Time to move on

After a period of 20 years I have made the decision to resign as President of P@SHA and will be moving on as of May 1, 2021. My resignation has been accepted by the Chairman and the Central Executive Committee of P@SHA.

In my two decades at P@SHA I have dedicated my life to the Pakistan IT & ITES industry. Day and night have not mattered, nor have weekends or holidays. It has been a passion and a belief that has driven me to an extreme that even I did not know was possible.

From the Startup Insiders initiative that was responsible for inspiring many young people into taking the entrepreneurship route, to the P@SHA Launchpad events, to initiating the P@SHA ICT Awards in 2003 and taking many of our tech innovators to the Asia Pacific to compete in the APICTA Awards and show our friends in the region the kind of products that were being developed in Pakistan. Policy interactions with the government vis-à-vis ICT Policy, the Cyber Crime Bill, Data Protection and Privacy, and engaging with students and universities to bridge the gap between industry and academia and promoting the Pakistan tech sector around the world at major events, it has been a rollercoaster ride like no other … and I have loved every minute of it.

There are many in the local IT industry whose work I admire and am inspired by and who have become personal friends and collaborators. These relationships are long-lasting and will no doubt continue to flourish.

As many of you know, for the past 6 years I have focused, for the most part, on developing and promoting the Pakistan startup ecosystem through The Nest I/O, its flagship startup conference 021Disrupt and our many community outreach events. Guiding, mentoring, and working with a community of young entrepreneurs has brought me immense pleasure. The founders from these 200+ startups – as well as others who have emerged across Pakistan – will take this country and its economy forward.

When I ponder on the brand that my team and I have created and, along with it, the perception around the world of a young, entrepreneurial and innovative Pakistan, we feel a sense of fulfillment and pride. God has indeed been kind.

As I approach the last few years of my professional and working life, I want to spend every waking hour doing what I believe will create the most impact. There are 3 areas that I am most passionate about and would like to focus my efforts on – Developing women leaders, facilitation and scaling of women owned startups and working with accelerated startups in the fintech, agri-tech, green-tech, health and edu-tech domains.

We will start on our new journey from the first of May. Wish us luck. We will need all the help we  can get. We will be reaching out to many of you to join us in this new adventure. No doubt you will be as excited as we are to assist us in our mission. Onwards and upwards!

April 15, 2021 at 11:13 am 14 comments

She lives on in us …

I woke up this morning after a very restless night feeling extremely lost. alone and out of sync. This is a day each year that I dread to relive. Eighteen years ago on this day, the person whom we loved and adored most, was taken from us and the world has never been the same again.

Ammi was unique, she was the glue that held us together. She was the cornerstone of our existence, the person who was always there to love us, to care for us, to celebrate with us and to unruffle our feathers and soothe us whenever anything went wrong. She was our guardian angel, our best friend, our confidante, our cheerleader- the person who loved us unconditionally and in whose eyes we could do no wrong. We were the most important people in her life and she always made us feel special and important.

That day 18 years ago is still so vivid in my memory. We were in a hospital as we had often been over the years. Ammi had multiple health problems – systemic lupus, hypertension, pulmonary embolism, rheumatoid arthritis etc and so she sometimes had to spend days and weeks in hospital. But she would always come home. Except this time! We had been in hospital more than a week. That day she had undergone multiple more tests because of some new symptoms. The doctor had just come in and told us the result of those tests. Apparently Ammi had Hepatitis C and she had 5 tumours in her liver which were malignant. A few minutes following this diagnosis, as I sat by her bedside holding her hand, Ammi breathed her last. Just like that she was gone.

The next few days were spent in a blur. First there was disbelief, then a slow realization of what had happened. Ammi was gone. The woman who had been there for us all our lives had gone to heaven. She had left a vacuum that no-one else would ever be able to fill.

Ammi had been married while still in her teens so she grew up along with us. She was self-educated – a voracious reader of everything – fiction, literature, poetry, newspapers – you name it. She watched films, documentaries and listened to discussions on television. Most people who met her assumed that she had a Masters’ degree or a PhD. She could carry on a conversation on any topic. She was passionate about so many things, had a strong belief in the goodness of people and our ability to make things better.

Despite being so ill for almost 20 years, Ammi enjoyed life. She was always happy and whenever anyone enquired about her welfare, she would smile and say “I’m fine”. No complaints. No whining. That smile was warm and affectionate and lit up her face and eyes and drew you to her. She was a very loving, thoughtful and sensitive person – empathetic to others’ needs, ever watchful and available to give advice, to offer help or just be there when someone needed her. Totally selfless to the core. She was so very generous and forgave people instinctively. Sometimes we wondered how she could forgive someone who had been nasty but that was who she was. She would say maybe they had their reasons, maybe it was in a moment of weakness that they had done or said what they had, that it was okay.

