Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Something Missing

Something Missing

imageAn early morning chat with an old colleague. He is now abroad and working in a big business, making steady money, saving a bit. His family has settled and while he has old parents in Karachi, they are happy for him also.
What I sensed between the lines was a restlessness; though to be truthful, he had not voiced any discontent. Having been down this road three times, I guess I am more qualified than most to talk about it. Thrice, I had left this land of my birth, with a lot of regret and sadness, but also with a sense of adventure. And over a large tract of years -a decade and a half- I had woken every morning with a sense of ‘something missing’.
So I wrote to this gentleman the following
“I have traveled this journey a few times and know that taking away ones home is a huge displacement in life. Some get over it, some never do. Despite doing this thrice, I always felt my destiny was written in Pakistan.”
His reply was “You have exactly echoed my emotions, I wonder how you do this everytime with me. My wife and kids are happy, parents are also happy , I have cousins here but still I want to believe and pray that my destiny takes me back to Pakistan where my home is. Remember me in your prayers. Thanks”
In my experience, while the second generation do manage to settle in lands elsewhere, very few of the menfolk who emigrate, quite reconcile to the loss of a sense of belonging, the roots. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has described this very emotionally in his song “Tere Yaad”. It hits the nail on the head.
What is this “something missing” for most of us? And I hasten to add that there are people who emigrate and never look back. In my writing here, there is no sense of judgement, of any right or wrong. It is just the way it is. There are many people who will always be out of sorts when they emigrate.
This is home. Through my formative years it reached into my brains, subconscious and created imagery, which became a part of me. For me the flashes of cricket, bun kebab, Bundu Khan, Sandspit Beach, friends playing cards, the Eids and the Independence Day, none can be detached from me. It is just part of myself. To take it away is to wrench the heart out of a working body. That is the something missing. You can reconcile and say that was the former me, but I have moved on and now the week of Christmas Holidays is my thing. Or Independence Day July 4th is my day. But rarely, if at all, will it be your thing. It will not quite touch the depth in your heart which creates that sheer joy, reminding one of younger days. Just changing a booklet, from green to blue or red, cannot change decades of programming.
When this happened, I found that my existence while well ordered and physically stable, became mechanical. The heart was not in it. For me it became worse. As the days and years went by, instead of lessening it became more and one day I realised, I was suffering from home-sickness. So there was no answer, but reverse ones step. Think of it as my mental cussedness, that I tried it three times before finally reconciling to it not being good for me. In the end we live life, not to function but to sense it, feel it and live it. In those years abroad, I was not living it. ‘Something missing’ kept popping up in my brain. So, I finally reconciled and decided to stay here. Alhamdulillah! I just pray that this status-quo remains, as I traverse this stage of life, where eventually physical dependence will rule more than emotions.
*Picture is from Dreamstime a free picture site.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How to Live Life

