The Storyteller

imageThe other Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a Toffee TV enactment of storytelling at a local theater, where the audience was mainly children from the ages of five onwards. It was a great exhibition of storytelling, maintaining interest of the little ones, with great delivery, a bit of theater and lots of warmth. Simultaneously, there were messages during the story of love, caring, righteousness and community responsibility. The story of Kaala bhoot was a direct message to the kids, on the environmental hazards of the plastic bag.

This enactment started a train of thoughts, on the art of storytelling and how it is enmeshed in man’s history. I felt that man has now moved beyond stories and is living a life bereft of the charm of stories. However, when I browsed the internet I realized it’s much more complex than that.

The storyteller has been around since the dawn of man. Imagine it! Some deep dark place, without modern day lighting, the stars shine brightly and huddled together, are clans of hunters. They are raw predators with ingenuity as their weapon and essentially living a nomadic existence. When threatened they move on, as also occurs when the game has disappeared from the locality. Huddled together at night in this darkness around a small fire, standing in front of them is a long haired animated member of the clan. He is telling the story of their forefathers, who came after many years march from the barren mountains to these forests. The storytellers language is still basic, but he compensates for it with bodily action and gestures.

In whatever way man communicated, it was the forte of a few to pass on messages. Invariably these messages took the form of stories. Down the ages the stories continued. In some cases powerful story tellers influenced history. Blind Homer some 3200 years ago, carved out stories – maybe based on reality. These stories of Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey are the longest lasting stories of humanity. They were taken by subsequent generations, embellished with ornaments, eventually reduced to paper and then transported three millennium to us in present day literature form. Along the way, these stories affected Greek society and culture, became part of the fabric of living, and through the inventions and advancements which subsequently occurred, became a small part of ourselves today.

There are many other stories which have shaped us. Like ‘The Arabian Nights’, stories entwined in our eastern culture. Or stories based on reality, offering whispers of experience. The Quran used this means of passing on teaching. As did the Bible. The Quranic stories, parables as Allah calls them, have influenced a billion and half Muslims of the world. We have grown up with the events of Hazrat Ibrahim and his son Hazrat Ismail, the stories of Luqman, Khizr, Hazrat Musa and Zulqarnain, and the dramatic lessons from Hazrat Yousuf, a great tale of survival and triumph of righteousness. We have also heard the frightening ones, like Noah, Shoaib, Lot, Aad and Thamud, serving as great warnings of events beyond human capacity, which have shaped our thinking. Clearly, Allah knows his creation and has used the best way to disseminate messages and therefore leave a lasting impression. Hence, storytelling is inherent within us and is our best case scenario of learning.

So, then to the disappearing storyteller! He is not visible  anymore. In our childhood grandparents must have borne this role. We all have our individual stories. Mine are the exploits of Shaikh Chilli and I see now that it was not just fun and love, but also deep rooted corrective messages. On reflection, it came to me that the storyteller is still here in existence.

In today’s time the storyteller survives, only his form has changed. He is in the movies, best sellers, on TV and radio. He is a politician or an artist relating their thoughts. So the Humsafar drama which recently gripped so many – I confess I never watched it, just heard about it – is just another form of storytelling. There are stories on the internet also. Of necessity, the medium has changed, as our lives have changed. But the essential story from whoever is the same. A message delivered in a most powerful way, for one to disseminate and pass on through the generations.  Sometimes these storytellers are artists through paintings or animation and then there is the ever present politician or leader. He too winds stories, which then brings support, he leads and his performance too is a story, which is delivered in history books to later generations.

Just to show you that not much has changed, let me remind you of some powerful imagery just enacted in the last 30 years which depict the same scenes, as at the dawn of the humans. The same group huddled together across a fire and the storyteller telling his story. Hark back to the movie MacKenna’s Gold and the lit fire and blind Adam telling the story of the hidden valley of gold. Or the third of the Star Wars movies, in the Return of the Jedi, C-3PO holding his audience spellbound, as they huddled across a fire, while he related the evil story of the Emperor and Darth Vader.

No the fascinating storyteller is alive and well and continues his good work of changing society, while entertaining us simultaneously. Maybe in the bargain, scaring us at times also!


