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Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Good Day for Pakistan



Photo: Cricket returns to National Stadium and i am a going!!! Cmon Karachietes lets support cricket's return


It seems like just yesterday that I last visited the National cricket stadium in Karachi to see a cricket match that involved foreign players. The last such incident was way back in the winter of 2007, which would make it a good 5 years in the past. The last time this stadium in the city by the sea hosted foreign players was during the ill fated 2009 Sri Lankan tour of Pakistan, that match was when Younis Khan scored his triple ton and that very tour was one that sent Pakistan into cricketing isolation. Hailed by the media as the first step towards the return of international cricket in Pakistan, it was definitely something that tens of thousands of people in Karachi, as well as Pakistan were looking forward to.


It wasn't the most impressive line up of foreign stars that descended on to the National Stadium, most of them were retired international cricketers from the West Indies and South Africa, led by the Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jaysuria. The only current international players in the International playing XI line up were two Afghan players.Pakistan's all Star XI was led by none other than Boom Boom Afridi, along with other well known names in Pakistani cricket such as Imran Nazir, Wahab Riaz and Umar Akmal. Some noticeable absences included current T20 Pakistani captain Muhammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal and test captain Misbah Ul Haq, though i highly doubt Misbah was really missed. He after all carries the burden of being nick named 'Tuk Tuk', which I think is a brand of Auto Rickshaw i think, I am not sure so do not take my word on that.

Getting into the stadium was probably the hardest part of the evening. I had forgotten how disorganized match day outings were in Pakistan, particular at the National Stadium in Karachi. Very different from a match day experience at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia or the Oval in London, where you have the concept of assigned seating, logistically well coordinated entry into the ground enabling one to even show up seconds before the toss and claim their rightful seat. Since the concept of assigned seating is non existent here, would be spectators have to reach the stadium hours before the toss. Even upon reaching the stadium, there is no guarantee of entry regardless of holding tickets with all the chaos, it almost feels like all hell is about to break loose. Thousands of fans also had to bear the brutal brunt of the Sindh police deployed at the venue who were definitely not reluctant to use their clubs at ticket holders. I am so fortunate I just marginally missed out on getting clubbed.

Our entry into the ground was made possible by a kind family who assisted us on entering the venue alongside them, as it was relatively simpler for families to walk in, as opposed to groups of men. The stadium was packed beyond capacity, as the normal capacity of the stadium is around 40,000, yet they were 70,000 spectators in the ground. The sheer volume of the spectators reflects, how eagerly this city of 20 million awaited the return of international cricketing action to their fair city. It was a sea of green as far as the eye could see, though one did occasionally witness the odd spectacle such as spectators climbing the very long metallic fence like they have been bitten by a radio active spider. These fences are usually designed for the purpose of security and for ensuring spectators stay within their respective enclosure. From time to time one days feel as if they are cooped up in a cage.
Photo

The match was pretty much a one sided affair, Pakistan's all star XI racked up 222 runs for the loss of 7 wickets in a span of 20 overs courtesy of some power hitting by Shazaib and Umar Akmal. It was beyond the reach of the veteran stars of the International XI who fell short by a huge margin of 84 runs. There was good news in the making even some 1000 miles up north. In Pakistan's second largest city of Lahore, tens of thousands of spectators had gathered at the national hockey stadium on the opening ceremony of the Youth festival to break the Guinness World Record for the largest audience participation in singing of the national anthem and that they did. All in all, a good day for Pakistan, here is hoping some foreign cricket boards make some gusty decisions and make the initiative of sending their teams for a proper cricketing tour of Pakistan. To the foreign players who showed courage and made the journey here, we thank you, we hope to see you and others from your country again in the future.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Start closer to home

There is often talk, especially by the liberal ultra left circles of urban Pakistan of the need to empower and  educate young women in rural and remote areas. The recent attack by the Taliban on Malala Yousufai has once again brought a magnified focus on the issue of women's right for education and empower, especially with regards to the risks they have to face in order to seek out knowledge. It is indeed a noble cause to fight for the education and empowerment of what is generally seen as the weaker of the two genders and such efforts are indeed commendable, however one interesting observation needs to be brought to attention, especially to the same pro women's rights groups who are making these efforts. That being that their efforts are focused too much on women in rural and far off communities, while women closer to home, i.e. in the urban centers that they hail from are also at a severe disadvantage. One doesn't need to wander out to the country side of Sindh and Punjab or the remote regions of KPK to find young women that are not just deprived off education, but also deprived off the idea of 'choice'.

The idea of choice is essentially knowledge or the presence of knowledge that many human beings have with respect to choices in life and the fact that they have a choice in life. A choice for a better life, a choice to have an education, a choice to live their life how they deem fit and so on. The absence of the idea of choice plays a big role as an obstacle in the empowerment and education of not just young girls, but our youth in general.

