“A Hajj Story” by EIslam.co

imageSa’eed was sitting at the waiting area at the Jeddah airport after having just completed the rites of Hajj.

The man next to him said: “I work as a contractor and Allah Ta’ala has blessed me with performing my tenth Hajj.”

Sa’eed told him: ” Hajj mabroor, may Allah accept and forgive your sins.”

The man smiled and said: “Ameen.”

Then he asked : ” Have you performed Hajj before this time?”

Sa’eed was hesitating to tell him, and then he said:

“By Allah, it’s a long story and I don’t want to hurt your head with my talk.”

The man laughed and said: “Please tell me, as you see we have nothing to do, we’re just waiting.”

Sa’eed smiled and said: “Yes, waiting is the start of my story. I’ve been waiting for so many years so that I could go for Hajj. After working for thirty years as a physiotherapist in a private hospital, I was able to save enough money to go for Hajj.

The same day I went to get my savings, I came across a mother, whose paralyzed son I treat. I could see her face was worried and anxious.”

She said: “I leave him to Allah’s keeping, Brother Sa’eed this is our last visit to this hospital”.

I was surprised with her words and I thought she wasn’t happy with my treatment and our service and that she therefore considered moving her son to another hospital.

She told me: “No brother Sa’eed, Allah bears witness that you were to my son like a father, and you helped him in his treatment when we had lost hope.” Then she left very saddened.

The man next to him interrupted and said: “That’s strange, if she was pleased with your treatment and her son was improving then why did she leave?

Sa’eed answered: “That’s what I thought so too, so I went to the administration to find out what happened. They told me the boy’s father had lost his job and was unable to continue paying for his son’s treatment.”

The man next to him said: “There is no Might nor Power except with Allah, poor them, how did you deal with it?

Sa’eed said: “I went to the manager and pleaded with him to continue treating the boy on the hospital’s expense, but he sharply rejected and said, ‘this is a private institution, not a charity’. I left his office sad and broken for this family. Then suddenly, I placed my hands in my pocket which had my money all prepared for Hajj.

I stood in my place for a while, and then I raised my head above and spoke to my Rabb Allah: O Allah, You know how I feel and You know there is nothing more beloved to me than to go to Your House and do Hajj, and to visit Your Messenger’s (peace be upon him) Masjid. You know I have been working all my life for this moment, but I prefer this poor lady and her son over myself, so don’t deprive me of Your favors.

I went to the accounts desk and paid all I had for his treatment which covered the next six months. I begged the accountant to tell the lady that it’s from the hospital expense for special cases. He was affected by this and there were tears in his eyes and said, ‘baarak Allah feek and people like you’”

The man next to him then said: “If you donated all of your money, then how did you come for Hajj?

Sa’eed said: ” I went back to my home sad that day for having lost the opportunity of a lifetime for Hajj. But my heart was filled with happiness that I removed a distress from the lady and her son. I slept that night with a tear on my cheek. I had a dream and I was making tawaf (circumbulating)around the Ka’aba and people were saying salaam to me and they told me: ‘Hajj mabroor O Sa’eed, for you have performed Hajj in the heavens before you performed Hajj on earth’.

I immediately woke up and felt an indescribable happiness. I praised Allah Ta’ala for everything and was pleased with His decree. When I got up from my sleep, my phone rang and it was the hospital’s manager.

He told me the owner of the hospital wants to go to Hajj this year and he won’t go without his personal therapist. But his therapist’s wife is expecting and has reached her final days of pregnancy so he can’t leave her.

‘Would you do me favor, he asked politely. Would you accompany him for Hajj?’

I made sujood shukr (prostrated in gratitude to Allah Ta’ala). As you see, Allah Ta’ala granted me this gift to go to His House without having to pay anything. All praise to Allah, the owner of the hospital insisted on giving me something for his accompaniment.

I told him the story of the lady and her son, and he demanded the boy be treated at the hospital from his own personal expense and to place a donations box in the hospital for the treatment of needy patients. He also gave the boy’s father a job at one of his companies.

He even returned the money I had initially spent for the boy’s treatment.

Have you seen greater favours than the favours of my Rabb Allah?.. Subhan Allah.

