraid I’ll have to put myself out of contention.

The Us writer you admire the most: There have been some really good articles by various writers over the years; can’t pick one.

Writing for Us since: 2002.

Genre: Entertainment and technology.

My first contribution: If memory serves (and it rarely does), it was an article about online search engines.

Best work till now: As in, best article? I don’t know. I’m my own worst critic; I’ll have to let the readers decide.

Us Magazine, The News - 4 February, 2011