Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kashmir Flood Story: Myths and Heroes

Ahmad came to Kashmir only a few days back to spend time with his family. Studying in world’s most prestigious university, Standford USA, Ahmad is heartbroken.  As I talk to him he explains about flood situations and how to handle them. He applauds the role of army, NDRF and local people and NGO’s. He is baffled by the statement of chief minister that “100 year events can’t be predicted” and he sites examples where structures are designed for 100 years or even more with “only 2% probability of exceedance”. As I point out to him that warnings were issued from local Masjid’s he again rebuts. Ahmad explains about international standards about how people need to be motivated and warnings need to be given early. He says that events like  random Masjid announcements don’t work and  people must be sensitized properly and convinced about the consequences. He tells me that the first step that could have averted the disaster was that CM could have passed on the information to flood department who could have checked the banks of Jehlum for cuts and breeches. This could have prevented significant damage.
Like Ahmad all people in Kashmir are distressed. Some are cursing their fate whereas others are blaming the administration. But among all this is great hope. Not only the people living in Kashmir but Kashmiri’s across the globe have come up for help in these troubled times. Working professionals, students, businessmen of Kashmiri origin have got together all across the globe and are trying their best to help the people of Kashmir. Many non Kashmiri’s are also working day and night for unknown people back home. Two such heros are Adil and Mubarakh. Adil who hails from Kulgam was one of the first persons to organize a coordinated effort to save his people back home. On hearing about massive floods  on 7th September, Adil contacted his friends in Kashmir on aircel network, which was the only service operational in the valley. He simultaneously organized a massive facebook and twitter campaign seeking whereabouts of people who were trapped. “I compiled a list of affected people and contacted National disaster management force (NDRF) Punjab who directed me to contact Delhi office. On the first day itself I was able to give information of about 30 families to NDRF and Army about the location of people”. I hear Adil & Mubarak being inundated by calls as I talk with them. Adil adds that on second day they received some 3000 calls and made sheets mentioning the complete address of people trapped and forwarded them to NDRF and Army. Adil tells me that his own family is untraceable and he doesn’t know about them but that doesn’t stop him from working with great dedication. He constantly updated his facebook page and gave people hope when there was none. Adil says that now they are working for relief operations. “We have collected 450 blankets, 150 life jackets and medicines as well which we are sending to Kashmir”, Adil adds. Adil says that he will do whatever it takes to help his people back home under these trying circumstances.
Not only Adil but many other Kashmiri’s are also actively involved in rescue and relief mission. “Kashmiri volunteers in Delhi” is one such group. Its core member Arif Ayaz, a noted Kashmiri writer tells me that, “we sent tents, life jackets, medicines, baby-food, chlorine tablets and about 5000 Liters of water”. Arif adds that they have sent boats as well and are working closely with local people on ground who update them about essentials which are of utmost importance. Other people like Faheem Shah of Lex Alliance is working particularly for people who are now in camps. He has already purchased 250 blankets, 500 Dal packs and milk and medicines which he shall be dispatching to Kashmir tomorrow.
Not only in India but Kashmiris across the globe have stepped up to help. Sana Sulatan along with many expatriate Kashmiri’s has been instrumental in raising money in London. Sana tells me that, “We have raised some 10K Pounds and hope to raise more”. She is working in close coordination with local Kashmiri’s associated with relief work in Banglore and Delhi. They are themselves travelling to India on 10 September to better utilize their funds.
Among this great commotion the stories of compassion and selflessness are replete. Gagan Kohli, a local Sikh boy living in Delhi has been compiling the list of people stranded and sending them to Army.
Among all this if there is one thing that repeats itself, it is that Kashmiri’s have not forgotten their long tradition of selfless love and compassion for everyone. In common parlance, it’s called Kashmiriyat.