How to live Life

imageNowadays, such clever young people, enter the daily operations of this world. The current curriculum in universities is so advanced, I could only dream about this level in my college days. Education has moved along at a smart pace these past decades and today the science of teaching is just phenomenal. Younger people have analytical skills, work smart, have a way of communicating, own a vision, plan their life goals, are articulate, driven and success agents.
Are we then reaching an era of mankind, when we produce the best of the best, see skills maximisation and benefit all mankind? I would say ‘Yes’ in general commercial terms, considering the high amount of wealth which is owned by the young. But does this bode well for humanity as a whole? Sadly the answer would be an emphatic ‘No’.
During my career in the last decade, I have met many school leavers. They show all the competencies, which will make them great deliverers of material success. But, unfortunately, very few are well-rounded humans, which one would desire in future leaders. These young aspiring managers, entrepreneurs, sports people, artists and lawyers all miss basic soft traits of humanity. Education is delivering efficiency and drive, but not people who will be like Martin Luther King, Mandela or Jinnah. Leaders who care and have a larger purpose in life, which goes beyond materialism.
No wonder we have this huge drive in the world, to deliver growth and profits. Everything is measured in commercial terms. Does not matter, what we have destroyed along the way or the necks we have stepped on. Just look around. Stock markets reign and humans are servants to their whims. Presently, with negativity prevailing in China, declining commodities and stress on large banks, every one is jittery and ready to sell off. Our lives revolve around this phenomenon. Just watch television and that is what you hear. CNN! BBC! Fox! Sky! All of them. Is this what we humans have come to be? There are other issues , like the environment is destroyed; mankind stands at the edge of a precipice. There are over a billion people who suffer from malnutrition. Wealth belongs to less than 1% and 99% other humans suffer. There is death, pillage, and family trauma. So many divorces, so many one parent families. But unfortunately, economics is just more important and reigns supreme. Success and power are measured in economic impact. Reality is, we cannot carry our wealth, position or fame to our graves.
Why would this be? How is it that such efficient human machinery is being delivered, yet cannot work for humanity. My analysis is that basic, simple human stuff is not being taught at any level. Inside our homes, the TV and Internet reign supreme. In the institutions, teaching hard-nosed success takes over and playgrounds, (great teaching places) are deserted the world over. We are never taught the things which matter…how time will fly by, we will become old; our positions are temporary, so how to treat present success; how to treat those less fortunate, not to think ourselves superior to others; as we grow old we shall change, how to handle this with grace; how to fail and learn from it; how to smile through the good and bad, to be patient and thankful. All this amounts to simply the art of ‘how to live life’.
When we are not taught all this, in home, in institutions and outside, then we are producing soulless machinery, which thinks efficiency will lead to success. What an absolute failure of the system. Thus, we are, what we are today.
Parents, urgently need to start this ‘tarbiat‘ at home and then demand it from schools. We should shut the TV, computer and cell phone down for several hours every day, so that the old connection and real conversation returns. Also we have to inculcate skills and feelings which need not just deliver commerce. If we shun some of our present day habits and relearn our millennia old values, then very soon, we will reverse our descent into this hell and turn the tide. We will become humans once more, one humanity and one society.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bob Moorehead on Us


image
I could not put the jumble in my head better than Bob Moorehead. So I have copied his rant down for you to read.
“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but
shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more,
but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and
smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees
but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more
problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little,
drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too
little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our
possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and
hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to
life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but
have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer
space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom,
but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but
accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more
computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we
communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small
character, steep profits and shallow relationships.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but
broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway
morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything
from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the
showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can
bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share
this insight, or to just hit delete…

Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not
going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks
up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave
your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the
only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most
of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from
deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might
not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak!
And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Tarang Moment

imageThey show these types of moments in movies. Imagine a man sticking his axe into the ground and out shoots a jet stream of oil. The man is sitting on an oilfield and knows that he has arrived. This is his goldmine. And talking about gold, the famous moment in McKenna’s Gold when they enter the valley of gold. The walls, the floor and even the stream are lined with gold. McKenna, Blind Adam and the whole entourage had also arrived. They were looking at a life changing moment.
Sometime in August 2007, myself and many more Engro Foods people, had this same experience. Lifelong we would know this event as the Tarang Moment. It changed our lives.
In commercial parlance, when you launch a brand you are stepping somewhat into the unknown. If you have done it right, then a lot of research on consumer insights has been completed. The product has been tested in stress conditions and has passed. Its taste profile has been matched and tested with consumers. The packaging and name of the brand has been researched, designed and tested. Through research and our own portfolio strategy, we know the bulls eye positioning and the marketing (both media and activation) campaign has been concept tested and fits the positioning. The distribution strategy has been agreed and we know exactly where and at what price the brand will hit the shelves. Our stock levels have been worked out and the production forecast has matched those, so that there is little danger of shortages.
As they say, all the ducks are in a row, and we are ready for success. So then one wonders why, nine out of ten brand launches fail. Unfortunately, that is the history of the world, so very likely things could go wrong and the launch may not be successful. At best recall (I may have missed a small one here or there), I have lived this routine through forty three launches in my career and many of those brands are not around anymore.
So back to that Tarang Moment. We struggled to get approval from our Board of Directors to launch a tea whitener. It took three attempts. Their query was that a rival brand had failed to make it a success, so why would Engro Foods succeed? When it was finally approved, we were allowed to launch only in six towns. That really set our backs up, and it was considered a challenge to our professionalism. Research showed us that tea was the highest incidence of milk usage in Pakistan and it also showed that in those very homes where this tea was consumed, there was a great demand and connection to ‘filminess’ (the movie world). It was also researched that as yet, no right fit product – enhancing the taste of tea – was on the market. Hence the brand Tarang, portrayed a ‘filmi’ world which was enhanced by ‘Chai ka Sahi Jor’. In all my career, I cannot remember a clearer positioning, which was backed by product attributes and fitted its brand world. We felt we had hit the nail on the head.
The Tarang Moment arrived for each of us at different times. For me it arrived at 8.32 am on August 15, 2007 in R A Bazaar, Lahore. The brand had been launched, but media had not yet broken. I was on a market visit to see how we had distributed the brand. A ‘SEC C’ class store in R A Bazar was my first stop early in the morning. An old woman walked in to buy something. She saw our colourful pack on the shelves and asked the shopkeeper “Ay kya haey? Ay Taranga?”. He said ‘chai bananay kou’. The old lady bought it, nary any advertising, nary support, nary any awareness. Alhamdulillah! I knew we had hit gold. Two weeks later this was further confirmed. With advertising on TV and strong supporting activation, our capacity to supply the product had gone short. What we had expected to achieve in a years time, we got there in fifteen days with maybe five days of TV coverage. When a new filling machine arrived four months later, that also ran out of capacity within another fifteen days. The Tarang Moment may last all of us a lifetime. Its unique in my career and probably unique for all the team involved.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Storm Clouds Gather


