Reaching out

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For the last three years, I have been engaged in doing social work on a stop-start-stop basis with various small community-based organisations. During this time, I have had the opportunity to go all over interior Sindh, from Sehwan Sharif to Jacobabad, in flood relief and development activities. In almost all the trips, our organisation has been doing immediate post-disaster relief, which includes providing water, rations, tents, cooked food, etc. Obviously, immediate relief has its merits and is very important in the actual scheme of things right after a disaster. However, I have often wondered what happens to these communities post our leaving them after the immediate relief has run out, when the donations run out. Government would be expected to step in and take charge of these communities, provided the relief teams working with them would have notified the authorities of their standing upon finishing immediate relief. What happens though if the government is not even aware of where these displaced persons are at the moment?

When I recently got the chance to work and visit Badin with the World Food Programme (WFP), these questions were at last answered. My friends and I, on our previous visit to Badin, had seen the UC Pangrio district with horror as only the tops of their roofs were visible above water. The district stands at around 7-8 kilometers from the now infamous LBOD and thus was among the first hit. We had actually traveled by boats to get to the people to provide them food rations we had with us, and aided in their rescue via the same boats to elevated ground. On this visit, however, what was underwater when we last saw it, stood in front of us in the shape of a neat village with green budding fields.

Let me explain how this feat was achieved. The WFP reached out to these villagers and gathered them when the water went down. Their own expertise with food and rebuilding came into play here, as they are primarily a humanitarian agency. Obviously, at the time of their intervention, there was nothing left and hence the village in question, Kherad Bhagrio, needed to be rebuilt. The WFP, however, did not do it for them but rather tasked them with the goal of rebuilding, initiating watercourses for irrigation planting and erecting animal shelters. The villagers were provided material and used what was left of the village. Their work hours were measured and compensated for in the form of food or cash to them. Why was it  done in this manner? It is very simple; when you give a man a fish, he can eat it for one day, but when you teach him how to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.

The WFP has not stopped at just this district either. A total of 258,560 participants have been assisted through these livelihood activities (173,770 in food for work with 15,000 tons of food and 84,790 in cash for work with Rs 622 million) The scale of work is massive and it is organised. The most important thing for me to witness was the pride of the villagers whom I spoke to. Not only are their lives back on track but as many of them have been paid for getting back up, they have amenities that they did not have before. Thus, the goal has been achieved with their dignity not only intact but raised.

During this trip, seven of us from social media here in Pakistan also visited a food distribution site and volunteered to work there for a few hours. Here too, the difference in organisation was very visible as the people getting aid were registered first, then the distribution was done in an orderly and dignified manner. The food for work basket includes a ration of 80 kg fortified wheat flour, eight kg pulses, 4.5 kg vegetable oil, one kg salt and 4.5 kg high energy biscuits, enough for a family as one month of rations. The point of providing aid once a month also takes into stock the dignity of the aid receiver, as they do not have to be made to feel like recipients of charity.

Having experienced both sides of the relief field, I must say that there is certainly a much greater need for local community-based efforts to coordinate with and complement larger organisations like the WFP. Perhaps the WFP can also partner with these local groups to reduce their own manpower requirements and take more of a monitoring and guiding role then to actually be on the ground itself. Either way, relief must be phased out for disaster-hit communities in immediate post-disaster and long-term relief, which will see them rebuild their lives again, perhaps even to a status they had not even dreamt of prior to the disaster hitting them. Now that, in my opinion, would be a goal worth the effort.

As published in Daily times on 13/10/2012

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Jawwad Farid and risky business in the IT sector

I would rather have one Jawwad than ten Mohammad Asifs, what about you? PHOTO: CIO PAKISTAN

Whenever we dicuss the IT sector in Pakistan, the conversation is usually about what we lack and not what we have. Then we compare it to India with all its government subsidies, state of the art infrastructure and lament all the catching up we have to do.

While there is nothing wrong with making that comparison because competition is healthy, we need to realize that Pakistanis have been blazing trails in the IT industry for some years. Even with all the hurdles we have in our way, the sector has been providing niche services and is often unnoticed. There is a lot more happening than companies making apps by the dozen for iPhones and BlackBerries.

This brings us to Jawwad Farid and his company fourquants.com, which provides enterprise solutions for companies facing difficulties in financial models and risk-taking by producing tutorials. They have gone one step further and are now providing their training via iPhone, iPad and  Android apps.

Here’s what Farid had to say about the new frontier:

1. Tell us about yourself and how you set out in the IT industry here in Pakistan?

Due to a series of fortunate accidents I landed at BCCI FAST ICS (now NUCES) in December 1989. It took me two years to figure out that I really liked computer science. By the time I was ready to sit down and learn I had graduated.

