Posts Tagged ‘Islamabad’

TEDxNUST 2011

It was held this week on the 24th in an outdoor setting in SEECS, NUST H-12. It was the first NUST related event I had attended, since it was in the evening, and by chance I had taken the day off for some research related work at the university. My expectations for the event (prior to attending it) had shifted constantly from really grand to mediocre and then to moderately grand. But whatever it was, it didn’t disappoint, and it was a fun evening too, out in the open in the SEECS fountain area, as they call it, with a spotlight lit ambience, rose petals, umbrella outdoor heaters, and lots of charged up youngsters, who really made me feel like an old timer, BTW.

I may point out some things that I felt were a bit wrong, but it does not mean in any way that the event was not good. The event was brilliant. So my criticisms, if any, are to be taken in good spirit.

As with all student managed NUST events this one was well done too. Pretty little X’s on the path outside SEECS led me to the venue, where a group of students wearing cool black TEDx t-shirts were busy getting stuff in order. Last moment arrivals of necessary hardware like the mushroom heaters caused a bit of a disturbance prior to the starting of the show as the providers had to make their way through the corridors with their gas cylinders and other accessories… I feel that should have been done a bit earlier. But you can’t blame the event organizers entirely for that. They on their part were doing a really good job with the registrations and the other management stuff.

Apologies for the absolute lack of pictures. Maybe someone else on our blogger panel can put some up.

The Setting

So as I made myself comfortable on the left of the sitting area, a little higher than the stage itself. Since it wasn’t a proper auditorium, the lack of “levels” caused visual problems for the ones sitting at the back, since they were not able to see what was going on down on the stage, especially when the amazing sitar player and his tabla player had to sit down on the stage floor for his performance. The floral arrangements were very artistic, and we were later told that they were designed by one of the speakers themselves. However, the TEDxNUST poster on which some of these lovely floral arrangements were made was a little too reflective itself, which caused messy bumps and waves on the poster to be visible under the bright spotlights, creating a mildly unpleasant stage background. It would have been better if it were smoothed out in some way, pasted to a flat panel, or a clear white background were used.

The projection screens were placed on either side of the main stage, for the attendees to see from the left and the right of the sitting area. That was thoughtful, however the excess lighting on the stage caused the screen projections to dim out a bit, thus making it hard to make out the pictures that were being displayed. Usually a larger TV type screen works in these settings, but of course that could not have been possible too easily. A little clever lighting arrangement would have had made it fantastic.

There was a distinctly feminine touch to the entire setting; rose petals scattered near the central fountain area, little candles being lit up prior to starting the show, the stage sets like the matkas that were quickly arranged during the sitar players’ performance, the floral arrangements, etc. That’s probably why the environment looked appealing!

The seating was cleverly arranged to make use of all the space available, since the area wasn’t too large (the fountain is to blame). The rear gallery type view was taken up by the blogger class, who were actively involved in sending out live updates of the event to the website/twitter. It’s worth pointing that out at this point because the involvement of these tech-savvy youngsters in sending out live information over the internet made the event all the more dynamic and sort of digitally expansive, allowing thousands of viewers around the world to view and follow the proceedings live, online. Technology works wonders, BTW. That may sound like an old man’s statement, but visionaries like yours truly can’t help but imagining a time when digital holographs are beamed across the miles of this planet to be displayed in exactly the same three dimensional arrangement somewhere else in the world.

However, the NUST organizers did not have hologram technology, or Scotty’s beam-me-up tools, so they made most of whatever tech gadgets they had to make the event a success.

The People

I could see some externals and internals in the crowd, very eager to see what was about to transpire on stage. Most of them could be seen tapping away on their devices, probably tweeting about the event, or maybe even texting each other! It wasn’t an unruly crowd, kind of like the ones who spend their time giggling in the back seats, however it did need a little 101 on event ethics, as my cynical self noticed the excess disturbance when the show had started.

What bothers me most is people walking around the venue during the show, finding their seats, and hundreds of photographs crawling around with their cameras, taking pictures of whatever things of interest they could spot (glory to the days when camera films were expensive). Not only here, but photographers tend to be quite a nuisance at every event, where every second person in the audience has a camera, and they quickly move to front to get a first-hand view of the couple getting married (if it’s a marriage event), or for any stage performance, thus merrily blocking the view for all the unfortunates sitting on their chairs. That’s probably one of the first things I would make sure would not happen if I were an event manager at any event.

The crowd was mostly the young, other than some distinguished oldies. The event probably would not have been a success if it had been dominated by the internet ignorant generation, who frequently pesters their children to teach them how to e-mail. Moreover, most of the talks were targeted more towards engaging and motivating the youth, though the ideas can be built upon by the older generation (given that they have any mental flexibility left for drastic changes and new challenges).

The Speakers

I hope you haven’t skipped all the above to read this part, though I realize I should have written a bit about the speakers earlier. You can get their profiles on the TEDxNUST website, so I won’t bother going through their achievements.

I felt that the event had a theme to it, and the theme was Pakistan. I am not sure if that was the actual intent, but every speaker had a very Pakistan focus on their talks, unlike most of the TED talks one gets to see on the internet. Maybe it’s like that for independently organized events like these, or maybe it’s because it’s the first ever TEDxNUST event and it was necessary to give it a more focused and digestible beginning. It was good in a way; helps to assimilate all the ideas presented as a compendium, and then it can be implemented in a synergistic fashion to achieve all the speakers objectives.

