Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The fogs of Lahore part II

I looked out of the window this morning and felt I was living in the top turret of a fairytale castle in the clouds.
The entire world outside had disappeared behind a thick veil of white.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And Thou Shalt Drive

A lady was once asked by a traffic warden,
“Why do women park in front of the ‘No Parking’ sign when they know very well what it means?”
To which the grand lady replied,
“kyon ke jaga hi wahan khali hoti hey bhai”
(Because that is usually the only vacant spot)

If you think the above quoted is a joke then you couldn’t be more wrong.
This was an actual answer given by a lady who had come for her driving test at the NOC Police lines Thokar Niaz Baig.
Incidentally that is where I also went to get my new driving license, or to be more precise, for my driving test which would determine if I was capable enough to be issued one.
Even though I passed the test and was issued the much coveted license months ago, I had promised in one of my previous blogs that I would write about my driving test experience. So here it is.
Despite the fact that there was over a two hour wait, which included one hour of scheduled load shedding in stifling heat, my experience was not altogether a bad one (or maybe after an appalling one at NADRA and a harrowing one at the local passport office, a visit to the police lines seemed almost pleasant. At least they were polite, that is more than what I can say for the official and non officials at both previous establishments).
There was however, one little irregularity that did occur when the names were being announced for the test. My name did not appear to be among the first few.
Since I had arrived first thing in the morning (exactly at eight o clock) to avoid long queues, subsequently becoming the second person to submit my test file and have my name registered, therefore, in the test order also, I should have been placed at number two.
Alas it was not so.
After seven names had been called out including the names of two aspiring drivers at Number 2 and Number 3 who had not even bothered to show up. (How they managed to submit their file with out even turning up would have been a real mystery question in any other country, but in Pakistan, not so. One of the beauties of Pakistani culture is that anything is possible around here).
My objection (though I was careful not to mention the absentee ladies) left the warden speechless for a moment. It also provided the cue for another early arrival whose name had also not been called out till now to lodge her complain as well.
Well, to be more accurate, I was the one who lodged the mere complain, the other lady attacked with a vengeance. Oh boy! I would not have liked to be at the receiving end of her whip lashing tongue. Hearing her go on and on I could not but help feel sorry for the poor wardens who were trying their best to pacify the situation.
All during this commotion both our files were dug up from underneath a pile and the Number 8 hastily scribbled across the top of mine. I am presuming something similar was done to mollify the other fire blazing virago. This did not go well with the guy distributing the files whose entire routine had been upset by two interfering women.
He had defiantly lost most of his charm and some of his temper when he muttered,

“Kutch logon ko shikaiteen lagane ki addat hoti hai”
(Some people have a habit of complaining)

Even though he kept glaring resolutely into the stack of files in his hands as he said this, there was no confusion as to whom he was referring. I guess I should have been offended at that statement. But I wasn't. It was just too darned funny to see a grown man pout like that.
As for the test itself; it was a walk in the park. The traffic warden (who gave us a few pointers before the test was about to start) was not joking when he said that they usually took it easy on women. All women drivers were required to do was to start the car, move forward and backward a few times and that was it. The whole test did not take more than a few minutes at the most. The sign identification test was even simpler.
So much for my three days of parallel parking practices.
I have a confession to make. Even though I have been driving for over a decade, I CAN NOT parallel park.
Whenever I do attempt it, the result is that while every other car in the row stands perfectly aligned, mine is jutting out at an angle of 35 degrees from the curb.
A disgraceful thing for someone who has spent so much time in France.
The French are the best parkers in the world. They can park their cars in spaces that are even smaller than the length of their own cars. They wedge themselves in between the parked cars and nudge the one behind and in front to make enough space for their own. They do it with such expertise and precision that none of the cars receive even the slightest of scratch to show for it. The owners of the cars also accommodate fellow parkers by leaving their parking breaks off. This is something that I have not just heard about but have actually seen done by the experts i.e the French themselves and yet I still do not have the confidence to even try to copy them.
That is why I often leave perfectly good parking spaces (more than length of my car) and go park in a wide and vacant spot miles away and then walk back to the place where I am supposed to go. For this reason solely, (though I have never done it myself) I sympathize with the lady who parks in front of No Parking signs).
All that pre test anxiety and subsequent practicing sessions had been initiated on information provided by a cousin of mine telling me about a friend flunking his driving test thrice in a row despite having a decade of driving experience ( like me) to back him up.
Well there was no danger of happening that to anyone the day I went for my test and the main reason for this was that it was Friday and Friday being reserved for ladies, the rule of the day was leniency.
That is not so for any other day of the week.
The driving test instructor admitted that the whole thing is usually over by midday on Fridays whereas on regular days (men’s) the tests go on till late at night.
So if you are about to appear for a driving test yourself, here’s my advice to you.

