The novelist – chapter 2

“You really cannot be serious” she looked at her husband in a mixture of shock and more than a little bit of nervousness as they sat at the real estate agents office. A dingy mixture of island green artificial carpet and too bright yellowish walls.

“Well if you have an idea that wont let go, you might as well follow through no?” Jalal said as he thumbed through some house guides lying next to them on a singular table like nobody had touched them in months.

“Jalal when you said one day I thought it meant one day in the future after we had visited this place half a dozen times and gotten ourselves immersed in it enough to make a rational decision you know? Like rational people do!”

“Hmphh if I had been so rational I would have never asked you for your hand woman” he quipped

Zarmina scrunched her nose in mock distaste as she thought of her life before and after the asking part, she had always been a pragmatic person careful and thoughtful but when the scruffy writer with his flair for the dramatic had come calling she had not been able to say no. He had been a storm that had wooed her dated her and then married her, even now she got emails from some of her friends who could not believe that she had married a writer.

“Ahem” the agent cleared his throat as he walked in and looked at them with a glance that was used to looking over couples that came here and fell in love with the place. A fickle love that lasted nay a few months after which the endless trail of paperwork began again to get them back to safer shores of stability.

“New are we”?

“Yes new but we already love this place, have you been in this field long?” Jalal looked at the old tanned man with enough creases in his face to resemble the bark of an old tree and his clothing as colorful as his office, a white shirt and light blue sarong.

“ Long enough, my names sammy” he nodded at the man and then at the woman besides him wondering why in the world a vision like her was with a disheveled mess that her hubby represented.

“You see my husband, well he likes this place and so we thought we would you know check out some options” Zarmina said, before her hubby could open his mouth again, she could smell impulse usually a mile before he got it now.

“Some options. Yes well this place has plenty of options from here to tangalle” here being galle fort where they now had as their starting point “why don’t you guys tell me what’s in your mind”

“A beach house! Something with air and sunlight and welcoming spirits” blurted the mess his mouth open in a wide grin

“Yes well my friend there are many sorts of beach houses here, as you know we are sitting right at the edge of a long coast line” Always the beach sammy thought for these fools, the towns were cheaper and ten minutes away but no we all must have some mutated version of a fairytale at our doors to complain about after a month tops.

“Maybe we can just look for now” Zarmina ventured with a smile to sammy.

“No no zari you know I’m serious, I want to do this”

“Might I suggest something?” said sammy “why don’t you do this, there are some rentals available on the strip, lets take a look at something a bit more temporary before we rush”

Zarmina liked this man more and more by the passing second, obviously he was not out to make a quick buck on her husbands insanity but was presenting a more sagacious plan.

“All right but that’s just for starters” growled Jalal. He hated it when this happened, people saw things zaris ways instantly and he never got his way anymore. It was almost like they could not see him there at times.

“Right settled then, now have a nice day and here is my card, come by in the morning and off we shall go hunting for your little beach house”

“Great” smiled zari nodding with appreciation

“Ok” mumbled Jalal as they got up and he swiped the card from the man walking out before his wife into waning sun.

With zarminas usually efficiency they arrived the next morning right on time, in fact 14 minutes before it and waited outside for the agent to arrive. As Jalal silently brooded and his wife waited, the agent drove up in a rickety old station wagon. He pulled down his window after turning the handle a couple of times till there was air between the top and his chin and shouted

“So you guys ready?”

“We have been ready for the past 20 minutes, where have you been” said Jalal

“Ahh well at my age my friend time is an abstract thing come sit lets take you for a ride”

Jalal held the door open for his wife and they both slid into the back seat, then after a moment of realization he got out and slid into the front seat next to the old coot as he guffawed over some mental joke.

“ So? Ive lined up quite a spread for you”

With twin nods from husband and wife the agent put his car in gear and they rolled out of the parking lot. It didn’t take them long to hit the beach strip from where they started in galle fort, maybe about 20 or so minutes and they were there, long startling coastline and a strip of estates sitting in front of it with smallish gardens in front and many a palm tree waving in the wind before the stretch of water. As they went to house after house though both Jalal and Zarmina discovered that they were too high fi, totally out of their budget rang and more like little resorts then houses one could live in for any length of time. After the third house the discontent was completely visible on Jalal’s face

“ Look Sammy, this is really not working out for us, is this all you got”

“Well what do you expect, people here invest in these places because they know those who want to rent them will want all these amenities”

“But we are looking for something less grand, you know like a cottage or something” said zarmina realizing she needed to step in before Jalal went postal on the agent.

