and ready to mingle
Text by staff member
Amidst the meandering and not-so-meandering lanes and major thoroughfares of Karachi stand buildings that are testament to a bygone era. Some weather-beaten, others derelict, these buildings remain silent bystanders to the ever-changing environs of the city. Be it the colonial Raj or the wretched Zia-imposed Martial Laws, these buildings have indeed seen it all.
Since most of these buildings are the legacy left behind the British, they have been constructed in a typical fashion with Jhimpir stones adorning the exterior. Domes, arches and niches are some of the more common features found in most of these buildings along with clock towers that seem heaven-bound. In these buildings, one can find the fusion of, as the cliché goes, two cultures - the East and the West. The jharokas and intricately detailed wooden doors and windows is bound to take any tourist by surprise or even those citizens of the country who believe that Karachi, given its cosmopolitan nature, lacks the historical and cultural magnificence found in some of the other cities of Pakistan. It's worth mentioning here that most of these old buildings can be found in (surprise, surprise) most of the old areas of Karachi - these include Kharadar, Mithadar, Saddar, Burns Road and Tower areas. Some of these can also be found in the business centre of the city such as the State Bank of Pakistan building which remains resplendent in all its glory to this day. While some of them are being put to good use - for example the Mohatta Palace which has now been turned into a museum or even the Quaid-e-Azam House for that matter - others remain neglected such as the ever-expanding and bustling Empress Market found in Saddar. Then there are the court buildings which have been defaced, thanks to the graffiti and the digging within and outside the courtyard of the building thus leaving behind piles of rubble that remain unmoved. Renovation and restoration should be the order of the day but unfortunately it is not. If anything, these buildings dying a slow, uneventful death, thus erasing from it whatever little memories that the city has of its once-glorious past.
Numerous governments have promised time and again to restore these buildings to their former glory but nothing concrete has been done in this regard so far. In fact, according to reports in the newspapers, uplift work by the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) being carried out in certain areas of the city serve as a threat to the old buildings of the city. One can only wonder why this is happening and can hope that the promised restoration these buildings remain on the agenda of the powers of that be.
By Zunaira Nadeem
Matrimonial services have long been present in Karachi obvious from the plethora of advertisements that have been appearing in the newspapers, and now on the internet, for many years (not to mention the contact details of the go-betweens painted in bold letters on walls, buses and flyovers). Though there have always been a large number of marriage bureaus, such services seem to be on the rise in the city. Gone are the days when 'cholans' -- women who went from one house to the other to fix matches according to their socio-economic background - were the only way to finding a suitable life partner. Now it's all about marriage bureaus and websites that ask people to register themselves with the site in order to profile the candidate so that a suitable match can be found for them. In fact, so popular are these websites that a lot of internationally recognised internet 'marriage' bureaus have found their way in Karachi. In this regard, Zehra Kachelo, who runs the shaadi.com franchise in the city, feels that this is a good trend. "Times have changed. The internet has conquered all boundaries and people are more willing to put themselves out there online and look for a mate," she explains.
Shaadi.com, a website devoted to arranging South Asian marriages, opened its office in Karachi in September 2007 at Park Towers. According to the information available on the site, it is the world's 'largest' Indian-based online website which helps people in finding the perfect life partners. According to Irfan, one of the key persons responsible for bringing the website to Pakistan, since the usage of internet is still not as rampant as one would like to think in Pakistan, "this office gives the people a way to contact us personally and understand how to use the site."
The reasons for using matrimonial websites/marriage bureaus are many. Kachelo feels that it gives "sceptical people a chance." Mrs Shaheed Aslam, who has a single son, feels the same way. "I've tried many different things but I still can not seem to find the right girl for my son. So I went to a marriage bureau in the hopes that I will find the perfect mate for my son. I haven't found anyone yet but I am quite satisfied with the services that have been offered," she explains. When asked whether she had tried online marriage sites she said that she hadn't. However, she says that she will consider it. "If the site is reliable then it would be worth a shot. Many people have advised me to do just that but I have been sticking it out with the marriage bureaus," she adds.
