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. 

 

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.

Needed:Co-working Spaces in Lahore

My headphones are plugged in to what I imagine a shoreside picnic coupled with thunderclaps and slight rain shower sounds like. If you have ever wondered who is lame enough to actually use a rain sound app, that would be me. It can also be you, too, if you were camped out in a busy cafe in Lahore’s commercial district. 

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I’m attempting to stay focused on the upcoming meeting, while the couple at the table on the left has once again asked me for the wi-fi password.  Such interruptions, while normal if one is in the mood for people-watching or idle posturing in a swanky eatery, are frustrating if one is waiting to meet a client to finalize terms on a contract.

photo-1429681601148-75510b2cef43Office-less, officially, when it comes to our consulting work, my partners and I feel the need for a formal meeting room or conference room at least twice to three times a month. While that seems quite frequent, when we calculated the math, it still doesn’t make sense for us to invest in a permanent office in the near future.  Reasons being that some of us are still working traditional 9-5 jobs while others prefer the convenience of flex-time and telecommuting afforded by the consulting work-life.

What Lahore desperately needs is an affordable Co-working space which is open to all types of professional, techies and non-techies, entrepreneurs, freelancers, cottage-industry workers, bakers and yes, even musicians. 

What should the co-working space consist of? The usual, a conference room, a small kitchenette, desks or cubicles for hire by the hour or the day, reliable wi-fi/internet connection, a tv lounge/reception and a printer/fax machine corner to round off all the mundane necessities of grownup, office-life.

Let’s step beyond the vomit-inducing, Silicon Valley-esque marketing gibberish that immediately gets plastered upon the advent of a functional service idea.  This is not a recommendation for all of you sitting on your butts to open up 5 co-working spaces right across from each other in Bahria Town  and begin hosting ‘entrepreneurship workshops slash mentorship sessions slash fireside chats’  on the regular.  I am not claiming to be your guru for new-fangled business ideas.

What I am recommending is a more holistic, survey-based approach to solving challenges  your peers and neighbors are dealing with in your immediate vicinity. If you solve that challenge successfully, and lucratively, good on you!  If you fail to solve that challenge the first time around, no problem; you’ll have earned goodwill in the community. Rest your bruised ego, keep your eyes and ears open, and rise up tomorrow with the intent to put your education and initiative to good use.

Note: I have heard inklings of a co-w0rking space popping up in my hometown, but I’m curious if there are any others on the horizon. If you know of any, leave a comment or drop a tweet at @catalystwoman

 

 

Stranded in Career Hell?

Slowly but surely, your career search is starting to resemble the Sahara Desert *- miles upon miles of punishing expanse with no guarantee of relief. Interview calls that never arrive – CVs and resumes that illicit no response – the future looks bleak and lifeless.

The thirst is unbearable, the need to live, truly live and regain control, even for the simple things, paying the bills on time or buying your sweetheart their favorite book, has reached it’s pinnacle.  You reach for a glass of water only to find it empty – the last drop long evaporated in this never-ending summer.

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Any hope of a viable career opportunity has long abandoned you. Panting, dusty, and covered with the stench of failure, you drop to your knees in the burning sand and squint upwards into the Sun.

Should you wave the white flag?  Settle for the ‘job-you-can -get’ versus the ‘career-of-your-dreams’?

Continue reading “Stranded in Career Hell?”

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.

Selecting the Perfect University: Online Virtual Tours or Education Expos? (The University Bazaar Blog Series)

Selecting the Perfect University

Does selecting a university ever get easier? I remember being overwhelmed by all the decisions to make when the process began.  Where can I find a scholarship? How far away from home do I want to go? Can I afford this university? I can afford this one, but what to do if it does not have the degree program I want?

So.Many.Questions.

I have just made it back from The News Education Expo in Lahore and have more than a couple of observations to share. The crowds, mostly teenagers and twenty-somethings with their families, were busy browsing the stalls for the Perfect University. Theoretically, this sounds like a straight-forward affair; you walk up to the university representative, get all your questions answered and receive a complimentary pen, as well.

In reality, it was absolute chaos in the basement of Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel. If you haven’t been to the PC Hotel, the basement consists of a series of banquet halls opening into a narrow main hall.  Various universities and colleges had set up shop throughout and were closely packed together; differentiating between the representatives became a chore!  Trying to start a conversation or ask a question was challenging as the overworked representatives tried their hardest to answer serious queries from the impatient crowd.

What I witnessed today is a University Bazaar where competing educational institutions hawk degrees and dreams to uninformed students and their loved ones. There is little to be gained but a handful of shiny brochures.

Q. Is there any value in attending such Educational Expos? 

A.  Only if you know what kind of educational experience you are shopping for and are prepared to be patient. 

The truth is that these events are nothing more than easy revenue-makers for the organisers.  Once the stalls are booked, little else is taken care of; this is evident by the sloppy arrangements and the criss-cross of exposed wiring over the carpets.  Not only do the students suffer from the poor organisation,but so do the educational institutions who regularly spend their marketing budgets on them.

Online Virtual Tours or Education Expos?

So, if we strike off education expos from our list when searching for the perfect university, what is the next best option?

With social media platforms getting easier to navigate by the day, it makes sense to turn to the internet when conducting any kind of serious research. I would strongly suggest opting for online virtual tours of the universities and colleges you are considering at the moment.

Pre-recorded tours, complete with audio, guide website visitors through the campus; this is extremely important when the colleges you are considering are in far-off locations, like the United States or  the United Kingdom.   Rather than chatting it up with a disinterested staff member at an overcrowded expo, try your hand at a informational webinar. These web-based seminars allow prospective students from across the globe to log-on and take part in question-and-answer sessions with the university’s administration and admissions team – for free! What better way to understand the culture but by having a conversation?

Take my word – set aside some time for an old-fashioned Google search and a list of questions. You are bound to narrow down the options to find your Perfect University, with the help of simple technology at your fingertips! 

This is the first post in the The University Bazaar Blog Series by Catalyst Woman.

“Stop Working Now!”

How I wish someone would have softly whispered that in my ear while I had trudged into the bleak, smoke-filled office as a young intern.  I kept thinking in my early professional life that work was meant to be unrewarding and I must persevere since I am ‘paying my dues’. While there are many ‘passion’ gurus who tempt the cubicle-weary to quit this very instant, there are few that sound authentic and present proof of their own success.

Interior Monologue: I gotta ton of passion but it ain’t gonna pay my rent!

If you have ever felt the same way, might I suggest checking out my friend Momekh’s philosophy of The Pro-Hobbyist. I recently asked Momekh to visit Information Technology University-Punjab (ITU) to share his unique take on the eternal debate of career vs. vocation. He led us through various real-life scenarios where regular folk, like you and I, could smartly convert a hobby such as baking specialty cakes or running a small farm into a source of  (sustainable) income. I am looking forward to the detailed workshop to find out more about Momekh’s take on the going solo-proneur.