RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: May 2012

The New Breed Of Not-So-Evil Stepmoms And Step-Dads

The stern, manipulative, commanding step-mothers of yesterday.

“Once upon a time, in a far away land, lived a sweet and pretty girl named Cinderella. She made her home with her evil stepmother and her two stepsisters, and they made her do all the work in the house.” These initial words of the world’s favourite fairytale have stuck with me. Somewhere, the impact of the story of Cinderella, Snow White and other such stories has stayed with most of us. Real life incidences of battering, abuse and prejudice of step-parents compounded this idea that a step-parent can never be sincere. Period.

Yet, in an ever-evolving world, every decade and every year brings change. We today are living in a time where the family unit is more fragile than before. For various reasons divorce rates have escalated, even in conservative societies like Pakistan where marriage was once the most fiercely guarded institution. The realities are staring us in the face. Moreover, the idea that parents “have a life too” has caught on. Whether separated from a spouse at the hands of death or divorce, the thought that a parent can remarry and thus bring into the lives of his/her children a stepparent is a more real notion.

The recent Bollywood flick which was a remake of the Hollywood movie Stepmom reignited many a debate over dinners and luncheons — can a step-mom be a good influence over her step-kids and actually become a family member over time, as the movie proposed? Asking around to feel the pulse of people revealed mixed feelings on the subject.

The step-mom of today is more like Julia Roberts in this movie – more like a friend or an elder sis, and definitely part of the family

Nadia Wasi, a doctor, shared, “I do know people who live with stepfathers and the situation has worked out very well for the children. I do feel the image of the step-mom is changing as well. With the number of marriages not working out and both women and men remarrying, I think women are more open to marrying men with children and are more accepting towards them.”

However, others, like 37-year-old Zara Shah, confesses that although she is married and settled, she and her siblings have, to date, not been able to accept their father’s remarriage after their mother’s death. “I have to give credit to my dad. He waited a full five years after my mother passed away, and I understand that after we all got busy with our own lives, he needed companionship. Having said that, honestly, I still cannot accept my stepmother living in my mother’s bedroom, cooking in my mother’s kitchen and taking her place in society. My relationship with my father had become numb and cold, but over the years it has thawed a bit and is better.”

Even if the Cinderella effect, as it is called, is not there, there is no doubt that the dynamics of a family undergo change once a parent remarries. The problems can be exacerbated if the family becomes a blended family, with half-siblings belonging to the step-parent in the picture as well. Younger children often adapt to such change more easily compared to adolescent or even adult children who face severe inner strife and identity issues. Often, movies and stories depict the second-time married parent choosing not to have a baby, which seems unfair on the stepmother/father who might not be a parent yet.

The problem perhaps lies in the notion that the step-parent has traditionally been expected to and tried to take the position of a biological parent, which is an impossible task. The new, reinvented and more accepted step-moms or step-fathers perhaps owe their popularity to the fact that, although they are in the position of a guardian, they do not attempt to steal away the memory of the step-children’s biological mother or father.

Also, in a world which is more aware of human emotions and psychology, in all likelihood the step mother or step father understand and can empathize to what that child is going through. They have accepted their spouse, the parent of that child, with this child as part of the package, and are more mature about it, taking the adjustments in their stride.

The step mom of today does not attempt to remove the memoirs and photographs of their mother from their bedside, or shirk at the mere mention of her name. This is a more fun and ‘chilled’ person, as she is in a supervisory position but is not wholly and solely responsible for the child, and the biological parent continues to play an important role. Such a step-parent has hopes of finding a place not only in the home but also the hearts of her newfound family.

A few more tips would be in order for the step-parent. For beginners, one has to remember that a newly found relationship with step-children in the loop will take time to grow, so patience is the key. Pushing for intimacy prematurely is a bad idea. Doing fun things together is excellent for bonding. But too much leniency can be counterproductive, as can be being overly stern. This is a balancing act. In the end, if you intend to make it work, never ever give up. Slowly, you will carve a place in the child’s heart for sure, and prove Cinderella wrong to live happily ever after.

