The Faqeer

imageI have not been back to my school building for close on to thirty years now. The building where I spent eleven of my formative years and where my name was so diligently chiseled into the wall of its bell tower. Not sure why I did that, but suffice to say I have not looked at that piece of art for decades now. So what seems meaningful at one moment in life, becomes pointless at another. However, those school years formed very strong memories, which I have regularly recalled most of my life.

This particular piece is not about any philosophy or reflection. It is about the recall of one such memory from my school days. That I have not thought about it for several decades, makes it unusual, as I remember much trivia quite regularly. Nevertheless, this particular memory is about an encounter which happened daily for almost a decade. And when I do describe it, there will be many of my school fellows who will recall this one.

In those days, the main gate of KGS senior school opened onto Depot Lines, which was one way at the time, going towards Empress Market and TramPatta Road (as it was called; Trams were used in Karachi till 1975). One would get in the car, go to the Empress Market, turn left, across and then turn left onto Mansfield Street. Past the Fire Station, which is still there today and onwards towards Bandar Road (MA Jinnah Rd today). I think Depot Lines and Mansfield St traffic flow has been turned around and flows in the opposite direction nowadays.

It was a route used by most who were going to PECHS. In those years DHA was just commencing and many of us resided in PECHS. So, as we proceeded down Mansfield Street, we had a flotilla of KGS cars with us, just after home-time. We would hit the Capri Square crossing with Bandar Road and after waiting for the traffic lights (strictly followed in those days) we would turn right and proceed down Bandar Road towards our PECHS destination.

This Capri traffic light, one always hoped would be red. For one sole reason! The cry of ‘Allah hi Allah’ was infectious and so part of my life. I would wait for it expectantly every time. There he was, the most important Faqeer in my life. He wore a patched colourful robe, with a few big deep pockets. The string of beads were many and hung around his neck and wrist. Partially balding white long hair, flowing white beard and eye brows. He was ageless. I saw him there in all those years. A ‘chimta’ would be in his hand and he would form a beat with it and keep chanting ‘Allah hi Allah’. We all knew the beat and tune and would chant ‘Allah hi Allah’ with him. Many times one of us would give him some money. He was so much a part of our lives.

Time moved on and 1976 arrived; I moved to Clifton and stopped taking that Capri Square route. I was driving myself by now and went down the Trampatta Road, quite in the opposite direction. I never saw my Faqeer again. Infact quite forgot about him. Such fickleness quite astounds me. My memory has played fast and loose and betrayed my more human self. Till today! Out of the deep reaches of my mind popped up the chant of ‘Allah hi Allah’, with chimta beating in the background and a white haired face swimming in my mind. Alas too late I suppose, as the Faqeer (my Faqeer) would have gone by now to a more permanent abode.

On such little moments are lives made. A Faqeer chanting his slogan, is associated with a Karachi which will never exist again. Of a life simpler, less demanding and more fun. Of days and friends and teachers and parents and faqeers who are all gone or changed. Its all a bit melancholy, but then why am I smiling at these memories? I hope my Faqeer is granted maghfirat and Jannah by Allah (swt). He was an inspirational part of our lives for a decade. Allah bless him.

*picture of a sufi, from oldindianphoto.in

Time to move on?

imageRarely, there come individuals who are sports stars par excellence, much loved, venerated. They cut across nationality, faith, colour and creed and are put on a pedestal and adored everywhere. In my lifetime I can think of maybe a dozen such revered sportsmen, who were kings in their domain. Muhammad Ali, Bolt, Jordan, Pele, Woods, Sobers and Federer are out of that ilk, belonging to different sports. When they are losing, the crowd suffers with them and lives every moment of their battles.

Just yesterday there was such a painful time, watching Roger Federer being pulled apart by Marin Cilic in the first two sets of the Wimbledon quarter finals. Cilic is a power player, but in his hey day Federer would have despatched him in his usual languid style. So we all suffered alongwith Federer, living in hope, that one last time he will achieve that pinnacle of a Grand Slam victory. And that is the topic of this blog. Do the likes of Federer overdo their stay?

