Terracotta Hearts & a Plastic Eden: Lahore’s First-ever Biennale

Part ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and part a deluge of contemporary artwork, Lahore’s first-ever Biennale was truly a one-of-a-kind experience. After reading and viewing on social media about the Karachi Biennale, I was quite curious to see what this mix of artists had to offer in Lahore and let me tell you – they did not disappoint!

 

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Library at Bagh-e-Jinnah

 

A friend and I were only able to make it on the very last day, so we covered the installations at Bagh-e-Jinnah ( also known as Lawrence Gardens) and the former Lahore Lit Fest stronghold, Al -Hamra Cultural Complex – both conveniently located on The Mall.

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Lover's Temple Ruins

 

Let it be noted, I risked my life to see Ali Kazim’s Lover’s Temple Ruins public art installation. How’s that for commitment to ‘The Arts”?!  It was upon seeing Kazim’s unusual take on ‘Lover’s Garden’ on Instagram that it was decided to make Lawrence Gardens the first stop.  The risking my life part? It’s coming. A very helpful Lahore Biennale volunteer pointed in the general direction of a tree-covered hill and said that more artwork lies up there. Padding along in my comfy slippers with a thick sole, it was a surprise to find a steep trail comprising of random slate slabs, crumbling red dirt and a few roots branching along the path. With much trepidation, but with an even stronger resolve and a patient fellow-hiker,  we made our way up the hill and eventually to Kazim’s artwork.  On a serious note, future Lahore Biennale events should be curated with accessibility in mind. It does not make sense that any patron of the arts miss out on experiencing an exhibit just because wheelchair ramps, side railings or proper steps are unavailable.  What kind of public art installation is exclusionary?

It strikes you – as if one has been suddenly transported to a remote excavation site. Signs of an older civilization all but gone for some stubborn terracotta hearts. It felt as if one is a giant peering down on a collapsing foundation- moments before all is lost to the ravages of time.

 

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Warda Shabbir’s work at the Lahore Biennale

 

 

A riot of colors enclosed in a life-size version of child’s diorama, Warda Shabbir’s installation instantly engages the viewer and transports them to her version of the Garden of Eden.  Aside from being quite ‘Instagrammable’, Shabbir’s skill at turning ordinary plastic plants and flowers into a breathtaking 3-D mural is noteworthy.

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A close-up of Warda Shabbir’s work at the Lahore Biennale

 

Noor Ali Chagani’s artwork depicts the impact of societal expectations on Pakistani men. I felt that Chagani’s ‘brick wall’ speaks of the hope that perhaps one day more men will feel comfortable sharing their softer sides.

 

I adored, ADORED, Salman Toor’s ARE YOU HERE? installation at the Al-Hamra Arts Center.

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Shezad Dawood’s Neutral Density

 

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City Blog: Joie de Vivre & Lahore Eat

It was supposed to a quick stop. In and out. A check-in. Basically a #keepingupwiththeKhans in lieu of the Joneses. Plus, we didn’t have any other plans this Saturday night.  We trooped into Lahore Eat with minimal expectations and maxing out on  comfy shoes. To our collective surprise, the open-air stadium ground was well-kept, there was a large variety of activities to take part in, from attending a concert to taking part in a renegade rickshaw ride.

W16be412f784aaf1dd9792ef8b7f8bd6d.jpgithout meaning to, our inhibitions started melting away. Something pulled us in… reeled us in. Reminded us of what can not be terrorized out of us. It was our distinctly Pakistani flair for Life –> ZEEST *.

*Zeest is a word from the Urdu language that literally means viability and life. 

We live life to the fullest – it’s a gift. We cherish it in every which way: by wearing the brightest colors, laughing a little too loud, singing off-key in public spaces and spending time with those we love the most. Those couple of hours at Lahore Eat became a testament to our collective joie de vivre. 

 

Takeaways from VConnecting Sesh at OLC Innovate 2017

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I recently took part in a session at the OLC Innovate 2017:Education Reimagined Conference.  The virtual participation format was impressive and glitch-free.

