Thursday, December 29, 2011

On loving one's enemy - by Allama Iqbal

This post is dedicated to Allama Iqbal, one of the greatest thinkers of all time. Below is his thought on how to love an enemy and perhaps even overcome the need for any. Love them so much that they are no longer a threat, but just another human/living entity trying to make a life with their perception of right and wrong. Tied together with the theory of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer and the need to be the bigger man (woman) to overcome your anger and fear.

Alas, to er is human.

ON LOVING ONE's ENEMY. Love is more than elixir . The latter is supposed to turn baser metals into gold; the former turns all the baser passions into itself. Christ and Buddha were absolutely correct in their perception of the nature of Love; but in their passion for ethical idealism they ignored the facts of life. It is too much to expect of man to love his enemies. Some extraordinary individuals may have realised this maxim in their life; but as a principle of national morality the maxim clearly falls down. The results of the Russo- Japanese war would have been different if the Japanese had acted on the principles of morality associated with their religion. 

Dr Allama Iqbal

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Makes You Wonder About Tomorrow (inspired by Umair Haque)

Every morning that I wake up (not that there are some I don't), I first check my phone for anything that might determine the rest of my day. It can be anything like an email from my management to a tweet from someone who says some pretty profound things. I believe today might be slightly different because I happened to be tagged in a post by a friend with an article by Mr. Umair Haque (@umairh on twitter). It's the contents of his article, "The Betterness Manifesto" got me thinking while I was reading it in otherwise preoccupied circumstances.

Today, I also woke to a different beat. It's Christmas eve and a gentle cheer breezes across with wishes and presents and joy that millions are enjoying tonight. Then there will be plenty of those that don't. How about that? 

This year has been an interesting one indeed. I haven't seen the digital world buzz with so much about everything than ever before. People are chatting about social enterprises (or #socent), financial concerns, big businesses failing to meet targets, small businesses getting scores of investments from previously engaged investors and the likes. Never you mind, I will not divulge in the things enough people are talking about already. Instead, let's talk about Umair Haque's article and the perspective he has inspired.

In his 'manifesto', he provides a well-rounded overview of what it may take to improve life for all, especially with the first dozen years of this century nearly behind us. He goes on to outline a few very critical components to this plan, broken down into single word calls-to-action, such as Live, Invest, Civilize, and Reflect (to name a few). Each of them bearing a significant amount of weight that would otherwise be wasted in one of the 7 deadly sins. Instead, he presents us with the '8 inspiring values', 1 more than the deadly lot to ensure the goodness ratings stay on top. 

You're all big boys and girls, go on and read the article for yourself to understand what he's talking about. But before you do, let me delve a little deeper into my morning and how this article may have impacted it more than the normal email or tweet would.

I am and have been looking for inspiration, guidance and a chance to give more of myself to my life, my surroundings, my country, my family and my profession. It's funny that I write this while watching THE MOVIE of my youth, Top Gun. Man, what a rush watching these aces take to the sky and race against sound, light and one another. The closest I can relate is through my father's stories of his days as a fighter pilot, fighting for a country that was, once, really worth fighting for.  

My loss has probably been in avoiding the truth about myself, to myself. And in doing so, I've missed out on what could have been an application of greater potential in the person I could have been (perhaps better, or worse). Sorry, run on sentences are not ideal, but sometimes essential to avoid losing chain of thought.  Throughout my childhood, I was always told that I don't exploit my true potential. That I always leave it hanging at the edge, just when I'm about to make it through to the other side of enlightened souls who plan, manage, influence and dictate the fate of our world. I mean, let's face it, human beings are pretty amazing. 

When I visit a city like Dubai, I am perplexed at how we (evolved monkey's if you still believe Darwin) have been able to do such unbelievable things like build thriving civilizations in the middle of the desert. Then again, haven't we always done that? It's true that the most progressive civilizations all started close to a body of water, no matter how big or small. And then there was Mohenjo-daro; a UNESCO World Heritage site, right in our backyard, housing some 35 thousand residents, with a very sophisticated city-level layout. This was done approximately 4,600 years ago. Jees louis! Four thousand years ago we had people planning city layouts and then suddenly disappearing until the 1920's, only to be rediscovered as something that we are still doing in pretty much the same way? 

