Sunday, May 13, 2012

To be or not to be, an Introspection

— 10 May 2012
To be or not to be, an Introspection
In recent months whenever I have gone to society gatherings, I have received two sorts of reactions. There are those who meet warmly and perhaps more so than normal. Then there are those who are more withdrawn, maybe embarrassed to be in the same space. That is fine, as it is the destiny of life to divide all things into pros and antis. The warm handshakes denote respect and in some cases envy. The withdrawn ones indicate perplexity and contempt at the voluntary abdication of an influential position.

My decision to walk away from corporate life a few months ago, from what people would consider a peak of career in the early 50′s, has been examined and conclusions are drawn according to the inclination of each individual. It is not as clear to people, like another friend’s very recent departure into politics. That is dealing in blacks and whites as he is going to correct the wrongs of Pakistan, Inshallah; much more cut and dried and with a clear goal in mind.   My decision has tones of grey in it and therefore is less palatable. Is this the musings of a wandering minstrel?

Well, as a first benefit of my decision, take this fact, that I would never be able to write in Borderline Green so openly, if I was CEO of a large corporate. The value of that freedom alone is something which I have not tasted these past 28 years and makes life worth living again. At least I am not a hostage to fortune anymore.

My career went through its chronological mental stages, best described as:-

- “need to do this because everyone does it”
- a feeling of importance and finding one’s own feet
- interesting work, I am mentally engaged
- “I need to do this for my family”
- “oh I am a CEO” (very short satisfaction period!)
- then “what a burden of responsibility this is”
- to “why am I doing this?”
- “my work is done; others will do the job now and I will live a better life Inshallah”
- Lastly, relief at a job finished and freedom

The problem was the feeling of “I am in this for myself only“. I think it was prevalent in the background throughout this 28 year period. It was a battle within, fought continuously and never overcome. For all one can imagine a larger purpose to one’s career, the reality is that you are doing it for yourself and not for society, country or other altruistic reasons. Unfortunately, there exists a very human tendency to fool oneself into thinking that it is worthwhile, because “I am doing it for others”.

Not for long though. Eventually the dreaded question comes back in the silent beat of the night. Why? Why this soul-killing regime of travel, meetings, hours of useless discussions, putting on a mask, and acting a role. And if you happen to work for an MNC, it becomes worse. At best I found MNC, as real phooey work. The most senior of CEOs operate within a strict band of authority. It is like that dog who uselessly runs besides a speeding car, barking at it. All bark no substance.

You are actually serving a master called the international stock exchange and you will never humanize that in a millennium. Profit and share price are the only operating goals, though you might think it is CSR or building capability or globalization etc. You are fooling yourself and others. What you are now applying is another bugbear, which is ever present at various stages of a career. Our ability to provide “spin”, to this lifelong exercise. Many do it expertly, others reluctantly and some are never good at it. But the truth is that your career prospects improve, if you have learned to apply “spin” to your corporate presence.

So good citizens who are reading this diatribe, sometime in the night over your career you will hear a call, and that voice will ask in ever more urgent terms: “why?”

You can choose to fool yourself, stay addicted to social edict or you can start the intense self examination on whether you should open the door and walk out to something more fulfilling. If you choose not to do anything, then it is no different to 99% other humans. Fine! But know that when you are 80 and look back, there is almost certain to be massive regrets at not taking action. A life uselessly spent in the search of the legal tender and position in society.

If you do decide to do something, don’t kid yourself by putting bandages on your wounds. That is time and money spent on a fool’s errand. Better to do it wholeheartedly. It could be that the eventual result is failure. That is always a possibility. However, if you succeed, then also understand that there is no better feeling one can have in this life. To really live for the larger good is the true purpose of existence, as shown by Prophets, religions and great reformers.

I know there are many of you out there, as you speak to me regularly. Open the gate and go out. Inshallah you will be in an adventure and will not regret it. Just reclaim ownership of your life.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

An Alternative Reality ?

It all started when Bismarck was sent some quality English ice cream by Queen Victoria. Apparently she used to love the man, but because of Prince Albert they never prospered. Bad storage facilities meant the ice cream was not quite the thing, when it arrived. But Bismarck suffered from a sweet tooth and was greedy to boot, so he ate it regardless. Things really got bad after that. I will not even relate how bad.

The Kaiser Wilhelm seeing the state of his Chancellor demanded an apology from Queen Vic. This was not forthcoming and war was declared. The French being the route of the ice cream to Germany were also dragged into the net. In the meantime, the Russian Nicholas secretly admired a spritely ballerina in London, so he declared on behalf of the English. Lastly, the Pasha of Turkey disliked ice cream and came on the side of Germany, even banning the item in Ottoman territory.

WW1 went against English expectations and they lost. They would have been fine, but the American President Wilson fell for the Kaisers niece (to ensure supply lines of sugar and gum from Africa) and joined the war on the German side.  Wilson obviously had expansive designs. The Germans and allies ruled for the next 20 years and the Americans took over India, hence the plethora of American culture today.

In these 20 years things were not good for the British. They had lost their empire and were hurting. The Communist Party now ruled Britain, their values centred on the elimination of ice cream, as the root cause of problems. The Russians naturally felt that ballet was the source of problems, decided to ban it. Due to this Nicholas was ostracized and removed and the Russians kept their pro art policy. While the Pasha went into decline when despite his orders, ice cream flourished in his country.

Meantime Germany struck a deal with Japan to create a colony in the Middle East for them, to increase supply of gum and sugar. However along the line, they transferred their Jews to this colony instead, because they were consuming too much ice cream in Germany, depriving others from the item. This mass migration made Japan mad and they decided to attack the interests of the German ally America. The Americans were annoyed at the role played by the Germans in this and so the 20 year alliance came to end and the WW2 began.

The Americans now distrusted ice cream and decided to sponsor chewing gum and candy. They ordered that the manufacturing facilities should be given to all future allies. The Russians, British and French sensing a financial opportunity, joined the Americans. Specifically Churchill, a strong communist, was ready to expand facilities of gum in Britain to help the American effort. Eventually, the war was won, when the Americans dropped huge combustible gum over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The Japs could not take the sweet, sticky exploding stuff and surrendered. Germans ruled by the artist Hitler, were distraught at this betrayal and surrendered. Hitler committed suicide, as he saw a future bereft of art.