“A cottage, my lady this is prime beach estate outside the galle fort about 14 minutes from shopping and stores, I don’t think anyone would build a cottage here. Its not worth the investment”

“Then maybe we should look further up the coast” suggested Zarmina with one eye on her husband.

“Ah well then you will have to speak to the natives, I only go as far as the mobile phone signal goes, beyond that its either too cheap or too troublesome the business”

“I think you have done what you could sammy, you can head back now” said Jalal knowing there was plenty of transportation on the road behind the estates in the form of tuk tuks for them to explore further.

“Listen my friend, we may have liberated ourselves from the tamils but that does not mean the wilderness is completely secure” sammy jerked his head towards the clumps of trees one could see in the distance along the beach.

“ I think we will do fine – thank you” Jalal’s tone was icy now; he had taken enough of the glitzy crap he had been made to suffer through all damn day.

Enough will be when I hear screams to please pick us back up, thought sammy as he handed his card to zarmina

“Alright then I shall leave the love birds alone and with a number just in case”

He turned around and walked stiffly to his car, another bloody morning wasted after foreigners who don’t know what the hell they are doing. In and out they went of this strip like the waves before him. He slammed the door and coaxed the engine back to life and left them standing there in a hail of sand and dust!!

 

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To be continued……

 

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Interview in social media study by SMU

Recently the Singapore management university conducted a study on social media in Pakistan as part of their ongoing study of new media all over south asia. This yielded results which are interesting to read as they display just what the length and the breadth of the new media scene is here. This also includes podcast interviews of me and Huma yusuf  here, do read and listen and give some feedback :)

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Pk relief mission 9-update

Only three weeks earlier on our 5th Flood Relief mission to Shikarpur the OffroadPakistan stumbled across the Pediatric Ward at Civil Hospital in Shikarpur, the moment we saw the dilapidated situation it touched a nerve in practically each one of our team members and in unison decided to adopt this facility to bring it to some respectable standard of care. In the effort to draw attention to the facility and with the hope of raising funds from the international donor base, Faisal Kapadia and I recorded a plea for help, and shared it with the world highlighting the horrendous situation of the 100 or so kids stuffed in 3 rooms in miserable state.

We were confident that with our generous donors and a growing flood relief fund we could seriously contemplate on adopting this location and make an impact on the lives of these precious children. The only deterrent was a serious concern about rampant pilferage and corruption tarnishing the entire effort primarily the long distance from Karachi would prevent direct supervision in any long term sustainable way. Quite by chance during our relief mission to Shikarpur we were joned by Umair Jaffer, who had come from Islamabad in an attempt to assite in some medical relief camp in Shikarpur and Jacobabad, he happened to join our team and also happened to accompany our team to the hospital. Setting the wheels in motion upon our return to Karachi the project was spearheaded by a veteran offroader Taimur Mirza who initiated a series of detailed brainstorming sessions trying to figure out a way on how to pull this trick off, in the mean time Umair overstayed in Shikarpur and undertook a detailed evaluation to write a 10-odd page project proposal and feasibility to pitch CDRS [Comprehensive Disaster Response Services run by Todd Shea] for a new pediatric ward in the Civil Hospital seperate from the old location, Umair has been working with CDRS since the earthquake days some five years back and spoke highly of their commitment to helping alleviate the suffering in Pakistan

Umair effort to contact CDRS paid off and he was able to source a grant to acquire medical equipement for the award along with sustained support for doctors, nurses and other supporting staff for a few months onwards. We had on our part assured a strong pledge on behalf of SARelief & OffroadPakistan to the old ward with well over Rs. 10 lacs enough to revamp the existing old wards, repainting of the entire area, fixing or installing many furnishings, cleaning up the toilets enough to bring it all into some decent livable condition. Our commitment also took charge of the total setup and management of a free medical dispensary which would cater to the needs of patients in both the old and new pediatric ward that CDRS was setting up this dispensary also extended support to the Gynecological ward as we felt that both disciplines are intrinsically linked.

