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Archive for May, 2012

Once in a while, you must allow yourself the luxury of time. Clear your mind of all the pending tasks, those can wait till tomorrow. Let time stand still, clear your head. It sounds very Zen, I realize. But the Buddhists have a point about inner peace. There’s a certain therapeutic quality to taking a break, and just reflecting on yourself, or maybe the empty mug in front of you which at some point held tea or coffee (depending on your taste buds). Feels like yesterday I landed at Toronto International airport, and despite all the stories that you hear about immigration officers harassing you if you are a Muslim and sporting a beard, and I have both, it was a walk in the park.

 

The winter I was dreading when I first arrived has started to grow on me. Perhaps it is more to do with the fact that this time the winter wasn’t as brutal as it is usually at this time of the year. On one hand, I am grateful that I am not dragging my self through a couple of feet of snow to get to school every morning. On the other hand part of me is curious as to what that would actually feel like. As the local Canadians tell me, ‘You haven’t seen Canada till you have experienced the winters’, to my credit I have experienced and so far lived through the winters till today. Living in a place where temperature stays below the ‘Zero’ has its own challenges though. The roads are cleaned and salted to avoid any ice make up, the cars have anti freeze put in to them. While driving, the cars slowly creep along as snails, to avoid any ugly skids and endings. Back home the only greatest challenge through the winters would be getting out of the warm cozy bed in the morning. Being from a tropical country so to speak, I can appreciate the little nuggets of work that happen in the winters, nuggets that we wouldn’t even consider back home.

 

Speaking of back home, when I first arrived, I would regularly follow the news online on the local news channels about everything going on back in Pakistan. The elections, the power shortages, the power struggles between the military establishment and civilian government and the usual hue and cry over Maya Khan lately due to her hugely offensive morning show. However you start to see patterns emerge in the political and social upheavals. The politics are almost the same, day in day out. Someone else decides to join PTI from the old guard, PTI and Imran Khan comes under fire for taking in corrupt politicians. The military which has been an unusual silent observer asserts a little power to remind everyone who the real boss is. The civilian government appears to start having cracks and creavices. Some of the political pundits cry foul at Imran Khan, the others assert the military has had enough and will enforce Martial Law. The Supreme Court decides to roll the dice and starts calling people in for hearings. Meanwhile the civil society dresses up to go out in the streets to protest about the killing of innocent bakra’s on Eid ul Azha (some should probably tell it was last year). Perhaps it has a distant observer that these patterns emerge. Soon enough, the only news I eventually check is what appears on my Twitter and Facebook.

 

Disclaimer: The above events are highly exaggerated for the purpose of this article.

 

On a side note, as a TA for an undergraduate course in Technical Entrepreneurship, I have found a new found respect for my engineering education. University of Waterloo gave birth to RIM and the Blackberry back in the day, and the optimist within me has little doubt that the next technology that changes the world will be given birth to right here in the University and perhaps this class. I cant help but wish we had some similar policies back in GIK where I did my undergraduate. Perhaps fostering the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship is the solution to most of the problems in Pakistan. There are some amazing brains in the country, who actually do ground breaking research at the local universities. But the universities need to have a clear policy regarding IP (intellectual property) and giving ownership to the students/faculty who actually create the technology, as compared to using it for self projection. Given, of course that the government provides support on some level, starting by providing basic necessities such as clean water.

 

– London Link Magazine (Oct 2011)

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I have already started late, its been a week that I have been here (Canada) but was too caught up in ‘stuff’ to sit down and write. So today I decided to use my 1.5 hour Greyhound transit from Kitchener to London to attempt and write down some thoughts, while the bus vibrates and plunges on in the light drizzle.

For a country in the North American continent, it’s not that white. Surprisingly it’s probably more Asian than most Asian countries. I always figured ‘Multi Cultural’ meant something like it did back home – put some ‘minority peoples’ faces on the news every now and then with a politician hugging or kissing or donating some sort of money or time and voila the headline would read ‘We are a multicultural, minority loving progressive nation’. Like someone put it ‘You bring your country with you, when you come to Canada; you retain your identity. You take the best from your culture and make it part of your identity, in America you come and merge and mix, your identity becomes American and your culture merges in with Pop Culture’

It’s true. The generation of immigrants before me or my ‘age group’ did retain their identity. Probably more strongly in reaction to being in an alien land then they would have back home. They are more ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Muslim’ then they would have been back in Paki-Land. They are a peculiar group. They seem to be caught between two worlds; the one they left behind, and the one the adopted. They find comfort in numbers, sticking to the old ways, talking about Pakistani politics in their drawing rooms, speculating on the future of the country, with the occasional curses at the government and its machinery. Deprived of the usual festivities, they have concocted their own festivities, generally ‘needing an excuse to celebrate’ as my brother in law put it.

Eid ul Azha came, it saw, it conquered. In sharp contrast to the blood and guts that spew from houses during the slaughter season in Pakistan. The aftermath leaves the insides of the animal left over by the roadside, the less fortunate going house to house asking for a slice of the meat pie and of course the trucks and cars going around the neighborhood blaring for donations. Here its food inspectors, farms, mechanical contraptions and clean slaughter room. Food inspectors keep a sharp eye. You’re not allowed to touch the animal. The machines chop it up for your gourmet pleasure. Can’t say I miss the chaos back home, from the bakra mandi’s to the kasab shops, but even I admit, without the screaming, the blaring, the buzzing flies, blistering sun and the clean cut with a razor sharp knife, it wasn’t the same.

