it up with Saad Haroon
The city home to top software houses is without an official website for years
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Lahore, undoubtedly one of the most sought-after travel destinations in Pakistan, is widely searched on internet by millions of people all over the world. The inquisitive web searchers are mostly interested in knowing about any upcoming public events in the city, details of historic places, cultural and tourism scene, shopping opportunities and, in case of locals, the district government’s service delivery mechanism.
But quite unfortunately, the situation is that the official website of the City District Government Lahore (CDGL) is dysfunctional for many years. The website, which once was there, was hosted on the orders of Lahore former nazim Mian Amir Mehmood, and carried comprehensive contact details of elected representatives as well as officials serving the district.
This was in addition to the availability of brief history of the city, a press clippings section, UC-wise profile map and some downloadable forms like those needed for issuance of domicile.
Though static in format with no option at all for two-way communication, the past at least had a symbolic presence in the cyber world, says Asif Bhatti, a website developer based in Lahore. He tells TNS that the things have got bad from worse as there is no credible website on the city that can provide authentic information to visitors.
The website’s address was lahore.gov.pk which according to the CDGL sources has now been changed to lahorecity.gov.pk and printed on official stationery as well. Asif says when one types any one of the addresses what appears is the message that the webpage is not available. "God knows what stops the government from making its website functional. Money should not be an issue as I think the amount spent on the salary of one grade 17 official and his perks and privileges is enough to run it," says Asif.
Shahid Kamran, an web developer who serves clients abroad, says it’s quite an irony that Lahore, which is the software industry hub of Pakistan, does not have an authentic website of its own. He suggests the government must outsource the maintenance of its website if it’s hard for it to perform the function. This will save huge costs incurred on the running of the IT wing of CDGL and the employees can be adjusted in some other section.
Shahid says the assertion that Lahore is a widely searched keyword on search engines is backed by the results shown by Google trends service. He says the results show the web queries about the city have trebled over the last four or five years. The same results, he says, show the highest number of searches have been from Pakistan followed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, United States, Germany and France.
When talking in terms of cities, Lahore tops and is followed by Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Karachi, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Delhi, Toronto and London. The Google trends service has also revealed that the highest number of searches about Lahore have been in English. German and French are two other languages in which most of the searches have been made, he says adding this service is similar to the one which put Pakistanis on top in searching for the word "sex" some time back.
When contacted for comments, a CDGL official tells TNS the website became a victim of neglect after the departure of Mian Amir and suspension of local bodies’ system. He says there is an IT wing in CDGL and every other day they are told the website will be functional soon but no one gives an absolute date.
He says the sitting Lahore DCO Ahad Cheema has made repeated announcements, even in the media, about the likely launch of the website but never gave a deadline. On the contrary, he says, the CDGL has succeeded in achieving the much tougher task of acquiring the software for online transfer of land ownerships and training the relevant staff, he adds. This is enough proof that public interest comes much after the commercial for CDGL which is eyeing land transfer fees and service fees, the official adds.
Normally, whenever the government fails to deliver, the private sector steps in to fill the void. But in this particular case the situation is not the same. There are non-official websites like lahore.com, lahorecity.com and lahorebazaar.com but the data is sketchy and sometimes even contradictory.
Citing an example, Adeel Butt, an avid web server says the website lahorecity.com has a lot of relevant information on it but in addition to that there’s stuff not related to the city at all. For example, he says there’s no need to give links like ‘Arab Singers and Models’, ‘Beautiful Pakistani Girls’, ‘Bollywood Wallpapers’ etc. Adeel says he’s not against the freedom available to website developers but believes the domain name lahorecity.com qualifies for much more relevant stuff.
The Kinnaird years
By Ammara Ahmad
Places hold us, whether we like it or not…rather like barbed wires…we leave little bits of ourselves there.
— Katherine Mansfield.
Last week, Kinnaird held its 74th convocation. Almost one thousand graduates converged in the Amphitheater behind Kinnaird’s buildings and next to its famed hockey ground. I was one of the black and maroon robbed women, in those mortar board caps.
Five years ago, on a very rainy and grey day, I had entered Kinnaird’s red sandstone building for the first time. The purpose was to take a statistics test which was compulsory to get admission in the psychology department.
When I look back at myself, strolling in those long, colonial corridors for the first time, I see someone incredibly naïve. I wanted to bring a revolution, read every great literary piece, play the flute and have some leisure time to paint, despite majoring in Environmental Sciences and giving due attention to environmental activism.
Throughout the years, there was discontent among the students. Kinnaird was not popular within Kinnaird, partly because, like most government institutes, the administration was neither interested in improving it nor bothered about people’s opinion. Many of the older staff members still believed Kinnaird to be the best, and lived in oblivion of the modern and private institutes that now perforated in Lahore and attract much of the student cream.
