Monday, December 20, 2010

Extremism asphyxiates moderation

Perhaps it is not just a Pakistani but a human trait. And to dream is not to err, but to err in order to realise your dream could be questionable. May be a reason extremism is becoming rampant is this urge to realise those dreams, be it spreading religion or a religion-like theory or a conceived ideal world. Erroneous paths leading to the ultimate realisation of ones dreams are often strewn with fanaticism.

This leaves one no choice but to be impeccably correct, for which not just courage but a lot many things are needed, most of all being spontaneity, as it cannot breed fanaticism.

Humans’ fixation with control and order is perhaps breeding fanatics’ right, left and centre. However, it is not just breeding it but also asphyxiating moderation, the anti-dote of radicalism.

The more some idea is being indoctrinated, the less room moderates have. Some by virtue of embracing it become fanatics, others in their opposition. So, despite being opposites they remain each others strength. But their polarity is responsible for the general instability, like two bulls going in opposite directions make a rope snap.

They forget that this duality is what is giving this world the needed diversity for the evolution and creation of a million myriad ideas, including their own, and to keep it so the idea does not have to be implemented in totality. As uniformity would distort all bounds of the world as we know it.

Unfortunately, the horrors of uniformity are still not conceivable for many who preach of the world united under one religion or one theory or some perfect ideology that proposes heaven on earth, or a heavenly afterlife.

Either way, the in-betweens who have nothing to gain or loose from any of the dreams’ realisations, get to bear the burden of responsibility. Not because of their strength or ideals, but because of their sheer power for being the catalysts. They are like maggots on a diseased, rotten body, who have to do away with the dead tissues, namely radicals or their opponent fundamentalists.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Atheist prophets or losses?

I have come across several youngsters (omg am so old.. lolz) who are atheists and claim to be preaching and teaching in their surroundings to make people see more reason (which of course is reason only because they are a-theists, which is so cool btw..) Somehow, it sounds just like a ‘tableeghi’ when it comes to wanting atheism to spread and all. The whole purpose of being an a-theist merely dies when people start doing that. Perhaps most of the people will not agree and would argue that is the only course of action left. To spread reason atheists must form an alliance and wage a “jihad of reason” against all these stupid religious people in their vicinity. Who have nothing better to do but to be the moral judges of the so-called civilised society based on their mere belief, which with atheists becomes a mere lack of it.

So how does one differentiate between the atheists and theists any more? Both are on a rampage, both are haters of others, or almost, and both are on some moral high ground considering the other to be inferior in some way. Of course with theists it is an extra baggage of God Almighty, but then how come Science or (omg) Reason is becoming the opposing almighty. Here’s another commonality, which often we forget when comparing the two, and that is pity for the other side.

How many times have I come across those extremely annoying, irritating preachers who consider it as their duty to show me the right way, of course without reason. Equally annoying have become those who are with reason but are on the same path, actually, they are more annoying, because they not only pity someone who is reason-less but they show towards them a condescending attitude which makes it a double doze of reason-less-ness.

Perhaps it is some pseudo-religiosity in disguise playing tricks on us again. After all, it hasn’t been long that we got rid of that shit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is it all in vain?

While my heart craves for the birth of intellect among the masses as well as the ability to guide them into a better and enlightened collective force by their leaders, my mind often considers it is all in vain.

For how can a nation entrenched within the confines of a regressing religion lift itself from the depths of ignorance and venture towards the height of knowledge and awareness.

A nation devoid of all sensibilities as a human race; a nation concerned with only the base instincts of filling its belly with food and satisfying its beastly urges has nothing but bleakness to look forward to. Indeed, it is their destiny to not even know their human side, for there is no will to even search for it.

The desire to find that candle within was smothered long ago, and can not be rekindled as it is deeply rooted within the lock and barred castle of a barbaric religion.

Once again it keeps the urge to evolve into something better in check. Divinity again blocks vision and holds the reigns of imagination.

But then again my hearts craving cannot be ignored.

Would it be a belief in the divinity of man himself if one hopes for a leader who awakens the winged and boundless horse of knowledge in the hearts of the wretched souls living barely on the edge of humanity?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saudis up to their tricks again?

The nameplate issue has been doing rounds with the WWF as well as the OXFAM apologising to the oil rich donors of fundamentalists, namely the Saudis since the UN climate summit. However, in this hullabaloo what was forgotten was that the Saudis are opposed to taking strict action against carbon emissions and switching to renewable energy.

They have been doing so since long and checking results of some previous meetings would prove so. Ahead of the December meeting in Copenhagen the Saudis had stolen some emails of British climate researchers to cast doubts on the authenticity of the human factor involved in global warming. Later on they had claimed there was no need to reach an agreement regarding any reduction in emissions.

Moreover, this time around the Saudis felt threatened by the climate talks, terming them biased against oil. Nobody needs to second guess as to why they do not want to support action against carbon emissions. They have oil to last another hundred years or more, and therefore it means they have liquid gold, which they plan to cash even if it is going to put millions of lives and the whole eco-system at risk. And in this they are not alone, flanked by their buddy the US of A, who has been diverging from cutting its greenhouse gases and other oil rich countries, the attention of the international community has been successfully diverted from the issue at hand to a totally nonsensical issue of a flag in a loo.