I initially picked roles that allowed me to spend plenty of quality time in front of compilers since I considered myself geek material, but then understood that the real money was in selling software  – not building it.

I left Pakistan to learn more about how the world operates and came back in 2003 after being in London, New York, Orange County and Northern Virginia.

2. Tell us what your product is?

Our most recent product is a training portal dedicated to teaching computational finance, treasury and risk courses online.

This is a space we discovered while working with the banking industry in Pakistan, Middle East and in the far East. We run apartially free portal as well as a premier enterprise edition. Under the FourQuants.com brand we have an iPhone, iPad and Android application which was developed by the award winning Pepper.pk design studio in Lahore (a P@SHA connection).

While there is a lot of noise around risk, treasury and compliance, the truth is that there are very few practical resources you could go to, to figure out how this stuff actually works. It doesn’t matter if you are a treasurer, an ALCO committee board member, a CxO or a management trainee. At some level they all have (different) questions that need to be answered. We provide these answers in such a fashion that they can put them to work at work, almost immediately. We are practical not academic;  hands on not bookish.

3. Your charges at $70 per course and more than $300 per quarter seem to indicate you are catering to a high-end market; how did you manage to position yourself in this sector?

Luck, parental guidance and some very good friends!

My parents and elders played a big role in helping me make a few right choices earlier on that made it possible for me to specialise at a very early age, which has certainly helped.  But I think it is important to do a good job of documenting and understanding what the customer needs and then help address that need in a  reasonable fashion. I think if we had done this in Fiji or Timbuktu, we would have had a similar reaction. Good products ultimately succeed because they fulfill a need. The challenge is in ensuring that your target segment is aware that you have the solution for their problems. Once you figure out what the underlying pain is, fix it and let your customers know you are almost there.

4. Aside from inefficient policies by the government, what hurdles did you encounter during your initial startup?

Despite all the bad press we get, it was far easier to start and grow a business here in Pakistan than it was in New York and Southern California (been there, done that). I was very lucky that individuals that I hardly knew stepped up and helped us find opportunities that we weren’t aware of.

For every year we have worked, I can name at least three people who selflessly opened doors for us that we couldn’t have managed on our own. Compared to the dip that we witnessed in the US at the turn of the century, the recession here was much milder. And while failing is always difficult and painful for a startup, failing in Karachi was like a light bruise versus multiple compound fractures in Santa Ana.

5. What advice would you like to give to young people starting out in the IT industry? Is there a chance for them to make their own startups?

Absolutely! Think smart, work hard and stay with it. It helps if you start early, live with five to six hours of sleep for 20 years, make the most of your talent and your time. Your big advantage is that building a technology product in Pakistan is getting easier and easier. Our last product launch took 45 days with three people, this December.  My first technology product in 1995 took ten computer scientists a full year to build and then promptly went splat.

There is of course, the downside. You will most certainly fail – just like the rest of us. But if you are prepared for it and handle it smartly (I didn’t), it’s not that bad. It gets easier with practice. Get over your fear, fasten that seat belt and give destiny a spin.

Remember that there are no shortcuts and that you cannot do it alone. All great successes are because of a great team. Value your partners and your team members. Don’t take them for granted.

6. If you were given the chance to become an IT minister for a week, what would you do to make things better?

Frankly speaking, I would shut down the IT ministry and give the entire IT budget to P@SHA. I am biased especially since I have served as a P@SHA treasurer in the past and I have seen myself that we do more with one percent of their budget and one person. If we had ten percent of what the government spends on the IT ministry, we could do so much more.

All this and I had never even heard of this company . People like Jawwad keep tinkering away, breaking boundaries and contributing more. This is the Pakistan we should be speaking of; these are the Pakistanis that will take us forward, to stand in the world as we should.

I would rather have one Jawwad than ten Mohammad Asifs, what about you?

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As published in Express tribune blogs on 21/2/2012

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KLF roundup

The Karachi literature festival has been held in this city for the last three years. It has now become a galvanizing point for a collection of writers showcasing their latest books and literature enthusiasts flocking to learn and bask in the glory of these wordsmiths. This year the event was held on the 11th and 12th of February in a shortened format in comparison to last year, perhaps to account for the situation around it. However, unlike last year when the invited Indian authors could not make it due to visa issues, this year they were present in their finery with Shobha De and Vikram Seth leading the pack. There were three other very prominent English authors in William Darymple, Hanif Kureishi and Anatol Lieven. We have the UK high commission to thank for organizing and bringing them here. Local talent was aptly represented by Mohammad Hanif and Kamila Shamsie as well as ‘Sufisal’, known to ordinary folk as rock band Junoon’s Salman Ahmed.

