Saturday, May 9, 2015

Bhai Babu

imageAn early morning rise. It was Christmas Day for some; Midnight Mass and early morning services too. For others it was the Quaids birthday. Whatever, it was a National holiday. It allowed one to indulge oneself mid-week , notwithstanding the approaching year end work at the office.
My son was visiting from university and so it was a good time to bond a bit. Once young people are out of the door and have gone to university, they never rightly comeback. So it was good to see him walking around the house early morning. On impulse, I inquired if he wanted to go out for a desi breakfast. And since he too has a sense of the out of the ordinary, so the answer was 'yes'.
Off we went, my first thought was 'lets go down to Burns Road (Bunz Rd) for nihari and some rabri'. But sitting in the car we decided to go for halwa puri, as nihari would slow us down for the rest of the day. It boiled down to where to go. Coming out of my old memories, the word Riaz Masjid popped into my mind. My childhood haunt, Tariq Road and the adjacent old Delhi walas society.
Memory is a strange phenomenon. It makes things larger than life. Riaz Masjid, where I had nihari and kebab through the years at Abdul Ghaffar. And where Bhai Babu served his worlds best gulab jamun. They are gulab jamuns to die for. Warm and they melt in the mouth, so syrupy soft they are. Riaz Masjid does not aspire to cleanliness, but it gives the same authentic old Karachi taste and feel. You can migrate back 50 years, to feel and touch a part of the brain locked away forever. This same Bhai Babu has great halwa puri and chana and aaloo saalan. It all made sense, providence desired that I take a trip down memory lane and so, we would go down to Riaz Masjid for breakfast at 6 30 am.
As we drove along, my memory recalled that adjacent to my destination was Sir Syed Rd, PECHS and that I spent my whole childhood till late teens there. It would be good to show my son a type of Karachi, he or youth like him have never seen. A city which had a lot of charm, was friendly, peaceful and had a character of its own. I still see the stamp of the old Karachi, in the individual Karachite. But alas, the individual has been swamped by a wider social cussedness which prevails today.
If you drive early morning in Karachi, it is totally still and quiet. Hardly any traffic. Its strange in a city which has millions of transport vehicles on the road for 18 hours, to go deathly quiet for 4 hours. It reminds one of Wordsworth's Composed On Westminster Bridge. Anyway, a drive which normally would take 40 minutes was over in about 15.
At Bhai Babu, early in morning, there is not much choice. The halwa, with fat pouring out of it, the two saalans and then the puris. The puris were like magic. Soft and fairly dry, which was extremely unusual. There were also what were called 'khasta puris', which are like no other I have eaten. Not made out of regular super refined flour (maaida), but rather out of wholewheat. These are totally different in taste and texture.
So what was the trip about then? The difference was in the old school feel. The culture harks back to the days of yore. The courtesy and language is Delhi of old and has never left the 19th century. Bhai Babu himself was reading an Urdu newspaper. He deigned to ask me a couple of questions on events, probably because he saw someone who was clearly from beyond the local community. My son, back from his university, having seen mainly one tone Karachi, was open eyed. He saw little bits of reality, which hopefully shall teach him about this country of his. Maybe, create that small spot of belonging, to a country and city, which we have all used and abused extensively, and given back little. Driving back home he was less talkative and more introspective. Even his questions seemed to leave the taste of belonging, which cannot be produced coming out of plush, swank dining places, which charge a fortune. Maybe a trip worth taking on a holiday morning, when a warm bed had beckoned. Left me with some happiness and optimism for the rest of the day.
I would recommend a trip to Bhai Babu to all of you, on a holiday morning.
*picture from pakistanifoodspoint.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The EFL 10 year Montage

