A man for all seasons: Shahid Jalal

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Image Credit: Ayesha Jalal

There are few places like home where you find yourself mystified by its aura of artistic and literary beauty. These places are not only visuals and spectacles of it but are vestiges of those who have lived there, made their presence felt and left an indelible impact. Their permanent imprints not only remain etched in our mind but are explorable around us.

Such an artist and painter extraordinaire, Shahid Jalal left us yesterday for the heavenly abode. A larger than life character, whose persona not only evoked his soft but outspoken demeanour, but who was also an intellectual, avid reader, a successful chartered accountant, but last and foremost a brilliant painter. He was a humble man, jovial, cheerful, and empathetic human being who was least candid about his achievements but was very approachable unlike other maestros of the art. He was an all-rounder, with a swathe of hobbies which included cooking, travelling, watching movies, and ingratiating with different cultures without any recourse to judgement. His simplicity unlike many of his other contemporaries coupled with a sharp intellect and intuition were hallmarks of his personality. Equipped with an unbelievable sense of humour, Mr Jalal could share tales from yesteryears and astound you with his sharp memory. Born on August 13th, 1948 to Hamid Jalal and Zakia Hamid Jalal, he was the eldest of three siblings which include his sisters Sabiha and the renowned historian Dr Ayesha Jalal.

I was privileged enough to have seen and witnessed him from close quarters courtesy the bond and the close relationship he shared with my mother Nuzhat Manto, who is also his aunt, cousin, and sister-in-law. Mr Jalal’s father was also the nephew of the legendary Urdu short story writer Saadat Hassan Manto and was married to his youngest daughter Nusrat. Married to Nusrat (my aunt) in 1972, both complemented each other and brought the best out of each other. Not only did they share an impeccable bond, but their understanding was exemplary. The fusion of both was reflective in the affection and love they shared for each other. Having virtually grown up seeing Shahid Jalal, I remained in awe of him and the manner, he conducted himself. There was not a hint of materialism in him despite his achievements and successes throughout his life. Honest to the core, but as he once told us that he was extremely ambitious, something we failed to notice personally. Not only was he easy-going, but devoid of any hang-ups, was outspoken and blunt to the core. I observed no notion of pride or ego in him, he was driven by his sociable and charitable causes with The Citizens Foundation with whom he was closely aligned for many years.

Image Credit: Ayesha Jalal

Familial bonds are driven by closeness and love, Mr Jalal ensured he helped those around him whether it was family members or his domestic help, he was always present irrespective of the situation. Morally upright and his honesty remained a highlight of his life, whose credentials could never be questioned. Much akin to his father, Hamid Jalal he shared his traits of empathy and kindness but emulated him in many other ways which would have made him proud. His artistic lineage and legacy remain alive and distinct with the contrasting visual aesthetics which were represented in his paintings. The sprightliness and brightness of his paintings, those contrasting colours his observant eyes captured were representative of who he was. His paintbrushes weaved magic and stroked the contours and beauty of nature’s sumptuousness in his artistic canvas. His paintings were a visual delight to see and left you stunned with his repertoire of skills he possessed. Imbued with multiple talents, not only was he a food connoisseur but he was so well-read and well versed in many facets of life, it was nigh unbelievable.

Image: Mohammad Farooq
Shahid Jalal’s paintings exhibition circa March 2017

Shahid Jalal’s paintings exhibition circa March 2017
Shahid Jalal’s paintings exhibition circa March 2017

I recall a trip as an eight-year-old in the summers of 1992 to Shogran, Naran and Kaghan in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa. His sense of adventure and passion knew no bounds; he genuinely knew how to enjoy holidays. He took us for long walks in the mountainous terrain around Shogran, we passed forests and our sense of foreboding knew no bounds. His keenness of exploration and revelling in those long walks, having food from a roadside Dhaba and introducing us to exotic new foods was his speciality. Around him, you could never feel bored but his candidness and frankness of tolerating guests for long periods was not his forte. Being an early riser, he was meticulous about his routine which included taking his dog Brandy for a walk, eating healthy food intermittently before lunch which was inculcated by my aunt Nusrat. Also, he used to go for painting early morning to capture the spirit of what he observed and saw before sketching it on his canvas. The Jalal household legendary for cherishing its afternoon sleep was also in-built in him and he derided those who visited or called in the afternoon. He was disciplined in his way and never imposed his will or thoughts on others. Equipped with a sharpness of mind, he never advised anyone of us unless we sought his counsel. Magnanimous at heart and frugal, Mr Jalal never exhibited any materialistic tendencies but evoked humanity and equality throughout his chequered life. A self-made man who rose through the ranks with sheer hard work and diligence, his career and life were an example for all of us on how to climb the ladder of success but not to lose sight of who we are and where we come from.

Embedded with a keen curiosity, he was a joy to interact with. It would be a disservice to not mention my aunt Nusrat, who as Mr Jalal’s wife and foremostly a friend complimented each other throughout their married life. The two individuals could not be more different; Mr Jalal a brash, outspoken, and frugal individual, on the contrary, is my aunt Nusrat, very principled, methodical, and quiet but with a mind of her own. However, I always felt that they were the ideal couple, not only did they have telepathy but the level of understanding and respect they developed for each other was unmatched. As my mother Nuzhat says, both were able to take the best of qualities of each other and forged them to the point of fruition. It is a testimony to the fact that my beloved uncle Shahid was unlike any other individual in our family, he was unique and special to all of us.