Who was actually involved behind setting up the stage for this charade is a question mark. Nonetheless, as far as I am concerned, the outdated Saudi flag with a sword could be thrown in the loo a million more times and pee’d on for what they have done to my country by funding terrorist activities here.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Promoting beggary as a nation

As a nation we beg from the international community, and to make the public get used to the idea, we sanction programmes such as the Benazir Income Support Programme started by the Sindh government, or some Langar (free food) programmes which the Punjab government has initiated along with the Sasti Roti scheme to relieve the poor. Moreover, in Karachi an organisation called the Saylani Welfare Trust provides free food to the passersby that include people who work as taxi drivers, rickshaw drivers, scavengers and so on. It is a never ending list of people taking advantage from this free food programme, with stalls all over the city, at public hospitals, roundabouts, signals etc.

According to Jan Muhammad, he has stopped using his own money to buy food. “When they are providing me with free food, why should I spend money?” he asks with amazement in his eyes. On the other hand a taxi driver feels offended with the whole idea. “I buy a plate of daal and roti everyday, along with a cup of tea. It costs me Rs 50, if I had chicken the amount would be Rs 100. But I would rather eat daal then go ahead and eat the mutton provided by Saylani,” he proudly reveals.

Another man said that this is the government’s plan to desensitise us towards their growing loans they take from the United States or the World Bank or IMF. It has been a general attitude by the Pakistan People’s Party to buy people with cheap gimmicks. Instead of subsidising basic necessities and making tax recovery their priority, they take loans, reason being that they would be the first one’s who would have to pay the highest taxes. Therefore, taking loans is a better option as it fills their pockets rather then paying, which would reduce their wealth.

An owner of even a small organisation understands that he cannot spend more then what he earns, moreover even a schoolboy knows he cannot spend more then his pocket money; but unfortunately people at the helm of Pakistan’s financial affairs have not learned this. Perhaps they need to be taught through simulation games like Sim City, Age of Empires and Stronghold where the coffers of a state are constantly filled with taxes in order to provide the civilians with facilities.

The recent disclosures regarding the over-expenditure of the Sindh Chief Minister’s House by at least Rs 133 million, was a clear indication of how much our politicians are concerned about the current state of beggary.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Katchi Abadi regularisation short term solution

Karachi being the biggest city of Pakistan currently has around 18 million residents as per unofficial statistics and still increasing as there is no check on the number of immigrants each year. From 6 million immigrants who came to Pakistan in 1947, 2 million Afghan refugees, illegal Bangladeshis and Biharis who came after the fall of Dhaka and millions of local immigrants from rural or less developed areas, the city is suffering from a severe shortage of proper or legal housing facilities, and around 50% dwell in slums or squatter settlements.

Distinguishing between the types of katchi abadies would be important here, as there is not just a single type. These abadies can broadly be divided into two categories; the old totally unplanned abadies that were established at the time of the Indo-Pak partition and the ones that came into existence because land-grabbers mobilised and provided houses to the constantly rising number of immigrants, especially with a boom in the Industries. After partition the government was not equipped to deal with the immigrants and hence and therefore people on self help basis provided themselves with whatever they could muster. However, instead addressing the issue, the government continued to neglect this sector and also neither checked the rapid rural to urban migration nor provided enough housing facilities. Thus, government negligence towards this factor, combined with the land-grabbers has not helped much, as land-grabbers taking advantage continuously kept on the move, grabbing more and more government land turning it to slums/katchi abadies.

The desperate immigrants on the other hand, who come looking for a place to live, find these katchi abadies to be the best solution for them. They are comparatively cheap, and more importantly can be found close to wherever they work and that too without paperwork. At places the encroached houses would be almost cantilevered above the Lyari River, with their foundations sunk deep in the sewage water, but this does not deter someone set on making it work no matter what the circumstances.

The situation instead of getting better has worsened as the government being merely disinterested in addressing the root cause, regularised these settlements, giving more incentive to the land-grabbers. If this regularisation process had just been followed by the provision of sufficient low-income houses as well as a check on rural to urban migration, perhaps it would have been better, but since it was not so, encroachments continued.

Moreover, involvement of political parties like MQM and PPP did not help much either, who instead of finding a true solution wanted to keep the people in the same conditions for either appeasing them to retain their vote banks or to keep them deprived of a better infrastructure and environment.

According to the Orangi Pilot Projects survey, conducted in 2002, the total number of katchi abadies was 539, whereas a news report dated June 27, 2010 claims, “There are around 1,293 spatial settlements, out of which the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority has regularised only 500, while the remaining are being processed for regularisation.”

As a nation it appears we have a penchant for short term answers. We accept the government’s shortcomings and give it leeway to implement such short sighted solutions. There are several reasons for referring to the regularisation of katchi abadies as short term, foremost being that these katchi abadies are hubs for several illegal activities, starting from smuggling of something as mundane as cloth to drugs and ammunition. The abadies are nurseries for most criminal gangs and activities, since hiding in the criss-crossed lanes is not difficult. Also worth mentioning are the terrorists, who were arrested from several katchi abadies over the past few months, despite that in certain areas even law-enforcement agencies fear to go, or are supposedly scared to go.