One can quote so many examples of this decline of a super individual. I can remember a horrendous final at Wimbledon in 1974, when a bristling young Jimmy Conners just killed Ken Rosewall, an aging Wimbledon hero. In turn, McEnroe destroyed an aging Jimmy Conners in the 1984 final. Leaving aside tennis one also remembers a struggling Michael Schumacher in Formula One (on his comeback) and the decline of Tiger Woods in golf. I can also recall the sudden slowing down of pace of some express bowlers, as the years took their toll. Imran, Trueman, Thompson, Waqar, Holding were examples of natures destruction. Most poignantly, there is the example of Muhammad Ali declining in his late 30s in boxing.

It does not stop at sports. Humans carry the same tendency wherever they are in a position of power or fame. Rulers seem to stay beyond their time of effectiveness and popularity. CEOs drag their career, milking the last few years, while clearly their ability to manage has declined. Actors and singers stay decades beyond their prime. The creativity and passion (so important in the arts) gone after a peak, but these artistes use their goodwill and fame to hang on, delivering quality well below their best.

All the above examples are a very sorry sight. Witnessing previous masters become ordinary is embarrassing and depressing. It seems people are so addicted to power, fame and adulation, that they are ready to sacrifice their self respect to linger and hang-on as long as they are allowed to. Only it looks terrible and really cheapens these former leaders.

My own philosophy is that decline is natures way. People wane in capability and need to move on with grace. They need to make way for succeeding generations, so that the flower of humanity keeps regenerating. That is what institutionalisation is; it is this institutionalisation which will create sustainability. It is this natural regeneration which will provide humanity with new and better Bradmans, Bolts, Jahangirs, Federers and Schumachers. The leaders in various roles, need to stop this inane hanging on at any cost. It does not bode well for them, is not a good spectacle and reduces human capacity to grow.

In the end a relevant quote from the Quran seems appropriate to describe natures toll.

Surah Yasin
If We grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature . . . (Qur’an, 36:68)

That is literally we tend towards our childhood years and slowly lose our strength. Also in other places, the Quran mentions old age and the resultant weakness.

*picture is from Taringa.net

An Edifice built on Trust

imageRecently a senior CEO remarked to me about how out of control Engro Foods seemed in its early days and outsiders had no idea what was cooking. This was a general perception, outside of EFL, and was borne out of a lack of knowledge about the philosophy.

Hence, I write this piece.

Management is a fine balance between giving passion and initiative enough freedom and at the same time exercising some control, so that things do not go off the rail. It is a fine art and not a science. You have to know your team well and the game well also…that is a starting point. And it takes courage to stay hands off or on the opposite end, interfere to put things right. There is a time for either end and during the course of a project, you will end up doing both. But predominantly, you tilt towards staying hands off and allowing trust and ownership to inculcate.
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In the meantime managing is..

Ensuring flow of knowledge up and down the system
Ensuring flow of authority down the system
Ensuring flow of communication up and down the system
Ensuring flow of finances/resources down the system.

If you do the above properly, then the project should work successfully. When it does not, then it means that sincerity was missing somewhere in the system. Outside the above four dynamics, it is all humans who rule and drive the show. This is the biggest controller at the back. If your employees are driven and have ownership, then they will be sincere and work for the project goal. When all else is excluded and the project goal is owned, then team dynamics happen and when team dynamics happen, we just propel ourselves towards the goal.

It is absolutely fascinating, how fate almost conspires to cause success to happen, when teams work selflessly. I suspect that there is a lot of spirituality which is playing at the back. But unfortunately, there is no way to prove this, except to simply say “it happens”. I have seen this time and again during my own life and heard it from others. Think back simply to the World Cup 1992 and you will understand.

So, EFL was all about this. One created a home with a vision, and got a bunch of people to believe in it. Soon EFL mattered to them more than anything else. Hence they formed a very large family, and fought tooth and nail to achieve success. To enable them to achieve this success, they were given some freedom, and told that they were trusted. This edifice built on trust and ownership, ballooned into a massive company. Such a simple philosophy, but calling for a lot of belief.

* picture taken from dreamstime.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

Cuba, the Final Frontier

imageTo use Star Trek language, imagine Captain Kirk of the Enterprise relating his mission in 21st century Cuba. “This is the story of Cuba, the final frontier, where modern man has never been. Our mission is to enter it, hunt for archaic humans, modernise them and change the culture to modernity. Our goal is to make profits out of that modernity, by bringing consumerism.”

