Tag Archives: Shaista Hussain

Alice in Blogger-Land

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My first interaction with the fascinating world of blogging was through my friend and ex-colleague Raza Ahmad who had initiated his blog on wordpress and I used to get SO amazed at how he ever finds the time to work fulltime, manage his very active social life in addition to ‘writing articles’, my first take on his very regular blogging.  Little did I know that my orientation was to grow more with time and that the world of blogging and those of the bloggers is fascinating, addictive and a whole lot more! This post is just to give you an idea of what it is out there, from someone who has just stepped in this wonderland only recently.

So what is a blog in the first place? It’s a contraction of the term ‘weblog’ and is a type of ‘website’ that is either maintained by an individual, a group of like-minded people or even organizations.  Many blogs are ‘theme-specific’ and provide commentary and articles on related topics while others can just be online ‘diaries’ of individuals.  A typical blog would have narrative, images and might even have links to other related sites.  What makes a blog more interesting is the nature of interaction with its reader: you can leave a ‘comment’ to share with the author what you feel about their post. Some blogs provide help and advice to those in similar circumstances and serve as discussion boards for key topics such as parenting. According to an Economist article, quoting Mr. Bhatia who helped start hotmail, ‘Just as everybody has an e-mail account today, everybody will have a blog in five years’.  Need I say more…

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes.  The collective community of all blogs is known as the blogosphere! Yes, it has a life of its own indeed, with its own set of vocabulary, search engines and the networks that connect the proud citizens of the Blogger-Land. Blogging is also termed as the easiest, fastest and the cheapest ‘publishing’ tool ever. There are personal blogs that are maintained by individuals, and are perhaps the most common kind.  Then there are corporate blogs that are likely run by businesses, and then there are blogs by genre or types:  travel, fashion, musical and ofcourse the rather widely known photoblogs.  And then, lo and behold, there is even something called a moblog, a blog that is maintained via your mobile phone!!!! I even read a term ‘blooks’, books from blogs, and cheekily enough, there is a Blooker Prize for the popular books!!!

The west has experienced the strength of blogs in their political and public lives and there have been numerous studies and research to analyze how this medium is increasingly becoming popular with the masses.  International media such as the CNN uses stories from readers/users who can upload their stories on the IReport link.

Blogging in Pakistan has seen an upward surge in popularity with the educated elite, with mushroom growth of many blogs in the last couple of years.  Sites such as the wordpress have made it easier for upcoming bloggers to have their personal space only a click away.  The scribe is but a prime example of the same! Of late, DAWN group of newspapers in Pakistan has also initiated its own blog space and a recent article on a subject as popular and controversial as the blackwater can attract as many as 77 comments! Alternate media is definitely here to stay!  

Some skeptics might argue exercising caution in maintaining your own blog, as prospective employers might at some stage check your cyber content and may not accept your candidature as ‘appropriate’ based on your opinions cited freely and publicly earlier on.   Bloggers of the world, beware! Your blog is now officially the window to your soul! Others might even question how much of cyber footprint are we willing to leave behind anyways, as the cyber social networks experience an exponential growth and as users increasingly become wary of over populated social networks. 

There is increasing skepticism over the role of mainstream media and how our national media is increasingly resigning to promoting catfights among politicians and fuelling fights and grudges by highlighting pedantic issues with a potential to create disharmony among provinces (recent case of disagreement over citing of Eid moon is a case in point).  So while we ponder over the importance of responsible journalism, perhaps it is also prudent to start thinking about the importance of responsible blogging as well. News, especially in a medium which is one’s ‘personal space’ and therefore can encompass biased opinions, false or inaccurate information, can also spread like wildfire.  The domino effect of links and cross-links can be just as misleading on blogosphere as anywhere else. Granted that your blog is your personal space, but does that give an individual the right to air their opinion on any subject? In this age of information, and perhaps information overload, how does one go about ‘filtering’ the ‘right’ information?  What remains ‘right’ in such an information-clutter anyways?

In the current crisis it is all the more important to share the image of an enlightened Pakistan, while all the others hear about are Taliban, widespread corruption, disasters and the ongoing conflict in the country.  Our blogs must reflect our sense of responsibility towards building a better image for the country in these stressful times, highlight the earnest efforts of the few among us who still upload the sense of patriotism closer to their hearts. As Raza Rumi points out, ‘Fighting intolerance and forces of retrogression is of prime importance in these troubled times and nobody can do it for us. We will have to undertake this Jihad – albeit of another variety – ourselves!’. 

