Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fairness in Grading: A Lesson by the Great Dijkstra

Fairness in Grading: A Lesson by the Great Dijkstra

In my another post "Beauty is Our Business: Mathematics and Dijkstra", I describe how I came to be enrolled with Dijkstra at UT Austin in the course Capita Selecta and how he and his students understood the meaning of beauty and excellence. But, my intention of taking that course in the Fall of 1988, was not as much to study the course but to have a pretext of knowing the great Dijkstra. As described in that post, I used to spend more time observing Dijkstra than preparing for passing the course. To shield myself from any adverse grade by this guru of Computer Science, I had taken the course on a non-credit basis.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How to find "Buzurg" and "Wali" of Allah

How to find "Buzurg" and "Wali" of Allah

During the late 1970s I started reading extensively and would read whatever came my way. This decade was probably the peak of monthly magazines or "digests" publications. Taking cue from the Reader's Digest and success of Urdu magazines such as Urdu Digest and Sayyara Digest, several "digests" became popular such as Subrung Digest, Jasoosi Digest, and Suspense Digest. Most of them relied upon crime, fiction and suspense short stories translated in Urdu from the West. However, some like Subrung Digest acquired a distinctive position due to the original fiction produced in Urdu, of which some of the long running series are now considered epic.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Problems with Bloom's Taxonomy: Impact on Curriculum and Motivation of Students

Problems with Bloom's Taxonomy: Impact on Curriculum and Motivation of Students

The basic problem with Bloom's taxonomy is defining the learning process as a sequence of progression from simpler memory recall function to the supposedly higher levels such as synthesis and evaluation which as Frank Smith argues below is contrary to the actual process of human learning. The problem is that the theoretical foundations of Bloom's Taxonomy are based on the experiments done (i) on pigeons, rats, and dogs by the founders of behavioral school of Pavlov and Skinner, and (ii) involving "senseless" and "meaningless" tasks. They unfortunately forgot to compare their experimental results with the observations of children learning in real life settings as the seminal work of John Holt, Chomsky and others demonstrate using sensible and meaningful activities. In the excerpt given below, Frank Smith points out the problems with Bloom's taxonomy through various observations of real people in real learning situations that prompted him to say:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Get Pakistan out of this quagmire: Economic Cost of War on Terror for Pakistan

[To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions]
Impact of War on Terror on Pakistan’s economy

[This post is copied from Pakistan Today and was written bOmer Zaheer Meer, Tuesday, 15 Oct 2013]

History is evident that wars had been and will always be costly both economically and in terms of the loss of human lives. The western world and its allies are facing a unique war with no defined goals, targets, definite end-period and a faceless enemy making it much more costly and destructive.

The USA-led War on Terror (WOT) and potential solutions as to its ‘end’ are the talk of the town these days, with different perspectives put forth by differing sections of our society, however the economic impact and cost of this war for Pakistan’s economy is an area less frequented.

Pakistan has been paying a very heavy economic price for the ongoing WOT. The economic costs have been high, including the direct costs due to heavier spending on defense, compensation for the affected, damage to the infrastructure, severely deteriorating law and order situation, extensive capital flight, lack of foreign investment, industry closures and resultant poor revenue generation for Government. Indirect costs includes loss of economic activity from increased uncertainty, lower investment due to increase in perceived risk, opportunity costs, social disorder, lack of exports due to uncertain conditions and travel restrictions on Pakistani businessmen and the economic impact of the loss of men and women earning bread and butter for their families.

Studies had been undertaken by government as well as non-governmental institutions to determine the cost of war on terror for Pakistan. While their estimates vary, they have all accepted that beside the irreparable loss of lives, a severe economic slowdown has engulfed Pakistan’s economy as a direct consequence of this war.

What’s significant for the economists is the recent initial estimate by the government of Pakistan of the up to date losses suffered by Pakistan’s economy in the last 12 years to be $100 billion, approximately. On the other hand, just $15 billion had been paid to Pakistan through official channels (recovery rate of a mere 15 per cent). It is worth mentioning here that the Pak-American Business Council and some other private institutions’ loss estimates are much lower, though still material losses are put at between 40 to 60 per cent of the official figure.

Pakistan received $10 billion from Coalition Support Fund (CSF) against explicit expenses incurred, $2.1 billion assistance from FMF (Foreign Military Fund) to strengthen the military’s capacity against terrorists, economic assistance grants had been $1.5 billion while budgetary support of $1.2 billion too had been received.

The amounts and purposes of the funds spent and distributed by USA directly through local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are unknown while debt worth $1.65 billion had also been written-off.

The yearly official estimated losses to Pakistan’s economy as a direct consequence of participating in the USA led WOT are as below:

  • 2001-02: $2.669 billion
  • 2002-03: $2.749 billion
  • 2003-04: $2.932 billion
  • 2004-05: $3.410 billion
  • 2005-06: $4.670 billion
  • 2006-07: $4.670 billion
  • 2007-08: $6.940 billion
  • 2008-09: $9.180 billion
  • 2009-10: $13.560 billion
  • 2010-11: $17.830 billion
The total till 2010-11 comes to a whopping $67.926 billion.