Atlantis 2030

Atlantis 2030

So when you were a kid, did one of your grandparents tell you the myth of Atlantis and Hazrat Jibreel? Maybe not! Perhaps it was different in the sixties and seventies, when Google had not invaded our lives and liberty could be taken with history and events. Those belonging to that era would most probably have heard this.

The way the myth goes is that Allah ordered Hazrat Jibreel to go to the earth, to a place near Yunaan (Greece) and find Atlantis. He was ordered to destroy the place. Hazrat Jibreel, a bit taken aback, asked as to why? The place is an abode of achievement and advancement. So Allah says go down and check out the place and you will come to your own conclusions (now that in itself is pushing the envelope a little far, as from my understanding farishtas have no independence of thought).

Nevertheless, Hazrat Jibreel lands in Atlantis. He finds a few children playing in a park and decides to question them. He asks them if they were aware of God. On getting an affirmative, he asks them where is God. The children after some discussions say, ‘well, God is all around us’.

Next question is if they are aware of Jibreel and the answer is yes!

‘So where is Jibreel’? The children discuss and calculate and answer, Jibreel is not in the heavens. Therefore he is on earth.

‘Then who is Jibreel’? Another round of calculations by the kids and they say, “well Jibreel is around here now. And since we are not Jibreel, therefore it must be you”.

Of course Hazrat Jibreel realizes where the society had reached and that Allah’s order is correct. Therefore he sinks Atlantis into the water, leaving a legend that has endured thousands of years.

If you go to U-tube to a lecture by Dr Michio Kaku, an eminent physicist, titled ‘World in 2030’, it would give you a bit of a shudder, perhaps because it may remind you of the story of Atlantis. The Professor speaks of impending change and life as it will be by 2030 or even earlier. The talk is based on events that have already happened, events under testing, experiments which have worked and not been put into the commercial field yet and lastly Moore’s law.

Moore’s law simply states that technology will half in price and double in capacity every 18 months. Apparently this is a proven edict over 50 years or so and scientists believe it to be absolutely true. So if technology is 100 in capacity and 100 in cost today, it will be 410,000 in capacity and less than 0.025 in cost by the year 2030.

That, ladies and gentlemen, should tell us where we are going and where we will have reached in 2030. Scary?! Yes definitely. Consider that we landed on the moon, with the help of a computer which had much less power than today’s normal laptop. So with the power in 2030 how much more can we do?

Today, we have Google’s computer which can work on the surface of a contact lens, on a mere thought. We have wallpapers, which are actually computers and they can be networked, so that a large city will maintain contacts through them. No requirement for phones, computers, laptops, emails etc; you just touch the wall paper anywhere and it is alive. You are in the system! They have also now got systems which can track your brain while you are sleeping – no wiring required. The dreams can then be read and pictures created out of that onto a screen. Nevada is now testing driverless cars out on its roads. Medical tech and genomes we have already heard of many times.

These are just some of the advancements already done and about to enter our lives fairly soon. But our capacity to expand this will be exponential.

So my question is this: the technological breakthrough will happen, but will the human brain evolve just as quickly, and the human society mature just as fast? History offers little comfort.

And so, are we facing the risk of another Atlantis by 2030? Maybe not the Hazrat Jibreel kind, but one created because of the awesome power and the lack of control from a slowly evolving human brain. Will we be strong enough to manage this, and evolve to match our progress? If a fire-sale or a system meltdown or a Skynet type scenario were to come calling, how would we humans cope?

Maybe it is time to dig a hole in the ground for oneself and put away a year’s provisions for safety sake.

Ranjish he sahee…


Ranjish he sahee…

The news first flashed across as a Facebook status on a friend’s page and immediately after that on internet news. Mehdi Hassan, the great singer, had passed away after a long period of illness. What descended was a mute sense of numbness which stayed on for the next many hours. It was as if a tiny little part of my heart and soul had departed from this world, along with him.

On a PIA flight to the UK, his death was announced and his melody played. “Ranjish hee sahee… aa phir say mujhay chor kay jaanay kay liye aa”.

Many broke down and cried.

My first memory of Mehdi Hassan was during the 1965 war, when as a very young kid, I remember listening to the milli naghma “khitt’aaey Lahore tere jan nisaroun ko salaam”. As a young kid, I don’t know if I quite grasped the realities of war, but I do remember hearing this song daily on those old box like radios (there was no TV in Karachi till 1967). In fact this was one of the first songs I remember, war or no war. The other memory is of Binaca Geet Mala, but not of a particular song.

