Pakistan is Asian Hockey Champion

Pakistan beat Malaysia 2-0 in the Asian Games Hockey finals to bag yet another gold medal for Pakistan. In fact this gold has been awaited for the last 20 years when Pakistan won the gold in 1994 Asiad in Beijing. This time too China brings good luck to Pakistan.
Today Pakistan also won gold in squash team event by beating Malaysia. So in a day Pakistan beat Malaysia twice and both times filled their bags with gold. Pakistani girls also won gold in the women cricket earlier in the ongoing Asian Games. Pakistan got lucky as McKenna did in the final scene of the epic movie McKenna’s Gold.
Read full post at jahojalal

The Migratory Guests Arrive

I have added another two months to the famous movie Come September’s title and made it Come November – a month that brings us our guests from the frozen and freezing frontiers of Siberia, Central Asian Republics and Mongolia. Yes I am talking of the thousands and thousands of the migratory birds that evade the sever winter conditions of their natural habitat and come to rather lesser cold climate of Pakistan. We will be host to these beautiful birds till March-April, when they again fly back to their homes when it is relatively warm out there.

One of these birds is the Houbara Bustard – a majestic bird on the verge of extinction which along with others flies from faraway lands, as far as 5000-6000 kilometres from Central Asian Republics and even China, and land in a numerous wetlands stretched from D I Khan in the north, Ucchali in the Salt Range to down south in the Cholistan Desert. These Bustards fly at an amazing speed and make to Pakistan in just about 5-7 days.

With the arrival of Houbara Bustard, the rich and famous from the Gulf States also start to arrive into Pakistan with their teams of falcons, specially trained to hunt the bustards while in flight. I was once deputed to accompany a high profile royal dignitary who had come for the Bustard hunting. They had camped in general area Jhampir near Thatha in the Sind province. Each day they would go out with their falcons and come back with a few hunted Houbara Bustards.

Besides Houbara Bustards, Flamingos, Swans and many other species of birds like the Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Eurasian Spoonbill, Dalmatian Pelican throng the wetlands in Pakistan. The migratory birds’ arrival in Pakistan provides an opportunity for the bird watchers to flock the wetlands and enjoy their presence amongst themselves. Once on a reconnaissance in the areas south of Rahim Yar Khan, I also got a chance of bird watching of a large flock of migratory birds perched on an artificial lake in Sandh and Gabbar villages inside the desert. Once they took off, it was a breathtaking lifetime scene to watch them flying, rather floating against the blue sky majestically. It was here that I saw black swans flying overhead me with their grace, charm and majesty.

For bird watchers, the time is now to watch these beautiful guests of our perched in almost all wetlands of Pakistan.

Related Reading: Bird Watching in Pakistan (Pakistanpaedia)

Originally post at JahoJalal

Where have the forests gone?

Since our childhood we have been told that of the total area of Pakistan, 4.5% is under forests, while for any country to have meaningful green cover, it should be around 25%. Well to start with we have been racing against an odd of some 21.5% for which every year millions and millions of saplings are planted by the forest department, but the area still remained 4.5% even after decades of forestation. This is worrisome as one wonders where these billions of planted saplings have gone. Didn’t even a smaller percentage took roots and turned into tree to add to the already scarce percentage of 4.5?

I got a clue to the mystery when I was assigned to carry out forestation on a given 200 acres in an area close to Lahore on the northern side of River Ravi. Before going to the area, I went to the Chief Conservative Punjab for a briefing and was told that the Forest Department had already planted a forest in the area some five years ago and I was only to plug the empty spaces, “if any.” Happy that my task was made simpler courtesy the Forest Department; I went to the area adjacent to a village called Bansi Nagar.

When I reached the area, to my utter horror I saw not even a semblance of forest. Instead the entire area was covered with thick thorny jungle muskets, which were so dense that it was difficult to drive my jeep through (rather I got two of tyres punctured). When I enquired from the local landlord, he showed his total ignorance about any such move by the Forest Department. So that is how got started.

