Keep Provisions at Home

imageAs someone who started a logistics service provider in the 90’s and then sat on top of EFL, which had a remarkably huge supply chain, I should not have been surprised. But living real life reality in a silo, separated from my work silo, I was very surprised.

That Friday evening Benazir had been shot dead. We read the situation well, and immediately closed the offices and sent people home. Evenso, some fifteen of them could not make it and spent the night at the office. But the real surprise came 36 hours later. Sunday morning, I ventured out from my Shujaat home. A natural curiosity to see what was happening in the world outside. Partially also, it was a search and acquire mission, coming out of self preservation. We had enough provisions in the house, to last us a couple more days. But the fear that the troubles may last longer drove me outside.

It was a busy world. Right from the Clifton markets to the Badar Commercial market, the shelves of shops were empty. Like locusts had visited and devoured everything. At Ideal Bakery on 26th Street, I faced the irony of it. As I was turned away from the till, after an apology of “sorry, no bread” , the man behind me smiled and repeated Marie Antoinette’s words “if you go to X, there are some cakes available”.

I learned a lesson that day, some nine years ago. Never allow staple food provisions to decline below two weeks stock. In a survivalist world, it will save some lives. Big cities are not natural. Big cities are also ravenous. They gobble provisions quickly. They gobble provisions which are being freighted inwards from hundreds of miles away. In times of crisis, they gobble them at breakneck speed. This is what happened to Karachi that day. In a massive human crisis of failure and uncertainty, people took the provisions home. No bank can survive a determined cash run. Similarly, no city can survive a determined provisions run.

Luckily, the supply line to Karachi was restored quickly in the next days. Food came back on the shelves and so, nine years on, I write this footnote to history. But, what if it had not? What if someday, some mega city in the world faces a situation, where the supply lines have been disconnected, with no likelihood of restoration for a few months? Is it that unlikely? Well, I can promise you, in such a scenario, the consequences will be disastrous. We will discover that below that veneer of urban thinking, lies a human animal. Very basic, very selfish, very ruthless.

A small event, most likely totally unnoticed by 99.99 % of the population of this country, has occurred recently. Hanjin shipping lines, the 7th biggest shipping line in the world, has gone bankrupt. There is over capacity in shipping and on the back of the commodities recession, the shipping industry is facing a volume downturn worldwide and extremely low shipping rates. Hanjin’s ships are now stranded in ports and so is the cargo in them. Ports will not allow them to off-load, in the face of non-payment. A lot is going around, which is called feathers flapping in the wind, in the face of crisis – ie nothing. Hanjin’s goods will arrive months late, if ever.

Now what if the other lines are nearing a similar crisis? What if a couple more could go bankrupt, in the face of the global commodities and economic downturn. A significant portion of the worlds supplies will collapse. When they do, the related production will stop, which will have a further knock-on effect on commerce, creating a vicious downward spiral. Very quickly and like in weeks, we could have the worldwide structure collapsing like a house of cards. With such little events do major global events start.

My only advice to people is “keep a few weeks of provisions in your home.”.

 

*picture is from pakalerpress.com

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Karachi, as was Then

imageSome discussion between various generations of Karachi people, led me to this blog. I feel it is our responsibility to tell the younger generation what we have lost through time, politics and modernity. So here is a list which by no means is exhaustive. Just what one could recall in a laundry list. It is a Generation X list and maybe a few items will not mentally connect with present day Millennials and Generation Z.