In the Middle-East, the Jews sensing that the American sweet tooth will prevail declared that candy was the next best thing and supported America. The Palestinians being less worldly declared for dates and olives, for which there was no American support. Meanwhile the Russians feeling that art had been betrayed with the defeat of Germany went into cold war with America. In India, two parties emerged. One declared for American candy, while the rebels had a penchant for meat and took independence as Pakistan.  Lastly the Americans set up support within the Arab world, which would guard their supply lines, provide useful raw material for the candy and also be a good market for their gum and candy.

Over the decades this game of consumerism is being played out. The American candy has generally prevailed, with West Europe, Israel and Japan exploiting the opportunity. Latest entrants China and India watched with interest for decades, as the WW2 allies weakened, and then used the same consumer demand for their benefit. The Arabs have remained as support for the western effort and provided them with supplies. While Russia, which supported the artistic side, has not progressed as much, Pakistan which loved meat has had a really rough time and the poor Palestinians with dates and olives are de-franchised. 
In my alternative reality, ice cream is basic raw materials, sugar and candy are consumer goods, meat is ideology, art is a totalitarian system and olives and dates are basic rights.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

From Enemy to Friend – Ikrimah, son of Abu Jahl

When Ikrimah looked up at the sky, as the storm raged and called on Allah the one to help, the shades fell from his eyes. Two decades of virulent opposition to the Prophet (saw) turned into belief in Allah. The flashes of Badr, his father’s body undone , the triumph at Uhad as assistant to Khalid bin Waleed, the retreat from Khandaq and his flight from Mecca all cascaded by. What a waste! So let him go back to Mecca and profess the shehadah.

This seminal event was to change history, resulting in hundreds of millions of lives being influenced in these past 1400 years.

On arriving at Mecca, Umm Hakim, his wife, took Ikrimah to the Prophet (saw). Already the Prophet (saw) feeling the momentous event, had told his companions Ikrimah approaches with belief in his heart, so do not revile his father. The meeting was close and Ikrimah asked for forgiveness and promised to devote his life to Islam.

Six years later, the Muslim armies positioned in Yarmuk valley, north of Jerusalem and east of Lake Tiberius, were barely clinging on with their finger nails across a broad front of 7 miles. The Romans outnumbering them - some say 5 to 1- had been pushing them back for four days. Favourable ground and higher numbers had taken toll.

Vahan had decided that today was the day to break the enemy lines and encircle the Arab armies. Heraclius orders were clear, destroy these Arabs and drive them into the desert, so that they never return. A march further south into the Arabian heartland was also conceivable.  Having done a feint on the Arab right, he had forced Khalid bin Waleed to send the reserves into action.  Then, putting together all his strength Vahan focused on the Arab left centre, attacking Yazid’s (not the same one!) divisions. The Muslims outnumbered and without reserves, were spread thin. During this attack, Abu Sufyan and some 100 others lost an eye under a barrage of arrows- also known as Day of the Lost Eyes. Under pressure, the Muslim left centre was in wholesale retreat, the Arab lines were about to break.

Left facing the approaching Roman cavalry was the sole regiment (400 strong) of Ikrimah, son of Abu Jahl - great enemy of the Prophet (saw).

The situation is clear. If Ikrimah's men break, the battle is lost and the future is bleak. If they hold, there is hope yet. Not since Badr, has Islam faced such a cataclysmic moment. Ikrimah decides to use the Arab tradition and take baith from all 400. Today, no one will retreat, rather they shall die. The Roman ranks crash against the Arab 400. As the day drags, Vahan intent on victory throws lines after lines on the enemy, only for them to stand firm. Losses are heavy, but the Arab lines hold and as the night falls, a perplexed Vahan withdraws. Lying somewhere in the middle of the carnage is the broken body of Ikrimah, his triumph complete and his debt to the Prophet paid in full. His regiment have achieved shehadat and also forced the Romans to withdraw. Not only the Roman strength has been used up, but the enemy is exhausted and demoralised, they have let victory escape out of their hands.

The rest of story is recorded as a gory day, when the Roman armies in retreat are boxed in and slaughtered and are never able to recover. Khalid bin Waleed’s resounding victory leaves the road open west and north. One of the greatest victories of Islam leads to massive conquests over the next century. Not till Tours – just 18 miles from present day Paris- and some 96 years later were the Muslim armies to be stopped.

Khalid’s maneuverings at Yarmuk are taught even today in various military academies. But in those few hours, Ikrimah and his companions made that success possible, where otherwise defeat stared in the face. Yarmuk changed history and while today European historians using their own logic (rather than facts) try and review numbers, even they agree to the significance of the event.

Above all stands the phenomena of belief, where one man went from being the most persistent enemy to being the saviour of Islam. May Allah accept the sacrifice of Ikrimah and his companions.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Pakistani School Dares to Dream

A Pakistani School Dares to Dream
On a summer night in 2037, a 49 year old man sat exhausted on his hotel bed, contemplating sleep. A smile on his lips belied his tiredness. He was harking back to earlier in the day, when he had lifted the coveted Noble Peace Prize, witnessed by an audience of almost a half billion world over. Out of that, it was the first 100 million from his homeland, who were the focus of his thoughts.

Abdullah, as he is known, thought back to the citation and the words “he reached out to his neighbors and solved a dispute which had caused 3 wars. The people of Kashmir and the subcontinent will be beholden to him.  Additionally, he settled the Durand line dispute with Afghanistan and resolved water sharing with India. The Indus Water Treaty is redundant, reversing an ecological calamity”.

Abdullah, in a trance saw his homeland. It was a country of 250 million with mega cities, great farmlands, high mountains, great deserts, fast rivers and abundance. Food was ample, the people educated, industries innovative. He was the 5th Noble laureate and his people were considered good citizens of this world and therefore in great demand worldwide.