 @Iqbal ..11Sep 2014

Sunday, August 18, 2013

67th Independence and Kashmir

Sixty seven years have gone by; the world has changed topsy-turvy over these years and so has India. The strenuous and arduous work of freedom fighters finally bore fruit on the jovial night of 15th August. The land was liberated from spiteful and vicious Firangis. The dreams seen by our forefathers bore fruit and the days of reconstruction began. Unanimously leaders and all around spoke of democracy, equality, secularism, freedom of speech, upliftment of poor, non alignment, freedom to raise one’s voice and a whole lot of things that formed the basis of India. No doubt many of these were practiced and it was the sequel of these efforts only that we are seeing the country at a formidable position.
But hold your breath if you are not a partisan and a parochial, the rendezvous with today’s so called success story has not been equitable enough. The visionary statements that applied were not equitable. Sixty seven years down the line the streets of Srinagar still reel under curfew, the mothers don’t get milk for their kids, the pregnant women are not allowed to go to hospitals, and the streets are nothing but secluded deserts of Sahara. Kashmir has always been treated with a different mindset, ideology, set of beliefs and nuances which apply to Kashmir only. Thousands of deaths in Kashmir does not shake the conscious of anyone across a country which claims itself to be comprising of eggheads, boffins and scholars but when a Mufti issues a trivial fatwa in the same region the news runs for no less than two weeks on the so called elite news channels of the country. The fear of protests other states makes Home Minister do the rounds and promise resolution but the killing of innocent people in proven fake encounters doesn’t shake his conscience. Wow how much we brag about Jawans but the same people say that for atrocities their men won’t get justice if tried in Kashmir courts, what does chief of Army mean by statements like this? The yardstick for Kashmir is different and so are the hearts and minds of people living there.
There has always been talking about Kashmir but does anybody even talk of fateful Kashmiri’s. They talk about it in New Delhi, Islamabad, Geneva, New York etc but do they talk about a 12 year boy playing cricket in bright sun and is killed while in cold blood, do they talk about 120 mass graves which get unearthed from a camp site, do they talk about those 12000 boys who have been taken to custody and are missing since then, do they ever talk of my childhood friend who was taken for assisting a search operation and then killed and my sobs still say whether it was his job. Words would fall short if I tell you what happens at a place which you all call bliss and wish to rendezvous with.
It’s a high time now. No government can claim that it does not know what Kashmiris want. The recent incidents in Kishtawar again make it clear that it’s not a valley centric moment only. Much blood has flown down the Jehlum and Chenab valley in these 67 years and earlier as well. The issue needs to be resolved as was promised to Kashmiris. Till then Srinagar will always see black flags being hoisted on this day

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For Dear Friends

Dear Friends
(Especially written for those who are tagged and a few whom I wish but cannot tag)
I don’t know whether you consider me as your dear one but I certainly do. I should have written this much earlier but my Dad often says that no time is late for a good work. So let me begin with my short piece of philosophy. Although it may look like more philosophical than being pragmatic but this is how I think and I want you to know about myself.
Dear Loved ones, I believe that our friendship is not because of a common bond I share with you. It’s simply because I find some solace/satisfaction in being friends with you. It’s purely my relationship and I am solely responsible for honoring/dishonoring it. I have befriended you not because I want you either to help me or I expect something from you but it’s more of a self concerning relationship. A few of my good friends ended their relationship with me because they expected too much from me which I wasn’t even aware of.
Take this... Many people think that just because they did a favour to you implicitly means that I should return it as well. But that is no friendship at all. If you accompany me to a market, you should not expect that I too should accompany you to the market the next time around...If you come to attend my marriage ceremony that again in no way indicates that I should reciprocate... If you invite me for a lunch, it’s purely my discretion whether to call you over next time even if I invite many of those with whom as per you I have less understanding than you.
I am your friend because I enjoy it and so do you. This shouldn’t be a bond. Even if I sacrifice something for you, that shouldn’t oblige you to do the same for me as well. My predilections may be much different from you and so can be yours. Let’s be friends recognising our differences and individualities as well. And believe me if we live like this, world will give us very few reasons to be unhappy

May Allah bless you all..

Monday, June 10, 2013

Return of Narayana Murthy

In 1981 Narayana Murthy along with six other colleagues founded Infosys. The initial capital of Rs10000/= was invested by his wife after selling her jewellery. Although like any other start up it had to face difficult times initially but the visionary leadership helped it to carve a special position for itself in the IT sector around the globe. Today Infosys has a total revenue of more than 7 Billion USD. Narayana Murthy served as CEO of Infosys from 1981 till 2001 and as chairman from 2002 to 2011. Murthy is known as the father of Indian IT industry and has been honoured with awards like Padma Shree and Padma Vibushan in India and many others abroad as well most notable being that he is listed as one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.

But Infosys is not all what it was a decade ago. Companies like TCS and Cognizant have adapted quickly to changing market scenarios. Post 2008 market meltdown many companies thought that the changed condition is just like a wind of the storm which would subside soon and thought that business would pick as usual as soon as the sweet weather returns. Those who failed to adapt had to reconcile with the losses and failures and only those who took steps at the right time were saved. Infosys seems to be among those companies who thought on the former lines. When companies which rivalled Infosys cut costs and started to innovate to rebuild their portfolios and rethink their strategies, Infosys seemed to be content with its business model and merely thought that market changes are only temporary. Much has changed now. Infosys grew at just over 3% in 2012 compared to around 20% growth it used to deliver in its heydays. For the current fiscal year (2012-13), Infosys forecasts 6% to 10% revenue growth whereas The National Association of Software and Services Companies forecasts overall Indian IT industry revenue to increase by an average 12%-14%.

