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Civic sense of Pakistanis – It’s a 360 degrees circle

What you do WILL come back to you. It has to be considered “why” they are doing it and you are not? What made the difference?

It’s a 360 degrees circle

Poetic much? Borderline Rumi-esque? No, this is not Rumi. This is the scribe of this write-up who is frustrated every day at the gross violations of social ethics, but unknowingly might have many a time committed the same violations in less aware days of her life. She may have driven ahead on a red traffic signal, and may have thrown a plastic wrapper on the street, and may have not gone to exercise her right to vote, and may have not closed the unnecessarily running water tap, and may have gone ahead of her place in a queue. The writer of this write-up is a tad bit more “civil” now, because she is more aware about what entails civic sense.

This is why such write-ups are important. This is why we must speak up about these things. But kindly so, because all of us have at some stage in our lives been less civil.

The concept of having civic sense is both simple and ancient. The biblical Golden Rule and the well-known Prophetic tradition in Islam say, in essence, the same thing: do as you would be done by, and do not wish for others what you would not wish for yourself.

So here goes — I’m going to use a list of strong words I don’t usually use, like hate, loathe, detest, etc. I hate the polythene bags that drift in the breeze and gather in front of my gate every evening. I detest the sound of the water suction pump from neighbouring homes that suck away the little water that comes in the waterline for Karachiites, and I hate that we have to keep replacing the no-return valve in the underground water tank to ensure this little water stays in my tank.

I loathe the squirts of reddish brown saliva mixed with paan ka katha which I have to endure on streets, or when climbing up a flight of stairs on government offices. I feel revolted by the carelessness with which young boys on motorcycles crisscross through traffic jams without helmets, and I feel even more revolted when I see a man wearing a helmet on a motorbike, but his family — the pillion riders — sitting behind him with no protection for their skulls. I am unable to stomach the attitude of entitlement that the rich and famous have when they break queues at the bank or at the airport. I feel annoyed when people come too close in public spaces and do not respect proximity. And I despise the fact that people try to justify systemic corruption in governance, and feel it is okay to have political apathy and not exercise their right of casting a vote at the ballot.

Civic sense is one of the most important part of ethics and set of life skills we need to learn and teach. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a 360 degrees circle in society.

Yet, again, I wonder how many times I have been the one others may have hated, loathed, detested or despised. How many times I may have instantaneously become an emblem of civility the moment I landed at a country other than Pakistan where the rule of law, especially laws pertaining to shared spaces and existences, are respected more.

Also read: If everybody is doing it, why can’t we?

Civic sense is one of the most important part of ethics and set of life skills we need to learn and teach. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is a 360 degrees circle in society. What you do WILL come back to you. So it may not be enough to just look down at those who are abusing out loud or leaving offal on the road after ritual animal slaughter on Eid-ul-Azha or urinating near the wall. It has to be considered “why” they are doing it and you are not? What made the difference? I think we all know the answer. And in that answer lies the solution.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/360-degrees-circle/#.XMArcugzbIU

King of Sweets – Gulab Jamun is now Pakistan’s National Sweet

A perfect gulab jamun, not hard at the core, not mushy and soft to break down, is now Pakistan’s national sweet

King of sweets
In the midst of macabre headline news, Pakistan’s favourite comfort food made it big. The nayi government of naya Pakistan ran a poll on Twitter as the naya saal (New Year) ushered in: “Which should be the National Sweet of Pakistan?” There were three options: jalebi, gulab jamun, and barfi. More than 15,000 people voted, and gulab jamun won with 47 percent votes.

The poll I subsequently run on my facebook page had just two options: gulab jamun contended only by barfi. Gulab jamun won by a whopping 79 percent votes.

However, are polls on social media enough to decipher what is Pakistan’s favourite indulgence when it comes to a sweet tooth? There has been an uproar among social media users who complain that there was no national consultation in this important existential debate. However, at grassroots level, gulab jamun does seem to have tugged at the nation’s heartstrings. Mithai sellers and caterers confirm that gulab jamun is indeed the hottest selling item [pun intended] as they taste best when warm, bordering on hot.

The historical origins of gullus, as gulab jamuns are often fondly called, are often traced back to the times of Mughal emperors, particularly Shah Jahan. Folklore has it that Shah Jahan’s royal chef accidentally fused elements and by a stroke of fate, a sweet from heaven found its way on earth. Other food historians claim that its origins are Turkish or Persian. As diverse as the language in which its name is taken, which is Urdu, gulab jamun seems to be wrapped in layers of culture and history. Whatever its trajectory may have been, it is part of the very essence of happiness in the subcontinent.

