Slow Movement

imageAs the story goes, in the days of yore, Iblis was extremely perturbed and frustrated. So he called in all his assistants to discuss the situation.

‘We have a long standing problem. For almost a thousand years now we have tried to make these Muslims fall from grace. Other than isolated success, which they seem to recover from, we have not progressed. Their belief is institutionalised, they have a strong will and the belief system is successfully integrated into all walks of life. They work hard, look after each other, work as communities, practise philanthropy, have a thirst for knowledge and chase progress. On top of this they have no fear, take risks and are not worried about personal success and wealth. How are we going to change this at all?’

So the devils council brainstormed long and looked at all facets of behaviour and after all this analysis came up with a single solution. Time! Take away their allocation of time and their whole system will strangulate. The conclusion was that once time was not available, they will not be able to spend hours or even minutes on nearness to Allah and so will lose their spirituality. Over time this will make them ordinary people rushing around spending their lives, caring little for others, thus the strongly knit social fabric will break, that will lead to fragmentation of purpose. Once fragmentation of purpose occurs, it will be each man for himself, which will lead to selfishness and eventually to breakdown of society. Which in turn would lead to evil, crime and fraud; so Iblis would achieve his goal.

This plan was put into motion by speeding up life and very soon, we found that time was becoming scarce. As time became scarce, the evil plan was set in motion; in the next four hundred years so it has come to pass. So it happened and so does human history record it, post the coming of the Industrial Age.

Look at our Muslim history and eventually human history. Does this story not make sense? Today we run around from pillar to post for our daily sustenance and nary a breath drawn to contemplate why we are human beings at all. It is so animalistic, materialistic and purposeless, because very soon all of us depart this world. When we do depart, we have little to show for our time here, other than a whole lot of material possessions, which do not go with us to our graves.

Speed and lack of time have become the fundamentals of our existence today. Faster technology has driven this world to speed up and we are caught in this web. There is nothing to show that speed is better, but we entrap ourselves in this commitment to speed. Because of this commitment, not only our spiritual relationship to Allah, but our relationships with family and friends have deteriorated. We contemplate little, thus the quality of our performance has itself become shallow. It shows in offices, in the arts and in our sports. In all these the pure quality of input has declined sharply.

Many in this world feel marginalised and rebel against this madness to rush and are working to solve human speed issues. Some thirty years ago the ‘Slow Movement’ commenced in Europe, against the launch of a McDonalds fast food restaurant. It has continued and encapsulates many facets, including food, education, parenting, technology, science etc. SM is a conscientious effort by dedicated people to save humanity from self destructing the very meaning of life. It is a fast growing movement which has spread to North America, Australia and Japan.

Carl Honoré’s 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness, first explored how the Slow philosophy might be applied in every field of human endeavour and coined the phrase “Slow Movement”. Honoré describes the Slow Movement as a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is better. The slow philosophy is about doing everything at the right speed. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

Guttorm Fløistad, a Norwegian philosopher, theorised that the philosophy is to get off the speed highway, slow down, create nearness in human relations, recover reflection and togetherness and find real renewal.

There is some hope in this movement and many a thinking person is joining it. If you too find little meaning in this fast go around, then I suggest that you should connect with the like minded, find ways to slow down your life and yet be able to survive in this fast paced world. Face this speed issue.

My very own Engro Foods

imageI feel humbled. I don’t think I can put it better. Fifteen months after totally unexpected events, I write about thoughts, which I wanted to express all along. To explain further one has to tell a bit of history.

Engro Foods started out as a personal dive into Pakistaniat – being a Pakistani myself. For years either abroad or working with MNCs, I had lost that connection…not in the heart, but in the daily rigour of existence. But I wanted it back so badly. This cannot be explained better than by an expatriate, who has been working away from home and has suffered from homesick blues. EFL was a gift which finally arrived in 2006. It changed my life and alongwith a bunch of disparate individuals, we carved out a vision, built a team and created corporate history. Along the way, we won two of the biggest world class level awards, which no other Pakistani corporate has ever done. Not one persons effort, but a team to die for.

Then in 2011, as it is my wont to do, I felt my time was up. The company set, the goals achieved, the awards taken, it was time to move onto new things. A dive into my own world of self actualisation. Frontiers in education to be conquered and my payback to this land of mine. Twenty months of education projects, mentoring so many young people, and blogging about thoughts which I could never express before. My time my own, for the first time in 28 years. However, it was arrogant to think that I control my destiny. I don’t! Allah does. So eventually a return to a commercial calling due to unforeseen events.

