Sunday, November 1, 2009

Two of my Kids have gone to school today after a gap of two weeks .
May God protect them and all other children.
And may God protect our country.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What has happened to the world we live in?

What has happened to the world around us?
There used to be a time when school related worries included unprepared tests, incomplete homework, upcoming sports trials, lost text books and occasional tiff with friends.
Since when did security issues and bomb explosions come into the picture?
But they are in the picture now.
On Monday morning all kids leaving for school arrived back home few minutes later as schools in Cantt and Defense area of Lahore were closed on government directive. All of them have been asked to beef up security. Since then, boundary walls are higher, security cameras scan all entrances and no one is allowed in or out of the campuses with out proper identification and search. If one happens to pass a school these days it resembles a government controlled, high security restricted area rather than an institution of learning. Keeping in view the fact that a fake bomb was planted in one of these schools last year; the steps undertaken are not unreasonable at all. The bomb mercifully turned out to be fake but the panic it created was real enough.
But that was last year.
What ever decency that prevailed in the minds of the terrorist up till last year has expired by now. Yesterday a bomb exploded in a university in Islamabad killing six and injuring several students.
I can not even begin to imagine the anguish of the parents whose children had left in the morning only never to return home again.
The price of education was never so high.
What kind of a crazy world do we live in where even schools and innocent children are not safe from acts of hatred and violence?
I am reminded of a phrase that I heard in Warner Brothers’ “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” that I was watching last week
“These are mad times we live in”
And I agree as Dumbledore had agreed by saying.
“Indeed they are.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A trip down memory lane

Right across the entrance of the underground market on “the mall” there is a road that descends diagonaly downward. It is difficult to miss, especially for those with a strong olfactory sense as most of the poultry and meat shops are located on its steep incline. It is called Memory Lane. Actually it is only the road that leads to what is known as the lower mall of Murree, but I call it memory lane because lots of my childhood memories are associated with it.
For those who are not familiar with Murree’s lower mall region, it is where the real Murree still exists: not the commercially developed, thronging with tourists’ part of Murree but the part where the local population dwells. Unlike the upper mall or the mall road as it is more commonly called, this part consists of an endless crisscross of narrow, dark, unhygienic passages which are filthy yet at the same time absolutely fantastic.
For all those who have the stomach for it I would recommend a trip down this lane. (But be prepared for cramps on the way back. Remember what goes down has to come back up again and on foot. There are no fancy chairlifts around here). The way is simple; keep going down till you hit thana Murree or the Murree police station. Here the road takes a 180 degree turn and enters immediately into a bazzar which is frequented by the local population, unlike the mall which is favored by the tourists and visitors. Take any lane turning right from this bazzar road and loose yourself in a network of alleys that constitute what I consider as the actual Murree.
How do I know all this?
Simple; as a child I spent countless summers in a rented house situated amongst the many depilated houses that exist here.
The houses here were small and badly in need of repair but they fascinated me anyway. The house that you see in the picture was my favorite because it could only be entered by crossing the bridge in front. The lower and upper portions were two separate residences. Weather they were connected to each other from the inside or not, I never got to find out.
My grandparents’ house was much more straightforward and (from a child’s point of view) not as exciting as the house with the bridge entrance, but it was, nonetheless, clean and spacious, which is more than what I can say for most accommodations in that area.
The rent was paid on annual basis so the house was available to us throughout the year but it was in summers that cousins from all over the country collected there during school vacations. It is now hard to believe how we spent so many days over there without Television, Computer or any of the electronic distractions, with out which survival today seems impossible. (Actually TV was there even then but since those were the pre cable days PTV programs alone were not enough to hold the attention of a group of energetic youngsters)
But there were other pleasures that kids today don’t have time to enjoy. I can still vividly recall the anticipated joy of a 7 year old girl who used to leave the window open for clouds to come in as they slowly descended to cover the beautiful hills of Murree, and then her sheer delight as they finally arrived to fill the entire room with their white wet cloudy mist.