Ammi’s sense of humour was really infectious. She would find something funny in almost everything. We would be in fits of laughter after sharing stories or experiences of days gone by. All harmless. Just a reason to smile and enjoy the fact that we were together.

The past year has been rough on many of us – seeing so much suffering, losing friends and colleagues, having to distance ourselves from people we care about, restricting our social contact, struggling economically – it has all been difficult and continues to challenge each one of us. The uncertainty is hard but we have to put up with it and somehow support each other through it. This is when I miss Ammi even more. She was so good at being there for everyone, for consoling people during their worst crises. Her mellow, gentle and warm nature somehow made everything seem much easier to deal with.

As we commemorate the 18th anniversary of her transition to a better place, I would like to honour her memory by showing kindness to another human being, by alleviating someone’s hunger or suffering and by committing to being the best version of myself that I can be.

Ammi was a wonderful and exceptional human being. She gave so much of herself to those she came in contact with and certainly contributed to making this a better world. I hope that we – her children – are a small reflection of who she was. That is the least that we owe her.

April 1, 2021 at 1:22 pm Leave a comment

An adventure and a half

A severe weather system was headed towards Karachi from Mumbai after having wreaked havoc there.We were told to expect heavy rains, thunderstorms, lightening and flooding for the next few days starting late afternoon on Thursday. I came into work yesterday morning fully prepared. In case the report was true (I am usually skeptical of weather reports) and I was stuck, I was not going to be caught off guard again like last time.

So I carefully packed pyjamas, two change of outfits, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, my medicines, my steam press – everything I would need if I had to stay over at The Nest I/O.

I had a quilt and pillow already that my colleague Hamna had dropped off when I was stuck at the office the previous week. That would indeed come in handy. I also brought Jenga back to the offiece. It is always a fun pursuit when you have time to kill.

We already had other Board games like Sequence, Scrabble and Monopoly; we have a table tennis table … and last but not least a 65″ Samsung Ccurve TV to watch movies on. What more would one need? As far as I was concerned, I was set!

So when it started to rain in the afternoon, I was not worried. I continued to work, moderated a 1 hour 45 minute Zoom session on E-commerce and Changing Consumer Preferences for The Nest I/O Startup Pulsse and after that was over, I played some table tennis.

There were 6 or 7 of us left in the office and at around 8 pm we looked outside the window to decide whether we should venture home or stay put. It appeared to be drizzling. I called home to ask what the situation was on that side of town and was told by the housekeeper that although there was a bit of rain, it was nothing like last time.

Satisfied I packed up my laptop and all of us decided to head home. I had barely left the building when I realized that I had made a mistake. The sky had suddenly opened up and the rain was pouring down like crazy. The visibility was almost non-existent. Conflicting thoughts were going through my mind – should I continue my journey home? Maybe this would not last. Turning around might be more complicated. But what if it didn’t stop? What if it got worse? While all these thoughts crossed my mind, I kept driving – slowly but surely – until the option of returning to the office was no longer viable.

Hence I decided to continue my adventure and drive on. BIG MISTAKE. There was lots of water everywhere and there was no way to escape driving through it. I was very careful but at multiple places i felt the car was literally floating. At certain spots I could even hear it gurgling. That is when I started to wonder what i would do if the car halted. Each area I passed I told myself that if I was stuck there, I would call this Nestling to come and help because he lives nearby or call that other one who lives in that area that I was now in. So little by little I moved forward and was fortunately finally able to get home – stressed but safe. It was an adventure I could have done without. I guess my mistake was leaving the office in the first place.

I don’t know why this city and its leadership cannot get its act together – to deal with the drains, the garbage, the electricity. Each year we go through this and each year we forget. Who do we hold responsible? I don’t even have the energy to think about it.

Today it poured again and I am not even thinking of attempting to go home. I brought everything I need with me and I am going to camp out here tonight. It is a comfortable and safe space and there won’t be any risk of getting stranded somewhere on the road.

August 7, 2020 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

Want a Free copy of Founder Puzzles?

When Jawwad Ahmed Farid first asked me to go through Founder Puzzles – a book that he has written on Financial Modeling for Startups – I kept ignoring his pleas, insisting that I just didn’t have time (which I really didn’t). Zoom meetings, panel discussions, Fireside chats, interviews, etc. have all kept me in a state of constant exhaustion since the lockdown began.