Chill if you are a woman and beware if you are not.

So all is well that ends well. I passed the test and was told to collect my ready license from the thana near Zillah katchery coming Monday morning.
Oh! And by the way, guess who went in place of the absentee Number 2 and Number 3 during the test.

Yep …. The very vocal Number 8 and Number God Knows What, who had big mouths and a habit of complaining ;-)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The mystery of the missing store boy

I went grocery shopping yesterday.
An appropriate comment to that statement would be “so what”, people go to buy groceries all the time.
Well as it happens my shopping experience yesterday turned out a little different form the rest.
The store I went to provides carrier service from the cash counter to where ever your car is parked. Though mine was very conveniently parked just out side the store entrance only a few feet away from the cash counter I nonetheless allowed one of the store boys to carry my bags for the sole reason that there being quite a few of them and all put together were rather heavy to carry.
This turned out to be a big mistake.
The brief time span, in which my attention had been focused on paying the bill, the store lad carrying my stuff seemed to have disappeared. A thorough search for him ensued but failed to produce either the lad or my shopping.
Where could he possibly have gone? The remaining store staff and I were equally baffled.
As we were having company for dinner that night, the menu for the evening was lasagna, crisp fried chicken with French fries and Garlic bread followed by Ice cream topped with multicolored jelly and mixed fruit. Most of the stuff I had bought comprised of the ingredients for my evening meal which was aimed to provide us with a scrumptious feast but would have been pretty much useless for someone like the boy carrying my wares.
Even if he had taken them home he would not know what to do with more than half the stuff in those bags.
Another motive could be Reselling it perhaps?
The whole shopping cost me close to two thousand rupees, which in my opinions was not enough money to worth loosing your job over, even one as lowly as that of an “odd jobs boy” at the store. But like I said, that is just my opinion, the lad may have a different point of view altogether.
After nearly twenty or so minutes of exasperated waiting, the embarrassed store management agreed to give my money back since several things that I had bought, like French bread etc, were currently irreplaceable because I had picked up the last available pieces from the shelves. Just as I was being handed the due amount there was a triumphant cry from one of the "look outs" posted outside that the errant boy had been finally spotted hurrying back towards the store.
And indeed he was.
He arrived huffing and puffing from several hundred yards away.
Apparently the poor boy had mistaken the shopping to belong to another lady who also happened to be standing next to the counter while I was paying for my stuff and followed her out.
The lady in question after exiting the shop went about her business in the market and for the next twenty minutes the mute idiot carrying my groceries followed her around with out having the common sense to address her even once. Had he done so the confusion would have cleared up instantly.
It was only when the lady finally reached her car and the boy tried to put the shopping bags inside it, did she exclaim that they were not hers. The highly flustered chokra then rushed back at full speed towards the store and arrived with my grocery bags dangling on either side of him only just in the nick of time.
I was pretty annoyed to have been kept waiting for so long but after looking at the exhausted boy my annoyance changed to pity. They whole of my shopping must have weighed 10 to 12 kgs at the very least and imagine having to carry that around for nearly half an hour in a fruit less chase across the market.
So in the end I did make every thing I had on the menu except ice cream which had to be abandoned in favor of kheer brought in by my father (which though delicious, unfortunately does not keep for long even in the refrigerator).
One little mistake nearly changed our evening plan because frustrated by all that waiting, I had, at one point, decided to take up my father’s offer of taking the guests out to dinner instead of cooking for them at home.
I would have done just that too had the boy arrived even a minute later than when he actually did.
Just goes to show how important a well timed arrival can turn out to be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The big 'why' s of my life Part III

Why am I now paying ten times the amount to put just one of my kids through school of what I used to pay for all three of them only a few years ago?

