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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pak Sur Zameen Shad Baad... (2012)

I consider myself very fortunate that I was back home on what is one of the most important days of the year for myself. A few months ago I was under the impression that I would be sitting on a rain drenched Island some 3000 miles away from home,  and would be experiencing this moment as just another member of the diaspora. That day is the independence day of my beloved nation and Today is that day the 14th of August, 2012, Independence day in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is now 65 years since that midnight on the 14th of August in 1947 when Pakistan came into existence and the whole world witnessed the dream of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Dr. Allama Iqbal and millions of Muslims of the Indian subcontinent coming to a reality.

For many of us Pakistani's, the birth of the nation came at a great price paid by ancestors when the Indian sub continent was partitioned by Great Britain. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from through out the subcontinent left their homes and made the journey to the new promised land. Pakistan was to be the fruit of years of hard work and political struggle a sort of Utopian dream for millions. The barbaric violence and atrocities that followed the announcement of partition meant many could not make it to the promised land. There were also those that were sole survivors of the treacherous journey from their large house holds. A very large number of those migrants came from East Punjab, which saw itself get completely ethnically cleansed of Punjabi Muslims, while the Urdu speaking lot was a diverse bunch hailing from all over the Indian sub continent. The Urdu language became a natural choice as the national language of the new nation since apart from Islam, this language was the lingua franca for millions of Muslims in the sub continent from Khyber to the Bay of Bengal.

Minar-e-Pakistan is sparkling in Green colour against the dark background of night

I remember my time abroad, between 2004 and 2010 I have spent many independence days living on foreign shores. As an undergraduate student in Australia, there was little air of the Pakistani spirit and patriotism owing to the small size of the diaspora, none the less Pakistani students from universities across New South Wales used to get together and try and organize a get together. Such was the size of the Pakistani student community there back in the day that it required pooling together of Pakistani students from across multiple universities to make up a sizable lot. Now that I am back in the land of the pure the feeling of being surrounded by the white and green on the streets of my home town Karachi over whelming and I find myself facing a scarcity of words with which to describe my feelings of being home.

Even now, every time the national anthem I get some what emotional, be it right here in Pakistan or be it some where overseas. Not long ago in the British capital, I was at a Shakespearean play organized by a Pakistani theater company in the Urdu Language. Prior to the start of the play, the on stage musicians also from Pakistan played the national anthem. It was a really nice gesture on part of the audience as a whole which included many non Pakistanis to stand up in respect for the national anthem of a nation that was not there. It was touching moment, and one I will cherish for many years.

Though I have always been a patriot, my patriotism and my commitment to Pakistan has been questioned by many people over the years. The reason most commonly thrown at me growing up was that I am culturally too distant from Pakistani culture, there is nothing culturally or socially Pakistani about me. Upon reaching adulthood, I was witness to Pakistan's religious transformation, which added a religious element to accusations of my lack of patriotism where I got accused of cultural and national insensitivity due to my values differing from predefined societal norms and conventions. The latest addition to that has been my political support, some have accused of me being unpatriotic because I am not a supporter of a cult like personality who is trying to make inroads into mainstream politics. Not for a moment, did I let that push me away from feeling the way I do about my beloved home land, if anything such narrow minded accusations have made me value my unique individuality far more, and value my home land and my identity as a Pakistani. Even now when as the plane was making its descent into Jinnah International Airport after a long 7 hour journey from London, it felt that there was patriotic music playing in my ears. It could have been my iPod but all I could hear was Amanat Ali's 'Aye Watan Pyare Watan' followed by the relatively lighter 'Dil Dil Pakistan' by Vital Signs. I know very well who I am and who I am not, I was, I am and I always will be loyal and patriotic.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ramzan Diaries 2: Pre-Dusk Food Can be hazardous for Health

Very recently I came across a bit of news in the local media, I will not disagree that it was not surprising to see such events taking place in this country. Even in the absence of surprise such stories in the news are unpleasant to read. I am referring to the incidents that have recently happened where law enforcement has taken advantage of their powers and caused some citizens some discomfort. The incidents both of which happened in the capital city Islamabad relate to individuals eating during the day within the holy month of Ramzan, such incidents are a cause for concern for those of us elsewhere also.