Eid Prayers were colorful. Mosques and Jamat are a strict matter for the males on the family. We all look the same, dressed the same, talk the same. It sharply contrasted by the colorful faithful who gathered at a large exhibition hall in London; men, women, children, talking, running, screaming. Prayers started, prayers finished. It was a sea of colors, skin color and clothes. Shalwar Kameez wasn’t deemed to be the Islamic dress of choice. Despite my usual nonchalant aloofness to social/cultural gatherings that involve more than 3 people, I took part in hosting an Eid lunch at the  Conrad Business Entrepreneurship and Technology Center (CBET)  at the University of Waterloo; otherwise known as school. Faculty and students took genuine interest in our rituals. A couple even asked me about the history of the whole idea of Eid, the traditional greetings (We Pakistani’s are fond of hugging, Arabs and Iranians perhaps not so much). The whole series of events forced me to revisit my religious & cultural roots, and maybe found some new found respect for what I was born into, but never accepted as a part of my identity.

Toronto is to Canada, what New York is to the rest of the world. Or rather Toronto is the Canadian version of NY. This is the Canada I expected to see. The traffic is unkind and parking is not free. The tram tugs along its merry way, cutting across traffic.  Downtown is the capitalist consumer heart.  Leave that behind and you enter a different Toronto. Like every major metropolis, it’s not all glitz and glamour. Beyond the shadow of the arching skyscrapers there are the people who keep it all looking shiny and new. As I plunged into the Desi area, I saw women walking in burqas. If it wasn’t for the street signs, I probably would have thought I am backing home.  Then came the grocery store, I minute I stepped in, it was almost like being back in Islamabad.  The mosque I went even had the same paint as my neighborhood mosque did. Or maybe it’s my imagination getting the better of me. But I am pretty sure the big clock that has all the prayer times is the exact same – I believe it’s something standard across all mosques in the world.

I have already started late, its been a week that I have been here (Canada) but was too caught up in ‘stuff’ to sit down and write. So today I decided to use my 1.5 hour Greyhound transit from Kitchener to London to attempt and write down some thoughts, while the bus vibrates and plunges on in the light drizzle.

For a country in the North American continent, it’s not that white. Surprisingly it’s probably more Asian than most Asian countries. I always figured ‘Multi Cultural’ meant something like it did back home – put some ‘minority peoples’ faces on the news every now and then with a politician hugging or kissing or donating some sort of money or time and voila the headline would read ‘We are a multicultural, minority loving progressive nation’. Like someone put it ‘You bring your country with you, when you come to Canada; you retain your identity. You take the best from your culture and make it part of your identity, in America you come and merge and mix, your identity becomes American and your culture merges in with Pop Culture’

It’s true. The generation of immigrants before me or my ‘age group’ did retain their identity. Probably more strongly in reaction to being in an alien land then they would have back home. They are more ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Muslim’ then they would have been back in Paki-Land. They are a peculiar group. They seem to be caught between two worlds; the one they left behind, and the one the adopted. They find comfort in numbers, sticking to the old ways, talking about Pakistani politics in their drawing rooms, speculating on the future of the country, with the occasional curses at the government and its machinery. Deprived of the usual festivities, they have concocted their own festivities, generally ‘needing an excuse to celebrate’ as my brother in law put it.

Eid ul Azha came, it saw, it conquered. In sharp contrast to the blood and guts that spew from houses during the slaughter season in Pakistan. The aftermath leaves the insides of the animal left over by the roadside, the less fortunate going house to house asking for a slice of the meat pie and of course the trucks and cars going around the neighborhood blaring for donations. Here its food inspectors, farms, mechanical contraptions and clean slaughter room. Food inspectors keep a sharp eye. You’re not allowed to touch the animal. The machines chop it up for your gourmet pleasure. Can’t say I miss the chaos back home, from the bakra mandi’s to the kasab shops, but even I admit, without the screaming, the blaring, the buzzing flies, blistering sun and the clean cut with a razor sharp knife, it wasn’t the same.

Eid Prayers were colorful. Mosques and Jamat are a strict matter for the males on the family. We all look the same, dressed the same, talk the same. It sharply contrasted by the colorful faithful who gathered at a large exhibition hall in London; men, women, children, talking, running, screaming. Prayers started, prayers finished. It was a sea of colors, skin color and clothes. Shalwar Kameez wasn’t deemed to be the Islamic dress of choice. Despite my usual nonchalant aloofness to social/cultural gatherings that involve more than 3 people, I took part in hosting an Eid lunch at the  Conrad Business Entrepreneurship and Technology Center (CBET)  at the University of Waterloo; otherwise known as school. Faculty and students took genuine interest in our rituals. A couple even asked me about the history of the whole idea of Eid, the traditional greetings (We Pakistani’s are fond of hugging, Arabs and Iranians perhaps not so much). The whole series of events forced me to revisit my religious & cultural roots, and maybe found some new found respect for what I was born into, but never accepted as a part of my identity.

Toronto is to Canada, what New York is to the rest of the world. Or rather Toronto is the Canadian version of NY. This is the Canada I expected to see. The traffic is unkind and parking is not free. The tram tugs along its merry way, cutting across traffic.  Downtown is the capitalist consumer heart.  Leave that behind and you enter a different Toronto. Like every major metropolis, it’s not all glitz and glamour. Beyond the shadow of the arching skyscrapers there are the people who keep it all looking shiny and new. As I plunged into the Desi area, I saw women walking in burqas. If it wasn’t for the street signs, I probably would have thought I am backing home.  Then came the grocery store, I minute I stepped in, it was almost like being back in Islamabad.  The mosque I went even had the same paint as my neighborhood mosque did. Or maybe it’s my imagination getting the better of me. But I am pretty sure the big clock that has all the prayer times is the exact same – I believe it’s something standard across all mosques in the world.

– Sept 2011

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