However, if I am to be totally honest, I would have made the time but I didn’t want to even look at the book because I was scared. Despite the fact that my father and one of my brothers were career bankers and my youngest brother is a Chartered Accountant, finance is something I have never understood nor wanted to understand. I tune out whenever I have to look at anything that is related to finance. I was a bit annoyed that Jawwad wanted me to read it. I knew I wouldn’t get it. Why torture me by making me go through it?

But Jawwad is a friend and I find it very difficult to say no to a good friend. So a couple of days ago, after going home from work, I finally opened up the PDF of Founder Puzzles and started reading the chapters that he had said I should start with. And you know what? I was amazed that I actually understood the content. I guess I should have known that it would be an easy read, that the tone would be a friendly one, that it would be like reading a story – because that is how Jawwad has always conveyed the most difficult concepts – through storytelling. And he obviously knew who his readers were going to be – mostly founders from a computer science background for whom financial modeling would be as complicated as it is for me.

I will not tell you that I have read the whole book because I haven’t yet. I have read Chapters 1, 3 and 5 because that is what the author told me to start with. What I really like about the book is that the learning is experiential and takes place through questions being asked, assumptions being made and then those assumptions being tested quickly, either being proven right or wrong so that one can move on to the next stage.

As Founders many of us are prone to jumping into an initiative without actually thinking it through. Yes passion is a key driver and keeps us going through the worst of times. But we have got to admit that if we gave a little thought right at the outset to costs, to pricing, to expected revenues, perhaps we would not end up making some of the mistakes we do. Founder Puzzles will ensure that we don’t.

I feel that the book is so very important for every founder that I have decided to give away 20 copies (I have paid for 10 and the author has thrown in an additional 10 copies).

But, having said that, I don’t want these books to gather dust in your folders. They are yours for the taking if you promise to read the book and post a review on FB, Linkedin and Twitter. Talk about what you learnt from the book, how the book helped you and how you found it relevant. Also talk about what the author could do to make it better and more relevant. When you are done, tag me and Jawwad Farid on your review. Let’s start a conversation on educating ourselves when it comes to numbers and finance. About time we did something about this together. First come first served. Women founders preferred. Ping me now or post in the Comment section.

The book comes with three excel files. Basic models to work with and use side by side with the book. It also comes with a free copy of Reboot and Better Excel charts

For those who are not fortunate enough to get a free copy, go and buy one. It is the best investment you will ever make https://bit.ly/FounderPuzzleStore

July 24, 2020 at 5:44 pm 14 comments

No-one can ever replace her

She was truly one of a kind. Seventeen years and the memory of Ammi is still so fresh in our minds and in our hearts. Her infectious smile, her giggles, her ability to find something humourous in almost every situation, her compassion, her love, her tenderness, her capacity to make everything bad suddenly disappear, was uncanny. Ammi was the true epitome of a perfect, caring and loving mother and a fabulous human being.

Ammi blue saree and tigguLike most of the world, today I am “locked down” at home. The current environment, the loneliness, the uncertainty of the situation makes me miss Ammi all the more. Everything in this house reminds me of her. Her pre-longed illness meant that she spent most of her time either in her bedroom or in the lounge. On weekdays she would be on the lookout for me as I walked into the house after work. A broad bright smile would welcome me and she would ask me how my day had been. I would lie down on her bed and tell her everything – good, bad or ugly. She was such a great listener – and totally non-judgmental. Sometimes she would present a perspective that shifted my thinking about something that was stressing me out or making me sad. I don’t know how she did it – it was magical.

On weekends we would wake up and I would go into the kitchen to prepare a special Sunday breakfast for her and Abbaji. She would join me in the kitchen, sit on a chair and chat with me as i cooked. It was our special time.

As I woke up this morning and spoke to some of my siblings, thoughts of Ammi and all the special memories came flooding in. It made me laugh and cry at the same time. I wished she hadn’t left us so soon. All of us needed her so much and we still do.

Today I am wondering how she would have coped with the current scenario. Sensitive as she was, she would have felt the pain of the people who were suffering from the Corona virus, she would have felt with intensity the struggles of the daily wage workers, the healthcare workers, of those who were losing their jobs. She would have wanted to do whatever she could to help ease their pain and discomfort. That was who she was – always thinking of others, never of herself.