On becoming leader 10 years ago, he had set some simple rules. ‘We will work as a team, with collaboration. Together we will rise, together we will achieve’. His second rule was that he will do it honestly and diligently. His companions knew these traits and also followed them. For Abdullah, there was no compromise in doing it right, no short cuts. His third rule was that he will give people the security to think and do things differently. So, they innovated and learned to use their entrepreneurial skills. Abdullah allowed the risk of possible failure, knowing this was the only way to progress to better things.

He was driven by his belief in Allah and by trust in those who worked with him. Over the years this became an ever increasing circle, as the weight of success caused more people to convert to his thinking. Nothing succeeds like success.

The road had not been easy, but it had been intensely enjoyable, as those who believed were vindicated in the quality of his nation. Infact, his struggle began almost 25 years ago, when he walked starry eyed into the halls of the Karachi School for Business and Leadership (KSBL). He had nary a coin in his pocket, but came with a conviction that he shall prevail, through his intellect, belief in support of Allah and those used by the Almighty, as his tools of delivery. His weak finances were not an impediment, during the qualification process. The faculty had immediately indicated lack of funds will not prevent Abdullah from fulfilling his dream. That was a relief!

From that point, he and many like him had worked at KSBL with one goal in mind. To become leaders, who in their chosen field will achieve sustained success. Abdullah found many like him, in all colours, sects and gender, with one common goal, to lead by excellence. In the company of such brilliant friends the task became enjoyable and easier. The focus at times was frightening, but real and intense.

Two years later, when Abdullah and his friends stepped out as MBA leaders from KSBL, they were unique in the 67 years of Pakistan history. A band of dedicated, passionate, patriotic and optimistic people in various fields would drive their country forward., and simultaneously achieve great personal success, acclaim and satisfaction. Abdullah and the subsequent 25 years of graduates from KSBL were to change the future of Pakistan, in politics, commerce, business, academia, society, expression of the arts and even religion and spirituality. Eventually more schools of the same ilk followed and the country became a bank of leaders for the world. Through them Pakistan took its rightful place in the comity of nations.

Abdullah’s story is a dream, which a set of dedicated, patriotic business leaders in Karachi feel will change Pakistan. They have set out boldly, initially using their own funds to achieve this dream. It is their belief that their dreams will be answered by many, as success is fashioned. Today they need support to ensure the initial intake is the best quality students. This is important, as these leaders will establish the image and benchmark standards of KSBL. Any high potential graduates who you are aware of, would be very welcome to apply for an MBA at this school. Furthermore, by talking about the ambitions of KSBL to friends, you can create awareness about the institution’s dreams.

Over the years as KSBL’s operations increase Inshallah, it will need help in its expansion.  By giving your personal support, whether in money terms, in kind (helping in research) and even commitment to specific lectures, you can bring this dream to fruition.

KSBL calls you to come together and add value to the growth of Pakistan. They shall find another Jinnah for this nation, Inshallah. Support them. Come together over Pakistan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Of Wings and Visions

 — 12 April 2012
Of Wings and Visions
When the Pilgrim Fathers migrated to North America, they landed their ship, the Mayflower, in present day Massachusetts, sometime in late 1620. This band of dedicated Puritans, who had taken the extreme step of a migration to protect their way of life, set about building a colony. They faced endless difficulties and enemies, but they prevailed. In just a years’ time, when their colony was suitably protected, they sat down and celebrated Thanksgiving. This colony eventually became the present day Boston.

The world of 2012, some 400 years later, still reels from the significance of these events. The vision, to which the Pilgrim Fathers aspired and then lived, was that they were good people intent on living their way of life; and that the big bad enemy was lurking outside, trying to prevent them from living their values.

Down the ages in the folds of time and history, this story has survived, matured and still shapes the USA and, therefore the world, of today. The powerful vision of the first Americans, surfaced when the fight for independence occurred in 1776 and matured during the fight with the Indians in the 19th century. It continued to strengthen at the Alamo in 1836 and in the words and actions of Woodrow Wilson in 1917. It lived on when Roosevelt went to war in 1941, when MacArthur went to Korea in 1950, when Kennedy stood up to Khrushchev in 1962, and when Johnson sent armies to Vietnam and to the present day Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. It was always the good American facing the big bad enemy outside – one that needed to be defeated for the American way of life to survive and continue.

That, in essence, is the importance of vision. Time and again, history has seen visions changing its course. When Attila picked up the sword of Solomon from the steppes of Asia, waved it and promised to become ruler of the world, it unleashed a 30 year hiatus, and the world was rocked to its core. When the Bedouin Arabs swept all from China to Spain, it was with a vision to change the world. Similarly, when Rome issued forth to conquest, it was with a powerful vision to rule the world, a Pax Roma. In a softer manner, when Jonas Salk did not patent the Polio vaccine, his vision was the safety of the human race. Today, some 7 billion humans owe him a debt of gratitude, not measurable in any currency or bullion; a most powerful delivery of a vision.

In 1947, Pakistan too started with a powerful vision. It was to be a beacon of light to the downtrodden and to the Muslims of this world. Pakistan would stand firm, on its own legs, against the wrong, for the good and be a homeland to the helpless. So where did we lose this vision?

My personal thought is that this vision had two fundamental flaws to start with. Firstly more than half of the population in the East did not quite subscribe to it. The Bengali nation had always been fiercely independent, inward looking and with no history of interest in the world outside. It was bound to trouble them when this vision and its implied rule from West Pakistan was thrust upon them; they could not even have their own language to speak and write, in a country where they were the majority. Secondly, our own rulers post the Quaid-e-Azam, and to some extent Liaquat Ali, did not subscribe to this vision.

Visions are to be disseminated and lived in warm flesh and blood. When your own rulers go sign the Baghdad Pact and enter SEATO and CENTO, those watching can see the frailty of your vision. You have already subjugated your authority and independence and become a pawn in someone’s game. There is then, no vision to sustain. To fly high, you must be independent and have self respect. Our wings were clipped in the very early days and our people saw this and understood.

When 1971 happened, the last shreds of belief in our vision were gone. Puppeteers like Zia, who tried to create a perception of this vision by fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, simply were not supported by the population at large.

Our tragedy is that we have no believable story to tell our people. When they do not have a story, what do they live for? The next best thing – themselves!

