My very own Engro Foods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan: I rant and I wait

imageWatching events last few weeks…I just want to rant in an unstructured, what comes to mind first, manner. At the end of this note I may have said enough, that I shall lose friends. Especially the logical and most educated kind. But truth be told, I just want to put down my random genuine thoughts and hope it resonates with the people who read it. Also this is generalised, SD 1, under the Bell Curve people. We still have many who are very genuine Pakistanis, giving their all.

We are a people fortunately, of that I am sure. Thats is the only thing one can guarantee, as it comes to the surface when we play sports at a National Level. Other than that…

We pass accidents showing curiosity, but are not willing to stop and help. People are killed willy nilly and we do not care. Significant portions of our population are illiterate; we are uninterested in this and mostly the victims do not care either. Most people are unable to put one square meal on the table. We dont follow road signs, going the wrong way on a one way. When this is pointed out to the so called educated perpetrators, they fight and abuse one.

We are Muslims mainly, but lie habitually, not realising that this is the definition of a munafiq. This particular behaviour seems to be our raison d’etre, its that prevalent.

Our leaders are not really elected. We run a sham of a democracy. Votes are cast mainly via thumbprints. Most votes are not free or are counterfeit. In rural areas the Thana forces voting for particular candidates. In urban areas candidates use muscle to counterfeit votes, also paying off the local authority.

Our courts are zero protection. There is no justice. Lets not fool ourselves.

Our free media blackmails its way through and most significant media personalities are biased because they are now bought off.

The bureaucracy is corrupt. They take bribe on anything where they have leverage. Where there is money to be made out of budget disbursements, they will also grab large portions of this budget too.

The elite are so called educated. Actually they are more elite in relative terms than most elites in the world. They party at home, imbibing all the expensive smuggled spirits. Their clothes alone are worth a few years house budget for the poor. Weddings and events are celebrated lavishly. Foreign trips and shopping in Dubai…NY…London. They take foriegn nationalities…Canada..Australia etc. Despise all others than themselves. Everyone is a fool to them…they are superior and above everyone. Unfortunately, I am as much a part of them as anyone else.

Our politicians; from landlords who think its their right to be elected, to former army people who have collected huge sums, to business men who take office for the sole reason to make wealth and transfer it abroad, are all in it for themselves. Even our technocrat has not got enough political wisdom to be able to rule. Where is our seasoned politician who thinks country first and rules accordingly? These politicians can and have sold our country to foreign powers before. We have plenty of Mir Jaffers sitting around.

Our religious leaders…yaani, what can you say. Most are under the pay and tutelage of foreign powers. Others are simply not educated and so can only think one tone. They guide a vociferous and charged following who can go to insane lengths. Fortunely, their percentage following is still low in numbers.

Our institutions…where are they. Army treats itself above this country, rather than vice versa. So they protect themselves first. The Supreme Court. Well really if anyone thinks they are effective then they are wearing rose tinted glasses. But I suspect its worse. Its not just capability….our people don’t trust them and challenge the equitability and intent of what they do.

Our characteristics… in the manger..lack of teamwork…uncontrollable emotions…lack of patience and perseverance…selfishness.

Compare the above characteristics to what they were in the 1940s..led by that one person who gave us a grand vision. Those people who were giants of their time, must cringe to see what we have become.

Despite all the above one is hopeful. In the darkest and lowest period are leaders found and followers made, who rise to the occasion. There are a whole lot of potential followers and now we wait for the direction from some leaders. But please, stop thinking party politics. Otherwise you will never get Pakistan proper.

If you read history, and our own Islamic literature, you know it is not too far off. But it also comes with huge amounts of pain. Not a time for the uncommitted.

I am an average Pakistani; would you like to hear more?

When I get home, it is nice to be in a hot house with the wife lovingly beating me on the head. No electricity, you know. One hour on and off! The baby keeps crying all night. PHOTO: REUTERS

I am a typical Pakistani and am dying to tell the world who I really am, but no one is ready to listen. In the scheme of things, I could have been born anytime late 1930s onwards, and am gainfully (or rather painfully) employed.