The man next to him hugged him and told him: “By Allah, I have never felt this kind of embarrassment as I’m feeling now. I would perform Hajj one year after another thinking I was doing something great, and that my place with Allah would be elevated as a result of it. But now I understood that your Hajj is equivalent to a thousand of mine. I went to the house of Allah, but Allah invited you to His house. May Allah accept your Hajj!”

Editor’s Note: Sometimes Allah Ta’ala will give you exactly what you want after he tests your devotion and sincerity. Allah Ta’ala works in the most mysterious ways and we need to place our Trust in Him!

This article published by eislam.co  has NO COPYRIGHT whatsoever. You are free to forward or publish this article in its original form. However they would appreciate it if you could acknowledge the source. http://www.eislam.com

Storm clouds gather?

imageThroughout my conscious existence, the eventual dire fate of our world has hovered in the background. Ibn Katheer has described it best and in detail in his End of Times book. All faiths of the holy books, have also forecast dire circumstances and the resultant conflagration within an approaching time period. That they have forecast the heavy involvement of Syria in the events, is even more disconcerting. Till five years ago, one relied on the unlikelyhood of the imminent involvement of Syria as a show stopper. Not anymore! Syria is central to the world’s issues. The internet is rife with scholars warnings, that events are leading to disaster. Not that anyone is heeding them.

If you turn to logic rather than religious belief, it is still as alarming. The status quo suggests a terrible period ahead. Why mankind cannot cure its ills, is a subject of great study. We are seemingly on an auto pilot and heading towards a mountain. Listed below in no particular order, are some of the prevalent issues.

A) economic upheavals and another impending economic disaster.
B) social ills (ageing, population, migration, inequality, family breakdown).
C) military and security tensions which have come to the fore. (bombs galore)
D) consumer economics and its by-product “disastrous environmental damage”.
E) technology race, the cause of many social and economic ills.

All the above are well documented or broadcast over media channels world over. We get a daily doze in the news. It probably compounds the issues, as positions get entrenched. So Fox News broadcasts to ~30 % of the US population, who believe in them implicitly and each story is a further confirmation of that belief.

Nevertheless, we humans have lived in hope down the ages. We do not give up easily and surely our minds look at these circumstances and say ‘there must be a way out’…’there must be some hope’. I too am an eternal optimist.

To my mind this is really encapsulated in two differing routes.

I) the spiritual answer
II) the technology answer

They seem to be mutually exclusive, as the first does not rest well with the second; both are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The ones who believe in the spiritual side and Allah being the omnipotent one, think that we have to slow this cycle down. Bring a balance to existence. Stop exploiting humans and resources, consume less, be friendlier and rely on Allah to help us to repair this world. It means a peaceful existence, with much less to consume and a calmness returning to life, rather than the present frenetic, headlong madness and rush. The stock market would rule us no more. It means economic targets are not man’s goal and we shall revert to conditions where serenity is as important as the next square meal.

The technology side hopes to create more advanced technology, which will resolve our consumption issues and enable us to power the earth to sustenance, without causing long term damage, unlike in the last 300 years. Can this be achieved? Certainly, some technology suggests this. But, a bit worrying is the cognitive artificial intelligence which can design and build by itself. Personalities like Steven Hawking and Bill Gates have expressed trepidation, whether humanity is about to lose control to the computer and end up with a Skynet type scenario.

Trending suggests that technology will drive things on to whatever end rather than spirituality. That is the way the world is tilting.

Either silver lining, to the present circumstances of the world, is an essential. If one is intuitive enough, one can feel the stretch of humanity. Unfortunately, most cannot see this, as they go about their stressful tasks of daily existence; but just sit back and watch….it is visible! A world at the edge of the precipice, one can see storm clouds gather and there is horror on the horizon. Someone or some people will have to come forth and steady the ship. Soon!