Rather than mourn my beloved uncle’s loss, I would like to celebrate his life which was full of accolades personally and professionally. He left an indelible impact on all of us, with his enthusiastic and positive approach towards life. As a father, husband, son, and brother, he vested his duties with genuineness and heartfelt love and retained no bitterness or grudges against anyone. He was like the changing seasons, who was always blossoming, bringing diversity and contrasts to our lives. His happy disposition, charisma, compassion, empathy, and kindness will keep illuminating our lives and those memories that he left behind will keep being cherished, remembered by every one of us. May God bless his soul. Amen.

The Merchants of Death

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In a world stricken by a pandemic that has left millions sick, displaced and dead, life has become a conundrum. As the vacillation between life and death continues, the clock keeps ticking as the merchants of death fleece and exploit desperate families looking to save their loved ones.

It is ironic that life and death have always remained a tradeable commodity since the proliferation of healthcare services and hospitals. Due to this pandemic, the sham we have believed ourselves to be living in the guise of the citadel of faith is all illusionary. Deep within, despite all the faith and belief, we advocate, human avarice remains a distinct reality that we cannot avoid.

We always talk about optimism and hope, to remain positive and have faith in the divine but for what? As people struck by the virus end up hospitalized fighting with life and death, those at the forefront of this battle, doctors, nurses, ward boys and all other medical staff who are putting their lives in danger.

It is heart-wrenching to see the family of patients running from pillar to post to arrange life-saving medications and injections to save their lives. This is where the merchants of death masked as the saviours of humanity appear with a magic wand promising the availability of all those medications those families are seeking. They act angelic in the disguise of a devil hoping to deliver life in exchange for tons of cash to line their pockets.

Hoarding and black marketing have existed since aeons, there is no doubt about it. However, these merchants of death have no qualms in exploiting the desperation and misery of those families by which they would somehow be able to save the life of their loved ones.They wield influence and power and are the fortune holders who hold the elixir of life for those patients who need those life-saving medications or injections for their very survival.

Everything sells, the desperation of families compels them to go to any length to act and do anything they can. In such situations, morality or ethics get thrown out of the window, humanity in its very essence becomes folklore. We talk about deeds, goodness, kindness and empathy but amid this pandemic that has swept away everyone across the globe all these aforementioned things are just mere formalities. There is not an instant where humans will not resort to such practices and try to make the most out of such situations.

The sadistic tendencies of such souls are not surprising. They possess no fear of life or death, their greed fuels their desire and lust for money. Life is like a pendulum; it must stop swinging at some point in time. Life and death indeed are the domain of the divine and us mere mortals can just cease to exist at a snap. However, such things do not instil fear in the merchants of death, but such individuals are soulless and beyond reasoning. Even at the risk of being eternally damned, they would much akin to the Pharaohs of Egypt take their earthly belongings with them to the next world.

How ironic that these merchants of death are not only prosperous but are able to live and sleep peacefully in the wake of this exploitation. For them, life and death are like a roulette table where they keep gambling till they win or lose. But in existential circumstances, they are the ones who hold total command and control which allows them to execute their victory in whatever direction they deem feasible. Opportunities have arisen in the most unlikely of circumstances and the merchants of death have been activated to enrich themselves.

As convoluted, it may seem, but the only way to thrive in the real world, the world of sin is to be a ruthless sinner than your enemy. This is the mantra followed by the merchants of death, who defy all decencies to act in this in manner. They are no less than auctioneers who would sell anything to the highest bidder without having an inch of remorse or shame. Their actions as pretentious they seem are borne out of desperation to maximize exploitation and miseries of others.

As for those in agony and facing death at the hands of this pandemic, prayers are the only solace for families to hope God provides a miracle. As for the merchants of death, their business will thrive irrespective of the situation, their sins and road to perdition will be for God to decide.

The renaissance of reading books again

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When everything around you is collapsing, hope fading away into oblivion, you feel like giving in to the feeling of capitulation and breaking apart. Since the past few months, I have written little to nothing about what I have undergone mentally, but I can vouch for the fact that during this period books have helped to resuscitate my ailments to the brink of positivity. Reading history has always been my passion, the happenings, the past and major events have always aroused my interest.

My interest in reading had waned and I became distant from books like I had cast them away and locked them up for good. As my problems with anxiety and panic disorder compounded my miserable state of affairs, I was abject, hopeless, despondent and deprecated. I had hauled myself into a dead end, a point of no return and a state of self-induced apathy that was only aggravating my misery. The self-implosion was evident, there was no scope for hope and positivity in my mind or heart. I was hell-bent upon believing that recovery was an impossibility and fallacy by the mid of June. There was no effort to counter this anomaly, I kept suffering within and refusing to give myself a breather.

Devoid of energy, like a lifeless corpse lying on the bed with severe anxiety attacks, I was unable to chart myself through this turbulent period. These are trials and tribulations so to speak, a test of our tenacity, the survival of our spirit and how we respond to it. There is no strategy, methodical approach which can work miracles in an instant and make things wonderful for us. It is a long grind, hard-earned way to recovery and restoring ourselves. In the realm of darkness, I had deliberately surrounded myself with, my unwillingness to escape and fight it was strikingly evident. There was no coping mechanism, no effort to reverse the tide of misfortune I had brought upon myself thanks to my obstinance.

Call it a stroke of luck or my good fortune, I picked up my smartphone without thinking and started searching for history books on Amazon that I could read on my Kindle. Till that point, several months had passed, probably even a year since I had divulged myself into reading a book. While browsing on Amazon, I came across a book Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary on the 24th of June which piqued my interest and I got it to read on my Kindle. What I never realized then what I was about to initiate and the reverberations it would have three months down the road.

