Afia Salam's Blog

Life is a journey

Once upon a Christmas in a Town called Hussain D’Silva

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I was introduced to Christmas for the merry-christmasfirst time as a four year old when we moved to Karachi. I was put in a ‘Christian’ (NOT Missionary) school, and lived in the upper portion of a house where a Christian family lived, whose daughter was my classmate. Being a diffident newcomer, I tailed her in school, and recall being gently led out of the chapel where she had to go for her religious class. I can’t for the life of me remember what we non-Christians were taught at that time.

So that is how i experienced my first Christmas, saw a Christmas tree, and exchange of gifts. But my real, and most memorable Christmas experiences were when we moved to a small housing colony (not gated, Thank you!) in North Nazimabad, known as Hussain D’Silva Town.

Strange name, but very apt; it was a joining of the names of two friends who were architects and developers, one of whom, Mr. Hussain passed away a few years ago while Mr. D’Silva moved to Canada. Little did they know what a little intellectual oasis they were forming.  Some big names of the country in journalism, arts, in the armed forces, advertising industry, poets, writers and television personalities trace their roots to Hussain D’Silva Town.

This little housing colony developed in the late 50’s for the new upwardly mobile middle class was where I got my first taste of pluralism and diversity. Our house was next to the one housing a Church. In those peaceful, trusting times, few houses had gates and most had waist high walls that were no barrier to children visiting their neighbours. I of course was intrigued at the stream of people coming to the church in the evening, yes, every evening, not just Sunday, and would watch over the wall.

The neighbourhood was dotted with houses belonging to Muslims of all sects (though we didn’t know what that word meant at the time), Christians, a lone Hindu family and I think there was one Parsi family.  We as children had no clue why some neighbours had open house for Haleem and others for koondey. Everyone went there. Come Moharram, and all of the children would be part of the sabeel group. On eid we knew there were some familieid-mubarakes who went to somewhere other than the mohalla masjid  for their eid prayers because they were from the Ahmadiya community, but that only meant that we had to wait for them to return so the children could get together to go around on the eidi collection mission.

It was here that I learnt what Christmas was. It was a time when the Christian schoolmates and neighbours would decorate their houses, go shopping for new clothes, and presents, and ‘do up’ the St. Jude’s Church, which had moved from the neighbouring house to a proper premises; a premises which had been ‘financed’ by those living in Hussain D’Silva Town, Muslims Hindus, Parsis, alongside the Christian residents,  by way of generous contribution to making the annual fete in November a success. Everyone dug into their pockets.

Of course this does not mean we were passive watchers of the Christmas preparations. Oh no. Just like they would come visit us, in all their finery, over both eids, on which the sawiyan and the meat from the sacrificial animals used to be sent to their houses too, minus our Hindu neighbours to whom we went fruits and mithai, Christmas was a busy time for us too.

After all, if we were hoping to consume the delicious melt-in-the mouth almond toffee or kur kurs or the divine cheeselets that were the staple Christmas fare, we had to do our share of the hard work. More than a week before Christmas, we would be at our friends, helping them unpack and string up the decoration items on the tree, help their moms in the arduous task of stirring the toffee or frying the other goodies. Other party of the ‘must be a part of Christmas rituals was seeing our friends go Christmas carolling… how can one forget the groups of carol singers moving through the streets in the cold winter nights. No one really snuggled in the beds, as how could one not listen, to the final ‘product’ after their weeks of practise.

Then of course on Christmas day, it was our turn to play the visitors, and we too would don our fine feathers and go for the Christmas visits, armed with presents, and devoured the goodies which included the ‘non-Christmassy cake’ especially plated up for the Muslim visitors as it was sans rum which was part and parcel of the Christmas fruit cake.

Those who had special friends among the Christians, like I luckily did, would receive a plateful of goodies on Christmas eve. The older and more adventurous ones joined their friends in the midnight mass at the Church. This was a norm, across Karachi, not just in Hussain D’Silva Town.

But imagine what proved to be the icing on the cake! not just metaphorically but literally! In 1974, Eid ul Azha and Christmas fell on the same day! The entire Town wore a festive look and the difference between visitor and hosts was no longer there. Every greeting elicited the answer of ‘same to you’ and ‘khair mubarak’ in a perfect display of coexistence.  I miss the Christmas in Hussain D’Silva Town. I wish my city of Karachi had many more such oasis.