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Questions were raised by the global participants and were answered by on-site participants Michael Berman, Lora Taub-Pervizpour, and Patrice Prusko. This particular session was masterfully co-moderated by Wendy Taleo, our Virtual Buddy, in Australia and by Michael Berman, our on-site buddy in NOLA.

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Snippets from the session itself which referenced the Solution Design Summit (SDS) event at OLC Innovate :

  • How are students experiencing courses that we are designing?
  • Food truck imagery was used metaphorically by students to describe just-in-time training/learning experiences during the SDS.
  • There was only one team from community colleges; looking forward to further collaborations in future projects/discussions.
  • There is a need for increased participation from community colleges at future summits and projects.
  • What challenges do community college-going students face that may limit/hamper/alter their ability to participate in off-campus summits and conferences?
  • The next OLC Innovate Conference should include a fully virtual team.
  • There should be a set program for virtual participants.

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There was much more that was discussed, as it was a remarkably lively conversation, but for that to be shared I would have to decipher my scribbled notes. 😀
Being able to participate in conversations that matter, conversations that have the potential to solve key challenges in Education  while being half-way across the world was a liberating experience.  This virtual session gave us all the opportunity to break out our respective silos and engage in meaningful dialogue about the Future of Education.  A big shout-out to everyone in the session:  Lora, Patrice, Wendy T, Michael, Wendy F, Apostolos, Yin-Wah and Mark ! 

About LLF 2016 & ’Love Letters’ the Play

The security situation leading to a change in venue and the shift from Alhamra to the Avari Hotel’s grounds ended up making a quite a difference for this year’s Lahore Lit Fest.  Not only was the trademark art exhibit missing, there was a distinct shortage of wares and cultural activities to engage LLF-goers not attending the on-going sessions. I wonder why the Rafi Peer crew were no where to be seen. Their exhibit in the main hall, with a plethora of colourful puppets on display and a variety of publications describing events at the Peeru’s restaurant and theatre, was sorely missed. 

Where were the LLF volunteers providing pamphlets and booklets with the programs printed? The LLF stamped mugs, tees and tote bags? The yearly special edition of Newsweek Pakistan with stories dedicated to the event.   The offering of books were adequate with Readings and Liberty Books having the widest variety available. However the smattering of complementary stalls were quite sad. Aside from the Desi Writer’s Lounge, the other stalls were boring or had little to offer. Speaking of which, where were the folks from The Missing Slate?  This being the fourth year of it’s existence, it may seem a bit extreme to sound so nostalgic, but this gives credit to the organisers who managed the earlier events effortlessly.

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A.R. Gurney’s ‘Love Letters’ was performed by Rehana Saigol and Imran Aslam on Saturday, 20th February at the Lit Fest. Looking a vision in her sparkly dangly earrings and ruffly black dress, Saigol effortlessly transformed into the sensitive yet witty Melissa, the heroine in the duo. Aslam aptly played the responsible yet love-lorn  Andy Lad the Third, whose persistent letter-writing wins the heart and soul of Melissa.

The musical interludes that punctuated sessions of letter-writing were tastefully selected – punctuating the innocence of childhood kinship or heating up the beginnings of a lustful affair-  with the musical stylings of the greats such as  Elvis Presley and Diana Ross at service. Arif Mahmood’s photos were sweet additions to the tenderly enacted romance on the LLF stage, documenting Melissa and Andy’s interactions from the cradle to the grave.

The seating capacity for the play underestimated the demand for live theatre as the organisers hastily lined up chairs to fill up the back of the hall.   Even then, another three hundred LLF goers we20160220_195732re barely kept outside the hall, with youngsters asked to sit up on the carpet , front-row, to empty chairs for adults. 

I hope the play organizers have understood the enthusiasm for live theatrical performances and will stage such performances on the regular, preferably at more easily-accessible venues.

Will Uber work in Pakistan?

