Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Birds Shall Die

The birds started flapping their wings as soon as his arrow hit the tree top. Prabha took another arrow out of his holder, put it in his bow, stretched it and as soon as he was about to shoot the distant object that he had targeted, a clutter of people started gathering around. He heard murmurs and voices of people praising him from behind. His skill was witnessed by people who had been watching him for quite some time. This was the first time he had planned to shoot in the midst of the valley. He had been practicing archery for a very long time. You know when they say “practice makes a man perfect” they say it right. Perhaps he had inherited the skill from his great grandfather (or at least that’s what people in the village say). The man was known for his skill not just in his vicinity but throughout his village.

Villagers entitled him as the best archer of Gyaspur. They hadn’t seen someone as adroit as him for the past so many decades or heard stories of such a talent after his great grandfather. Even his dark skin complimented his skill. His huge built, his stern voice, the way he carried himself and even his style of fixating his targets and then shooting them was identical to his grandfather. Villagers reckoned that he would someday bring well deserved but long awaited fame to the village by showcasing his talent. They said that he would one day compliment his name Prabha, which means ‘light’ in Hindi.

Prabha was a very simple and modest man and belonged to the Shudra caste of the Hindu caste system. He worked with his father as a grave digger and dedicated most of his spare moments to furnishing his art of archery.

Every time Prabha would target something, he would first point his arrow in the right direction, lower himself a little, swirl his right foot shutting his right eye at the same time and then letting the arrow go hitting the target perfectly. He was as good as one could be. Whether shooting something at an elevated position, a depression point, or in a projectile motion; his art of shooting spoke for itself. He was always afraid of fame though. His locations were thus far from where people would gather around usually. He would go out of the main town area at nights, on week days, and at times when village businesses had to be at peak. He would sometimes choose the corner of the forest, the end of the river, in between the bushy areas or amongst the mountainous regions to practice his shooting skills. But now Prabha, an untouchable, was the talk of the town.

The stories of his art started spreading like a wildfire. People were talking about his skill across the borders. Visitors from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka craved to visit Gyaspur, to see him targeting and shooting, to witness the art first hand. Reporters started writing stories on him in regional newspapers.

It was late 1800s. The news of the archer broke out to the Nepalese King in the neighboring country. Within a few weeks he had heard of the archer multiple times. Hence he demanded his minister to send the archer a proposal to visit Nepal. “He will prove to be an asset for our country”, said the king. “He will train our army with his tactics. I want this man! If he proves himself, he shall be the Chief Commander of the Nepalese army”. The King became very eager when he discovered how people were visiting Gyaspur to meet him. He wanted Nepal to attract more tourists now, to establish an archery school, and to gain other economic benefits. His ministers drafted a letter, more of a formal invitation for Prabha to come to Nepal.

The Royal invitation was sent in a majestic manner with a messenger from the King, a troop of soldiers and a cart full of expensive gifts and jewels to invite him over. The fleet of carriages was packed with red and golden cloths giving the fleet a regal touch. The troop was sent. Orders were sent countrywide to start preparations for a mega event to welcome the archer and turn it into a grand festival.

The invitation reached Prabha in the most upright way. Villagers from the neighborhood stopped to look at the Royal entry of the carriages. The fleet travelled all along the way to the down town of the village. The messenger stepped out to ask about Prabha. An old man suggested him to visit sights outside the suburbs of the village devoid of public to find him. The carriages moved to the outskirts of the village alongside the river, spotted the archer there and came to a halt that very moment. The messenger stepped out, announced his origin and declared his purpose of coming. “I have brought forth to you a message from the King of Nepal to come to our homeland. The King wishes to see you and your talent and would be highly pleased to grant you with a royal treatment at the Palace of Kathmandu. On a further note, I would like to notify you on behalf of his majesty that he would like to give you an opportunity to display your talent to the public. He would be gleeful to award you with tons of presents and anything that you like from the royal palace. We are here to take you along with us Sir. You have time to ponder over the King’s proposal for the next 24 hours. Our crew shall be back tomorrow to take your answer”.

Prabha had made up his mind as soon as the fleet left. Within moments he found himself packing up his stuff, all ready for the departure. After all, the Shudras would never get the deserved chunk of respect and recognition in their home town. He had always abhorred the caste system, and felt like a disrespected flea bag. This was perhaps the pinnacle of his life. He was desperately waiting for the next morning to arrive. Every moment seemed like a lifetime in itself. Finally the next morning arrived and after a couple of hours he heard the Nepalese fleet approaching in the direction of his house. Without the delay of a single second, he blurted out that he accepted the King’s proposal and would accompany the fleet to Nepal to demonstrate his skills to the King and his ministers. Minutes later the carriage left the village and disappeared in the distance.

