The Old Bazaars are the real places…not malls

 

Anarkali is a fascinating place that stands out as the character of Lahore. PHOTO: ABID NAWAZ

I remember the first time I went to a mall; it was way back in 1977. The place was called Brent Mall. Hindsight tells me it was not too big and probably inconsequential, but it looked huge and I hated it.

It was a sanitised place of shopping, crowd dressed every which way to impress, straight lines, homogeneous construction, and uniformity of thought. No culture or creativity.

Today, commencing from USA, expanding to Europe, Middle East and now Asia, the mall is the ‘in’ place. It’s a destination, where you can spend the day. shop, eat, snack, have coffee, watch a movie and even go skiing in one instance! The functionality appeals, but its bourgeois lack of character, well in line with modern day living, really palls and one wishes for the old markets.

I was brought up on such fare and it is in the character created by these old markets that we thrived. Even on my travels around the world, I’ve seen that some of the most striking places in modern cities are these ethnic markets which bring out the character and culture of the people and shed light on their values. So, I have tried to recall some of these experiences over the years.

Empress Market:

It was the queen of traditional markets – my childhood was spent shopping here. The smelly meat market, great kiryana stores, the pet market, fruit places and more than that, the feel of the place was just surreal. The Gothic-looking architecture is fabulous! I even remember various English memsahibs (ladies) who used to shop here early in the morning.

Bohri Bazaar:

Bohri Bazaar is a place that answers all the needs of Karachiites. I believe the market caught fire in the 50s and had to be rebuilt. They had clothes, toys, books and specifically delicious nimco! It is God’s gift to Karachi, to be visited once a month. Alas, Tariq Road and Hyderi took customers and this market lost its importance.

Sadly, I haven’t been there in years!

Sunday Bazaar Karachi:

This is a place where you go, to find that elusive Noritake which you pick in bits and make a collection. You get great bargaining. Fruit and vegetables are all available below the retail market prices. It’s given its character by the endless workers who tag along carrying your goods for a minuscule price and guide you to all the secret goodies.

Anarkali:

Now I am not an expert, but Anarkali has that smell and traditional feel – like a wrapped piece of velvet, taken out after decades. It is archaic and redundant now, but grand nevertheless! For some reason, I associate glass bangles and food with Anarkali, though it houses many items. This fascinating place stands out as the character of Lahore.

Quincy Market, Boston:

Here, you can find food of all sorts and people of all sorts too. You are better off roaming in the market on foot as you get a bigger choice. There is music too, which makes the experience even more enjoyable.

I have a lovely memory of a beautiful afternoon, a quarter of a century ago. I think it was summer. A juggler was performing, and I stood watching, biting into an extremely chunky sub, loaded with beef.

I salivate at the memory.

No sanitised mall can provide the sort of experience I witnessed at this market.

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul:

At the Grand Bazaar you can buy almost everything, barring a car. This must be the grandest bazaar around. 3,000 shops of all kinds, haggling, and lots of people buying carpets, ceramics, gifts, ornaments, clothes, spices, dates – you name it. It’s a once in a lifetime experience to visit the place and the women go absolutely gaga when they go to this bazaar to shop. A few hours of roaming and watching all the haggling and people is an experience in itself.

Petticoat Lane:

My first experience at Petticoat Lane goes back to 1978. I had these delicious, freshly fried sugar-coated doughnuts – piping hot! At the time, I was a student and had very little money to indulge in the trendy clothing available, but there were second hand book stalls.

Sundays used to be crowded and you had to push along watching for pickpockets. I’m not sure if it’s still the same, but it was bordering some seedier parts of London, so I expect that not much has changed.

The real tragedy is that hyperstores demolished the high street market – the small corner shop, newsagent, barber, butcher, veggie man, the pharmacy and such. All the years of familiarity and personal touch were gone at the altar of commercialism. Man has lost depth in life to a corporate existence, flush with glitz and so called glamour.

There are other markets which I have visited and, of course, many more places which others would know. In Singapore I remember buying a quaint Sukarno cap, from an Indonesian market. Lagos is a memory of a shoe purchase from a set of shacks which qualified for a local market. In the Middle East, the old wholesale markets sell below large stores prices and also give you Turkish coffee.

The universal language of hospitality prevails.

The traditional markets are a memory and identity of a world where humans interacted on a personal level and warmth existed amongst strangers – whatever caste or creed.

Alas, it is a world lost!

Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @sarehman

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This blog appeared in The Express Tribune earlier this year.

