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.

OPINION|What a Wonderful World!

I’m being facetious. It is quite far from being any version of wonderful, cohesive or civilised. As the Novel Corona traipses through our towns and cities like a merciless diabolist, we as humankind, as a planet, could not be rent more asunder.

How did we get here? When did all the values of humankind that stirred the heroic tales of yore become so tenebrous, so archaic? How did we become so divided, so intolerant, so extreme? How, despite belonging to the same species, did we become so “different”? And how did those contrived differences take on such a toxic, pestiferous life of their own?

We, as human beings, have been teetering on the edge of our humanity for some time now. The constant slide towards the precipice of retrogression has been insulated only by the crowdedness of our lives and the increasing obscureness of what we are, at our very core, as civilised beings. Indeed, we have, for quite some time now, been navigating the waters of life with a broken moral compass.

The stark wretchedness of our complete inability to come together as a global collective with a common objective has been grimly parodied by the current pandemic. It has laid bare that which was barely concealed: the self-defeating, meteoric rise in national isolationism and exclusionary economics. It has highlighted the dangerous precedent set by the Post-Trump “America/ My Country First” mantra, while any similitude of a global community ideology/ platform has become a mere spectre in the darkness of the 2020 world stage.

If one steps back to look at where we are after 200,000 years of evolvement, even the most practical and jaded amongst us would cringe at what we bring to the Evolutionary Table. The Novel Corona has struck at the very core of our collective societal and sovereign ethics, morality and probity, exposing them for the tarnished chattels they have become. It has, however, also afforded us the opportunity to visualise the propitious crossroads we are at, as a species.

“The Anthropocentric Age – the first age in which humankind is the dominant species on the planet – cuts both ways: it is up to us to destroy or save the planet. We certainly have the ability”, said Craig Ventor. Can we then, overcome our disparate, divided egos and concertedly embark on an intrepid new philosophy for A Brave New World? Or are we going to wait for that epochally-inevitable “Alien/ Divine” intervention to then put us on the straight and narrow?

In the words of Issac Asimov: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be”.

Right now, viewed from a cosmic lens, Earth appears to be blunderous, sick and unkind. That is not the legacy we want to leave to the universe.

De Khudai pe aman.

PANDEMIC 2020|For whom the Curfew tolls

(The summons of the Paleolithic Man!)

A bit of a rant, this. We’re one of the few countries where the citizens/ residents are being superintended by an all-out curfew rather than the slightly more assuasive (read: civilised) “Lockdown”.

This is now Day 15 of the curfew and there is no end in sight. As much as the citizenry at large appreciates the abundantly aggressive government efforts to quell the spread of this bacillus extremis, there has to be a method to the autocratic madness. And I’m not even discounting the efficacy of the said establishmentarian mania – a lot of us do well with a touch of dictatorial fanaticism. It must, however, be accompanied by some reasonable strategy and respite to keep the citizenry from resorting to unbecoming and indeed criminal mental and physical health-preserving conduct:

  • Unbridled social revelry (Ad_ D___*: “11,000 imprisoned” for flouting the curfew, no doubt to escape the ‘house arrest’ atmosphere of the last fortnight now, and counting);
    Venturing out of their homes on the sly (Ad_ D___: “2,700 vehicles impounded”, of blunderingly-adulting truants who were probably out to procure some bread or aspirin).

The populace at large, indulging in all manner of deception and intrigue to beat the system.

The logistical support in terms of the supply of essential food stuff, personal care and pharmaceutical products has been dismal, nay, grievously absent. It’s almost like the people of the city have been coercively cast in a tropical version of “The Hunger Games” – all scavenging for anything they can even remotely use (or not; the urge to amass is supreme), to survive with some degree of grace. We are (and not very unhurriedly at that!) giving in to our primeval hunter/ gatherer nature as Meghalayan supply chains have become woefully erratic at best and quite absent generally.

To the powers that be and to the Curfew administrators at large: we appreciate your version of tactical warfare in the face of the NCoV** assault, but a tad more thought behind the how, when and wherefore of maintaining order, and indeed the cycle of life itself in the Oceanic province*** is paramount. Get the perishable and non perishable food and medicines supply networks organised across all sectors of the city. When all’s said and done, with all its malefic pestilence, even the Corona plunges forth as per set environmental and proximity protocols. We, then, are touted to be the intelligent species, at the top of the food chain.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Ad_ D___: news portal/ broadcasting channel in the country

**NCoV: Novel Corona Virus

***Oceanic province: from Orwell’s “1984” where the the main plot unfolds in London, in the Oceanic Province that “had once been called England or Britain”

OPINION|The Myth of Super-Luxury Condominiums – Part Deux

(When the Food Chain upends – The age of fastidiousness, curfews and microscopic annihilators)

The current high stress, painfully limiting, curfew-constrained environment has been a fitting test for how well the Super luxurious developments in the city have responded to the basic needs of their residents – like the politico with the 100 watt smile and zero good intentions. Yes, it has been quite entirely dismal. One can probably, in a fit of magnanimity (and copiously blithesome inebriation), forgive the unconscionable oversights; but what has to be gleaned from all this all-out service ineptitude are lessons for other such times. For other such pestilentially afflicted times, there will be.