A) Karachi was safe. No guns, no hold ups, no drugs, no kidnapping. Very rarely we would hear of a shocking robbery (not dacoity, just plain sneaky theft).
B) Low level traffic. As kids and teen-agers we walked and used bicycles.
C) Adequate public transport. Trams (discontinued in 1975 😦 )
D) Sufficient water. Water came through the pipes, not tankers.
E) Hardly any tall buildings. HBL Plaza came up in 1970.
F) Quite a bit of greenery and parks. Lots of neem and jungle jalaybee trees.
G) Reasonably clean.
H) Hardly anyone sleeping on the footpath. And yes there were footpaths.
I) Very few stalls encroaching on the road. But many ethnic street markets.
J) No electric load shedding.
K) Shaadis were pretty much on time and fairly simple.
L) Traffic lights were obeyed. You had to take a driving test to obtain a license.
M) Lots of grounds or empty spaces to play cricket and hockey. We played hockey!
N) Gates were not closed and we could walk into each others houses.
O) We did not have to telephone before arriving at others houses.
P) Lifestyle was simple, cost of living low.
Q) Many roadside cafes, serving tea and coffee. Plenty of intellectuals.
R) The Anglo-Christians used to play music at Clifton beach most evenings.
S) Many night clubs, with international cabaret performers.
T) Great chana choor garam served, hot and fresh with lots of mirchi and lemon.
U) The pathan with the bakery sandooq, where every item was 2 annas (Paisa 12)
V) Cricket was played at the National Stadium all winter. First class and tests.
W) Drive-in cinema was a regular outing.
X) Donkey cart race occurred every weekend from Clifton to Saddar.
Y) The Victoria was common and a great outing.
Z) Outing spots; beaches, Playland, Aquarium, Zoo, Circus, many cinemas, libraries.

Some things which were missing then.

A) Variety of restaurants.
B) Malls.
C) Supermarkets.
D) Cell phones and e-networking.
E) Only one TV channel and that too black and white.
F) Little choice in consumer goods.
G) Biryani was not a mainstay and pilau was more prevalent.
H) No fast-food. Nearest specimen would be Bundu Khan.
I ) No mini buses
J) No outdoor signs (though we could be gong back to that soon)

Nostalgia colours ones lenses and makes the past of huge value to us Generation X. A more real and feeling world it seemed. Sadly change is a constant and the Now is vastly different. So, while one might be wistful, we live in todays reality. Nevertheless, if one was to pick somethings from the past, it would be some elements of safety, security and caring inserted back into our present. It would go a long-way to achieving serenity once again.

*picture from http://www.pakistan.web.pk

Principles and teamwork

imageSomewhere in Turkey, ninety families will be mourning their near ones today. At the same time their nation will be celebrating their heroes, who rose out of nowhere to do what was right.

Last night was one of those magical times in life, when correctness and equity occurs. Also as always, when great events occur, sacrifices are made and some people become heroes, as in the case of the ninety heroes.

I was just going to sleep, when a chance check brought me to these events last night. The next five hours were some of the most intense I have witnessed. This was reality television on a very large scale. A world wide view. It is also interesting to note that the Pakistani channels were at least a couple of hours ahead on reporting events compared to CNN and BBC. So at 6 am the foreign channels were reporting that a coup is still in progress, while Pakistan reported before 5 am, that the coup had failed. Since its not a question of resources, I then surmise it is more a case of politics and policy for CNN and BBC.

What enthused me most was that the events showed the two very qualities, which I have always been passionate about and which in my mind always lead to success. Belief in principles and resultant teamwork. Erdogan and the Turkish people stood by what is right and that belief made them last night. A President in trouble, back against the wall, was probably looking at death and ignominy, when he stuck his neck out, extraordinarily went via his smartphone on the national media circuit and rallied the country to come on the street (how many Pakistani leaders would have the guts to do this? Bar one…your own conscience would tell you that). Erdogan did that with guts, passion and belief. His people, stood by his call of principle. They believed him, because they valued him and trusted him. Then the teamwork happened. The leaders instruction was followed and contact made between individuals and unified action was taken in so many places. The most remarkable was the storming of a tank, while guns and machine guns were being fired. These were ordinary, unarmed humans who prevailed. The heart just races, when one sees that event.