Before going into the larger scheme of things, we should tie things up to how the Harappan civilization relates to me. Interestingly enough, it probably relates to all of us more than we know or like to think. This classic city is located in modern-day Larkana, the district of Sindh, where the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world was born, Benazir Bhutto - a true symbol of hope and prosperity. She was first elected into power when I was very young. She had been seeking council from my father because he was close to her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Also, she happened to be a very close family friend otherwise and we got to see quite a bit of her. What she once represented is truly missed. 

This lady, originating from the land where the four thousand year old civilization once thrived, helped get me my first ticket into politics and country. I stood behind make-shift stalls at what used to be a cricket ground, handing out flyers while the party song, "Havva De" was blaring in the background. The park was located in F7, Islamabad, right on Parbat Road. This is before it became the entry point for 7th Avenue, a major road cutting through the bustling city. I was charged, but only because we supported the belief she was bringing. Heck, at that age, I hardly knew more than 5 cuss words and had barely been out with a girl. So, let's say this was an overall christening of sorts for me (my apologies if these last two paragraphs were a tough read).

I didn't realize that would be the last time I would make an effort to be involved in Pakistan until the 2005 earthquake (read my article in the Acumen Fund blog to learn more). That was a pretty decisive year for many of us. If we didn't already have a career, this natural calamity did more than make one for us. My career in social development began and ended with the quake and irrigation in Sindh. I switched over to corporate and have been there since. Strangely enough, the nature of work has overlapped quite a bit because now, addition to other things, I am also responsible for corporate social responsibility initiatives. Huh...

Today, we have what could be the biggest race to a truly democratic Pakistan. With an elected government in power that neither the people nor the army wants,  the rise of Imran Khan (one of the greatest cricketers and philanthropists of our time) and his own army of tweeters, bloggers and civilized society, I'd say we are pretty set for an exciting and possibly unpredictable year ahead. Or are we...? 

I registered with the PTI because I like following what's popular. It's true,  this makes my entry into different popular interest groups a lot easier. Somehow though, the salmon in me is not convinced. I think that Imran is fine, but what he stands for is what everyone else is really just looking for; another option that hasn't pillaged, plundered and de-stabilized the Pakistani economy. I don't 'feel' the vibe so I'm stepping to the sidelines and waiting it out. Maybe once when PPP represented something to me that I didn't even know I was looking for, is now taken over by a complete and utter loss in a sense of loyalty to anything other than my wife, family, friends and cats. Then again, maybe I'm not exploiting my full potential like my teachers and advisers always said. 

When I read the article by Umair, it got me thinking. Maybe I am not as smart as I like to think. Maybe I have a real deficit in my abilities to conquer my potential and become an ardent supporter of equality for all through self-realization. His 8 values have made me realize that idealism is really just a myth and it doesn't happen to work for all of us. Possibly of shared origin, the two of us are looking at the same world from two sides of the looking glass. My side is slightly murky, with little to clean it with. We don't have education at a large enough scale to say that 'people who need to get his point are reading his thoughts and applying themselves', except those who already know what they want and use his articulate sanity to help map the plan. 