And so, that song introduced me to the world of music proper and from there on, my interest in music has taken me on a trip, which has traversed into the depths of Pakistani movie music, then Indian film music, later Western rock music and simultaneously ghazals. Eventually my taste over the years finally stagnated and remained static after the late 80s, but that I believe is the way of things.

Coincidentally, as my music began to stagnate and fixed to that period, this giant of a man, Mehdi Hassan, was struck down by illness and slowly sidelined himself. At the same time new era music bands like Vital Signs and Junoon took over the mantle, and the music baton passed on to a new era and a new way of doing things.

Back to the age of Mehdi Hassan. He and others like him (Nur Jahan, Iqbal bano, Habib Wali Mohammad etc.) were all creating great songs. My memory is of several movies with Mehdi Hasan’s songs in them; of Muhammad Ali and Waheed Murad lip-singing that perfect voice; of black and white movies, low on technology, badly edited but marked by fantastic music that would make up for all and any shortfalls. It is the one pillar, along with our great actors, the golden triangle if you will, that kept the industry alive.

I look back and I see the triangle gone. As have several other icons like Nur Jahan, Ahmed Ruishdi, Masood Rana, Nasim Begum and Maala.

Back then, our world was so much smaller and closer, with no internet, little TV, and globalization kept at bay. Our reality revolved around the few but the real; movies, cricket, hockey, chaat, paan houses and familiar voices speaking and singing from all transistors and radios everywhere we went.

Woven into this world were the heroes and the singers. They carried a status which was much more intricately attached to our world. There were very few of these and they were local. These were the peacocks of the jungle, who performed in a world small, insular and simple, wearing kurta pyjamas and looking a lot like their doting followers. Even where we could not recognize a singer by face, we would by their voice, in a million other voices. These were the few movers and shakers of that age. And because they were few, they became much larger than life for us.

That world is a reminder of a Pakistan which was a happy, passionate and tolerant homeland of all faiths, sects and religions.

I remember seeing Mehdi Hassan on the TV in the 70’s and later at a couple of ghazal evenings. The memory of his artistry and skill is like an exquisite pain, because I know that the likes of him and that age will never return. It is like doors being shut on one’s past. The only option is to let a flow of tears relieve the mourning of the dearly departed, his art form and a life that is no more. We are bidding goodbye to an age which was radically different to the nano technology era.

My last meeting with Mehdi Hassan was at a Pepsi function in 2001 at the Indus TV studios. We knew the man had been very ill sometime before and therefore Pepsi, with its association to music, wanted to honour the man. I remember he arrived late, confined to a wheelchair. Seeing him was a great shock. I leaned forward and shook his hands, and I suspect my utter devastation was only too visible to him and others around me. A music giant of the highest order subjected to such helplessness. I could hardly contain my pain as I kept my hand on his shoulder, while the photographers flashed away.

Eleven years later today is the first time I have written of those terrible few moments. It was too painful to recall. It is too painful today. The memory of a man; the tragedy of a loss; the foundations of a life removed inch by inch from right under one’s feet.

Mehdi Hassan, may you rest in peace.

Cracked Pavements; Sun In The Window

Cracked Pavements; Hope In The Window

A dark empty road lit by yellow lamps, which cast a halo around themselves. Creepy shadows make the road look sinister, the cracked pavements adding to a touch of the surreal. The dullness affects the colours, which fade into neutrality, in the gloom. You cannot tell which is what. Quietness and such stillness, yet constantly with the backdrop of a distant traffic sound, from some neighboring highway. The buzz forever indicates a world where constant action is brewing.

Lonely lives lived in isolated houses, each a world in itself. There are those who live inside these castles, who have not touched their surroundings. They go about their business in the morning. The neighbors see them reverse their cars out and drive off to don’t-know-where. They work with their heads down all day and at the end return exhausted to their abode. Quietly in the shadow of the dark they creep into the house, parking their cars in designated areas, making sure there isn’t much noise. They look around apologetically when the garage door makes its squeaking sounds; almost as if the surrounding should not know that they are back from the living world.