Other causes to oppose katchi abadi regularisation include lack of planning and building regulations. Since a lot of the poor settlements are unplanned, often there is no provision for modern vehicles to pass through, which gives rise to the question what would happen in case the government has to provide aid to the local residents. These settlements are bustling with three, four and even six storey buildings, poor construction and bad planning with hardly any space between the lanes for a big car let alone a truck to pass through. In such circumstances even if a fire breaks out, the fire tenders have a tough time reaching the inferno.

With such conditions prevalent, we have a disaster looming round the corner, which may strike us any day. It may look fine and noble at the first glance to regularise the slums, filled with criminal activities, combined with bad planning and bad construction, but in reality and long term it is not so. Hopefully, the government would realise this soon, as well as the supporters of the idea, who consider the word slum should be reserved for the West, as slums are considered physical and morally bankrupt, but our katchi abadies are only physically dilapidated and not socially decrepit. A farsighted approach is needed, and more houses of course.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Concrete Jungle & the Wild Cat


The land gave her a desolate picture; trees that were full of colourful birds were lying in a heap at the side of the land mass running exactly parallel to her favourite stream. Even the stream was empty of fish now for the constant dumping of garbage from the neighbouring areas, as well as the junk off the nearby garage. Floating rubbish and debris gave out a horrid stench of dying fish mixed with motor oil and decayed vegetation. This is the story of a wild cat, which somehow got close to humans and started mingling with them because she found it a good escape from her loneliness. And lonely she was having lived in a jungle full of animals suddenly being wiped out to make room for some high-rise apartments.

Although in the early stages of adjustment to the concrete jungle the wild cat several times thought of just going out there on the highway and standing in front of a twenty six wheeler caterpillar, she was somehow able to resist the temptation. Or perhaps she had faith in her destiny to find something worthwhile to do. Nonetheless she survived the cutting of the jungle and destruction of her habitat.

Soon roaming about in this new jungle of Grey and black with some shiny stars that appeared to be very gigantic, close and within reach, compared to the ones she saw from within the branches of the luscious green leaves, she made some friends. A few ducks and swans in the city park lake, several crows nesting in the sidewalk trees; once she also spotted a black dotted koel dallying near the crows nest, and she knew it is about to destroy the poor crows eggs and lay hers instead, were a few friends apart from those walking on two legs.

The wild-cat was never short of food especially when near the park as kids and their parents once they got used to her started bringing tit bits for her to devour. Many were daily visitors living in nearby buildings and some were far farers coming once and never seen again.

The old woman and man were one of the few who frequented the park on a daily basis and were also her self appointed daily food providers. She soon got attached to them and looked forward to their presence. They never came separate and often the old lady would be in a depressed mood she noticed. Bit by bit she got to know that they were mates and that unlike her species, they usually stayed with the same mate throughout their life. This fascinated her a lot as she was more used to knowing and having several potential mates at a time. She also wondered about their off-springs, if like hers they left as soon as they were able to fend for themselves or they still lived on them.

This world was very fascinating, she got intrigued and wanted to learn more but how was the question. She soon found out about the teacher who could help her understand these two legged creatures language. Nobody really knew where to find the teacher, only it was considered common knowledge there is one. The wild cat after getting disappointing news from all quarters, finally one night went to the owl living in the tallest Margosa (Neem) Tree and asked him if he could guide her to the famed teacher. The wise owl looked at her with glittering eyes and asked in a grumpy tone:

Owl: Why are you interested in the teacher?

Wild Cat: I want to learn the language spoken by the creature walking on two legs.

She excitedly informed the owl. He looked at her with disdain and yawned.

Owl: And what good pray would come of that? My dear trust me when I say no good has come off anybody who has dared to meddle with these lousy creatures, willingly or unwillingly. Rather most have come to grief even with the best of intentions at heart, and you seem to be a green-horn for this city still.

But the cat innocent about the ways of this new jungle insisted on getting the address of the teacher. Looking at her pleading eyes and enthusiasm the owl told her that she is talking to the teacher and he will help her in learning the new language.

Owl: But make one thing clear my dear, you are not under any circumstances to use this knowledge outside the park and I want it upon your honour that you won’t.

Wild Cat: Oh great teacher! Fear not, I shall not use it anywhere but the park and you can take my word upon my honour.

Thus satisfied, the timings and days for the classes were discussed and it was decided that every night when the park was empty and there wasn’t much noise they would start. The first week she found it extremely difficult to even comprehend the differences in language, but after that she learnt the ropes pretty fast and within a month was able to understand what her new friends spoke about.


The pond between the tall trees looked very tranquil today, even the swans and visiting geese were not at loggerheads and tactfully avoided coming into each others way. The squirrels were running to and fro, collecting tit bits and squeaking at each other about one thing or another. The oldest Mrs. Squirrel in the park was under everybody’s censure for having unruly kids, who not only threw berries at every passerby, but at times also put other children playing with them in danger of getting squished.

