Tedx Karachi 2014 Live

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Leadership 101

Where do leaders come from? Pretty good question as most people in Pakistan seem to think that leadership is a quality you are either born with or not. I suppose this is so because as a largely un educated nation we seem to look towards genetics and divine intervention to define many a trait or a quality in an individual and thus naturally perceive anything superior as god gifted. The truth is though that very few people in this world are born with the ability to truly lead, whilst most hone whatever abilities they have, along with the situation they are in and with the experiences they have gained to emerge as leaders.

The sad reality of leadership is that the people leading management in this country or any country except for a few niche sectors are usually a generation or two behind the crop they are leading. Thus not only is the generation gap present like a chasm between the two but the older lot have to relate to what the newer ones are going through,  and try to see life through their eyes in order to make decisions which are  relevant to the future of their enterprise. How many of us have heard of the environment in a certain company being cool and not formal at all vis a vi how boring my workplace is. In fact many a career starter these days is ready to take a pay cut in order to work in a more flexible environment. Same goes for a lot of mid career switchers as well and hence I think its time we had a grand re think of management strategies in Pakistan. These were some of my thoughts as I strode into the 16th MAP convention recently held in Karachi with the tag line “Re think management” I found it to be chock full of people from different corporates, a little surprising as most conferences I usually end up with have but a few sleepy people this early in the morning. Perhaps attendance was mandatory but it certainly looked like people were participating, as the first interactive sessions of the day started.

I waited around post tea break to hear Dr Zeelaf the chairperson of the executive management board at EBM speak for two reasons, first that as a woman to rise through the ranks and attain the position she is in she would have to be exceptional in this nation. Secondly I had heard she is a very very good persons manager and thus wanted to pickup some tips from her in her talk. I was not disappointed at all as she spoke eloquently about clarity and the confidence that leaders needed to instil in the people working with them to lead with example rather then to expect people to just come up with brain storms on their own. I found the following stance of hers specially noteworthy and thus regurgitate it verbatim

Sustainability is about demonstrating social responsibility by balancing business results with concern for the greater good. Although much attention is being paid to how companies deal with environmental issues, social responsibility extends beyond just this one area. Focusing on sustainability means looking beyond short-term results to consider the longer-term implications of decisions as they relate not just to the environment, but also to health, safety, and other such areas of concern. It means taking actions that go beyond regulations to build controls into the business environment—embedding social responsibility into business processes and procedures and taking responsibility for the impact decisions might have on the workforce. Sustainability will be a major differentiator for a leader’s success in the future. Ultimately, it may contribute to the long-term survival of an organisation and serve to reshape the business climate.

Everyone speaks about CSR and how to do it and what their companies are doing for the community around them but is that spirit embedded in the companies mission statement? Has it been made part of the corporate decision making process? What are the implications of making such a thought process part of the fabric of your organisation and how it can really change things for all of us for a better tomorrow are all things I took away from this conference. I hope many such endeavours are organised in the days to come along with startups and launchpads in our country so that we can learn the art of doing business and the art of managing it successfully parallel to one another.

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Pakistani labor faces quick exit in KSA

Whenever we speak of expatriate Pakistani’s its always in the form of a feeder capacity  for the homeland. Whether it is  the oodles of dollars they send back home or the fact that they represent us so well and we gain in international stature or because we need them for donations to save lives in some tragedy somewhere in our country. Do we however realize that these are people who need us to represent and fight for them once in a while too?

Im writing this today because I was recently on pilgrimage to Saudi arabia and although I had a very spiritual experience on my umrah, I met lot’s of pakistani’s who are stuck in a bad situation there.  Usually to work in a place like saudi arabia one has to obtain an “Iqama” which is a work visa which is processed on the recommendation of a “Kafeel” or the provider of employment in saudi arabia. Who is in 7 out of 10 cases a saudi citizen who has no real work opportunity but is renting out these Iqamas for as much as 8-12,000 riyals a year per person. Each “Kafeel” gives out about 50 or so Iqamas a year and allegedly collects on them and ( you get the picture) enjoys their fruits while sitting at home as the people who come on these “Iqamas” first pay off the leeches back home who have helped them secure the documents for exorbitant amounts of money, and then at the end of each year use whatever they have saved to renew their “Iqama” with the “Kafeel”

