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Karachi Literature Festival: Will the real liberal please stand up?

Published: February 13, 2017

KLF serves as a hub for Pakistan’s beautiful minds that allow critical thinking and are truly progressive. PHOTO: KARACHI LITERATURE FESTIVAL.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/46117/karachi-literature-festival-will-the-real-liberal-please-stand-up/

The recently held Karachi Literature Festival 2017 was a hub alright. But a hub of what? What it stands for, ideally, is not just celebrating books and authors, but also to serve as a hub for Pakistan’s beautiful minds that allow critical thinking and are truly progressive. Literature and the arts, on such forums, are designed to allow an open inflow and outflow of thoughts and ideas, and an exchange of not just narrative but also counter narrative.

One counterfoil session of the KLF 2017 was introduced as a discussion on conflict-resolution through art and enterprise. One of Pakistan’s well known musicians dared to play a short video as a tribute to the late Pakistani pop icon-turned-evangelist Junaid Jamshed, and went on to talk about how he and Junaid, despite ideological differences, managed to remain lifelong friends, and worked in collaboration on projects pertaining to peace-building. The reaction of a renowned “liberal and progressive” scholar on the panel was perhaps not unexpected but certainly unwarranted. He ridiculed Junaid Jamshed’s long beard and dressing style, and then went on to comment on his alleged misogyny. The comments were not just out of context. They were a giveaway of something that we don’t talk about often enough, which is that when it comes to “liberalism”, Pakistanis seem to have lost the plot.

Most dictionaries define a “liberal” in words as these: Someone who is open to new behaviour or opinions and willing to discard traditional values; lacking moral restraint; tolerant to change; a moderate person or viewpoint that favours a society or social code less restrictive than the current one, and welcomes constructive change in approaches to solving economic, social, and other problems.

The irony of ironies is that the very things liberalism stands against – being judgmental, being inflexible and being rigid – are the very traps we see liberals falling into. Liberal thought is, in essence, the anti-thesis of extremism and fundamentalism. It is the willingness to burst bubbles, push boundaries, and think out of boxes. True liberalism is having the heart to listen open-mindedly to an opposing view point, even though you may disagree vehemently.

Pakistan, today, is in desperate need of truly liberal people who may have their own set of beliefs, yet are willing to hear the other side out, and engage in dialogue. The intelligentsia, as it consists of more evolved people, has on it the responsibility of building bridges. Instead, what we are seeing on both sides is deep intolerance. The religious are seen indulging in feel-good extremism, and write off those who don’t follow religion in exactly the way they interpret it. For that, they get the flack which is perhaps justified. But it is less painful because the right-wingers never really claim to be open-minded. It hits worse when those who claim to be progressive and liberal follow the same patterns. Ironically, many of them, if not all, end up being equally intolerant of dissenting viewpoints, if not more.

Puritanical thinking makes one feel holier-than-thou (and this holds true for both the left and the right, for both the religious and the secular), plugs our ears to voices of those we see as “the others”, and perpetuates a binary world view, leading to the “it is either my way or the high way” attitude.

For cases in point, one should skim through social media websites. The easiest and laziest thing to do is put blanket generalisations on groups of people – something we are becoming very good at. Common assumptions are that a bearded man or a hijabi woman cannot be a human rights activist, a peace-builder or one raising their voice against domestic violence. Equally common are counterpart assumptions that a woman donning a sleeveless shirt or a man who is in the music or showbiz industry lack in faith.

Sneering at the opposite camps might get one some additional readers and followers, or a few guffaws from a chisel-headed audience that wants to enjoy the comfort of collaborative mockery. But what many of our brightest minds end up looking like is eternal teenagers and wandering Peter Pans who imagine the world as a virtual university town where everyone must conform to thinking in a certain way.

This is not to undermine the contributions KLF and similar forums are making. It is just that by default, events that act as magnets to the urban elite seem less welcoming to those who differ socially or ideologically.