The Laws of Perversity (Never say Never)

imageIts my hypothesis, that there is a trap set at every step during our lives. Its been pre programmed. You just need to find it. And its not that difficult. Just the right mind set and you are in there.

As a kid, I remember my father thinking of buying a Volkswagen Beetle, as a family car. Nothing unusual about that. One in every four cars on the road was a Beetle in those days. This is before the Government of Pakistan decided in its infinite wisdom, that they should tax higher literage cars more than others. So before the Japanese cars took over in Pakistan (and really the world), you could see the Beetles every where. So we all went and checked out the Beetle at the showroom and my mother categorically stated that it was a horrible, ugly looking thing, and she would not sit in it. So, alas no Beetle!

Cut forward 14 years and I was back in Pakistan, having completed my studies and recently joined Unilever, on whose princely salary, all I could afford was an old second hand car, Alhamdulillah. Guess what I ended up buying ? A dilapidated 14 year old Beetle! ( this car had a mind of its own. It would forever stop on Clifton Road at the most inopportune times and caused me constant heartburn). And of course my mother sat often in the same ugly car, for the next 3 years. A soft trap, but nevertheless, one which repeats itself all the time.

Never say Never!

Just go ahead and state your intentions of not doing something in a categorical fashion, and more than likely, the exact thing you denied, you will end up doing. Now, somewhere there is a Murphy’s Law, which states that anything which could possibly go wrong, well it will go wrong. Similarly, I think there should be a Perversity Law. If you say something will “Never” happen, well sadly it will happen.

In my own personal experience, it has occurred exactly like that. I stated I would not study abroad; I did. Never do Chartered Accountancy; I did. Will not join a commercial organisation; I did. Do not want to be heading an operation; I did. Once I leave the commercial world, will never come back; I did. Will never smoke; I did. Will always exercise and definitely have no weight problems; well in the last ten years done little exercise and had the mother of fights to keep the weight in check.

I wonder where this stops and how many others suffer from similar results. Friends I have enquired from, all have a similar story to tell. So is this a worldwide phenomenon? Then the thought occurs, if it is so common, why don’t we humans, stop stating things in a categorical fashion? Or better still, only say “Never” to things you actually want to happen, thus engineering a perverse reaction all to your benefit. That should lead to the perverse happening., which is what you wanted in the first place… right? If you see what I mean.

So then, my fresh, new Laws of Perversity.

A) if you are sure in your mind you will “Never” do something and you state it out loud for general consumption, you will end up doing it.

B) if you are sure in your mind something will “Never” happen and you state it out loud for general consumption, it will happen.

C) if you are blessed with a high IQ and a devious mind, and believe (A) or (B) are true, and then you state the opposite deliberately, thinking its going to assist you to achieve the same, you are wrong! It will catch you out and it will not happen. It simply reads your intention.

D) Law A and B are therefore the only true laws, based on the confidence of your statement.

Therefore, my conclusion, after a lifetime of experience … Never say Never!

*the picture has been taken from Wylio.com a free picture site.

The Trials of Ibrahim (as)

imageHajj has been the most lasting ritual and enterprise, prevailing these almost 4 millennia. And no wonder, as it’s a commemoration of one of the greatest humans to grace this Earth.
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Hazrat Ibrahim (as) did not come easy by his belief. On his own he worked out the oneness and omnipotency of Allah, but was tried for it. His belief was known to Allah, so the trials were really a sign for later generations and many of these have come down in the form of Hajj rituals.
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Thrown into the fire for his beliefs, then forced into migration, Ibrahim (as) was somewhere in his early 80s, when his first child Ismael was born, to the Lady Haajra. A sacrificial life seemed not to suffice, as a dream came soon asking him to take his wife and child and abandon them in the deserted stony valley of Becca (later Mecca). As he turned away after leaving his wife and child, he had not words to express himself. The Lady Haajra hence asked him, why is he doing this thing? When Ibrahim (as) could not answer, she asked is this the order of Allah, and Ibrahim (as) simply nodded and left.
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As the desperation for provisions and water increased, Lady Haajra ran from the mount of Safa to Marwa (7 cycles) looking for some help. In the meantime the little child Ismael, writhing with lack of water, rubbed his heels against the rock. When Lady Haajra returned to the child after her runs, she found water flowing out of the rock, below the heel of Ismael. She tried to dam the water, but it overflowed at great rates and it is then that she uttered the famous words which have lasted these thousands of years to our time. “Zam Zam!”  Stop! Stop! The water stopped, but has catered for billions of people in this intervening period. Such are the signs of Allah, through the clan of Ibrahim (as).
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Some years later, Ibrahim (as) now knowing that his family was thriving, was unnerved to receive another dream. His dream called for sacrifice, so in subsequent days he sacrificed ever increasing numbers of animals. To no avail the dream would not go and eventually settled on the image of the child Ismael.  With a heavy heart Ibrahim (as) trudged to Mecca to see his family. By then, various caravans seeing such abundant water, had settled in the valley and a community was thriving there. Ibrahim (as) took the boy Ismael and walked to Mina, away from the community.
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Satan knew that a cataclysmic blow is to be delivered to him and so he pulled out all the stops. First he approached Lady Haajra, saying your husband is in error, he is going to sacrifice your child. To which the lady replied, this must be an instruction from Allah and ‘so be it’. Thwarted, he approached Ismael, on the way to Mina. He got an emphatic answer from the boy, who said my father follows the instruction of Allah and ‘so be it’. Lastly, thrice he approached Ibrahim (as), each time to be repulsed, by the prophet throwing 7 stones at him to repel him.   And so we commemorate this event in Hajj, with the act of Rummi today.