The Economic Survey of 2010-11 disclosed that the loss to Pakistan’s economy due to participating in WOT was approximately $68 billion till then. The government didn’t disclose the updated economic losses in the Economic Survey of 2011-12. The latest official estimate as mentioned above is approximately $100 billion which is over 43 per cent of Pakistan’s GDP ($231.2 billion as per World Bank) and 164 per cent of the total foreign debt ($60.9 billion as of March 2013)

An interesting observation to note is the rising rate of the losses in the financial year 2010-11. This shows the rising intensity of the war and the upward trending economic costs. Moving forward this loss may rise at an even higher rate.

Not only did the growth in Pakistan’s economy nosedive but the overall economy was also hit hard. To understand the severity of the economic losses, let us examine the fiscal year 2010-11. The exports dwindled to the tune of $2.90 billion, terrorism compensation amounted to $0.80 billion, infrastructure damage amounted to $1.72 billion, foreign investment declined by $2.10 billion, privatization projects worth $1.10 billion could not materialize, industrial output was negatively affected to the tune of $1.70 billion, tax collection declined by $2.10 billion, cost of uncertainty amounted to $2.90 billion, expenditure overruns by $1.60 billion and others expenses incurred were $0.90 billion, totaling $17.82 billion in just one year.

Since accounts have been rebased to 2005-06, we’ll use comparative figures from 2006-07 to meaningfully appreciate the extent of the economic impact. Tourism industry has been destroyed. Industrial sector is adversely affected as working hours were lost with increased uncertainty, terrorism and resulting migration. Its growth rate of 7.7 per cent from 2006-07 fell to a mere 3.5 per cent in 2012-13 with the manufacturing sector amongst the hardest hit sub-sectors. The services sector also slumped to a growth rate of just 3.7 per cent in 2012-13 compared to 5.6 per cent in 2006-07. Agriculture growth rate at 3.3 per cent in 2012-13 almost regained the level of growth of 3.4 per cent from 2006-07. The massive potential of increasing this could not be realized though. Total investment has declined from 18.79 per cent of GDP in 2006-07 to 14.22 per cent of GDP in 2012-13.

Post 9/11 Karachi, the economic lifeline of the country, faced a series of terrorist attacks which were repeated in Punjab and Balochistan. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa without doubt has been the worst affected. This further increased the risk perception of the country. Economic growth slowed down to the point of stagnation growing at an average of 2.94 per cent since 2008-09. With all these staggering losses, there is still no end in sight to this war on terror ravaging the economic, social and political landscape of Pakistan. The quicker we get out of this quagmire the better it will be for Pakistan.

The writer Omer Zaheer Meer is an economist, a qualified chartered accountant, financial analyst and anti-money laundering expert. He can be reached on Twitter @OmerZaheerMeer - See more at:

Whither Writ of the State? Costs of Breakdown of Law and Constitution in Pakistan

[To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions]

Whither Writ of the State? Costs of Corruption and Nepotism in Today's Rangeela Shahi Daur

I often see reference to the "writ of state" in talk shows and in the writings of columnists in newspapers invoked typically in the context of the Talibans threat and urging the need for military action. I wonder why these specialists fail to see the "writ of the state" being violated every day in a systematic manner by all and sundry in nearly every walk of life.

Who can stop the sons of the powerful from breaking the traffic laws or even committing heinous crimes? Is it possible for the traffic cop to stop a land cruiser with black tinted glasses when over speeding or breaking traffic signals or driving dangerously or threatening the other traffic with armed escorts? Taking the cue, breakdown of the writ of the state is visible on every intersection, every signal, and every place where a bus/mini bus stops, and in every taxi and every rickshaw running without a meter and every car driving outside the lane! It is visible in every government office where there is public dealing. Bigger the office, bigger the breakdown of the writ of the state. Why can't we see that Taliban threat is just one of the more visible manifestations of  the breakdown of the writ of the state, and is simply a logical consequence of the breakdown of state institutions that has taken place over the last so many decades.
Our existence is not only being threatened by the so called Talibans but is being threatened on a daily basis by various gangs and mafias in a systematic manner. I compare this state of the affairs to the situation prevailing during the weakening of the Mughal Empire (early eighteenth century) when the breakdown of the writ of the state and breakdown of the control of the central administration enabled all sorts of groups to rear their heads and create havoc. Known famously as the "rangeela shahi daur", Marahttas, Rohillas, Sikhs, Afghans (Nadir Shah, Durrani) and all sorts of gangs and private armies would descend on cities and would indulge in loot and plunder and took control of vast areas. To protect themselves, people started paying protection money (or bhatta/taxes) to their area lords who maintained private armies, and who gradually separated from the Delhi rule and became independent princely states.

Isn't this the same situation? There is a general breakdown of law and order everywhere as evident from the emergence of mafias and organized gangs of looters and plunderers, as people are forced to pay protection money to them and they act as a state unto themselves for all practical purposes:
Whenever we talk of the violation of the "writ of state", it must start from the usurping of state, constitution and courts and other civil institutions by the military dictators. They trampled upon the law and the constitution for half of our existence directly and the remaining half by pulling the strings of the civil governments from behind, not letting them rule, and by calling all the important shots. To perpetuate dictatorial rule and protect its gains, influential groups and feudals were given a leeway and were allowed to morph into lawless mafias and gangs specializing in extortion of money through hook or crook; a distinctive attribute of the Rangeela Shahi daur was the captivity of state institutions by the private armies of the viziers and advisors. 