The resumption of reading history started with the usual distractions and disturbances. My focus and concentration levels initially were appalling. Previously, I had been a voracious reader with an unprecedented appetite for history and swift reading speed. Initially, I stuttered understandably since it had been an eternity since I had actually read any book so to speak. I was exasperated, frustrated by this development and my impatience knew no bounds. I have my bouts of anger which added to my failure and impeded my flow of reading. I was desperate for my old self to renew in terms of reading and seeing it bear fruition.

The first few days were tough, filled with panic and disruption as I found it difficult to get my flow going. It was exacerbating, painful to see myself labour through at a pace of a tortoise while reading. However, slowly and painstakingly the efforts started bearing fruit, my concentration and focus saw a positive turn. Just a few days ago, I was tottering and dawdling at the brink of capitulating again to my endless frustration of the hindrances I faced in restoring my flow while reading and here I was now on the mend. That day, it made me realize the value of perseverance and of continuing the journey, irrespective of what impediments lie ahead. As I prodded slowly page after page, the flow that had been absent or ebbed showed signs of crystallizing.

Finally, my pace and flow of reading fueled my engrossment in the book. Previously, I had failed to even read a few pages without being distracted and now I was steaming ahead at breathtaking speed, finishing chapter after chapter. It was unbelievable! Within a matter of three to four days, not only had I successfully rekindled my interest in reading, but I was enjoying it now. What began as a laborious exercise, became a renaissance and bane of my recovery from the depths of depravity just a week or so ago. I was able to finish the book by the end of June and move onto the next one.

My next book was about Islamic Spain and the Convivencia written by Maria Rosa Menocal named The Ornament of the World. I began the book with an eagerness to complete it as fast I could, it wasn’t a race with anyone but my resurrection as an avid reader that fueled my desire to forge ahead. I started reading the book, so engrossing it was, that I finished it within a matter of days. It seemed like I was living a dream, but I didn’t stop and kept pushing myself to consolidate the momentum I had successfully created. I had conquered my worst nightmare, overcome my anxiety and depression, books were to be the bane of my recovery and resuscitation.

Moving onto the next book, Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain written by Brian A. Carlos proved to be a colossal challenge. This was the first book where my nerves and tenacity were tested to the utmost limit. I started with a bang, finishing the first few chapters in a blink of an eye before I realized that the book was detailed. As daunting a task, it was, I dithered slightly, fearful that I may not be able to finish this book. I took a pause, recalibrated my thoughts and composed myself. I decided I would give myself a break of a day and then resume the book. Much to my surprise, the strategy paid dividends and after that break, I was able to resume my reading, my unbridled focus allowed me to read for long periods with no distractions. Consequently, I successfully completed the book within a weeks’ time, my third in less than a month!

The renaissance and this remarkable journey of resuscitation continue. My book reading has only increased my vigour, passion, appetite to read more, amplify my knowledge and learning. The curiosity that has piqued my interest in history over the past decade has been a boon to me. Reading has been a calming influence, helped me reduce my stress levels and brought me much needed peace that I had sought. In these three months, I have successfully completed fourteen books and in the previous month, I have read six which include the recently released The Anarchy: The Rise and Fall of the East India Company written by William Dalrymple.

Books are the seeds of learning and knowledge. They are priceless treasures that I have realized need succour and care. Love books, value and treasure them, in them lies the power of transformation and which can unlock the door to infinite learning/knowledge.

 

 

Privilege is abusive

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Privilege tends to dent our psyche, gives us a notion of superiority and makes us a slave to its desires. However, there is a tendency to forget with it comes responsibility which isn’t mostly exercised, since it seeps into our minds and contributes to throwing our weight around. The drill of privilege becomes a daily ritual which can’t be shaken off because it empowers people and gives them unprecedented influence.

Interestingly, privilege in majority cases tends to be abused and misused to make a point, much like the aristocracy of the old days which gave them immunity to go unfettered and unchecked. It may buy you influence, sway, social standing and ability to throw tantrums, however, it doesn’t provide you respect if it isn’t responsibly exercised. It allows moronic tendencies to hold sway and allows such individuals to get away with a lot of crap without being held accountable.

Blighted by our proud sense of privilege, we tend to get blind-sighted by our actions and in the quest for power and influence let it drive us towards mistreating others who aren’t part of that fold. Ironically, that is how society has functioned since time immemorial, irrespective of the rise in awareness of equality there is a superiority complex that still allows it to thrive.

What does privilege provide? It grants us access to the echelons of society, shoves us into the mainstream and allows to intermingle at a level par of the status reserved only for the privileged. It is like the old order, who believed they were ordained by God to rule by birth and that is the mentality still afflicting our privileged class.

It is a worldwide phenomenon, but in third world countries the notion of privilege is beginning to be questioned and its nauseousness is irritating those who are rising through the ranks and challenging the status quo. For the status quo, amongst which the privileged class constitutes a majority feel threatened by those who they believe are inferior and are snatching to what they believe is rightfully theirs.

Consequently, it leads to insecurities, egotistical behaviour and thrusting of one’s influence to subjugate those who are victims of the abuse of privilege to forward their agenda’s. It is to show them their place and make them realize that they don’t belong amongst those privileged classes. The efforts to enter the privileged class circle by those not born into it leads to resistance and quashing their attempts for gaining access to it.

To hinder the progress of those trying to rise to the ranks of the privileged are demonized, discriminated and mistreated for who they are. Privilege is symbolic, it provides patronage and unlocks the door to unprecedented power and influence. This imbalance permits those privileged enough to knock out those aspirants and show them who is the boss. In every realm of life, we let this superiority complex clout our actions and thoughts which contributes to incessant hatred for the downtrodden and those below us.