The board recalled Narayana Murthy to head the company after he had superannuated in 2011. Although return of former CEO’s/founders is not unknown in many multinational companies yet it’s a novel concept in India. This may be attributed to the fact that founders never retire and even when they do they pass on their legacy to their legal heirs. The market conditions were different when Murthy lead the company and they are very different now. IT sector is so dynamic that if you don’t adapt every single day to the market, chances are that you may be left behind in the race. Many believe that Murthy’s comeback may not matter much if he does not change the principles and highly centralised decision making on which the company relies today. Speculations will always be made and the best one can do it to listen to all and see the results on the ground because at the end of the day the only thing that matters for shareholders are the results.

On Narayana Murthy’s comeback two important comeback stories come to my mind which I would like to share with you.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO left the company in 1987 and stayed out for ten long years. When Jobs returned he proclaimed that “The Company took a nap “for a decade. Jobs did not set out to make Apple the wealthiest company but as he himself said, “Our goal has always been to make the best products”. Today Apple is amongst the most valuable technology firms on the globe. Jobs invented a culture of innovation in Apple which helped it make the best products that others only emulated.

The other story is of Starbucks. . In 1987, when Howard Schultz took over Starbucks, the company had 11 stores and 100 employees. Today the company has more than $13 billion in annual revenue and 21 thousand stores across 62 countries. More than 150,000 people now work for Starbucks. When in 2000 Schultz stepped away from his operational role as CEO and took on the role of Chairman, Starbucks experienced a challenge very similar to Apple’s. It began to concentrate on growth at the cost of customer experience and lost its sheen. In 2008, Starbucks profits slipped more than 50 percent from the previous year. The market signalled its concern, valuing Starbucks at less than $9 per share, down from its high of nearly $40 per share in 2006. It was only when Schultz returned to his original role did the company return to its roots. He shut down 7,100 stores for a day of company-wide barista training. Customers saw a note on the door which said "We are taking time to perfect our espresso. Great espresso requires practice. That's why we're dedicating ourselves to honing our craft." Starbucks posted its best financial performance in nearly 40 years after Schultz returned. While revenue was constrained by the recession between 2008 and 2010, during that time profits tripled and share value quadrupled.

Much needs to be seen about how Narayana Murthy could reshape the company. There are stories about those who came back and lost the battle as well like the return of Michel Dell.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Iran Elections: - They matter more than ever(Part II)

Iran Elections: - They matter more than ever (Part II)

The elections in Iran need to be watched more meticulously than they were in 2009. The green revolution (In which people condemned 2009 elections as unfair and demanded Ahmadinejad’s resignation) may have been ‘suppressed’ but there is every possibility about the resurgence of a similar movement against the theocracy in Iran.

Actually, June 14 elections can take the country to one of the two extremes. On one hand, a new President can renegotiate terms with the west and put the economy which is in dismal condition back on track. But this seems a remote possibility given the strange way democracy works in Iran. Out of 686 candidates who had registered this year for the Presidential elections, the guardian council (a 12-member council that wields considerable power and influence in Iran and vets candidates for Presidential elections) has allowed only eight to run for the final race. Six out of these are believed to be proteges of the supreme leader Sayyed Ali Khamenei. The guardian council is heavily influenced by the supreme leader Khamenei. The supreme leader in no way seems inclined towards renegotiating terms with the west and has severely criticised the attitude of west towards Iran. Nuclear energy is seen as a national pride and all other issues have become secondary for Iran’s leaders. If the new President challenges these ideals of the supreme leader, something of a standoff which existed between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei may become more deep-rooted with the new President and the country may see a new change. Many in Iran have begun to question the absolute power of the supreme leader and what matters most is that the rejection of popular candidates like former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmedinejad’s favourite Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei have given all of them a reason to come under a common umbrella. The conference in Stockholm last week calling democracy in Iran a ‘Charade’ which brought republicans, leftists, constitutional monarchists and the green movement leaders under one umbrella serves as an example for this. Although President wields no significant powers in Iran yet his position cannot be ignored. The supreme leader decides all policy matters related to foreign affairs, nuclear energy etc but yet President controls the economy which most of the Iranians are much concerned with currently for the economy is in shambles since the sanctions imposed by the west. The value of Rial has fallen by more than 60% since 2011 and inflation levels are at an all time high besides increasing unemployment rates which stand at more than 12% compared to much lesser numbers before 2011. Common Iranians are now more concerned with day to day rising costs than nuclear ambitions.