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Shobha De
Shobha De
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Perhaps next year’s KLF can be held at the expo center so that more people in the city can enjoy the event rather than the privileged few who don’t have to worry about trivial things like “public transport”

I heard about this event only two days prior to it happening and got there at about 11 am the first day to attend Shobha De’s session. As per Karachi custom the opening ceremony had overshot its mark and the ballroom at the Carlton Hotel gradually filled up by about 11:30am to welcome our visitor from India. A firecracker would be a more suitable description. For this 64-year old mother of six and author of fearsome repute in her unabashed portrayal of all subjects taboo positively sizzled on stage. Yet Shobha De seemed very much like she was a part of Karachi as she spoke of the mehndi-sangeet event she had attended last night and took us on the journey that was her life, a restless spirit as is found in most people who call this city home. She also surprised me when she answered my question about writer’s block with sheer discipline as she revealed she wrote 2500 words every single day. “You don’t have to go to a mountain and wait for lightning to strike you,” she said. “You have no excuse but to perform and you must do it daily.”

Shobha De revealed she wrote 2500 words every single day. “You don’t have to go to a mountain and wait for lightning to strike you,” she said

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Ali Akbar Husain, William Dalrymple and Raza RumiAli Akbar Husain, William Dalrymple and Raza Rumi
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Then there was mingling with the different people attending this event as we waited for Ali Akbar Hossain’s book launch with William Darymple and our own Raza Rumi as moderator to begin. Ali Akbar’s book is both an ode and a study of the Deccan courts. It is titled ‘Scent in an Islamic Garden’, referring to the pleasure gardens that were filled with flowers and used for entertainment and amorous purposes. Each scent bestowing its experience upon the people strolling and perhaps retiring in some of its more shaded corners for more intimacy. As he read out some excerpts from the book, I couldn’t help but be transported back in time to an era where symbology and intricacy meant more than the physical self. William Dalrymple of course added to the delight of the audience as he cajoled Akbar again and again to read out some of the more “erotic” passages from the book. He also read out a passage from his own ‘White Mughals’ which is about an affair between and English diplomat and a local princess through the eyes of a historian, a book which is now on my must-read list.

William Dalrymple cajoled Akbar to read out some of the more “erotic” passages from his book

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William DalrympleWilliam Dalrymple
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This ended well into the lunchtime recess and the next session I attended was another Book Launch and Conversation with Michel Boivin (‘Artefacts of God’) and Jurgen Frembgen (‘Nocturnal Music’). Frembgen in this session illustrated to us his various experiences with the matters of the soul at various Sufi shrines around Pakistan and the complexities of chewing a paan wrapped in silver foil at a proper poetic mehfil. Quite an eye-opener for anyone interested remotely in Sufism, as here was a man grown up in the West, speaking of the delights of our culture with an almost childlike awe, the same culture many of us choose to dump in the corner in favor of more wannabe lifestyles.

My last experience at KLF was on the late hours of the second day, as me and the wife again made the long trip to attend Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s session in the theatre. Chinoy is both eloquent and inspiring yet rooted to the ground that is her nation. She proves this by making films that make a difference and picking subjects that no one else wants to talk about. She has also been nominated for an Oscar now, and there were quite a few ovations as she showed us six clips from her various documentaries, including the Oscar-nominated ‘Saving Face’.

Naturally, while such brilliant memories were created at KLF, there were some rather distasteful ones as well. The following are a few hints about improvements that could be made to next year’s program.

The attendees seemed the outcome of a bus touring the posher parts of this great metropolis, picking up socialites and aunties from outside overpriced lawn exhibitions

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Audience at the Karachi Literature FestivalAudience at the Karachi Literature Festival
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After visiting KLF for two years now, one would think that by this year the organizers would have realized the futility of the location they had chosen. Literature is not only to be enjoyed by a “certain class” of people and so it would be really appreciated if the next KLF could be held in the center of Karachi at perhaps the expo center so that more people in the city can enjoy the event rather than the privileged few who don’t have to worry about trivial things like “public transport”.

It would also benefit the event greatly if things started on time.

The volunteers who worked tirelessly to set up the festival had little or no clue about the subject matter of the sessions. I was witness to several gaffes, particularly in Ali Akbar Hossain’s session. It creates a bad taste when the announcer doesn’t know what he is speaking about.