It was strange to say the least. What I had done and gained expertise in during my whole life seemed difficult. My apprehension was alive. Do I really have it in me? Can I take this particular stress? Does my mind work anywhere near what it used to. Will I have the drive? I genuinely thought..I was not up to it. But the need was imperative and really I had no choice but to return to a room I had left with some relief a while back.

Enter the office, I felt like I was going to school on my very first morning, or my commencement day when I entered the Unilever offices 30 years ago as a Management Trainee. Days bygone and old apprehensions! But it was strange at this age and time of life, when life’s experiences have given one confidence. How will I be received by old colleagues or the new ones? What will I say to them? How do I justify this U turn? Will the old trust be there? Will the old hand in glove fit be there?

I need not have worried. The capacity of humanity to surprise one is a constant in life. The smiles, the connections and in cases the hugs were all there. These were people after my own heart. They were warm and wanted to show that warmth and affection. I had been humbled. Right from the tea boys, to the drivers, to the secretaries, the younger managers, the older ones and then my senior colleagues (more controlled). This was still home, maybe altered and different in form, but the substance still remained. I still belonged here. And by showing what my colleagues did show, they once more sucked me back into that emotional churn, which was EFL. It compels me today, to write about it. To acknowledge it.

So to the taking up of this challenge. This was a place which was built to be a home, for togetherness and not just about individuals, but an institution. In the decades ahead, Inshallah, EFL teams shall go out and together sustain that very belonging and shall build a dream on top of it.

My friend Nadeem and Navitus

imageThe last time I met Nadeem Chawhan was when he came to see me a few weeks ago. He brought an apple pie with him, but then decided not to eat any himself, as he was on an eating regime. Early this morning, Nadeem encountered the ultimate challenge in this life and faced death. I pray that he went with equanimity and peace. Inna lillahi wa inna elehi rajioon.

Our association goes back almost a decade. At the time when Engro Foods was launched, Nadeem and Farhad (Nadeems partner at Navitus) were heavily involved. Not only in the early motivational sessions, but later in the vision and values aspect for the new company. Still later, as we tried to bind the company culture within the vision and values agreed for the new company, Navitus was instrumental in disseminating these down the line at EFL. I remember a session in Sukkur in 2007, where we bonded well over karahi and cigarettes and had a lot of laughs together. Also remember, as part of our community work going out with him to paint the local Sukkur government school.

His style was free wheeling, a bit in the face and at the same time he spoke the local colloquial language. Hence he connected well with the sales and milk collection people. There were many a time, when Nadeem would play the clown on stage and connect with our sales employees. During these fun filled sessions, he found ways to pass on the basic motivational or ethical messages we wanted conveyed. And within this system, he would create aspirations for our employees to drive them on to greater performance.

That was the official side of Nadeem, as representing Navitus. There was the other side, which to me was personal and over the years had been a great part of our relationship. To him I was Guru and every now and then we would share philosophical sessions, when he was in Karachi for one of his work sessions. I would pick him up from the Navitus rest house and we would go for a meal. In the old days, he would eat his share, as befitted his ample bulk. Over many hours of random discussions, we would talk about the art of living, why we are here at all and also a lot of spiritual discussions on the way to live this life. Our gripe about the rat race was something which bound our thoughts together and we imagined a world where one only did aspirational work and money was not the issue.

At the back of both our minds was his health. A lot of discussions on cigarettes and also his tendency to be large. So it did not shock me when he took the procedure to reduce his stomach intake. Some months later, when we met on a trip to Islamabad, he was thin and the familiar bulk gone. While, it was sort of sad, yet one felt it was best under the circumstances.

In the twenty or so months, when I left Engro Foods, Nadeem, Farhad and Kamran (another partner friend) were still in touch. Never in these months did I feel that I was now not important in the scheme of things for my Navitus buddies. Though honestly speaking I was now peripheral to their business. So it was with a heavy heart that one heard that Navitus had now decided to split and that these friends of mine were parting ways. Navitus had been such an integral part of the EFL story, that this break up went heavy on us, as I am sure it did for the partners.