So we now have millions of small visions, all working in every-which direction. And then we wonder why we are not getting anywhere!

For me the solution to Pakistan’s problems might be slow, but it is very simple. We need someone who is respected by the people to stand up and give them a vision. If this someone is credible and the dissemination of the vision is good, the people of Pakistan will believe once again. As the plan to implement this vision becomes clear, teams will form and success will be road-mapped. People will have something to do, rather than break into myriads of belief systems. We will get action, results, patriotism and self respect.

One who acquires self respect can reach for the stars. Our clipped wings will be returned to us when we trust ourselves to fly high. We shall return to being a nation.

“Naheen tera nasheman takht-e-sultani kay gumbad par
Tu shaheen hai basera kar paharun ki chatano par”.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What price sincerity?

Posted on
In a town in Northern Persia, one morning some 1300+ years ago, a Yehudi walked into the house of his Muslim neighbor. He was distressed and yet excited.

Catching the undivided attention of his neighbor, the Yehudi said “The Khalifa is  dead”.

This was enough to shock the Muslim, who asked “How do you know ?”

The Yehudi replied ” because the wolf ate my sheep last night”

Quite irritated with his neighbor, the Muslim said “and pray what has that bit of nonsense got to do with the Khalifa?”

“Well you see, in the reign of this Khalifa, the wolf has never come into the town. The Khalifa is such a sincere and dedicated man, that Allah provides him assistance. So last night since the wolf came, attacked and ate my sheep, I surmise that the Khalifa is no more.” replied the Yehudi.

This was too much and the Muslim, summarily disposed of his bothersome neighbor, telling him to go about his business, remarking that the Khalifa was a young man yet. A week later – and there were no emails in those days- the news arrived that Umar bin Abdul Aziz, the 5th Khalifa of Islam, known as the best ruler in the Ummayyid era, had indeed expired in Damascus!

So what price is sincerity in the scheme of things? Can it really give us strengths which cannot be measured in normal worldly terms, but in the spiritual domain only?

We are now discussing a topic, wherein most people would say that no such thing occurs. Its simply not true. What do they base their logic on? If you ask, it will be fairly vague stuff about lack of logic, science, every one has their luck and sometimes it will be here or there, but in the end, intrinsically by the end of your life you should come around to about 50:50, good versus bad luck.  So, regardless if a person is good or bad, sincere or insincere it will be the same fate 50:50. Sounds like the advert of a biscuit on TV.

In my opinion this bias of circumstances, has held true for a few people throughout human history. Because they believed in the cause and were sincere to it, they have had what might be called the “rub of the green” ie good luck.  Mind you, I do not include any of the Prophets, because you would rightly say that Allah is bound to intervene on behalf of his favored few.

When Timur-el-lang came to a rather weak bridge, he stopped and let his army cross, only then did he cross. As soon as he crossed, the bridge came down.  I can hear you saying “Timur was a conqueror, not necessarily a good guy”. But this same Timur was known for his belief in his own destiny to lead his people to great success. Others in this variety are Attila the Hun, Alexander, Cyrus and Julius Caesar.  Then look nearer and you find the Quaid-e-Azam, time and again defying odds and delivering. Throughout the 5 year period to 1947, the Congress leadership despite all efforts to the contrary, kept making errors which pushed the  reality of Pakistan to fruition.  Similarly, twice I have seen Imran Khan on this road, once in the period 1986-1992, which culminated in a freak set  of circumstances which led to the World Cup victory. Being personally involved with Shaukat Khanum for 10 years, I also know the struggle for existence the hospital went through, but today it is expanding to 3–4 centers, where at one time it was not certain how the hospital will run for the next week.

I can even try and relate the logic behind this, but I think freak circumstances would still be difficult to comprehend. It follows that if you are sincere to a cause, then you are honest about the cause. If you are honest, you will generally not have an ego, where the self becomes too important. So bereft of ego, you will strive to build a team and disseminate your belief about the cause. Very soon, you will have an army of individuals, who believe in the same cause and work together. I have never seen teams like these fail in my lifetime, nor in history. Their dedication leads to success and in critical circumstances, when they are most needed, they rise to the occasion. I think all this positive energy does create an atmosphere, when things do not go wrong. Watch some of the great sports teams, in trying circumstances they always come out on top and invariably the opponent will say that at a crucial moment they got lucky.

It then so happens that if you are sincere and believe genuinely that you can do something, then most likely you will. There is hope for all of us yet.

Karim Bhai

— 06 April 2012
Karim Bhai
Sometime in October 1983, I happened to be driving past the Hanging Gardens Apartments on the way to a friend’s place to play cards. That area of Karachi was still being developed and the famous Boating Basin was yet to be commissioned.

1983 was a year when we old class fellows had returned from our studies abroad. Karachi was home and had been our shelter for the first 18 years of our lives. It was a joyous homecoming. Life was still young and hopeful. Early career and a slog at work, was compensated by a lot of eating out and then playing cards all night. Come early morning we would go home, have a short nap, shower and be off to office. The invincibles! As friends we were doing a lot of catching up for the 6 years we had been abroad. It was a carefree time and life looked rosy.

So on this particular day, driving to my friend Adil’s house, I saw a rather bare looking pan store in the newly constructed Hashoo Terrace. This was manna to me, as at the time that whole area was bereft of shops. Turned out that I was the first customer – it was a Saturday morning. A couple of paan and cigarettes were supplemented by a chat with the new proprietor. Karim and later additionally ‘bhai’, as it turned out was a smiling individual, who loved to be happy and talk. Cricket was his forte, but he would also listen to us about girls, work and travel experiences.

Karim Bhai became a regular supplier for all of us and we would also indulge in deep conversations with him. I was at that time working for Unilever on a princely sum of Rs 6500 a month – don’t laugh, it was a top salary in those days when the Rupee went far.  At the end of the first month of operations, I asked Karim Bhai how much profit he had made. His reply, Rs 7500, left me flabbergasted and he went into peals of laughter. Later I said to a couple of friends that I might as well have stayed back and started a paan shop, rather than go to the UK for CA.

