RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'S
The danka dozen
A bunch of dynamic youth from diverse backgrounds and nationalities swears by the popular potential of what was actually started as a simple web portal on Lahore's cultural landscape
By Usman Ghafoor
At first, it appears to be a boisterous, high school reunion of sorts. A bunch of fun-filled youth, in perfect holiday mood, swarm one of DHA's most 'hip' lounge, and let their hair down.
"Hey, sufi saheb!" chuckles a lean, bespectacled lad, couched on a bright orange pouf. He prompts an instant cheer from his blonde-haired buddy who stops short in the middle of a cigarette puff to smack his head.
A few steps away, a rather formal-looking young man is typing up something on his laptop. Yet another homey, carrying a digital camera, is clicking in the air, while the guy with glasses darts in and out of the frame playfully.
The whoops and cheers aren't likely to die down anytime soon, and it's already quite late in the night.
This is vintage danka.com.pk 'official' meeting: Full of laughter and light banter, smoking and eating binges, and loaded with high-octane, bachelor-party jokes.
They seem to be talking about everything under the sun except, perhaps, the website that has launched this otherwise unfamiliar cluster of boys into limelight today.
Of course, this is just a facade. To quote danka's media man Foaad Nizam, "We've always worked like that! Though we do have our office in Canal View Society, we plan our weekly meetings at one fun spot in the city or the other. It kind of recharges our batteries."
It sure does. Or, how would one explain the growing popularity of danka. Today, they receive about 500 hits on an average (per day) from different IP addresses, which is many a hundred times more than its early records. The danka listings are quoted famously (albeit "without giving us any credits") in various local news journals. For the people behind Lahore's first and only web portal that provides free (and accurate) info on the city's art and cultural events, it's a labour of love.
At the time of its launch online in November 2005 danka.com.pk was managed by a team of 5 "strangers who had come together because of a common passion for art and culture." They were without a proper office, and certainly no relevant experience in the field. Yet, they hit it off, and have stuck and grown together, through thick and thin.
Interestingly, they were all coming from completely different backgrounds. If Dr Andreas Matt, who actually "dreamt it", was an Austrian-national, (late) Pierre Jolit had come in from France; Jakob was from Europe, again, while Mannan is a Lahori, and Foaad, an American born but certainly not confused desi.
According to a danka legend, Andreas (known for his globe-trotting) had driven all the way down to Lahore on a community service programme for the SOS Village. This was in 2005. A stray visit to the famous art gallery Chitarkar introduced him to Pierre, and the idea for 'danka' was forged.
Enter Jakob, another SOS worker whose association with the group (coupled with his 'modelish, good looks') soon made him the 'face of danka'.
A Columbia University graduate, Foaad also chanced upon these boys at Chitarkar, and discovered that they shared his passion for art and culture.
"There was no source of information available to quench our thirst," Foaad tells TNS. "No newspaper was giving adequate info. If one wanted to know what was happening in the art world, one would have to be friends with artists who'd probably invite you to exhibitions. If you wanted to know about concerts, you needed contacts with people on the music scene. So, we thought why not gather all information ourselves and create a handout or a newsletter kind of a thing."
Eventually, the idea morphed into developing a website that lists all information. The name 'danka' was born out of a brainstorming session. It was obviously drawn from the Mughal-era tradition of beating the drum -- 'danka', to be precise -- in public as a means of disseminating official information to the common masses.
There was no any specific template for the site. Even though "this concept has come from Europe," adds Jakob. "There's a British mag called 'TimeOut' that we had in mind. Then, there's a free newspaper in New York called 'Village Voice'. It has an amazing listing section. In fact, every city in a European country has some sort of a magazine or guide that tells you about the events of the place and they are distributed free."
"Still we didn't copy anybody," Foaad is quick to say. "The idea was simply to give accurate information to public in time and for free."
The launch of 'danka' was well timed with the World Performing Arts Festival 2005, when the entire schedule of the 10-day festival was put on the website.
"This was a detailed schedule, one that even the official website of the Peerzadas didn't have," claims Foaad.
