Ten years ago, on this day, the person who was the key to our existence was taken from us. I can still remember so many years later my total sense of disbelief that she was gone. How had it happened so suddenly – one minute she was smiling at me and the next moment she had breathed her last? Why is it that it had never occurred to us that this day would come? It was as if our very foundation had been shaken. Abbaji and my siblings and I were all in a state of shock. Our sweet darling Ammi had been taken from us. It was just so unthinkable, so totally unbelievable.
Time passed and as I threw myself into my work, I began to realize that no matter how much I missed her, she had not really left us. She was a part of us and somehow in everything I did she was still with me encouraging me, cheering me on, celebrating with me and watching over me. Her smile, her calm demeanor, her courage, her ability to forgive and look for the best in people, her complete honesty and the unconditional love that she showered on us every day of our lives, has stayed with us giving us the strength to go on and to live our lives to the fullest.
As we mark the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death, I remember all the happy times that we spent with her – laughing with her, sharing even the most trivial of stories. She was our repository of confidences. Ammi knew everything because we told her everything. The minute any of us stepped into the house we would go to her and relate all that had happened that day – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. She would listen with such patience and such attention. She shared in the excitement and in the joy and unruffled our feathers when we faced any adversity. Everything we said was of interest to her. We mattered to her – and she made sure we knew that. Is it any wonder then that we grew up knowing that we were loved and cherished? Every memory of Ammi is special to each of us. She dedicated her entire life to us – her family. And we loved her more than we will ever love anyone else.
Many times in life we forget to tell those who are special to us how much we care about them. And much later we live in regret because we didn’t appreciate them when we had a chance. Not so with Ammi. All of us told her every day how much we loved her and how much she meant to us. She knew that she was the center of our existence. She knew that we thought she was the best mother in the world. She knew that our lives revolved around her. She knew that we appreciated everything she did for us throughout our lives. She was an angel from heaven and to heaven she returned. But even now she seems to be watching over us from the heavens – making sure we are happy and looked after.
Thank you Ammi for continuing to be our guide. We love you and miss you and hope that you will always be proud of who we are. You taught us to be warm and affectionate, to be humane and compassionate, to be hardworking, honest and just and to make the most out of life. I hope we will always be the kind of human beings that you wanted us to be. That is our homage to you.
Whether you are a Pakistani applying for an Indian visa or an Indian applying for a Pakistani visa, the road ahead is a challenging one for you. I have been fortunate in that I have a strong sponsor in the form of Nasscom who are P@SHA’s counterparts in India. However, even then there are stumbling blocks especially if you are applying for a Triple Entry or Multiple Entry visa. Let me tell you about some of them.
So if you are applying for a triple entry visa, you are asked what your port of entry will be – Delhi/Mumbai/Wagah. How is one supposed to know if during a 12 month period one will have to go to a meeting to Mumbai/Bangalore/Pune which would mean entering via Mumbai OR if one will be going to a meeting in Delhi/Gurgaon/Chennai which would entail going through Delhi. You are also expected to know which hotel you will be staying at. Really ridiculous. So what does one do? Either get a crystal ball or guess and keep your fingers crossed that those will be the cities you will be going to and that the relevant hotels that you have mentioned will have rooms available should you need to stay there.
And before we have a barrage of anti-India statements, our government does the same. It is called reciprocity.
Stranger still is what happened this year to one of our delegates who had booked Hotel A in Mumbai to stay at but when she discovered that it was miles away from where the conference was, and that everyone else was staying at Hotel B, she tried to cancel the room in Hotel A and book a room in Hotel B. She was told by Hotel A that she would be charged for one night (which is normal) so she decided to stay in Hotel A for one night and then move to Hotel B for the days that remained. At the airport, in the column on the Residence Permit where she was asked to fill in the name and address of the hotel she would be staying at, she put in the name and address of Hotel B because that was where she would be spending the larger portion of her stay.