The years moved on and we did not remain young and carefree – yes marriage and promotions, real spoilers of freedom. Some of us left smoking and we stopped playing cards regularly.  But my attachment to Karim Bhai still remained. I would stop for a paan and now started developing the relationship by experimenting with the types of paan. He was still jolly, though now I had outpaced his earnings, but we raved and ranted about Pakistan cricket together.

Unfortunately work took me abroad and in the 90′s, few and far between, I would come to Karachi and a visit to Karim Bhai was obligatory. His hair was turning grey and weight had gone up. Apparently constant standing to deliver paan to customers had taken a toll, and he suffered from sciatica. On a couple of visits he would not be there, because of the pain. I wish I had asked for his address and gone to see him wherever he lived. Finally, in 2005 I returned to Karachi permanently.
One evening I took a drive to the paan shop and he was not there. I asked after Karim Bhai and some new assistant said ‘but he died’. The assistant showed me the sign on the shop, which had now changed to some other name, as the ownership had passed on.

How does one evaluate such a loss? For me a part of my life had gone. The pain was all the more, because of the regret of neglect which swept over me. I had allowed trivial matters to control my life and overlooked an essential. No amount of regret or sorrow will change that feeling of inadequacy.

Today, when I look back and analyse my life, it’s full of so-called successes. Strangely though, compare the memories about friends, family and small things versus the memory of lives successes, there is just no comparison. I cannot picture my CA results, or being made CEO, or driving a posh company maintained car, or receiving various awards along the way. But I do remember friends and family vividly. I do remember a paan wala’s laughter as he told me he had trumped me on my salary.

That is the very essence of life, but we learn it back-ended, having traversed through it.  We all must look after our friends and family, because they will not be with us always and then we don’t want to face the regret of lack of fulfillment.

You all will have your Karim Bhais. Nurture them while you can …

Monday, April 2, 2012

KVTC – Karachi’s conscience needs your help desperately, please read and help

Down in Defense Phase 4, very near the Imam Bara, is a three story building, which functions as a salve to our open wounds in Karachi. It houses some 150 people who walk, smile, eat and live as if they are ordinary humans…unfortunately they are not.  You just need to talk to them to realize that there is a problem…they are the ones who we locally call “buddhu”. 

Their problem is that they fall in the vague territory of 70 IQ.  Per se there is nothing wrong with these people and at an early age they are sent to school, only to be sent back because they cannot work with the class. Imagine going through life, looking and hearing through a haze and not understanding most things, not being able to comprehend simple things and with no hope of recovery. But now there is some hope. By some miracle, these same desperate people have been blessed with an innate ability. They are able to take up repetitive tasks, do them extremely well and therefore function in the normal world and even sustain a living. So the real question is to find a vocation which suits them and train them to do it well and then they are on the road to independence. That is where KVTC (Karachi Vocational Training Centre) comes in to do this training.

For 21 years, KVTC has functioned as a beacon of hope for these people, in this unequal battle of numbers. It has managed to train hundreds and has released them into the world successfully.  A 12-18 months program makes the pupils capable to handle a vocation. He/she is then employed at various organizations. Vocations can be as varied as mina kaari, stitching, mechanical repair, painting etc. The teachers at KVTC are very dedicated. They are specially trained to handle these pupils and have great emotional control, also show lots of patience and love to the pupils. Invariably, visitors to this centre are totally emotionally overwhelmed with what they see and most have come out in tears. 

The KVTC has flirted with extinction all of its 21 years and it is a credit to its teachers and administrators - who work on a pittance - and a dedicated band of people who continue to sponsor it, come what may to ensure that these poor students get the necessary support. It is now in desperate need of help to continue to function and make a difference.  Really not much is required beyond what is being done…..for instance a 1000 people giving 500 a month will see this place comfortable and working well. We, who have food on the table and healthy children in our houses, have a lot to thank Allah for. It is to your type of thankful individual I am appealing, that you should go and see this place. Once you have done that, the battle will be won, as you will yourself take time and commitment out to do whatever is required for its survival.  

The contact for KVTC is a gentleman called Aamir, who manages the place. His number is 0300 254 8886. I exhort you to have a look at this exceptional facility, as it will change your outlook on life.

Dated : Apr 2nd 2012 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Old Karachi, a string of memories from days gone by

I am solely motivated to write due to the Facebook site “I sure want my old Karachi back”. The sadness and nostalgia among those who have lived away for long was too painful, not to put something down of memories, so that they can at least feel some happiness in expressed memories.

This is my own diary of memory and is not a catch all. A period spanning the 60s and to mid 70s. My existence revolved around Grammar School, the hawkers, the eateries, some cinemas and a few sporting memories.

Beginning with the area of central Karachi, school was a place of bliss, due to friendships mainly, not so much studies. It revolved around a break, when we consumed a Coke and Pattie, the taste of which has never been replicated. Home time and hawkers collected outside. There was the Tek wala…gooey sticky stuff, out of which was carved features of a bird, or a musical instrument. Great taste. Sometimes there would be the jungle jalebe and badaam guy also. Perhaps a bit of gol guppa too. 

If one could not be picked up from school due to transport problems, a couple of us would walk down to Empress Market and Trampatta Road. There were wonderful gunnay ka juice and lassi walas to quench ones thirst in the summer. Amazing prices also. In Ps 50 all would suffice. 

Till March there would be athletics practice at Webb Field (now Macro) and my neighbors and I would traverse through the lines area to get to the ground. We used to live in PECHS Block 3, so it must have been a good mile plus to walk. This routine was highlighted by a stop at the faluda cart. No faluda has ever tasted like that cart had on offer.  The tukh malanga in the faluda – for the uninitiated, the black seeds – were great to keep us cool through afternoon practice. On the way back regularly one would meet the Pathan with the bakery sandooq. For a very low price, we would sample his cakes and pastries.

Later at night, Karachi used to come out in those days and a lot of activity was on offer. You would see a lot of people at parks like Polo Ground or Hill Park. Then there was the trip to Clifton. Memory faded yet recalls the cry of “chana choor garam”…a spicy, dry concoction made out of chana. Clifton was different and the sea used to almost come to the Kothari Parade. Sometimes one would go into Playland and have a few games of pinball. The Makranis used to play fuzzball and were the masters of it.