Privilege is like a concoction, an addiction that has ensnared the elite, the powerful and their counterparts to exercise undue power and influence. This addiction in its very notion is toxic, distasteful as it sounds but this is a reality which cannot be ignored. It continues to thrive despite the rising awareness amongst those who are fighting to gain their rightful share in society.

The communion of those privileged and those below them is practically impossible. The interests and values clash, but those willing to bend and act like them tend to somehow gain access but they are never recognized as one of them. Those granted entries remain outcasts and tend to be disowned in many cases. In medieval times, it was common for those rising through the ranks to somehow arrange marriage in the nobility to gain legitimacy and recognition.

Earning a legitimacy license in the ranks of the privileged is a hard task so to speak, considering their biases. It is futile and any attempts to dissuade the privileged from throwing their weight around has been an abysmal failure. Clinging onto the hope that equality will thrive in this divided world is an exercise for the foolhardy and good luck to them!

 

 

 

 

Why does Manto arouse antagonism amongst the intelligentsia?

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There are writers who run amok, and their stingy criticism is deployed to devastating effect which shames societal practices and exposes the dim realities of life we so much try to avoid. Manto is amongst those rare breeds of writers, whose stories evoke and stigmatize societal hypocrisies, lays bare the truth and makes it evidently difficult to absorb.

A column published in a leading weekly magazine in March, the writer said, “Exquisite short stories are mixed in with works that are at best hurried and slapdash, at worst incomprehensible.” He goes onto add, “Most of this is, no doubt, a result of the life that Manto lived: a life marred by poverty, alcoholism and mental illness.”

The columnist is a much-respected psychiatrist who has also done an exegesis on the famous Urdu short-story writer entitled “The Touch of Madness: Manto as a Psychiatric Case Study.” The writer seems to have stumbled upon Manto as an exhibit of mental psychosis and eccentricity for his research purposes and stamped his opinion about him being mentally ill.

He further stated: “In and of itself, this is of no moment. After all, an artiste is free to create and propagate his or her work any way he likes. But the continuing attention on Manto has had the result of perhaps diverting attention away from a number of other gifted writers some of whom were his contemporaries and some who came later. Writers like Upendranath Ashk, Krishan Chander and even the great Munshi Premchand. In addition, later writers like the exquisitely subdued Ghulam Abbas and Muhammad Hasan Askari have not received the kind of attention or accolades that have accrued to Manto.”

Interestingly, much to my consternation, a column about Manto and Faiz’s connection had an apparent disconnect to it, why would the contributor raise questions over his alcoholism and then express his apparent jealousy as to why he seems to be center of attraction and be so much in the mainstream? As per my observation, the interest Manto has garnered since his post-centenary celebrations is largely a consequence of his fanbase which has grown organically and keeps on increasing.

Is Manto to be blamed for the aforementioned literary luminaries not getting the accolades or attention reserved for Urdu’s greatest short story writer? Has anyone stopped people from exploring the writings of Krishan Chander, Munshi Premchand or Upendranath Ashk and researching about them? No one has cajoled people into reading Manto since his works aren’t for everyone to read, he is still ostracized by many and retains that aura of controversy that plagued him when he was alive and continues unabated to this day.

Manto’s repertoire and skills were unparalleled as a writer, his intellectual arrogance a well-known fact. He made more friends than enemies during his lifetime and never minced words. The spectre of Manto’s presence bears an overlying reality for his critics; they tend to fear him even six decades after his demise.

The movies made in Pakistan and India by Sarmad Khoosat and Nandita Das respectively were due to their love for Manto, the theatre plays, translations and other research are a consequence of his writings evoking the human sensibility. His popularity isn’t a result of marketing machinations or outpouring of investment but largely because of Manto’s loyal fanbase which has ensured that his legacy and works live on.

According to Mujahid Eshai, who has translated several works of Manto in two volumes published by Sang-e-Meel told, “The writer does not quote an example of such works. Again, no reference to any of Manto’s essays and Letters to Uncle Sam has been provided. The writer seems to have been impressed by Khoosat’s travesty of Manto’s life as reflected in the so-called biopic”.

Manto’s daughter Nuzhat Manto refuting his father was mentally ill-explained, “After his migration from Bombay (now Mumbai) in January 1948, the opportunities available for writers were limited. In the aftermath of partition, Lahore’s film industry was in shambles and had been ravaged by the exit of leading Hindu and other investors, which deprived many writers of earning a livelihood.”

She elaborated, “The conditions in a newly-formed state were minuscule, my father didn’t write for many months after his arrival which he mentioned in one of his write-ups. Also, his outright refusal to be associated with any movement, whether the progressive writers or others landed him in trouble with his fellow peers”.

“It is pertinent to note; my father wrote openly about his chronic alcoholism and his nephew’s sketch Uncle Manto shares the ignominy of those struggles and how it distressed the family. Court cases, his avenue to earn a livelihood shrunk as his peers boycotted him out of spite and growing societal opposition to those short stories on partition which drew the ire from all segments of society,” adds Ms. Nuzhat.

“To this day, the profound hatred continues. However, my father irrespective of all his flaws and intellectual arrogance, was not mentally ill. He himself requested his nephew Hamid Jalal to have him taken to the mental asylum for rehabilitation and get cured of his alcoholism,” she said.

Unfortunately, most of the focus on Manto has been surrounded around his penmanship of what transpired during partition were masterpieces. Ironically, his satirical pieces like Hindustan ko Leaderon Sai Bachao, Shaheed Saaz, Dekh Kabeera Roya, Upar Neechay aur Darmayan, Mootri, Mujhay Shakayat Hai, Letters to Uncle Sam and many other eminent works remain unexplored.

