C’est la vie

Couple of months ago I found out that there is an opening in a multinational company in Karachi in the area of finance for the position of Manager/Director. I asked my friend who knew the present director to forward my CV.

He called me up today saying that they have informed him that I am ‘too hi-fi’ for the position. I said I want to come back home and would happily come at a lower salary and reduced my asking salary to around Rs. 2 lacs. His reply was that the salary you are asking is not an issue. “Then what is the issue?” I asked.  They say you are a high flyer_specifically mentioning my foreign qualification. I was dumb founded.

I would have preferred an excuse like “Istikharay mein naam nahin aaya”. I would even have accepted that my experience does not fit the job description.

I grew up as a member of middle class society. There were certain organizations especially multinationals that preferred that their employees especially in upper cadres belong to certain areas i.e., defence, clifton, PECHS and look down upon people living in middle class or lower class areas. I have seen prospects of growth improving for people considerably once they have moved from North Karachi to Defence.

I did not or could not move to Defence but supplemented my education with a foreign degree from one of the better known institutions hoping to improve my prospects. I did not realize that the same qualification would become a handicap. I have heard stories about people being told in interviews that they are overqualified for the position but this was a multinational and my background perfectly suited the role.

It reminded me of the time when I was looking for my first job in 2000. The nuclear blast followed by Musharraf’s coup had resulted in sanctions and there weren’t many jobs to go around. My father found me a reference and I went to see him with a copy of CV in my hand. After looking at my CV, he said, “I have a friend who is looking for a junior position employee and I could have easily placed you there only if you had one year of experience.” I told him (in my mind), “A$$40le, if I had some experience, would I have come to you?”

Some time ago, I had forwarded my CV to the local central bank. The HR head,  according to my friend who works there, commented that “this is one of the better CVs I have seen in my career. However, the guy does not have a central banking experience.” Would someone ask him how many central banks are there in a country so that one could gain experience at one before applying to the other?

There was a time when before applying for a position, I would consider whether I am under-qualified for the position. Now I have to consider otherwise.

PS: This is not a complaint. Just some observations.

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Who will make your tax money work?

Yesterday, the hot news was resignation of Shaukat Tarin, a banker,  from Ministry of Finance. Being a banker is no qualification for running the finance ministry, yet we have a precedence in Shaukat Aziz who was a banker (aka money launderer for dictators, tax evaders, etc along with some honest billionaires as well) as well. PPP has always been weak in the area of finance and it is understandable when they bring someone from outside who has some credibility to run the ministry.

Prior to this stint, Shaukat Tarin had made millions first in turning around Habib Bank and then offloading his non-performing commercial and consumer loan infested Union Bank to Standard Chartered when the Pakistani economy was at the peak of consumer debt fueled bubble.  What this shows that he is a shrewd and competent professional and has respectability in financial circles. By bringing him on board, government expected to deliver similar miracles for the economy of Pakistan.

Since his departure, a few names have been floated. From Cafe Pyala

Arif Habib CEO Nasir Baig, former State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Hussain and former PPP finance minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin. From my sources, apparently, the President’s camp and the Prime Minister’s camp have their own favourites. Baig, who is incidentally the brother-in-law of Anwar Majeed, Zardari’s so-called right hand man (who is also related to Shaukat Tarin through the marriage of their offspring), and Shahabuddin are apparently in the President Zardari’s list, as is PPP MNA Naveed Qamar. PM Yousuf Raza Gilani’s list, on the other hand, has, in addition to Hussain, current state minister Hina Rabbani Khar and economist Dr [Abdul] Hafeez Pasha [Sheikh]. Who eventually gets picked may indicate which way the wind is blowing. In fact, having one of Zardari’s nominees get the post would be no big deal. One of them not getting it, on the other hand, might be.

This is my take on the nominees:

After the privatization fiasco wherein Abdul Hafeez Shaikh begged government owned Etisalat to take over government owned PTCL (I thought privatization follows from the mantra that business of government is not business) on terms that were disadvantageous to Pakistan, breached conditions of bidding contract, I would think twice before appointing him anywhere in Finance.

We all know that Naveed Qamar can’t deliver. That is why Shaukat Tarin was brought in initially to advise him and eventually the prime minister.

Hina Rabbani Khar..you got to be kidding me…except for good looks, the lady has nothing going for her. With the exception for the budget speech in Parliament, she did not have to work a single day in her life.