At home she would have been a blessing for me. She would have loved having me here all to herself. We would have found ways for us to do things together during non-work hours – watching movies, cooking together or just hanging out conversing on all sorts of subjects or just going into a fit of laughter for no rhyme or reason.

jasmine for ammiI picked up these flowers this morning from our garden. She loved their smell, the freshness. Abbaji would pluck them for her every morning when he went for a walk. She would take them from him and smile. That precious smile – Just thinking about it brings a feeling of peace and warmth to my heart.

Ammi, we know you are in a better place and watching over us from above. Just know that you were very special to all of us and we will always love you.

 

April 1, 2020 at 2:13 pm 1 comment

The world is suddenly on its head

thinkingWas it only a few weeks ago that we were living in a world that was less complicated, less scary, maybe even carefree for many of us? I remember flying off quite happily to London and Vienna in February for work related activities – roaming around, attending events, visiting various offices, taking pictures and having wonderful conversations. Even though around that time there was already talk about the virus, about not shaking hands or giving hugs, about keeping a distance, but for some reason it didn’t seem that frightening then. Yes we carried around a bottle of sanitizer in our bags and were careful about not touching unnecessary items, more conscious of hygiene but we joked about it – the Wuhan handshake, the Vulcan greeting, shaking elbows instead of hands, sanitizers and toilet paper disappearing from shelves – it all seemed like harmless banter, nothing that was really terrifying.

Fast forward a few weeks and here we are – in the midst of a lockdown, offices shut down, entire cities giving a deserted look, most of us isolated from the rest of society. Turn on any news channel and all you see and hear are statistics – how many infected, how many dead, warnings to stay indoors; visuals of people who are really ill, of medical health workers who are in protective gear from head to foot, of empty streets, restaurants, shops, cinemas, parks, malls, bazaars all barricaded. A strange silence everywhere. It seems like a totally different world from the one we knew just some weeks ago.

Work from home which had always been an alternative for some has now become a norm – Zoom, Hangout, WhatsApp, Skype and Slack have become tools that we use to connect, to collaborate, to learn, to impart, to brainstorm. Face-to-face interaction in the same physical space is no longer what we do. We are in our own spaces, connected to technology that brings us together for meetings and conversations. Each of us is finding creative ways to work with each other without being in a defined and familiar environment.

The routines we were used to – getting up early, showering and changing, having early breakfasts and heading out in our modes of transport to schools, work places, meetings, having a gossip over a cup of tea or coffee at work, sharing and tweaking projects, brainstorming on a white board, answering enquiries from others within the same space, going down to the supermarket, taking a lunch break, heading out in the evening for an event or to meet friends or playing table tennis before heading home. Full days of activities when we knew what we had to do at certain times of the day. Always on the move. But no more! All that has come to a halt. Everything is on its head.

The first few days of the lockdown I woke up at the normal time and didn’t know what to do with myself. What was the point of showering and changing since there was nowhere to go. I felt a little lost without my routine. I missed all of it – the rushed schedule, the chaos, the activities, the noise, the interaction, the conversations, even the coffee and the stress. My brain refused to function under these new conditions because it just didn’t know how to.

The team and I had already worked out a WFH routine even before the lockdown and had started implementing it but I was still going into the office then. Now I was not. It was disconcerting. It took a while to tune myself to the new realities. I understood that unless I worked out a routine I was going into a “lost” mode which I would find it difficult to come out of. The new routine was much like the old one with a few tweaks – Wake up, shower, change, have breakfast, medicines and then settle down into a comfortable but convenient workspace. Start working with the team, take my calls, daily calls with my siblings, official zoom meetings, lunch, attend and arrange online sessions, continue to work with the team. Break at 5 or 6, watch a movie or two, have coffee or green tea, go for a walk in the garden. Check in on the news channels. Restrict that to twice a day so as not to get completely traumatized.

This new routine seems to be working although the cheer has disappeared. There is nothing but uncertainty, doom and gloom, silence, lack of sufficient physical activity. What helps a little is trying to support daily wage workers and those who are suffering through engagement and financial support to organizations who are working on the ground, providing logistical help, food, medicines, advice. I am told that because of my pre-existing conditions and age, I should refrain from any volunteering which involves distribution or contact with large numbers of people. I am usually a very stubborn person but this time I am listening. I am trying to be sensible. It is such a different time. God help us all to get through it. We all know that the last few weeks have changed the world forever.

