Archive for January, 2011


A splendid piece of writing!

The book is gripping right from the word go. Laced with relentless scintillating humour and satire, Aravind Adiga pierces through the glossy crust and scum of democratic and shining India with ruthless impartiality and lethal audacity to bring to light the rotten core and bitter facade of an ailing third world society threadbare. The filth and garbage, sewage and waste, poverty and hunger, grime and smoke, corruption and pretence coupled with the irony of conventional belief systems and gods that engulf a typical third world nation have been emphatically unveiled. In a nutshell, a place where a water buffalo being productive ‘member’ of a family is far more valuable then a liability of an unwanted feeding mouth.

The story revolves around and covers the shrewd but cunning journey and transition of a downtrodden rural child to a successful entrepreneur from Munna to Balram Halwai and ultimately to Ashok Sharma.

During the course of this discovery and narrative, the author exposes what the democracy brings to and how is it interpretated by a common living man in India _ The contradictions that suffuse every pore of a class ridden and stratified social structure that lend all the inertia against any prospective change. Not just the gulf that divides the society in various castes and segments but the multiple religious, belief systems and creed silos that are prevalent.

Drawing an indirect comparison and alluding to it, on more than one occasion, the writer blames parliamentary democracy as a principal determinant that forces India to lag behind China. At the same time the mockery of socialist forces and Communist China are evident. He sees the parliamentary democracy system and the nexus that it invariably develops between the elite, feudals, landlords and the politicians and the police as the vice and protective barrier that shields and guards the status quo. As he goes


I am not a politician or a parliamentarian. Not one of those extraordinary men who can kill and move on, as if nothing had happened. It took me four weeks in Bangalore to calm my nerves.”


”I gather you yellow skinned men, despite your triumphs in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy. Some politician on the radio was saying that’s why we Indians are going to beat you: we may not have sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, but we do have democracy.

If I were making a country, I’d get the sewage pipes first then the democracy, then I’d go about giving pamphlets and statues of Gandhi to other people, but what do I know? I’m just a murderer!”

While the line that hits the nail on the head follows

….parliamentary democracy, Father. We will never catch up with China for this single reason.”

The scribe uses an interesting analogy of the Rooster Coop to describe the element of the servitude and dichotomy of the system that divides the society into the elites and the masses. He compares a common man to a rooster who is being knocked around in a cramped space jostling and pecking for his survival in all that shit and stench. Watching his mates being slaughtered and their blood and innards lying here and there, he knows exactly what is in store for him but still does not rise to rebellion to question his ultimate fate. The following passage highlites the phenomenon thereby:

”A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse”

But not our white tiger, Balram Halwai. On the contrary, he accepts the key gratefully from his tender hearted master Ashok Sharma to mask his identity. As does his role model the bus conductor Vijay, who coming from a family of pig herds, illiterate and low caste, instinctively knows how to carve his way right to the top into the power echelons.
America returned Ashok is a misfit in the society. He cannot reconcile and come to terms with prevailing moral values, sprawling exploitation and filthy corruption that is rampant. Ashok finds himself at odds with the system. But relishing the intrinsic luxury of being a born landlord, that he is naturally entitled to, he prefers India as a living place. Oscillating between the rigid demands of his role in his family and social setup and the voice of his conscious, he is recognized as a weak link and a soft target by the observant and probing Balram standing on the far side of the abyss. Thus he is earmarked as a victim to unleash the simmering rage and angst, brewing for years, amidst all the communal tension and class disparity. Recognizing the possibility as perhaps his only opportunity to liberation and escape from the entrapment and rut that he is destined for, he murders his master and adopts his identity and makes away with a large sum of bribe money that was supposed to be paid to settle a case of tax evasion. The quantum leap lands Balram in the world of opportunity and entrepreneurship far from the grip and jaws of the vicious circle that had swallowed him for years. Nevertheless, there is a heavy price to be paid; A reality that is not lost on Balram turned Ashok. He knows what his family must’ve been through and chances of anyone’s survival even in the extended family are far-fetched.