That is the sort of briefing which must have been given in the White House a few weeks ago, as Obama flew across to meet Raul Castro. The first US President to visit since almost ever.

The BBC was recently running a series of pictures from Cuba. It is fascinating. Garish coloured cars from the 1950s, probably shipped across from US, in the days when this was a US backyard. Old men sitting smiling, chewing on their cigar. Old women dancing and younger school children studying in schools, which could well be from early 20th century. This is a place which has no money, an infrastructure which is minimal and whatever is available, is abysmal. There is no consumerism, no malls, no retail giants. The television is archaic and the internet almost non-existent. So, it carries all the pain which poverty brings. But, they seem happy and their lives belong to them. The rat race has not descended on this last bastion of antiquity.

There is a blue print of just such a place. Pre 1975, Hunza, a region in Northern Pakistan, was remote from the world. Some millenia ago, roaming bands of Greek army (invading India) or maybe Albanians or Eurasians, wandered past the Hindu Kush range and entered the Hunza valley in the Karakorum Mountains. They settled there and were remotely administered from the world. When civilisation finally caught up with them in 1975, they found people over a hundred years of age working out in the fields. They were blessedly happy, totally ignorant, healthy (there were no recorded cases of cancer for instance) and lacked stress. They lived long and did not prosper in terms of commerce. Our assessment? Of course they needed to be helped and brought into modern life! It was our mission to do that. Today, they are not as happy, live shorter, catch all the modern diseases and while they have some of modern life’s trappings, are still not prosperous. They have lost a lot and gained little.

My fear is that this is what is going to happen to Cuba also. A place of poverty and happiness, is going to be converted into a modern commerce centre, where no one will be happy and once the worlds great MNCs have taken their share of profits out of it, will be in debt and not prosperous either. Sadly, the final frontier will be conquered, and much that is human will be gone forever. It has been so for successive civilisations, including the Red Indians, Mayans and tribes in Africa. Look what happened to them. Allah forfend!

As a footnote. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones visited Cuba to do a free concert in Havana. Chanel and Lagerfeld have held fashion shows, with Paris haute couture on display, along with the stick thin modern models. That is what I mean. They are bringing happiness to the Cubans and will go away with their souls. Cuba, the final frontier! Wish they would let them be as they are.

The Curse of Béla Guttmann

imageI write this not as a superstition, but as an intriguing series of events, which defies logic. Nevertheless, the element of bud-dua exists in our belief system. For the rest, Allah knows best.

As I watched the football match between Benfica and Bayern in the European Champions Cup Quarter-Final, my mind flashed back to when Eusebio was king of Europe and Benfica the best football team in the world. Picked out of Mozambique, based on a chance discussion in a barber shop in Lisbon (about a soccer wonder kid), this 20 year old had made Benfica European Champions in 1961 and then again in 1962. It was no mean achievement, as they had beaten Barcelona and then Real Madrid in those finals.

Béla Guttmann was the manager behind Benfica. Much traveled and besides playing for Hungary, had been in the USA, South America and various European clubs. His history besides being adventurous, was also one of hard nosed independence and eccentricity. He rarely lasted beyond two seasons and was attributed with the quote “The third season is fatal”. After World War II, Europe being short of food, he asked that his managerial compensation be in the shape of fresh vegetables, so that he could feed himself and his family. He also had renowned arguments, which meant he had to move on from his job. He was fired from AC Milan in the mid 50’s despite the Rossoneri leading the Italian Serie A. He also took on Ferenc Puskas, the Captain of the Mighty Magyars of the 50’s and got fired.

So here was a man at the peak of his career. Acknowledged as the main force behind Benfica, he had already mentored Eusebio to greatness (who eventually became Ballon d’Or) and was looking at his last years of management spent at the top of world football. He was however, in his third season at Benfica, and maybe he should have reflected on his own words.

Somethings never change. Guttmann’s history was one of them. Having beaten Real Madrid in the 1962 European Final and Eusebio ending runner up in the Ballon d’Or election, Guttmann approached Benfica for an increase in salary. In todays monied world this is such an obvious move; Benfica would have done well to increase Guttmann’s pay. They chose to refuse and Guttman being who he was, walked. Much regret from everyone, but it seemed not the end of the world. However, as Guttmann left Benfica, legend has it he cursed the club, declaring “Never in a hundred years, will Benfica ever be European champion”. This is what in our words, is called a bud-dua.