Yep. You read that right. The taxi-hailing app service has confirmed opening operations in Pakistan. Before you go ahead and download the Uber app on your smartphone – let’s explore what this means for Pakistan’s fledgling e-commerce economy.

Uber, an online on-demand taxi- ride service provider, has been racked with notoriety since the very beginning of its operations. Some of the criticism has been directed at the lack of background checking before Uber signs on with drivers. Note the use of the word ‘signs’  and not ‘hires’; on-demand service economy has made parceling out work to contract workers common place.  This approach ignores many of the advances that have been attained since the 1st labor law set in place post the Industrial Revolution – including minimum wage, insurance, health care compensation, cap on working hours, etc.

There have also been numerous complaints of Uber drivers attempting kidnappings or worse, especially when women call for the ride service. Take for example the Delhi Uber Rape Case, where an Uber driver was accused and found guilty raping a female passenger last year in December.  Subsequently, all app-based taxi services were banned in Delhi.  To-date, the city has also rejected an application by Uber’s rival, the Indian-based OlaCabs to run it’s personal transportation services in the Indian capital.

What is worrisome is that when the executive responsible for Uber’s international launches was questioned by the Wall Street Journal in December 2014, he admitted that the company did not conduct independent background checks of it’s drivers at that time.

“According to Mr. Singhal, the basic requirement for a driver to partner with Uber is to have valid documents pertaining to third party vehicle insurance, a commercial permit to ply a taxi as well as a driving license. The company does not conduct background check on its drivers, Mr. Singhal said. Instead it relies on the background check the government does on drivers that it issues with commercial permits.”

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Pre-existing concerns for the safety of  Pakistani women while using public transport has led to the creation of services such as Zar Aslam’s Pink Rickshaws. The Pink Rickshaws are driven by women for women so as to avoid potential harassment by male rickshaw drivers.   Uber’s head of communications has been reported saying that all drivers in Pakistan will undergo through screenings and background checks. To inspire confidence in the service, Uber (and other app-based taxi services like it) will need to prove that their fleet is reliable for use by all possible customers, men and women.

While earning an easy buck on the side is tempting, the safety concerns on a Uber ride  also applies to drivers,  such as when this unsuspecting driver was attacked by a drunken passenger. I must applaud the Uber driver’s smart move in mounting a camera facing the rear of the car; this led to the easy identification and arrest of the rowdy customer.  Could the lack of training of the driver be one of reasons for such an attack? Had the driver in question been sufficiently trained to spot a trouble-maker, could this situation have been avoided?  If the Uber driver was not on contract-basis, commission-giving model  but rather a salaried employee, could he have been more likely to refuse this customer from the outset? It can be argued that the feeling of a secure work arrangement would have enabled this Uber driver to act from a place of personal empowerment; he would have considered his own safety versus chasing dollars into risky situations.

Travly,  Savaree, Easy Taxi, and Careem – all names of local startups vying to provide alternative transportation solutions to Pakistanis in the recent years. Adoption of such services has been dismal to say the least. Barriers to success include the ever-present rickshaw, the reliance on cash payments by customers, negligible options when it comes to mobile payments, insistence on booking rides solely on the web apps and the slow adoption of technology for errands. Such realities had led newer entrants, such as Careem, to provide a phone-based bookings in addition to the web/mobile app as well as accepting cash payments from customers.

Is it too unreasonable to expect that some government institution take the initiative to protect the tech industry in this nascent stage? Can we avoid setting up our entrepreneurs for failure by not pitting them against an international heavy-weight and champion of disruptive business practices like Uber? How about a 2 year ban on any such foreign-based services-oriented technology company entering the Pakistani markets ? Give them a chance to educate the customer base, so when the competition begins, at least its on an even playing-field.