Whereas the world is moving towards nano technology, my single greatest skill is that I manage to ‘exist amidst the chaos’. This chaos is not of my making, but the wise say that I deserve it, since I have given my vote to the wrong people.

They must be right! Mind you, I have not seen the inside of a polling booth for the last 20 years. Every time I have queued up to vote, after a few hours of waiting, when I got to the polling officer, he/she said that my vote has been cast and ask why I’ve come again.

The polling booth is always inside a government (peela) school and the polling officer is a teacher there. I hear that they get four times the salary of a private teacher. Since they turn up to teach only one day a month, they must be paid for the election day every five years. Mashallah, it’s good to be paid high amounts, for working one day every five years.

I digress. I was telling you about myself! I am educated as I can write my own signature, but not because I went through proper schooling. Since, I am part of the privileged 44% who can sign, I have carried the burden of this country ─ not so for those clever ones, who left these past six decades. They moved off to greener pastures and red/blue passports. Now they can write about Pakistan and say what a ‘mess’. This was natural, since they left poor old me to carry the burden and they themselves are living in foreign lands in such hardship as alien people.

Anyway, so there I am, hanging on to the handle of a bus, or if lucky, sitting on the roof. It takes me about two hours to get to work and by the time I am at work, I feel like going back, even though it will take another two hours; but what can I do? One has to earn a living. You know one has to pay taxes. I am lucky to have the privilege of paying more than most leaders of the country, opposition and treasury. So proud of carrying the burden of running this country!

Sometimes, I look down from the roof of the bus and I see VIP movement. We have the privilege of waiting 20 minutes to see our leaders.

This one time, the prime minister passed by. There were 84 cars with him ─ Land Cruisers and Mercedes which my taxes pay for.  I enjoyed the show! We must see what we are paying for. Also, I must go and vote for him again, since it is dangerous to vote for PTI. Imran Khan is honest, and we cannot have that, you know. If you are honest, you are stupid.

I look over the shoulder of this young fellow at office and he is on Twitter. He loves to use the ‘F’ word all the time. It’s extremely intellectual. These intellectuals sit at home with generators spouting continuous electricity, so they can stay online, forever talking about how people are being killed. I get so worried about the killings in Gilgit and Quetta, because I am not sure who does these.

In Wana, we know that miscreants are killed by the drones, they have this system whereby they can tell who is a bad guy and they just kill them. I wish we had this system here, because the other day, I saw a few people being killed while I was hanging on to the bus handle. Almost lost my grip on the handle. Phew! However, apparently these guys were innocent, since they were standing on the pavement eating chaat with their children.

When I get home, it is nice to be in a hot house with the wife lovingly beating me on the head. No electricity, you know. One hour on and then off! The baby keeps crying all night. We can’t afford the protection, so babies keep on coming. Number four is on the way now and I think might end up with seven. Schooling will be an issue. We are also without water and so can’t go to the loo. Sometimes when the electricity is there, I see these great people arguing and fighting on “Hamid Mir Live”, or see Najam Sethi wisely telling us what will happen.

After a while, I feel like throwing something at the TV, but then it’s the only TV I have. I have to watch the cricket match. One is really not sure, if these cricketers are throwing the matches. I hate it when Pakistan loses, but that happens regularly, since they appointed this foreign coach. Mohsin Khan would not do, he won the series against England 3-0, but was just not good enough.

Now the guy on Twitter is getting angry. Why am I being such a wimp and I should sign a petition against all the disappearing people? So if I signed, would the concerned people be scared and stop kidnapping and killing? Last Sunday there was a protest and two thousand promised they will turn up. Then I saw tweets that fifteen did; good numbers. That is the route to change.