Sadly it does not matter anymore, as one of the participants has departed. I personally have no words except deep sadness. For one to depart so young and vibrant is one of Allah’s conundrum, which shall be resolved at a different time and in a different dimension. All one can say is that Nadeem will be sadly missed by many and I for one will remember my long discussions – which led nowhere – with him and pine for moments which cannot return.

Posthumously, I want to thank Nadeem for great times and inspirational ideas which helped us. Maybe the good depart early. May Allah grant him maghfirat and Jannah and may his young family sustain during these difficult times.

‘Desiderata’ requoted with Envy

imageThis poem has clenched my insides for long. Its an institution for generations, a potent way of living happy and long have I wanted to write just such a page. Since I cannot, so instead have printed the original by Max Ehrmann, written in 1927.~
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Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious
to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter, for always
there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment;
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

©1927 Max Ehrmann

The image is from dreamstime.com

The Pharaoh’s daughters hairdresser

imageI write this story of the Pharaoh’s daughters hairdresser, to convey to my own mind (and to others) the difference which belief makes. It takes one from the ordinary to the extraordinary and while our mind tends to be trapped in the physical boundaries we have created, just sometimes we realise what eternity means. Allah says in the Quran, you will look back and feel I have but spent an evening and night here. But, you will realise that with deeds you can spend an eternity elsewhere. Maybe, also understand in physical comparisons, what eternity can mean.

I have taken the names out of this story, because it is irrelevant who were the specific parties involved. The Pharaoh in this case, had claimed being the ultimate deity, the power above all and represents gross evil. While, the slave hairdresser, who had secretly committed her faith to the one Allah, represents good and eternity.

One day, as this very hairdresser, combed the hair of the Pharaoh’s daughter, the heavy metal comb in her hand dropped and fell to the floor. Inadvertently the word Bismillah (in the name of Allah) came to her lips and she said it. The Princess on hearing this confirmed you ‘mean my father’? The hairdresser did not belittle her faith, and said, ‘No, my and your fathers Lord, the real Allah’. The Princess warned that she shall tell her father, but the hairdresser was calm and firm in her belief.

The news was conveyed to the Pharaoh, who was astonished that a lowly slave refused to recognise his being God. She was called to court, alongwith her children, one of whom was still at the suckling stage. The Pharaoh said to her, ‘who is your god’? And she said, ‘Allah is my lord’. He enquired ‘who is Allah’? She said ‘Allah is my god and yours’. Here was a slave, facing a great Pharaoh, cornered and forced to answer, and yet chose faith and belief. She could have taken the easy way out, gone home and repented to Allah. But No! Her faith rose above all that. This is no mean moment in mans history and it compares with many great ones.

They punished her and she remained firm. So finally oil was boiled and the Pharaoh threatened to burn her children and herself. As the children were dropped into the boiling oil, and the lady in mental agony prayed to Allah, Allah opened the curtains, allowed her to see the unknown and she saw her daughter smiling and saying we will be together in Jannah. Another account suggests that her infant actually spoke to her in encouraging terms and firmed up her belief. Whatever the case, lost in the realms of history, the lady did not utter a cry and remained firm. Finally when it came to her, she said to the Pharaoh, for this wrong promise me only one thing, that you will bury all our bones in one grave, so that we are together. I suppose in awe and admiration the Pharaoh promised this and so they were buried together.

This is where we, in our tiny worldly walls, begin to understand what eternity means. Over 2000 years later, the greatest person in history begins the most remarkable moment of his life, the Prophet (saw) flies towards Masjid Aqsa, on the night of the Mairaj, and as he flies over Palestine, he is near Egypt. And out of Egypt, comes a very pleasant fragrance. So he says, “O Jibreel! What is this pleasant fragrance?” And Jibreel replies “This is the fragrance of the hairdresser of the Pharaoh’s daughter and her children, in their grave.” SubhanAllah! For an eternity and continuing, this woman has achieved success and moreover has been mentioned in terms of admiration by the Prophet (saw).

Our lives and worldly deeds are worth a drop in an ocean, compared to what is to be achieved by our belief and faith. These moments of material ecstasy are tiny, worth little and the reality is elsewhere. No one will speak in admiration of a CEO or a Wall Street banker in 3500 years, but this paltry hairdresser lives on and creates inspiration millennia later.

May Allah guide us to faith. This write up is created after reading many accounts and I have not quoted the hadiths and various add ons. May Allah excuse me in case of any errors in this blog.