If I was as powerful as say Richard Branson or Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, I'd be singing to a different beat. I'm Zohare, so I'll stay Zohare. My potential is best exploited in the safety of my well-being and I am a selfish human being. I knew this the day the nice lady in the airplane said,"...please place the oxygen mask over your face and mouth before helping the person next to you". If I don't take a moment to do something I want, then I will never live up to the values suggested by Umair (truly profound, but nothing new to say the least). As an economist by education, I feel we are really just trying to enforce a classical sense of philosophical bantering (not in the whimsical sense) on those who either can't use it effectively or don't want it because they know better. Not our fault because someone needs to say it, whether the people like it or not. Other's reading your manifesto may be in a better position to apply themselves. That's not going to be me because everyone told me so when I was growing up..."he has potential, just doesn't use it"

If I struggle to live for myself, maybe in that effort I will find the courage and will to step up and say, "this country, this world belongs to me. I pay taxes for safety, utilities, comfort, involvement and reasonably priced tomatoes. I will place the oxygen mask over my own face before I help the person next to me, because if I can't help myself, I can't help anyone else." It's also possible that, because so many of us have decided to put more faith in God, career, drugs or whatever other choices drive 7 billion people, we all need to stay at bay and let things roll the way they have always. Top of the pyramid rules the bottom majority?

Thank you, Umair, for reminding me why I am not in a league with people such as yourself, who are successful, influential and able to reach out to the world. It's a heavy responsibility to bear and I, for one, cannot volunteer more than is possible. I mean this with sincerity and admiration. Some of us need to stay out of the way so the worker ants can get their job done effectively. The challenge of moving people to the same beat is awful (and I mean full of awe-awful:: Definition #5 - inspiring reverential wonder or fear, according to google). I can't commit to something and I think it has to do with my inability to conquer myself and my true potential. Perhaps, I should have made better use of time in school, college and professional life. Yet, here I stand, humble before humanity, saying that there are better people out there to do the hard work needed for a Better 21 century. 

Then again...maybe, I'm just missing the point. Anyway, another year, another chance. In the meantime, I have to cheer with the rest of the world for a better year ahead. 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And along came 2012 (+video entertainment)

© Steven Chung (even if he didn't want it)
2011...what can we say about you. We lost a few, we gained a few. From people to places and health fallacies to debt recalculations.

Zooming into our little part of the world, It's safe to say that Pakistan remained in the top 10 of the world's most information-generating countries. Our president and celebrity pin-up girls managed to keep the headlines occupied for silly things while folks in Africa continue suffering from unimaginable pain, suffering and strife, ranging from disease to hunger. Our favorite cricket player is on the top of every one's (imagined) speed dial and rallying towards a cause yet unknown has not been an issue. 

I've got about 3 decades beneath my belt (and not literally you dirty minded readers, you!). I'm talking about what I've seen, experienced and learnt. It's probably safe to say that 2011 has clearly trumped all previous years within the 2000 millennial. So much information about so many things happened that I find it hard to even hold onto any one specific thing. I mean, the Egypt, Libya uprisings took a sizable portion of our year and twitter feed and for good reason. Two countries changed their entire modus operandi within a span of weeks! 

I can't even imagine my life without 2011. I know it's a 'tough-to-grasp' concept, but hey - think out of the box, right? What if we didn't have 2011 and we skipped over from 2010 to 2012. We'd be looking at a vacuum in our ability to prepare for the Mayan/Nostradamian (if that's even correct) predicted end of the world theory (which is pending validation come new years). We would be looking at 3 leaders vanished into oblivion with no profits for news and media agencies to benefit from. Steve Jobs (one of the greatest men of our time) wouldn't be here and we wouldn't have had a chance to remember him for his many achievements, pretty much all starting with an 'i'.

We had the memo gate scandal that crossed multiple ponds, Japan declared 32+ waist sizes obese (for men), Greece went bankrupt and the EU had to ask CHINA for a loan of US$ 700 billion (I saw the report on BBC myself). We discovered that the three tyrants brought down by 2011 were all 69 years old when they died. How kinky is that, right? No, seriously! I read somewhere that there were more military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan this year than ever before during both wars, combined! I doubt this is true, but still...not an accomplishment by any standards. 

Everyone had it rough except the Swiss, they always manage to slip through the cracks with their international Get-out-of-jail card. Good for them; they were wise with foresight well ahead of their time. Even Argentina and Chile didn't see that kind of nonsense. Nor did Bolivia, Mexico or Colombia, minus the major drug busts and deaths - causalities of the cartel.