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As Ibrahim (as) got ready to run the knife over the throat of Ismael, the instructions to the angel Jibreel were clear from Allah. Take a goat and replace its throat under the knife, so that Ismael is saved. And so when the throat was cut, it was the goats blood which flowed and Ismael was safe. On seeing this Ibrahim (as) uttered the famous words which Muslims and hajis utter during these days. 
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Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, wa laa ila ha ill lalla,
                                         
Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, wa lillah il hamd.

“God is great, God is great, and there is no God but Him, God is great, God is great, He is to be praised.”
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In reward for his many sacrifices and trials, Hazrat Ibrahim (as) was felicitated in all the religions of the books and his prayers were accepted for the eternity of this world. He asked for two great nations out of his progeny and so he received through the ummah of the Jews and Muslims. He also asked for the house (Kaaba) which he built under instructions from Allah, to be populated and busy to the end of days and so has happened, over these millennia.  Further he and his family’s actions are commemorated through the acts of Hajj and Umra, by tens of millions of Muslims annually.  What a great legacy to leave behind. And what a great reward for his sacrifices.

You Will Never Walk Alone (YNWA)

Liverpool-FC

 I don’t remember Gerry and the Pacemakers and was too young to remember when their song You Will Never Walk Alone became a chart topper in 1963. But this has turned out to be my most influencing piece of music. It has constantly rung in my head or been on my lips, since a fateful day in May 1971.

FA Cup final day 1971 will live in my memory for all the wrong reasons, but it also created a passion, which has been a constant these 42 years. A young remade Liverpool side, another Shankly team, out on the Wembley pitch in front of 100000. Facing it an Arsenal side, which under Bertie Mee, had already won the League Championship. They now stood at the doors of immortality, in the possibility of being the 4th team ever to do the double. A prize which eluded many great sides in the past. The FA Cup regularly inspires lady luck. Like an untouchable lover, she plays and flirts with the teams and so decides who to bless on the final day.  Hence, many a great team had come to Wembley and gone despondent, cursing their lack of luck. So the double just happened to be a prized goal, rarely achieved.

On the day, Liverpool just seemed to freeze…the Wembley fear…but a 100 degree temperature led to a sterile 0-0 at 90mins. Extra time and the game became dramatic. Heighway jinked in from the left and delivered what looked like a killer blow to Arsenal. But we reckoned without the change of fortunes. One of my most abiding nightmares, watching Charlie George lying in the grass celebrating a wonder goal late in the game, which Arsenal took in extra time 2-1. The comeback did Liverpool in and I sat despondent watching a young team sadly trudging away. My curse. I always have supported underdogs and in neutral situations always felt sympathy for losers. I felt as if something incomplete had occurred and there must be more to go.

The summer of 71 was eventful anyway. Laver lost at Wimbledon and so did Pakistan at Leeds to England. It seemed that the losing streak continued for all my favourites. Come new League season, I found I had a new passion. It had come late to me in the scheme of things, but did it arrive with a bang. My despondency at Liverpool’s loss converted to support for them and I became one of Anfield’s millions of legions of followers. And what a fateful time to enter the fray. I am convinced I brought them luck.