My neighbours are always talking about having had enough. Apparently the glass is full and brimming over….just saying. They are forever talking of going and sorting out the Defence people. Oh, not the army! It’s the ones who live in Defence. Must forewarn my boss! He lives there.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that we can afford one meal a day. We are lucky, some neighbours have one in two days. Of course, do remind me to cast my vote, if I survive till then…

A Pakistani in Montreal

Owner: Germán Póo-Caamaño Wylio free images

Germán Póo-Caamaño
Wylio free images

I warn you that this is a cautionary tale and not for one who looks at the world through normal lenses. They would say that this is just the ramblings of a person who has analysed life too often and not taken the fruits on offer. In effect ‘khattay ungoor’ (sour grapes)…. Arriving in Montreal yesterday evening, I took my customary walk through the city, yesterday and today…it has been my customary way in some 45 countries and many more cities. I say this not to boast, but rather to get across that this is a tried and tested procedure, which allows me to see reality unblemished and becomes a window to understanding the culture and the city in itself. Perhaps, I also wanted to resolve the conundrum of my friends and acquaintances spending millions in search of the ‘promises of jannah’.

The air was cool and the temperature was bordering on the cold. And as usual what has fascinated me from my first trip to the hallowed temperate regions of this world almost 40 years ago. How do the women manage to wear these skimpy outfits without a shred of discomfort ? Are they superhuman? and if so,why the male of the same species and background go more or less fully clothed? It is a conundrum yet unsolved in my mind.

Anyway, the flashes, which this morning have left some impressions of this society are put on paper for you all to read. I do not conclude, as it is not my place to pass judgement on others. Let me also add that this is one of several trips to Canada, which I have taken in these last few years, but none of them were to Quebec. But there is little to show any differences…except the French language and Gallic architecture. These signs of the past have been sanitized and crushed into a more homogenous present, more in line with the global environment.

Watch the eyes and the tread of people. Anywhere in the world they give you a peek into the character of the society, but not necessarily all its individuals. In this case the eyes were vacant, they did not meet you when you looked directly into them…there was no focus. The tread was deliberate and slow, on a Thursday morning for office workers, approaching a destination where they would spend a large part of the day. Did it show that these were a people without any desire, perhaps stripped of the essentials of human conflict which allows us to surface stronger and better? Had economic certainty led to a lack of desire. Were the vacant eyes, lacking all emotions, showing us where we should not have gone at all? Is this too deep a probe into what the surface merely indicated.

Stranger than reality is the lack of children. Where have the little ones gone. In a city of 3 million, one would see more? But in a whole day, in downtown Montreal I have seen a handful..There are no explanations, but perhaps the Anglo-Saxon grows more infertile, as their millennium of rule begins to vanish from the realms of this world. There were many in the 25-35 years bracket, so they must have been children once. And then the old, oh! so many.. So is this the answer to some of the questions? Is an aging, infertile society, staring its doom in the face, reaching to other races to extend its traces. As Moses once was invited by Midian to pro-create and leave his progeny in its place of rule.

The old were generally bunched together. The young did not have time for them. So they walked and talked, mainly in French, frankly a language whose logic and structure escapes me.  So what would they be discussing? Perhaps their demeanor would give one a clue. But soft, they do not show much emotion. That has been the eternal strength of the Anglo-Saxon. For long they have held their emotions in check. It’s all turned inwards. Maybe its the cold temperate climate – as opposed to our hot blooded, boiling environment. But then are we humans or machines. Did not the Divine make us out to feel some of what is happening, or did he want us to kill our insides and make it a processing central unit.

So the mystery of the old remains? Not really, there were other places to look. See that old man standing at the corner, staring at the thick grey wall across the road. Surely he is lonely, and does his frost bitten, purple nose suggest pain endured? Is that all he has left of a goodly strive through 65 years of existence?

Or see that pony tailed one, in silver grey hair. He is coming out of the age of Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda and Easy Rider…why does he proudly show an emblazoned T-shirt, which must be 35 years old. For its faded facade exhibits the Dark Side of the Moon. Is this then Roger Waters, his stardom years behind him and now standing in the midst of nowhere, waiting for recognition? Should I have leapt forward and hugged him, as a star I watched 30 years ago. Why is this old man, way out of time and all crumpled, standing there…he does look lonely. Where are his friends? or children? or the social security people. If he is Roger Waters, I hope someone gives him his due.