Ishrat Hussain is a developmental economist and by the same virtue was unsuitable for the State Bank job. But since he came from IMF/WB and had an open mind (willing to learn and be corrected) he did well rather much better than what followed: Shamshad Akhtar who was not even a career economist having made a career in Operations at ADB and the current absent minded incompetent Salim Raza whose only qualification is relation to NBP president Ali Raza.

Nasir Baig …. I don’t know much about him. The rumor has it that the list of nominees is bad by design, to make it easier to appoint Nasir Baig who stands out as being ‘andhon mein kaana raja’.

In opposition, Ishaq Dar/Sartaj Aziz are relatively competent. Lets see which way the ball rolls.

Minute on Indian Education : 2nd Feb 1835

I recently received an email with the subject “how our back was broken. lets repair it now” and embedded in the email was the following excerpt:

I have been receiving the same text for quite a few years under different subject lines. I had tried researching it couple of years ago. It is attributed to Lord Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education Speech that he made to British Parliament on Feb 2, 1835.

I have read the text of speech and there is nothing like above quote in his speech. Though he uses derisory terms for eastern culture some of which I reproduce below but he never made those claims that are attributed to him.

Digging a bit deeper, it transpired that the above quote is a false propaganda by Hindu supremacists. I communicated with a journalist who had reproduced the quote in one of his columns, he said that the British government might have struck out the part when releasing the text of the speech. I could only say that though its not impossible but highly implausible.

The thing is though Lord Macaulay does talk about uselessness of Arabic and Sanskrit languages in modern times in his speech, the offending paragraph does not fit in the context.

Anyway, I will leave you with some of the quotes from his speech. One should read it in full to realize how our masters thought and in case of Pakistan still think.

Quotes:

1. All parties seem to be agreed on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them.

2. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.

3. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.

You can find the whole speech here.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Musharraf (Army) is a genius?

In recent times, a lot of terms have acquired cliched status because of overuse and “existential” is one of them. Thankfully no one has labeled the tiff between judiciary and presidency in Pakistan at present as “existential” crisis and we are grateful for that.

Nawaz Sharif has finally decided to jump in and make a bold statement against Zardari. It had been very quiet on right-of-centre-wing-front for a while. I was wondering for sometime that why is NS so quiet. Why has he not  been taking advantage of Zardari/Government for their stupidity and idiocy? Though the idea had been making ripples in my mind but like a tsunami, the realization hit me today. I realized that (even for purely selfish reason) NS does not want to rock the boat of democracy. He wants the democratic process to continue for five years. If Zardari continues like this, definitely PPP will have a defeat in next elections as they have nothing to show for their time in government.

Stopping the process midway through street protests and calling for mid term elections would bode less well for all politicians (as well as the country) whether in government, opposition or outside. However, to allow the government with the likes of compulsive liars like Rehman Malik and Kaira would also be a big mistake as there may not be much of the country left to rule when the time of next election arrives. So the right thing would be to protest against Zardari and his decisions. However, that would derail the democratic setup and serve as invitation to Army to intervene.

Hence, NS is in tight spot i.e., damned if he does and damned if he does not. This is without even considering what is good for the country before someone considers me a PML(N) sympathizer.

Hindsight is 20-20. It should have been obvious to me when NRO was passed by Musharraf. May be I was deluded that when Zardari said “Pakistan Khappay”, he really meant it. Zardari has only gotten humiliation from this country and all his wealth is abroad_ he has no stake in Pakistan. Why would he be good for Pakistan. If one reads the facebook status updates, the youtube videos, the jokes and verses in the name of Faraz that keep circulating, Zardari is the most hated personality in Pakistan amongst the middle and elite classes. By passing the NRO and taking Zardari (most hated and apparently most corrupt personality in the country( though no cases stand against him but it does not mean that people perceive him as honest)) to the presidency, Musharraf has ensured that democracy does not succeed in Pakistan. If Zardari is what you get for asking for democracy, the current generation till it lives will be never again ask for democracy.

Ayub said, “Democracy does not suit the genius of Pakistanis”, pretty soon we will hear all the educated lot requesting to be ruled by a army because we the educated lot consider ourselves “bloody civilians” not realizing that it has always been Army (and recently Musharraf) that have placed this country on the path of destruction.

Today, I appreciate the genius of Musharraf/Army. After making us lose East Pakistan due to Army/Bureaucracy shenanigans, lets see what we end up losing this time.

