Falling on my face and other hurdles: How I nearly missed the PSL final

psl

Photo courtesy of PSL Facebook Page

Originally written for Dawn Blogs, published February 25, 2016: http://www.dawn.com/news/1241842/falling-on-my-face-and-other-hurdles-how-i-nearly-missed-the-psl-final

If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do, it is to watch a cricket match live in the stadium — I’ve been a cricket buff for as long as I can remember and I follow the game closely.

The recently concluded Pakistan Super League had me excited and proud. For the sake of my cricket-starved country, I wanted the PSL to shine, to be amongst the best leagues in the world, to be the league all the international stars yearn to get into.

Even though my favourite Zalmi and Afridi were out of the tournament, I still liked the gutsy Moin Khan-esque Sarfaraz Ahmed and was hoping that Quetta would win.

So, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to go and watch the PSL final at Dubai International Stadium.

My sister and her family had flown in from New York especially to watch the match and had one extra VIP ticket — it was fate. After settling the kids down at home, I set off for Dubai Sports City at around 7:30pm.

The drive was fairly smooth and my best friend Google ensured that I was on the right track.

As the beautiful lit-up stadium came into view, I called my sister who was already inside and told her that I had arrived and would soon be joining them. Little did I know.

As I neared the exit for Dubai Sports City, the traffic came to a standstill. The queue was extremely long and many people resigned to just parking their cars in the sand on the right and walking to the stadium because the match had already started.

After being stuck, for around 20 minutes, I realised that even if I did cross the exit and get into the stadium area, finding a parking spot there would be near impossible.

So I swung the car to the right and entered the sandy area where thousands of cars were already parked.

I could see the stadium a little farther ahead of where I was. I took relief in the fact that if so many people had parked here, there was probably a way to walk to it too.

As I measured my options, I realised that I would either have to walk along the main road (easily a 35-40 minute walk) or find a shortcut to the stadium from the sandy parking area.

None of the options seemed exciting — the road did not have a sidewalk so it felt dangerous to walk alongside the heavy traffic, and the sandy area had no lights and looked pretty scary.

I took a deep breath and finally decided to follow a group of men nearby, who were also trying to find a shortcut to the cricket stadium.

Only a short while later, a big fence cut off our progress. But one of them inspected it carefully and found a spot where the fence was half bent and jumped over it easily. The others followed suit.

Realising there was no other way except jumping over, I, too, gathered my flowing chiffon top (green, of course) and decided to go for it. Shaking, both because of how challenging it seemed and because of my company that night, no one was more surprised than I when I made it to the other side.

Just as I went over, I heard one of the guys say that their tickets were at the East side.

Mine’s premium West, I thought to myself and felt faint: I had left my ticket in the car!

I made the jump again and this time I nearly ripped my jeans because a pointy bit of the fence got stuck in the side pocket. Now began the process of trying to find my car in the big sandy jumble of vehicles. I traced my steps back and to my utter horror, my car was nowhere to be found.

Alone in the dark and eerie parking lot, which was in the middle of nowhere, with scores of people who didn’t even look remotely friendly and with a car that was lost, I wondered if the cricket match was worth it at all.

I decided to drive back home — as soon as I found that dratted car.

Just then, coming out of the darkness, I saw a lady in a long white skirt leaning on the arm of a man. “Oh come on, Rano, walk a little faster. And I told you not to wear a skirt and heels!” he told her.

Rano looked as desperate as I felt. Then, just as suddenly, I spotted my car and I rushed over, grabbed the ticket and followed the couple.

“Err,” I began uncomfortably. I told them that my family was inside and that I had to get to the stadium, asking if I could walk with them.

The couple was sweet and happy to let me tag along. I gladly did so, relieved that I hadn’t already left.

When we arrived at the first fence, the man, Hassan helped Rano and then they both helped me. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, had I not forgotten my ticket, I would never have run into the helpful duo.

On the other side of the fence, things looked pretty grim. There was a humongous construction pit on the ground, and that was the reason a fence had been put up in the first place. I’m terribly scared of heights and here I had to walk on the narrow path by this huge pit.

Another fence! I swallowed the lump in my throat and ploughed on resolutely, not looking left or right. Rano landed on the other side of the second fence with some help from Hassan. Thanking God that I was wearing sneakers, I, too, crossed the hurdle, sweating and exhausted.

I wondered how much longer we would have to walk in the dark. It seemed as though the stadium was moving farther away from us, and for one long moment, I wondered if we were even going in the right direction. But Hassan was confident that all was well, and so, on we went.

