letter from hyderabad
a science friendly society?
Countless stars shone above my head as I learnt some important facts about them at the PIA Planetarium, the only such educational place of its kind in the city. I learnt the basic properties of stars, the gases that they comprise… you know, the works. The speaker then went on to talk about planets. It was all very well till I heard that Pluto was still a planet. I was about to challenge the validity of this "fact" when there was a power outage.
"You can wait till the power returns or come back tomorrow to see the complete show," I heard someone shouting in the darkness. The stars had seized to sparkle and the buzz of disappointed children and their irritated parents pervaded the atmosphere. So what was the lesson learnt at the planetarium? That Pluto is still a planet and that there are no alternative sources of electricity in case of a power outage (which is all too common in the city).
The General Manager, Planetaria, Mubashir Zaman explains why. "Our machinery is too outdated to be run on generators safely," he says talking about the PIA Planetarium -- the first ever planetarium in Pakistan.
Set up in 1984 at the directives of the then president General Ziaul Haq, the planetarium in Karachi was to be run and taken care of by PIA on a non-commercial basis. Initially, the airline maintained it quite well but gradually lost interest in the project. Now Karachiites rarely visit this educational site, primarily because of the lack of facilities here along with updated information (case in point: Pluto's planetary status still stands as far as the planetarium is concerned). The situation is so bad now that on ordinary days, the planetarium hall that can host up to 200 people for a single show is only found housing a handful of visitors. There are exceptions when "30 people at a time visit the planetarium," shares the planetarium staff, which is quite a large number given the state of affairs. The staff at PIA Planetarium believes that the apathetic attitude of people as well as the organisation's attitude towards science is not helping the planetarium grow.
"We need funds to update our equipment," says Zaman while talking to Kolachi. "Instead, PIA tells us to generate funds on our own which is impossible as we are already facing huge losses," he adds. On an average day, the planetarium earns not more than Rs5 000 while its daily cost is Rs10,000. The lack of visitors and the nominal entry charges have not let the planetarium earn any money.
"People have less regard for science and astronomy now," explains Zaman. However, Shahid Qureshi, the in-charge of the Institute of Space and Planetary Astrophysics does not agree with this view. Having been associated with astronomy for decades now, Shahid Qureshi believes that there is no reason that people won't visit the planetarium, if is maintained well. "A planetarium can mimic solar system perfectly if done right," he says "which is a great attraction especially in big cities where pollution never allows one to see the stars at night," he adds. In fact, a planetarium can even simulate the movement of stars over thousands of years. Qureshi says that a planetarium actually serving this purpose can be a huge attraction in a big city like Karachi where people cannot even see more than 50 stars at a time because of pollution and high-rises. "A planetarium in such cities helps people learn more about the universe along with helping them think rationally," he adds. This is why a planetarium is always well-received by the residents of big cities.
On the contrary, the planetarium in Karachi does anything but that. The programmes and their scripts projected at the planetarium have not been updated in 25 years nor has enough effort been put to replace the outdated equipment that does not support the running of new programs. Besides that, Qureshi points out that the PIA fails to advertise the existing planetarium sufficiently.
"They need to constantly remind people of their presence," he says suggesting the regular lectures and workshops on astronomy as well science exhibitions arranged by the planetarium on its premises may just work.
Professor Aquila Islam seconds Shahid Qureshi. For years she has been a part of Amstropak, a science society that objected to the dismantling of the PIA Planetarium that was suggested a few years ago. The dismantling of the projected was opposed with a slogan "we need the planetarium for knowledge," something that Professor Aquila still believes in. She says that though not at par with international standards, the PIA Planetarium should still be allowed to continue as such places are rare in Karachi as it is. She, however, agrees that the facilities provided at the planetarium need revision. Also a telescope in the planetarium should be made available to the general public to view scientific events such as a solar eclipse. She thinks that the planetarium officials need to do more to attract children towards science.
Prospective visitors, however, feel differently. "Why would one want to visit it?" wonders Bilal, a matriculation student at the end of the 40 minute audio-visual programme at the planetarium. Bilal says he visited the planetarium almost after 10 years, pointing out that "it is just the same" with not even a single change in information or the boring style of presentation. Bilal believes unless it is updated with new and exciting scientific programmes, no one would want to come here. "Why will I come here when I can see better and informative programs on television instead?" he questions.