Then there is the busker striding (?) towards an unknown place, his guitar hanging around his shoulder . Who knows he might perform today and go home with loads of appreciation and cash. The best song I have ever heard is by such a one, in Bond Street Station in 1983. I remember wishing the tube away when it did arrive, as I wanted to hear more. Alas this one is old and limping. Why does he do this then? And when it gets colder will he still come out to perform with frost bitten fingers? Does not anyone see this struggle and do they not show him a shred of empathy? No they just do not see him, as he shuffles along. That is left to me, because I am a stranger and new to this environment. Leave me six months and I too shall not see him.

My day was defined by 3 events which stand out.

The blonde woman in the Mini Cooper convertible. Her hair flowing in the air, her dark glasses shielding her looks,, her arrogance shown to the world at large, while the sun beats down on her hair and car. They both shone. She on the other hand seemed not to. You see many of these in every society. They think they are the beautiful people. But do they really count. Will they effect society? Oh so many affectations, will they spend their lives doing good or will they be spending lots of money. What will they be remembered for when their beauty and position will inevitably decline? I remember thinking Oh! I have seen her before, in my school, at various la-di-la parties, at media centric events and especially in rich peoples homes.

The man was maybe mid thirties and strode out ahead, when the passenger crossing light was red. There was no traffic at all and so it was okay? Probably. In his place I would have done it. But, I was on the other side of the road, watching interestedly. Hey, but look, three strides out and this warrior looks around and sees no one follows him. So watch him turn on his heels and go back to home base. Amazingly, watching the flock standing around him, there was no reaction! No one reprimanded him when he moved forward, no one was smug when he returned and no one was even appreciative of him. The lack of interest was the most frightening, as the detachment echoed what one saw in the eyes. So is this discipline? Sure, partially. Is this a population of sheep. Will they only exist within rules, follow rules and break no rules? And will they also function only riskless. Can this society ever produce tigers, or will they forever remain a bunch of sheep. How will the tiger survive, nay blossom in this environment, the system frowns and watches over one. A depressing thought !!!!

Lastly what made my day today. In the middle of this soulless time, I ran into an enchantress. Seemingly unaware, this youngish lady walked by and suddenly without reason or warning, broke into a beaming smile. Her rather normal face ( she did not stand out) suddenly turned Venus like. This would be my definition of beauty, when the ordinary acquires an extraordinary air. A little more review showed that she wore clothes which were different from the environment, she was darker and her features would lead one to hazard a guess and say South American. So maybe that explained it, but still it made my day.

Now for some quick one liners, before the summation.

  • A strange sight of a long haired homeless asking for food at Burger King…they turned him away
  • A middle aged lady playing the saxophone at a corner…not a bad job at all
  • The veggie burger is to be avoided, it was totally tasteless
  • A protest by University service (non-academic) employees, for equal treatment
  • The supermarket service is oh so slow….as is the fast food joint.
  • Breakfast place was not open in the morning, but open in the evening
  • The fruit tastes tasteless…the organic food is expensive and small sized
  • Why do they stop to kiss in the middle of a road crossing. Will they not wait till they cross to the other side.
  • Where are the jewellery shops in the malls. Only costume stuff.
  • The sordid side of town does come out on the roads in downtown in the evenings.

So to a summation. I walked out this evening and saw plenty go shuffling and lost in thoughts towards their well deserved rest, whatever their destination. Some to car parks, others to metro stations and still others to bus stations. Rarely one found bikers too. But they all seemed an army of beings, working like zombies to achieve the unattainable, a nirvana through their commercial enterprise. It left me wondering whether all the mannequin in the shop windows, are any different to what is available on the pavement of this city. So at the end, as I walked two simultaneous voices echoed in my mind. The voice of Patrick Stewart, beaming back through the ages from Star Trek Next Generation ” They are the Borg and you are assimilated” and the haunting voice coming out of Sloop John B, “I wanna go home, Let me go home”.

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