* picture from wallpoper.com

The nexus of Leaders and Operators

imageLeaders understand that rigour is absolutely necessary for success. Rigour has been mankind’s way from time immemorial. Nevertheless, leaders realise rigour is not their own forte and so delegate it to others. Leaders are much better at looking at the big picture; this is their strength and they never allow this visionary aspect to be muddied. They simply cannot! Their vision makes them what they are. They look at the world from a satellite level and see pictures which are large and pivotal, but not seen by others. So the smaller, attritional (but very vital) daily irritants, are left to other capable hands. It allows leaders to remain cool, calm and driving towards their objective. However, this does not mean leaders do not work diligently. Their mind is always working single-mindedly towards a goal, taking a more multi-faceted scenic route.

Operators are the rigour people. They love operations and love to dive into them. A lot of the rigour is within them and they drive others in their teams to ensure that they also apply rigour. They are tickers of boxes. In their mind, they have this check list of things to be done. The best operators will forever be ticking off these boxes in the check list. Somewhere during the project or in the operation, because of these operators everything running in parallel (simultaneously) will come together seamlessly. Operators are the capable hands of the leaders. They are the ones who have been trusted with getting things done. Such are operators.

Leaders and operators are like chalk and cheese, they are that different, but they are also a team. A leader will always understand and value the need of a few operators in his team. However, generally speaking an operator (while he/she will admire the gifts of the leader!) will never quite understand the leaders method. To operators it will look as if the leader is a flash individual, doing things irrationally, but by some element of luck, things seem to successfully end up in the right place. This is very natural, as the operators world is much more detail oriented, and if they do not handle that detail, the whole operation will come crashing down. So when they see a leaders lack of detail, it is totally contrary to the operators orientation.

Most leaders do not get to their level, without having been operators at some stage themselves. So while not all operators will become leaders, but almost all leaders have been operators. This too is an essential. If a leader is totally ignorant of method, then the big picture will not suffice, as it is built on thin air and will end in disaster. However, once they have been through some processes, leaders can break the big picture down into smaller operations and control them through their able operational colleagues. But what is significant is that, some operators brains are capable of graduating into a big picture brain of a leader. I personally have seen this change taking place in managers, as they climb the seniority ladder and eventually settle into a more conceptual and strategic role. The trick is to learn to delegate to others and then consider the strategic view, rather than a detailed work level view. But, this is easier said than done. For many operators this is a “road never taken”.

Another element here is about teamwork. As an entity increases in size, the do all entrepreneur, slowly hands over operations to others. Over time this entrepreneur will simply remain the slightly distant leader of this organisation. Once this change has occurred, several operators will interact in the role of assistants to run the organisation. This is what teamwork is about. Different orientations coming together to push forward the work of an organisation, under the guiding hand of a leader. If this nexus does not happen, one finds that the organisation growth stunts, due to either lack of capability and capacity, or due to a lack of the big picture element. It is therefore absolutely essential, that teams are formed comprising leaders and operators, who then are able to carry the load of growth and deliver sustainability for the future.

A satellite view of the Human Resource Organisation

imageRecently, I was questioned about the role of Human Resources function, in a vibrant organisation. This blog relates a satellite view of a balanced human resource function.

The purpose of the HR function is to build an organisation, which delivers the Vision, through a culture based on a defined set of Values. The culture should be one desired by the system, including shareholders, BOD, management, employees and even related business parties.

The Values are chosen after consideration of the Vision, the preferences of the system, and applicability to ethics, morality and environment of the resident society.

HRs purpose is not to create the Vision, but to ensure the capability and culture which delivers it. Once the Values are set, the broad HR roles are:-

A) Recruitment of employees who fit within this Value system. If we ignore ‘the right fit’ and hire willy nilly, we will never deliver the desired culture nor the Vision. Open the gate only to suitable people. So, there has to be a defined profile to hire, which is strictly adhered to.

B) HR ensures employees are dealt with even-handedly. Compensation & Benefits should never be a reason, for an employees failure. This means compensation benchmarking to comparator companies and an agreement on a percentile versus the market. So, if we target mid quadrant, then the company will sit around 50 percentile of compensation levels. If it is the top quadrant, it will be 75 percentile. At 100 percentile, it would be the top payer in the comparator basket.

C) While ensuring day to day functionality through C&B, the strategic work of HR is in Talent & Organisational Development.