April 1, 2020 at 12:03 pm Leave a comment

Memories are what keep us going

It was a Sunday morning in Hong Kong – years ago. My father had gone to the airport to drop off some friends. The time was 6 a.m. The phone rang. It was Abbaji. I asked if the flight had been delayed. He said no – flight was on time. Friends had departed. “So are you on your way back?” I asked. He responded cheerfully “Yes … and I have some new friends with me whom I just met at the airport. Can you prepare a nice brunch? Halwa, puri, tarkari etc.” Who were these new friends? Well, the story was that a young Indian couple had landed at Kaitak airport and discovered that their hosts were not there to receive them. They looked a bit lost and worried so Abbaji being Abbaji went up to them, introduced himself and asked if everything was okay. Hearing their story he smiled and said “No problem. Come home with me, have breakfast and we will phone your hosts. I can then drop you off to wherever they live.  He must have looked trustworthy (which of course he was) so they agreed and came home with him to a lavish brunch that Ammi and I had prepared.

This was typical Abbaji. We grew up seeing similar things happening on a regular basis  – him reaching out to help anyone who needed assistance. No agenda. No expectation of any returns. It is what made him happy. He was always on the go. Always entertaining. Always engaged in some sort of community activity. Early start to each day – even Sunday. He could never comprehend lethargy. “Each moment should be valued”, he used to say. “Why waste it?”

It has been six years since he left us but the memories are ever fresh in our minds and in our hearts. He was not a rich man but he took care of our essential needs and gave us so much wealth in terms of teachings and values … it is these things that continue to serve us well. His diligence, his integrity, his giving nature, his genuineness, his ability to forgive, all made him the special person he was.  He had a large network consisting of friends of different nationalities, of varying ages some of whom I keep running into even now. It makes me happy that people remember him and value the interaction and relationship they had with him.

Ammi’s death hit him hard. When you spend over 50 years together, it is difficult to imagine a life without each other. He was never the same after her death. My siblings and I tried to fill the gap but I don’t think we ever succeeded.

Abbaji lived a full life and created a great deal of impact. He valued his relationships with people and never ever looked back. He was a man whom everyone respected and he was a  mentor to many. We miss him terribly and try to honour him by living an exemplary life guided by the principles and values that he taught us through example. Rest in peace Abbaji. We love you and miss you.

 

 

 

January 17, 2020 at 10:35 am 1 comment

Happy birthday to a woman of substance

ammi-and-tigguShe was a soft, gentle woman with a ready smile who was always there whenever any of us needed her – and even when we didn’t. She was our pillar of strength, our constant, the person who kept us glued together. Ammi would have been 84 years old today had she lived but that was not to be. They say God takes good people away to heaven sooner rather than later. Ammi passed away at age 67 just under 17 years ago.

Looking back at her life I can only remember a woman who was constantly giving – her love, her time, her attention, her advice, her compassion. Despite her prolonged illness, she was always positive, always cheerful. No matter how bad things seemed to us at times, her smile made everything okay. It was like there was a magic aura around her that healed whatever ailed us.

I can’t believe she has been gone so long. When I walk into the house even now, I feel her presence. I guess that is why I have refused to move out of our family home. It is where I find comfort, where there are memories that continue to warm my heart.

Ammi was a good cook. There was a flavour in everything she made – simple or complicated. Much of what she cooked she learnt over time. She loved to cook things that her family enjoyed. However, my father loved to entertain (he said it was his only vice) so she often made what could be termed as gourmet dishes. Since we lived a lot of our early lives in Hong Kong where we couldn’t buy naan/roti or Pakistani desserts, we learnt to experiment and make all sorts of food. I was her junior chef (her chotu) who watched her cook and helped in any way I could. Our gulab jamun and coconut barfi soon became the talk of the town and friends often used to request us to especially make it for them. My mother never refused. That was who she was.

ammi in orangeAmmi was married at a very early age so much of what she learnt was through self-discovery, through reading newspapers and books, and watching documentaries and films and through conversations . She was an avid reader and many of the books we have in the shelf in our lounge belonged to her. I have often thought of giving them away but haven’t had the heart to. If you know a library where you believe a diverse set of Urdu and English books – novels, Naqoosh, biographies, etc will be read and re-read, reach out to me. I think it is about time these books were used more than they have been since Ammi’s death. At first Abbaji read some of them, then some friends and family borrowed them but nowadays most of them just sit there.

Together Ammi and Abbaji created what is our value system. They were for the most part responsible for the people we are today. A strong sense of integrity and fairplay was embedded in us as youngsters and it is something that has stayed with us. Compassion, a sense of giving, a lack of selfishness, our commitment to hard work are all part of our mental make up. If there are any weakness in us as humans, it is entirely due to our own lack of ability.