The attendees at KLF this year seemed the outcome of a bus touring the posher parts of this great metropolis, picking up socialites and aunties from outside overpriced lawn exhibitions. The gaps in the crowd were of course filled by twitterati of all sizes and shapes. People who, let’s just say, know a litter less about books and writing and more about posing for the right picture. Last year we had a smattering of delightful poets and people from the Urdu side of our literatary divide. This year they seemed to have given the event a miss, maybe because the PR for this event didn’t seem to go too far past the Clifton Bridge.

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A version of this was published in ” The Friday times”

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Moral policing gets show axed

On January 17, 2012, a morning show was broadcast on Pakistani news network Samaa TV where its female host, Maya Khan, and a group of middle aged women were seen scouring the parks of Karachi. Their sole objective was to hold accountable couples visiting the parks in order to be on a date together without their guardians’ knowledge.

During this show the group was seen chasing the couples around the park, forcing many of them to flee, cornering one and then recording them without their consent. As they repeatedly asked for the camera to be switched off, they were told it was, but the Samaa Team continued to film discreetly with sound.

During this episode couples were also asked to prove they were married to one another and produce their marriage certificates for the host Maya Khan.

Screenshot from Youtube Video. Click on image to watch.Screenshot from Youtube Video. Click on image to watch.

This episode prompted strong protests from social media users in Pakistan, and many reacted like Mehreen Kasana, who said:

See, girls fall in love pretty much every single day of the week and so do boys. Sometimes they make the right decision, sometimes they make mistakes. It’s called being human. But trust me, they don’t need a team of middle aged women hounding them down public places to enlighten them about their decisions. And trust me, their mothers will handle whatever happens. No one asked you or anyone else to take the responsibility of scrutinizing them.

The uproar following the airing of this episode was by this time apparent all over Twitter and Facebook in Pakistan. Bina Shah inher piece for the Tribune remarked:

Time and again the ethics of our media have been called into question, as channels embrace sensationalism in order to achieve the highest ratings. The television channel in question will find themselves open to legal action by victims of their harassment who are being portrayed on television without their consent. Airing this segment also appeals to the worst instincts in our hypocritical society by passing moral judgment in the name of family values upon two innocent people, which makes for some of the most irresponsible broadcast journalism found in Pakistan today.

A loosely knit group of civic society activists at this juncture uploaded and started an online petition against this show called ‘STOP “Subah Saverey Maya kay Sath” vigilantism like Lal Masjid‘. Dozens of people also complained to PEMRA (Pakistan’s electronic media regulatory authority) via this online feedback form.

On January 22, lawyer Osama Siddique drafted a brief letter expressing outrage at the highly intrusive, invasive and potentially irresponsible behavior on the part of the host. This letter and a followup letter were sent by a group of citizens to Zafar Siddiqi (President CNBC Pakistan, with which Samaa TV is affiliated).

Beena Sarwar, a civil society activist deeply involved in this protest remarked on her post ‘No to vigil aunties‘:

The first time I saw a link to this show was on Jan 22, shared on a Facebook group, on Jan 21, 2012. I, and many others, began sharing the Youtube links on Facebook and Twitter. As it spread, the outrage grew.

People were shocked at the level of intrusion and vigilantism on display. From India, came comments on twitter about the Saffron vigilante brigade that has been known to drag couples into temples and force them into instant marriage. Which reminded me that the mentality we are protesting is not limited to Pakistan.

Graphic courtesy Teeth MaestroGraphic courtesy Teeth Maestro

By 23 January the online petition mentioned earlier had 4,800 signatures on it, and several articles were being written on what was wrong with this kind of broadcast journalism; this combined pressure resulted in the removal of the Maya Khan Facebook page and subsequently the taking down of YouTube links to this show.

In her show on the 23 January, Maya Khan apologized for this episode and mentioned time and again that this was not meant to hurt people. However by this time civil society activists were asking for a public and unconditional apology and the removal of this show from the airwaves. Efforts had also started to contact the sponsors of this network and more specifically this show.

 

Samaa TV responded to the letter sent to them by asking Maya Khan for an unconditional apology, which she refused, upon which on January 28, Zafar Siddiqi wrote back to inform that Maya Khan and her team have been terminated and her show will not longer air from the 30 January.

So today is the first day the show is off air. This is a watershed moment in Pakistan’s broadcast media history and social media as it comes to the realization that although it is allowed to push the limits set upon it, there are limits and they must be observed. In any case it is a good precedent for civil society to gear up and enforce rights like privacy and freewill to interact without public harassment in Pakistan.