Annual evaluation
Developing talent
Developing the organisation
Employer branding

Annual Evaluation

If merit is the culture, then evaluation of employees performance becomes the crux. A fair, well orchestrated and deep rooted evaluation (at least on an annual basis) is an essential. A development plan for each employee will be a subset of this evaluation. Compensation, promotions and career building are the end result of this evaluation. The company Vision, Values and culture will sustain or fail on the back of this process.

Developing talent

The talent recruited is modelled to suit the company culture . HR builds their capacity to ensure delivery of employee potential. This includes initial orientation, creating a development plan (based on annual and a 360 degree evaluation); later, executing that development plan. Development could be on the job, through in-house training, counselling (mentoring) or outside training. Sometimes a short term work assignment could be another method of development.

High potential (HiPo) employees are a special breed and this career development route is popular. Employees assessed with high potential are developed on a fast track. They are visibly treated better. It does not go against the culture of merit, since HiPo are evaluated through a transparent system. Nevertheless, the jury is out on this HiPo system and time will tell if it is successful.

Developing the organisation

Organisational development is built around the tool of engagement. An evaluation tool could be an engagement index or an organisational health report. We gauge the health of the organisation, based on the criterion of values and culture implemented. Structures, level changes, shape of organisation and employee engagement activities are based on these reports. Through these actions the company develops its organisation to achieve its Vision.

Engagement activites are many fold. Sports events; birthday bashes; lunch talks; magazines; employees interactivity; town hall talks; homogenous privileges; management walking corridors for better engagement; an open door/communications policy.

In the end, both company and employee should benefit from this development. It is value addition to the organisation and the individual. Even if the individual moves on to another organisation, it adds value to society.

Employer branding

This is taking a leaf out of our brand knowledge in Marketing. Through HR strategy, positioning, its imagery and execution, we create a visible icon, which then represents the employers brand. It is recognised internally and also externally in industry, public and universities. It becomes the main driver of the encapsulation of our HR culture, strategy and the execution centres around this employer brand. Just as we create brands for consumers, so we create a brand for our people and the world of employment.

D) HR plays business partner for CEO. They are the culture and people pulse for the organisation. HR should be the first to feel any vibration, inform the organisation and take action accordingly. Therefore, be a shadow behind the CEO, stepping into the brain whenever required or appropriate.

E) HR being the owner of culture is also the owner of policies, history, and the purveyor of the company story. It establishes an appreciation and awards culture; institutionalises the history; and celebrates its heroes. Once you achieve this institutionalisation, a company would very rarely disappear. There is just too much foundation for that to happen.

F) Technology and its role is already like an extra skin of HR. A reasonable size organisation just has to use technology for efficiency and ensuring data capture. But it should not de-humanise the face of HR. In the coming decades, with huge digitalisation, cognitive artificial intelligence and 3D printers (robotics), I expect this to be the greatest challenge which HR will face. Maybe the greatest challenge which the human race will face.

* thanking Kanwer Anwer Saeed for his critique
** picture is from Dreamstime.com

Tabuk, the Litmus Test

imageThe Surah Tawbah starts without Bismillah. And no wonder. Its a part of the Quran, which talks about hypocrisy. The unusual harshness which Allah (swt) displays within the Surah, shows the importance of the subject. Surah Tawbah partially revolves around the Tabuk incident.

The Tabuk expedition, was a march from Medina to Tabuk in 9 AH, against Roman Armies – in the peak of the summer- which led to their dispersal without any battle. It helped consolidate most of Northern Arabia within Islamic rule, thus creating unity which (the year after) led to the freeing of Mecca, and culminating at Yarmuk (some years later) in a decisive opening of the world to Muslims, via the defeat of Heraclius. Hence, it is one of the most important events in Muslim history. Some have called Tabuk a non-event, because no battle took place. The reality is that this is where the wheat separated from the chaff. Tabuk, was the Litmus Test for the people in Medina.