Have I suddenly become rich ???


Has education become exorbitantly expensive over the years?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Don't ask why.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Eid Mubarik

Shawal 1, 1431 Hijri
Eid ul Fitr

It is Eid ul Fitr today and had my grandmother been alive this would have been her first Eid away from my grandfather (so I have heard) in their 66 years of marriage.
But it was destined not to be so.
On the 22nd of Ramadan, my grandmother also passed away, barely three months after the death of my grandfather in June.
The room they used to occupy is suddenly very empty. It used to be full of activity only up till a few months ago, with relatives and friends constantly visiting, attendants coming in for daily bathing, changing and massaging activities.
Now there is nothing, just emptiness.
(Though my aunt still resides in that room but the feeling of emptiness remains. Maybe the emptiness is more psychological than physical).
Their vacant beds indicate that the occupants have found better and more comfortable resting places.
My grandparents passing away in rapid succession of one another is a tremendous loss to us, but at the same time it is also consoling to know that they are once again together and in a much better place.
For now all I can think of saying is,
Eid mubarik to you: Nano and Nana Abu.
May God grant you a high place in heaven? And may this Eid of yours in afterlife be as wonderful as the 66 heavenly Eid ul Fitrs you spent on this earth together.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The case of non matching finger prints

The whole thing started when my driving license expired in September last year. Like any law abiding citizen I decided to have it renewed only to be told that since my license was issued by Sindh Traffic Police, I should return to Sindh (Karachi) to get it renewed again.
Apply for a completely new one from Punjab Police, starting with issuance of the six week learner’s permit. Since the entire family had permanently shifted from Karachi to Lahore some years back, the option of going back to Karachi each time my license expired was too inconvenient to be considered, so I decided to go for the second option which appeared to be the simpler choice.

But in reality it was like taking the lid off Pandora’s Box.

The first hitch came when I was told that I could not be issued a new license since both addresses (temporary and permanent) on my NIC listed a Karachi residence. The eligibility criteria for issuance of even a learner license required that I first get at least one of the address (preferably both) updated to show my residence somewhere in the province of Punjab.
What followed from here on was nothing short of horrific.

First came the trip to NADRA where simply for the sake of updation of address I had go through the entire process of identification that included being finger printed and photographed.
At the end of the process my application was refused submission with the objection that the attestation officer’s NIC also did not list a residence in Punjab. (Any where else in Pakistan was just not good enough: a condition which has since then been declared by other NADRA officials as baseless and misleading, though if it actually is or not, I still do not know)
Nonetheless new papers were submitted next day with new attestation.

Fifteen days later when my updated NIC should have been ready for collection, I was told that it was not, on account of the fact that “my finger prints did not match those preserved in the NADRA data base.”
I was also told that I needed to go back to be finger printed again.
Another trip to the NADRA facility and another fifteen days waiting period later the same message was repeated one more time.
"Finger prints do not match" hence the lady needs to come again for another finger printing session.
By now my father who is not a very patient man even under normal circumstances lost whatever patience he had left, flatly refusing to go back for another useless fingerprinting.

“If these people have decided that the prints don’t match then they will never match no matter how many times she goes back”.
This was his logic and I can’t say that I disagreed with him on that score.
Were these people even aware of the ridiculous nature of their supposed objection????
The only way my finger prints would not match would be if I had taken somebody else’s hands with me on finger printing day.

If the rest of me was the same as before (including my photographed face) how could my fingers be different?

By now more than two months had gone by and I had still not been issued my new updated NIC. What’s more I no longer had my old one with me either. It was collected by NADRA officials when I went to apply for the new one.
With out my NIC I was unable to undertake any transaction or deal that involved mandatory presence that original identification document. Keeping in mind that an NIC is required nowadays for anything from buying a phone SIM to opening a bank account one can just imagine what kind of sticky situation I was in. Ideally the old NIC should have been collected at the time of issuance of the new one. But if that is done then the NADRA people would not be able to manipulate the situation to their advantage.