The wild cat pondered near the Margosa tree for some time, thinking about her last litter of kittens and the white one she had loved dearly. She had hoped it would perhaps stay near her, so that she can see her once in a while. Nonetheless, it went away and so did the rest of them and though she had known in the heart of hearts that they will, it still hurt her if not much, just a tiny bit. She had always accepted it as a part of her life that kittens will leave her and move on, just like she did with her parents. But today she could not help but think what if they had not?

Looking around her hoping to find some diversion for the gloomy thoughts, she found the old man and woman sitting on their usual bench. Today the old lady had a bag with her full of colourful fur. She had two long sticks in her hand and seemed to be weaving something like a spider. The cat went ahead to get a closer look and tried to discern what type of web was she making with the fur, but it did not seem to be taking any shape right now.

She started wandering towards the chubby little kid sitting on the next bench and while passing the old couple she heard a muffled sob. She turned around again to look at the moping old lady, she was crying today and her hands were weaving the web faster and faster with each sob. To get a hint as to what was ailing the old lady she crept closer and wedged herself behind the bench between the bushes.

Old Lady mumbled: I wish he had told me earlier that he cannot come and has to cancel his trip for yet another year.
Old Man soothingly: He told me about a month ago that he may have to cancel the trip if his boss decides to promote him, and you know dear how it is with jobs these days. It is first of all hard to get a job and then retaining it is tougher. We should understand his problems.

Old Lady: You know it very well he has no need to work for that silly company when he can run his own business here.
Old Man gets angry: And you know it pretty well why he left in the first place. If you had not questioned him at each and every action or inaction of his he would not have left. I told you when you were behaving in that manner that nothing good will come out of it.

Old Lady goes quiet and continues her sobbing. The old man sniffs at her and lights his cigar. He reminded the cat of the old cocky monkey she so despised and who at times would tease her kittens a lot when she was away in search of food.

The miff that old couple had just now did nothing to alleviate the cat’s mood, on the contrary she was reminded of her white kitten with such a force that she did not pay attention to where she was going and ended up falling in a small ditch dug out in the sand pit, where children were playing. The kid sitting on the bench came running to rescue her at the cost of getting a scold from his finicky mother, who according to her guess was not pleased about her son touching the sand and also a street cat.

The Wild Cat felt very indignant and wanted to give the yelling lady a piece of her mind by informing she cleans herself every day at least twice and is not at all infested by flees and ticks unlike other cats of ‘her jungle’. But of course she could not do so and in anguish ran towards the same tree where she took her classes. The Teacher was not to be found anywhere and in disappointment she climbed the tree and sat near the top most-branch that allowed her a great view of the whole city.


Here she stood today in defiance of her teacher to find out more about this concrete jungle. Yesterday’s vista was still quite clear in her mind and although it did not frighten her she did feel a little intimidated by the surroundings. Already there were a few cats moving about looking at her suspiciously as if they expected her to harm them in some way.

She wondered at their funny sideways leaning gait, they were scratching themselves off on weird looking objects, and it took her a while to realise they were doing exactly as she used to do with trees when marking her territory. This is interesting she thought.

As she moved on she saw others of her kind but these she knew instinctively were ferocious, she could sense her muscles going rigid and alert as her nostrils filled with their smell. Nobody had to come and tell her that she had to be wary of this clan, her instincts warned her already. She felt relieved to regain her confidence in her instinctual behaviour; she had always relied on this natural talent when in her own habitat, it kept her safe and also got her food every day.

This new jungle was at times confusing for her, she did not rely on her own instincts to feed herself and that is why at times had to go to sleep hungry. But those were rare days, like when it rained a lot or she heard something had happened outside the park and there was no movement at all. Nevertheless it was a reassuring factor for her to know she had not totally lost her natural gift.

Wandering ahead, suddenly she could smell raw mouth watering meat, and though it was not possible to know what kind, she knew it would be great to taste. Therefore, she started sniffing for the direction it was coming from. As soon as she spotted it right across the street, she saw a kitten that in her opinion had recently left her mothers care, crossing towards her being hit by a big fast moving object. It moved on two round items, it seemed that those were cut out portions of a tree trunk but they definitely looked a little bit different. The kitten must have died she thought so she moved ahead towards the smell and finally found it a bit further down the lane.

It felt like ambrosia after those left over titbits she had been eating for the past few months. After having her fill of the fresh meat, she moved on to check out the other myriad of smells her nostrils could pick on every second. She saw colourful flowers, a place packed with different skins, another one filled with so many big and small objects, overflowing with colours never seen before.

Looking at all these wonders, she could not fathom why the teacher had asked her not to venture out in this new jungle. To her innocent unused eyes this looked like a wonderful new home, adorned with colours she had not known existed and objects that looked from another world. Venturing on she stumbled across many leafless trees and moving and rolling boulders of various colours and sizes. She took note of these things, so she can ask the teacher what they really were.

Exploring whatever her eyes clamped on, she wandered into this wilderness thoughtlessly directionless. As it closed towards evening and the thought of returning to the park struck her, the consciousness of being lost also became evident. As panic struck she started running in the direction she thought she had come from, and suddenly stood right in front of a big black dog.