After days of traveling the fleet reached the entrance of the royal palace being welcomed through trumpets and hundreds of security personnel. People had gathered around the palace to welcome the archer too. A lot of them had come from distant places to see the talent he exhibited. All preparations had been made already to let him demonstrate his talent. The humongous crowd made Prabha very nervous. He was taken to a very comfortable lounge as soon as he arrived at the palace. He rested for a bit while people around were anxiously waiting for the show to begin. They had waited and prepared for this day weeks in advance.

Noises from the crowd were making Prabha very uncomfortable. As he stepped outside the palace, he heard people cheering and screaming for him. He could even see some people from his own village. He was brought in front of the king in the middle of the gathering. It was massive, so huge that he could see people and more people within miles of his sight. The host started briefing him on the rules of the game. All he had to do was to shoot three flying birds on the count of ten.

“Three flying birds? What? How could I? Never in my life have I ever even thought of hurting a living being, or plucking a leaf out of a tree for that matter” thought the flabbergasted archer. Also fame and public display of talent is what he had always loathed. He never wanted that. As the hammer struck the metal plate, and the counting began he could hear people roaring from the crowd. His nervousness grew. He could feel his heart pounding. As the counting reached the number 8, he could feel a lump in his throat. He tried to swallow it. “Nine” shouted the crowd. He lowered himself, swirled his right foot, closed both his eyes this time and suddenly felt trapped inside a jinxed state of feelings. Faced with a dilemma, he thought of how he could overcome it. “Ten” screamed the crowd and he placed his arrow in the bow and let it go. The crowd froze for a moment turning their necks from left to right and slightly upwards, the arrow almost touching the bird and flying past it the next moment. Noises of disappointment arose from the crowd. A lot of gossips ran through his ears of people thinking that perhaps his first hit went in the wrong direction. Another bird was let free to fly and made its way through the crowd, the counting began and seconds later the second arrow was seen flying past the bird too.
Orders were sent to the commentator to put a pause to the game. Prabha was taken inside a tent and the king’s messenger was sent to him to have a little conversation. “The King is utterly disappointed. You shall not be contracted the promised position. All your royalties granted shall be confiscated. You shall be sent back to your home with a lot of disgrace. This is your last chance to perform”, said the messenger and left. Prabha was brought back outside.

The countdown began again and moments later the crowd saw the last arrow missing its target too. The King was furious. The commentator announced the termination of the show and ordered people to leave. Prabha was held by his arm and dragged back to the palace from within the crowd.

“Is this how you define the best archer?” murmured a group of people.

“My 8 year old can shoot better than that one”, he overheard a man exclaiming.

Prabha was brought in front of the King who demanded a valid explanation of him. He explained how he could never shoot a living thing and how he would have brought disgrace to his caste, had he taken lives of three living beings. The King immediately asked him to leave the palace as he had turned a festive event into a gossip tale for the King forever. Prabha was sent back to his home town. On his way back, he thought of how he would be received by his people. “They would probably throw satirical remarks over my cowardice and emotional nature”, he thought. He wished he had never gotten himself into this. Throughout the journey, this was the only thought he had on his mind. He recalled the best journey of his life from Ghyaspur to Nepal a few hours ago. But he did not regret anything that happened. The only thing that bothered him was the hope and prosperity that people of Ghyaspur were expecting him to bring.

As soon as he arrived back his village, he couldn’t believe what he saw. People awaited his arrival with floral necklaces in their hands. They showered him with flowers and hugs and held him high up with pride. He had brought pride to his village by making the right choice. He was their hero and they admired him more than he would have ever expected.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

"Live Writing"

Author: Ralph Fletcher

Genre: Non-Fiction

“Ralph Fletcher” is a renowned author of the books “A Writer’s Notebook” and “Craft Lessons” amongst many falling in the same category. “Live writing” is another classical master piece for boring and clich├ęd writers to transform their drag, lifeless writing to the one that connects with the readers and hooks them up. It is built around the idea that writing can be refined if the writer follows some handy tips.

The book begins by illustrating a simple idea that all writers have a tool box which constitute their words, imagination and a story line that can be compiled together to construct a brilliant piece of writing. Not everyone is born a great writer. Some just become better by following certain rules of thumb to do this.

In the beginning he suggests all writers to read like writers. According to him, all great books have something to offer to an author: a great plot, a relatable character, or a connecting tone. Once a person gets into the habit of reading critically and thoroughly, s/he gets innumerable ideas on how to improve what they’ve written. Tactics that those writers have used to produce their work are demystified in this learning process.