Happy birthday sweet, angelic Ammi. Thank you for being who you were. We were indeed lucky to have you as an essential part of our lives. I hope that we live up to the expectations that you and Abbaji had of us. It is the only way we can continue to honour your memory.

 

 

January 6, 2020 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Remembering a man who was our anchor

This morning after waking up I went to his room, sat on his chair and thought about the many happy times we had spent together with him. Throughout our lives Abbaji  had been a pillar of strength for all of us. He was the one who taught us the importance of time, of discipline, of integrity, of friends and of community. If anyone needed anything, he got it done before they had the chance to ask again. He was a connector, always on the move.

He would have been 94 years old today and, in accordance with tradition, we would have cut a cake, given him presents and cards. My siblings would have called from all over the world to wish him happy birthday. In his own typical style he would have said “You shouldn’t have bought me these things. I have so much already” although you could tell how happy he was that we made such a fuss over him.

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My father was a very hardworking man. He was at work even before the office cleaners got there. He built his career from the ground up and was well-respected in banking circles in Hong Kong, the UAE and Pakistan. We were all very proud of him. Even today I run into people all the time who speak of the contribution he made to their lives, to their growth, to where they are today.

Happy birthday Abbaji. You have left behind so many memories. I hope that throughout our lives we continue to do justice to that memory.

 

January 5, 2020 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

A transformative visit that warmed my heart

When Shaheer Ahmed, the founder of TechTree – an alumni of The Nest I/O – asked me if I would inaugurate a STEM Lab that his startup had set up at a school in Surjani Town, I asked “Where is Surjani Town?” That is how oblivious we are to different parts of the large city of Karachi. We live in bubbles and are often unaware of what goes on elsewhere.

I have had a crazy schedule of late and was quite hesitant to take on anything more. Everyone I know keeps telling me to rest, to take it easy – and yet they present me with opportunities that I cannot turn down.

When Shaheer told me about the Khadija Kazi Ali Memorial High School and the work that its founder Sanaullah Kazi and its Principal Nasira Abid were doing in Surjani Town which is otherwise a poverty stricken, deprived and underdeveloped area in this city, I just couldn’t refuse to go to the school, check it out and offer my support.

Even though Shaheer had spoken of the school in such glowing terms, I don’t know what it was that I was actually expecting . What I saw took my breath away.

The school, its founder, its faculty and the children humbled and inspired me. As I heard Kazi Sahab and Nasira Sahiba talk about their vision and mission to provide “a quality education in an environment where every individual is cared for spiritually, morally, intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally, so that they can make their best contribution to society,” I realized how committed these people were to the children under their care.

The environment they have created is surprising to see. The confidence in the children. The joy that is apparent. The building, the rooms, the decor (which the children have played a part in creating), the curriculum (which is based on the Aga Khan Board, the teachers, the facilities, the attention to detail – it is all truly worth appreciating.

If you have been to Surjani Town, you will know that electricity is an issue. This school is operated through solar panels. It has medium high ceilings with fans that result in a cool environment. There is the beginnings of a nice library.

The STEM Lab that Tech Tree has helped to set up (with the assistance of generous donors) is better equipped than many private schools. It has 15 computers, robotic kits, IOT kits, Raspberry Pi kits, drones, etc. The Tech Tree team is training the teachers but will continue to provide direct training to the students until the teachers are comfortable doing it themselves.

The school provides free education from Grade 1 to Grade 7 with money raised through patrons and sponsors. They intend to expand the school to Grade 12 in the near future.

When you see a welfare school run so efficiently and one that includes the best that any private school can offer, it gives you hope. Parents say that children want to come to school because of the environment, the activities and the caring faculty. And when you look into the faces of these children, you can see the passion and excitement for learning and the sense of belonging that they feel.

As I heard Shaheer speak to the kids about what he owed to Kazi Sahab, Nasira Sahiba and the other teachers, I smiled because it reminded me of how my friends and I felt about our teachers. Sometimes I think that not enough respect is given to people in the teaching profession especially those who have greatly impacted our lives. It is therefore wonderful to see people like Shaheer and his team acknowledging the impact their teachers have had on their lives – and giving back by helping to set up the STEM Lab and contribute in other ways to the development of the school and the children. Well done Shaheer. I am so proud of you.


July 23, 2019 at 6:49 pm 1 comment

Vienna has inspired me to start writing again

I arrived in Vienna last night for a six day holiday after toying for weeks on a possible destination to take a break. I think I drove friends and colleagues crazy (in fact I am sure I did) as I tried to make a decision about where to spend the Eid break.