Thankfully, the planetarium staff is quick to admit the shortcomings on their part, especially their negligence in at least updating the script according to new discoveries as well as advertising. However, one staffer also feels that "people are more interested in eating and entertainment than books and education now." Professor Aquila also seconds this notion. Given this trend, the planetarium authorities plan to set up a fast food restaurant alongside the planetarium to attract people. For this, permission is required for joint collaboration with a private entity to use it for commercial purposes. However, due to the indifferent attitude of the management of the planetarium, Zaman says, it cannot materialise, "though it could help us earn enough to upgrade the planetarium as well as to run its day-to-day operations."
Apart from that, the PIA Planetarium officials hold institutes in Karachi as well responsible for this state of affairs. "We are already doing a lot," says Zaman in the facility's defence, "but the responsibility of serving the public lies with other institutes as well." Zaman feels that the institutes in Karachi do little to arrange free-of-cost scientific lectures, exhibitions or other services at the planetarium that can help advertise and improve its image. "The planetarium can be a good source to make our children think and dream," Zaman says "but the responsibility to make them think lies to the entire society," he adds. Professor Aquila and Dr Qureshi second it. "Even if the PIA spends one per cent of its advertising budget on this project, it can be revived," says Dr Qureshi. "And if scientists deliver regular lectures on varying topics at the planetarium, it persuade a lot of Karachiites to visit it," adds Professor Aquila.
by Athar Khan
Acts of terrorism back with a vengeance
'I am amazed at how quickly life goes back to normal in the city after such blasts' – Mehmood, a businessman
By Madiha Ansari
Terror revisited Karachi last week – July 7, 2008 also known as Karachi's 7/7 (like the London bombings) – after months of calm. A series of six successive bomb blasts shook the city. The last major bomb blast in the city occurred on January 15, 2008. Last week, however, even though the loss of lives was minimum (as compared to other such tragedies that occur in the city on a routine basis), the relative peace and calm that had begun to settle in the city like thick clouds of dust was blown away. As is the case with such incidents, life in the city comes to a halt and panic spreads like wildfire as the citizens frantically try to get in touch with their loved ones to see if they are okay. Kolachi spoke to several people to gauge their reaction post 7/7.
Aqsa, a student of Karachi University (KU), had much to say about the blast. "It was quite shocking and unnerving. Uncertainty has always prevailed in Karachi. I was out shopping when this happened and as a result, the traffic in Saddar became really bad. I could not go back home (Steel Town) owing to fear and stayed at my cousin's place. I called home and asked everyone to stay at home... how long will this continue?"
Such incidents create panic and fear among the people, said Munazza, a banker by profession. She was of the opinion such incidents of terrorism "are becoming more and more common; an alarming trend. These blasts are nothing more than ways to destroy the peace in the city and divide its people. I was at work when I heard that six blasts had occurred in different parts of the city. I left my work place soon after that but got stuck in traffic. My family on the other hand, called me constantly to make sure that I was okay," she explained.
Rabia, another university student, said that "I was at Hilal Park when my friend messaged me and told me about the blasts. So I went home immediately. It was a very depressing day. Just when you think that things in Karachi are getting better, it goes downhill once again."
Some students at a coaching centre were of the opinion that such incidents are carried out by those who feel that the city's development would not be in their best interests. One such student, Ahmed said that "the city has developed a lot over the past couple of years and these attacks are just to undermine all that work. Such incidents do bring the city life to a halt. Everything becomes quiet and it seems as if the city is mourning," he explained.
Dr Mahjabeen Hasan, a medical practitioner, who arrived in the city the same day the bomb blasts took place, said she was horrified at the news and fails to understand what possible purpose these attacks could serve in a city that is already smarting from the wound inflicted on it in the past.
Faizan Raheem, who works for a local television channel explained that "I was sent to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital to do a report on the injured. However, there was no medical superintendent present on duty nor was there any hospital staff. Apparently a minister had come to visit and because of that, all staff was missing in action. Such is the state of affairs of hospitals when incidents like this happen."
However, every cloud has a silver lining. The city recovers quickly from such incidents and life goes back to normal sooner than expected. Mahmood, a businessman by profession said," I am amazed by the way this city recovers after such incidents. Within a couple of days things start to get normal. I was at work when I heard the news of the blasts. I stayed in at work for a bit so that I wouldn't get caught in the post-blast frenzy but when I went home, life seemed to go on albeit a little slowly for most people."