You know, we in Pakistan were like that at one time. The first rally against the armed police of Ayub Khan happened in Karachi, October 15th, 1968. It went past my school in Depot Lines on the way to Saddar, which was the rally area at the time. I witnessed that as a young kid. Next day, the first student was killed at Gordon College Rawalpindi, commencing a five month successful resistance to bring down a dictator. Again principles and teamwork. Similarly, Karachi resisted in 1977 for four months, so that flawed election results could be rewound. Somewhere, we lost that passion for right as a nation, though individual candles still burn. I was in Lahore when sweets were distributed when Nawaz Sharif was deposed on October 12th, 1999. Partially, this is the lack of trust in and commitments of our leaders and partially it is because we have no principles left as a nation. We are only individuals thinking around ourselves.

So it was exhilarating to see a burning star for once. A star one could marvel in. Long may the Turkish people stand by principles and work like a team.

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

Stress Test

imageWhat is common between Karachi 1973, Edgbaston 1987, Karachi 2000 and Abu Dhabi 2015. Well if you want to have a real live stress test, with all its elements, you need to be alive and watching the events happen. I am one of those unfortunate few, who have actually lived and passed this stress test.

The commonalities are that its got to be a Pakistan versus England Test Match. The first innings of both teams have to be strong innings. It should be the fifth day of the match. Everyone considers the wicket is lifeless. All think it is a foregone conclusion, that the match is a draw. Pakistan is batting in its second innings (the third of the match, so England have still to play its second innings). Our batsmen and our dressing room is relaxed, maybe too relaxed. They think its a done deal.

Except that all hell is about to break lose. Pakistani batsmen will throw away their wickets, in a stupor of carelessness and apparent safety. Then pressure is going to be created and we will end up putting the game squarely in England’s hand and so will have to fight like mad to try and save it.

You really don’t believe this do you? But the truth is that this is exactly the way it turns out and we just don’t seem to learn from our history. So to recount.

Karachi 1973. With Majid as captain, this match is more famous for the three 99’s which were scored in the match. Majid, Mushtaq and Amiss (https://sarfarazar.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/the-99s-in-karachi/). Going into the fifth day with a 59 run lead and 105 for 2 before lunch, we looked safe. Then we collapsed to 129 for 8. A very brave partnership between Wasim Bari and Sarfaraz Nawaz rescued us and we were able to escape, what looked like certain defeat some hours earlier. The anger all of us felt was utterly useless and all one could do was watch and pray.

Edgbaston 1987. Imran as captain. We had just thrashed England at Headingly and for most of the match had looked good in this, which was the forth test of the series. Two big first innings and we were 79-1 at lunch on the 5th day. We seemed comfortable with Shoaib looking excellent. Post lunch we collapsed. Miandad, Malik et al. Imran dug in and resisted. We left England 124 to make in 18 overs. Simple in T20 days, but England with three run-outs squandered their chance and ended up 109 for seven. Phew! The close proximity to a mind blow out. I shall remember that late evening forever. I lost five years somewhere during it.

Karachi 2000. Moin Khan as captain. This was the Steve Bucknor match. The chase in the darkness of a Karachi evening. Again we looked okay. Match not in contention. Muhammad Yousuf and Saleem Elahi playing, 128/4. Then we collapsed to 158. Still the target looked unreachable at 176. But we reckoned without Steve Bucknor and his peevishness. He took exception to our slow over rates. So if you are angry, warn the captain. But no, he stretched the game to a time when no one could see the ball. Clearly a flagrant violation of the principle of bad light. England got to 176 in the darkness and Pakistan lost our 45 year old unbeaten record at the National Stadium. Most of our anger was directed at Bucknor. But this disguised the fact that we had lost a drawn match through our own carelessness.

