Thursday, January 13, 2011

All aboard the nostalgia express!

A trip to Lahore had been planned for today, 27 November 2010, for the LUMS reunion and also to meet Umair bhai’s friend to discuss possible employment opportunities. I tried to remember if I had everything packed after finishing stuffing up my backpack. However, I had a sick feeling, as always, that I had left something behind.

Abba was to drop me off to the Daewoo bus station. After we had departed the house, I realized that I hadn’t hugged Ammi before I left in all the hustle and bustle of leaving. I felt bad and told Abba to let her know that I had forgotten. Only a couple of minutes later and I witnessed a car crash on the road running parallel to the Margallah road in F-10/3.

An emerald-green mid 90s Mercedes S class, in what appeared to be very good condition, was motoring ahead on the road, while a black 5 year old Honda Civic moved on to the main road from a small connecting street. While the Mercedes tried its best to avoid the car by moving to its right and on to the dirt, the Civic just continued to cross the road, as if it was completely oblivious of the Mercedes that had all the right in the world to continue in its path.

Moments later, I heard Abba say matter-of-factly, “they’re going to crash”. Had the Civic stopped even then, I believe an accident could still have been avoided. However, the Civic just moved on forward and the Merc had its trunk caught rather badly by the smaller car, while it wobbled its way further, seeking some balance to avoid a complete flip over.

Fortunately, all four wheels stayed on the road. I caught the expressions of the person driving the Civic and the teenage kid sitting next to him on the front seat. They were obviously shocked and paralyzed, and didn’t know what had happened, even if it was completely their fault. Abba didn’t waste any time in gesturing and telling them that they were at fault while we drove ahead. I don’t know how they’ll be able to argue that it wasn’t. Looking back, I saw the rear bumper of the Mercedes torn apart. I’m sure there was other major damage that wasn’t visible to me.

We made our way to the Daewoo stop. It had changed a bit since the last time I had visited 3 years ago. The main lounge was now only accessible from the back. To my slight relief, there was space in the 10 o’clock bus, as I had dismissed Omar’s idea rather carelessly of booking a seat the night before. Rs.890 for a single ticket. I remembered that when I started using the bus service in 2001, a ticket would cost Rs.280. Even three years ago, it was not more than Rs.600. I didn’t dwell too much on the increased price, as I knew it was useless. It was a price I had to pay for a clean bus, with less irritating people, and more importantly, the fact that it would drop me off in the centre of Lahore, where Ahmad had agreed to pick me up. Even though the next best bus service was roughly half the price, it would drop me off at the fringe of the city, and the cost of hiring a rickshaw to Defence would make up the difference in the bus fare.

The bus was roughly half empty, so I had the adjacent seat to myself as well. I would look outside the window from time to time, and try to recollect the various trips I made to Lahore after spending a weekend home during my university days. It was a different feeling now, though. Having traveled quite frequently in Australia where I would really notice and admire the views across the country, looking outside my window on this bus to Lahore, I would appreciate the scenery a lot more than I had previously done.

I had my laptop with me and thought I'd listen to some music. It just so happened that I had "Against the Wind" by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band on, as part of the Forrest Gump soundtrack. It was the perfect road tripping song. A few songs later, Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" came up. It added to my nostalgic mood and I tried to absorb the feelings as much as I could.

We stopped at a place called Sial. This motorway stop also had a KFC outlet and the place looked quite sharp. I noticed some other stops having Subway too. Quite a change from my LUMS days. I enjoyed a bit of the amazing sun and just found my way back to the bus again.

This time I put on Dire Straits' Money for Nothing album on. I remember, back in the days when I took Abba's walkman with me, I would play the whole album on my trips again and again. This time was no different. It really is an amazing album, partly because its a greatest hits compilation.