The first speaker, YBQ, came on stage in a traditional dhoti-shalwar dress, and naturally everyone in the audience were anticipating a fantastic opening talk from someone who belongs to the distinguished artists class of our country. And that’s what he did. His dress was a striking green and white, the first indication of a very Pakistani event. He tried to kindle the kind of challenge-accepting spirit in everyone’s hearts by asserting that we should learn to believe in ourselves and do what we love doing the most. Apparently, he loves what he does, and he pointed out that most people come to Pakistan to die, but he came back from America to live. Now that’s original! The general theme of his talk was to look inwards into your soul, to accept who you are. Not too easy as said (for a large majority!), but motivating nonetheless, and a great start to the event.

I don’t exactly remember the sequence of the speakers, and I may mix up the points from their talks since I happen to have the memory of a cyborg goldfish, but I’ll try to bring it out from the heart, if you know what I mean.

Azhar Rizvi delivered a very crisp and professional talk on entrepreneurship, on engaging universities and institutions on the initiative that he was involved in, and startled everyone with the large numbers and facts that he presented. His talk built up into a final crescendo; the beginning felt like I was in an MBA lecture, frankly speaking. But through the interesting case that he built up and presented during his talk, he was able to send across one important point that I totally loved and is still stuck in my mind. He wants everyone to:

Engage in small groups and develop ideas for improvement in any aspect of the society, and then propel these ideas to platforms where they could be heard and transformed into a reality. When there are tens of thousands of these idea cultivation groups and cells across the country, it would not only connect like minded people who are passionate about innovation and development, but also connect their hearts which would help in improving the overall development of the country.

Those are not exactly his words, but that’s what I was able to extract from his interesting talk. It’s a sort of extension to the look-into-your-soul concept stated by YBQ earlier, only here you are extending your soul to other souls, creating links to let the passion flow like a river through the entire society, and engage people in developing new initiatives and startups which they alone could not have achieved.

Farhana Azim’s talk was a bit of a hassle for her as she struggled to keep herself in sync with the flipping slides on her PowerPoint presentation. She probably wasn’t comfortable with controlling the slides herself, so obviously it had to get a bit messy when someone else was doing it for her. However, what she presented was thrilling. She’s a floral artist, and the pictures that she showed were of outstanding works of art made from all-organic materials, especially flowers. She had ended her talk with a passionate description about the beauty of flowers in Pakistan, and her experiences being around them. Not as motivating as the other talks I should say, but an interesting foray into the art of floral arrangements, and a realization that passion is what can help you make wonders.

Now Shah Sharabeel came up with probably the most interesting ideas in all the talks. He was supposed to talk about how changes can take place with performing art. I was expecting something on the lines of all the theatre stuff and talk about art, but it was a bit more creative than that. The story that he told to send across his idea definitely portrayed him as a strict man who sticks to his principles, and that he’s the kind of guy who is serious about bringing a change in his society. His tone, however, got a bit harsh at various points in the talk, which showed his distaste for the prevailing ills in the society… but I guess that is what makes the talk all the more interesting, and gives more weight to the speakers statements.

He told how he always wants everything to start on time, and that his events are never a minute late. His staff had to bear a lot of manhandling, torn shirts and bruises because of angry late comers outside the theatre gates, but he would not let them in. So gradually, in the later shows that followed, all of the attendees came on time, and now his shows have 100% attendance. He also told how he was notified of a very senior government person, that he would be coming around 15 minutes late because of some family matters he had to attend to. Sharabeel thought out a plan, and that was to ask everyone in the audience to stand up from their seats and shout at the latecomer to get out, when he would enter the auditorium. The audience at his show loved the idea and were ready to that. Too bad the government guy was notified of this when he was on en route to the theatre in his entourage on the Mall road, and turned back home.

So HIS idea was based on a theme of Unity; that no one in our country would help us end corruption (he asked to mark his words on that), and that it would only be possible if everyone united, and openly declared war against all the corrupt people in the country. Now the idea may seem oft stated when you look at it on the surface, but there are certain societal dynamics, if I may call them as such, which need to be considered, as they play an important part in enabling this unity. Sharabeel introduced the idea before his performance had started, on stage, and obviously the audience were there for a purpose, and that was to watch HIS show. So naturally, the entire group of people at the event had a common thinking, a common objective there, and since the concept of a corrupt society is already understood and abhorred by every sane mind in the society, his idea motivated all the like minded people to instantly connect together to support his objective. So in my opinion, no matter what you do, you cannot unite people unless you have a uniting concept first, which should be independent of the objective you want to achieve. This would help automatically develop a kind of atmosphere of subconscious unity among the people, without them realizing that they are trying to unite themselves together. Simply stated, telling people to unite themselves in not the way to go, uniting them with something that secondary that they are all interested in doing will link their minds together.

The above concept can be used to explain the rationale behind Masoora Ali’s talk as well, in which she pointed out the importance of Active Citizenship. She raised a general idea, but I think it can be linked with Sharabeel’s idea for a synergistic effect. Thus, active citizenship can be one common uniting concept that can bring people together for a common cause, and when they come together for a common cause (which has to be a good one of course), they are linked, and when they are linked, their actions can be extended for creative revolutionizing concepts like the one introduced by Sharabeel; to put up slogans and posters at your shops, institutions, hospitals, etc., that no corrupt person of any standard would be entertained in these institutions.

Swaying away from these topics are the interesting talks by Badar Khushnood and Adnan Shahid, which revolved around more IT technology related stuff. Badar focused on effective utilization of the internet and active involvement of the Pakistani netizens in creating a better online Pakistan. He showed interesting facts about Pakistan’s internet behavior, which Google can very easily analyze. A bit scary when it comes to privacy issues, but I guess we can all trust a Pakistani working in Google (can we?). He talked about how there has been an increased use in mobile phones in Pakistan, something which I personally did not feel was a great “achievement” as owning a mobile phone does not signify progress on a smaller scale. It may show the adoption of technology by the country, but if the technology is not playing any role in the betterment of the country other than bringing it on top of the statistics lists, it need not be mentioned at all.