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imageThe Engro Foods culture records our history in montages, which reduces the need for words, gives you small touch points and is easy to view in later years. With our ten years celebrations, from the day of incorporation - not operations, which started a year later- underway, I thought to create a montage of my memories. This has then gone out in our quarterly internal magazine, Between Us.
My memory stretches back to October 17th, 2005 and some twenty-five people huddled together to set the first vision of EFL, which was about doing it the right way, about opening up rural areas, about Pakistaniat and showing the world we can succeed.
A few months later, a hole in the ground in Sukkur transformed into a dairy factory and milk collection tankers poured in ample milk, much against peoples expectations. Flashbacks of laughing teams sitting around at 3 am at the PNSC office, eating pizza, just before the Olpers launch, are warm memories. Some months later I can remember our celebrations when we hit 150,000 liters a day. Then we launched Tarang. Immediately, we knew this was a success. The Tarang moment! The purple patch moment, which hits one maybe once or twice in your career.
There were those shuddering days in August 2007, when our office burned down and there was an existential threat for a few weeks to a very new organisation. We survived and the threat passed. Three weeks later we had makeshift offices, systems restored and most items back in order by the end of the year.
From then on, life has been one long roll with flash points every now and then. Our launch of ice cream and opening of our farm were tough risky calls in 2009. We have managed them Mashallah. There were tough moments, but both businesses thrive.
2010 brought the awful floods and the EFL teams gave three months of their lives to help the affected in rural areas. It is this Sadqa-e-Jaaria which propelled us to leadership of the liquid dairy industry months later. Just some four and half years after commencement of operations, EFL became leader and it has not been relinquished todate.
The ensuing years have brought ups and downs, but have also rewarded us with the two biggest International Awards in Pakistan's corporate history. First, the G20 World Top 15 Company Award in 2012, and then the Transformational Company of the World Award from IFC/FT in 2014.
Most, I want to remember the people. One and all who gave their lives, sweat and effort to take this company to where it is today. A phenomenal achievement by a bunch of dedicated, committed and passionate men and women. I have a lot to thank them for. EFL has a lot to thank them for.
In parting, I shall re-quote my last sentence from the speech of Olper's launch March 2006, to our people.
"When you become old and look back, you will tell your grandchildren, this was the finest thing I did in life and these were my finest hours". In-sha-Allah.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Namal University - reaching for humanity

imageAs they showed a video about Namal University, a student asked "do I not have a right to proper education, so what that I was not born with any money". That is the crux of the matter. In a land made for righteousness, we have ninety plus percent people, who can only watch from the outside, while others less deserving waste an opportunity for learning.
Imran Khan came on today at a small brunch and told us his story of Namal University. It was good that he could give thought, time and effort to such a venture, while a major by-election in NA 246 was in the offing. He said, putting Pakistan right is my mission, but my passion is to help get the Namal project going, so people can acquire education. A parallel with Oxford and Cambridge was drawn, where two great universities over centuries set the grounds for the British Empire. This is inspiration indeed. To reach for the stars, while we are down on the floor all broken.
Two things Imran pointed out in his short speech, which are worth extrapolating on.
In 2002 as Imran was driving in this Mianwalli region, his car broke down. He spent the whole night there and the local people came to tell him that they were poor and could not afford a university. There were none in this region for a hundred kilometers. Imran felt an intense call to help. Something like he had in the years when the Shaukat Khanum Hospital was formed. But his vision went beyond this region to a much larger view. This university will be a great one, which will educate the poor of Pakistan. Should they not have equal rights to those with a silver spoon, who could educate themselves much more easily? He thought of the likes of Oxford and Cambridge as comparison. Why not something like this in the eons ahead. As Imran mentioned, man is Ashraful Maqlooqaat. Where mans mind reaches, Allah has given him the wherewithal to reach that. Unfortunately, the sane and wise ones will always bring sanity and achieve status quo. But we need to dream big and believe. When you do so you will always win. You only lose when you think you have lost (Philosophy which has also served me best in my life).
The second point was as telling. He said that in sixty seven years history of Aitchison College, they have produced just one test cricketer. Despite the best class facilities and comfort and resources. But on the streets of Lahore and Karachi, playing tape ball we have produced plenty of world class cricketers. This is the same story as the footballers of Brazil and Italy. Poverty produces a will, focus and drive as no other. The same applies in education. The Namal scholars, living a hard life, have climbed a peak. Their degree results in the first three graduating class, which is on the standard of the UK universities is producing astounding results. These young people are committed and have their heart in Pakistan. They will be an asset for this country. They can be our future.
Namal University has already arrived. In three years 134 students (mainly from poor families) have graduated and are already working in our country. It is reaching for humanity. To do this, it needs to expand for the good of this country. This is not about politics, this is about Pakistan. In my capacity as a Pakistani, I testify that I have been involved with Imran Khan's projects for over two decades. I have always found him honest and dedicated to the bone. Whatever your views about his politics, this is about all of us. Please get on the Namal University site and help if you can. Every little bit will assist and bring that visionary future nearer to us.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The pantomime

So there is this lady and there is a lot of her. Most of it showing. She is dressed in black and the smile never goes away. Around her are twenty young men and they are all gawking at her. They are all dressed in white. The lady stands out, much as it is supposed to be that way.  She epitomises Venus and suddenly she starts cavorting. The twenty flunkies around her cavort back at her. In the background, garish music plays

Suddenly, as the music changes tone, the lady becomes still, the flunkies collapse to the floor, and out bound two break dancers, who somersault (or whatever they call this stuff), and have their thirty seconds in the lights. They are dressed in bright green, clearly to differentiate them. Shortly, the music changes again, the break dancers bound off and the dead flunkies come to life. The thirty second break has done them good. They now make a determined push to grab the lady in black. Soon the lady is lifted by them and she contorts in their hands and her dress comes off, to reveal a still skimpier outfit. She smiles throughout and  the music becomes a crescendo. Then it comes to a grinding halt. The lady stretches out her arms in ballerina fashion and strikes pose to convey acclaim.