While the story illuminates the stark and bare bone realities, nearly every heave and furrow along the contours of an ailing and diseased social setup, that is fast assuming the form of a dead corpse_ A fact predominantly true for most developing and underdeveloped economies across the global spectrum, there is a typical philosophical perspective to the whole episode. And that is…..

”Mr. Premier, I won’t be saying anything new if anything I say that the history of the world is the history of a ten-thousand-year war of brains between the rich and the poor. Each side is eternally trying to hoodwink the other side: and it has been this way since the start of time. The poor win a few battles (the peeing in the potted plants, the kicking of the pet dogs, etc.) but of course the rich have won the war for ten thousand years. That’s why, one day, some wise men, out of compassion for the poor, left them signs and symbols in poems, which appear to be about roses and pretty girls and things like that, but when understood correctly spill out secrets that allow the poorest man on earth to conclude the ten-thousand-year old brain-war on terms favourable to himself. Now, the four greatest of these wise poets were Rumi, Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, and another fellow whose name I was told but have forgotten.”

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Wonder if that’s what I really am? Do I fit the bill? No doubt about half the bit. Yeah! You guessed it. Kid. Eternal. That’s granted. But new!? 

Hmm. Well! That’s debatable. Depends upon your perspective and the way you look at it.

I have been around. For much of the past couple of years. Acquainted with some of the best known names ( I dare not say faces ) and that has led to some really kind and adorable friendships as well.

Those who have read me, know that I have been scribbling, blabbing and interacting mostly within the confines and walled gardens of a popular website. It gave me identity. It lent me the recognition and above all it gave me the confidence and exposure to express myself.

That’s exactly where I came across some of you and was ultimately pursued to ( or more appropriately tricked into) initiating and establishing my personal blog.

 Aaaaah! The innocent me 😦

 (Don’t hide your faces now, you know I am pointing precisely towards you :S)

 So finally here I am!

It has been an intriguing experience so far. There is so much to learn and explore. But as they say ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins but with a single step’. Blogging, as I have been, but somehow the personal space gives me more freedom and authority_ A different and pleasant feeling.

It is like looking at the universe or the whole constellation around you while comfortably lying in your own private den. Every time someone peeps or drops in, that opens a new window or slit to the outside world affording room for aroma and sunlight to sneak in.

And I will keep looking forward to the blend of rays and freshness to keep pouring in all the more.

 Please do keep dropping by! All of you!

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Now that we have nothing else to worry about….all our burning, biting and nagging issues have been miraculously resolved. Our pantries are spilling and overflowing with lintels, rice, flour, sugar, oil, veges and what not. The freezers and refrigerators are disgorging and spewing the indigestible and excessive inventories of chicken, beef, white meat, red meat, green chilies and brown chocolate syrups. Opulence and prosperity have achieved unattainable heights. Hunger and poverty are history, sweetly buried, as are our misfortunes, while we have comfortably cruised safely away even far from the reach and stench of those dogging God forsaken currents. Our bank accounts are overflowing and flood gates have been opened to absorb the lightening barrage and influx of FDI. The currency has strengthened hundred folds much to the shock and bewilderment of Japanese yen. Power and energy are charging every soul and enlightening every prospect under the sun. Peace and calmness are leaving the bed of deep blue ocean slightly red with envy.

That’s precisely why Veena Malik’s controversy has set entire world ablaze overnight. With all the chaos and crisis settled, the subject remains the only major national issue unresolved and mandates every Tom, Dick and Harry to pitch in his two pence.

What is making you numb and shy? Stand up, speak up and have your say. Ain’t you the only one left?

Just to add, I dunno what that fuss is all about and why all hell has broken loose?  Personally, I do not approve of clergy, while turning a blind eye to and snoring on the hypocrisies of their own and this society, to come to the moral bashing of any citizen of the state. But at the same time, I refuse to accept Veena Malik as a rightful symbol of oppression and misogynist onslaught. She, in no way, is comparable to a helpless rural woman who is being exploited and abused by the feudal and landlord or the one bearing the brunt of the owner with her kids as bonded labour in case of brick kilns.