The writer has termed Manto’s stories at best ‘hurried and slapdash’. This is irreverently an indication that he hasn’t explored the iconic Urdu short story writer works in full and is at best a halfhearted attempt to malign Manto’s reputation. Irrespective, such efforts have not stopped people from reading his works or neither will it deter them now much to the dismay of his critics and those jealous of him.

In a session at the Lahore Literature Festival (LLF) in February, eminent historian and his niece Dr Ayesha Jalal said Manto was a social critic and a walking spectator to history. She stated the reason for Manto being a constant source of irritation was due to him writing about things which one isn’t “supposed to write or talk about”.

Manto remains a paradox sixty-four years after his death. Moral policing in a society polarized by opinions and influence will continue unabated and in case of Manto, such regressive measures will only elevate his status further considering that his works have reached as far as Croatia, in whose language his stories were translated in 2016.

“People call me black penned, but I don’t write on the blackboard with black chalk; I use white chalk so that the blackness of the board becomes even more evident,” said Manto in a lecture at Jogeshwari College, Bombay in the mid-1940s.

 

 

 

 

History: A fusion of the past and present

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History is a fusion of the past and the present. It tends to diversify; adapt itself to the conventions of a particular time, serving as a glimpse into a bygone era. Being a sanctuary, it acts as an intermediary between the past and the present. The imprints left by the past are influential in shaping the present and both synchronize in terms of their relevance. And it remains a witness and testimony to the transitions and transcendence of time. Centuries lapse, but its existence continues to overlap with the present, forging a bond so unprecedented that anyone would get lost in it.

The past is an entrapment, a reservoir of memories which doesn’t expire. History doesn’t expect anything except reverence, respect and recognition in its wake. The past holds sway in the present, reminding us of its existence. Nothing hurts it more than vandalism, ignorance and infamy. Being the harbinger of the past and present, it tries to be a bastion of peace and prosperity.

Old building

An old building inside New Anarkali. Picture: Mohammad Farooq

In certain situations, history becomes contentious and controversial becoming a tool for propagandists to leverage hate against it. Memories and history eroding, breaking and tearing you apart. No one to console the dampening end of an era, of timelessness that you want yourself associated with. Buildings becoming corpses and living examples of the past.

History is undeniably rich, and the past linked with it can never be denied. As much we try to hide and erase footprints of it, somehow it finds its way to resurface back. It gnaws and pukes at us for living in a fool’s paradise. Disowning that heritage which once was part of us, won’t achieve anything. Being outcast will leave a permanent scar on history, the traditions, practices and reflection of those times it has depicted.

It is an identity, a vestige of antiquity that portrays the past, telling tales about personalities which embraced it. In the present, history offers a narrative of the past, fueling our imagination and making us contemplate what it may have been. In its absence, a dearth and barrenness are experienced which is irreplaceable. History is a gift, which needs caring, nurturing to guarantee its existence. The past and the present are a part of our identity and representative of who we are.

Abandoned balcony inside Lohari Gate
Picture: Mohammad Farooq

Irrespective of the sacrilege, history continues to trudge along broken paths; continuing its journey of mingling the past with the present and evoking our sentiments. Let history’s purity be not diluted and ensure it doesn’t diminish and vanish.

 

A Sword of Damocles is hanging over journalists in Pakistan

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The crisis that has mothballed into a dynamite for the print and broadcast media is nonetheless a lesson in hindsight for an industry that has surpassed its heydays. It seems to have been living on oxygen support from government advertisements which has allowed these entities to breathe and hold sway in light of the shifting paradigms that have engulfed media across the globe.

The changing tide has been evident for several years and the writing has been on the wall but pivoting towards changing the model and dependency hasn’t taken place. Honestly, the media industry is a doghouse with employees being underpaid and overworked, scrambling to earn a livelihood and barely making ends meet.

The sudden onset of these layoffs in the journalistic industry in both broadcast and print aren’t shocking, to say the least, but the question arises the government pulling the plug on its advertisements has plunged all these entities into the red.

In the name of cost-cutting, the employees are being kicked out or shown the door due to the worsening circumstances, which has seen them begging the government to save newspapers from death and ultimate bankruptcy.

A golden rule of any viable business is if it generates a profit, it should be kept operating and if it is bleeding or suffering from recurring losses, the best option is to shelve it.

There are several publications that have failed to pay their employees or owe them months of salaries including those who were inadvertently fired. Considering, legal recourse isn’t an option for those who have been shown the door and are already up to their necks in debt, they wouldn’t dare to sue their ex-employers.

Besides the headaches that such people would have to endure while transitioning through the courts and suing their swindling bosses would only land threats and downright stress which many are aware isn’t worth the hassle or risk their safety.

As exacerbating this crisis may be, it’s just the beginning of many painful transitions and bleedings that these broadcast and print organisations have to go through.

It is easy to lay off people in a swoop, entire bureaus end shutting close in a matter of minutes and seasoned journalists and their subordinates left jobless.

In a recently reported case, the owner of a newspaper was alleged to have sold off the press and laid off all the employees who were working besides being owed months of dues.

Those working in the printing press don’t draw fat salaries and don’t have a luxurious lifestyle like the media barons tend to maintain.

Ironically, those working in the printing press salaries must be equivalent to a daily meal expenditure for a media baron and not paying their dues is downright criminal.

Obviously, we are living in times of belt-tightening and to cut down on costs, we can drive inhumane wedges and deprive those poor people of their salaries.

Life can be brutally savage and what is unfolding is indeed very disturbing. The helplessness can add to our guilt conscience, but then we realize we ourselves aren’t superhero material to stave off such a crisis.

Many of these media organizations are being run by big shots and hold sway across the board and of course, they can’t be held accountable for their deeds.