Abu Dhabi 2015. Well you do not need details of yesterdays match. Suffice to say, that watching before lunch, I kept thinking of the three matches mentioned above. I promise you, that if I had Waqar’s number, I would have called him up to relate all the above to him. Might have stopped the sorry shots which emanated. Hafeez out to a needless runout. Younus and Misbah to awful heaves, which belie their experience and maturity. Asad Shafiq and Sarfaraz also not really thinking and adjusting for the changing situation. Awful. It was deja vu. A friend of mine shut his television as he could not take the stress.

Forty two years and they will not learn. I have come from school to retirement, a whole work-life. But, yet our people do not learn. In the future, I shall personally send this write-up to the Pakistan coach, before the next Pakistan versus England series. Please have a heart and think of us long time supporters.

*picture is from pictures.cricket.com.pk

The Karachi Moments

imageUnashamedly, for me Karachi has attachments which only happen, when you have spent your early life, memories and emotions in a place. I have written about this before, about how one would go through the art of living daily (https://sarfarazar.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/old-karachi-a-string-of-memories-from-days-gone-by/). But living is not just about eating, playing and being entertained. The soul needs nurturing also. It is this nourishment that I will try and remember here.

My nourishment and the grounding of my insides in the streets of Karachi, has so much to do with the culture and image of the place. Its got into my head and even today, when I look at my hometown, I look at it with a rose tinted glasses. Biased and unreal, but nevertheless, my perception.

Part of that imagery recalls the old, old Karachi. From pre-partition days. Archaic, but the landscape so enticing. The architecture of Elphinstone St and Victoria Rd. Those old style stone buildings. Most are gone now, but they left an impression! One building which survives today is the Karachi Grammar School building in Saddar. Huge thick stone walls, cold as hell in the winter, but the warmth of years and the embrace of history grips one. There was Mereweather Tower. I identified it with the bus conductors call of “Tower!Tower!”. But it was so much grander than a mere tower in reality, and when you saw it, the centuries smiled down from it.

There was Wazir Mansion, Katrak Mansion and a few more. Old, walls of stone, Gothic art mixed with God knows what. To me they smelled of age and richness. The ceilings high, the walls plain white and the ‘roshandaan’ such a characteristic of old days.

There were those old houses in Bath Island. Thick Walls made of stuff (sand and straw), which fascinated one and told such a story of life within. Termites had to be regularly battled on these walls, but they have survived a hundred and fifty years nevertheless. The lawns had these pepal trees. Massive ones, maybe a couple of hundred years old, having dropped their roots all over the place and grown and grown. They reminded me of Buddha and one envisions a holyman sitting under these trees thousands of years ago. Then there were those lovely old style houses, which don’t exist anymore. Why? Because we dont need the evening breeze anymore, nor do security concerns allow it. They would have a courtyard in the middle, and around it a square structure, with a patio all around and rooms behind the patio. The breeze would waft through, but then so could an intruder from outside. So such a structure is gone in today’s world.

A necessary part of those memories are old markets. Empress Market takes precedence. It was truly fit for a queen and inside I remember fondly the parchun walas shop. There were others; fish, vegetables, fruit, meat and chaai. Then there was Bohri Bazaar with its fascinating merchants, pots and pans, shoes and clothes outlets and in the middle of those winding lanes, Capital cinema. Bolton Market, burned down today, but what a place to recall. An old style market structure, with its old building and its old shops, selling many wholesale items. Old Kharadar with its small markets and apartments. Same as Burns Road (Bunz). Those balconies, from which day long women conversed with each other and with the people in the streets and hung baskets on ropes to purchase daily sustenance.

Lastly are the parks. Polo ground, Frere Hall, Jahangir Park, Hill Park, Jheel Park. No walls and children all over the place. Before and after Maghrib. Plenty of cricket and hockey taking place there. Also people having a picnic well into the evening, when it was very dark. No security concerns. But even more fascinating, there was greenery, including grass and trees. Some shrubbery too. Tell you what, I don’t remember seeing a water tanker in my childhood. But the greenery thrived. It means that water pipelines did exactly what they were supposed to do; they delivered water to everyone.