In focussing on the march to Tabuk, the Surah brings out the problem which had bedevilled the Muslims for long. The hypocrites pulled out all the stops to cause dissension pre the march, even to the extent of using a mosque outside Medina, as a meeting centre, to execute their plans. They caused issues and doubts, but due to the high profile participation of all the big figures of Islam, the Prophet (saw) marched with thirty thousand in the peak of the burning summer. Only three Muslims did not participate and even these three felt great guilt and were eventually pardoned by Allah (swt). However, due to the difficulties and the danger of possible battle, the hypocrites opted out and this led to a decisive parting of the ways. The reality had come out of hiding. The hypocrites would hereafter, either be sidelined or become responsible members of Muslim society. This seminal moment has affected us down these fourteen centuries. That all this was accomplished without any battle or lives lost, is an absolute wonder.

The lessons learnt from Surah Tawbah were simple and apply even today.

– you cannot have an ordered society, till people take responsibility.
– sacrifice is required from the good to fulfil this responsibility.
– there is no tolerating evil, otherwise it overwhelms you.
– hypocrisy is the biggest danger to societies.

If you read Ayat 75-77 of Surah Tawbah, it is a reflection of what has happened to us in Pakistan.

75) And among them are those who made a covenant with Allah [saying], “If He should give us from His bounty, we will surely spend in charity, and we will surely be among the righteous.”
76) But when He gave them from His bounty, they were stingy with it and turned away while they refused.
77) So He penalized them with hypocrisy in their hearts until the Day they will meet Him – because they failed Allah in what they promised Him and because they [habitually] used to lie.

We made this country for greater things, based on an aspiration and a promise of goodness. However, somewhere along the way, in the 1950s and 60s we lost our way. Its a collective derailment; we all are responsible. The punishment for that breaking of a promise has been a full doze of hypocrisy and its repercussions. Hypocrisy is taken here in the religious sense; to lie, break promises, betray a trust and argue unjustly.

May we learn from the events of Tabuk and be guided on a rightful path.

The above write up, while based on Surah Tawbah, has used the interpretations applied by Maulanas Maudoodi and Israr.

A Driving Test

imageAs part of an elaborate procedure of hiring, corporates test a candidates personality. This is a dive into the inner being, to see hidden personality traits, create a picture and then try to match this personality with the corporates profile. There is a wish, that within this uncertain and complex procedure, some success is achieved in getting the right personality match.

Over the years I have seen this develop into a very complicated exercise, with hours of online questioning. Myself and the Engro Foods Management Committee (MC) went through just such testing sometime ago, to ensure that the next MC member can be tested for fit and thus make it a successful entry.

Over the years, most managers are still left with a nagging feeling. Where are these tests coming from? Who is designing them? How do we know they reach the correct conclusions? These have been designed for other cultures, do they really fit here? Many times it is simply a case of conflict. Reason and intuition is saying something and the tests are saying different things. Who to believe? Personally, my best results have come based on intuition and some judgement, rather than depending on physchometrics. So the jury is still out, on whether this works and the preferred route. Maybe, it should be a combination, but which is the dominant influence on a hiring decision? Psychometrics or a judgement call.

Now this might sound wacky, but bear with me. I have reached a conclusion, that as part of a hiring procedure, candidates who can drive, should be taken on the road and asked to drive for a time period. A Driving Test! Often, I have found, real personality traits are revealed under driving stress. Sometimes, one is really surprised. A mild mannered individual can turn out to be an aggressive, in the face, rude and abusive driver.

So following on from the above train of thought, I have carried this a bit further. While observing people drive, certain traits are revealed. These I have listed below, to show the appropriateness of my recommendation.

A mild mannered driver, under stress, will tend to be a calm manager, little impulse action and much serenity.

A decisive driver will apply similar decisions in a managerial role and will not dither and lose confidence. The reverse will be true for an indecisive driver.

An aggressive and pushy driver, will most likely take the same attitude into his job and also treat others in the same way at work.

Those drivers who follow all the driving rules, will tend to manage by the book and be strong in process and less so in human connect.

A risky driver can tend to risk himself and others in his surrounding. They might well apply similar behaviour at work and can tend towards taking risks which may or may not be appropriate. Similarly, a person who is a safety first and risk-less driver might be a very careful manager, who then will only take safe decisions.

The above is not a catch all list and there must be many other individual facets which could be monitored. These are better looked at by HR experts for appropriateness.