Throughout my conscious existence, the eventual dire fate of our world has hovered in the background. Ibn Katheer described it best in his End of Times book. All faiths of the holy books, have forecast dire circumstances and the resultant conflagration within an approaching time period. That they have also forecast the heavy involvement of Syria in the events, is even more disconcerting. Till five years ago, one relied on the unlikelyhood of the imminent involvement of Syria as a show stopper. Not anymore! Syria is central to the worlds issues. The internet is rife with scholars warnings that events are leading to disaster. Not that anyone is heeding them.
If you turn to logic rather than religious belief, it is as alarming. The status quo suggests a terrible period ahead. Why mankind cannot cure its ills, is a subject of great study. We are seemingly on an auto pilot and heading towards a mountain. Listed below in no particular order, are some of the prevalent issues.
A) economic upheavals and another impending economic disaster.
B) social ills (ageing, population, migration, inequality, family breakdown).
C) military tensions which have come to the fore.
D) consumer economics and its by-product “disastrous environmental damage”.
E) technology race, the cause of many social and economic ills.
All the above are well documented or broadcast over media channels. We get a daily doze in the news. It probably compounds the issue, as positions get entrenched. So Fox News broadcasts to 30 % of the US population, who believe in them implicitly and each story is a further confirmation of that belief.
Nevertheless, we humans have lived in hope down the ages. We do not give up easily and surely our minds look at these circumstances and say ‘there must be a way out’…’there must be some hope’.
To my mind this is really encapsulated in two differing routes.
I) the spiritual answer
II) the technology answer
They seem to be mutually exclusive, as the first does not rest well with the second; both are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The ones who believe in the spiritual side and Allah being the omnipotent one, think that we have to slow this cycle down. Bring a balance to existence. Stop exploiting humans and resources, consume less, be friendlier and rely on Allah to help us to repair this world. It means a peaceful existence, with much less to consume and a calmness returning to life, rather than the present headlong madness and rush. The stock market would rule us no more. It means economic targets are not man’s goal and we shall revert to conditions where serenity is as important as the next square meal.
The technology side hopes to create more advanced technology, which will resolve our consumption issues and enable us to power the earth to sustenance, without causing long term damage, unlike in the last 300 years. Can this be achieved? Certainly, some technology suggests this. But, a bit worrying is the cognitive artificial intelligence which can design and build by itself. Personalities like Steven Hawking and Bill Gates have expressed trepidation, whether humanity is about to lose control to the computer and end up with a Skynet type scenario.
Either silver lining, to the present circumstances of the world, is an essential. If one is intuitive enough, one can feel the stretch of humanity. Unfortunately, most cannot see this, as they go about their stressful tasks of daily existence; but sit back and watch….it is visible. A world at the edge of the precipice, one can see storm clouds gather and there is horror on the horizon. Someone or some people will have to come forth and steady the ship. Soon!.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Winner Takes All


