Day 2 at the Karachi Literature Festival

March 1, 2020

The “ills” of our times date back to the 1700’s East India Company!

In yesterday afternoon’s fascinating book launch “The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company” at the Karachi Literature Festival, William Dalrymple identifies the source of global corporate corruption and rot in society … The East India Company.

Darlymple’s style of delivery is OUTSTANDING!  He’s humorous, easy to listen to, succinct and energetic.  It was a pleasure to hear his two presentations yesterday and I hope we have the opportunity to hear more from him in future.  For a Saturday morning session, he had an excellent turnout.

Forgotten Masters – Indian Painting For The East India Company

Starting from “… a five room office, smaller than the Beach Luxury Hotel…” and 3% of global trade, the East India Company grew to cover almost 40% of global trade.  It was, pure and simple, in the business to make a profit.  CSR practices were never on it’s agenda … there being it’s eventual downfall.  It bought politicians, favors, influence and it’s own army of sepoys with the sole aim of emptying the coffers of South Asia and profiting from global trade – and it did this very successfully.

“Enlightening” would be the term I would use to describe William Darlymple’s book launch. 

As an aside, in the 8 years I’ve been a participant at the Karachi Literature Festival, never once have I found it to be an “elitist” event– and I don’t say this just because it’s being held at my family’s Beach Luxury.  Over the years I’ve heard this term over and over but I don’t believe this to be true of KhiLF.  There is absolutely NO VIP culture, you rub shoulders with people from all walks of life, speakers interact with participants freely, the entry is absolutely free and no one is restricted (bar time reasons) from asking questions … with one common objective of enhancing KNOWLEDGE.  For a city of 27 Million inhabitants, it’s an absolutely outstanding weekend!

… At the Karachi Literature Festival 2020 … The Political Character Of Pakistani Middle Class

February 29, 2020

This morning’s session at the KLF with Dr Asad Sayeed, Ghazi Salahuddin and Dr Huma Baqai (moderated very capably by Yasir Qazi), like a lot of discussions on Pakistan’s civil (and social) direction, was pessimistic … unfortunately and, I believe, rightly.

               Several questions emerged from this discussion –

  1. Where is the Pakistani civil voice?
  2. Who is the cause of the destruction/silencing of this civil voice?
  3. Why does the middle class – the backbone of any society – stay silent [numb] over atrocities that are committed in society over and over again … why do we not learn from history?
  4. Is there a capacity to change?

… and finally, what is the solution to fix our civil ails?

               For safety reasons 😊, I will not address the last question in political terms – however, one gentleman in the audience offered a solution – our universities do not address higher education topics like the Humanities, Social Sciences, Political Science, Investigative Journalism ….  While the entire fabric of social service in Pakistan rests with the private sector, no Degree is offered in SOCIAL SERVICE in Pakistan.  (If so, my daughter, would have undertaken her Masters in Social Works here!)

If universities are churning out only MBAs, Engineers and Doctors, there is no learning forum teaching how to address this apathy of civil society.

Dr Huma Baqai identified, correctly, that women will play a very large role in the coming years in shaping what our society will be like – that is good because if there’s any other solution, I believe it will lie in the female gender “fixing things”.

Lastly, my own solution lies with PRIMARY EDUCATION – we must bring civic studies, humanities, social service topics into our primary schools URGENTLY.  If ever there’s a chance of any change in the future, it lies with children just starting out in school and through their formative years.

If there’s “no capacity to change” – and whenever a section of society seem to “rise”, only to be then suppressed – what happens to our future? 

The Romance of Valentines … 27 years on!

February 14, 2020

I surprised my future wife with a romantic(?) Valentine’s dinner the year we were dating; and then for the next few years after our marriage.

…and just as suddenly those romantic dinners stopped J, not for want of trying  … I just “forgot”!

There is no religious significance of Valentines Day to the general public in Pakistan.  However, we all like to celebrate it as a means of entertainment.

Valentine’s occasion brings activity to Pakistan’s society in general.  It’s a means of entertainment- besides eating and drinking, there’s not much more one can do in a large city like Karachi.

I’ve found that occasions like Valentine’s increases market activity; there’s a positive vibe in the City; employment and commerce is generated by eating places.  Besides this, roadside sellers of flowers have a boon.  Patisserie orders increase (…so does your waist line!).