In the following weeks one of our active offroader Khalid Omar who was interning for a week atKarachi Relief Trust Flood relief camps in Shikarpur was instrumental in helping wading through the bureaucracy with detailed meetings with the DCO, EDO [Health] & the MS of the Hospital to take possession of a new building for Umair’s new pediatric wards and the finalization of total support in helping the OffroadPakistan team revamp the old setup which also included the setup of our medical dispensary in an adjacent empty room.

Umair was initially anxious to push for setting up a right across the old pediatric ward which was being partially used by the Nursing Ward, but in the final negotiations some government officials were hesitant on giving up the Nursing ward to this new setup and instead offered another building nearby which had been lying dormant for sometime and was now allocated to us.

As soon as we were confirmed of successful outcome fromKhalid’s negotiations with the hospital staff, Umair immediately dispatched a procurement officer to Karachi to acquire the necessary equipment to populate the two new wards under his care. We were at that time were preoccupied in a medical camp at New Jatoi, Moro where we saw over a 1000 patients in the entire day. It was purely by coincidence that we had over-estimated our medical supplies for the medical camp by quite a long margin, having taken 120 boxes of medicines valued at over Rs. 300,000 in a truck, by the end of that day despite having prescribed to over a 1000 patients we were left with 109 cartons, we immediately reasoned to not transport them back to karachi and arranged from a truck to move them to our medical dispensary in Shikarpur where they would be stocked and catalogued for necessary dispensing to the needy patients of the hospital.

To put the final touches to the entire project a team lead by Khalid Omar and Sabiha Omar have kindly volunteered to head out for 3-4 days to Shikarpur on Sunday morning to supervise the project, along with them we have also dispatched a truck load of essential furnishings that need to be put up in the hospital as well as a generous donation of 500-packs of essential female-delivery medicinal items donated by the Al-Huda foundation, which shall be stocked up a prescribed as and when needed.

Upon reaching the hospital Khalid and Sabiha have a mammoth task on their hands, firstly they would need to cajole the pediatric patients to relocated into the new pediatric ward, which has been setup but is lying vacant, the old ward will then get a serious scrub down and a new coat of paint. After which a new set of exhaust fans will be installed in the toilets and the finally the dispensary has to be setup and stocked to a working situation. They also need to hire a few people for the next three months all of whom will come under the management of CDRS who has employed a manager and a dispenser for our utilization as well

Upon their return in a few days, I believe we will be treated to a large set of pictures of the new changes in the pediatric ward, after which I can then confidently say that with the help of some very generous donors who have trusted us with their donations we might together stand and say YES we may have made a difference.

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A battle against time

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As mentioned in my previous postOffroaders Pakistan and the Motor Rally club had been collecting funds for flood relief for the past two weeks in Karachi. We received a tremendous response and with around Rs. 2.5 million  donated to us, we loaded five trucks of food supplies as well as a truck full of tents and set out at 10:30 am on August 14.

Our initial plan was to go to Moro in Sindh, but due to local weather conditions not permitting and the dire need of food and supplies in Sukkur, we decided late Friday to take everything we had acquired and head to out to where we were needed the most.

This relief trip was unique since we constantly updated in real time via Twitter (@faisalkapadia & @drawab) and the entire trip was also covered by GPS updates.

Day 1

It took us approximately six-and-half hours to reach Sukkur and contrary to what we had been hearing on through different media outlets, the roads throughout the way were very well-policed and secure. We entered Sukkur around 5 p.m. and as we neared, thousands of people lined the roads, sleeping on both sides in the scorching heat, without any shelter or even charpais; women, children as well as the elderly and handicapped people lay along the street in the mud. Most of these people had migrated from Thul, Jacobabad, Shikarpur and Kashmore due to the incoming waters. It was really hard to digest the tragedy in front of our eyes as we unloaded the aid we had brought and proceeded to our camp which was set up with the help of local volunteers provided generously by Shehryar Meher. The Motor Rally team took the remaining trucks onwards to their camp near Shikarpur.