Let's thank our Gregorian friends for 2011 and appreciate all that we have enjoyed, endured, witnessed, celebrated and mourned throughout these 365 days and pay tribute to a wonderfully noisy year. Here's to you 2011, may you be remembered for all - the good, the bad, the ugly and the nasty (Clint Eastwood wasn't available for the sequel so we got Chuck Norris and Rajinikanth both).

2012...buckle up, lot's to live up to.

In the meantime, let's pay tribute to our wonderful friend, 2011, courtesy of  @JibJab , one of my favorite Spark-Notes equivalent, in video!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The world says farewell Air Marshal (R) Nur Khan

Today I learnt that the highly revered and admired Air Marshal (R) Nur Khan passed away on December 15, 2011. Although I did not have a very close, personal relationship with him, my father certainly did.

Nur Khan, Asghar Khan and Sajad Haider (Dad)
His passing saddens me because he was among a handful of men that gave my father guidance and direction as he became the man that he is. The list includes Dr. Fazal Shah (Grandfather), Quaid-e-azam and Air Marshal Rahim Khan (RIP).

Air Marshal Nur Khan was one of the founding fathers of the Pakistan Air Force, one to be reckoned with when it really mattered. He also remained a very successful Managing Director of PIA, when it was still among the world's best airlines.

Few have lived to serve their country like him and in a time like this, we can only hope for more to surface and inspire the millions looking for hope.

Below is the eulogy written by my father, Air Cmdre (R) S. Sajad Haider S.J.

You can learn more about him here:


He was the second Pakistani Chief of the country’s air force but Second to None, just as the legacy of the Father of the Nation had ordained for the air force which AM Nur Khan led. Excellence was never an option for him; it was an instinct and he proved it as he took Pakistan International Airline (PIA) to the galaxy of the best airlines in the world later returning to the PAF in July 1965 to take over from the father of the air force AM Asghar Khan to lead PAF with stunning success into the 1965 war, which he always exhorted as a senseless war perpetrated by unprofessional men at the helm. I knew him from the time he commanded the base at Mauripur (Masroor) and led a fly past of 100 F-86 Fighter aircraft on the occasion of 23rd March in the mid-fifties, but he did it with flair. Nur Khan wanted every single fighter on the PAF strength to take to the air. It was not a just a Herculean task but a near impossible one. But he had the gumption to motivate the men in blue to achieve the impossible and millions in Karachi proudly bore witness to the spectacle of Nur Khan brilliantly leading the charge, just before he left to take command of PIA.

His achievements as the MD (Managing Director) PIA were not limited to the airline alone. His penchant for sports was a history making epic in itself. He elevated the national status of Squash and Hockey from mediocre to world champions. Pakistan emerged in the world of sports as Champions from a Third World to challenge the mighty First World. Beyond catapulting the sports in Pakistan and the hitherto rudimentary PIA to such heights, his individual courage was tested when a Fokker Friendship was hijacked by a bunch of terrorists and landed at Lahore. When all negotiations failed, AM Nur Khan flew to Lahore and decided to take charge of the imbroglio. To everyone’s bewilderment and admiration he entered the small cabin and physically overpowered the assailant; just as the goon fired his gun, wounding the Air Marshal.