Written by afiasalam

December 25, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Getting through December 21

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For almost a quarter of a century, getting through 21st December had been a difficult task. To cope with it, I deliberately kept myself busy. This was the day I lost my bulwark! The one person who allowed me to be what I am went out of my life, and for many years after that, it became a conscious exercise not to instinctively look for him to share my joys and achievements with, because he was no longer there.

Unlike many fathers, he never really encouraged, or discouraged me. He was that one constant, dependable presence who would be the fallback in case my mad escapades with career choices or hobbies wouldn’t work out. Thankfully they usually did, so I didn’t really have to be dissuaded from much. The emphatic NO was something I do not remember experiencing, because of the clearly defined boundaries.

The suddenness of his departure was the real reason of difficulty of dealing with December 21, until years later, another influential person helped to divert the thoughts because of the happiness associated with him and this date. My father’s death anniversary coincided with Little Master Hanif Mohammad’s birthday, which always merited a celebration.

He and his gracious family would always invite my children and me to the celebrations and despite the mind drifting all day to Dec.21 of 1990, the evening would be filled with laughter, music and celebration.

Today is the first December 21 that he too is not there, so i guess the day must be of mixed emotions for his family too.

Guess that is what life is all about.You move on.. memories remain.

Written by afiasalam

December 22, 2016 at 3:39 am

That date.. December 16th!

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16th. December should be a date seared into the psyche of Pakistanis right? But is it? Twice this date has brought immeasurable grief to Pakistan.Grief, ignominy, shame, pain, loss, and a lingering question of why it happened and could it have been prevented.

I am of course referring to the two cataclysmic events in our history; events that led to the fall of Dhaka (Dacca as it was known as in those days) on 16th, December 1971, and the murder of our innocent school children and their brave teachers in the Peshawar Army Public School on the same date in 2014.

What do you remember about December 1971?  I was still in school, but old enough to remember the 1965 war, which just brushed by the Karachiites, so the sight of tracer bullets in the sky was something strange on that cold December night in 1971 when Karachi was attacked. Because of 1965 and the the belief that was fed to us post 1965, until Air Marshal Nur Khan busted the myth, we were sure that since  we had won the 1965 war, we would overcome the enemy in this one too.

After all, weren’t we holding out in East Pakistan despite great difficulty? Didn’t we just hear our President Yahya Khan say we would defeat the enemy? It was all over the newspapers too and of course the contrarian news on BBC was just plain lies and that Mark Tully was anti-Pakistan anyway!

Even when the entire city lit up due to the missile strike on the oil tanks at Karachi’s shoreline, where my father worked; even  the shaking of the ground due to the bombing by Indian Aircraft which led to loss of life in areas like Agra Taj colony, it didn’t really shake us out of the belief that ultimately we would prevail. Despite the immense sadness at loss of precious lives in the missile attack on our naval ship Khyber in which a dear neighbour went down, the enormity of the situation was lost on us because of the narrative we were consuming.

And on December 16, that sanitized narrative spoke of a ‘ceasefire agreement’  and laying down of the arms by ‘Tiger’ Niazi in Dhaka. We didn’t understand the ashen faces of our elders, many of whom wept like children. Fall of Dhaka was a term coined much later. The attention shifted from us schoolgirls going house to house collecting for the defence funds to collecting stuff to make packets for the POWs. That became part and parcel of the school activities which had resumed soon after.

Fast forward many years to when I was working with a leading channel of the country. I was responsible for the content of our morning show that was 180 degrees opposed to the kind of shows aired these days. It handled important subjects sensitively and intelligently through the @Ayeshah Alam and @Faisal Qureishi duo.

We did special programmes on special occasions. When I suggested that December 16 should be dedicated to this unfortunate chapter in our national history, there were raised eyebrows, but only because some in the team, the generation that grew up after 1971, were not aware of the significance of the day. They however readily agreed.

However the initial reaction had given me another idea.. to spur the discussion, we sent a reporter, @Huzaima Bukhari to an elite school to ask what the significance of that date was. The answers were too embarrassing to even narrate here. The reporter called back to say she had not been able to get one correct answer. We told her to go to the history teacher to ask why none of the children knew the answer and no marks for guessing what she said!

We, a nation of  ostriches, just buried our head in the sand, and moved on as if nothing happened from which lessons needed to be drawn. True to the saying that ‘we learn from history, that we never learn from history,’ we kept alienating our own, we kept on a path of discriminatory development, making the wrong friends, creating enemies right left and center, and nurturing snakes in the backyard.