 Veena, like every one of us, represents Pakistan in every individual act in her own capacity. Given her track record and the controversies she has been through, what she has pulled up here cannot be entirely dismissed as a cheap publicity stunt to be in the centre of limelight.

 Just a thought!

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A twenty six years old young computer science graduate roams about in hunt of employment. There are no job openings and the inflation is sky rocketing. The young man is forced to sell fruits and vegetables in the streets to make his both ends meet. He doesn’t have the licence and one fine day the police intervenes and confiscates his cart. The young man is incensed and sets himself on fire. Sounds familiar?

This is not Pakistan. But this may well be Pakistan……!

There are obvious parallels to be drawn from the circumstances leading to revolt in Tunisia. Corruption, nepotism and unemployment were rampant. The society was said to be virtually divided in two classes. First, the elites and a closely knitted network and clan of top brass comprising relatives of the president or first lady (second lady in case of his second wife) having complete control over and exploiting the national resources and second the rest of the exploited nation.  Credibility of the government had virtually ceased. Food inflation had soared to the point of intolerance.

The violent sensation and overwhelming reaction sparked by the incident triggered everything ablaze. Masses took to the streets and brought the government to the knees within a matter of days. Head of the state who was elected by a landslide majority of almost 90% votes only a couple of years ago had to flee and seek refuge in Saudi Arabia to escape the wrath of the nation.

The vibes and tremors have been felt in the region. A ripple effect has been created that transcends nationalities and geographical boundaries inducing a chain reaction. People have set themselves ablaze attempting self immolation in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania sending clear signals to the respective regimes. There has even been reported demonstration in prosperous and growth oriented Oman.

The emerging pattern potentially signifies a brewing unrest and upheaval against the totalitarian and autocratic, in some cases dynastic, regimes that have been imposed and linger on as a tradition. Whether the waves of change that have been triggered and initiated shake the foundations of these rules is anybody’s guess!?

University of Michigan History Professor Juan Cole in his interview with Amy Goodman on ‘Democracy Now’ describes the development as the first popular revolution since 1979’s Islamic revolution in Iran. Nevertheless, it varies widely in nature and dimensions. Juan Cole terms it a populist revolution spearheaded by labour movements, internet activists and rural workers. It has a tendency to evolve as a democratic movement much to the resentment and galvanization of Arab regimes having minimal entrenchment and roots in the populace where societies are marred by limited employment opportunities and economic stagnation. Ironically, a concern that is even shared by their worst adversary, Israel as any prospective development leading to more democratic formations in the region does not augur well for Israel.

Shibli Telhami, Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland interprets the revolution in a different light. According to him what is unique about this uprising is not just that it is the first one in the Arab world but also that it happens without any leadership. Apparently, it is inspired by a new empowerment and mobilization medium i.e the Internet, twitter and information revolution. As per Shibley, what we witness is possibly a delayed impact of the information revolution.

Uncharacteristic of Arab behaviour though, what has been surprising is the flurry of events and toppling of government in such a short span of time. While the rest of the Arab world may well resonate as the spillover effect is created lending greater impetus to the movement, the implications are far reaching. Poverty, hunger, disease and deprivation are prevalent in third world countries. People are resorting to extremes like suicides, killings and extortion in countries like Pakistan. Spiraling inflation, poor standard and quality of living, rising unemployment, towering debt, corruption and nepotism are the distinctive features and elements of our economy. With all those fundamentals and indicators yielding to limits how far off are we from impending flash point amidst those winds of change?

References :-



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(Dedicated to my dearest and adorable friend Mani!)

A news clip invites my attention. There has been light snowfall in Murree yesterday evening that triggers my journey down the memory lane.

Three years ago I called Mani up in Islamabad in mid Jan. We were in the middle of an uncharacteristic prolonged wet spell. ‘Pull up your socks dude; I am on my way to Isloo and we are driving as far up the mountains as we can on your jeep this afternoon’ I told him. ‘But I just came back from Murree yesterday’ He interjected. ‘Why does it matter?’ I exclaimed and finding my argument implicit and thoroughly convincing, he innocently gave up.