My grandparents’ no longer rent that house. They are now too old to plan trips to Murree or anywhere else. Much has changed in Murree since my childhood days. Murree is no longer the summer retreat of the colonial era. It’s proximity to Islamabad and easy accessibility has made it a favorite picnic and vacation spot all year round. I have nothing against people visiting Murree during any season. It boosts local economy and supports the local population. What does pain me however, is the thoughtless construction of shopping plazas all over the place that have not only destroyed the magnificent view of Murree hills from the mall but have also given the once wide and beautiful road a congested and claustrophobic feeling.
In spite of all the transformation it has gone through, good and bad included, the mall is an essential part of Murree. It is what gives this place character and life. Without “the mall” Murree would be just another hill station, very picturesque but at the same time dull and extremely boring

Murree has slowly evolved as a shopper’s paradise but even if one is not much of a shopper, there are other places of interest also, like the Iqbal Municipal Library which used to provide me with endless supply of story books during the long summer days. Admittedly the collection of books in the library is sparse and attendance is even lower. Nestled conveniently above shops full of customers, right in the center of mall, most people are not even aware of its existence.
There also used to be a cinema near GPO for people who enjoyed that kind of entertainment, but it is not there anymore. It was taken down some years ago to make way for yet another plaza.
Still, all is not bad. There still exist some structures that have remained intact and more or less unchanged over the years. One of them is the church of Murree which has been there since the colonial period. I hope it remains the way it is. Any attempts to change or modernize it would destroy the majestic beauty of its structure
Despite all the changes, some that I like some that I don’t, Murree is still my favorite get away. And it is not just because of the fond memories of my early years associated with that place, it is because regardless of all the constructions and obstructions, the hills of Murree are still beautiful, the pines still stand tall and proud on the slopes, the air is still crisp and fresh and life still moves at a leisurely pace around here.
What more could one ask for?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yet another scratch

A couple of days ago we had some guests who parked their car inside our driveway. It so happened that I needed to get mine out while they were still inside the house and since the drive way had become somewhat congested with two of our cars plus an extra one that belonged to the visitors, I had some problem backing out of the place. Result was that I grazed the side of the car rather badly against the gate of the driveway, leaving a big ugly scar and green paint from the gate all over the front left corner of the car.

This was by no means the only time I had done such a thing
A few days ago I drove the car against a curb and put a scratch on it. In all fairness I don’t think it can be accurately referred to as just a “scratch”. It was actually the grandfather of all scratches, starting all the way from the back door and extending till the middle of the front.
Technically, road side curbs are supposed to be lower than the car’s body so the worse that could happen even if some one takes a tight turn, as I did, is that the curb receives black tire marks to speak of the encounter, and not the other way around, with the curb leaving evidence of its cemented presence on the car. So in short whose fault was it? The curb’s of course or maybe of the one who had build such a ridiculously high pavement. But definitely not mine. Unfortunately my father did not see in that way.
My father was not pleased on either occasion. And I don’t blame him
It is his car I am wrecking.
With a most disapproving scowl on his face, he proceeded to inspect all other indentations and scratches I had put on his car since I had started using it, while I very sensibly disappeared from the spot before he could finish the count.
This reminded me of a similar situation some years back when my late husband, addressing our then two year old boy had once ruefully remarked:
“You know son, every single mark on our car has been put there by your mother”.
What was most infuriating about this statement was that it was true.
Generally, my husband reacted pretty reasonably to the news of each new indentation caused by me.
As long as it was only inanimate objects like curbs and parked cars that I was hitting and not some walking breathing human being (which mercifully I have managed to avoid hitting to date) he would let me off with an occasional exasperated dialogue regarding my driving capabilities.
Over the years I feel that I have grown better with practice.
• Now I am causing damage in even more innovative ways.
• From an older green model I have moved on to a more expensive newer silver model, and
• What is more, I am damaging something that does not even belong to me.
So what does this all prove?
It Proves that I have become a professional

I do however, feel reassured in the knowledge that I am not the only female in the country that drives this way. I recall another occasion some years back when a car in front of us indicated a coming left turn and turned sharply to the right instead. At this my annoyed cousin at the driving seat remarked.
“Bet there is a woman at the wheel”.
“How biased and stereotypical,” was my reaction from the back seat
“You think so’ he said, “then let’s go make sure”
He said this as he pressed the accelerator to over take the vehicle up ahead.
Needless to say that to my extreme embarrassment, he turned out to be right
There was indeed a LADY at the wheel blissfully oblivious to what blunder she had just committed.
The bottom line is that I may not be a very good driver but I am, after all, only a woman.
So can anyone blame me for driving like one?