"We also set up a stall at the Cultural Complex where we were giving away flyers and newsletters. That's how it began."
Word of mouth spread fast, inspiring a lot of volunteers to join in. "There is no such thing as officially joining danka," Foaad continues, "It is about people who feel committed to the site and are willing to work for free. It's a non-profit project and we seek no monetary gains out of it."
Danka thrives on contributions from visitors of the site. Sajjad Haider, presently working at Punjab IT Board (PITB), is the guy looking after danka's editorial cluster. He verifies information that's coming in, edits stuff, and posts it online.
This obviously means that the boys have to work elsewhere for a living. "In the beginning, we wanted to have sponsors, companies which had some sort of a local flavour to them. We stayed away from the multinationals, because they tend to dictate terms and this could change danka's profile."
Today, danka is expanding beyond Lahore. It was recently launched in Karachi, with an added team of six people. They are also going to start 'danka Islamabad'. Besides, they have got a person named Martin in North Ireland who is managing danka products which is a separate project of danka abroad.
By Aziz Omar
With the discovery of the latest planet, announced just this week, space observers are excited about the possibility of new forms of otherworldly life existing in the universe. And based on the preliminary analysis of its surface atmosphere, they are assuming it to be quite similar to Earth.
But perhaps, if they strained their telescopes towards the regions that we Lahori folk exist in, they just might have to revise the meaning of life itself.
Why, firstly the planet buffs will have no trouble locating our unique terra firma. Planets elsewhere in space are hard to find as they are visibly undetectable due to the extreme brightness of the resident star's light.
Thus the scientists try to measure the effect of the planet's gravitational pull on the star as it revolves around the latter. The resulting slight wobble as well as the minute flickering in the star's light (as the planet passes in front of it) is that which reveals the presence of a planet. However, our region faces such frequent and severe power outages that the massive fluctuations will be a dead giveaway of its existence. Due to routine load-shedding in various areas such as those adjoining Ferozepur road and inner city, the scientists will be able to easily home in on our distinct energy output pattern.
Yet, I do concede that determining the distance to our unparalleled world will be quite a feat. The vast distances in space are measured in light-years, which is quite literally the length that light covers in the span of a year. And as it travels at a constant speed, the journey time of a beam of light is used to yield the distance from the source. With the latest finding, the astronomers have calculated that the planet and its companion star are about 20 light years distant.
However, if they were to use say use our train journey times as a reference point, they will be drastically off the mark in their results. With trains arriving at Lahore with a delay of one to nearly three hours, the determining of the exact location of this realm will require a complicated set of formulae. Ironically, the most delayed train is named the 'Buraq express'.
"We can go there" is what one astrophysicist is contemplating about the new planet, basing his assumptions on the new and revolutionary technologies being proposed for space travel. Yeah, let's see them try coming on a fact-finding missions to our land of the pure.
At first they will be denied a visa that would have permitted them to carry out their investigative campaign. If they do manage to get on our turf with a visit visa, they will simply be picked up and thrown into jail. There they can languish indefinitely and ponder over as to why they thought of wanting to discover strange and bizarre areas in the first place.
Scientists have further estimated that the newly discovered planet takes about 13 days to encircle its star. Hell, when the Ring Road project is completed, we will have our own circular system of swarms of rotating objects, that too several times a day. What with the number of cars increasing a couple of hundreds every day, our ring will soon put the famous ones of Saturn to shame. Consequently, the smoke and gases generated will soon resemble the cloudy appearance of Jupiter.
The new entry in the planet is being called a 'super Earth'. With super beings a.k.a Nazims that we have over here and who make a pompous display of power every now and then, ours is no ordinary domain. That is notwithstanding the absolute freedom of expression that we have according to our Chief Minister. Additionally, credit should be given to the incredible but invisible fruits that according to our Prime Minister, our booming economy is showering upon the public.
With such an eccentric hotchpotch of life forms playing out their intriguing roles, the planet hunters will have to accept that there might not be an Earth-like planet after all out there.
an annual I.T extravaganza is being held at FAST-NU from Saturday May 5.