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Published on 30 Jan 2012 by Global voices

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Let’s bring back concert culture

We are a nation that has suffered much over the years economically, politically and physically. We really need more people attending creative events and listening to music. PHOTO: AFP

So what do people my age talk about when they meet? When I say my age I mean the mid-30s where almost all of us have settled down to something or someone. We don’t talk about politics like everybody younger than us (thanks to Immy K) and older than us (thanks to the rest) does. We don’t talk about cricket because frankly, we are too busy to remember all the names in this ever changing team which is divided for us into the Afridis and the Misbahs.

So what do we talk  about?

Music.

Yes, definitely music. The one force that binds us all and makes us talk endlessly about the the concerts we grew up attending.

Having grown up in Karachi in the 80s and 90s, one can’t forget the times when Vital Signs used to play at the Arts Council unnoticed, until they finally broke through the ubiquitous Pakistani ‘pop’ barrier and suddenly became a stadium filling band with no end in sight but the eventual break up.

The same period saw Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s rise to stardom, from just an ordinary qawal to a world famous music legend.

These watershed moments were followed by the emergence of ‘Junoon’, the biggest rock band of Pakistan,  and for a period of five to eight years, Karachi saw concert after concert of tremendous quality and influence.

Everything used to happen at concerts in that era. It was the social scene, the place you took your date to or where you found one. That was where you hung out with your friends. There was no cyber space, no security threat; it was just a bunch of kids, screaming and singing with dreams in their eyes.

Then suddenly, the world changed.

The war came to us in terms we were unfamiliar with, and the killings, the suicide bombings and the destruction started.The concept of concerts as social gatherings died a slow death in this new era because they had become too much of a security risk. Quite frankly, they still are a risk but I think we have now arrived at another turn.

In 2011, there were interesting things happening in Karachi including concerts (mostly indoors at Royal Rodale) and musicals (courtesy Nida Butt and crew) but people are still reluctant to go to them for mainly two reasons:

  1. People feel the crowd will be too maila (indecent). This is quite unfortunate, as ‘them’ and ‘us’ never existed until a few years ago, or perhaps they did but were never used politically so it wasn’t obvious. Every person has the right to enjoy music and art as much as any of the urban elite do. No one section of society should shun the other. We should try to rise above this attitude and believe me, it is quite possible to do so. The recent PTI jalsas are good examples of it since they aren’t much more than grand concerts and are pretty successful too.
  2. They think the facilities will not be worth the prices attached to them. This is an unfortunate reality in the day and age of many event management companies that are out to make a fast and easy buck. However, if one gets in touch with organisers before hand, rather than believing what’s written on flyers or through second hand channels, the information is closer to reality and you also have someone to hold accountable for it. I personally became a believer again when I took my eight-year-old daughter to Mamma Mia last year.

We are a nation that has suffered much over the years economically, politically and physically. We really need more people attending creative events and listening to music because even though they are ‘cool’, Facebook and social media can never replace the feeling of being in a crowd.

We need music to heal and we need large open air concerts to unite as a city and as a community. Let’s not be restricted behind sections and VIP barriers anymore. Let’s learn to tolerate and participate, if not for ourselves then for our children, so they can also have great memories like ours.

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Published in E tribune Jan 25 2012

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Blog awards – my win list

t’s that time of the year again. Tis the season of the blog awards in Pakistan, a tradition that began in 2010 with CIO & Google partnering to host the first blog awards of this nation. No they aren’t some hokey pokey geeky awards given in the shape of graphics in an email to people no one knows about.This is the Pakbloggers version of the Oscars, we love it, we hate it, we want it, we fight over it and we complain like anything when it’s over in the only way we know how  “all over the internet”. So I guess as far as the hype is concerned, we take care of that all on our own.

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This year’s blog awards are being hosted by PCWorld which is an organization made up of some of the same forces that brought you the first awards. Jokes aside, the lineup of sponsors is impressive with presenter/Lead Partners YouTube/Google, Nokia, and Djuice alongside Dell and Intel, voting has just finished yesterday and the entire new media of this nation is now on tenterhooks.

Who are the judges, how will they vote, never mind the page long guidelines they have given us on the website! We want to know the inner mechanisms of the beast, how and what will decide who gets the legendry plastic/fibre globe on a wood base! Who will be the victors and who will exit this digital arena vanquished? There are a multitude of theories abound on Twitter and Facebook and this will continue till the day of the awards…some say it is all part of a greater plan, some say it’s to give credit where credit is due. I say why wait? So I am going to pick my winners list from some of the categories and give reasons as to why I think they should win in their respective slots. If it works, you can accuse me of being the punter of social media. If it doesn’t, well then it doesn’t!