The day he took over the PAF in July, 1965 brought an unexpected revelation much to the chagrin of both AM Asghar Khan and Nur Khan, that neither had been taken into confidence by President Ayub Khan or General Musa and that thousands of Mujahideen including Pakistan Army commandos had been launched to annex Kashmir. He shot off to GHQ to confront General Musa - the Army Chief and asked why the PAF had been kept in the dark. Musa procrastinated and told him that the President did not want to escalate the limited operation and the PAF had to stay out. Nur Khan had anxious moments knowing that the ill-conceived action would inevitably conflagrate. What would he say to the nation if the Indian Air Force were to pre-empt and ground the PAF in a relentless air operation? The rest is history. But for his alacrity and strategic perception, the PAF would have been devastated by a numerically preponderant Indian Air Force. Nur Khan ordered the PAF on Red-Alert on 1st Sept. as the Army Operation Gibraltar came to a grinding halt and the Indians began a massive assault against Pakistan. In those ominous moments Nur Khan was deeply concerned about the survival of the Mujahideen Force operating in the Kashmir valley with no hope for supply reinforcements. Against the illogical expectations of the leaders suffering trepidation from an all out Indian invasion, Nur Khan ordered C-130 flights in the valley after consulting with 12 Division command in control of Kashmir misadventure. He boarded the first C-130 mission past Mid-night in inclement weather with a rudimentary radar, in total darkness and headed for the treacherous valley. When Group Captain Zahid Butt overshot the Drop Zone, situated between high peaks on either side he decided to abandon the perilous mission. Nur Khan peering over his shoulder asked him to make another attempt. This time the supplies were dropped on the target. Such was the audacity of a man in command of the air force. The news propelled the morale of the PAF to incredible heights. Its performance in the 1965 war is history written in glorious splendour.

I had the honor to fly with him as an escort fighter during many missions he flew with my squadron based at Peshawar, the home of air force headquarters. He would arrive straight from his residence to our squadron, get in his flying gear, order a coffee and hamburger, just like any young fighter pilot and off we went to the firing range at Jamrud. Everyday he returned with incredible scores which the very best pilots in complete form could hardly achieve. When I would tell him that he was going too low in the attacks and was dangerous, he would reply, “that is how you would need to attack the enemy in war.” But the war was not on, yet he was irrepressible and like a fiery fighter pilot would wait for the “Hit count” and rocket results. One day when I had to abort due to aircraft malfunction, my flight commander escorted him to the range. When he returned, he had already been informed by the range officer about the number hits he had scored on the target. As he stood on the wing of the Sabre Jet he smiled at me and said, “Now you beat that BLOODY score, Haider”. He had scored 100 % hits on the target. He had beaten my score - a record hitherto unbroken by the finest to the best of my knowledge. That was my mentor, our Commander-in-Chief, a man who considered nothing impossible and proved it with his professional excellence, integrity and intrepidness. His is a legacy few air forces in the world could boast to have inherited.

Farewell, my chief, I know you hated it when I wrote in my book that you were a maverick, but you know that I meant you were incomparable and lightening fast at the draw. You liked that. Pakistan’s history would place you at the highest pedestal of military leadership where few have preceded you. May your heroic and noble soul rest in heavenly peace.

Sajad Haider     

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm not talking about my own gas, it's yours I want!

Everyone's talking about the current situation in the country and how our global environment is treating us. Some resort to arms, others to sophisticated language. Either way, it's the big picture folks are looking at. From Memo Gate to Zardari's health to Veena's (unforgivably) hot bod on the cover of the "Enemy at the gate" (not reflecting personal opinion as have too many friends there to ignore the facts). 

Today, I'd like to briefly touch upon another small issue that affects my quality of life; one that, again, everyone suffers from on a day to day basis. This little trinket has become a partner in crime for another buddy of his/hers (no gender bias). They simply alternate their roles, and sometimes overlap in their responsibilities towards the many citizens and residents of our great country with ample supplies of natural resources and plenty of geniuses to help exploit greener, more efficient ones too!

If only!
Yes, you guessed it! I'm talking about Gas, and not the kind we could live off of if self-sufficiency was possible to such an extreme. HAH! More specifically, the shortage of which comes during the winter as the electricity happens to repeat during the summer, when my AC sounds like a 60 year old Jalopy. 

Imagine walking around with a container to harness gas for personal consumption. I know a few folks who could be a friendly neighbor. Alas, i digress again. I am talking about the gas supply that comes into our homes for heating, cooking, and maybe even a few kinky things people might have thought up. Nevertheless, my beef is focused on my own gas supply at home. Since the temperatures have dropped in Islamabad, I have also noticed a proportional drop in the availability of gas to heat my room early in the morning or late in the evening, when it is needed the most. 