• Waahdi Shopping Festival from Thursday
26 April to May 20 at Link Road Model Town, Expo Centre,
Alhamra and Royal Palm.
• A conference on recent advances in mathematical advances
will be held today at LUMS.
• Exhibition by Saima Ali Dada will continue till
Wednesday 2 May 2007 at Mahogany Art Gallery, Muslim Town.
• Exhibition of modern miniatures by eleven
artists till Monday 30 April, 2007.
• Puppet Show for children is held every Sunday morning
at Alhamra, The Mall at 11am. Ticket: Rs 5/10.
• Nazir Ahmad Music Society
stages a concert every Saturday at GCU.
• Talent Hunt musical programme every Saturday
at Alhamra Lawns at 5pm. For more information call 9200953, 9200918,
Alhamra Art Centre,
By Aoun Sahi
School teaching in Pakistan is among the lowest paid public sector professions. The situation is no better in the private sector where most schools employ untrained teachers.
In government schools, teachers have some theoretical knowhow of the teaching methods -- since a teaching degree was mandatory till some time back -- but lack of interest and poor quality trainings during the job are common problems.
The truth of the matter is that very few people are motivated to take up teaching as career. According to Muhammad Ijaz, 65, a retired primary school teacher, most of the people who adopt teaching as a profession are those who cannot get jobs elsewhere. "They lack the enthusiasm to become a good teacher. Most of them do not get appropriate training before or during the job, so they depend on unproductive traditional teaching methods." He thinks that on-job training -- or refresher courses for teachers -- can bring better results both for teachers and students.
Reports on primary education in Pakistan have often noted that 'fear of punishment' and 'harsh treatment by teachers' are key reasons for primary school dropout among students. This clearly stems from a lack of proper teacher training. Muhammad Ashraf, a 16 years old canteen boy in a Punjab University hostel, left school seven year back because his teacher ruthlessly punished him for not answering a question. "He beat me so cruelly that I lost my senses and some of my class fellows carried me to house. That was the last day I went to school," he recalls.
Muhammad Eshaq Kamyana, president All Teachers Association, (Municipal Cadre) Punjab tells TNS that more than 50 per cent of primary school teachers in Punjab are those who just have matriculation degrees (plus PTC, a preliminary teacher training diploma) and only continuous trainings can help change their attitude towards students.
Government officials are well aware of the situation. Mian Imran Masood, education minister Punjab tells TNS that they've decided to rectify the situation by training teachers on modern lines. "Teacher training does not just positively impact teachers and students or knowledge of a subject matter, the teaching methods helps children stay in school," he says.
He says that present government is very keen to upgrade and enhance the quality of education, making a beginning with the primary education and the continuous in-service training of its over 145,000 primary teachers. "The provincial government has revitalised its Directorate of Staff Development (DSD) for the continuous professional development of teachers."
The DSD would include: development of teacher standards, training, follow-up workshops and classroom visits, supervision, coaching, intra-school teacher visits, identification and refinement of teacher needs, development and supply of teacher support materials based on identified needs. Launched in collaboration with the UNICEF, it envisages an expenditure of Rs 5.6 billion over five years, according to him.
Though government officials take it as a very productive initiative of government of Punjab, some teachers still think that the programme is not meant for teachers but it is launched to oblige certain people. Muhammad Eshaq Kamyana says that the first thing government should do is to upgrade salary packages of teachers if it is serious about promoting education.
"People are not ready to take up teaching as profession. Last year City District Government Lahore appointed 750 teachers in different schools on contract. More than 500 of those teachers, so far have left the profession," he informs.
Chaudhry Muhammad Ameen District Education Officer Lahore confirms that a majority of teachers appointed last year have quit.
According to Eshaq it is right that DSD is trying to train teachers on modern lines but what good can it do to a teacher who does not have essential infrastructure like class room, blackboard etc in his school. According to him the Punjab Educational Management Information System (EMIS) database reported last year that one in 40 government schools have no building, one in 5 has no electricity or water, one in 4 has no furniture and one in 7 has no toilet.