Sometimes nosy neighbors wait for them to come in. But mostly there is indifference. Who really cares when and what their neighbour is about. They want them to be away from their own lives, so that no connections are formed.  That is vitally important, as connections mean emotions and that leads to obligations.

“Down the street the dogs are barkin’
And the day is a-gettin’ dark
As the night comes in a-fallin’
The dogs’ll lose their bark
An’ the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my minds
For I’m one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind.”

He does not really want an obligation. There are too many already. Does he not have to finish his presentation for his boss to review and then there is the steering committee to report to, on the progress of the project. What about the taxes. Forever forking out local taxes, sales taxes and federal taxes, it is the outside of enough. The wife has to worry about the boy. They are social misfits nowadays. Have you not seen how he avoids eating at the dinner table, but instead takes the plate upstairs to an isolated room? What goes on inside that world? The little lady is forever wondering and out of sync with it.

The noise is reverberating inside the teenagers head. He can hear the songs from last week’s concert and it creates psychedelic pictures in his mind. He has partaken of the food from the dinner table, but he is not really connected. Time soon to speak to his girlfriend. Pretty nothings to be poured down via the net. She will be waiting. Then he has to sneak out and meet his friends. Together, they plan to check out the nearest bar. He hopes they can get a drink there. Otherwise there is the local grocery store. They should be able to buy a six pack there. A night of chilling out with friends, but for him its living life at the edge.

Tonight as the son goes sneaking out he sees it and wonders what action to take. Can he fight the world? He has already isolated himself from it, but can he cut linkages so that his family is cocooned? What would his father have done in just such a time? But his father is gone and cannot tell him much. Did father feel the same isolation in his time? Had he been as difficult to please and handle. Perhaps so! Memory plays its games with time and events.  Anyway his father was from his home country and a different timezone.

The lights dimmed, he cannot sleep. There is so much happening in this world, for which he has no answers. He looks at the stationery form of his wife. It was not meant to be this way. A lifetime of struggle, culminating in a mortgaged house, middle level job and a progeny who he cannot feel connected to.

“From the crossroads of my doorstep
My eyes start to fade
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid
An’ I gaze back to the street
The sidewalk and the sign
And I’m one too many mornings
An’ a thousand miles behind.”

No there are no easy answers. Just to soldier on; live as best as one can. Live on hope. Yes hope! That has not faded away. Hope is the essential which keeps him going, when he wakes once more in the morning and finds the morning sun beaming into his room through the window.

Today could be the day when all goes right once more.

Inspired by the lyrics of Bob Dylan “One too many mornings” and a dark street in America

In the expiry of nations

In the expiry of nations

When Halagu ripped Baghdad into shreds in 1257, he was leaving a message of history, not unlike those left before. For a time thereafter, he kept the Abbasid Caliph in a cage and fed him his palaces gold crockery. When the Caliph protested, Halagu enquired what was the purpose of these plates? Had these assets been used to pay an army, then today I would be in the cage and you would be sitting outside. The caliph went to his eventual fate, pondering this question. Mankind too has never quite got to grips with this question.

By my count, 9 major nations ruled in the last 2500 years. The lifecycle of a nation starts with birth from humble beginnings, then a natural cohesion, later much larger than life aspirations (vision), success against the odds, leading to a period of glory and power, decline and then death. The events of final destruction are few and far between, occurring on average once every few hundred years. When it does happen it is cataclysmic, but it is decades or centuries in the making.

It is with this stage of decline, I am most concerned here. Rome born on the banks of the Tiber circa 500 BC, flowered and ruled via their wars and subjugation of enemies. But some 400 years before they were destroyed in 451 AD, Nero was already fiddling while Rome burned to its core. Caligula professionalized deviancy, while other Caesars and cohorts wallowed in the same mire for centuries. Only when the structure of Rome was moth eaten, did Attila destroy the empire totally.

During this 400 year period of decline, Rome still was the ultimate economic and military power in the world. The story is repeated over and over. In all the 9 cases, these nations have ruled on while huge fissures had formed inside. A social scientist evaluating these societies, would pick the tell tale signs of decay, but obviously no one listened. Despite Halagu’s lesson!