Friday, August 14, 2009


Monday, July 27, 2009

Drowning is not allowed (Part II)

My brief three days stint as substitute life guard is finally over. And mercifully the only thing I had to rescue was a nose clip whose owner was less than willing to descend to the depths of the pool to retrieve it.
After the successful recovery of the nose clip my confidence is high and I am quite prepared to do more rescuing, be it of nose clips, earplugs or even swimming caps lying at the bottom. Infect I now feel confident enough to attempt to bring up to the surface something even as large and heavy as …................................Swimming goggles

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Drowning is not allowed

The life guard and coach at the swimming pool that I go to is going away for a few days, so yesterday, as a favor, I was asked to cover for her.
Since I know that I am an acceptable enough swimmer, and since it is only for a couple of days, I accepted to be the substitute.
Now that I have accepted, an irksome thought keeps recurring to me and that is that although my swimming capabilities are adequate, my life saving capability is hitherto untested and I am reverently praying that it remains untested for the next two days also.
I was just contemplating in my mind what would happen if somebody did go underwater. Since most of the ladies frequenting the pool are 80 plus kg begmats, the prospect of rescuing one, if the need arises, is anything but pleasant. I would probably pull her out and then I would wring her neck afterwards for daring to drown on my day. I have a good mind to post a note at the pool entrance.
All drownings to be postponed till regular guard returns
Or else……

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The above picture is from an old calendar page that has been in my cupboard for the last six years.
The picture shows thick mud houses located somewhere in one of the deserts of Pakistan. Even in its two dimensional form, the cruel heat of a Pakistani summer is quite evident.

I have been told that the mud houses shown in the picture are quite effective in protecting against the scorching heat of the sun.
It is a fine picture, no doubt, quite appropriate for the month it represents

However that is not why I hold on to it.
I hold on to it because there is a date on this page that divides my life into two distinct parts.
A “life before” portion and a “life afterwards” one.
The date that divides it is June 11 2003.

It is the date Naveed passed away.

It is said that of all the misfortunes that one could encounter in a life time, the worst and the last one happens to be death itself.
But I tend to disagree.
I think loosing someone you love surpasses that.
How can death itself be bad?
You can only categorize something as good or bad if you think about how it has affected you. Though admittedly, death does have a far more drastic effect than any other calamity that could befall one during life, but then again, one is hardly able to compare it with anything or think about it in any way afterwards since all thought process stops with death; at least I think it does, though I can’t be sure. I have never been dead you see.

We all have our different ways of looking at death, of trying to understand something we have not been given the power to understand. Trying to figure out what it means.

And we all come up with different meanings. We all form our own beliefs about a phenomenon which is beyond our comprehension. And it is these beliefs of ours that then act like little mud huts insulating and protecting us from the intensity of tragedy that threatens to destroy our sanity.

It was about a year after Naveed’s death that I came across something which I have taken to believe is the meaning of death.

I came across it quite accidentally in news paper along side the picture of the absurdly handsome young man. Laughing and full of life when the picture was taken, deceased and gone forever by the time it was published. Infect the picture was published because he was dead. It was part of the obituary of a youth who had died before reaching his 23rd birthday.

I copied the words from his obituary (added there by grieving parents as a tribute to the memory of their lost son) and posted them to all my acquaintances on Naveed’s first Barsi. At that time I did not know that those words were actually a poem by Henry Van Dyke.
Though six years have passed since I first read them, the significance and poignancy of the words still remains strong.

So here they are one more time.

A Parable of Immortality
By Henry Van Dyke

I am standing by the sea shore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a peck of white cloud just where the sun and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says:
‘There she goes!’
Gone where?
Gone from my sight –that is all

She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the places of destination.

Her diminished size is in me not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says:
‘There she goes!’
There are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
Here she comes‘!’

And that is death
It has to be
Because death in any other form is un-survivable

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Loosing Track of Time

Now that the morning ritual of getting kids ready for school is over, I have completely lost track of the days.

