Friday, November 30, 2012

A Tribute to my Father

This past Wednesday, on November 28th, 2012, after over 10 years of service to the Higher Education Commission, my father was unceremoniously, and illegally, asked to vacate his position. After failing to remove Dr. Syed Sohail Hussain Naqvi from the HEC for the last few years, the Government decided to assign the additional responsibility of the Executive Director of the HEC to the Secretary, Ministry of Education and Trainings. In doing so they have, for the moment, created a stalemate in the HEC since my father was appointed, as per law, by the full Board of Governors of HEC (The Commission) and cannot be relieved of his duties in this arbitrary manner. This is illegal because my father was recently given a 4 year extension by the Commission consisting of people appointed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Legally, the Prime Minister can appoint members of the Commission, and that is where his powers end. Appointment of the Executive Director is the prerogative of the Commission and not any other person or body, including the Prime Minister of Pakistan.  Knowing of this restriction, the Pakistan People’s Party first tried to declare the original appointment of my father in 2004 as Executive Director back, as illegal. This argument is, of course, ridiculous as confirmed by no less an authority than the best legal mind of the Pakistan People’s Party, Aitzaz Ahsan, who stated that everything about that appointment process was absolutely legal.

I might be beginning to sound a bit long winded, but as the person in question is my father, people will automatically assume that my bias will skew the facts. I am simply trying to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the government is 100% in the wrong. Of course with the PPP in power, that’s not going to be hard. Why don’t we start by looking at the performance of the Higher Education Commission over the last 10 years. The quality assurance system of Pakistan is now universally acknowledged, 6 universities in Pakistan are internationally ranked by QS Rankings and research publications have skyrocketed. Along with this, the number of university campuses have increased from 168 to 258, which has led to student enrollment to increase from 330,000 to over 1,000,000. In this expansion of students in the higher education space, there has been a particular focus on women. The percentage of women enrolled in universities has gone up from 36% to 46%. Balochistan and FATA have also been a focus, with over 3000 scholarships launched for residents of those generally neglected areas of Pakistan. In the first 55 years of Pakistan’s existence, we awarded 3,281 PhDs. Over the last 10 years, since the founding of the HEC, Pakistan has had an additional 4,850 PhDs. The research papers published by Pakistanis in international research journals have gone up from 816 in 2002 to 6300 in 2012. 
I have barely begun to scratch the surface. I think it is fair to say that the HEC has had a tremendously positive impact on the country. This of course is not down to my father alone. Everyone from Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman to the gardeners and security guards at HEC have played their part. That is not to say that the HEC is perfect. There is a lot of room for improvement, and no one recognizes that more than my father. He is constantly striving to learn from his mistakes, take on the advice of others and grow and move forward. Not too long ago, he caught an employee, Ms. Shaheen Khan, of his stealing money. Now even the most die-hard PPP supporters that the HEC is nothing if not clean. Money laundering expertise is a requirement for working in a PPP government, but since the HEC is an autonomous body, to put it eloquently: that shit don’t fly here. Of course this woman was welcomed back with open arms by the PPP, and has been a catalyst in the demise of the HEC. She has also since then acquired a PhD which is reputed to be an eloquent translation in Urdu of a lowly report.
Over the last 5 years, ever since I got my license, I have had one bone to pick with my dad. He never lets me drive the HEC car. Never. Perhaps when I first got my license I could understand why, but when I last went home I was (and still am) 23, I had owned my own car for over 3 years and had driven well over 50,000km. Yet, I was still confined to that piece of junk we own; a 2001 honda city. The reason? The only people legally allowed to drive the car are the drivers, my dad and my mom. So I am allowed to be driven from A to B with a driver, in the Corolla, for my own errands, but yet I’m not allowed to drive. Ah well, that’s the law, and that’s the way my father is. I disagree with that, my view is that the car is for his use, and for his family to use. I am not about to take his Corolla on a road trip to Gilgit and back, but it would be nice to be able to go get a haircut without having to worry if the ol’ Honda can make it up the next hill. Oh and by the way, while my family is rolling around town in the Honda City, Shaheen Khan is tearing up the roads of Islamabad in a Mercedes.
Maybe the issue is that my father is not qualified enough. I mean, integrity isn’t going to solve our education problems alone. At the end of the day you need someone smart to be running things. Let’s have a look then at Daddy’s LinkedIn. In short, he graduated Hasan Abdal top of his class, graduated Purdue University with a perfect 4.0 GPA and a PhD in refractive optics at the age of 25 , was a tenured professor at the University of New Mexico before the age of 30, helped start up a company which made cutting edge machines that measured dimensions of nanometer sized structures, was the Dean of Electrical Engineering at GIK Institute of Science & Technology, VP of Operations at Enabling Technologies, and of course, Executive Director of the HEC for the past 8 years, now internationally recognized as a model of higher education reform in the world.