Most prominent among the gangs of today is the transport mafia that has destroyed the urban transport corporations (KTC, RTC, LTC etc), provincial transport corporations (PRTC, SRTC etc) and even the railway system (KCR and PWR and their branch network). Railway's freight business was destroyed by the NLC (an official gang hoisted by dictators) and forcing the freight movement away from railway to the transport mafia, which not only destroyed the road network, but literally handed over the safety of main highways to gangs. The mafia colluded and worked in tandem with the police (city transports is often owned by police) and other government bodies in getting route permits, then getting the bus stops encroached and soon with the help of the powerful groups the entire infrastructure (huge maintenance facilities, parking lots, railway land, and rolling and fixed assets) was encroached upon or sold away as scrap. The pitiful state in which the people now travel (jam packed as sardines inside and on roofs of buses, squatting on the floor of train) is visible everywhere as these mafias run transport in a pitiful state and extort the price of their choosing as the state haplessly looks on. Transport mafias are the precursors to the urban gangs and pressure groups that we see around. Convenience of the travelers and commuters is always the first priority of a competent administration as exemplified by Sher Shah Suri and the establishment of the GT Road and its support infrastructure (wells, checkpoints, saraiye/motels). The breakdown of the safety, security and convenience of the passageways is the first outcome of the breakdown of administration as witnessed in the Rangeela Shahi daur.
Then comes the land grabbing mafia famously referred to by Ardsher Cowasjee as "plot-ocracy". It started with the use of squatters by influentials to systematically encroach government land. But there is a more refined version to this crude tactic. Thousands of acres of lands are allotted to the favored individuals and institutions every year by every administration over the last several decades. Government land is forcefully occupied and then regularized or it is privatized illegally and sold away at throw away prices. Biggest landowner in Pakistan and the biggest land mafia in the organized government sector includes the military and its quasi institutions about which much has already been written. The trend again resembles the breakdown of the Mughal State during the Rangeela Shahi Daur when the commanders of the Mughal armies started proclaiming independence in the areas of their controls, as seen now in the cantonments, DHAs and feudal/wadera run territories that are virtually independent of the civil administration and hold the majority of the land in most cities and rural areas. These entities charge taxes/protection money from the businesses, which is not deposited in the state treasury, similar to what happened in the Rangeela Shahi Daur.

During the Rangeela Shahi daur, nepotism was at its height. People related to those in power got all the benefits and lucrative postings. We see a similar thing today. We have the drug mafia protected by the most powerful in the state. We have the sugar mills mafia that forces the prices down by creating surpluses during the buying season and then jacking up the prices during the selling season by creating shortages. They make money by creating shortages by first exporting the sugar out, and then importing/hoarding and selling at high price. By creating entry barriers, they do not allow new mills to be established and neither allow the farmers to make their own brown sugar. A racket about which even the state institution like Competition Commission of Pakistan expresses helplessness. Poor farmers are forced to park their tractor trolleys for weeks in miles-long queues on roads leading to the mills and not buying the cane until its weight reduces due to evaporation of the moisture content. We also have the wheat mafia that exploits the poor growers by colluding with the fertilizer mafia and the government institutions to jack up the fertilizer prices just when the sowing season is about to start, and reduces the selling price of wheat when the produce is ready for selling. Much has been written and documented about these practices but the state institutions are helpless or in collusion with these powerful groups.
There is this racket of fake medicines mafia that run their life threatening business with impunity under the very eyes of the regulators that extort money when they fix the prices and when they go for inspections. About fifty years ago, the system of such inspections was really stringent and now it has evaporated. Thirty years ago we all used to drink tap water. Supply of clean filtered water was ensured in every city. Even the five star hotels used to serve this water. But, the filter plants were encroached, and the entire infrastructure of filtration and supply of clean water was handed over to the tanker mafia and the state responsibility was abdicated to appease the powerful mafia of the water bottling industry.

Loans write-off mafia was a big business in Zia's time continuing till today where the art of taking a loan, defaulting and then getting them written off became the popular way to become rich. Banking mafia is paying only 1.5% on certain deposits while charging +20% on the loans. A spread unheard of in the world under the very eyes of the world bank supported central bank.
Adulteration mafia responsible for the substandard quality of edibles works with impunity under the watchful eyes of the inspection mafia that only ensures that protection money is being paid to them. Police mafia owns the police stations that are auctioned and that extort money from anyone and everyone. It is a misfortune of one to get entangled with them. In the court hearing on breakdown of law in Karachi, an official admitted that all agencies are taking protection money or bhatta.

Mafias in government departments have made government a "khairati idara" to provide salary without any work. The number of ghost employees is legendary. No one can tell with surety what is the strength of the real employees in schools, municipal corporations, provincial or federal government. There are ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost employees. 