We are all living in our ideological silos, comfortable in our respective bubbles with our own sets of designated cheerleaders. No one wants to try understanding another point of view. We sing praises of a word called “empathy” when we have not even arrived at the station of “tolerance”. We spare neither the living, nor the dead. And through it all, we see ourselves as the problem-solvers when we, ourselves, are part of the problem of polarisation. How, then, can any of us claim to be liberal?

If Pakistan truly wants to get rid of extremism, there will have to be more open-minded listening, especially listening to those who are not on the same page as you, without jesting about or being dismissive of the other point of view.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The art of storytelling

With dramatic readings, Zambeel is reviving the ancient tradition of ‘dastangoi’

The art of storytelling

Eons ago, people had all the time in the world to nurture the art of listening. Long before the printing press was invented, and later the worldwide web that transmuted into e-books and digital books, narratives were recited and literature was spoken. The Hamzanama, or the Dastan e Ameer Hamza, was one of the many such works of literature that told fantastic tales of the many ventures of Ameer Hamza. Ameer Hamza’s companion Amar Ayyaar (also called Umro Ayyaar) had a bag called a Zambeel that contained all that that is in the world but the Zambeel would never be filled. The magical Zambeel, hence, could produce objects that would be core subjects of many a dastan.

But that was then and this is now. Princess Scherezade could no longer have bartered her life for tales she told as part of her Alif Laila repertoire, for no one has a thousand and one seconds to spare, let alone A Thousand and One Nights. Yet, there is a present day version of the Zambeel that has been successful in its attempts at reviving the tradition of dastangoi, or storytelling as we may call it today. Enter the Zambeel Dramatic Readings, and see a modern day semblance of this ancient art. For even if for a brief period of time, this will take you into a world where Urdu literature is read out to you the way it should be.

Zambeel Dramatic Readings came into being in early 2011 when a group of three friends — Asma Mundrawala, Mahvash Faruqi and Saife Hasan — was requested by a friend to read out a story in a gathering. “We embellished it with music. The response was what made us initiate and realise Zambeel,” says Mundrawala, a visual artist and theatre practitioner who is one of the key people behind this initiative. Zambeel Dramatic Readings was founded with a view to present texts from Urdu literature in a dramatised form to a live audience, and has mainly targeted adult audiences, but has also ventured into readings for children during the last three years.

“We aim to present texts rendered in their dramatised form, to create a dynamic collusion between literature and performance. Referencing traditions of storytelling and the contemporary form of the radio play, our works traverse time and geographical boundaries to interpret and enliven narratives through sound and recitation,” says Mundrawala.

“In an age where the purists were fearful of the fading away of correct pronunciation and nuanced delivery of Urdu, the Zambeel team has bridged the gap between the older generation and younger one by introducing this genre to them.”

Mahvash Faruqi is an educator with a background in theatre, and Saife Hasan is a performing arts practitioner particularly known for his acting.

What begun with writings from Ismat Chughtai’s rich repertoire, the group has since inception presented many projects comprising stories in both English and Urdu by authors that include Quratulain Hyder, Saadat Hasan Manto, Masood Mufti, Afsan Chowdhury, Raihana Hasan, Ashraf Suboohi, Asif Farrukhi, Munshi Premchand, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Naiyer Masud. Of late, more contemporary writers’ works are also being included into the repertoire, like Asad Muhammad Khan, Ghulam Abbas and Zamiruddin Ahmed.

“Zambeel readings have reintroduced the cultural tradition of dastangoi. The selection and the delivery has the audience in raptures,” says journalist and literature aficionado Afia Salam. “In an age where the purists were fearful of the fading away of correct pronunciation and nuanced delivery of Urdu, the Zambeel team has bridged the gap between the older generation and younger one by introducing this genre to them.”

Mundrawala affirms that while initially the audience mainly comprised only of Urdu literature enthusiasts, over time the younger generation has also begun frequenting the readings. “We now have audiences who have read the stories and also those who have not read the stories. The younger lot may not understand Urdu with facility yet they come.”