Pakistanis are not celebrating any religious angle with Valentines.  It’s purely an emotional outlet … a release for us.

Hotels go full; restaurants go full; the City buzzes; and people enjoy “just another evening” in the guise of “Valentine’s Day”.

So, get out, take your spouse out tonight … enjoy the lights of Karachi and whatever palate suits you’ll.

                … I’m surprising my wife with a romantic dinner for two at a Bhatiar Khana (roadside diner) J … either I’ll see you’ll tomorrow or, like the title picture, I’ll be in the hospital.

                                    HAPPY VALENTINES !

(Picture credit- author unknown)

LIGHT RAIL – TRAM SYSTEM

January 2, 2020

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjvk4Lqq-TmAhW9QUEAHbl6AzQQMwhZKAYwBg&url=https%3A%2F%2Fdefence.pk%2Fpdf%2Fthreads%2Fthe-karachi-tramway-of-yesteryear.428552%2F&psig=AOvVaw1X9tU1wvWsCxe7Pji-SRZJ&ust=1578034790143080&ictx=3&uact=3

On a recent trip to Sydney, I saw their new Sydney Light Rail project under testing and it reminded me of the tram system we commuted in Prague and Zagreb.

Sydney light rail (Sydney Morning Herald)

Karachi is a city of almost 30 Million residents (forget what the “census” says!).  The City is held “hostage” to the traditional bus mafia- unsafe, rash & decrepit.  While the Sind Government is trying to get it’s overdue Bus Metro project started (Lahore is way ahead of us with their Metro!), in a metropolis of this size, our mass transit has to be revolutionized and modernized … and the only way is Metro or a solar powered, Light Rail/Tram system.

The advantages of a light rail network is that it runs above ground – we don’t really know the plans of our buildings’ foundations so better to stick to above-ground solutions.

Like most cities of the world, distances in Karachi are great.  Unlike many cities in the world, Karachi still has wider roads – but as the traffic and parking is not controlled, we remain “bumper to bumper” when driving.  However, if safe parking plazas are built & operated and car, bus & motorcycles’ driving in lanes are regulated, I don’t see why we cannot actually convert one lane (each-way) on each of our main arteries and larger streets to a tram network.  Using the Sun to power the Rail during the day, we will also protect environmental damage and conserve electricity.

We need to MOVE PEOPLE safely and quickly- this will never happen with our current bus service.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way to success!

‘Tis the Season to … have FUSION

November 26, 2019

Karachiites witnessed three great socials over the last few weekends-

The Royal Embassy of #Denmark in Islamabad brought in the “Rocqawali

The Goethe Institute of Karachi brought in “Cyminology”.

The Italian Consul in Karachi brought in Chef Vittorio Castellani (aka Chef Kumalé)

Rocqawali blends “traditional Sufi music in a 21st Century version of guitars & drums”.

In 2004, Jonas (Rocqawali’s guitarist) traveled to Pakistan to seek out his roots.  Here he met lead singer, Ejaz, who hails from Mehr Ali & Sher Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Qawal family.  Drummer Stephan joined the band in 2012, followed with Tin (their guitarist), himself from a Persian-Sufi background.  The best part- all are Danish citizens!

Cyminology, a “Berlin based quartet, combines Persian poetry” with, essentially, Jazz. 

“This subtle yet dynamic, softly-pulsating music takes its cue from the sound of the Persian-language poets- Rumi, Hafiz & Khayyam”.  As an extra, they performed a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and that too in Urdu!  Cymin Samawatie is the lead vocalist, Benedikt Jahnel on the piano, Ralf Schwarz played a beautiful Double Bass and Ketan Bhatti topped off the performance on the drums.  The best part- all are German citizens!

As an added extra to this music-cultural fusion, is Chef Kumalé, a “Gastro-Nomad”. 

A career spanning over 27 years has differentiated Chef Kumalé from many other “chefs” in the world- he’s a traveling-journalist-food blogger extraordinaire!  His visit to Karachi was primarily to learn Pakistani food – while he gave a few Italian training sessions, Chef Kumalé immersed himself into Pakistani culture and food to add to his vast gastronomic & traveling repertoire and blog.

