Election fever, footpath schools: The city buzzes with life

Salahuddin Haider

DECEMBER is always lively, for its chilly weather, hot coffees, and now that it coincides with Rabiul Awwal, the Holy month, when eid-e-milad celebrations, mixes with wedding delight, the charm of the winter month multiplies manifold. Curious, everyone will naturally be about the use of phrase “election fever”. Wait for few more sentences and its connotations will unfold itself. Moving around the city, dead and horrifying for long time, but back to life again, my cup of tea was filled to the brim. Contents for write-up were far too many.
Being selective in such situations is always difficult, but a footpath school under the newly-built Clifton fly-over, was bound to attract attention. Struck by a phenomenon, unknown so far, one automatically becomes inquisitive. I too was, and on enquiry found out that a group of enterprising ladies, engaged in humanitarian service, perhaps had a divine guidance. They sighted street children of ages between 6 and 10, scavenging for livelihood, turning to beggary for survival, or vagabonding aimlessly. Fate had something else reserved for them.
They were picked by Syeda Anfas Ali Shah Zaidi, running an NGO, dedicated to nobility, to educate them, but finance, being a major problem, sought authorities’ permission to allow them to start a school under a fly-over. She had already experimented that in Kharadar area of old Karachi, and began with ordinary “dari” ( hand loom woven rough, and easier-to-afford floor spreads). She was lucky to have an associate like Syeda Neelofar to head that poor but laudable venture.
God helps those who help themselves is age-old maximum, but true even today. Real estate tycoon, Malik Riaz, involved in far too many philanthropy , and who had also built the most modern fly-over, comparable to the likes, found in any developed city, Dubai, London, New York, or elsewhere in the world, came to their rescue, though on a modest scale. The ladies, instead of being discouraged, persevered with their commitment, and today that school has fairly reasonable strength of students. They had colourful umbrella to protect them from sun, which even in December, does turn pleasant, but still uncomfortable.
Tables and chairs too came in, and those, looking destined to be liability on society, are now learning to read and write. The school is still in infancy, sheer fundamentals being subjects for learning, but atleast those enrolled do seem to head towards destiny now. That in itself, is something genuinely worthwhile. In an overpopulated city with 20 million souls , NGOs have sprouted like mushrooms, but 90 percent of them fake and have money-making as their only goal. Anfas explained that she manages, though with difficulty, to feed these children, provide them pencils, copies, and some basic text books to help them get used to be good students. About Rs 50,000 is spent on them monthly, but neither Anfas, now Neelofar seem deterred in their mission.
The reference to “election fever” was not without reason. From an apex body of business and traders community of the country, called the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), to a wonderful institution like the Arts Council of Pakistan, the Karachi Club and the Karachi Gymkhana, are all fray. Arts Council elections are scheduled for 18th December. Lunches, dinners, and brunches galore almost on daily or weekly basis, brunches especially on Sundays. The FPCCI has seen new groupings. Old colleagues are now rivals.
The United Businessmen’s Group (UBG) is headed by veteran and lovely S M Muneer, now chief executive of the State-owned Trading Development Authority of Pakistan, previously known as Export Promotion Bureau, but some of his associates are now opposing him under a different banner with eminent equity and share market expert Aqeel Karim Dhehdi, and Mian Zahid Hussain, Zakaria Usman, etc. Contest seems to be tough but the election draws interest throughout the country, for FPCCI is a nation-wide organisation, and widely respected. Predicting election results is always risky and must be avoided. The recent US presidential polls is powerful lesson, where all gallop polls proved wrong.
In Arts Council elections, Old horse like Ahmad Shah, Iqbal Latif, Sehar Ansari, seem to enjoy a clear edge. The other side has Buland Iqbal,Najmuddin Sheikh, but none can deny the credit to Ahmad Shah for his and his colelagues’ceaseless efforts . The recent Aalmi (world)Urdu Conference was indeed a laudable achievement. Even if arguments from opponents that it was timed to draw mileage for new year’s elections is taken to be true, the, initiative, effort and labour going into such an enormous exercise, cannot be taken away from the present office-bearers of an organisation, which after being in slumber for long, long years, has revolutionized itself into a vibrant platform, acknowledgement of which is a bounden duty of all those interested in arts, culture, literature, and activities of similar kind. Full marks to Ahmed Shah and his colleagues. Karachi is really proud of the event, which drew leading lights such as Mushtaq Yusufi, a legend In life time, Qaim Pirzada, Ataul Haq Qasmi,Raza Ali Abidi, and a session to pay tribute to late Inizar Hussain, was indeed memorable.
A Sindhi culture week too was highlight of the last few days ago. Bilawal, endeavouring to revive PPP, celebrated that in Lahore, but the PPP, the functional league of Pir Pagara, and MQM Pakistan, also took a legitimate, rather arrogant pride with their wholehearted participation. Sindh has 5000 years old history, and is rich in heritage. It was refreshing to see Sindhi Topi(cap) and Ajrak leaving its impact, involving the US consulate general also. The new US consul general Grace Shelton seemed overjoyed with it. Full marks to her to share the pleasure of the people she is now with as her country’s representative.
The Karachi Club and Karachi Gymkhana elections are too due late this month or on 1st January. Hectic activity is now witnessed among the rival groups. The Gymkhana elections may be a compromise, or rather one-sided affair. Similar efforts are also on in Karachi Club, where Democrats and Friends panels are engaged in some sort of compromise, but if that does not come about, a feverish poll is well in sight between sitting President Ashfak Tola, and old and active member Hafeez Memon, who had served the Club managing committee several times.
Call it a non-serious piece, random thoughts, or just a cursory glance through socio-cultural developments in Karachi, the city that has expanded beyond dreams in recent years. Lot of events took place, some really eye-catching, some just ordinary and routine, yet important, and description or reference becomes necessity.

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