imageIn late 1973 Red Star Belgrade came to Anfield in the European Cup (Champions League today) and ran the legs off Liverpool. Liverpool were one of the favourites, and couple of years later won the same European trophy twice back to back, besides winning the UEFA Cup twice in this period, and five League Championships in eight years and being runners-up in the remaining three. So no mugs.
Anfield must have been shocked. Absolutely, no argument about that. At the end of the match, the Kop (at the time, the most celebrated football crowd in the world, pre Heysel and Hillsborough), simply stood up and gave them a standing ovation, genuine and appreciative of the great skill of that Red Star team.
History records this particular Red Star Belgrade team was one of the great underachievers of club football. They were one of the best football teams in the world, but simply disappeared into the unknown. A later Red Star team won the European Cup in 1991, and that is what Red Star Belgrade is known for today. Like some other underachievers, namely Puskas Hungarians of 1954 and Tele Santana Brazilians of 1982, they won nothing and today, even very knowledgeable football fans do not know of them.
Who really remembers the 1970 South Africans? Except that they were one of the most magical cricket teams to exist. But they never won on the world stage, other than the 4-0 drubbing of Australia. Players like Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Mike Proctor were kings of their era.
This winner takes all mentality is a modern phenomenon. It has several aspects to it. Firstly, it expects that people win something to be acknowledged and become somebody. Secondly, the expectations and loyalty of supporters is also short and variable.
If, it’s a question of numbers and probabilities, one wonders how people will achieve acknowledgement in this world. Only 2 percent are outstanding in the Bell Curve. I am presuming title winners will come from within this 2 percent. So, what of the 98 per cent? Are they to be consigned to the scrap machine? Will these people live out an also-ran existence, because fortune did not smile on them?
The other point is of patience and loyalty. I read the Liverpool and Manchester United forums. In the old days, Shankly and Busby were given deep loyalty. When their teams were not doing well, the supporters never lost patience. Nowadays, Rogers, Moyes and Van Gaal, have had praise and then dung heaped on them. Sometimes this variability is week to week. A good performance and the manager is up in the sky; a bad performance and he is buried. The recent case of Mourinho is a stark reminder, ‘success is now measured in concrete returns – the trophies’.
There is a more obscure third matter, people my age will notice. In the past, there used to be a case for aesthetics in sports. Today it has been replaced by efficiency, because of the need to win. Guardiola, Benitez and Mourinho are all about this efficiency. Used to be that the luxury, skilful, maverick player would roam the park. They would deliver supreme beauty of skill, but were not too pushed about marking opposite players or getting back in position. Nevertheless, the joy of watching what they did with the ball was enough. Today these players have disappeared. Messi and Ronaldo, the most skilful players today, do not exercise their skills in matches as a Finney, Zico or Rivera (thats right, how many have heard these names, they were great, but never won a famous trophy). The same with a graceful batsman. They crunch the beauty out of his game and leave instead an efficient, slogging or boring run machine. One has to watch a free-wheeling Kanhai to understand what I mean. The joy of the visual has gone and the efficient deliverer has to perform on the stage.
Now just imagine this thinking spread across sports, art, literature and more. The flamboyant beauty of a Sobers innings, the risky manoeuvre of a Senna in F1, the audacious paint strokes of a Van Gogh, the long styled challenging writings of a Dickens. All these have disappeared and been replaced by efficiency, which cuts out risks and delivers results. Today, the winner takes all and so we also refine our lives accordingly. Imagine you advising your child to pursue a profession which is guaranteed good returns, shunning any particular artistic skills which may have been the real passion. Drabness starts to take over life.
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Stephen Hawking on our “imminent danger”