Oil companies cartel mafia charge whatever they want as OGRA looks on. The art of collusion is perfect. Electricity stealing mafia in tandem with NEPRA condones theft by allowing the utilities to slap the cost of theft on to the poor paying consumer. Energy sector mafia makes everyone blush. NAB and NRO allows mafias to go Scott free without any accountability. During the recent Supreme Court case hearing, a judge remarked that if we are allowing the big fish to return a percentage of looted amount and go free without a blemish to their existing jobs, then why should not the state allow all the petty thieves and dacoits to return their looted wealth and go scot-free! [1]

Let's see the genesis of this situation emerging in Karachi. It all started with car jacking and a whole underground economy of stolen cars and their fake identity papers sprung up with the connivance of the police. Then came the menace of mobile snatching, which started as individual acts but then morphed in to organized gangs. The gangs began getting protection from police as well as political parties. Then came the menace of bhatta mafia. Beginning as a fund raising drive, it soon morphed in to big business. The gangs were few and the markets were many from where the bhatta was extracted. Then as the gangs increased and the space started shrinking, territories were defined and demarcated. Gangs had to coalesce together into bigger units and were adopted by one or the other political parties. Target killings is one of the symptoms of the territorial wars fought to demarcate the ownership of the boundaries where one or the other gang would rule. The situation is much akin to what happened during the alcohol prohibition in 1930s leading to gang warfare in Chicago and New york and other cities of USA. Territorial disputes would often lead to gang wars. This is what we are witnessing in Lyari today.  

I think the columnists identify the responsibility of the state but stop short of apportioning the responsibility on the state institutions and fail to find the parallel to the rangeela shahi daur during the twilight of Mughal rule which was accompanied by such marauding hordes. Centralized decision making in the hands of the dictators destroyed the entire culture of distributed decision making at different tiers of the government. Now no one makes any decision any where. For all decisions, they look at the center. Just recall the paralysis of the administration as exemplified by the Sikandar episode near the Red Zone in Islamabad. One man was able to command the attention of the entire nation and hold it hostage for more than five hours, prompting and forcing a courageous Zamurrad Khan to take law into his own hands and act.

When the state fails to perform, the vacum left has to be filled by someone, anyone who has the courage can fill it and will fill it. The result is the destruction of the writ of the state and the emergence of the "rangeela shahi daur" of today where the hordes of Nadir Shah Afghan and Durrani resemble the talibans,  marahttas are the gangs, rohillas are the mafias, and subedars are the agencies and government institutions. All states unto themselves. Whither the writ of the state?


[1]  SC assails NAB chief’s powers to let accused go off scot-free

See Also other posts on Pakistan History 101: 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Most Effective Way of Cutting a Nation from its History and Ideals - Imposing a Foreign Language

Most Effective Way of Cutting a Nation from its History - Imposing a Foreign Language

The project for cutting a nation from its history and roots always starts with the introduction of a foreign "language". We know how Ataturk's drive for secularism led him to change the Turkish script from Arabic to Latin script to cut the Turks from their history, and we also know how the British used English as a tool to create an elite class more anglophile (more loyal than the king) to serve them during their colonial rule and later to extend their control during the post-colonial era. This elite class identified themselves more with their colonial masters than with their fellow country men as evidenced by the distance they still maintain (see the VVIP culture and the motorcades of our rulers; military, political or feudals). 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

At What Cost! Fazle Hasan of IBA and our Computation of Economic Costs

[To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions]

At What Cost! Fazle Hasan of IBA and our Computation of Economic Costs

Fazle Hasan in his office 1981
Mr Fazle Hasan (1939-2006) was teaching us Financial Management in 1986 at IBA. During each class session, the discussion would invariably turn towards his oft repeated dictum "At What Cost". This was the major theme of his course. He wanted us to take stock of the long term costs of our decisions and to be able to estimate and recognize the costs of the faulty political decisions that have led us to this sorry state.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How to Sprinkle Happiness Around You: Javed Bhai (Dr Zaeem Jafri) – A Jolly Good Fellow

How to Sprinkle Happiness Around You: Javed Bhai (Dr Zaeem Jafri) – A Jolly Good Fellow

14-Nov-2009: Last night I got an sms that Javed Bhai has been admitted to the hospital and is in serious condition. My heart sank. There was this feeling of heaviness that told me that this hospitalization may be the last one. He had endured the continuous slide in his health valiantly for the last several years. The last few conversations I had with him and those he met told me that it is now only a matter of months if not days.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ansari Sb: Khawjgan e Chisht Ahle Bahisht