My entire outfit was put on the task of clearing the jungle muskets with the help of dozers obtained from the Forest Department. It took us quite a while to remove the thick jungle of muskets and would daily encounter 5-10 feet long deadly snakes that my men used to kill. Finally we cleared the area, leveled it, make water channels, and dug holes for the saplings of eucalyptus. We also installed a dozen of water pumps for watering the saplings. It took us some three months to finally plant a forest, which still stands with trees reaching some 50-60 feet by now. And is that was not. While by and by we got to know the area, we were told that a sizeable area of the forest land was illegally occupied by an influential landlord and was using it for cultivation. It was with lot of effort that we got the said land vacated and brought inside our jurisdiction.

Having put in so much of effort myself, I find it heartbreaking when I see no change in the overall forest cover of Pakistan. Rather than increasing the area, just today I read a report which claims that the area under forestation has in fact reduced to 2.5% (1,902,000 hectares) in 2010. The report continues to divulge that between 1990 and 2000, Pakistan lost an average of 41,100 hectares of forest per year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.63%. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change increased by 24.4% to 2.02% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Pakistan lost 24.7% of its forest cover, or around 625,000 hectares. Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, Pakistan lost 14.7% of its forest and woodland habitat.

This horrific revelation means that our future generations would start from a 2.5% area under forestation as against 4.5% of our times. This is despite the fact that billions of rupees must have been squandered away in the process. Each year the president and the prime minister are seen planting saplings to mark the beginning of the tree plantation drive (held twice a year) and the Forest Department dishes out the same quantity of saplings to God knows who by making a vow to increase the area under active forestation in Pakistan. But the ground realities are far from true than the tall claims of the Forest Department and the green cover is shrinking at a very fast pace.

 Tree plantation requires sincere and dedicated efforts and each sapling is to be cared to rear these into tall trees. But this has not been done and we are witnessing the worst disaster of our times. The recent flash flood are but one factor attributed to rapid pace of deforestation in our northern areas, specially Chitral and Swat, where people are mercilessly cutting trees for warming their houses and kitchens besides using it for furniture.

Unless we tackle the issue on war footings and strict monitoring of the affairs of the Forest Department is undertaken, I am afraid we may soon lose the remaining 2.5% forest cover as well, which will not shatter the already fragile economy of the country, but would also rob us the natural habitat of millions of bird species, some of which are already on the verge of extinction. The deforestation would also erode soil resulting into floods and burning of wood would add to more pollution and harm to environment.

Related Link/Resource Information:

Forestry in Pakistan: Deforestation (Museum of Learning)

PS: The post originally published in The Fire Within

Happy Eid ul Azha

The Muslims all over the world celebrate the Eid ul Azha (or Adha) on the 10th of last Islamic month of Zil Hajjah. Eidain or the two Eids that is the Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Azha are the two festivities of the Muslim world which are celebrated with religious fervor and zeal. The Eid ul Fitr is celebrated just after the month of Ramadan (during the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast for 29-30 days and abstain themselves from eating from dawn to dusk beside some other conditions) on the 1st day of the Shawal.

The word “Eid” is an Arabic word that means “festival” and Eid-ul-Azha means the Greater Festival as it is celebrated to remember the sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), who in obedience to the command of the Almighty took his beloved son to sacrifice in the name of his Creator. While he blindfolded himself so that his son’s blood doesn’t distract him from the supreme sacrifice, the Allah Almighty acknowledging his sacrifice and willingness to obey His command replaced Ismail with a ram. And since that day, Muslims all over the world sacrifice an animal (goat, ram, cow or even camel) to commemorate the greatest sacrifice ever.

Like many who could afford to sacrifice, I (by the grace of Almighty) also went to the animal market with my son and a friend. There were lot of buyers and animals. Every buyer was trying to purchase a good animal for a lesser cost while the sellers were trying to pocket huge profits. After lot of survey and negotiations, we finally purchased one at a cost that my pocket allowed. We took the goats home in a taxi and my sons straightaway started to feed the goat as it was our guest for one night only.

Today after the Eid prayers, we took the goat to a central place with requisite facilities and had our goat sacrificed by the butcher, which my friend had arranged. On Eid days, everyone who has the slightest knowhow of using a knife becomes a butcher and charge a very high labour to do the goat. This “butcher” happened to be a grill maker, who was doing a part time this morning. I don’t have to tell you what he did to our goat, but at least he did what he could.

The aim of sacrifice, like all other fundamentals of Islam, is to lead one to self righteousness. To explicate its purpose, Allah says in the Quran, “It is not their meat, nor their blood, that reaches Allah; it is their piety that reaches Him.”