Instinctively she knew the best would be to climb the nearest tree and hide in the branches. No sooner did she do so, she became aware that all along the path the trunks she had thought as trees were not really the trees she was used to; apart from not having branches they also had a surface her claws could not hold on to; in desperation she climbed to the top and felt safe. She knew the dog cannot reach her any more, but similarly she did not know how to reach back to the ground.


After being stranded on top of this branchless tree for at least two days, she became exhausted and homesick. The sun had gone down on the horizon at least twice when suddenly she could sit there no longer and fell to the ground. To her surprise she fell right on her paws. But as soon as her paws could feel the pavement, she started running towards the direction she thought the park was.

By nightfall, she started spotting familiar objects and places. She could see the place which she earlier saw, stuffed with colourful skins and flowers of different kinds. Then she even saw the place where the kitten had died. She started reminiscing about the time when the stream had been clean and the jungle was green, when it was safe to even challenge the lion, because one knew where to hide and from where to strike.

She thought this place looked stark naked, with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The trees turned to mere trunks and those dusty pathways littered with toads and all sorts of critters, turned to a black swamp of some ungodly things. Reminded of what the teacher had said about venturing outside the park, she scolded herself in her heart and made a solemn promise to limit herself within its bounds, once she had reached the safe haven.

This jungle was not for her, it was strange and filled with still stranger creatures. Nostalgic for her true home, she dragged herself into the park and went straight to the Neem, she stood staring at it for some time, and then leaning on the trunk sat down.

She was now ready to accept this mere spec of a jungle, which hardly did any justice to its previous glory, knowing that this was better then what was out there, ready to engulf anything and everything within its path.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Time to announce anti-judiciary a-political movement?

The print and electronic media both have been wreaking havoc with the poor, uneducated or half educated people of this country. Opinions are shoved down peoples throat as facts, while facts are brushed aside as heresy or conspiracies. And this is not just any one political party or religious organisation’s norm, nor is it specific to the conservatives or the liberals, it is a viral infection present in almost everybody regardless of their political leanings or their orthodoxy and vise versa.

For me the three most untrustworthy professions were, and perhaps still are, politics, law and journalism. Nevertheless, I still managed to join journalism. My condition is like a sweeper, who holds his breath by grabbing his nose between his index finger and thumb, before he lowers himself in the manhole to go about his business. I still am holding my nose, and am not even sure when I will stop doing so. Because, I feel that all these three institutions thrive on the constantly degrading conditions of this country. We are actually nose-diving at the current rate because of the rampant corruption within these three, [supposedly sacred] professions.

This trio of the unholy-politicians, the corrupt lawyers and judges along with the yellow journalists is the incubator where the filth of this society is conceived, nurtured, in case of injury resuscitated and revitalised to be reintroduced in the already dilapidated system. Of course, someone would think I have lost my marbles for not including the armed forces, as it has become one of the most favourite habits amongst these three to put the blame there. But this is where I am free from looking through their provided myopic lens. Not because I hold the armed forces scot-free, but because I hold responsible the people who call themselves more responsible and enlightened against everybody else. Nobody can stop me from holding responsible the ones who call everybody else responsible for their failures, their short sightedness, their selfishness and their darkness combined with their dark deeds.

Perhaps it is time to announce an anti-judiciary a-political movement supported by an un-biased media.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Witnessing a robbery

The night before last I came home angry and furious at our apathy and helplessness in face of guns and death. On main MA Jinnah Road, a bastard robbed a man in his car. There were six motorcyclists around, our press van, another pickup, and this lunatic on a motorcycle, wearing a p-cap looking as if he had all the time in the world, yelling at the driver of the car to handover the mobile and cash. Nobody was able to do anything except be silent onlookers. It was a typical scene with one man on a motorcycle with a TT-pistol, having no inhibitions or fear, acting as if he owns everything, including the people.

When the man handed him the loot, he took a u-turn and sped away. Nobody reacted. It took me at least 3 seconds to even realise what actually was happening, while the whole thing just finished in 15 seconds. The pistol he held looked evil in the streetlights. The motorcycle riders looked nervous, and the children in the car looked excited as well as scared.

I have been unable to get the whole scene out of my head. I cannot stop thinking how we are raising children in this country. With gun-wielding lunatics running rampant, and all of us so scared to move even an inch in front of those weapons and the savages who carry them.

Perhaps, this was my first such experience and therefore am so concerned and moved, people around me just took it in their stride and told me it was something that happened every other day, and I better get used to it, and be more concerned about my own safety rather then thinking what I could have done for somebody else.


Today, while coming home there was a police mobile standing at the spot where the robbery took place. Whether it was because the victim complained or some other reason, but I was wondering where that mobile had been previously. Perhaps wherever it had been, the criminals would find a green signal there and resume their activities, and meanwhile, let this section of MA Jinnah Road be crime free.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cyclone threat, inefficient management

Thatta and Badin as well as the coastal belt of Karachi faced the cyclone and flash-flood threat. People were moved to temporary shelters and government buildings. Despite being closer to the urban areas, the authorities still failed to provide efficient facilities to the population.