I am no one to judge the merits of this curse. But, 54 years on, as Benfica lose to Bayern Munich in another European Champions Quarter-final, they have lost all eight of their subsequent European finals, comprising five European Cup finals (1963, 1965, 1968, 1988, 1990) and three UEFA Cup/Europa League finals (1983, 2013 and 2014). An amazing series of events and a statistic which has intrigued many in football. This course of events is similar to the much spoken “curse of the Bambino” on the Boston Red Sox, which took almost 90 years to break.

Just to show that in Portugal they take this curse very seriously, before the 1990 European Cup final, which was played in Vienna, where Guttmann is buried, Eusébio (Guttmann’s former star player) prayed at Guttmann’s grave for the curse to be broken. As I finish writing, the score ends Bayern 3- Benfica 2. Another year gone.

* picture is from Sportskeeda.com

The evil behind Panama Papers

imageIf you feel low and sick, it is quite all right. You have every right to feel as sick as is possible for a human being. Behind, in the background one can hear the clinking of dollars and the shuffle of thousands of wads of money. If you close your eyes, there is even a slight smell of fresh dollars in the air.

Alas, all this fresh smell of dollars, is really evil being syphoned into off shore bank accounts. Filed away in quiet corners, hidden deep in computer records where the probing eyes cannot reach. At least that is what they thought, till one day by some miraculous leak, it has appeared on the internet. That this is millions of people hiding away their evil in closed files, is the most astonishing thing. This is not some poor person surviving at the bread line. Or middle class people hiding away their pathetic little savings, to bring out on a rainy day. These are people who own mansions, factories, shares, their wives flash 14 ct diamonds and wear flashy clothes at parties. They drive around in Mercedes AMG or come to world wide events in black coloured chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. They buy escorts at twenty thousand dollars a night and wear watches which are worth millions.

They have these things so that they are admired, but behind this facade they hide away filth, like you and I cannot imagine. How can we? We are ordinary people. We have worked hard, earned some bread, shared plenty with family and friends and we do not belong to a Global Elite. We are insignificant and are the 99 plus percent of this world. In this world of so called democracy, we are the ruled. We line up for hours for the privilege to vote for this Global Elite and then we are exploited till the next election. I wish there was some magical settling of earth, which gobbles them all up, so we could start anew.

As for our own bits of local elite. Our PM comes on air and complains about all the wrong done to him. Astonishing. He does not tell us how, so many of him and them, got into these Panama Papers. He just blames others. And the bad part is, you know he will get away with it again. He has been doing that for 35 years. So why not again?

I have just this to say to him and others like him. You are old and soon you will go where there is no coming back. Beware of the hurt of that child whose hand you have bitten. Beware of that mother who cannot feed her children properly in your domain. Beware of the father who has toiled all day to put a couple of pieces of bread on his table. Also beware of the ill who cannot pay for his cure and the old who is getting minuscule pension and struggles to survive. And beware of the collective hurt of your nation. They will never excuse you for these clinky dollars and fresh smelling wads of cash, and you shall pay a price stretching an eternity of pain. You will regret this yet. Our time will come beyond the grave.

*the picture is from inquistr.com

Cruyff the Magician

imageAlmost forty-two years ago, in my first minute of ever watching live football on television, a thin, lose limbed footballer, charged through the West German defence in the first moments of the World Cup Final 1974. Uli Hoeness brought him down at the edge of the penalty area. That Neeskens stepped forward to score the resultant penalty, is at the moment just by the way. The tragedy is that the lose limbed magician, who made the penalty is today gone from among us. History will remember Johan Cruyff as one of the greats of all time and within the period immediately after Pele, the greatest footballer of that era.

The Ajax team of the early seventies were to dominate football for a few years, much as Barcelona has in recent years. Out of them came the style of Total Football, where positions were freely exchanged, quick passing and movement bringing new facets to football. That game was transferred into the style of the Holland team which came to the World Cup 1974, with Rinus Michels as coach. It included at least six of Ajax members and names like Neeskens, Rensenbrink and Johnny Rep were household names. But above all came the name of Johan Cruyff, Ballon d’Or for three years, and in that period the greatest player in the world.