Ansari Sb: Khawjgan e Chisht Ahle Bahisht

About a fortnight short of Eid ul Azha, I was at Saleem Shah's place when I received a message that Babbu Bhai (Wajeeh ul Hasan Ansari) has requested that the hides of qarbani be donated to Islamic Center, Block B North Nazimabad. Instinctively I replied that I would donate provided that Wajeeh Bhai would confirm that he has some decision making role at the center. Knowing from whatever little I knew of Wajeeh Bhai, I could see that he is one of those people who are sincere and committed and he is that gem of a person you would search and search, and not find.  A person whom you can give a responsibilty and forget about it; assured in the knowledge that the task would be completed with sincerity, integrity and with excellence. A precious quality in the opportunistic world of today, and my concern on poking this condition was to find out from Wajeeh Bhai whether he was being used. Saleem Shah immediately dialed Wajeeh Bhai's number and we started talking. Of course I had decided even before the number was dialed that I would be donating the hides to his center, but nevertheless, it was a good opportunity to talk. We talked about his center, his contribution and his school and then in his gentle manner he extended an invitation for me to come and visit the center. In his customary humility he asked for advice, guidance and support -- as if he needed it from us! ( I was feeling embarrased knowing fully well that it was me who needed his guidance and who need his company more). This was the last conversation I would ever have with him as the next day (Oct 4, 2013) I learned that he has gone to meet his creator. Inna lillah e wa inna ilaihi rajioon.
One day in 2009 we met and I told him about the Ahsan Memorial Library (AML) project, he offered that he had decided to give away some of the books collected by his father Wasiul Hasan Ansari sb (click for his profile here) and would only retain specific books that are of his interest. A few days later four cartons arrived containing a wonderful collection of Urdu literature, English literature, history and philosophy books with a promise of some more to come. Through Wasiul Hasan Ansari's collection AML is now a proud owner of the original Dastaan e Amir Hamza and Tilism Hushruba published around hundred year ago. Thank you wajeeh bhai for a wonderful donation.

This was around 1978 when Saleem told me that there was an invitation from Ansari sb (Wasi ul Hasan) about an event "Khatm e Khawjgan e Chisht Ahle Bahisht" followed by some wonderful food and biryani. We were in intermediate and it was the latter part of the event that excited our imagination the most. So we took the bus and landed at Ansari sb's place in Satellite Town, Rawalpindi around maghrib time. The event started after the prayers. We were given a small printed paper containing a list of "azkar" with some large number (in thousands) written after each "zikr" signifying the number of times each zikr would be recited. The total came to some tens of thousands. I whispered to Saleem that "buray phansay" the biryani is going to cost us dearly. By simple math we had computed that if we started after maghrib and if each zikr takes even half a minute to recite and if we were to recite each of the zikr thousands of time, it would be well past the midnight and into the sunrise before the count could be completed. Our hearts sank and all the enthusiasm for the biryani evaporated. There were around hundred people and we were sitting on the carpet and there was no way to escape as the entrance was fully blocked and the room was jam packed. Soon the lights were turned off and the zikr recitation started. All this time we were only counting and tracking time, all the while thinking why did we ever come. To our utter amazement and surprise the zikr was only recited a few times and the turn for the next one came and then the one after the next and so on. To our great relief the recitation ended after Isha and the food was served. We found out later that as there were a hundred people, so recitation of the zikr once meant a count of hundred. Ten times meant one thousand and so the target was met was rather quickly and our apprehension of staying there all night were unfounded.

Wasiul Hasan Ansari sb (1919-2006: click for his profile here): What a man he was. He would always remind me of the picture of some lucknow nawab which some how had gotten etched in my mind. Choori dar payjama, slender and thin built, small pointed beard, paan in the mouth and a typical flowing style of waving his hand and body with the inflection of speech which we don't see any more. His command on literature, poetry, Islam, politics would manifest itself in his fluent and flawless speech and conversation. His dressing and style would always remind me of the elegant literary picturization of the dressing of Mirza Sikandar Bakht, a Mughal prince (some decades after 1857) as described in one of the essays included in our matric Urdu text book of Sargodha Board, 1977. For years he lived near our place in PECHS, we had the opportunity to benefit from him but did not. What a loss of cultural and missionary history. I only later realized the important work he had been doing at the Islamic Center. I realized only after his death his stature as a waliullah when he was taken to Multan for burial near his murshid's khanqah with respect and reverence by the large congregation. Our day to day tasks and our inability to separate the gems from the pebbles.

At Ahsan Memorial, one of our memorable functions was the Mehfil e Samaa organized by Wajeeh Bhai and Saleem Shah. Where I could see the wajd and trance in which this tradition was followed with an enthusiasm and commitment that is now being lost in the more commercial and crude versions with which we are surrounded. After the event we talked abou having a mehfil on Rumi and his thought which never materialized as we got lost in our mundane, and busy lives. I think whenever an idea comes, we should pounce on it and make it reality. Who knows how much time we have left.

Wajeeh ul Hasan Ansari (1956-2013) had assumed the role and mettle of his father. His humility increased, his sweetness (mit-haas) style increased, and he was forever ready with help and support for people without their asking. The owner of the company where he was working for the last several years was remembering him that I had lost my right hand. I don't know what I would do now because I would earlier freely travel abroad for long periods of time secure in the knowledge that Wajeeh Sb would be taking care of the things with sincerity and integrity. A great loss for the sisters and for us and the humanity. May Allah give him peace and a abode of the highest "daraja". May Allah grant his children the strength and the character to take forward the illustrious legacy left behind by their ancestors.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rauf Mamoo - How to Make People Feel Special and Close