In the case of the first incident, a couple of youngsters were sipping a beverage in the privacy of their car somewhere along the Margalla Hills, when a few police officers came and harassed the young men in question. The report even made claims of the young men experiencing some minor form of police brutality, having personally experienced police brutality in Pakistan, I find it very believable when I hear news concerning such police behavior. In the other incident, a few high end establishments frequented by Islamabad's elite and the large foreign population living in Islamabad were on the receiving end of a police raid, where the staff, customers and restaurant management were harassed by the police for not respecting the holy month of Ramzan and for not following legal protocol which the police comes under some Ramzan ordinance act in Pakistan. The police in this situation even stated that they were not willing extend leniancy to foreigners also who must respect Ramzan.

I can not even begin to start on just how ridiculous and ludicrous all this. Either these laws are in place to please the religious right or give legal power to the ever growing number of religiously sensitive and intolerant people in Pakistan. The religiously observant or the religiously sensitive it seems love forcing religion down everyone's throats and want others to follow the same exact life style choice as them. I have previously blogged about this that religious people want us to be like them, but now I am starting to believe in addition to all this, they see non observant or non practicing Muslims as the idea tool or the perfect excuse for blowing some steam. Whoever is familiar with human behavior will be able to make sense of the fact that persecution, bullying and harassment of others especially those seen as relatively weaker or inferior gives the initiator a feeling of empowerment, and everybody loves that good feeling of empowerment. This Wahabi influenced religious sensitivity backed by legal action makes others, Non Muslims as well as practicing Muslims soft targets.

The Ramzan ordinance and other religiously influenced laws have been around since the time of Zia Ul Haq, the military dictator responsible for the bizarre Islamization of the country. This process has caused significant violation of personal human rights and it has created the perfect excuse to harass and exploit others. Having lived in Pakistan, I too am no stranger to religious harassment, I have experienced everything from direct mockery and abuse for not being observant, to social discrimination, public humiliation, open cursing to fear inducement (through the sin I am apparently committing by not being religious) and even death threats from a guy who got outraged at the idea of me not being a supporter of the Burqa. At this point it seems there is no foreseeable solution in the fight against the religiously sensitive types who feel they have an open  license to judge others based on their morality and treat them as they please.

Seeing how sensitive and intolerant people are becoming, today for about 5 minutes I too was frightened as I was not fasting due to health reasons and after having starved myself the whole day I gave into hunger and sat down for a quick meal. For a while I was reluctant to have that meal which my body needed so badly, for a few minutes I was frightened to eat in public, I was terrified at the prospect of being harassed or worse being reported for eating in public because some religiously sensitive nut job thinks by eating in day light in Ramzan I am committing some sort of act of blasphemy. For a few minutes, before I made the decision to eat, I scanned my surroundings to see if there are other souls out there who are braving the intolerant sensitivity of our urban society and eating a bite or grabbing a drink. When I analyzed the premises and figured out I would not be the only one on the premises making this move, the first thought that came to my mind is should I get an upsize?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Tragedy in the UK & an unhealthy obsession with honor and kinship

Wikipedia describes the concept of kinship as the web of social relationships that forms an important part of lives of most humans in most societies. One can say that is very true and applicable to a society like Pakistan where the sense of kinship is very strong, in fact among the strongest in the world, this could be owing the assumed collective nature of our Asian culture and society. Even western writers and historians have been amazed by the amount of importance given to kinship in our society, how much people value social relationships, be it relationships with  people that they are related to by blood or simply those in the wider community. It is not uncommon to hear people around us very regularly make use of the word 'biradari' which is the Urdu word for community, and how important it is to maintain our position within that biradari.

