OPINION|The Reluctant Martyrs

The “ill-fated” Pakistan International Airlines flight of May, 2020

As this pandemic rages on, the truth of things, the bare bones architecture of our flawed sensibilities and ethics are rattling like so many skeletons in our collective closet. It is almost an embarassemnt to be a part of the human species in this, our very own alternate Earth reality. Yes, it helps to believe that there are other universes where our little blue planet is faring copiously better on all human levels!

And so i feel constrained to give my two bits worth on the tragedy that befell scores of families who lost loved ones in the “ill fated” PIA commercial flight en route from Lahore to Karachi on May 23rd, 2020.

“Ill fated” – words full of the promise of a clean getaway; of insidious lies; of crass insensitivity; of cruel heartlessness; of passing the buck. Words that are used as copiously and as mindlessly as are the sacrosanct verses intoned 5 times every day to the Almighty. Somewhere along the way, our inner voice, our conscience- our very humanity was cast off as a burdensome, inconvenient companion, while the optically grandiose rites and rituals have marched stridently along with us through the ages.

Worse than the Covid 19 pandemic, is the ethical and moral pandemic ravaging our humanity, our sense of community and our work ethic. We have become insensible to all manner of injustice, lack of incumbency and the flagrant flouting of any semblance of a civic sense. We have lost not only our capacity for, but also our moral awareness of what it means to be compassionate, dutiful and responsible.

Worse than the tragedy of the event itself is the tragedy that there will be no definitive, resolute consequences to this incidence. It has already been accredited to fate and martyrdom and therein lies the sum total of the analysis, diagnosis and fix of a catastrophe that killed close to a 100 people, leaving families – children, parents, siblings, friends and relatives, bereft and shattered.

I can’t help but compare the almost negligible call to some kind of answerability in this calamitous incidence to the recent case of Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to the British PM. The man stepped out during the lockdown to seek childcare for his 4 year old son while both he and his wife were displaying Covid symptoms; an act that’s arguably open to some manner of interpretation as per the country’s Lockdown guidelines. And so, they could have/ might have exposed the public to the infection. There was no actual death or destruction wreaked; but the mere probability of harm embodied in the act of leaving his home during lockdown, was a culpable offence. Cummings was consequently subjected to a harrowing series of brutal questions, loud clamours for accountability and insistent calls for justice and even his dishonourable discharge by the state, the media and the body politic at large. While we, the self proclaimed stalwarts of our faith and of its copious prescripts on “Huqooq-ul-Ibad*”, have summarily dismissed a 100 fatalities as yet another act of God. The God that we are so adept at putting front and centre of all our duplicitous, corrupt and brutish actions.

Maybe if the state institutions, our political overlords and the general powers that be, began to think of this nation, first and foremost, as a Republic of Humankind rather than a bubbling, imploding cauldron of divisions and differences, there would be some hope for our humanity. And since we’re all such champions of liturgy, labels and nomenclature, maybe this change in our national identity would also have a more profound impact on how we conduct ourselves socially and morally. And maybe, just maybe, this vicious cycle of ‘copious cause and no personal consequences’ will break to allow just a little more conscience, answerability and justice to pervade the various “ill-fated” streams of our lives.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Huqooq-ul-Ibad: the responsibility/ duty every Muslim owes to the rest of his fellow beings, regardless of the others’ faith or spiritual leaning.

PANDEMIC 2020|The Importance of being Gracious

(Quite as Important as being Earnest)

These are strange, even somewhat chilling times as we navigate through a viral storm of unprecedented proportions.

We have all been constrained to significantly modify our lives as we traverse the largely uncharteted waters of interminably extended curfews and lockdowns. Where the regular hustle and bustle of life as we’ve known it, has changed drastically to not only embrace a new kind of solitary social ideology but also how we go about procuring our daily provisions.

For those of us living in curfew-bound localities where we are dependent on the good graces of generally wayward supplies trucks that roll in occasionally, this change has been much more onerous. And that is where our hidden stores of grace, forbearance and compassion come in.