Once that was done and our iftari eaten in haste, we started setting up tents in our camp site and proceeded to do so till 2:30 a.m. We adopted the modus operandi of noting down ID card information as we gave out supplies to make sure that not more than one tent was given to one family so maximum people could get shelter. What was remarkable for us was that people whom we were providing relief to (some of them who hadn’t eaten a proper meal for a week) were very cooperative; they were only too happy to get any sort of help with shelter and it was quite a sight to see them standing in line as we handed out packets of biryani and water after which they settled into their tents for the night. Each tent sheltered up to eight people and thus with 500 people secure about three feet above ground level we finally called it a night.

Day 2

We arrived at the campsite at about 830am and found there were dozens of people not only from our tent enclave but from the surrounding areas as well. The crowd was so large and their need so great that we had to take the help of the local police to organise all of them into lines. At several points this morning our team of seven individuals considered stopping the provision of rations as we were repeatedly stormed by people desperate for any sort of relief. Still at no point during this very tough distribution process were we threatened by any of the refugees, it was just a matter of clear frustration and lack of adequate provisions that drove these people, they were not begging but merely trying to survive each day.

Till about 1130 a.m., we distributed close to 500 care packets that consisted of rice, oil, biscuits, water, salt and pulses. We also learnt the hard way that smaller packets would have been easier for the women and children to carry since ours were too heavy for them. We managed to split up the rations at the camp site but perhaps others organisations who are making similar care packets need to to keep this in mind.

We then left for Shikarpur where along the way we stopped to unload our last truck of rations into a mobile kitchen. Here they began preparing over 3000 rotis and began cooking rice and daal for the people traveling the route to Sukkur. The rest of the supplies were sent along with volunteers who manned the boats into the kacha areas in Shikarpur where there is about 4-5 feet of standing water and the people are cut off by road access. We also had a chance to go into lucky tehsil and survey firsthand the breach in the Indus minor, which is threatening Shikarpur with one million cusecs of water. Currently the army and the locals are considering total evacuation since there is talk that Shikarpur may not be able to make it in case fresh floods hit the area.

After return

For the last two days the 2nd part of our team MCP Club has been distributing relief all across the Kashmore area. They have now managed to distribute 1800 hampers on a per house as per need basis. Our next target is the collection of more funds for our next distribution mission. Thus please donate generously via the chip in widget you see to the right.


*We have been joined by PYR PakistanFLP and CIO Pakistan in our efforts. The Offroad team consisted of Nabil Jangda, Rehan Bandukda, Faraz Khan, Ali Khurshid, Imran Hussai, Dr Awab Alvi and Faisal Kapadia. For more information, go to our website

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A version of this post was published on the Dawn blog at 16/8/2010

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PKFlood field updates

Its been a hectic week and a half, since me and Awab Alvi decided to roll our sleeves up and do something for the flood victims of Pakistan and specifically sindh. The resulting initiative saw many friends joining us in our effort, as well as bloggers and tweeple from our online lives. They are now actively collaborating with us (Sarelief) to spread the word, collect recources and to get them to where it counts the most.

For this purpose we were heading out to moro tomorrow in Sindh but unfortunately the situation there has become very risky with the oncoming flood in the area. The bund/barrage at moro is under threat to break as well. Thus we have taken a last minute decision and sent our trucks to sukkur with us following tomorrow morning for a distribution rally on sunday. We should, if all goes well have about 1100 hampers to distribute plus 70 tents and 300 cartons of water plus 150 cans of tinned (ready to eat food). Each hamper can feed a family for 10-12 days minimum while each tent can house nine people.

We are joined in this relief effort by volunteers as well as friends and our thoughts as well as updates will be coming in on the following cover it live app. Hope to get the tremendous support shown to us into hands most needy of it!!

Hashtags on twitter will be  #pkfield & #pkoprel to hook into this feed. Please do join in!

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Podcasting into the future

Social media is the hottest hippest thing in Pakistan these days, where every politician wants to twitter with their masses of voters and every social or anti social man, woman or otherwise has to have a face book account. It is so cool these days that every self respecting journalist is lining up to have their own blog or constantly emailing their editor to please open a blogging portal for the (insert your fave) media house they work for.