I could see what game was being played here. For an average citizen a trip to NADRA means a whole day wasted and usually after being called back for some stupid and trivial reason two or three times the exasperated citizens invariably opt for the “easy way out”. A few currency notes exchange hands and all objections miraculously disappear.
I am sure had I also coughed up a bit of cash, the dilemma of my non matching fingers would have been resolved immediately. And I am equally sure that had I paid a little extra those workers at the facility would have gladly matched my prints with even those of Barack Obama (except that Obama would not have left his precious prints in a lowly NADRA office).

Refusing to pay any kind of amount whatsoever, we finally did what we should have done in the very beginning. We located an official sufficiently high in the NADRA hierarchy to be taken seriously and lodged a complaint with him. He promised to look into the matter. He certainly must have done that because only six days later my new NIC was ready to be collected at the designated NADRA outlet, finger prints and every thing else a perfect match with the old data.

As for the driving license which initiated this whole process.
Well, that deserves a blog to itself.
So till next time
Au revoir

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The end of an era

My grandfather passed away last night.

Although we mourn his death, I can not but help think that it would be more befitting to celebrate the life he had led.

It was, after all, a remarkable life in every sense of the word.

Born in 1923 as the second youngest son of a Kashmiri family that had migrated from Kashmir as far back as 1865, he was unique and remarkable in many ways.

He was fortunate enough to have been fathered by a man who emphasized good quality education for all of his ten sons at a time when few valued its importance and even less could afford it.

He would often talk about his childhood days in Teja Kalan (a small district in rural Punjab, now on the Indian side) where he grew up with his siblings during the thirties.

Having opted for Pakistan in 1947 he joined Pakistan Industries as a clerk and retired 35 years later as one of its Deputy Directors. He was the first one in the history of Pakistan Industry to have risen from so low a rank to one this prestigious.

And all that he had to assist him on the way was his wit and intellect.

The fact that he was loved by all is an understatement. He led an extremely active life despite his age. He was an achiever always moving ahead, striving for better.

Unfortunately a bad fall about a year ago left him with a chipped back bone.

Despite his advanced years, and objections from family members, he decided to opt for an operation. The broken fragments embedded in his flesh had practically left him bedridden and dependent on others for even the slightest of movements.

This dependency was unacceptable, even more unbearable than the excruciating pain that he suffered because of his injuries. He had been a fighter all his life; even now he refused to accept what fate had thrown his way.

“I am not afraid of death” he said often and meant it.

He was calm and composed as he said his adieus to his wife and family members before leaving for the operation yesterday morning yet looking back at it now I feel that somewhere deep inside, he knew he was not coming back but refrained from saying so for the sake of others.
He was fully prepared to accept which ever way the dice rolled for him.

Unfortunately it did not roll in his favor.

He died in the evening, never regaining full conciseness after the operation.

He was the last surviving brother of that brood of eleven that once proudly roamed the broad horizons of their little district in India and after he is laid to rest today, not only will he be gone from our lives but with him an unforgettable era will also disappear forever.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A shaking encounter

Winter has given way to Summer. Weather is getting hotter by the day and all creatures which creep and crawl and which had until now been confined to their holes and fissures in the ground, have woken up to resume their summer time activities.
Amongst these creatures there was one (with a somewhat adventurous nature) who decided that it was a pleasant night to slither out from among the cover of the grass and lie smartly coiled up in the middle of the road for a well deserved snooze when along came this clumsy female who had no sense of where she was heading and even less of what she was treading on and stepped right on top of him.
Ouch ………