Chef Kumale trying out the Sev Puri, Dahi Puri & other delights at #Gazebo, Karachi

The ICING –

All three events have fused MULTIPLE cultures into a common platform people enjoy … MUSIC & FOOD, regardless of language, race, ethnicity, religion or nationality; and they have done it with respect and dignity to the original chefs/authors/performers/ music.

Our Country, along with India & Iran, has one of the oldest & richest cultures in the world – with poets, mysticism, love, myriad romantic languages & food havens – a cultural dream for any artist; and for that matter, for any nation.  What better for peace & cohesion than a fusion of these CULTURES with each other and with contemporary western thinking – just what we, and the world, needs, eh!

…and the Naatak entertained us this weekend!

October 15, 2019

(In Gujrati, “Naatak” = “play”)

Mix Breed”, based on a Parsi family who have to face “intermarriage” issues, is a light portrayal of the real-world issues our Community is facing.   With double meanings and inflections, the cast (90% of whom learnt Gujrati “on the job”!) entertained the Gujrati speaking communities of Karachi.

The Script was written by Mrs Huzan Wadia, who has successfully acted & directed it in Mumbai; and selflessly extended the script on a gratis basis to Natalia Karanjia in Karachi, this play being the latter’s directorial debut.  Yay to Natalia!

This is what Karachi, and Pakistan, lacks- ENTERTAINMENT.  We have food & drink and ………… hmmmmm.  Play and theatre is picking up in Pakistan but to a very restricted market.  The mainstream citizens do not get to enjoy theatre on a regular basis- whether drama, comedy, musical.  Our cast explained to me the ‘power’ of theatre – they get their rush when the crowd reacts with them- it’s a powerful, intoxicating feeling; there are no second chances for a mistake; and when you make a mistake, you have to think on your feet and keep going.

In the 2000 decade our media was opened – creating a new source of employment – for budding theatre artists, actors, directors, writers, film makers, etc.  It’s a growth market but we have to create more facilities for this talent to be nurtured, taught, portrayed – AND WITH IT allowing us citizens to enjoy these productions and enriching our lives.  Kudos to the NAPAs, Arts Councils and other such facilities – but we need more!

(The naatak was sponsored by the 109 year-old Young Mazdyasnian Zoroastrian Association (YMZA) and the Karachi Parsi Anjuman- however it is not meant to be any endorsement or official or unofficial stance of the Anjuman, the YMZA or any individual thereof)

BEING BORN IN THE ‘60s!

Rotary Telephone

September 27, 2019

… does that make me old? I think not.

I can unequivocally state that my parents’ generation enjoyed the BEST times of Pakistan – no two ways about it.  However, my generation of the 1960s have evolved through one of the most INTERESTING and EXCITING periods of history – the TECHNOLOGY explosion.  I mean, we have first-hand witnessed –

  1. The change from rotary to touch button telephones;
  2. Analog to Digital services telephone services;
  3. The advent of the PERSONAL computer (my first computer was an IBM machine) in the early 1980s;
  4. Mobile phones – GSM, 3G, 4G, 5G … and all the future “G’s” that are to come;
  5. Laptops, sat phones, VOIP tech, skype, whats app, wechat, tablets;
  6. Newspapers to online news and RSS feeds;
  7. Print media to Social media;
  8. Reel cameras to Digital cameras- in fact, I found one such camera and asked my studio for a 36mm reel only to be told they’ve been discontinued 😊!  So, I’ve started scanning my old reels into digital photos for posterity;
  9. Vinyl records, cassette tapes, VHS & Beta to cloud based music & videos;
  10. Pen cameras, car cameras, CCTV – you name it … it’s out of the old “BOND” movies we used to see!
  11. We used pens & pencils but the latest tablet & phone technology uses a stylus and speech-to-written technology. 
  12. Amazon, Careem, Uber … the list goes on an on.

The generation of the ‘90s has grown up on digital … they never experienced non-digital communication!  It’s online movies, Netflix, cloud-based streaming movies, etc.  Yes, my kids come to the theatre but they don’t need a cable TV set up in their dorms anymore- they are quite content with seeing their content on their laptops.

However, I feel, what technology explosion we saw in the ‘90s was one of the most interesting a generation can witness – notwithstanding what is yet to come! –  and things are still evolving.

It’s only a matter of time when our thoughts will be transcribed to the written-word … I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s already here !

Vinyl Records- https://images.app.goo.gl/SkieMPX4KHK46qpC9