The picture is from dreamstime.com

The 99s in Karachi

imageThe Karachi test of 1973 arrived and could not have done so sooner. It was the first international match at the National Stadium in over 2 years. In the previous match of the series, at Niaz Stadium Hyderabad, Greig and Knott had batted almost two sessions to save England on the last day. We all had felt very frustrated to see England escape once more. To us luck was a rare commodity. We had been waiting for victory since Oval 1954. So anticipation was high for the 3rd test of the series.

The pitch, as is often the case in Karachi, was bare and dead. One looked at it and said runs. Majid (Captain) sent Pakistan in and Sadiq and Talat gave a good start. Later Majid and Sadiq (89), and then Majid and Mushtaq carried Pakistan to a good score. Those who have followed Majid’s career would know that at crucial stages in his career, his nervousness could be a challenge. Approaching his third century, there should have been no real worries. But clearly there were; nervousness against good line and length bowling, meant Majid went for 99 to Pocock. Innocuous and totally unnecessary! Nevertheless, it was to leave us with a strange record eventually.

Later Mushtaq kept piling up the runs and with Intikhab looking good at the other end, Pakistan approached two landmarks simultaneously – 400 team total and Mushtaq’s hundred. Now those who saw Mushtaq play, know he was totally unflappable and the best person around when things looked difficult. But then you reckoned without the Karachi crowd.

With the match meandering along and Pakistan looking quite safe on the second afternoon, the crowd decided that it needed to have some fun. Fun meant a lot of noise as the bowler came in to bowl to Mushtaq. Lewis (England Captain) played along with this, seeing an opportunity. So line and length bowling and single saving fields, meant Mushtaq was stuck on 99. Finally, Mushy sent the ball down to mid off and set off, carrying his ample bulk down the pitch in a hurry. In came the throw; off went the bail; a roar and the umpires finger went up simultaneously.

The figure of Mushtaq, clearly disgusted, walked back. The picture of Mushy head banging and champing his jaw is vivid in my mind. The crowd at first a bit taken aback was soon laughing and quite chuffed with itself. Surprisingly even Mushy was laughing as he entered the pavilion. Two 99s!

Pakistan declared at 445/6 and England’s reply was normal and without problems. However, as Dennis Amiss approached his hundred, a rather bored and slumbering crowd became more vocal. I guess many in the crowd were hoping to repeat their achievement. Amiss obliged, by being tentative in his 90s. Finally he stood on 99.

Majid also played along and brought Sarfaraz Nawaz up to forward short-leg. Amiss became even more nervous. You could tell, by the way he paced up and down between balls. Denness, the other batsman, went down and had a word with him. I think it only served to make him more nervous. Next ball an innocuous leg break from Intikhab, which normally could be played down the wicket, was patted into the hands of Sarfaraz. The whole world froze. Amiss, Sarfaraz, Intikhab and the crowd! Then Sarfaraz was leaping up and the umpire’s finger also went up. As Amiss walked back distraught and in shock, the crowd brought the house down. Three 99s!

A record; never been repeated. All the three cricketers probably talk about it till today. Years later when I met Majid, I asked him about several things, but never dared ask about his 99. He was also to be bowled around his leg after a beautiful 98, the next year at the Oval.

The match itself came to life briefly, around lunch on the last day. Pakistan 105/2, 160+ ahead, suddenly lost focus. In half an hour, post lunch, we collapsed to 129/8 and were looking down the barrel of defeat. Not so! Some beautiful batting by Wasim Bari and Sarfaraz took the score close to 200 and safety.

Rightly so, as the test match 40 years ago in Karachi was all about the three 99s, its significance should not be diluted by a result in the match. Forever, I shall picture three great batsmen walking back crestfallen, not knowing, that years later one of their major identities will be the three 99s.

Providence works in strange ways!

THE NAQSH OF AN AFTERNOON IN EDGBASTON

imagePakistan arrived in Birmingham in 1982, a rag tag bunch and inexperienced Imran in lead. I had been away from Pakistan for some years and recently only seen Pakistani players in the county games. To watch Imran make England hop, skip and jump made one salivate at the mouth. But, 32 years later, the memories of Edgbaston, revolve around the image of that Saturday afternoon, when a miracle transpired. But, more on this story later.

