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.