On the other hand, which is a major possibility, the new President will probably be a protégé of Khamnei. Saeed Jalili is seen to be the one leading the race if pre election rallies are anything which can be used as an indicator of success. Jalili, a former member of revolutionary guard who lost his leg in Iran Iraq war, is called as “living martyr”in Iran. Jalili is an outspoken leader who was Iran’s nuclear negotiator as well and is considered anti west. Mr Jalili is least concerned with economy and follows the footsteps of the supreme leader. It’s widely believed that if Jalili wins, relations with the west will be further strained and Iran’s economy may face more severe repercussions. In a televised interview last week Mr Jalili proclaimed that Iran should cut its dependency on oil revenues and establish a “resistance economy in order to foil the conspiracies against Iran.” Many in Iran are still trying to make out what resistance economy is all about and how it can be brought about as Jalili offered no explanations.

As said in earlier write up as well, Iran doesn’t let itself to simplifications. Everyday a new façade is seen and time is the only thing on which one can rely but hope all turns out good for Iran because if Iran falls, Muslims will lose much sheen.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Elections in Iran (Part I)

Elections in Iran (Part I)

Tehran’s Pastor Street would have a different façade after June 14, 2013. As per Iranian constitution which provides for only two terms to a President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will have to relinquish his office. With world’s second largest gas reserves and fourth largest oil reserves, Iran is a nation which no country can ignore. Besides this, there are many factors which make Iran important, the most important being its location. With Gulf of Hormuz on the west through which almost 35% of the world’s petroleum trade by sea takes place, to Afghanistan in the east which is described as global terror hotspot; Iran become all the more important for every country on the globe. The debates about Iran’s ambitious nuclear energy programme are often the news of the day since last many years.

Roberto Toscano, Italy's ambassador to Iran when Ahmadinejad first won in 2005 remarked that "Iran is always puzzling because it doesn't lend itself to simplification." No matter how deep you delve you cannot predict the outcome of this election in Iran. Iran is in a bad shape more than it ever was. Its economy is crumbling. Since Western governments imposed sanctions on Iran in December 2011, the rial has dropped by more than 60% against the dollar. The total state revenue for the last financial year was $77bn well below the budget projection of $117bn mainly due to sanctions on oil sales. The economy is well short of the 8% growth target set by the fifth five-year development plan, which guides government policies from 2010 to 2015. The International Monetary Fund has projected that the economy will shrink by 1.3% in 2013.

With unemployment at 13% and inflation at 32% this year’s election become more important for a largely urban populated country (2/3rd Iranians live in cities). Ahmadinejad who enjoyed support from rural and less well off people is not in the race and this time the mantra of 2005 or 2009 may not work. High inflation has marred the farmers and poor in Iran. The consensus among experts is that economy is in the worst shape since the end of the war with Iraq in 1988. There is a growing unrest among the workers in Iran where unions are often gagged by the state. Despite the workers major role in deposing the Shah in 1979, they have gained little over the years. This election will certainly try to bring them together as the threats being faced by the entire workers population is common; low wages, high inflation and temporary nature of jobs provided by the government.

Almost 680 people have registered at Tehran’s Fatimi Street with interior ministry for this year’s elections as per reports by Press TV, the registration lasted till May11. Not all these will run for the Presidential elections. In 2009, out of 476 nominees only four were allowed to stand. The nominees will be vetted by the Guardian Council, a powerful group of six clergymen and six jurists. Apart from the usual requirements, such as having a good personal record and political competence; loyalty to the fundamental principles of the Islamic republic and its religion are the main issues considered by the council during this process. The final list will be vetted on May 23. The campaign will begin soon after until June 14 when the elections will be held.

The Green movement which started after 2009 elections, in which protestors demanded removal of Ahmedinejad from office, seems to have rested with no leaders to take it forward and internal rifts among dissidents. Many in Iran question the legitimacy of this year’s elections given that the leaders of the green movement are still under house arrest and the restrictions on political campaigns and human rights campaigns are still in vogue. But there aren’t any boycott calls till now and these reformists seem to have found a candidate among themselves to run for elections, a former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The registration by Rafsanjani on the last day has thrown new surprises with many questioning his seriousness as a candidate for Presidency but he remains a chosen one for the reformists and could change the equations of power in Iran.