So Ottoman society was in decline in the 17th century, but expired in 1921. The Pashas court was a minefield of politics, conspiracy, deviancy and lots of other evils. Similarly in Victorian times, British morality and social norms declined, with the elite living off the fat created by previous generations. The nationalistic desire to fly the flag world over was consigned to the heap and more hedonistic motives led to self-indulgence. Again a social scientist in second half of 19th century would have said the nation is declining. But soft, they still survived two world wars almost a century later!

That is the crux of the matter, while societies decline great nations survive on economic and military strength way beyond, when their spirit has been broken. The house of cards can take long to collapse.

Now just look around and do you see something familiar happening in the last 50 years? On the North American continent is a nation born some 400 years ago, which has aspired and reached greatness and won wars and influence. When its Baby Boomer generation existed, it was a land of harmony and enjoyment, the nation was at one with itself – an envy for the rest of the world. Since then, in the last 5 plus decades, its society shows all the signs of deviancy that mankind can think of. It started with the breakdown of the family institution, leading to one parent families. Its people now focus on consumerism, just like the Abbasid Caliph in 1257 and they live for enjoyment. They do not create and manufacture things and have tolled these out to ‘inferior countries in Asia’. The country has indulged in economic wars, which it has not won, because its people do not want to take part in these wars.  Its people are forever fighting for their personal rights in court and it has become a country of litigators and litigants. It has very high rapes per capita and the most legal suits ratio. The people eulogize themselves, through items like Miss Universe and the Oscars. They have become a people lacking depth and wisdom and their media screens issues based on share of viewership rather than importance of topic.

For those who keep looking for Green Cards and American nationalities, I would suggest think again. You do not want your children and descendants growing up in a country which is on the skids. The end seems nigh.

Melinda and Coke

Melinda and Coke

Recently I heard a TED talk by Melinda Gates, of Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Melinda looked at the operations of Coca-Cola, which if replicated in the field of development, would drive change and realize the  Millennium Goal targets. This could eventually eradicate poverty from the world. A very laudable objective, even though she used Coke as an example, whereas I am partial to Pepsi due to my past affiliation with the company.

Melinda’s theme was that Coke’s standard operating procedures (SOP) be replicated at the implementation level, with focus on three key components: using systems that incorporate real time data, using entrepreneurial talent and spirit and last but not the least, marketing to address the happiness aspiration in the context of local culture.

Melinda Gates is an icon. One hopes both she and her equally iconic husband succeed in their mighty goal of eradicating poverty from the world. Along with Warren Buffet, they will hopefully be a great example of how to return what is earned to the needy.

So where is my beef in all this good work?

Over twenty eight years of working in several MNCs and iconic organizations, I have been taught that for something to be successful at any level, we take a certain logical course. It involves the following four elements, in various shapes and forms: Vision, the purpose and the goal; Concept & strategy, as they say, “the big picture”; Implementation, actual middle level management; and execution, doing it right at the work force level.

Vision is a no compromise situation. No vision will always result in failure. You might get a flash in the pan short term respite, but over the long run, a vision is needed to sustain success.

Concept and strategy would look at the playing field from outer space, deciding if the shape of the effort will fit the playing field. Strategy does not worry about potholes and patches, it concludes whether the fit is there at all. Once correctly fitted, you can make changes based on operational feedback, while remaining directionally grounded. Many large companies have failed at this stage. Wrong concept can lead to death, though often you can repair it through timely action.

Implementation is done by expert operating guys. They know the nuts and bolts and their resource capacity. They will form systems and implement through the mire of day to day management. There are thousands of these middle level managers in Coke and many other consumer companies. I myself was such a manager some 20 years ago. The magical mechanic! Things should never fail at this level. The error spread is small. Very rarely catastrophic stuff like Fukushima nuclear plant or Bhopal leakage can be attributed to implementation. Rare! The spread of error is repaired by a revision of system or by changing personnel.

Lastly, doing right! This is where the foot soldiers, the sales, production and system guys play their part. They labor un-ending! One needs to inspire them to do their back breaking work, which is largely a human resource function. They are very important, but a good organization must make them effective.

So where is Melinda pitching herself in her talk? Well, to my eye, she is slap in the middle of implementation and how it’s going to save the day. I am actually a bit taken aback. She is touching on areas, which are core to millions of managers much better suited for the role. Melinda’s strength would be providing a vision and maybe a concept. In my opinion, she should not be drifting out of that area, as that is where the developmental battle will be won and lost.