Fahad Naveed, a visual artist and long form writer, is one of Zambeel’s young audience members. “I’ve been following Zambeel for a few years now and greatly admire their work. Their readings make Urdu literature approachable and exciting for varied audiences. I’m particularly drawn in by the group’s use of sound; often sitting on a table, they are able to transport the audience with just their dialogue delivery and a few sound effects and audio cues,” he says.

Also reviving the tradition initiated by grandmothers of the region to read out stories to children, Zambeel now also caters to a younger audience, enthralling both parents and children. One such fan of these readings is Saima Harris, an optometrist and mother of a seven-year-old.

“Our experience of Zambeel’s dramatic readings was Tipu aur Jaadu ki Bayl, an Urdu narration of my son’s favorite Jack and the Beanstalk. The audience was predominantly the English-speaking ‘Burger’ primary-schoolers of Karachi (who tend to shy away from the Urdu language), and their very keen parents,” she says, adding the dramatic and interactive Urdu narration, interspersed with toe-tapping melodies, brought a traditional English childhood classic to life. “It is a step aside from the all-important but solitary reading from a book or the mind-numbing watching on a screen. There is immeasurable potential here to both entertain and educate.”

Artist Rumana Husain, who is known for solo readings for children and production of quality Urdu literature for children, says it is rare nowadays to have literary readings in the country read in a dramatic fashion, and is all praise for the initiative.

Zambeel performers imbue texts with a poignant expressive quality and perform narratives that are supported by a soundscape, enriching the aural experience of the audience through sound and recitation, explains Mundrawala. “While we are three core members, we have had many actor friends work with us by lending their voice and acting talents to our projects. Their contributions have enriched our works and we are privileged to have had so many actors, as well as designers, artists, and musicians collaborate with us.”

The team has recently initiated an audio platform of readings once a month on the YouTube channel, Zambeelnaama.

We’re celebrating the 250th Press Freedom Day but is the Pakistani media really free?

Published: May 3, 2016

A Pakistani vendor arranges morning newspapers with front-page-coverage of the attack by gunmen on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris, at a roadside newsstand in Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

You know, therefore you are.

And we know because of the press. Be it print or broadcast, media is what keeps you updated. It provides us with information because it is our right to know, and it is the press’ right to relay that information.

The press, or a more relevant term today might be the media (that includes products of both print as well as broadcast and digital journalism) relay that information to you.

But, if you are a Pakistani and have never been a part of the media, never seen the workings of a newsroom and have never been a reporter, it is a given that you are someone who has hurled abuses, chanted frustrated expletives and blamed the media and press for everything that has gone wrong in the world.

The Pakistani media is far from perfect.

The headlines can be scandalous and out of context. The reporters and TV anchors cross lines. Media ethics are ripped apart every time a tragedy takes place, where cameras are thrust in the faces of victims and survivors. Information is relayed first and thought about later.

While print media (newspapers), exercises much more care and caution compared to TV, the web wing of newspapers is another animal altogether. News has to be broken within minutes otherwise it becomes redundant and stale. “It’s already been covered” is the worst nightmare in the web room. To make their story novel and different, value additions are pushed through and the ‘treatment’ of the story is altered to get more hits.

Journalists are paid a pittance, especially if they are in print media, and those that write in a local language are paid even less. The one thrill that keeps them going is the sheer joy of being able to tell a story or create awareness while taking the credit for it; their name or face appearing with the news story. And for this, they risk their lives.

With every passing day, our viewers, readers and listeners are also becoming less forgiving. A decade ago, we could have gotten away with shoddy and loud journalism by saying,

Abhi nayee nayee azaadi milee hai media ko

(Our media is enjoying its new found freedom).

But Pakistan’s media has now crossed the milestone of being nascent.

The initial euphoria of freedom after an era of being the proverbial “press in chains” has now begun to die down. Which means the media will not be able to get away with anything and everything. Also, mistakes made by the media, like everyone else, can become a social media trend within minutes. Whether the media person was right or wrong, how they should be dealt with is another debate.