I could go on forever, I really could, of my father’s amazing qualities, attributes, and overall dedication to his country. I could not be prouder of what my father has achieved already, and at 50 years he is only getting started. I have seen him pour his heart and soul into a job, and the job has been rewarding. He has fought for every bit of funding for the students of Pakistan, he has travelled from Gilgit to Karachi viewing institutions everywhere and taking in advice in how to improve them. He has earned the respect of almost everyone he has come into contact with, whether they agree with him or not. He taught me that being patriotic does not simply mean bellowing the national anthem at the top of your lungs, it means putting in long hours at a job when you know you could be making more money elsewhere. After 24 years of working, he makes less today than his first salary! It means putting up with the crap the politics in our country brings. It means finding ways of being optimistic when everything around you is crumbling. It means that when your own government tries to outs you for doing the right thing, you simply go home to help your youngest son with his homework tonight.
Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, nothing can take away what my dad has done for Pakistan. I leave you all with a praise of my father that has always resonated most with my. Arif Kiyani is definitely someone none of you have ever heard of. He has no relation to General Kiyani, far from that actually. He first started to work for the University Grants Commission in 1989 as a driver, and was there when it became the HEC in 2002. He has often told me of how much he admires the conduct of my dad, but the best thing he said was “Sahab wo insaan hai jis ne aaj tak mujhe ‘tu’ tak nahi kaha”. Loosely translated, it means my dad is someone who has never once in all his years working with Arif Bhai addressed him by ‘tu’, a casual and sometimes disrespectful way of addressing someone. Our Holy Prophet once said you can judge a person by the way the treat people in a lesser position. Please, by all means, judge away. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Top Ten Notes From the Friend Zone

For those of you who don’t know me, hi, my name is Shazil Naqvi, and I am President, Prime Minister, Chief of Army Staff and King of the Friend Zone. Why, do you ask, is this relevant at all? Well, I spent a good 30 minutes on the phone with one of the other Rickshaw writers, catching up, talking about life and running my latest blog idea by him. I wanted to write about ‘Drawing Room Politics’ and Imran Khan. Boring, was Umair’s response. People are sick of redundant political articles, and who wants to hear what an American educated Pakistani is writing about from his drawing room in Ireland. Fair enough. The conversation then progressed to Umair’s date, and I started laughing my ass off because it was the type of date I have been on too many times: the friend date. You have no hope with the girl, but your wallet gets a fair bit lighter. After arguing a bit, Umair quickly realized my expertise on the matter, and I realized rather than writing about Mr. Khan, perhaps I should stick to my strengths and write about the dreaded friend zone.
Disclaimer: These notes are in no way meant to help you avoid the friend zone. If I knew how to do that, I wouldn’t be writing this damn thing. These are merely observations of my time in the friend zone, and are meant to be enjoyed and laughed at. I will try mixing some fiction in, so that I can try and mask some of the identity of friends to spare them some embarrassment. It may sound like I’m giving out advice here, but for the most part I’m just talking to myself.
1. The ‘playa’ cousin: Here I will not try in the least bit to hide the identify of this person. My best friend in the entire world also happens to be my cousin, who is 18 months older. Over the years, good ol’ cuz and I have taken a, shall we say, different approach to life. We are polar opposites, but that’s why we make such a good pair. The only reason he knows the friend zone exists is because I live here. He himself has no problems when it comes to women. In fact, the last time we hung out was at a wedding, and I watched as he walked by a crowd of girls who all turned for a second glance and then started giggling. My point here is one would think having a cousin who is your best friend being such a ladies man would help your game, right? FALSE. Since my cousin and I have such a fundamentally different approach to life, he is unable to understand my failings, and therefore cannot really help me. So instead he finds the funny side of it all as he recognizes he can’t help. This has dire consequences, as any girl even loosely associated with him becomes out of the question. Either he has some interest in them himself, with his “shazil don’t ever close any doors” philosophy, or he has brought these girls in on the joke that is shazil’s (lack of a) lovelife. Mostly it’s a case of both. In any case, my first note from the friend zone is that having a playa cousin doesn’t help.