Ten minutes later, the night air brought a welcome sound to my ears. We could hear the faraway noise of a national song, which I surmised to be ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’.

My heart leapt with joy — we were close.

The atmosphere in the stadium was electric.The atmosphere in the stadium was electric.

In front of us, not more than a ten-minute walk away was the entrance to the Dubai International Stadium. Quite a sight for sore eyes. But just then my phone rang (the family had been calling all this time and had called again to get an update on my progress).

In answering the phone, I missed a gutter along the road. It was covered thankfully, but the cover jutted out at a strange angle and wham! I fell flat on my face on the road.

Hassan and Rano helped a dishevelled me up and I let out a groan as my knee began to throb. Gladly I was okay except for minor scrapes. I walked along carefully now.

At last, we walked into the entrance and showed our tickets. We were seated in different places, so I thanked the lovely couple and found my family.

What I saw next just blew me away!

It was a real cricket match, just like on TV, only better and clearer. Ahmed Shehzad had just hit a four and the crowd had gone crazy.

People were wearing Quetta Gladiators and Islamabad United jerseys and screaming and signalling four, swaying from side to side.

If I had any doubts at the parking lot about the match being worth it, I had none now: the atmosphere was electric.

A young Quetta Gladiators fan.A young Quetta Gladiators fan.

The next three hours just flew past. I followed the game closely but the side I was supporting (Quetta) lost, thanks to Islamabad’s great batting.

The energy and the vibe of the crowd were infectious. I’ve heard of people having a passion for the game but this one I embodied in a way that I had never imagined.

Crazy as it was, my experience of watching my first match live was truly memorable and I would definitely go again.

When a mother of three, all alone at night, save for a strange couple, jumps over fences thrice to watch a league final, you know the PSL has made it.

 

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Memories.

Note: Exhaustive post. The topic is Mom. Enough said.

So… it’s been two years since Mom left us. I’ve written a few articles about her over the years…

This when I visited the house first time after she was gone: Eight months later (My blog)

This when she passed away: Paradise at her feet (Gulf News)

This when she started keeping unwell: Her smile is sufficient (Gulf News)

This about the difficult but rewarding journey of motherhood: Mothers are like no other (Gulf News)

And finally this, which was published in Dawn Review http://archives.dawn.com/archives/69096, written before she passed away but published after she had moved on:

Dear Mom,
I don’t know how to start this; I don’t know where to start this — there is so much to say. Should I begin by telling you how much I love you, or should I ask how you are? Or should I simply say thank you for everything you did? Somehow, it all seems so perfunctory, so inadequate.I remember your hands as they patted my face, I remember the scent of your loving embrace, I remember the tinkle of gold bangles on your wrist, and I remember your lustrous black hair as it hung low on your back. Did I ever tell you I wanted to be just like you? I want to cry in relief when your hands caress my hair even now as you lie on your bed, so fragile, so childlike, so incredibly, heart-wrenchingly beautiful.Mom, I remember how you dressed me up when I was little, and I remember how you glowed with pride when people said I looked nice. I remember how you slaved away in the kitchen producing one culinary masterpiece after another. Did I ever appreciate your efforts enough? Mom, you’re a winner all the way. I never quite understood your expertise until I had to cook myself.Mom, I remember the look on your face when you held my daughter in your arms for the first time — that smile of pure delight that played on your lips, and your insistence on giving the baby a bath. Mom, why didn’t I hug you just then?

Mom, I remember telling you about a few of my problems. You told me to grow up, and that they weren’t big issues. You probably don’t know this, but I heard you crying your heart out on the prayer-mat later that night. You then asked me repeatedly if the issues had sorted out, nonchalantly though. They did, Mom, because you prayed for me.Mom, I remember the time you didn’t allow me to go to a party and I didn’t speak to you for two whole days. Later, you took me out and we made up. But why didn’t I tell you that my friends told me the party had been a disaster, because it had been raining that day, and no one was able to reach on time? Your maternal instincts were right, yet again.Mom, I remember how you saw through my fake headaches and tummy aches when I wanted to skip school. But you played along and never told anyone. Then one day, your voice deadpan, you only said, “Stop lying, that is enough.” And I did.Mom, I am back here, living my life as though it were a blur. Each day passes with relentless monotony and I worry about you incessantly. They tell me you are not keeping good health. Why am I not there Mom? One fine day, I suddenly zipped out of your life when you needed me so much. Why did I waste the moments when you were well, and I was with you? Why did I demand so much from you?

