Sunday, 26 May 2013

At the Library

View from the 4th floor
I like the atmosphere at Toronto Reference Library located in downtown Toronto. I am spending considerable amount of my free time here these days (as expected, I would say). It is a bit informal. Students can be found doing their homework in groups. Teenagers are busy in texting on their phones using open Wi-Fi offered by the library. People are reading, people are talking in low voices, but there is no pin-drop silence. They are allowed to bring in coffee, soft drinks and fast food. It is a huge library. Its five-story building and a collection of 4 million items makes it the biggest public reference library in Canada. It has around one hundred sub-branches spread all over the city. It has its own art exhibit space, a computer learning center, a language lab, quiet study rooms and even a piano practice room. Native language collections include more than 60 languages. I wish we could have something like that in Islamabad.

Directional sound speakers and TV area on the ground floor in the Browsery
Urdu section at Toronto Reference Library

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Victoria Day

In some aspects, Canadians are more British in traditions than the British. Take for instance the celebrations and public holiday of Victoria Day. It all started in 1854, on 35th birthday of Queen Victoria when Canadian parliament officially recognized May 24 as the Queen's birthday. Canadian have remained steadfast on this tradition ever since (apart from the fact that it was shifted to Monday before May 25 in 1952 to mark a long weekend and Québécois renamed it to the National Patriots' Day in 2003).

In Toronto, its main event is the fireworks display on Ashbridge Bay Park at night. Display was at 10 PM but beach front was full by 8 O’clock. I have never seen such an influx of people here in Toronto before. All roads leading to Ashbridge were full to the capacity. I later came to know that people who started late were not able to reach the venue at all due to traffic jams. At beach, there was an atmosphere of great festivity. People were busy talking in groups, while children were active in playing. Police was also present in good numbers and even mounted police was on the call to prevent any breakdown in law and order. The display was colorful and worth waiting for. Unfortunately, my mobile camera was not equipped to capture it splendor in full.

It started to rain as soon as the event ended. For the first time, I witnessed a breakdown in TTC transport service. Buses were not able to reach designated points due to traffic gridlocks at intersections. Everyone has to walk in rain to seek shelter and reach buses that were trapped in traffic. Police was busy everywhere to resolve the situation and people also behaved quite reasonably with utmost patience. The air of celebration and joy continued during the whole time. When I reached house after two hours, it was well past mid-night. I was thoroughly soaked and extremely tired but on the whole it was a fun event and a thing to remember.

After going through the entire experience, I would say that for the new Canadians, Victoria Day is now just an excuse to have a good time and enjoy a holiday. As its traditional song says:

The twenty-fourth of May
is the Queen's birthday;
if they don't give us a holiday
we'll all run away!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Toronto again

Weather today is cold. Frost warning in effect.

     This is only my second trip to Toronto but as soon as I exited the airport, it felt like coming back to home. Air outside was clean, cool and a tad damp. At first pedestrian crossing, I stopped and waited for the traffic. I was busy looking around at signs and billboards so it took me sometime to notice that a large number of vehicles have stopped in my honor. Finally a limo driver signaled me to cross the road and I remembered that here, right of way belongs to the pedestrians. Metro service was efficient as ever, and it was full of humans in all shapes, sizes and colors. Toronto is a city of immigrants as nearly half of its population is foreign-born. But this time around, it is not like landing on an alien planet. Diversity is familiar and it feels good to be back.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Election 2013 Pakistan – Surprise Surprise

     Huge success of PML (N) in recent polls came as a surprise to everyone. All the results are not in, but it seems that PML (N) is on its way to form a government without the need for a coalition partner. Political analysts were unanimous in their view that Nawaz League would get NA seats in the range of 80 to 100 and they would require support of other parties to form a weak government at center. Even its staunch supporters were not that optimistic about such kind of success.

     Credit for galvanizing the youth and a higher turnout certainly goes to Imran Khan. He is right when he says that even those people who never voted in their life came out. He must be a little heart broken like most of his followers but making PTI the second largest party in the parliament is a tremendous achievement in itself. They are in a position to form a coalition government in KPK and if they can deliver some good to the people in that province, then the future belong to them.

     All the maneuvering, ploys and tactics by Mr. Zardari and Mr. Establishment failed quite spectacularly. People were starting to believe that our president is a genius par excellence when it comes to the politics. Mr. Zardari pulled one trick after another from his bag and played all kinds of cards. Mending fences with Q League, giving premiership of PPP Punjab to Mian Manzoor Wattoo, appointment of Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood as governor Punjab, Saraiki province card and vicious media campaign proved no substitute for bad governance, load shedding and corruption.

     Establishment was hoping for a split mandate and hung parliament. Something they could keep under their thumb. Things like covert support for Imran Khan, launching of Dr. Tahir ul Qadri and other measures also proved inadequate for the job.

     Now I hope that Nawaz Sharif shows some maturity, avoids confrontation at all levels and leaves accountability and treason cases to the judiciary… But then the future is an undiscovered country.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

There exists a world ...

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken from Apollo 17

There exists a world. In terms of probability this borders on the impossible. It would have been far more likely if, by chance, there was nothing at all. Then, at least, no one would have begun asking, why there was nothing.

(Jostein Gaarder - Maya)
Image courtesy: Wikipedia, NASA

Friday, 3 May 2013

God’s view

     I was standing at the edge of a wheat field in rural Attock. Crop was waist high and wind rushing through its spikes was creating a strange melody. Suddenly I looked down and found a line of worker ants busy in routine foraging activities. They seemed unperturbed by human activity in the vicinity. I wondered whether these are conscious about their place in this little patch of dirt. Can they understand about what is going on around them? Then I thought we humans might seem like these tiny ants to the higher powers in the universe. A supreme God, gods, ancient alien races or other powers might consider us as unremarkable as ants seem to us. Would we ever be able to rise above our puny existence and converse with gods? Would ants be able to communicate with us someday?

The north face of Eiger

     Eiger peak in Alps, Switzerland, is not very high by Karakorum or Himalayan standards. At 3,970 meters it would seem like a dwarf against K2 or Nanga Parbat. But it is called Eiger for a reason. Eiger is the German word for ogre or evil monster. Its iconic north face is around 1800 meters of snow filled cracks and precarious limestone. Since 1935, sixty-four climbers have died attempting to ascent this north wall. It is said that the climb is not impossibly difficult, but it needs a profound commitment. Once you embark on it, you need to keep going.

     I first read about it a few years ago and since then its images and legend have captivated my imagination. To me, tackling the deeper questions regarding existence, consciousness, universe and life are like scaling the north face of Eiger. Not many would consider it relevant to our mundane life. Some would give it a thought and then will move on. A lot would rely on ready-made answers available around us through our culture or religion. The ascension is riddled with pitfalls but once you start thinking about this kind of stuff, there is no turning back.
Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

I sent my Soul through the Invisible

I sent my Soul through the Invisible, 
Some letter of that After-life to spell;
And by and by my Soul returned to me,
And answered, “I Myself am Heaven and Hell”

Heaven but the Vision of fulfilled Desire,
And Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire

Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise! 
One thing at least is certain - This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies 
The Flower that once has blown forever dies.

Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who 
Before us passed the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam (1050-1122)

Image courtesy: Alizee