imageIn his last interview, Marlon Brando (one of the most venerated people of the 20th century) of full age and wisdom, sat in his mansion on the hill, looking down on Los Angeles. The interviewer asked one final question, “Do you think mankind will make it?”. Brando looked sad, but almost relieved that his day was over. “No!” Brando answered.
Taking this cue, at the end of an astonishing career, when Professor Stephen Hawking says mankind is threatened, then the world takes notice. And its not to say, it has not been said before by others. The holy books and holy men have been saying it for many thousands of years. Maybe we have become desensitised to their words. Logic and science in the present day, are our foundation stone. Todays populace has been brought up on that diet and so it reaches deeper, I guess.
What does Hawking say?
Three specifics threats and one more general statement. Also, in an earlier talk, he classified one more specific threat.
Mankind is in danger and he would expect some catastrophic event to occur over the ages. An extinction level event has regularly happened every 100 million years or so in the world. This makes sense, as it is really a question of probability and statistical chance. The last time it occurred, the dinosaurs were wiped out. A catastrophic event is about due on Earth.
So where are the possible dangers coming from.
A) nuclear or similar world wide conflagration.
B) environmental damage.
C) genetically engineered viruses.
D) cognitive architecture artificial intelligence.*
*The D point was stated by Hawking in an earlier discussion – the development of artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race”-, while the points A to C are in the Reith Lectures which Hawking made recently for the BBC. The above four points are not a catch-all and future developments might well see more threats appear in this world of ours.
It is very ironic that all these four dangerous points are self created by humans. When science and technology advances, it seems always to be a double edged sword. Used within reason and balance, it is a great benefit to mankind. However, over use or emphasis and it tends to get out of hand, as we reach out for more than our due. This has ever been humanity’s story. We have allowed our greed, ambition and larger unawareness to create threats, which should not have been there at all. Professor Hawking remarked that technological advances, were taking humanity into one of the most dangerous time periods ever.
So how are we to revert this danger of an existential threat to our future generations? Hawking thought the best chance of survival would be to colonise space. That is reverting to our past and core human behaviour. Whenever, what we have in hand is not enough, then we venture out and grab from others. Even the most celebrated mind today, cannot escape our programmed characteristics. Unfortunately, the truth is that at the moment we are at the edge of the science of space travel and surviving out there. This outlet could be hundreds of years away perhaps. So in this time we stand in great existential danger.
Hawking describes himself an optimist, despite the perceived future dangers. Considering his tilt of mind and his great mental capacity, we are well advised to take this danger seriously.
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A Driving Test


imageAs part of an elaborate procedure of hiring, corporates test a candidates personality. This is a dive into the inner being, to see hidden personality traits, create a picture and then try to match this personality with the corporates profile. There is a wish, that within this uncertain and complex procedure, some success is achieved in getting the right personality match.
Over the years I have seen this develop into a very complicated exercise, with hours of online questioning. Myself and the Engro Foods Management Committee (MC) went through just such testing sometime ago, to ensure that the next MC member can be tested for fit and thus make it a successful entry.
Over the years, most managers are still left with a nagging feeling. Where are these tests coming from? Who is designing them? How do we know they reach the correct conclusions? These have been designed for other cultures, do they really fit here? Many times it is simply a case of conflict. Reason and intuition is saying something and the tests are saying different things. Who to believe? Personally, my best results have come based on intuition and some judgement, rather than depending on physchometrics. So the jury is still out, on whether this works and the preferred route. Maybe, it should be a combination, but which is the dominant influence on a hiring decision? Psychometrics or a judgement call.
Now this might sound wacky, but bear with me. I have reached a conclusion, that as part of a hiring procedure, candidates who can drive, should be taken on the road and asked to drive for a time period. A Driving Test! Often, I have found, real personality traits are revealed under driving stress. Sometimes, one is really surprised. A mild mannered individual can turn out to be an aggressive, in the face, rude and abusive driver.
So following on from the above train of thought, I have carried this a bit further. While observing people drive, certain traits are revealed. These I have listed below, to show the appropriateness of my recommendation.
A mild mannered driver, under stress, will tend to be a calm manager, little impulse action and much serenity.
A decisive driver will apply similar decisions in a managerial role and will not dither and lose confidence. The reverse will be true for an indecisive driver.
An aggressive and pushy driver, will most likely take the same attitude into his job and also treat others in the same way at work.
Those drivers who follow all the driving rules, will tend to manage by the book and be strong in process and less so in human connect.
A risky driver can tend to risk himself and others in his surrounding. They might well apply similar behaviour at work and can tend towards taking risks which may or may not be appropriate. Similarly, a person who is a safety first and risk-less driver might be a very careful manager, who then will only take safe decisions.
The above is not a catch all list and there must be many other individual facets which could be monitored. These are better looked at by HR experts for appropriateness.
The above might sound way out of the box, but it is my feeling that if proper research and work is done on the above thought, we should be able to go a long way in revealing the personality profile of a candidate and then doing related work to match these traits to our organisational fit.
Something for HR experts and CEOs to chew on, for improvement in the hiring process.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