To get a good idea and understanding of this very kinship concept from an outsider's perspective, I would recommend reading 'Pakistan: A Hard Country'. This book by professor of History at King's College London, Anatol Levien in a way serves as a biography for the great nation of Pakistan. In a lot of those chapters, especially those covering the provinces he has significantly highlighted how important community ties are for Pakistani's especially those with some rural connection. Considering the majority of the population of Pakistan still lives in the country side, and a significant chunk of the urban population having some recent or distant roots in the agrarian backdrop, it is entirely possible that this strong sense of kinship and the issue of honor associated with it has become a reality for not only Pakistani's in urban centers such as Karachi and Lahore, but also in the diaspora.

This is off particular relevance to the United Kingdom, where today more than a million of its citizens are off Pakistani heritage with the number continuously on the rise. Some members of this community have done exceptionally well to prove themselves integrated and worthy parts of a free British society, however at the same time Pakistani's in the United Kingdom also feature in the news for a lot of very wrong reasons.

Very recently British Pakistani's were in the news again. The murder of the 17 year old British Pakistani girl Shefilia Ahmad dating back to 2002-3 has been in thee news all over again, with significant coverage given to it by both the British as well as the Pakistani media. A murder that happened almost a decade ago was brought back to light because this past week, a British court just handed out prison sentences to the parents who had murdered their own child. Based on evidence, testimonials and investigations that had been on going for the last several years, Shefilia was murdered by her parents on account on honor. They believed that she had dishonored the family by refusing to marry a cousin back in Pakistan and for developing a westernized life style while growing up. Her younger sister who is now 23 had testified to the court that she had witnessed the abuse that her sister experienced growing up. It must have certainly taken a great amount of courage for that 23 year old to come out and testify against her parents knowing that by doing so she puts herself at significant risk if the court decides that the parents are found not guilty.

Let us assume for a moment,  that both Shefilia's refusal to marry her cousin as well as her westernized life style was what dishonored her family and brought shame on them. Let us analyse this for a few minutes. Suppose it is the former, her refusal to marry her cousin, what her parents tried to do was force her hand in marriage to a relative back in Pakistan. Not uncommon among Pakistani circles, as there is an unhealthy obsession among Pakistani's to  treat their children like commodities especially with respect to the issue of marriage. Shefilia's refusal or resistance must have upset her parents who were probably deeply concerned about upsetting their relatives back in Pakistan who had asked for their daughter's hand in marriage. The fear of damaged social ties and inability to look at blood relatives in the eye created feelings of being dishonored. The need to maintain such ties are given so much importance by Pakistani adults that they end up treating their children like objects or tools for personal public relations, easily illustrated by the case of Shefilia, where her parents first offered their hand in marriage to a relative, then murdered her in cold blood as if she was an invaluable human life. Take for example the social dilemma in Pakistani societies related to the marriage scenario.  For example you are a Pakistani couple with children, boys and girls of marriage age, and one of your siblings or first cousin approaches you and asks for your children in marriage for their own children, what are you supposed to do? It might seem easy on the surface to say No or to say the option will be considered, but here is how our Pakistani psyche works, even the hint  of refusal in such matters can be taken as a matter of personal insult which carries enough weight to damage the original social relationship, i.e. between the parents and their siblings or cousins. In a way you could say it would create disruption of a social relationship network.

 Assuming it was the latter that brought them shame i.e. Shefilia's westernized lifestyle, let us see why it would be a source of dishonor for her parents considering the family lived in a free western society in the United Kingdom.? Well this also comes down to the whole scenario of kinship, in this case it would be about kinship closer to home i.e. within the Pakistani community in the UK. It is possible that Shefilia's liberal westernized lifestyle attracted too much unwanted attention among other Pakistani parents who were probably concerned that seeing Shefilia their daughters and sons might start demanding similar freedoms and liberty. This would particular be a cause of concern if their trying to raise their children according to the picture perfect that they have off them and one which might be very divergent from what an organic up bringing for them might be. Let us not forget it is also a Pakistani obsession to ensure that our children grow up and develop in their lives according to the picture perfect image that many parents have.