These are difficult times, no doubt, but everyone of us is capable of showing that essential modicum of dignity and consideration for our neighbours and fellow condominium residents as the case may be. So next time when our friendly Covid-era food trucks swing by, it would be a first class gesture of camaraderie and beneficence to fight the urge to amass as much as you can carry and then some. There are other residents who are in a similar nutritionally-deprived state, undergoing the very same Where’s-the-next-decent-meal-coming-from mental trauma and who would therefore mightily appreciate some manner of social solicitude.

So yes, despite the 40,000 year old homo sapien brain sophistication, there are those perplexing few among us who still feel their ancient Neanderthal instincts frantically kicking in when times are uncongenial. But, there is light at the end of that inter-epochal tunnel; a splendid little trick to help you overcome those unbecoming primeval compulsions: Drop down on one knee, or both (depending on your orthopaedic veracity) and pretend to look for some lost little thing (“Decency!” the crowd vociferates! But i digress…) Let the ancient brain, in the astute survival legacy of our Palaeolithic ancestors, urgently scout for the next meal potentially crawling by. That flagrant substratal self-reminder will almost surely help to put you squarely back on the path to Homo sapien self actualisation. And as the blood rushes to your brain while maintaining that perfect primate squat, stark Cro-Magnon man lucidity will hit even more sharply as you quite quickly realise that you’re darned well not going to munch through or cook those 2 Keells* bags full of vegetables you’re eyeing like manna from heaven, or wash your entire wardrobe 7 times over.

Let Grace into your lives- the quality that is; letting the lady in may cause inessential stress and scandal in these already testing times. (Bad joke- courtesy: Corona Fatigue!)

Come on folks, let’s be decent. Let there be kindness and empathy. And the vital awareness that never before has it been more important to unite as a community, a species and an intelligent, aware and perceptive life force across our wounded world.

Start with your neighbourhood. Be mindful. Be courteous. Be kind.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Keells: a prominent grocery chain across the island

SOCIAL FARCE|Marital Bliss(ters!)

(An affably prejudiced view)

Been there, done that; yes I too, at some unquestioningly-norms-embracing point in my life, succumbed to the connubial Shades of Grey. Ever since, i have with a mixture of amusement and unabating stupefaction, seen others go down that dubious sluiceway; some emerging disturbingly scathed and others not so much. But all, significantly drained of their essential sense of self and of the salubriousness of the soul. And yet, like the Pied piper of Hamelin, the Nuptial Chains jangle millions on into their tortuous embrace.

There is that diminutive window allowing prudent rethought. It is dismally small though and those reaching through it are oft labeled wayward, nay, freakish eccentrics incapable of weaving themselves into the normal Matrix of society. The pressure to fit in with the Joneses and the Karamatullahs of the community, is still quite unrelenting.

The journey to the aisle or the Dholi* usually begins with these crazy, frenetic bonding hormones, insidiously plotting and planning and then dividing and conquering every sane thought in one’s head. You’re left a soppy, whimsy mess. And if you do not err on the side of caution and lawfully Un-encumbered togetherness, the only light one can see at the end of that emotionally aqueous tunnel is le marriage. And then for a while, the ‘pain’ of maidenhood or bachelorhood as the case may be, ends….

Until a whole new torment takes root. Creeping like a flagitious ivy from some J horror movie plot, straight into your heretofore wonderfully humdrum life.

So what happens to those who follow the Maker of Marital Maladies into the maw of contracts and legalese?

A good number, fairly early on, take the ‘red pill’** – the damned things are quite quintessentially absent when that new-love Oxytocin is doing its merry pre-marital jig inside ones left ventricle! This set then, quite quickly, develops new found enthusiasm for the mundane, the inane, the irrelevant and generally, most things non spousal. And thus they bide their time until they’re hit head-on, hard, by some long subdued memory of delightful, legally uncoupled days gone by; or are convulsed by some other similar anti-shackling epiphany. And so, the debilitating contract perishes as the awareness of it’s fundamentally caustic nature is revealed with the clarity of daylight.