Then there are expatriates who have employed the use of matrimonial services. For this purpose, many of them rely on such websites to connect them to other Pakistani families abroad as well as back home. In this regard, mehndi.com, Pakistan's largest matrimonial site online caters to mostly Pakistanis that have settled outside the country and has up to 750,000 registered profiles on it. Mahmood Azam, 21, a student in the US, admits that he joined mehndi.com in order to find a spouse. He joined the matrimonial site in order to find a girl that would not be ethnically so different from him and at the same time a permanent ticket to the US. "I joined in hopes of that but what I found was even better. My cousin, also living in the US, was also registered on the site. Before, I did not even realise she was interested in marriage." Mahmood eventually proposed to his cousin and they are now engaged.
There are many other reasons for using such services. Being alienated from family, the lack of confidence to talk to a man/woman that one finds interesting, same ethnicity, religion and socio-economic background, and failed relationships are some of them. Mehreen Gilani, 44, a long-time resident of New York, says that she created a profile for her daughter on a website to find the right boy for her. "I want my daughter to find someone who can understand her in terms of being brought up outside Pakistan and at the same time can share our cultural values with her." When asked why she didn't refer to family in Pakistan as well as abroad, she explains that "so many people we know have been fooled into marriages where the in-laws turned out to be liars and gold diggers. This way at least we have other options and time to settle things between the families."
help the heart
Some people might be wary of the notion that a positive mental attitude can help people survive medical crises, but a fresh study makes a credible case for optimism as a tool against cardiovascular disease -- at least as far as men are concerned.
Robert Gramling of the University of Rochester Medical Centre tracked nearly 3,000 adults ages 35 to 75 with no prior history of heart disease over 15 years, collecting baseline data from 1990 to
1992 and checking their health outcomes through 2005.
Gramling found that the men who at the outset reported thinking that they were at less risk than other guys their age of dying of a heart attack or stroke within the next five years were, in fact, far less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than those who thought they were at higher risk. The optimists had a three times lower incidence of death from these cardiovascular events than the less-optimistic chaps. This, despite that fact that about half the fellows who thought so well of their heart health -- whether that was an accurate assessment, an expression of naivete, or a form of denial -- would have been categorised as being at high or very high risk of heart trouble if evaluated via objective medical tests.
Gramling reasons that some degree of concern over one's health can lead people to take steps to protect their health -- like getting a vaccination, for instance. But faced with the kind of long-term work it takes to maintain heart health, such as exercising and eating right, some folks might get discouraged or fearful and do counterproductive things, like overeating comfort foods or drinking too much alcohol, to allay that discomfort. In turn, he figures, those who aren't too worried about their hearts might be less likely to indulge in those destructive behaviors.
Unfortunately, the data didn't paint a similar picture for women; those who felt they were at low risk fared no better than those who thought their risk was greater. Gramling thinks this may have to do with the fact that, when the study started, little was understood about women's heart-disease risk. As the study notes, perceptions of women's risk of cardiovascular disease were so low back then that even those women who said they were at equal or higher risk than other women weren't exactly expressing pessimism. Now of course we know that heart disease is at least as big a threat to women as it is to men and is the leading cause of death among women, far surpassing cancer as a killer.
Gramling's not ready to prescribe a dose of optimism to ward off heart attacks, though. "Our study can't tell you what changing your behavior can or can't do," he says. He's looking instead to the medical community to rethink the way it talks to patients about cardiovascular risk. "Some of the labels are pretty negative," he says. "Instead of talking about 'high risk,'" and thus invoking fear, he suggests, "maybe we should change the language so we're not trying to overtly shape patient perception." The study appeared in latest issue of the Annals of Family Medicine .