Fast forward again to another 16th. December, in 2014, when these snakes hissed and bit us, at the Army Public School in Peshawar. The heart kept sinking lower and the entire atmosphere bore a pall of gloom as news of the attack trickled in. Not just Pakistan but everywhere those images of brutality against the innocent students and their brave teachers went, people recoiled in shock and horror. There was not a dry eye when the parents bid farewell to their beloved children. Toughest of journalists broke down when they went to APS.

The State seemed to suddenly wake from its slumber and resolved not to forgive, or forget. while offering the salve of ‘martydom’ of these children, who had been brutally murdered. It launched the Zarb e Azb. The shock and awe treatment was supposed to have wiped out these barbarians. The National Action Plan was supposed to ACT against all those elements who were perpetrators of horror against our soldiers, our children, the ordinary persons in the street going about their business in bazaars, the people in masjid, mandir, imambargahs and churches.

Today, two years after APS, we again remember those innocent souls and pray for the families who lost their loved ones. There are promises of never forgetting them. But in between there are many others who jostle for a place in our collective memories. Shirakpur reminds us that the NAP was perhaps napping, the large gatherings of the proscribed organizations, the threats hurled by sectarian organizations, the targeting of ‘minorities’ (the word I hate to use, because for me constitutionally, there are none); the glorification of killers like Mumtaz Qadri, the intransigence of Lal masjid mula Abdul Aziz, and the deep deep sorrow of the people of Quetta like the Hazaras, families of police cadets and its entire generation of young lawyers indicate inaction rather than any action or a plan.

After what recently happened in Chakwal to the Ahmadiyya community, can we really say that there is a NAP? Even after what Justice Qazi Faez Isa has put down in the Quetta Inquiry Commission Report?

Can we really claim that we will never forget December 16?







Written by afiasalam

December 16, 2016 at 10:18 am

Hospital, Gilchrist & cricketing DNA!

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When one visits someone in the hospital, the conversation usually is about the hows and how are yous, doctors, medicines, and what have you… besides of course  expression of good wishes for the patient and prayers for a speedy recovery, and offer of assistance to the caregivers.  Hardly, if ever, it veers too far away from the topic.

Well I was in for a different lesson in my hospital visit to see a very dear person who has been very ill. I also realized that while in Urdu, if something becomes a distinct character trait, we usually say ‘yeh uski ghutti mein hai;’ the closest phrase to it in English is the contemporary term of something being a part of the DNA! I know it is usually said as a form of exaggeration, but how true it actually is hit home today.

The legendary cricketer Hanif Mohammad, our Little Master has been very ill, and hospitalised for days. Yes he has been battling cancer, very bravely, but what got him into the hospital was a severe chest infection, because of which he was barely able to speak. Aggressive treatment and admission to the special care unit stablized but exhausted him out, so that he was in a deep sleep for hours.

The visitors too were careful, talking in barely audible whispers so as not to disturb him. However, as he opened his eyes, he spotted former Pakistan captain Mohammad Yousuf standing by his bedside and after the greetings and inquiries about the health were over, launched into a purely cricketing discussion, reminiscing about when he almost got a century in each innings against Australia, thwarted by a bad umpiring decision, which of course he didn’t contest and walked off, but which was admitted to by the opposition players as well.

While his son Shoaib attempted to take charge of the conversation by recounting the incident, Hanif Mohammad, who had woken up when our conversation had probably risen above the level of whispers, was absolutely lucid in his interjections. The drawl in his voice was there due to the weakness but there was not a hint of uncertainty about the games of long ago. I immediately understood that this clarity was because  it was cricket he was talking about which was in his ghutti… in his DNA… which no illness could alter!

Call from another Pakistan captain, Zaheer Abbas meant that the conversation stayed the course, with Hanif Mohammd complimenting  the caller by reminding him of his title of Asian Bradman and of his several double centuries. Such clarity after serious illness? Deep drug and exhaustion induced sleep? Nah! put it down to DNA!

IMG_20160802_215456And then came Gilchrist in the room… that fearsome West Indian pacer, the nemesis of all batsmen in the line of his lethal projectiles.

Aided by Shoaib, Hanif Mohammad took us on a trip down his memory lane to that glorious match at Barbados in the West Indies where he not only faced the fearsome Gilchrist, but walked right into the record books with his knock spread over 999 minutes… erroneously written in the Wisden as 16 hrs. 10 minutes.