For the past one year, Tuesday and Thursday were sports kit days at school. Monday and Wednesday, regular uniform days, Friday was half day and Saturday and Sunday were the days I could enjoy the luxury of extending my hand toward the bedside table to shut off the six o clock morning alarm and resuming my much deserved beauty sleep. Now with the commencement of summer holidays all those indicators of “which day of the week it is” are suddenly gone, leaving my biological clock in complete disarray.

Up till yesterday I was still on Sunday while the world around me had moved on to Tuesday.

My father says prisoner kept in isolation under go similar disorientation. They scratch marks on the wall to keep record of days gone by and even that is only possible if their cells allow any glimpse of the rising and setting sun.
(Only an ex-military guy like my father could have come up with an example like that.)

So what does that signify; that my mental alertness is even lower than those poor unfortunate souls in solitary confinement?

Unlike those prisoners, I not only have full view of rising and setting sun, (also the midday sun, if I care to look at it, which I don’t. It is hot enough as it is without staring into that burning orb of fire overhead) I also have clocks and calendars fixed on walls in more than one room of the house.

I guess its time to wind up the old timepieces and start referring to them for accurate indication of time and date if I want to remain in the same time zone as the rest of my surroundings for the next three months.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What does the future have in store for us?

Somebody asked me recently if I believed in astrology and palmistry. I suppose the intention was to know if I believed that our future (or parts of it) could be predicted.

Here is what I said to him.

"I am a Capricorn by the way and I do believe in stars. But only the good parts about them. Like I believe I have all the positive qualities of Capricorns but completely ignore the negative ones. I have found it to be a very useful habit. ;-)
As for palmistry, yes I have come across some good palmist during student life even a clairvoyant, so I know that God has given us hints of what is in store for us but I prefer to leave the knowledge of the unknown to Him. Why would I want to know about my future? That would take all the away all the fun and anticipation from life. Remember it is the element of surprise that keeps us going. Can you image what would happen to the human race if they came to know the entire world was about to come to an end the very next day. I think keeping the future unkown to us is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. It gives us hope and keeps us praying.
There is another thing I have noticed over the years and that is that the lines on our hands keep changing. Maybe not the major ones, but the minor ones defiantly do. And that is because of the choices that we make in our lives.
I prefer to be believed that it is up to us to decide what we are to do with our lives. I believe God knows what choice we are going to make but does not interfere.
Were it not for our own choice then we could not be held accountable for our actions on the Day of Judgment.
I have read somewhere that the time of birth and the time of death of each individual is pre decided. What happens in between is up to us.
And yes sometimes we are hit by catastrophes and disasters that we did not expect nor had the power to avoide in any way. That is Taqdeer or Qismat. How we react to them is not.
Any way that is what I prefer to believe about life.
You don’t have to agree with it if you don’t want to. Lots of people wouldn’t.
So keep making the right choices and be happy.
And remember being happy is more important than being successful.
May God bless you."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Recovery of a Stolen Mobile Phone

I have not been very lucky with my cell phones. Admittedly my first Siemens one lasted years. It was a typical die hard one that was much abused by my youngest daughter. It survived being thrown in the air by a toddler several times a day from where it would crash land on the floor, split into three separate parts (the front ,the back and the battery pack) which would fly off in three different directions. But press the three of them back together and it would start working again, that is until the day I placed it on the breakfast table beside my plate and accidentally spilled a full glass of water on it.
That was the end of that faithful companion.

The next one was a Motorola razor (which looked better than it performed). I did not even need to place it on the breakfast table. My youngest who was about three at the time took it to the bathroom , rubbed a generous amount of soap on it, rinsed it under the tap then brought it back to me all wet and dripping. What ever functionality was left in it was taken care of by the Motorola repair people who completely killed it while trying to fix it.

Third was a basic Nokia one. No frills, no special features, just a plain simple mobile phone. It was useful, economical and reliable just like a cell phone should be. Alas, I left it in the back seat of my car one day and when I came back the back window was smashed and the mobile was gone. Ironically that broken window cost us more to replace than what that stolen mobile would probably have fetched in the market.

The latest that happened in a series of unfortunate events involving my cell phones is that my newest one also disappeared.
It was a Sony Ericsson Z610i.
Not only was it expensive but I had also grown considerably attached to it.

Well now that it was gone there was nothing that I could do about it except lament.

But was it really gone?