A new captain after a rebellion against the previous one (Miandad), made us apprehensive. Not much has changed in Pakistan cricket in the ensuing 32 years. At the time our worry was whether the team will knit. A vague recall of the first day is of Tavare and Gower pulling England out of a hole. By the time I found a TV to watch, the match hung in balance with England at 250/6. I should have sat down earlier, as Imran coming back for a spell demolished England at 272. The jubilation was slightly tempered, as Mudassir was given LBW for 0 – a rather questionable decision in pre DRS days.

Next day Pakistan threatened, but never got away. Mansoor Akhtar with a fifty, Zaheer forty and Miandad thirty, eventually brought the score within reach at 251. But our bowling was strangely innocuous late in the day and England passed 50 without loss.

That Friday evening, we collected together for the next day- Saturday being crucial. We were all rather apprehensive and on edge. You have to be a Pakistani, living in England, to realise the pain and loss of face in a defeat.

Saturday dawned! Little did we know that the image of July 31st 1982 will be permanently etched on our minds. The match meandered along. Strangely, England were reticent to press their advantage. But, Randall was resolute at one end. That chord of tension, with two Goliaths facing a fight to death, was in the air and in the stands. England was close to reaching 100, Imran and Sikander Bakht had been resisted. Then the ball was tossed to little known Tahir Naqqash. Slim, tallish, a mop of hair and a nice run up, that is what I remember. He did the trick and Lambs resistance was ended. England passed 100 with 3 down. We were left biting our nails. Will we restrict England below 250?

Our miracle hour finally arrived after lunch. In the most exhilarating and, definitely, surprising post Lunch session I can remember, unknown Tahir Naqqash went down in our memory forever. The same run-up and bowling, by magic, became a couple of yards faster and his in-swing (probably reverse, though we did not know it at the time) just rolled over England. Gower, Gatting, Miller and especially Bothee (aka Botham) were disposed off in an incredible hour – 5 for 40 to TN.

The Pakistani crowd section had gone berserk and cries of Allah-u-Akbar were ripping across the field with flags waving. You had to be with us to realise what had happened. For the first time in 28 years, Pakistan had stood, looked England in the eye and driven them back. It had taken a slip of a young man to do a David.

Later events were a bit of a downer. Having got them against the wall at +200/9, we let it slip. Imran, Tahir, Qadir tired, Sikander off length, Wasim Raja might have been an answer. Only Imran error prone and inexperienced realised it too late. Raja finally got the last wicket at 291. I think it was a record stand between Taylor/Willis for England v Pakistan. We knew the match was lost.

Next day, the pressure told and we were 77/6 before Imran and Tahir carried us to 199. We lost by 113. A match much closer than the end result and a harbinger of a great series ahead. And it was a great series! On the final day of the series at Headingly Leeds, late in August, England sneaked across by a couple of wickets in the last test match. We might have lost 2-1, but the Englishmen acknowledged they were lucky to win.

This series under Imran, commenced a 10 year period of dominating cricket, culminating in the World Cup 92. Imran was destined never again to lose another test to England. The next English test victory was at Leeds, against Miandad’s Pakistan in 1992.

What of our hero of the Saturday in July 82? Alas, whatever magic woven into him on that day, never returned and his day was done. His career ended in 1985 and he never made future headlines or achieved a 5 wicket haul again. A sad end to a great afternoons work.

Nevertheless, some of us will remember Tahir and the naqsh of that warm July afternoon 32 years ago will always belong to him.

Tahir Naqqash wherever you are, salaam to a former hero of Pakistan.

About Tuna and Volcanic Explosions

imageThe 4 am alarm really cut through deep sleep. I had gone to bed only for a couple of hours. What with continuous eating bouts of sushi for the last six days and late bed times, it had been quite a trip. Now to add the last phase to it, a morning visit to Tsukiji Fish Market for the fish auction.

I don’t do travel blogs and neither is this one. Frequent travel, corporate in nature, diminishes any benefits of learning; time and attention being spent on meetings and dinners. It leaves little room for appreciation of people, culture and history.
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My career with Western MNCs restricted Far East visits. So coming to Japan on business was unusual, but as it turned out, its been a rich week and one has picked up some fascinating insights.