Later that afternoon, we were in a haste stashing and stowing all the junk food in Mani’s ol’ Pajero from a Kohsar super store. It was raining and pretty cold by Islamabad’s standards. The incessant rains had caused the temperature to fall close to the freezing point.

Anxious to make the most of  (whatever was left of) the daylight, we left Islamabad. Furtively, Mani was on a bunk and officially I was eager to conduct some surveys along the highway _ just an odd case outta my ever growing tally of mixing pleasure with business trips. For those who claimed it was the other way round, I was always blamed to be on a paid vacation. But who really cares for a jealous and snoopy lot or their big spouts and long sniffing noses!?

It was my maiden journey on newly constructed Murree expressway. Being in company of Mani was a bonus. In mist and drizzle, we enjoyed our drive. The most exciting part was the steep climb up the winding curls during the last kilometer or so, where the highway was temporarily connected to the Mall. Fortunately, the rain had washed away the layers of ice on the surface, it had received previous night. That’s precisely where Mani got the unyielding opportunity to demonstrate his driving antics and his vehicle’s mettle to my heart’s content.

Instead of turning towards Murree, we decided to move on. As we curled round the Murree from Jheeka gali, we discovered the layers of snow to be quite thick along the adjoining face of the mountain as opposed to the far side that we had approached earlier. The visibility deteriorated considerably and we began to encounter sleet and light snowfall.
We took the divergence from Kuldana towards Nathiagali. Temprature guage inside the jeep fluctuated between -2 and – 3 deg C as the altitude meter registered almost continous ascent following Barrian. The layer of the ice beneath the tyres got thicker causing whatever negligible of the tootling traffic had left to stop. Virtually, we noticed the last car give up at the toll plaza before Khaira gali.
But not our daring Mani or his well groomed Pajero. He switched the gears and literally tore through the underlying blankets of ice negotiating the sharp bends along the steep ascents. The engine roared, growled and yelled as if pleading for mercy following the unrelenting dictates and commands of the driver. Atmosphere was enchanting and almost dreamlike while I was watching those hills and mountains lost in reverie. Shrouded and veiled in a white drape of snow, everything looked beautiful. Trees, ground, leaves and mud houses had concealed themselves in a white spotless uniform alike.  

Advancing resolutely, we approached the highest point along the road. Daisy dot hotel and the makeshift shops and restaurants at Changla gali that buzz with life during the normal days were desolate and peacefully locked.

Fortunately for us, a rickety temporary kiosk across the road was the only sign of life ushering in the wilderness. The look of the thing vehemently opposed and belied what it signified or stood for. Thanks to mild contemplation and a good guess work backed by excellent judgment on our part, we were finally able to assume and establish slight similarity with endeavouring wanna be single room restaurant. The corrugated aluminum roof sheets were uprooted at places and the walls were caving in. A set of creaking chairs and a small rusted table augmented the ambience and decor of the partially open to sky novel concept. A blazing tandoor struggled to assert its warmth against the extreme cold and precipitation trickling down the perforated roof. The inhabitants comprising the chef and the helper were at least as disbelievingly excited to see us as were we. The feeling was mutual.

Chicken karahi and the cup of tea look-alike were the only things on the menu. They were accepted gratefully and ordered gracefully. It would take the ailing stove the best efforts and some consistency to prepare the meal in hours to come.  
Meanwhile buoyed by our insatiable thirst to explore the nature at its very best, we took the jeep and decided to have a short round. No sooner did we approach the descent, the vehicle started skidding. Despite some daunting maneuvers by Mani, we soon found ourselves reposed and conveniently dumped against the steep face of the mountain along the edge of the road. The rear wheels were partially buried in a shallow ditch of snow. At this point Mani’s engineering sense was maliciously incited and provoked. “Down you go and push the vehicle from behind” came the instructions. As the only soldier in the ranks, I dutifully obliged. Defying the laws of physics, my senseless power coupled with the engine’s horse power only helped vehicle sink deeper in the ditch, somehow. The only consolation came in the form of sludge showered and sprayed upon me as the wheels rolled on the snow.