Down in the audience, the main act on the stage is not the real thing. The front row is packed with famous known faces. Most of them are stuck in a Botoxed smile, which must be shown to the world. Behind the smiles they are bored stiff and thinking what the hell. Another evening uselessly spent. They have spent most of their working lives just doing this and so it comes to them automatically. They are what you may call super stars and therefore any price is worth it. One of them wears a striped pyjama type trouser and wears a hat (like the Great Gatsby). Only this is inside premises and etiquette says otherwise. He has bound on to the stage a couple of times. Its his desperate move to be noticed, as his last couple of movies have bombed at the box-office. Anything to be noticed. They are apparently icons of society, but in reality they are unstable, shallow humans, who have mastered the art of creating a facade. 

Why they think they are icons of society, is obvious by the reactions of the fifty odd rows behind them.  These are the so called lucky commoners. By hook or by crook these people have obtained entry to this event. Some have sold their soul to get here. Others have used influence and still others have simply bought it by paying exorbitant rates. They feel they have achieved nirvana. Tomorrow they shall boast of being there. Today, they gawk at the bigwigs and try and get close and touch them. Some dance and cavort as the stage-show goes on. Others are whistling, clapping and being altogether star struck. 

Its a sight to see, especially as the ones in the front row smile, and look superior and condescending. They do realise that their lives depend on the gullible masses in the common rows, but they are so used to adulation, that they are convinced they are Gods gift to mankind and will succeed regardless. Its called ego and arrogance. The whole wasteful, repetitive decadent event goes on, as it has these last ten years. Somehow, our masses don't tire of this idiocy and the great unwashed laps it up one more evening. 

Time to shut the television off and do something more useful.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Anatomy of a hero - Wahab Riaz

imageNow that the World Cup is done and dusted, our team on the wiay back home, Misbah (sadly) and (hopefully) Shahid Khan Afridi duly retired, we can relax. Our interest is now peripheral and really involves the future of one or the other surviving teams. But, out of the tournament we have found a couple of heroes and the main man is Wahab Riaz. 

First of all, I find a slight similarity of looks between him and our tennis player Aisam Qureshi. Must be a figment of my imagination. Maybe because both hail from Lahore. Anyway, here was a fast bowler who for almost seven years has been hovering at the edges. A few brilliant performances, including one in the English summer 2010, and one electric one in the previous World cup semis against India, have not facilitated his claim to a place in our hearts. Unfortunately, a donning of a con mans jacket in the English summer of 2010 and a rather strong belief that our Government manipulated us out of the 2011 World Cup semi-final, just sidelined those performances. So we the Pakistani cricket followers, ready to give our heart and faith, never have quite believed. 

 When WR woke up the day of the quarter finals, he must have looked at the World Cup and felt that he had done enough to leave the impression that Pakistan's bowling carries our team. A bowling which fights as in old days and has enough quality to hold its own and represent the nation on a large stage. Remember this bowling was without Amir, Junaid, Ajmal, Irfan and Hafeez. That is a lot of firepower to have lost and yet maintain strength. What transpired on the stage during the day, further confirmed that belief, and as usually happens, a couple of dropped catches and a particularly pedestrian batting performance, put paid to it all. 

On the day, the particular bowling performance now is being hailed as the stand out moment of the World Cup. In a tournament when the bat has dominated and 400 sixes have been hit, the bowlers have rarely got a look in. In that background, a 150 kilo plus performance, on a friendly Adelaide surface has caught the imagination of the world. The dismissal of Clarke shall remain a vivid memory, as it is really an Aussie fast bowlers method, rather than a Pakistani reverse swing dismissal. Brian Lara, Warne and many others have eulogised the bowling spell. Even Watson, the victim, has lauded it and talked about those moments. The fact that WR has been fined for his orchestration of his animosity, has somehow added further value to it. 

 We now apparently have a hero in the mould of many traditional Pakistani heroes. Imran, Miandad and Wasim come to mind immediately. Stand up characters, who love adversity, have the capability, and like all great sportsmen, rise to the occasion when it is required. These sort of stars up their game and have the will to impose themselves on their surroundings. This is the anatomy of our new hero - Wahab Riaz. May he encounter future success and hence bring plaudits to our country also. *picture taken from zimbio.com