Recently the Saudi government woke up to the fact that the “Kafeels” are having a heyday while the poor labourers are basically serving the furnace of the saudi workforce for a pittance of what they could earn if not burdened with such volatile and (at the whim of these kafeels) “Iqama” renewal charges. Please note I am not speaking of government charges here on “Iqamas” which have pretty much remained the same for a long period of time but the “renewal fees” imposed by “Kafeels”. So in their sagacity the authorities decided to make a new rule barring anyone from serving in any other capacity or workplace other then the one they got their “Iqama” through. Great new piece of legislation it would have been as well “if” there was such a process as an actual workplace provided by the original “Kafeel”

So to cut a long story short, there was much hue and cry made by our respective pakistani leadership (pun intended) through proper channels in February  2013 which resulted in a three month grace period allowed to people without a place of work at their “Kafeels” to find another “Kafeel” who had an actual workplace and get transferred to, or they would face “kharuj” i.e deportation.

Now my question, and perhaps the incoming government can ask our saudi brethren this is: Why were these “Iqamas” issued in the first place through the relevant authorities without verifying what the “Kafeels” workplace actually had to offer? Once that has been established we can perhaps ask why are the labourers being made to suffer for a system as self contradictory as this.

My next question would be then to our government and as to what they are planning to do about this, because if we do not do anything thousands of Pakistani’s may be on their way home soon from Saudi Arabia. Among them will be people who have spent 10-15 years of their lives there working like bonded labor to feed their families a little better back home. These are also the same dollars we keep gleefully pointing to as our great foreign stream of remittance which upon the return of these people should see a dwindling fate pretty soon.

So how about we forget about whether a dual national can hold office and speak of pakistani nationals, who will be robbed of a fair opportunity to work for a living in countries like Saudi Arabia soon if we stand silent?

( Much of the information used to write this has been provided by mechanical engineers from Pakistan now serving as taxi drivers in KSA for the lack of a better work opportunity, due to being forced to abandon jobs which made them work like slaves but paid once in three months)

Some background data on this issue can be obtained from the links given below

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

 

 

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Youth tech camp – My thoughts

Day 1 Blogging & citizen journalism

Its very easy to get despondent in Pakistan. The day to day life in this nation is a mixture of acute stress, dashed hopes and little streaks of brilliance which only a country so raped by strife and conflict can come up with. Add to that the fact that doing social work here or anything that remotely has hope of effecting any change is met with as many hurdles as climbing K2 and you have a puritan recipe for mental anguish. So here I was getting a little jaded and more than a little frustrated with my life in Pakistan. Perhaps I had seen too many dying in the field in relief work, perhaps I was carrying the guilt of not having been able to do enough for my country, perhaps I was just a little too tired and fed up to continue caring as I did once.

Yet here I am, completely inspired again and believe it or not its all because of 40 17-18 year old’s who I was tasked to conduct two workshops with at the I Earn youth tech conference in Islamabad. The I earn program is an exchange based one sponsored by the US department of State, in which these kids are chosen from all over Pakistan and when I mean all over its areas like Abbotabad, Mardan, Hyderabad & Quetta that I speak off. The batches are then adopted by families in the U.S for over a year where they live, go to school and gain international exposure from before coming back to their respective lives here. They are then YES alumni and invited to different tech camps to help sharpen their skills.

When I walked into the tech camp in  the margalla hotel in Isloo, it was after a harrowing delay of 5 hours before boarding at Karachi airport and that too at the behest of people who would not tell us what was going on (PIA), but that is a tale for another day. The point is, I was pissed off to begin with and then had not been able to sleep that much before we all got together at 8am  and the youth camp began. In short I was not a very happy camper when I sat down to begin my session with these 40 young people.

Youth you see may appear a bit naive but radiate energy which only fresh minds can bring. As I sat their telling them what social media can do and what limits they should never set on their expression it dawned on me that these were the people who could do what my generation has failed at. Why did we fail? Well we haven’t failed entirely as long as these kids and others like them are still out there willing to learn have we? However we failed in our own eyes because we saw injustice and we didn’t do much to stop it but condemned it later. We failed because we did not have people telling us and showing us the tools we could use. We also failed because we were told to fight against a system which didn’t let us be part of its own self and so we fought and are still fighting as outsiders.

These kids however comprise more than 65% of our Pakistan today. They learned how to use I would say about 4 technologies during the course of three days in this tech camp and came up with three brilliant end products to take the learning forward. They will get further equipped with more and more training and the stability that years in this life brings you. They “will” be the future because they are most geared to deal with it at such a young age. They also have great mentors in Farah kamal and Saleem sahab to look up to as they go forward. Whats most important though is that they have the actual zeal and the power to make real tangible change happen in this country and currently the numbers as well!