The writing was always on the wall, recently I came across an article in the New York Times in which I was reading about the plans of Buzzfeed and how it stumbled and is trying to steer the ship in partnership with other media companies out of the crisis it is encumbered in.

We have several examples of how the print industry was disrupted by the internet and digital news platforms in the last two decades and they adapted to the change and made required adjustments to stay relevant and viable amidst stiff competition.

Of course, the adaptability and painful adjustments that owners of such entities may be required to undertake will hurt their wallets and, in all likelihood, put a limit to their extravagances.

However, as least bothered they would be in undertaking such sacrifices would be tantamount to suicide for them.

It’s all about protecting personal interests, as far the big titans remain unscathed from this so-called crisis, the culling of employees will continue unabated till the conclusion of cost-saving measures ends up being fully implemented.

 

NOTE: This doesn’t reflect the opinion of my employer and this blog is purely my take on the circumstances affecting the print and broadcast media.

At-Tahur’s road to IPO begins, book-building set to close on 26th June

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By: Mohammad Farooq

LAHORE: The registration for book-building of At-Tahur’s IPO on the Pakistan Stock Exchange commenced on June 20th and is set to end on 26th of this month.

At-Tahur is issuing 36.7 million shares with 75 percent for book building and remaining 25 percent for retail investors at a floor price of Rs20 per share.

According to At-Tahur’s IPO prospectus “The issue is being made through the book building process at a floor price of Rs20.00 per share (including a premium of Rs10.00 per share) with an upper limit of 40 percent above the floor price.

The bidders shall be allowed to place bids for hundred percent (100 percent) of the issue size and the strike price shall be the price at which the hundred percent (100 percent) of the issue is subscribed.”

Also, bidding period dates commence from 25th June and end on June 26th at 5:00 pm. And the date of public subscription begins on 2nd July at 9 am and concludes on the 3rd of July at 5 pm.

The unsubscribed retail portion would be given to book building bidders and the funds raised from the IPO will be utilized to raise the plant, milk capacity and herd size.

The total funding requirement of At-Tahur amounts to Rs945 million, from which 77.6 per cent i.e. over Rs730 million proceeds will come from the IPO and the remainder will comprise of debt financing.

Arif Habib is acting as the consultant to offer for At-Tahur’s IPO at the PSX.

The company’s chief executive officer (CEO) is Rasikh Elahi, a law graduate from University of Buckingham, United Kingdom and the son of ex-Punjab Chief Minister and former deputy PM Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi and the brother of Moonis Elahi.

He has been the CEO since the company’s inception in 2007.

In a comment to Profit, Maha Jafer Butt, Director Research Capital Stake said “At-Tahur shall be the first dairy company operating in the niche segment of production and sale of pasteurized Milk to go public.

The product portfolio of other listed companies including Fauji Foods Limited and Engro Foods Limited is more focused on the UHT treated milk production and include other food items also.”

“With increased health awareness and doubts over the quality of milk loose milk, demand for At Tahur is expected to rise. A review of the company’s past financials demonstrates sales expanding with a CAGR 28% (as mentioned in the prospectus).

According to the prospectus, funds from the IPO shall be utilized in expanding into the untapped market of Karachi. Karachi being a large city with a literacy rate higher than many others may prove to bring in good demand. Other uses of the fund include increased herd size, expansion of the plant and farm capacity,” she said.

At-Tahur commenced operations more than a decade ago and is a key player in the pasteurized dairy segment of Pakistan. Its principal activity is to run a dairy farm for the production and processing of milk and dairy products.

Its major proficiency includes a retail network with a footprint of over 3,000 stores across the country which includes a vertically integrated distribution network, modern and automated dairy farm and a high-quality product range.

The company’s Prema milk brand holds the biggest market share in the pasteurized segment according to the Nielsen Retail Audit in March 2018.

In April, Dawn reported entities looking for a potential initial public offering (IPO) on the Pakistan Stock Exchange had declined in the last year or so.

At KSE-100 index’s zenith in late May last year, when it touched a record high of 52,876 points over 17 entities had applied for listing according to the daily quotation sheet of the exchange.

At that juncture, Dalda Foods, Inbox Technologies Limited and a variety of funds in Gold Fund; Energy Fund; Capital Protected Fund; Active Allocation Fund; Strategic Allocation Fund; Treasury Fund; Prosperity Planning and privately placed sukuk had sought to be listed on the PSX.

However, in 2018 as per the quotation sheet of the exchange, only 7 companies are seeking a listing on the stock exchange which includes, Inbox Technologies Limited, Unicol Limited, At-Tahur Limited, Liberty Power Tech Ltd, TPL Life Insurance Ltd, Hira Terry Mills Ltd and Dalda Foods.

This will be the third IPO of the year following Matco Foods and AGP Pharmaceutical’s listing on the bourse in January and February respectively.

Published in Profit by Pakistan Today, June 24th. 

Arif Naqvi in a message to friends & employees shares his experiences at Abraaj

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By: Mohammad Farooq

BACKGROUND

The Abraaj Group founder Arif Naqvi since its inception in Dubai in 2002 led the company to stardom and converted it into one of the largest emerging market private equity firm in the Middle East and North Africa.

At end of June 2017, Abraaj had over 200 offices scattered in five international hubs which include Singapore, Istanbul, Nairobi, Mexico City and Dubai.

During its peak, the company’s investments ranged from healthcare and education, financial services, consumer goods and services, industrials and materials and logistics.

In Pakistan, Abraaj owned K-Electric which it acquired in 2008 and then divested to Shanghai Electric Power Company in second-half of 2016 for $1.77 billion.

The K-Electric deal has faced numerous delays because of tariff disputes and other issues which blocked the release of funds.

