Monday, 18 July 2011

Hard to believe

At times you come across such stories in life that touch your soul. They sometimes make you feel better and sometimes leave you so astonished that you just pinch yourself to check twice whether you are dreaming or not. I came across one of such non-fictitious tales too. It highlights human sufferings as well as miracles that might happen to an individual. It is gloomy yet motivating.

I happened to be conversing with a very dear friend of mine from school who is currently pursuing her degree in Medicine who was at a visit to the Civil hospital. That’s when she came across a woman having 4 kids, one of which she was carrying in her arms. The baby looked like one of those malnourished kids who had been food deprived for months. His body looked like a structure of bones joined together wrapped in the skin. Not a sign of flesh could be detected on his body. The kid was being fed milk by his mother through a feeder bottle. The milk looked so diluted to the doctor that she invited the woman for a conversation and questioned her. The appearance of the woman was a clear indication of her impoverish status but she still managed to explain how she fed her kids. “I buy milk worth Rs. 10 and add a liter of water to it to feed my kids,” she said. The doctor tried explaining how she was putting the life of that kid on stake. “Doctor Sahiba! Mere iss betey ko kuch nahi hoga. Yeh tou mera maujzati bachha hai,” she replied. (Translates: Dear Doctor! Nothing will happen to this son of mine. He is a miraculous kid)

And that’s when she started narrating her story of how that kid had been born and lived miraculously. That woman had been pregnant in her 9th month when once she was all alone at her place, walking around the house and started getting labor pains. All of a sudden she sat down on the mosaic floor and within minutes the baby came out without much of an effort. She could not believe as to what had happened. For the next few seconds she stayed immobile and senseless. Then she suddenly realized that she had to cut off the umbilical cord. She went all the way to the bathroom carrying the baby in her hand, got her husband’s razor and cut it off. She bled until she fainted. Her eyes opened again when she saw herself lying on the bed next to her baby. She picked him up and couldn’t believe how he had survived. It sure was a miracle. God had given the baby a life and the woman a 2nd life.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Cultural Shocks

As I landed at the Medford Oregon airport, I started looking for a short curly haired woman who was to come to pick me up all the way from Ashland to drive me home. This was no one other than my host mother who had volunteered to host me for an entire academic year. There she was standing with a tag having my name printed on it. After going through customs and all the necesarry formalities, we got into the car to head back home. I went towards the left side of the car to take the seat next to the driving seat and was surprised to find out that the left side of the car had the steering wheel. “Annie, the right side!” She uttered. Oops. I had ignoringly taken the wrong side and felt like a moron for a slight matter of a second. Cultural shock, yeah? Anyhow, I went to the other side of the car, got in and shut the door behind me. I had not known that driving without seat belts was against the laws in the United States and I felt stupid again not knowing the fundamental regulations that shaped the American society. Another cultural shock. Man I was already terrified and was wondering what more was waiting for me to experience.

Anyway, the experience started shooting up when the car started moving on the road. As we began to chat about random things I told her how my life was back in my country. Flashback into some amazing memories is what I had experienced at that particular moment. I was recalling how my mom used to wake me up every morning to get to school on time and how I never picked up after myself and my maid had to do that. Also how I was used to taking naps in the afternoon. Not that I was not expecting any major changes in their lifestyle but I still had to go through a series of cultural shocks one after the other. I felt like a building getting those jerks that it gets when an earthquake has hit. It didn’t take me a lot of time to adjust to the American society as the people around me turned out to be extremely friendly and accepting, contrary to what I had thought. Yes, I had come all the way to the United States of America as an ambassador of my dearest country Pakistan. I was an exchange student who had to live for a whole academic session with an American host family that treated me like a member of their own family.

My first day at school was terribly surprising too. My elder host sister had already taken me to a visit around the campus that was divided into separate units of disciplines of education i.e. the Humanities block, the Science block etc. I had a school route map to assist me yet I had a very hard time getting to my first class. To make things worse, I discovered that day only that getting late to a class got you the status of tardy for that day and two tardies led to one absence….Oops. “I better become responsible enough now, else I’ll end up getting a TARDY every day,” I thought.

The next class was in a different block and I had only 10 minutes to get to the class. So I started running like crazy and got there on time, grabbed a chair and sat down. I could constantly hear students chatting about random stuff: parties, basket ball etc. Also overheard some guys checking girls and GUYS out. I had known about homosexual relationships being common in the US. Thank God :P Anyhow as I was listening to the gossips, I heard someone saying “Hey Gabe!” behind me. I turned around to see who Gabe was and was shocked to see a man moving towards the front part of the room. He was the teacher Mr. Gabriel. Oh shit. Yes many kids in the US call teachers by their first names. This was too much of a cultural shock for me. Everything from the school campus, the kids, the lockers, and the P.E. rooms to the the school cafeteria were so different. Not to forget the streets, the traffic rules, the layout of buildings and homes. But I got used to all that and within no time a year had almost gone by and I was preparing to come back home.