While we were still mulling over upon what we had just landed ourselves into, luckily for us, a local jeep came by. Well equipped to counter such uncertainties, they offered us help and we readily settled for the meager amount they asked for. Shortly, our jeep was towed and pulled up the hill. The chain provided beneath the tyres helped a good deal.

Soon we were back to the den where our hosts were impatiently waiting for us and as hungry we were, we devoured the karahi to the best of our chewing abilities. We were hardly in the middle of our tea when an unwarned and sudden hue and cry was raised. A jeep with closely packed, painfully compressed and loaded dozen or so captives came whining and wailing down the road honking all the way. It turned out that it was the last jeep to Nathiagali for the day. On its way, it was supposed to drop our hosts at their village. They quickly wrapped everything up and locked as we paid the bill.

Our return journey started in the lingering twilight. It was still mildly snowing and there didn’t seem to be a soul around. We carefully set off well aware of the fact that there was hardly any margin of error. Another blunder could easily translate into spending the night in the jungle. Not an enviable proposition by any means!

Gradually we were able to graze pass the high risk zone. The ice sheet on the road was getting thin progressively. Following the late ascent, we reached Murree after an hour or so. The Mall was frolicking with life and the people, families with their kids and even infants were enjoying themselves. We drove to the Kashmir point and sipped espresso in light falling snow. Following a brief stopover, we headed back and reached Islamabad late in the evening.

It was a memorable trip suffused with fun, excitement and adventure that will always treasure my memories in the days to come.

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Not upon the Aashiqi bit as a deadwood like me in no way can compliment or reciprocate the passion of Dr. Sahiba the way Kashmala Tariq does.

It is just that I always have had some mild difference of opinion with the intellectual lady every time the golden words were uttered. Sometimes, I found them flabbergasting to the point of shock or awe or an exciting and a rich mix of both. At others completely senseless and ludicrous.

The feeling owes more to my immaturity, narrow mindedness and imbecile behaviour for there is no reason why words of such supreme intellect, caliber and wisdom be ill received.

PPP has always been spilling with the gifted presence of intellectual ladies. Late prime minister, Benazir Bhutto was personally one of my favourities, who in my opinion, could’ve made the difference with her charisma and prowess. Now that she is, most unfortunately, history and stalwarts like Sherry Rehman have side stepped, it all comes down to the bravado and firebrand leadership of the likes of Fouzia Wahab and Firdous Awan to lunge forward and plug the gap. Not to mention the fact that the later originally hailed from another party and will have to switch further, if anything, to give herself close to a realistic chance of retaining her seat during the next elections.  

While I have digressed pointlessly, lets get back to where we were, i.e our agreement. During her visit to Sialkot Chamber of Commerce, the minister for Women Development has come up with the novel idea of marking and promoting the hand made export products as

                                               ‘Made By Woman’

Manufactured by a poor rural woman should earn some differentiation and enable us carve a niche in the export markets. The feminine touch or workmanship coupled with the subliminal idea of women emancipation and empowerment should generate sufficient appeal for the products in the western countries paving way for us to earn more foreign exchange and better image.

That’s how the mind of the doctor works. All is not lost. Not until as long as she keeps coming up with logical thoughts amidst her illogical torrents and outbursts.

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(A Consumer’s perspective!)

It took some emphatic and painful lecturing on the part of my two year old to educate his dumb father on differentiating ‘Spider Man’ from ‘Spider Monkey’. And when no amount of coaxing could finally convince him to swig from the bottle of Coca Cola, I was shocked at the gravity of the problem and how worse could it possibly get!? Until we had to innocently transfer the contents of the reasonably high margin product, bitterly sweetened carbonated drink, a froth of gas and acidic liquid in the empty bottle of competing Pepsi to succumb helplessly to the dictates of the bawling child_ To quench not his thirst, but his rousing desire to associate with and be loyal to the brand.