(The actual duration of the longest innings to date in Test cricket has been mentioned as 16 hrs 39 mins … with its entire commentary etched onto a LonIMG_20160802_215148g Play record presented to him after the match.)

Innings that started with Pakistan in dire straits, following-on with a deficit of 473 as the score card would show, a familiar situation for the young Hanif Mohammad.

IMG_20160802_215251He faced the pacers any which way he could, in the days of folded towels inside pockets serving as cushioned guards, and flimsy (by today’s standards) pads, NO HELMETS, and certainly no No Ball calls from the umpires to the beamers aimed at the head by Gilchrist each time his ball was hit for a four!

Gilchrist was the stuff of every batsman’s nightmare, with arms dangling down to below knees, and a fiery temper spurring his catapulting of the ball out of his hands at speeds hitherto unknown. Hanif recalled with a chuckle how even a slight touch of the bat would make the ball race to the boundary, simply because it came at him with such great speed.IMG_20160802_215154

The father and son recounted Gilchrist’s vile temper which ultimately led him to being jailed for assault and battery as he had hit his wife with an iron! And to think that our diminutive  Little Master faced him and his ilk of equally ferocious fast bowlers simply on the dint of his determination and technique.

IMG_20160802_215420This firmly established him as the mainstay of Pakistan’s batting line up and earned him accolades across the cricketing world and recognition at home from the highest quarters. 337 with 26 fours, 16 threes, 40 twos and 105 singles were no mean feat!

Between his daughter in law Shazia and my exhortations to him not to speak too much, I couldn’t suppress a smile on his very matter of fact answer ‘well he didn’t really get to hit me on my pads’ (of course… perfect technique after all) when Shoaib asked if Gilchrist’s deliveries hit the body!

DNA again eh? The frailties of the physical body have done nothing to the sharp mind and wonderful memory. Get well soon Hanif Bhai. May we accompany you on many more of these trips down memory lane.


All pictures from Hanif Mohammad’s autobiography “Playing For Pakistan”








Written by afiasalam

August 2, 2016 at 9:36 pm

How green was my city

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Reclaiming nature

How did Karachi go from being a city of green spaces to a soulless metropolis, and what can be done to make it green again?

by Afia Salam

I have vivid memories of my mother’s consternation when we moved to Karachi in the early ’60s. Coming to Karachi from lush green Wah Cantt, she found it annoying and tedious to dust the furniture twice a day — Karachi back then was little better than a dust pan; a windy city with billows of dust swirling in its wide open spaces, and into homes.

The newer settlements of the then capital city had more open grounds than parks, like the patches within neighbourhoods, as well as bigger spaces like Nishtar Park or Polo Ground, etc. The neighbourhood parks it did have, too, were more like dusty playgrounds, with a fringe of grassy tract skirting it.

Family outings to parks meant going to the ‘older’ areas of the city where proper parks had been established by the municipality. Be they the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, then known as the Gandhi Gardens, or the Jehangir Park, Frere Gardens, Jheel Park in PECHS, the park in Clifton just after Do Talwar or further down at Old Clifton, or the grassy terraces alongside the Jehangir Kothari Parade to name a few. Hill Park and Aziz Bhatti Parks were additions that came much later, when Karachi had already lost its status as the capital.

Tamarindus (Imli) indica pods -Photo by B.navez via Wikimedia Commons

These and some other patches of green, like the Gutter Bagheecha, complimented the sprawl of the city at that time. They had shady trees, water bodies and grassy tracts, as parks are supposed to have. However, the sudden and burgeoning growth meant that attention needed to be diverted to other sectors, and land became a diminishing commodity, generating its own push and pull dynamics, which slowly saw the encroachment of these parks.

The unbridled increase in population also meant that the balance between the people and green spaces, or tree cover was disturbed, and over the years Karachi became a concrete jungle, with only a smattering of green spaces, which were wholly inadequate. This, of course, I needed to state to just set a context to people who lament at the denuding of Karachi’s greenery, which is taking place, but is only a generation old.


Although most parts of Karachi were laid according to a plan, like Nazimabad, North Nazimabad, Federal B Area, etc, attention to tree plantation fell by the wayside as there was not a single master plan that was adhered to. Residents deserve more credit for the tree cover than the civic agencies; they planted fruit trees as well as flowering ones that gave aesthetics to the city, and nurtured them. Most of the older houses that had space still have large trees.