According to news reports, most people refused to use the government’s tents and preferred staying with their relatives. One reason for this behaviour is the inadequacy of the concerned authorities and lack of foresight in such situations. It is always problematic to make people understand the need to move to a safer place, as they are attached to their homes and also fear for their belongings being stolen or ransacked even in a calamity. Moreover, past incidents have proven true such fears, where households have been ravaged by marauding mobs during or after a disaster.

Another reason people refuse are the deplorable conditions that are kept at any temporary camp site or government buildings. People who were living in proper houses are expected to live-in together in government buildings, while sharing everything communally and without any decent amount of privacy. These circumstances are discouraging for people with large families, especially if they have young daughters or sisters.

Under these circumstances it becomes necessary for the government to not only make the public aware of their safety, but also assure of reducing the losses to the minimum. In general there is also a need to provide respectable accommodations or even tents that give people privacy to a certain extent.

To put thee in a Zoo or not?

It has been a raging debate among animal lovers and city managements for a very long time whether to have zoological gardens for entertainment and educational purposes or not. However, it seems this debate will never end, though the species they encage may.

The conditions at the Karachi Zoo are not hidden from anybody, it is one of the cheapest recreational spots for the lower income group. Starting with an entry fee of only Rs 5, it is a lush green area within the polluted metropolitan. A safe haven for the many, who live in cramped, humid conditions in their tiny apartments or homes with a few hours of regular electric supply to provide relief in the burning weather.

Nonetheless, if one wants to see healthy animals in the zoo premises, one is bound to be disappointed. Most of the animals not only look malnourished but apparently look deeply discomfited with their surroundings along with the ogling crowd. A recent visit revealed that the Lioness has some sort of an eye infection that has turned its eye completely red. On inquiry it was discovered that the zoo does not have a permanent resident veterinary.

A cursory inspection of the female Ostrich reveals a featherless back due to some disease. Moreover the signage at the zoo is also in a deplorable condition, with no proper maps or directions. The boards on the enclosures that disclose the name of the encaged animal in both Urdu and English along with the habitat description are also either wrongly titled or missing. Under these conditions it would be better to turn the zoological gardens to merely a botanical garden or a huge aviary as the best feature of the whole zoo is the large water pool inhabited by several geese, a lone black swan, a few mallards and several other types of cranes and pelicans that the zoo management do not bother to inform the visitors about.

If not the zoo management must make more animal friendly enclosures that are closer to the natural habitats of the captured species. When the Director of the Zoo Dr Mansoor Qazi was contacted he stated that the conditions at the zoo can only be upgraded with proper participation from the concerned authorities like the City District Government Karachi, as well as the municipalities.

Elephant enclosures

The elephants have recently been brought to the zoo, to the delight of children and adults alike. Interestingly, the cage of the two baby female elephants appears to have deformed suddenly after their arrival. During a previous visit, the elephant enclosures had thick and cylindrical steel columns. To a trained eye, the first glance revealed that the distance between the columns was insufficient to keep a baby elephant from passing in-between, however, when the supervisor who was busy on site at that time was asked about the distance he said, “We have kept the distance this big so that it is possible for the caretaker to get in and out fast in case the elephants get angry.”

When it was pointed out to him that the distance would even allow the elephant to go in and out, he merely laughed and said, “We know what we are doing here; it is not as simple as that.”

Despite the supervisor’s assurance, once the elephants were moved in round horizontal sections were added to keep the baby elephants from straying outside their enclosures. So much for the City District Government Karachi’s experts, contractors and so-called engineers, if a simple zoo-enclosure can be messed up, what must happen with the infrastructure and development is something one can only guess.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Disasters in Pakistan

Since Pakistan is situated on fault-lines and besides being vulnerable to tectonic movement, is also within the range of tsunamis, and other natural disasters along with the man made ones, it is extremely necessary to have a comprehensive disaster mitigation program, early warning systems, awareness of the vulnerability of populations to different disasters, to post disaster response including relief, early recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction. There are of course several problems and situations that vary case to case, depending on the disaster, location as well as prevalent climatic conditions in the particular region that needs to be addressed.

When Pakistan was struck by the October earthquake, there was no relevant authority to address the disaster. But by October 24, 2005, the Government of Pakistan was able to establish ERRA – Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority with the help of the United Nations and the Pakistan Army.

Earthquake - 2005

The October 8, 2005 Earthquake measuring 7.6 on Richter Scale in the Northern Areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir Pakistan, has been an important lesson for the development sector, especially architects, engineers and planners. It was a real life case-study for not only learning but experimentation and documentation as well, since there was a huge influx of foreign development organisations, especially the United Nations’ - UNHABITAT, UNDP, UNICEF etc, and other international organisations like, Emergency Architects, Aga Khan Development Network, Handicap International and so on.

Relief & Recovery (Problems)

One major hindrance during the recovery phase of the earthquake was lack of information. The government only had one functional institute in this regard, and that was the army, which at that time was itself under stress due to the undisclosed heavy human loss they had to suffer because of the disaster. Nevertheless, the army did manage to give a prompt response and tried to reach as many locations as possible, despite that it was winter and the conditions were harsh, especially at high altitudes in the Karakorum Ranges, going as far as using soldiers as mules for getting rations to the affected families. While discussing the Karakorum Ranges, one must keep in mind that there are several nomadic tribes living at high altitudes, and at times the exact location of their abode is not known. So, many times it was problematic to reach a specific area.