Down the years of the 70s and 80s it was like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That same young team under Shanks and then new recruits under Paisley, later Fagan, Moran and finally King Kenny, poured rich rewards into my lap. Some 11 championships, several FA Cups and League Cups and above all 4 European Cups later one almost felt satiated. Liverpool became the premier football club in the world.

The memories are magic. Fairclough scoring a wonder goal vs St Etienne, Tommy Smith desperately rising above the Borussia Munchengladbach defence to head home, to take the European Cup in Rome, Souness lording it over the Anfield pitch, Grobbelaar dancing in the goal to save Roma penalties and deliver another European Cup in 1984, Rush scoring a triumphant goal vs Everton to win the double finally in 1986, that wonder performance vs Notts Forest which dealt a 5-0 blow in 1988, and above all King Kenny holding trophies aloft and grinning his grin.

Its not just one way memories only. Passion cannot be built on success alone. It comes as a package. It requires failures and heartbreaks too. So the awful day in 1985 at Heysel and another awful one in 1989 at Hillsborough, death dealt in multiples, and in footballing terms that terrible moment when Michael Thomas rushed across the Anfield pitch to score and take away the League Championship in the dying seconds of the season in 1989, when they were probably putting Liverpool colours onto the trophy. Such heart wrenching moments…but it just grounded Liverpool more into ones heart.

So to return to Gerry and the Pacemakers. They are long gone, but there one abiding memory resides on the Anfield terraces and wherever the supporters go. They reside in millions of hearts across the world, who lie dormant waiting for The Liverpool dream to come back once more. The feel is right and the door is opening once more. One just feels this is 1971 all over again.

Killing the Self, our Ego!

imageEgo is a killer. Over a lifetime I have learned that if there is one certainty of attracting Allah’s anger, it is through arrogance, pride and ego. Unfortunately, during the coarse of a lifetime all of us get this rather dubious opportunity. Our test is to navigate our behaviour in conditions, which invite such ego.

Consider a situation where a young manager enters the world of commerce and trade. They are fresh from education and invariably work for older and more experienced people. These young managers are generally modest people with great listening ability; they learn the traits of practical management and workout how to function in the corporate world. Over time they too become experienced and adept at it. And so starts their trial. They will soon begin fighting the ego game. They are now ‘somebody’ and if they do not watch themselves, they will behave as if they have consequence.

My personal feeling is that, if and when they fall at the gates of arrogance, they will wipe out all vestiges of goodness in themselves. Its not that those good characteristics are not there, but our ego now subdues them, dominates them and any deed done then is evaluated on the alter of ego. As the days go by and life passes, that ego dominates more and more and Allah’s punishment has already arrived. The person has become a twisted, egotistical animal, listening to none, looking at life only through his/her filters and and unable to achieve anything of goodness. But there will be a further revenge, in that down the road, the very reason to be egotistical will get taken away from the person and he or she will suffer the pangs of failure. Our time always ends. So whether by old age/death or by failure or both, our downfall will come.

We have seen this in the house of the arrogant. Napolean, Hitler, the original Jews, Xerxes, the Romans, the Ummayids and all great nations who rise through merit but turn to arrogance, which eventually leads to their failure in the world – In my consideration it is happening right now with the USA. This is a terrible signal event. To reach the top and then fall down into an abyss called ‘nothing’ is a tragedy and a travesty. Its destructive.

It happens in our houses too. We are almost all involved in it. One spouse dominates the other and mostly it is the ego of one conquering the other. Similarly, we dominate our children. Many a times a man is shaping his children into the picture of himself. But to do that is itself arrogant. We are shaping Allahs beautiful creatures (our children), when we do not have a right to do this. Its our duty to impart knowledge and tarbiat. There is no requirement to shape them. That is also arrogance. You think you are worth cloning. So the people closest to you in life, you clone to satisfy your ego.

How does one fight this insidious creep which can happen to one and all in this life. Its by watching and being aware of oneself. This bears watching every living day of your life. You must fight it. When you wake up in the morning, remind yourself you are human and have to deal with other similar humans. We are all the same, regardless of position, wealth, age and gender. If we believe that and keep reminding ourselves, then the day may pass without arrogance or ego. Similarly at night, when you are about to sleep remind yourself..that as you go to sleep, you may never wake up again. That is enough of a thought to make yourself free of ego and arrogance, till the next reminder in the morning. Disregard this need to control your self importance and you will very likely fall into the trap and become arrogant. It is inbuilt in us!

Remember, we are all here because one Iblis thought he was greater than others. Iblis in turn uses this as his favourite weapon. As Al Pacino said “Vanity is my favourite sin”.