As the bus entered Lahore, I realized how much I really like the city. For some reason, regardless of the traffic and pollution, the city has something special. Perhaps, the fact that the city manages to mix a more realistic representation of Pakistan with certain elements of modernity makes it a more convincing Pakistani urban center. Having arrived at Lahore, I waited approximately 10 minutes for Ahmad to come and pick me up. He has started wearing glasses now. Even though I could tell the difference straightaway, however, for some reason it seemed as though he had been wearing them for years.

After lunch, I made my way to Chacha jaan's house, which was a street away from Ahmad's new crib. I had a very delightful conversation with Chacha jaan. I love the way he usually conveys his message in a soft demeanour and yet remains very convincing.

It was time for the Alumni reunion, and Ahmad and I got ready at his place. I wore a suit with a tie, whereas Ahmad decided to go without one. As we drove towards LUMS, I noticed a lot of changes from the last time I had been there (almost 4 years ago). There was a new gate to enter, the volleyball and basketball courts had been relocated and replaced with parking lots, a huge building for the School of Science & Engineering had been erected, as well as a new hostel for boys. We parked in front of the mosque, which I really admire for its beauty and simplicity. The new Suleman Dawood School of Business building had been built just behind it.

The reunion organizers had done a terrific job with the preparations. The whole evening was laden with our failed attempts at networking, mostly because of the absence of even remotely recognizable faces around. We met a couple of people who were mere acquaintances. More focus during the homecoming was given to the university's National Outreach Program (NOP). In the NOP, the university goes to remote and lesser known places to find the brightest students who would then be trained in order for them to apply for admission to the undergraduate program at LUMS. If these students would be able to gain admission, they would be fully financed for their program, including living expenses, etc. The star of the program has been a student from Quetta, who then received a Fulbright scholarship to Harvard University. There have been many other huge successes, where students had come from families that didn't even know that LUMS existed. And now some of these students are working in multinational companies at very good positions.

Looking at the videos, I felt absolutely honored to have studied at LUMS. The university is more than top-class, with excellent facilities and faculty. It is the dream of most students to study at LUMS, as it was mine. For the last few years, I had forgotten how difficult it is to get in to the university and how I had taken for granted the education I had received there. It was an experience that I would cherish for the rest of my life.

The event was to be concluded with a concert by our legendary folk singer, Abida Parveen. Unfortunately, after a few songs the organizers informed us that she won't be able to continue further as she wasn't feeling well, which was followed by a query regarding the presence of a doctor in the audience. As we later found out, she had suffered a heart attack. Thankfully it wasn't fatal and she is better now.

We capped the night off with a walk around campus. The memories of yesteryear came flooding back as we exchanged our thoughts and old stories. The new cricket, football and hockey grounds looked very impressive, especially under lights. We managed to walk all the way down till the very end and also saw a vegetable patch, neatly marked by the names of the vegetables that were being grown there. On the way back we went through the hostels. I wanted to see my old corridor again in M2, but the hostel door wouldn't budge. They had installed a proximity card security mechanism, as I found out, similar to the ones I had used in Australia.

It was late when we arrived home; almost 1 am. I got to show Ahmad some of the pictures I had taken during my time in Australia and shared lots of stories. By the time we realized, it was well after 2.

We woke up late and had pancakes for breakfast. I had to go and visit my phuppos today. After making a few calls to check their availability, I was to go to Api phuppo's house first. In the evening, I went to Tony phuppo's place. It was nice to see Umair bhai and his family, although everyone was feeling sick. He handed over Omar's new Canon SLR to me and I was on my way back to Ahmad's place after he picked me up. Ahmad has been a perfect host. He's driven me around and has been more than welcoming at his house.

We decided to have another nostalgic night. After a trip to Defence Market and then to Y-block, we decided to have pizza from 'King & Queens'.... just like the good ol' days. We also went to Hot Fuzon for some Death by Chocolate cake. And, as what usually happened before, Ahmad helped me finish off my slice.

Not much has changed in Y-block and the Defence market.