Abraaj expects it will soon complete the disposal of its holding in K-Electric.

However, the journey of smashing success hit roadblocks in February when the company was accused by its leading investors; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) unit, and government-backed development finance organisation’s CDC Group PLC of misusing $200 million from its $1 billion healthcare funds intended for use in developing economies of Pakistan, India and Nigeria.

The group was broken into Abraaj Investment Management Ltd (AIML) and Abraaj Holdings in late February.

An internal audit conducted by KPMG gave a clean chit to the company but Abraaj was compelled to return capital to a new fund and stopped fresh investments in wake of organizational restructuring and geared up to introduce new robust internal controls.

In mid-April, reports surfaced the company had hired the services of big four accountancy firm Deloitte to investigate its business, which included its $1 billion healthcare fund which had been the centre of controversy since February.

The leading investors had voiced concerns over the hurriedly conducted audit by KPMG of Abraaj’s healthcare fund and demanded another audit be conducted to verify if there had been any misuse of funds.

Also, KPMG was said to be undertaking an internal review into its audits of the world’s largest emerging private equity house.

KPMG forms part of the “big four” accountancy and audit firms globally and its UK branch is investigating its Middle East division for any potential irregularities in the valuation of assets of Abraaj and its linked entities.

Since then, Abraaj has been on a downward spiral and faced a litany of issues pertaining to its investment arm, business practices and various other problems that have culminated in it filing for provisional liquidation.

On Monday, the court in the Cayman Islands in response to a petition filed by Abraaj appointed PwC as provisional liquidator of Abraaj Holdings and Deloitte as provisional liquidator of Abraaj Investment Management Limited.

Arif Naqvi’s message to “friends of Abraaj” and employees

Arif Naqvi in a message sent to “friends of Abraaj” and employees last week said:

“As you have seen in the press these last few months have been extremely difficult for all of us at Abraaj. As an important stakeholder in our ecosystem, I wanted to bring you up to date personally on where we stand.”

Naqvi shared his experience of founding Abraaj and how it grew over a period of time:

“Let me first state that when I founded Abraaj in Dubai in 2002, I never thought this business would end up spanning the globe to become a leading investor in growth markets. On the other hand, I did see the opportunity to create a company that could unlock value in fast-growing but often overlooked, markets whilst delivering compelling returns for investors.

Giving insight into his company’s journey, Naqvi said “As I look back, I can see Abraaj’s track record as a testament to this mission and I hope you can too. Together with many talented professionals, we built a global business and successfully deployed private capital in some of the fastest growing regions of the world and in sectors that are transformative for the economy and the middle-class community that powers it – be that in education, healthcare, financial services, or infrastructure. We have created jobs, built soft and hard infrastructure and expanded life-sustaining services to reach a multitude of individuals and families.”

Addressing his employees, he added: “As we deployed and returned capital to our investors we also gave back to the communities that we touched through our time, partnerships and corporate philanthropy – many Abraaj employees participated in mentoring entrepreneurs, speaking in classrooms, or raising funds for special causes – as we did most recently for young Afghan kids needing heart surgery.

Talking about his experiences of working alongside various NGO’s and entities at Abraaj, Naqvi elaborated “We worked alongside amazing NGO’s and organizations helping them scale their delivery systems and guiding their progress into our markets for maximum impact in the spheres of employment, entrepreneurship, arts and innovation and healthcare. These actions did not meet unanimous support internally in Abraaj – yet this was an element of our culture that I was most proud of and never compromised on – we have touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of less fortunate people along our journey.”

He explained about the fallback of the accusations which roiled Abraaj in February: “Earlier this year gaps in our internal governance and operating procedures were discovered and as a result, we continue to navigate the business through very challenging circumstances. As you can imagine, the negative reports on Abraaj, many of which are out of context, have significantly damaged our Firm’s value and undermined the business at different points over the course of the last four months. Moreover, the way in which these factors (many of which were private) have all emerged as a matter of public record, has only aided to our loss of value.”

And he shared details about the interest expressed by various companies in buying its investment business: “In parallel, we have also received strong interest from potential acquirers for the operations of our fund management business, Abraaj Investment Management Limited (AIML). Talks are at an advanced stage and we continue to work together to achieve the most effective outcome for the firm.

(At the time of filing this report, Abraaj had divested some of the key funds in its investment business to Colony Northstar for an undisclosed price)

Naqvi shared the impact these allegations had on its employees and tendered an apology: “The recent events have caused Abraaj employees and our stakeholders’ undeniable pain and turbulence for which I apologize unreservedly.

Furthermore, explaining the media coverage over the last few months, Naqvi said “Despite all the rumours and briefings against us, and me personally, to my knowledge there was no intentional wrongdoing. In retrospect, however, I think things could have been done differently, and we might not be where we are today.”

He affirmed his belief in Abraaj and told “It is my strong belief that at its core, Abraaj has a deep team of experienced leaders and talented employees, many of whom have grown through the ranks over the last 16 years. There is great potential to take this platform forwards.”

He offered his gratitude to those who had worked with him and had been a part of the journey at Abraaj “I want to salute all those who have been part of this journey with me – and you are one of those. It has been a privilege for my colleagues and to work with you and your organizations in trying to make this world a better place. I certainly plan on continuing this journey and hope that our paths cross again in the future.”

Published in Profit by Pakistan Today, June 21st 2018.

How Arif Naqvi’s fall from grace put Abraaj on brink of bankruptcy

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By: Mohammad Farooq

LAHORE: The rapid descent of Abraaj founder Arif Naqvi and the wave of accusations over misuse of healthcare funds by its investors has put the company on the brink of bankruptcy.