At first I thought Helsinki would be a great option as Finland is the only Nordic country I haven’t been to. Then  someone suggested The Maldives and it sounded relaxing so I started to ponder on it. Friends asked why I didn’t opt for Georgia or Turkey. Too crowded was my response. Too many chances of running Into people I knew. I didn’t want to go to a country I had been to already otherwise London or Hong Kong would have done well since I have brothers in both cities.

Anyway, after being indecisive for weeks I finally decided on Vienna and I am so happy I did. As I loitered around the city this morning, I was amazed by the architecture, the charm, the little alleys that crept up whenever you turned a corner. I walked into art galleries, took pictures of buildings, sat at cafes and had a snack or a glass of fresh juice. I was like a kid in a toy store, awed by everything I saw taking pictures wherever I went.

This city has a sense of romance and poetry I haven’t felt anywhere else – and I know I haven’t seen anything yet. I just wanted to share my first impressions and some of the pictures I have taken so far. Rest for later.

June 3, 2019 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

The power of social media

When I put up my last post regarding my war with K-Electric a lot of my friends and colleagues told me that I was wasting my time, that nothing would come of it.

That post was read by 1200+ people within a few hours, several people shared their experiences; the Facebook status I put up was shared by 36 of my Facebook friends; several people tagged people they knew at K-Electric.

The result was that I was contacted by half a dozen K-Electric staff offering to help resolve my issue – two of them actually at senior level – a Deputy GM and a Director. Within a few hours my Rs. 40,000 bill was revised and I received a bill by email for close to Rs. 8.900. I was told that unfortunately there had been an error in generating the bill and an apology was rendered.

I responded by email making enquiries regarding some of the lingo used on the bill and a very patient and polite Deputy GM actually phoned me and clarified each of the reservations I had. He also offered to send a mobile unit to check out the meter and replace it if it was necessary.

Appreciative though I am for the immediate resolution of my problem, I am left to ponder on whether this is the power of social media or is it because I have a certain profile online that I received this special treatment? One lesson I did learn through all of this was that one should at least try and redress the problem and not just take it lying down.

Nonetheless thank you K-Electric; thank you Taha Siddiqui and thanks to all the people who empathized with me and shared their stories and experiences.

 

May 28, 2016 at 11:08 am 3 comments

On the warpath with K-Electric

logoI thought they were getting better. The guy who handles social media for them is prompt at addressing complaints. The SMS complaint chat works. Breakdowns are handled as quickly as possible most of the time. And although I am still upset that I should be the victim of load-shedding despite paying my bills regularly, I have learnt to live with it since there seems to be no-one able to solve that problem for me.

However, when I get a bill for Rs. 40,000 I am absolutely dumbfounded. How is that possible when my air conditioner broke down two months ago and it is only a couple of weeks ago that I bought a new one. There is one refrigerator and some lights and fans that are used. I am not home most of the day and the only time I use the television is for a couple of hours in the evening. So I can’t understand why I should receive a bill for such a horrendous amount. I look at the bill and I see that there is a large amount that is labeled as “Arrears”. I figure they have made a mistake so I send my office assistant to have it checked alongwith paid bills of the past 6 months. He is told that they can’t handle the enquiry at just any K-Electric office and that I have to go to the office in my area – so much for a so-called technology enabled company.

Yesterday I sent another person to the office near my home. It is an understatement to say that he was not given a fair hearing. In fact instead of listening to the complaint and trying to resolve it, the guy at the K-Electric office said to him: “Aap log kunda lagatay hein aur phir aajatay hein shikayat karnay”. My rep told him we have never used kundas, showed him previously paid bills and requested that he send someone to check out the meter. To this the response was “We know that your meter is installed inside the house so we will have no access, and you have had it turned off for a month”. Wrong!!! The meters were installed by K-Electric outside our gate and we did not have them turned off. We wouldn’t even know how to turn them off. “Come and check out the premises yourselves” he was told “or talk to my boss on the phone”. Both pleas went unheard.

The K-Electric staff member said that the best he could do was provide a revised bill breaking the amount into 4 instalments. No argument or debate or explanation was acceptable to him. He insisted that I had to pay Rs. 40,000 for the month and that was that! He also said he did not feel the need to send a person to check out my premises nor the need to talk to me. After all, who am I – just the customer!

