The Bottomless Cup

Month: August, 2010

The Summer I Will Never Forget

dedicated to al those who made this summer special

When I transferred out of Cornell’s Premedical Program, I told a friend of mine that I would become much more involved in my community now that I had more freedom to explore other options. The friend looked at me, perplexed, and said “somehow I don’t see that happening.”This was completely understandable. Before this summer, I was a t.v. show addicted depressed person. I guess when you’re happier you feel like giving back to your surroundings. Despite the low days, such as being disappointed in myself for loosing my passport and missing a week of classes (ouch), I’m still grateful to God for this awesome summer, mostly because I met some of the most amazing people. Right from the Project Rwanda Team that has made very eager to spend a semester in Pittsburgh to the TEDxLahore Team that has made me proud of being a Pakistani, I have been inspired by the people I have interacted with.. Since the “Things I learnt from TEDxLahore” Post became my biggest hit yet, I’ll make this one a “Things I learnt from this Summer”

1. I have become much more comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.

Calling me an introvert around unfamiliar social settings would be an understatement. I remember the day I arrived at Rwanda I told myself “What was I thinking?” Not a single person I knew was with me. It stayed like this for a couple of days. But quite soon, I felt as much a part of the group as anyone else. The day I left was very sad, and I couldn’t thank the Team enough for this awesome experience.

Courtesy of Urna Biswas

2. It’s not what you do, It’s how you do it.

I didn’t do a high class corporate internship like most of my peers – and Thank God for that. The things I have learnt have developed me in so many ways, making me a better contributor to any organization Over this summer, I have been solely responsible for a sponsorship, was interviewed for a radio station, wrote dozens of articles, web content and blog posts. I also made extensive lessons plans, helped organize a trip and taught a group of 120 students.

3. Stop Complaining. Keep Trying.

When I took up that Calculus Course at FAST-NU, I completely forgot the subject. The last time I did calculus was in Cornell, three years back. I made a point not to complain but to just keep trying. I ignored the poor grades I received and the look of shock my professor gave as he realized I had forgotten simple differentiation. However, by the end of the course I scored the third highest in my class. And note that Math certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. Moral of the Story: You can succeed at anything if you stop being a whiner.

4. If you really want something, excuses are just excuses.

No disaster or world event has affected me like the floods in Pakistan. The emotions that accompanied this were overwhelming. It drove me to really go out there to help my community. I don’t earn money, so I can’t donate myself, but that would just be excuse for not helping out. With little thought about the details, I created a facebook events page, calling for a united effort for a fundraiser. Soon, student organizations, student groups and the entire EC community, who were already planning such an event, united for a common goal. This initiative, which is being led by a group of students, two organizations and all EC branch campuses, is slated to be the largest EC event to date. Being an introvert, making cold calls was something I never expected myself to do, but I made them, just because I knew I had to do something. In the end, excuses are just excuses.

5. I am grateful to student affairs

Rwanda would not have happened without Dave and Darbi. Pittsburgh would not have happened without Jill and Dave. My blog would not exist without Rachelle. I would be lost in between careers without Jumana and Rachelle. Saying I owe them would be an understatement.

Note to freshmen: Please make the best use of student support services at CMU – you’ll have a much more fruitful college career.

6. Losers will always be losers

By loser I mean the loser who loses things! But honestly, this is one area where I am very disappointed in myself. This summer alone, I lost a cell phone, an iPod, a wallet and my passport. It saddens me to say this but sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything about this. If you have any suggestions, please share them through your comments. And If you find any of the above items, call me!

7. Haters will always be Haters

I have seen a lot of hate, especially when it came to reactions to the floods in Pakistan. I was initially very depressed by people’s comments on news reports and discussions, where they said things like “They deserve it, please do not help them out”. There are so many of such comments around the internet. At the end, no rational argument with these people can be made. So I just realized that haters will always be haters and got over them.

8…. and Pessimists will always be pessimists

Those that said the country was doomed before the floods, did so more after the floods. Those that were hopeful said that countries have recovered from even worse times. I continue to be optimistic. Perhaps I am not being realistic, but I am sure a positive attitude by the citizens of Pakistan will do wonders for our country.


