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We:not I?

What is resilience? In Dhaka at a seminar an example of resilience was given by a Scottish friend – the determination of the Bengali nation to overcome the adversity caused by floods year after year.

Pakistan’s determination to face the wrath of floods and earthquakes is resilience. My friend who lost his only son and could not have any children, when she decided to open a chain of schools for underprivileged children showed resilience.

One is helpless against nature. To accept the happening and move on to do good for everyone with a smile is resilience.

Sometime back stuck in traffic in Lahore due to VVIP movement, my friend from London had asked me as to why do we put up with the attitude of VVIP. In London this would not be allowed. I had replied we are resilient not like you making noise all the time. She had replied is this how you define resilience. I had remained silent but had wondered what is resilience.

When in Karachi, violence is at its climax and I decide to lead a normal life. Is it resilience or indifference to the suffering of many? Is the violence in Karachi inflicted by nature that we have to put with it? By going on with my life my satisfaction is that I am defeating those responsible for violence as they want life to be at a standstill. Is resilience being insensitive to suffering or supporting the end of suffering by showing leadership and determination? I do not know.

On TV, I watch hundreds being killed in bomb blasts and I continue my life. Is this resilience or being heartless? While many die, I go out to have dinner as life must go in spite of the deaths at the hands of bombers. Is this resilience? Do I deserve to be called a human?

I do not know. Do I want to know? Yes I want to. How long can I fool myself? I want to lead a real resilient life. I want to be proud of my green passport. I want to hold my head high and say yes we did make the land of pure a peaceful country. From self pity and being pitied by others I want to move on to being the pride of the world.

I know I can do it but not alone.

It will have to be we and not I showing to the world what a resilient nation Pakistanis are. I at times wonder as to how a country full of people with ability and ambition – people who have excelled nationally and internationally being not able to achieve its true potential. A Malaysian friend once declared you are country full of stars thus not a star nation. I wonder whether by being a nation, by being WE and not I can we achieve what we had set out to achieve – a land of pure the pride of its citizens the benchmark of excellence for the world?

Regards,

Afra

 




Posting a parcel

My brother wanted a book to be posted to a friend abroad. I volunteered to post the book which was in a white cloth bag with the addresses in blue pen. The last time I had been to the post office was in 2008. I had been extremely impressed by the efficiency of the service. It reminded me of the post offices in Dublin and London – disciplined customers, motivated friendly staff, neat and clean air-conditioned premises and speedy processing of queries and transactions probably supported by IT.

So I was expecting if not better then the same post office.

When I got there – I found the white building and the green plants had similar colour – yellow –one because of excessive rain water and one because of no water. The sparkling glass door was a shadow of its former self – stained and broken. The P and S of Post Office had disappeared. Instead of a security guard in uniform sat a man casually dressed in jeans and tea shirt that proclaimed DANGEROUS. He had a gun in his hand that he pointed towards everyone passing by.

The exterior dampened my enthusiastic spirit but I marched into the post office confident that the interior would match my expectations.

I stepped inside the post office. The white turned yellow coloured air-conditioners were switched off or out of order. The computers were all gone. The workstations were bare. There were loads of registers everywhere. The building was smelly and dirty.

There were three men at the counter. One of them was serving utility bill customers and the other was renewing car registrations. There was a third man – dressed in jeans and long brown kurta. I went up to him to ask him whether he dealt with parcels and letters. He looked at me disdainfully and replied he was the supervisor and only looked after administrative and finance matters. He told me to stand in one of the two queues.

The queues were long but  processes need to be adhered to. So I went and stood in the queue. After ten minutes I realised the queue was not moving. Further people were being entertained out of turn. A man came from nowhere but got 20 utility bills paid in 120 seconds. There was an old man with one bill standing for 60 minutes with no hope of being served.

I decided to go to the supervisor to get his help in getting people stand in queues but he was not interested in listening to me. He was busy on the mobile. He told me to go by rules. Which rules? Agitated I went back and stood in the queue.

30 minutes later- I had only moved two places. Load shedding had slowed the staff further. People were beating the queue. People were getting upset. In sheer helplessness I wanted to cry.

But there came an angel. He was someone who had once known my father. He worked over there. He took me to the supervisor who on seeing him was a changed man. The parcel was weighed, stitched, entered into an ancient register and dispatched within five minutes. He even forgot to give me a receipt and I had to remind him about it. The receipt book was nowhere to be found but had to be found. Instead of finding it he got a new one as he did not want me to wait – so considerate.

There were few senior citizens waiting. I asked the supervisor if he could help them and he said it would be his pleasure. Why did he transform?