Incidentally, some of us bloggers who form the dark underbelly of the shining social media landscape of this nation are also taking spot bets on how late jehanara will be, how much rabia will giggle, will awab carry a PTI flag on stage and so on….spot bets I said NOT FIXING OK.

Before I put my foot further into my mouth, here are my winners:

Agents for change
The Pardigm House, Shazia yousuf
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?KC_Y3_SB

Well written articles exploring different philosophies ideas and issues pertaining to the youth of today, has nuance and ability to bring about change in a subtle manner. May not be as polished as some of the other entries but way ahead in content.

Best aggregator
Tea break, Asim, Ammar, Hamza
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?e2bWpYO6

Some of the other entries are up and coming as well but with 3000 registered blogs and a network comprising of 72% of our blogsphere in it..there is no beating this behemoth.

Best blog from a journalist
Journeys to democracy, Beena sarwar
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?UysaXJBu

Errr wow I could’ve nominated myself for this one no?…well I am glad I did not because this blog would have left me in the dust like it leaves the competition. No offence this one is just too clear a winner

Best business blog
Life etc, Momekh
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?uThh7mBG

A subject I happen to know a little bit about other than star wars, a business blog has to discuss stratagems on varied subjects and momekh does that like a yoda,enough said.

Best celebrity profiling blog
Pakspice, Sameer nasir
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?pd79MWT3

Although I felt pakprofiles by FQ is the standout blog nominated in this category but it’s the wrong category for it, this is about masala people, real celebs not inspirational leaders, models,actressesvavavoom and that’s what pak spice gives you, so it wins the race!

Best corporate brand blog
Progmic, Sheeraz alam
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?mgK5Cn8P

Just two nominees in this category? Sheesh which cocoon are all our grand MNCs with their billions wasted on ad departments sleeping in? In any case progmic wins this hands down because the other blog nominated is about development, that has nothing to do with corporate brand blogging, progmic is all about HP, a brand…hello.

Best current affairs blog
I will leave this one be as I am the co-editor on one of the blogs nominated, let’s see if you can guess which one.

Best diarist
Crimson sky, Tazeen razi
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?KkRYcyrW

A very very tough category to pick from as I thought there were at least three very close blogs in here, I gave it to crimson sky based on the fact that it’s been around for a while since 2007 (stamina) and felt the most eloquent and personal, however AwaisAftab was a close second also.

Best Fashion Blog
Pnk 255, Amara javed
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?I4geFkAQ

My very fashionable 8 year old daughter picked this to be the winner and that’s about it.

Best Food blog
Crazy chef, Tehniat aftab
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?M0wKC7zb

Full of flavor and some startling recipes, great blog! Name has crazy in it but the blog has serious substance!

Best humor
Bring the funny version 2,  Sami shah
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?Y4vNdmcg

It’s hilarious, it has comments that have not been approved yet and it is the only blog out there belonging to a genuinely funny real stand up comic.

Best literature
Desi writers lounge
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?Y4vNdmcg

Do I need to even explain this one? Well desi writers is a community portal for writers producing some of the best unheard of fiction and serious writing online.

Best online community
Voice of youth, Mohmal mushtaq
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?EyfZCrRT

300 writers from all over the world, award winning platform, very good interface what else do you want?

Best photo blog
Basils photography, Basil andrews
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?D4ebAx1T

Another category with truly mesmerizing content, basil stands out for his diversity, color capture and his eye for angles which only a true genius with a lens could manipulate

Best social activist blog
Shouldn’t even be a category in my opinion because whoever does any kind of social activism or uplift work in this country deserves an award from all of us. It’s between sabahat and sanasaleem on this one, because I feel that as a downtrodden part of our society ie the female one.These two do a lot to raise voices about issues pertaining to this gender’s problems. I can’t pick, you tell me!

Best sports blog
Sports pulse, Abdul muqeet
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?6VwhdZ06

Its comprehensive it came from an idea that two guys in Karachi had and it is really worth reading and following for up to the minute coverage and articles on a variety of sports.

Best travel blog
Iexplorepakistan, Danial shah
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?Pdp6XzPx

A travel phtographer’s blog showing you Pakistan through his eyes as he travels all across it, really inspiring work.

Best Urdu blog
Abu shami,  Fahad kethar
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?8Zlr2Gmk

Lots of interesting entries in this section also but Fahad’s blog still does it for me so will go for it. This won last year to but until there is something out there that’s better I can’t pick anyone else.

Best video blog
247online.tv, Faisal qureshi
http://pakistanblogawards.com/?pNqgZQk7

It’s not just a video blog, it’s an on-demand channel for shows on news, current affairs, youth etc, nothing else even comes close in this category!