But if media persons ask politician’s scandalous questions, storm into assemblies, do moral policing of dating couples in parks, or show unreasonable tilts towards an ideology or person, they cannot go scot-free. Writers and reporters should not be allowed to base entire stories on hypothetical sources and should not be allowed to share data without citations. Today’s media is grilled and criticised. If nothing else, the social media trial will take them to task.

And it must.

The absence of a check and balance corrupts anyone in a position of power, and one of the most powerful positions to be in is as a media person. What we say, show or write reaches millions. We, the media, are answerable.

Yet, as the world today celebrates the 250th Press Freedom Day, is Pakistani media really free?

What we know as ‘policy matters’ and ‘security concerns’ often hold back the pen or the microphone of the reporter to relay information that must reach the public. Certain ideas are shot down by editors due to fear of backlash and ruffling too many feathers, and then we wonder why our best journalists end up writing for foreign publications and not local ones.

Fears of consequences, tilts and allegiances of patrons, the editor’s discretionary powers to chop or discard a good pitch or story and the simple fear of becoming unpopular or redundant, often hold a journalist back from the noble task of telling the truth, and nothing but the truth.

The reporters in a press conference can and should be trained to ask better phrased and more relevant questions, but do they have the right to put those questions to a Pervez Rasheed, an Imran Khan, a Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or a General Raheel Sharif?

The answer should be a resounding yes.

In a world where surveillance of citizens is legally accepted, why should a media person’s right to ask questions be curtailed?

While absolutism in freedom of speech can be harmful, strict censorships harm a society by not only restricting, but mutating the development of healthy collective thought processes.

The annual report of press freedom by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) stated that Pakistan has been ranked 159 out of 180 countries. Yet, these restrictions are not just limited to Pakistan as the world at large is failing on many counts when it comes to providing press the required freedom.

In an era plagued with conflict, fear of life is what causes us, the media persons, to bite our tongues and throw away our pens.

The need of the day is to educate our press and media persons regarding media ethics, but at the same time, their safety should be safeguarded while ensuring that they can speak up without fear of losing their audience, their jobs or their lives.

Enter the architect – Is the architectutre in Pakistan stagnating

By Farahnaz Zahidi April 10, 2016 Leave a comment

Are today’s architects doing substantial experiments in building houses? Or are they not allowed to experiment by house owners who want showcases, not homes?

A part of The News on Sunday’s special report – a tribute to Zaha Hadid.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/enter-architect/#.VwuSuPkrLIX


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The houses look almost uniform in design in the upper tier areas of this city of 23 million. Tall walls veil the view of the facades of these houses that are for Karachi’s high life. A lot of gray is visible with people tilting towards less use of paints.
The design lines are simpler, less complicated in Karachi compared to counterparts in Lahore and Islamabad. Architecture is definitely evolving in residential Karachi. But the design is controlled by the owner and not the architect. And the purpose of building these grand structures is less about building a home and more about what people will think, leaving Karachi’s architects disgruntled.
“Today’s architecture is just glamorous experiments but nothing substantial is being done. There is no serious architectural experiment in Pakistan presently. It is just gimmickry. People may have become savvier about hiring architects to design the house but a freehand is not given to the architect,” says Mukhtar Husain, a senior architect who feels that most people build houses simply to show off. “It is an activity for noveau riche.”
Renowned architect Shahid Abdulla’s views are aligned with Husain’s. “We as a nation are dirty. We don’t know how to live well and we don’t build houses with practicality and maintenance in mind. We build houses as showcases. Sprawling lawns are made to impress people but no one sits in them anymore,” he says, explaining why architects are today preferring courtyards and paved areas, instead of lawns in a parched Karachi that receives very little rain.