Now more than 6 years have passed and I still cannot forget those cultural shocks that I got when I went there. But most importantly I remember how I had changed perceptions, both of myself and the Americans and how my American family, friends, teachers and colleagues helped me to settle well amidst those cultural shocks.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Deception in Advertisements

Every day we watch several commercials on our television that inform us about a new product, give a recall of the already existing ones or entertain us because of their attractive concepts. But ever wondered why these concepts look interesting to us? Why so much money is spent on copywriters, marketers and advertising agencies? That is because they tap into the world of creativity and produce such concepts that not only show unrealistic traits of their products but also play with our emotions to a great extent.

Advertisements are usually built through either oversimplification or exaggeration techniques; that is they do not display the actual characteristic components of their products. And we all know that for a fact. But we still tend to fall for what the commercial is depicting. Take a look at a few examples that are deceptive to such an extent that they deviate from their true functions.

It is a universally accepted fact that tea is not really good for health. Research has proved and testified it. A very famous brand “Brooke Bond Supreme Tea” shows that tea is good for health through its latest advertisement and that our forefathers were superstitious when they used to say that it was not the case. The commercial had renowned celebrities as its endorsers who have a fan-following, thus letting the masses believe in what they wanted to show.

Now let us look at Veet, Anne French, EU cream, and Care hair removing cream commercials that always state that their product inhibits hair growth and prevents it from coming back. A great number of users have testified that this is not the case. In fact hair removing creams foster hair growth and it comes back even darker and harder.

Anti bacterial soap commercials have shown renowned actors as doctors who guarantee that the product counters skin problems and kills germs up to 99%. They have also started some CSR activities to promote their products so that people start considering the manufacturers as people of ethics and values when they even forget that the person guaranteeing the functionality of their products is not a professional himself.

Many print ads use such strategies of psychological pricing that our masses don’t even figure out. Let us see the print ads of Pizza Hut. They show a particular deal in the paper along with a mention of the price in big fonts and bolds. But the same figure has an asterisk attached with it which shows the hidden terms and conditions that apply at the time of purchase.

One of the popular mobile networks has also used deceptive techniques to market themselves. Zong has made this commercial where a consumer gets a load of PKR 100 and the shopkeeper tells him/her that he/she got an additional balance of PKR 100. The entire commercial talks about how one can get that credit and the same commercial ends with the message that the additional balance will be provided in the form of minutes.

Most TVCs show that the products they are offering to the market are needed by the customers. False needs are created and consumers are made to exceed the limits of their pockets to buy those goods. TVCs and ads make a person feel inferior by making them realize that they lack something somewhere. For instance fairness creams make a person believe that they lack complete beauty and confidence if their skin tone is darker.

There are a thousand more examples to quote if not millions that show such ridiculous associations of products with unrealistic traits. Most of us zip, zap or mute these advertisements but they do carry certain latent messages that impact us in some manner. Concrete steps should be taken to produce quality advertisements so that issues like women objectification, product influx, cut throat competition, male dominance etc. can be eliminated from our society because advertisements are one of the underlying reasons behind these.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Insensitivity – the predator

I see people dying right before my eyes, people suffering from pangs of hunger, people shivering with sickness, people being sold, abused, and mistreated. And I keep watching them suffer. Nothing happens to me. No fears, no regrets, no pain. And then I pause for a moment and ask myself, “What is their fault? Why them?” For a mere second, I do feel bad for the victims. But the very next second I am overcome with thoughts that take me back into the cruelties of this world. I am an insensitive human being. Wait! Am I even a human being? Selfish? Yes that’s what I am. I heard how people in the Orangi town, Jauhar, Qasba colony, Lyari etc. were being slaughtered. How those bastards were entering into the houses of people and killing them. How the residents of that area were locked up in their homes and were food deprived for 5 consecutive days. How they were surviving in a war-like condition. I hear a mother weeping over her son’s dead body. I hear a girl crying for her father who has been targeted somewhere and killed. But what do I do? Curse the people responsible and then thank Allah that my family members are safe. But should I not take this as an alarming bell? The day is near when my family members will fall victims to these tyrant and barbaric so-called peace makers. Will I sit back and watch then? The day is not far when my insensitivity will become the predator and murderer of my own family members.Yes, I will be the one responsible.