I would also advise against using Coke as an effective benchmark to her purpose. Those ‘implementing’ at Coke are successful, career driven, high earning and upwardly mobile young managers. In developmental sector, you will always get the Abdus Sattar Edhi or many others driven in their own right. I have a friend like that who works in strange regions of the world. But this level of motivation and inspiration does not just happen, if you look at the bell-curve.

Secondly, organizations like Coke are driven by the profit motive. That is nature’s way. This is where more philanthropically inclined organizations are fundamentally different. Surely the same principles of hard-nosed, no nonsense environment cannot be applied there.

My advice to Melinda would be to go back to the drawing board. Craft a way to motivate those driving developmental work, without a profit motive or a high profile career – get the concept right. That may not be easy, but hopefully with the clever people at her disposal, she may achieve it.

Tea, best drink of the day

tea-plantation1Happenstance, it is a relief that I was not around Glasgow in Scotland, earlier. Had I been, I may have punched some jaw and landed up for assault. That I was 6000 miles away from Glasgow, sitting in steaming humid Karachi, partaking of cups of tea, did not reduce my irritation. Because that very cup of tea (my last surviving vice) had been declared void and out of bounds. And no, I am not talking about some office economy drive to cut costs, by banning tea at the workplace. The lords of scientific research had declared tea as carcinogenic for the male species of the human race. All hell must have broken loose in Darjeeling and Sri Lanka!

My relationship with tea goes back to my earliest memories. I remember, sitting on what is called a moundha – a small stool – with a buaa and having tea in the kitchen. Distinctly remember it being out of a Pyala. Yes sir! A good old Pyala. And I insist on calling it that, as a bowl takes all the charm and nostalgia out of the occasion. How do you describe a Pyala? Well its deep, its big, made from china, very colorful on the outside and ugly as hell. What a self respecting 3 year old was doing, partaking of sweet tea in a hot kitchen, I have no idea. Suffice it to say I survived, and now these so called researchers from Glasgow say I was wrong and that I should not have?

Anyway the story of tea begins in British times and really earlier in China. But the influence on us came through the British. The first known reference to tea in Britain is by Samuel Pepys, in the 17th century.  Pepys must have been a popular author, because soon it was one of the biggest trades of the East India Company. Along the way sugar and milk were added to tea and nonsensical mythology prevails on how this happened. By 19th century the higher social echelons were so enamored that they named the afternoon light meal after the drink, courtesy the Duchess of Bedford. This society icons indulgence was eventually also incorporated into the game of cricket. So you had these Lords and Ladies partaking tea, while playing cricket on the village green. Utter bliss!

Quite incredible that tea is also credited with two wars. By 1773 American colonists were heartily sick of the beloved King and his taxes. As part of their rebellion, one night some enterprising men emptied lots of crates of tea into Boston Harbor, as a protest against these taxes. Sounds familiar! It became known as the Boston Tea Party and was the first step towards the American Revolution. Today the rather conservative mutant, the modern Tea Party derives its name, if not its philosophy, from these legends.

The second war is what led tea to India and so to my Pyala. The British importing tea from China would pay for it by exporting opium to the country. When this was declared illegal, it led to the Opium Wars. Eventually they introduced tea plantations into India as an alternative and so for over a century India became the highest seller of tea in the world. Thus was born the local usage of tea, with many rituals added to it today.

Returning to my own story of tea; I was a chai khor. No other word for it. A delight for corporates like Lipton and Brooke Bond. Nevertheless, when I landed up in the UK, it was fascinating that they drank even more tea, but yet found the need to campaign on TV. The advertisement tagline “Tea, Best Drink of the Day” meant even more cups consumed.

Returning to Pakistan, fate took me to another tea company Unilever, with Lipton tea in tow. “Chai chaheyay; kaun see janaab” was of course their famous advertisement. One learnt of how Lipton samplers would take a ‘gadha gari of chai‘ and go from Karachi to Peshawar making tea, village to village and creating the tea habit. Trust corporates to fan bad and expensive habits. So no wonder, my attachment to tea seems to be written in stone.