The day following the theft, as I was coming down for breakfast early in the morning I thought I heard the six o clock morning alarm sound on my cell phone. Not believing what I had heard, I called other family members to the spot. (The mobile had been promptly turned off once it had been picked but the morning alarm had not been deactivated)

What followed was hilarious. Every body standing completely motion less waiting for the alarm to ring and every time it did a pandemonium would erupt as every one tried to figure out where the sound was coming from. We finally tracked it down to a vent in the garage roof where it was neatly wrapped up in plastic bag all ready to be collected at a later, more convenient time.

The hiding place delivered a lot more than just the missing mobile. We did have some workmen in the house repairing stuff on the day the mobile was stolen but since only a few pew people knew that vent in the roof was removable plus the fact that it disappeared from inside the house and was discovered within its premises, narrows down the list of suspects considerably. Infect I am pretty sure I know who the culprit is. But since we did not catch the thief red handed I prefer to keep my mouth shut and my eyes wide open in future.

For now I am just happy that I have got my cell phone back.
I love you Z610i and I love the sound of your alarm ;-)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nature’s Wonderful Spectacle

Yesterday it rained while the sun was shinning.
It looked fantastic.
Just plain fantastic.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sure music heals but sometimes hurts too

Now we all know about protest group and the things they do to get attention. Don’t get me wrong, I have all the respect for them (well for some of them any way) but I heard of the doings of one that induced laughter more than admiration.
It so happened that while vacationing in England last summer we decided to take a guided tour to see the changing of the guard’s ceremony.
The royal guards traditionally start their daily parade from St James palace and end it at Buckingham palace.
As we waited for the guards to come out, our tour guide proceeded to tell us a about a protest group demonstration that had taken place in front of St. James palace a while ago (unfortunately I neither recall the name of the group nor what they were protesting about). One of the members of the group decided he would be better heard (or seen) if he could lodge his protest from inside St. James palace. As the band that precedes the guards was playing in front of the palace, this guy made a dash to enter the building. He somehow got past the mounted security officials (as well as the unmounted ones) and started dodging between the band players to get inside the building. Now we all know that the guards along with band members are an extremely disciplined lot.
No matter what, these guys don’t leave their positions what ever the temptation may be.
Apparently that protesting guy thought so too.
Poor guy thought he had made it to the palace as he ran zig zag between the band members playing on their respective instruments. Alas, just as he passed the guy with the cymbals, the musician suddenly widened his arc and hit the guy “bang” on his head with the cymbal.

That was the end of the protestor’s efforts as he fell to the ground unconscious.
Whereas the band and the guards, true to their creed, undaunted and unmoved by what had taken place, delicately stepped over him and continued with their parade to Buckingham palace.
The police came and arrested the protestor afterwards.
So moral of the story according to our tour guide was:

Stay away from the guy with the cymbals.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The fogs of Lahore

I vowed to myself that I would not regret my decision to move from Karachi to Lahore.
I never did.

But that did not mean that I wouldn’t miss Karachi. Karachi after all is a bustling cosmopolitan city. Compared to it, Lahore has a somewhat sedentary attitude. It is true that Karachi has a lot to offer, a lot more than Lahore.

But then Lahore is not without its surprises.

Ok so may be Lahore has not got awesome shopping malls ( yet ) like Karachi but there is the Shahi Qila , Shalamar gardens and several hundred years of history.
Since we moved here two years ago there have been several surprise offerings from Lahore in addition to fascinating historic locations.

One of these surprises is the fog of Lahore. Being a Karachite for more than 15 years, fog was something I had never seen before in my life. And we (the family and myself) just didn’t get to see it, we almost got lost in it, not once but twice.
Thankfully we managed to make it home safely both times but I will never forget the experience.

Since then I have seen all kinds of fogs.

Mist that stays close to the ground and slowly creeps forward (like it does in one of those C grade horror movies’ cemetery scenes. The only thing missing were the ghouls that walk on top of it).
Then there is the haze that completely envelops every thing, reducing visibility to zero. It is the zero visibility that is most inconvenient; you can not see anything beyond two feet.

Amazing, that is how I would describe it, not at all frightening, eerie perhaps but never scary.
Now the fog season is gone.

Summer is on its way but I have some photos to remind me what it was like.
And how it will be again next year.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009