However in all this hoopla people have forgotten that even thought blogging is and will remain an important part of social media, things have moved on a far step from the days where the only way to get involved or to be heard was to blog. There are multiple and varied means of communication available in the social media profile these days and they are not being used to their fullest by anyone as they are as yet new and untried.

Also to note is a great fallacy about social media in circulation on these shores as the destroyer of anti social err main stream media. That is how radio was compared to TV when it first came out and we all know what happened, radio is still around, it just had to shift a gear or two to remain in the public perspective.  Hence social media will not be replacing main stream media but presenting an alternate info source for those inclined towards it. In fact i personally feel that the revolution to be brought about is certainly not going to happen from face book or twitter or blogs but rather through something known as pod casting.

Pod casting or net casting for the people who do not think Steve jobs is god is the distribution form of a video blog to be downloaded and viewed later on the consumer’s I pod, mobile phone or computer of convenience. The reason for calling it pod casting lies in the fact that the Itunes/Apple online store has the biggest podcast directory in existence. Think of pod casts as personal shows produced by ordinary people who want to interact with you the viewer in a more fun way then the usual reading/commenting bit. These days one can subscribe to any number of pod casts from Itunes and other podcast directories on the Internet and once that is done and in effect, the whole process of switching on the telly and flipping through umpteen minutes of boredom to get something relevant starts to look pretty sad.

The first steps in this direction to my knowledge from Pakistan were taken by Rabia Garib and the CIO Pakistan team who have 5-6 very viable tech pod casts running from their website, as well as the recently introduced bandwidth TV which is an alternate viewing channel for tech industry updates and will hopefully encompass their entire viewable content in the near future.

To me however the whole idea of pod casting as a blogger under a corporate umbrella takes away from the very alternate nature of its creation. Pod casting is all about freedom of expression and the voice of the people which were the two motives for me and a fellow blogger Dr Awab Alvi to start an online web cast of our own. Funnily enough even although we are part of the whole social media circle in Pakistan we had no idea of how to start. We did anyways and tweeted to our audience to help us right from the name of the show and boy did they ever!! Since then “The Laidback show” has done 16 episodes and encompassed topics from politics to social issues to religion and now even has its own tech segment. We have had guests from bloggers to news anchors to hunters to underground musicians and are even now trying to stay on the back of this monster as it lurches forward into the unknown. In fact it is the first podcast from Pakistan to be syndicated on itunes so far and is available on it for free subscription.

Now before my readers start thinking this whole piece is a plug for my show let me explain why I mentioned it. Its because people out there seem to think “pod casting” or “net casting” requires a large audience and major equipment or a studio environment! Well it needs nothing, except for something to record it on, a flip camera. a mobile phone or a handy cam and a computer to upload it onto the net. Its totally free to host and like blogging it can help not just in venting but showing a side of our country unknown to those out there who think we are all about beards and bombs. Its a chance to be someone, its an option to help bring about change and it provides a viable and fun filled source of info for viewers out there who are sick of the mainstream jingoism prevalent in this country.

The next question to analyze is whether it will work. Well it has up till now, we have gotten sponsorships from corporates as well as input from our viewers and response that is frankly unbelievable. There are other people starting up also, I know Sami shah the comedian has a podcast as well as Abid Beli by the name of Greenbaba. There are also serious marketing reasons behind this response I speak off and they are already out there for us to see in the mainstream. Every house in Pakistan may not be able to read blogs everyday but they all watch TV and they all have mobile phones, and with the advent of faster GPRS in Pakistan at such affordable rates its not going to take that long before someone puts “watch” and “phone” together and the new alternative medium enters our lives in a big way. Plus as mentioned earlier pod casts are on demand, its TV in your pocket, its choice and an interaction we want.

When that happens, then we will see real citizen journalism and people power in action and there will be no stopping it. For now I am just happy to be one of those who can dream about that future and that freedom. The freedom to stop being negative and highlighting our countries weaknesses, to stand up and show the world that yes we are from Pakistan and we are proud of it!!

As published in “The Friday Times” on 5th March 2010

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Laidback show episode 9

Show notes after the jump

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The Nonam show ver 1.0 ep 1

The Nonam show Ver 1.0 from Nonam Show on Vimeo.


Show notes are below

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