So that’s my list. The categories I have skipped over have clear winners in them hence I do not think they need bear more deliberation. I have to say though that after having gone over all of these sections and the blogs nominated in them, the judges have a tough ask this year as many of the blogs are very very high in quality and thus the field is very level. So seriously no pressure here at all!

Just a footnote though, the blog awards make a lot of very poignant sense to me as a blogger, the website hosting them however is another story altogether. May the best blog win!
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As published in TFT on 2/12/2011

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Pk relief mission badin part 2

 

Two hundred people have fallen prey to the devastation that hit Badin and other areas in Sindh by more than 1,000 millimeters of rain in the last month. This is the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in Sindh. Compare this to the 70 odd millimeters of rain that has fallen in Karachi over the past few days and one begins to realize themagnitude of the catastrophe Sindh is facing.

I was in Badin earlier this week with a group of volunteers called SA Relief. I witnessed, first hand, what exactly was going on. From our entrance into the Golarchi area to Badin to Nindo, Khoski and Shade Laerge it was the same dismal story. Vast swathes of land on either side of the road were completely inundated with water. I have been working in flood relief since 2010 and I have to say that I have not seen this much water in my entire life. The flooding is so intense, that for several stretches there is no land in sight at all. In fact, I felt like I was driving in the middle of the sea – it was terrifying and saddening at the same time.

We went all the way up to Kohli till the road itself vanished into the water. We had no choice but to continue in fiberglass boats which took us to villages which were completely cut off from dry land. The desperate inhabitants of these villages were sitting on top of their roofs awaiting rescue.

When I reached the Tando Bagho area, I was surprised to see several army trucks waiting for people to board them so that they could be evacuated. A strikingly difficult scenario faces the government and civic authorities. With 20,000 cusec’s of water gushing into the area the people already inundated want out but the people on connected main land do not wish to go. This is simply not a case of being illiterate as many NGO’s will tell you. The people do not want to go. Many of these people, although not very well off, still own houses and shops, and are content with what they have. Why would they leave all of this for empty promises?

With reference to these people who are unwilling to leave, the SSP Badin, Ashfaq Khan stated:

“The realization will only come when they see a wall of water coming their way”

This is a warning not to be taken lightly, as this man is not only honest, he is the very officer who apprehended the white corolla criminal who had Karachi under siege for several weeks.

We went on doing what we could to help the stranded families. Everywhere we went, we found numerous helpless people pointed out to us. We handed out ration hampers to 300 families, 2000 ready to eat meals, and 200 tents. Our efforts were a drop in the ocean, but at least one drop that helped a few people. The SSP’s office gave us complete support, provided us with security, and gave us a plan so that our efforts did not overlap the work already being done.

Politics aside most of the relief effort currently going on in Badin is through the Mirza family and the different religious groups. Other than this presence I only came across a couple of camps run by the Red Crescent – and that’s it.

So where exactly are all the relief organizations that were springing up all over this city after the floods of last year?

Yes, there is definitely donor fatigue and the mainstream media has turned its face from this crises.

This, however, does not mean that we should not put in the effort to drive a mere three hours from Karachi. If this is, indeed, impossible, then why not donate in cash or kind to an organization that is doing worthy work in Badin?

The NDMA estimates that 500,000 people have been displaced on the roads and whatever dry land that is left in Badin. I suggest all of us all over Pakistan get up and start contributing to save them for certain death. Calling in the United Nations may look impressive on the newspaper’s front pages, however, anyone who has been in the field knows that such aid comes with quite a large percentage of it going the way of salaries, petrol, general wastage, and leakage of the aid givers. Thus, it falls on our shoulders to try to do what we can for our fellow Pakistani’s immediately. The world may have given up on us as a nation but every year nature is giving us a chance to prove them wrong.

Let’s do it once again.

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As published in the express tribune on 13/9/2011

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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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The tall tale of the bull

One of my neighbors has gotten a bull. It is not just the usual run of the mill, medium-sized animal either, this one is big – bigger than I am and frolics in the area because after all it would be pretty cruel for the owners to keep him locked up. A few nights ago, this bull caused a huge ruckus, he deemed it cool to play around with the dumpster in the middle of the night and knocked it over on the road with a large metallic sound.

Now ours is a peaceful neighborhood and has been for a long, long time. Which means everyone sleeps early; there are no loud noises at night and so on. Therefore, obviously when such a ruckus was heard the local media was duly alerted. The media being efficient as it is put on some local experts to assess the situation with statements like “what is the current scenario” and “who do you think is responsible?”