Big mistake! When she got to Hotel A, she was told that they could not put her up for the one night because the Residence Permit had the name of Hotel B on it. They would be breaking the law if they allowed her to stay. The hotel management was very nice; they called the other hotel and arranged for her to move to Hotel B the same night but it was a hassle and it was tiring and time-consuming for the poor lady. She looked absolutely harassed by the time she checked into Hotel B where we ran into her and she related this entire story.
My question to both governments – Do we really have to do this to each other? Who designs these forms? Don’t they think the whole thing through? Can’t they make things easier. Even the US that is so security conscious, gives a country visa to us. Why should India and Pakistan not do the same for each other? Let us do away with the city specific visas and the defining of ports of entry. Harassing business people and family visitors doesn’t keep out the terrorists. They have their ways and get in somehow.
Another update is that the Indian CID has taken a liking to me. I have been travelling to India for the past 12 years on business but it is only in the last two years that I have been visited by the CID. They are polite enough and I guess they are just doing their job but surely their time could be better utilized elsewhere rather than checking up on me and asking me why I am there, how long was I going to stay, the exact details of my flight back, what i was going to do while I was in India etc. etc. Come on guys – have I suddenly started to look more suspicious than I did before? Surely not! I also object to the fact that although I had told you that 8 more colleagues of mine were arriving the next day, you didn’t come to check up on them. Why do I get all the love?
It is such a delight to see that local companies are actually beginning to develop interesting and engaging content in local languages for kids. We have seen how popular Toffee TV has become since it was first launched and now a new company – Jugnoo Media has launched a fabulous mobile App for the iPhone and iPad. We are told that they are also working on an Android version which will be out soon.
Duddoo Aur Dhobi, as it is called, is based on two popular Urdu nursery rhymes “O Baba duddoo’a” and “Dhobi aaya”. It is an app that provides a highly interactive and immersive environment for children. The app has lyrics and characters based on South Asian themes, heroes, stories and traditions thus providing context.
I first caught sight of it when one of the founders of Jugnoo Media, Zia Imran, sneaked it into the home of our mutual friend Zafar Khan, CEO of Sofizar one evening. Zafar’s young son Zacky was hanging around the living room and Imran took out his iPad and started playing with the app which was still in beta mode. His intention was to get Zacky to test it out for free (Zafar, please note: your son was deprived of a beta testing fee).
The little one took hold of the iPad and start playing very intuitively with the application and was totally engrossed in it the entire evening. He showed it to his mom and his dad and there was no question about how much he loved the app. All of us knew that it would be a hit. I convinced Imran to load it onto my iPad mini the next day and have been playing it myself whenever I get a chance.
Going through Facebook statuses of friends one day, I noticed the following message put up by Sadia Khan who is COO of Autosoft Dynamics:
Raem and Anya’s latest favorite song and app on the ipad – Urdu based nursery rhyme, Duddoo aur Dhobi! Check it out friends and family. Its been made by a Pakistani company and I give it top marks on engaging kids. Both of my kids for the first time in a long while want to play with the same app. I have even caught myself unwittingly humming the duddoo and dhobi song – do check it out and let me know what you all think!! P.s. its free for now so I’d download before they start charging!!!
So it is not only kids but also their parents who are really taken with this app.
Jugnoo Media’s mission is to create wholesome entertainment and educational content for kids of all ages (I guess that means I am included too). This is good news for South Asian parents who think there is a dearth of good localized content available in electronic format.
Jugnoo means ‘Firefly’ in Urdu, Hindi and other regional languages of South Asia. The venture is named Jugnoo Media because the founders were simply enthralled by the vast presence of this small insect while growing up. They say that in the old days, it was the norm for young children to run after these beautiful insects and attempt to catch them. Some would put them in glass bottles to make lanterns. In today’s day and age, this beautiful and fragile insect is under severe threat. As cities become large, paved and cemented with less and less natural habitat, the jugnoo has virtually disappeared from large cities of South Asia.