Adnan Shahid delivered a well organized, crisp and chilling talk about e-waste in Pakistan, how the west dumps their discarded electronic waste in the third world like ours, how the poor people here are making a living out of selling, burning, disposing, transforming these highly toxic materials without considering the health hazards involved, and how our society is completely ignorant about these ills. It did spark a bit of resentment for the developed world, how they used less developed countries as a means to dispose off their old electronic waste. His initiative, Green Pakistan, revolves around the recycling concept, and also that we should always carefully check our electronic gadgets before buying them (whether they are “green” products or not). He said that we should tell the developed countries responsible for the waste to take back their waste and give us back the precious metals they used in making them. Now that’s an awesome statement, and practicable too if thought out well. It would be encouraging to see people following his initiative to dispose off our electronic materials in a well planned way, and not letting it fall in the hands of poor children who risk their lives by trying to make a living out of these toxic materials.

Puruesh Chaudhary came up on stage with her very MBA-ish talk about… ummm… well frankly speaking, most of her high level terminology went over my head, but her initiative, Agahi, struck has an essential media revolution of our times. She showed a very cleverly complied short video documentary about how the media had shifted in its reports over time, and what is being displayed on TV nowadays. My thoughts exactly; as I watched the video, I felt like going back home, picking up the TV and throwing out of the house… something which I had been thinking of doing for a very long time (something which Adnan Shahid would not like, BTW). I do not understand why there is no regulatory body on media ethics in Pakistan. In the name of free speech, our TV channels constantly bombard us with hate, hate and more hate. They don’t even spare us on happy events like Eid, when they continue complaining about how the prices have risen during Eid, and other nonsensical material. Does a person really need to waste his day learning about elevated price items during Eid, when all he wants is just a pleasant time with his family and friends? Media needs a serious revamp, and we need to support people like Puruesh to bring this ethical revolution to the forefront.

The final speaker of the event, a photographer, delivered a highly patriotic talk about his unique travels throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan, the pictures that he had taken, and his experience with various places that a very large majority may not be aware of. Danial Shah presented a slideshow of his photographs which showed all the exocita in our country, stuff that I would personally like to see on my 2012 calendar. I’m not a big fan of nature and all-the-beauty-of-Pakistan, but I was engaged by the enthusiasm and determination of this young man to bring a good name to his country. People may constantly criticize these people who are simply doing what they love to do, and who strongly believe that what they do will eventually bring about a big change. But one should realize the criticisms will only make these people more stronger, and more unique. I thought that whatever he is doing is fantastic, and he should continue exploring deeper aspects of our urban, sub-urban, and rural societies, creating a link between the amazing natural beauty of the country, and the beauty that lies in the society that thrives and continues to mature in this part of the world.

Rakae Jamil is being discussed at the end here, though he performed midway during the event. And that is because his performance was outstanding, and I didn’t want it to be overshadowed by all the discourse that I would have written later on. It’s funny that he played Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Greenday on his sitar, probably to captivate the younger audience. But his performance that followed appealed to everyone; his control over his instrument, and the accompanying tabla, both gave the impression that there was an orchestra of around 12 instruments playing. There were a thousand sounds with each of them having their own pulse… it was mesmerizing… if only the people walking around and leaving had realized that. I am glad there was no underground rock band or something like that at the event, and Rakae Jamil decorated the event with his auditory delights in a fascinating way.

Conclusion

I skipped the dinner at the end, but that was supposed to be a networking session. However, what the overall impression that the event left on me, and of course on everyone else, was a very positive one, and it would definitely be a pleasure to attend more NUST organized events like these in the future. The event was well managed by the students, and I don’t think any other event management body would have done it as well as the students did it themselves (whoa!). You can check out the TEDxNUST website for more details. They might even upload the videos of the event for your viewing pleasure.

The Fallen Leaves

Islamabad has been particularly sparkling the past week. With nice puffy clouds floating above the hills like mushroom outgrowth on rotten broccoli, and the intermittent spells of refreshing rain, everything seems so surreal. It is so surreal that one would want to spend the rest of the day sleeping at home, or watching the clouds float away, or sit back in your comfy couch in front of the telly with a cuppa of chocolate milk and watch the magic of day sweep you away! Well, that’s what nature lovers would say on a nice day, which clearly implies that all nature lovers are lazy people who just can’t wait for the weather to get nice so that they can indulge in the little pleasures mentioned above (woops!).

The rain has been pouring relentlessly over the capital for some days, taking away most of the heat and humidity that was making life difficult for the citizens. The complainers will, however, continue complaining. Like that taxi driver who took me to work one rainy morning, in the days when people were worrying that there was not enough water for their crops, and that those dams and rivers of ours were drying up. He was annoyed by the fact that the mud would ruin his tires, and something else which I can’t recall right now. So no one is happy at any point in time in this country, even if we might think that everything looks perfectly OK.

Nature has his ways of maintaining a Balance. And that is Balance with a capital ‘B’. This balance is essential, even if we might not like it. Too much of everything is bad for your health, they say, and too much of happiness or sorrow can be bad too. So, if we get too happy about something at a particular point in time, the system that governs the universe adjusts that and makes things a little less happy some where else, or at the same ‘location’. You get my point? The average human has been endowed with the capacity to feel every kind of emotion, and depending on the circumstances he may or may not feel happy or sad at a particular point in time. And do we know what the future holds in store for us? Can we tell if we are going to be happy tomorrow or sad the next week? Can we tell that someone is going to leave us tomorrow or come home and bring joy the next?

Can we tell if we, or someone we love, would die on a beautiful surreal morning, when everything seemed so perfect?