While identifying the possible problematic scenarios Uber can face while functioning in Pakistan, it is important to remember that these conclusions are based on how the company has conducted itself thus far. If Uber Inc. changes it’s organizational model by ensuring it’s drivers are thoroughly vetted or that drivers are hired as employees with all the perks of a job at a multinational, I am more than willing to roll out the welcome mat. As for the customer base, that is something that only time and a marketing campaign or two can tell.

 

 

Creative Chaos: Ethnic Crafts Fair in Lahore

A quick write-up following a visit to a local crafts fair in Lahore – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

CW CCThe Good

  • The Season-November in Lahore is the closest we get to Autumn around here, so it was quite comfortable while browsing through the crowds for the perfect handicraft fix.  The sun is bright enough for us Lahoris to bust out the designer sunglasses, breezy enough to dust off the devastatingly beautiful (read:expensive) pashminas to wrap around our shoulders and the air crisp enough that everyone is infused with an extra dash of joie de vivre -even the traffic policeman on the drive up were less adamant on issuing tickets!   20151107_151456
  • Large variety of crafts on display – From camel-skin lamps crafted in interior Sindh to embroidered leather pouches from Balochistan, there were many types of crafts represented at the fair.

The Bad

  • The LocationThe Mall is already the busiest road in the city, the organisers’ choice of Tollinton Market led to a parking nightmare.
  • The Time of the Year – There is too much going on! What with the Faiz Ghar folks rolling out a festival on literature and music then there is the Khayal ArtsFest with more of the same – November is pretty cramped. I would have probably picked late February/ early March as an alternate time of the year to hold this fair; somehow it seems like all the fairs and fests have been crammed in ahead of the impending ‘Shaadi’ season.  Pushing your limited target audience into a state of overwhelm is not favorable! 

The Ugly (or Missed Opportunities)

  • Products Unlabeled – No Back Story, No Instructions and No Contact info if you want to get in touch with the vendor.
  • Lack of Business Cards, Labels or Social Media presence  – Vendors need to provide some way for customers or potential business partnersto get in touch after the fair is over. If nothing else,  set up a basic Facebook page with the brand name and print a set of cards with the Facebook Page link on it.
  • Prices Aren’t Written in Plain Sight or  are Hard-to-Read – I wrote about this before here.

#1 One Reason for Millennial Women to be Financially Literate

Blog Series: 10 Reasons For Millennial Women To Be Financially Literate

Are you Financially Literate?

Being financially literate goes beyond knowing how much savings one has in the bank; it means possessing the ability for informed financial decision-making.  I will be sharing the top ten reasons why Millennials Women MUST dominate their finances and what that looks like – beyond the jargon.

The Number One Reason for Millennial Women to be Financially Literate

#1 – FOMO is a Trap

FOMO.  Fear of Missing Out.  According to the dictionary :

FO·MO  ˈfōmō/   noun informal     noun: FOMO

  1. anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”I realized I was a lifelong sufferer of FOMO”

The important words in the definition are “social media” and “anxiety”. Social Media posts by other people, especially acquaintances or the random troll,  can be annoying, but Anxiety-Causing?   Turns out this is a real issue – we can literally feel disconnected and dissatisfied with life due to the perceived success and contentment of our peers and idols.

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There is nothing wrong with staying up-to-date with our friends’ lives, but when FOMO sets in, we start comparing and evaluating our lived experiences – unconsciously. That is damaging behaviour.
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If you have ever felt the need to constantly check your Instagram or Facebook Timeline while out with friends, that is what FOMO looks like. The theory is that social media, with its sheer speed and glossy selfies, overwhelms users with imagery that is picture-perfect. In-fact, that is exactly what it is – Too Good To Be True.

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While our rational mind is well-aware of the fact, the subconscious gets triggered by these posts and creates a nervous energy – a nervous energy that is often channeled, at a HUGE disadvantage to your wallet, by going shopping.

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See enough pictures of your ex-boss’s new Ferrari and chances are you are gonna want to a) Buy a Ferrari  or b) Realize you can’t afford a Ferrari  and eat a tub of Chocolate Ice Cream or c) Go shopping and buy yourself another scented candle set to gloss over the feeling of overwhelm.  If this happens enough times, you will be making decisions triggered by outside influences – including how you spend your money- rather than by rational thinking and planning for what suits you best.