Then occurred the last fateful encounter with tea. Sonay par sohaga! When Engro Foods commenced its business, over time we learnt that segmentation of dairy usage had occurred. A high incidence of milk usage was in tea. Pakistanis love to breakfast on chai and paratha/roti. We launched Tarang and it became the leading dairy industry brand in Pakistan. “Chai ka sahi jor” is probably the most famous tagline used in Pakistan. Coupled with filmi images of Saima, Sana and Moammar Rana, we have ended up annoying a lot of conservative people, in the name of commercialism.

Now I sit and wonder whether to drink this beverage. All this history of association with tea and enjoyable cups – especially the post meal ones – and then to have the carpet suddenly pulled from under ones feet, by a couple of research nerds, who remain faceless, is the outside of enough. For me tea is an association with a past trundling through childhood, to England, endless cricket on Sunday afternoons and then a commercial career, which relied heavily on Tea being the Best drink of the day. Is nothing sacrosanct in this new world of ours? Next they will take away nihari and pa-aye.

Sadness under a Sunhat

Sadness under a Sunhat

I was sitting at the PepsiCo office in Zaman Park in Lahore, sometime in 2001, when a note was delivered that a gentleman wished to have a word with me. It seemed a rather unusual method of contact in the times of emails and mobile phones. I nevertheless asked for the visitor to be shown in.

The man who walked in was none other than my childhood hero- the revered cricketer, Majid Khan. Most would understand that on such occasions, a feeling of unreality descends. As the hour progressed, he sat and spoke. This would probably be the best description of the encounter, as it wasn’t quite ‘a conversation’. I was propelled through a kaleidoscope of memories which completed a picture of him in my mind.

Now all you non-cricketing type, please don’t run away. This is also  a human aspect story.

My memory of Majid floats back to my being 7 years old and hearing him and Hanif pull Pakistan out of a hole in a test match. Over the next 17 years, one witnessed Majid’s lot rise and then decline, but he would be rated amongst the best, whatever the criterion. Simply put, Majid Khan was a unique batsman, prior to the ‘Viv Richard’ era. He could defy the laws of cricket and construct shots which no book teaches. This was obviously a God gifted talent;  he achieved fame as a most unique batsman of high quality, who yet managed to look elegant without following many rules.

Unfortunately that is where the script deviates from the story of climbing dizzy heights. Coming from a background of education and culture, his panache on and off the field was visible. Added to it was his stint at Cambridge University. My memory is of him scoring thousands of runs as Combined University Captain. He was an Eastern prince, a throwback to the previous era of Ranjitsinhji. The charm and quality should have led to fulfillment for himself and his nation. Unfortunately that never quite happened.

In the early 70s Majid first struggled before he established himself in the team. Some said his temperament was a bit jittery. He then climbed to the role of Pakistan captain and one thought, well, here it comes. Unfortunately, a man of such obvious charisma never was able to lead others and he dropped back to being a player only. He then produced some classic performances over the next years, as if reveling in freedom from responsibility. But, while he won some test matches for us, he failed to lead us to decisive wins in the 2 World Cups and eventually faded from the team in the early 80s.

So what exactly happened here? With Majid there was always a melancholy air of aloofness, which try as one may, never went away. Here was a man who thought deep and maybe too hard. In the game of Lords, sometimes plain instinct should have been enough for such a one. He was in his favoured place already, this was his patch. Perhaps his aloofness set him apart from the lesser mortals and was detrimental to the team making culture. His younger cousin, Imran Khan, coming from similar background and personality type, was yet able to wield his assets to the betterment of the team.  Probably with less going for him, he achieved what Majid could not.

A later stint as Head of PCB in the 90s was largely futile. Post the match fixing scams, Majid and Pakistan crickets value systems were poles apart. He probably felt the whole scenario was too sordid to work with.

In the cabinet of Dennis Lillee lies a sunhat, which is soiled and yellowed with age. It was the most famous sunhat in the seventies. It belonged to one Majid Khan. Having worn it for years, Majid bet Lillee that he would not be able to knock this hat off in the 76 tour of Australia. Lillee failed, but managed to hit Majid on the head (no helmets at the time). In deference to this, Majid still gave the hat to Lillee as a gift at the end of the tour.