Naqvi, who once heralded places like the World Economic Forum in Davos and rubbed shoulders with people like Microsoft founder Bill Gates and proselytized good deeds and money making, has seen his reputation soiled.

The problems of Naqvi have been compounded by the delay in the sale of Pakistani private power utility K-Electric have contributed to a liquidity crisis for Abraaj.

Naqvi, who set up Dubai-based Abraaj in 2002, in February passed the reins of the fund management arm to two new co-chief executives so he could concentrate on managing the parent company, Abraaj Holdings.

Investors in May had called Naqvi to further scale back his involvement in the group amid a row over misuse of funds.

Naqvi remains the single largest shareholder in Abraaj Holdings and sits on its board. He also remains a non-executive member of the Global Investment Committee, which according to Abraaj’s website, is responsible for investment and divestment decisions across funds and provides guidance on transactions.

However, critics allege Mr Naqvi of being arrogant, delaying cost cutting until it was too late and his inability to calm the increasing turbulence, reported Financial Times.

In a statement to FT, Arif Naqvi acknowledging the mistakes said he was intent on reaching a restructuring deal which would shield jobs and allow to pay back debts of Abraaj.

He added “I am working day and night to make sure that no one loses money, and everyone gets back what they are entitled to. I don’t care about self-interest — my intention is to make sure everyone else gets their money returned.”

Known to be a generous philanthropist, Mr Naqvi studied at the prestigious institute London School of Economics (LSE).

Mr Naqvi has made donations to LSE and Abraaj has been a leading promoter of Middle Eastern art and has financed a prize and glitzy fair, said FT.

In February this year, Abraaj was roiled by accusations over misuse of investor funds in a $1 billion health-care fund and had set ablaze a wave of unrest amongst its biggest investors.

Amongst Abraaj’s biggest investors is the World Bank, Melinda Gates Foundation, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and U.K based CDC Group had demanded an independent audit into the alleged misuse of funds.

The group was broken into Abraaj Investment Management Ltd (AIML) and Abraaj Holdings in late February.

However, an internal audit carried out by KPMG gave a clean chit to the company but Abraaj was compelled to return capital to a new fund and stopped fresh investments in wake of organizational restructuring and geared up to introduce new robust internal controls.

In mid-April, again reports surfaced the company had hired the services of big four accountancy firm Deloitte to investigate its business, which included its $1 billion healthcare fund which had been the centre of controversy since February.

The leading investors had voiced concerns over the hurriedly conducted audit by KPMG of Abraaj’s healthcare fund and demanded another audit be conducted to verify if there had been any misuse of funds.

Also, KPMG was said to be undertaking an internal review into its audits of the world’s largest emerging private equity house.

KPMG forms part of the “big four” accountancy and audit firms globally and its UK branch is investigating its Middle East division for any potential irregularities in the valuation of assets of Abraaj and its linked entities.

The sources refused to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the information and KPMG is also reevaluating its examination of Abraaj’s $1 billion healthcare fund which was given a clean chit in February.

In May, Wall Street Journal reported Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Bisher Barazi of Abraaj’s private equity fund and the unit’s chief operating officer Matthew McGuire quit merely months into their posts after being appointed after a major reshuffle at the company earlier this year.

Reuters reported on Wednesday about summary findings of a review carried out by Deloitte, which was hired by Abraaj to examine its business, showed that a cash shortage led the firm to “commingle” investor money with its own money.

Adding insult to injury, Kuwait’s Public Institution for Social Security on May 22 filed a case in a Cayman Islands court against Abraaj, claiming the company was unable to repay a $100 million loan and $7 million interest by the agreed date.

Earlier this month, the Kuwaiti fund declined to agree to a proposed debt freeze, complicating Abraaj’s efforts to sell its investment management business to New York-based Cerberus Capital Management.

And adding to Abraaj woes was news on Tuesday that another creditor Auctus had initiated legal proceedings in the Cayman Islands in which it sought restructuring of the private equity firm’s liabilities.

In a major development on Thursday, Abraaj filed a petition in the Cayman Islands asking the court to appoint PwC as provisional liquidators.

A press release issued by the company stated: “The appointment of provisional liquidators imposes a moratorium on the enforcement of all unsecured claims against the company, allowing time for a proposal to be put to creditors for the orderly restructuring of the company.”

Abraaj Group founder Arif Naqvi said, “This process marks the culmination of an extremely complex and challenging phase of negotiations and detailed planning. Since our differences with certain investors first came to light, we have worked exhaustively and transparently to investigate the matter and address their concerns, all the while ensuring our tremendous investment teams around the world continue to support the growth of our partner companies.”

He further added, “The intense public scrutiny and highly speculative rumours on these matters have put enormous stress on the Abraaj family of employees and partners, together with our investors and other stakeholders. We appreciate the support we have received from many who understand our circumstances and believe in the fundamental mission we have strived for the past 16 years to fulfil – investing for impact and driving growth. I want to thank our regulators, management teams, colleagues, lenders and advisors for working tirelessly to bring us to this point.”

“Keeping the interests of the Limited Partners in the Funds managed by Abraaj Investment Management Limited (AIML) during this turbulent period has been paramount. The fact that the approximately 50 companies in the current generation of funds have kept growing during these recent turbulent months demonstrates the resilience and quality of their management teams and our investment professionals.

“The process of court-supervised restructuring will take a few months. I will continue to support this orderly process and help ensure the best possible outcomes for all the stakeholders. The past four months have been humbling, exhausting and testing for us all but when I reflect on the past 16 years, I am proud of the positive impact that Abraaj has had on the markets and communities it serves”.

Published in Profit by Pakistan Today, June 14th 2018.