Mom, just a few months days back, I remember how I sat by your bed and you were so cold that your beautiful hands were like blocks of ice. I took the sweater off my back and made you wear it. You didn’t take it off the entire day. You loved the old sweater because I had given it to you, although your wardrobe had many better, newer woollies. Mom, why didn’t I give you more gifts? You said the tasteless soup I had made for you was nice, and you had it not once, but twice. Why wasn’t I able to make you eat more often?

Mom, why is it that life makes the best people suffer? Does God hear me when I pray for you to get well? You told me He always listens, and that we must submit to the will of God. Is this the will of God, or is it just the fact that we didn’t take enough care of you? My heart is full of questions. Do you remember how inquisitive I was as a child? I once asked you if God could touch the ceiling, and if He was taller than Dad. I still remember your response, “He is everywhere, even in your heart.”

The lingering, bittersweet memories of you fill my days and nights. Mom, I wish I could hold your hands again, and hug you, and I wish you had the strength to hug me back. I love you Mom, I always have. And I’m sorry I just didn’t say it enough, with words or actions. There’s no one in the world like you.

Yours’ always…

And last but not least a song, dedicated to her. I miss her a lot. I liked the song, sang it and recorded on my cell and made a video comprising only of sunsets in my photo collection. Sunsets because her name was “Mehr-unnissa” which literally means “The sun amongst the women”, which has now set. Video and recording very unprofessional but it doesn’t matter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2jz9CNFae8

Chai and I

Text and photo by Mehmudah Rehman

Hi All! I can sense a serious and perfectly ‘non-bloggable’ rant brewing inside. In the meanwhile here’s a harmless little piece published today in Dawn Images (The Review) in Pakistan. http://dawn.com/2012/05/06/a-matter-of-habit-chai-and-i/ Talks about my (in)famous addiction to chai (tea). Enjoy it over a cuppa if you like!

-M

The pleasing aroma of simmering tea wafts from the kitchen, and I instantly imagine a satisfying mug of the beverage in front of me. I particularly enjoy it with the flavour of cardamom infused into the liquid, with just the right combination of milk, water and tea. My day begins with a large mug of the said stuff, and only after consuming it can I function normally. If for some reason the morning tea is not strong enough, contains too much milk or too much water or, God forbid, isn’t available at all, I turn into a complaining grouch, claiming that I am down with a migraine, much to the family’s chagrin.

My love affair with tea is truly a strange one. When we were children, the elders drank tea, and we were given glasses of milk with Ovaltine mixed in it. When I asked for tea, I was told “Children don’t drink tea” and when I further pressed for a cup, I was told that it could darken one’s complexion. When I insisted that Mom’s skin looked perfectly fine and rosy, I was told that it had that undesirable effect only on children’s skin! The explanation, of course, is a preposterous one — because we now know that tea contains anti-oxidants and is actually quite good for health.

Childhood passed with the occasional sip of tea, which became rather like a ‘forbidden pleasure’. As I grew older, I was allowed to consume tea more frequently than before, especially when the family had a grand breakfast together every Sunday. Dad would whip up his famous omelettes and Mom would prepare soft as butter chapattis, and we’d be given a cup of tea if we cared to have it. I was, however, afraid that I would get addicted to it and deep down I also wondered if tea could really darken one’s skin tone. So I had it every alternate Sunday, and was completely happy with my schedule, until of course, I got engaged.

When my future mother-in-law enquired if I drank tea, I responded with a casual “Oh, just every alternate Sunday.” This innocently uttered response became the fodder for some real amusement to the family and my mother-in-law-to-be could hardly keep from chuckling. It was only after marriage that I was told how amused the family had been. Why on earth would a normal person have tea only on ‘alternate Sundays’? I am, to this day, the butt of a few jokes on the topic, especially because I now consume tea with far more frequency than I did then.

When my first child was born, crying and gurgling and kicking, the responsibility was pleasurable yet overwhelming — more so because the little one was a colicky baby, and no medicine would soothe her. The only thing that helped was walking across the room whilst holding her tight when she cried — loudly and pitifully — at night. My sleeping habits became irregular, to say the least, and the person who thrived on eight hours of glorious, uninterrupted shut-eye now had to make do with two or three. The only way I could function through the days which contained a never-ending cycle of feeding the baby, putting her to sleep, bathing her and changing her diapers, was to empower myself with a morning shot of caffeine.

One child followed another and gradually, the children began to grow up, and easily the most relaxing development was when they began sleeping the entire night. With the black circles fast vanishing from underneath my eyes, I wondered if the morning tea would go too. What I didn’t realise was that tea had become a habit, one of life’s little pleasures and I had begun to derive an unexpected soothing satisfaction from it. I could think intensely over a cup of tea, break down insurmountable problems in my mind, enjoy reading a book over it, or even write whilst sipping it. It was as though I could retreat into my own world with a cup of tea, and emerge feeling refreshed, energised and uplifted.