Building houses… and hopes
By Shahid Shah
"How would you feel if you could get your own swimming pool, that too in hours?" asks Nargis Latif, the master mind and head of the Gulbahao project. She calls this innovation "a gift of Karachi".
Aptly named Chandi Ghar or silver house, these block houses are relatively warm in the winter and cool in the summer as compared to the other houses. This is akin to Ajrak, special clothing from Sindh, that keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Chandi ghar is a variety of pre-fabricated houses that can be built and dismantled in a very short spam of time.
In the United States, wood houses serve as pre-fabricated homes. Since wood is becoming too expensive besides being flammable, these plastic block houses that are fire resistant have an edge over other such homes. In fact, the price of the wood houses is almost ten times higher than the Chandi Ghar. Wood houses require sophisticated equipment. However, building houses with industrial plastic waste is quite a simple process. Another type of pre-fabricated houses is those made out of tin. But being poorly insulated, they cannot be used in the summer. Iron's super conductivity keeps the houses cold in winter as well.
These plastic houses have been especially designed for areas that are prone to natural disasters. Thus, they can be used in mountainous regions as well as long the coastal belt and areas with high seismic activity. The idea of creating the plastic block houses was evolved in the mid-90s. Latif said she got the idea when received a plastic-filled pillow. So the project was initiated first with flooring and swimming pool. The first stall made with these plastic blocks was displayed at a weekly fair bazaar at Kashmir Road.
Chandi ghar, as the name suggests, is made of plastic blocks mostly covered in silver-coloured plastic bags. "It is an evolutionary process," explained Latif. What initially started off with industrial plastic waste, is now being constructed with clean raw material.
As mentioned earlier, the cost of the project is Chandi Ghar is very little. Plastic shopping bags are "much cleaner than conventional blocks made of cement," added Latif. Also worth mentioning here is that the blocks are made from non-conductor plastic thus they have the quality of being fire resistant as well.
Gulbahao has constructed nearly 100 such houses in the last 13 years, but its spending on research is much higher than the total cost of the sold houses. The organisation has spent nearly Rs60 million on research, more than 65 per cent of which came from commercial activities. "We got commercial loans with a high percentage from money lenders and a certain percentage from donations," she explained.
Besides constructing houses at various points in Karachi, Gulbahao also provided Chandi Ghar to the earthquake-affected areas in the country.
Latif, however, said that the government has been most unsupportive of this venture especially when these houses were bulldozed twice in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in 2006 without any legal notice. "We had written permission on those occasions and we were paying monthly rent," she lamented.
Though currently prices of these plastic blocks remain low, there is a prediction of their increase in the future as currently, the plastic raw waste from the industries is relatively cheap in the country.
Even though plastic block houses remain low-profiled still, Nargis Latif is optimistic and hopes the idea will catch on.
Termed as a political gateway and the second most important city of Sindh, Hyderabad doesn't leave a good impression on those who are visiting the city for the first time, especially if one is coming via train into the city.
This is mainly because of the sad state of affairs of the Hyderabad Railway Station, which seems to be falling apart in the name of development work. For starters the road leading to the station is dug up with little or no work being carried out on it. This work, said to be development work, has been underway for the last two years... ever since the new local body government was sworn in.
The road is question, known as Station Road, houses drainage pipes (which is why it was dug up in the first place – to lay drainage pipes) and mountains of sand. The situation creates immense problems for passengers who are travelling to far-flung places in the country through trains.
Similarly, the business activities on the road, especially at the Bacha Khan Chowk close to the railway station comes to a constant standstill because of this development work. Also worth mentioning here is the stagnant water that can be found on the road. No efforts have been made to drain out the water so far.
Furthermore, those who want to go on this street via public transport are required to pay extra given the problems faced by rickshaws and taxi cabs to get on the street.
There is another dilemma for the ill-fated road – it doesn't fall within the limits of the taluka city municipal administration. The Latifabad taluka looks over this road despite the fact that this is located in limits of the city taluka. A resolution in this regard has been moved in the city council to give control of the road to the city taluka so that it can be improved upon.
In developed and even some of the lesser developed countries, the district administration and management gives importance to routes such as station roads because of far-reaching impressions of visitors but this is anything but true of the administration in Hyderabad. Are the authorities in question listening?