Pakistan Floods: A Message to the International Community

Perhaps someone in the international community sitting on their couch will read this and decide to act…

Despite some generous donations, the response by the international community has been very disappointing. This is not to take credit away from countries like Saudi Arabia, who has overtaken the United States as the largest aid donor. Is it because the world thinks their aid is an issue of politics instead of humanity? Or, is the world just sick of Natural Disasters? Or, do you think we deserved this? “We” includes the woman, children and the hardworking Pakistani men who were leading honest lives trying make ends meet. It also includes families of soldiers who have fought the war against terror. If nature was fair, the first place where lightning would strike is on Mr. 10% percent’s head instead of the poorest sector of Pakistan.

The flood has more affected people than any other natural disaster in our times. The keyword here is affected. This means that you still have the opportunity to save millions of lives.  The risk of waterborne diseases is extremely high, and we have already seen the first instance of cholera. The irony is that there is no clean water for these people for consumption and for hygiene. If the world doesn’t act fast, there will be a public, global health crisis. An entire generation of Pakistanis will be lost; we will have a generation of Pakistanis that will not be able to serve our crippled economy.

Picture by Khurram Siddiqi

Let’s for one moment forget that this is a humanitarian crisis. Let’s pretend that the lives of Pakistani children don’t matter to you. If you ignore this calamity, the Taliban and other extremist organization will fill the void. This will be an opportunity for them to capitalize on the hardships of others and help out in hard reaching areas where aid organizations have still not reached. Their networks will go stronger, and our fight against extremism, which poses a global threat, will face a major setback. Your lack of support can cause global political turmoil.

I know members of the international community has it in them. We have seen their support during difficult times, such as the Pakistan Earthquake. All it needs is a big wake up call, the realization that a world-changing calamity has occurred, and that lack of immediate support can have devastating effects on the world.

Our economy is in very bad shape. Our government is probably the most corrupt we have ever seen. We look to you for hope, and we beg for your support. Please do not disappoint us any longer.

If you are outside Pakistan and wish to contribute, please contact me and I will give you channels for donations that I can personally vouch for.  I promise you your aid will make a difference.

Can Terrorism be Attributed to Socioeconomic Divide?

Light entered through the window besides the office, illuminating the “paan stains” on the walls of the police station.  Three prisoners, who lay on the hard, hot ground, stared right through me. Was I supposed to feel sorry for them or angry at them? What crimes were they in for? Did they, like many poor Pakistanis, fall victim to a rich person’s crime or negligence? All I could see were numb faces; numb by ridiculed of the police officers and by the people who walk past their invisible existence. As I was about to file my report, an old man walked in, claiming that someone had stolen his rikshaw* parts. The young policeman looked at him with anger and suspicion. “Why did you leave your rikshaw* unattended?” he asked. As the old man mumbled a response, he stood up and shouted “You careless man! What do you expect us to do? Take care of your things! Come back later you mad man!”. He then looked at my worried face, smiled, and said “How can I help you sir?”

At TEDxLahore, Asher Hassan spoke about how socioeconomic divide is plaguing the Pakistani society . As laws of nature hold true for the rich and the poor alike, consequences are to be expected. One of these could be the birth of terrorist acts.

Terrorism is a phenomenon that cannot be attributed to one factor. As mentioned in one of my posts, ideology is one of the primary factors. But where do terrorist organization recruits come from? Why do they feel the need to find their so-called  “ultimate glory”? The answer could lie in the socioeconomic divide that you, I and our society have created.

The truth is that we no longer feel any empathy with the poor of Pakistan. We are locked up in our airconditioned, generator-driven rooms and yet think our lives are miserable due to power cuts. We stare right through our servants as they bring us tea, with wrinkles on our foreheads as they block our view of the television. Use of common courtesy, such as thanking them, asking them for their opinion, or giving them a smile, would mean that you are not “sahab” enough and that you don’t know how to live like a “respectable”  person.

The poor of Pakistan is left with a diminished self-esteem as it carries on with its day-to-day tasks with no feeling dignity. These people cry for attention, but with no avail. Their thoughts, opinions or life goals are not important to no one but themselves. The only way they get attention is by generating fear. Terrorism appears to be a way for them to feel empowered. For a moment, the tables turn, and they hold a leash to society. With the lack of a will to live and the promise of paradise, their decision does not seem unimaginable.