We were told by elders, and our religious studies textbooks, that there is a large tree in Heaven, and for every human being on earth there is a leaf on that tree. When a leaf withers and falls, that person dies, and the leaf is replaced by new little ones… another example of the balance that is being maintained. We never know when our leaves would fall, and how we would make our exit from this wonderful thing we call life. For most of us, death is usually painful, and this pain comes from the fact that we do not want to leave this life, and that we want to get so much more from it. We do all in our power to stay there a little longer, just to see what would happen ‘next’. But the most unwelcome of all guests, the angel of death, does not pay any heed. And like Imam Ghazali said, his countenance is horrendous for those who love their material life more than anything, and angelic for those who accept the inevitable.

The leaves fell for around 152 people on the 14th Sha’baan, the unfortunate passengers on Air Blue Flight 202. Those who missed the flights must be in a state of utter shock, and would be thankful to the Almighty that they did not board that plane. What transpired during those last 18 minutes when the airport lost communication with the aircraft is still a mystery, but we can well imagine what would have transpired in the hearts of those people strapped to their seats. Some would have been screaming for mercy, some frantically fiddling with their phones to make a call, and some sitting still with a morose expression on their face, accepting the fact that whatever happens in this world happens for a reason, and that whatever would happen in the next few minutes would be beyond their control. Some would even have been fasting on the 15th of Sha’baan, and one would ask why were lives of these pious people taken that day?

May the deceased rest in peace.

Garam Roti

I was compelled to look up Islamabad’s weather on weather.com this morning after the unpleasant episode of excessive perspiration that transpired last night. It says that there would be some thunderstorms later today and tomorrow, and that the temperature is 91° but it feels like 104°. There was some rain very early in the morning today, too bad it hasn’t done much about the stickiness, but I guess that’s a Monsoon gift we should accept without much complaining!

So how bad was it last night? Well, my skin had become a salt mine by the time I came back home after a brief walk around the neighborhood, and it was not that easy taking off a polo short drenched 60% in sweat (or maybe the good Lord used a drill bit of a larger diameter to make my sweat glands). Those dirty old exhaust fans on the east wall of the polyclinic facing that bumpy old underpass were blowing out lukewarm air as usual, along with a host of little critters from the putrid depths of the murky hospital. As I walked down the path that led to the blue area, I would occasionally get a whiff of stinking sweaty armpits out of nowhere. It was as if a horizontally challenged sweaty little fellow in a white shalwar kameez had been standing at that particular location for a bit too long, and the stench from those yellow spots under his arms had permeated the vapor in the air, thus creating a floating mass of stench that would partially stick to every passerby and blend with his stench to create another unique aroma.

And when I cast my eyes on the blue area towers in front of me, and on the distant yellow blinking lights on the road, I was reminded of my days in the middle east, when I would come back home after a walk with friends near the sea-side, and smelled like a fish fresh out of the salty sea water. Luckily we don’t have a sea or fishies in Islamabad, so we can’t blame them for making us smell bad in the humidity. The air was very still, unlike the air near the sea-side, and I could not muster up enough courage to walk the extra distance to the Usmania restaurant for my late dinner.

It was quarter to nine, and the shops had their genny’s running. Most of the shopkeepers were sitting outside next to their genny’s, fanning themselves with scraps of paper or with their own shirts. But the brave ones are those who work in the tandoor naan shops. These lads stand near those terrible tandoors for hours with strange Hellboy like gloves on their right hands to reach into the bowels of hell and pull out a nicely done roti (I wonder if Hellboy worked in a tandoor). They don’t even have genny’s, maybe they can’t afford them, so some of them use the gas that is available to them to their advantage and light up a huge fire in their shops. That’s not very pleasant for the customers either, but the tandoor guy makes the roti to earn his roti, and the customer wants the roti he makes. So the need for roti overpowers the suffering caused by the heat… and roti makes the world go round!

And so I walked back home with my roti, watching the shutters being pulled down. The old man who sells newspapers near the polyclinic covered his little stall with a dirty thick cloth, set his charpai on the sloping footpath and laid himself down shirtless under the infinite sky. He probably doesn’t think too much about the heat, or the humidity, or the stench emanating from the tattered old shirt he had been wearing all day. He’s too worried about getting roti everyday. And here we are in our pretty little rooms with AC’s and fans running around us, complaining about the weather and taking everything that we have for granted…

The end.

A nice new place for a stroll with Molly

There seems to be a park type area in the making on the Attaturk Avenue. Lots of nice footpaths are being made in the green belt in front of the PTCL building. I took a few pictures of that area with my lousy camera for you guys when I was walking back home yesterday. Maybe they thought that this area should have walkways because there are so many working class people who need to cross this area to go their offices on the other side, and its always a pain in the nether region to risk your life walking through a dense jungle full of hissing snakes and blood thirsty boars (kind of like the ones in the movie Hannibal (I hope I didn’t put you off your appetite!))

A nice little shed under construction. It would be nice to have short park style lamp posts at various locations. That would help create a nice ambience. But I doubt that would be on the list of things to do for the CDA. I wonder why they have to keep Islamabad so dark at nights! I remember the night when I went cross-country through a very dark area. If it wasn’t for the noise of the rushing waters below, I would have been drowning in Islamabad’s storm water drain that night! Maybe the CDA could try giving the people little torches with a little ‘Government of Pakistan’ sticker on them. I think they would be cheaper than erecting a lamp post!

Since this area is so close to PTCL, it would be great to make this whole place a Wi-Fi hotspot where users can just sit around and blog, tweet, facebook, etc. Here’s a picture of the new metallic benches and trash cans that are going to be placed all over this place I believe. That white light at the back are the parliamentary houses thingy, too bad my camera was unable to capture the buildings properly.