Fletcher has set a YOU tone throughout this book. By directly talking to the reader he has made his tips more cognitive and comprehensive. The strategies that he has suggested are precious. He has dissected writing into a few components like the lead, the main body, the characters, the setting, the conflict or the turning point and the ending. He argues that each piece might not have a perfect commencement, a great conflict, an intriguing setting and a kick-ass ending. What sets one piece apart from the other is how beautifully one component is structured and presented to the audience. To authenticate his strategies, he has also provided examples of excerpts taken from other authors’ work that have made the impact.

The simple vocabulary used in “Live Writing” reflects the fact that it is a perfect guide for writers of all ages and demographics. The strategies revealed in this book can abet many to step out of their spheres of a fear for writing. If followed vigorously, it may change the lives of dubitable writers holistically.

“Delve” into the World of “Just Perfect” Desserts

Talking about excellence in the Food industry? “Shaan Foods” has now stepped into its range of classy desserts. Having its initial expertise in the food industry particularly in the spices and seasoning, it decided to carry this legacy forward and launch a new sub brand named “Delve”, a category of mouthwatering, rich and creamy desserts including custards, jellies and puddings. The brand was launched in September 2011 and has witnessed a phenomenal penetration rate since then.

Variety is the spice of a business in contemporary times. Perhaps Shaan Foods wanted to position itself as a “Complete food solution” company. Its market offerings include spices, seasoning, salt, pickles, oriental recipes, chutneys and now desserts after “Delve”. Even though Delve doesn’t carry the brand name of Shaan, it enjoys a favorable reputation in the market. It is giving a tough competition, not just to National and Laziza, but also Rafhan, the leader in the desserts industry. This will soon transform it into a market challenger.

The variety of flavors that it is currently offering in custards is Vanilla, Strawberry, Mango and Banana. Flavors in jellies consist of Strawberry, Banana, Mango and Orange. Consumers are hoping to see new flavors being introduced in a couple of quarters and newer categories of desserts to be launched under the brand name.

Treat yourself with the royalty of this novice brand. It blends perfectly with the taste preferences of the people for the last course of a mighty 5 course meal and is completely in alignment with the tagline of the company “Just Perfect”! :)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Graffiti: Contributing to a Political, Religious and Social Turmoil

Bangali Baba’s message carved on one of the walls on streets of Karachi began like this:

“Mehboob apke qadmon main……..”

Another hilarious one says:

“Parhey likhey rishton k liye raabta karen: 03*********”

How often have we the educated lot seen these on the streets of Karachi finding them amusing, ignored and later walked away? Do we ever pause and consider how these are leading to a great anti-social turmoil. The impoverished class of our nation easily is falling into a trap created by the poison of these predatory messages.

The age of racing cars, dolls and video games is gone; seems like human mind is the best toy to play with in contemporary times. The knowledge of psychology has been put to use not just by politicians, marketers, and advertisers but also by common people; people who have a motive of breeding their way of thinking and ideologies into the systems of the masses. An extremely inexpensive yet effective in terms of frequency of exposure way of communication like Graffiti has done wonders.

“Only Altaf”
“Bus bohat hogaya……Land mafia……”
“Mohammed k gulaamon ko Amreeka ki gulaami na-manzoor”

I happened to come across these messages supporting political schemes and religious motives a couple of days ago. The influential entities of each political party in Karachi have printed messages about their ideas within the vicinities of their rule. This has contributed to sectarian divide and political unrest in the past few weeks majorly. Also the promotion of so many filthy operations like palm readers, matrimonial services, bangali babas, and future tellers is letting our uneducated populace astray.

Recently when the news broke out that Pakistan will grant India with the status of “Most Favored Nation”, protests from all over the country were well evident in the form of graffiti. Freedom of speech and expression were exercised through this medium. A country where the lower class feels the utter need of a representation becomes very easily convinced by these ideas and indulges into wrong doings.

Even though regulators have tried to put an end to graffiti in the past and various voluntary organizations have painted the walls back to white to remove negative messages, many slums and interior localities still have abominating messages contributing a great deal to the animosity existing in the minds of our generations.

The end note to my discussion: We don’t need a dictator to destroy our state now. Nor is a foreign force required to ruin and dilute our identities. Religious maniacs and political activists dwelling in our state are doing the job subtly yet so well. The time is not far when all we will be is a state full of contaminated religious ideologies, political hatred and individuals with bigoted mindsets.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Stereotyping: A Choice Made

When a painter starts to paint a beautiful painting, he visualizes it a certain way. He adds colors, shapes, geometric designs, and all his creativity to it on the basis of that imagination. During the entire time that he is painting, he feels it will turn out to be exactly what he wants. On completion though, the painting looks dreary and lifeless sometimes. He goes back to change either of the elements to transform it into his desired state. After the morphing process, the painting looks as good as it should. Short sightedness influences his perceptions, but reality is far from different.