The army and volunteers were involved in getting over rations, winterised tents and retrieving people from the debris of the destroyed buildings simultaneously, but there were several hindrances apart from continuous snowfall, like unavailability of appropriate tools and machinery, as well as access to affected areas due to landslides, accumulated snow etc.

Building any sturdy structures for shelter in the beginning was impossible due to the aftershocks. However, as the earth settled and ground oscillations reduced to almost none, other problems were also faced by the relief workers, like, apathy, fear, paranoia and a general feeling of fatalism. The affectess feared going inside any building. There was stress and fear about remaining under a heavy roof, whether it was made of tin, wood or concrete. People generally preferred staying in a tent, but that was not very effective protection against the extreme cold climate, with frequent snowfall, sleet and rain. Later on lack of technical knowledge also proved to be a hindrance in remote areas where NGOs and international organisations did not have access in the beginning.

Rehabilitation & Reconstruction

There were outbreaks of diarrhoea and other ailments like malaria and typhoid due to inadequate sanitation and unavailability of clean water, ruptured septic tanks and sewage pits, as well as rotting organic matter in the debris. For this purpose several makeshift latrines were erected by organisations like OXFAM and UNDP keeping in mind the cultural bounds. And mineral water was also provided with the relief kits.

Another major problem was to cater to the people who were handicapped in the disaster. The trauma of the patients and accommodation of their needs within limited resources was something that had to be addressed on an urgent basis, for which organisations like the Handicap International mobilised their workers.

As winter passed, there were several proposals by different organisations regarding the type of construction that should be followed. Designs by ERRA, NESPAK, NSET, UNHABITAT, Architecture de l’urgencies etc were circulated for the benefit of the locals. Several model houses were also constructed, while contracts for institutional buildings like schools, colleges, government offices, hospitals were given to large companies under ERRA and UNHABITAT’s supervision.

NDMA - 2007

Later on in 2007, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was created as an executive arm of the National Disaster Management Commission (NDMC), which has been established under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister. There are Provincial Disaster Management Authorities under the NDMA in all four provinces to cater to natural and man-made disasters both.

Revisiting Kashmir - 2009

June, 2009 while re-visiting Bagh and Rawlakot in Kashmir, I found that the reconstruction process for the larger buildings was still in the process. It has been four years to be precise since the earthquake, but the reconstruction phase has not finished yet. Temporary shelters and latrines are still around, and in some places, tents are still in use as well.

Apparently, the temporary shelters have becomes a permanent feature for the time being. Even if people have built their houses, they still have tents erected in their field for purposes ranging from storing wood, to grain, to using the tent for visitors and guests.

Several new and much larger concrete houses were visible on the slopes of the surrounding mountains, which mostly belong to the affluent people of the city. The poor people rebuilt their houses using the same old traditional methods due to several reasons, one of them being unavailability of funds. Several people disclosed that the last instalment due for their house was not disbursed by the authorities for one reason or another.

The situation near the river called “Maal” is sad, as several crushers and mixers are placed along the river. The sewerage also appears to be connected directly with the river as several NGOs and orgnaisations still have their offices on the river banks.

The condition of the roads was dilapidated, especially in Bagh; however the roads in Rawlakot were comparatively better. A local driver Iqbal said that bad roads have become a feature for the region. It should be mentioned that during the year 2006, the roads were well kempt despite heavy rains and landslides. According to Iqbal, the reason roads were better previously while international NGOs were around was there was less corruption.

The economic condition of Bagh seems to have improved tremendously, as several people, who a few years ago only used to walk to their destination, owned cars and four wheel drives like Parados and Land Cruisers. Several new outsourcing companies have been established in Bagh and new shopping malls are springing up instead of the old rundown bazaars.

However, only time would verify the quality of the materials as well as construction techniques used for the new buildings.

Monday, June 14, 2010

No-identity is Karachi’s architectural identity

The city of Karachi has no socio-economic, administrative or cultural identity of its own; therefore it has no personal architectural identity or language as well. It is a mixture of several languages as well as myriad individual characteristics that have been brought to this city with the colourful array of immigrants, whether foreign or local.

The architecture consists of different personal, public and private abodes ranging from ramshackle makeshift rag and mat huts, to the 1,000 sq yard mansions and the constantly mushrooming high-rise buildings, either in the commercial hub or in the suburbs, advertised as new luxury apartments.

However, one thing that remains persistent everywhere is, there is no such thing as consistency here. Buildings are designed, planned and executed in anyway the owner, contractor or an architect pleases. Volumes could be written about the styles and construction methodologies adopted here since there is not just one way to go about the business.