We always looked at this nation and compared it to what it could have been. These kids however look at it and see opportunity to make it what it could be. I have high hopes for my nation today after just three days with them. We aren’t done yet, not while these people are still here and striving to learn, to educate themselves and to be ready for the fight that is to come, because the future of this nation rests on educating those who will will bring it into being. Not in relying on those who could not see beyond their own toenails or in other words agendas.

As Pearl S Buck put it
The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible — and achieve it, generation after generation.

To all the friends I made at this tech camp and to the willing learners which participated in it, my heart soars at thoughts of what you will achieve. I am just glad i will be able to tell my kids when they grow up that I was there when the evolution not the revolution in this nation started.

 

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Monsoon 012

 

Its been really harsh waiting for rain in Karachi this year. This may have to do with the obvious concern brought by the last two years gigantic rainfall and the resulting floods which saw this city open its arms to those in strife around it in an effort the likes of which I at least have not or hope to see again. It may also have to do with the fact that Karachi’s weather has been playing the part of a temptress which seduces and then leaves hanging for the most part of this summer. People (well mostly me) have been jumping up and down when a single grey cloud appears on the horizon for the past several weeks to no avail.

Today however was different. With the soggy night of yesterday & its light rainfall promising much, today’s sunrise captured by me above was nothing short of a miracle in itself. The day was passed in stifling heat with the air surrounding one like thick soup. So much was the humidity that at around  5-6 pm I could hardly breathe not because of the air pressure only but as I had looked up to see dark slate colored clouds gathering above us all.  When it did happen, it was glorious for when it rains in Karachi it rains like it wont stop, it rains like there is no tomorrow in big fat cold gobs of nectar from the sky & so it rained!!

After the first 8 mins or so of this exquisite sensation have passed and one is brought back to reality usually with a horn blaring in your ear to move your goddamn car as quickly as you can the scene changes. Where there was expectation before there is now mild panic and fear of the unknown. Give it another 15 mins of hard pelting rain and the scene descends from panic to chaos on the roads. Ahhh yes we Karachiites do live in perpetual sensory anarchy on a daily basis but the usual manic tendencies take on a new monstrous face when it all gets wet.

My personal experience today went from instagramming clouds to screaming in disbelief as the suzuki pickup in front of me decided to inhale the soul of some souped up hummer and try to go over the pavement to get out of the traffic by going the wrong way (yes against incoming traffic) on the other side of the road. You would think that a car with a tire rod that looked like the thingamejigs of my four year olds lego connecting its wheels would not be able to make such an attempt but it did, oh yes it did! Moments later it stopped with a clunk amidst the horns of the hundreds behind it bleeping their disgust as it hung onto the pavement.. in the middle of it  & each end on either side..impaled on its own stupidity.

Next came the arduous task of moving past this pathetic obstruction without mowing down its occupants who chose to jump out shalwars pulled up into by now knee deep water screaming and cussing at the pavement as it was I suppose not going with their plan of bending as they tried to go over it like jello! So as I hocked my steering to port and tried to crawl around, the already ridiculous situation became even more dangerous with the snap of an over head electric wire which literally swung down sparks and all in an arc and missed the screaming driver and the water to my immediate right by maybe 4 inches.

Yes my vision slowed down, and yes my head swam but I gunned my engine and somehow crawled past right into the throng around me off course as there was literally nowhere to go in this insane traffic jam. No I did not look back at the said pickup and yes water makes a pleasant bubbly sound as it pours into you car from the side slits underneath the doors but funnily enough I just sat there, the water rising to almost ankle length inside my car waiting for the traffic to move.

It did eventually and I drove my sloshing ride at tortoise speed to arrive seemingly safe and sound at my home in about an hour and a half. The same distance I usually cover daily in about 10 mins at moderate pace I might add. As I opened the door and the water spilled out from the car onto the street I stopped and thought for a moment about the most dangerous part. Is Karachi more dangerous than other cities because it never gets a break from nature or criminals or is it the most dangerous because of the savages that inhabit it? Had that pickup not tried to make it into the record books we could have moved on and escaped looking into the jaws of a very crispy death right?

Wrong,  Karachi is the most dangerous megacity in this world because it faces all of this and more and still wants to go out and have a coffee the same night. If its people would cower in their homes if they would just light their damn candles and sit down inside when the power goes. Or if they would not try to go and catch first sight of the hurricane thats supposed to make landfall at the beach we call seaview. They would be a lot safer, a lot healthier and I dare say not Karachiites. Safe is boring, take your safe somewhere else! This city is scarred, its got soul its insane in patches and a heck of a lot of fun even with the near misses with grim reaper included. Karachi is like Smita patel in a wet white saree, its unforgettable  Thats what I tell myself to make me sleep at night at least or sometimes at dawn.