The Widowmakers

Eight Months Ago

“Ammi, we are going to have a baby” Ahmed announced with joy to the quizzical looks of his mother as she opened the front door of home to let Ahmed and his wife Kanwal in. Now it was Ahmed’s face that turned quizzical as his mother’s faced turned ashen. She turned around walked briskly inside to grandmother’s room. Ahmed and Kanwal exchanged looks and followed her.

It was large room with a large bed against the back wall. There was a large cane chair with cushions beside the bed. There was a cane sofa against a side wall for seating visitors which nowadays there were few. Ahmed’s great great grandmother or Barhi Ammi was sitting on the bed with her legs covered by a blanket and back against a pillow which was resting on the bed head. She was in good health despite her age a few year shy of 100. On the two chairs, his great grandmother and grandmother or Dadi Ammi was sitting wearing thick glasses and a newspaper in her hand and was probably reading news aloud to Barhi Ammi a moment ago. Both of them were looking towards his mother who was standing silently beside the bed with what appeared to Ahmed as watery eyes.

“Assalam-o-alaikum” Ahmed and Kanwal said to the occupants of the room in over lapping voices which received a warm reply from Dadi Ammi as well as Barhi Ammi. “Masha Allah, you guys look very happy” said dadi. The smile grew larger on Ahmed’s face and he relayed the good news. Barhi Ammi on the bed said “masha allah, mubarak ho” and all the prayers that go along with it and beckoning both of them to come towards her. Kanwal was blushing and Ahmed loved her much more in that instant. But that was not always the case.

Anyway, at the moment he was more confused by the behaviour of the remaining two occupants of the room. Upon hearing the announcement, he say Dadi suddenly looked towards his Ammi and there was an instant of sadness in her eyes. Couple of moments later she turned towards them and forced a genuine smile on her face that masked the sadness there was moment ago and stood up to hug the husband and wife. A few moments later, even his Ammi came wiping the tears that she later called tears of joy from her face.

Four Years Ago

“Barhi Ammi. My son is a heir of respected family and blood that runs in his veins is royal blood. He is not going to marry the daughter of some new arrivals in the neighborhood whose bloodline might as well be of the gypsies” said Ammi. Barhi Ammi replied, “Shaista! whats the use of blood line when no one is willing to give to you their daughter.” This infuriated his mother even further, “so this means that we would marry our son off to any road walking girl who offers herself to him”. “Shaista, I have seen more world than your and am  twice as old as you. This royal bloodline means nothing when the family is cursed and known as widowmakers. Who would give their daughter to your son when everyone thinks that her husband will die without seeing the face of his first born making the wife a widow and son an orphan at child birth”. “Barhi Ammi, I didn’t expect you with your five time prayers and tasbeehs and religiosity to use this crap about curses and widowmaking to marry off my son to some tramp”. “Shaista, it does not matter what I believe. Nobody is going to give their daughter to you without making some inquiries. No matter how much they hate their daughters, no one wants to see her widowed”.

Two Years Ago

“Barhi Ammi, I have tried hard to find a suitable girl to marry my son but no one is coming forward”. “Beta, listen to me. I know that you think our neighbours are descendants of gypsies but believe me, I know their family for more than 60 years. I know Kanwal will be a blessing for this family.”

Five Years Ago

“Ahmed, its a tradition in our family that when the son reaches twenty five years of age, he is initiated into the family business.” Dadi Ammi said while giving him the tour of their textile mill. At 63 years of age his grandmother was a hard task master as he saw workers, managers, even shareholders sit up straight whenever she came near them. “Your great grandfather started with this business and with time his wife, and then I and now your mother has expanded into other industries building an industrial behemoth.” “What is the use of initiating me into this business if I am going to die in a few years like my father and his father before him”. “Don’t say that. No one knows when will one die. Their time had come and Lord Almighty had taken them away. He giveth and He taketh.”

One Year Ago

“I don’t want to get married. I don’t want to leave behind a young widow and an orphan”. “Ahmed, do you really believe that?” “No! you know very well that I am not into superstition and curses”. “Then don’t you want to extend your bloodline”. “What bloodline? You are marrying me off to a gypsy girl. What a bloodline that would make”. “Enough!” said Barhi Ammi. Everyone was startled. Barhi Ammi was very soft spoken though rumor had it that when she took over managing the business after her son died she was known as the Karakht Bibi for her business ruthlessness as well as her shouting not Shafqat Bibi which was her real name. “I don’t want to hear this crap about royal bloodline. A man makes his bloodline himself with his character and his actions. Gypsy or no gypsy, you are going to marry Kanwal and that is final”.