The Japanese probably more than anyone else, look after guests. Add to this their diligent and disciplined nature, and you have a week planned from morning to night, with three meals thrown in to boot. Despite a proud history, a need to please and be recognised as worthy, leads the Japanese to give more than your monies worth. In mid visit we landed on Kyushu Island, the Southern most tip of Japan. Our hosts remarked we were the first Pakistani guests at the hotel on the beach. In a day of rushing from one food plant to another and looking at farms, we also saw a lot of beauty similar to our Nathiagali area. Mountains, conifers, winding roads and road side kiosks.
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Nearby is Sakurajima Island. It houses a volcano which has spoken everyday for the last 58 years. It belches ash, lava and smoke like a dragon and is extremely impressive. We got lucky here. Just at the time that we were watching from the coast road, it suddenly emitted an ash explosion. My first live volcanic eruption. Not many in the world can claim that. There are also substantial number of hot springs all over, where people can take baths. You find one even at the airport, with people dipping their feet in it.
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It is fascinating to see their work regime. One sees many people, case in hand, coming out of office buildings at 11 pm homeward bound. Coupled with discipline and respect, this is a formidable combination and they progress well, despite all the so called economic doldrums in the last two decades. They celebrate very well also. It is quite a surprise to see them after work, as they shed the work facade and turn boisterous in evening get togethers. I had some great laughs during meals, as they are very capable of cracking jokes and laughing uproariously at them.

Through the years of dealing with Japanese people and witnessing other Pakistanis doing so, one learning is that we get along very well with them. Why is this so? We are emotional and indisciplined, while they are disciplined and control emotions well generally. But oddly, Pakistanis find them easy to get along with and for my part I have learned to trust my Japanese friends, admire their dedication and enjoy the laughs which seem to emanate from a similar sense of humour.

One odd dinner I must mention here. We had opted for fish meals on account of halal strictures. On the last night we ended up at a Korean restaurant, which served halal food (certification and all). All food served and bar-b-qued on the table in front of you. But wait for the surprise, the chef was a Sri Lankan and that too a Catholic. Cannot remember a more diverse meal in my life. In Japan, with Pakistanis, Korean menu, chef a Sri Lankan who is a Catholic. Oh yes, and the tilawat from the prayers in Mecca, was being played in the background. Needless to say the food was very good.
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So to the last mornings trip to the fish auction. Tourists are not allowed there; we had to obtain special passes, which came only through the significant influence of our hosts and sponsors. We were lucky and privileged. The place was fascinating, with many auctions of tuna taking place. Each auctioneer had his own style and some were very dramatic, others clownish and some business like. Through all this a lot of business was transacted. Pride of place was a tuna of 174 kg which sold for $18000. Top that! In between all the tuna, watch out for these special carts which dart around at formidable speeds. Its a difficult job avoiding these missiles and keeping safe. In all my 40 years of travel, I have come across few more fascinating human contact places than the Tsukiji fish auction. It was real, showed a culture and was warm at the same time. This alone, made the trip absolutely worthwhile.

Those who are gone

imageA friend wrote a Facebook status on the recent occasion of Eid ul Adha. She is outside Pakistan and in sending out greetings and a peace message, was lamenting the fact that we are celebrating Eid at varied times and that so many are in different places.

It was not supposed to be this way. At least not inside ones mind. As a career draws near an end and the work of ambition is completed and gone past, one looks back on life and sees ones accumulation. There is some material gain, some renown, huge learning, experiences and maybe some good deeds. But most of all are the collection of friends and family over decades. They come from early childhood and school, from college, then from work including various places in the world one has worked in. Most share one commonality, that they belong to Pakistan. However, so many of these friends and family are now settled elsewhere in the world.

One of my migrating friends, who left and went to Canada, once said to me that it is a sad time. He narrated that it’s like he sits in the car park of his house and watches his house burning. He is relieved that he is outside the house and therefore ‘safe’. But its Dutch comfort! Because it is his house and inside are many loved ones, who are entrapped in the burning. So he has really lost his essence and his preferred existence, but managed to be somewhat safe.

If you hear Rahat Fateh Ali’s ‘Tere Yaad’, it is a great depiction of what happens to us. Both inside and outside Pakistan. We have all grown up, when full families and friends would congregate and celebrate these occasions. They were warm occasions, happy and without fear. Worldly cares were put aside for these days and people bonded. We also shared each others lives and contributed towards being a community. Of course the world was not perfect at all and there were plenty of problems, but in being together one also felt a belonging and a sense of comfort. I personally would go to dozens of homes and while the stomach would have taken a major toll on one after three days, you still came out exhilarated and in one piece.