I drink tea mostly once a day and sometimes in the evenings, always without sugar, which I suppose can only be a good thing, because it significantly reduces the calorie-intake of the beverage. And in case you were wondering, the tea did not make my skin darker. It most certainly doesn’t look as fresh as before, and unwanted creases are beginning to appear — but that’s Mother Nature’s handiwork as age is catching up with me. I’d say that thought deserves a cuppa!

The imperfect lives of Dubai’s ‘blue men’

Originally written for: http://www.dawn.com/2012/03/12/the-imperfect-lives-of-dubais-blue-men.html

(This, below, is the unedited version)

Right on top of this crane... All in day's work!

 

“Excuse me lady, but do you have a written permit to talk to these workers?” he asked, curtly. The man looked about 40, with untidy stubble on his chin and spoke with a thick Arabic accent.

“Oh I was just asking them if they could summon the contractor or site engineer for me,” I replied.

Here I was, parked next to a construction site in Dubai, trying to find out if blue-collar workers in Dubai were really as exploited and mistreated as some stories in the media would have you believe.

To initiate conversation, I asked the workers when the building they are working on will be done and enquired if their manager would let me have short interviews with them. The man’s immediate concern at my conversation with the construction workers made me think: “this should be interesting.”

I introduced myself as a writer who wanted to do a story about construction workers in Dubai and the man introduced himself as the contractor. I politely requested a few minutes of the workers’ time and the contractor began to panic.

“B-b-but what if the workers talk too much? What if you quote our company and our names?” he faltered, despite my assurances that I would not include any real names. He suddenly seemed to think he had spoken too much and said almost aggressively, “But the workers are fine! They get their salaries! They are okay!”

“Of course, but maybe I could talk to them for a few minutes?” I asked.

The contractor was now pacing around the site. He suddenly walked towards my car and said, “Okay, but only for a few moments, and only if the site engineer listens to every word they say, because like I said, the workers might talk too much and they wouldn’t even know what they’re saying,” he conceded.

Three men in messy green overalls walked meekly towards my car. A site engineer with a long moustache followed them closely and hung on to their every word. I posed some questions about living conditions, salaries and safety measures on site. The workers responded in monosyllables, nodding their heads under the watchful eye of the site engineer.

“Yes, it is all perfect for us in Dubai,” said one Nepali man tonelessly, looking towards the ground.

“Thanks,” I muttered, frustrated.

I had set out to discover if life for the labour class in Dubai, the very people responsible for constructing the glorious edifices dotting the city, was really all that it is made out to be, and if their plight was as sad as some stories in the international media have shown. Getting them to talk without inhibitions was a challenge, but I thought I would have to find a way.

These guys appear comfortable as they have a chat, on the edge!

 

It was a new day. The evening shadows were getting longer, and workers dressed in blue uniforms were filing out of the construction site as they walked by my car. Some were carrying spades on their shoulders, whilst some were empty-handed. I could hear a popular Bollywood song playing on one of their cell-phones whilst some indulged in light-hearted banter. It seemed tempting to strike up a conversation with them, especially since I couldn’t spot anyone else around.

“Hard work, this,” I said casually, gesturing towards the building behind us. One worker almost jumped in surprise, as though a woman had never spoken to him before.

“Madam, aap ham ko bola? (Did you speak to me?),” he said, taken aback.

I assured him he wasn’t mistaken and soon a throng of workers (made up mostly of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi labourers) in blue overalls gathered around my car.

Meaningful conversation finally ensued. The workers told me they always got paid on time since the government finally has some rules in place to protect the labour force. They wake up early in the morning in their labour camps, six men to one room and start work promptly at 6:30 am. At about 9:00 am they are given a short tea break, and then they are given a break at 12:00 noon for an hour, after which work begins again. Then they work until about 5:30, after which the bus takes them to Sonapur, where their quarters are located.

I then enquired about safety measures.

“Doesn’t anyone ever fall from these lofty structures? Are you aware of what you must do to be safe?”

They informed me that they are given a full safety briefing every few days and are not allowed on site without a safety belt and a safety helmet. One worker chuckled as he said, “Madam, we are big, strong men. We can handle ourselves, really.”

When they fall sick, they are sometimes given a day off, if they have the doctor’s approval, that is. Usually the doctor’s visits are paid for by the company but sometimes the workers must shell out their own dough for paying medical bills.