 

 

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Of fashion and my confusion with it

This past week has been sort of a mixed bag for me. First of all Showcase was held in Karachi and Pak tea house collaborated to bring live tweeting from it via cover it live. It was a short event and went off well but i was unable to attend unfortunately due to the situation in the city.

I did however attend the fashion week held soon after or at least two days of it. Being a fashion bystander with a background in textiles does give me some insight into fabric but I will not pretend to know much about what was on display and analyze it. I will not do that because I really didn’t understand some of what was on display anyways as it featured a mixture of western styling and over the top antics to try to create as much hype as possible.

I do however recognize quality when I see it and it was pretty damn obvious in Bunto kazmis line as each piece seemed quite lovingly crafted. These kind of pieces even a layman can tell are one of a kind each. Equally impressive were maheen khans collection for her chic fabrics, sanam chaudrys colors and cut and shehla chatoors styling. This event was quite important social media wise as well because we at pak tea house not only collaborated to report on it but in my opinion carried off quite a remarkable feat with live tweeting, as we had about 6 featured tweeters per day, scoops on video from back stage and hidef pics of the days collections uploaded every night “BEFORE” any newspaper or magazine could publish them. Which meant that quite frankly mainstream media was playing catch up to us in this entire event rather than how it used to be in the past with bloggers writing on info gleaned from news stories. 4700 tweets from these live tweeters over 4 days of fashion week along with pics are ample proof of  the fact that some of the best live bloggers are the ones not featured extensively in our community till yet as they were here .

@fursid @samramuslim @Sidra_Rizvi  @Umairmirza @abdullasyed @shobz @CinnamonCurls

@faizanlakhani @Hinasafi  @Sidra_Rizvi you did create history.

Obviously none of this would have been possible without the tremendous facilities given to us by the events organizers, the seating in third row, the press passes and the ability to write what we damn pleased. So Kudos to Etihad, Maheen Khan, Deepak and the other organizers & sponsers for embracing social media in this open hearted a manner. Perhaps this is why the events live stream on twitter and via video feed reached many people at home and created an enormous buzz.

There were however some areas which were imo severely lacking in an event of this magnitude.

First of all the PR.  I do understand that it gets very tough for an agency to handle invites when the venue and the date keep on changing but if there were to be new lows in organization in an events pr they were achieved here. The helpless agency did not have invites ready till 9 pm the day before the event took place and on top of it wanted everyone from the social media community to come pick them up. We do think that this is ok with other media outlets as they have gazillions of staff boys on bikes to stand all attention while invites are printed? But in our realm such tortoise like inefficiency is usually called what it just was, invite us by email attachment next time pls, we don’t have the time to wait on you!

Secondly it is very important to know that while video live streaming seems all kool and good to announce onstage, it is a difficult thing to handle. Turning it on an hour before the event starts and that too with audio so the whole world can realize what stage and light boys are subjected to “verbally” is not exactly good publicity for the fashion industry in Pakistan.

Thirdly the delays and the rush inside did not make this event any more inviting even though it had such effort put into its decor and arrangment.  I myself saw ushers selling passes which I considered invite only on the day of the finale. Which explained to me why it seemed like the bohri bazaar of wanna be’s inside the event space. Lets not also forget that although the ramp is precious and should not be walked on, people do need a reasonably wide space to exit from, bumping into socialites with no idea of deodorant isn’t everyone cup of tea. Thank god the fashion community is so willing to rub shoulders with everyone or we could have had quite a few altercations around the ramp area.

All in all it was a very lively event which generated a lot of good feeling and positive coverage for Pakistan. That is why such initiatives must be supported, for the overall bigger picture! However with the incoming fashion week in Islamabad and what not, we are running a tad bit into the overkill area. How many fashion events can one have in the year? Shouldn’t there be some kind of standard to adhere to? Can anyone stitch together a few suits play patriotic music and try to cash in the greatest man in this countries history without an outcry? Can we have the same models display different collections night after night without any emotion?

These are some of the questions that need to be answered by not just those organizing but the people clapping to all this seated in front row. Till the next time  then fashionita, socialite or whoever you are reading this. May the ramp be with you.