The tragedy of Shefilia's untimely death has brought to highlight a very important issue that is deeply prevalent in our society, one that is damaging and destroying a lot of lives, in some cases prematurely ending it. Shefilia did not deserve to die at the hands of the two people on earth who are supposed to unconditionally love their children till death does them part. Courtesy of British and Pakistani media, we still came to learn about the story of Shefilia and her tragic death, how many more Pakistani youngsters are out there who we never hear about? How many more Pakistani boys and girls living in the diaspora as well as Pakistan's major urban centers have been forcibly married off against their own will all in the name of honor, all the name of maintaining these social relationships, and how many have just ended up as a statistic in the name of honor killings?

We as a society should be truly ashamed of ourselves. 

Ramzan Diaries : The Judgmental Iftar

The holy month of Ramzan is definitely in the air in the city by the sea. Everywhere one looks around, all we can see are advertisements for special Ramzan programming, Ramzan specific consumer goods, Eid shopping alerts, or for the food lovers all the so important Ramzan special Iftari and dinner deals. Through out the city by the sea, countless medium end and up scale restaurants have offered their patrons a variety of deals catering to the diverse taste buds that people of Karachi have. One expects that when one dines out during the holy month, there would be a sense of calm and harmony in the air and people in our fair city would be breaking bread over over a collective spirit in view of the blessings this month brings with it. Unfortunately peace and tranquility during the holy month it seems is asking too much, it appears that we as a nation can not keep a lid on our very judgmental attitude.

It seems that we as a nation to love to judge others, we like to find excuses for disliking another person even if we do not happen to personally or indirectly know the other person in Question. Very recently a video was  sent my way through the Social media website YouTube about an incident that happened round about iftar time at a restaurant in Karachi not far from where I live. This video has managed to go quite viral and has managed to be seen by quite a few people. I was not personally present at the establishment around the time but based on the video on YouTube itself and on eye witness accounts an ugly incident occurred which involved a young family and a couple of young women who were dinning at the restaurant. What appears to have happened was that a young family dinning at the restaurant had very judgmental remarks passed towards them around iftar time or shortly afterwards. According to some of the eye witnesses the women who were dinning as a group passed in appropriate comments about the young family sitting next to them and when confronted by the young family these women got needlessly hostile and aggressive.

In the video, we can hear the voice of the male member of the household retaliating towards aggression and hostility that was melted towards them by these women after repeatedly requesting they mind their own business and not pass judgments. Seconds later the video which was shot by a fellow patron using their mobile came to an end, but not before some really harsh and impolite words were exchanged between both parties. This incident also reflects failure of the restaurant management to intervene and manage a crises situation involving their customers. It is not uncommon in Karachi for restaurant management to fail in reaching to a mutually acceptable resolution that accommodates both parties should a conflict of the type arise.

However that is the secondary point in all this, this is not about poor management by staff at a restaurant, the real point off the matter is that we as a nation are very judgmental and we pass judgments onto others without respecting their boundaries, their individuality, their personal space or even the diversity they bring with them. I am certain we all at some point or the other in our lives have experienced the judgmental attitude of others towards us or other people we know, where people we know are needlessly looking for an excuse to dislike another person. There are many examples which can be taken from how our society as Pakistani's plays out. Whether it is liberal fascists judging conservative old school types, whether it is religious people judging the non religious type, whether it is people judging others based on their political views, their education, their socioeconomic background, it all happens all the time, the right excuse for judging, criticizing and marginalizing the other person or group of people is always there.

When we have made our mind up about the other person or group of other people in Question regardless of how others are different to us, not only is there no changing our thoughts and perceptions about them, but at the same time even standard day to day events of their lives are seen with suspicion and a biased vantage point. At times I feel like raising the Question, those that judge, are they naturally judgmental? or is this a form of coping mechanism for them, i.e. disliking another person to feel a sense of worthiness or empowerment, or is it just plain intolerance transferred to us by people we interact with on a daily basis. Now coming back to the restaurant, since I was not there I am going to try and not pass judgments and I hope the matter was eventually resolved, if not I sincerely hope at least the restaurant management offers an apology to the family that was mistreated by its other patrons. It is not realistic for the management to force an apology out of one customer for another, but they can certainly show some common courtesy and compensate through an apology for their what it seems failure to manage the issue when it happened. As far as the family is concerned, I hope they can put this ugly issue behind them and be mentally prepared we live in a very judgmental nation, one has to experience judgmental treatment to know how wrong it is. Finally for those rather feisty ladies, if they are reading this, I hope in the future they would not be so intolerant and extend some common courtesy to people around them, a little act of common courtesy is really not that hard.

The URL for the Video on YouTube is below:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Role of Publications and Merchandise in Public Relations

We live in a day and age where the use of public relations tools and initiatives are gaining prominence because of their ability to engage the desired audiences. At the same time Public Relations initiatives allow two way communications between the company and its audiences, this not only generates important feedback that can be used for business intelligence, but it also generates stakeholder loyalty. It is important to remember always that there are always two types of stakeholders associated with the company, firstly the internal stakeholders which comprises of employees and shareholders, and external stakeholders which includes customers, as well as the wider community in which the company is operating.
Marketing material in the form of the publications and merchandise plays a significant role in public relations initiatives for organizations with respect to both their internal and external audiences. Publications usually come in the form of company profiles, magazines and newsletters. In today’s digital internet based world, a lot of such publications have moved online to keep up with changes to our everyday environment. The company newsletter or the e-newsletter in particular plays an important role in engagement with both internal and external stakeholders.
The role of company newsletters is to provide important information and news alerts to their relevant audiences both internal and external. The information contained them includes news regarding company events, achievements, new product launches and even information about the role that the company is playing in the wider community. For example, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives that the company might have in place would be something that they would like their stakeholders to know about. This is more than just publicity, since through this channel the organization not directly communicating messages with respect to their products and services, rather with respect to wider role as an organization that they are playing. Information about such organizational initiatives can play an important role in generating good public relations and improving corporate brand equity. The newsletters are also far more economical to run as opposed to conventional publications such as magazines, since they are shorter, providing specific and relevant information that can be easily compiled and distributed by the relevant department. With magazines it becomes important to also provide the audiences with content that is at least mildly interesting and entertaining in nature. With a diverse set of stakeholders both internal and external, this might prove to be a rather daunting task. What also makes newsletters economical is that they can easily be digitised and distributed, for magazines not only does the content need to be rich, but also to go digital, they would require a proper web portal as per current popular trends in industry.
Company merchandise also plays an important role in engagement and motivation of external and internal audiences. This however would be dependent on the nature of the company and the type of products and services they offer. With the respect to external audiences, it might be more appropriate for companies to have a brand focused as opposed to a company focused approach when engaging with external audiences through merchandise. A good example of a brand which has successfully managed to engage both internal and external audiences is Coca Cola. Coca Cola is not just the world’s largest brand; it is also a beverage which is part of everyday life for the hundreds of millions of its users around the world. Fans of Coca Cola, whether they are internal stakeholders or the consumers of their soft drinks proudly use ‘Coca Cola’ branded merchandise. Coca Cola in particular is a very good example of a ‘Star’ company that has always leads the way in how to engage with their audiences. Not only have they been an important part of major global events, but they were also among the first companies to adopt online technology and other internet based tools. They were among the first brands to have a smartphone application which revolved around the theme of the Coca Cola user experience.
For employees among internal stakeholders, it also reinforces a sense of commitment and motivation for being part of that company or the brand as an everyday experience. It contributes also a great deal towards employer branding through word of mouth, making such organizations also a popular destination for the bright talent seeking out careers of choice. By being able to attract the best talent out there, companies and brands can successfully shape their future in the manner they seek and achieve their objectives.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Possessiveness is in the air

For quite some time now, I have been writing about the commodity effect on human values as well as debating with other people in real time. I am certain I am not the first person who has given this notion some thought, nor will I be the last one. In theory I have tried advocating that our values as human beings are becoming indirectly materialistic and that also at an alarming rate. In my theory I have also added that this effect is being brought about my competitive pressures of the world that we live in and our heightened exposure to the dynamics of the free market.