This write-up was published in Dawn with editions:

KSBL – Will It Be All That It Promises To Be?

Move over, LUMS. And IBA, you are so retro. And CBM, you are hardly competition. The newest kid on the block has arrived with huge promises. KSBL – Karachi School for Business & Leadership.

The above words, in bold and italics, are not my words. Neither are they a quote. They are a careful paraphrasing of the impression you get from KSBL supporters who are raving about this new business school to watch out for. The more you read into it, the more you realize that KSBL DOES have potential to be all this.

KSBL stands for Karachi School of Business and Leadership. Established by corporate and business leaders in Pakistan, this school is being set up in the country’s commercial hub Karachi, where business schools do exist but not at the level needed. “LUMS and IBA are good schools but lack the cutting edge expertise that KSBL promises to have” said Humayun Javed Khan, Head of Marketing & Communications at KSBL, at a recent bloggers’ meet organized by the management.

Besides, the more the merrier. With the booming population, especially in Karachi, “there is a need and place for a hundred LUMS in Pakistan” said Rizwan Amin Sheikh, Associate Dean, MBA Program, KSBL. Sheikh is ex-LUMS faculty, as are others, including KSBL’s Acting Dean Dawood N. Ghaznavi. The drain and migration from LUMS to KSBL is an interesting trend.

The list of visionaries behind KSBL is impressive, including Hussain Dawood (Chairman, Dawood Hercules Corporation Limited), Asad Umar (ex CEO Engro) and Sarfaraz Rehman (ex-CEO of Engro Foods and the current CEO at Dawood Foundation) – impressive luminaries of the corporate and business world. These are leaders that make the claims of KSBL very credible to a non-partisan blogger like myself.

In addition, the catch lies here: KSBL has a Strategic Collaboration Agreement with the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. Not a cut and paste job. The curriculum would be tailored to suit the Pakistani environment.

The school promises to have the works and has all the catch-phrases one needs to hear like:

  • A need-blind policy for students ( an admission policy in which the admitting institution does not consider an applicant’s financial situation when deciding admission)
  •  A city campus and a main campus. They promise to have a “green campus” good for the environment.
  • Not just a mass production of ruthless business graduates, but ethical values being instilled in them as well. This is encouraging. As Sarfaraz Rehman said: “Young people today from business schools are smart, are worried about money, and love gadgets. But they are not strong in ethics” as he shared his experiences of mentoring exercises with students of LUMS and IBA.
  • The last two semesters will be based on “experiential learning”. This, again is promising, for many business graduates are seen living in corporate bubbles, brilliant but not street smart and equipped to handle the Pakistani business realm.
  • An “entrepreneurship program, unlike LUMS which is a general management program”, as said by the KSBL team.
  • A focus on research.
  • Most importantly, KSBL promises to help and train it’s students fill the gaps in the social and government sectors, by producing technocrats and individuals who want to give back to society and be contributing members, not just money-making machines.
However, while it seems too good to be true, we have to realize that when compared to LUMS (and I cannot help that comparison, considering that most of the conversation in the bloggers’ meet seemed focused on these comparisons), a few things are lacking in KSBL. The scope is limited, for starters, as it does not have an under-grad program.
Secondly, with promises to instill in students ethical values, research skills and simultaneously broaden their horizons to make them well-rounded individuals, I have a problem understanding how that can be done in the absence of programs of Sciences and in particular without any program of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Sheikh did say that “I pray that before I die, KSBL has programs  of engineering, humanities and social sciences, and is more than just a business school.” He said that KSBL will start as a business school but will develop as a school for other sectors like humanities in the course of time.
When compared to IBA, IBA will always retain it’s place as the trail blazer of Pakistani business schools. IBA and other business schools have already proven their mettle. KSBL is yet to do that.
No doubt, KSBL has a promising start. But will it supersede the giants? Only time will tell.