 

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Karachi literature festival 2012

Three years old, the Karachi literary festival at least by its lineup seems to have come of age finally. I was there last year and although there was much local talent present the international big name flair seemed to have given the festival a miss as many invited Indian authors could not get visas on time.This does not by any means indicate that international authors “have to be there” at the festival to make it a success. It was a success last time as well but unfortunately to make it register on an international level in mainstream and social media the presence of international stars makes all the difference.

Why do I mention social media here? Well its because increasingly literature festivals have become interactive  forums between authors and their readers and nothing emulates interaction more than social media. Naturally people who attend this time are far far more media savvy than last time and some of them have followings of 10,000 or more on social media platforms thus their voices and discussion will resonate at this forum.

A cursory look at the lineup shows us  Vikram Seth, Hanif Kureishi, Shobha De, William Dalrymple, Anatol Lieven among the people visiting from other shores and Mohammed Hanif, Kamila Shamsie, H.M. Naqvi and Maniza Naqvi amongst the local talent on showcase. Quite a mouth watering lineup for any reader I might add! However if you havent read the books of any of the visiting authors let me clue you in on some of their prowess.

William Dalrymple is the author of seven acclaimed works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the best-selling From the Holy Mountain; The Age of Kali, which won the French Prix D’Astrolable; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson, and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize and The Crossword Prize for Non Fiction. He divides his time between New Delhi and London and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New Statesman and The Guardian.

His sessions at the KLF [all on Day ONE]
1.  Keynote Speaker at the inauguration  (what will kick-start it all)

Time: 10:00 am to 11:00 am

Venue: Main Garden (open space)

2.  INDUS JOURNEYS: In Conversation with William Dalrymple

Moderator: Kamila Shamsie
Time: 3:00p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Venue: Main Garden

3.  Afghanistan & Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism & the Taliban

 Ahmed Rashid, William Dalrymple, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Navid Kermani

Moderator: Rasul Bakhsh Rais

Time: 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Venue: Ballroom

Hanif Kureishi is the author of numerous novels, short story collections, screenplays and plays. In 1984 he wrote My Beautiful Laundrette, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. His second film, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, was followed by London Kills Me, which he also directed. The Buddha of Suburbia won the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel in 1990 and was made into a four-part drama series by the BBC. Intimacy, his third novel, was published in 1998, and was adapted for film in 2001. His work has been translated into 36 languages. He has been awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres and a CBE for services to literature. In 2008 The Times listed him as one of ‘The 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945′ and in 2010 he was awarded the PEN/PINTER prize. Hanif Kureishi lives in London with his wife and children.

His sessions at the KLF
DAY ONE
1. In Conversation with Hanif Kureishi

Moderator: Muneeza Shamsie

Time: 12:00 noon to 1:00 pm
Venue: Main Garden

DAY TWO

1.  LITERARY CRITICISM

Muneeza Shamsie, Hanif Kureishi, Aamer Hussein, Alok Bhalla, Stefan Weidner

Moderator: Maniza Naqvi

Time: 10:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Venue: Maharaja

2.  Reading by Hanif Kureishi (extremely important)

Time: 7:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Venue: Beach View Garden

Anatol Lieven is a professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College London., and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington DC. His areas of expertise include US strategy and political culture; Islamist terrorism and insurgency; contemporary warfare; the countries of the former Soviet Union; and the Greater Middle East, especially Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.  His latest book, Pakistan: A Hard Country was published in 2011-2012 by Penguin in the UK, Public Affairs in the USA and Oxford University Press in Pakistan. It is based on his time as a journalist in Pakistan in the late 1980s and extensive research on the ground in recent years.

His sessions at the KLF:

DAY ONE

1.  In conversation with Anatol Lieven

Moderator: Ayesha Siddiqa

Time: 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Venue: Ballroom

2.  Today’s Pakistan: An economic and political perspective

Asad Sayeed, Ishrat Husain, Anatol Lieven, Maleeha Lodhi

Moderator: Ghazi Salahuddin

Venue: Maharaja

Time: 4:00p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

DAY TWO

3. Eyewitnesses and Observers: Writing about Pakistan from a Foreign Perspective

Manu Joseph, Declan Walsh, Anatol Lieven, John Krich, Kishore Bhimani , Hartosh Bal Singh, Alok Bhalla, Navid Kermani, Daniel Lak

Moderator: Raza Rumi

Venue: Maharaja

Time: 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Off course there are many more offerings at this grand buffet of literature, and some of the best will be found in the halls where budding wordsmiths and bloggers will be gathered around writers of such repute like moths to a flame.  The above were just my version of what constitutes the “must attend” parts!
By chance if you see someone soaking up the atmosphere hunched over a smart phone, that will probably be me :) See you there!!
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The novelist – chapter 3

“Old coot, bastard” exclaimed Jalal having inhaled some of the dust kicked up

“Well what do you except man, after the way you spoke to him we could have at least gone back with him” muttered zarmina, knowing they would probably have to in the next hour or so as the afternoon sun was burning fierce in the sky without any clouds in sight.