The Guardian council will have a real tough time to select the candidates who will be allowed to run given the diversity of thought among the candidates. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei is Ahmadinejad’s choice and he has been rallying besides him. Ahmadinejad is accused of Putin/Medhadev style reshuffle with Mashaei. Mashaei is Ahmadinejad’s son in law and his top advisor. But Mashaei was denounced as a leader of a “deviant current “in the rallies during Ahmadinejad’s political showdown with Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader. Whether he is allowed to be in the race or not will be decided on May 23 but as of now all fingers are crossed. It’s widely believed in Tehran that Ahmadinejad possesses several controversial tapes, which he has covertly referred to in his rallies with Mashai, which could turn around the tables in Iran which the supreme leader Khamnei would never want to be released. Mashai is also accused of advocating hard core nationalism by putting Iran ahead of Islam which many conservatives detest.

Ahmadinejad who was a protégé of Khamnei parted ways a few years back and a strong rift between the two appears on the ground. Ali Akbar Velayati, who is the top advisor of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also registered. Velayati served as a foreign minister during 1980-88 Iran Iraq war. Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf who is Tehran’s mayor and a former commander of revolutionary guard is also seen to be very close to Khamnei. Ghalibaf who is a pilot is seen to combine a modernising agenda with a reputation for competent management. Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, who is seen as the supreme leader's favourite candidate, is also standing.

There are certain things which only time can tell and the best answer is to wait till the right time arrives.

@iqbal 22/05/2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Our Peer Babas

Our Peer Babas

If there is a term which is most abused in Kashmir, its Tabrukh. When I was a kid, my mother would bring Halwa prepared by people who in common parlance we call Biharis, from a nearby shrine and with great reverence feed that to me and my sister. Neither the raw materials nor the people had anything holy associated with them yet the product they produced was holy because some elders are said to have brought holy relics to the nearby shrine. Almost every Kashmiri household considers Halwa, Potato chips, Nelumbeum(Nadroo) etc brought from makeshift shops located near shrines as revered . My cousins would often go to the nearby town of Sopore to seek blessings of the revered Ahad Bab who would roam naked in the bazaars of the valley. And mind you, if you ever uttered a word against the practise, you would invite the wrath of the people you converse with.
“Peer Sahib” has strange connotations when it comes to Kashmir. If an insane sits on a bridge over river Jehlum and uses vulgar words, he automatically becomes a Peer Sahib. People see him with awe and make requests for blessings. When these Pseudo Peers move their hands over the heads of gullible Kashmiris, it’s called Barath.  Barath is a strange term used by followers who are called Mureeds to mean a heavenly intervention into the fate of the person whom the Peer Baba blesses.
When I went to the college which happened to be near Dargah Hazratbal, kashmir’s most honoured sacred place, my Mom would often call me and ordain me to pay obeisance at the holy shrine. During my initial days at college I listened to my mother just to keep her happy but later turned wary of the practises being followed there. I never liked the flavour of the place where licking stones was more important than offering Salah at the right time, where Imam would read Quran with no taste of Arabic language and would read sermons which were often disconnected from the reality on ground. Dargah was not my place but it was certainly revered by my friends and relatives who still believed that getting closer to God needed help from the ones staying at these shrines or on the roads.
Take this. Saieein and Khala are two famous mad men in Baramulla. Saieeein is no more but people would often respect him because they would say that he drinks toilet and nothing happens to him. Whenever I would make fun of him, my mother would curse me not to do that saying that he has powers bestowed upon him by the providence. But thankfully death took him away. Khala is famous because he puts on Pherans even during the summers and speaks vulgar language if you talk distasteful about the congress or Farooq Abdulla. Elders say that Khala was a constable in the police before he was anointed to save Baramulla. People often present Khala with a Pheran if their wish comes true and many attribute it to the blessings from Khala.
The stories are many and each area in Kashmir has one such Baba. Perhaps, the decades of turmoil we have seen have made many insane but they are no Peer Babas. Please! The horrific incident of Peer Baba in Budgam should serve as an eye opener for us all. Who knows how many such rackets operate in Kashmir? Perhaps a closer look at how we look at things needs to be developed. Otherwise, Babas would continue to ruin us along with their collaborators. Certainly the power to question the commonly accepted notions has gained ground in Kashmir and it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the Baba scandal was unravelled because of the awakening of youth of Kashmir. The energy needs to be tapped in the right direction to help ameliorate our condition.
@Iqbal. 22/05/2013