Was it that he respected my disciplined patience or was it the influence of the angel? I would like to think my patience paid off but I stepped out of the post office perturbed by the deterioration of public service and public property.

It was raining outside- I was crying inside-why-can anyone guess? My guess is that despite preaching rules and advocating one should stand for rules-I did not follow them nor could I make anyone else follow them – did I do the right thing?

Regards,

Afra




Haunted in New York

As I walked across the blocks of New York, I knew I was in a familiar place? When the tour operator mentioned it was a city full of immigrants- a city I love is the same. When the taxi drivers cursed the pedestrians, flashed lights and blew horns, there was a similarity. When along with Macy’s and Fifth Avenue stores, there were numerous retail outlets offering massive shopping options – some other city had the same! When during the tour of New York uptown, I came across areas dominated by gangs and haunted by violence- reminded I was of another city.

The city that haunted me in New York was Karachi!  Back home it torments me.

Listening to the story of how to embed Irish immigrants into the New York Society, the Central Park construction responsibility was handed over to 4,000 Irish immigrants – I wondered as to whether you needed a park like Central Park to make you a peaceful city-to embed the immigrants into your fabric.


As I listened to the story of how in the middle of the Great Depression the Empire State Building was constructed by immigrants of different race, ethical background and religion. I wondered as to whether you needed a visionary leader to inspire construction of something that everyone would own!

I wanted to free myself of Karachi in New York but failed miserably. The history of New York, the gangs of New York, the heroes of New York, the violence of New York everything made me ask my Allah if New York despite its failings was still a vibrant city why not my Karachi. How can it be the pride of Pakistan, the dream of investors, of tourists?

I found the answer standing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

It asked me does Karachi have selfless leaders who can rise above self interests to convert the diversity of Karachi into its greatest asset rather than a lethal liability.

I looked into its eyes and replied Karachi has some of the best brains I know – some of my best friends – very intelligent business leaders, – the statue looked into my eyes and replied calmly – why do these best brains, why do you and your friends not make Karachi the pride of the world, the New York of the world. Why can you not be the selfless leaders Karachi needs?

I looked away and ran as fast as I could from the statue.




Sleepless in New York

I stood outside you.

A day before I had passed by you. I had looked at you with reverence. I had longed to step out of the bus, run, touch you and run back to the bus. After much deliberation I had decided against it.

My day had been spent knowing about how inspirational leaders have shaped the future of nations. In all this I was physically and emotionally tired but that was not the reason that I dare not come near you. In visiting museums, stores, book shops and parks my casual jeans and shoes did not limit my entry but I was scared entering you.

The patriots of my country, the nobles of my native country had blessed you with their presence. Knowing their fondness for perfection in dressing I could not dream of imperfection in the dress that I wore when I an ordinary citizen of Pakistan visited you.

The whole night I pondered over whether to visit you or not. I decided not to visit you but then you see I passed by Pakistan’s embassy. Seeing the green flag waving and madly clicking my camera to capture the sight I decided I need to see for myself the place which the known bearers of the flag blessed with their presence.

There I stood outside you. You were simply majestic! I looked at myself – I looked so simplistic. My heart sank and I turned away. My four year old niece urged me to step towards what to her appeared a fairy’s house. So I moved towards the red carpet and golden wooden doors anticipating to be stopped by the guard but no one stopped me! There were no security scanners no security checks. I passed your door and I stepped inside.

I was spell bound and stunned by the overwhelmingly regal decor and ambience. Everything around me was just so expensive. People were having tea in the tea room in the finest and priceless china.

Thousands of white flowers in vases that were neither crystal nor glass nor china but something truly out of the world. The cakes and snacks were heavenly. The people having them appeared rich and powerful.

My niece wanted to be photographed in the fairy house. I was reluctant but so innocent was her request that I could not say no. My hands trembled as I clicked for the fear of being rebuked. No one shunned me, no one told me to get lost. This was a place which had leaders of the world, the rich and mighty as its residents but it was open to open public. It embraced all irrespective of class or status.

The place is called The Plaza Hotel New York. The splendour of ambience, the magnificence of furniture and crockery and class of service compels (I believe) even the influential of my country to reside there – a place that is situated near the Central Park of New York – a very busy area and open to all.

I wonder when they stay there do they look out of The Plaza Hotel towards Empire State Building and ponder over its history, appreciate the diversity of New York, reflect on how leadership can make or break the future of nations, look outside towards Central Park and learn the lessons of environmental protection  and most importantly admire equality in access to a hotel that appeared only for rich people, the value of recreation and the reasons for complete absence of security checks.

Contemplating that night I was sleepless in New York! I

Regards,

Afra