Gulab jamuns are like all good thing in life. It has to be just right, and one mistake can be unforgiving. A perfect gulab jamun requires technique, skill, precision, accuracy, and above all patience. They cannot afford to be hard at the core, but also cannot be so mushy and soft that they break down — just like a well-rounded person [pun again intended]. The reduced milk — khoya — which forms the basic ingredient of the dough of the tempting dessert, is derived after painstakingly cooking milk till it evaporates, leaving behind khoya. Once these dough balls are fried and are light brown, or blackish if it is a kala jamun, they are then soaked in sugar syrup. The syrup was originally rose-flavoured, which gives it the suffix “gulab”.

Now, the rose essence is optional. But the sugar syrup or “sheera” as we Pakistanis lovingly call it, is a must. As an avid gulab jamun fan said when asked why she loves, “the sheera drips into my soul… it makes everything seem alright”. Warm it a bit and it melts in the mouth. Put it in zarda (sweet saffron rice) and a bite with tiny gulab jamun makes you thank God for the good life. Have it after dinner or compliment it with chai. Gulab jamuns allure you. It is perhaps these enchanting qualities of the gulab jamun that make it the popular choice.

As a barfi lover, it is not easy for me to accept the supremacy of this King of Mithai. But one has to accept that gulab jamun has a more comforting and satisfying feel to it.

Gulab jamun being crowned as Pakistan’s national sweet has led to debates across borders. Nations across the subcontinent — India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and of course Pakistan — are claiming that it belongs to them. The debates on social media are often divisive. Everyone wants to establish that the home of the gulab jamun is their country. The gulab jamun smiles on, basking in its golden glory, while its lovers’ squabble like the “raqeeb” (adversary) in Urdu love poetry of yore would fight for a claim to the beloved.

Fact remains that Pakistan has taken the lead and gulab jamun is now, officially or semi-officially, Pakistan’s national sweet. But looking at the glass half full, here’s what is great about this phenomenon: If in nothing else, Pakistan and India may find themselves on the same page, for once, when it comes to the love of gulab jamun. When all else may have failed to build bridges, this gastronomic delight may do the trick. How sweet!

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/king-sweets/#.XDxKp7hS81k

As the door opens to guests…

While much remains the same when it comes to traditions of eid, there is a lot that has changed

As the door opens to guests…
A wave of nostalgia grips most of us when we reminisce about eid of bygone years.

The countdown to eid would begin the day the Ramzan moon was sighted. As children, we would go out in the garden or on the roof and try to catch a glimpse of the moon on chand raat. Thereon the preparations would begin.

The sewaiyyan, the sheer khorma, the mehndi, the glass bangles, the trolley set for guests, the giddy excitement whenever the bell rung, the eidee…eid was festivity at its best.

Eid is the highlight of the year for so many of us. Or is it? While much remains the same when it comes to traditions of eid, there is much that has changed.

For starters, on eid one could just go and ring a relative or neighbour’s bell, go in for a treat, and enjoy. There was an excitement in the anticipation of who would come to visit. However, over time the concept of “Open House” was introduced. There is now a specific time on which the doors open to guests. If you miss that time window, it is unlikely that you will get a chance to go there again.

Faster times. A faster world. Another thing that has changed is the practicality. If we have met someone on the first day of eid as they visited you or met you at your grandmother’s, we no longer want to meet the same people again by visiting them, unlike the earlier culture of exchange visits, where if someone visited you, it was a must that you also visited them.

There are also lesser of the big, gigantic eid get-togethers at the homes of the elders of the family, simply because families have grown and multiplied, house help is less readily available or affordable, and quite frankly it’s too much work for the overworked daughters-in-law or daughters who used to be doing the tough work of pulling off lunches for 80 people every eid. Yes, our societal dynamics are in flux, if not completely altered.

Some 20 years ago, girls were so conditioned to put mehndi on their hands for eid that it never even occurred to them that eid could be without mehndi. From the crushed raw henna leaves era to the chemical-filled henna cone era, and now to the glitter-filled henna tattoos — henna still remains a part of the eid tradition. But many no longer choose to have it applied. Some find it itchy, others don’t like the smell, and yet others feel it looks very unprofessional to go to office the 4th day of eid with henna peeling off one’s palms.