I was completely exhausted by the time we had reached home. I felt I was becoming a bit sick as well. Ahmad had plans of watching some Justice League episodes, as he had mentioned them earlier. However, I just hit the hay and couldn't help but fall asleep instantly.I was also unsure what tomorrow morning's interview / meet-up with Y. B. was going to be like. I wanted to wake up early to prepare a bit for that.

While I woke up at Fajr and went through some of the 'Distributed Systems' slides to re-familiarize myself with some basic technology related concepts. Y. B. seemed to be a very cool guy, though a bit reserved and not as affable as I would have imagined. He told me that he could pitch my resume to a business partner who may require analytical skills. But for project management related positions, his thoughts echoed mine in that people in Pakistan tend not to respect Project Managers who have less technical skills or experience. He also told me to experiment and explore things in order to find my niche or passion. Although, that idea wasn't particularly brand spanking new for me, it did reinforce my views that I should perhaps try out some development work prior to heading off to Project Management. Also, pursuing a passion is a lot easier said than done. You need to know what you're passionate about before you pursue it!

Ahmad was kind enough to take me to the office and wait for me while I met with Y.B. He then dropped me off to Kokan Phuppo's place. He indeed has been an exceptional host and a very good friend. We'd spent the last 2 days reminiscing about our undergrad at LUMS while driving around in his new Corolla listening to batman soundtracks from various movies and series. I also dumped a lot of my emotional thoughts on to him and it did seem that he at least was aware and respected how I felt. However, his preference of Batman Beyond over Batman TAS is beyond my comprehension.

Kokan Phuppo was very glad to see me. Paroo Apa was quite stressed though, as a result of her work. She had a lot of things to do, but still found the time to prepare me some pre-lunch appetizers. I was also surprised to find a wireless LAN at her place. I didn't waste anytime in checking my email; though that was the only thing that I could think of to do online. So I just enjoyed some music while the rest of the family did their chores and work. Fatima, came from school and was quite adorable and friendly. I showed her some Tiny Toons on my laptop.

After lunch I had hoped that someone would be able to drop me off to the Niazi bus station. However, with Phuppa Jaan's leg hurting and Paroo Apa being very busy, I got hold of a rickshaw. The guy took a hundred rupees and 20 minutes to get me there. The bus was not very clean, when compared to the spick-and-span Daewoo bus service. However, I had traveled in much worse and dirtier buses before. The guy whose seat I had conveniently stolen reminded me that I was sitting on his place. I politely asked him if I could sit there since I had to hang my suit (which also included some items of the SLR). He was nice enough to let me sit me there. The window otherwise was not very useful, since it would be dark most of the way, and there wouldn't be much to see outside. However, it could be used as a convenient headrest. My leg-space was more cramped than usual, as a result of the bag that was stuffed to the brim because of the SLR box. I had also hung a few of my other shirts on the hanger to make room in the bag for the camera, which made the suit hanger heavier than usual.

After a while, the car 'entertainment' was turned on, in the form of an old Indian movie. The movie itself was rather tasteless and, at times, outright vulgar. Unlike the Daewoo bus, this one didn't offer separate headphones for each passenger and, instead, blared out the audio for all to listen. I managed to make it to the stop at Behra, roughly half-way to Islamabad, with a small nap in between. After I took a walk at the stop, I controlled my craving for a zinger at KFC. I argued with myself that I already had a lot of things to take care of and my personal space in the bus was too crowded to take care of an oily zinger. I also visited a Hallmark outlet at the stop. I had seen a few in Lahore, but was rather disappointed once I had gone inside. There wasn't anything special that would even tempt me, not even a cool birthday card I could buy in advance for someone's birthday.

Back in the bus, the person right behind me decided that the entertainment system in the bus was rather inadequate and was thus generous enough to share his audio choice with everyone in the vicinity. And he didn't hold back one bit with the volume. After a while, the guy sitting next to me asked him if he had a headset that he could use. When he replied in the negative, the person asked him politely to turn the volume down a bit. He obliged rather reluctantly, as was apparent with his non-verbal response to the person's request.