The concretisation of the city also jolted the horticulturists into action who wanted to cover the spaces, and that is when the city witnessed the first of its planned ‘mistakes’. Eucalyptus was planted everywhere in the city, as it was a fast growing, shady, ‘air purifying’ tree that also had commercial value, and could help lower the water table as its roots sought water. They were planted on road sides and medians, along storm drains, as well as in the newly-reclaimed land of the DHA which had a high water table.

No one had anticipated the thirst of its roots, which travelled a long way to seek water, breaking open the water pipes and popping up through the cemented storm drains. On the other hand, the trees planted along the road side in the early ’40s and ’50s, like the peepal, etc, were now entangling with the overhead wires that came to signify the utilities of the metropolis.

The proverbial fell swoop comes with just a few lines on an official paper with the signature of the competent authority, who ordered the cutting of the ‘offending trees’. This somehow seems to have become the order of the day for Karachi, whose green dream fails to materialise due to this ‘one step forward, two steps back’ approach. Not that the city’s citizens took such government decisions lying down; many fought back and succeeded (see The green dreamers).


The city’s ‘development’ and concretisation continued, and in mid-2000, the need for a green Karachi led to the massive planting of Conocarpus, a fast growing species that has spread to all parts of Karachi, despite there being clear guidelines against the planting of alien invasive species. It may have increased the green cover, but certainly not without posing health and environmental hazards. Why a species like Conocarpus was chosen is confusing especially since there are many native and local tree species that are more suitable to the city’s environment and weather (see Going native).

This species has been identified as a carrier of allergens that cause respiratory problems. Not only was the species chosen unwisely, it was planted in a manner that it overtook all existing local plants. Monoculture, or planting of only one species, is against all tree plantation protocols, but they were all bypassed so that all one sees around one are Conocarpus, to the disadvantage of the local trees like neem and lignum that had earlier dotted avenues and medians. Monoculture is known to disturb the bird population and that too has been observed in Karachi, with birds not preferring to nest in this tree.

While it did increase the green cover of Karachi, it brought no significant benefit as the tree offers little shade, or a lowering of the temperature due to the type of its leaves. In a coastal city like Karachi, it also posed a hazard to vehicular traffic in strong breeze because of its weak branches; and because of its fast growing nature, it hit the overhead electricity wires at a faster rate, requiring greater maintenance.

One reason could be that despite time, expense and effort spent in the preparation of plans by technical experts, they are sidelined or not fully implemented — horticulturists and plant ecologists were part of the technical committee that advised on the appropriate species for Karachi. Considerable work had been done to draw up a Comprehensive Plan on Forestation, Aesthetic Plantation and Landscaping for Karachi as part of the Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020 during the time of the City District Government of Karachi. The report charted the planting potential in green belts along roads, rivers, highways, link roads, agricultural fields, blank lands, roundabouts and streets, according to the soil conditions and water availability.

Commericalism and ‘development’ also often trump the need for green space. Billboards, for instance, are a big business and there are many agencies involved in the entire operation. There are allegations of corruption in the way they operate to the detriment of the environment, and because there is no central control over the agencies, a measure taken in one area usually does not get replicated in the other. Not only do they pose a hazard and destroy the aesthetics of the city, they have contributed to the loss of the tree cover through clandestine cutting where only pruning was allowed.

Photo by White Star
Photo by White Star

Another issue that is now causing concern is the plan to strip the route of the Green Line of all its trees, almost 19,000 in number! One cannot stop progress, or deny the need for mass transit schemes. Does that mean that the rampant tree cutting we see due to the ‘development’ schemes and commercial purposes like advertising billboards should not be protested about? No certainly not. To quote an already overused cliché, two wrongs do not make a right. However, it is difficult to shed tears for plants that should not have been planted in the first place, like the Conocarpus. The maximum number of trees facing the axe because of this project belongs to this species.

There is a proper scheme outlined to offset the effects of this massive tree cutting exercise. It calls for planting of five trees as a replacement for one of some species and 10 in place of one for some other species. What the concerned citizens of Karachi need to be watchful of is whether this offset is being carried out. So, often an infrastructure project is initiated with complete disregard for the environmental impact, and by the time its negative effects are perceived and voices raised, it is presented as a fait accompli and completed.

Stripping Karachi of 19,000 trees will have a huge impact on the urban jungle that this city has become that needs these trees as its carbon sinks. Citizen groups must form monitoring committees that should act as watchdogs or we shall exacerbate the negative effects which will be severely felt when the temperatures are high.