That female, my worthy friends, was none other than my own unworthy self.
I had been wearing an open chappal which left my toes and most of the rest of my foot uncovered. It was my toe that came in to contact with the tightly coiled body of the snake just as I was about to put my full body weight on it. My first thought was that I had stepped on a rat. Highly repulsed, I instinctively jumped forward. (I am about as little fond of rats as I am of snakes, though admittedly, given the choice I would rather step on a rat than a snake any day). It took me about half a second to realize that the neatly coiled body belonged to no rat. I shouted a warning to my mother and daughter who were following close behind.
At the sound of my high pitched voice the snake indignantly uncoiled itself and slithered back into the grassy bushes along the side of the road.
Looking at the whole episode from the snake’s point of view once again I must say that I can not help but sympathize with the poor creature. How annoying to be stepped on , yelled and rudely pointed at when all you ever wanted to do was sleep, at least that is what I am guessing he was doing, judging from the way in which it allowed me to step on it and then the lazy unhurried manner in which it uncoiled it self later on.
I am able to see the comical aspect of the whole incident now but I have no qualms in admitting that I was pretty shaken when it happened. I mean who wouldn’t be, if they looked down and saw a meter long, two inch thick snake right under their foot.
I ask my self the question what would I have done had that snake decided to strike? It had every reason to do so. The answer to that question is that there is absolutely nothing that I could possibly have done to avoid it.
The fact that it didn’t strike had nothing to do with my nerves, my courage or my quick thinking life saving action, none of which came into play at that moment (And I am not altogether too sure if I even have an adequate amount of those qualities). It was simply pre decided that I would be allowed to pass unharmed.
I am a strong believer that our destiny is what we make it but at the same time I strongly believe there are certain things that are beyond our control.
Two conflicting views and yet I believe in both of them.
Last night was just another reminder that I have to be grateful to God for tilting the balance in my favor in a situation that I had no power to control.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nature's wonderful orchestra

Has anyone ever heard the wind whistle, like it does in those old classic English novels?
I certainly hadn’t, that is not until I moved into my new house. Ever since then windy nights are anything but quiet. Around here strong wind just does not blow, it howls, it moans and yes it WHISTLES too. It is a peculiar kind of whistle, long and piercing, the kind that accompanies all steam engines pulling into and out off picturesque little railway stations in old Indian movies).
And as if the whistling isn’t enough to disturb light sleepers (which thankfully I am not) the window panes also start to shake and rattle. If we had wooden floor boards I am sure they too would creak adding their bit of contribution to the already noisy surroundings. But since we do not have them, we are spared that particular acoustic.
I think I have figured out why this happens. In almost all English classics the noisy houses are always situated on lonely moors in the middle of nowhere or someplace equally isolated. Though I can not say that we live in the middle of nowhere nor can our surroundings be termed as wilderness, our house is however, surrounded by empty spaces on all sides for a considerable distance. This I believe allows the wind to pass unhindered without any kind of obstruction to break its force.
So all we need is a bit of gale and the magnificent performance of nature’s orchestra keeps us entertained all night long.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some More Big 'Why's of My Life

A funny thing happens when ever I am trying to boil eggs. If I aim to have a half boiled one and leave it on heat for 30 extra seconds, it develops a solid yellow lump in the center and when I want a hard boiled one, which I leave boiling for ages, it still ends up runny and liquid when I crack open the shell.
I also have an egg boiler that gives ready to serve eggs in record time but ever since our last relocation I have been unable to locate the accompanying graduated cylinder that measured the exact amount of water to be added to it. The water amount differed depending upon number of eggs to be boiled and the state of the end product i.e. hard boiled or soft boiled. It goes with out saying that the water measurement had to be precise to ensure accurate results. But with the measuring cylinder missing, my fancy egg boiler is pretty much useless.
The most obvious question to ask at this point would be, why not time the boiling process using a three minute timer or even a regular watch.
The answer to that one is that I do time it and it makes no difference whatsoever to the confusing state of affairs.
Am I the only one who has noticed that eggs of different sizes have different cooking times and since the eggs brought home range anywhere between large over sized ones to almost quail sized minuscule ones the standard amount of time it takes to cook one type is absolutely of no use as far as the other variety is concerned. What is more, the number of eggs being cooked together also effect the overall cooking time.
I also have a shrewd suspicion that egg boiling time in winter is different from that in summers but since I never confirmed it, I will let this one go.
If these observations of mine are not correct then there is only one explanation left for this bizarre phenomenon.
At the risk of sounding paranoid I would state the eggs are in a league against me and deliberately confuse their boiling time just to get on my nerves.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Of Birthday Parties and Weddings