The above might sound way out of the box, but it is my feeling that if proper research and work is done on the above thought, we should be able to go a long way in revealing the personality profile of a candidate and then doing related work to match these traits to our organisational fit.

Something for HR experts and CEOs to chew on, for improvement in the hiring process.

Stephen Hawking on our “imminent danger”

imageIn his last interview, Marlon Brando (one of the most venerated people of the 20th century) of full age and wisdom, sat in his mansion on the hill, looking down on Los Angeles. The interviewer asked one final question, “Do you think mankind will make it?”. Brando looked sad, but almost relieved that his day was over. “No!” Brando answered.

Taking this cue, at the end of an astonishing career, when Professor Stephen Hawking says mankind is threatened, then the world takes notice. And its not to say, it has not been said before by others. The holy books and holy men have been saying it for many thousands of years. Maybe we have become desensitised to their words. Logic and science in the present day, are our foundation stone. Todays populace has been brought up on that diet and so it reaches deeper, I guess.

What does Hawking say?

Three specifics threats and one more general statement. Also, in an earlier talk, he classified one more specific threat.

Mankind is in danger and he would expect some catastrophic event to occur over the ages. An extinction level event has regularly happened every 100 million years or so in the world. This makes sense, as it is really a question of probability and statistical chance. The last time it occurred, the dinosaurs were wiped out. A catastrophic event is about due on Earth.

So where are the possible dangers coming from.

A) nuclear or similar world wide conflagration.
B) environmental damage.
C) genetically engineered viruses.
D) cognitive architecture artificial intelligence.*

*The D point was stated by Hawking in an earlier discussion – the development of artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race”-, while the points A to C are in the Reith Lectures which Hawking made recently for the BBC. The above four points are not a catch-all and future developments might well see more threats appear in this world of ours.

It is very ironic that all these four dangerous points are self created by humans. When science and technology advances, it seems always to be a double edged sword. Used within reason and balance, it is a great benefit to mankind. However, over use or emphasis and it tends to get out of hand, as we reach out for more than our due. This has ever been humanity’s story. We have allowed our greed, ambition and larger unawareness to create threats, which should not have been there at all. Professor Hawking remarked that technological advances, were taking humanity into one of the most dangerous time periods ever.

So how are we to revert this danger of an existential threat to our future generations? Hawking thought the best chance of survival would be to colonise space. That is reverting to our past and core human behaviour. Whenever, what we have in hand is not enough, then we venture out and grab from others. Even the most celebrated mind today, cannot escape our programmed characteristics. Unfortunately, the truth is that at the moment we are at the edge of the science of space travel and surviving out there. This outlet could be hundreds of years away perhaps. So in this time we stand in great existential danger.

Hawking describes himself an optimist, despite the perceived future dangers. Considering his tilt of mind and his great mental capacity, we are well advised to take this danger seriously.

Reality check: Pakistan not a milk ‘king’

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imageKARACHI: To be honest, the milk crisis that recently gripped Karachi came as news to me. The media was quick to highlight the issue as news, but I realised that it is actually a question of perception.

Dairy sector professionals have been used to the situation for years. If anything, it is a chronic issue for people associated with the sector, but not a crisis.

Back in 2005 when the feasibility of Engro Foods was completed, it was based on researched figures. A basic input was the census of livestock and related milk production numbers.

In a country where we cannot count our population – the last census occurred in 1998 – it is quite strange that we have regular census numbers on our livestock. The government churns out these numbers annually and has projected Pakistan as one of the premier milk producers. Unfortunately, these numbers are flawed and the volumes could be dramatically lower.

I encountered this fact one fateful afternoon in February 2006. Imagine the shock when our own census, after much effort, suggested much lower milk numbers. One could immediately see that the battle to become a big dairy player was going to be much more expensive and difficult to achieve. The whole plan was re-calibrated and we went on a strategy to develop dairy, through corporatised farming. The idea was to quickly enhance milk production, akin to what China has tried to do in these intervening years.

Over the next 18 months, we spent a lot of time with other large players trying to resolve this issue. Considering the difficulty in doing a livestock census of a very fragmented population – of animals who looked alike and had no identity – we turned the method on its head.