Rauf Mamoo - How to Make People Feel Special and Close

What a man he was! What a dashing personality! Close and dear to everyone around. In any gathering he would soon become the center of attention, with his pleasing and affectionate personality, anecdotes, humor and personal attention to every one. In 1999, at his soyem, there were so many people who were remembering him in small groups, each one trying to remember his association with him. Overcome with grief, I was trying to hide the tears from my eyes as I moved from one group to another, and then I noted some thing in such rememberances about Rauf Mamoo to which I had not paid attention in all the years as I was growing up and looking up to him as a role model. That most distinctive quality that emerged from these rememberances was that everyone was highlighting how his or her relationship with Rauf Mamoo was so special and so close. People were describing those special moments, anecdotes, events and situations which highlighted and demonstrated that Rauf Mamoo was closest to them individually! And, I thought (initially with a pang of jealousy) that I was the one who was closest to him! Rauf Mamoo had managed through his interactions with everyone who came in contact with him to give this special feeling of closeness. I was actually surprised to see even those who had not had a very comfortable relationship with him, describing trips and events where they were so close and so much loved by Rauf Mamoo.
[Remembering Maj (R) Shah M Ismail (1933-99) known fondly to people as Rauf]

Monday, September 2, 2013

Lesser known dimensions of US Universities - Archives of history and literature

Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin

Lesser known dimensions of US Universities - Archives of history and literature

During my seven years at the University of Texas at Austin, I went a few times to Harry Ransom Center (HRC) which is an archive and a museum of art, literature and other historical documents. I now think, given what I have to say in the latter part of this post, that I should have gone there more and explored it in greater detail. When I first stumbled in there to discover the treasures it was holding, I was surprised why many students are not aware of this museum although this huge magestic building sits at a very busy interesection, located right on the busiest street of the university (the Drag, Guadalupe St) and across the much frequented 27 stories high Dobie Mall/Dorm and a few paces from the oft-visited central library (PCL). As mentioned in this wonderful article on Harry Ransom  Center in the New Yorker: 
"Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars."
Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library, UT Austin
Universities like UT Austin not only define their mission as teaching, research and creating impact through the creation of new knowledge, but also consider preservation of history, arts and literature as part of their vision. UT Austin also boasts the LBJ (Lyndon B Johnson) Presidential Library housing over 20 million documents from the LBJ era. I remember not only the moon rock from Apollo mission on display inside the lobby, but also the beautiful lawn and the LBJ fountain next to the stadium and the Bass Concert Hall, where I would often go with my kids who used to immensely enjoy running around the open spaces and the green field slopes of the park.

Main Building, UT Austin
Another of my favorite haunts was the South Asian Collection which during the late1980s was housed in the intriguing tower of the main building. The watch lobby of the tower was closed to the public because of the infamous massacre by a student in the late 1960s, however, the climb up the tower that housed not only the old clock, but also the collection of books from South Asia was a mystifying experience.

I believe the collection of Urdu fiction books here may have been bigger than many of the libraries in Pakistan. I remember searching in 1988, the name "iqbal" in the titles held in the UT online catalog. The search  returned over 1025 results showing what a treasure trove the sixth biggest educational library of USA at that time can yield. How many libraries in Pakistan can boast of over 1000 titles having the name "Iqbal". Most of the books from Pakistan were obtained as part of the PL480 US aid program during the Ayub Khan era. I remember reading many books on urdu literature from this collection. Thanks to my friend Nasir Rahman for introducing me to this wonderful collection.

It is so unfortunate that so many students who go and study in universities in USA, especially those from Pakistan, often do  not take time out to go and visit such wonderful museums and collections that are there at all major universities. 

We in Pakistan destroy history. I am trying to get some good recordings of the classic PTV dramas of the 1970s by Hasina Moin, and am unable to find good quality recordings. The first drama serial Khuda ki Basti (based on the book by Shaukat Siddiqi) aired during the late 1960s is lost. The latter remake done in the early 1970s has a pathetic recording. Recording of Shahzori (based on the story by Azim Baig Chughtai) and other plays written by Hasin Moin are incomplete and have pathetic recordings [please guide me from where I can get some good recordings].

The point I am trying to make is that we can't even preserve the arts and literature of forty years ago. How are we going to safeguard the manuscripts, writings and historical documents of hundred years ago of the times of Ghalib, Zauq and Sauda. They may already be lost. I know of the effort during Hakim Said's time at Madinat ul Hikmat library at Hamdard University where they are trying painstakingly to safeguard handwritten manuscripts of hundreds of years ago. But, such examples are few and far between. I think this is a task that should be taken up by our universities. Lack of such preservation of historical records has led to the incorrect interpretations of history and concoction of narratives related to the creation of Pakistan as seen in the Dawn Supplement of Aug 14, 2013 masquerading as scholarly.

Preserving history is tedious and requires resources and manual effort. I know how difficult it is because in trying to safeguard some of the letters, correspondence and old books of my parents, I have learned that this requires patience, resources, time and dedicated people. Without this, my preservation  effort some times appears to be a loosing battle.
We have already lost many rare and invaluable manuscripts stored for the last ten centuries in Tumbuktu libraries during the recent violence there. I hope many of them may have slipped through to the West and I wish they get preserved in collections there.

A nation that has no history, has no future. Those who forget history are then forgotten by the history. Ah! Would we be able to learn?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How to identify a liar and avoid becoming part of the rumor chain - Socrates and Islamic view

In ancient Greece (469 - 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom.

One day an acquaintance ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about Diogenes?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied, "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test."
'Triple filter?" asked the acquaintance.