Seems there is a propaganda waiting to happen, but no one has zoomed in on it since there are other, pressing matters at hand. Let me be the first to get the ball rolling. 

My in-laws, who live in one of the more exclusive parts of town (or so we thought) have not had a ready gas supply for the last two weeks, In fact, because of the shortage, and the fact that her son and his family were visiting recently from abroad, they had to buy two stoves that are powered by a gas cylinder, along with some extra cylinders. Now, the first thing you will say is "Be thankful you have gas. I live in fala fala part of Pakistan and I don't even have a gas line." Well, to that I say it's not my concern. Selfish you think? I disagree. Why? Because we manage with the resources we have available to us. If I pay a gas bill, I expect a gas supply. Can you imagine living in a world where we were 'OK' paying for services that weren't ever really served? And if they aren't even available - like NETFLIX  in Pakistan - why would you critique the concerns of those who use it but have issues? 

I thought they were building a pipeline from Iran to my house? What happened to that project? Did the contractor take all the money and run away, again?! Man, those guys are such assholes. I mean, you try to be nice and give them a few road projects, but they refuse to rectify themselves. 

Coming back to the point, why is it that the quality of life we all seek is resting in the hands of the big kahunas who rule the roost and lead the cabal? Sorry, had to use those expressions because it seems they are 'POPular' (read it in Bill Nighy's accent) and help establish the writer's sense of propriety over important issues. I don't want popularity and have tried not to ever. Instead, just give me your gas that I pay for and we'll call it a day. Seriously man, it's bloody cold in the morning when I have to take a shower, get ready for my day at work. I want to work and I want to be there on time, but only if I can get the little things I need, the ones I already pay you for, and be on my way. Too much to ask for you say? I disagree...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

For the love of Twitter, what's happening with...

So, during my morning online business reading session, I came across a very interesting article (originally posted at Business Insider) about how Twitter, the company, has an exorbitantly high employee turnover, including execs that brought the "accidental success" to life.

I for one find it (not so) hard to believe. I mean, how else can you explain a tool, product, micro-blogging platform that would not know how it's supposed to work and reach the masses until one day people realize you can stalk celebrities and get your favorite news in 140 characters or less? I mean, come on, how silly can you be not to realize that Twitter is worth it's weight in gold from day 1.

Strangely enough, I didn't quite 'get it' until a couple of years ago when I decided to take the dive. About a month later, 'i got it' and told everyone what I thought it was all about. Since then things have evolved and I've grown to quite like it.

This is what happens to real-life companies - they evolve, learn and reinvent their business model as they learn more and more about themselves. It's the nature of start-ups and entrepreneurs, especially the ones aiming for some type of success, whether product related or personal.

I kept my profile open so my life remains an open book. Love it or leave it, my tweets ARE my own.

Find me on twitter: @JJBaybee 

Excerpts from original

Nicholas Carlson | Dec. 12, 2011, 3:02 PM

From the outside, Twitter seems like it's doing very well. It has 2,400 advertisers and 100 million active users, 50 million of whom send 250 million tweets every day. The company is worth $8 billion on secondary markets.

But on the inside, something is going wrong. Even as the company has added hundreds of new employees this year,  top engineers and executives keep quitting. 

Some of the bigger departures include VP of engineering Mike Abbott, who left after just a year, and VP of Consumer Marketing Pam Kramer, who quit after only three months. There have been maybe a dozen more high profile departures, including much of Twitter communications team. After he left, former Twitter engineer Adrien Gaarf wrote a detailed post explaining what's wrong with the company.

So…why are all these people leaving what appears to be a company that builds a product millions of people use every day, and several industries – including Business Insider's – depend on?

We've asked a former Twitter employee. Does this source have an ax to grind? This source says no. This source asked to remain anonymous in order to be as candid as possible.

This source told us Twitter's turnover problem has two main, related causes: Twitter, as a company full of workers, has cultural flaws and structural flaws.

