What Is Progress?



I first saw the Manhattan skyline in the year 2002, and since then, have had an ongoing romance with the city of New York. If I can recall, my initial sense was of having penetrated the magical world of cinema, and to have become part of it. As I walked through the streets lined with towering skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan, I felt that much-talked about pulse of the city; it was an almost militant march forward. My feet raced to keep up as did my heart to imagine that I was a drop in that steady stream toward some unknown ocean of treasures. But that ocean remains forever unattainable, for let’s not forget that I only got here in 2002 – after September 11, 2001. Then came Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, after which came the Recession and eventually, speculation of the implosion of an empire upon itself.


So much of the city is in the streets. Perhaps that is why the pedestrian is as arrogant, pushing the limits of car-owners by strolling across well after the ‘Don’t Walk’ sign has flashed red. It is in the street fair where a woman sells you a dress that her sister made in Nigeria across from a stall of Italian cuisine to go, the smells of which mingle with the sharp scent of Mexican tamales and the wild colours of rows upon rows of fake designer bags.

Within 60 seconds, you can hear six languages in New York. You can also see 600 items to purchase of which you have use for none, but they all sound so good that you want them right away. It could be an iPhone, or inner peace as demonstrated by a young woman contorting her body in inconceivable yoga positions in the display window of a store, or it could even be the end of a romance as sold in the form of a divorce for just $399. With a price that affordable, I’d get a divorce. Wouldn’t you?

It was also in the streets that hundreds of thousands of people came out to protest the war against Iraq to no avail. It is in the streets that 3.5 million people sleep in the United States, of whom according to the Urban Institute, over 37,000 are in New York.


Beneath the surface lies the subway station where I wait for the train that will take me to watch Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 3D Imax. I am struck by the constant automated announcements to remain vigilant at all times: See something, say something. It is also new that cops roam in pairs, patrolling, prodding backpacks, saying, ‘You need to hold up your bag where we can see it, Miss.’ Trains are delayed, and routes are changed because a particular stop was sealed after suspicious activity was detected there. Meanwhile, exasperated passengers tote their shopping bags, listen to their ipods, and stare at the screens of their iphones. The cellist at the Times Square station plays a strain, hoping for a dollar in the open case lying at her feet. A couple wearing identical baseball T-shirts, flushed from their love and a good game, throw in a dime, and dance to her tune and the quiet hum of the city.


And so let me take you to the beginning of my trip, when I was taken to the Guggenheim Museum by my sister, who was participating in a work by the artist, Tino Sehgal. I watch two dancers performing as lovers in the centre of the floor of the incredible piece of architecture that is the rotunda. They are engaged in a two-and-a-half hour long embrace called The Kiss in which they, well, kiss, undulate, move together and apart, stare into each other’s eyes, and occasionally into mine. This is before I am immersed in a conversation that spans genders, ages and issues, all the while walking ahead and up a circular ramp; almost like Alice plunged into the rabbit-hole but in reverse. It was right after an eight-year old boy came to me, put out his hand, and said, ‘Hi! Umm…can I ask you a question?’ ‘Yes, of course,’ I said. ‘What is progress?’ he asked, not looking in my direction as he skipped ahead.

Indeed. What is progress?

11 Responses to “What Is Progress?”

  1. 1 Farax

    Nice article. love the way it ends 🙂

  2. Mam,

    Just amazing .. i had two visits to Manhatton . It was in 98 and 97 when there were —— hush

  3. Whats your idea of progress Naveen?

  4. I am glad you had a great time in NY. Welcome Back. 🙂

  5. Hello Naveen .. hope all is well with u .. long time .. when will u appear on Dawn NewsTV again .. ?? just read the material … Its really interesting … 🙂 now can u plz tell us that .. Umm .. what is progress???

  6. 6 Jawad Zafar

    I have not been a regular follower of you, but I enjoy your writings; rather I must admit that you try to walk over the separating lines, so that people should think about what is between the lines.

    Reading this post, I wondered about the relation of the content with the subject, but I was not able to do so. Or I may say that I am not that intellectually strong that I could be able to percieve the subject that is hidden within

    I would humbly request you to continue with the posts in the same manner as you are doing so, but an element of internal honesty should always be kept in the heart while you work, which most of us (media) lack in general, and people all over the country in particular.

  7. 7 shafiqa

    very nice , like it.

    keep it up, hope we will get something new 🙂


  8. Rather quizzically I ask too, what is progress? The same situation arises where we ask what is success? Isn’t it interesting how we easily become baffled by an innocent question, but as a matter of fact these are the very things that we’ve been reading during our younger ages, we pay attention, yet we don’t. The latter part of not paying attention is mostly because of what the environment has turned out to be over the years. So much we miss, without hesitation, destroying our own self at each step.

  9. Loved it 😀 A refreshing read, me thinks you should write travelogue often 🙂

  10. Thank you all for your comments. I hadn’t posted in a while so I quite enjoyed writing this piece, and I’m glad you had fun reading it.

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