It was easier to identify milk volumes being traded in the market. Tracking all the local Baras and milk-sheds helped get a fairly accurate volume of traded milk in Pakistan. By now, these milk numbers were familiar and had lost the capacity to shock us.

We then used our knowledge and experience to add two large amounts to the traded milk volume. These were volumes consumed in-house by the milk production areas and wasted due to spoilage. Due to lack of electricity, one will be surprised at the high numbers wasted. So the Milk Tree was born in 2007 and has since been used extensively by the dairy industry. Unfortunately, all the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan continue to ignore this in their statistics.

The upshot of all this is that real per-capita milk availability and consumption are both significantly lower than discussed. Hence, my personal drive for ten years is to encourage people to go into large scale dairy farming. The demand volumes are such that I cannot see the bottom of the well here.

Pakistan may have a shortage of over 4 billion litres per annum in 2015 alone. This calculation is based on the human population numbers multiplied by a reasonable per capita consumption, versus actual supply of milk.

Shortage made worse

The above shortage is made more acute because of an inverse demand supply curve.

In the months when the supply of milk is high – February to April – milk demand is at its lowest.

This is because the changing weather causes respiratory issues and immediately dairy usage comes down. People associate lung congestion with milk usage in Pakistan.

Between May and September, supply of milk is at its lowest and dairy demand at its peak. Think Lassi and Doodh soda during hot summer months. This causes endless variation in prices in Pakistan, with a peak in July. Eid now falls during this time further accentuates pressure on the prices.

So the only answer is to steady the supply through a change in the cow lactation cycles and to increase production volumes.

Large scale farming is the only viable solution. In the short term imports of milk powder may assist, but will not solve the issue.

The government should encourage the formation of farms. But to make farming work, we also need dairy technical knowledge and a viable route to the market. Dairy farmers in Pakistan need to get together and create such a value chain.

I am not speaking of forming a cartel, but rather a method where chilled warehouses, trucks and market tools are available, so that milk can be preserved and supplied to the market for consumers.

The issue of milk shortages will get worse as the human population increases. There are already some reports of malnutrition among the young in Pakistan. This will deteriorate further and in time become a chronic issue. Milk is an easy way to solve these pains. The farmers and the government should start looking at this now, rather than convincing themselves that we are milk kings. Being an ostrich is not going to help anyone.

The writer is the former CEO of Engro Foods

Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2015.

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A Photographer Laments

imageThere are many people who are warm humans. They feel, have passions and they live to try and change the world. Out of such individuals, there are a few who have been given special skills by Allah (swt) to fulfil their calling. And then right at the end of this spectrum of humanity, out of these gifted individuals, come those who are very successful in exploiting these special skills. By the nature of elimination, these last individuals are very few and far between. When you come across them you know. They not only have greatness, but they touch you without even trying and you know that these are kings and high nobles, who rarely walk this earth.

I watched a fascinating interview by Steven Sackur, in HardTalk, with Don McCullin, the legendary photographer. Here is someone who has lived life on the edge. Touching eighty, Don, has been on photographic assignments since 1959. A vast majority of his work has been in the heartland of tragedy.

Don was in Aleppo in Syria fairly recently and is now planning one last visit to Iraq. In reality he retired several years ago from these wars and crises photographic assignments. But, from what I could gather, he is addicted to this passion and keeps going back, though clearly his body cannot be backing him at this age.

As Don accounted, he has survived over a thousand dead colleagues who were on similar assignments in these fifty plus years. They all risked their lives, sacrificed on the alter of their passion and were driven to bring reality to the world. Terrible deeds go on in the name of humanity and these people, who are right in the middle of war zones, risk their own lives to bring reports to us. Don himself once escaped death, when his Nikon camera stopped a bullet. Sometimes you are born lucky.

So why did Don do what he did? He was dyslexic, a school leaver after his fathers early death and then never qualified as a photographer for the RAF. On the card was a clerical existence, in various newspapers in London. But fate was not going to allow a latent skill to go to waste. It intervened. Dons photograph of a London gang in 1959, made it big and suddenly he realised that there was a place where he could make a career. He then did a personal assignment, photographing the events around the making of the Berlin Wall in 1961. This was in the heart of the Cold War and the happening event. From thereon, Dons walk through and into History was an inevitable event.