At first there was He! He then created a vastness and in that vastness created a Universe. Out of the meta-physical He set laws of physics and our physical world was born. In this world, He carved out things and gave it water. Within that water He gave life. Out of that life were born creatures repugnant, but they grew, changed, became more organised and developed and lived in this world.

Simultaneously, He created a special soul, carved it in a different image and gave it a more developed body. But moreover He gave it power to think beyond instinct and gave it speech. This Man He gave spiritual insight, purity and an understanding of things. This was a being of beauty. But Man fell from these lofty heights, into doubt and discord.

So He banished Man into this world below, already prepared with abundance and told him to look after it and thrive. Mans nature was not such, to thrive without discord. So Man left his superior learnings and chose evil. Some became strong and some weak. The strong thought of themselves only and oppressed the weak. As the world became more tainted, more reasons to do wrong appeared. Ego, money, greed, land, water, women and so many others. But in the end it was driven by the selfish desires of Man.

Over time Man spread over the whole world and as the years passed in this world, they looked different. Some were black, others white, some yellow and others brown. Their languages changed and they formed different cultures, thought and lived differently. Then the need to oppress became even more important, as one group could use the other for its advancement.

He saw all and knew that the superior soul He had sent down was compromised. So every now and
then He would send down guidance through some of his loyal souls. But to no end. Over thousands of years, plenty of these guided souls came to Man in the form of Prophets. Some were successful, others failed and in time the world over a mish-mash of guidance prevailed. But essentially this guidance taught us Unity and taught us to live together and do things which were of benefit to us. We called this goodness and in doing all the things taught achieved peace, prosperity and happiness for the community. The grace of He would descend and a brotherhood will be maintained.

The problem was that while the community progressed and all were happy, but the individual greed drove individuals against their own, or community superiority drove one community against another. Cruelty and power still prevailed.

But the numbers in the world were increasing and we were now beginning to reach each other and we
could bring the world onto one platform. So, He sent down the Unity message again, but this time
for all. The message was simple, we are one and can live like one and in doing so do good and have peace. He sent down a Messenger, one final one, who was absolutely at one with him. The Messenger said simple things, but they were the same as for thousands of years, only more imperative. The reason was that the allocated time of this world was running out and He was giving this world one last chance. This new Messenger had to work against the odds, but over 23 years he set the base of the message, which then expanded throughout the world with great zeal. It was an extraordinary expansion and the people who took the message... well they were extraordinary themselves.

Then what happened to Man in the past, happened again. Slowly the extraordinariness was diluted and inferiority took over. The very beings who were the people who took the message forgot them...later recipients took lessons and did not improve themselves. The strife resumed. Even with the last message available, Man, became oh so ordinary.

Look around you. Evil prevails. Greed, death, destruction, dishonesty. People rule who do not have any subject in heart, other than their own self interest. The oppressed are weak and blind. They do not see. Infact they collude, again and again against their own selves. It is a travesty. Money and evil rules. Society sets up icons of the most inferior beings. In everyday life, evil walks in and out of ordinary homes and offices. And Man has deteriorated to the extent that he does not recognise this.

So He is watching. Throughout history He has taken action. The actions have been extraordinary, painful and punitive. So what do you think He is thinking. And what is He going to do?