2. texting/iMessage/WhatsApp/gchat/fbchat/anything: So you think you’ve done the hard part, gotten a girl’s number, or added her on facebook. Once upon a time, getting a girls number was reason to celebrate, shout from the highest rooftop, or go yell in someone’s face “How do you like them apples?” Not really the case anymore. If anything, getting the number is the easy part. Once you get the number you need to decide what in God’s name you are going to do with it. You can’t call, who does that anymore… or can you? I mean go old fashioned, right? Nope, let’s stick to texting. Okay.. how do you start that? Eventually you get the hang of how to text, except here is where I still struggle. Girls are amazing at showing just enough interest to keep you interested, but you are still doing all the heavy lifting. However, if you find yourself sending 4 or 5 texts for every text she sends, and having to ALWAYS initiate conversation, give up man. Here is an example of a text or chat message I might send: “So how much do you miss me?” Ugh. Hurts to admit I have texted that to more than one girl. Here is the response: “Haha”. Not “hahahahaha”. Just “Haha”. Sometimes they will proceed to ask how you are doing, you respond, and that’s the end. Too much effort just to get a “Haha”.
3. Coworkers: Having only been in the workforce for just over a year, and only having had one job, I’m still a learner in this department. Here is what I’ve learned so far. Not a good idea. This may sound like a cliché , but I’m saying this from personal experience, here is why. At work, you can’t really choose your coworkers like you can choose your friends. They’re just there, and you have to make do with them. So automatically you have to endeavor beyond a natural amount to try and get along with them. You might luck out, like me, and work with truly wonderful people, and develop amazing lifelong friendships from work. Key word here being friendships. In any work environment, it would be very easy to mistake a few good conversations over gchat to be sparks. I don’t care what eharmony says, sparks don’t fly online. Also, going back to an early point, if you initiating all these conversations, no matter how much you enjoy them, it’s a bad sign. You’ll probably just end up wasting your time trying to time your trips to the kitchen to coincide with hers, and most of the time you’ll walk on by without saying a word. Every time you buy yourself a snack, you buy her a snack, and someone else in the office too in a weak attempt to hide what you are actually doing. If  you want to buy someone food, buy your guy friends food. Everyone has that “Jughead” friend who can eat and eat and eat, manage to stay insanely in shape, and they always appreciate being brought any type of food. It’s a way more rewarding experience. That reminds me, I need to send some food to a buddy in Hoboken, probably needs the ration anyway.
4. There is a league: Have you ever seen the movie “She’s out of my league”? It’s about this guy who is a 5, who happens to start dating a 10 (these are the movies ratings, not mine, I agree with the girl being a 10 though). Of course in the end, guy gets girl. This movie is the cruelest movie ever made. It is a lie, and fills your heart with false hope. Again, I’m not just saying this; sadly my observation is again based on personal experience. Senior year of college, I ran into this girl at a party who was in my dorm freshman year. This girl was of course stunningly gorgeous, in fact I later learned she was actually a model, along with being a fashion designer and entrepreneur. Damn impressive woman. Now freshman year having just arrived fresh of the boat from an all boys boarding school in Pakistan, I had no clue what to do say, so obviously I said nothing. Fast forward a few years and I learned what to say: “Hi my name is Shaz” (note: not Shazil, takes forever to explain how to pronounce and the moment will be lost). Well that was easy enough. I had a great conversation with her, but left the party without her number. My college roommate, who God bless his soul did his level best to get me out of the friend zone, told me to march back in there and get her number, so I did. I felt like I had just conquered the world. So much so that I even asked her out on a date, to grab coffee (or so I thought, stay tuned). We had a lovely, well can’t call a date, so let’s say a lovely rendezvous. Talked for 2 hours in my favorite little coffee shop in Ann Arbor, Comet Coffee. Got a nice little hug at the end of the night (if that doesn’t spell friend zone I don’t know what does) and that was it. When I got home, that same roommate was appalled that I hadn’t set a follow up, and demanded I call her up and ask her out for dinner. So I did. The next day I damaged my ankle ligaments playing soccer, an old high school history, and while I was on the X-ray table in some amount of pain, my “date” called me up to tell me actually she had a boyfriend. At this point I just started laughing, didn’t say much, hung up and I don’t believe ever talked to her again. I regret that, she was amazingly cool. I am LinkedIn with her though!
5. Your other cousin’s friends: This is how I like to view the world. Most of the beautiful women in the world are Pakistani, at least in my eyes. And the most beautiful Pakistanis are Lahoris. And all beautiful Lahori girls go to one school: LGS Defense (an all girls K-12 school). Now, it may just happen that your cousin, who is only a year younger than you went to this school. Perfect! You have an in! You even get along with this cousin like she is your twin. This will work out great, right? Nope, not even close. What ends up happening is that almost automatically you end up taking on the same role with these girls as you have with your cousin: bhai (brother). You will end up driving them around during weddings, picking and dropping from train stations, being the typical friend, but you never really have a chance of forming a relationship after having started off as a bhai. This of course has disastrous consequences, as your cousin happens to be the most popular girl in Lahore. That wipes out the city of Lahore, and if you can’t have a Lahori girlfriend, no point in having one at all.