Besides the obvious and debilitating confinement brought on by the various lockdowns and curfews, there has followed in its wake, the almost non-existent fall back protocols for the supply of basic necessities and services at the besieged condos in the heart of “Premium Colombo”. Residential complexes in other areas/ townships, in fact, have had much better organised conduits of supply to meet demand. The worst faring have indeed, been the Super Luxury developments.

On a personal note, if it had not been for a friend’s domestic aid living in Homagama* from where he sourced vegetables, fruit and dairy, I’d be living off Lilly’s** 10 day old food, fastidiously apportioning it and then scraping the last bits off so that the further lack of dish washing soap at least, wasn’t going to be a problem.

My Super premium condominium actually has a mini market on the premises. Needless to say, it remains shut quite frequently even at the most easeful of social times so it was no surprise to see its sombrely shuttered facade through this entire ordeal; a jeering reminder of how fickle the entire super luxury leitmotif really is.

The management of these developments needs to rouse itself from the salubriously benumbing breezes of the Galle Face Green and look at actually making “Life in the times of the Bacillus Extremis” less arduous for their high-paying residential populace. It’s time to re-evaluate essential skeletal staff numbers together with what constitutes essential services, to ensure life can go on in the sundered cocoons everyone is being forced to build around them. Standing agreements with grocery stores, pharmacies and even laundry services, will be integral towards appreciably improving life in isolation for the residents of the Premium branded residencies.

Time to look and act beyond having the residential address doing all the high-caliber talking. Time to get your hands dirty and implement some real value- added services for the convenience of the residents. The age of the Mighty Microbes is only just beginning and we need to have a head start in making sure we adapt our lives likewise, underscored by carefully deliberated standards of comfort, safety and sophistication.

De Khudai pe aman

Mahvash.

*Homagama: a little town 24kms south east of Colombo in Sri Lanka

**Lilly: a wicked cook who, twice-weekly, whips up gastronomical delights for me; and who heretofore has also been the bearer of all perishable food to my humble abode. Without her, my larder is as barren as the Gobi desert in June.

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

SOCIAL FARCE|Hairy adventures

(From a lass’s perspective)

Having been blessed with hair that is as voluminous as it is scanty, to this day i continue to be amazed at its anti-gravity feats. I’m waxing eloquent on the subject because folks, my ‘crowning glory’ has experienced an epoch of action: a naive debutante phase, an eerily long era of high adventure, periods of abandonment and not infrequent disasters, all interspersed with the odd interval of a somewhat happy equilibrium. Yes, this head of hair has probably gone down in the annals of “Strand, Bristle and Postiche” history in some other dimension where Keratin is at the top of the food chain! (Postiche, because every alternate universe will have its AI cross/ torch to bear…)

The debutante phase is the most nostalgic – so little effort and yet so much on-point oomph emanated from this crown in the 80s. (The mullet was probably inspired by commodious heads of hair like mine). I was the envy of more than one abundantly silky-tressed beholder with her own hair flowing like a tropical waterfall. This amazing denominator included my beautiful, sleek-haired sister who also went down the dubious path of frizzy perms for a few years, and from which she triumphantly emerged unscathed and glossy-headed (a shout-out to you Zar 😘).

Let me liken the high adventure phase of my coiffure to a zombie invasion on a city – you can run, but you can’t hide from the ever expanding blood/ melanin thirsty, heat and humidity crazed horde that is bearing down on you one frizzy, split-ended head at a time! At the end, you pray for a miracle in the form of an antidotal vaccine (read, conditioner!), or to dream one last time of running in zombie-free fields of gold with thick, lustrous hair flowing down your back until ….. *chomp* – the end.

Gruesome, yes, but then i didn’t quite promise you literary rose gardens either 😉

Nope, no perennial rose gardens, but the elusive yet ever-present silver lining, i do pledge to regale you with in most of my babble. So on that cheery note, I’m delighted to share that the ‘happy equilibrium’ phase is currently upon me. I’m still not sure whether it’s actually my intrepid mop finally acing climate change, or whether it’s illusions of contentment brought on by decades of mental hair fatigue. You know, Mother Nature’s no-frills way of telling me that i can’t control everything, and that my hair was put on my head to forever remind me of that! Either way, I am pretty close to hair nirvana, and hoping that my vision is perennially clouded by these gloriously crowning hues. 🙏🏽

De khudai pe aman

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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