Alas, it all seems like a dream now. My old Karachi.

*the above books were with the compliments of SEED

Bhai Babu

imageAn early morning rise. It was Christmas Day for some; Midnight Mass and early morning services too. For others it was the Quaids birthday. Whatever, it was a National holiday. It allowed one to indulge oneself mid-week , notwithstanding the approaching year end work at the office.

My son was visiting from university and so it was a good time to bond a bit. Once young people are out of the door and have gone to university, they never rightly comeback. So it was good to see him walking around the house early morning. On impulse, I inquired if he wanted to go out for a desi breakfast. And since he too has a sense of the out of the ordinary, so the answer was ‘yes’.

Off we went, my first thought was ‘lets go down to Burns Road (Bunz Rd) for nihari and some rabri’. But sitting in the car we decided to go for halwa puri, as nihari would slow us down for the rest of the day. It boiled down to where to go. Coming out of my old memories, the word Riaz Masjid popped into my mind. My childhood haunt, Tariq Road and the adjacent old Delhi walas society.

Memory is a strange phenomenon. It makes things larger than life. Riaz Masjid, where I had nihari and kebab through the years at Abdul Ghaffar. And where Bhai Babu served his worlds best gulab jamun. They are gulab jamuns to die for. Warm and they melt in the mouth, so syrupy soft they are. Riaz Masjid does not aspire to cleanliness, but it gives the same authentic old Karachi taste and feel. You can migrate back 50 years, to feel and touch a part of the brain locked away forever. This same Bhai Babu has great halwa puri and chana and aaloo saalan. It all made sense, providence desired that I take a trip down memory lane and so, we would go down to Riaz Masjid for breakfast at 6 30 am.

As we drove along, my memory recalled that adjacent to my destination was Sir Syed Rd, PECHS and that I spent my whole childhood till late teens there. It would be good to show my son a type of Karachi, he or youth like him have never seen. A city which had a lot of charm, was friendly, peaceful and had a character of its own. I still see the stamp of the old Karachi, in the individual Karachite. But alas, the individual has been swamped by a wider social cussedness which prevails today.

If you drive early morning in Karachi, it is totally still and quiet. Hardly any traffic. Its strange in a city which has millions of transport vehicles on the road for 18 hours, to go deathly quiet for 4 hours. It reminds one of Wordsworth’s Composed On Westminster Bridge. Anyway, a drive which normally would take 40 minutes was over in about 15.

At Bhai Babu, early in morning, there is not much choice. The halwa, with fat pouring out of it, the two saalans and then the puris. The puris were like magic. Soft and fairly dry, which was extremely unusual. There were also what were called ‘khasta puris’, which are like no other I have eaten. Not made out of regular super refined flour (maaida), but rather out of wholewheat. These are totally different in taste and texture.

So what was the trip about then? The difference was in the old school feel. The culture harks back to the days of yore. The courtesy and language is Delhi of old and has never left the 19th century. Bhai Babu himself was reading an Urdu newspaper. He deigned to ask me a couple of questions on events, probably because he saw someone who was clearly from beyond the local community. My son, back from his university, having seen mainly one tone Karachi, was open eyed. He saw little bits of reality, which hopefully shall teach him about this country of his. Maybe, create that small spot of belonging, to a country and city, which we have all used and abused extensively, and given back little. Driving back home he was less talkative and more introspective. Even his questions seemed to leave the taste of belonging, which cannot be produced coming out of plush, swank dining places, which charge a fortune. Maybe a trip worth taking on a holiday morning, when a warm bed had beckoned. Left me with some happiness and optimism for the rest of the day.

I would recommend a trip to Bhai Babu to all of you, on a holiday morning.

*picture from pakistanifoodspoint.blogspot.com

The Old Bazaars are the real places…not malls

 

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

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

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

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

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

Empress Market:

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

Bohri Bazaar:

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

Sadly, I haven’t been there in years!