Cultural flaws:
Our source says Twitter's workplace is a "self-congratulatory, complacent, environment."  

Unlike other maturing startups – like Facebook,  for example,  which are willing to reinvent themselves and their products – Twitter's mentality has been: "This is our product, just perfect it." 

Our source speculates that the root of this product problem may be that Twitter was, essentially, an accidental success, and the people in charge of the product now assume their job is to not screw that accidental success up.

Our source says succeeding as an employee at Twitter is something of a popularity contest. The best anecdote our source gave us to illustrate this problem was a story about how, in October 2010, top Twitter executives Jason Goldman, Ev Williams and Biz Stone hosted a "#Twitterati" party at a Las Vegas club called Blush. It was not a company event, and not everyone from the company was invited. That was fine. 

The problem was that it wasn't just top executives that were. Some of the people that went were assistants and other "random employees" who seemed to be mostly attractive young women. After the event went down, there was so much bad blood at Twitter over the party and who was and was not invited, that it became the main topic of the company's next all-employee meeting. Several disgruntled employees stood up to complain that the party tarnished Twitter's brand. One employee said that their family's well-being depended on the success of Twitter, and that this was an assault on it. 

Another Twitter employee tells us the Vegas ordeal wasn't such a biggie. He says he wasn't invited and felt 

OK about it. "I hate Vegas."

It should be noted that Goldman, Williams, and Stone are all no longer with Twitter. It's possible that many of these cultural issues have been remedied.

Twitter's structural flaws, or at least the ones our source believes the company has, are even more interesting:

Twitter started with mediocre engineering talent. That's common in Silicon Valley. But Twitter compounded the issue by not successfully "promoting" early engineers out of the way. Google and other tech companies retain and "promote" early engineers without actually giving them more responsibility by giving them empty titles and fellowships. Twitter did not do this. It promoted old-timers into positions of power.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Driving Ms. Daisy, Crazy

Dear readers, while on my adventure to rejuvenate my rants, I would like to start off with a topic that is not only close to my heart, but also something I regularly experience, at least twice a day. I'd like you to note that it is a matter of anxiety for me and everyone I know.

On my 18th birthday, the one thing I had looked forward to the most was getting my driving license. My father promised that I would be allowed to take the test once he was satisfied with my driving and road sense. The first day he (almost) took me out for my first spin, I mucked it up because I forgot to release the handbrake. It was a '94 pickup truck and they have one of those handbrakes that you pull towards you from beneath the steering wheel. We never left the driveway because my dad just got out of the car, having only given me one chance to get the car out. Obviously, I had been driving for sometime already, but kept from my father's vast book of knowledge. I figured, even if I get nervous with my dad next to me (only the most intimidating person to know on the road), I'd still manage to at least get the damn car on the road. It's actually sadder that I have a vivid recollection of this moment 14 years later.

Eventually, it all worked out. A few days later, I mastered the art of handbrake release and convinced my dad that I am road-ready. Please keep in mind that he's a retired fighter pilot and doesn't take even the smallest mistakes very lightly. Lesson learnt, registered and administered. Only issue was that I had to keep someone with me at all times for the next ... years. The timeline wasn't predetermined; unlike an open airline ticket that you know has an expiry date. This limited liability statement came with a VERY open clause...

Moving on a few years, I'm in college and junior year somehow managed to stroll along. I managed to get my US driving license, partly thanks to a friend who lent me their car for the test. The lady taking the test (known for her lacking sense of humor) managed to compliment my parallel parking, saying that it's the best job she's seen in her 18 years of test taking. The kind of moment you wish your Dad was there to hear her say it. I passed the first time around with flying colors. I wish every test was like that.

My buddies insisted that I need a car, but not just any car. Mine had to stand out and still manage to fit into the budget extended to me by dad. The funny thing about this (and I digress) is that I was always taught the value of money, but never that I would always only be given enough not to buy the worst option, but also just below the amount needed for something decent. Catch 22. I was spending my time looking at Honda's and Toyota's, but the young college buck in me asked for something more powerful...something that I should be seen driving. 