“Cmon zari don’t be so naive, all of these places are extremely expensive and we both know he wanted to just up his commission”

“Fine lets find us a shack by the water then, you can catch fish and then skewer me every night and we will be happy ever after”

“That’s not what I want!!!”

“Then what the hell do you want Jalal, ok lets walk a little further ok”

“Fine” He took her hand and trudged along the beach, walking past the estates sammy had shown them onto an emptier area of the beach, they saw some cows grazing peacefully, small straw huts along where they stood and walked on further till they came to another estate, a little run down but standing firm against the wind, some of the windows looked broken but were firmly shut as they strode up to the wooden fence surrounding it.

“Jalal this place is empty”

“Well we wont know till we ask will we” he said as he walked past the fence and into the yard to rap sharply at the door with a glass pane set in the middle with a white cloth covering it from inside.

“See no one there love”

He rapped again and suddenly the cloth was turned to the side and the wrinkled old face of an local Sinhalese woman about 60ish looking appeared beaming before them.  Her small and petite frame pressed up against the door and her eyes sharp through the glasses perched at the corner of her nose.

“Who are you, I don’t have any money to buy anything” She said as she eyed the couple standing at the door, their clothes shouting foreigner in a tongue she knew well.

“No we, could you please open the door” Said Zarmina as she strode forward smiling.

She nodded and turned the latch, sliding the door open and stepping out, her hair whitened with time and her gaze still fixed upon them.

“Yes now, don’t tell me you are lost”

Jalal peeked over his wife’s shoulder and smiled his most charming smile

“Not at all. We are just looking for a place and saw yours” he said

“Not for sale” the old one shook her head defiantly her eyes now piercing them

“Ok but maybe, we can take a look and rent”? Zarmina leaned in trying to show confidence and warmth with her body language as she had read about in one of those all explaining books.

“Hmmmm rent, you have money?”

“Yes yes some money” Jalal couldn’t help himself as he slid out from behind his wife not noticing as she gripped his hand we aren’t looking for much just a clean place to stay a bit.

“ I don’t want your money” the old one suddenly smiled revealing her white teeth, startlingly unaffected by her age. As if her whole body was in another time zone and her teeth in another.

“Then what” Jalals face almost about to collapse as his mind whirled in twenty different directions trying to grasp at some solution to make the old hag agree.
“Well for starters you both can come in and have some tea with me, its not often an old soul like me gets new visitors” the woman nodded as she turned around and walked inside her home leaving the door ajar for them to follow.

“Jalal I really don’t think” Zarmina had barely completed her sentence when her husband walked in dragging her behind him with his hand on hers, one she had precariously held to contain his excitement only moments ago.

He led her into the interior of the home and it smelt old, clean but old as if one was entering into another far more saner world. He saw the old woman lighting a small candle  lamp in the lounge area and followed the light as they sat down on the soft plush sofas, wide and cradling as the sea before this home.

“Now make yourself at home and I will get you some mint tea, its really special up from tea estate In nuwar eliya have you two been there yet?”

“No actually we were planning to see it but my husband here has this crazy idea of spending all our money on living here” blurted out Zarmina not being able to get any vibe from the place she sat in.

The old lady smiled again that same brilliant white smile and winked at Jalal’s wife

“Well you can  scarcely blame that thought, I have never ever wanted to move away from the sea”

She shuffled off to the pantry or some other place where she kept her tea as Zarmina looked at Jalal who seemed to be already stark raving mad about this place, well he had been a bit mental to start with on this idea but now he was just looking around with puppy dog eyes full of wonder.

“Jalal, earth to Jalal”

“What zari cant you feel it”

“Yes actually I can feel it, it feels like we are going to live here and im not too sure”

“The place speaks to me love, one can almost feel the time here…and the vibe is just old”

“Yes old and weird man, this place and this lady living alone here”

“So an old lady cannot live alone eh?” cooed the host as Zarmina almost jumped out of her skin, she didn’t even see her come back in the room, how could something this old be so …silent.