Hanif – the original Little Master

imageThe excitement was supreme….all of 6 years old, dressed in short pants and ready to go. It was my first trip to the National Stadium, to see Pakistan play Australia. This was October 1964, there was no TV in Karachi. So my only experience of watching cricket was to see my cousins play in club cricket. One of them, I am convinced, should have played first class at the least, but then studies got in the way.

From memory, I think this was the fourth day of the match. Pakistan had 6 debutants. The old team of the 50’s was destroyed in 1962 by England. It had been a thrashing, accentuated by the bad form of Hanif, the star batsman. Later on it came to light that he had battled through pain in the knee. Nevertheless, the doubts about Hanif remained on his return, after physical rehabilitation. Post the clean out, Hanif had returned, and being by far the most senior and a great student of the game, been made captain. This apparently did not go down well with various regional lobbies in the BCCP and a war ensued. The pressure on the captain was huge.

Of the six debutants, two were to disappear quickly, two after few years of mediocrity and two were to last a decade and half. This pair opened the bowling for Pakistan in 1964 and took few wickets. However, they were destined to become iconic Pakistani batsmen in the 70s. I speak of Majid Khan and Asif Iqbal, who batted I think, at number 9 and 10 in the batting order. The openers, both debutants, made a 249 runs stand. Billy Ibadullah scored a century and Abdul Kadir was run out for 95. By the time we reached National Stadium on the 4th day, Pakistan had to score runs to consolidate a small lead and ensure that the Australians were given a substantial target.

It was most exhilarating. Thousands jam packed together, like sardines, sitting on steps of concrete, with no shamianas. When a shot was hit, the crowd stood up and a small 6 year old was not destined to see much. The heat – remember October in Karachi – was terrible and my uncle was burnt black. No cold drinks available, toilets non-existent and your back side burnt to boot on the concrete steps. But I do not remember this day for those reasons at all.

My memory recalls the roar which went up, when Hanif the Little Master came to the crease. Oh, the excitement and love which was showered on the man. Pakistan had wound itself back into problems. Some 100 plus runs on the board; 4 wickets down; mid way through the 4th day. Burki on the other side and Hanif join’s him. The tension was palpable and the fear was that if Hanif fails, Pakistan will fold. In the first innings we had gone from the heights of 249 for 0 to 300 plus for 7, before Intikhab had saved the day with a quick fire 50. Hanif himself had scored a couple of runs and clearly he was now fighting for survival and captaincy. Not much changes over the decades! A near 100 run stand later, with Hanif standing firm under pressure the day was saved. I remember being totally enamored with this man and a belief was born about Pakistan cricket which has lasted a lifetime.

The next 6 months were most prolific for Hanif. A century in New Zealand, another double made in Pakistan and almost another record at Melbourne. Having scored a century in the first innings, under the watchful eye of Bradman, who expressed admiration, Hanif approached a second century in the match. However, at 93 Jarman made a routine habitual stumping appeal. Much to his horror he saw the finger go up. Jarman apologized, as did the umpire, because Hanif would have had that unique record – eventually Gavaskar did – a century in each innings, twice over.

There was just one more day left in this masters career and that came with his 187* at Lords in 1967. But that is another story to tell.

Today the original Little Master sits at the ripe old age of 78 in a wheel chair and generally not well, unheralded, an icon of a past age. I would ask you to remember a little man, who stood tall for a decade and a half for Pakistan cricket, when others older and taller used to fall like nine-pins. Had he played today his technique would have made him an icon of this age too.

A Web Called Life

imageLike you I too have pondered long and hard about life. Why what happens, does happen? And where are we going and to what end?

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The easiest is to take a leaf out of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and say the answer to life is 42. That shows our understanding and level of contribution to what happens…wish it could suffice.

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Surah Ankabbut focusses on the web of life and how it engulfs us. Taking this further Surah Rahman talks about the inherent balance in the universe and our lives. The combination of the two is the belief that souls are interconnected in a web, as are places and events. We simply move on the surface of this web, maintaining some sort of universal balance. Events and actions cause this balance to shift, but it is our lot to live within that frame.

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It hits us in the face, when a random co-incidence occurs. Walking along a lonely path in a foreign land, you meet someone known decades previously. Out of 7 bn people, how could two people decades apart meet? The odds are so humungous that it is unfathomable. Some people meet an opposite gender person in a passerby event, come together due to maybe eye contact and then spend a blissful lifetime together. Does that not seem eerie?