Today
“Why are you attaching all these instruments and monitors to me? My wife is the one who is giving birth. Look after her”. “Beta, don’t trouble these good doctors. You know that for last three generations, every father has died the same time as the birth of their first born without even having as little as glimpse of his son”. “Ammi, I am healthy and fine. But if my time has come, these doctors won’t be able to help me”. “Beta Shh!!! We are already troubled. Your Ammis have been on the prayer mat for so many hours praying for your and your wife’s and kid’s well being”.

Couple of hours passed. His mother comes rushing in. Stops at the door. Looks at the doctors and technicians in the room. They smile that everything is alright. Sees Ahmed breathing looking at her with quizzical looks. Then run towards him crying. Kissing him on his forehead and saying, “Congratulations. You have a healthy son”. “Why didn’t you bring him with you? Is he alright?” “He is fine. I just had to check on you first”.

Then Shaista called home and conveyed the news to the Ammis. It is said that upon hearing this news, Barhi Ammi thanked God and asked for forgiveness and then put her head to the mat and passed away in this position.

A little more than 60 years ago

“How can you be sure he is my grandson? You are gypsies with I don’t know what or whose blood running through your brains. You don’t have no honor, no morals. For all I know, you might be selling your daughter wherever you make camo. You helped me and my impressionable son hide among your caravan and helped us cross into Pakistan, for that we are thankful. You want money for helping us out, I can give you money”. “Shafqat bibi, your son and my daughter married each other during the journey”. “My son is young and immature. He must have been led astray by your daughter. How strong is marriage anyway? I will ask my son and he will utter a word three times and this marriage will be over”. “Shafqat bibi, at least allow me to let your son have a look at his son. He looks just like his father”. “You will do no such thing, gypsy woman. We are of royal blood line. My son will marry a royal blooded woman. Your daughter and her son was a mistake. His sons will have royal blood running through them not just some unknown gypsy blood”. “Shafqat bibi. Where were your royal blooded people when you needed saving? It is we who helped you and you think of us low life creatures. It is you who are the low life creatures?” “Shut Up!!! Servant, throw her out of the house.” “Shafqat Bibi, I warn you of repercussions of having cursed by us.” “We are not superstitious. Cast your curses. They will have no impact on us”. “Since your son refused to even look at his son. I curse you that no one in your descendants will ever be able to look at his son as long as he is royal blooded.”

Packup and Leave : The Prologue

This is part II. You can read the first part here.

Two Years Ago
My brother was going for studies to France and had asked me to remit tuition fees to the university. Instead of using the bank to transfer the money, I sent the money through an authorized currency exchange company because bank charges were exorbitant as well as it took longer for the funds to reach if sent through a bank. The next day I got a call from the exchange company that my transfer has been rejected by the beneficiary bank. The reason : my name was on watch list. Since exchange companies don’t have strict KYC (know your customer) policy, their guarantee is no good. It didn’t help the fact that a Somali terrorist leader of the same name was making news during the same time. I asked the company “Do I look like a Somali to you?. It is not that I am transferring the funds to my brother’s personal account rather the money is going to the university tuition directly.” But it was no use.

I should have taken the hint and either changed my name or left the country there and then.

One Year Ago
The financial crisis has finally reached us. Companies and financial institutions are going bankrupt all around. Everyday I get calls and emails from friends in Pakistan, Middle East and Europe asking me to help them out. I tell them that I am in a similar boat with the exception that this one will take a long time to sink.

Now the the boat has sunk half way. All around I see people/friends who have already sunk or are in boats where you can’t make out how fast they are sinking. I am searching for a solid boat but it’s not clear at the moment and if there is one, it’s already fully loaded. Rather they are throwing people over board saying citing over-occupancy.

My friends call from all over the world and say that I am pissing at them. How come with a degree from one of the leading business schools, I am finding it hard to stay afloat? I remind them that when Titanic sank, it didn’t matter where you studied or which class you belonged to or where you are from. Those who could find a boat or a board remained afloat and the rest sunk.

Three months ago
Came back from attending my sister’s wedding in Karachi. Left the wife behind in Pakistan to rest and stay a bit longer with her family. My sister and her husband went to meet my uncle (my father’s only brother and around 68 years old). As they were entering his house, two guys came on a bike and asked for my uncle’s wallet pointing a pistol at him. Being of earlier generation and a brave man, he refused to be cowed down and grabbed the thug’s hand. The thug fired a shot which went through his chest and into my brother-in-law.

I got the news over the phone soon after and caught the first flight home. The immigration officer said something but didn’t pay attention to what he said. I need to be there for my father whose only brother has left this world. My father has four sons scattered all over the world. Being the eldest, I should be there by his side at this hour.

I reach there just in time for the funeral. The relief I saw on my father’s face, my mother’s face, my cousins’ face (sons of my uncle) on seeing me leaving everything to be by their side in their hour of grief told me that I should not have missed it for anything in this world.

Fortunately the bullet passed through the arm of my brother in law and did not hit him in any critical area but rendering his arm useless for two months. His father who was a heart patient upon hearing the news started shaking. Thankfully, the family was there to hold him.

It just frightens me to even think about what would have happened if the bullet had taken a different trajectory. He had recently gotten a job and just gotten married. What if the company lays him off as he could not attend office for two months just couple of months after joining?

After three days decided to come back with the pregnant wife. They stopped me at the immigration counter here saying that I didn’t have necessary clearance when I left ( I had been coming and going quite frequently but this has never happened before). My wife can enter but I would have to be deported. Fortunately it was a working day and I called my boss. He hurriedly pulled some strings but they say that clearance would come the next day. My wife can go home but I have to spend the night at the airport hotel. I called it a five-star jail. The next day I was allowed to enter the country after getting the clearance. My boss asked me didn’t they tell me anything when I was leaving the country. I said the officer uttered something but I was too preoccupied to think about it.

Two months Ago
Due to the earlier security breach, I have a hard time getting paperwork for calling in my mother in law for the delivery. At the last moment, I had to take my wife Pakistan and leave her there for delivery. This time they ask me to bring a police clearance certificate from Pakistan. God forbid if anyone has to visit a Pakistani police station. I would feel safer going into a criminal den than into a police station. The unkempt police men, their dirty language, the depreciated building and furniture of the station, the way they talk to you with every word like a silent threat asking for bribe.

My mother called in her distant relatives who were good enough to visit and sit in the police station from morning till evening for two days and arranged the certificate for me just because they loved and respected their aunt (my mother).

One Month Ago
After dedicated search, I had found a very good job. I was about to resign that the news came that there has been a significant twist in the financial position of that company. Fortunately I was saved from an imminent disaster but it meant that I have to continue on a sinking ship.

Three weeks ago
My son is born and everybody is happy back home. I want to go back and hold him in my arms as everyone tells me that he looks like me but I can’t at the moment due to some reasons.

One week ago
I was coming home after visiting a friend. Suddenly, a guy on motorcycle comes from the side street and hits my car on the front tyre and falls down. Its midnight. I stop the car and rush out to see him. His trembling on the road and his legs can’t move. Though it was his fault but it’s no time to pass the blame. An Ambulance arrives and right after a a police patrol comes. They took him to the hospital and me to the police station. God forbid if any one has to visit a police station at night. The scum of the world is there. Murderers, robbers, drunkards, mad men. Sitting under the same roof with these people can make one crazy. After filing in the report and having my friend check on the guy in the hospital and bringing hospital clearance report, I come home at 4 in the morning. Feeling that I am going through a bad patch in lifee, I have parked my car after having it repaired and started going around in a taxi.

Two days ago
My employer gets a call in the afternoon that my name has come on the national security list and I have to leave the country before midnight. Otherwise I might have to be taken in for questioning and clearance.

When I am about to leave for home from office, the HR guy out of nowhere asks me “has the situation in your family changed?”. I did not get his question at first. Then I realized that he was asking whether my family members might have joined Al Qaeda or Taleban. The audacity of the motherf£$%er.

My colleague who is also a Pakistani goes into a depression on hearing this news. After a while he asks me whether it is because of the traffic accident. I tell him that if that had been the case, it should be a police issue or department of justice issue. Not the fu£$%ng homeland security jumping in. Through some low ranking employee in the security establishment we found out that the problem occurred because of the name and the Pakistani passport. However, it won’t go away easily. A divine intervention is required.

Post Script:
Some details have been changed.
In case you are wondering, the sorry saga is still continuing.
Except for few people, no one knows of the problem. It has not been sorted out yet.