He tells TNS that two years back the government sent him and many other teachers to a private organisation for getting computer training. The organisation taught us how to operate computer in five days. "When we returned to our schools we did not have any computers. What was the use such a training?"
with bare minimum
By Saadia Salahuddin
This is the story of Farzana Bibi, 21, who came to the newspaper office this week in search of work and shelter from a village. Farzana's is a flight from oppression. Whatever she and her husband earned in the village was not enough to meet the family's basic needs. She also had to put up with with her husband's beatings who thought she wasted a lot of money when she ought to save some. She is not ready to bear with this any more.
Here is Farzana's story. "My husband is a security guard in Lahore while I live in village Dok Lore in district Jhelum with three little children. He gives me Rs 3000 a month out of which I give Rs 1000 in 'committee'. Another thousand goes to paying grocery bills and the thousand rupees I am left with are spent on utility bills and little things my children need. Mind you, I am never able to save money for my clothes and shoes or for my children. That is out of question. What we eat is what we grow on whatever little piece of land we have. On the land that we have, we grow wheat, daal masoor, chana, daal maash, bajra and jawaar. I take one and a half quart milk for children every day but do not have money to buy a quarter litre milk for tea. I have been leaving home at six in the morning and coming back at 12 noon after wheat harvesting all round the month and I cannot have a cup of tea after a hard day's work. My husband tells me to have qahwa instead. I believe he has money but doesn't give me."
Poor Farzana does not know that the security guards who ensure other people's security, putting their own and their family's security at risk, get on average Rs 3500 per month. Liaquat Ali and Farzana have three little children. She leaves them home alone for six hours to work in the fields to ensure food for the family.
"In my absence four and a half year old Tanzeela looks after her two and a half year old brother Ghazanfar and one and a half year old sister, Aneela who looks like a nine month old because of poor health," says Farzana with pain on her face.
Her husband again beat her up last Tuesday for overspending. She says showing a bruised arm, "He beats me up indiscriminately, with anything he gets hold of. He squeezed me so hard last time that I couldn't even breathe. He is also very foul-mouthed. I am going to bear it no more. I have worked very hard for a living but no amount of effort seems to promise a decent living."
She says she has come to Lahore because she lived here for a year after her marriage. "My husband was employed at the house of an officer of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines at Defence. I worked as a domestic help there and was paid for the work. His wife was a doctor and a very good woman. Then I moved to the village just before I had my first child. Since then life has been very hard. Here in city you find work while there is no work in village. How can you survive without work? So I have come to the city in the hope that I will get work and a place for me and my children to live.
"My husband had no savings when we got married. I worked day and night along with him to make a house of our own on the five marla land that he had. I sold bajra for Rs 2000 and jand (a tree) for Rs 2500. It was a huge tree -- three tractor loads. My youngest child was only four months old when I harvested kaali maash. The yield was six maunds and sold for Rs 1400 per maund," she says. Here it is important to mention that daal maash sells for Rs 100 per kilogramme which means the grower who does all the toil, gets only Rs 35 for one kg maash.
"All the money we got from selling the maash, the tree and bajra, went into the making of the house and getting a hand pump installed in the courtyard where I lived with my children. For two and a half years I had to fetch water from other people's houses. Things have not been easy for me"
What brought Farzana to a newspaper office was the little education she has had, by virtue of which she thought this was the best place for her to get some assistance (She went to a primary school at village).
At the heart of all her toil is abject poverty, perpetuated by the ever rising prices of essential food items in the country. To make it worse the Government of Pakistan fixed the minimum wage at Rs 3500 only, last year. Farzana's account is a clear depiction of what life can be like with this amount of money. It is told in the hope that the government focuses on creating work opportunities for the rural population so that they do not swarm the cities for survival.
TO LAST WEEK'S
Best Dressed Women In Town
1 Nilofer Shahid
2 Nina Akber
3 Tahira Syed
4 Feryal Gauhar
5 Sehyr Saigol
6 Moni Kasuri
8 Samina Peerzada
9 Maheen Kardar
10 Asma Farhad Humayun
To enlist by popular vote the 'top ten' for next week, send in your emails on top ten
'Top ten desi thirst quenchers'.
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