"That's right," Socrates continued, "Before you talk to me about Diogenes let's take a moment to filter what you're going to say.. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man said, "Actually I just heard about it."

"All right," said Socrates, "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about Diogenes something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "You want to tell me something about Diogenes that may be bad, even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed. Socrates continued, "You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter, the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about Diogenes going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "If what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even useful, why tell it to me or anyone at all?"

The man was bewildered and ashamed. This is an example of why Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

It also explains why Socrates never found out that Diogenes was shagging his wife.
[Received in an Email. Quoted on several websites]


We do not need Socrates for teaching us the above. 

  سورة الحجرات  , Al-Hujraat, Chapter #49, Verse #6:

O you who believe! If a Fasiq (liar - evil person) comes to you with any news, verify it, lest you should harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful for what you have done. 

The Messenger of Allaah (Sal Allaahu Alaiyhi wa Sallam) said:
It is enough for a man to be (considered as) a liar, if he transmits forward everything that he hears. (Muslim)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sad Ending of Abdullah Yousuf Ali - the Translator of Quran

Sad Ending of Abdullah Yousuf Ali - the Translator of Quran

The Late Obituary of Abdullah Yousuf Ali, the author of the popular translation and commentary of Holy Quran, begins:
"Sixty years ago, on Dec 10, 1953, few in the Muslim world noticed a minor tragedy unfolding in London. The previous day, a sick man was found sitting on the steps of a house in London in a bitterly cold British winter day, and was taken to hospital by police.
On this day, a man whose name was already known around the Muslim world, died a pauper's death, without even a companion by his side. British authorities contacted the Pakistani High Commission in London to arrange his funeral and burial.
Ask any English-speaking Muslim what translation and commentary of the Quran they originally studied, and the chances are that it was the one by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. First published in 1934, it remains to this day the most widely read and quoted English translation of the Quran. "  Late Obituary: Sad Ending of the Translator of Quran .... (read on) [As the link seems not to be working I have copied the material below at the end of my post]

Monday, August 5, 2013

Education as Tazkia: Is a child like a clean slate?

Education as Tazkia: Is a child like a clean slate?

In the academic circles, one often hears the view of a child as "clean slate", meaning there is nothing written on the slate, and unless we make sure that we write something "good", as quickly as possible, others may spoil it by writing on it something which is "not good". There are several renowned scholars in the Muslim world who have adopted the  "clean slate" view of the child from the West without the necessary critical evaluation. 

This "clean slate" assumption about the child seems in serious contradiction to (i) the assertion in Quran "luqad khalaqnal insaan a fi ahsun i taqveem" [Sura Teen], (ii) the concept of tazkia in Islam, implying that the child comes to this world in a pristine and the best of the form and the dunya spoils it, and (iii) at the time of creation “He taught Adam all the names of everything.” (Quran 2:31) lest they can not claim during akhirah that knowledge did not come to them. 

Please note that this "clean slate" assumption of the child as it is understood today has origins from the West [See for example Problems with Bloom's Taxonomy] and has some far reaching consequences on the resulting educational system as explained below. 

The goal of education is the success here and in the hereafter. However, success requires purification of the soul. "In Islam, the ultimate objective of religion and shariah (Islamic law) and the real purpose of raising prophets from among mankind was performing and teaching tazkiah.[2]". "The goal of tazkiya is to return to one’s beginning i.e. as a new-born child, pure and innocent, free from malice, self-conceit and pride. The dunya, however, makes a person’s heart hard and ‘rusty’ and the purpose of tazkiya is to polish the heart and return it to its original state." [3]

The view of a child as a "clean slate" is like considering a child as an "empty glass". This view creates the following imperatives for the educational system:
  1. Unless the slate is written upon, it will remain clean. There is a danger that someone else will come and write on it something that is not desired. Unless the glass is filled, it will remain empty. There is a danger that someoneelse may come and fill it with some undesired fluid which may be poison or acid.
  2. It is the duty of the "state authorities" to write on the clean slate (or to fill the glass). Left alone, the child will become a threat to the law and order.
  3. A child is passive like a clean slate and not an active agency. There is no potential in the child to observe the signs, reflect and seek out the truth and discover the meaning of life. The child has no purpose, has no inherent impulse and drive towards growth and discovery of his relationship with nature. 
  4. The material of this clean slate is inert and its quality (read intelligence) is randomly distributed in a bell-curve i.e. people with very high intelligence and very low intelligence are few, while people with moderate intelligence are in majority. Please see bell-curve assumption about the distribution of intelligence of students
  5.  A child is a resouce, a "human resource" just like land, capital and machinery that needs to be put to the service of the global capitalist machinery. Therefore, schools have the responsibility to make the child malleable enough for becoming a cog in the machinery. School's success is measured in terms of its ability to prepare the "workers" of this machinery. See for instance the criteria for world ranking of educational institutions. An institution's rating goes down if its graduates are not employed and are not drawing higher salaries. 
The educational system formed on the basis of the "clean slate" assumption robs the man from his "human-ness" and gives him the attributes of the "resource-ness". These are dangerous byproducts of the "clean-slate" assumption. 