(Yes! Sinister plots unfolding!)

Then there is the intrepid ‘Legally Tethered’ who begins to test the waters outside the matrimonial pool of Spouse and Co++***. The wheeling and dealing and wily deceptions become a part of life. The once upright character dissolves in a mire of treacherous double agency. The MI6 and CIA agents of the world could take a scholarly page or two out of the books of these home grown specialists in duplicity and chicanery. And thus another contract expires amidst copious betrayal, mortification and indignity.

Last but not least is the ‘traditionally wed’- the couple set up by parents and other family seniors who are fully convinced that their progeny, at 30++**** is entirely incapable of having an opinion, living on their own and of course choosing who they’ll share the bathroom with for the next 50 odd years. These highly complex attributes are the specific domain of their elders, praise be to Allah/ Bhagwan/ the Lord, (and to stir-crazy traditions that continue to thrive). The longevity scale here can tip either way depending on how well trained one or both incumbents are in the art of defeatist self delusions.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add on the odd little outliers- the couples (with special powers!) who actually achieve the “happily ever after”. ‘Tis a myth I still maintain! But I’m willing to doff my Skeptics’ Hat to them; mostly because I know each one has an identical doppelgänger who ensures the other gets copious breaks from onerous spousal indenture. But yes, there are those mightily evolved spirits who have, despite it all, connected on a higher plane and are making it all work. May karma always be good to them – (we need the incidental shining examples even if they are only to indicate that the system once worked and indeed, functioned well).

Safe to say, then, in ending, that through the ages Marriage has become a formidable institution, but also, that few of us in our right minds really want to be institutionalised. However, there is also that inexplicably intoxicating pleasure in being mad which none but madmen (and the pre wedded couple!) know.

So here’s to sense, sensibility and the capability to love, respect and partner without drawing up laborious, counter-intuitive contracts. Here’s to actually embracing the complexity of the human spirit to ensure genuineness, depth and fidelity. Here’s to leaving a Relationship legacy based on emotional and spiritual maturity to our future generations.

Here’s to loving, wise and dignified companionship, with the only affadavit being that of sincere good intentions and an evolving sophistication of mind and spirit.

De Khudai pe aman.

Mahvash.

*Dholi = a decoarated palanquin used to carry the bride to the wedding venue, usually held aloft by her brothers and other male relatives.
**Taking the Red pill = opening oneself up to the unpleasant truth vs. taking the Blue Pill to remain in blissful ignorance.
***Spouse and Co++ = Child ++. If the incumbent is an eager beaver orthodox fiend too, that plus plus can be close on a bakers dozen.
****30++ = this marriageable faction includes ‘children’ that are in their 40s and their 50s.

OPINION|The myth of “Super Luxury” condominiums

Colombo is still a quaint little city with a population of about 2.3 million people*, a small portion of which lives in apartments. And most of this denominator consists of the super privileged (read: professional expats and local landed gentry who have moved with the times, and therefore, out of their sprawling, oftentimes crumbling homes). And the latter is why venue perceptions have frequently begun to border on fantastic delusions of grandeur – a nostalgic attempt at holding onto the vestigial glory of the olden days. These pipe dreams, brought fondly to life by the Management Committees (made up almost entirely of the genteel aristocracy) are believed wholeheartedly by the support staff (administrative, maintenance and security teams) with fires in the belly of their own, becoming unwitting accomplices to the whole morose charade.

In our little city by the sea, the chimera of the super splendrous residential complexes has been in vogue for a number of years now. And given the fact that these apartments are located in the upscale neighbourhoods of the Galle Face area and all environs within a 5 km radius thereof, the illusion is convincingly imperforate. Until one begins to reside at one of these. Yes, i write this affectionate harangue from copious personal experience. And i haven’t yet got to the point; but some cause and effect/ empirical evidence based background was essential i thought!