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Paulo Coelho has written on these co-incidences and how the universe conspires to make things happen. How can people who have known each other long and have no spark, just blandness, suddenly come together; one feels circumstances push them together and lo and behold they make a blissful life of it. Others apparently fall in love and are together for decades, but somehow never are able to make things work.

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Such events happen with places and objects also. People happily settle in a place where they had no idea they would. The strange events which conspire to move them, leave them astonished. Same with jobs. I remember a strange case of an acquaintance eating food and a waste newpaper, used for absorbing oil from a paratha ( as used in our country), was actually a job advert. He applied and spent 30 years in that workplace. A whole lifetime was carved out, because he went to eat at that eatery. The eatery itself did not last those 30 years, but it did become an instrument in delivering one fulfilled life.

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We are caught in this web (mesh) together. Beyond the physical. There is a meta physical connection and these connected souls do gravitate together and no amount of worldly barriers will allow these connections to disconnect. It’s as if this was meant to be. Whether for good or bad is less relevant. It just happens.

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So what of those who struggle to connect? Whether as two humans, or in a community or organisation? Sometimes we call it chemistry or cultural fit. Again surely the web (mesh) works! Relationships are formed on connections and friction happens among the unconnected in this web. Many times they are opposites; attract in a fiery short spasm and then differences widen; others are totally uncomfortable right from the start. But this is fine! If everything was connected we would have a mighty cocktail which would be dysfunctional. To know what is connected we must have the contrast of the unconnected. Just as we know we are happy, because of the contrast of unhappiness.

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Therefore what is the lesson one can derive for this life? There are some who have allowed these  connections to happen. If one lets instinct prevail and also live an intuitive life, there will always be myriads of these connections. However, the practice of intuition is not natural to many of us. We just have to inculcate it. In modern society we have become more insular and insecure, and we tend to suppress these instincts, unlike the old Red Indian or the desert Beduin.

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Finally, at the end just to register this thought with the reader. An effort to connect with others of our humanity, can lead to friendships and loyalties, passion in life and can be a great reward through the course of this one existence of ours.

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*photo is taken from Wylio a free picture site.

An Education Revolution in the making in Pakistan

14949482-finger-click-learn-title-symbolWe are ostensibly in a mess. In a country where we cannot count our people numbers – from 180 to 200 mn- we apparently know our livestock numbers. Or so says the Ministry of Livestock. Exact numbers!!! They can actually identify buffaloes and cows without RFID tags, and count them. Conclusion, we have a great ability to fool ourselves.

In over a year of working with the education people in Pakistan, I reached a similar conclusion that we are messed up and fooling ourselves. But, more significantly, it does not matter, because there is a thick silver lining on the horizon.

The numbers I quote are to be treated with a pinch of salt, as we are not sure. Neither will Google reveal all, as many reports and many numbers exist. We have to simply decide which one to work with and then settle for it. You can do no better. After all, I started with the words that we are in a mess. I have used a mish-mash of data. On the face of it, we have some 55% of the population which is literate. The gender ratio is worse. Women 40%; Men 68%.

That means we have +40% illiterates, 75 mn people! Even in the so-called literates, our average years of schooling are optimistically estimated as 7 years, rather than the typical 14. Not so good. The demographic breakdown of illiterate people suggests that approximately +60% is above 25 years age and unlikely to become literate now. That leaves some 28 mn who could become literate even at this stage.

When you look at the young, the numbers become even more alarming. Approximately 3.8 mn children are added each year to our population. Our present school infrastructure has a capacity of teaching between. 1.5 – 2mn annually. So, there is a literacy delta of about 2 mn kids per annum and in 20 years we would have added 40 million more illiterates to our population. We are looking down the barrel of illiteracy and are un-merrily dancing our way down to our version of hell. The illiteracy trap!!!

In all this doom and gloom, “our thick silver lining” is stirring. Technology! Moore’s Law suggests. If today technology indexed capability is 100 and indexed cost is 100. Then it will halve in costs and double in capability every 18 months. So, 20 years from now technology costs will be 0.012 and capability will be 819,000. A hardware device (as will exist then) will be cheaper than a sheaf of paper. That is going to be our saving grace.

A revolution is in progress in education worldwide. Led by a gentleman called Salman Khan and sponsored by Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Astounding numbers are being taught via online structured education program. Recently, Salman Khan made it to Forbes Magazine cover, as the father of modern day education. The education revolution is on.