Besides following the footsteps of the Prophet Ibrahim, the aim of sacrifice has greater meanings. Each sacrificial animal’s meat is to be divided into three portions; one is to be kept for own family, while of the other two, one part is to be distributed among the poor who cannot afford to sacrifice and thus including them in our own festivities and making them feel part of the whole. The third portion is to be distributed among the relatives, but starting from the lower level of financial well being thereby also providing them a chance to celebrate the festivities.

So back home, we divided the meat into three portions and distributed as per the teachings. While we were distributing, we were also receiving meat from friends and neighbours. So while I am writing the post after having distributed the two shares, now my doorbell is constantly ringing as others are sending in. This is the spirit of the day as everyone remembers the poor and the friends and neighbours.

Originally posted at JahoJalal

World Diabetes Day

On 14th of November today, the entire world under the auspices of the UN joins hands together to create awareness about the killing disease of diabetes. The disease has far reaching ramification not only the life of the patient, but the entire family and the society as well. As of today, more than 250 million people are suffering at the hands of this disease. There may be many more who may not be knowing that they have silently contracted the disease. The figure is likely to soar to almost 400 million (380 million to be exact) by 2025 as each year some 7 million are added to the list of the sufferers.

As I said before, it is a killer disease, which eats up some 3.8 million patients suffering from diabetes and its related side effects. A study shows that the death rate equals that of AIDS and HIV, which we otherwise think to be the number one killer disease.

While most of the patients carry Type-2 symptoms mainly caused by obesity, stress and overwork and sedentary lifestyle, Type-1 which targets the youth is rising at an alarming rate of 3% per annum. While the AIDS has yet to find a suitable drug to harness the disease, diabetes can at best be controlled but not completely cured.

I have seen my mother in law and my brother falling prey to this disease and know how it pains to one’s near and dear ones withering away by diabetes. A stage comes when no medicine seems to be working, the kidneys slowly dying and finally leading to the painful departures.

Owing to the seriousness of the disease and it impact on people and the society, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on 20 December 2006on World Diabetes Day. The Unite for Diabetes campaign, led by the International Diabetes Federation in collaboration with the global diabetes community, has thus been able to get a UN resolution according to which 14 November has been designated as the World Diabetes Day. The day is being observed since 2007 by all members of the UN.

I also join hands with the world community to raise my voice and create awareness through this post and would appeal to everyone reading this to join the blue circle and spread the word and help people who are suffering from diabetes in any way that is possible.

PS: Originally published at Fire Within

Eating Choori in Digital Age

Yesterday my wife baked us “rotis” (rounded thin breads made of flour and baked on flat pan, called “tawa”). But this time instead of wheat flour, she used flour made from fresh corn – called “Makai ki Roti.” And we ate this sweet smelling bread with “saag” (spinach cooked in oil with lot of spices) – believe me anyone who has not tasted this dish, has missed a lot (so next time you are in Pakistan, insist your host to treat you with saag, bread made from corn, different from corn flour available the world over, and homemade butter).

And whenever the “makai ki roti” is baked, a few are set aside to make “choori.” Don’t know what choori is? OK let me explain how choori is made. Any number of “makai ki roti” are put in a utencil, and is minced with hands while it is still steaming hot (I admire our female folk who do this with their bare hands and almost burn their fingers with the steam oozing out of still hot bread). While it is being minced, butter and sugar is also mixed with it and the three substances are continued to be minced until sugar is no more felt as an alien. And then we all eat the “choori” as a very indigenous desert.

Now why mention digital age? OK let me tell you this as well. While I was eating “choori” with the spoon as seen in the photo above (I shot with my cellular phone camera), my son came in and I asked him to have the desert. Instead of eating with the spoon, he  started eating choori with his fingers – that is using all but one (small finger) fingers, compressing the substance, making a non regular shaped ball – let me tell you that in villages people still eat choori this way and it is fun eating it. So when I asked him why he was not using the spoon, his digital age reply came very interestingly, “it is easier to compress the choori this way like a zip file.”

Did you smile? Well I don’t know about you, but I definitely did and I told him that he had given me a new topic for my today’s blog. And before you end reading, do plan on eating “choori, duly compressed by your fingers like a zip file” on your first available opportunity. Happy eating (in advance).