Local culture, heritage and languages are on the defensive; being squeezed out by the massive global culture which emphasizes cultural homogenity at the expense of cultural diversity. It tends to be more material than spiritual and is devoid of local context. Jugnoo Media wants to change that. Its first project is to build immersive digital toys in local languages that are based on popular nursery rhymes of the region. Good luck guys! We look forward to seeing more apps/games/stories coming out of the Jugnoo Media stable (or should that be ‘garage’)?
I have always been a Cathay Pacific fan – well maybe not always. There was a time when the Cathay stewardesses didn’t treat women business travellers with the same respect and decorum as they did the male traveller and that used to annoy the hell out of me. But either the number of women business travellers have increased over time thus forcing a change in the attitude of stewardesses or the CX training has focused on bringing about this positive change. Anyway, suffice it to say that I was until recently a very satisfied Cathay Pacific customer.
So what happened to change all that? Well, this time when I was traveling to San Francisco I decided to fly Cathay Pacific. Since I had some frequent flyer miles available I upgraded myself on the outgoing sector to business class. I enjoyed the comfort so much that on the return journey I went online to the Cathay Pacific site to upgrade the return journey although I had to pay a little for the upgrade. Sound simple? I thought so. Apparently it wasn’t.
The upgrade wasn’t reflected in my online booking so I asked my brother who lives in Hong Kong to talk to CX and find out why the change was not reflected. In response to this they checked and told him that it was done.
A happy ending you would think. No it wasn’t – it was the beginning of a nightmare. Apparently what CX had done was that instead of upgrading me on the sector they had issued a new business class ticket and charged me for it. How or why was this done, you might ask. Well, when I checked with CX on landing in Hong Kong, I was informed that I should never have used the online mechanism for the upgrade. Isn’t that what it is there for, I asked? I was told quite rudely that passengers were not expected to use the service – that it only resulted in messing up things. And because my brother had made the call as a follow up, they said the instructions had been duplicated resulting in two tickets (Economy & Business) being valid on the same day, on the same flight, same passenger name, same Passport number, same Marco Polo Club number instead of a simple upgrade from Economy to Business.
Whereas I can understand that mistakes happen, the rudeness and total inflexibility with which the Cathay Pacific team dealt with the problem at Chep Lap Kwok airport – the counter staff as well as the Supervisor – put me off traveling CX. I thought that the customer was always right. In this case the deaf ears of the airline staff proved that customer service is not of any importance to what used to be one of the best airlines in the world. It’s really sad. To win a customer takes a lot of effort but to lose them it takes but a moment of rudeness. Has Cathay Pacific forgotten that as a customer, I have a choice of many airlines and that my satisfaction or otherwise with their service can influence my decision and the decision of many people in my network?
Since they were aware that I could use only one ticket on that flight from SFO to Hong Kong to Karachi, wouldn’t it have been easier to accept the mistake of their online system & staff, and refund the economy portion? They would have lost nothing by doing that and would have in fact gained the gratitude and loyalty of an existing customer.
This happened to me last June and only now have I been able to write about it. That shows how upset I was and have been since then. I didn’t even want to think about it. CX turned what had been a wonderful business trip to San Francisco and personal stopover in Hong Kong into a frustrating and annoying experience. I didn’t expect this of you Cathay Pacific.
This is one of the rare times that I have been unable to accompany the Pakistan delegation to the Asia Pacific ICT Awards (APICTA) since I took over as President of the Association. To say that I was unhappy at not being able to go with them, would be an understatement. One of the greatest joys in my job at P@SHA is to recognize talent and innovation and promote and project it – talk about it, shout from the rooftops so that the world will realize the brilliance of the young people of this country. So not being able to go and witness their brilliance in Brunei was disappointing to say the least.
And brilliant they were!! Yet again!! Only 7 products were nominated from Pakistan this year. Of these 4 came away with Silver Awards. Of those 4, we had the amazing Dr. Shoab Khan, CEO of CARE, with their product Secure High Data Rate Wideband Networking Radio Waveform with Multiple Access for Software Defined Radios in the Communications Category, Munir Usman and Amir Ali Jiwani, CEO and CTO of Pi-Labs for their products Candy Pot/Feed Garfield in the very competitive New Media & Entertainment Category, Tunacode with their product gKrypt and a joint nomination from EME (NUST)/CARE/Shifa – the Network Enabled Retinal Image Analysis and Screening System for Grading and Diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy.