There are two blogs that I would refer to my readers, who are doing their bit towards a more aware Pakistan:  Dr Awab Alvi’s Teeth Maestro and Faisal Kapadia’s Deadpanthoughts.  They are prominent among Pakistani bloggers for their genuine writing style and candid disposition. The duo has recently launched a podcast, a web-based media production so to speak, with a tongue-in-cheek name, ‘The Laidback Show’.  I suggest you watch it on this link, as it opens new horizons to the alternate media in Pakistan.  A candid, casual, open discussion focusing on the online community in Pakistan, its informal style making it most watchable….Not a single dull moment indeed! Although they can definitely improve on the sound quality and perhaps even on the duration of the episode itself.  From what I can tell from the site they have received raving reviews already and there is great excitement on the second show, which is hopefully uploaded tonight! The Laidback Show only reinforces the belief that the social networks and interactions are only to grow, hopefully stronger and with a focus that gives a new gateway to the world into Pakistan: the land of promise.  The show, due to its online presence and the medium of language, has the potential to reach out to the world and perhaps play its role in changing global perspective about the country.

I hope this post has given a fair roundup of the blogging 101 for Pakistan…that is, if you have had the patience to make it all the way down here! I am remembering Star Trek’s opening lines as they seem very apt for the Blogger-Land in which I am still trying to find my way around…

 ….the final frontier….to explore strange new worlds…to seek out new life and new civilizations…to boldly go where no man has ever gone before.

Decaffeinated Ramazan!

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There are three kinds of people in this world: 

 First category comprises of one cup of coffee/tea a day persons, who enjoy their morning or evening tea/coffee, in the true spirit of a Lipton/Nescafe advertisement.

 Second category are the energizer bunnies who survive on tea and coffee (black please) to get through the day.  They also happen to be sad and forlorn de-energized bunnies during the holy month of Ramazan!

 Third category are the ones who I believe have achieved Nirvana in life since they rely on the sheer zest for life to get them going! Obviously they are only a handful, or so I would like to believe.

 Every Ramazan, when I face the dreaded decaffeinated situation, it makes me wonder how did we reach this stage of relying so heavily on tea/coffee that gets us through a hard day at work. For those of us who are so hooked onto the caffeinated drinks only know the crazy sense of zombie-ism during the first couple of Rozas (fasting), our system demanding the daily doses and in the tradition of maintaining our patience, we try and fight the yawns, but one thing is for sure: no work gets done on the first roza!!

 In the loving memory of my cuppa coffee and in my dreaded decaffeinated condition, I searched for some fast facts on the origin of coffee itself, ah The Blessed Bean indeed, and found some interesting observations:

 The word “coffee” entered English in 1598 via Italian caffè. This word was created via Turkish kahve, which in turn came into being via Arabic qahwa, a truncation of qahhwat al-bun or wine of the bean. One possible origin of the name is the Kingdom of Kaffa in Ethiopia, where the coffee plant originated (its name there is bunn or bunna).

There are several legendary accounts of the origin of the drink itself. One account involves the Yemenite Sufi mystic Shaikh ash-Shadhili. When traveling in Ethiopia, the legend goes, he observed goats of unusual vitality, and, upon trying the berries that the goats had been eating, experienced the same vitality. A similar myth attributes the discovery of coffee to an Ethiopian goat  herder named Kaldi and the Legend of Dancing Goats.