Still not convinced that FOMO is dangerous to your financial health?  According to Yahoo Finance, the need to keep up with friends has resulted in 56% of Canadians aged 18 to 30 to live beyond their means.  Their purchasing decisions are the result of social pressure from Instagrammed selfies and Snapchat clips, often with luxury brands popping up.

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So, the number one reason that Millennial Women should be Financially Literate is that FOMO or Fear of Missing Out is a trap.  It is an anxiety-ridden behaviour that often results in overspending that ruins your budget and fills nothing but your closet.
Coming Up Next –>   Cut It Out!  The Expenses! Stick to a Budget! 
Like what you read? Want to ask me a question about personal finance? Drop me an email at talktocatalystwoman @ gmail.com or visit my Facebook page

Thoughts on the Google’s Techmela: A Tech-nical Oversight

Living on the internet, as the most of us do, we are used to brands coining new terms in hopes that they become trends on Twitter. The latest effort in the Pakistani Twitterverse is the phrase #techmela by the folks at Google.

The Google-powered “Techmela”  ( technology bazaar ) is being advertised as the biggest online technology shopping festival with exclusive partnership with Daraz.pk as the site hosting the sale.

On the surface, it seems like the Public Relations team was sleeping on the job with the slow spread of the announcement of the “biggest” shopping event.  Aside from the few tech-celebs cut-and-pasting a press release, there was little to go by on what differentiates this online sale from the thousands of products being sold to Pakistanis everyday.

As for the assumption that this particular Google-backed and Telenor-backed event is some sort of technological Messiah for the fledgling E-Commerce domain in Pakistan – I seriously doubt it. 

Granted, when you throw in money by the way Telenor and Google, things will happen. I have to ask though –  How is exclusively supporting one vendor when there are thousands of individual small business people in Pakistan selling their products and services online have any positive outcome on the adoption of e-commerce?  This is nothing but a purely commercial event being touted as a social development.

If you are Google Pakistan, Telenor and any other stakeholder seriously invested in E-Commerce, listen up! The success of the E-commerce domain in Pakistan requires the following scenarios to be considered.

  • If online users are not purchasing products, it is not because there aren’t the right products or even the right discounts being offered. The number one barrier to purchasing online is the inaccessibility to e-banking or mobile banking solutions – especially for unemployed women. 
  • Another reason that online users are not purchasing online is that even if they do select a product, the e-commerce vendor ( here I am referring to a small business person, not a Kaymu or Daraz) has little to no access to payment solutions such as door-to-door credit/debit card payment solutions. One example would be Monet’s Swipe2Pay mobile point-of-sale service, which can be a viable solution but they are bit vague on how to go about offering their services to small businesses at this moment in time. Such a solution would erase the anxiety that small business face when trying to sell wares to a distant location when Cash on Delivery is simply not an option.

Until the small business persons/merchants are empowered to sell their wares and receive payment from across the nation, the E-commerce domain will continue to be monopolised by the few and the connected.

As for the Google Techmela? IMHO, it is an amateurish attempt at capitalising on the earnest efforts of the tech and banking industry to bridge the gaps in the e-commerce domain.

Why Are You Scared of LinkedIn? (Real Life Scenarios)

I recently heard of a young man who is facing a tough time finding a new job, while in a role that was about to end.  Shahzad is currently working at one of the leading hotels in the country in the Marketing department. He holds a North American undergraduate degree in Marketing and about 4.5 years of work experience, to-date.  Here is where the challenge is: Shahzad recently got married and is looking for a position with significantly more responsibilities as he wants to diversify his work experience and a higher salary package. Since moving back Pakistan after completing his studies, Faisal admits he hasn’t networked much professionally.