So on to the present time, and once again we see rampant cutting down of a tree cover which is now absolutely paltry, given that Karachi is now a city of over 20 million. This is one issue agitating the citizens of this city because they have come to realise the importance of trees, especially in the aftermath of last year’s heatwave when so many lives were lost.

One of the key reasons cited for the devastation was the lack of green cover in a city of concrete, which resulted in the heat becoming trapped, producing the heat island effect. Most of the people who died were those who were exposed to it in open areas because there were just too few trees under whose shade they could have found some respite.

Encroachment of the city’s parks means that there were fewer places offering shades. The unusual horticulture practices adopted over the last few years in some of the newer parks also saw them being developed devoid of trees and full of ‘sculptured’ decorative bushes. This meant that in the intense heat of the day, no one could visit these large parks as there was no shade to be found there, and these were populated only in the evenings when the temperature had already dropped.

While seasonal tree plantation drives were garnering more stakeholder support, the issue of greening of Karachi gained resonance with Karachiites who were really shaken by the devastation wrought by the heatwave. Many citizens groups have been formed to take matters into their own hands, (Mera Karachi Green Group, Voice of Karachi) seeing that the task could not be managed by government agencies alone.

At another level, a successful model of collaboration between the civic agencies and civil society (Sarsabz-o-Pursakoon Karachi) was put in place last year, which also contributed to the efforts to increase the green cover of Karachi during the regular tree plantation drives during spring and monsoon seasons. This brought diverse stakeholder groups like NGOs, civil society organisation, welfare societies, schools, colleges, mosques, mandirs, churches, community centres, villages as well as corporate bodies on the same table as the commissioner of Karachi and relevant government departments, including the forest department, cantonment boards, etc.

Targets were set and plants were very carefully chosen to make sure only native species were selected. This is a key issue because some years earlier the multi-stakeholder body decided to pay heed to its recommendations as well as those elicited from the plant experts.

There was a two-pronged approach to dealing with the issue at hand; one was through plans for plantation, in accordance with the different ecological zones identified in the city; and the other was through court action to stop tree cutting, especially due to erection of billboards. There is a mafia at work in the city that has been wantonly cutting trees to make space for billboards, and one theory about the removal of the commissioner, Asif Hyder Shah, is that he had taken a firm stand for the implementation of the Supreme Court order for removal of billboards. For the first time an FIR was lodged at his behest from the commissioner’s office against the ‘developers’ who were cutting trees and flouting court orders.


Here it must also be explained that awareness needs to be created among concerned citizens to discern the difference between cutting and pruning. While the protest against the former is something everyone must do, they should know that a cut tree means that only a stump remains. Some of the trees whose foliage and branches have been cut but are still standing have been pruned, which is a necessary practice to shed them of the biomass and allow for their rejuvenation in the next season.

Being a coastal city, it is encouraging to note that the tree cover of the mangrove forests is being increased. Recently the Pakistan Navy has undertaken the task of planting one million mangroves in collaboration with IUCN-Pakistan. In a country which has a pitiably low forest cover, barely moving beyond 4pc, and the highest rate of deforestation in South Asia, the growth in the area under mangroves is encouraging. This can be easily seen through the GIS mapping of the plantations by the Sindh Forest Department.

It’s true that there are incidents of logging by the coastal communities and the timber mafia, but these are far less than before through community stewardship. This method of stewardship by communities and organisations, wherein they take ownership of the management of trees planted by them during, and after the publicised campaigns, is the only way to the greening of Karachi in a sustained and sustainable manner.

People need to be educated to use all possible methods of urban gardening and by staying mindful of the diminishing resource of water. By choosing the plants wisely, in an eco-friendly manner, they can make Karachi’s green dream come true, and contribute to the aesthetics as well as the health of the city.

Here again the rehabilitation of some parks by reed bed methods undertaken by the Pakistan Navy is an example that can be followed at the micro and macro level. They have already rehabilitated the Aziz Bhatti Park in Gulshan, and the Golf Course at Karsaz also is benefitting through grey water harvesting, which is the way to go in a city that will have less and less water in future.

Written by afiasalam

July 31, 2016 at 11:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized

His Sabeen, and Ours’

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A few days after my article appeared in TNS on Sabeen’s first death anniversary, I received an sms from her mother saying I had made her cry… again, just like I had when she read my previous articles/blogs on her after she was so cruelly taken away from us. Without saying sorry in my sms reply to her, I told her that not just because I was a mother, but there was always a strange connection I felt with Sabeen and her loss had affected me at a deeper level than I could neither understand nor explain.