Here’s some guys playing cricket in that empty ground opposite the Ufone office just where this green area ends.

Would be great to see serious walkers, joggers, and exercisers in this new place.

A bit of north-east-west-south

Since there happen to be some good people out there who care about Metblogs and have raised a significant amount of money to keep it from being taken down, it would be very unfair to not write something. After a little unsuccessful fiddling with my Windows Live! Writer (a nifty little tool that allows me to save drafts and format texts to make the write-up look nice for all the pretty ladies out there (mind you, pretty ones only)), I was able to post yet another brilliantly composed test message for theme detection which could not be taken off for some reason (those subscribed to the Islamabad Metblogs RSS probably know what the hell I’m talking about).

So what is there to write about Islamabad? Nothing I guess, except for the oh-so-beautiful view from Daman-e-Koh which people have the urge to photograph again and again, or maybe the seemingly never ending construction going on at the zero-point area, or the relocation of the little disabled baba who sits in the Super market selling cheap little Chinese toys.

You didn’t see that coming did you? Have you noticed that little disabled old man? The one who sits next to the shawarma maker near Durrani’s, whose delightful little sandwiches we love to sink our canines into very often?

Bah, why would anyone want to know anything about him… because there’s better news abound!

News #1: Dominos, the renowned pizza makers have finally come to Islamabad! Yaayyy! They’re a HUGE success in Lahore, with their DHA Y-Block outlet usually always crowded. I had the good fortunate of ordering a pizza at Dominos Lahore on Eid day, and despite the fact that there were apparently hundreds of people there booking their orders, my pizza still came in around 40 minutes at my doorstep. I’m personally very fond of Dominos and usually prefer those over Pizza Hut/Inn whenever I’m in Lahore. Good thing they’re here in Islamabad now. The boys at Pizza Hut would definitely have a hard time retaining their customers now!

News #2: All you peri peri lovers have probably seen the new Nando’s outlet finally come to life in the Super market. I’m not sure if it was inaugurated over the weekend, but I saw some guys taking mobile phone snaps of the building from all angles. It’s quite a good location, but I’m wondering if the soft-tongued islooites would be able to develop a taste for Nando’s. And I think that Nando’s success would mean a blow to KFC. Their standard is already pretty low, so a bit of chicken competition would probably bring them back on track.

News #3: The monkey had his first ever plate of dahi ballay from munchies in Islamabad after 3 years of living in this city! *monkies cheering*

By the way, the monkey noted that exceedingly short kameez seem to be back in fashion now. He had the good fortune of seeing a petite young creature wear a kameez which probably extended an inch above the lower fold of the glutes. An mind you, that is dangerously provocative… the monkey almost collided with an oncoming black Toyota truck while he was intently observing the swaying undulating folds of the silky lower garment. I think the kameez is going through a phase of extremes too now (damn, everything is extremist). Either its too long, or too short. I won’t be surprised if the kameez goes way up above the navel one day to give the wearer a more arabian belly dancer type look. Sigh, the monkey misses the 1990’s!

Ramadan 2009

Ramadan seems to be coming along fine in the capital with men and women spending the day staying hungry, waiting patiently for the time the sun sets down so they can chow down the unhealthy delicacies waiting for them on their dining tables. The samosa and pakora manufacturers are having a great month by selling those onion, mince meat, and vegetable filled foods to all and sundry. Right next to them are the jalebi engineers, and the kachori developers. A typical marketplace, like the Melody Food Area for example, is a fun place to go minutes before iftari. All the fruit sellers are trying their best to sell all their rotting fruits so they pack up and go to the nearest mosque for the iftar. Eateries like the Melody Savor branch are thronged by people to grab a shopping bag full of their favorite pulao kabab (I personally find the act of stuffing a royal dish like a pulao in a transparent polythene bag quite disgraceful). Everyone is in a hurry to run back home before the sirens go off, and before the muezzins in every mosque in Islamabad announce the time to break the fast.

There are people, like yours truly, who enjoy wandering around right at the time of iftar. Walking down in the middle of the erstwhile busy roads at iftar time can be delightful. You can see all the policemen huddled up under trees and behind their concrete barricades with disposable plates full of the aforementioned delicacies. Yet there is always one of them standing guard, just in case a truck full of explosives with two euphoric men would happen to go by. There are also small time fruit sellers standing at street corners, and one of them was kind enough to offer me five dates for free at the time of iftar (I accepted two though, ate one and shoved the other one deep into the unforgiving bowels of my bag, probably to be eaten up by a cockroach or something).

Oh, by the way, on my way back home I noticed this new development in the Super Market. Can anyone guess what this little black mirchi means?

Image123

Anyway, the blessings of Ramadan are endless. Here are a few of them for your reading pleasure:

1) You get to have more food than you usually have.

2) You get to have more unhealthy food than you usually have.

3) You learn that food is the most important thing on the planet, and that Ramadan is all about the food.

4) You shove non-fasters behind embarrassing enclosures where they can have their happy time and have a bite or two to satiate their hunger (Poor souls! They should demand their rights).

5) Sexually active couples get to spend less time in bed together, and hence contribute in the noble cause of slowing down the population growth of this deprived nation.

6) Medications like Gaviscon and the white Milk of Magnesia have increased sales to help their consumers break down the large bubbles of gas in their intestines into smaller more manageable air packets.

7) And so on and so forth…

But seriously, without taking the ugly head of Ramadan commercialism, the political disturbances, the price hikes, and the religious complications, there are a few things about this month the make it the most important month of the year for a persons physical and mental health. Without Ramadan, the little social ills that plague our society would become something normal, and there would be no question of whether the ills being practiced are right or wrong. This the only time of the year when people abstain from things that are considered wrong, and they develop the patience and strength to do that. Ramadan is not about praying five times a day, or getting up early in the morning to eat paratha, or reciting the Qur’an, or staying hungry throughout the day… it is only about the well being of the spirit, and it is our job to learn how to keep our spirit happy and healthy during this holy month, and for every other month of the year.

It is also mainly about love and compassion, just like the compassion shown to me by that poor fruit seller standing with his cart in the corner of the street at iftar time by offering me dates with a smile on his face.

So Happy (belated) Ramadan everyone! And I hope you spend the rest of what remains of this Islamic month contemplating over the little ills inside you instead of worrying about staying hungry and thirsty.

In the Fatima Jinnah Park

I went to the F-10 park Megazone last night for a bowling session with a colleague. It’s always good to have a little recreation when you’re stressed out and have things in your head which keep pinching you from time to time.

It wasn’t the first time I was going there, so I had a wee bit of experience in rolling that heavy ball down the alley, and hence was confident that I would be able to get a few spares or, if I were lucky, full strike outs. Although there were quite a lot of cars in the parking lot, relatively fewer people could be seen inside Megazone, which is surprising actually because I cannot imagine people having a fun time walking around in this humid weather in the park! But it wasn’t as cool as it should be in Megazone too, probably because of the fact that they’re not entirely running their systems on generators or other energy saving/generating devices.

But before me and my partner started our bowling session, I spent some time looking at a group of little children in sparkling white uniforms and belts of various colors around their waists running about in circles, kicking soft pads, and jumping through rings of fire! Oh yes, these were little karatekas training to become warriors, to get fit, or just to have a good time. All their movements were properly coordinated and they moved in synchrony on their instructors commands. What I loved most about the entire scene was the way they came running towards their instructor when they were called, bowed obediently all together and shouted “Osu”, and then got in the fighting ready stance with their feet shoulder width apart and their fist lowered in front of them. Seeing such discipline and coordination in little children whom one usually expects to NOT listen to whatever their elders have to say was very satisfying.

Here’s a picture of the kids standing in a line and kicking a soft pad which their instructor is holding. It’s obvious that I had to keep my distance to avoid getting hit by those powerful blows:

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After their kicking and punching and kata session was over, it was time for them to practice extra skills. First their instructors made them jump through a metallic ring with a mattress in front of it for them to safely land on. Then they put the ring on fire and made the kids jump through it! Here’s a picture of one of them preparing to jump through the firey ring. A bit blurry, but I guess you can see what’s going on:

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I talked to one of the junior instructors about what art they were teaching. He wasn’t familiar with most of the ‘technical’ karate terms I was talking about, so I asked him in plain Urdu. He told me that their head instructor was a 3rd Dan in Shotokan, a popular form of karate being taught in our country. Karate types like Shotokan stress on repetition, practice, and the importance of kata (a series of movements which are thought of as an encyclopedia of combat). A few older people were there practicing too, but the class was largely dominated by children.

For most people, martial arts are mostly about kicking and punching and maiming your opponent in a variety of clever ways. But above all, it is all about discipline, compassion, patience, balance, harmony, and peace. Teaching your children these important things can be the most valuable gift you can give to your child. So I would definitely encourage sending your children to a good martial arts school in the city. And I would love to see more of these sprouting up in the capital.

Security situation in Islamabad

So how are things in Islamabad nowadays? Well, apart from the excruciating heat, the sweaty underarms and the dehydration, there are the really annoying security measures which have been taken up by the authorities in Islamabad, which require every walking/driving/flying citizen to prove his identity anywhere and everywhere. They are annoying, but they are probably the only way the police, and other forces can take control of the situation in the capital. Oftentimes, I am reminded of the enormity of the situation by the policemen themselves, telling me that if I don’t cooperate and go through the hassle of proving my identify and getting my backpack checked every morning three times by three different security officials, I might get blown up like an overstuffed chicken in a microwave by some happy-go-lucky virgin loving bearded buffoon, ready to get his one way ticket to paradise.

The high security areas are particularly the most problematic for the daily commuter. There are places like the Marriott hotel area where you can’t walk down the footpath without a dozen eyes watching you. There are those 360 degree Marriott security cameras, the guards spread out in front of the hotel, illegally occupying the road, there are the Frontier Constabulary guys mounted on their machine guns and blowing whistles every time someone gets too close to their enclosure, and there are the measly police men with their taped AK47’s, their dangling bullet proof vests and their sweat ridden brows. No matter how bothersome they can get at times, I do feel sorry for these people whenever I watch them guarding at their positions. What do they tell their families when they go out every morning to work? How do their children feel about their father who is out there on the road, risking his life to protect others? How do these security people perform their duties knowing very well that there is no guarantee that they might live to see another day? So, I don’t like to argue with them like other people usually do to get past a seemingly annoying security check. I let them do what they want to do.

In a situation like this, how should an ordinary citizen react? Here are a few important points that one should consider while outside:

  • Always carry your ID with you, be it your workplace ID or your Government ID. Keep photocopies of your ID in your purse/wallet for submission where ever required by security officials.
  • Keep your driving license and vehicle documents with you while driving. Always keep an attested photocopy of your vehicles documents to show to security officials on demand. Give the photocopied document first, only show them the real thing if they insist or the situation permits.
  • Do not carry large bags around which might make you look suspicious.
  • Try not to walk around high security areas for too long. Remember that there are quite a number of places in the capital where 360 degree cameras have been installed, and your image repeatedly sent on the security screens doesn’t sound like a very good thing.
  • Do not argue with security officials. Try not to waste time arguing with them particularly at dangerous places like security check posts and road blocks. It is always safe to show them your ID before they even ask for it. Oftentimes they would even let you pass without asking too much details if you show your ID earlier.
  • Stay away from crowds. Even walking in large groups with friends can prompt the security officials to stop you all and question you about your purpose on coming to the area.
  • Although it’s a noble thing to report any suspicious behavior to the authorities whenever you see one, it is wise not to get involved with the authorities at all! However, you should not hesitate to report a suspicious inanimate object to the authorities so that quick investigation can take place.
  • Try not to carry metallic objects or other items that would slow your progress down a security check. Keep minimal items and a handy bag which can be quickly opened and closed when a security official needs to check.
  • Always make sure that your cellphone has credit and that it is fully charged whenever you go out.

These few points and others can increase your safety index, decrease your chances of getting stuck in a security problem, and even more important, protect you from potential dangers like explosions and other acts of terrorism.

From my seat on KFC’s first floor

Well, here I am again in the Super market, wandering around aimlessly and filling my lungs with fresh Islamabadi air (mixed with popular brands of perfume, the stench of garbage cans, the smell of sweaty under arms, and the hormonal discharge of emotionally charged adolescents). Having brisk walked around the area for over an hour, I was beginning to feel hungry, and so I decided to go to the KFC outlet for my favorite snack of a chicken nuggets combo meal with an Arabian rice add-on. I hadn’t eaten something unhealthy in quite sometime, so I thought it would be nice if I could treat my taste buds to something Finger Lickin’ Good.

Since I’m a regular KFC customer and keep ordering those nuggets at my place whenever I feel like getting my arteries blocked with cholesterol, the delivery guy wandering around the counter recognized me and made sure that I got my order in time. And soon my hot star shaped nuggets came sliding down their delivery cabinet and were served in a disposable paper plate along with the unusually salty fries by their side. Since the lower floor was being renovated, I had to go to the first floor to have my meal.

What I have felt during my three year stay in Islamabad (my personal observation) is that people here like going to the KFC outlet more than McDonalds, whereas in Lahore McDonalds is far more popular than KFC as you’ll usually see every McDonalds outlet in Lahore spilling with people who are dying to sink their teeth in a juicy slab of chicken or beef meat (stop drooling, you’ll short circuit your keyboard). Accessibility maybe? With McDonalds far away in F-10 near that park thingy (Fatima Jinnah probably?), people would rather prefer going to the more accessible KFC in the Super, a market place where people are found anyway at any time (except for later in the night after 11, which I think is quite sad). I would personally rate the McDonalds Big Mac more chunkier and juicier than the KFC’s Zinger, the latter having tarnished my image of the much likened burger after I received it in a messy condition at my place. And for some reason I have this feeling that food served at the KFC is more unhealthier than that served at McDonalds.

No comparing McDonalds fries with KFC’s though! Nicely served, crisp and hot and appropriately salted, the McDonalds’ fry is the perfect sidekick to an equally good Big Mac burger, unlike the KFC fry which is a bit more oilier and inappropriately salted. The taste of the fry should be uniform; it should penetrate the flesh of the potato and be homogenous throughout the fry. Because if you chew on a piece of fry with a non-uniform taste, you would see that it is saltier on the outside, but not as salty on the inside, giving you an incomplete taste in the mouth. When you bite a fry, your brain expects the same lovely salty potato taste on the inside too, and when your tongue does not find it, the brain is disappointed. And that’s why McDonald’s fries are better than KFC’s… they just have a nice uniform taste in addition to the crispiness and freshness.

I guess we’ve dissected the fry a bit too much than was necessary.

The first floor of the KFC outlet seemed like a children’s area with balloons everywhere and lovely greeting cards self-made by children pasted to every window of the outlet. I found some of the cards very very touching. Here’s a window covered with cards the children made for their mothers, probably for mothers day:

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There’s all sorts of lovely things written on them. The kids have been very creative about expressing their love for their mother in these cards. There was stuff like: There is nothing more comfortable in this world than a mother’s lap.

But I find this quite strange. Not that the kids are expressing their love for their mothers, but that a multi-national fast food outlet that serves fried chicken with potato fries and a soft drink in a disposable glass has children’s emotions splattered all over their walls. Why is a fast food outlet stressing so much on a child’s love for this mother? Is it because they want to improve their sales by attracting more children? Is it because they are using the cover of Mother’s Day to get more customers? Is it because this outlet is in a way educating these children to respect KFC more, and by doing so are preparing them to be KFC addicts in the future? Or does KFC truly and honestly respects a child’s love for his or her mother and is proudly displaying it on their windows with these cards that the children made? Quite strange if you think of it.Image045

It didn’t take me much time to finish what I had in my plates, but what I usually look forward to eating at KFC is the Arabian Rice. I often find myself ordering two plates of Arabian Rice, one as an add-on which costs Rs. 40, and one separate, which costs me Rs. 75 I believe. It’s that combination of the rich chicken flavor with the capsicum, the peppercorn and the green chilli that makes this rice so irresistible. I tried making it at home but wasn’t very successful with it. The only difference was the absence of chicken; I had put chicken stock in it instead. But it did come near to the real thing.

Image046With plenty of time to waste I thought I should send up a few tweets through my cellphone. But then I wondered if there was a WiFi internet connection in the outlet. Quite a ridiculous thought, but when I scanned for wireless internet I found a LOT of them! And everytime I ran the scan I found new ones. The first one in the picture on the left gave me 100% signal strength, so that probably was the KFC’s connection. There was another one for the Chopsticks restaurant right next to the KFC outlet, and this too was an unsecured open connection. The others had either WPA or WEP encryption, so I couldn’t get through them. But I spent my time there comfortably tweeting through the KFC and the Chopsticks WiFi connection. So if anyone of you is on the move and is looking out for a good internet connection to post a blog, check e-mails or work, then just sit around the KFC area and you’ll get a good signal.