Did you know that the consumption of coffee itself was quite a controversial subject back in the days?  In 1511, it was forbidden for its stimulating effect by conservative, orthodox imams at a theological court in Mecca. However, the popularity of the drink led these bans to be overturned in 1524 by an order of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Selim I, with Grand Mufti Mehmet Ebussuud el-İmadi issuing a celebrated fatwa allowing the consumption of coffee.1 In Cairo, Egypt, a similar ban was instituted in 1532, and the coffeehouses and warehouses containing coffee beans were sacked.2

 Anyways, the blessed bean has made its way in the hearts and souls of many in this part of Asia. While coffee has not exactly replaced the traditional cup of ‘chai’ (tea) in a typical Pakistani household, we do have our very own ‘phitti howee coffee’ (handmade cappuccino for the lack of a better translation) with lots of sugar and milk and cream.  Ashraf chacha in my office makes the most amazing phitti howee coffee we all love!!! Coffee is fast making its way through the corporate world not forgetting the starbucks-GloriaJeans-struck younger generation. Who knows, one day I shall open up my own starbucks franchise with a Barnes & Nobel outlet…wonders never cease to happen…(and that would be the day when horses would start flying and mermaids would appear on the Karachi beach…reality check: franchise cost…eeeks)

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This post is in the loving memory of my cup of Black Coffee that I miss dearly at work during Ramazan! Evidently, I subscribe to the second category. I would be happy if you leave a remark sharing which category you subscribe to, would be interesting to have our own ‘mini poll’.

Let us all be Worthy of Pakistan

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Friends, Bloggers and Countrymen….lend me your ears (and eyes):

A few hours ago, I returned after a traditional trip to the heart of the city to watch the ‘lights’ in celebration of the 62nd independence day of the country and it warmed my heart to see people dancing and cheering with joy.  Later in the night, I switched on the TV and all across the country I could see men and women cheering and celebrating their independence day with infectious zeal…all for one cause: Pakistan.  And that left me wondering: what makes the love for one’s country all encompassing and so overwhelming despite one’s crisis, problems and challenges? More importantly, why do we need to ‘go green’ and wear the Pakistani flag only around the month of August? Is love for one’s country limited to only as far as waving the flag is concerned or is it much more? Why can our hearts and minds not remain for and on Pakistan for the rest of the year too?

62nd year of independence and still standing, as a friend stated on her facebook page.  I also heard many stating with a tongue in cheek: Na bijli hai na paani hai, phir bhee dil Pakistani hai (there is no electricity, no water, but my heart still sings Pakistan!). Perhaps it is time to really and practically realize what we can do for our country, rather than fret over what our country can do for us.  I do not have a long wish list to share with you all, just a few contributions we can all make.

For starters, maybe all of us, and I really mean each and every one of us, make a very conscious decision not to clutter the parks, markets and places we go to, just as much as the effort we put in cleaning our own home!  If Pakistanis can abide by the law outside Pakistan, they can be conscious citizen back here too. I see no reason why not. We may not have implementation of laws in place, but at the end of the day, it is us the citizens who make or break the law too.  So why not start from today and really make an effort to keep our surroundings clean.  Teach our children to pick up the litter after a picnic in the park, tidy up after a birthday party at a public place and definitely not throw anything outside the car window!! Small steps but they bring great changes!! Think Clean. Think Green.

Respect the individual, especially those at the bottom of the food-chain so to speak. Respect the policeman who dares to stop your car because you do not have your seat belt on.  He has been standing in the heat all day long, but it is the gentleman sitting in the air conditioned car who fumes up with rage because he has been stopped by the policeman! The poor man is only performing his duty.  The least we can do is to comply and to respond with respect.  Respect the cook who stands in the melting heat to cook food for you and your family, while you slouch and chatter away in the living room.  Ask the value of house-help versus self-help to all your family living abroad, most of whom do not have the luxury of affording house help and need to do everything on their own, starting from cooking, to cleaning, to washing to running around and finish their daily chores.  Thank your lucky stars for living in a country that still provides you with the luxury of having more support staff than the number of people living in the house! That’s a royal lifestyle, just in case you are missing the point.

There is no denying the fact that our country is currently in one of its biggest crisis, ever.  It is important for an average citizen like you and me to stand up and be counted.  Being the silent minority of patriotic but indifferent citizens will not help us, will not help raise our concerns over things that are close to our heart and history will definitely not forgive the silence of the educated, enlightened and conscious minority of this country.  Instead of constantly complaining and grumbling over the failure of the state and its machinery, perhaps we should keep doing our bit by enacting the change we wish to see around us.  Perhaps it is time we start justifying our own job descriptions, start delivering at our own micro units because every little drop counts!