I meaSabeen with Mahenazn I could understand Mahenaz, her mom, Aunty Jo, when shecould remember Sabeen through her failing memory, or Zaheer and
Nuzhat Kidvai, or Ragni, Jehan Ara, Hareem, her team at T2F and her childhood friends, or all those she worked on so many of her fantastic initiatives in close collaboration.


Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 12.18.13 am Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 12.25.46 am.png

But yesterday, I received a clarity to this perplexing question from a completely unexpected quarter, and realized that one does not have to have a specific reason to feel her loss. Sabeen had touched different people in so many different ways that each person felt a personal, exclusive bond with her.

While giving training to some community and rights activists in a small town in Sindh, I mentioned the need to choose words carefully and be conscious of personal safety because of the mad, bad, sad world we are living in. Told them intolerance was rife and so many people either standing up for their own or other people’s rights had paid a price with their lives. So many journalists, in the line of their duty, so many activists. So many people who dared to challenge the ‘norms.

While naming names, of course there was mention of Qandeel Baloch, but while on the topic, and especially while mentioning names, one couldn’t not mention Sabeen, Khurram Zaki, Rashid Rehman.

In a room full of trainees, one does have to focus eyes at a particular spot and I caught a participant’s expression totally change on the mention of Sabeen’s name. I thought he was about to say something but he just gestured to me and whispered, Sabeen; my friend! I nodded my head and continued the session.FB_IMG_1469012779679

Once I had completed the session, he came to me and held his cell phone out to me with the picture of a young smartly dressed school girl. He said this is my daughter. Doesn’t she look like Sabeen? ‘She is like Sabeen’ he repeated.

While I could only look at the picture of that smart girl in sports kit with a medal around her neck, and smile at him weakly thinking he expected me to agree there was a resemblance, he changed the picture on the cell phone to show me another.


FB_IMG_1468981839422He said this was a tribute he had written when she was killed. He had chosen the words and made this poster.

FB_IMG_1468981849853Then he showed me another. This included a small blurb from her janazah. This was his facebook picture. He said I have not changed the picture from the day she died. I used to meet her every few weeks when she was alive. Now I just keep this on my facebook. I was too stumped at that time to ask him to let me have those images. But this was my ‘aha’ moment. Why was I even looking for an answer to the question of why Sabeen was someone special to me. She was that to so many people.

So here I was, sitting in this room, far away from home, almost in the boonies, furiously typing this away, and despite the perfect whether, with no clue as to why I was snivelling!

As for ‘his’ Sabeen, whose actual name is Tulsi Meghwar. She is a grade 7 student at a government school in Kotri, she proudly wears that medal as she participated in National Games and represented Sindh team that returned as Runners’ Up in the softball championship.

Like ‘our’ Sabeen, Tulsi loves sports, and wants to excel at them. Her father, Harji Lal,  is determined to be the wind beneath her wings. She is the first ever from the Meghwar community who has excelled and earned recognition for her talents. Maybe for him, therein lies the resemblance. Not physical, but in the spirit to move ahead, despite odds. Those who know the social structure of Sindh, especially among the Hindus, know that the Meghwars have not had it easy. Girls’ education has traditionally been a no no for them.

Just like the going wasn’t easy for Sabeen, though in a different manner. Maybe he knows that story too and draws a parallel. Whatever the reason, he is adamant that Tulsi will get all the chances in life that he can afford for her. She will not be held back by the disapproving societal glances…All I can say is: More power to his Sabeen… I mean Tulsi Meghwar!

Sabeen on scooterScreen Shot 2016-07-20 at 11.45.38 pm


Written by afiasalam

July 20, 2016 at 7:23 pm

From physical to digital

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An exciting year-long project aimed at showcasing Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage that is not in the mainstream for various reasons on the digital medium