I ended up with a 2.8 Audi A4 and with no regrets until my first visit to the friendly German-American mechanic, who didn't believe in discounts or shoddy work. Regardless, my solo driving career began and I made a sincere effort to obey traffic laws, learn how to be a polite, considerate and noise-free driver (horn and exhaust alike). 

Somehow, due to severe financial constraints, I had to rid myself of the white stallion. In all, I ended up sinking a lot more with this investment (or complete lack thereof) with bank charges, financial loss during sale and the copious amounts paid to my friendly German-American mechanic. Keep in mind that with all this money, time and effort, I have not been in a single collision, despite a few small fender scratches here and there.

Fast forward another few years and we end up in modern day Islamabad, Pakistan. It's 2011, the year politics has infused our vast youth with energy and vigor never before seen. Prices are higher than ever, there's a complete absence of assurance in our country's future as some fight with the US, some with the militants, some with banks and others with themselves. You would think with all this, we'd be more careful on the road and with our lives and try to use all the power we possess to preserve whatever little bit of humanity we have left.

But alas, as the title suggests, everyone on the road is Ms. Daisy's crazy cousin Sid, who is always running late for a medical emergency at the hospital across town due to a severe memory loss caused by the previous time he had to make the trip and ended up in a near fatal situation with another Sid-like person.

With a nice 'Chuck Norris-like roundhouse' we come to the foundation of my rant; what's up with the way people drive in Pakistan? Especially in the more civilized (questionable reference) cities I have lived in. While Karachi maintains the record for highest number of vehicles on the road, an obvious conclusion since they have the most fertile and sexually active people residing there, Lahore trails behind with a few million less, followed by Islamabad the Green City where I currently reside. Some say education is the foundation of a civilized society, but I've managed to find that even basic academic experience may not be the saving grace of the very rampant virus that is un-monitored driving. Even the traffic police is like "Fuck it". 

With scores of people pouring in from various cities around the country, so do driving habits, each of them unique and correct for their place of origin. For example, in Karachi, I learnt, red lights indicate 'GO', while green represent the opposite. Amazing you say? I say it's just another day in the city by the sea. Lahore is just a notch worse with fast-moving cars, bikes, vans and pedestrians everywhere. I mean, blind-spots aren't even a thing there...just a need for circular mirror's giving you a 270 degree view at all times. Islamabad is just that nice little town I grew up in that everyone around the country learnt about and decided to migrate to. Some 30 years later, it's a conflicted city with every language and corner pocket of Pakistan represented, each with their own terrible driving habits.

I write all this as I return from a quick road-trip during lunch time, where I managed to trail a traffic police officer in his police car as he senselessly steers into my lane from oncoming traffic, swerves back to the slow (left) lane and continues accelerating until he's well over 90 (i was over 80 in a 60 zone), switching lanes with no indication whatsoever. At first I thought he was chasing someone because his lights and siren were not on. Apparently they only put them on when they are driving slowly in the slow lane - dangerous and distracting, but a sheer lack in logic.
If the traffic police isn't watching the way they drive, how the hell are the rest of us supposed to manage? The next time I get pulled over for talking on my phone or not wearing a seat belt or speeding even, I'm going to rip the cop a new one. It really grinds my gears (no pun intended; credit to Peter from Family Guy during his one off appearance on Channel 5 News) when the guys who are supposed to be moderating the crazies on the road are the ones who crazies look to for inspiration!!

I learnt how to drive in Pakistan, took my experience to the US, where I got a license and an accolade, as well as a lot of very insightful traffic habits and rules. I bring them back to Pakistan, along with all the knowledge I went to 'acquire', thinking I am going to make this place better. Instead, my wife is now uncomfortable driving with me because it's unsavory the way I drive. ACK!

In trying to be the solution, I have slowly become part of the problem.Our ability to take the little good we have and turn it into a complete and utter mess is amazing. Driving is just one of those things...

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