There is an entirely useless entry on every invitation card that is ever sent out. That entry lists the time when that particular function is going to commence. I call it useless because no body (at least no body in Pakistan) pays the least bit attention to it and arrives at what ever time it pleases them to arrive, unless they happen to be me and my “we have vowed never to be late” family members. Result is, we usually end up at every party way before anyone else has even started dressing up for it at home. Either people need to stop printing time on invitation cards OR I seriously need to learn to ignore it.
I recently attended a birthday where half way through the party the waitress discreetly whispered into my ear to ask me when I wanted the cake brought out.
Only then did I realize that my early arrival (even earlier than the hosts) had led the hotel staff to believe I was the one throwing the party.
(Hmmmm…..That accounted for my baby getting VIP treatment in all the kids’ games and the magic show act.)
Ah well! no harm done. My daughter enjoyed herself (why wouldn’t she? She was treated as the guest of honor for a considerable amount of time) and the confusion cleared up well in time for the actual birthday girl to cut the birthday cake and take home all the lovely presents so I guess she ended up happy enough as well. As for me, I am just glad the whole thing was sorted out before they presented the bill. Amused as I was at the misunderstanding, being expected to foot the bill for someone else party was not something I would have found at all humorous.
Another incident that I would like to mention here happened at a wedding and no it is not regarding late arrivals which are something of a norm at weddings (People seem to have started believing in the notion that arriving on time at a wedding is one of the seven deadly sins and must be avoided at all costs).
As it happened that at this particular wedding we were busy being thoroughly bored as anyone would be at a wedding of casual acquaintances where you are unfamiliar with the majority of guests…. Correction…. where you are unfamiliar with every single guest with the exception of the host who has invited you.
So as we all sat around a big circular table, I suddenly saw the bored look on my son’s face change to one of horror as he stared at something behind my shoulder.
"Mama that woman behind you just spat on the carpet". He whispered
"What ? ? ? ..... No way" …
"He is right and she has done it twice before."
The confirmation came from my daughter who had an even better view and seemed to have been maintaining a count ever since she first witnessed the unhygienic display.
I angled my chair so I too could have a view of the spitting lady behind me.
And sure enough, the lady who had spat thrice before scored again.
She did it with such skilled expertise that had I not been actually waiting for it I would surely have missed it.
No customary clearing of the throat. No gather of the sputum in the mouth before expulsion. Just plain thooooo.
And it fell right there on the carpet beside her feet where it remained in the form a miniature foamy puddle for a few seconds before being absorbed into the fabric of the carpet
There were young urchins belonging to other wedding guests running and tripping all over the place. What if one fell on top of that
Urgh ….yuk

"PLEASE……DO NOT. DO. THAT…..AGAIN." I said glaring at her.

She was taken by surprise by my reprimand.
Then she glared back. As if I was the one spitting and she was the one reprimanding.
She was obviously quite infuriated by my inability to mind my own business
"What happened? Was she spitting?"
My mother interrupted us right in the middle of that blood curdling glaring match.
Apparently she too had seen the spitting lady in action but had dismissed it as a figment of her imagination. Surely No body behaved like that in public but alas some people do and my mom was not about to let it go with a minor tsk tsk and shake of the head.
What followed was a lengthy lecture whose key points focused on; abominable behavior and learning to control one's disgusting habits in public places.
That sermon certainly took care of the lady’s glower and replaced it with much deserved and long overdue embarrassment.
Ha…Her basilisk stare was no match for my mother.
I did not pity the women. If she did have an uncontrollably repulsive habit, the very least she could do was make it less filthy.
I was suddenly reminded of the gharara clad grand dames of yesteryears who would not venture out anywhere without a pandan in one hand and an ugaldan or spittoon in the other. Addicted as they were to spitting frequently, I am positive even they would not have made even a fraction of a mess this one had made. Too bad they are no longer in fashion, both the spittoons and the old ghrarah clad females. They could have given this woman some pointers on etiquettes.
The whole point is that this particular woman got caught doing something she should not have been doing. There are lots of people out there who do revolting things and keep on doing them because no body tells them to stop.
So the next time you see someone like that, don’t just turn away disgusted.
Let them know of your disgust.
Oh and in case your wondering what happened to the spitting lady. Well, last that I saw of her, she was making her way between the throngs of wedding guests to the other end of the shamiana (furthest from our table) where I am sure she continued to spit away to her heart’s desire.