Sunday Bazaar Karachi:

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

Anarkali:

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

Quincy Market, Boston:

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

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

I salivate at the memory.

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

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul:

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

Petticoat Lane:

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

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

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

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

The universal language of hospitality prevails.

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

Alas, it is a world lost!

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This blog appeared in The Express Tribune earlier this year.

Democracy..I do wonder about niggles

DemocracyIn the days post the elections in Pakistan, I wondered (like many) about the whole electoral process. This naturally raised question on the system of democracy itself and the pain one goes through to see it perform even at the present sub-optimal level.  Its not to say that we should get rid of democracy and experiment again; sixty plus years of that is enough. No! At the moment there is nothing which can viably replace a mass selection system – democracy. But, I honestly wish there was something better for mankind, which would take us to a higher level of humanity. Atleast, away from all this killing and infliction of pain on innocents.

So to my gripe. Allow me that indulgence. Below are some of the thoughts which make me wonder. 

 

My first niggle. We can vote for evil people – Hitler!- and it is my right to vote for this type in a democracy..where is the play of conscience? For those not aware, Hitler actually came to rule via the ballot box. There was much evidence that the man was evil or mad, but the Germany of 1933 wanted a strongman and got one. Much to the detriment of themselves and the world. They learnt 65 million deaths later.

 

People who are standing for elections, generally desire to be elected. This has huge psychological implications. Now they have a vested interest and are on the slippery slope of corruption. There is substantial research which backs this theory; desire for power itself is a form of corruption. So at least we should be allowed to view a psychosomatic profile of the candidates.

 

A criminal has the same authority as an upstanding member of society. Where is the justice in that?  So a criminal (convicted) can vote and displace people, as much as you an upstanding person can. It is possible that such a person will vote for one of their own ilk. Our natural sense of right agonizes at such an eventuality.

 

The inefficiency of the system…if I make tall promises and people vote for me, it will take years before I will be called to account. Years of corruption and inefficiency…damage may be huge, voters learning from previous mistakes can take generations. Education, common sense and wisdom become an imperative among voters. Hence education in democracies is so important, which alas we do not have.

 

Elections are an advertising game. As consumer companies use advertising to sell goods we do not need, so the candidate persuades you to vote for him/her, maybe on platforms which do not affect you at all. The science exists. Its all been refined and a good marketeer will get inside your brain and convince you, without you even realizing it.

 

Big money is a necessary game in democracies. Advertising requires lots of money, as does electoral visibility. This includes ground activation to be in touch with your electorate. A huge amount has to be spent on research to understand the electorate itself. And then the logistic costs of moving people on the day of the election is massive. Top it all, to manage all the above, a large organization is required, which requires funds. A good democratic choice cannot be put on the ballot paper, without large funding. Obama spent over $1bn to run his campaign in 2012. So then is this open to all and sundry?!

 

Then the awful nexus with capitalism. Democracy tends to be at its workable best, if it is a capitalistic society. This allows the rich to get richer and its not necessary that the poor prosper – however the middle class tends to improve marginally. In the US the divide has sharply increased and the top 1% wealthy have increased dramatically since 1980, while the poor and homeless numbers have skyrocketed.

 

Lastly close to us, the rigging..but a lot happens in many places. Whether it is by force, threats, systemic or fragmented, it happens. Last elections in Kenya resulted in genocide. In 2000, the US Presidential elections were hijacked. Against the actual voting numbers, which went to Al Gore…the other candidate Bush won. Talk to Karachites, Lahorites, or Abrar in PTI. The evil taste left after these events, makes one wonder. My own sense is that something which is achieved by subterfuge, will not be of benefit to anyone.

 ” Our little systems have their day;

They have their day and cease to be:

They are but broken lights of thee,

And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”

Tennyson 

My fervent wish is that we are able to refine this choice and selection process to the level, where we can say with pleasure, that democracy is really democracy. Inshallah. We need some form of harmony in this country.