I Am At A Police Station In Karachi

I am at a police station in Karachi.

It is a hot sunny afternoon in April. I am draped in a big black chaadar. I do that usually but specially also because I am at a police station. My car is parked in the street behind the main gate.

I get inside the gate and walk through the courtyard where neem trees are a plenty. The doors, the signs, the placards….they are all rustic, and also rusted. Piercing eyes are around me. I drape the chaadar a bit more tightly, put on my “I am a journalist so don’t mess with me” expression and find my way into the reporting room.

There are queues of people. Sitting and standing. This is a busy area. Cacophony. Women, mostly in abayas, are on chairs, as men in Pakistan have their chivalry still alive (looking at the remnants of silver linings) so they let “ladies” sit on chairs. I am made to sit. When my turn comes, I sit across the officers. One of them looks straight out of that old tv play which revolved around Pakistani police – his expressions are soft. The other one is scrutinizing me. Their stance changes considerably when I tell them I am a journalist. They answer some of my questions but then go abruptly quiet as the elderly officer with the soft face gestures them to stay calm, and say only baray sahab (senior officer) can answer my queries and he is unavailable. A younger police officer insists I give him my phone number. It is against my better judgment so I change the subject. He persists with a cheeky smile and tries to start a conversation. The elderly officer with the soft face chides him and says “bibi abhi aap jaaiye” (Lady, you should go now).

I am again at a police station in Karachi.

This time it is a hot May evening. I want to get a feel of the station in the evening when there is less rush.

The old mosaic floors have layers of grime. An officer is sitting, copying down reports in bad Urdu handwriting, on yellowish newsprint pages and using an Eagle fountain pen. He licks his finger every time he has to turn the pages of a thick journal that is titled “Criminal Records”.  His fingers are stained. On the wooden table, there is a cup of tea. The tea has long been drunk. Dried crusts of milk and sugar are attracting flies. Old fans are whirring on the ceiling noisily. Mosquitoes attack every living thing in sight. The only bright thing in sight in the otherwise almost somber room is the police officer’s badge – red and blue.

The officer is nice. Respectful. Less hassled than the ones I had encountered last time. Also less cheeky. I ask him about a number of criminal offences, their prevalence rate in our areas, and that are the criminals actually ever charged? He says “Ooper ooper wala hai, magar yahan to ooper baray log hain. Woh phone ghuma dete hain to phir hum kya karein. Humaray to haath bandhay huay hain na bibi.” (Above is God. But here, above us are the influential people. If we get a call from a hot shot, what can we do? Our hands are tied).

I am home. Thinking. Blogging. Recollecting memories of the sights and sounds of police stations I visited. I don’t wanna go there again.

PS: This blog has no point that I am trying to prove. It’s a pointless rant. Simple.

Are You A Non-Conformist? An Oddball? Eccentric?

Quirky, unusual and offbeat. Excessively interested in a certain occupation. Eating, dressing or acting differently from the average person. Indifferent to what people think of them. Innovative and gifted with strokes of genius, but also called names like weird or wacky. How many people in your life have you met who display these traits on a regular basis?

Or, better still, how many times have you looked at the man (or woman) in the mirror and realised that you are mostly thinking and doing stuff “outside the box”? In short, have you met those or are one of those who may be fit to be called “eccentric”? And is it ok to be one?

I have met so many of them in my life, and confess to realising in retrospect that some of the things I have done in my life had shades of eccentricity. I naturally gravitate towards the not-so-run-of-the-mill kind, and often relate to them. Artist Sakina Hussain says, “I am eccentric and I feel great being quirky. Quirky people are interesting, provided their eccentricity is not studied.” Fact is, as a friend says, that “Each one of us is eccentric at times.”

Even the most pragmatic and boringly practical ones, in moments of nostalgia, confess to having done crazy things on a whim. Ironically, the realistic kind of people often romanticise about those moments in their lives where they followed their hearts and did things in the name of a craze, love or passion which they wouldn’t dream of doing now. Things like bungee jumping, waiting for hours in freezing winter evenings to catch a glimpse of the beloved as she stepped out of her home for that after-dinner stroll, or staying indoors for six straight days working on a science experiment that was a passion.