There are also lesser of the big, gigantic eid get-togethers at the homes of the elders of the family, simply because families have grown and multiplied, house help is less readily available or affordable, and quite frankly it’s too much work for the overworked daughters-in-law or daughters.

Some things may have changed for the better, though. While a majority of women still don’t get why they should also go to the mosque for eid prayers, mainly because their men still don’t get it, there is a growing number of Pakistani women at least in the major cities that do go for eid namaz. I happen to be one of them and I can say safely that it is a beautiful experience that acts like a bridge between Ramzan and the rest of the year.

In the absence of going for eid namaz, the spirituality and the connection with the Creator one has inched towards in Ramzan is suddenly lost on eid morning, and eid becomes just another day, barring the eating and meeting and dressing up.

As for eidee, it still remains an intrinsic part of eid, and children (they could be in their 40s for all you know) look up to their elders in the hope of that coveted envelope. However, in earlier times one would give eidee to any and every younger person one met. Now parents have become smarter and more calculative. They have separate lifafas (envelopes) for those who give to their children generously, compared to those who give smaller sums.

Read also: Eid with Maria

But perhaps the most obvious change is that so many of us use eid holidays for vacationing. With the number of Pakistani expatriates increasing by the minute, and a few family members travelling on eid for vacationing, there is that void that not having one family member leaves for the rest, especially on happy occasions. Add to it that many parents can be seen complaining that their children sleep it out on the eid day.

But there are some beautiful traditions of eid that continue to date. Giving (starting with the fitranah), feeding (the sewaiyyan above all), sharing (eidee is sharing money, isn’t it), reconnecting with relatives, looking good, feeling good, and celebrating having gotten the opportunity of another Ramzan. It is hoped that this — the real spirit of eid — will survive the test of time.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/door-opens-guests/#.W3UwzegzbIV

A salon at home

 http://tns.thenews.com.pk/salon-home/#.WqJgfehubIV

Internet connectivity is helping a lot of beauticians who have opted for working from home

A salon at home

When Rizwana Raza started taking appointments at home as a home-based make-up artist and hair stylist more than a decade ago, her reason was not being able to leave young children alone at home, and to be able to manage her home while working. “It was a more convenient arrangement than working at salons that used to take up the entire day. This allowed me to juggle many things simultaneously, particularly being able to run my home and be there for my children,” she says.

All these years later, working from home still remains her choice even though she has been offered more lucrative full-time work options at well-known salons.

Home-based beauticians and make-up artists are all the rage in Karachi, and the reasons are many. A huge advantage which many make-up artists, like Qirat Baber, are using is the social media to advertise their work. “I was the first home-based make-up artist in the city on Snapchat. I use SnapChat, Instagram and Facebook to advertise my work. It is not without challenges as I only work by appointments so potential customers cannot just walk in to see my work and have to rely on photographs,” says Baber.

Home-based beauticians and make-up artists are all the rage in Karachi, and the reasons are many. A huge advantage which many make-up artists, like Qirat Baber, are using is the social media to advertise their work.

Yet she is very happy with working from home as it allows her to work in her own space, and at her own pace. Baber also appreciates the fact that she gets more undivided time with each client, and clients also have come to appreciate this rather than being in a salon that has many clients sitting in queues waiting to be dolled up. “Salons can become fish markets,” she says, sharing that she works with a single helper.

Another popular young home-based stylist, Rija Bakhtiar, started practising the art three-years ago, and now she has taken her passion to the next by setting up a salon at home. “Home was the only place at that time for me to start my business on a small scale. The working hours are flexible and the overheads are less as compared to opening up a studio. It has turned out to be my best decision,” she says. Internet was and is her only source of advertisement. She relies on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp.

All three make-up artists agree that money is also saved by the fact that they don’t have to pay taxes. “However, it is not like we have no overheads. The investment in equipment is a lot. Also, I mostly get my supplies online which proves to be quite expensive,” says Baber.

Read also: …boys mean business too

For Bakhtiar, one challenge is that she can’t cater to large numbers of clients. “I have to stick with limited clients to maintain a normal environment at my home,” she says.

One difficulty these artists face is that if they do not provide other services like waxing, threading and face polish, for example, their clientele becomes limited. “And many clients do not like the home atmosphere. They like the ambience and hustle and bustle of a salon,” says Raza.