The concept of "luqad khalaqnal insaan a fi ahsun i taqveem" and the concept of tazkia in Islam guide us towards human being as an active agent responsible for his deeds and actions. The pre-programming for righteousness was built-in to man at the time of creation. The process of education is that of cleansing the adulteration from outside and reverting the soul to its pristine and clean origins. 

A better analogy than the "clean-slate" may be that of a seed. Whereas a slate is life-less, the seed represents life and an active agency. A seed has the potential to become a tree and then that tree has the potential to become a forest. The potential is pre-programmed. The responsibility of the environment is to provide nourishment and nurture it. Similarly, the responsibilty of the education is to provide an enviornment suitable for the growth of a seed. The environment necessary for the growth of a grape seed is different from that of a mango seed which is different from any other seed. One-size-fits-all standardized environment is not suitable for the diversity and growth of different potentials inherent in different types of seeds. 

Unlike a seed, however, a child's potential may or may not be visible even to experts. Each child as he grows has to find his own unique way of realizing the potential and fulfilling the responsibility for which he was sent to the world. Hence the difficulty and the problems inherent in designing a standardized system that is one-size-fits-all system that wants everyone to be exactly like the other. 

See also:
Also check this news item what babies know might freak you out

[1] This blog was triggered by the keynote speech of Mr. Zaid Scheik of and  at the Robotics for Beginners Workshop at L2L Academy on July 21, 2013.
[2] Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-r-Qur'an: Tafsir of Surah Al-Fatiha and Surah Al-Baqara
[3] Shaykh Abu Yusuf Riyadh ul Haq as quoted in a blog.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mocking Craftsmen and Business People

Mocking Craftsmen and Business People

[This post was published in Daily Dawn in my letter to the editor Mocking Craftsmen 2013-08-13]

I WOULD like to highlight the psychology and social history of the satirical comments doing the rounds in the media and on cellphones about President-elect Mamnoon Hussain’s links to the cloth and food business community of Burnes Road, Karachi.These satirical comments emerged in the minds of the government servant class and take us back to the 1857 War of Independence when the British Raj eliminated land entitlements of the aristocracy.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What Inspires Me: Leadership Against All Odds

Jacqueline Novogratz

CEO at Acumen Fund

What Inspires Me: Leadership Against All Odds

I may have to write several posts to answer this question. What inspires me? I think of beauty, generosity, a star-filled night to remind me of how connected we are in a vast universe – all of it inspires me. But let me start with the leadership qualities of people I am lucky to have met.
I am inspired by individuals who constantly renew, retaining a childlike curiosity that enables them to seek knowledge and understanding, who commit to something bigger than themselves and who give more to the world than they take. I think of John Gardner, my mentor, who would remind me constantly to “Focus on Being Interested, not Interesting”, and who created organizations, wrote books and mentored young people into his nineties, until the day he died. His legacy lives in countless young leaders across the world and this way, his spirit will be forever alive.
I am inspired by leaders who dare to dream and have the grit, resilience and determination to see those dreams through, regardless of the many times they fall down along the way. Dr. Venkataswamy, another teacher, founded the amazing Aravind Eye Hospital when he was 58 years old, a successful eye surgeon despite being crippled from rheumatoid arthritis, a former physician in the Indian Army. His mission was audacious: to eradicate unnecessary blindness. His start was humble: a tiny “hospital” with just eleven beds. Nearly 40 years later, Aravind has treated more than 32 million people performing more than 4 million surgeries. Called Dr. V by most, he would say, “Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful.” You cannot help but feel the spirituality expressed by the best of the human heart and mind in the halls of this most extraordinary dream, made real simple by starting and then doing.
I am inspired by individuals who see a problem and focus on solving it, not yielding to facile excuses and roadblocks. My friend Alex Sunguti (top photo) works with Acumen and lives in one of Nairobi’s slums. He recently saw his neighbor lose her baby during childbirth because the family could not afford the $24 needed for a taxi to take her to the hospital. Though his own means are limited, Alex brought together local taxi drivers to negotiate a lower “emergency rate” and is working on raising a sort of insurance fund from community residents and friends. As our world becomes more interconnected, I dream of more Kickstarter-like mechanisms to enable larger circles from which to crowdfund and then track these small but critical local efforts that remind me that trust is the most precious currency we have.
I am inspired by the toughness, courage and hard-edged hope of people who persevere against the odds for they remind me of all that is possible. While traveling last week, I met a Rwandan-Congolese woman in Pretoria who lost both parents and three of her siblings to the genocide in Rwanda and war in Congo and somehow made her way to South Africa. She is now building a life as a professional and dreams of creating an orphanage back in Congo. As I was passing through immigration at JFK, I walked behind a Haitian-American walking steadily and proudly on two prosthetic legs, a large backpack strapped across his muscular back. Simply by walking through the world, he inspired me to try to fly.
The kind of leadership we need in a world becoming more interconnected by the day is a leadership with the qualities I see in the people I meet through my work across the world, regardless of class, race, ethnicity, gender or creed. So many times I am reminded that there are times in every life when just getting out of bed can require an act of courage. And yet, I see people who have so little give everything they can to make the world just a little better. And sometimes, a lot better.
Photos: top, Alex Sunguti; bottom: Jacqueline Novogratz and Dr V. Acumen Fund.