Notwithstanding the strength, a great will to make a difference and a very brave heart, it is Dons conclusions which I want to record here. This man has hoped as few must have. He kept going back into tragedy willingly all his life. Few of us would even have the will to go back for a second assignment. He once saw men runover by a tank in Vietnam, when he said they were like a Persian carpet on the floor, when the tank had done its work. He once picked a lame old lady in a fire-zone and saved her, at personal risk. This photographer hoped and felt.

Dons lament after watching the recent refugee crisis in Europe was, that nothing had changed. Humans are still as bad as they were fifty years ago. All this talk of wars to make things better is hogwash. Today even the Cold War might be back at the forefront, with Russia facing off against Nato in Syria. Just like he saw when he started photography in the late 50’s.

When Don McCullin spent a week in Aleppo, he said “I wanted a last look at what was going on, to make sure it was not a dream. It was exactly like Beirut, streets full of Kalashnikovs. Little had changed.” The propensity to suffer had not diminished. “I felt an enormous sense of sadness and disappointment. NATO, the EU, democracy how little it has achieved. Russia creating a new Cold War. Whats there to be joyful about? Nothing.”

A photographer laments, when he has seen his life’s work wasted. His last few thoughts, “I am so ashamed, watching this human race”.

Reference: Steven Sackur HardTalk interview and Alastair Sooke interview. Biography from various internet sites. Photograph from slideshare.net

The Omelette Maker

imageStranger things I have known. Some skills one is born with and it surfaces in strange places. Others one acquires along the way. In this case, Sharif of Rahim Yar Khan, spending his years in Madina, seems to be a born omelette maker.

Now, I should not really be writing in the middle of my Hajj trip, but I just could not resist it. My Hajj proper begins later, when I go down to Makkah for Umra; therefore this seems a reasonable opportunity. For those who can afford it and have not yet done their Hajj, I strongly recommend it. It will plant your feet on the ground and give you a reality check. We realise quickly how we are insignificant as individuals.

Just for Madina (Prophet [saw] place of burial), I shall note for the record. What a place! Nationalities galore, noisy, caring, alive all day. People live together under Allah’s banner and seem to have one purpose, to worship him. Wish it could be like that all the time.

Madina Al-Shaza, is a hotel very near gate 22 of the Prophet (saw) mosque ( one of the busiest gates). Easy to stay in and the food is good. Though one is not thinking about food these days. Its a popular spot and during Hajj days occupancy is full. Breakfast time is very crowded, as the full force of the pilgrims descend on the restaurant. They manage, but require speed and clever logistics.

I state this next sentence to clarify the unusual rather than to boast. In thirty two years of working and traveling, I must have stayed in over a hundred five star hotels, in different places in the world. Never have I seen the omelette process working the way this man Sharif handles it. Its absolutely brilliant. At any one time he is able to accommodate eight omelettes. Which, from experience of watching, is 3 or 4 multiples of what others can do. On both sides of the frying board, he would sprinkle, the common additives. These would be onion, tomato and capsicum. Then he would ask the people queuing for individual preferences. These could be olives, mushrooms, cheese etcetera. He would address these preferences and then a quick splash of oil and we are on our way. A minute of frying and he would pour the omelette mix on top of the additives and condiments. Sharif wields his two spatula, like two swords and shapes the omelettes all the time. He chops and folds the omelettes and cooks them just so right. In the end, the last request is salt and pepper, which he shall sprinkle on the cooked omelette according to individual preferences.

Sharif has obviously got a razor sharp memory, as he is able to accommodate each guest according to their requirement, simultaneously without errors. I confess, I have never seen such an innovative and efficient omelette process. Plus, in the middle of the frying board Sharif will continue to fry individual eggs according to requests. All this mixed with a soft smile and a pleasant demeanour. You cannot ask for more. Very enthused to meet Sharif, the omelette maker, in the bosom of the city of the Prophet (saw).

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