And before I close the post, let me apprise my readers that long time back there was a song by the late Noor Jahan “Gandlan da saag tey makhnan makai” (Spinach with buttered corn bread) which was very popular. The song in the Punjabi language was about a girl bringing to her lover the spinach and the corn bread specially prepared in butter.  I would like my readers to click the link given below to enjoy the beautiful song, while closing my blog for the day.

Noor Jehan – Gandlan da saag tey makhan makai

PS: The photo above shows a portion of the “makai ki roti” and below it is the choori

Originally posted at JahoJalal

Breakfast Morning in Islamabad

….. but people were there were busy eating it, mostly with hot doodh patti. There was a group of tourists also sitting and enjoying their parathas heavy breakfast with tea (my cellular phone camera came handy to preserve the moment). I was later told by a friend (Shaun D Metcalfe) when I shared the same photo at Flickr that these were French cyclists touring Pakistan, whom he met in Gilgit a month ago. And I am sure they must have been enjoying this heavenly bread to their entirety. I envied them as I did not have room for the paratha shot… Read Full Post at: Breakfast morning in Islamabad.

More hollow rhetoric

In one of my previous posts, I talked about mere rhetorical promises by our honourable leaders both inside and outside the government. I commend our people who continue to listen to these ornamental speeches, promising them heavens and treasures beyond one’s imagination and still think that these would materialize.

In today’s newspaper I read one such rhetorical promise once again: “Education is a matter of life and death for us,” announces the PM, as if we did not know it before. And as usual, the vow came when the PM was addressing a national conference that titled, “School of Tomorrow, Freedom to Learn.” We listen to such slogans everyday when a minister or a dignitary is inaugurating or opening a new school, factory, institution or even planting a tree.

Now this latest rhetoric came just days after the decision of the Sind Government to close down over one thousand schools for want of funds and teaching staff. If we do not invest in our primary education, how can we ensure our learning and freedom? Perhaps our education and freedom lies in the European style schools that are mushrooming in Pakistan. Schools that teach our children a language they do not understand and even when they are made to learn it, they fail to translate their learning into the horrific illiterate environment around them.

We have already gone past the time when we should have taken stock of our vision for the schools of tomorrow as none at present is able to produce children who could rid this country of illiteracy, which is stagnant for past so many decades. Rather like tree plantation drive each year, which instead of yielding is reducing our area under forest, our education is suffering at the hands of government officials who have comfortable office at the cost of funds for running schools.

It was not long before when the Higher Education Commission (HEC) had stopped paying the scholarships to students that were sent abroad for higher education and Ph Ds by the previous government. It was not long ago when the HEC stopped funds to the universities in the country and the vice chancellors had threatened to resign in protest.

Under such environment, the hollow rhetorical promises are not only painful to listen to, but also paint a grim future for our children. Perhaps this is what people call politics – promise everything but give nothing. We wait on for a messiah to save us from such false promises, and fake politicians, and give us some hope for future.

Related Reading: Hollow Rhetoric

13000 Kilometres dash to China in a Driverless Car

When Karl Benz, Henry Ford and John W Lambert were making headlines in the previous century in the field of newly born auto industry, they would have never even in their wildest dreams would have imagined that one day the vehicles will be running without fuel and their drivers. Today, the driverless cars are making the same headlines as was done more than a hundred years ago. 

The 13000 kilometers long accident free journey of four solar powered driverless vehicles from Italy to China is a landmark in the auto industry. This reminds of the flying cars in the film “Back to the Future” and also makes it possible someday when we would be flying and “piloting” cars instead of driving.

Read Full Article at: Driverless Cars – An innovative direction for Auto Industry

Alexandria Mills – the Blue Eyed Miss World 2010

Miss Alexandria Mills – the 18 years old, standing 5 feet 9 inches tall, blonde with blue eyes became the blue eyed of all selectors when she was finally declared the Miss World 2010 on 30th October in a beautiful closing ceremony held at Crown Convention Center in Sanya, China (above top). Hailing from Louisville, USA, she became the 60th Miss World.  Emma Wareus of Botswana became the first runner up while Miss Venezuela Adriana Vasini was named the second runner-up.

In her final 30 seconds decisive speech, Miss Mills said that she wanted to make an impact on others life and would like to help every people that she possibly could. A beauty model herself, she aspires to become a teacher.

Also See: Miss America is the new Miss World 2010