I had had enough anyway. I took out my laptop and listened to some music (mostly the same audio I was listening to on my way to Lahore). After a while, I played the first episode of "The real adventures of Jonny Quest". I did notice that the spelling of 'Jonny Quest' is rather odd with no 'h' in 'Jonny'. Anyhow, I really enjoyed the episode, even though I did vaguely remember the story from before (I had probably seen it a good 13 years ago). I really have to watch the rest of the season soon.

I had slightly mis-communicated my arrival timing with Omar, as he had gone to fill up some gas in the car from the PSO Pump adjacent to the bus station. I made my way quickly to surprise them and to get in the car at the pump, as waiting at the station didn't really make much sense. Almost there, and I saw the car drive out of the pump. I quickly walked across the road, waited for them to come a bit nearer and then went and stood in the middle of the road so that there would be no chance of them not being able to see me. We then went home, while I narrated some of my stories regarding my 3 day visit to Lahore, including the heart-attack of Abida Parveen at the LUMS reunion.

At home, there was huge disappointment when Omar's new Canon SLR didn't work. It took one picture and just stopped working completely. We had so much plans, so many pictures to take with that camera. Now, we have to give it back and get a return from Amazon.

I had planned a reunion with some LUMS classmates, but it turned out to be a reunion with my LUMS memories and a good friend instead. It had been a great nostalgic 3 days.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What's in a name?

People like me, who tend to judge a book by its title, would obviously make no effort to watch a show called "House" or "Bones". Forgive me for considering the names too uninteresting, but it would've helped if someone had made it more obvious that "House" isn't one of those programs that have people buying houses or "Bones" isn't a boring, scientific show where the miracles of the human body are explored. To cut things short, I still don't understand how people can be called "House" or "Bones".

Only a few days ago, I was watching the Ashes, and Beer, from Australia, was bowling to England's Cook and Bell. If I didn't know better, I could've mistaken the match for BBC's version of Masterchef.

But since people are calling themselves with such fancy names these days, I think I would like to add "Scientist" to my name someday. And then when I get married and have kids, we'll be a group of "Scientists". I'll probably then make use of my situation and give my services to a local newspaper. Every once in a while, whenever the newspaper would need some weird scientific news, I'd just call them up and say something bizarre, like for instance, "standing in the rain can cause hair growth to improve". Quoting me, the newspaper would have something like this in the news, "Scientists reveal rain as secret to hair growth" or "Scientist: Lending stuff to neighbors decreases blood pressure" or "Group of Scientists claim to have reversed time". Since most people only tend to peruse newspaper headlines, especially when it comes to such stories, it could be a good way to change the habits of readers by using such subliminal coercion.

Another name I can come up with is "Yo-daddy"; so that whenever people want to know more about me, they'll ask "Who's yo daddy?". That should be worth the trouble itself. Adding a famous name, such as "Churchill", would always make me stand out from the crowd. This way, people will never have trouble breaking the ice with me, as it is highly likely that the first question they'll ask would be "Are you related to Winston Churchill?". Having a stereotypical ethnic name such as "Schröder" or "Mbangwa" could be fun too. I'm sure people would then ask if I'm from Germany or Africa. I would respond in the negative and then ask them why on earth they came up with such a silly supposition.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Thou shalt try to be awesome!

Gretchen Rubin has a list of commandments she used in her book titled "The Happiness Project". Since it's the start of the new year, I thought I could post my own set of 'commandments' that I had come up with while I was reading the book. I thought that having it posted in a blog would make it somewhat 'official', and hence may increase the probability of me actually adopting them as time and years go by.

Here they go (not in any particular order):
  • Don't procrastinate, do it NOW!
  • Be yourself
  • Savor the present
  • Its OK to make mistakes
  • Remember that you're as good as everyone else but don't think you're better than the rest at the same time
  • Let it go
  • If possible multitask or else prioritize
  • There's nothing wrong with being childish but do remain mature
  • Stay alert
  • Give change some time
  • Go out of your comfort zone
  • Do the right thing