On the way back one would stop to eat at various places. Bundu Khan is premier in my memory. It used to be crowded. But there are others. I remember ABC restaurant and the Chinese fare given, which is not like anything I have eaten again. James Lee (owner’s son) used to be in my class, so maybe I am biased. Have vague memories of Burns Road, with its dhaga kabab and sheer maal. Also at times it was nihari, though I am not sure who we would go to, A Waheed, A Malik or Sabri… Sometimes it would be Hotel Farooq and its chicken tikka. In later years Tariq Road surfaced (called Commercial Area in those days) and there was food at Café de Khan, Tung Nan, Silver Spoon for kabab rolls and there were some great Bengali stuff at Mishti Mukh (from memory, could be wrong). First time I had shaundesh there.

As we grew older and were able to drive, we would a few times go out of school, based on our relationship with the guards. Remember two highlights of these trips. Eating daal kee puri at Commissioner Office, across from Trinity Church. It’s now become common, but in those days it was rare and the best. Then there was Chullu kee chaat, in Soldier Bazaar. This guy used to cook the chaat to where it became almost like haleem. One piyala was a meal in itself.  Rarely there was Shezan or Café George in Saddar. Both would be quiet in middle morning and the tea and cake piece were out of this world, especially if you know you are bunking maths. Pride of place was Sunday afternoon, when sometimes one would get jalebe, samosa and dahi phulki from Fresco, near Pakistan chowk.

In cinemas, I always liked Bambino. In later years Capri became better and newer. But there were others. Rex and Rio on Victoria/Elphi. Palace at Metropole had great movies. Saw Blue Max post exams in Class X, and My fair Lady in 1970. late at night. there. Have vague recall that I saw Hatari at Palace also in 1964, but then I was very small then. We also had the phenomenon of the Drive In. Don’t remember any of the movies there, but it used to be exciting to go there, on the Dalmiya Cement Road. I remember seeing a crazy movie called Walking Tall late at night, at Capri with a couple of friends. But going to a movie was always exciting and is totally unlike our download culture now.

Lastly sports. Besides the school stuff there was a lot going on in National Stadium. Test matches were few and far between, but first class used to abound. Remember Hanif scoring 190 in a match in 1970 after he had retired from tests. We would go down and entry was free and maybe 500 people will be there to watch. When it came to test matches it was difficult. Tickets were not easy and the facilities stretched. Saw Mushtaq being run out for 99 – there were 3 “99s” in the match – vs England in 1973. Also a sad match when Hanif retired in 1969.   

The culture was free and one could move around without fear. No go areas were non-existent and people laughed and enjoyed themselves, besides getting on with the serious business of earning a living. There were nightclubs and discos (I was too young to see these!) and those who went were allowed to and no one threatened anyone else's existence. This was city in harmony and at one with its inhabitants. We as a city were not rich, but we lived together and were a larger community. One prays that those days come back to us again and our new generation can live like we used to.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The sun might as well burst - mans environmental story

In Surah Rahman it mentions Meezan, "balance". Man is to live in a balance; the world was built in a balance. Mans footprint in this world should maintain neutrality.

For the age of Man, the ancients kept this balance, Whether it was self taught, gained through experience or just plain luck, it happened through thousands of years. The population was generally maintained below 500-600 million and man was sustainable.  He plowed the land, lived in localities, wasted little and was happy to be at one with his environment. Man never cut useful trees, or made large dams, stored more than his needs and ended his life more or less as he was born. Maybe 0.1% of the population, the Lords and the Ladies, lived it up. They had large castles, scores of attendants, many clothes, lots of food. They even aspired to travel to large towns to meet others like them and also were greedy enough to try to grab more. But this small proportion of population did not effect the balance of the world.

Sometime between 1750-1800, this changed. Three specific events changed us.

The Industrial Revolution came home to create mass production, storage and movement. Then the French Revolution taught the common man, he has as much right as the Kings, Lords and Ladies.  Lastly The American Revolution taught the same common man the route of how to get from the bottom of the pile to near the top. The story was complete and man went after his right to live an independent and good life with all speed and strength. He now consumed as much as he could, science provided him the wherewithal to do so - production, movement and storage. The large city was born. Population multiplied and consumption increased further. This never ending spiral of the good life, hence more consumption, more need, therefore better science, and with better living come more people (better health and longer lives) and eventually more consumption, continues till today. The population which was a steady 600 mn, will peak at 9 bn in 2045. And the earth is operating at more than one earths level and that is not a sustainable model. We have lost that balance, which was maintained by our ancient forefathers.

So did we know about it? Well back in 1872 they discovered acid rain and therefore had an idea that they were doing adverse things to the environment. But we soldiered on. Through the radiation discovery of the Curies, the two World Wars, when Oppenheimer blew the bomb and the ensuing carnage of testing, the baby boomers love of gas guzzlers, the travel boom, the digital age and now the nano technology age. We have continued to use more, more and more and despite all the hue and cry, we still every year continue to consume more.

Now what is really happening out there to show things are changing. Continuously we keep getting hotter years, but we brush that off. The unusual weather patterns, like freak tornadoes, cold waves, hurricanes, floods and untimely weather are all the signs of change, but we look the other way. The oil & gas, consumer  and airline lobbies are too powerful to allow change to happen. Sometime in the 50's a sadhu at the foot of the Himalayas, who saw change, started photographing himself against the snow line every five years. Eleven pictures and a lifetime later (55 years), this same sadhu had traversed up the mountain side and the snowline had receded rapidly. The satellite pictures comparing Arctic and Greenland in 1970 and 2010 show a massive change, the ice is fast disappearing. Film crews have captured live huge chunks of ice pack, some 50 sq miles, breaking off in Greenland. Similarly whole lakes are seen to disappear within less than an hour, as the ice melts and a hole created at the bottom, allows the lake to flow below the ice pack, grease the bottom and make the flow of ice pack to the sea even easier.

Once the ice pack disappears in the Arctic and Greenland, our goose is cooked. This is the premier reflector of suns rays and it will cause a huge jump in the heat. The sun might as well burst and hit us. It will be faster and quicker. We are consuming our endowment for living, and unless we stop, think and reverse this process, the legacy we leave our children will be a legacy of heat and lack of resources, like food and water. We don't really want to do this surely? We love our children too much, to allow this to happen. Do something.....