Another wonderful example of the force of technology is “The hole in the Wall” concept of Sugata Mitra. You can view his fascinating talk on TED which puts the concept forward. http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html?source=facebook#.UTRIFkdMWfh.facebook. Simply put, younger minds left with technology access, free to exercise their mind unguided, learn literacy, math and all sorts of other things at express speed. This has huge implications, as technology cost reduces and we are able to provide access world over. And it need not be through a one laptop per child policy, which is expensive and prohibitive to a mass scale venture.

There are several other successful projects out there. Khan Academy and now several others are blazing a path to the collective glory of high literacy. The signs are clear. Even the large institutions like Harvard and MIT are also putting their curriculum online. The world is about to change. No infact it has changed.

Translate the above to our situation in Pakistan. Scores of NGO’s are now diving into this technology/education game*. Not only that, some social entrepreneurship organizations see profits in this sector, so they are entering also. My life experience tells me, when the nirvana of profits is visible, stuff happens. Human psyche! Worried people of Pakistan, I promise you we have opened the door to literacy and in 20 years literacy at least should not be an issue Inshallah. Added to that is the fact that no government can now disregard this education-technology deep dive. Votes depend on it. PML-N took the first steps last year and PTI of course has it as their main plank.

While we will hit and miss, I envision a process whereby, education sans teacher, but facilitated, will reach into the villages and the urban slums. It will be cheap, mostly standardized delivery, but the output due to less teaching will be varied, free thinking and out of the box. The consequences on the ballot box, on society structures, social behavior, economics are unimaginable. We should brace ourselves. A great mind and leader will be needed to lead us out of this mind boggling leap of the collective mind.

*Dawood Foundation, Engro Foods and Citizen Foundation are running 15 pilots on E-learning in rural areas, to assess our ability to expand these pilots to a large scale mass education program.

Slickness….in praise of it?

Dark Glasses, dark birdSometime ago, I happened to end up at a group event, which regularly takes place at a hotel in Karachi and at various times occurs in (maybe) 200 other cities of the world. These people worship the art of slickness and they come together to train and improve their method of delivery of words. They belong to a club spread worldwide, which I shall not name here, dedicated to improving and standardizing our speaking skills.
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Their objectives were fairly easy to grasp. One of our biggest fears, is being able to speak up in public. Faced with an audience most of us descend into jelly feet. So, this club coaches a standard method of delivery and trains participants, so that they can express themselves, especially in a pressure environment. This management of speech will by its very practice transcend into daily lives, work and otherwise, and the subjects shall be able to command respect by being confident, articulate, delivering great presentations and talks. The more confident and articulate you become, the better the imagery. Soon you will progress in life. In praise of slickness!!!
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To be fair, I was welcomed with open arms at this august gathering. There were some veterans who had been attending for years.  However, as the evening progressed, I found myself more and more uncomfortable and out of sorts with these ladies and gentlemen, even though they were very courteous and treated me with utmost care and respect – they probably saw a new corporate member, who could perhaps further their club objectives.
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The problem was that I belong to a totally different ilk and therefore should have been the last person to enter that room. My filters are way on the other side of the room. True, in my personal experience, I have come across many managers who articulate arguments brilliantly and are able to influence people. But now, I stick my neck out to go further…. the fact is, I have discovered through most of my career, that the people who articulate well, are generally the best showmen/women and therefore they tend to speak with a forked tongue. Also they tend to take the least responsibility and mostly are articulate individuals and not team players. Therein lies the problem.
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Now you would say, what a horrible generalization…but within the confines of the Bell Curve, this is true. That 70% under normal distribution are just such people. Spare a thought, for the thousands of hours I (and people like me) have sat and listened to beautiful articulation, great presentations and known that the whole presentation is a put on job. Worse still, most people will nod and smile and go out of the room, forgetting the substance of the presentation. So all that will remain is the imagery and the delivery of promises made will be forgotten, not to ever occur at all. In a few years this individual will have progressed to great positions, thanks to his/her articulation skills. Such a travesty!
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So, once I reached a position of reasonable influence, I promised myself never will I let such people influence me. Therefore, when a candidate walks in for an interview, what to look for? Look for the reality within the person. Is he/she artificial, the false smiles and the lack of pauses (the ‘umms’ and the ‘ahhhs’). They tell the reality! Beware,  anyone who answers smoothly and without thought pauses. Next you look for truth, passion and backbone. These are all the things, that slickness does not inculcate, but actually make a human a great manager – someone who will say less, deliver more and when the chips are down, will stand up and be counted.
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In case you all think this is too judgmental…
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Sahih Bukhari and Muslim report that Anas said ‘The Prophet’s (saw) talk was precise clear, and succinct without undue elaboration’
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Sahih Bukhari Volume 003, Book 041, Hadith Number 591 and