6. Swinging for the fences: After years of getting no where with your approach of wanting to get to know someone first, one might be inclined to go swinging for the fences the next time they are smitten. In theory this sounds like perfect, finally from the get go your going to let a girl exactly how you feel, rather than meandering through the friend zone. Here is the problem, you will meet someone incredibly gorgeous, and more importantly, with an amazing personality to go with her looks. So you will let her know exactly how highly you think of her, how your jaw drops every time you see her, and that your heart skips a beat every time you even think of her smiling. Of course first you do this via texting, but emboldened by your new approach you have the gall to tell her in person of her magical smile, effortless grace, I could go on. I mean this girl turns the most ordinary of into a charmer whose dialogues could rival any Shakespeare love story. Problem is, no one is ever going to take you seriously with this approach. The age of the hopeless romantic has gone, and all of this effort is rather wasted. Well not entirely wasted, it’s endearing, in a, you know, friendly way.
7. Siblings: It’s one thing to take the piss out of yourself. It’s another thing altogether for your younger siblings to be doing this. You see, my younger sister and brother have had no such problems with relationships, and good for them. Of course this means that big brother becomes the target for a bit of fun. My grandmother recently called me up in a panic about my being single, and told me to even get an Irish girl. Can you imagine how frazzled a Pakistani grandmother must be to encourage her eldest grandchild to get an Irish wife? This was all because my sister, being the absolute delight that she is, had a bit of fun with poor ol’ grandma and convinced her that it is very worrying that her 26 year old grandson has never had a girlfriend. I’m 23, and my sister is well aware of this. She could barely control her laugher when I called her about it. On a side note, if you find yourself pouring your heart out to your younger sister’s even younger boyfriend about how the door may be permanently closing for the love of your life, you got problems.
8. How about a hug instead?: Regardless of how hopeless you perceive yourself to be, everyone gets chances. Even me. Before my last year in high school in Lahore, I spent a summer at Brown taking some summer courses. This was my first real experience of living and interacting with girls my own age, as at the time I was still living large at my all boys boarding school back home. I learnt a lot that summer, and of course made it to the friend zone in record time with most of the girls there. However, probably my high school buddies favourite part of my stories from this summer, is when a girl asked to cuddle with me, and my response was: “How about a hug instead?” Point here is that it on occasion will take great effort to stay in the friend zone on your part, whether it’s avoiding a girl who came to a summer camp especially to spend time with you, or avoiding a girl on the dance floor who is eyeing you up. For the most part, you won’t really regret staying in the friend zone, or no zone at all with these advances. For the most part, that is.
9. Girls with boyfriends: Maybe the problem then is that you want to be in the friend zone, it’s comfortable, safe and low risk. How do you know if you are comfortable in the friend zone? A good indication of this is when you find a large amount of your crushes are on girls with boyfriends. It’s the safest play in the friend zone book. You can develop a friendship with someone you have a genuine interest in, never have to make a move, and still go to bed with a smile on your face thinking about her. Because she has a boyfriend, none of your friends will push you to do anything, and you’re more than happy with the odd cup of coffee or lunch together. You can even go Dutch on the bills. And eventually you will just come to terms with the fact that this girl is just a friend. Problem is I have definitely met a girl or two who would be PERFECT if they were single. It just so happened at the time they had a boyfriend, sometimes in England, sometimes in New York, and even if they are single later, you got to know them when they weren’t and that’s it. One of the many drawbacks of being in the zone.
10. Enjoy it!: For all my grumbling and rambling about the friend zone, I’m really only taking the piss out of myself. I actually love the friend zone. It means I have an abundance of friends, and who doesn’t love more friends! Most of the girls I liked at some point have gone on to be my greatest friends. In fact I really regret not keeping in touch with the girl I mentioned earlier who was the model and ended up having a boyfriend. So what? She was cool, and I definitely wasn’t going to marry her, but I could have at least had a friend who was up and coming in the fashion industry and was wicked cool. Pretty girls have enough guys trying to avoid the friend zone, even by being a sleaze ball.  You don't need to try and follow them. Eventually you’ll find someone who loves you after liking you. It’s possible. In the meantime, I will continue ruling over the friend zone till my mom/grandmoms/aunts/everyone starts getting after my life to get married. But that’s a good few years away. Of course, in those few years the one that really got away might get away forever. In that case, rock out to Daler Mehndi, and rock on in life!