And last but not the least, lets us not, for even one second doubt the integrity of Pakistan or the future of Pakistan.  It is heart breaking to see how convenient it is to declare Pakistan’s disintegration in one random rush of moment by average citizens like you and me.  Let us not forget that we are the future! We are the ones who will make or break the country, not the circumstances.  Let us make peace with the past, and on this 62nd birthday of our country, let us all do our own bit to be able to tell our children in the future what role we played in the current crisis. 

 Let us finally be worthy of Pakistan.

I am remembering Shakespeare’s Mark Antony as I mourn the loss of true patriotism in our country and only hope for people to rise above all differences and celebrate this Independence truly green from their hearts, not just appearances!

 O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me.

Not all Super Heroes Wear Capes…

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Today I read a sticker at a friend’s facebook page that read:  I am a SUPER MOM: that got me thinking “Not all of us super heroes wear capes!” And that brought me to write about my favourite subject for all times!!! Mothers… and I like to call them Super Moms!

Super heroes have super powers. What super powers do moms have? Can anyone else balance a 6 month old on their hip, hold the hand of an ever wandering 6 year old and still have an interactive conversation with their mum in law on the phone, of what to make for dinner?

Can any super hero face the wrath of a 2 year old who just does not want to get out of the cycle that belongs to the other kid? Most would decide to retire early and play golf the rest of their years.

So while super heroes get time to change into their costume of choice, relax in their mundane non-hero public life, and even manage a relationship or two on the side, the super Mom never gets a minute off duty. She is not a bird, she is not a plane, she is Super Mom!!! Coming to save the world! …..

Home is where the heart is, they say.  Home is not home without a mother! A woman, as a mother, mother-in-law and grandmother is what makes our home worth running back to after a tired day of work (or atleast interesting enough to talk about at work!).

Mothers come in all shapes and sizes.

The sit at home Ones:

I always wonder who coined the expression in the first place.  There is no concept of ‘sit-at-home’ when you are at home.  You are always running around after either the househelp, or the kids, in the kitchen or out to the market! As Maya Angelou very rightly said, a woman’s work is never done!! This is the kind who is always doing all the hard work and is still looked up as the ‘farigh’ (free) type! It’s quite the contrary and increasingly there is research going on in terms of the time women spend on chores that is not accounted for in national labour surveys and other time-use measures.  A woman is the manager of her house and like all projects, the house is one that requires her dedication, commitment, thinking and yep, regular monitoring too! And then ofcourse there are the children who would always come to the mom whether its about being hungry, or fighting with another sibling, or running up to her only to check if ‘she is still there’…quiet time is one blessing this category of mothers does not enjoy!  So for all you home-based moms out there, you definitely make the top slot of super moms!!!

The “working Mom”:

Then ofcourse there is the working mother and the associated woes of always running around too, from one deadline to another! A working mother is the ultimate multi-tasker, tab-browsing her way through life!…when she is at work, she is also managing phone calls from home and in between official meetings, also managing why the maid turned up late, or how the driver needs to deliver something somewhere, etc etc.  The moment she enters the house after a long day of work, she is greeted by excited kids who want to narrate the day’s highlights to her…she also needs to immediately shift gears and turn into the above category…the ‘home based’ mom.  There are days when only my son can make me bake cookies for him after a very tiring day at work, no other super power would ever have convinced me!! Then there are days when you wish you could just run and hide somewhere and not have to deal with so much workload.  That’s when a quote I once read somewhere gives me the courage to go on.  I do not recall where I read it, but it was an advice from an older woman to a younger woman on how priorities in life is like juggling plastic and glass balls…while it is okay to sometimes miss catching the plastic balls, we should focus our energies on not missing the glass balls…and that’s my advice for all the upcoming working moms.  It is okay not to be a super woman at all times.  We’ll still be super moms and family is what should and always come first!!

So while the source of a super hero’s power might be kryptonite or a spider bite, the source of a supermom is a hug from your child when you return home or a wet kiss when he goes to sleep in your arms at night.

The Ultimate Mom:

Then ofcourse, the last but not the least category is your own mother!! No matter how tired you are, and how frustrating life can get, a big warm hug from your own mother is what makes the life worth living for. 