When I asked how often they go back home, the workers sighed in gloom. One man hadn’t been home in five years, another six, whilst some had been working continuously for three years, with Friday being their only weekly holiday. The contracting companies held their passports but the workers must buy their own tickets. Since almost every penny is religiously wired back home, it is only after a long time that they are able to save enough to fly home.

My last question sparked quite a reaction. It seems as though I had touched a nerve when I asked “Respect is the main issue, isn’t it? No one gives you due respect here. You build all these wonderful towers and they treat you like ….”

All at once, the workers began to talk. “We work hard all day, but these people, they treat us like dirt,” said Baksh, who hadn’t visited India for six years. It was only after a few minutes that I watched them being ushered into their bus as though they were cattle. Despite probing questions, I heard no reports of salaries being withheld, or passports not being given to the workers if and when they asked for them. Despite a few problems, these workers prefer to stay in the UAE and earn whatever they can, because it is usually significantly better than what they might get back home.

Good to see the use of safety nets.

 

As I headed home, I realised I needed more research.

I kept posing my questions to different workers serving different companies, and most of the information coincided with what I had already learnt. My next meeting was with someone who worked closely with these men as the contractor, and had visited their quarters: Abdullah.

Abdullah was frank, as he talked about the labour camps. “They are really dirty. Not enough bathrooms,” he said. He, too, reaffirmed that salaries are on time, or else the government could revoke the contracting company’s licence. As for safety measures, he said that in Dubai, work cannot be started without having proper safety measures in place and that the site engineer must submit a detailed safety report every two weeks.

“I’m glad I work in Dubai, really. When compared to other states like Sharjah and Abu Dhabi we are better off. The situation is much worse in the rest of the Gulf. The condition has actually improved in recent times.”

The most revealing account of the conditions came from Benjamin. Ben works with a prominent international contracting company in Dubai, and has been working closely with the labour for several years. He confirmed the report on timely salaries but also backed the stories about several workers being deep in debt, which is largely due to their labour agents back home, (who must be monitored, he said) and has little to do with the contracting company.

The workers are entitled, by law, to a compulsory three-hour break everyday and that most international companies keep in line with all such obligations. However, during the interviews with various workers, they said the breaks were only an hour-and-a-half long. The heat, in this part of the world, can be very harsh during the afternoons.

What Ben revealed next was also disturbing. According the law, the workers are given two months off every two years and international contracting companies uphold this law, and grievances are addressed. He, in fact, felt that this vacation was too little and that companies must seek to provide more time off.

His opinion of the working quarters differed vastly from Abdullah’s. “Hygiene standards are high,” he said. A legislation has been put in place to upgrade living conditions, and even in the food provided to workers, ethnic preferences are taken into account. This, he insisted may differ with smaller companies that are not as careful.

When I mentioned reports in the international media that lament the treatment meted out to Dubai’s labourers, he said, “the stories must be old.”

My sources for this article have been quoted almost verbatim, which accounts largely for the subject matter of this piece. I find it distressing that despite a substantial shift towards the welfare of these workers, many more measures must be implemented in order to safeguard their rights. Whilst larger international companies are more careful about treating these low salaried workers well, we learn that exploitation is still going on, and within the construction of the dazzling towers of Dubai, are many sad, unspoken stories. As we cruise along the perfect tarmac in our air-conditioned cars, and walk into the impossibly posh malls, it is heartbreaking to learn that perhaps on the construction site right next to a beautiful mall some people slog away silently in the blazing sun to earn a modest amount of money, far away from their families, wondering when they will meet them again.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Pics by me for illustrative purposes only.

Simple pleasures

Originally written for The Review, a weekly print magazine by Dawn, Pakistan.

http://www.dawn.com/2012/02/12/leisure-simple-pleasures.html

Image credit: oneheartforpeace.blogspot.com

When was the last time you were confined to a place for four days, without an internet connection, with virtually no television, and had four children as your only companions? Well, this is precisely the situation I am in. How I ended up in such a place is a long story — one that I must save for another time — but here I am, in this unfamiliar place with four kids to keep me company.

The closest internet connection that I can use is in a coffee shop at least 20 kilometres away and whilst there is a TV, there are no channels I care for. Thankfully, I have a pen and a diary to record my thoughts!

Four eager faces look up expectantly at me, and I don’t think I can come up with yet another exciting game or a good story to tell. Moreover, boredom is enveloping me like a particularly overwhelming cloud of dreariness and I long for some enjoyment.

The children insist on playing in the playground outside and I reluctantly follow them outdoors. In any case, I have nothing better to do.