Coming back to the issue of female education and empowerment, since these rights activities are usually based in urban centers such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, it would be fair to the citizens of their fair cities that they begin their efforts with the women and the young girls that are closer to home, for many do not realize that disadvantaged young girls live closer to home, or they are just simply conveniently overlooked. These women's rights group might argue that socioeconomic disparity would hinder their efforts in reaching the masses and creating awareness of education and female empowerment among the lower socioeconomic groups. However at the same time, they do not act, when many young girls even from privileged back grounds, their own socioeconomic group are deprived off the opportunity for an education.

A lot of people fail to realize that even among Pakistan's urban upper middle class and affluent circles, there are countless young girls that fail to receive a proper education and this practice is found among many many communities in cities like Karachi and Lahore. There are many reasons given by such families or such communities as to why they do not educate their daughters. The most commonly given excuse is that pious girls do not engage in such worldly non sense, they stay at home and learn the skills necessary for managing a home. Building on that some argue, that what is the purpose of educating our daughters when their purpose is to get married, have children and take care of their homes and in laws. You even hear arguments such as girls should be married off young or that few families want an educated daughter in law who can think and speak for herself, a big lot of them want submissive obedient domestic daughter in laws for their sons. While some communities and families even among Karachi's elite circles treat their daughters as commodities in building relationships with other relatives or within their own communities, they give away their daughters hands in marriage to demanding prospects as if they are exchanging a commodity and in return they will benefit through an improved network. It is not uncommon even for educated mothers out of social and community pressures to give away their daughters hands in marriage in order to build ties with others or to consolidate existing ones. Many will give the excuse that this is how things work in our community so it is all justified, etc etc etc.

This completely removes the question of whether the family can or can not afford to educate their daughters due to resource constraint, but other factors are coming into play making them deny their daughters of not just fundamental rights, but also off the knowledge that they have certain rights which includes a right for an education, the right for making a choice and so forth. The Question that comes to one's mind is there a deeply held rigid belief that women are inferior, or is there a deep down terrifying earth shattering fear among  families especially men with regards to female empowerment through education. To those fighting for women's education and empowerment in distant areas, my sincere request to them is kindly also help those that are closer to home, those more accessible to them. Just take a trip down memory lane, and go back to your school days, go back to the time you were between the ages of 16 and 18, think of those girls who were married off straight after high school and think of those whose parents made them drop out of school even before they could finish to marry them off. Think of those 16 year old's who should be spending their teenage years studying for exams and enjoying hobbies similar to their friends instead they have mehndi on their hands and a new life in a new house. Think of those 18 year old's who some how manage to finish their high schooling, but the yeas that they should be spending seeking out knowledge, wisdom and developing skills are spent learning and managing domestic responsibilities sometimes in the back drop of over bearing in laws. Many of them do not even know deep down that they have a right to live like other girls, girls they went to school with, girls they made life long friends with and so on. Let's not forget these young girls also, their education, their empowerment, struggle for their rights also deserve our attention. Just spare a quick thought for them, it is so much simpler to reach out to them,

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Social Media, Empowering the Customer, O Yeah!!!

So many of us belonging to the so called Social media generation will confirm the fact that the power of social media is tremendous. There is great potential in social media, and a lot can be achieved either positively or negatively. Social media has also created a platform to provide a voice to many people for sharing their opinions, thoughts and engagement with others. This engagement also exists in the form of public relations opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to reach out to their audience and engage in two way communication with them. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are extensively used in Pakistan as well by all sorts of small medium businesses, whether be it young artists, upcoming designers, entrepreneurs or new restaurant owners. Facebook in particular has been a revolutionary game changer even in a country like Pakistan where it now has millions of users.

The power of Facebook is that it provides the user with a real time online profile about the users themselves, research has suggested that majority of Facebook users put in factual information about themselves when creating their profiles, in other words it is our virtual identity more or less or our virtual presence. For millions of users it is the opportunity to share opinions, thoughts, ideas, blogs and through Facebook fan pages engage with their relevant interest groups or the businesses (Both product and service oriented) that they give custom to. For entrepreneurs and others alike, likewise it is an opportunity to engage with their audience or their customers, while at the same time doing some brand building and marketing activities. The voice it gives to customers, has created a new era of user generated content and feedback, and one that can not be ignored. Some people understand the power of user generated content it seems the hard way.

Very recently in Karachi, a well known Chinese restaurant located in the DHA area decided to impose a 10%  on customers that make an advance reservation. Unlike restaurants abroad, where you pay an advance for reservation which is later deducted from your bill, this is a 10% additional service charge you would pay in addition to your final bill.So your final bill is not technically your final bill. For example, on a bill of 5000 rupees your looking at being charged a service charge of 500 rupees which makes your final bill 5500. It would kind of put you in a dilemma if you only have the 5 grand in cash on you or on your debit card. Little did the restaurant realize that its patrons on social media would be very actively opposed to this plan and i of theirs on a short span of time they would have abandon their plans. As off today the 16th of October, the controversial service charge has even made the website of a very popular English Language blog belonging to one of the nation's most recognized English Language newspapers.

Threads on Facebook pages, status updates and other social media tools were used by the restaurant's patrons to get the establishment to over turn their decision and it worked, even though they were some supporters showing off so proudly how much they love to tip heavy amounts that can upto 900 or a 1000 rupees for each of theirs to Ginsoy. Even in the thread I started I debated the demerits of having a different set of policies for walk in and reservation customers. The management on a Facebook page made the claim that every penny earned from those 10% service charges goes to the pockets of the staff at the establishment working on minimum wage. Suppose we assume for a minute that the extra service charge ends up in the pocket of the staff, this would lead to the staff differentiating between walk in customers and those that have advanced reservations. It is after all only human nature to behave in accordance to where our self interests lie. This policy would have resulted in poor customer service extended to walk in customers by the staff who know they do not profit from Walk In's. Bad customer service examples could include a table refusal, long delays in waiting for a table, poor service after being served etc, the list is endless.

None the less, I would like to also take this opportunity to thank the restaurant for their cooperation and for listening to the voices of their loyal customers, many establishments in Pakistan very frequently and conveniently ignore the customer as the concept of customer service is usually non existent and many hospitality and service sector establishments and their owners have an attitude off 'we are doing a big favor on people by providing something in the first place'. I am certain so many of us can relate to that, for the time being Kudos to the Chinese joint for taking customer feedback seriously and acting upon it. 

The Anything Goes Needs to Stop







Please speak up, please speak up already. These are the words, feelings or sentiments from myself going out to the religious right, in fact such thoughts go out not only to them but also to the religiously sensitive people in Pakistan that are continuously on the rise. It seems that through some sort of an indirect process we have been pushed as a society towards the religious right, some would call it a push towards heightened religious sensitivity or insensitivity towards others. In the past week or so, we have seen the brave 14 year old Malala from Swat dominate the news regardless of whether your source of media is right, left or center. We have also seen countless tweets, blogs and Facebook status's dedicated to her. We have also heard condemnation of the attack on her from ordinary people and even opportunistic politicians who want to capitalize on the 'Malala' is our hero fever spreading across the nation. However what we are yet to witness in significant volume is condemnation of those barbarians behind the attack 'Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan', TTP for short. Just to be clear this blog is not about 'Malala' though I should have joined the remaining left leaning liberal lot in dedicating one to her, I will touch on her in another blog later.

One should not be too surprised at the silence of public figures for proactive and vocal condemnation of the attack, for public figures even though we expect a great deal of bravery from them, have their own lives to worry about including the lives of their loved ones. Even well guarded politicians are unsafe in this country, even from  their protectors. It seems like just yesterday that the governor of the Punjab province was brutally murdered by his own body guard for speaking up against the draconian blasphemy laws in Pakistan. And what happened afterwards, that cold blooded murderer. The silence that followed was very overwhelming, and this is the very silence I am speaking about.

The religious right or the religiously sensitive were silent or reluctant to fully speak out what was required when the Governor was assassinated and even today they are not speaking up as much as they should in condemnation of the Taliban. A quick brief up on the religiously sensitive urban lot, they are even found even among educated circles in society, and they are deeply sensitive about even the smallest of things associated with religion. First of all, I can not emphasis on this enough, they fail to understand and realize that religion is a very personal affair and not something that should be made a public spectacle out off. Secondly, they can not bear to see others living a way of life that is different from the one they have chosen for themselves, the same can be said about the Taliban, they want the rest of Pakistan, maybe even the rest of the Ummah to subscribe to their ideology and live a way of life they have chosen for themselves. Thirdly, this lot believes anything and possibly everything is justified in the name of religion, even if it means silencing innocent people, harassing others for not being religious, this includes accusing people of being blasphemous for not being as religious as them, taking the law into their own hands when it comes to others, the list is endless.

It is this very 'Anything Goes' with respect to religion that needs to be stopped and people need to be reconditioned into becoming more tolerant and compassionate towards others. Unless a sense of empathy exists for other human beings, I do not see people breaking their silence and speaking up against intolerance and barbaric acts of violence in the name of religion. There is more to people's silence than fear, it is part apathy and part conditioning around blind unquestioned and unconditional acceptance of things in the name of religion. Small example from my past, a few years back the government of Pakistan took the initiative to end the controversial 'Hudood Ordinance' laws from the dark days of Zia's rule. Around the days leading up to the much needed changes to laws, in living rooms across the country and even among educated diaspora Pakistani's, all I could hear were baseless arguments and a sense of sympathy for existence of such laws. Even when I tried to put forward the reasoning that this law has led to mistreatment of women in Pakistan for decades, it is exploitative and needs to be abolished, the apologists for religious law and the religious right had the same argument across various living rooms and their social circles that 'its the fault of the woman, she should not have ventured out of the house with Non-Mehrum men in the first place, she is responsible for what happened to her and rightfully deserves to be punished'. I feel so embarrassed even writing this, this is the same kind of insensitivity of apathy that is seriously screwing the country over. It is because of this religious conditioning that people having lived through Zia times that there is the 'Anything Goes' among people and deep down people see groups like the Taliban as fighters of Islam struggling for a Holy Cause instead of seeing them as terrorists.



Let's see what the future holds for Pakistan, for now I can only hope and pray that in the days to come people start waking up before the war comes closer to home and girls like Malala are in every neighborhood of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and every other major city of this country.