By Farooq Baloch
The Sindh Education Minister has announced that 7,700 schools in the province have been closed down. Even if they were to remain open, the majority of the people do not rate most governmental educational programmes, or even internationally-funded programmes, very highly. Under such a scenario, then, it is perhaps fortunate that Hope, a non-governmental organisation committed to spreading education throughout the slums of Sindh, exists.
Hope has schools all over Sindh, and these schools fall under two categories: Home schools and formal schools. At Home schools, girls from the educated community in low-income areas of Karachi and rural Sindh are appointed to teach children up to the fifth grade. The children are provided with books, bags, and stationery. The teachers themselves are Hope-taught, and once they pass a certain level, teach in their own home, free of cost. Their salary is covered by Hope. At present, there are nearly 4,000 children studying in 70 Home schools spread out all over Karachi and rural Thatta.
Despite rampant child labour, Hope's Home schools have attracted a large number of children.
"Parents of these forgotten children often resist getting them an education - they would prefer them to earn," says Chairperson of Hope Dr Muneeba Agbotwalla. "However, that is slowly changing. The students who have done well have become an inspiration for others."
Hope's formal schools, which are modelled on conventional schools, have far fewer children: there are 250 in Thatta and 750 in Karachi. These schools have classes up to the tenth grade, and also have a monthly fee, albeit a nominal one. The Hope school in Zia Colony, Korangi Town, charges Rs30 for the lowest grade and Rs80 for the top grade (i.e. tenth). The top two students in the tenth grade are awarded a Rs50,000 scholarship to pay for their higher education.
To minimise costs, Hope has begun its 'Adopt a Child' programme, where volunteers fund a child's education. For a primary school child, this amounts to Rs2,500 a year, and Rs4,000 a year for a secondary school child. The fund covers all educational expenses such as books, uniforms, and stationery. Volunteers are kept up to date about their 'adopted' child's progress, and are encouraged to donate textbooks, lunch boxes, water bottles, or anything the children could use.
Mannu Bheel has been on the streets of Hyderabad for the last 10 years and is protesting the release of his nine family members, kidnapped in 1998 by the landlord Abdul Rehman Marri (from whose illegal detention Bheel was released along with 59 others). However, the powers that be have yet to do something in this regard.
Mannu Bheel also holds the record of observing token hunger strike outside the Hyderabad Press Club for over 1,000 days in a bid to get his family released.
However, it seems that all his efforts are in vain, because it is not making much of a difference. Only once did he have any hope of getting his family released - that is when the deposed Chief Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed took up his case in 2006. Unfortunately, however, he was deposed in March 2007 and Mannu Bheel was back to square one.
Mannu Bheel was languishing in one of the private jails in Sindh where the landlord in question had kept him along with others and was forced to work but after the intervention of the local authorities who are bound by the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, 1992, he was released in 1996.
However, two years later, his family was kidnapped. He appealed to several international organisations such as Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International but his situation remains unchanged to this day.
It was only in 2006 when the deposed Chief Justice took notice of Bheel, the year when he had completed more than three years of token hunger strike just outside Hyderabad press club. The then CJ directed the concerned authorities for the release of his family members. However, the landlord, being an influential man, got the investigating officer transferred. However, the prime accused of the case Rehman Marri remained in jail for two years and his bail application was accepted after the Pakistan People's Party government took over the affairs of the country through February 18, 2008 elections.
Talking about his struggle, Bheel says that he will continue with this 'crusade' come what may, despite the fact that he has been receiving death threats from the prime accused who was granted bail soon after the new government was formed.
It is high time the present government determined the whereabouts of Mannu Bheel's family and gets them released. Furthermore, efforts should be made to enforce the Bonded Labour Act and get the 1.7 million bonded laborers freed from the agricultural fields of Sindh.
Finally, the process should not stop with getting the peasants released but these peasants should be provided with the basic necessities of life, rehabilitation along with land that they can call their own.
Picture by Sajjad Zaidi