As I wander listlessly out to the playground, an abandoned bicycle catches my eye. I get on the seat and try to pedal ahead and much to my surprise I can still find my balance. I move uncertainly ahead and soon notice that the rear wheel is deflated and hence give it up, but I make a mental note that I will start cycling again. Although I wonder how, as a child, I never noticed that the seat is rather hard and unfriendly!

I cautiously climb onto the trampoline next, and once my legs get used to its bouncy surface, I jump as high as I can. It’s a great feeling and I fall a couple of times too, and because I fall on the trampoline, I spring up in the air in an awkward sitting position but thankfully I don’t get injured. The little ones around me (two of them my own) laugh at me, and I laugh right with them.

Maybe those play areas featuring colourful bouncing castles for children should have separate trampolines for adults as well, because, seriously, they’re fun.

A few minutes later I am sliding down the slide — but I don’t go more than a couple of times because the slide is not quite as slippery as I had hoped, and to be honest I’m slightly afraid that the whole structure with stairs and tunnels and slides might give way. After all I am… err… slightly overage. Next I test the strength of the push swing by pulling the chains and happy that the swing responds in a satisfactory manner to my relentless pulling, I promptly sit on it. As the swing goes high up in the air, I feel light and liberated as though I were flying.

Pretty soon I’m looking back at my childhood wistfully, marvelling at how quickly it slipped away. I am transported into another era when things were rather different and I had no responsibilities weighing upon my shoulders. When I could play in the sun for hours or create my own world with a new language and new games. When I could simply run for the joy it brought, happy and carefree as the wind rushed through my hair.

But then, I debate with myself that being of tender age is not all fun and amusement. You get piles of tedious homework, you can’t reach the top-most shelf and you get told off by older siblings (I still do, but that’s another matter) and by eighth grade you have to endure a nightmare-inducing phenomenon called calculus. What’s more, you need permission for everything, be it playing on the swings, using the internet or just going out with friends.

Fragile egos and even more fragile hearts characterise the age that follows soon after when one appears suspended midway between childhood and adulthood. Whilst one’s carefully rehearsed casual swagger might be just right, beneath that apparent poise is a sea of self-doubt and one is constantly looking for acceptance amongst peers. The worst part is that you think you know everything when in reality you are a bit of an ignoramus.

Like the inimitable Mark Twain once commented, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished by how much he’d learnt in seven years.”

Thankfully, the longing of wanting to go back at least a decade is over before long, but as I sit writing this after the better part of an hour spent in the playground, I have to say I have discovered an effective way of battling boredom, baby-sitting and working off calories: try being a kid again.

To the two girls who rule my heart

(image credit: veraquest.info)

Note: This article is about my younger daughter Nawaal, published today in the print version of Review Magazine in Dawn Images in Pakistan. Ironically, I had written one about the older one in the same magazine when she was much younger titled “The queen of hearts.”

So here is ‘The Princess and I” http://www.dawn.com/2011/12/18/the-princess-and-i.html

And here is “The Queen of hearts” http://archives.dawn.com/weekly//review/archive/080207/review5.htm

(Unfortunately the Queen of hearts article won’t open so I’ll paste the text from my personal records after the Princess article).

This is going to be a long post. Hope you’ll bear with me and enjoy it.

And since a wordpress.com blog is free and should probably outlive me, my girls (Manaal and Nawaal), if you’re reading this, know that I love you. To bits. And Nawaal, I’m just as much Umm Nawaal as I am Umm Manaal.

-Mehmudah

The princess and I

“But I WON”T!” she says, with all her little might, when I ask to her to don her gown. I bite back a typically sharp response and say, “Please?” Her NO is more emphatic than before. I wonder if we’ll ever make it to the fancy dress party at school, where my daughter is supposed to go as a fairy princess. The tiara she refuses to wear is flung across the floor, her pendant looks dangerously close to giving way and breaking. I debate with myself — should I tell her she must wear the gown because I say so, or should I let her have the tantrum?

A few more minutes of sulking and throwing things and my patience is wearing out. I slowly count to ten under my breath as I try to compose myself. She insists on wearing her pyjamas (the ones she wore last night) to school. I help her back into them, gulping down a few nasty words. When she’s done, she looks surprised, as though waiting for me to erupt and say something along the lines of “Now will you change into that gown or shall I…?” I smile at her, and say, “Do you really, really want to wear that?” She nods. The pink pyjamas stay and I wonder if one of my hairs just went white.