As Jawwad Ahmed Farid, our Chief Mentor for APICTA, says “we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw Dr. Shoab Khan walk into the Empire Hotel in Brunei because he is our Wasim Akram and Javed Miandad rolled into one. We know he is going to bowl everyone out and/or go for a huge SIX”. And that’s certainly true. CARE continues to innovate and produce great applications that compare with the best in the world.
What is extremely heartwarming is the performance of two startups in the most difficult categories at APICTA – Security and New Media and Entertainment. Pi-Lab’s Candy Pot/Feed Garfield Game Engine and Tunacode’s gKrypt made the judges sit up and take notice. Such work out of Pakistan always surprises technology gurus from the rest of the world but I think as year after year our technologists show what they are capable of, the judges are becoming used to seeing such innovation from our ICT industry.
The preparations for Team Pakistan’s participation at APICTA began weeks before the team travelled to Brunei. Jawwad Farid sent templates, tutorials and guidelines so that the teams would start preparing themselves for the task ahead. He and I bullied participants so that they would take the time from their busy schedules to concentrate on their presentations. Zafar Khan took the lead in Lahore and helped participants in Karachi via phone and email as well. I had to soothe the feathers of the Chief Mentor when he thought that nominees were not responding as quickly as he wanted them to. People like Rabia Garib and Talea Zafar put in time to help with storyboarding and presentation preparations for a couple of the participants. Powerpoints went back and forth from Lahore and Islamabad to Karachi and several iterations later they were still being fine-tuned.
At APICTA I wear 3 hats – Economy Coordinator, EXCO Member and Head of Delegation. It requires a lot of multitasking but it is a labour of love and I thoroughly enjoy it. Since I knew that I would not be going this year, I had to make sure that I delegated the work to friends within the delegation.
Sadaf Ali from my team at P@SHA, was given the role of Economy Coordinator. I know a couple of our CEC members were a little nervous about a total novice taking on this important task but I had faith in young Sadaf and I am proud to say that my faith was not misplaced. From the time she took on the task weeks before flying to Brunei, she took to it like a duck to water. I was copied on everything so I knew exactly what she was up to. She was pro-active and competent and the feedback from Brunei shows that she did a much better job than I would have. Well done Sadaf!
Another young woman in the delegation was Syeda Areej Kamal from NED University. She didn’t win in the Tertiary Student Category because there was some extremely tough competition in terms of technology as well as student projects already generating over US$40,000 in revenue. The support that those projects receive in terms of training, participation costs over the year at various events and investment by government in their projects is what helps those kids from countries like Hong Kong to perform brilliantly each year. We need to take a look at what we are missing out on by not offering similar support to our youngsters. However, if you had seen Areej’s presentation, you would be amazed. It wowed our mentors and judges during the late night mentoring sessions at the Empire Hotel in Brunei. They shared it with me and I was blown away. Well done Areej. We are proud of you.
My EXCO duties were shared by Jawwad, Zafar and Sultan who are very popular at APICTA and who’ve made many friends in the region. They, and Badar Khushnood, have as judges won the respect of counterparts from the Asia Pacific and Pakistan is lucky to have such passionate and dedicated professionals representing us. Badar covers his own costs (as did Faizan Siddiqi this year) to travel to APICTA, to provide great feedback to nominees during the prep sessions and to generally be there as part of the supporting team that projects our country and our industry so phenomenally. Thanks guys. Where would we be without you?
The Head of Delegation duty was transferred to Sultan Hamdani – and who better than our Sultan to head a delegation to Brunei. The man is a total charmer and gets people to do whatever is needed whenever its needed and finds creative solutions to any problem that may creep up.