” I just jumped at the first offer that I received. Seeing that I had only a 3 months internship experience, I was relieved to find my place in an established organisation so early on in my career.”  That’s Shahzad speaking, by the way.

He shares that he has not had much luck while looking for a new position.  I asked what his strategy is.  Shahzad says that he has been spreading the word amongst his friends and family members that he is actively searching for a new job. Also, he says that he religiously scans the classifieds section in Dawn and other major national newspapers every Sunday morning.

“And…?”  I ask.

“That’s about it. I have been at it for months now and frankly, I’m getting worried.  I recently got a call from HR for my exit interview. ” responds Shahzad.

It was clear that Shahzad had skipped a few crucial steps in his job search, so I sent over some recommended sites. Using online job boards and social platforms, including even Facebook and Twitter, are no longer optional for jobseekers. You need to be online.

“I see.  Can you do me a favour? Set up your profile on the following websites.  Begin with LinkedIn and then move on to Rozee.pk. If you are interested in working in the Middle East, I would suggest signing up on Bayt.com as well.”

“LinkedIn? Why LinkedIn? A few of my friends have sent me invites. I just never got the point of it. ”  answers Shahzad.

“Easy. LinkedIn is currently the best social platform to network with professionals from all over globe.  Think of it as your virtual Resume that is open to recruiters and  HR managers actively searching for new employees.”  I respond eagerly.

Why are You Afraid of LinkedIn?

For those who are unfamiliar with LinkedIn, logging on for the very first time CAN be an intimidating experience.  I have found that if you approach such sites with a positive attitude, it is easier to see the benefits of an untraditional job search approach.

Afraid of Linked In

LinkedIn puts you in the driver’s seat of your job search. You are no longer passively waiting for someone to pluck your resume out of the hundreds (even thousands!) received in an HR Manager’s inbox.  You are opening up a window to allow potential employers and recruiters to see your career ambitions and accomplishments in an interactive environment.

Why is Shahzad scared of LinkedIn?

A few days later, I gave Shahzad a call to check on his progress.  “How’s it going?”

” Still not sure about LinkedIn, it is so busy!  There are company pages popping up all the time and then I was asked to list my volunteering experience. How will all of that help me get a job in Marketing?!” inquires a clearly frustrated Shahzad.

” Hold up! Take it one step at a time.  Let’s go over the facts:

Did you know that 92% of Fortune 1000 companies are LinkedIn customers? Your profile needs to be on LinkedIn so the chances of being recruited increases. Not only that, being on LinkedIn gives you a chance to do a targeted search for the type of role you are looking for.

Add on friends and colleagues on LinkedIn – it is a great way to practice your professional networking skills. If someone from your industry writes an insightful blog on Pulse, leave a comment or share on your profile. It is pretty similar to Facebook in that way!

During your job search, you must have come across a company or two that you aren’t too familiar with? LinkedIn’s Company pages provide you the background information and allows you to browse the list current employees. All of this information can you help you determine the culture of an unfamiliar organisation before you apply.

As for volunteering experience, that shows more about your personality and the causes that you believe in.  Talent hunters are looking for the right person to fit the work culture at their organisation – that means they need a complete a 3-dimensional view of who you are!  Ever spend time tutoring at a local orphanage? Or  go door-to-door raising money for a Build-a-School campaign?  Stuff like that counts!.”

“Hmmm. That makes sense.  For  starters, how do I add you on LinkedIn?” asks  Shahzad.

“Scroll over to the Connections tab in the top bar and click on Add Connections.  Choose an email account to sync with and you are good to go! You will see all your contacts who are already on LinkedIn. ” I answer.

Stay tuned for the next instalment, where we will compare and contrast using LinkedIn and Rozee.pk during a job search.

Oh, also  we will get an update from our friend Shahzad!

Good luck to all of you on the Job Hunt!

Ambitiously Yours,

Catalyst Woman

If you have a question for Catalyst Woman, email me here:  talktocatalystwoman@gmail.com .  I will try to answer it on here a.s.a.p.!