I distract her for a little bit with something and once more I try, but this time, without exasperation, and with love. “You want to wear this lovely dress, don’t you?” She nods, looking directly at her feet and if I didn’t know better, I’d say she looked embarrassed. A minute later, I find the toddler (who will soon turn three) in an off-white and pink princess gown. Now if only she’d wear that tiara and the shoes and the faux jewellery. The gown is as far as she will agree, and with her sniffling sulkily, we go unwillingly to school.

Her soft little hand is wrapped tightly around my finger and she refuses to let go. My heart melts, just as it does every morning. A warm hug envelops her and assures her — but it’s not mine. She’s off into the classroom, and the teacher tells me to hand over the offending tiara and jewellery. I walk away a little frustrated, somewhat relived and a wee bit annoyed. How wonderful the costume would have looked had she just cooperated a little. Around me in the nursery are little Spider-men, policemen, cowboys, firemen, doctors, fairies, animals and cartoon characters. The fancy dress party is in full swing with breathless mothers gushing over their superheroes, snapping photos, glowing with pride.

As I walk back to the car, I realise we forgot her schoolbag in all that frenzy. I go to drop it off and when I get to the classroom again, I peek stealthily from the door and find that she has undergone a complete transformation. A radiant little princess, tiara and all, is waving a wand at the class. She’s smiling and it’s plain for anyone to see how much fun she’s having. The princess is finally behaving like one and I can’t wipe the silly grin off my face.

And as I trudge back to the car again, half wanting to go back and hug her, I realise something. She’s always been behaving like a little princess, perhaps I want things to go only my way far too often. In her own unique way she’s teaching me to keep mum when I must, telling me about self-discipline, urging me to stop acting like I can do what I want and giving me the message that only because she is smaller in size, I do not always ‘know better’. The little girl is asking me to give her the space she needs and the respect that she deserves. For isn’t that what love is really about?

 

 

 

The following article was run by Review (Dawn, Pakistan) 07-02-08

R16

RELATIONSHIPS: The queen of hearts

She is vicious, and the only thing missing in her repertoire of weapons is a pair of fangs. I wait on her hand and foot, day and night, and cook, clean and wash after her and never complain, offering her niceties instead. She is a sworn enemy of my sleep and it agitates her so much when I sleep that she begins to sob pitifully.

Tell me, is it mere coincidence, or she’s just rotten within, because whenever I want to eat, she requires my free-of-cost service, thereby all possibilities of me feeding myself vanishes? I want to curl up in bed with a steamy mug of hot chocolate and a good book on a cold night and she decides that she needs more attention, and so naturally the novel and the hot chocolate become mere notions which people like me might as well give up on.

She has decided I’m not quick enough for my young age and has vowed to make me run around on errands until I rival Maria Sharapova in speed and alacrity. What’s more, she feels I never had a lot of respect for the powder-room attendants and has made up her mind to teach me a lesson by making me clean poop all the time.

She realises I am an abysmal cook and turns down food that is less than perfect, and in an effort to show just how disgruntled she is, she disdainfully spits a mouthful of my sincere culinary endeavour right across the room, which I, of course, humbly clean up later. Even if I am feeling totally under the weather on a particular day, I can forget about a sick-leave!

And yet, I love her. Scratch that, I adore her with a zealous passion. And I wouldn’t give her up for anything. After all, my faith tells me I have paradise under my feet because of her!

I am talking of course of my little monarch who rules my heart. My girl is a year and a half old. I would barely realise all that I am giving up, or going through, if I hadn’t actually jotted it down. For there is something about her trusting and innocent smile which makes me as fresh as a daisy after a virtually sleepless night. She speaks one word, I can barely make sense of but it sounds like ‘mamma’. My heart melts into rivers of love and I enthusiastically come up with new recipes for what generally seems like the joint effort of the cow, the hen and the fertile earth. By some strange twist of fate, it always falls into the category of unidentifiable glop, at times accented with a pungent smell. However, judging by the fact that the last time she spat out her food, it didn’t go farther than the edge of her bib… Ahh… she seems to have enjoyed my latest attempt.

A part of me can’t wait to pack her off to school when she is of age, while another side desperately wants to hold on to the little girl who has been my companion everyday as I go through the motions of housework. I treat her like a major nuisance when she flits about the vacuum cleaner like she was the one who made it all possible, but I dread the day when I will actually be missing the botheration. I do need to learn to let go, I know that, but please, not just yet.

Many years ago I played her role exactly. However, I was most certainly blessed with tastier food. I was fussed over, cuddled tenderly to sleep, and when I got hurt I was hugged sympathetically in a warm loving embrace, the smell of which is still fresh in my mind… the deep contentment that dispelled each doubt, qualm and worry. Suddenly, I realise who really is the queen of hearts.