Buildings from the British Raj look strongly anchored to the ground with their limestone and sandstone facades or at times merely limestone claddings laid on top of a concrete layer - a significant feature downtown. Whereas on the other hand are the government quarters on Martin Road and Jehangir Road that have two large rooms with a covered veranda serving as a transition space from the rooms to the kitchen as well as the separate latrine and bath facilities situated in the courtyard. Although these quarters have changed a lot of shape, one must mention here the much larger quarters that used to grace Jacoblines, where there are the 40 sq yrd ghettos. with some atrocious high rise apartments, designed/proposed by the famous Yasmeen Lari in the ‘70s. The so-called low income houses are more of pigeonholes then residential quarters, with a minimum area of 40 sq yards per family. Nevertheless, apartments they are, monstrous or not.

There are also those concrete houses from the 40s and 50s that display at least one cylindrical element or room in the plan, giving way to the styles, where to cater to the large families and less space, there emerged blocks of houses to make housing a more available necessity. These houses use the maximum covered space and have several small inter-connected rooms within, mostly opening onto a narrow passageway within the house and windows facing the narrow lane at the back of the house, generally referred to as the ‘gandi galli’ owing to the accumulated garbage.

Houses and buildings from the ‘70s have a solid looking structure, with mostly horizontal elements defining separate planes, having been influenced by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Houses. These houses often have a chimney like wall, with stone cladding, that appears to be holding the rest of the structure together, although, mostly this wall is random and not a chimney at all. Perhaps this was the time when the local Architecture schools started having a market and henceforth the American influence increased.

Or it had to do with General Ayub’s friendship with Doxiadas, making people mimic a mixture of foreign architecture and architectural practices.

Moving on, although one must also mention amongst all these, the cheap copies of different buildings, which imitate from Greco-Roman to the Colonial Architecture. Nevertheless, copies they remain with their overtly over-done facades and badly executed arches, or the ‘sort-of’ Ionic or Doric Columns with a hint of the Corinthians.

All in all, the architecture of Karachi is a mixed palette, with either the unsung traditional architecture springing up here and there, or the overrated modern architecture with the ugly glass surfaces.

Drawing parallels between dogmas

Recently while going over an exchange of comments between communists and some capitalist, several times I came across sentences like, “Stalin was not a communist. You cannot blame the theory for the crimes committed by the people who followed it. Everything negative circulating about the communist atrocities were the USA’s propaganda against communism in general, and communist regimes, especially the Soviet Union.”

I found this very interesting, as it reminded me of the debates between seculars and Muslims, or the non-Muslims/apostates and fanatic Muslims. If the debate is about the current suicide bombings, it would go something like, “A suicide bomber is not a true Muslim. You cannot say Islam is bad just because some Muslims are blowing themselves up to kill others. It is only anti-Islam propaganda by the Zionists and their partners in crime the US of A to malign the holy wars.”

These comments have me in stitches, and I am amazed at the similarities among both the clans. Muslims propose Khilafat to be the way to provide justice; while a Communist propagates communism would provide justice and make earth heaven.

Perhaps, this was the reason why ZA Bhutto became very famous in Pakistan. Another parallel that can be drawn here would be Stalin’s anti-Semitism and Bhutto’s anti-Ahmadism. He used the already present fanatic streak in the general Muslims to unite them against a common enemy, namely the Qadyanis as had already been demonized by the evil Moudoodi.

Moreover, despite that we give all credit of Islamisation to General Ziaul Haq with support from the CIA, we should not forget that the concept of Islamic Socialism was coined by the famous orator Bhutto.

And it does make sense how easy it must have been, looking at the fact that both these ideologies make people delusional by talking about absolute justice.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A penchant for glass & metal

The real role of an architect should be a consciously rationalized effort, towards balancing the environment and creating sustainable living conditions, rather then just playing around with unrealistic ideas and sheer implementation of personal logic.

This means that while designing, the whole socio-economic, cultural, political, environmental and geographic context must be kept in view. However, looking around the city, it is sheer torture to notice the high-end, high-energy-consuming buildings that have popped up over the last few decades.

Interestingly, some of these buildings are not even designed by the notoriously infamous contractors, but the elite architects of Karachi, who have been foreign-trained in one of the best architecture schools of the world.

Let us talk of the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) House that is an eye-sore in the extremely hot weather of the city and the dilapidated power supply system. Let us imagine the cost of cooling this monstrosity, covered in glass, let us also try to understand the maintenance and cleaning cost of this building. Although I am sure that the PSO is well able to afford all the costs. But is the country with its constantly depleting energy supply capable of bearing such buildings?

Moving on, I would love to compare the humble Habib Bank Plaza (HBP) with the cheaply arrayed MCB Tower. It understandably heads over the HBP in height, but it is no match with the sober, snugly fit and contextual rotund building, constructed in 1971. It is not an eyesore, unlike the MCB and it does not put fear in my heart every day when I pass by it, that it would fall at even a moderate earthquake measuring 5.5 on Richter Scale, especially since a structural failure in the building has already been repaired.

The MCB Tower and the PSO House, have both been designed by two of the most famous and acclaimed architects of this country. Despite that, they fail to stir any sense of pride and belonging in me as an architect or a of Karachi. With grotesque usage of glass, just like any third rate contractor, these buildings look extremely irritating while one is traveling on the road on a sunny day.

Moreover, when qualified architects can indulge in such blunders, what can one say about unqualified contractors and builders?