The experts attributed this noise which rattled many a window but did not break any to have all the hallmarks of an al Qaeda attack. They compared the noise of the incident to the bombing incident in Bali and the other acts of terrorism around the world the nefarious organization is responsible for.

One of the experts pointed out that because of the conspicuousness of foreign breeds; local bulls are now being recruited by al Qaeda to carry out home grown plots of terrorism. Another toted the fact that now even “peaceful forever” neighborhoods like mine had been infiltrated by agents of the damned and thus no place was safe anymore. The local political representative of my area appeared on TV and asked everyone to stay at home till a full grasp of the situation was attained by the emergency response services.

While all this was going on, social media starting buzzing about eye witness accounts of this bull; he had been up to no good again and was chasing cars around the neighborhood in the day. There were reports on twitter about him causing a ruckus in the mosque in the lane behind us and more strangely, of one of his horns sporting a cross. At these reports, the local broadcast media again went into a tizzy and some experts vehemently pointed out that just because he wore a cross we could not rule out the fact that al Qaeda was behind it all. They also likened his chasing these cars around to have echoes of the Mumbai attacks, and some rag in Britain even rolled out the grand “al Qaeda responsible for attacks in neighborhood of peace headline,” albeit in quotes so as to avoid any unkindly legal action.

Finally yesterday, the authorities nabbed this monster. The fact about the cross has turned out to be true but now, no one is claiming ownership of the beast. Its become obvious that because he seems to be a member of a right wing Christian mentality he must have been working alone to indulge in this terror. After all the entire neighborhood knows from reading everything they can, that it is only Muslim bulls who frolic in herds and are supported by huge organizations with unlimited funds and tentacles reaching into every cave in Afghanistan.

What a sad state of affairs the weekend has turned out to be, so much carnage and the responsible party working alone and being Christian has just dampened the spirit of the whole thing. We must now say no to the mercenaries we had thought of employing around our lanes and stop the intended drone strikes in the more religious neighborhood across the bridge. This was just a farce and a complete waste of time, no war can be started on someone working alone … what a pity.

The writer is not attempting to trivialize the tragedy which occurred in Norway. He is just pointing out the fact that all roads do not lead to Rome now-a-days and that Muslim is not equal to terrorist.

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Originally published on the Dawn Blog

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Why is Kaali a gaali

A few days ago I was surprised to see an advertisement for under arm fairness cream on television. Now I know that the third world has a skin complex but I never thought we had fallen in our own minds to this extent.

I suppose it started with the English who may have colonized and ruled many parts of the world but have rarely entered the intellect of the locals in a way they did with us. The east India Company used to deal with the common man of Hindustan through their chosen local mouth pieces and they were showered with rewards and a lifestyle far above their peers. Those local mouthpieces/puppets were also bestowed with powers to deal with the population as they pleased backed by English swords. This is where I think the whole “wanna be English” thing started. The easiest way to distinguish the two races was, of course colour of skin. Sounds familiar to the current scene in our corridors of power doesn’t it?

The English left us divided in two countries and later we made it three but the fascination of being like them has prevailed to this day. This is perhaps why we see numerous advertisements toting magical skin whitening effects in 6-8 days and every kind of body part being promised fairness and thus beauty as we see it. Further proof of this insanity is found and reinforced by our pop culture which sings songs like “gori rang ka zamana” and our sports super stars like Umar gul, who are shown applying fairness creams and then taking lots of wickets in the field the next moment. Fair = success is the mantra and I’m afraid to break it to you dear readers, but all this is nonsense.

I am not going to launch into a spiel on inner beauty here as all of us know how much that counts in today’s cut throat environment. However I would like to beg the question “Has anyone noticed what the other half of the world feels?” While we are dying to get white, they are tanning in the sun till they get skin cancer, applying henna and all sorts of assortments to get any kind of brown in their skin tone and marveling at how radiant our olive and brown complexion looks.

The rest of the world considers our skin colour beautiful and if you are not satisfied with the above examples then perhaps you need to look at the results of the last few miss universes and miss world pageants (shallow as they are) to see what beauty is to them these days, newsflash its brown!

So the concept of universal beauty is therefore a sham. Its all grass is greener on the other side, all over this mud ball and companies promising fairness or tanning are making a fool out of all of us and minting gazillions. These same companies then back musical and sports superstars to reinforce their message – get the picture? It’s a vicious cycle and every time you believe that your skin tinge or colour is going to hold you back all you are actually doing is falling prey to your own insecurities which these companies live off.

Gibran once said “People of Orphalese beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing itself in the mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”

Bottom line: God created us in his own image, each one of us is equal and beautiful put down the mirror, it’s of no use.

Originally published on the Dawn Blog on July 4th 2011

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