With the recent floods in Pakistan, they are desperate for your attention once again. Please do not disappoint them. If not for them, do it for your future generations. The elimination of this socioeconomic apartheid is the only way to a safe and happy Pakistan.

10 Things I learnt from TEDxLahore


This post was featured in “The Nation”  – “Things I learnt from TEDxLahore”

1. The Importance of a Unified Message (Narrative)
This was a person who was a part of an extremist organization, that despite its “wrong” intentions, gained quite a following. What causes such a following? Why did Nazi Germany flourish under such an evil & tyrannical rule?
To Maajid Nawaz, its a simple equation of having a unified narrative, symbols and a leader. Unfortunately, for Pakistan, these components are different for different groups of Pakistanis. Having this unified message and a narrative could be the solution to a Pakistan that is currently divided. I would be surprised if this talk does not go on the TED website soon.

2. The power of expression through freedom of inquiry
What can be more liberating than making your own instrument to express your feelings? I am not a big fan of classical South Asian music, but I realized how music can be an outlet for an explosion of emotions, in this case those of the TEDxLahore audience. The Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy and Arts teaches much more than music, it teaches one to be aware of oneself, and inquire about life. The philosophy that is encouraged in this institution is unprecedented in Pakistan. The audience rightfully gave Noor Zehra, the only person who can play the Saagar Veena, a standing ovation.


3. Your capacity for charity needs to increase gradually

Mudassir Zia gave a speech that touched many who have their  entire lives ahead of them. When you graduate, you have the entire corporate world in front of you, and charity seems like something that is holding you back. Yet, if you could start with the smallest act of charity, and move up with small increments, you might as well dedicate your life to charitable acts like Mudassir Zia did. He used the example of carrying a calf in the village, and how if one carries that in the beginning, carrying a big cow on your shoulders will not seem like much of a burden.

4. Access to information can change lives
Did you ever realize how access of national information, that should be rightfully available to the public, can help you? How awesome would it be if you could plan your day according to the power cuts in your region? This seems like a petty benefit when one considers how lives can be saved if relief workers had access to all the information, statistics and data that the government has.

5. The importance of using your education to benefit your country

We often dream of working for Microsoft, Google, Apple or NASA if we become world class engineers or scientists. Mr. Zeeshan Usmani believed that one should “get a good education and move to a bad neighborhood”, something his professor taught him. He used his expertise of science and technology to make calculations and models to help organize crowds in a way to minimize the loss of casualties during a suicide attack. I really hope the government takes his work very very seriously.


6. Fundamentalism might have nothing to do with religion altogether
We all agree that the lowest socioeconomic class in Pakistan is exploited, but continue to be a part of this exploitation. According to TED India Fellow Asher Hassan, we have in effect created a socioeconomic apartheid. Did you ever consider if its ok to give your servants food in different crockery?
With this smothered self-esteem, the poor class of Pakistan cry for attention. Could fundamentalism be a way for them to attempt to recover their lost glory?

7. Some familiar brands and graphics provide comfort in a world of change.

Ever wondered why that Rooh Afza bottle never changes its its logo and design? IMG_0088Because it works! For an expatriate, this Rooh Afza bottle has become an identity of India and Pakistan. It has become a sense of comfort, a constant in a world of change. Ms. Saima Zaidi used communication design to trace back to Pakistan’s culture and heritage through truck art, paintings and logos.

8. Indian migrants are mostly settled in Punjab!

Its funny how we think that most Indian Muslims migrated to Sindh (of those who migrated to Pakistan). However, Mr. Arif Hasan gave us a statistic that surprised us all. Punjab consists of around 80% Indian immigrants while Sindh only consists of 17% of such people. Isn’t it ironic that many People call people from Sindh Muhajirs ?

9. We are applying the western perception of development.

Using an idea that was similar to my “Artificial Development” post,  Dr Nadem Ul Haq attempted to discover why Pakistan’s growth is so stagnant. He argued that building world class highways does very little to help those who suffer from lack of basic necessities such as clean drinking water. We have become a society of mimickers, who use the western idea of development and apply it to a struggling developing country.

10. Professionalism

Last but definitely not the least, I learnt a lot from the TEDxLahore Team. After this event, I  have realized I have a lot to grow and being around such an energetic and hardworking group of people was definitely a step in the right direction.