 Do not get me wrong here, I am not an advocate of socialism as socialism like capitalism itself is not without its flaws. What the free market does is, it provides as individual beings with an abundance of choice with regards to how we consume goods,services and resources, this is where my thought comes in that we start treating other people like choices as if their another product or brand stacked up on the aisle of a super market.

The consumer culture materialism that see in the ever changing world around us, instills within us a sense of possessiveness about our belongs, material objects that are a part of our lives. I am certain quite a few people can relate to this, we all have possessions that we are very deeply attached to and attach great value to them. Same way, this behavior can be reflective of our attitude with respect to how we engage and interact with the people we meet in our lives especially as young adults. In the very same manner, we have tendencies to display a level of possessiveness for the people that are a part of our lives and our social life.

 It is not unnatural for us to  give importance to those that play an important role in our lives and be attached to those that have touched our lives at some point or the other, it is called being human. However the extent to which people exercise or display possessiveness of their friends or their social circle can be regarded as border line anti social behavior, where sentiments that friends and peers are not for sharing, similar to the manner in which we might not want to share some of our belongings. The way lack of common courtesy socially or practicing social discrimination can be classified as borderline anti social behavior, i think in all fairness this set of behavior should be put in the same category, where people treat their friends like possessions that belong to them and act uncomfortable and at times borderline hostile when composition of their social order changes. A lot of in depth thinking is not required, just a moment to think when was the last time we remembered that our friends engaged us with their friends, how many times have people tried to keep their peers at distance from other peers.

I could be wrong, this is meant to be just food for I always say this about me, I am always some one who walks the road less traveled.  

Age is but Quite Relative...

The title I have given this blog would give off the impression that is pretty much self explanatory. For some it is, while others age implies a set of norms, values, behavior traits, personality attributes that an individual or a group of individuals is supposed to adopt as they progress in life. It is strange, how especially after you reach adulthood, everything in life is predefined, i.e. in other words when you reach a certain age so and so is expected off you, and when  you reach another milestone another set of attributes concerning you are expected. Is this just naturally the case or is it our inner judgmental selves that seeks to assess attributes of others based on how life has conditioned us?

How often, have we all at some point or the other in life upon reaching adulthood have been communicated by those close to us as well as strangers that when were at a certain age this is how we should or should not behave. For example, when we reach 18, which is the start of our adulthood we are communicated that we should get ready to leave our teenage years behind and begin looking forward to the start of what could be an amazing journey ahead. When we finish University, a different set of expectations are thrown before by us by our loved ones and the wider society of what our role and place in the social structure is, and as we move through the remainder of our adulthood years, be it our late 20s, early 30s or even seasoned years, more and more expectations just keep coming our way.

Does it ever for a moment occur to any one that maybe, just maybe, life has no hard and fast rules, every human being is unique in their own sense, in their own way, maybe the wider expectations we have from people we know can not be practically applied to every single person? The way each and every individual is unique, so is the life that we live, so are the opportunities and threats that come our way, sometimes some things, some circumstances, some set of events that are a norm for many, sometimes they might pass some of us by. In other words empty spaces and some vacant gaps in our lives might exist as we move into adulthood that might make us some what unprepared for the next step or the next stage of life awaiting us. An empty space or a missed out experience or opportunity might prevent us from being ready for the next stage in life or might be holding us back from taking the next step.

If you ask, I will come back to a point I feel very strongly about, we all live different lives, we are all different people in our way, hence there should not be a hard and fast rule to life. We should not judge or allow ourselves to be judged for standing out, for being on a course or a path of life which is different from those similar to us, we should welcome and embrace the diversity that people are bringing to the table with their uniqueness. For all we know, the person standing right next to us, their life might be heading for the road less traveled, and it takes brave souls to walk down the path of the road less traveled.