Sitting there listening to Majid, one heard his sad assessment of Pakistan, its cricket, its people and culture. ‘Men of straw’ he said of the people of the subcontinent, quoting another legendary figure from a bygone era. Perhaps his thoughts were going back to his days, when the setup never quite resolved the unease of his presence. Majid himself was from a previous era, which was already dated, by the time he arrived on the scene of international cricket. “Sadness under a sunhat” his captain in Glamorgan Tony Lewis called him, when talking of Majid. Perhaps he had hit the nail on its head.

There are people who are destined to walk a melancholy road, aloof and untouched. Yet the picture is magical enough for us mere mortals to view and ponder over. A glimpse of what things might have been. Sadness under a sunhat!


POCKET RED ROSESBack in 1974 our English teacher at Karachi Grammar School (let’s just call her Mrs X) gave us an essay to write. The choice of topics was fairly routine, but there was one which sort of struck a chord with me. The topic went by the outlandish name of ‘Pockets’.

On what impulse I chose this topic, I have no idea. Suffice to say, I must have done a good job on it, because it ended up getting the highest marks. Almost four decades later, the essay is still fresh in my mind, not because of the marks it secured, but because inked in red, besides the essay was the comment “I am extremely surprised!“. Clearly, I did not look capable of putting together such a piece.

Since then, I have made peace with Mrs X, ( and I hope she is reading this note), but do marvel at the perversity of human nature. After 21 years of education,  I only remember one piece of writing and that too because the teacher doubted my ability.

So I have recreated the essay below, to prove I was really the “real deal”. The language might have changed a bit in 40 years.

When the airport announcement came, I went up to the aircraft in a jiffy. The DC-10 was spacious and the seats comfortable. This was one of the few times I had been in an aircraft and I was most excited. The aircraft raced off and it was up and away. Not too difficult at all. Being a naturally greedy teenager, the food was the next treat. All looked hunky dory, until that huge lurch. It was as if the food inside would settle for the sick bag instead. Ugh! Then the announcement lady said that we had hit an air pocket and should put on our seat belts. The word ‘pocket’ sort of stuck in my mind.

An air pocket must be the worst form of pocket in this world. There are many and most are fairly innocuous; though some carry a significance far beyond their rather simple image.

Take the pocket knife. A companion for many a year, it is the means to many ends. I acquired it to satisfy my grandiose imagination, that one day I shall defend a damsel in distress with this piece of equipment. Alas, it has been most disappointing, in that I have never come across a damsel in distress. So, while heavily resorting to the imagination to satisfy my ego, I have used it for more mundane work, like cutting fruit, paring some wooden stuff, specifically the bottom of a bat, and also to open up screws by inserting the point of the pocket knife into the groove of the screw and twisting it.

Traditional pockets are cavities created in clothes, to allow one to deposit odds and ends. Mostly these are chewing gums, but sometimes even in my pauper state, I still manage to keep some money in them. Older people have wallets which they put in their back pockets. These wallets stick out and attract the class of beings called pick-pockets. These are talented individuals, with slippery fingers and few scruples. I would not go near them.

Of course you would have noticed that the last mentioned was a hyphenated pocket. These are very convenient. They pop up everywhere to make life easy. Patch-pockets is one such hyphen. Hyphens have been created by the intellectually lazy for ease of usage. They are a ‘short-cut’ to making things happen; not really the ‘done’ thing in English.

There are also hidden pockets. These could be inside clothes or brief cases. They are supposed to accommodate money and other precious things. I of course do not require such an exigency, as my pockets are to let. One other hidden pocket is the one inside a Kangaroo. It is nature’s safety deposit of the cub, which can then safely move along with the mother kangaroo.

Lastly, the pocket battleships. These were fast, armoured navy cruisers created by the Germans in WW11. There was a lot of fear and propaganda behind them. The Deutschland and Admiral Graf Spee were the most notorious of this class. The battle for the Graf Spee was famous for its bluff element. Having done some damage to the Graf Spee, the Ajax and Achilles (British ships) had chased the pocket battleship into Montevideo. Some deft radio work convinced the German commander, that an enemy flotilla awaited the Graf Spee outside Montevideo. Despairing, the commander sank the Graf Spee himself. Clearly he had developed pockets of madness inside his brain!

The above essay was of course written in pre-Google times. Today when I Google the word ‘pockets’, the references are not too different from those used in my essay. It is good to know that some things never change.

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