Luckily, Karachi’s residences are easier to maintain. “Architecture in Karachi basically consists of reinforced concrete. There is no rain in Karachi which makes the maintenance much easier,” says Habib Fida Ali, one of Pakistan’s most famous architects and the man who designed LUMS.
He discusses architecture with zeal, with Zaha Hadid being mentioned as a great personality and Fida Ali’s friend.
While the world celebrates the great Ms Hadid’s work and pays her tributes, Husain sees Pakistan’s architectural scene as pretty stagnant. “No Pakistani architect gets any international awards. It’s not that Pakistani architects are not capable of better works but there is not enough opportunity to do better work when the owner dictates what we design. The signature work of any architect is no longer recognisable.”
“It’s not that architects are not capable of better works but there is not enough opportunity to do better work when the owner dictates what we design.
For architects like Abdulla, economy and nature play a very important part of the design. “My focus when designing is to make a house economical. When a proper architect is not used, the focus of owners is that the house should not appear a poor man’s house. It’s like giving a child makeup to beautify; overkill of materials makes the house less becoming,” he says.
Houses designed by Abdulla are known to be very different. “We use cement, less of marble but try and use more stone. Nature is very important to me. My houses are easy maintenance. On a stone floor falling leaves still look good. A house should look like a home. It should look lived in and after twenty years it should look prettier when the trees you planted when you built the house are now all grown up. Natural light and plants are never old fashioned,” he says, expressing displeasure over the trend of imported trees. “It’s time to go back to indigenous and fruit trees. I am very conscious of the environment-friendly aspect of design. I like to create small water bodies.”
For the more aware house owners, like Humera Kamran, the element of nature is supremely important, as is practicality.

“I did not want a house that I become a servant to due to maintenance needs. So practicality was very important to me,” she says. She has recently moved into her new home which is a labour of love for her. “Three elements are very important in my house; light, air and plantation. At any given time during the day, I don’t need to switch on a light at any place in my house. I had electricity conservation in my mind and wanted to stay as close to nature as possible. The patio in the centre of the house is our hub. That is where we sit in the evenings surrounded by plants. I have not used any grills in my house. We have used tempered glass.”
Abdulla feels upbeat when asked to compare the architectural scene in Karachi and other urban centres. “Karachi’s architecture is evolving very well. Lahore as a city still cannot appreciate simple architecture. Karachiites are more practical,” he says, mentioning that one positive change is that architects like himself take it upon themselves to use less paint. “Look at the Indus Valley School. I left it in concrete block and twenty four years later it still looks good.”
But Husain does not see any difference in the urban architecture of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. “The same trends are being followed everywhere. It’s just that in Karachi, due to security reasons, the walls are very high so the street fronts look very drab because facades of houses are no longer visible though people still spend money on them. Yes, there are more sun roofs but that is not for an environmental concern, but is just another trend,” he says, adding that environmental sustainability is not a concern for clients which is very frustrating for the architect. “My advice to people building a house is that don’t just put in your money but also put in your mind.”

Friends: The inner circle

I am a heavily-friended person. I have scores of friends, but they are all in different categories. There are those in my extended circle of relatives or colleagues who I bump into on Facebook or at Sunday bazaar or the doctor’s office or a wedding, observe niceties and do as much gup shup as time allows.There are those whom I meet once in months, go out for coffee with, touch base with, laugh till giddy, share many things but not everything, have fun and then disappear again for months.

Then there are those whom I can’t do without. I don’t mind if they see me on a bad hair day in crumpled clothes. It doesn’t bother me if they see my kitchen trash bin full of garbage. They’ll stick by me even if I am cranky and unreasonable. I will call them on unglamourous occasions like when I have to go the doc to get my cast removed after a fracture, and will tell them to make their own tea when they come to my house. I can tell them almost everything. Surprisingly, people in all of three categories, to me, are friends.

In his article “Acquaintances, Friends & Close Friends” (www.asiawisconzine.com), Paul Kasuda says My differentiation among the people I know falls into three categories. Acquaintances are those with whom I’ve come into contact with from time to time but whose names I either don’t know or don’t remember. Friends are those I’ve known usually for a long time, I like them, enjoy their company and look forward to talking with them about all kinds of things. Close friends are those I’ve come to trust with everything I have. I’d have no trouble lending them our car, giving them our key to the house, or even making decisions (if needed) as to whether I should or should not be resuscitated if I were in a moribund state.”

Does knowing the difference between which friend falls into which category make a difference? Brian Fons, President, Corporate Creations Chicago LLC, says in ‘The Three Circles of Networking’, “Effective networking requires an awareness of how you fit into a conversation, situation, or relationship. For example, when speaking to someone you just met, it may not seem appropriate to ask overly personal questions.

Conversely, if you see someone on a regular basis and know them well, you can skip many of the pleasantries that you normally exchange with someone new.” Fons finds that any network of people tends to form three circles. The outermost circle consists of the people you barely know or are just meeting for the first time. The middle circle of people consists of the people you have seen several times or on a regular basis. The inner circle of your network consists of people who actively try to help you. They can be close friends, family, or business acquaintances who have made an effort to get to know you better. “While you will usually find it easier and more enjoyable to spend time with people in the inner circle,” says Fons, “it is critical that you go out and meet people to keep the outer circle full.” This is where social networking comes in, which is why some of us can have hundreds of people in our Facebook list of “friends”, and at times we end up “de-friending” them because they are not actually in our close inner circle.

Sadaf Farooqi, free lance writer and blogger, has clear criteria about friends. “Real close friends are those who will not talk about me in a negative way nor divulge my secrets to anyone. Friends are those whom I probably know well because of a shared background (college/childhood etc.), but who cannot be completely trusted to confide personal matters to. Acquaintances are everyone else I know and talk to politely or am on good terms with, but do not know well at all. Out of all these, I’d say 1% are close friends, 63% friends and 36% acquaintances.”

Sherezade Khan, a Fashion Editor, says, “Sometimes you need to get away from family and friends and talk to complete strangers…people who don’t know you inside out. This gets you opinions without the feeling that ‘they are out to get you’ or have a hidden agenda. Every now and then, one should evaluate their circle of friends and the people they’ve let into their lives. Why are they there, and are they still as good a friend as they were a month, or a year ago? If not, you may need them more than they need you, and when that balance goes off, the power shifts, and you could end up getting hurt.”

Dr. Sarwat Imran, a dentist, feels that “the difficulty lies in identifying who goes where.” This is why in today’s era of specialisation, we have different friends for different occasions. I might choose a different friend when I am in the mood to reminisce about school or college days and laugh myself silly, but the same friend cannot necessarily be the one who will counsel me regarding a problem I have with my maid. Not every friend will be the one I can confide in about my inner fears, regrets or desires. If I want to cry on someone’s shoulder, I may not choose my ‘bestie’ because may be she’ll start crying with me instead of diverting my attention to me feel better. When I know I have made a faux pas, I know which friend will talk sense into me. For advice regarding handling work politics, my marriage or my teenage daughter….well, I think mostly I have a separate friend for each occasion. Yes, there are those rare few in my list who are for every occasion. Those are the ones that are so hard to find. Those are the ones you should hang on to.

http://www.dawn.com/news/528780/friends-the-inner-circle

Pakistan’s rat race: The politics of professionals

The race begins quite early. It starts with animated discussions about which school the baby-to-be will go to. One-year-olds are sent to playschools that guarantee admissions in top-of-the-line schools offering O Levels. Before admission tests, tiny tots are taken for regular visits to familiarise them with the schools they will apply for admission to, and photos of that school’s principal are lifted off the internet and repeatedly shown to the toddlers to make sure they are relaxed during the interview.

Fast-forward eight to 10 years. Mothers (and I confess to being one of them) can be seen dropping off kids to O Level exams with zeal and enthusiasm, as if the children are literally going to fight the biggest crusade of their lives. Kids are also encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities – golfing, swimming, drama, knowing an additional language or two – all this not for the joy of it, but because it makes the Curriculum Vitae of these high-achievers more impressive. They are pushed to their limits in the name of competition. All this is a means to an end – and that end is admission into a foreign university.

For years, Pakistanis have wanted their progeny to participate in the mass exodus of brainy, bright, and brilliant youngsters who want to make something of themselves and so go abroad to face life armed with a foreign degree. But a new phenomenon has risen in recent years – the flooding of the Pakistani job market with “returnees to Pakistan,” or R2Ps as they are popularly known.

The reasons why an increasing number of youngsters who have been educated abroad are choosing to return to Pakistan are understandable. Stricter immigration laws are making work visas next to impossible to obtain. Hostility towards Muslims the world over makes living and working abroad a formidable proposition. A global recession means there are fewer jobs in the international market. Many young people also feel that no matter what they achieve abroad, they will still be considered immigrants, whereas in Pakistan they can enjoy a sense of ownership. A ‘paradise for the mediocre,’ as some call Pakistan, is an easier place to shine through and become a mini-celebrity.

More frequent homecomings mean scores of foreign graduates are now working alongside graduates from local universities, may they be from government colleges or more upscale, private institutions such as LUMS. The result? An understated but very real rivalry between foreign and local graduates in the workplace.

Local grads are more ‘with it’ in terms of local know-how and a familiarity with the Pakistani way of doing things. Employers describe such local products as street smart and comment on their well-established social and professional networks. They can often work better with people from different backgrounds and classes. Having lived in Pakistan, they are less naïve and don’t offer the retort that foreign graduates treat like a mantra, “but this is how we do it back there.”

Graduates from foreign universities, on the other hand, have better interpersonal, writing, and presentation skills, and in some cases, a stronger work ethic. Travel has made them world-wise, aware, and confident. They are often ambitious and driven in ways their compatriots are not, and are in a position to put their career above all other social or familial obligations. As a result, they are available to pull long hours, and can be handed responsibility for high-stakes projects.

In some organisations, one group is preferred, promoted, and hob-nobbed with, while in others the reverse will be true. Asha’ar Saeed, the HR director at Reckitt Benckiser Pakistan Limited, feels that, “the edge foreign graduates have is their ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds, and slightly better ethics. Local ones have the advantage of having know-how of local business dynamics. However, in terms of writing skills, presentations skills and networking, anyone can be superior to the other. I have seen some brilliant graduates of Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and Bahria University, Karachi, who can compete against the best.”

With these comparisons being made by those who make hiring decisions, the rivalry between local and foreign graduates is a real issue, bringing complications and stresses for youngsters on both sides of the divide. Saadia Muslim, 23, is a strategic planner at an advertising agency who graduated from a Canadian university. She confesses that “the move back home was not exactly smooth-sailing. Even though I grew up and lived in Pakistan for most of my life, it is quite easy to become spoilt and get used to the good life.” Muslim found adjusting to the work environment and corporate culture in Pakistan to be quite tricky, as there were many office politics and a prevalent ‘seth’ culture.

Muslim admits that her boss not-so-subtly hinted that she was hired because of her foreign college education. “That worked both ways. It felt good to be given importance, but I was extremely wary of colleagues thinking that I was snobby or arrogant.” Muslim also felt that local graduates were at an advantage as it took her some time to relate what she had learnt in college to the local industry. She did not know any famous executives from multinationals who had taught her in college, like her colleagues did, so her networking was also initially poor.

On the other hand, Fahad Naveed, a student at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, feels that “foreign graduates get a definite and sometimes unfair edge, even if they studied at some unknown, mediocre university abroad.”

Does that lead to strained relations at work? Cyma Hasan, a business manager has been lucky. “Foreign and local grads are treated the same way [in my office]. In fact, local grads at times have an advantage, in my experience.”

As an inherent part of the culture of the Indian subcontinent, the class and caste system still prevails in Pakistan. We compartmentalise people into Punjabis and Sindhis, Sunnis and Shias, Clifton-wallahs and Nazimabad-wallahs. Diversity is not celebrated; it becomes a reason for strife and an excuse to undermine each other. Foreign versus local graduates is yet another kind of compartmentalisation in our society. Instead of learning from each other, youngsters are using this distinction to give rise to petty politics in a professional context. It is time everyone moved beyond this immaturity and saw that the two groups can be complements – not adversaries – to each other in the road to success.