Without any proof he made all these assumptions about a customer who pays her bills regularly:

  1. That I was involved in electricity theft
  2. That my meter was installed at an inaccessible location on my premises
  3. That I had shut off my meter for a month

Would the situation have been different if I had gone myself? Was he rude and unreceptive because the man who had gone there was visibly not someone who “looked” important enough?

Should I be intimidated into paying a bill for electricity that I know I didn’t consume? I don’t think so. I am angry and upset – and rightly so. I expect much better service from a company that is presumably run like a well-oiled machine or so I am told. Who should I reach out to? Why should I have to reach out to anyone in particular? The customer service people should treat me like any other paying customer and resolve my issue. Isn’t that how good businesses are supposed to run? Or am I living in a fool’s paradise?

May 26, 2016 at 8:35 pm 13 comments

Memories are all that’s left …

April 1 is always going to be a very difficult day for me to get through. It marks the day that I held my darling Ammi in my arms for the very last time. That was the most heartbreaking day ever. How could the person at the center of our entire universe be no more? How would we ever learn to cope without her? It was impossible to accept and yet it was something we had to face – that everyone has to face at some time in their lives. This was thirteen years ago.

Ammi on the streets of hong kongToday on the anniversary of her death it has become no easier. The pain and the emptiness are still there, as are the wonderful memories that she left behind.

My mother was the most beautiful person I have ever known – both inside and out. She was full of love and warmth and was totally selfless. Everyone else’s needs took precedence over hers. Everyone’s happiness, comfort and well-being were her primary concern – especially her family’s. She could not bear to see anyone unhappy. It seemed to be her mission in life to console, comfort and reassure.

I can’t remember a time when she was not accessible to friends, neighbours, relatives, all and sundry for advice or simply to be used as a sounding board. Her mere presence was soothing.

In a family where we were never very physically demonstrative as we were growing up, Ammi was ever ready to bestow a loving smile, a warm hug and soft, reassuring words to make everything okay. I don’t know how she managed it but she did. It was magical. She was magical.

As I woke up this morning I could feel her presence. I could almost hear her laughter – she had the most amazing sense of humour. There was a calmness about her that transferred itself to everyone she came in contact with.

The first thing I did this morning was to go to the cemetery, put flowers on her grave, say a prayer for her and try to dwell on all the happy times that I had spent with her. I had already organized a meal for 40 kids at an orphanage and am donating some money in her name to a health charity. These are things she would have liked. She worried so much about orphans and about people who didn’t have access to good healthcare. She spent many an hour talking about it and trying to figure out how things could be made better.

My mother had a very good heart. She was compassionate and sensitive, caring and generous. A beautiful human being without whom this world is poorer. Rest in Peace Ammi. We love you and miss you immensely and will always try and be whom you wanted us to be.

 

April 1, 2016 at 1:43 pm 3 comments

Wish you were here Ammi

Ammi and TigguToday is Ammi’s birthday. Because their birthdays were only one day apart, each year we would make Abbaji and Ammi cut a cake together. Both of them used to fuss about not celebrating birthdays at ‘their age’ and yet when my siblings and I bought them cards and presents and sang Happy Birthday, one could see the pleasure in their eyes and in their faces knowing that they were loved and appreciated.

As I sit here this morning, I feel extremely lonely because there is no-one to fuss over, no-one to buy flowers for, to make a special meal for, to buy lavish gifts for. But much more than that, there is no Ammi to hug. Oh God those hugs were so warm, so comforting, totally priceless.

Everyone thinks their mothers are special and I guess to them they are, but my mama was extra special. I have never met a person more down-to-earth, more loving, more selfless, more compassionate and more sensitive than she was. Despite being seriously ill for a large part of her life, I can still remember that contagious, gentle smile that was ever ready to greet anyone who came across her and that sense of humor that often had us in stitches.

Her thoughtfulness, her desire to help ease the hurt you were feeling, her empathy with anyone who was going through anything remotely painful and her ability to provide the tender loving care that was needed to reduce that pain even a little, made her the go-to person for all and sundry. She was everyone’s sounding board. She could be trusted to lock away the confidences you shared with her and not to judge you for whatever mistakes you made. How could one person be so wise, so loving and giving, not expecting anything in return? And yet she was.

Ammi left us too soon but she has left an enormous bundle of memories for us to treasure and find comfort in whenever we feel alone. I can feel her watching over us from above and smiling down on us. Happy birthday my darling Ammi. Rest in Peace. We always loved you to bits and we will continue to do so as long as we live.

January 6, 2016 at 9:58 am Leave a comment

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