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Age of Structure

The magic which Socrates and Falcao weaved on the ground, with a bunch of others moving in, around and across them -all helter skelter – was quite unseen before. At least that was my opinion. Infact, I think it was the opinion of all those who watched and understood sports.   Today, some 30 years later while one of the magicians Socrates has departed this world, one watches a football game and can you see Barcelona imitations? They all want to play the one way. One fits all. Only problem is when everyone plays the same way, it becomes a bit static and cancels out exuberance, fun and innovation.

Watch a bit of Formula One. Has it not become a worldwide franchise, an aspirational set up desired by all who come to drink at its fountain? Back in the 70s and 80s when Lauda, Piquet and Prost drove their behemoths down weaving, uncertain roads, they played with danger, lived the joy of that freedom to express and thrill and won the hearts of many. Today Schumacher, Hamilton and Vettal drive covered by team orders, controlled by computers which tells them everything and they sit and adjust all this in the pit, while the car runs its course. Overtaking cannot happen – well rarely – because like football they are all the same, almost.

So what is the purpose of sports? Is it for fun or for competition? Surely parts of it has to be a spectacle, otherwise why would you pay to watch.  In ancient Greece or Rome, did they have athletes and gladiators to bore people into staying home? But, today gladiators are almost the same. They fight the same way and after a while all that sameness begins to pall. And this does not just apply to sports. It applies to all of life. We live, eat, manage and enjoy (?) things which are programmed towards sameness and we are programmed that way also. The age of structure has arrived unfortunately, and some of us do not fit in.

So how did we get here? One telling statistics alone gives it all away. If you compare playground activity in North America, in 1970 versus 2005….1970 is 100, 2005 is 10. Older generations would remember playgrounds were the laboratory of life. You competed, fought, thought, planned, made friends and loved on the playground. Even from the age of a couple of years. It was not always easy and not always fair, but hey! Life is like that. Most of this activity has now been transferred in house into computer games and social networks. So kids have not been taught how to interact with others, they have no social skills, they are just great technicians. What does a technician do best? He/she creates machines and structures. That is what we are getting here.

Now, I am not going into the why of it, because that is a whole new discussion for later. For instance, why are people not sending kids to playgrounds? Why are they not walking away from this programmed crap served out to us day in and day out? But, I will tell you what I see in a typical day of this structured existence.

Every morning we wake up at 8 am, because we need to get to office at 9. We know that a breakfast of sanitized milk and pops awaits us, as that is what the health site ordered. We then put on clothes which we are expected to wear in the office. If it is casual, we are lucky, at least we get to wear easy stuff, but even in there is programming, as we know we are expected to wear that. We get to the tube (metro) station and buy the same newspaper. We stand in the same place and when the 8.35 stops, we don’t need to move at all, just walk in and take our customary seat. Nod at familiar looking faces and get on with the serious business of life. Arrive at the office, put on a serious face, say good morning or hi or salaam to a few people, grab my chair and open the computer, review the emails, dispose of them adequately and then look at my work day plan. Have a couple of meetings, discuss the previous minutes, decide on new actions after a couple of intense arguments and then go out for a sandwich during lunch. If I am already stressed out then go to the park and have a lonely lunch. Comeback to the office, for a bit more of the same. Maybe a review with the boss on what is happening. More emails, more meetings, and then end of day. Rewind the morning process in the tube, get home, feel tired, listen to the family, if you have some strength left, have a fight with the wife. Eat your dinner, which you know is going to be near about X, and by 10 pm you are tired and off to bed. End of day. And next morning back once more. Another day uselessly spent. Reminds me of the Beatles and ‘A Day in the Life’. Where is love, spirituality and Allah, contributing to the human race and just plain fun?

People get a life. Before you know it you will be 60 plus and life will have gone. Your children will also have gone, to do the same things you have been for 30 years. The search for security and sustenance is not that you live a robots life. It does not matter that you are that 0.1%, who will become CEOs etc. I have been there and can tell you it is not any different. The problems are bigger, the money is bigger, the ego is bigger, you have a longer way to fall. In the end you are doing the same thing, with no real clear purpose behind it, because it all is going to end still and life will then throw you in a heap on the side and move on. So do something you are not expected to do and do it without structure. Do it with the heart rather than a programmed head. You will enjoy it and maybe we all will get our world back again.  And maybe we will solve the problems of so many, who have real issues.
we are trapped...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Pakistani in Montreal

I warn you that this is a cautionary tale and not for one who looks at the world through normal lenses. They would say that this is just the ramblings of a person who has analysed life too often and not taken the fruits on offer. In effect 'khattay ungoor' (sour grapes)..

Arriving in Montreal yesterday evening, I took my customary walk through the city, yesterday and has been my customary way in some 45 countries and many more cities. I say this not to boast, but rather to get across that this is a tried and tested procedure, which allows me to see reality unblemished and becomes a window to understanding the culture and the city in itself. Perhaps, I also wanted to resolve the conundrum of my friends and acquaintances spending millions in search of the 'promises of jannah'.

The air was cool and the temperature was bordering on the cold. And as usual what has fascinated me from my first trip to the hallowed temperate regions of this world almost 40 years ago. How do the women manage to wear these skimpy outfits without a shred of discomfort ? Are they superhuman? and if so,why the male of the same species and background go more or less fully clothed? It is a conundrum yet unsolved in my mind.

Anyway, the flashes, which this morning have left some impressions of this society are put on paper for you all to read. I do not conclude, as it is not my place to pass judgement on others. Let me also add that this is one of several trips to Canada, which I have taken in these last few years, but none of them were to Quebec. But there is little to show any differences...except the French language and Gallic architecture. These signs of the past have been sanitized and crushed into a more homogenous present, more in line with the global environment.