When asked how she makes up for that disadvantage, she candidly answers that she does so by keeping her rates very reasonable, by serving them coffee and snacks and working on developing a rapport with them. “I make friends out of my clients. Once that happens, they continue coming to me.”

Karachi – Cultured Once More

Reclaiming life

Some diehard Karachiites have taken it upon themselves to own and revitalise the city in more ways than one. This is how they go about it

Reclaiming life

Karachi’s population in the latest census may be debatable but its status as a megacity remains undisputed. Matching the size, Karachi’s problems have been equally gigantic and complicated — ethnic clashes, gang wars, conflict, governance issues, a decaying infrastructure and a population size that has the city bursting at the seams.

In all of this, Karachi’s diverse and vibrant culture seemed as if dying out. Till some diehard Karachiites took it upon themselves to own and revitalise the city in more ways than one. This has all happened in the last decade or so.

“For almost three decades, Karachi has suffered unmitigated violence,” says Ambareen Main Thompson, Executive Director Society of I AM KARACHI (IAK). “A breakdown of law and order and the brutality of political and commercial mafias meant that both public spaces were lost and the public narrative was taken over by hate, divisiveness and intolerance.”

Karachi may well have another long lease of vibrancy that it used to have till the late 1970s when its populace lived without fear and enjoyed a vivacious and dazzling cultural scene.

“There’s also this culture of disconnect with the past that some of the organisations and movements are attempting to bridge,” says Rumana Husain who has authored two books on Karachi and is one of the people on the forefront of the present cultural revitalisation.

It was almost one hundred and fifty years ago that the British made Karachi the centre of military, administration, trade and culture, she says. “The city has continued to be competitive and dynamic, and there are many-layered cultures within it, which emanate from its multi-cultural population.”

As someone who has been part of cultural initiatives like IAK, Children’s Literature Festival, Badal Do! Movement and Citizens Against Weapons, Husain acknowledges the surge in Karachi’s cultural activities. “One of the most significant initiatives in this regard was taken by the government, when General Pervez Musharraf established the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in 2005 and appointed the legendary Zia Mohyeddin to head it. A number of actors, director and musicians have been trained by NAPA, and they have fed the burgeoning entertainment industry of Karachi.”

Thompson recalls that in 2013, when the situation in the city improved somewhat, the Karachi Youth Initiative (KYI) was launched which sought to engage the youth in more constructive and healthy activities as an alternate to violence and extremism. “It was from this that IAK was born in 2015 where civil society stalwarts like Jamil Yousuf, Amin Hashwani , Shahid Firoz, Sheema Kirmani, Ghazi Salahuddin, Rumana Hussain, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and others came together to take ownership of this platform as its founding members.”

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IAK is a city-wide collaborative movement initiated by concerned citizens and civil society organisations of Karachi. It has provided a hub to promote socio-cultural activities and uses arts, culture, sports and dialogue as tools for conflict resolution and peace-building. “IAK works to change hate narratives, to reclaim public spaces, to build peace and tolerance and, most importantly, to channel youth to alternate narratives,” says Thompson. “Its programmes are all apolitical, areligious neutral forums where excellence and personal initiative and interest are the only criteria for inclusion.”

One of IAK’s most prominent initiatives has been the Walls of Peace initiative that worked on replacing negative graffiti-covered walls with visual images and messages that illustrate positive values, such as peace, tolerance and diversity. This was done in partnership with Vasl Artists Collective. Some 2000 walls across Karachi were cleaned and painted, engaging with 30,000 children to produce artwork for the walls of 2017.

One of the initiatives that served to resuscitate Karachi’s cultural activities is, no doubt, the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) that was launched in 2010. While in the beginning, it was more limited to the literati, it is now a more mainstream event and many Karachiites see this as a positive sign. Forums like The 2nd Floor (T2F), among others, have given Karachiites spaces to talk, reflect and connect.

Read also: An ode to Lyari 

“Cultural activities, historically, required patronage of the elite — the rulers, the royalty, the nobles and the rich. Only in recent years, and especially after the industrial revolution, has culture become more democratic,” says Roland De Souza of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment. The organisation was formed in 1988 by concerned citizens to create a platform where Karachiites could come together and raise their voices regarding the city’s neglected living environment and ways to improve the same.

While Shehri has focused more on Karachi’s environment, its aims include creating a healthy and secure physical and social environment for the citizens. “The proliferation of cultural activities needs a certain amount of quiet and peace,” adds de Souza.

While an improvement in the general security conditions may have helped these initiatives, private initiatives can only go so far. “Despite every effort, none of the aforementioned initiatives can come close to what the government machinery can do in this regard. The funds, the resources, the (wo)man-power that the government has at its disposal isn’t comparable to any of the private initiatives,” says Husain. “Nevertheless, all those act as balm for the wounded soul of this blemished city.”

Much needs to be done despite so many efforts by the civil society. “Since green spaces are now less than 3 per cent of Karachi, community centres, such as T2F, Pakistan Chowk, the Grid and the TDF Ghar are all havens. In a city of 27 million, there is but one arts council and three theatre stages today compared to 11 in 1991. Of the parks that exist, many are locked and out of reach for the general public,” says Thompson.

Masuma Halai Khwaja of Karachi Biennale (KB) says that while the KB has had logistic support from the bureaucracy, the police and the LEAs (law enforcement agencies), they didn’t have any financial support. Also, the ‘go aheads’ are tough, she says, “sometimes due to red-tapism, and at other times because exhibiting certain art exhibits at public spaces is an expensive proposition and is not an opportunity these initiatives get for free.

“But it is very true that Karachi’s overall security situation has helped in this resurge as people are finding it safer to work on the streets.”

The KB17 programme is currently underway and Khwaja says the response from the public has been phenomenal. Seeing artists, and Karachiites in general reclaim public spaces, “I am very hopeful about the future”.

In Husain’s opinion, “if the Sindh government could inject life in the few existing libraries in the city, set up small reading rooms and lending libraries, raise a few cinema houses on the ashes of the old ones, the masses could also enjoy some cheap but quality entertainment, as the multiplexes in shopping malls are an expensive outlet, only suited for the moneyed minority.

“Karachi may well have another long lease of vibrancy that it used to have till the late 1970s when its populace lived without fear and enjoyed a vivacious and dazzling cultural scene.”

For Karachiites, that is the hope they cling on to.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/reclaiming-life/#.Wfgx-WiCzIV

CULTURE: REUNIFYING RUMI

September 17, 2017
Photos by the writer
Photos by the writer

There are many versions of the legendary first encounter between Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi and his spiritual mentor Shams of Tabriz. Most describe the moment as Rumi, the religious scholar, sitting by a pond, immersed in his scholarly reading, when Shams, a stranger to him, comes by and asks him what he is doing. “You will not understand,” Rumi is reported to have replied, upon which Shams throws all of Rumi’s books in the pond. But the books spring back up dry, defying the laws of physics. At this point, Shams is reported to have said, “But you do not understand.”

This was the moment, then, when Rumi began fathoming Allah not just with the mind but also with the heart. In a world of sharp binaries, Rumi’s admirers seem bent upon separating Rumi the man of knowledge, from Rumi the mystic poet. In reality, the two are not mutually exclusive; in reality, both are the same person.

As I recently travelled by bus in Turkey from Antalya to Konya, the city of the 13th-century Sufi scholar, its unusual and diverse landscape reminded me of his message that is so universally appealing — to the rich and the poor, the pious and the sinner, the scholar and the unlettered. While the pluralism in his message is prominent, one thing becomes clearer than ever when you visit Konya — that Rumi was not just a Sufi, he was also a Muslim scholar, and taking that away from Rumi is telling half the truth.

Maulana Jalaludin Rumi’s Islamic scholarship is often forgotten by those extolling the universality of his message although it is an essential part of his work

Konya has distinct old-world charm. The people are kind and the roses are abundant. But the highlight of a visit to Konya is the Mevlevi Sema, a mystic religious rite practiced by dervishes, who emulate the whirling of Rumi, lost in ecstasy. It is an enchanting experience, the kind that leaves you with goose bumps. In the courtyard of the Mevlâna Museum that houses Rumi’s shrine, a common sight is a teacher with a flowing beard, a rosary in hand and a smile on his lips, sitting under the shade of a tree, surrounded by students learning about Islam. Calligraphy from Quranic verses are put up alongside verses from his extensive, famous poem, Masnavi. The sound of the azaan is loud and clear in Konya. Imprints of traditional Islam in the district where Rumi rests do not seem to disagree with imprints of Sufism.

The exterior view of the Mevlana Museum
The exterior view of the Mevlana Museum

There is an honorary grave of the Poet of the East, Allama Iqbal, near Rumi’s grave. Iqbal is often called a spiritual protégé of Rumi, and is reported to have had a metaphysical experience when he felt Rumi’s presence.

In his book Stray Reflections: The Private Notebook of Muhammad Iqbal, Allama Iqbal observes that “To explain the deepest truths of life in the form of homely parables requires extraordinary genius. Shakespeare, Maulana Rum (Jalaluddin) and Jesus Christ are probably the only illustrations of this rare type of genius.”

The popular interpretation of Rumi does not do justice to where he came from. Rumi is a mystic all right, but he is more than just mystic pulp fiction, and the Masnavi is more than just couplets that can be used to soothe the after-effects of a lovers’ brawl. Yet, few of those smitten by the universality of Rumi’s poetry recognise the visible imprints of verses of the Quran. The popular reductionist approach towards Rumi has reduced his poetry to memes, and selected couplets with aphorisms that are easy to quote.

The Mevlevis greet each other as the Sema begins
The Mevlevis greet each other as the Sema begins

“Modernity has an allergy to religion. They have pushed religion into a private space, saying ‘religion is just between man and God’ and not collective,” says Abbas Husain, educationist and Islamic scholar known for teaching the nuances of Tasawwuf and Ishq. In Husain’s opinion, a fine parallel can be drawn between Rumi and the likes of Socrates and Plato. “The latter two were religious but have been reduced to being just philosophers. Rumi and his poetry have been exoticised, and there has been an erasure of the religious in him.”

There is religion and there is religion, he says, and to Husain, the distinction is clear. “Religion puts before us deeper questions like ‘why are you here’, whereas religion also is focused more on rituals and minor details. We can’t see the wood for the trees,” he says.

The pull of Rumi is that his words are relatable. “He strikes a resonance with the inward level of man in any era,” says Husain. Scholars have pondered on the various meanings of his work since long. “Rumi is not new; he has been around. The first translation of Rumi’s Masnavi came from R.A. Nicholson, between 1925 and 1940.”

A teacher imparts spiritual wisdom to youth, under a tree near Mevlana Rumi’s sarcophagus
A teacher imparts spiritual wisdom to youth, under a tree near Mevlana Rumi’s sarcophagus

But there is no denying that Rumi has been re-popularised. And his fandom is not limited to Muslims, because his message was and is universal. “I love that Rumi sees Divine beauty in all aspects of creation and speaks to people of all cultural tastes and perspectives. I love that he uses bawdy tales in his poetry,” says Laury Silvers, a lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion.

According to Silvers, Rumi explains the most difficult of concepts by translating them into easily understood simpler concepts that help everyone own him. “Early on when Rumi was translated into English, these parts were translated into Latin so that only the most elite, scholarly fellows could enjoy them — exactly the opposite of Rumi’s intention in composing these verses,” she says.

Silvers further explains how these bawdy tales not only bring Divine truths to those who are best reached with rough and tumble talk. “They teach all of us that God is fully present and calling to us in every moment and through all things, not just that which we deem socially acceptable or ‘pretty’.”

A depiction of the members of the Mevlevi order inside the Mevlana Museum
A depiction of the members of the Mevlevi order inside the Mevlana Museum

For some today, their first exposure to Rumi has been through the Turkish writer Elif Shafak’s book Forty Rules of Love. In a sense, Shafak did a service by producing an easy version of the often complex themes of Tasawwuf for her readers. Although Husain sees this as positive, he recommends graduating to books such as Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i-Tabrizi by William C. Chittick for those interested in understanding Rumi better.

Whether represented in a complex or an easy manner, Rumi remains the bridge we need today — he bridges the gaps polarisation has created. Those who cling to the more comfortable and less demanding interpretation of the spiritual path of love for God and those who hold on to the path of adherence to Islamic jurisprudence or Sharia as the road to Paradise — both can find something to guide them. In a world torn apart by extremes, Rumi’s message of love of God can be a meeting-point.

“Rumi invites us to become whole,” says Husain. “But to become whole, we would first have to accept that we are incomplete.”

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 17th, 2017

https://www.dawn.com/news/1358182

Corporate culture, humane or not?

Deadlines, pressures, one meeting at the heel of another, unforgiving targets, coupled with the constant need to prove one’s self…Welcome to life in the corporate world.

http://tns.thenews.com.pk/corporate-culture-humane/#.WQ7BI-klE1m

 

Corporate culture, humane or not?

The money is good. The future is promising. But the pressures are incessant. Pakistan’s corporate sector is teeming with newbie 20-somethings who feel once they have entered the big bad corporate world, they have it all figured out and their future is secure.

Yet, the irksome nitty gritty of corporate culture and the price one eventually pays is something they may not have anticipated. Experts and senior management grapple with how to create a healthy workplace culture. Counselling sessions with experts of organisational psychology help.

Yet, in organisations where the silos mentality, red-tapism, closed-door policies and put-me-down attitudes exist, the culture is far from healthy. Life in the corporate world is a tight-rope walk. If you make it to the other side intact, you must have played your cards right or you are plain lucky.

Experts differ on how and if the goal of healthy organisational culture may be achieved.

“When an employer hires someone freshly out of school, the business has to be humane enough to recognise that. We have to understand that the purpose of a business is to improve the quality of life of all stakeholders. So you need to ask your employee ‘what are your dreams and how can we can help you fulfil them’. It’s not about manipulating; it’s about enabling,” says Maqsood Babri, better known as Max, a psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist who facilitates healing of individuals and organisations.

Enabling is the opposite of being exploitative, but more often than not, employees fall into the rut of being exploitative due to the number games like Key Performance Indicators (KPI). “Targets are the worst thing; they push a person towards achieving numbers instead of quality,” adds Max. Numbers come at a cost; often, the cost is the well-being of the employee and the organisation.

At the end, there isn’t much in the employees’ control. At the most, what can be mitigated is negativity and interpersonal friction through counselling. “However the counselling need not be mandatory,” says Max, adding that the management needs to work on creating a congenial and inclusive workplace environment – both physical and psycho-social.

“There are people and there are people,” explains Sarfaraz Rehman, in light of his experience both as a former CEO and a present-day consultant and executive coach. Talking of those at the top, he divides them into kinds. “You will always find those who are adept at delegating and so spread the work pressure. Then there are others who are very political and find ways to spread the blame of performance; this is a significant percentage. That is one way of dealing with pressure. There are also those leaders who are bold and iconic. They do not take the pressure of unreal expectations and keep a balance, but also reach for the stars.”

However, the price must be paid. Sometimes one’s inner self, at other times one’s family, and often both suffer at the hands of the demanding work whirlpool. In Sarfaraz Rehman’s opinion, what suffers most is one’s family. “In most CEOs’ case, they are the biggest affectees. Travel is a killer. Years spent at airports and in hotels — it damages health. The children and the spouse take the brunt,” he says.

Known for his leadership skills, Rehman is one for building teams. “I have disliked parts of corporate culture all my life. But I have been blessed with the understanding of people. I know how to make them gel and tick and be inspired and driven. Long ago, I left the need to do things myself, and built teams around me, who, for whatever reason, have been ready to die for a cause I have put in front of them. That has helped in allaying work stress.”

The key, then, lies in the leadership giving employees a sense of ownership, and for that they have to be treated as allies and not target-oriented humanoids who lose their unique abilities. 

Pressed for time all the time is a good way to describe life in the corporate world. The deadlines, pressures, one meeting at the heel of another, and unforgiving targets, coupled with the constant need to prove one’s self, is no mean game.

“The stresses start affecting you once you have a family. Till you are single, the effect doesn’t really kick in. In the corporate world, there are no short cuts. In any good company, it is given that the magnitude of work is a lot, and they will take the work of four people from two,” says Kahkashan Sayied, an HR Consultant with three decades of experience, who describes herself as someone who wants it all, and is willing to work hard for it. Her association with the corporate sector has been worth it she says “because there have been challenges but also rewards”.

The pressure, she explains, increases as you climb up the rungs of the corporate ladder. “People think the involvement is just 9 to 5. It is not.” However, she has made it work. She says that one can balance work life [with personal life], but the key is to be very, very organised and follow a routine at every. “The stations of your life also keep changing with time. You needn’t be regimental, but spontaneity can be afforded only on the weekends, and surprises are not welcome.”

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However, the price must be paid. Sometimes one’s inner self, at other times one’s family, and often both suffer at the hands of the demanding work whirlpool. In Rehman’s opinion, what suffers most is one’s family. “In most CEOs’ case, they are the biggest affectees. Travel is a killer. Years spent at airports and in hotels — it damages health and also takes the edge off living. The children and the spouse take the brunt,” he says.

He adds that this leads to loneliness, which may lead to infidelity. “But executives won’t talk about it. Many are very lonely in travel and this leads to untoward actions in far-off hotel rooms in strange cities. Those who don’t, have learnt to bear this pain and loneliness, and reconcile to a life on the road. It takes a huge toll and it isn’t worth it. Years later, your body in its cry for help will tell you that you have misused it,” he says.

With a lopsided focus on work, the incentive of reward can lead to greed. “If an employee is offered 10 per cent of the salary on their trip, that is what the focus will become. In that process, you miss out on the childhood of your children. It means your spouse has to take care of the home front while you are gone. The freedom that you are gaining is coming at the cost of someone being imprisoned,” says Max.

The quality of life is the time we get for ourselves and our families. It is something one has to be constantly cognisant of. But the plump pay cheque and the buzz of the corporate world that makes one feel indispensable blurs the lines and clouds the vision.

In Max’s opinion, this is one reason why there needs to be more than one breadwinner per family in a country like Pakistan where unemployment is common, so that no one has to do overtime, which consequently affects quality of life.

The impact is not just on the family but also on one’s own well-being. Yumna Usmani, a counsellor and trainer, says that some employees show signs of stress through symptoms like general unhappiness, easy and frequent agitation, bouts of anger, isolation, low energy, and a lack of interest in challenging tasks. In her opinion, the reasons for this “are usually a lack of control over the job, being overly pressed for time, not being able to consult, poor relationship with a colleague, or personal and professional insecurities”.

“The role of a psychologist at such a point is to provide counselling to the overwhelmed individual. Through counselling you can clear the clouded senses, calm the agitation, and revive the energy,” says Usmani.

However, many, over time, learn how to balance the elements. “Pressure in itself is not necessarily bad. It can help us to excel. But being in a constantly stressful situation can be unhealthy and counterproductive,” says Amin Hashwani, businessman, social activist, and author of the visual poetry book Untouched Octaves.

Hashwani feels it is essential to have the ability to step back from a situation to take a 30,000 feet view and to put things in a broader context. “Meditating regularly since early age has helped me tremendously to cope with stressful situations and always view the positive side of life. It prevents me from being reactive or judgemental and help me realise that everything happens for the better.”

Taking out time for one’s self is profoundly important. “During counselling, I highlight the importance of time for self: regular breaks, making friends, breaking of projects into small steps and not withholding seeking help when needed,” says Usmani.

Sayied still finds time for political activism and dog-earing books as avid readers do every night, and advises that one must not forget to focus on one’s own happiness and well-being. “You have to monitor your food pattern, exercise regularly, sleep adequately and stay happy if you want to survive. But by happiness I don’t mean euphoria. I mean contentment.”

Hashwani echoes her sentiment and says, “Sports and exercise help remove the emotional toxicity we normally build up during the course of a day and get the positive chemicals running in our streams”.

The world has begun to wake up to the damages of emotionally and physically burnt-out employees. Thus, newer concepts like flexible hours and agile working have caught up, as has the idea of lesser working hours and a definite two-day weekend at least.

“I don’t see anything wrong with your life revolving around your work. But you have to love your work,” says Saiyed. 

With most people working in the corporate sector spending 12 to 14 hours every day at work, the ambience is extremely important – both physically as well as in terms of the culture and values of the organisation. Jargonised conversation, presentation-after-presentation and incessant meetings may help give a pretentious semblance of a conducive environment, but may actually breed a culture of selfishness where everyone is just watching out for their own interests. These attitudes often trickle down from the top.

Sunlit spaces with ventilation affect efficiency positively. Max even gauges the health of a business environment through what he calls a cliché. “If the toilets in an office are not wonderfully maintained, it means the organisation is not doing well. It shows that you have not been able to educate or motivate your employees enough.”

If walls are broken down, synergies can actually work between individuals and departments. “I laugh a lot deliberately. Many would think it’s frivolous but it’s a defensive wall. It leads me to feel that failure is not that big a deal. So I laugh, I share and I act casual — it makes the world lighter and easier during failure,” says Rehman, explaining how he created a comfortable and positive work environment as a team leader.

“No one thinks I am a Sahib or a big deal. This carefully nurtured image of Sarfaraz Rehman, the humble, laughing, caring friend, helps create ordinariness which in turn reduces expectations and stress,” he concludes.