Facing them in the 1974 Final was a West German side, likewise represented mainly by Bayern Munich players. Bayern were the new rising power in football and were to dominate the European Cup for the next few years. The German style of play was structured, methodical and set traditional football in direct conflict with total football. On the day, despite the very early lead for Holland, the Germans came out victorious, by a sheer never say die attitude. The famous hitman Gerd Muller getting the winner. Sadly, while Holland were to go onto another World Cup Final loss to Argentina in 1978, Cruyff was never again to grace this world stage.

Nevertheless, Cruyff’s legacy carried forth through his transfer to Barcelona, who were to win a few titles with him in the mid 70’s. Later, his playing days over, the vision and wisdom came forth as the Manager/Coach of Ajax in the 80’s and Barcelona in the 90’s. Both clubs were to win several titles under him. His legacy is further seen in the same total football philosophy which is carried forward by both clubs and by several others even today. Total football has been absorbed into normal football.

Football today has the stamp of Cruyff’s game in every facet. He was also honoured with the iconic award of European Footballer of the 20th century, in 1999. Today is a sad day. Literally, the imagery (those first few moments of live football) which has driven my passion for football has been removed from this earth. It will now abide on Youtube and other such archives. Many of us will miss the magic of Cruyff.

Something Missing

imageAn early morning chat with an old colleague. He is now abroad and working in a big business, making steady money, saving a bit. His family has settled and while he has old parents in Karachi, they are happy for him also.

What I sensed between the lines was a restlessness; though to be truthful, he had not voiced any discontent. Having been down this road three times, I guess I am more qualified than most to talk about it. Thrice, I had left this land of my birth, with a lot of regret and sadness, but also with a sense of adventure. And over a large tract of years -a decade and a half- I had woken every morning with a sense of ‘something missing’.

So I wrote to this gentleman the following

“I have traveled this journey a few times and know that taking away ones home is a huge displacement in life. Some get over it, some never do. Despite doing this thrice, I always felt my destiny was written in Pakistan.”

His reply was

“You have exactly echoed my emotions, I wonder how you do this everytime with me. My wife and kids are happy, parents are also happy , I have cousins here but still I want to believe and pray that my destiny takes me back to Pakistan where my home is. Remember me in your prayers. Thanks”

In my experience, while the second generation do manage to settle in lands elsewhere, very few of the menfolk who emigrate, quite reconcile to the loss of a sense of belonging, the roots. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has described this very emotionally in his song “Tere Yaad”. It hits the nail on the head.

What is this “something missing” for most of us? And I hasten to add that there are people who emigrate and never look back. In my writing here, there is no sense of judgement, of any right or wrong. It is just the way it is. There are many people who will always be out of sorts when they emigrate.

This is home. Through my formative years it reached into my brains, subconscious and created imagery, which became a part of me. For me the flashes of cricket, bun kebab, Bundu Khan, Sandspit Beach, friends playing cards, the Eids and the Independence Day, none can be detached from me. It is just part of myself. To take it away is to wrench the heart out of a working body. That is the something missing. You can reconcile and say that was the former me, but I have moved on and now the week of Christmas Holidays is my thing. Or Independence Day July 4th is my day. But rarely, if at all, will it be your thing. It will not quite touch the depth in your heart which creates that sheer joy, reminding one of younger days. Just changing a booklet, from green to blue or red, cannot change decades of programming.

When this happened, I found that my existence while well ordered and physically stable, became mechanical. The heart was not in it. For me it became worse. As the days and years went by, instead of lessening it became more and one day I realised, I was suffering from home-sickness. So there was no answer, but reverse ones step. Think of it as my mental cussedness, that I tried it three times before finally reconciling to it not being good for me. In the end we live life, not to function but to sense it, feel it and live it. In those years abroad, I was not living it. ‘Something missing’ kept popping up in my brain. So, I finally reconciled and decided to stay here. Alhamdulillah! I just pray that this status-quo remains, as I traverse this stage of life, where eventually physical dependence will rule more than emotions.

*Picture is from Dreamstime a free picture site.

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