* The democracy picture is taken from Wylio.com, a free picture site, and is owned by Dominic Alves.

Ah, look at all the lonely people!

Ah, look at all the lonely people!

An alien looking down from outer space will definitely give the place a second look. He will see this green patch in the midst of a concrete jungle, with two concentric circles running at the outer limit of the patch. The alien would probably focus down and come to the conclusion that the place is some sort of holy ground. For, he would see scores of people, running or walking in these concentric circles. Curiouser and curiouser, the ones in the inner circle would be going in counter clockwise direction, while the outer travel clockwise. Clearly the inner ones are more venerable and deserve a higher status in this religious ritual.

 

The alien of course is wrong. This is just a neighborhood park, where hundreds walk and jog on the tracks, to try and achieve some sort of health nirvana. The hope being that the longer you walk, the more fit you are and the longer one shall live. Some like me come to work off a couple of decades of excesses, as I traveled much, exercised little and ate all sorts of hotel food at ungodly hours. A balance in the scale of comfort is achieved over the course of a lifetime. If you do not look after your body, then it means more pain later in life -whether though illness or hard exercise is a toss-up.

 

Even in this park there come some, who are there for a fringe benefit rather than health itself. They come looking for diversion, company and to connect to a world, which seems to have forgotten and passed them by. These are the ones who are lonely in their homes, offices and life’s daily ritual…for they are facing a test which humanity is grappling with more and more, as life becomes urban, commercial and the span increases.

 

As I walk and jog in my daily effort, one of my pastimes and distractions is to notice these people and build stories around their life. It is an insightful way to while away the minutes, as one day soon, I too will face this battle and it is better to come prepared. 

 

“Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door, who is it for? All the lonely people

 

She walks around in a determined style, and the grace is still there. Flowing and let free behind her is her white hair. Along with the fine lines, still visible on her face, and her purposeful stride, she gives the image of a Shakespearean dramatic character.  Need I say more? Lo! you catch her eye she will look away and deliberately ignores one. This beauty of yester years is tired of the world and wants to have nothing to do with it. Each day she gets up, puts on her face and goes out to face the world. A world old and jaded and she has little left to say, her enthusiasm long dissipated. What tragedies and pains have brought her to this pass; she could have a bevy of young grandchildren surrounding her, pampering and caring for her every need. It is indeed sad to note. 

 

Father Mckenzie writing the words of a sermon, that no one will hear! no one comes near

 

I come across another person. He used to be the CEO of a large organization just 15 years ago. People hung on to his lead and words. They came to listen and follow his orders. Some smiled when he looked at them. Others lowered their eyes. Now he looks around as he trundles in the park. His walk is a slouch of old age and he knows his time has gone. His eyes beg askance for someone to talk to him, just someone, to give him a little bit of time and notice. Alas all, including myself want to avoid him, as his pace is slow and conversation out of date. He has much to tell of his experience and knowledge.

 

Father Mckenzie wiping the dirt from his hand, as he walks from grave, no one was saved

 

Then the huge, fat man; I remember he was a private equity guy and invested money at hard returns to people. He drove his bargains and had his pound of flesh. But he never reckoned with a global recession and being side lined. So he tramps like a giant with a cigar in his mouth. He does not care about what the world is doing to him, he has long made peace with himself and reconciled to living alone and indifferent. The fat man is different from the other two…he has lost, but is defiant. He has washed his hands off people. Only people do know he has lost and when he is gone they snigger behind his back.

 

But in all this gloom there is a family I see. Man, wife and a teenager. Holding hands, laughing, walking together; Soft! The son is mentally challenged and the parents hold his hand lovingly. They have made a life out of their tragedy. There laughter and life fills the park and makes one feel that even the lonely desperate people have a place. Most of all they give hope to all of us, that this is a life worth making and living. Bless them!

*Based on the song Eleanor Rigby, by Beatles and several walks in the park.

 

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