Our Filters and Biases

My earliest memory is of an old house and garden and a horrible face which scared me no end. In later years I was told that it related to my grandfathers house and someone scaring me with a mask. I was all of 2 and half years old, yet the memory lingers more than half a century later. It obviously is lodged somewhere deep and must have had some deleterious effect on my life.

Our filters based on events, shape our mind and our lives. This is so important; just imagine a psychotic becoming President of the US or China. In this blog, I recall few events which effected me and created some of my biases and filters.

Around the age of six, the only good chocbar in the city, was at the airport. Once a month my father would drive me down there. On this particular day, I was sitting sampling my choc, when a couple of yards away, a bedraggled kid, (maybe same age) stood up and stared at me. The look has remained with me these decades. It caused guilt of course, but it changed my thinking. I have forever leant left of centre and put it down to that stare and those few seconds. For me every human has rights to the same thing which I get and it is a travesty that I get to live comfortably, while many cannot put food on their table. Inequality is anathema and in a utopian world would not exist.

Some years later, an employee of my father made an error and was to be told off. In expectation of this I waited around, but my father sent me off, much to my disappointment. Later, my father reprimanded me for hanging around and said each person has their self respect, never take that away from them. Tell people off in private. It struck home and I have tried to keep peoples self esteem intact. There have been failures, but generally over an error prone life, I have managed to maintain that discipline.      

When I resigned from Pepsi and came back to Karachi, I rang up Avis asking them for a car rental. They flatly refused, as I was now a private individual, while in the past, they were giving me cars as CEO of Pepsi. It was a sharp lesson learned, about this world. Indeed, in this last decade since that event, I have not been surprised by human behaviour again. I hasten to add that there are colleagues, friends and relatives who have not been affected by the ups and downs of my career and those are of course real friends.

One of the big influencers are bosses. In life one will meet positive and negative people. Positive bosses will never stop you doing good work. While negative generally are restrictive and cramp ones abilities. The boss who has had the most influence on my life, treated me like a younger brother and taught me a lot about human management. Today most of my style of team building and close association with colleagues comes from him. It is now so in built in my personality, that I doubt if I could manage in a distant and unemotional style.

The most important of lessons I have learned is about our ego, the worst of destroyers. Its so not required in life and yet almost all our problems stem from this. Ego degrades a human, leads to delusion about oneself, makes one treat people badly and leads to sub optimal decisions. One striking event I would like to relate.

A certain very senior bureaucrat, after retirement was on a plane trip and I saw him seated in the Economy class. He was obviously uncomfortable and tried to be as unnoticeable as possible. This was confirmed when the plane landed. It was in the pre-landing tube days. He sneaked off quietly and made his exit through the Business Class, his whole movement surreptitious and scared. Scared of what? scared that someone formerly of minister level, in his retirement days would fly economy class and be seen by others. Obviously well below his self esteem. Extremely tragic and I remember feeling distraught about this for days on end.    

There are so many lessons learned in life. Every individual gathers these experiences and ends up a unique personality. All shaped by these filters and biases.

The Sounds of the Night

I can hear the coughing; deep, guttural and repetitive. It pierces the night and crashes against the eardrums. It comes out of the quiet of the night and reminds me that there is life in the neighbourhood even at this late hour and that I am not alone in this world.

Just a few hours ago, the sounds of the mehndi jar against my thoughts. Choreographed, loud, and ostentatious. And then suddenly this stillness and quiet. The sounds of the night, within the same night, yet so glaringly different. One, all about the harsh realities of this world, the other real and human.

Now, in this stillness, I sit quiet, all to myself and claim my thoughts. All to myself. Mine and no one to share with, no one to intrude and no one to take it away. A dive into my own self, deep, and indulgent. I can now converse within and sort out the equations this life throws at us everyday. That is what life is, new equations to solve everyday.

Its been like any other day. Hard, busy and insistent. Breakfast meeting with an old colleague, not nostalgic at all..just about facts of how we have moved on in life, into different areas and how the ensuing years have widened a closeness of thoughts and goals. This is what distance and the search for sustenance does to us. Takes away warmth and replaces it with common interests.