We frequently talk about macroeconomic issues, about social issues at a global level. We talk about how they’ve impacted lives. We discuss their humongous affects. But have we ever trickled the issues down to a grass root level? Issues usually commence at the very basic level and later aggravate to generate issues of huge magnitudes. Discrimination is a common practice at all levels, but it breeds from stereotypes at smaller levels.

Often unaware of what we’re doing we tend to stereotype people ourselves. Once, when I asked a friend of mine whose birthday had passed previously for a birthday treat, another friend of mine said that he won’t give one. “Yeh Memon hai yaar, treat dey hee naa dey” (translation: He is a Memon, he won’t give a treat thus).

“All muslims are terrorists”, “Blondes are dumb”, “Women who wear hijaab are religious”
are some other common stereotypes that we might have come across. Every day we judge people on the basis of the community, race and religion they belong to, on their appearance, their preferences, their choices and what not. But we don’t consider how hurtful it is until we witness a scenario in which we ourselves are being labeled.

Stereotyping is similar to the “Six Blind Men and the Elephant Story” where they judge the elephant according to what information they have access to. Their relative perspectives are a consequence of factors that are beyond their span of control. But when we stereotype, it is a choice that we make. We choose not to know people first and label them on the basis of pre-conceived notions.

On my first day at my University I saw people entering the class room and immediately after a glimpse I started generalizing and judging them on how they looked or spoke. To this day, none of the first impressions have turned out to be true in any case whatsoever. All those people have proved to be totally different persons when I actually got to know them.

So many countries in contemporary times are participating in exchanges to change perceptions and typical stereotypes that other nationals have about them. Governments in the West are funding exchange programs massively to develop cross cultural understanding. They see it as an investment towards the change they envision.

As mentioned earlier also, stereotypes exist at the extreme basic level. Universities that offer programs in diverse disciplines have students encompassing certain stereotypes about programs that they themselves do not belong to. Identifying this problem, a few students from SZABIST have started a full fledge campaign on spreading awareness about inter-program stereotypes and removing/altering them. The initiative has been named “Paradigm Shift” and has been marketed through different mediums. It will serve as a platform for students to discuss their programs, facilitating the cause and assisting the initiators to achieve their objectives.

It’s time that we the educated lot start bringing about a transformation in the way we see others. If education cannot even change the practice of one group stereotyping the other then all of it goes in the trash. Dumbledore in the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets said "It is our choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

Friday, 17 February 2012

Gandhi vs. Jinnah: Is it even worth debating over?

There have been times when certain individuals have risen up to the deceitful religious dogmas, bigoted maniacs, societal injustices and opposed the wrongdoings. Rising up against conformist ideologies is sometimes possible but there are times when these acts turn to a massive turmoil and a mass opposition. The individuals who bring about these reforms are sometimes termed deviants and sometimes praised. But they all should be presented with the title of a “Leader”.

Here I would like to take my discussion to the phenomenal qualities of two such leaders of whom the world knows about; the two leaders from this side of the world that the entire globe is particularly interested in. Mahatma Gandhi and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah: the two people who beautifully carved their names in the books of the history of subcontinent. These were the men who rose up to the challenging situations of their times and gave their followers refuge from external rule.

I would like to highlight some major similarities between the two leaders. Both Gandhi and Jinnah had similar leadership styles. They made people believe in their vision and carried such a strong charisma that dictated the moves of their followers. They bestowed their nations with eternal freedom. True that Gandhi was a people oriented person and had a very non violent self stimulating type of style, Jinnah had to act all strong and stern. They molded their personalities according to the need of the day and made relative sacrifices.

Why is then Gandhi considered to be a better leader? Why are the two even compared? Just because they both supported and led opposite sides of the independence war doesn’t make them comparable. The situations that shaped and transformed the decisions of both were different. Their ideologies were different. Their approaches were different yet it is concluded that Gandhi was a better leader by the West. During my exchange year I encountered with so many people who asked me this: Do you think Gandhi was a better leader or Jinnah? The meaning of Mahatma has been explained well as the great one but people in the West aren’t aware that Quaid-e-Azam also has similar meaning.

Yes this perception owes to the fact that Indian film cinema has uplifted Gandhi’s image through its pro-Gandhi films but until and unless all facts are properly analyzed of the pre-independence era, vague statements like Gandhi was a better leader shouldn’t be passed. Also the perception that Pakistanis hate Gandhi and Indians hate Jinnah as leaders is not correct. Despite being a Pakistani, I absolutely adore Gandhi as a leader and quote his example whenever relevant and know Indians who loved Jinnah’s brilliant moves to give Muslims what they required. Both are exemplary leaders and both should be appreciated for their contributions.