But an eccentric person, in the true sense of the word, is not one who follows his heart and does unusual stuff once in a while. Definition of the word is someone who deviates from an established or usual pattern or style and from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in odd or whimsical ways. Edith Sitwell says that geniuses and aristocrats are called eccentric because “they are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.” – cite_note-3

English Utilitarian thinker John Stuart Mill wrote that “the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained.” Mill also felt that a lack of eccentricity is “the chief danger of the time”.

Psychological studies point towards certain signs of eccentricity. Some of these could be: a non-conforming attitude, idealistic, intense curiosity, happy obsession with hobbies, knowing very early in his or her childhood they are different from others, highly intelligent, opinionated and outspoken, unusual living or eating habits, not interested in the opinions or company of others, naughty sense of humour and being usually the eldest, or an only child.

Eccentricity is often associated with being unusually gifted. This could mean genius, intellectual giftedness, or creativity. The unsual behaviour could be an outward reflection of extraordinary intelligence, talent or passion. The minds of eccentrics are so original that they cannot conform to societal norms. Eccentricity is also believed to be associated with great wealth. Stories of wealthy business tycoons or celebrities with peculiar idiosyncrasies are legendary.

Michael Jackson’s obsession with Peter Pan and childhood fables is a typical example of our times. Certain professions seem to be fertile growing grounds for eccentrics. The oddities of discoverers and scientists are perhaps a reflection of minds so unique, that they are often not understood by the common man. Einstein’s unusual hairstyle defied all standards of conformity and was symbolic of eccentricity. Designers, painters, actors, writers and poets – all these professions require the traits of unusual sensitivity, observation and creativity. It is then not difficult to understand why do we find people in these fields of work who dress, talk or lead lives in a manner that is anything but usual. Come to think of it, how often do we find an accountant or a banker displaying strokes of unusual creativity and coming to work with hair dyed blue or talking to the stars?

Saima Rauf, an artist and art teacher, says, “Creative people often deviate from the normal principles of doing things. If you study the lives of many artists, you come to know that they did not lead lives we call normal. Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, Sadeqain, Bashir Mirza and many more creative people did not lead what we call normal lives.” Deeply creative people also have a different way of looking at ordinary things. I always marvel the imagery when I read Faiz’s masterpiece Dasht-i-tanhai mein or poetry by Gulzar in a singer’s lilting voice saying Peeli dhoop pehen ke tum dekho baagh mein mat jana. Rauf cites examples too. “Picasso thought of a cycle seat as a painting and put the handles on it as horn, and Sadeqain started to think of cacti as human beings.”

When asked would she like to follow the path of the greats that have inspired her, Rauf says, “All these artists had great a impact on my life and I want to be like them, but as I have many responsibilities I cannot do that. I may be eccentric but only to an extent.” Perhaps Rauf has nailed it on the head. While we may make fun of the eccentrics for their oddities, a part of us yearns to be as creative as them.

We wish we had their courage and originality to be able to live life on our own terms. Many a time, we may have creativity, but responsibilities and the fear of the consequences of non-conformity make us suppress that. But those who dare to be different must be given their due share of admiration, for swimming against the tide is never easy.

Published in Dawn, 20th Feb, 2011:

When I have Fears that I may Cease to Be

When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be
By John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Missing the sunny splendid Senegal. Nostalgia….for this beautiful slice of Africa


See Senegal through these photographs before you read this travel blog:

Of eleven splendid suns
The crashing waves, the birds swimming in the air, humans scurrying around on their daily routines, everybody in their orbits. Tranquil. That’s Senegal
By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

Pakistan has no embassy of Senegal. The visa processing takes months, if at all one gets it, that is. It’s an 11-hour flight from Dubai, that’s how far it is. And I must, must go there for a really important conference. Only, till the last day, I don’t know whether I will get the visa or not. Net search has told me that Senegal is sunny, beachy and hardcore Africa.