Sahih Bukhari Volume 002, Book 024, Hadith Number 555
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Narrated By Al-Mughira bin Shu’ba : The Prophet (saw) said, ” …. and Allah has hated for you (1) vain, useless talk, or that you talk too much about others, (2) to ask too many questions….
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I rest my case!!
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* The picture is taken from Wylio.com a free picture site. The owner is “Psyberartist”.

The ICC Champions Trophy – a tournament too far

ICC Champions TrophyMemories, happy and sad moments, all flavour our lives and make us what we are in the present. My own long affair with cricket comprises just such memories, cherished possessively for decades. And it matters little if the original event was bad, because nostalgia acquires a character of its own, beyond good and bad. In the case of the ICC Champions Trophy, fifteen years is a long time to build memories. Yet, if we be honest, do we really remember any games in the Champions Trophy?  

Well some of those memories have morphed into images of Jamshed Dasti* spitting fire and fury on TV, denouncing Pakistani cricketers. That he was talking about a most brilliant game between Pakistan and Australia in 2009, was a travesty. In all these fifteen years of the Champions Trophy, this game stands out. A typical, out of the blue performance, when all seemed lost for Pakistan. And we almost made it too! It was odder still that it is the only game in almost six decades, where Indian spectators were whole-heartedly cheering Pakistan on. Had Pakistan won, India would have got through to the semis. That was not to be in the end.

 

This was our jewel of the ICC Champions Trophy. Others stand out, but maybe for the wrong reasons. A daft semi-final in 2005 in the Rose Bowl, with the day grey, the clouds low and the ball jagging around everywhich way. That our erstwhile captain Inzimam chose to bat first is a cricketing mystery to this day. Our batsmen duly obliged and were bowled out for 130 odd and the match was handed over to the West Indies. Not that this was so bad! One saw a most fascinating run chase by lower order batsmen in the subsequent final, in bad light, as the West Indies carried the day against England, with a 71 run unbeaten 9th wicket stand.

 

The fates seem to have conspired against this tournament in the past. So, incessant rain led to one tournament in 2003 being shared by the finalists India and Sri Lanka, with both designated days rained out. Could you do that in a normal tournament? No final at all and yet two winners.

 

Memory then harks back to the 2000-1 final. I can remember sitting back in the Pepsi conference room, watching the demolition of India by Chris Cairns. Watching cricket on a workday? But that’s fine, remember Pepsi was the official sponsor of cricket in Pakistan and this was just part of work. That innings of Cairns remains the best individual innings played in Champions Trophy history. New Zealand was dead and buried, five wickets gone and Cairns just upped the ante and took the trophy out of the grasp of India. An incisive century, which you wish some Pakistani would make in a run chase. Something like, Inzi’s 60 in the semis of World Cup 92. 

 

The Champions Trophy was born out of ICC’s need to bolster its coffers. It would allow the coins to jingle in a non World Cup year. Unfortunately, like the old personal computer being superseded by the present tablet or the beef burger making the bun kebab obsolete, so the T20 took the heart out of the Champions Trophy. The crowds, sponsors and excitement migrated to the later format. A rationalization ensued and so 2013 is the year of one final farewell tournament.

 

So what of our beloved Pakistan? We have won everything in our cricket history. Test matches (home and away); World Cups (One day and T20); Sharjah; Australasia Cup; Nehru Cup; and Sahara Cup. Alas no Champions Trophy! We have made it to 3 semis out of six tournaments- an appearance every alternate tournament. Each time we have entered the semis as clear favourites and yet circumstances have intervened.  Maybe that is why I think this tournament is jinxed. Maybe that is why the memories are short. My inner self cannot but look at the world of cricket through a Pakistani kaleidoscope.  A tournament too far! Besides, this next tournament is the 7th and out of sequence for an alternate semi-final appearance. But then, Jamshed Dasti dominates the imagination…I can see him waving the Pakistan flag at Lords…after all we might break the jinx, this one last time.

 

*Jamshed Dasti is a parliamentarian, who showed a lack of understanding of cricket and in the aftermath of the PakvAus game, made some outlandish accusations.

 ** The photograph is taken from the official ICC, FB page.

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