As you can see, the team was in good hands… and yet like a mother hen, I worried nonetheless. I kept bugging them with emails and messages on GTalk. The night before the results were announced I didn’t sleep because I was so anxious. First thing in the morning I kept pinging them to ask if there was any news coming out of the Final Judges’ meeting. I was on pins and needles. It was as if my life depended on it. I needn’t have worried though. Team Pakistan didn’t let us down. They held the flag high and did us proud. Thank you guys and girls. Thank you for allowing us to hold our heads up high once again.
Other relevant posts:
APICTA Photo Blog – Arrival
The past few months have been tough and although many friends and colleagues have raved about how brave I have been, I have actually been quite scared and have tried to take it one day at a time so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed. The strategy has worked I think – at least to some degree.
The surgery is over. The external staples are out. Internal healing will take another 3 weeks according to the doctor. The histology report has come in and the news is very good. It was indeed very early stage cancer and was contained. The surgeon was able to get it all. There is no sign of it in the lymph nodes or in the surrounding tissue.
Met with the radiation oncologist the other day. He was very positive. He said I was very lucky. The report indicated that I was, what he called, now a low risk patient and hence he did not think that I needed to undergo radiation treatment. I would however need to go in to see my doctor every 2 months for monitoring and examination to ensure that any signs of recurrence were detected early.
To say that I am relieved would be an understatement. I feel I have been given a new lease on life and I must use this well …. and I intend to. It has been three weeks since my surgery. My doctor says I must rest for another three weeks if I want to avoid long-term repercussions. It is tough to follow her instructions but I am doing it because I know I have to.
You know, ever since I have started to write about what I am going through, I have heard from friends and colleagues who are survivors or who have family who are going through a similar experience. Some have told me that by sharing my thoughts and feelings, I have helped them be more positive or look at things with a different perspective. That makes me happy. I have always found it therapeutic to write down what I was feeling but I never thought that by doing so, I would also be helping someone else.
To all those who have prayed for me, who have sent positive vibes, offered advice and support, sent bouquets, books, gifts, cupcakes and fruit, those who have been there every step of the way, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
This was only the second time that I had been admitted to hospital – the first being a few years ago when I had dengue and had to spend 4 days at OMI. That was bad enough but this stint has been the most challenging. To be diagnosed with cancer, to have major surgery, to be immobile and dependent, to not know what lies ahead. I have had to muster up all my strength and positivity to get through it this far. There have been many who have helped either from a distance or from being right there every step of the way.
I must admit to being very scared. Going under the knife (scalpel) was not something i was looking forward to. I had watched enough medical shows on television to know that things could go very wrong. The consent form i had signed spelt out all the possible risks. I would have to be stupid not to be scared. Nonetheless I put up a bravado and maintained a sense of humour for the sake of family and friends. The fact that I had cancer had already traumatised them. If they saw how terrified I was they would not be able to handle it. I did however ask my old friend Rukhsana to draft out a will for me – I am not rich but I didn’t want what I do have to go into limbo in case something happened to me.
I was admitted into AKU on the 30th of October. I would be third in line for the surgery the next morning. There were 2 minor operations scheduled prior to mine. As I was taken away on the stretcher at around 10 a.m. my friends followed until they were finally restricted from going any further. I waved goodbye, took a deep breath, said a little prayer and got ready to face what lay ahead.
In the prep area, my doctor Dr. Aliya Begum Aziz came and spoke to me. She is young, very professional and inspires confidence. I was so glad that she was my surgeon. She explained that the anaesthesiologist would present me with two options – one was the epidural which was better in terms of pain management post-op. My threshold for pain is extremely low so I opted for the epidural. I do remember asking the well- spoken and pleasant anaesthesiologist if there was any risk associated with the procedure. He assured me there was not. Of course implanting the epidural took some time and several attempts due to my body mass (note – must try and lose weight).
Thankfully, the next thing I remember is seeing my doctor through a haze telling me that although the surgery had taken 3 1/2 hours, it had been totally successful; that she had managed to take out all the cancerous bits and the disease seemed to be contained and early- stage. She looked happy. That must be good, I thought to myself.
