Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Socrates Cafe

Every Monday at 8 pm, a dozen or so people, mostly students, some teachers, thinkers and people from other walks of life gather together in the spacious art painting decorated hall of Lahore Chitrkar to share thoughts and ideas. A topic is chosen a week in advance and usually a deep insightful discussion ensues.

Last week, the subject of discussion was 'democracy', what it means, why it is regarded as the ultimate form of governance system, what possible conditions are required for it to succeed, what problems are inherent in it, and importantly what alternatives exist to the system. This week the topic was even more interesting, 'Where do ideas come from?'.

More than the specific answers to these questions what was more thrilling is knowing that a forum exists where one can go, listen to and take part in healthy discussion with individuals from different spheres of life willing to share their thoughts and ideas with others. Next week, we talk about 'Death', and though the topic may seem morbid and rather vague, the concept of listening to the viewpoints of others is very exciting for me.

For that we can thank, Shahid Mirza, for hosting the premises and Afdash, for making the requisite arrangement including some tasty snacks.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lahore Bachao Tehrik

The Lahore Bachao Tehrik (LBT) is up in arms again with hues and cries bemoaning the canal road widening project undertaken by the government which will result in the cutting of several hundred trees. The premise for the road widening being the exacerbating amount of traffic that flows through that critical area. Approx 220,000 cars pass through the canals daily, that is at least 10,000 cars an hour or 170 odd a minute!! So perhaps a widening of the canal will help, at least to some extent in ensuring a faster flow of traffic, and fewer traffic jams. It is unclear whether accidents will go up or down.

I am very much in favor of widening the canal, not just because of the better flow of traffic, which will result by doing so but rather because of the type of trees that are being cut. Not many people discuss this but the trees planted along the canal are Eucalyptus trees. A grown Eucalyptus tree takes about 100 liters of subsoil water and puts it into the atmosphere every day!* Since the 70's we have been planting these trees like crazy. Corruption, lack of knowledge and the lack of care for the future are the major reasons why that's been happening. But that fact is, in a world where water scarcity is fast becoming an issue which could result in wars, we need to get rid of the eucalyptus not preserve it. Sure, the Eucalyptus may help in ensuring the water that leaks underground from the canal is absorbed by the tree and does not have an impact on the neighboring houses, but surely there is a better way out of that.

So my suggestion would be to get rid of these trees, and widen the canal, while the (LBT) can think of smart solutions by planting indigenous trees which are more useful to us rather than expensive foreign trees which really have no use in this country.

Trees not to be planted: Eucalyptus, Alstonia, Palm etc

Trees to be planted: Sheesham, Peepal, Neem, Ambaltas, and fruit trees like mango, orange, grapefruit, citrus etc

I planted 7 such trees with my own hands today which takes the tally of trees in my house to 45 and trust me its an awesome feeling knowing you're doing something, something insignificant and small, but something for the environment.

* 'Saving what trees, Shehr, The News July 28, 2009'

Friday, July 3, 2009

University of Gujrat

P1080120Image by lokha via Flickr

I made a little road trip yesterday with some family and friends to the town of Gujrat, about 150 kilometers on the Grand Trunk (GT) road from Lahore to Rawalpindi. My actual destination was the University of Gujrat (UOG) which itself is located about 15 kms from the city near Jallalpur Jatta.

UoG was set up a few years back as an HEC funded public university using the model of public state universities elsewhere in the world. It was indeed shocking to see the level of development and infrastructure the university has acquired. Being run by Dr Nizamuddin who has plenty of experience teaching abroad as well as over 15 years spent with the UN. The university is offering various degrees in 8 different department including medicine, law, design, social and basic science for both the Bachelors and Masters programs. The first batch is ready to graduate this summer.

The university has really good faculty, many imported from abroad as well as extremely good facilities including a printing press of thier own, computer labs equipped with macs and 22 inch flat screens, the fanciest dorms ive seen in a while, and a whole lot more. Seriously, good stuff and worth visiting. Keep an eye out about the university. Pretty soon, you'll be hearing a whole lot more about it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bad Governance and Public Misery

I was hoping to re-invigorate the viewership of my blog with some enthusiatically optimistic and encouraging information at the start of the fiscal year 2009-2010 but the current situation in Pakistan is so perplexing and dangerous and that too on so many fronts that i have to start off with some sad news.

There comes a time in a nations history when people begin to realize via dedicated efforts in data gathering and reasearch to unearth the root causes of the problems that they face. In Pakistan today, due to the free media (and it is unarguably quite free with 43 privately owned news channels, atleast much more free than the US media which runs under the whims of a handful of men) as well as the shameless and bizarre legitimacy given to corruption, bribery and kickbacks that it is very easy for us to know what is making life so difficult in this country.

Case in point, the headlines in todays newspaper:
As we all know the country has a massive fiscal deficit (government expenditures > government revenue) to the tune of something like PKR 600 Billion...thats about $7 Billion!! as well as huge amount of foreign and domestic debt (totalling around $117 Billion!!! :-O) so our dear president has been going from tour to tour with his ever expanding entourage and pleading and begging the leaders of the world to support us. Apart from the much deserved, $1.5 BN/year for 5 years from the US, and a million bucks from angelina jolie, what we really have achieved is to get loans from the IMF, World Bank etc to pay off the interest on the loans that we already have. Loans to pay off loans...makes complete sense doesn't it! Conclusion: We're in a whole lot of trouble if we are able to survive the current economic downturn. Does anyone remember how to get loans written off by virtue of fighting someone else's war?

So, in accordance with the IMF loan stipulations, the government has hiked up petrol prices by about 10% which means prices of pretty much all commodities goes up (interestingly 43% of the petrol price is government tax) as well as increases in the price of Diesel, Gas, Kerosene and what not. That's understandable only because we have virtually accepted the fact that lavish and ostentatiously opulent government expenditures by those in power are a very legitimate right and not something that needs to be cut down. This debauchery is clearly indicated by our (dis)honorable Prime Minister who has just doubled the parliamentarians development fund (aka thier own money) from PKR 10 Million to 20 Million.

I mean...what the ....!

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