It was however, not as bad as many students thought. Many of these students had started their lines, hoping to become doctors, go abroad or join LUMS but couldn’t. They saw Kinnaird as the outcome of their disappointment and were perpetually depressed or indifferent.
Academically, what kept me bound were the many short courses (generals) we had to complete. We could choose these, and here I studied philosophy, Oscar Wilde, theatre skills, psychology, German language and the film studies class that happened on Saturdays when the college was all empty and romantic. I had been in love with the Nobel Laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez for as long as I remember. Since he wrote in Spanish, it had always been my desire to also attain fluency in this beautiful language; this desire was fulfilled here, through my Spanish classes.
Debates had always been my passion and Kinnaird had quite a debating squad. We gathered every Saturday to prepare for the parliamentary style in which one got a topic and had to prepare one’s case on the spot, with the help of two or three team members.
Through the debating sessions, I was introduced to a girl Maria in the first semester and eventually we became best friends. I had finally discovered someone like-minded and entertaining. We skipped sports parade, sat behind the basketball court amidst trees and took long walks around the old hostels talking about everything under the sun, discussing life, love and literature, giving vent to all our youthful exuberance and idealism.
But Kinnaird was not all milk and roses we had our share of troubles and travails, in particular with tough teachers, random classes, unpleasant assignment, clerical hassles and a host of other problems that somehow still seemed to prevail in the Victorian, archaic atmosphere.
But all that was in the past; at the convocation we were on the threshold of becoming graduates. Sadly, Maria could not be with me as she is away in Germany but she was very much with me in spirit. It seemed that all the old shades of my first entry into those hallowed portals had once again collected around me.
A day after the convocation, I went to Kinnaird to return my robe and the mortar board cap. It was raining, just like my first day in Kinnaird. The first time I walked through these corridors, I couldn’t recognise any of the old faces. Now I couldn’t recognise the new ones. The grand oak in the centre, about which I had coined so many stories, was still there — old, lush and grand in its maternal benevolence.
Just as Mansfiled had suggested, a small portion of me has been left behind in Kinnaird. Amidst the rain drenched, verdant trees, the crimson building looked at me, asking me to return — someday, perhaps.
*Festival: 3rd Lahore International Children’s Film Festival from Sat, Mar 5 to Wed, Mar 9 at Ali Auditorium. Fee: Rs. 100. The festival is being organised at 2 venues simultaneously. There are morning and evening shows at Ali Auditorium, while only morning shows at PAF Cinema Cantt.
*An exhibition of paintings by Rahat Naveed Masud titled The Ishq series at Ejaz Galleries till March 2. The gallery remains open from 11:00 am–8:00 pm.
*Child Art Competition for age group 4 to 12 years at Permanent Art Gallery, Cultural Complex, Qaddaffi Stadium till March 13 from 9:00pm to 1:00pm.
*Group Exhibition by Artists Association of Punjab till Mon, Feb 28 at Alhamra Arts Council, The Mall.
*International Mushaira at Faiz Ghar on Saturday, March 5 from 4:00pm to 5:30pm.
*Lecture on ‘The Arab Intifada Military rule or people’s power’ at Cafe Bol today from 6:30pm-9:30pm.
*Weekly Puppet Show for children every Sunday at 11am. Children can see fairy and folk tales coming alive on stage. Regular workshops are conducted for those interested in learning this art form.
Screen for the green
Cricket freaks who want to watch matches on the big screen will get many chances here in this very city
By Naila Inayat
Almost two years back the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009 took away the hopes of millions of Pakistani fans to watch the World Cup games at home. Today all those budding street cricketers swarming the streets of Lahore feel that the opportunity of watching quality cricket has been taken away from them.
"Cricket always becomes a reason for get-togethers in a country where avenues of entertainment are shrinking with every passing day," says Salman, a college student.
Salman plans to buy sixty five-inch plasma HDTV to set up a home theatre for the upcoming games. "Initially, I wanted to put this up in the local ground but then I wasn’t given permission by the town authorities. But we friends are planning a lot of match-viewing functions privately for sure."
Salman and his friends are planning private screenings but there are other possibilities for cricket freaks who want to watch the match on the big screen and get the feeling as if they were part of that floodlight-lit cricket stadium, that is — the big screen in your cinema.
According to a recent survey, during the first three days since the opening match between India and Bangladesh, the cinema business suffered a loss of more than 60 percent, while the theatres for stage performances have witnessed a decrease of around 50 percent. The ticket sales at cinema halls and theatres across Pakistan have dropped down by more than 50 percent and it is predicted that film and stage business will bear a loss of Rs250 million.
"For the first time we will be screening a cricket match in our cinema. Last year we successfully showed the world cup football matches and it has encouraged us to try the cricket play," says Mohsin Mehmood, manager Cinestar Township.