“No no I didn’t mean…well you know umm” she stammered as the old one poured them two cups set in perfect bone china, undoubtedly from an expensive shop, it had that look of old regality. Little mermaids painted in blue around the gilt edges of the cups.

“Its ok love, you see in this day and age and before it as well tis always better for a frail one such as me to live alone after..well after such a tragedy” she leaned her head to the side and sniffled in an old linen handkerchief she pulled out.

“What tragedy?” Jalal almost begged her

 

to be continued…….

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The human tragedy remains

I was standing on the banks of a muddy tributary making its slow rippled way through rice paddies. A cold wind was blowing in my face and ruffling the trees freshly washed from last weeks rains. The sky was partly overcast with shafts of lights peeking out from among the clouds onto the fields, it seemed like a great place to just put amanji and lie down to listen to nature at its idyllic best. Unfortunately there was no time to lie down on this trip as we had come to Khorwah to conduct a medical camp.

Khorwah is a sleepy little village cum town just on the outskirts of Thatta. Too small to be of any note yet of the size that can support 5000 to 6000 people. Most of the locals earn their living from working on rice farms or weaving baskets and other handicrafts to sell along the main highway.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

The floods had ravaged this area just like others in Sindh right up to the Deewan sugar mill which was right opposite our campsite on Saleem Khan’s farm, who not just hosted us but fed every single patient who visited.

The waters have receded with time but they have left behind many families who do not have income streams any longer, plus many of the locals had been hosts to their family members fleeing the incoming water from higher up in Sindh and thus are still in a desperate need for aid.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

After a quick wash in the tributary to take off the dust of travelling to this location (three and a half hour drive from Karachi), we proceeded to start setting up our medical camp which would start early next morning with the doctors accompanying us and would grow as the second team joined us from Karachi. When I say we, I mean our team ofOffroad Pakistan which has been working on relief activities all around Sindh since August last year.

Once the camp was setup and signs made in local Sindhi for the incoming patients, we proceeded with organizing stationary for the camp. Many teams ignore the importance of proper patient forms and data entry in the field to later realize that they saw a lot of people but have no information on them for follow-ups.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

A proper screening area with three volunteers was setup which processed patients into areas of ailment marked out on desks which doctors would man to consult. The last stall was the pharmacy which would supply the donated medicine and lead the patients to the food area where they could eat their fill before leaving.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

We started at the crack of dawn and opened doors to a throng of people at 9.30am. As patients streamed in we realized that people were mostly dealing with three issues: poor hygiene, unawareness of birth control methods and rampant poverty. They, either had skin diseases and were unable to treat them properly due to lack of a working rural health center or they were too poor to buy the medicines prescribed to them by other visiting doctors. There were many families with eight kids or more and this seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the day, as our team of psychologists also discovered large scale suicidal tendencies in a lot of female patients.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

As one of the organizers helping patients and trying to maintain crowd control, it was surprising for me to see that most of the male patients were easier to handle than the women. Or perhaps the women were used to violent herding-like tactics which none of us would indulge in. Suffice to say, in about five hours the camp treated 1,200 patients, handed out 1,500 dental kits and aided more than a 100 people for post-camp surgical procedures, which we will sponsor in hospitals upon returning to Karachi.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

It’s always euphoric to help people but for me, the highlight arrived around midday with a father bringing his severely malnourished child to the camp. Our doctors not only managed to re-hydrate the child and revive him but most certainly saved his life which was hanging in precarious balance. Saving that one child gave our team renewed vigor to see the effort through.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

As I sit here writing this after the first Sehri of the holy month, I am thinking how important it is for all of us to realise that although the floods of last year may be over and long gone, the human tragedy remains. It remains in the form of people stranded in areas they fled to, it remains in the fact that they cannot go back as they do not have the prowess to obtain further loans from their respective landowners to plant new crops. It also remains in the grim reality that their life is better in these alien surroundings with visiting, once-in-a-while medical camps and aid teams than it actually is back home.

So as a nation we still need to own and provide for these people, especially during Ramazan. Therefore please remember the flood victims when you donate your Zakat to any organization and recognise the fact that poverty-stricken, malnourished and on the brink of suicide, could just as easily have been one of us.



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Enter 2011

There is a small one room restaurant on Jenkins Avenue in Norman Oklahoma called “Greek house”.Its family owned, full of little square tables and it serves gyros. You can get them on a plate or in a sandwich and as soon as one enters the place the air is thick with the fragrance of meat roasting on a skewer. The fries are crisp and the white sauce accompanying the gyro’s  to dream off..they should make this place a local landmark because every Friday since I came back to Pakistan as soon as the prayers are over I miss it bad, I can almost taste the white sauce at times as this is a key memory of many lunches burnt in my mind from the small town experience that my college life there was.