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Farah Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer.Illustration by Eefa Khalid/Dawn.com

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

http://www.dawn.com/news/813267/the-politics-of-professionals

Matchmaking in the modern era

Enough bloggers have written about the weddings around which Pakistani society revolves year round. But few have considered how we get to that much sought after point of holy matrimony. Is every wedding we attend preceded by tireless efforts to match-make? How are matches being arranged nowadays? Who is the most active and instrumental match-maker? And what difference have new technologies such as iChat and Facebook made to the ancient art of rishta scouting? Or is the real game changer the fact that an increasing number of women are in jobs and meeting members of the opposite sex at their workplaces?

A recent experience of trying to match-make led me down this train of thought, and reminded me that the way we do things has altered since the bygone era. My mother continues to point out how, back then, the boy in the initial stage of choosing a prospective bride never came to see the girl; that privilege remained with his mother and sisters and aunts. Once they approved of the girl, more liberal families allowed the groom-to-be to come meet his prospective bride – at most, a fleeting glance. Otherwise, voila! Come the wedding day and the couple would first see each other’s reflections in a mirror as part of theaarsee mashaf ritual.

But let’s step back a bit – how did the bride and groom’s families come to know of each other in the first place? Enter the matchmaker. At any given time, in history, around the world, matchmakers have been social busybodies, making it their business to know who is doing what with whom. On the rare occasion, the matchmaker can also be a sincere, well-meaning person who happens to find herself (or, it is known to happen, himself) in the midst of a probable match, for which s/he acts as a liaison.

Different religions and cultures have had different types of matchmakers. Some people, for example, assigned astrologers the dual role of serving as matchmakers since they believed that stars sanctify the matches that parents arrange. No wonder then, over time, matchmaking became a respectable profession, with those who managed to arrange successful matches walking off with their fair share of gold coins (or US dollars). Now, in an age of information technology, traditional matchmakers find themselves competing against websites and online dating services. In Singapore, a government-sponsored system providing professional counsel and dating technologies is available to the public.

As the art of matchmaking evolves, one wonders if the criteria of traditional matchmaking will also be updated. Until recently, families made basic queries. The girl’s family would ask about the boy’s age, education, salary, family structure (joint or nuclear), dependants, and area of residence. The boy’s family, meanwhile, would only be interested in the girl’s looks. And if she passed certain standards, then other matters could be negotiated.

Today’s emancipated girls, however, are probably less willing to be judged on the basis of looks alone. They may argue, isn’t it equally important for the girl to approve of what the boy, or man, looks like? When will gender bias in matchmaking end? When will boys be forced to wheel in the tea trolley when the girl’s family pays a visit?

Changing gender dynamics aside, matchmaking has become trickier owing to new communications technologies. But endless trysts on Facebook, online chatting, or even dating cannot ensure that a couple truly knows each other.

The truth is, matchmaking has never been an exact science because people have the tendency to evolve. You start going out with a boy, he later transforms into a man, and over time you find yourself dealing with your father-in-law! In the meantime, you yourself begin to resemble your mother a little more with each passing day. No matter how hard a matchmaker works, s/he cannot predict how a man will react when he loses his car keys or is hungry, or how a woman will behave towards her mother-in-law. Time has already shown that an arranged marriage may carry on successfully, while a marriage of choice may not, and vice versa.

Despite the prevalence of this knowledge about the unpredictability of marriage, in today’s scientific era, genetic matchmaking is also taking place (a new high in the practice, or is it a low?). Some couple’s run a battery of tests to make sure the next generation is close to perfect.

A friend recently told  me that her family rejected a near-perfect proposal for a girl the boy’s family asked her to have her blood tested since her prospective husband was vulnerable to Thalassaemia. In another case, the girl’s side requested that the boy be screened for STDs, a request the boy’s side turned down. Indeed, marriage and matchmaking have become exceedingly complicated.

But in the end, the success of a marriage boils down to destiny and how hard the couple is willing to work on their marriage. Check out what you can, rule out the negatives, and weigh the pros and cons. Eventually, though, you realise that the future is not entirely in your hands.

(Photo illustration by Eefa Khalid)

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Farah Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer.The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Originally published here: 

http://www.dawn.com/news/813237/matchmaking-in-the-modern-era