And after having my meal, I walked back home, made two glasses of nice salted lassi with a kulcha, and went to bed with the thought that by the time I wake up in the morning, my body would have had absorbed the proteins from the nuggets and patched up my muscle tissue with it, the fries would have provided the much needed carbohydrate, and the rice a truckload of calories to burn on another walk on a Saturday afternoon.

In and around Super

I usually take the van to go to the F-6 ‘Super’ Market, the place where I like to walk around for a couple of hours at night aimlessly, looking at people walking, talking, and shopping. Sometimes I choose my ‘victim’ from the crowd of walkers, and follow the unwary person around the market, observing what he (or she) is doing. But that happens sometimes, mind you, and calling me a public stalker would be an insult to a very interesting urban art form just like the more risky sport of parkour. I wonder how it would be like to be doing parkour in Islamabad though… jumping around garbage cans and lamp posts and those newly erected fancy bus stops. The city is crying out for some kind of urban sport to take over its streets, and the post-taliban era (if the army manages to beat the pulp out of those miscreants) would be the perfect time to encourage these activities, and other arts. But if we do turn into bearded buffoons and get our barbers shops and massage parlors closed in the near future, it still wouldn’t hurt to have some kind of urban sport to keep us entertained now would it? Or maybe they would accuse someone of flashing his ‘naala’ while jumping around garbage cans and cars in a parking area.

Best Price

So, when I reach the ‘Super’ market, I go to the supermarket called Best Price to replenish my supply of cereal and frozen goods, a majority of bachelors means of survival. This is one of those places where you can get all the stuff you need at a reasonable price. They do get unfriendly with their vegetables and fruits prices sometimes, but their buy-one-get-one free type offers are usually quite tempting. Plus their clever strategy of deploying pretty young women in-front of popular brands like Olper’s milk and the new Flora margarine usually fool gullible and easily persuaded men like yours truly into buying their product. And to top it off, they get your cellphone number too, leaving you wondering if the pretty young lady would call you later for a little tête-à-tête in the middle of the night, only to disappoint you later by having her ‘boss’ call you up for other so-called unbelievable offers of the same product.

Now this particular supermarket has an upper floor which has tons of plastic goods, crockery and utensils, bed sheets and other stuff. This was the first place where I came to shop for all my kitchen utensils when I first came to Islamabad, and I wasn’t disappointed. I did, however, want a nice little bowl for pouring in milk and food for cats which I was unable to find in this supermarket. Funny though that they’ve got a huge stock of dog and cat food but no stuff to put it all in! Their kitchen utensils section seems to be aptly stocked too, with items ranging from a variety of knives and forks to all sorts of cooking pots and pans.

To cut a long story short, it’s a good place to shop for everyday stuff.

The Walk

One of the activities I enjoy doing at Super, as mentioned above, is walking around for hours (well not actually ‘hours’ but half and quarter hours… lots of quarter hours!). The route I like to follow starts from the Servis outlet where the van drops me off. From there I walk towards that book and stationary store on the main road side which has rows of magazines outside up for sale, and an old tattered banner advertising the availability of the much coveted Brasstacks CD (which, in my opinion, is all a load of bull to get people’s attention). I cross the Levi’s store and turn right to get ‘inside’ the market. Here’s where I am welcomed by the fragrance of serrated edged potatoes made by a short squinty eyed Afghani, who is usually found surrounded by a few ladies wanting to replenish their energy with those chunks of carbohydrate after their endless rounds of shopping for women’s accessories.

My feet then lead me to the Illusions store, where I usually stop by to have a look around, check if the price of the new gaming consoles have reduced or not, and of course, to buy a DVD or two to watch on the weekend. Why do I like to buy DVD’s from Illusions and not from any small DVD outlet in the corner of the market? Well, I like to give my movie watching experience some more respect, and by not buying the DVD from a measly CD outlet somewhere next to a men’s underwear shop where a semi-naked man wearing a p-cap chewing a ciggie stub is sitting in front of his collection of CD’s wrapped in polythene, I am in a way making my experience more pleasurable.

I then walk out into the open and into the small sitting area with concrete (or was it wood?) benches on a nicely paved ground. You can see people sitting there, chatting, playing cards, smoking, making future plans, discussing issues, eating, etc. etc. It’s one of those places where a terrorist is most likely to strike if his objective was to discourage people from coming to the marketplace (oops!). If only they had a few low street lamps sort of lighting there… nice orange colored lights… they would have made the ‘sitting’ experience more pleasurable. And of course if the CDA wants to do that they should do so without making it look too showy and obvious. Just a few nice orange lights in the background to make the place more cosy…

From here I either go to Best Price to buy my stuff, or walk towards the pharmacies and then to the United Bakery near the KFC outlet to replenish my supply of bakery items. I love buying bakery items, even if most of them would not have the pleasure of dissolution in my gastric juices and would rot and turn green after lying for weeks unattended in the refrigerator. The items I usually pick off the shelves from this bakery are those stick thingies with sesame seeds on them,  and some nice garlic bread, although it is a bit too oily and not as good as the ones served as appetizers at Pappasallis. Somehow I feel that the United Bakery has lost its standard and doesn’t make the kind of stuff it used to before.

So here’s where it ends, and here’s where I stand for 10 minutes wondering if I should walk back home or take the cab. The cabbies here usually charge and exorbitant amount after seeing that you have tons of shopping bags in your hand and have no other choice but to hire a cab. But at least they’re not as crazy as the cabbies or rickshaw drivers in Lahore.

If anyone asked me where I would like to hangout in Islamabad for the weekend, I’d say that it would be the Super market (hint hint).

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