Watch the eyes and the tread of people. Anywhere in the world they give you a peek into the character of the society, but not necessarily all its individuals. In this case the eyes were vacant, they did not meet you when you looked directly into them...there was no focus. The tread was deliberate and slow, on a Thursday morning for office workers, approaching a destination where they would spend a large part of the day. Did it show that these were a people without any desire, perhaps stripped of the essentials of human conflict which allows us to surface stronger and better? Had economic certainty led to a lack of desire. Were the vacant eyes, lacking all emotions, showing us where we should not have gone at all? Is this too deep a probe into what the surface merely indicated.

Stranger than reality is the lack of children. Where have the little ones gone. In a city of 3 million, one would see more? But in a whole day, in downtown Montreal I have seen a handful..There are no explanations, but perhaps the Anglo-Saxon grows more infertile, as their millennium of rule begins to vanish from the realms of this world. There were many in the 25-35 years bracket, so they must have been children once. And then the old, oh! so many.. So is this the answer to some of the questions? Is an aging, infertile society, staring its doom in the face, reaching to other races to extend its traces. As Moses once was invited by Midian to pro-create and leave his progeny in its place of rule.

The old were generally bunched together. The young did not have time for them. So they walked and talked, mainly in French, frankly a language whose logic and structure escapes me.  So what would they be discussing? Perhaps their demeanor would give one a clue. But soft, they do not show much emotion. That has been the eternal strength of the Anglo-Saxon. For long they have held their emotions in check. It's all turned inwards. Maybe its the cold temperate climate - as opposed to our hot blooded, boiling environment. But then are we humans or machines. Did not the Divine make us out to feel some of what is happening, or did he want us to kill our insides and make it a processing central unit.

So the mystery of the old remains? Not really, there were other places to look. See that old man standing at the corner, staring at the thick grey wall across the road. Surely he is lonely, and does his frost bitten, purple nose suggest pain endured? Is that all he has left of a goodly strive through 65 years of existence? 

Or see that pony tailed one, in silver grey hair. He is coming out of the age of Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda and Easy Rider...why does he proudly show an emblazoned T-shirt, which must be 35 years old. For its faded facade exhibits the Dark Side of the Moon. Is this then Roger Waters, his stardom years behind him and now standing in the midst of nowhere, waiting for recognition? Should I have leapt forward and hugged him, as a star I watched 30 years ago. Why is this old man, way out of time and all crumpled, standing there...he does look lonely. Where are his friends? or children? or the social security people. If he is Roger Waters, I hope someone gives him his due.

Then there is the busker striding (?) towards an unknown place, his guitar hanging around his shoulder . Who knows he might perform today and go home with loads of appreciation and cash. The best song I have ever heard is by such a one, in Bond Street Station in 1983. I remember wishing the tube away when it did arrive, as I wanted to hear more. Alas this one is old and limping. Why does he do this then? And when it gets colder will he still come out to perform with frost bitten fingers? Does not anyone see this struggle and do they not show him a shred of empathy? No they just do not see him, as he shuffles along. That is left to me, because I am a stranger and new to this environment. Leave me six months and I too shall not see him.

My day was defined by 3 events which stand out.

The blonde woman in the Mini Cooper convertible. Her hair flowing in the air, her dark glasses shielding her looks,, her arrogance shown to the world at large, while the sun beats down on her hair and car. They both shone. She on the other hand seemed not to. You see many of these in every society. They think they are the beautiful people. But do they really count. Will they effect society? Oh so many affectations, will they spend their lives doing good or will they be spending lots of money. What will they be remembered for when their beauty and position will inevitably decline? I remember thinking Oh! I have seen her before, in my school, at various la-di-la parties, at media centric events and especially in rich peoples homes.

The man was maybe mid thirties and strode out ahead, when the passenger crossing light was red. There was no traffic at all and so it was okay? Probably. In his place I would have done it. But, I was on the other side of the road, watching interestedly. Hey, but look, three strides out and this warrior looks around and sees no one follows him. So watch him turn on his heels and go back to home base. Amazingly, watching the flock standing around him, there was no reaction! No one reprimanded him when he moved forward, no one was smug when he returned and no one was even appreciative of him. The lack of interest was the most frightening, as the detachment echoed what one saw in the eyes. So is this discipline? Sure, partially. Is this a population of sheep. Will they only exist within rules, follow rules and break no rules? And will they also function only riskless. Can this society ever produce tigers, or will they forever remain a bunch of sheep. How will the tiger survive, nay blossom in this environment, the system frowns and watches over one. A depressing thought !!!!

Lastly what made my day today. In the middle of this soulless time, I ran into an enchantress. Seemingly unaware, this youngish lady walked by and suddenly without reason or warning, broke into a beaming smile. Her rather normal face ( she did not stand out) suddenly turned Venus like. This would be my definition of beauty, when the ordinary acquires an extraordinary air. A little more review showed that she wore clothes which were different from the environment, she was darker and her features would lead one to hazard a guess and say South American. So maybe that explained it, but still it made my day.

Now for some quick one liners, before the summation.
  • A strange sight of a long haired homeless asking for food at Burger King...they turned him away
  • A middle aged lady playing the saxophone at a corner...not a bad job at all
  • The veggie burger is to be avoided, it was totally tasteless
  • A protest by University service (non-academic) employees, for equal treatment
  • The supermarket service is oh so is the fast food joint.
  • Breakfast place was not open in the morning, but open in the evening
  • The fruit tastes tasteless...the organic food is expensive and small sized
  • Why do they stop to kiss in the middle of a road crossing. Will they not wait till they cross to the other side.
  • Where are the jewellery shops in the malls. Only costume stuff.
  • The sordid side of town does come out on the roads in downtown in the evenings.
So to a summation. I walked out this evening and saw plenty go shuffling and lost in thoughts towards their well deserved rest, whatever their destination. Some to car parks, others to metro stations and still others to bus stations. Rarely one found bikers too. But they all seemed an army of beings, working like zombies to achieve the unattainable, a nirvana through their commercial enterprise. It left me wondering whether all the mannequins in the shop windows, are any different to what is available on the pavement of this city. So at the end, as I walked two simultaneous voices echoed in my mind. The voice of Patrick Stewart, beaming back through the ages from Star Trek Next Generation " They are the Borg and you are assimilated" and the haunting voice coming out of Sloop John B, "I wanna go home, Let me go home".