In the recovery room, I remember seeing my friends Afia and Rukhsana reassuring me and asking how I was. I must have dozed off after that until they moved me to the Special Care Unit where I was tied to machines and tubes which monitored my progress post-op. Quite a scary sight!
Fast forward to 18 hours later when I was moved to my room because the doc thought my condition was stable enough.
The next few days were tough. I had always been the caregiver, never the patient, so this was a new experience for me. I had never felt so dependent on others. My Chief Attendant, Afia Salam – a friend for decades – was a blessing. Having been through this herself, she knew what to watch out for. She also knew when not to panic and transferred much of that calmness to me. Other than one day when I remember being a grouch, I think I was a pretty good patient.
Afia stayed with me at the hospital and took on the duties of Executive Secretary answering all the enquiries regarding my health, putting up health updates on Facebook and Twitter so that family, friends and well-wishers would know how I was doing. Some of these were photo updates. She screened all my calls. My Florence Nightingale team also included Nuzhat, Rukhsana, Farieha, Sana and Seema all of whom took out time to be with me, to provide cheer and support.
Family is very important when you are going through a rough time. My siblings were a great source of strength and support through this period. They kept in touch letting me know that they were there for me and that everything would be okay. My brother Samar and his wife Faiza came over from London and spent some time with me prior to the surgery. They also insisted that I have my room refurnished and wrote out a cheque so that I would be pressurised into getting it done.
My brother Zafar who is a very busy chap and never leaves his office for more than a few days at a time, flew to Karachi from Hong Kong to be with my father during my hospitalisation so that I would not worry. He also came to the hospital daily and other than spending time with me, brought various gadgets to cheer me up – the primary one being the new iPad Mini. Wow! That really brought a smile to my face.
My uncles, aunts, cousins (especially the ones who are doctors) offered support and advice pre-op as well as post-op.
I spent 8 days in the hospital. Some of these were extremely rough – the pain, the nausea, the weakness, the dependence, needles being poked into me – it was all quite challenging. I don’t think I would have got through it if not for the prayers, support and good wishes of friends and family, the bouquets, the calls , the visits that Afia “hitler” Salam allowed .
Several things occurred to me as I lay in that hospital bed:
1. How had my dearest mother gone through so many years of illness and hospitalizations and retained her sense of humour?
2. Ammi had been right about how lucky we are to be able to afford such good healthcare. If we still went through so much discomfort, what happened to those who couldn’t afford these facilities?
3. Men and women who are not compassionate and who don’t consider nursing as a mission, should not become nurses. When a person is ill they need gentle, tender, loving care coupled with professionalism. Nurses can make a patient’s stay a pleasant bearable one or a nightmare from hell.
4. When you keep telling someone who is going through pain that it will be okay, it doesn’t help. All it results in is silly platitudes that eventually tend to irritate.
5. When someone tells you that they can’t eat or drink something, listen to them. Their body is telling them that there is some reason why it won’t accept food or drink. Don’t insist!
6. Do what the doctor says! Sit up, walk, do your exercises. The healing will be quicker.
7. Hospitals should have more nurses to go around. It is a tough job and for them to do it well, they need to be well rested.
8. Hospitals should have better chefs. This is when patients need palatable food the most.
While I was in hospital, my two activists-turned-interior designers, Farieha and Sana, re-furnished my room. Technology was used at every stage as they sent pictures of bookshelves, mirrors, cushions, bedspreads etc on What’s App and got my approval. They even used Skype to show me the designs of the blinds. By the time I got home the room was re-done. My brother had helped by putting rods in the bathroom and by installing the television on the wall of the bedroom. It was all made very comfortable for me.
I have always known this but the one thing that has been re-established in my mind and in my heart is that I am extremely fortunate to have so many people in my life who care about me and are willing to rally around whenever I need help. They are there to share in my joys and are there to offer prayers and support through the most challenging times. That is such a blessing. To say thank you would never be enough. From the core of my being I pray that they are showered with God’s blessings always.