The ignis fatuus begins with the misconception that the super luxuriousness of the complex is directly proportional to how dazzling the facade is. The myth is further perpetuated by the presence of ancillary but sadly, quite impuissant benefits like a supermarket, a cafeteria, an in-house maintenance team, a laundry service and maybe even a salon. But that is where the high stakes bucking bronco stops. The service levels at these outlets are usually dismal, tardy and over-priced. Add to it the occasional financial tomfoolery (I’m being kind!) and related mendacity brought on no doubt, by a complacent management committee, and you’re living in an Aldous Huxley utopia – A Brave New World where the art of illusion is paramount and short, anaemic memories serve one well.

Unsurprisingly, the solution lies in getting these basic condominium services to function in a robust, effective and equitable manner. It lies in channelling the quite significant financial flexibility gained from the exorbitant monthly maintenance fee (that is another dubiously proud hallmark of the super effulgent residencies), into developing the support structure human capital in terms of skill sets and work ethic. It lies in enabling them to establish their own superior benchmarks in the industry. That, dear ManCom** will be the key driver in capitalising on your brand equity and building longevity into that status, regardless of how many newfangled condominiums streak our horizon.

Oftentimes, the simplest solutions elude us just because they lack the fanfare and perplexity of, say….quantum physics or even Disintermediation (these are purely for sensation; please don’t dwell on either!) The 21st century, with its plethora of advances has also pulled a fast one on our collective psyche. Anything simple just does not ft into the domain of the affluent anymore. A bewildering, complex, almost always self-defeating whitewash of service levels, ethics and of course, high profile apartment facades is where the super luxury buck stops.

To all the developers/ ladies and gents at the top of the luxury condominium food chain: Stop this madness please!

De khudai pe aman.

*Source: world population review.com
**ManCom: Management Committee - an affectionate vestige from my corporate days

OPINION|The perils of being somewhat discerning!

The title does sound somewhat entitled, and snooty even, but please bear with me. I speak from a multitude of recent experiences that has had me picking at my voluminous but sparsely populated noggin (whether of the keratin or grey matter variety, I leave to your gentle conjecture!😁), and gnashing my already well-worn enamel.

Having been a part of the Customer Experience realm for close on 20 years in an exacting industry like the financial services, has honed my BS radar and quite woefully lowered my threshold for plain old bad service of any variety. That’s not to say that I will ruthlessly judge a service provider for delayed service or even providing a pot of tepid tea (the latter though, will depend largely on my then caffeinated state of well being! Tepidophobia is a thing and is quite devoutly and unashamedly a part of my prized anxieties!)

I am speaking of a consistently poor stream of delivery, for instance in the provision of a good or service which, by its nature, is conveyed over a period of time. The caveat is not in the mistakes that can occur – to err is human and all that jazz. Plus, reliable research* has shown that customers tend to remain more loyal to a brand where they have experienced some issues but where the service recovery was substantive, timely and focused. More so than even with places where they have not yet undergone a service breakdown. No, the caveat is not in the faux pas occurring; it is in the dismal failure to even genuinely attempt to fix things. An apathetic attitude is the icing on that poison toffee apple. Too many times, processes are formulated with no attention to service recovery protocols. That is a death blow to repeat business and as we all know, the pie is only so big.

I feel 3 Kgs lighter after that blog post (‘rant’ just sounds guilt-ridden which brings with it its own …. weight (‘burden’ just sounds even weightier!) And since ‘slender body’ and ‘good hair’ days are few and far between after 40, I’m going to go with this being a thoughtful study in the “benefits” of being discerning 🤓

Khudai pe-aman – (may you grow, glow and prosper, or just simply maintain your status quo for now. Until we meet again).

*Reliable research: opinions gleaned not only from the nerdy ramblings of academics or the corporate savvy presentations of management consultants, but from the life experiences of yours truly. That i do promise you with all my heart – to wax (and wane) eloquent with the utmost honesty until death…or just the digital milieu, do us part!

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