Today…Eid is spread over 3 days in different parts of the world – quite astonishing, defying science and logic and an advertisement of mans mental cussedness. We can pick up the phone and talk to friends and family, not being sure if it is Eid for them. People who one cares about are alone in different parts of the world. Some don’t even celebrate Eid anymore. They are comfortable and safe, but the essential need of all of us to be together and belong has been shattered. Also unfortunately, comfortable and safe is transient in this life and a moving goal post. It all passes, we are all headed towards the same end.

In Islamic thought, economic migration is not a plausible reason. Migrations are generally allowed for reasons of education and to spread Islamic doctrine. A third reason why it is allowed, is safety. So many of my Shia and Parsi friends sit outside for this reason alone. Many others have also felt the discomfort of insecurity, given up businesses and jobs, and gone off to foreign lands. Sadly, as many of us progress towards a period of life, when (more and more) one recalls old family and friends, it sounds like a travesty that so many of them sit away from each other.

So in these celebratory days, one can only pray that those who are gone, get an opportunity to come back to this land. Hopefully, to a land where there can be peace and security and enough means that most can live a comfortable and happy existence together. Ameen.

*picture is from dreamstime.com a free picture site

A Whiff of Air

imageMemories of a crabby individual, small grubby hands, dishevelled shirt and always ready to grab ones snacks. He was not very nice I think. All that in a rather stark environment; white school building, with some blue in it, and a ground with not a blade of grass on it.

I think it was hot, but then maybe it was not. As far back as memory can stretch to over 50 years, I know we played a lot and sweated; so it felt hot. Mind you, not that it mattered, as we had different engines inside and these could run the best part of 12 hours. The Tuck Shop – don’t know if it is still called that- was cheap and a paisa 50 coin was a king’s ransom. There were plenty of trees, but mostly neem and jungle jalaybee. Both seem to have gone out of fashion nowadays. One did not need to break the jungle jalaybee fruit either, as it fell down and could be picked up by us predators. Teachers and prefects were ‘sirs and miss’ and you had better obey them. Sigh!

These asides and digressions notwithstanding, getting to the main point. So here they were, part of memory, crabbiness and grubbiness all in one individual. But what to do, he was in the same class and also shared the same long double desk. As if this was not the outside of enough, he would accompany me at break-time and home-time. I don’t think I was forced to be friendly, but he was around and convenient and to be truthful, back then, I did not really think beyond the next hour or day, so really had no long term plans. Had I known i was setting the agenda for a school and life long relationship, I might have reconsidered.

As the years progressed, life became a bit more structured, and the simplistic thought processes stretched beyond hours to days, then weeks and even a full term. Still, he was around. The long desk had disappeared, we had desks in various places in the class, but old habits die hard and he was still around at breaks and home-time. That classed as strong friend. I remember him being bigger and beginning to develop a gross sense of humour. Very gross!

This then merged into teens, O levels, sports, A levels, personal ambitions, music and girls. Yes also not to forget, the cigarettes and cards. Of course now the net was far wider and many friends grouped together. But by now we were fast friends and shared together, compared notes, grew scruffy moustaches and side-burns and tried to look cool. Truth be told, in the world of that time without internet, we knew little and TV did not help. We were gauche individuals, who had a lot to learn and little refinement in us. Shudder!

So came school ending and finally we went our separate ways. One went to UK and the other to US. The last few months post A Levels were rumbustious. We were in anticipation of an adventure. Little did we know. The world turned out harder, tougher, and more real than anyone knew. It taught us lessons worth a lifetime.

Now, I am sitting across him. The hair is gone, weight some way heavier, prominent jowls, jaded look and health a huge question mark. The crabbiness is back, but even more so, there is a look of defeat. The intervening years have not been kind to my friend. He chose to live his life abroad and a good degree and a successful career seemed beckoning. Life intervened and decades of over indulgence later, this is now someone else. Is he even a friend anymore? Well there is shared history and nostalgia. But our thought processes are so different. Our belief’s are different and cares are different. There is just an eagerness to be curious about each other, maybe shades of some envy and a glut of sadness.

This life has passed by like a whiff of air, caressing as it went by. So we who started by sharing a desk and snacks everyday of our lives, spent a decade plus sharing all the days of school, we are now 12000 miles apart and probably a world and a lifetime apart. Sigh!

The picture is from dreamstime.com, a free picture site.

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