On the day I have to fly out, November 25, 2011, I reach Karachi airport with a fuzzy mind owing to the lack of sleep and simply too much going on in life. After a 3-hour layover…

View original post 1,292 more words

Good Mannered When Abroad. Bad Mannered in Pakistan

Manners: Out of courtesy

By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

Years ago, I began noticing as a frequent traveller from New York to Karachi the transatlantic transformation of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen as we flew over the Atlantic Ocean. At JFK airport, desis like myself are cheerful and polite, queue up patiently, wait to be checked in with smiles galore and coochie-coo wailing babies of other passengers.

Landing back home, not more than a few minutes will pass and it is like an electrifying moment of realisation has hit them that we are Pakistanis, hence there is no need for courtesy, specially with other Pakistanis!

The concept of queuing up outside washrooms, letting your neighbour get a choice of the last choice of the chicken or mutton meal, saying ‘excuse me’ and politely taking out baggage from the overhead compartment…all become distant past. Flying over Dubai on the way back home, as the oh-so-familiar sights and sounds of good old Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad started appearing in the imagination of everyone on board, things begin to deteriorate. The airhostess, too, becomes impatient, irritated and throws hospitality down the garbage shoot.

When the cabin crew frantically requests the passengers to stay seated till the aircraft comes to a complete stop, instantly a push, shove and get-ahead-of-each-other starts and everyone wants to be the first one to get out of the plane. As soon as we step on the turf of the Jinnah International, everything changes. We simply lose our civil and polite attitude in the blink of an eye.

Why is it so? It’s heartening when people from your own land will give you a warm smile, say “Have a nice day”, and offer you a seat on the subway in NYC. But the same person in Karachi will not care whether you fell off the door of a public bus, or got strangled with the strap of your handbag in the revolving entrance of a supermarket but will push and shove you aside to get in fast and first.

On a trip to Singapore, I was with a relative who is a smoker. He has this irritating habit of smoking in the car and throwing the cigarette butt or cigarette box wrapper outside the car window. Miraculously, the same person in Singapore obediently smoked only where it was allowed, and the wrappers dared not go anywhere except the dustbin. And if there was no dustbin in sight, the wrapper would stay safe in his pocket till he reached back home, walked straight to his kitchen bin and threw it there.

A colleague at work was addicted to paan chewing and would decorate the office stairs with legendary spurts of red gook and no hints or direct requests made any difference to him. Yet, the same colleague confessed after he returned from a trip to London that while he was there, he avoided chewing paan in public places, and if at all he had to, he carried around a stack of tissues to spit in.

Interestingly, similar things happen on the home front. Hubby dearest who takes the trash out to the bins, rakes leaves during fall and does the dinner dishes regularly will refuse to get up and have a glass of water himself, once he is back in Pakistan, even if the wife has a full time job and no help at home.

Speeding on the road, talking on the cell (while the headphone rests idly in the glove compartment) and texting while driving are also things we do back home. Once abroad, our civic sense and obeying the law instinctly come to life. It may be the fear of the consequences of breaking the law or perhaps the courtesy and the general culture of being polite rubs off on us. Also, we may be a teeny weeny bit conscious about the fact that we are Asians from a Muslim country and have to go the extra mile to prove that we are civilised people, not gun-toting militants.

But in reality, this is how our sad mentality works. Once back in Pakistan, we are home. We don’t have to pretend to be someone else. We belong here, and no one can stop us from doing anything. It is a reminder of how people are generally very polite to strangers but throw tantrums and are impatient and annoying with their immediate family because their family has no choice but to bear with them in spite of all.

On a heavier note, it would be wonderful if we brought back social ethics, polite attitude and a civic sense as a gift to our homeland, to make us a more civilised nation than we pretend to be by travelling abroad and carrying branded luggage.

Published in Dawn: 12-12-2010: