Friday, February 25, 2011

Pakistan Young Leaders Conference 2011

A shorter version of this article has been published on the Express Tribune website:

It’s going to be an exciting weekend in Pakistan. Future leaders from all over the country will be gathering at Islamabad for the Pakistan Young Leader’s (PYLC) Conference being held from 25th till 27th of February. The aim of the conference is to utilize the brightest minds of our country to help solve some of the crucial problems and issues currently facing Pakistan. This is done through intellectual, diplomatic and democratic debate in different committees. The different committees included this year for PYLC Pakistan include Interior Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Legal Affairs, Youth Affairs, Education, Environment, Media and Finance. The whole conference is solutions oriented, with a strong belief that if the bright youth of Pakistan are given a proper platform, their true potential can be unleashed and they can come up with unique and innovative solutions to Pakistan’s current predicaments. 

PYLC was also recently held in UK. The event took place at the prestigious Oxford university over the weekend of 11th – 13th February. I had the opportunity to participate in the event not only as a delegate for the Women Empowerment Committee but also as someone involved in helping its organization on behalf of NUPSA (National Union of Pakistani Students and Alumni). The event was put together through sheer hard work and dedication of NUPSA UK, and similarly NUPSA Pakistan is playing a large role in the organization of PYLC Pakistan.
PYLC UK was a roaring success. People traveled from different parts of the UK in order to get a chance to discuss some vital issues facing our country. There were committee sessions held on all three days, with the last evening reserved for a joint committee session in which the different committees got together and the Committee chairs enlightened everyone on the consensus reached during the sessions. This was followed by an interactive question and answer session with Kamran Shahid of Express TV and some political guests, which will be aired on his programme ‘Frontline with Kamran Shahid.’

The beauty of the event lay in the passion of the youth of Pakistan to make a positive yet powerful difference. Speaking from personal observation, the NUPSA executives worked day and night to ensure the smooth running of PYLC. Young Pakistanis travelled from far and distant parts of the UK just so they could get an opportunity to be involved in something which could potentially be helpful to their country. The sincerity and passion of all those involved, the commitment, research and hard work that went in the preparation of the sessions to ensure a realistic yet positive outcome is beyond commendable. Not only did the participants get a chance to be involved in intellectual debate, PYLC also gave them a chance to network with other like minded individuals who want to make a positive contribution to their country.

My article and praise of PYLC may seem exaggerated. Yet it comes straight from my heart. One had to be there to realize the genuine desire and devotion to ensure the success of the conference. It was apparent when despite the last joint Committee session on Sunday evening running late, people decided to miss their scheduled buses and trains, opting instead on hearing the crucial outcomes reached. People decided that though majority of them had classes early the next morning or were scheduled to go to work, when it came to what is more important in their lives, the priority was Pakistan.

The outcomes reached by the different committees, and those successfully passed as resolutions in the Joint Committee Session were then presented to different politicians who were invited as guests. The resolutions passed in both PYLC UK and PYLC Pakistan will be combined and presented to different important political figures in Pakistan so they can be utilized and implemented on a practical level.

On behalf of Pakistan, I would like to extend my best wishes of a productive weekend ahead to the participants of PYLC Pakistan. When I see the raw untapped potential in the Pakistani youth, and how they sincerely strive to decipher the code to unlock the answers to Pakistan’s dilemmas, it fills me with hope and pride. Pakistan’s future is much brighter than what may seem from our TV sets and dreary newspaper reports. It is events like PYLC that show us that Pakistan’s dark cloud has not a silver but a platinum lining due to the power, potential and patriotism of Pakistan’s youth.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Behind the Magic in his Words

This article was also published on the 'Students of Pakistan' official website at this link:

There are so many people who have helped shape the identity of our nation in a positive way. People who are an important and integral part of the Pakistani culture, those who can be claimed to be the representatives of the voice of the Pakistani masses. It is sad that the media takes so much time to highlight all the negative aspects of our leaders and people of our country with not even a quarter of that time devoted to celebrating our national heroes. It is not just about the people, there are so many other aspects of our country which are amazing, beautiful and yet ignored. The public is also so used to hearing the negative end of the spectrum that you can almost picture their sarcastic response when someone mentions the opposite extreme. That said, this is not another article highlighting the negative aspects of anything and everything. I am fully aware that there are still many people who are blessed with the serenity of knowing that we belong to a beautiful and amazing country. People who know in their hearts that come what may, we would stand by it and support Pakistan. People who know that though the news may not be positive, there are numerous gems in Pakistan’s dark, waiting for someone to shine their torch on them for the masses to see.

I came across such a group of people recently. They wanted to celebrate one of Pakistan’s heroes, the legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Not only is Faiz Ahmed Faiz the most popular poet of the Urdu language, he was also the pioneer of the branch of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in Punjab in 1936. This year marked his 100th anniversary, since he was born on 13th February 1911.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz is a person who definitely holds a prominent position in our history, and his 100th anniversary is an event that deserves recognition. Keeping that in mind, a group of people in London who constitute the ‘London Urdu Club’ decided to hold an event in his honor. I was lucky to be part of the event as a volunteer in its organization, on behalf of NUPSA (National Union of Pakistani Students and Alumni). The event was a roaring success to say the least, with a huge turnout. It ended with a ghazal session based on Faiz’s beautiful poetry.
The beauty of the event lay in how personal it was. Most of the speakers who had been invited to share their thoughts knew Faiz on a very personal level. They spoke about him and mentioned facts which one may not find in history books or over the internet. They highlighted that behind those powerful words lay a very humble, kind and generous man. A man who would never come empty handed at a gathering, regardless of his friends insistence to not show such generosity. A man who instead of saving money would rather spend it on his friends and family. A man who always referred to himself as ‘hum’ with out an iota of being proud, being instead humble and always eager to help a lending hand. One characteristic that all the speakers mentioned was that regardless of how long they had known Faiz, they had never seen him get angry. He was also a devoted Sufi, a man who focused on discovering the truth in Islam through love and devotion for Allah.

To say that Faiz was a talented writer would be an understatement of massive proportions. He would use words like clay to mould a statue of poetry that would depict a potent message to his beloved countrymen. Urging them to stand up against social injustice and prejudice. The message behind his words is universal, regardless of time or place. It is hence no wonder that his works have been translated in so many different languages.

It was a privilege to be part of this event, to help in its organization and to understand that behind this brilliant poet lay an amazing personality and a kind heart. It was a day of pride to acknowledge such a great man as a significant part of Pakistan’s culture and history. Happy 100th Anniversary to our national hero, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. May his soul rest in peace for the amazing contribution he has made not only to his cherished Pakistan but also to everyone around him on an individual level. Ameen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paint the Sky with Stars

I am exhausted. Ever since I arrived back to London on the 1st of February, I have not had any opportunity to properly rest.  Through deliberate consent ofcourse. It was just what I wanted, to dive right in to the depths of the hectic lifestyle here in order to escape the memories of the months past. My laptop tells me its 12:14 am, and my sanity begs me to hit the sack and doze off to get some much needed shut eye. However, as I sit curled on the cozy kitchen sofa, with the dim light and music blasting through my headphones, I believe there is so much more to my existence than going to sleep right now. For starters, it’s about high time I caught up on my blogging.

I have so many things to write about. The list is long and some how I haven’t managed to stand still and pen down my thoughts through the crazy blur that has defined the past 2 weeks. Until now. I could ideally start from the top of the list of what I should blog about, such as the recent Pakistan Young Leader’s Conference (PYLC) at Oxford which I attended this weekend. It was arranged by NUPSA (National Union of Pakistani Students and Alumni), an organization I am proud to be a part of. Not only was the whole event a roaring success, the dedication and hard work put in by the NUPSA executives has earned them my complete respect and admiration. However, while I will write about PYLC soon, now I want to pen down some other thoughts flowing through my mind at this particular moment in time. 

I wonder why people define happiness and joy in such absolute terms. Good job, new car, new house. For me happiness is about appreciating life. It is seeing how people get together and commit on putting together an important event for the love of their country. It is people traveling from different parts of the world to meet like minded passionate people engage in intellectual debate. It is running with a friend to catch the last bus, and laughing like crazy when you miss it. It is like posing and giggling like a little girl in front of the camera. It is talking to my two lovely brothers (Masha’Allah) who live abroad on the phone. It’s like the first bite of chocolate after a long hard day at work. And it is writing, because nothing expresses me as much as my writing does. I am an artist and with my words, I paint my picture.

I can sound a bit obsessive about how short life is, considering the number of times I keep mentioning that fact. That’s a good thing though. It makes you realize how swiftly the wind of fate whiffs away time like particles of sand from your clenched fist. So why should we not try to make the most of the little time we have? Life is hard. No one can be aware of what’s going on in another persons life. They may seem happy, but everyone is human. Keeping that in mind, where’s the harm in spreading some good cheer? Smiling at an aged old person on the street. Helping a flat mate with the groceries. Appreciating some one for the task they completed with dedication. Letting some one know they are not alone. Donating your spare change to charity. Or some thing even as simple as bringing a smile on some one else's face. If you could measure the impact your small act could potentially have on some one else’s life, you would be in awe. With so much to gain, and nothing to lose, it is worth the moment.

People must really get an impression that I am an extremely happy person, considering my writings. I am a human being just like you. Life has however made me extremely aware of its unpredictability and short duration. So much so that every few days I need to swim up from the ocean of existence and take in a deep breath of what is really important. To help me some how survive the rough patches. Writing makes me happy and I guess it shows in my work.

Looking out of the window, I think as always how for me the night time is the most beautiful period of the 24 hour time span. The brilliant stars, the moon lighting up the scenery with its translucent pearly light, as if it is a torch God is holding from the heavens. It is a shame most of humanity is sleeping at this time, and hence is unable to appreciate this raw beauty. That said, it is about high time I joined them. And so I end this article, with the hope that I may have inspired at least one person who read this to appreciate life and spread cheer amongst others. Let us paint all of our short lives with the stars of appreciating the simple pleasures of life and joy in helping others. Amen.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

At Gate 22

The following is an article I wrote on the night of 12th January 2011, whilst waiting at the airport due to my delayed flight before THE Call came regarding mom's death around 11am. Seeing the light mood in this article actually highlights the irony of how unpredictable life can be. You could be totally fine one moment, blissfully ignorant and unaware of whats going to happen in the next. However, instead of finding this thought depressing, one can actually find solace in it. In this particular case, I was relatively happy when the bad news toppled my world. The opposite can also happen and the unpredictability paradigm can similarly hold true when one is depressed or in trouble. You could be worried and sad one moment, yet unaware that maybe the morning will bring some lovely surprise to cheer you up and wipe out your worries. That's the beauty of life. The crazy roller coaster ride.

It is 4am. I am at Lahore Allama Iqbal International airport. I had a flight to London via Etihad Airways scheduled for 3:45am. However the flight is now delayed. Not by just a few hours. No, of course not. That would be too convenient. The flight has been delayed by a full ten hours, thanks to the notorious Lahori fog. Although honestly, I guess I am not complaining. It’s probably for the best. Getting to the airport from my place usually takes around half an hour. Today however, was a very confused drive, mostly in circles, blindly making guesses about our whereabouts as dense thick fog obscured our vision until finally, and may I add very luckily, we reached our destination after 2 whole hours.

The fog is too dense to turn back. And it will surely stay until at least 9am, so I opted sanely to wait at the airport. Getting here was dangerous enough. One must not tempt fate.

Luckily there is a PIA flight to London scheduled to fly around 8am. And I must say the Etihad Airways staff has been extremely accommodating, and helped me to transfer my ticket to PIA instead. There is a however a catch. I am now going to have a bit of a wait at Karachi airport. If only it was a direct PIA flight, considering the long hours waiting spent already here, life would have been SO much easier. Oh well. Beggars can’t be choosers.

One would assume I’m getting bored here. After all, it is 4am on a weekday. Everyone in Pakistan would be happily dozing away. International calls are out of the question right now due to my firm resolve to finish all my phone credit before leaving the country. However, the scenario here is not dull. It is actually turning out to be quite entertaining. Amusing even. For here as I sit by Gate 22 at Lahore Allama Iqbal International airport, on 12th January 2011, there is a very loud protest going on within my eye view!

Now an airport and that too the departure gate area past all the security checks would be the very last place in my mind where I ever fathomed I’d witness a protest. And a very loud and energetic one to that... Apparently an Airblue flight to Dubai has been either delayed or canceled, causing a large crowd of disgruntled passengers to shout ‘Shame Shame Air Blue’.

Obviously one would assume the poor passengers are in a bit of a plight, and hence they have every right to express their dissatisfaction. However as I see and observe them, all of the protesters being men and no women in view, some do appear angry but many are smiling and have mischievous trouble making expressions on their faces.

After around ten minutes of observation, my curiosity gets the better of me and I ask one of the airport staff what the scenario is. I had assumed correct. The flight had been canceled. And the woman answering my question looked straight at me, and literally pointed out the very thing on my mind, and probably on the minds of the other observers (in other words everyone) who had been watching the drama unfold. The fog was so staggeringly dense that every flight that night had been canceled or delayed. It was a precautionary measure taken to ensure the safety of the passengers. Airblue hadn’t singled out that particular flight to cancel for the sake of some airport drama. The protesters needed to just head outside to realize that, and take a look at the opaque blurry fog which cocoons around you, greedily obstructing your vision until it is all you can see. Then why the drama?

An announcement is made. The Airblue flight is canceled and its passengers politely but firmly told to turn to the ‘CA counter’. After a bit of a murmur, I watch the crowd start to disperse. The clock says 5:00am. It is amazing how quickly time flies when your attention is diverted. I hope the passengers get their concerns sorted out, provided they are justified. One thing I am sure of though, and that is that they have given everyone here a story to tell, and a great diversion from watching the clock tick away the minutes.

The protest starts again. I can’t see the crowd but I can vaguely hear the shouts again. Seems like it’s going to be an eventful stay at the otherwise not so eventful Lahore Allama Iqbal Airport tonight. I feel for Airblue...