Later a transaction to be resolved. Nothing warm about that either. Cups of tea and discussions, ending in a final agreement..all encapsulated in a couple of signatures on a paper and witnesses. At least the day was interspersed by a choice lunch. Regularly, some melancholy wistful thoughts would pop up, about people one would have liked to meet, but they were not there sadly.

And so came the night and a late start to a mehndi. Young people, dancing to filmi tunes, all choreographed. It leaves the taste of the artificial, grasping and unnecessary. The burger misses, who danced to the tune of Indian songs, wearing flashy revealing clothes. Lots of oohs and aahs, cooing and pecking on the cheeks. It came as a relief to be able to withdraw to ones sanctuary and home. Alone to oneself, able to look back and analyse all that is happening. This quiet, it nurtures thoughts, memories and wistful wishes. Is alone the only form whence we can be at peace? Are we not better at connecting our souls to other humans -man has ever been born a community animal. Are there no souls who are a total fit together...and therefore are we really born in loneliness? One awaits those souls one can intertwine with...that is probably one of the reasons of life's being, to search and find and connect.

As this night will recede, so will I slowly go back to being what I am in this world. A commercial human, grabbing his space in this place. No sanctuaries then. Just raw living. So therefore, a blessing from Allah these quiet hours to lick ones wounds and repair oneself, in anticipation of the next day, when the sounds of the night will recede and we will face the world once again, renewed and rejuvenated to counter its daily equations.

These Conferences!


imageOne day, a friend called and suggested I should attend this brilliant conference, which was dealing with some very important issues.  It sounded as if it was the best thing since sliced bread and useful too.
So I enquired, “why is it useful?”
“There are so many important people attending this event.”
“I do not want to meet these important people!”
“That’s your problem. You will never get anywhere without networking. Ok, then at least have the goodness to do your duty.”
“My duty?” Astonishment in look and tone. :o
“Yes, you have been lucky to accumulate experience. It is incumbent upon you, that it is passed on to those who are still learning and need a helping hand.”
That was it! This is the moment when suckers are born. Sigh! I ended up saying “yes”.
Next thing I know, Mr X calls. Reluctantly, I listened to a gush of enthused statements, about a topic I was not interested in. AND agreed to speak at it and made all the right noises. After all, I owed society!
Skechy details notwithstanding, I arrived at the conference. It was all suited, booted individuals, alongwith volunteers from the local universities. Some of these faces seemed familiar, or maybe faces like them. It was dejavu! I had been here before. Luckily, a few attendees were people one personally knew. Throw in a couple of old colleagues and bosses, and I did not feel totally out of place.
The conference commencement was inevitably delayed and the technology also failed at crucial moments; so it was not clear sailing. In came our competitors CEO. Now, I really could not walk away from this event. They were even one of the many sponsors of the event. I definitely felt quite a bit better, at this stage. The competitor CEO made the key note speech. All I could do was smile, as he was saying similar words to what I might have said. They had actually paid money to convey their inane message. When I looked around it felt even better. Almost everyone in the audience was already glassy eyed and the clapping was slow and low intensity. It had not gone past 10.30 and they had lost the audience. Then a grand lady took the stage and gave a  speech. Soon she was complaining that her own voice feed, via the mic,  was interfering with her delivery. The whole thing was really quite entertaining in its buffoonery and lack of quality.
Finally, I did get my hour in the sun on the stage, to add my own two bits to this cocktail. Nothing special to add. I am fascinated that for such simple words and ideas, people have paid a conference fees or companies have provided sponsorship. My part came to an end. Phew! Great relief. I slipped out quietly, but alas was accosted by the event manager. He wanted to know whether I enjoyed the day. Gosh! I glared at him and slipped out. What a wasted day.
That this has happened to me a dozen times these past few years, is the sad truth. My own weakness and fault. These conferences are frequented by people, who wish to pass on their experience, which only makes sense within the context of their circumstances. Its impossible to convey the importance of such actions in meaningful words, when there is no connect to the context of those actions. So we get an endless stream of conferences, where audiences listen to what must be French, get bored, and time is wasted.
My resolution once more. Never to waste my time at these places. Till the next time when I am unable to say no.