Under the circumstances, where no big film will come out and most of the small releases will be lined-up till April 4, the cinema administrators in Lahore feel that flowing with the cricket mood is the way to go.
"We plan to show all the matches from the quarter finals to semi-finals followed by the grand finale. The tickets will be distributed per match and not per innings. We still have to finalise the ticket rates because there is a difference between a six-hour plus cricket match and a two-and-a-half-hour movie screening.
"We would want to cover the losses that we are suffering because of the world cup directly so we do plan to give an economical rate to our cinema goers," says Mohsin.
Shafaq Ahsan, a cricket enthusiast says, "It will be an interesting and a new experience. Especially our youth will enjoy it a lot. And on a personal note I will get more excited by the energy of the crowd which will make me feel as if I’m watching live action.
"However, Mohammad Bashir, manager of Gulistan, Lahore’s biggest cinema thinks otherwise. "Mcleod Road has the most cinemas in the city and in 2007 world cup Empire cinema showed some world cup matches and the plan flopped because no one wanted to see a 6-7 hour match in a hall."
"At home you have the liberty to roam about, watch first power play or the exciting second innings but in a cinema I don’t think it will work out. As it didn’t in the past. If it is a hockey or a football game you can expect the fans to stay but with cricket it becomes boring. This one and a half month, we plan to screen Bollywood hits like Dabang, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham or Hollywood’s First Carnival but not cricket for sure, it’s a lost cause!"
The show was arguably the city’s first glimpse of quality English-based comedy
By Ali Umair Chaudhry
"If the joke is funny, people will laugh. It does not matter if it is Lahore, Karachi or anywhere else in the world", says an exuberant Saad Haroon. The diminutive Ali Auditorium was thence to be the setting for the return of Karachi’s ace English-language standup comic to the city of Lahore, in a one-hour run produced by Production Illusions. . His previous visits to the walled city have been smash hits, filling up halls to the floor as far up as the neck of the stage. It was time for the comedian to prove his class and mettle in conjuring brand new content for a one hour act – and to avoid being phrased as a two hit wonder.
The recently married Saad stepped onto the stage in front of a near capacity crowd with a water bottle and a budding reputation. Saad kick-started the proceedings with a controlled account of the mindset of the average Defence-based Lahori living constrained in his or her own social bubble, which proved to be the perfect ice-breaker. Gradually working up on the crowd through his trademark use of interactive questions and answer sessions, Saad used his spontaneity with remarkable ease. "He selects almost one person from each small corner of the crowd, almost so regularly that you feel you might be next. And that’s the best part," said Aimen, a spectator.
Saad Haroon’s trademark standup run works in quite a simple manner: a number of queries are propped up to a random person in the audience in terms of his vocation and marital status. If the person is married, he’ll pit up comic queries for the spouse sitting by. If he’s single, he’ll try to pair him up with another spectator from the opposite sex somewhere down the act. It sounds like simple fun, but Saad utilises his keen sharpness and adaptability with sudden references to their professional and marital statuses in the proceeding with parody songs and political satires. "So what is it that a diplomat really does? "He works casually with an American diplomat, who was among the spectators," other than driving vehicles and hunting down dacoits?
The audience was in fits with Saad’s freshest produce – ranging from the worldly perception of Muslims as terrorists to a song dedicated to mobile snatchers and dacoits. His better jokes of past, which are widely distributed on the internet, were also flexed in, such as a take on Lionel Richie’s song ‘Hello’ titled ‘Salam’.
Saad’s other strength lies in his onstage antics and gestures, which ably support his vocal delivery and complete him as a comedian. Gibran, a television actor amongst the audience, is full of praise for the actor, "With Saad, it’s not just about funny punch lines to jokes, his act is all about pulling up his knee, finger-horning himself to resemble an alien, and dance to the guitar of his friend Amin, to songs which are trivial yet extremely entertaining".
"The best part of the act was Saad’s ‘words of wisdom’," states Ayesha, a feeling which was shared by quite a few. These were a selection of anecdotes and statements sung to the rhythm of a guitar: "All left handed drivers are non-Muslims" or ‘"Don’t try to run away from a Chaudhry because he knows the land better than you."
Despite the presence of the cream of fashion, television and social circle, the fact that the country’s leading English standup comedian still hasn’t recieved the media focus he fully deserves, is quite disheartening. Wasiq Qadeer, the lead organiser behind the event, said, "It is tragic that in Lahore in which every single person leaves the auditorium satisfied, people make such a fuss paying five hundred rupees for an hour entertainment when they spend money away on things of less entertainment value."
Performing in a medium with which the masses are not acquainted, the show was arguably the city’s first glimpse of quality English-based comedy since a leading film actress ‘glorified’ the language in a succession of interviews. As Saad himself reiterates in one of his on-stage buildups, "Isn’t this so much better than watching a Bollywood movie?"