No matter how old we get, we still want our own moms, our own super moms! My mother is an absolute supermom for me, and I know that my naani is a supermom to her! I wonder if super mom powers are passed from one generation to the other, getting stronger by the years? We all recall the most fun moments are the ones when we are sitting with our grandmothers (nani and dadi) surrounded by their daughters (khalas and phupos) and exchanging a lifetime of experience and joy! You can feel the super power and the strong bonding it brings! Why else would cousins and extended family be still closer to each other than all the random acquaintances in our lives? It is all the super mom phenomenon!

At the end of the day, there is nothing better than running back to your own mother, seeking refuge in her arms and believing that everything will be alright after all.  Yep, that’s the Ultimate Mom.

Once upon a memory, someone wiped away a tear.  Held me close and loved me.  Thank you, mother dear!

Be the Change…

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They say that if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem itself.  How long can we all sit and watch our country constantly being referred to as the most dangerous place on earth? How long can we watch our own people killing each other and being killed, all in the name of religion which seems remote to those of us who see our religion as a religion of peace, promoting harmony and a religion that teaches you tolerance? While we cannot remain indifferent to the current crisis, we should stand up and be counted as the conscious voice in support of our country and in support of those few brave individuals who are still upholding the spirit of one united Pakistan.

We should be the change we wish to see in the world.

Each year as mid-August approaches, we should all remind ourselves what it means to have our own country, a place to call our own. Maybe it is just a random observation but each year the zeal to ‘celebrate’ our one national day seems to diminish.  The month of August is not just about buying some extra flags (that lay cluttered on the ground next day unfortunately), listening to old national songs or enjoying another public holiday.  It is about reflecting back on the essence and core values that became Pakistan.  It is an opportunity to tell our children what they can and should do for their country. 

Unity, Faith and Discipline sound like a far cry in the current situation when all you hear about is more killings, another blast, another attack on innocent lives, in addition to the ongoing energy crisis.  And if all that was not enough, ongoing riots, sectarian killings and increasingly minorities coming under fire too.  It is perhaps time to remind ourselves that our national leader and founder of Pakistan strongly believed in the concept of social cohesion.  Social cohesion is the ‘glue’ that binds people together in a society, particularly in the context of cultural diversity. Jinnah was a strong advocate of an inclusive and impartial government, religious freedom, rule of law and equality for all.  While Jinnah’s portrait seems to adorn every government department and office, his words seem to have lost their way in the crooked corridors of history.  The least we can all do this August is to catch up on our Jinnah readings and remind ourselves of the true spirit behind the creation of Pakistan. 

It is ironic that the most contentious issue when it comes to the Leader of the Nation is his vision as perceived by the common man, and the real vision he had for Pakistan as clearly echoing from all his speeches.  I quote one from his Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, August 1947, as a reminder in the context of the recent Gojra violence.

‘You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.’

From Block to Blog…

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I started writing at the age of 13, October 1990 to be exact when my first article got printed and then there was literally no stopping me! I would write so regularly that the Friday when my article would not appear in the Friday Magazine of the Daily Muslim, that’s when my parents would notice why I have not sent in a submission.  This went on until about 1997 and by then I had a good collection of more than 150 articles in the printed media, mainly in the Muslim.  It was therefore very hard to explain what happened to my writings after 1997, I just could not write or perhaps lost interest.  I gave it a fancy word:  A writer’s block.

 I wanted to start writing but had lost my confidence.  Maybe because with the current trends of blogging and almost everybody either maintaining a blog, or facebook ‘notes’ or atleast an opinion on everything floating around, I was too scared to take the plunge myself.  Lets just say some old friends, including my siblings, pushed me into writing once again and like always I threw myself at the deep end of the sea…..opened a new blog altogether!!

 ‘Shaista thinks’ has no specific theme, because this is MY space and I am going to write about all that I think about (and boy, I think all kinds of crazy things!).  I realize its going to be difficult keeping up with the pressure of an independent blog but I am sure I will survive, because after many years I do really want to start once again and it is the renewed passion for writing which will help me pull through the first phase of this blog. Fingers crossed.

 This first blog is therefore dedicated to all those who supported me in gaining my confidence back and I hope I live up to their expectations.  This is another reason why I have enabled the rating option (much to my own horror!) as this will continue to guide me, in addition to all your comments that I look forward to read.

 I am thinking of Kipling right now, as these are my favourite lines from the poem ‘If’ and what better time to remember than the day I renew my passion to write….

 If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;