You would be relieved to learn that this editorial has finally come to an end, for there is very important phone call I need to make back home.

Mom, I miss you.

Dubai for higher education?

Originally written for: http://www.dawn.com/2011/12/06/dubai-for-higher-education.html

Dubai for higher education?

A friend in Karachi recently asked me if she should consider a university in Dubai for her son’s higher education, because Dubai was much closer to Pakistan than UK or USA and that many foreign universities had campuses there. I gave her an answer more appropriate on Facebook under the relationships column: “It’s complicated,” I said.

The city of Dubai, vibrant and wonderful as it is, is fast gaining a reputation as a study hub in the Middle East. With foreign universities such as Michigan, Rochester, Wollongong, Murdoch, Middlesex and others opening campuses in this dazzling desert in especially designated areas like Academic City and Knowledge Village , one wonders if the education provided by these universities is up to mark, and if one can actually get an education of Western standards in the Middle East.

To begin with, let us take a look at global university rankings. Now rankings can sometimes be misleading and confusing, because to measure all universities in every region by the same yardstick can have erroneous results. However, global ranking has now become a widely trusted tool for students and employers alike and annual rankings by Times Higher Education (THE), Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), QS Rankings, Webometrics.info amongst other ranking systems are widely used and although data may be somewhat biased, we do get a rough idea of where a university stands.

To give you some idea of how much the higher education system in Dubai needs to develop before it can get any kind of global recognition, let me tell you that searches on the Times Higher Education (THE) website and the ARWU website showed no universities in the United Arab Emirates that were ranked well, or in fact ranked at all. On the QS University ranking, the best university in the UAE is the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain and it stands at a world ranking of 338. However, another website 4icu rates it number 766 in the world and Webometrics slips it many places below to 1389!

Furthermore the cost of studying in Dubai is almost equal to what one might pay in the West, and student loans and financial aid are far more difficult to get here than, say, in the United States. And when it comes to finding jobs, a degree acquired in the UAE has its drawbacks. Bhairvi Prakash, a recent graduate from Middlesex Dubai who now works in the local media feels that a student will get more exposure abroad and while an undergrad course in Dubai is a good idea, she feels that it is better to opt for a Masters abroad. As far as jobs are concerned, Prakash says: “It’s fine if you’re looking for jobs within United Arab Emirates but it may not be the case if you were looking to work in the West, as their educational base is much more established compared to something still relatively recent like the UAE.”

Charvi Bhatt, who is a student at the American University in Dubai (AUD), believes that education standards come into account when you want to transfer from the Middle East to a Western university and that sometimes, credits completed here are not accepted abroad. However, she also believes that education in Dubai has its perks. “Campus life is good, truly multi-cultural,” she says. “Besides, if you’re a Dubai resident you could save on costs like accommodation, phone bills, and other day to day expenses.”

Many Western universities have opened campuses in Dubai and are heavily advertised not only locally but also in countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Sadly though, the level of education offered by, say, Wollongong Dubai is very different from what one might experience in Australia. Consider the fact that Webometrics rates Wollongong Australia at 542, but Wollongong Dubai makes it to number 7494 in the world rankings.

Dr. Faiz Ishaq, Head of Campus at Szabist Dubai (a branch of Szabist Pakistan) feels that is because foreign universities in Dubai are not research based and rely on the research that has already been done. Universities abroad allocate more resources to research, hence furthering the frontiers of knowledge itself. According to Dr. Ishaq, in the UAE, institutions do not have the faculty required to promote research which he feels must be done at a cross-institutional level in order to make some kind of impact.

When one considers the fact that universities in UAE are ranked consistently low, Dr. Ishaq discusses a point which he also brought up in a QS University Rankings conference held earlier this year in Dubai. “QS Rankings are well-respected and we discussed the point that rankings are based on data given by employers. Since many of the world’s biggest financial and commercial companies have headquarters in the West, the feedback is generally about universities in the West. The universities in Asia are often ignored due to lack of data from employers.” The QS personnel agreed to that and offered to take feedback from employers in Asia as well to give fairer rankings.

Indian universities however, fare very well on any ranking system, with prestigious institutions such as Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) occupying good positions. Dr. Ishaq believes that is because higher education in India is very well developed (unlike Pakistan or UAE) and that a solid base is given to students starting at the primary level.

Suffice it to say that in the field of higher education, Dubai, for once must understand that bigger is not necessarily better. Breathtakingly beautiful campuses with price tags to match do not ensure a good education. However, the effort on the part of the authorities to create something of a study hub must be commended as the UAE takes baby steps towards recognition in this sphere.