That to me is the essence of life, take circumstance mix with emotion throw in visual and audio  inputs, garnish with experience and  you get wonderful little bits of bio organic data which can then be later recalled to profound effect.  Life in the year  2010 was a collection of many of these bits as it was a year rich with experience and enlightenment for me as a person, here is how it went…

Dread : With plummeting stock prices and even further plummeting property and business markets it began, many of us prayed for political change even when we knew none was forthcoming

Terror : The bloodbath was all around us, the war on terror had come to our neighborhoods, my kids school shut down for a week because of threats to it, there was barbed wire everywhere, security guards galore, strange looking devices poked into ones car along with a wet sniffing dog snout or two upon going to any hotel in Karachi, going out became going to someone’s house and ordering in.

Limbo :The wonderful vacation I had with my family to the U.S. The joy of knowing the safety net was there if one fell, the little things one does not take for granted in Pakistan being obvious, even pointed out. Meeting so many college buddies in my stay there, evenings filled with laughter going on long in the night. The embrace of people who grew up together in an environment so far from home, the repetition of  so many tales known only amongst really close friends as affirmation that bonds do exist even over time and distance. The realization that this place can only sustain my chaotic need for high voltage doses of info and stuff happening short term, the stretching of the umbilical cord of  a place called home and the triumphant return.

Gratitude: Being present with so many of my friends at the blog awards, the recognition of peers the swelling of pride at my face on the big screen. The inner knowledge that my feet must remain on ground, the realization with each piece I wrote and the emails that flowed in shortly after that my voice was now better defined, my niche formed and found and I could perhaps just keep on writing and doing what I do best forever.

Spiritual : The red lanterns swinging in a gentle breeze on trees lighting roads in Shanghai, the masses of people going everywhere, the hustle and bustle of my trip to China, the intensity of the boom there, the constant feel of ancient around you, the amazing things I have seen, the utter destruction of my mental levels of scale in face of the enormity of enterprise before me.

Disaster & Hope: The flood, the raw hurt which showed in the faces of those around us, the cold lifeless tv anchors even weeping at the carnage, the screams of pain and anguish of this land as it was burdened with the deaths of so many of our brothers and sisters. The words of four friends who set out on the 14th of August to do something worthwhile. The doctor hugging an 80 year old  in sukkur at an hour past midnight telling her “I will not let you die” The outpouring of vehicles laden with aid from Karachi. The news of anyone who had any resources helping out. The amazing blogosphere of Pakistan and what they achieved through social media. The cries of “we are with you” from all corners of the world on twitter. The utter humiliation felt when people fell one ones feet for a square meal…the tears of strain and stress and the smiles of hope at the end, the process of going and coming back and going, the feeling of liberation singing old vital signs songs in a tin can at 15,000 feet, the strength of those who stood together for their nation. The humbleness of the givers and the gratitude of the receivers,  the apathy of the system, the beauty of human spirit and its undeniable frailty.

Blissful Limbo again: The crazy unplanned trip to Srilanka at the end of the year, lush green everywhere, elephants swaying majestically along roads like gods, innumerable temples mosques and girjas side by side,the island nation lost in its own entity, my son running along a virgin beach skimming the waves green surfboard in tow with a dog trying to lick the spongbob on the seat of his pants, the sunsets out of a poscard, the amazing seafood, the palm trees and the lazy hours swinging in hammocks not a care in the world. The hushed whispers of a geek at witnessing a mythical mountain in a safari.  The majestic tea plantations of Nuwar eliya, the mist seeping over tops of green valleys, the eeriness of the nights there, the silence so desolate one could hear their own breathing, the multitude of tea bars, the smell of pine cones and the cold breeze with the voice of the azan wafting across mountains.

Hope : The editing re editing  and finally the launch of my ebook. the enormous moral support by people around me on this venture, the hilarious demand for signed copies and the feel of watching it appear on  screen. Then the feeling one gets right before the end of another year, the warmth one feels in this nation and its curious blessings, the innocence with which we celebrate the oncoming date change as if it makes a difference, the countless resolutions and the feeling of rebirth, the old is in the past , the future is out there for those who can shape it, destiny is best seduced by men of honor and purpose to their bidding says me, jo dar gaya so mar gaya…here comes 2011 in Pakistan!!

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