It was only then that I realized that how far these everyday consumer brands have intruded into my lifestyle, household, lounge, bedroom and even my thoughts and perceptions. To the unbelievable extent, where I have resigned to being a captive of that subliminal and imperceptible hand maneuvering all my behaviours, attitudes, thought processes and even decisions.

Being a student of marketing, I have always respected the fundamental rule and premise that it is the customer who rules and dictates the market and trends. One who is apt at identifying and interpreting consumer ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ and best ‘satisfies’ and ‘fulfills’ that particular desire by means of a product or a service, that minimizes the perceptual gap, is the winner. Simply put, it is the matter of religiously following an outside in perspective whereby the key lies in recognizing the principal and latent market demands based on customers value and then plugging the gap by virtue of seamless supply at an acceptable price.

But then who can deny the mantra that ‘Customer buys perception and NOT product’!?

A cursory glance at the things and atmosphere that surround me, leave me simply dazed at the thought that how much and deeply my perceptions are being ‘shaped’ or ‘tainted’ instead of being ‘reflected’.  

Demand cannot be created they argue. It can only be identified and met. But then what the heck is going on when we find all our five basic senses tormented by all sorts of dazzling and subliminal influences and messages round the clock? It would be quite unjust to attribute all the blame to desire, hunger, fear, greed and lust. There is someone behind the scenes who is perpetually tantalizing and fanning the emotions to raise this sentiment beyond the functional limits. Precisely why the brand loyalty or resonance takes place at the highest tiers of the pyramid, far above the functional levels. To the point where it can develop into a cult following such as Harley Davidson or Altaf Hussain for that matter.

Does marketing not invite its fair share of criticism today when it is regarded as being manipulative at its very core? Whereby it amplifies a desire, if not creates it, then devises ways and means to hook or addict the users, pursue the consumers with promotions and nagging communication, incentives and discounts, hook and bait strategies, launching loyalty and frequency programs, and then exploit the customers by riding a tide of competition, exclusivity, premium, differentiation and even deprivation. Last but not the least, by enhancing the price and exit barriers, once the product or service turns into a near indispensable solution. More of an art and propaganda to package the ordinary as extra ordinary at the expense of huge resources, highlighting selective or half truth, and then push massively through the value (supply) chain to yield multiple returns and continue the vicious cycle.

Then comes the subsidiary question of marketing and ethics. Can they practically go together? Not a long way, as the contradictions rise to the surface. Returning to the very basics of the marketing, it is about identifying the customer need and fulfilling it. The ultimate objective is to ‘sell’, earn a ‘price’ and add to the bottom line and profitability. Morality and ethics take a back seat when they tend to collide with the commercial interests. Marketing gets deaf and blind quite unwilling to judge the quality of a need or mode of a product or a service when business interest lies at the centre. That in all probability explains the thriving boom of media and telecommunication industry in Pakistan. The simple argument innocently put forth in its defence is ‘ We give the public what they ask for.’ Taking it further, right or wrong is no one’s concern as long as they fall within the regulatory framework. The particular segment or niche that is targeted or the hype or sensation that is created to influence or captivate the consumers know no norms or values. What is the intent behind producing violence ridden cartoons, video games and toy guns for toddlers and then flooding the market by plastering the gimmicky characters and displaying allied products all over the place?  

Looking at the broader spectrum, the more I watch news, follow papers, debates and conspiracy theories, eavesdrop on selected leaks and planted rumours, read John Grisham and blockbusters, the more skeptical and apprehensive I get of the influences and intrigues invisibly and silently moulding my behaviours and actions. With all those vested interests, game plans and chessboards firmly in place, how do I get to believe that it is the freedom of expression and speech and independence of thought that is shaping and running all those democracies and institutions? Next time I raise slogan in support of a political party, a leader, a global issue, a human rights cause or an environmental concern, I just wonder who would be putting words in my mouth or whose interests would I be serving by apparently casting ‘my’ vote in a poll!

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