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Sometimes, a word, a tweet, a query you overhear or see between two people triggers something in your memory. So it happened when I saw a friend @Fifi Haroon talking to someone about the beautiful Wazir Khan Mosque in the Walled City of Lahore, and I couldn’t help but become a showoff for the moment by immediately posting this link. All because I had been part of an exciting, and educative project that allowed for the digital preservation of our cultural jewels on the Google Cultural Institute portal.
Now I know many acquainted with me would raise their eyebrows at the connection between technology and me because I am known as being somewhat tech-challenged. This is why when this young man, Badar Khushnood, who used to represent Google in Pakistan, and I had met through a common friend said, “Give up your job. In this age of Google, you should be working for yourself,” I just nodded with a faint smile, restraining the rolling of eyes, thinking ok, here’s another techie trying to rock my boat. Google indeed! Just because he represents that organisation, he wants me to give up the comfort of the physical world and traverse this nebula known as the digital world… no thank you!
Over the intervening years, I got to know this young man, and through him and his fraternity, got to know about the wondrous cyberworld. Little did I know he was keeping tabs on me, and six years down the road, suddenly one day called me and said, “I know you have just finished a project and have not taken on another yet… Don’t! I have to talk to you.”
Taken aback but curious, I let him introduce me to an enchanting world dotted with archaeological sites, art galleries and museums that I could ever dream of seeing or visiting, while sitting in the comfort of my armchair.
“What is missing?” he demanded.
Looking at my perplexed expression, he said, “Pakistan! The images that people get when they Google it, are NOT what Pakistan is all about. We have history going back thousands of years, rich cultural heritage, and art. There is art in every nook and corner, in every facet of our lives. We need to put it out there! Are you game?”
How does one not jump (despite my age) at an offer like that? Here was a chance to showcase the rich cultural heritage of Pakistan which people, due to a variety of reasons in the physical world, are not able to get to know. The digital medium now offered the means to be transported to this magical realm.
Thus began my personal educational journey towards learning more about the richness and diversity of the cultural richness of my country. After an evaluation by a team of Googlers in Singapore and England, and a lot of technical and administrative handholding by them and the small core team in Pakistan and India, I was on my way to executing an almost year long project that didn’t seem like a project. It was mid 2013.
It was a journey into the glorious past, on paths traversed by mighty emperors on their mounts and steeds, like along The Royal Trail, taking rest at one of the largest Turkish Baths outside Central Asia, known as the Shahi Hammam, or bowing their heads to the Lord at the beautifully frescoed Wazir Khan mosque, passing the colourful bazaars, and havelis of their courtiers while on their way to their abode at the Lahore Fort.
It took me to the winding, narrow lanes of the Walled City of Lahore inside the Bhati Gate, pulsating with life and vibrant with colour, into one of the oldest ‘living museums’ of the world known as the Fakirkhana Museum. This museum has been in the Fakir family since the 16th Century, and houses not only some of the holiest Islamic relics, but has the largest collection of the Sikh artifacts and relics right from Ranjeet Singh’s times.
I also received an education in art produced by so many artists of this land, some of whose pieces would have me transfixed before them, so powerful was the imagery, whether displayed by the AAN Collection, or assembled in the gallery of the heritage building of the Lahore Museum, the repository of Pakistan’s best cultural and historic relics.
And of course, how can one not be fascinated by the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi, which mixes so much of old with the new, or get that otherworldly feeling when walking the pathways of the world’s largest necropolis in Makli, where history mixes with mystery, and mystique of the mystics buried there takes you into another time zone?
But this journey was not just about the past; it was about the present populated by talented young men and women savvy in the use of digital technology adroitly and seamlessly placing Pakistan’s cultural riches on the world stage. These riches were captured by a crop of superb photographers across Pakistan who matched the technical excellence of their equipment with the artistry of their eye.
It was also about the breaking of some stereotypes, and reinforcement of others. Like how some government departments function through the maze of red tape, while others cut through the clutter and grab the opportunity coming their way to show the best side of Pakistan.
So why am I writing this story here? One, because of the memory that tweet I mentioned earlier triggered. But more than that, because far too few institutions and galleries in Pakistan know that here is a digital platform to advertise and market a physical space.
This is a great way to drive tourist and academic traffic to the country, so rich in cultural heritage. Yes, there are external factors that have a bearing on getting the numbers up; extraneous factors like issues of security or availability of tourist-friendly infrastructure. But it isn’t really all that much of a Catch 22.
The ‘product’ is there. It does not have to have a ‘USP’ as it IS the ‘USP’… the digital space acts as the advertising medium. The call to action, or the ‘sales pitch’ has now to come in a coordinated manner so that Pakistan’s best kept secret, its cultural riches, can be unveiled before the world.
Meanwhile, come visit some of Pakistan’s best places virtually, by visiting Google Cultural Institute – Pakistan.

Written by afiasalam

May 22, 2016 at 5:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized